This kind of week.

Birthday week. The week I dread but look forward to. The week where I am thankful to be a SAHM because in truth, I have no idea how I would pull it off otherwise. Our two girls have birthdays two days apart. They are also now at an age where a mutual party is no longer acceptable. One wants a princess at the house with a few close friends. The other wants her girlfriends to dress up at a fashion party. Thank goodness for a local establishment, Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids, who provides a fashion party. Birthday celebrations started yesterday for Elizabeth, now eight years old. She requested a surprise breakfast, homemade angel food cake (she has no idea it came out of a box, but oh well!) and Chinese food for dinner. Thank goodness for delivery. Audrey turns six tomorrow morning. Being a Saturday, she is lucky to get her birthday party on her actual birthday. So Princess Rapunzel is arriving in the early afternoon. Which meant getting the house ready today and all the food. It meant attacking our rec room to make room for twelve little people to sit in a circle and listen to a princess for an hour and a half. Oh, did I mention the family party afterwards? The one where the grandparents are all arriving to celebrate with both the girls? Then Elizabeth’s friend party is Sunday. 

Unable to move after sitting to drink a cup of coffee, I crafted this email to Mr. L. 

Dear Mr. L,

I have grocery shopped, planned three birthday parties, ordered balloons, picked up decorations, ordered a cake, ordered food for our friends, cleaned up the rec room (you will be impressed), moved furniture and tried (in vain) to provide ice removal service for our driveway in anticipation that we have multiple people coming and do not want a lawsuit on our hands. I lifted bags of salt and sand to aid the ice thawing. My lower back is very very sore. I am very very tired. (I’ve given up giving up my afternoon coffee until Monday, what’s the point?) 

 Please come home. 
 
Your main duties before 10 am tomorrow include: 
Clean up of dog poop in backyard so our guests do not need to see dog shit when they eat.
Place a leaf in the kitchen table
Continue with the removal of ice in our driveway. It is fucking dangerous. The kids were falling all over. I have come to realize I do not have the physical capability to break up thawing ice and haul it upwards onto massive snow piles while trying to not slip myself and keep an eye on our kids who decided sledding down one of the snow hills on a sled onto said icy driveway was a “cool idea.” although I gave t a good shot. 
Pour your wife a glass of wine.
Rub her back and feet (sitting – did I do that today?) 
Do the dishes.
Stop at 10 pm and please watch a show with me. In our bed. Comfy where I do not have to move. 
 
I realize you are also insanely busy, but it is nearing 5 pm. Come home and take care of me and help me take care of the house. Please. 
Sincerely, 
Your very tired wife who isn’t sure how she is going to survive another birthday year.
 
Being a nice guy, he jumped the first train home. 
Maybe I can start moving, kick the kids off the TV which I haven’t the energy to turn off and get dinner ready before he gets home. Maybe. 
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Let the reins go..a little

My little guy is, well, a character. He sings and dances with a microphone in hand. He entertains and genuinely cares that the people around him are okay. He’s the first one with a hug or a gentle hand if a voice is raised or a fight breaks out. He cries any time my voice is raised crying out in danger as he tries to help me unplug the vacuum cleaner or trying to talk above three active kids. I can see him being a doctor or a comedian. He is just over three years old and heading into FDK (full-day kindergarten) next September.

Out of all my three monkeys, as a mom, I am the most protective of him. Not because he needs it, but because I’m still dealing with the outcome of watching his little body fight off a blood disorder when he was a day old and being the one to hold down his little body while they tried desperately to find a vein to put an IV into his fragile arm. He weathered blood tests, being shuffled from NICU, to my room, back to NICU, home, back into the paediatric ward and finally into the final NICU where he was given a life-saving blood transfusion to help his tiny blood cells combat the battle going on between my blood and his. I am RH negative and in a rare case, developed antibodies somewhere between my first trimester and twenty-eight weeks. Those antibodies were released into his body when our blood mingled during a planned c-section at 36 weeks and went to work destroying his red blood cells faster than his tiny 5 lb 2 oz body could reproduce his own healthy red blood cells. Three weeks of torture we endured with him including having to leave him at the hospital when they could no longer justify keeping me in a room post-delivery. Even after the transfusion and his release, he was subjected to weekly blood tests to ensure his hemoglobin counts continued to climb. If I ever hear the word “heel prick” again, it will still send chills down my spine. And yes, during this time our other two children were at our house being bounced between grandparents, Mr. L and our live-in nanny who thankfully arrived in the middle taking over and ensuring my two girls had a sense of routine after the frantic holiday season that year as Jacob was born soon after Christmas.

Why go into all of the above detail? Because this week I am realizing I need to loosen my grip on my healthy baby boy. He is growing so fast, wanting to stretch his wings and experience life but I am holding back. I am holding back letting him too far out of my sight. This fear extends to my girls as well and I have noticed my eldest starting to buck against my constant presence. Being a SAHM I always know what is going on with them. What their every mood is at any given moment. This can be a curse and a blessing being so present in their lives. Goodness, up until today I was so anxious to leave our town when all three were safely tucked in their respective schools “just in case.” Just in case of what? One got sick? Jacob needed me to pick him up early? One needed a forgotten scarf? I have turned down coffee dates, lunch dates pretty well anything that would take me out of town during their school hours. After all, I am the “go-to” person, the “one” who has to be on-call “just in case” and I take that responsibility very seriously.

So today, I ventured out. I needed to go to the Disney Store. Audrey’s birthday is coming up and I would like to surprise her with a new princess dress. There is no Disney Store in my town or the one next to ours where I sometimes run errands. (I live right on the border of two lakeside towns so I call them both mine.) I had to venture, FURTHER AWAY, or not run the errand. With my phone held close so I could hear a ring, I drove to the large mall that housed the only Disney Store in a reasonable distance from us. Should I just run in, focused on purchasing my one item? Or should I risk it and pick up a couple of other things and perhaps (gasp!) sit down and have a coffee. I opted for the second option.

I made a morning out of it. I strolled. I shopped for the girls’ birthday presents. I got loot bag items. I oohed and awed over the changes in this particular mall. After all it has been nearly three years since I set foot in it, maybe longer. I sat down with a book and had a coffee. And you know what? Everything was okay. I did not receive a frantic message from a school. Nobody needed me. All my kids were happy and healthy. What more could I ask for?

My role as a mom is changing. I can feel it. It is a subtle change. They all still need me in so many ways but not in the same clinging desperate need of an infant. They all have their own lives to start to build outside of my existence. I need to let my boy fly a bit on his own and realize he is not the preciously fragile baby I brought home three years ago but a sturdy, opinionated little guy who will (I fear) steal the hearts of teachers and girls in the years to come. My girls are starting to keep their own little wishes and desires to themselves choosing which ones to share with me versus telling me everything on their minds. As my role shifts, so must I. I must learn it is okay and feel free to head out further than the local grocery store or nearby gym. If I happen to get that dreaded call, I will get there as soon as I can and they will be okay.

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From datestodiapers.com

Why is it we hold on so tight and find it so hard to let go? I am so proud of my little guy and my girls for being independent little souls who on the large scheme of things, are generally well behaved. They are not troublemakers in school and generally teachers enjoy having them as part of their classrooms. I know with Jacob the events directly after his birth sometimes affect my emotions and I cling to my little guy worried something will hurt him. It is irrational and I let the feeling pass as quickly as I can knowing they are the after affects of a scary situation. My girls I want them so desperately to be happier than I was and feel more secure in childhood that sometimes I smother them over anticipating their needs instead of stepping back to let them experience life on their own. Perhaps my little trip out of my comfort zone today will lead me down a more balanced path where I can let go, a little, on the reins of their young childhood as they enter girlhood and the boy years. I hope it can.

Confronting the damsel.

Yesterday my dramatic middle child, Audrey, had a long anticipated playdate at our house. Hand in hand her and a little boy she has a crush on, scurried off her afternoon bus the two of them whispering to each other. My little guy, surrounded by girls most of the time, was all over the cute and good-natured little guy asking him, “What’s up my man?” I refereed as I picked up my eldest daughter, kept them busy with shovels digging another tunnel in our snow drifts until I coaxed them all inside to remove their wet clothing. The playdate had begun! 

As I fed and opened juice boxes while trying to catch crumbs of four ravenous little people I noticed something interesting. Audrey kept asking T. to do things for her. “T. Can you please open my straw wrapper? T. I can’t get this lid off, can you do it?” She would gaze at him with her brown eyes fluttering. He would sigh and gallantly hold out his little hand and do it for her. Now for the record, my cunning middle child does play the “I can’t!” card more often than the other two. She can’t possibly help clean up, she is too busy gazing out the window. She cannot possibly get dressed herself, it is just too hard.

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The damsel in distress persona is one I am used to seeing from her and have learned to ignore for the most part urging her to try the task again. But viewing the whole thing in a social situation, it had this previous psychology grad fascinated. Where had she learned to act so, helpless? And I do mean act. She is nearly twice the size of her little playmate, is built like a female hockey player and can lift her brother without an extra breath. She is not helpless in any sense of the word. Had I unknowingly fixed in her psyche the need for a male to step in and “take care of stuff?” Each time I asked Mr. L to open a jar, was she watching and thinking I simply couldn’t do it? Did she not see that I tried (in vain sometimes) to open any jar before resorting to the pass-off to the only adult male in our household. Was she too busy doing other stuff when I shovelled the lane way for the fourth time lifting heavy snow?

Taking a breath I think back over the years since she started to toddle around and noticed the difference between boys and girls. She was always the one in a princess dress playing with barbies. She abhors the day I might cut her hair too short. She always had one eye open for the little boy in the neighbourhood who noticed her doll-like cheeks and curly hair and would ask her to play. We used to joke that if there was a boy around, Audrey would stop everything and coyly look sideways batting her eyelashes until he noticed her.  

Now soon to be six years old, my fear as her mother is that she is turning out to be a little too concerned with making sure that the opposite sex pays adequate attention to her. Her days are filled with ups and downs depending on how many boyfriends she has or who paid attention to her that day. She came home in the late fall of last year announcing she had “four boyfriends!” When I asked her first, who they were, she ticked off two little boys in her kindergarten class and two older boys who had been lunch room monitors or bus buddies. When I then asked her “what does it mean to be your boyfriend?” She firmly stated because they paid attention to her that day and play with her. 

Volunteering in her class one morning, a little voice asked me, “Mom, how does this look?” 

Flipping around, there was my girl looking unsure of herself holding out a what looked like a card. “How does what look honey?” 

“I made this for Josh (nine year old boy on her bus). Is the printing neat enough? Can you read it?” 

There in her halting left-handed letters was her first love letter, 

Dear Josh, 

I love you. 

Love, Audrey 

It ended with hearts and two stick people standing side by side. 

“What are they doing?” 

“That’s me and Josh. We’re playing while we wait for the bus. He likes to help me make snowballs.”

“It’s perfect darling. He’ll really appreciate it.” 

A mega-watt smile stretched across her features. I left her to finish her card with mixed feelings. The first was a warm feeling that she has so much love to give. The other worry. Worry that with putting herself out there and wanting the approval of a certain boy so badly was going to lead to her heart being broken one day.

She will be the teenager who lives or dies for her romantic notions. Life can sometimes be hard for people who depend on the approval of others so intensely. This need for attention although slightly slanted towards boys, extends to her girl friendships as well. I have seen her in tears off the bus because she believed a girl from her class ignored her. Realizing this, concern settles in. Concern that I had somehow unwillingly nudged her sensitive soul into believing she was only worthy when being noticed by someone else. 

As I sat and watched her play “the damsel” with T. yesterday, I made a pact to let her know each day that she was capable and help build her confidence. To gently tell her to make lots of different friends and social connections and hope she remembers my advice somewhere on a hard day when someone stomps on her heart that there will be other friends and other boys.  And lastly, that she is worthy all on her own. She does not need validation from anyone. 

Let’s hope I can remember all of this myself. 

Sunday Brunch – Where has the food gone?

As a Mom to three growing kids, I know how much the grocery bill has expanded since the little tykes have started eating everyday people food. I am the mom who refuses to make custom-to-go meals at our house. I make one breakfast, one lunch (if we’re home) and one dinner. Lots of sides for picky eaters like we always have cheese, bread and fresh cut veggies, but unless I have already cooked a pasta one with meat sauce for carnivores and one with plain tomato sauce for everyone else, I do not go any further. Even if I felt inclined to make five different meals, I simply do not have the time. The closest the kids every get  the “more than one meal choice” is either at breakfast where one out of three can make her own cheese wrap if she prefers that over oatmeal or it is leftover night where I re-heat and re-use everything in the fridge and put all the dishes in the centre of the table. 

I would love to batch cook on Sundays but up to this point, life gets in the way. With Mr. L working from 1130 am to 3 pm every Sunday, my time is spent on Sunday resting, catching up with kids homework or organization house projects, writing (gasp!) or exercise. That is in between the birthday parties, family get-togethers and other life events that get in the way. On top of that, I’m just tired by Sunday and can think of nothing less I would want to do than be on my feet for four hours prepping meals for the week. I applaud people like my younger sister who work shift work and have to do this so her family has healthy meals on hand. I’ve seen her in action prepping meals during my last post-delivery when she showed up, pots and knives in hand to prep two weeks worth of meals for our family while I was dealing with being in and out of NICU with my little Jacob. I am in awe of people like her. 

However, with full hibernation mode on as we settle into another month of cold, snowy and freezing temperatures, I decided to return to the Sunday brunch. Being on the go a lot in January meant we had little time to sit down on Sunday for a proper meal. I am not an early riser and in dire need of coffee each morning and Mr. L has not taken up the apron as of yet, so an early morning breakfast doesn’t jive with me. But brunch once I am caffeinated, showered, the house is fairly tidy and I had an hour or so to write, seems ideal. So this morning I plunged ahead. Wrote for a half hour and then started making bacon and french toast with orange juice to drink. Simple but food the whole family likes. 

Watching the bacon while burning the new Bath and Body Works Limoncello candle to mask the grease smell it was heart-warming to hear the kids say, “Mmmm..what smells so good?” 

After placing all items on the table and the kids digging in they all yelled thanks and with full bellies have disappeared upstairs to quiet play. (Thus why I’m writing this and not doing the dishes!) But I had to gasp, how can three little people eat a plateful of bacon (I cooked the whole package) and all but two pieces of french toast? (I used up 3/4 of a loaf.) I was hoping to have bacon left to use in a recipe this week for a pasta sauce and a bit of french toast left to refrigerate for tomorrow’s breakfast. My regular sized frying pans did not even accommodate the total amount of food I had to cook but I had to fry and flip multiple pans to get the food ready. Did I mention little people? Eight, six and three years old to be exact. What is going to happen as they get older and hungrier? I already have to battle the “I’m hungry” bug multiple times a day, especially if it’s an at home day. 

As I go to wash up the dishes, for the second time this morning, I’ll have to re-think not only my pots and pan situation but also how much food to buy for a family of five. I could have easily cooked up two packs of bacon if I wanted to try and have some for the rest of the week. I was very much looking forward to fresh crumbled bacon on a caesar salad on Tuesday night!! 

How do you plan and feed a family with three or more kids?? 

It’s been weighing on my mind…

Three years and a month. That is the amount of time that has passed since I hung up the working mom suit that nows hang in the very back of my closet and traded it for the uniform of lululemon pants, hoodies and on those days when I am able to actually get semi-dressed, jeans and a simple long-sleeved solid colour shirt or chunky sweater with this cold winter we have been blessed with this year.

It has been a whirlwind. A decision discussed and discussed at length with my partner, my parents, my close friends and myself, I sit here on February 4, 2014 having no idea if it was the right decision for me. At the time, the pros outweighed the cons. I was burnt out trying to juggle marketing clients, helping my husband with his business, being pregnant for the third time, managing a household including a live-in caregiver and well, life. The path seemed simple. Being home meant I could focus on one main thing, care of our children. Being home meant I would not have to manage anyone but myself and said children. No dog walkers, no caregivers, no well-intentioned grandparents. I could pick and choose what I wanted help with versus what I needed help with. I could be home when they were sick instead of feeling insanely guilty I had to cancel a meeting because goodness knows Mr. L in a thriving and essential business to pay for the majority of our expenses could not. I would not feel resentful doling out more than half my paycheque to child care and babysitters wondering why I was working to pay for someone else to spend time with our children. I could rest my brain. Sort of.

It has been an adjustment. I still cringe when someone asks what I do and I try to fumble out the words, “I’m at home with the kids.” I know it’s hard work and well-meaning people pat me on the back saying, “I could never do that. Good for you!” But I dread each and every time I meet someone new and have to divulge I am a SAHM, (stay at home mom). My life revolves around three little people’s schedules. When they eat meals, snack time, when they need to do homework, when does someone need a nap or (my favourite), who is being the most naughty and I can use that to make them help me fold laundry still sitting in a basket from two days ago and call it a learning moment?

Logically, I know the choice was a right one for our family at the time. Being on our own in our suburban town, no close by parental support, one of us had to be the go-to person. The one that was nearby in case a kid got sick at school or forgot their mittens. The one that could drop them off and pick them up after school and have the flexible hours to do so. Mr. L works in the nearby “big city” building his life dream. He was not the go-to person. It was me or hired help and honestly, the salary for a reformed corporate marketing professional to marketing consulting for the not-for-profit sector would barely pay for all the support a family with three or more kids would require between day care, after school care, extra help with housework and dog walkers. Any pay I brought home would be eaten up, nearly every cent. It was not worth it.

But part of me resisted. I still kept one eye open for that “perfect” opportunity. In between nap time and I even updated my resume and sent it out as a feeler to a couple of potential employment situations. Then I would smack myself on the forehead and think, I barely keep it together some days just handling the kids and the house. If I had to add a job on top of that, I think I would cry. What am I thinking? Then my brain tortures me saying, I did do it. Once upon a time I was a corporate marketing on-the-path to becoming an executive career gal. The only thing was I hated it. It was an easy job for me to slide into that utilized my innate skill set. I took my first corporate marketing gig being uber paranoid about paying off my rather large student debt from university and post-graduate school. I got on the wheel and got off, sort of. Trading corporate for not-for-profit kept me going for another two years and then life hands you a BAM moment. A third pregnancy with complications that required being in the maternity ward on a weekly basis for tests during most of my final term combined with having a beautiful but early and small baby boy who required intensive medical attention and blood transfusions over a three week period robbing me of that blissful first month with your newborn and I was changed. Changed so much that no matter how alluring the pull back to work was and continues to be, I will never do it. At least not in the same way I did before.

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From womenonthefence.com

However, the dilemma remains as my now thriving three year old enters the brief season before starting full-time kindergarten next September, what do I do now? It is a question that is asked quite frequently when people learn our youngest is off to full-time school in the near future. It is assumed I will pick up where I left off. But how can I? I am changed. Different. Those suits look real nice in the back of my closet, but I have no hidden desire to try them on again. I have learned to love the casual look I get to enjoy every day sparkling it up when I can with a scarf or new bracelet. I like having every day be a new day.

It really came to light last week as my elder girl came down with a four day stomach flu. I was able to be at home, altering the slightest plan in my flexible schedule so she could be in her bed, resting and drinking plenty of fluids. It hit me again when on their PA Day, I was able to take the girls an hour away to a lovely ski resort and enrol them in private lessons and then take the kids out for lunch and hot chocolate afterwards.

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Jacob lovin’ the hot chocolate.

I wouldn’t trade being able to be there when they got home from school bubbling with stories about their day, fighting with them over homework, seeing how happy they are if and when I manage to actually force myself to bake blueberry muffins as a treat. I am lucky. Lucky that I am able to do this because it won’t be long until they won’t need me so much or only as a driver. Not long at all and my heart will break thinking back to these days when I could pick all three up from school and have them safely tucked where I can keep an eye on them hugging them whenever I want.

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Taken at Chicopee Ski Hill. Elizabeth private ski lesson. She’s in the purple.

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Elizabeth and Audrey at lunch post-ski lessons.

I have managed to carve out my own time over the last year as Jacob is potty-trained and can play more with his sisters. Slowly but surely I realize my dream is not working my fingers to the bone for someone else, but working them to the bone to try my hand at my dream, writing. At least this makes sense for me.

I admire all parents, mothers in particular for making whatever their decision is in the SAHM vs working mother discussion. There should be applause that for many of us, we have the option to work or not work. It may take sacrifice (Alas, no I am not shopping at Coach all day, I only did that once!)  Most importantly we all have a sisterhood that should support whatever one’s decision may be for whatever reason. Goodness knows either decision comes fraught with doubt and guilt we inflict upon ourselves. We do not need anyone else helping us deconstruct why a mother chooses her path.

Next September I will get the first real taste of how I sculpt my days around writing. I plan to immerse myself in what I write. At least form 8:35 am until 3:10 pm. I’ve been cobbling hours or evenings here and there to produce blog posts, edit scenes from my story or come up with a new idea that I hope to start in the future. I can research rather than scan the results on google. And maybe if there’s time, I’ll get the damn basement organized. Maybe.

So until then, when I can legitimately say, I’m a writer instead of a SAHM, I will try not to cringe as I say it but realize it ‘ain’t’ so bad. It really is not.