Archives for February 2009

It’s the Thought That Counts

When I was growing up my father took gift-wrapping very seriously. He used rulers to smooth out wrinkles, get the crispest folds, and the straightest cuts. It was understood that Effort should be put into wrapping presents. It’s sort of funny because he wasn’t really what I would call uptight, that I can remember. But when it came to certain tasks anything less than perfect was not good enough.

I’ve carried that attitude into adulthood. I’ve never really been a fan of the gift bag, somehow it seemed like a cop out. The prettiest presents, to my eye, have always been wrapped in beautiful paper with co-ordinating ribbon. It shows that you’ve put effort into the gift, that the person you’re gifting is important, that you are careful and thoughtful.

Our gift wrap stash

Our gift wrap stash

But lately I’ve given up my present perfection, very grudgingly. I’ve filled enough garbage bags full of discarded wrapping paper to know that as lovely as those gifts are, it’s not exactly the most environmentally conscious choice to cover your presents with trimming that will end up in the trash immediately. And so, starting with this past Christmas, I’ve pledged to not buy any more wrapping paper. I am saving reusable gift bags, and boxes, and tissue paper. Really, anything that’s still in good shape and could be used to cover a present is going into a big bin under Hannah’s bed.

The bin runneth over

The bin runneth over

It’s been hard for me, giving gifts that are less than perfect. I’m working hard to overcome my pre-conditioning, that voice that says that less than the best is not good enough. That I will be looked down on because the tissue paper is a little wrinkly and that gift bag has been around the block a few times before. That somehow my efforts to reduce waste will only leave me looking cheap and tacky and thoughtless.

But I am soldiering on. Because I know that while recycling is good, reducing and reusing are better. The best choice is to consume less, and so in this small way I’m trying. And I’m working to hold my head high as I hand over my wrinkly presents. Hopefully soon I will overcome my childhood conditioning, and feel secure in the knowledge that every little bit helps. Right now, this is my little bit.

In the Middle Place

I’ve been in the middle place a lot as a mom. You know the spot, it’s the place where you can’t make up your mind. You feel like you need to make some sort of decision, because things can’t go on the way they are, but the various options aren’t so hot at first blush.

I spent a lot of time in the middle place during the months that I was nursing Hannah using a nipple shield. On the one hand I didn’t want to use the nipple shield anymore, on the other hand it was the only thing that was keeping her nursing and I didn’t know what we would happen if I seriously tried to ditch it. And much later when we were weaning I was back in the same spot. Ready to be done, thinking she was ready to be done, but also not sure. I didn’t want to ruin things.

The thing about the middle place is that it’s often far worse than any of the alternatives. Anguishing over what to do, weighing your options over and over, but being too afraid to really take action. You might take a few baby steps and retreat in fear. You might wonder how you will ever get past this insurmountable obstacle. It’s all-consuming, the middle place.

Right now I’m wandering in the middle place again. I’m not really working, but I’m also not really not working. And about this time, halfway through my maternity leave, I become very introspective. I’m sort of enjoying not having to go into the office. And what if I don’t have a job to go back to anyway? Or what if I decide that it’s my calling to spend my days baking bread, tending children, and gardening? Or maybe I should forget all that, and take this chance to chart a new career path when I return to work. Which would look like what, exactly? Is there a way that I could structure my life differently so that I can achieve perfect balance and optimal happiness?

You get the drift, I’m being a totally self-indulgent navel gazer.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to manage my time more effectively. And I’ve tried a little bit. But I think I need to get serious about it now. I think I need to come up with a better routine, work out a better balance. It won’t be ideal, of course. Most nights I still don’t get enough sleep, my chances of achieving zen-like perfection are nil. All the same I can embrace where I am right now, because it will be over far too soon.

And I think that’s my answer. Instead of looking at this as the middle place, I need to just take it for what it is. A brief period in my life. A time that I can embrace or that I can waste away with wishes, distractions, and worries. I need to embrace it.

Although I will admit I’m not entirely sure what that looks like. Embracing the present, seeking balance, all that jazz. If you have any ideas, I will be glad to hear them. For now I think it might mean stopping and taking a breath before I yell at my kid. And setting aside time to spend just with Hannah, or at least just doing activities she enjoys. Baby steps, right?

Batten Down the Hatches

Jacob is currently working very hard on his crawling. He’s not quite there yet, but in the past week or so he’s made huge leaps and bounds. He’s gone from staying in the same spot and pivoting to moving backwards quite adeptly. He pulls his tummy up off the floor and balances on his hands and feet. Yesterday at our music class he maneuvered himself from sitting up to his hands and knees as if he’d done it a million times.

Smiley baby

I don’t remember Hannah doing this sort of stuff, she was a different sort of crawler. She started by pulling herself with her hands across the floor, commando-style. And that was only when she was 8 or 9 months old, although in all fairness she was premature. Jacob is going the much more traditional route, crawling backwards and becoming frustrated that the object(s) he desires are getting further away. And yet he perseveres, throwing himself down and starting again.

Tummy off the ground

I know that any day now I will have a truly mobile baby. I’m sort of scared, because I know how much work it is. But mostly I’m excited. I thought that I might be more jaded with my second child, less eager for each new milestone. Mostly, though, I’m just as excited by every little thing that Jacob does as I was by every little thing that Hannah did. It’s amazing and exciting watching these little people, so determined to master all of these skills, so intent with their efforts.

Almost crawling

For now, though, it’s time to stock up on outlet covers and put up the baby gates. These little people may be amazing, but they are also dangers to themselves and others. And I need to be able to brush my teeth without my child falling down the stairs or electrocuting himself. While I do that you can check out our latest snapshots on my Flickr photostream.

Peanut, Peanut Butter (and Jelly!)

You don’t have to be a parent to know that everyone’s favourite lunch standby, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, is no longer welcome in many schools. And it’s no surprise, when you hear tales of children having serious, even life-threatening, allergic reactions to nuts. Hannah has attended 3 daycare centres now, and two of them banned peanuts and all other nuts outright. And I am fine with that, because a small inconvenience for me can mean life or death to another child. Preschoolers do not understand the potential gravity of a peanut allergy when someone’s waving a tempting snack in their face.

Allergies can be scary stuff, and popular wisdom holds that the best way to combat them is to avoid exposing kids to allergens. Current recommendations include pregnant and nursing moms avoiding peanuts altogether, and waiting until age 2 or 3 to introduce peanuts to children. The rationale is that it’s the prevalence of peanuts that leads to allergic reactions, so by limiting exposure we can limit the reaction. The other argument I’ve heard is that by waiting until children’s digestive and immune systems are more mature, they will be less likely to have allergic reactions.

I’ve heard all of this stuff, but I will admit that at our house we’ve been pretty lax. We have no family history of allergies, and have never seen any sort of reaction in our kids, which could explain our attitude. As it is my husband eats a couple of peanut butter sandwiches every day. And when I was pregnant a peanut butter sandwich was one of the few foods I could stomach. And although I didn’t give Hannah peanut butter until she was nearly 2, I prepared food on the same surfaces that we use to make our sandwiches. Food from our kitchen would definitely come with an allergy alert warning label.

So you can imagine my delight when some recent studies reinforced my approach. One recent study compared children in Israel, who ate peanut butter as infants, with children from the UK who overwhelmingly did not. The British children had a tenfold higher incidence of peanut allergy, which could not be explained by any other factors. Early exposure may actually have a protective effect, rather than a sensitizing effect. And the American Academy of Pediatrics has changed their policy as well. Here is an excerpt from their clinical report:

Although solid foods should not be introduced before 4 to 6 months of age, there is no current convincing evidence that delaying their introduction beyond this period has a significant protective effect on the development of atopic disease…This includes delaying the introduction of foods that are considered to be highly allergic, such as fish, eggs, and foods containing peanut protein.

(According to Wikipedia an atopic reaction is an “allergic hypersensitivity affecting parts of the body not in direct contact with the allergen.” This includes life-threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis.)

I don’t think that I will feed Jacob peanut butter anytime soon. However, it’s good to know that extreme avoidance is not necessary. I think it will make the whole solid food thing that much more relaxed than it was for Hannah, when warnings about avoiding potential allergens were everywhere. And it’s even better to know that I can enjoy the occasional PB & J without any guilt that I am taking my baby’s very life into my hands.

Beauty out of Chaos

Last Friday I had one of those mornings. The kids had both been up during the night, and Jacob decided that 6:00am was a fine time to wake up for the day. It was a school day and I was trying like crazy to get Hannah moving but was meeting with no success. She decided she needed her ‘sister’. Her sister is constructed by piling our various dry goods containers one on top of the other. I think she refers to the tower as her sister because it’s roughly the same height as she is.

This is a game that causes Jon and I to cringe, because these containers are full of flour and rice and all sorts of food that we don’t want spilled everywhere. And being only 4 Hannah’s structural engineering is a little lacking. For example, it doesn’t occur to her that larger, heavier containers go at the bottom and smaller, lighter ones at the top. Plus, on this morning we were running late and she was supposed to be eating breakfast when she started her construction project.

You can guess what happened. Hannah’s sister toppled, and the popcorn went everywhere. It took every ounce of strength I possessed not to cry. Popcorn rolls, making it very hard to sweep up. Particularly when I have to do all my cleaning one-handed as Jacob will not be put down. I don’t know what I really expected motherhood to be like. Spending my mornings in a sleep-deprived haze, arguing the merits of breakfast with a 4-year-old, holding a crying baby, and attempting to clear popcorn off the floor was certainly not what I anticipated.

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But then I looked more closely. The popcorn was really rather pretty spread across the laminate in the early morning light. I decided that I would enjoy the beauty instead of melting down. I got out my camera and captured the moment. Sometimes all that you can do is take the little bits of beauty that fall your way amidst the chaos of life with kids. Because otherwise you will go start raving mad.

Maternity Leave in Ireland

It’s Mat Leave Monday! Today I am talking about maternity leave in the Irish State. As ever, I have no first-hand knowledge about maternity leave in Ireland. If you are actually in Ireland, the best reference I could find is the government pages outlining maternity leave and adoptive leave.

I have never set foot on the Emerald Isle, but after seeing this tourism video, I have to admit that it looks lovely:

Ireland offers new mothers national, government-paid maternity and adoptive leave. It’s administered through the PRSI (Pay-Related Social Insurance) system. Both employees and self-employed people who have paid into PRSI may apply. The qualification rules are somewhat complicated. Depending on whether you are an employee or self-employed, you require between 39 and 52 weeks of PRSI paid over various qualifying periods. The government pages have the complete qualification requirements for maternity benefit or adoptive benefit. There is no legal entitlement to any sort of paternity leave for fathers in Ireland, although they may qualify for adoptive leave if they are a sole adopter.

Maternity benefits are paid for 26 weeks, starting at least 2 weeks before the expected birth, and ending at least 4 weeks after. Adoptive benefits are paid for 24 weeks, starting with the date of placement of the child. The rate for both maternity and adoptive benefit is calculated by dividing your gross wages in the relevant tax year by the number of weeks you actually worked. So, basically, they calculate your weekly wage. You receive 80% of that figure, with a minimum weekly benefit of €230.30 and a maximum of €280.00. These numbers are equivalent to approximately $369.61 CAD and $449.37 CAD, or $297.41 USD and $358.06 USD, respectively.

Birth and adoptive mothers may take an additional 16 weeks of unpaid leave, after their paid leave is over. Birth mothers are also entitled to paid time off for medical appointments and antenatal classes, and adoptive mothers are entitled to paid time off to attend preparation classes or pre-adoption meetings with social workers and other officials.

So that’s the skinny, as well as I can summarize, on maternity leave in Ireland. If you want to catch up on the other countries I’ve covered, check out my entries on Canada (and Quebec), the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. You might notice a theme – I’m sticking with English speaking countries for the time being. Mostly because then I can get up-to-date information from government websites. I may try to dust off my high school French when I run out of available English options, but I make no promises that endeavour will succeed. In the meantime I still have several on my list.

Birthday Aftermath

Hannah’s birthday’s come and gone. You can see some photos from her party, as well as a whole lot of other snapshots, on my Flicker photostream.

(If I may digress, I would just like to say that I love love love Flickr. I can’t believe it took me this long to discover it. If you’re on Flickr too I’d love it if you’d be my friend on there. Because, as it turns out, I love sharing the photo love.)

Back to the topic at hand. After Hannah was born, during the four days I spent in the hospital, I read a book about premature babies that the midwives lent me. One of the things that this book mentioned was that moms of preemies often have very mixed feelings on their child’s birthday. Even though years may have passed, and your child is perfectly healthy and normal, the occasion can still bring back all of the not-so-good parts about having a premature baby.

Whoa Nellie, is that ever true. Hannah has now celebrated four birthdays, and on each of those days I have been a total basket case. I imagine that all moms feel some mixed feelings on their kids’ birthdays, watching these little people grow up at a rate that is really far too quick. But now that I’ve had another baby I can say that it’s really a different thing to reminisce about a birth that went well, and a birth that did not go so well. Which is why on the anniversary of Hannah’s birth I am an emotional lightning rod, feeling again those feelings of fear and failure that I felt when she made her entry into the world.

After Hannah was born I thought that having another baby, and having a good experience, would somehow heal me. It would cure those feelings of inadequacy that I still carry with me when I think about Hannah’s early days. It’s surprised me that I feel exactly the opposite. Because now I know, I understand, just how much I missed out on. Just how much of my new motherhood was consumed with struggle and doubt. I feel like somehow Hannah was cheated out of what she should have had, the easy babyhood that Jacob has enjoyed.

There’s no answer, of course. I know that I did the best I could when fate dealt me this particular card. I know that it’s not my fault and I couldn’t possibly have foreseen it. And I know that Hannah is a healthy normal 4-year-old who bears no marks from her early arrival. But also, I sort of don’t know any of these things. And this is what motherhood is, this burden of love and joy and heartache that we carry with us for our children. Willingly and gladly we carry it, for that is what mothers do, that is the deal we’ve made with the universe.

Although, we might be just ever so slightly more willing and glad if we were carrying the burden after, I don’t know, a lovely massage at a relaxing spa. I’m just saying, is all.

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