Archives for May 2009

Second Children

I am an oldest child, as were both of my parents. My husband Jon is an oldest child, as were his parents. We are both oldest grandchildren, and our daughter Hannah is the oldest great-grandchild on every side. Oldest children are what my husband and I know. So when we welcomed baby Jacob into our family we were entering uncharted territory. We suddenly had a younger sibling in our midst.

Most first-time parents are very nervous and very attentive. I might say too nervous and too attentive. The plain truth is that you don’t know what you’re doing. In this day and age you might not ever have held a newborn, let alone cared for one until suddenly you have your own. So you channel that worry into documentation. You create baby books and baby journals and baby albums. You chart how many wet and dirty diapers your newborn produces as if your very life depended on it.

With each passing child the amount of worry and attention diminishes. Which is a good thing, really. In the past four years of parenting I know I have lightened up considerably. My preschooler eats ice cream and shows no ill effects. I have crossed the refined sugar Rubicon, and we all survived. I have learned what matters and what doesn’t. And I have a whole lot less time on my hands. So I don’t write as many baby book entries. I take just as many photos, but I don’t put them in albums. And I don’t keep track of things like which day Jacob first made the ‘g’ sound.

But I don’t think my second child is any less important. I don’t love him less. Not even a little bit. I may have less time to devote to Jacob one-on-one, but a lot of that is made up for by his doting older sister. Plus, I’m not sure it was terribly good for anyone when I had nothing to do but spend one-on-one time with my child every day. Sometimes a little bit of sharing is good for a kid. It’s a lot of pressure to be the center of the universe, you know?

I am slowly learning the ins and outs of parenting a second child. There’s a temptation to view the little one as the eternal innocent, the one who can do no wrong. I am fighting that. There’s also a temptation to draw out infancy, because now I really understand how quickly it will be over. I am fighting that, too. And there’s a tendency to put pressure on the older one to look out for the younger, set a good example, make your life easier. Even more fighting from me on these fronts. I guess only time will tell how I do. How well I approach parenting children with a different birth orders.

I’m curious how other parents view birth order and the role it plays. Where do you fall in your family? And how has that affected your parenting? Or, maybe it hasn’t. I’d love to hear!

My swingy kids
My first and second children, dividing my attention on the swings

Something is Eating my Plants

A little more than three weeks ago I talked about my garden, and my wee lettuce seedlings. My 4-year-old Hannah had helped me plant the seeds, and so we had rather more seedlings than we knew what to do with. I did some thinning, but mostly just let the little plants grow and looked forward to lots of salad in my future.

Today I look at that photo and it makes me want to cry. Because slowly the wee lettuce plants disappeared. One by one by one, until there weren’t any left at all. I denied what was happening for a while, I suppose I didn’t want to face a future with no lettuce. Eventually I could no longer ignore that every morning there were fewer and fewer of them left. I tried planting more seeds, but those were eaten too, and even faster than the previous ones.

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These lettuce seedlings are now only a memory

My lettuce isn’t the only crop that was hit. My carrots have also disappeared and now I have only two hardy plants left growing. Again I planted more seeds, and those little seedlings are just poking through the dirt. I am ever hopeful these will fare better. Also, the little parsley seedlings disappeared as well, so I gave in and bought some seed starts which are faring better. At least, so far.

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One of my remaining carrot plants

My cucumber seeds have also been hit. I still have a few wee cucumber plants poking up through the soil, but I should have more than twice that. They have been disappearing, but thankfully more slowly. I planted more cucumber seeds that are also just popping up, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a few cucumber plants will survive infancy. I’ve put down egg shells around the cucumbers, because I heard they deter slugs.

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Replacement parsley

The thing is, I’m not sure it is slugs. I haven’t noticed any in my garden. I haven’t seen any tell-tale slime trails, either. I’ve seen a few snails, which I removed. I have lots of ants, worms, and wood bugs, which I’m assuming are not the culprits. I have also seen squirrels, but I thought they stuck with bulbs and the like. I know that there aren’t any rabbits or deer in the area.

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Wee cucumber plant, with a hole in the leaf

I would love to hear opinions from more expert gardeners. Can slugs hide? Am I just overlooking them? And what do you use to control them? I’ve heard suggestions of garlic powder, cayenne pepper, egg shells, beer, and copper tape. Or, is it those pesky squirrels? I feel very sad going out into my garden these days, so if you have any non-toxic pest control suggestions, I’m totally game. I want to grow food for myself, not the local wildlife!

PS – Thanks to my husband Jon (who is the tech-savvy one), Strocel.com was added to Alltop. Alltop is a web directory that contains approved sites, it’s sort of like a ‘good housekeeping seal of approval.’ You can find me in the Moms category. 🙂

Making up Songs

I am a singer, it’s part of my soul. I’ve sung in choirs, and in church, and to pass the time. I sang a lot when I was a Girl Guide, and later when I was a Girl Guide leader. I sing along with music in the car. And I sing to my kids. Daily, sometimes hourly.

Sometimes it’s all that gets me through the day. When everyone is cranky and tired and I feel like running into the street just to get away from the noise, I sing. I make up songs. Silly songs, sad songs. I sing old hymns that I remember, bits of liturgy. I sing campfire songs and hair ballads. Sending music out into the universe, hoping for some kind of strength in return. A little piece of sanity to see me through.

If we cooperate we can make our mom deaf
The kids making music together

Favourite songs see my 9-month-old through diaper changes, or help my 4-year-old when she’s sad. They seem to love the music, too. As they say, it soothes the savage beast, and there are few beasts more savage than toddlers. I suppose music is in everyone’s soul, if you think about it. How can we keep from singing?

The thing is, most of the songs I sing are not ‘real’ songs. I’m usually making up words as I go along. I often use familiar tunes, or sometimes I create my own. And I don’t remember the songs most of the time, although I have my favourite personal compositions. Mostly I’m just singing to pass the time and get through the day, and making it up as I go.

Jacob really gets into his music
Jacob playing the piano

So when I was in the baby music class with my 9-month-old, I found myself at a loss. All the moms were taking turns rocking their babies in a blanket. And we were asked to sing a favourite song or lullaby while we did it. The teacher joined in and sang along. When it was my turn, I realized that while I sing all day, I didn’t have a song that my baby would know, and other people would know too. The teacher was making suggestions and I hadn’t sung any of them to my little guy. So I went ahead and sang “Twinkle, Twinkle” and smiled.

Hannah drumming
Little drummer girl

This is the hazard of my musical approach. Sometimes you miss the shared foundation. Yes, my 9-month-old knows lots of songs as sung by his mother, but he hasn’t heard much in the way of “Baa Baa Black Sheep”.

But you know what? When I hear my 4-year-old making up her own songs, using her own words and tunes, I don’t care that no one else knows them. I love it. Her songs are the perfect expression of her self. Her joys and sorrows. And I wouldn’t trade them for a million renditions of “Twinkle, Twinkle”. 🙂

Saving the World Without Going Crazy

Like pretty much everyone else in the world I have become increasingly aware of environmental issues in the past few years. I use words like ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘food miles’ in my daily life. I think about how that Cinderella cake topper will persist in the environment forever, along with its hormone disruptors and its potentially carcinogenic components. I’ve been feeling concerned, and I wanted to take action.

I started small. I started spending my money more selectively, buying second-hand items, re-using what I could, reducing my overall consumption. We compost and recycle. I’m growing food in my garden, I belong to a buying club that carries locally grown organic food, and I visit my local farmer’s market. I cloth diaper and breastfeed. I buy products in bulk or choose items that come with less packaging. I carry re-usable shopping bags everywhere I go.

These are all good things. And lots of people will tell you that even these small steps can make a big difference. It felt good to me to make them. I felt a little self-satisfied thrill when I took out my compost, ate a local meal, or hung the cloth diapers outside to dry.

ecoholicBut then I read Ecoholic by Adria Vasil. And the enormity of the situation began to dawn on me. It’s well and good to reduce our consumption, but it only delays the inevitable. If we keep using our resources at unsustainable levels, we will run out. As I examined my life I began to feel as if everything I do is harmful. The waterproof covers on my cloth diapers may be toxic. The plastic that I so diligently recycle is poisoning people halfway around the world. The computer that I’m using is chock full of harmful chemicals and running on electricity that may come from burning fossil fuels. It left me feeling overwhelmed and sort of hopeless.

This is where I’m sitting now. Wondering if my actions even matter in the face of all the plastic in our oceans. Feeling helpless when I learn that frogs are disappearing at alarming rates. I don’t have a good solution. I tell myself that maybe what it takes is just lots of individuals doing small things, raising their own awareness. That I don’t need to solve all the world’s problems single-handedly. That my despair does no one any good. Some days I believe that, some days not so much.

I know I’m not the only one who feels very small in the face of very big problems. We all have our own methods of handling it. Some of them work some of the time, some not so much. Right now my old methods aren’t working, and so I’m at a loss. I would really prefer to maintain my optimism, because I think that feeling overwhelmed is rarely helpful. So I’d like to hear how you handle it. How do you face big problems like the environment or poverty? How do you maintain perspective?

Jacob’s Hair

You would be forgiven for thinking I talk about hair a lot. Because, well, I do. I like to claim that I don’t really care about hair that much, but the post count doesn’t lie. First I talked about my daughter Hannah’s hair. Then my hair. Then Hannah’s hair again. Then my hair again. And now I’m going to talk about baby Jacob’s lovely locks. I promise I will find something new to talk about after today. 🙂

Jacob was born with a respectable amount of hair. I kept waiting for it to fall out, but it never did. It just kept growing, and growing, and growing. By the time he was 5 months old it was getting pretty crazy. It was also becoming apparent that I would not be able to hold off his first haircut forever.

Look at the hair!
Jacob’s hair at 5 months

I loved Jacob’s crazy baby curls. After baths they would form little ringlets or stick straight up in the air. Little blond locks going every which way. And I think he loved his hair, too. When he was going to sleep he would often run his fingers through it as he nursed. It was very sweet.

Crazy curly baby hair
Crazy curly baby hair at 7 months

The problem, though, is that when his hair wasn’t sticking straight up it was sticking straight down. It was obscuring his vision. It constantly had gunk of one kind or another stuck in it, since it was just everywhere. And unlike Hannah I didn’t feel comfortable just sticking a barrette or hair tie in it. I’m just not evolved enough to use accessories in my son’s hair.

Jacob crawling up my leg
Crawling up my leg at 8 months

But still, I held off the first haircut. I told everyone I would wait until his first birthday. Before then I didn’t think I could handle how much older he would look. While he was still in his first year of life I was determined to keep the baby curls, no matter how inconvenient they were.

Jacob and his diaper pail
Completely obstructing his vision at 9 months

Finally, I had to give in. Once again I was trying to pick some baby goo out of his hair, and once again Jacob was objecting. I hadn’t seen his eyes in days. I steeled myself and dug out my scissors while Jacob was still in his sleeper one morning, so that errant hairs wouldn’t get on his clothes. And I did my best not to completely mutilate my baby’s head.

My 9-month-old dreamboat
The first haircut at 9 months

In spite of the constant wiggling, I think I did all right. He definitely does look older, but he’s still very cute. He’s still my baby, just slightly more boy-ish. And I can see his beautiful eyes again, which makes me happy indeed.

Paid Maternity Leave in Australia

I’m participating in the Carnival of Breastfeeding today. The theme is ‘Stories’, and you can find my own contribution and links to lots of other great breastfeeding posts. After you read all about the introduction of paid maternity leave in Australia, go check it out!

At present, Australia doesn’t have any type of paid maternity or parental leave. As I discussed in January, it stands out (alongside the US) amongst Western nations. The 2007 election was fought with paid maternity leave in the forefront, and the winning party had promised to implement a scheme.

In September of 2009 the Productivity Commission issued recommendations for implementing paid maternity leave. They suggested that mothers or primary carers receive 18 weeks of leave at $544 AUD (roughly $480 CAD or $427 USD) per week, which is the minimum wage for adults. They also suggested that stay-at-home mothers still qualify for the $5000 AUD baby bonus, currently paid to new families with annual earnings of less than $75,000 AUD.

But then the economy tanked, and the government started dragging its feet.

Finally, two weeks ago an announcement was made on Mother’s Day. In January 2011 Australia will implement paid maternity leave. The scheme is very similar to the one proposed by the Productivity Commission. Primary carers who make less than $150,000 AUD (approximately $132,325 CAD or $117,780 USD) per year will be eligible to receive the adult minimum wage for 18 weeks. Most workers will qualify, since you need only work one day per week over a 10 month period.

If mothers are not able to take the full 18 weeks of leave, a portion may be transferred to their partners. And stay-at-home mothers who qualify will continue to receive the $5000 AUD baby bonus on the birth of each child.

The paid maternity leave will be offered on top of any maternity leave payments offered by employers. Although it’s reasonable to assume employers may reduce maternity pay now that mothers will be receiving government benefits. Here in Canada some employers offer ‘top-ups’, to bring your maternity pay closer to your ordinary pay. No one is making more on maternity leave than they are while working, though, and it’s likely Australian employers would follow suit.

I’m glad that Australia is implementing paid maternity leave. It has been a long fight, and there is still a long wait ahead. All the same, it is a very important step in the right direction for Australian families.

Finger Friends

I spend a lot of time telling my 4-year-old Hannah to wait, to not touch things, to keep her fingers out of that. It’s not something I’m terribly proud of, but it’s a daily reality of life with a preschooler. They don’t have very good impulse control, they have a hard time waiting, and they don’t always particularly want to share. Who can blame them? I feel the same way a lot of the time, I just have the necessary social graces not to let on (much).

In the midst of the admonitions to keep her fingers out of the cookie dough we’re mixing or to stop throwing around dirt in the garden, Hannah has created some characters out of her imagination. They are ‘Finger Friends’. Finger Friends are just her fingers, but she doesn’t control them. They have minds of their own, and they can’t be stopped. It’s not Hannah who drew on the wall, you see, it was Finger Friends. They also pulled the flowers out of the garden and took the chocolate chips out of the cupboard.

The other day I said, “Finger Friends like to do the things they’re not supposed to, don’t they?” And Hannah replied, “Yes! They don’t like to wait their turn or share. And they like messes.” What can you do but laugh?

I actually enjoy the Finger Friends game. It averts a lot of frustration. Instead of me being angry and impatient with Hannah, I’m laughing at Finger Friends. I can say things to Finger Friends that I can’t say to my 4-year-old. Like, “Finger Friends! You guys are bad news! Hannah, tell Finger Friends why we don’t pull up flowers.” And then she tells them. Or she asks me to, and she listens. It’s much less stressful than if I were lecturing my daughter yet again, and much more effective.

I expect that as Hannah gets older Finger Friends will stop behaving so much like, well, 4-year-olds. Just as Hannah will no longer behave so much like a 4-year-old. But for now they’re a great way to share a laugh and deflect the tension. Even if they are sort of bad news. 🙂

Hannah's 'Finger Friends'
Hannah’s Finger Friends, poised to strike

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