Archives for November 2009

Little Monkeys

When my firstborn, Hannah, was about 9 months old I was struck by her primate-ness. The way that she would gesture and cling to me when I carried her and issue forth strings of vowel sounds was more than a little reminiscent of a monkey. I could imagine her holding tight to me while I climbed the treetops, her little fingers never letting go. It is a primate thing, after all, to carry our young around the way we do. You don’t see puppies or calves or bear cubs or baby elephants riding on their mothers’ backs.

Now Hannah is approaching her 5th birthday and she’s not so monkey-like anymore, although I still use ‘Monkey’ as a nickname. But my second child Jacob is 15 months old, and he makes me think of a little chimpanzee. When he dances he has a wide stance and he bobs up and down and makes crazy noises, and it is very ape-like. And when he’s afraid he grabs on to me so strongly that I could not hold him at all and he wouldn’t fall. I am his lifeline in the metaphorical treetops of life, and he knows it.

Of course, I think my children are much cuter than your average monkey, and they always have been. And I also take comfort in knowing that they will outgrow their monkey-ness. But for right now it’s kind of cute. It makes me think of the millions of years of history that are built into each one of us. I marvel at how mothers and babies and families are really just part of an unbroken chain in time, stretching back far beyond my imagination. And yet, here it is, playing out in front of me as my toddler asks me for a cracker in his pre-verbal, howler monkey tones. Ah-ah-ah-ah-AAAAH!

You have to admit, the similarities are sort of compelling. In fact, they’re so obvious that many businesses targeted toward children use the word monkey in their name. There are clothing lines, diapers, daycares, indoor playgrounds, stores, toys and more that use the word. And monkey images are popular, too, with the most obvious and successful being the entire Curious George franchise. People like monkeys, and they kind of remind us of our children.

And I can see why:
Baby monkey holding on
Photo credit George Estreich on Flickr

Crossing the Burrard Street Bridge
18-month-old Hannah and I on the Burrard Street Bridge

Snuggling while Mom surfs
6-month-old Jacob snuggling up to me

PS – I have entered the Blog to Inspire contest, which ends tomorrow. If you haven’t seen my post, I’d love it if you stopped by and wished me luck at Battling the Toy Catalogues.

Handmade Christmas

I have grand plans this Christmas. Grand plans, indeed. I want to make (or buy) handmade gifts for the people on my list. So far, I’m still in the planning stages. I have finished a few small projects, and I have yet to tackle the big ones. But I am feeling inspired, let me tell you.

I like the idea of giving gifts that I’ve made because it feels meaningful. If I give you a jar of jam, a knitted hat or a blanket I’ve made, you know that a lot of effort went into that gift. I didn’t pick it up off the shelf as an afterthought as I rushed around the mall. I did some planning and put in the work. And if my children put in some of the work, too? All the more special, I say.

(These are not actual holiday gifts. They are just examples of what the holiday gifts could look like. I wish I were this far along, but I’m not, plus I don’t want to ruin the surprise.)

Close-up of the embroidery.

Close-up of the strap button on the back

Making some felted fairy wings

Close up of the sun

Fresh-baked bread

It remains to be seen how successful my plan will be. For now, I’m feeling optimistic. But just know, that if you do end up receiving something that was plucked off a store shelf at the last minute it’s not because I don’t love you. It’s because my $#@&%! sewing machine broke and / or my list was frankly unrealistic in the first place. I might even need some of you to talk me down before I take a sledgehammer to my craft table. Not that I would ever become completely obsessed and deranged by crafting, but, you know, I hear that some people do.

So, does anyone else have any handmade holiday plans? Please share! And if this is your kind of thing, you might want to sign up for the fabulous Crunchy Chicken’s Buy Hand for the Holidays Challenge.

Also, I wanted to let you know that I am moving web hosts this weekend. This may explain any weirdness you see over Saturday and Sunday. Any intercessions on my behalf with the technology deities are much appreciated. 🙂

Confessions of a Hippie Mama

I sometimes refer to myself as a ‘hippie mama’, or a ‘crunchy granola mom’. The terms are a sort of short-hand way to tell you something about who I am. For example, I cloth diaper, breastfeed and babywear. I buy organic produce at my local farmer’s market, and grow a vegetable garden. I bake my own bread and opt for ketchup in glass bottles over my husband’s protests. I consider myself a feminist and a pacifist. I subscribe to Mothering magazine and my kids listen to a lot of Raffi.

However, one mama can only be so crunchy, you know? So, today, I am going to share with you the many ways that I am not such a hippie mama after all.

1. I hate camping. Hate. It. I was a Girl Guide for 12 long years, and I’ve done my fair share. I’ve camped in tents and cabins and snow caves and under the stars. I have washed my hair in a lake and eaten my breakfast standing up because there was no dry surface. Now when other people go camping I search out a nearby motel, with warm beds and running water.

2. I do not own a pair of Birkenstocks, and I never have.

Some of my non-Birkenstock footwear

3. I listen to country music, or show tunes or catchy pop songs. The easier to sing along with the better. I do not enjoy Bob Dylan, although I am sure he has a broad influence and revolutionized music as we know it. Or something.

4. I dress my children in sports-themed clothing, well before they are actually able to make such decisions for themselves. Why? Because I think they look cute.

Impressionable children, being indoctrinated into a sports-crazed culture

5. I have been known to shop at Walmart. I looked everywhere else for a good, affordable plastic diaper pail, and only Walmart came through. While I do avoid big box stores whenever possible, sometimes they really do have the best prices and selection.

6. I eat meat, and I like it. I also eat wheat and dairy and occasionally consume high-fructose corn syrup. Because sometimes? Mama needs a Coca Cola fix.

The barbecue, on which we cook meat

7. I send my child to full-day preschool, and I plan to enroll her in public school.

8. I own a lot of baby gear. Including the playard, otherwise known as a playpen, or baby jail. My kids didn’t like it much, but it sure came in handy when we did some home renovations.

Hannah doing some hard time while new railings are installed in our house

9. I am excessively law-abiding, and a total people-pleaser. This means that I’m afraid to even write a strongly worded letter to an elected representative. Attending a demonstration, or even jay-walking, are so far outside of my comfort range I cannot even tell you.

10. We live in the suburbs, and have no desire to move back to the land or to a more urban setting. Yes, it’s sprawly, but it mostly works for us.

The side yard
Suburban sprawl, also known as our side yard

Sometimes I worry that people are going to read about how I have no TV and I knit and I needle felt, and feel judged. Or that I am engaged in a one woman game of ‘hippier than thou’. I am not. I do the things I do because I enjoy them. If you don’t enjoy them, it’s fine by me. It’s also cool if you’re a vegetarian who wears Birkenstocks and loves to camp. As long as we can be tolerant and understanding, we can join together as one happy tribe, I say.

Unless, you know, you’re not rooting for ‘Dad’s Team’. Because Jacob and I feel that’s sort of a deal-breaker. 😉

How about you? Any deep, dark secrets you’d like to confess? I’d love it if you played along!

November Blahs

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life. Or, at least, I would be if I could motivate myself to do anything.

I have the worst case of the November blahs right now. November is a very dark, grey, rainy month here in Vancouver, and it wears on you after a while. I’ll take a little bit of drizzle over snow any day, but too much of any particular weather pattern can become tiresome. I can safely say that as I write this the rain has reached the tiresome point, and then some.

One of the big obstacles I am facing on my whole journey of re-invention is finding the time and motivation to get any work done. I spend a lot of my days doing very exciting things like making peanut butter sandwiches with no crusts, picking up toys, changing diapers and plucking dangerous objects from the hands of my children. I plead, I cajole, I sing silly songs, I read books and I occasionally raise my voice in spite of myself. My children nap far less than I would like, preferring the ‘rarely and for short periods’ plan over the ‘give Mama lots of time to herself’ option. And then, eventually, they collapse into bed and I tackle the kitchen and then I just want to sit still and enjoy the quiet.

There are a few ways that I could react to the fact that I don’t feel like doing much of anything. I could take the tough love route and beat myself up over it. But really? I am so done beating myself up over my perceived shortcomings, it is just not helpful for me. I could try to bribe myself into productivity by promising myself a treat when I’m finished, but I rarely manage to hold out that long because frankly, skipping the work and going straight for the chocolate sounds better. Or, I could just give in and do nothing, but that doesn’t help my mental state much, either.

When I am suffering from terminal lack of motivation there are a few things I’ve found helpful. I’ve mentioned making space for new things in the past, where you start clearing away the clutter from your physical and mental space. That can sometimes get me out of the doldrums. But the most sure-fire and effective thing, for me, is to just sit down and write anyway. Yes, I may need to wait until the kids are otherwise occupied or my husband is home. Yes, it might feel vaguely painful to stare at a blank screen. No, the ideas do not come flooding into my brain.

But. But. Eventually, I start typing a sentence or two. Then I delete them. And then I type a few more, and delete them. And sooner or later I get a whole paragraph and it’s not half bad. And maybe that’s all I get for the time being. But it’s a paragraph more than I had, and the next time I sit down I have a starting point. Slowly, slowly, I pick away at it and it gets easier.

Even when you’re passionate about something, sometimes your drive is just not there. And that’s OK. It is not a sign that you’re on the wrong path or that you aren’t cut out for this or that you chose the wrong thing. At least, not necessarily. It could just be a part of the natural cycle of things, the ebb and flow of life. If you keep at it, it will come back. And you will learn something about your process and yourself as you work through it, and probably emerge the better for it. After all, anyone can do it when it’s easy, but it takes something to do it when it’s hard.

So, here I sit. I have the blahs. I don’t want to write all that much. But I just did anyway, and I feel better. And maybe if you try it, you will, too. Or, maybe you have some other sure-fire way to beat the blahs. If so, please share!

PS – Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. I hope that you have a fabulous, restful holiday, completely devoid of any blahs whatsoever.

The Kid Loves Books

When my firstborn Hannah was a baby I read to her a lot. I was very diligent with trying to get through at least 2 or 3 books every evening. It wasn’t easy, because like pretty much all babies she wasn’t really interested in sitting still and listening for long periods. So we favoured short, simple stories, and I read them at top speed. Over and over, until I had them memorized. Even years later I can recite those books from heart, word for word.

With Jacob I wasn’t so diligent, I admit it. This is the nature of parenting more than one child, you don’t try to pin them down and educate them so much when neither of you are particularly enjoying it. I would occasionally try to read to Jacob, but he far preferred to do other things, so I didn’t sweat it. Or, at least, that was the way it was until a month or so ago. Because a month or so ago? Jacob discovered books.

Jon reading to the kiddos
Jon reading to Jacob and Hannah

His first choice is Sandra Boynton’s Moo, Baa, La La La!, which he refers to as ‘Moo’. Or ‘da da ba ba awa!’ But really, I swear the kid says moo sometimes. He brings the book to you and sits on your lap very carefully to listen. When you’re done the story he takes it from you and hands it back, asking to start again. And again. And again.

Jacob loves to fling reading materials
Jacob’s throwing skills put to work on the kids books

As a second child, Jacob has even more people willing to read to him. Hannah, especially, enjoys reciting books from memory for him. (No, my 4-year-old cannot read.) This is possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen, my two kids cuddled up side by side enjoying a book together. It makes me very happy to see it. I also enjoy the liberties that Hannah takes with the story when she can’t remember the words.

Jacob unloads books into a booster seat
Jacob stacking adult books in a booster seat

Jacob doesn’t just love to look at books, though. No, he views books as excellent playthings, as well. They are good for chewing, throwing and stacking, amongst other things. Our bookshelves are constantly de-populated at Jacob’s hand. Sometimes they’re flung indiscriminately, sometimes they’re placed in a very special location, and sometimes he hands them, one by one, to an adult.

What can I say? The kid just loves books, and consumes them any way he can. I like to think that this is a sign that he will be very scholarly one day. I guess only time will tell. In the meantime, I will just enjoy this stage, because reading? Is something I can do while sitting down, and I have precious little chance to do that with a preschooler and a toddler, let me tell you.

A Year With (Almost) No TV

Our one and only television died just over a year ago, on November 12, 2008. It happened rather suddenly one afternoon. We tried to turn it on and it just … didn’t. I called my husband and asked him to come home early, because I didn’t know what I would do without the TV. How would I make dinner, or get any time to myself? I couldn’t see how it would work.

After we recovered from the shock, we decided to take advantage of the situation to try going TV-free for a while as an experiment. We thought that the most likely outcome was we would hit the after-Christmas sales and pick up a nice set. In the meantime, we could unplug. After Christmas, though, we were going strong and we decided to give up TV semi-permanently. We cancelled cable, disconnected the Tivo and re-arranged our living room furniture.

Now we’ve been TV-less for over a year, something that I could never have imagined on the day our TV broke. What do we do with ourselves and our children? Have we become completely insufferable and holier-than-thou hippies who just love to look down their noses at others? Here is my summary of what the year has been like.

The Good

Getting rid of the TV has eliminated the TV-related battles that we used to have with our daughter Hannah. Almost every day there would be a total meltdown because she wanted to watch something and we decided that it wasn’t a good idea. It was a major source of contention, and getting rid of it was a huge relief on that front.

Getting rid of the TV has also reduced the amount of time we all spend mindlessly watching stuff. I used to have it on for at least a couple of hours pretty much every evening. I would even keep it on in the background while I did other stuff, like cleaning or sewing. Now, the things we see are much, much more deliberate.

This one is sort of silly, but we regularly get phone calls from our old cable company offering us all kinds of incentives to re-subscribe to their service. Like any other telemarketer they pretty much always call in the middle of dinner and lay it on thick with the sales pitch. I will admit, I take great joy in being able to inform them in my most superior tone that I couldn’t possibly consider their offer, since I don’t even own a television. If you are going to pester me to buy something, I get to be as smug as I can possibly be, I say.

The Bad

Being without a TV isn’t all sunshine and roses. Since we got rid of the TV I feel terminally out of the loop. I am not familiar with that funny commercial, I don’t know what movies are showing right now, and I don’t have that window into the cultural zeitgeist that TV provides. It’s not entirely positive, I’ll grant you, but there are few better windows into the collective consciousness than television.

Also, I miss being able to sit down comfortably with my husband to watch a movie. Maybe we could even hold hands or share popcorn. That just isn’t possible anymore, at least not the way our computers are set up.

The Continued Presence of TV

Even though we don’t own a television set, we do own three computers. There is no shortage of available screens in our house, and we often use those screens to watch television programs or movies. I keep up to date with my favourite shows through internet streams. Jon watches sports on the web. And Hannah realized over 6 months ago that if you put a DVD into the computer, it plays itself.

We watch much less TV than we used to. I average in the neighbourhood of 6-8 hours a week. Hannah averages 4-5 hours. Jon gets in only a few. But we do definitely get our screen time. And both Jon and I spend a lot of time online in front of our computers. So the honest truth is we haven’t even really given up our viewing at all.

At this point, we have no plans to buy another TV. Who knows if that will change at one point? It certainly may. But for now, we’re pretty happy with our lifestyle as it is.

No Time to Be Sick

Since I became a mom, I just don’t get as sick as I used to. Oh, sure, I come down with the occasional bug of one kind or another, but it doesn’t seem to hit me that hard. Or, at least, not hard enough that it really stops me from doing much. I sometimes feel it’s totally unfair, in fact. When my husband is sick he sleeps in or takes naps. When I am sick I still get up with the kids and go about my daily routine. The kids need me whether I’m well or not – I can’t just pass off mothering to someone else while I convalesce.

To be fair to Jon, he does try to relieve me. But in my experience there is no way that two small children are going to happily play in some other part of the house while Mama sleeps. The wailing and the little fists pounding on the door soon cause me to give up any attempt to rest. And I don’t think I’m the only mother who just keeps right on going in the midst of whatever virus is infecting the household. When Jon and I were kids we didn’t really see our mothers get sick, either. Our dads would spend days in bed with one thing or another, but our moms pressed on. Because, you know, what choice did they have?

Amber and the kids, November
Who has time to be sick when they have little kids?

But even leaving aside gender issues and family work distribution, there’s something else that I’ve experienced. For more than 5 years now I’ve been either pregnant or breastfeeding continuously. And in that time, I’ve been healthier than at any other time in my life. I don’t get headaches like I used to, and aside from morning sickness I’m not prone to nausea or stomach ailments. It’s almost like my immune system has kicked it up a notch, whether for some actual physiological reason or because it just plain has to.

I’ve heard other people report that while they’re pregnant and breastfeeding they experience a change in chronic conditions. For example, women I know who have irritable bowel syndrome say that they don’t have any symptoms when they’re pregnant or nursing. And other people find that allergies arise or clear up when they go through pregnancy. The whole experience seems to do a number on our immune systems, and it can be good or bad.

Storytime with Daddy, something that Jon never misses even when he’s sick

I tried to do some research, and see if I’m the only one who’s experienced this lack of downtime. I wanted to know if it was in fact related to pregnancy and breastfeeding, or just a reality of motherhood. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find anything that was really relevant.

So, I thought that I would ask you, since many of you are mothers as well. Did you find that pregnancy and breastfeeding affected your immune system? Or was it just motherhood and the demands that it placed on you? And was the effect good, bad, or indifferent? I’m curious, now that I’ve been thinking about it.

PS – I wrote this post on Friday, and scheduled it for Monday. And then I promptly came down with yet another cold. Let this be a lesson to you – do not brag about how healthy you are. 😉

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