Archives for February 2011

On Being Present

When your kid is sick, everything else falls apart. Whatever you were planning to do that day? It’s probably not happening. That meeting you scheduled? You get to re-schedule it. So fun! And if you’re really lucky, you get to have a terse conversation with your partner about who has the fuller schedule today and can’t possibly hang out at home with a snotty child.

Having a sick kid just isn’t any fun at all. Especially when you realize that they’re generously passing on their germs to you, with every sneeze, cough and demand to be held. This happened to me recently, in fact. Last Wednesday, Hannah was home sick from school. And then, right on schedule, on Friday I was felled with some kind of superbug, strengthened by the refining fire of my daughter’s immune system, and ready to do battle with me.

Hannah resting on the couch
Hannah, resting on the couch on her sick day

Jacob feeling under the weather
Jacob, considering whether or not he should join his big sister

Being sick yourself is every bit as not-fun as having a sick kid. But fortunately for me, on Friday morning I had Wonder Nanny. She came for her usual morning of playing with my kids while I head to the café, only I wasn’t up to heading to the café. So instead, I took to my bed in dramatic Victorian style, and she played with my kids downstairs. I could hear them down there, making crafts and building towers and dancing to music and playing make-believe. And it struck me: Wonder Nanny is really present with my kids in a way that I rarely am.

Now, in fairness, when Wonder Nanny is at my house I’m paying her to be present with my kids. It’s her job, and she doesn’t have anything else that’s on her to-do list for those few hours. I, on the other hand, am trying to be the best mom I can while simultaneously living a life of my own. When I worked outside the home, I focused on work while I was at work, and I focused on home while I was at home. As a work at home mom, the two are never truly separate for me now.

It’s not that I don’t do stuff with my kids, you understand. We visit the park and bake chocolate chip cookies and read lots and lots of books. But I’m often thinking about work, or trying to fit something in, around that time. My mind is in several places at once.

Milk and cookies for cranky children
I made my kids milk and cookies, I’m not all bad

I’m still not totally sure how I feel about the way that my time and attention is always divided. Maybe a little bit of it is inevitable. Having interests outside my kids certainly isn’t a bad thing. And being present in the house with them a majority of the time isn’t bad either. And yet, I do wish that I were better at focusing on what’s happening, instead of always being in 15 different places at once.

How do you do it? Do you feel that your attentions are constantly divided? Or are you focused completely on your children when you’re with them? What feels like the best balance for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

PS – Every month I do a monthly review of things I learned. Some are serious, some are funny, and all are hard-won. I will be running it on Wednesday, March 2. If you want to play along, there will be a link-up, so write a post on or before the link-up date and come back here to include it.

Navigating Motherhood with Sarah Juliusson

Today is the day! I’ve been rambling on and on about Vancouver’s BirthFest event, and it’s finally happening. And so I am taking this chance to highlight one more member of the Birth Lounge Collective here.

I talk a lot about trying to figure out who I want to be when I grow up. It’s what my Crafting my Life journey is all about. While I may not have all the answers, I’m pretty sure that Grown-Up Amber looks a lot like Sarah Juliusson. Sarah has worked as a nurse and trained as a midwife. She’s the mama behind Dancing Star Birth, which offers prenatal classes and doula service. She also created Mama Renew, which runs community support groups for new and seasoned mothers. Participants share in the joys and challenges of motherhood, and support one another as they seek renewal and balance as women. But that’s not all. She also recently created Birth Your Business, to help new entrepreneurs get their ideas up and running.

That part of me that loves all things birth-y and baby thinks Sarah is about the coolest person ever.

You’d think that Sarah would not have a moment to spare, between helping to plan BirthFest and running three businesses, but she was gracious enough to take some time to chat with me. We talked about birth, mothering and community. I enjoyed it immensely. Listen to our conversation here:

I love how calming Sarah’s voice sounds. I just know that she would be an awesome at a birth. And I love that she’s found her place. People doing their Thing just fill me with inspiration. Now I just need to figure out what my Thing is.

Now, I’d like you to weigh in. How did (or do) you find support and community in pregnancy and birth? And what about in motherhood? And also, what is your Thing, do you know? I’d love to hear from you!

Talking Motherhood and Business with Karen

Yesterday, I shared my interview with the super-cool Callie Camp, who is part of the Birth Lounge Collective. Today, I’m catching up with another mama from that group, Karen Randall. Karen is the woman behind New and Green Baby, an online cloth diaper shop based out of the Vancouver area. Like Callie, she’s also hard at work right now organizing BirthFest, which runs this weekend. And like Callie, she also found some time to chat with me.

Unfortunately, my interview with Karen was a bit of a comedy of errors. For some reason, Skype would just not co-operate. The audio file has all this background noise, which seemingly came from nowhere. So I will spare your ears and share some written excerpts from that interview here.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your family?
I’ve been married to my husband since 2003, and we have 2 girls, a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. Currently I run New and Green as well as being involved with my kids.

New and Green Baby was launched in Summer 2007, and we’re an online cloth diaper store. But really what our business is built on is educating and supporting parents. We have cloth diaper workshops that run all throughout Metro Vancouver, and we have cloth diaper tester kits to help families get started with less risk.

How did you start New and Green Baby?
For a long time in my working life I’ve wanted to do something a little bit different, or do something on my own. When you’re an employee, you don’t always have the ability to act on new ideas or to change things. So when I went off on my maternity leave with my first daughter I got some cloth diapers, and I figured out how to use them along the way. I started going to lots of moms groups, and the reaction I had from lots of moms in those groups was, “What is that? Is that a cloth diaper? Where did you get them?” Then they said, “I really wanted to do that, but I didn’t know how.” That kind of simmered for a while, and out of that came a business idea.

So now you have this business, and you’re running it from home, is that right?
We have a warehouse space where we keep our diapers, and we have some staff now that works with us, but the bulk of it, what I do, often happens at the dining room table. It’s in the evenings, when the kids are asleep.

How do you manage that? Your kids are still very young. How do you do that and maintain your sanity?
I had this really incredible fantasy that I’d be able to work at home, with the kids present, and get things done. And that was possible when my first daughter was really small and not yet mobile. Now, it’s totally not possible. The way I do it is childcare. We have wonderful family in town, so they get to spend time with their grandmothers, and my oldest daughter goes to preschool. I work in “work” time around the times they’re not here. The big thing I’ve learned is I can’t do them both at the same time or nobody wins.

Do you do anything to recharge, or to keep yourself sane?
It’s been a marathon. It’s been a long haul working on this business, and putting all this energy into it. To be totally truthful I’m just at this point starting to feel like I need to reclaim a bit of time for myself. Because I really focus on working when the kids are not with me, that means working at night, when I maybe would be having downtime if I wasn’t working on this business, and working when my husband is looking after the children.

I’m focusing a lot more on when I take my daughter to preschool, trying to make more connections with the moms there and trying to do more mom things instead of just business-related things. And one of the big things I’ve done is connecting with other moms in the mom business community in Vancouver, which is super supportive, because everyone knows what it’s like.

If you could go back to when you first started this business and tell yourself something, what would that be?
I think it would be to be disciplined about setting boundaries around business time and family time. I’m staring to get that, but it’s taken four years.

I struggle with that, too. We see each other on Twitter at 11:45pm.
It’s like the mom working hours.

I’ve seen some of your goals recently around setting boundaries and I think they’re awesome.
My two recently are no computer before breakfast. And to be totally honest, I broke that rule this morning. But it’s a work in progress, and if I fall down I can get back up. And my other one is no computer from like 5:30-8:30, because that’s dinner time and putting the kids to bed time. But it’s just little tiny pieces.

I see that you’re very active in the community. Do you do anything to try to consciously create community?
Because I run an online store it’s important for me to try and connect people through workshops, so that families who are new to cloth diapering can see that other people are interested in. We’ve created a nice Facebook community where there’s lots of new and seasoned coth diaper users, so that’s been a really important thing for me, too.

What’s your favourite part of working with expectant and new parents?
For me it kind of parallels what I was doing as an Occupational Therapist, in that I worked with people to refine their goals and then achieve them. With diapering we’re looking at what your goals are for diapering, what works for your family and how we’re going to do it. When they come out the other end and they’ve done it, it feels good.

There’s no way you will remember this, but I ordered some cloth diapers from you, and you pre-assembled them for me so that I could see how to use them. I really appreciated that, and it helped me see how to use them.
Aw, thanks for the feedback!

I will see you at BirthFest. This is going to be my first time. Is there something I should really look forward to?
It’s going to feel like a big party. Lots of people wearing their babies, lots of huge bellies walking around, and really warm inviting vendors. It’s a festival feel, there’s lots of music, and the gym no longer looks like a gym. It feels like a nice lounge-y space. So take your time and have fun!

Now I want to turn it back to you. How do you create boundaries between family and the other things you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Callie Camp: Crafting her Life

A while back I told you about the super-cool BirthFest event coming up in Vancouver this Saturday. It’s a holistic pregnancy, birth and baby event, created by the Birth Lounge Collective. I’ll be there. If you’re local, you should totally come, too.

But that’s really not what I intended to talk about today. Or at least not all that I intended to talk about. Since today is Thursday, I’m Crafting my Life. And this week, I’m doing that by sharing an interview I did with the fabulous Callie Camp. Like me, Callie is an engineer. But then her first child was born, the company she was working for folded, and she headed in a new direction. Now she’s part of Fit 4 Two, leading fitness classes for pregnant and new moms in East Vancouver.

Callie has been part of the Birth Lounge Collective for a few years now, helping to organize BirthFest. You can bet that she’s one busy mama right now. But luckily she found some time to chat with me. We talked about changing direction, building a mothering community, and finding support as an entrepreneur. What is it like to go from being part of a large work team in an office to running your own business? How do you pick up all the skills you need as an entrepreneur? And how do you support the mothers that you’re working with? These are just some of the questions I asked.

It was great to talk to someone that I feel I share a whole lot in common with. As I spoke with Callie, I saw many parallels to my own life. I had a really great time, and enjoyed connecting with a local mama who is out there doing her Thing. Listen to the interview for yourself right here:

Now I’d like to turn it back to you. Tell me, where do you find support and community? How important is it to you to feel that someone has your back? And how do you offer support to others? I’d love to hear!

Mobile Memories

I have been the proud owner of an iPhone for almost 6 months. And it’s become like an appendage for me. I use the phone daily, although I rarely actually call anyone on it. It’s a gaming device, a way to access Facebook and Twitter, an email tool, and a GPS when I can’t figure out where I’m going. But perhaps most of all, it’s my camera.

I have a proper camera. It’s not fancy, but it takes pretty good photos and it can shoot HD video, too. And yet the reality is that I don’t have my camera directly on my person all that often. It’s usually in my desk drawer or tucked into my diaper bag. I don’t necessarily bring it along on every walk, and sometimes by the time I manage to pull it out the moment I wanted to capture has passed. And this is where my phone, which is always readily at hand, comes in.

My love affair with my phone’s camera started when I downloaded the Hipstamatic app. I liked the idea of shaking my phone, getting a random combination of photo settings, and snapping away. The shots weren’t all winners, but enough were. Plus, the imperfection was kind of the point. I wasn’t spending a long time getting the best possible framing and then editing in Photoshop. I was snap-snap-snapping away, getting an old-school low-fi look, and loving it.

Then I read something online about taking great photos with your phone. I wish I remembered where, because I would totally link to it, but I don’t. Anyways, the gist was that the Camera+ app for the iPhone is really pretty cool. Somewhat serendipitously, I happened to have an iTunes gift card, so I downloaded it. It has all the old-school feel of Hipstamatic, but instead of choosing your settings before you shoot, you apply them afterward. You shoot and edit right on your phone. I crop, adjust the light levels, apply a filter and choose a frame, and I’m done. I get consistently better shots, but they still have that low-fi look to them. I’ve fallen in love with my phone’s camera all over again.

There are a lot of things that aren’t so great about having your phone with you all the time. Like the pesky business of always being connected. It’s not always easy to separate work and play when you can check your email from the local playground. But I love that as long as I have it, I can capture the little moments of our lives right as they happen. That part is pretty freaking cool.

My pet dragon

Me and Hannah at the library

Hannah looking at a book

Jacob with his improvised basketball hoop

My girl

Jacob arranges letters on the fridge

There are a lot of pros and cons to having a smart phone. I know that I waste a lot of time with mine, for sure. But I also know that one day, I’m going to be glad to have the photos I shot with it.

What about you? Do you have a camera phone? Do you find that it’s easier to use that for photos than an actual camera? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Six Things I Love About Public School

My daughter Hannah is a little more than half-way through kindergarten, which is the first year of formal school where I live. She attends our local public school, and it’s my first exposure to the system since I myself graduated in 1994. I am hardly an expert yet, but I’ve seen enough to form some opinions on public school.

Many (if not most) of my friends have embraced educational alternatives. They homeschool, or send their children to private Montessori or Waldorf schools. Some have opted for French Immersion or other special programs through the public school system. But I did not. I enrolled my daughter in our local public school, without doing much research or seriously considering the alternatives. I went with the local school because it was easy, and Hannah is generally a pretty adaptable kid who does well in classes and childcare settings. I decided to start with the simplest option, knowing that if it doesn’t work for us at any point, we’ll switch things up.

I’m not sure exactly what I expected from public school. I had some concerns about overcrowding, underfunding and disappearing enrichment programs. You hear lots of stories about the sad state of our schools. I live in a solidly middle-class neighbourhood in a solidly middle-class suburb. While the local school is certainly not the poorest, it’s also far from the richest. How bad would conditions be?

In spite of my fears and my feeling that I wasn’t really adequately researching my options, we have been very happy with our public school experience. Of course, it’s only one school, in one district, in one province in Canada. And so anything that I share is anecdotal, and specific to our situation. Still, the way that kindergarten has been approached at our school has impressed me at every turn. Here are some things I really love about our public school experience so far:

  1. It’s social: At this stage, Hannah’s teacher is focused primarily on helping the children adjust to the school experience, and develop good social skills. Their report cards don’t have letter grades, and there isn’t any pressure that I’ve seen to perform academically. There are undoubtedly educational objectives, but at this point they’re mostly about helping the children understand the routines and rhythms of school, and participate in those.
  2. It’s adaptive: Hannah’s class did a unit on crows in the fall. The children were playing outside and they saw a bunch of crows picking through the garbage left on the playground. They started asking questions, and a project was born. The teacher had a crow puppet that was funny and engaging. They wrote stories about crows, read books about crows, drew pictures of crows, built scarecrows and held a crow party. I love how they adapted and followed the children’s interests.
  3. It’s welcoming to me: Parents are welcome at Hannah’s school. You need to be screened to be a regular classroom helper, but even if you haven’t done that, you’re allowed to be present with your child in the classroom. Parental involvement is encouraged, and I feel like I’m included when I’m there. I realize being at school during the day isn’t possible for everyone, but I like knowing that I’m welcome if I can swing it.
  4. It’s local: We can walk to Hannah’s school, which is lovely. But even better, the kids that Hannah meets at school live nearby. I have very fond memories of playing with the neighbourhood kids from my own childhood. I know the fact that we all went to school together helped to cement those bonds of friendship. I’m glad Hannah can have the same thing.
  5. It’s a community: At Hannah’s school children in the intermediate grades are often paired up with children in the primary grades. They do all kinds of things together, and because of that Hannah knows many older children at her school. It really isn’t the case that the children spend all their time with one teacher and one age group. They’re working hard to make everyone feel that they are part of the same community.
  6. It’s diverse: Because public school is free and open to everyone, there are a wide variety of children from a wide variety of backgrounds at Hannah’s school. I appreciate that Hannah attends school with children from different cultural, religious and economic backgrounds. I think she’s learning how to interact with different people, and she’s gaining a richer school experience than I did in my more monochromatic childhood.

We all need to choose the school (or no school) setting that works best for our family. I certainly don’t think that public school is the best fit for every child. But I have been very happy to see that my default choice has worked so well for my daughter. I no longer feel sheepish to admit that she attends the local public school. It’s really a fabulous learning environment, and I am very happy that Hannah has found a place in it.

What do you love about your child’s school setting? What has been the best part of your experience? And how much time and energy did you invest in researching and choosing it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

When Fairies (Birthday) Party

As you may know, Saturday was my daughter Hannah’s 6th birthday. It was also the first time that I held a children’s birthday party. In my house. With many children. With a fairy theme.

I’m pretty sure parties never had themes when I was a kid. Unless “birthday party” counts as its own theme. Life was much harder for children back in the 1980s, yo. We weren’t coddled with luxuries like birthday party themes or our own cell phones. Of course, any portable phone would have weighed more than we did, but let’s not let anything pesky like “facts” interfere with my argument. And also? You kids, get off of my lawn!

Alright, I think I’ve worked the crotchety out of my system. Back to the post at hand.

We had a party. It was lovely. The children came and they were polite and the noise level was pretty reasonable and it didn’t take us three days to recover. Hannah proved that she is my daughter by attempting to organize a sing-along. And she proved that she’s Jon’s daughter when she displayed concern about making a mess on the floor. The kids were all very cute and non-whiney and they ate my healthy snacks very politely. (Although they may have eaten the cake and ice cream a little more politely.) We made wands and played games and opened gifts and all that kind of stuff.

I decided to make the party a little bit greener by opting for re-usable decorations. I have some old sheets that served as tablecloths and picnic blankets, and I got the lovely butterflies, fairy door and name banner from Green Planet Parties. Most of it will be re-used on future birthdays, so that’s cool. Here’s what it looked like, once it all came together:

Fairy door outside Hannah's party

Butterflies in the entryway

Hannah's birthday banner

All ready for a fairy picnic

Palm leaf heart-shaped party plates

Felt barrettes for the goodie bags
Goodie bag barrettes, made using Jenny’s instructions, my proudest achievement

Goodie bags

Presents

I would totally throw another children’s party at home. I actually quite enjoyed the decorating and pulling things together. And I really enjoyed seeing Hannah and her friends enjoy themselves together. Birthday parties are fun!

Have you ever thrown a children’s party? What did it look like? Or, just tell me what your weekend looked like. That would be cool, too.

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