Archives for December 2012

2012 Year in Photos Slideshow

This is my favourite post of the year. It’s one that I would do, no matter what, purely because I love it. It gives me a chance to reflect and wax nostalgic, and record my life in a unique way. This post contains my annual slideshow, chronicling my family’s year in photos. It’s my fifth such slideshow, and looking back over the other ones I can immediately see how my children have grown. I remember things I’d forgotten, and I laugh and cry. I’m not sure if anyone else loves my slideshows, but if one of the big benefits of blogging is having a record of your family life, then this slideshow is the pinnacle of that record for me.

The truth is that 2012 didn’t turn out exactly as I’d expected it would for me. Life is like that, after all. But watching this video, I can see that it was a fabulous year nonetheless. That’s the gift that comes with taking time to reflect – you can see how the story unfolded, and you can see how the twists and turns brought you to the place you stand today. My little slideshow does that for me in under three minutes, which I think is pretty cool.

If you’d like to take a walk down memory lane with me, you can find my previous slideshows here:

2008 in Photos | 2009 in Photos | 2010 in Photos | 2011 in Photos

I’ve spent plenty of time talking about my family and myself – and not just in this post. I’ve had a whole year to write in this space, and I’ve done it. Now I’d like to turn the tables back on you. What was 2012 like for you? When you consider this year, what images will stand out in your mind? And what are you looking forward to in 2013? I’d love to hear.

Happy New Year!

The Night Before Christmas

Merry Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse …

Except, if your house is anything like mine, there’s a whole lot of stirring happening. For one thing, I always leave my wrapping until the last minute. Always. For another, there’s a whole lot of to-ing and fro-ing, as we drive to see this set of relatives and that set of relatives. And finally, we have two young children. The excitement level is simply too high around here for there not to be stirring. This evening I will likely say (at least once but probably more) Santa can’t come if you don’t go to sleep.

Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Christmas with children is magical, even if it is a bit hectic.

And yet, every year, in the middle of the to-ing and the fro-ing, the wrapping and unwrapping, the baking and the eating and the driving, that moment comes. That moment when I can feel it – peace on earth and goodwill to men. It’s small, and if I blink I could easily miss it. But if I grab hold of it, and let it fill me, it’s there. Christmas. And, like the Grinch discovered, it doesn’t come from a store.

This Christmas I wish you that moment. That moment when you feel the love and the peace and the joy. And if you do feel it, my wish for you is that it will be enough to sustain you through the not-so-peaceful moments that fill the holiday season. Because, even if Christmas can be a little bit too much in every way, it can also be just exactly what you need. At least, it is for me.

Merry Christmas!

Repost: Podcast with Parenting Author Marcy Axness, Part II

Today I am thrilled to be re-sharing the second part of my podcast with parenting author Marcy Axness. This interview first ran last February, and it’s one of my favourite to date. I hope you’ll take the time to listen – I can promise it will be worth your while.

Last week I shared an interview with Marcy Axness, author of Parenting for Peace. I also mentioned that our discussion went on a lot longer than I expected it to. I decided to split the podcast into two parts, and I’m sharing the second half with you today.

Strocel.com Podcast Marcy Axness Parenting for PeaceIn her book – and in our podcast – Marcy shares some very practical, easy-to-understand tips for parents who want to raise peaceful children. She’s taking what we know from research and hard science about infant and child development and distilling it down. In the process, she’s helping us raise kids who are intelligent, imaginative, trusting, empathetic and have a strong inner balance.

During the second half of our podcast Marcy really gets into the nitty-gritty. She shares what she sees as the three biggest parenting mistakes people make. I make two of them pretty much every day myself. In fact, I found what she had to say compelling enough that I’ve made some big changes myself since I spoke with her. It’s still a work in progress, but I found much of what she had to say seriously practical and helpful. It was a perspective-changer, for sure.

Strocel.com Podcast Marcy Axness Parenting for PeaceMarcy isn’t sugar-coating life with kids when she talks about raising peaceful people, she’s giving you tools to make it better. In the process, she doesn’t just help to create more peaceful kids, she helps to create more peaceful parents. If you could use a little more peace in your life (and really, what parent couldn’t?) you’ll want to listen to my interview with Marcy Axness:

Next week I’ll be taking a break from the podcast for a couple of weeks as I enjoy the holiday season. But I’ll be back in January with more great interviews. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Green Christmas Wish List

Yesterday I shared my unrealistic Christmas wish list, which I briefly considered calling All I Want for Christmas is a Good Night’s Sleep. Today, for the last Enviro-Mama Thursday of 2012, I thought I’d share my green Christmas list. Many of the items on this list are feel just as unlikely to me as the possibility of actually getting to visit the bathroom by myself. But if there’s a time of year tailor-made for big dreams and tall orders, this is it.

If I could have any gifts for a better planet this Christmas, here’s what I would ask for.

Lighting a candle for peace at preschool music class
Lighting a (fake) candle for the planet

Dear Green Santa, Please Bring the Following …

  1. Higher standards around the chemicals in our cleaning and personal care products. We shouldn’t be rubbing carcinogens or toxins into our skin – and we definitely shouldn’t be using them on our children.
  2. For Canada to uphold its Kyoto commitments, and for strong national policies that actively reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.
  3. Proper labeling of genetically-modified food in North America, so that we can make an informed choice about what we’re eating.
  4. Less plastic, and especially less unnecessary plastic. For example, why do some organic bananas come pre-wrapped in plastic bags? We don’t need it!
  5. More local food, and not just at the farmers’ market. I’d love to see more local food at my grocery store when it’s in season, instead of produce shipped from thousands of miles away. Local carrots just taste better!
  6. A good growing season this spring and summer, so that my garden produces like never before.
  7. More affordable green products. I know lots of people who would love to be more green, but struggle to be able to afford to buy organic food, natural toys, non-toxic cleaning products and so on.
  8. A society that is less focused on buying lots and lots of stuff. It’s expensive, it’s bad for the environment, and rampant consumption doesn’t bring us happiness.
  9. Lots of good news about species that are experiencing population recovery, damaged habitats that are being restored, messes that are being cleaned up, and companies, governments and people who are making positive changes.

What’s on your green holiday wish list? I’d love to hear!

My Actual Christmas List

Over the past number of weeks, many of my friends and family members have asked me what I want for Christmas. I do my best to come up with answers for them. I’ve asked for household items and clothes and books and so on. It isn’t always easy for me to write up my Christmas list, though. And the reason it’s not easy? I know exactly what I want for Christmas, but you can’t buy any of it at a store.

Here’s where I issue my disclaimer: I love my kids. I love them so much, in fact, that love doesn’t even feel like a strong enough word. I would rather not die for them, but I would do it in a heartbeat if the situation required it. I entered this parenthood gig knowing that I would be making sacrifices, and I gladly make them. I understand that they’ll only be little for so long, so I try not to stress about it when they act like the normal children they are. I also understand that there are people who would give anything to have children of their own, but are not able to. I wouldn’t change my life for anything.

At the same time, let’s be honest. Parenting is hard. Sometimes it drains the life right out of you. And so, if I could have anything in the world, here’s what I’d really ask for this Christmas.

Anticipation
Dear Santa, please bring me the following …

A Mother’s Christmas Wish List

  1. A good night’s sleep – and more often than once every three-to-six months.
  2. Some of the dearly-loved possessions that my kids have lost or destroyed, to be returned to me in their original condition.
  3. The ability to leave the house in under 20 minutes.
  4. A floor that isn’t perpetually covered in toys, art supplies, and unidentified sticky messes.
  5. No awkward questions in front of relatives or random strangers at the grocery store.
  6. A meal that doesn’t involve any complaints about the food I bought, prepared and served to my family allbymyself.
  7. The ability to swear out loud when the situation calls for it, without running the risk that a child will repeat it and/or chastise me.
  8. The freedom to watch what I want, when I want, on my own television.
  9. Shirts that aren’t covered in unidentified stains left by little hands.
  10. For a whole week to pass without finding rotting food somewhere in my house or car.
  11. Bathroom privacy.
  12. For my hairbrush, knitting needles, dishes, books, scissors, phone bills, socks and so on to just stay where I put them.

As I said, I know that I won’t get any of these things. And really, the joy of sharing Christmas with little children makes up for it. Seeing the magic in their eyes is amazing. But, as I said, that doesn’t mean this mom gig is easy. And so it’s fun to dream, just for a little while.

What’s on your unrealistic Christmas wish list?

I Don’t Remember

I don’t remember what my children’s first words were.

I feel sort of like a bad mother, typing that out, but it’s true. My daughter Hannah asks me all the time, her eyes wide and expectant. “What was my first word, Mama? What was Jacob’s first word?” I don’t know how to tell her I have no idea.

me and my children 2008 i don't remember memoriesI know what my children’s first words weren’t – they weren’t mom or mama or mommy or anything like that. I don’t remember when Jacob first started saying mama. I do remember that it was long after he had a vocabulary filled with dozens of other words. Words like dada and no and more and want. I used to joke that he had no reason to label me, because I was always just there, like the furniture and the floor coverings. It’s very rare that a child would choose carpet as a first word, after all. There are so many more interesting and noteworthy things in the world. Although I could not doubt that my son was very securely attached to me, and preferred me above all others, my constant presence removed any need for him to ask about me.

The truth is that first words are elusive things. Babies babble, playing with their voices, making nonsense sounds, delighting in the noise. They don’t seem to be saying anything, in particular. Long before they give names to objects, they say na na na na na na or ba ba ba ba ba. It’s not always easy to tell when they’re making sound just for the sheer pleasure of it, because they can, and when they’re trying to form a word. It’s not like my daughter imagines it, when she asks me for her first word. It’s not as if one day she was silent, and the next day, with great ceremony, she said dada. Language development is much more organic, sneaking up on you gradually, when you’re busy doing other things.

Hannah meets JacobThere are so many things that I don’t remember from my children’s early days. I don’t remember what I said to Hannah when I introduced her to her baby brother. I remember the dress she wore – it was one I made her, out of pink fabric with brown birds and flowers and leaves. I remember that I put Jacob down in his bassinet as soon as I heard her arrive with my mother and my mother’s husband. I wanted to greet her with open arms, so that she wouldn’t feel replaced. And I remember that she passed me straight by, asking me where the baby was as she went. It turns out that particular parenting theory, like so many others before and after it, didn’t really hold water in the end.

The days that you would think would be most clearly burned into my memory are often the spottiest. The days I gave birth, for instance, take on a dream-like quality. I remember only brief flashes. Images, sounds and colours, tumbling across my mind out of order and confused. They say the hormones put you in an altered state, and in my experience it’s true. I don’t remember what my husband and I talked about when I was in labour with Jacob, as we waited for the midwife to arrive to check me. I know I sat next to the window bouncing on an exercise ball. I know my husband sat on the couch, both shoes still on, one foot on top of the other knee, shaking with impatience. He wanted to get moving, and I was in no rush. I remember that much, but I don’t remember what we said to each other to pass the time.

Day 1 - Mom is doing betterI don’t remember what I said to Hannah the first time I saw her. I remember planning out a little speech when I was pregnant. I imagined the moment when my first child was placed in my arms. I think I meant to say something like, “Hello, I’m your mother, and I’m going to take very good care of you.” But somehow, that doesn’t sound exactly right. When I planned that speech, I failed to recognize that I would just have given birth, and my memory would not be at its most optimal. In the end, I do remember trying to come up with something meaningful, and I know I stammered something out, but I can’t remember what it was. Of course, as we come up on eight years since that day, I know it doesn’t really matter what I said then, anyway. Hannah will never remember it, and I’ve had so many years since to say so much more.

There were so many moments that felt so significant, at the time. Little pieces of my children’s lives. Little pieces of my life. All parts of a much larger jigsaw puzzle, with more and more holes in it every day. I try to re-assemble those pieces, to tease out patterns as I fit the bits I do have together. Try as I might, though, the memories are lost faster than I can re-assemble them. And yet, I can still see the whole picture, when I really look for it. Some moments may be gone, but the experiences remain. They have touched me, and shaped me, and changed me. They have made me who I am. I may not remember it all, but I carry it with me wherever I go.

What moments do you remember – and what moments can you not remember anymore? I’d love to know I’m not the only mother who isn’t sure what her children’s first words were.

Scenes from Friday: Grief and Everyday Life

As everyone is so painfully aware, this past Friday, December 14, 2012, was a tragic day. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting is an event that touches us, and causes us grief, no matter where we live. As a mother, especially, I find that news like this deeply impacts me. Today, I’m trying to make sense of some of my own feelings by sharing scenes from that day in my life.

Helping out at the school Secret Shopper day8:50am – I walk into the library at my daughter’s elementary school, where I’m volunteering for the Secret Shopper day. Classes take turns visiting the library, which is filled with items they can buy for their friends and family for Christmas. It’s a fun day, and it raises money for the school’s Parent Advisory Council. The tables are covered with all sorts of things – watches, scarves, body wash, stuffed animals, knick knacks, fancy erasers and colourful pencils – all divided by category. One table has a sign that says Dad and Grandpa. Another says Games. Another says Pets. All the signs are neatly printed, all the items are neatly laid out, and all the parent volunteers are chatting with each other, before the children arrive.

9:50am – A Babysitter’s Club book catches my eye. It’s sitting on top of a shelf, balanced on the corner against another, larger book. Its cover is pink, and it’s called Kristy’s Great Idea. Immediately, I am 11 years old again, devouring these books. I read so many of them. I seem to remember something about Kristy, but I can’t remember the other club members, no matter how hard I try. I think it’s funny what you do remember, and what you don’t.

baby sitter's club10:20am – A 10-year-old boy asks me for help finding a gift for his mom. I agree, and ask him what his mother likes. His face goes blank, then confusion passes over it, before he gives up and shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says. And it occurs to me that, like so many children, he has never considered that his mother may have actual desires of her own. (In the end we chose a lovely photo album together.)

10:35am – I pull out my phone and log in to Twitter to share something amusing about the confused 10-year-old boy. My stream is filled with expressions of grief, and the hashtag #Newton (I now realize this was a typo). I click on the hashtag to learn more, and finally find a link to an article on ABC News. My heart drops out of my chest, and I swallow deeply. Then I look up to see the library with its colourful tables filled with prospective gifts. Its cheeriness stands in stark contrast to the way I feel. I consider whether I should tell the other parents. In the end, I choke back tears and decide not to. They’ll know soon enough, and there’s nothing they can do, anyway.

11:15am – Another parent volunteer snaps at me, and I want to yell at her. Once again, I choke it back.

Holiday-themed elementary school wall art11:55am – Before I leave the school following my shift, I stop off at my daughter’s class to give her a hug. I say it’s just because. I hold on a little too long.

1:05pm – I sit on the couch, a large plate balanced on my knee. The plate contains nachos, made with leftover beef from taco night. A small bowl on its rim holds salsa. As I eat, I watch The Daily Show from the night before. It is funny, and blissfully free of reports of dead children.

2:55pm – My daughter walks out of the school, almost immediately after the bell rings. I see her smiling face, framed by the faux fur trim on her hood. I see her hands,clutching her Secret Shopper purchases. The sight of her makes me feel relieved.

4:55pm – It’s dark out, and my daughter and I are driving to pick up my son from daycare when the news comes on. “Why did that man shoot children?” she asks me. I don’t really know what to say – I’m not sure how to explain mental illness to my daughter without using stigmatizing language. While I ponder, she says, “He must have been very bad. He will be going to jail for sure.” I say that he won’t be going to jail, because he shot himself. She responds that it must have been an accident, and I say it wasn’t. “Why would anyone shoot themselves?” she asks. I stutter through an answer, fearing I’m doing a bad job, unsure what to say to a seven-year-old. Eventually she comes up with her own answer. “He must have been very sad because he killed children.”

8273972964_47a6fc2a6b5:15pm – Both of my children are home, and I sit them on the big chair in the living room and hug them.

6:20pm – My husband texts me, letting me know that he’s leaving work late. I wish he were at home already. I wish we were all together. I wish all families were together.

10:35pm – Exhausted, I head up to bed when I can no longer keep my eyes awake while watching TV. This is the earliest I have gone to bed in living memory. As I drift off to sleep, I send out a silent prayer. For the parents who lost children. For the families and friends in mourning. For everyone who, hearing the story, shed tears of grief and hugged their own children just a little bit tighter, for a little bit longer. I hope for a better day when morning comes.

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