Archives for July 2013

The Last Day of Daycare

Second children get all the breaks. Their way has been smoothed by the sibling that came before them. The egregious parenting mistakes have all been made and learned from. The initial anxiety at having a child has subsided, and the rules have been relaxed. They even get a birthday cake with real sugar in it on their first birthday, instead of some whole wheat concoction sweetened with applesauce.

One of the things that we worked out with my daughter was childcare. We lucked into a great infant and toddler daycare that opened a month before I was set to return to work after my maternity leave, which meant that we got our pick of spots. Unfortunately, however, when Hannah turned three and she was too old to go there anymore, there wasn’t a space for her at the associated preschool centre. I was newly-pregnant, and working part-time outside of the house. I needed daycare so that I could continue to work and qualify for maternity leave with my new baby. We had toured a bunch of centres some months earlier, but there was no space at the place that was our first choice.

We ended up enrolling Hannah at a Montessori school in our neighbourhood. Unfortunately, neither the school nor the Montessori method were a great fit for my kid. Hannah preferred to spend her days organizing all of her friends into elaborate games. She wasn’t a fan of working independently on her own little carpet using the Montessori materials. While I had confidence that she was well-cared-for, she wasn’t as happy at daycare as her father and I would have liked her to be.

Six months after Hannah started Montessori, when I was eight months pregnant, a spot came open at our first choice preschool daycare centre. I initially hemmed and hawed a bit about it. Hannah had finally settled in to her new school. While it still wasn’t what I would call fabulous, she no longer asked if she could stay home in the morning. Would moving her again just upset the delicate balance, and put us back at square one? In the end I decided to chance it, reasoning that if things weren’t great I could pull her out after I stopped working and I’d have a whole year of maternity leave to work it out.

Jacob drawing at daycare
Jacob drawing at daycare

I needn’t have worried. From her very first day, Hannah loved her new daycare, with its bright, open space, big playground, dedicated staff and play-based philosophy. She attended for two years, until she started kindergarten. When my own work scheduled ramped up and I needed more kid-free time during the day, there was no doubt about where Jacob would go. He was not quite three years old when he started. While he didn’t adjust as easily as Hannah, not having been in daycare before, he soon settled in and eagerly anticipated his days at school. Like his sister before him, I watched him flourish during his time there, learning, exploring and socializing in a space that is designed just for preschoolers.

Hannah’s first day at the place I’ve come to think of as our daycare was July 1, 2008. Jacob started less than a year after Hannah left, on July 1, 2011. Today is his last day. For five years, with a brief interlude in between, I have been driving my kids to daycare three days a week. The staff has become like a part of our family. For Jacob, especially, who first visited the daycare when he was still in my belly, the place has been a fixture in his life that he could count on. I don’t entrust my babies to someone’s care lightly, but I have always known that I could count on my kids’ teachers.

It can be a touchy thing, talking about the decisions we make to leave our children in other people’s care. Among my fellow attachment parenting mamas, especially, daycare isn’t always viewed in the most positive light. If you add the fact that I work from home into the mix, I sometimes feel as if I need to justify my choice to use daycare. I know it has been the right choice for my family, though. At daycare my children have learned things I couldn’t teach them. They’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a space that I couldn’t duplicate at home, and meet a wide variety of children from a more diverse array of backgrounds than they would encounter within my own social circle. While they did that, I have enjoyed kid-free time to get work done, so that when my kids are at home I can focus my attention on them.

For the next month, I will have both kids at home with me, as we enjoy the last month before my son starts kindergarten and enters full-time public education. Before that starts, though, I will head to daycare for the last time to pick up my son. I will leave the treats that my children picked out for the teachers, and the pictures that they drew for them. I will pack up the spare clothes, the blanket for nap time, the rain boots and the hat. I will bring the memory book that Jacob’s teachers made for him, full of photos and artwork from his time at daycare. Of course, I will cry a little. Because I will miss this place, and the role that it played in my children’s lives. My kids may be ready to move on, but I’m not sure that I am.

My Name Isn’t Mommy

When I get an email pitch that isn’t a good fit, most of the time I delete it. I used to try to respond to every one, until someone I respect very much pointed out that much of the time PR folks are, in effect, spamming me when they flood my inbox. They’re not doing it maliciously. They just have something to promote, along with a bunch of names and email addresses, and I happen to be one of them. My friend in PR tells me this approach is called spray and pray. Rather than spending my time composing well thought out responses to each email, now I just pass over the ones that don’t work for me.

Of course, sometimes I get fabulous emails, and that’s great. I can only be grateful that people feel that I’m someone they want to share their stories with. Not every story will be a fit, but in the end I am more flattered than annoyed by all the emails.

Once in a while, I get an email that I feel the need to respond to in a different way. Someone sends me something that pushes one of my buttons. For example, when I was contacted by someone promoting a kitty litter that I feel is harmful to cats, I felt compelled to share a link about the danger as politely as I could. I realize that the person on the other end was only doing their job, but some part of me just couldn’t let it lie.

The thing that pushes my buttons most often is when I’m referred to as a mommy blogger. Sometimes, I even get an email addressed to Dear Mommy Blogger. I realize that mommy blogger has become the de facto title for women who blog about life with children. I also realize, once again, that most of the time the person typing it out isn’t doing it maliciously. Even so, the title grates on me.

mommy blogger
These kids are the only people who are allowed to call me mommy

My first issue with the term mommy blogger is that even my own children don’t call me mommy – they go for mama or mom or even, once in a while, Amber. Why should someone to whom I did not give birth apply it to me? My second (and much bigger) issue is that the word mommy is a diminutive. It’s cutesy, and the person who carries that title is not meant to be taken seriously. This leads into the much larger question of why we need to slap mom or mommy in front of many of the things that women do – think mompreneur, mommy blogger, mommy wars, and so on. It feels like a way to diminish the work these women are doing. The truth is that mommy blogger is often used in a way that can be more than a little mocking.

Of course, some moms who blog embrace the title mommy blogger. They’re proud of their mother status, and the writing they do. That’s great. Others are trying to reclaim the title, just as they’ve reclaimed other titles. I actually think that’s even better. However, the truth is that many of us who could be called mommy bloggers dislike the term. I even found an academic abstract from a paper by Gina Masullo Chen that says the term ‘continues the culturally ingrained performance of motherhood women learned since childhood, and, in so doing, holds women captive in this subjective norm that may not fit them’. Exactly. Given the mixed feelings and negative reactions many bloggers have, it’s really safest not to use the phrase mommy blogger if you’re not sure how someone will take it.

My guess is that most people who send me an email that contains the phrase mommy blogger aren’t aware of the controversy, or the fact that many moms who blog dislike the term. This is why I often respond to those emails, with great politeness, passing along a couple of links about why it’s best to avoid calling someone you don’t know ‘mommy’. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad, but I also don’t want to the person in question to go on using the term without being aware of the possible negative associations it conjures up. I want to do my part, as a writer, mother and feminist, to say that we all deserve to be taken seriously, and we all have the right to decide how we want to be addressed.

It’s unlikely that an email from me will change the world. I know this. All the same, I feel better for having sent it.

I wonder what you think. If you’re a mom with a blog, how do you feel about the title mommy blogger? Is it so entrenched at this point that rejecting it is pointless? Or do you hate it as much as I do? Please leave a reply and let me know!

Home Improvement and Blogging Conferences

I spent the weekend shopping for bathroom fixtures for my upcoming ensuite renovation. It was by turns exciting and aggravating, poring over cabinet options, granite remnants and shower head options. Sometimes it felt like the whole experience was bringing more questions than answers. I don’t know the first thing about choosing tile. Who thought that it was a good idea to let me loose in a tile store?

home renovation blogher blogging
My kids built a tower while I chose cabinetry

At one point I found myself walking down the street in my neighbourhood with my family, headed to a store that is only a few blocks from home to choose my new shower surround. It was a sunny day, and as my son insisted on pausing under a shady tree to take a rest (something he does every three minutes, whether he’s actually tired or not), I smelled a smell that brought me back in time. It was a spicy sort of smell, that speaks of hot dry days going on hikes with my parents. It smells like flowers and trees and alpine meadows and, most of all, summertime. It’s one of those elusive scents that you strain to pick out, and that hides from you until, suddenly, it hits you full force and you just want to bathe in it, it’s so perfect. But then, just as quickly, it disappears.

As we resumed walking, I looked around at my view. I saw a car repair shop, a vacant lot, a local sushi restaurant, houses and trees and cars and the mountain looming up to the north. Above the suburban ordinariness, there was the most perfectly blue sky. As I looked, it occurred to me that instead of standing in that spot, looking at my neighbourhood around me, I could have been in Chicago for BlogHer 2013.

I attended the annual blogging conference in 2011 and 2012, and I enjoyed it immensely. When you work online, as I do, you make a lot of friends who live far, far away. It’s easy to forget that these are real people, with real families, living real lives. They have funny little idiosyncratic turns of phrase. They are taller than you think, and their real-life voices sound totally different from the voice you read their blogs in. They may be funnier than you expected, or more reserved. Behind it all, though, the truth is that no matter who they are, they are part of your community. Getting to actually meet them in real life is an amazing opportunity.

I am proud to be a member of the blogging community. I am proud to have created an online space, and kept at it for over 10 years. I am proud of the other bloggers who pour out their hearts and souls online. The people who inspire me, educate me, make me laugh, and bring me to tears. Having the opportunity to get together with so many of them in one place was completely fabulous, and it’s something I hope to do again.

This year, I couldn’t make it happen. Between my family trip to Disneyland in March and the home renovations that are just getting underway my budget wouldn’t allow it. Instead of dancing at Sparklecorn, listening to amazing panel discussions, or enjoying three kid-free nights in a hotel, I found myself walking down a suburban sidewalk in search of tile. For this weekend, it’s where I belonged. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still belong to the blogging community, though. They are my people, whether I get to celebrate with them or just read their tweets and Facebook updates and be present with them in spirit.

Thinking about my friends getting together and having fun, I started to smile as I walked. For another fleeting instant, I caught a whiff of that beautiful and elusive scent of summer. In that moment, I knew that we were all just where we needed to be.

Living in the Present Moment

mindfulness presence life with kidsWhen you have young children, you’re often too bogged down by the details of daily life to actually stop and notice what’s going on around you. I find that to be the case, anyway. I’m always thinking. My mind is filled with to-do lists, dentist appointments, danger avoidance and snippets of half-forgotten advice from parenting books. It sometimes feels as if the moment I start to feel on top of things, it all comes crashing down around me as one of my kids gets hurt or makes a spectacular mess or deletes the open document I was working on.

At the beginning of the year, I chose the word Presence for 2013. As in, I want to be more present in my life this year. It would be almost the same thing to say that I want to be more mindful this year. I wouldn’t say that I’ve becoming perfectly present or mindful since setting that intention, but I feel as if having that word in my mind has made a difference to the way I approach my life.

There are a number of ways that I’ve brought a greater sense of presence into my life, some obvious and some less so. I actually started by taking greater care of my basic needs, like sleep. I used to try to squeak by on seven hours or less each night. For some people, that’s plenty. For me, it wasn’t enough. By going to bed half an hour earlier each night, I changed the way I feel. I don’t wake up perfectly rested (and really, with little kids who still crawl into my bed or otherwise decide they need me at night perfectly rested is unrealistic) but I definitely feel more rested. When I’m more rested I’m calmer and more present.

One of the other things I’ve done to increase my sense of mindfulness is to drop some things off my plate. For example, I’ve dropped the strict blogging schedule I used to adhere to. I’ve also reduced the amount of time I spend volunteering. The truth is that many of the obligations in my life are actually self-imposed. By recognizing that, and relaxing the commitments I make, I feel less harried and I spend less time running around trying to do too much.

While taking better care of my basic needs and letting go of commitments that aren’t working for me is great, there’s more to achieving mindfulness and being present. The more obvious exercise that I do is to perform periodic body check-ins throughout the day. For example, while writing this post I noticed that my shoulders were creeping up and my jaw was clenching. When I feel those physical symptoms of stress creep in, I take a moment to relax and breathe. I literally mean a moment, too – no more than two breaths. It takes almost no time, and it helps keep me grounded and present in my body.

I’m not a great meditator, and I don’t spend as much time doing yoga or napping or observing the wonder that is the world around me as I could. For the most part, I’ve made my peace with that. For me, right now, I view my life as a living meditation. Actions like sweeping the floor, washing the dishes, baking with my daughter, or taking a walk with my son can all be mindfulness exercises. All I have to do is get back in touch with my body and notice where I am and what I’m doing. It’s amazing how even a couple of minutes of doing that can turn your whole day around.

What about you? How do you bring a greater sense of presence and mindfulness into your life?

I was inspired to write this post for the 10 Week Peaceful Parenting Challenge Blog Carnival hosted by Prenatal to Parenting. This week we all wrote about about Practicing Mindfulness. If you enjoy this week’s posts – and would like a little more peace in your own life – consider joining us next week when we share about a week of Slowing Down.

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

No Need To Schedule Mindfulness– Sarah from Prenatal to Parenting discovers mindfulness isn’t something she needs to make time for.

Living in the Present Moment – Amber from strocel.com shares how she has been practicing presence.

Practicing Mindfulness Ricky at Daddy Blogger takes his wife on a date to The Dark Table restaurant in Kitsilano to practice mindfulness.

Being Mindful – Peaceful Parenting Challenge – Week 3 – Katrina from Kalem Photography finds her way back to a good old habit.

Week #3- Practicing Mindfulness – Jennifer from The Children’s Directory discovers how sometimes we get so caught up in all the garbage that life dumps on us that we forget
the little things that makes it all worth it.

Week 3 – MindfullnessAmanda from Family and Baby Sign Language harnesses her power to attract more positive.

Lesson Already Learned – Verena from Memory Maker Events realizes she’s already learned mindfulness.

Mindfulness of Self – Week 3: Peaceful Parenting – Kathryn from Curiosity and the Kat finds mindfulness exhausting.

Being in the Now – Week #3 of the Peaceful Parenting Challenge, Mindfulness – Michelle from My Peaceful Parenting finds true happiness in the moment.

Have a full mind? Try being mindful! – Lolly from My Journey Home challenges herself to live in the moment and stop looking forward.

10 Things I Believe About Summer

We have had an unusually fabulous summer so far in Vancouver. It looks like we may set the record for the driest July on the books. With incessant rain for most of the year, and some cool summers the past few years, this is a definite change of pace. I am loving it, and so is my garden. I have a bumper crop of beans, cauliflower and berries, and my first tomatoes are almost ripe.

All of this summer weather has me thinking about summertime, and what it means to me. I’m reminded of the summers of my youth, that seemed both to last forever and be entirely too short. I remember days spent riding my bike around my neighbourhood. Afternoons spent wading in a local stream. Evenings playing baseball at the park with family and friends. Cool mornings when the world was my oyster, with a whole day to play in.

Over the years, there are some things I’ve come to believe about summer. Call them personal truths about the season. Today I thought I’d share them with you.

summertime

10 Things I Believe About Summer

1. Iced tea is the perfect summer beverage.

2. Squeezing yourself into your kids’ wading pool may feel ridiculous, but it is just the thing when you need to cool off.

3. Few things taste better than a freshly-picked blueberry, warm from the sun.

4. The prospect of being able to sleep in for weeks on end encourages children to become early risers.

5. A day spent in flip flops – or, better yet, entirely barefoot – is a day well-lived.

6. When summer vacation is getting too much for everyone, going out for ice cream is the perfect antidote.

7. Eating outside makes food taste better.

8. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

9. Swimming in a lake that has achieved the perfect late-summer water temperature is like the best thing ever.

10. The key to staying cool in a house without air conditioning (and pretty much no houses in Vancouver have AC) is to hone your fan placement strategy to achieve maximum air circulation.

What are your personal truths about summer? I’d love to hear!

Staying Out of the Sibling Fray

sibling rivalry sibling loveMy children fight with each other like an old married couple. The use phrases like you always and you never and you’re not listening to me. They proclaim their undying love and affection for each other with one breath, and declare they never liked each other at all with the next breath. They can play together so nicely that it makes my heart sing. They can bicker with each other until I feel like my ears are bleeding and I just want the fighting to stop, right now, this instant, I can’t take another second. They are partners in crime when they conspire to hide in the closet with a bag of marshmallows, and they are arch enemies when they decide that the marshmallow distribution is not perfectly equal.

I understand that this sort of thing is par for the course with siblings. I have a sister who is two years younger than I am, and I remember what it was like to grow up with her. I remember the way that always having my sister around could be alternately comforting and stifling. On the one hand, when it was just the two of us in a sea of adults there was always a ready playmate. On the other hand, sometimes we were just sick of each other. We forged a complicated relationship that, to this day, remains unique in my life. When I’m with her I speak a little faster, my voice pitches a little higher, and I use a verbal shorthand that I don’t use with anyone else. She’s my sister, and she always will be, for better or worse.

Growing up, sibling dissent wasn’t tolerated in my house. My sister and I were expected to get along. If we fought over a toy, that toy went away. If we hurt each others’ feelings, we had to make up. My hippie parents wanted to sew harmony, not dissent, in our home. As a result, my sister and I learned to hide our fights, retreating to our room and talking in whispers. We knew that if our mother heard us, the consequences would be far worse than anything that we would dole out to each other.

sibling rivalry sibling loveMy own parenting style is a little more laid back. For the most part, I try to stay out of the sibling fray. I look at my children’s relationship with each other as a sort of testing ground, where they can learn about fairness, negotiation and conflict resolution. The more that I butt out, the better for all parties.

Unfortunately, my children don’t always respect my parenting decision. They look to me as a moderator. They come to me with their stories of how their sibling has wronged them. They both talk at me, at top volume, trying to make sure that I hear their side of the story. Provided that no serious harm has been done, I try to bow out. I tell them that I want them to work things out for themselves. I tell them that I really don’t like it when they fight, and I don’t want to take sides. I tell them that I’m making dinner / cleaning the floor (yet again) / working / reading / trying to hide in the bathroom. They don’t care. They want to tell me all about their dispute over the bubble wands, in all its gritty detail.

I can see where my kids are coming from. We all want to feel understood, especially by our parents. When your sense of fairness and justice has been violated by your brother or sister, you look to the adult who’s present to share your story. Once one kid is coming to me, of course the other needs to come, too. You want to make sure that your side is represented. I understand all of that. Mostly, though, I just want the fighting to stop.

And so it goes, day after day. I try to let my kids work things out for themselves. Sometimes they do, and life is grand. Sometimes they don’t, and everyone is sad. No matter which way things are going, though, I can see that my kids are forming their own special and unique relationship. They know the joys and aggravations of having a sibling, and I am happy for them. I know that it isn’t always easy (or quiet), but I also know that decades from now, they will be so glad they have always had each other.

When your kids are fighting, do you wade in or stay out? I’d love to hear your own tales of sibling rivalry.

Singing the Dishwasher Blues + Homemade Cleaning Products

Sometimes, in life, you learn things the easy way. Other times, you learn things the hard way. On Thursday night I learned things the hard way.

It all began innocently enough. I had run out of dishwasher detergent – but I remembered that I had an old sample of Sunlight somewhere under my sink. I dug it out, popped the little packet in the soap dispenser, and started the dishwasher while I washed the pots and pans by hand. Normally I prefer to use greener dishwashing products, but when someone sends a free sample my way I’ll use it, especially when I’m out of my regular detergent. No biggie, right?

Once I finished up with the handwashing, I turned around to wash the kitchen counter. That’s when I saw it: a big soapy puddle spreading out beneath the dishwasher. It was huge. Had I accidentally put regular dish soap in the dishwasher? I’d always heard that doing that would lead to a mess like this. But the soap had come in a neat little packet. Dish soap for handwashing doesn’t come in packets. I grabbed the bag the sample had come in, and that’s when I saw the words LAUNDRY DETERGENT in all caps across the top. This is when I learned – the hard way – that you should never put laundry soap in the dishwasher.

I called for my husband, who came running with towels. We sopped up the mess and drained the dishwasher, then ran the rinse cycle. Then I ran a super-hot wash with baking soda, and another rinse cycle with vinegar. At the end, my dishes had never been cleaner. However, they smelled like ‘Spring Splash’, whatever that means. I don’t use artificially-scented laundry soap anymore, and I’d forgotten how strong they smell, and how long that scent lingers.

I recently attended a local blogger event put on by Aspen Clean. Aspen Clean is a Vancouver company that sells green cleaning products and offers green home cleaning services. The evening featured yoga, food and the chance to try making our own homemade cleaning products. We made all purpose cleaner, glass cleaner and tub and tile cleaner. I don’t love the all purpose cleaner – for most of my cleaning around the house I just use castile soap, and I found that it works just as well or better than my homemade spray. The glass cleaner was good, and I’ll likely keep using it. However, the tub and tile cleaner really knocked my socks off. I normally just use baking soda for any scouring I do, but this worked much better. I am sort of smitten.

green living homemade cleaning products tub and tile cleaner

Here’s the recipe for the tub and tile cleaner:

Tub & Tile Cleaner

Ingredients:
2 cups baking soda
1.5 Tbsp castile soap
20 drops essential oil (I used lavender, but you could choose whatever you enjoy)

Method:
Mix the ingredients well and store in a reusable container. Aspen Clean was kind enough to provide me with a shaker bottle, and I find that it works very well, but failing that I’m sure a glass jar or even an old yogurt tub would work well.

After my dishwasher fiasco, I’m considering making my own dishwasher detergent. I found some recipes online, but I’m still debating which one to go with. This is where you come in. Have you ever made your own dishwasher soap? I’d love to hear what worked. Or I’d be happy to hear your stories of dishwasher disaster. I can’t be the only one who’s managed to flood their kitchen floor with soapy water, can I?

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