Archives for February 2014

Some Weeks Are Like That

I love Judith Viorst’s children’s classic, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. The picture of the mother just looking down at the floor with no words left as Alexander destroys his father’s office slays me every single time. I think every parent can relate to the feeling of just being so done with the mayhem. And I think every person can relate to the idea that some days are like that … even in Australia.

My week is looking to be sort of like that.

Everything is coming to a head for me at school right now. I have a history paper due tomorrow, an education paper due on Monday, and a kinesiology midterm on Tuesday. It’s a whole lot of reading, writing and studying all at once. I’m having a hard time keeping up with anything else that I have to do, which is understandable. I’m trying to be understanding, and keep in mind that this will all be over very soon.

home improvementOn top of this, we’re in the middle of a home improvement fiasco. Last May we hired a company to do some renovations for us. There were a series of delays, but in late summer they came and did the first part of the work for us. Then there were another series of delays, but a week ago Monday they came and started the second part of the job. This part involved ripping out our master ensuite and closet. To prepare, my husband Jon and I moved our clothes into suitcases and our bed downstairs to our family room floor.

For two and a half days, they worked, and then they explained that their electrician had taken a sudden trip to Disneyland and we’d need to wait until Monday for him to show up. I wasn’t thrilled, but I didn’t overthink it. I agreed that we would connect again on tge following Monday. Come Monday morning when I hadn’t heard anything by about 11:30 I made a phone call. Later in the day my husband made a phone call. We didn’t hear back. Yesterday – Tuesday – I made some more phone calls. Finally I got an email, and it didn’t contain good news.

Our contractor announced that his business was entering ‘creditor protection’. As a result, he didn’t know when he’d be able to come and resume work on our house. Of course, this announcement only came after our closet, toilet, shower, sink and walls were removed.

So. Not. Good.

Now, on top of my school work, and everything else that comes with my daily life of working and parenting and what-have-you, my husband and I are dealing with this. We’re figuring it out, and we will be okay. We have excellent advice, in the form of experienced friends and family. All the same, it looks like we’ll be sleeping in our family room for the foreseeable future. It’s so fun being woken up at 3:00am by the cat using the litter box a few feet away.

I guess some weeks are like that. Even in Australia.

Hannah + Nine

Nine years ago right now I was sitting in a bed on the maternity ward, making phone calls. “It looks like the baby is coming early. I won’t be able to come to the event tonight. No need to worry. Can you bring me apples? I’d love apples.” When I wasn’t organizing, I was joking with my husband. He was working hard to keep the mood light, which wasn’t particularly easy as I was worried about having my baby at 34 weeks gestation.

From the moment Hannah came shooting into the world, skidding across the table while a room full of medical personnel gasped, it was clear that she was a force to be reckoned with. Big and healthy for a baby born six weeks early, she let us all know she had arrived with a hearty cry. At the time, I was relieved. Crying was a good sign. Crying meant she was breathing. Crying meant she was going to be okay.

I am no longer the same person I was on that sunny, cold day in 2005 when my life changed on a dime. My daughter isn’t the same person, either. And yet, if I survey our new little family I can see how the groundwork was laid, even then, for all that followed. I can see how my daughter has always been in a rush, eager to do everything quickly, quick to make her voice heard. I can see how I have always been dragged headlong into parenting, never quite ready, always a little worried about how things would turn out. I can also see that it was always going to be fine.

Today, as I celebrate my daughter’s ninth birthday, I don’t really know what to say about her. My girl is entering tweendom, growing like a weed, learning new things every day. She loves art and diaries – Hannah can never have enough diaries. She’s a huge fan of Harry Potter, and this past year we read all the books together. She has a fervent desire to be Hermione Granger, and to that end she’s perfecting her English accent. She tap dances through her days, singing as she goes.

Hannah is very much her own person, now. I find myself writing less and less about her here, because her story isn’t really mine to share anymore. She’s writing it down herself in all of her diaries, illustrated with her own artwork. More and more, I sit back and let her work things out for herself, test her strength, and make her own decisions. I’m still here to set boundaries and help her pick up the pieces, but I’m increasingly taking on more of an advisory capacity than anything else.

Nine years ago, I became a mother. It wasn’t like a switch was flipped, though. Rather, I have continued to become a mother, each and every day. My daughter has been there with me every step of the way. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve figured it out together. As I survey the young woman she has become, I can only feel proud and amazed that she is mine. My daughter. My Hannah. Happy birthday to both of us.

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Forgiveness and Love

I’m a day late on Forgiveness Friday this week, due to technical issues with this site yesterday. Fun stuff! I refuse to let a little glitch get in the way, though, so once again I’m thinking about forgiveness – just 24 hours later than I planned. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

forgiveness friday valentine's day love valentine kid artHaving children changed my perspective on Valentine’s Day. Whereas in the past I viewed Valentine’s Day as a crassly commercial holiday, rife with potential disappointment, now I rather enjoy it. My children’s enthusiasm rubbed off on me. Having children also gave me another opportunity to express love, this time to the most enthusiastic audience imaginable. My little ones are nothing short of thrilled when I give them a few pieces of candy and a small present. That kind of joy is infectious.

With yesterday being both Valentine’s Day and Forgiveness Friday, I was thinking about how parental love informs my views on forgiveness yet again. Having two children has given me lots of chances to teach my offspring about forgiveness. That wasn’t the first lesson in forgiveness that motherhood brought me, though. Becoming a parent in the first place brought many lessons about forgiveness.

Any parent can tell you that children can be a little bit, erm, trying. There’s a reason that toddlers, in particular, are just so cute. We find them charming because if we didn’t, we would be far less willing to experience the constant aggravation they gift us with. I loved my toddlers to bits, don’t get me wrong. At the same time, there’s no denying that the temper tantrums, constant search for danger, bodily fluids, messes and violence delivered at their hands can wear you down. When you’re parenting a toddler you’re dealing with a lot of crap, figuratively and literally.

It’s no surprise, then, that parents sometimes get angry with their children. We feel guilty about it, because they’re only children. We understand that they’re not really responsible for their actions, and they’re not developmentally capable of understanding how their behaviour impacts us. When someone screams in your ear and tries to bite you because you won’t hand over a cookie three minutes before dinner, though, some aggravation on your part is only natural. It’s why I give myself time-outs, even though I’ve never given them to my children. Taking a few minutes to calm down and regain your perspective is never a bad thing, especially when you’re nearing the end of a long day with a two-year-old.

When you tuck that two-year-old into bed at night, though, and see your baby sleeping sweetly, something magical happens. It’s like all of the day’s aggravation just washes away. In those few seconds the anger vanishes, and all is right with the world again. Although I never thought of this as forgiveness, that’s what it is. It’s a letting go of anger, as it’s replaced by a feeling of profound parental love.

Thinking about this yesterday, it occurred to me that love has a very big role to play in forgiveness. In fact, you could argue that all forgiveness is rooted in love. Certainly, most of us find it easier to forgive people we care for, whether they’re our children, partners or friends. We recognize that while we may be angry, the positive emotions we feel outweigh the negative ones, and we’re better able to let go of that anger.

We can love for almost anyone. I think that kindness is a good word to use here, where kindness refers to a kind of love we have for all of humankind. Or all life in general – there’s no need to leave out animals or even plants. When we’re in touch with that feeling of goodwill for others, we find it easier to forgive them, even if they’re strangers. Once again, love trumps anger and brings about forgiveness.

I am reading Forgiveness is a Choice by Robert D. Enright right now, and so far it’s a great book. I’ve highlighted a number of passages. This definition of forgiveness from philosopher Joanna North, which is quoted by Dr. Enright in the book, seems particularly fitting here:

… we forgive when we overcome the resentment toward the offender, not by denying our right to the resentment, but instead by trying to offer the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence, and love …

Forgiveness is rooted in love.

It’s easy for me to forgive my children because my love for them is so strong. Perhaps, then, my challenge in learning to forgive myself and others lies in cultivating feelings of compassion, benevolence and love. I suspect that the more kindness I can offer myself and others – while still setting appropriate boundaries – the easier it will be to forgive. I’m thinking of it like my Valentine’s Day gift to the world. It’s a giant sparkly heart, that says I really do care, and that we all matter and deserve forgiveness. Not so much because we’ve earned forgiveness, but because carrying anger around serves no one at all.

I love myself enough to let go of that anger. I love other people enough to let go of that anger. Not all at once, but bit by bit by bit.

You Might Be a Hippie Mama If (Part Three)

I sometimes refer to myself as a hippie mama. It’s a sort of short-hand way to tell you something about who I am. For example, I breastfed my children for over two-and-a-half years each. I own stainless steel straws, and I carry re-usable shopping bags and a water bottle wherever I go. I have strange self-imposed dietary restrictions. Also, I was raised by legitimate hippies. You get the picture.

I’ve shared some signs that you might be a hippie mama, too. And then I went ahead and shared some more. It’s been a couple of years now, though, so I thought it might be fun to do it again. Read on, and find out if you, too, share some hippie tendencies.

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Signs You Might be a Hippie Mama

1. Your five-year-old is catching on that the other kids’ school lunches look a little different from his. For example, they get dessert, and rarely bring seaweed or rice cakes.

2. Your daughter is shocked on the day that you buy actual, brand-name Nutella home from the store as a treat, instead of either making your own or buying an organic alternative.

3. At some point you have given up grain, dairy, sugar or soy, or maybe all of them, even though you don’t actually have a diagnosed allergy or intolerance.

4. You have a family doctor, but your first call when you’re feeling a little run-down is to your acupuncturist, chiropractor or naturopath.

5. You strictly limit extracurricular activities – or possibly avoid them altogether – so that your kids can spend their free time digging in the dirt.

6. You either homeschool, unschool or send your kids to an alternative school program. Or, if you send your kids to public school, you’re in the minority amongst your mama friends.

7. Your kids complain about how all their friends have iPads, iPods and video game systems, and you respond by telling them how lucky they are that their brains aren’t being warped by too much screen time.

8. You have at least one dairy alternative in your fridge at all times. Right now mine is coconut milk, but I also like almond milk quite a lot.

9. You make your children promise that they will always vote once they’re legally able to, because political engagement is very important.

10. Your kids know where the coconut oil is, and use it as soon as their skin is feeling a little dry.

11. Your children know which vendors hand out organic lollipops as treats at the farmers’ market.

12. Your kids have their own garden plots, and they have strong opinions on which veggies they want to grow this year.

What about you? Are there any signs of hippie mama-hood that you would add? Please share!

Forgiveness Starts With Me

It’s Forgiveness Friday here at Strocel.com, which means that once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

feminist selfie forgiveness fridayIn my very first Forgiveness Friday post I shared that I find it hardest to forgive myself. This is true whether we’re talking about actual, bona fide mistakes (like a fender bender I caused 14 years ago) or just imagined shortcomings. For example, I’ve been beating myself up a lot lately because I talk a lot in class. I’m worried that I’m dominating the conversation in my tutorials, and that my fellow students are having a hard time getting a word in edgewise. It’s important to note, however, that no one has actually expressed to me that they would like me to listen more and talk less – not at all. I’m taking it on all by myself, and I’m not cutting myself any slack over my chatterbox ways.

I find that I spend a lot of my time passing judgment on myself, and listing all the things I should have done differently. Three days after a conversation, I’ll still be thinking about what I should have said. Fifteen years after I put my foot in my mouth in front of my friend, I still cringe thinking about it. There is no statute of limitations when it comes to mistakes I’ve made – or mistakes I may have made.

Is it so bad, to hold yourself to high standards, and to re-examine your past behaviour with the aim of improving? Perhaps not. However, I would argue that the critical point is to re-hash the past with the aim of improving. Re-hashing the past constantly, and beating yourself up for each and every perceived slight, over and over again, actually isn’t productive. It’s simply self-flagellation. High standards are one thing, impossible standards are another. What’s more, I suspect that they way I treat myself is reflected in the way I treat others.

When you hold yourself to impossibly high standards, and you’re unforgiving with yourself, it’s difficult to learn how to forgive others. In my own life I tend to either excuse or hold a grudge. That is, I deny that anyone has hurt me until they’ve really, really hurt me, and then I’m angry for a really, really long time. I don’t have much experience with acknowledging that someone has hurt me a little, and then finding a way to move on from that hurt. I think one good way to gain that experience would be to learn how to acknowledge my own shortcomings without resorting to beating myself up endlessly.

One of the fears that I have is that if I forgive myself, I will be a bad person. I will engage in bad behaviours without feeling any remorse. I will hurt other people, without recognizing how my actions have impacted them. I don’t want that. I doubt anyone wants that. However, it’s a long way from beating yourself up for talking a lot in class to blissfully going through your life hurting other people without any regard for their feelings. I’m engaging in some black or white thinking here. I suspect that this stems from, in large part, my confusion over what it actually means to forgive someone – including myself.

It feels a little self-indulgent to type this out, but I can see that if I’m going to learn how to forgive other people, I first need to learn how to forgive myself. That means being willing to acknowledge that while I am not perfect, I am still a worthwhile human being. My hope is that when I learn to accept my own imperfections, and hold myself to account in healthy ways, I can do the same thing for others. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but I’m trusting that it will be worthwhile.

Are you also prone to beating yourself up for all of your mistakes – big and small, real and imagined? Are you able to forgive yourself when things don’t go as you would have liked? I’d love to hear your thoughts and your suggestions.

What I Learned in January 2014

Strocel.com What I Learned Last MonthWow, January really flew by, didn’t it? I suddenly realized this morning that I am, in fact, overdue for my monthly review. I didn’t want to let it slide, because monthly reviews are one of my favourite traditions.

Here’s how it works – every month I come up with some things I learned, and not always the easy way. Then, I ask you all to join in with some recent revelations of your own. Or this time, perhaps you can share some less-than-recent revelations that occurred over the past year. Either way, we all learn and grow and what-not. Or at least share a laugh at our own expense, because some of these lessons are both hard-fought and funny. Sound good?

So, without further ado, here is what I learned in January – or some of it, anyway.

What I Learned Last Month

1. I returned to school for the first time in almost a decade and a half, and discovered that while the technology has changed, mostly everything else has stayed the same. I also discovered that getting a second degree as a bona fide grown-up, completely based on your own choice, is way more fun … although homework and exams are still less than inspiring.

monthly review what i learned in january

2. I found out, once again, that the way to not finish a knitting project quickly is to ignore it and then get angry that it’s not already finished six months after you cast on.

3. I learned the joy of taking (almost) daily self-portraits.

monthly review what i learned in january

4. I discovered, along with a very sheepish looking man at the vasectomy clinic, that your wife will not be sympathetic about your anxiety over your impending procedure when she is pushing a large double stroller with toddler-aged twins. Instead, she will give you an earful about the joys of pregnancy and childbirth and breastfeeding and so on and so forth. What’s more, she has a point.

5. I brought more greenery into my life with some new houseplants, and re-discovered just how much I love having plants indoors.

monthly review what i learned in january

6. I conducted extensive research and confirmed that there is no such thing as too much rooibos tea. Mmm, rooibos tea. I also confirmed that there is no end of ways to pronounce rooibos.

7. I learned that the world’s most awesome cheese slicers come from Sweden. Thanks Kirsten!

monthly review what i learned in january

8. I enjoyed the banjo stylings of my Canadian History professor, who plays at least one song during every lecture. This is every bit as awesome as it sounds.

9. Once again, I experienced the thrill of home organization. Hooray for IKEA!

monthly review what i learned in january

10. In my kinesiology class I learned that I am actually significantly more muscular than the average woman – most especially in my legs. One the one hand I am flabbergasted, as I would not describe myself this way at all. On the other hand now I know why I have a hard time finding boots that fit, and why I will never have a thigh gap.

I’ve shared what I learned – what did you learn in January? Leave a comment and tell me! Or, if you’d like to play along by writing a review post of your own, link to it in the comments. And please feel free to grab the button from the top of this post.

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