Picky Eater

It’s been a while since I opened Use Your Words by Kate Hopper, which is unfortunate because it really is full of great ideas. Today’s post was inspired by one of the writing exercises in that book.

The other day my six-year-old announced that he was a vegetarian. Actually, though, that’s not exactly right. We were doing his home reading, and the story he brought home from school featured a bunch of animals going fishing. His response? “Fishing isn’t nice. Fishing kills living creatures.” I asked him if he was becoming a vegetarian and he replied, “No, mom, I’m a scientist. Scientists know that all animals are alive, and we shouldn’t hurt them because that’s not taking good care of the earth.”

Flash back to my son the baby. One of his first solid foods was pureed beef, which he loved. Because I am a hippie mama it was pureed grass-fed, free range, hormone-and-antibiotic-and-chemical-free, purchased straight from the rancher at the farmers’ market. While my son no longer eats with the full-bodied gusto of a six-month-old discovering a whole new world of tastes and textures, meat is still one of his favourite foods. And given how picky he’s become about what he puts in his mouth, I’m not sure what his diet would look like without it. I’m guessing it would be comprised almost entirely of nachos (without any vegetables) and breakfast cereal, with, perhaps, the occasional serving of fries thrown in for good measure.

I’m sure this is all my fault, of course. If I’d fed him like a French child, he would eat anything. If I’d offered him nothing but beans and rice and vegetables until he ate them all eagerly he wouldn’t turn his nose up at them today. If I’d offered him the right foods, in the right quantities, in the right order, there’s no way he’d refuse to even taste something because it “looked weird”. After all, I’m his mother. It’s my job to establish good eating habits.

baby eating food
Before it all went wrong

I remember reading an old copy of Penelope Leach’s Your Baby and Child that a co-worker gave me when my daughter was born. The book actually claimed that babies who weren’t started on the right purees at four months of age would become “problem eaters”. I didn’t start my son on solids until he was almost six months, and then it wasn’t purees but mashed banana. I should have anticipated that he would turn into the world’s choosiest vegetarian by the time he was in first grade. It was all there right in front of me 10 years ago, but I ignored the warning.

I also heard, back in my new parent days, that if a child refused a food the first time it probably meant they were just getting used to the taste. So you should offer it again. And again. And again. Until, eventually, that child would learn to love the food in question. I tried this with my daughter, who turned her nose up at avocado. She refused it once. She refused it twice. She refused it five times. She refused it 27 times. And today, with her tenth birthday rapidly approaching, she adores sushi but uses her chopsticks to remove all the avocado before eating it. Clearly, the 112th time would have been the charm, but my persistence faltered and with my son I decided to actually respect his decisions about what he did and didn’t like. I know, I know, I was so very, very wrong.

Of course, there really aren’t any hard-and-fast rules for what foods to introduce and when to introduce them. Different cultures have different practices, and still, somehow, all adults grow up to think that food is pretty good and they should eat it. Not everyone likes the same foods, but I’m living proof that you can turn up your nose at corn on the cob or sweet potatoes and still live a full and happy life. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any 40 year olds out there that are still subsisting on milk because their mothers didn’t give them pureed green beans at exactly the right time. Or at all. And speaking of pureed green beans, I’m living proof that you can live a full and happy life without ever touching those, either.

As for my son, we talked more about his food choices. He’s decided that for now, he’s avoiding fish, but he’ll eat other meat because it’s “already dead”. My guess is that this choice is mostly about what foods he actually likes. He’s six, so that fact that he enjoys meatballs and passes over salmon isn’t exactly shocking. I’m not going to insist on logical consistency from a kid who is still learning to tie his shoes. And later on, if he sticks to his decision not to eat meat and decides to go completely vegetarian, or vegan, or what-have-you, I will support him as best I can.

For now, though, I’m really glad that my picky eater will consume the foods I’ve come to depend on to keep dinnertime running smoothly. Because I didn’t have the foresight to shove pureed green beans down his throat until he liked them.

My Writing Process

I realize it’s tedious to blog about this, but I really wish I were blogging more than I am. This is why, when the fabulous Dana at Celiac Kiddo invited me to participate in a blog tour about my writing process, I was all over it. It simplified the posting process by giving me a good, solid framework, and gave me a reason to write. The tour involves answering four questions, so I’m just going to go ahead and do that.

1. What am I working on?

Honestly, I’m mostly doing writing for school and work right now. This means churning out articles for local moms at VancouverMom.ca, and writing for the English lit and geography classes I’m taking this semester. I also blog a lot, but mostly in my head while I’m driving or in the shower. I’ve composed some great posts … they just never actually got written. I’ve also taken to composing fiction in my head recently, which is something I haven’t done for ages.

My current writing fodder

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I honestly have no idea how to answer this one. I think all that I can say is that we all have our own unique voices, and I am no different. Beyond that? I’m not sure I even have a genre. I’m not high brow enough, since I mostly write online.

3. Why do I write what I do?

The writing I do for work and school is obligatory, for the most part. However, I do try to make it good, and I actually find that I enjoy it once I get into it. For instance, last semester I wrote a history paper about Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan that I’m rather proud of, and which I derived quite a lot of satisfaction from. The other writing I do satisfies a need inside my soul to write, even if it’s not nearly as frequent or meaningful as I would like it to be.

4. How does my writing process work?

I am the sort of person who sits down at the computer and bangs away until I have something that resembles a blog post, article or paper. When I have to submit an outline for school, I often write the paper and then go back and re-construct an outline because I find it easier to tease out a structure after the fact than to write in a methodical and organized fashion. Sometimes I’ll change subjects or tracks a number of times, deleting and re-ordering paragraphs, adding extra points and re-drafting my concluding paragraph until it’s perfect.

There are a few thing that are non-negotiable to my writing process: I need to be warm, so I keep a blanket near my chair. I like to have the radio on, even though I’m probably more productive when it’s quiet. Finally, I think I do my best of writing while I’m sipping a cup of herbal tea.

What about you – what does your writing process look like? I’d love to hear!

Ditching the Schedule

blogging schedules

For a few years now, I’ve scheduled my blog posts to run every morning at 6:00am Pacific time, five or six days a week. Sometimes, I wrote several posts all at once. Sometimes I sat up late at night, trying desperately to finish something to run the next morning. But I did it, because I feel pretty strongly that in order to get better at writing, you have to write. The other reason I did it is because schedules work for me. I’m a planner by nature, and knowing what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it creates the sort of order that I enjoy. It’s freeing to me, in fact.

Recently, though, things have changed. For one thing, I’m writing a lot more for work. A lot more. I enjoy it very much, working as a writer and editor. However, it’s leaving me feeling a little bit lost when it’s time for me to sit in this chair and write for myself. Sometimes, to be honest, I’m all written out. On top of that, having the structure of a specific editorial schedule to adhere to in my working life has more than filled my need for structure. My planning cup runneth over, and at this point having yet another writing obligation to fulfill is just a little bit too much. And so, I’ve decided to ditch my blogging schedule here.

I will still write here, more days than not. I will still sit in this chair and think out my thoughts and write things simply because I want to write them. But I will do that on my own schedule, and in my own time. I guess you could say I’m giving myself the gift of freedom. The freedom to write, or the freedom to not write, as the muse dictates. Or as my energy level dictates.

At this point in my life, my biggest fantasy is to be able to tuck my kids into bed, then head downstairs to do whatever I want. This isn’t a reality for me, for a couple of reasons. The first is that my four-year-old Jacob is giving his father and me a workout every night as he gets out of bed for one more drink of water, one more hug, one more thing he has to tell us. I’m getting my daily exercise running up and down the stairs every evening, more times than I care to count. The second reason I can’t just do whatever I want when my kids are in bed is that I don’t have enough time during the day to finish all my work. But by streamlining things, maintaining focus, and making sure that I meet my basic needs so that I’m efficient, I do better.

My hope is that by easing up on the requirements I set myself, I can cultivate a greater sense of ease and spaciousness in my life. I can spend more time being present in the moment, rather than thinking about all the things I “have” to do. I can spend my evenings reading, or watching TV, or meditating, or taking a yoga class, instead of forcing myself to follow an arbitrary schedule. I have a long way to go, but it’s a goal, and it’s a big part of why I’m easing up on myself.

So, if you’ve noticed that my schedule has shifted, you’re right. It has. I’m not going anywhere – this space means to much to me to do that. But sometimes, I may be too busy living to sit in this chair and write. And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, maybe it’s even better than okay.

I’ll let you know how this new approach to blogging works out for me. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Do you set schedules for yourself, or do you find them constricting? And if you blog, when and how often do you write? Tell me!

Just Write

just write writing

For the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling that lost feeling when I sit down to write. The cursor on my screen just blinks at me, exuding impatience, while I struggle to come up with something to say. Nothing brilliant comes to me, though. The cursor blinks, I feel progressively more lost, and I wonder if I should just cut myself some slack and take a break.

After all, we all need a break sometimes, right?

While I don’t dispute that taking time off can be beneficial, the truth is that when it comes to myself, I’m pretty much a tiger mom. For my kids, I’m fairly easy-going. After all, they’re only kids. I’m an adult. I believe that if I want to get better, I have to do the work. That means showing up and writing whether I want to or not; whether I have brilliant ideas or not; whether Game of Thrones is waiting for me on my PVR or not. I need to sit in the chair, put in my 10,000 hours, and just write. It’s not easy, though, and the results aren’t always brilliant.

I know that if I look around, there’s inspiration. I see little plants in my garden growing bigger every day. I see Canada geese flying in giant V-shaped formations overhead, reminding me of childhood lessons about cooperation and perseverance and the rhythm of the seasons. I see my children learning and growing and becoming increasingly awesome every day. I see the routines of my life that nurture me and stifle me simultaneously, shaping my days and my experiences. I see opportunities to say yes, and opportunities to say no, and the ways that both of those answers can be either soul-killing or life-affirming. I hear jokes and read news stories and run my hands over stones warmed by the sun. I think about how a rock is formed and how it’s so strange that this particular rock should make the journey from prehistoric molten magma to a small object I can hold in my hand.

Sometimes, though, the inspiration doesn’t take hold. I can’t easily transform that wisp of a thought into a coherent piece of writing. I try and try, typing and back-spacing and copying and pasting, but my words are like clay that is too dry, crumbling to bits before I can create anything meaningful and solid out of it. The muse isn’t with me, no matter how much I try to conjure her through sheer force of will.

This is the way that life works, I think. Sometimes you have to just sit down and write (or paint, or sew, or map out an event, or draw up plans), even when it isn’t easy. There will be struggle. But in the struggle you have a choice. You can focus on the pain and the difficulty, or you can focus on the meaning of what you’re doing. By showing up even when it’s hard, and enduring the impatient blinking of the cursor, you’re wading into the murky waters of life itself. Sometimes, your feet get stuck in the quagmire, and the going is slow and difficult. But still, the important thing is that you’re going. The only way to get there is to go through it, even if you’re not entirely sure where there is.

And so, I sit here in this chair, feeling lost. But still, I write. Because I am a writer, and that’s just what we do.

Shortcomings, Expectations and Pushing Back

I’m still (slowly) working my way through the fabulous book Use Your Words by Kate Hopper. Today’s post was inspired by one of the writing exercises in that book.


There is a scene that plays itself over and over in my mind. It’s not a scene that happened once, on a single occasion. Rather, it’s a scenario that I’ve encountered again and again – so many times, in fact, that the scene is sort of an amalgam of countless different occasions. And it’s a scene that I file under my shortcomings as a mother.

Let me set the stage for you. It’s late afternoon or evening. If you have kids you know it well – it’s the time of day at which your patience has started wearing thin. It’s not so much that it’s been a bad day, or an especially long day. Rather, it’s just been yet another day with young children, and all of the challenges that entails. A day spent fetching snacks and wiping snotty noses and answering question after question after question. A day with no bathroom privacy, and pretty much no consideration for my needs whatsoever. Just a day, like so many before it, and so many that will follow it.

Then, something happens. It’s probably not terribly big, or terribly consequential. But the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back probably didn’t seem big or consequential, either. As everyone is a little bit tired, tempers are short. One of my children is terribly upset by the event, and comes running to me for solace.

What could be more natural than a small child running to his or her mother for comfort?

In this moment, I know that my child will not settle for anyone or anything other than me. However, I also know that there’s nothing left in me to give. I have been all wrung out like a well-used washcloth by the petty and incessant demands of my life. And so, I resist. I back away. I deflect. I stand up and wrap my arms around myself, so that no one can get to me. I hold out boxes of crackers and pieces of fruit at arm’s length, hoping that my efforts at distraction will work. Sometimes I even try to hide.

Of course, my child will not be dissuaded. The harder I push, the harder my little one clings. I try to reason with myself that if I can just sit down with my crying baby for a few minutes, then calm will replace the tears. I will be providing the parental reassurance that can soothe the fears, and order will be restored. And yet, I can’t bring myself to do it. I just can’t stand the idea of pouring myself out, yet again. I want room to breathe, and I want a chance to calm myself down.

In that moment, when I’m trying to escape my life, I feel like a failure. I believe that a good mother wouldn’t push her children away when they’re upset. A good mother would get down on their level, open her arms, and give them the unconditional love that they need. A good mother wouldn’t raise her voice. A good mother would understand that her children are behaving in an age-appropriate manner, and keep her cool.

When I was a child, I remember my mother’s friends commenting to her that they couldn’t wait for school to start up again over summer break, because they needed a little peace and quiet. My mother, however, never said any such thing. On one occasion, in fact, she apologized for agreeing with one of them in my hearing, telling me that she was just being polite. She loved to spend time with us, she said. And I really believe that she did. As a child, it made me feel great to know that my mom wanted me around so much.

I haven’t thought to ask her, now that I’m an adult, if she ever felt like running screaming from her children. I do know that when I was a colicky baby sometimes she took walks to clear her head while my father held me as I cried for 15 minutes. But that feels different, somehow. I will never remember those moments when I was three months old. My children, on the other hand, are now old enough to be forming life-long memories of me hiding in the bathroom when I just can’t take it anymore.

Sometimes, in my clearer moments, I can see the raw deal that parents (and especially mothers) are handed. Spending all day alone with young children is really hard. When you pile a whole bunch of expectations on top of that, it’s even harder. Because, let’s face it, mothers are expected to behave in a certain way. We’re not supposed to lose our tempers. We’re not supposed to complain. We’re not supposed to need personal space, or downtime. We’re just supposed to smile beatifically at our children while we prepare organic food and keep our houses spotlessly clean.

Maybe the scene isn’t evidence of my shortcomings as a mother. Perhaps it’s simply evidence that all of these expectations I’ve placed on myself are unrealistic. These expectations were picked up all over the place – from society at large, from my own childhood, from TV shows and books and the local playground. But the truth is that I’ve swallowed most of them whole, adopting them as my own. The wider culture can suggest that I should be eternally patient, but in the end it’s up to me to decide what to do with that message.

Regardless of the causes, the scene usually ends the same way. I realize that I have to suck it up, and so I do. I offer what little I can to my child. I smooth the situation over as best I can. We make it through the rest of the day, and then once my baby is asleep, all is magically well once again. It no longer feels so bad. Now I have a little bit of time to myself. After some TV and some sleep myself, I’m even feeling ready to do it all again, and face a new day.

Maybe today, I’ll get it right. Maybe today, I can re-write the scene. Maybe today, I can let go of those expectations that only make everything harder. Maybe today, I can wash myself clean in the waters of maternal absolution, and in so doing, I can nourish myself so that I’m able to nourish others. And then, I can stop playing the same scene over and over in my mind. The truth is, I’m more than a little bit tired of it. I’m ready to move on.

A Space of My Own

Virginia Woolf famously said, “A woman must have … a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” While I don’t write fiction, I do write. Sadly, however, I don’t have a room of my own. I live in a split-level three bedroom house, which is roomier than some of my friends’ homes, but does not afford me a room for writing. When I was pregnant with my son Jacob my husband and I lost our office to the cause of our kids each having their own room. The computer moved downstairs to a corner of the family room, which is otherwise filled mostly with toys.

It was a full year or more after the computer moved that I got the call that I had been laid off from my job. I didn’t realize it yet at the time, but that day marked my transition from part-time work outside the home mom to full-time work at home mom. I soon discovered that trying to be productive from the corner of my family room was much more challenging than trying to be productive from my cubicle in an office. Any sort of separation between family and career was erased. I’m not complaining – there are many upsides to this. I have much more flexibility when it comes to being with my kids, for instance, which is a big plus for me. I’m glad I made the switch.

At the same time, I often long for a room of my own. A room that I can close the door on when the work day is done. A room I can retreat to when the noise in the rest of the house is too much. A space that isn’t filled with toys and discarded apple cores and so on. My husband and I frequently talk about this conundrum, of lacking any type of home office. We haven’t found any great solutions. However, recently it occurred to me that I could at least make a few changes to my workspace, to make it a little more functional.

For the past couple of months I’ve been on a quest. The first step was moving the printer off of my desk. We accomplished that in October, when we got a working wifi printer, which now lives on the top shelf of a closet. That cleared off my desk. Step two was getting rid of my clunky old desktop computer, and moving on to my laptop. (You’ll be glad to know I kept disco mouse, though.) We did that in November, which cleared more space in my desk area. Step three was clearing out my old bookshelf, which hasn’t actually contained books for ages, and making space for my sewing supplies and sewing machine. We did that in December.

The job was finished this weekend. We made the pilgrimage to IKEA for a new floor mat, chair and doors for my bookcase. The result is a corner of a room that is totally mine, filled with my work and crafting supplies. My sewing machine is no longer hidden in a cupboard when it’s not in use, and sharing space on my dining room table when it is. My fabric is no longer stuffed into an overflowing shelf in my buffet. My desk is no longer covered with things I don’t need, want or use. And I finally have a chair I actually like, rather than one that my husband bought himself 15 years ago for his bachelor apartment.

A work and craft space of my own
My completed space

I’m hoping that Virginia Woolf was only half-right, and that a space of my own will suffice. For now, I have to say, I’m very happy with it. It may not be perfect, but it’s mine. My own little corner of the world. It is sweet, indeed.

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.

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