In a recent last post I outlined the numerous activities I’ve used to keep Abigail entertained in the looooong harsh winter months. Luckily my daughter loves books, so we do a lot of reading now that she’s finally at an age where she can quell the ants in her pants long enough to sit through a book. She tends to cycle through books, fixating obsessively on one or two books for a week or two, then she’s on to other adventures. Her recent loves have included Where the Wild Things Are and Puff the Magic Dragon (my girl loves dragons and monsters, go figure), and something called Hug Time (or, as Erik puts it, “the one with the environmentalist agenda”) but we’ve also gone through Goodnight Moon, The Paperbag Princess (my personal favourite – “Ronald, you are a bum!” …gets me every time…), Ten in the Bed, How to Catch a Star (or, as she calls it, “Boy and the star” – if you don’t know Oliver Jeffers you should, his books are enchanting), and a little gem called Pinkalicious.
Pinkalicious is the story of a girl who eats so many pink cupcakes that she turns pink herself. I’m totally in love with this book, I think it’s adorable and has a pretty good central message for girls (“I was myself again, and I was beautiful.”) When I was pregnant with Abigail I kept thinking that I didn’t want her to be defined by feminine stereotypes, and that included the propensity to surround little girls with a multitude of pink frilly things that may or may not send the message that girls are dainty and fragile and frivolous. But I’ve kind of reversed my thinking on this. I can’t totally control her environment (and this has been true right from the start, shocker), she’s a girl, she likes “girly” things, and ultimately I think you can be feminine AND strong AND smart. It’s a little disheartening that so many toys are so very gender-specific (and Disney clearly has a monopoly - Disney Princesses for girls, Disney Cars for boys – seriously?), but Abigail plays with dolls and Hot Wheels, often while wearing a tutu and pirate bandana, and her brother can play with trucks and dolls, as far as I’m concerned.
When I bought the book I didn’t realize there’s a whole Pinkalicious marketing empire, including several other books, merchandise, and incredibly, Pinkalicious the Musical. Is there nothing that can’t be set to a tune?? I was willing to hop on the pink bandwagon and plan a Pinkalicious third birthday party for Abigail this summer, but it looks like a pirate theme (!) is winning out, if the number of eye patches she draws on the figures in her colouring books is anything to go by. There’s an especially disturbing picture of Dora and Boots with crayon-blackened eyes in one of her colouring books – Erik and I were relieved to discover that she was adding “eye patches” and not possessed by a demon.
Anyway, during her Pinkalicious phase a few weeks ago I had the bright idea to bake pink cupcakes with Abigail for our first cooperative baking adventure together. Because I’m not totally insane, I bought a cake mix and canned icing and threw in some pink food colouring. Not my typical M.O., but I figured we were both more likely to enjoy this experience if we weren’t fiddling with a from-scratch cake recipe because Abigail’s attention span is unpredictable, but she surprised me and was totally into making cupcakes with me. I do harbour a little hope that one day that will be us, and maybe Spencer too, working on beloved recipes like my grandmother’s German Soup and my mom’s meatloaf and my aunt’ s molasses cookies that can also be used for a gingerbread house, or my cherry cheese brownies or mint chocolate squares or the almond bars their dad likes, or trying out new recipes, like I do for her birthday cake every year (you know, all two of them…I especially loved the triple-layer pink velvet cake with cream cheese icing that I made last year…). I do a lot of baking, and I am hopeful that Abigail will enjoy it as much as I do – she already enjoys the fruits of my labour, but it would be nice if she would take the same satisfaction I do from creating something visually pleasing that tastes good, can be shared, and usually makes other people happy.
For many of these adventures Abigail has had the same partner in crime, her friend Gideon. Gideon is the most chill and easygoing of toddlers, so he’s the perfect foil to Abigail’s sometimes high-strung antics. He basically lets her get away with almost anything, the poor little guy. I fear for his teenage self the first time he falls in love – it will probably be with someone just like Abigail who will wipe the floor with his nice-guy heart. But for now the dynamic works as long as he doesn’t try to hug her (learned that one the hard way). His mom and I met in the kids’ swimming lessons, and we’ve taken them to the park, the zoo, on playdates, the Children’s Museum, and most notably, the recent live-action Max & Ruby show here in Ottawa. Now that was an experience – people in giant rabbit costumes re-enacting one of the show’s episodes. Trippy.
Gideon came over for a playdate after Abigail and I baked the cupcakes, so in an effort to entertain the two of them once the novelty of my giant emergency Play Doh box ran out, I assembled some decorating supplies and let them have a go at decorating their own cupcakes. This was the result, which I think is indicative of their respective personalities. Better than a Rorschach test, no?
Being the total Type A that I am, I had to decorate a few myself, and made them true “Pinkalicious” cupcakes – Abigail loved having these for dessert for days after, as did her mom (and her dad too).
I’m re-posting this from Mother’s Day last year. I re-read it today, and now, as a mother of two children under three years old (see cute baby photos below), I still believe these words to be true. Happy Mother’s Day to all mamas out there, you are the hardest working ladies I know.
My friend Sara sent this to me a few years ago around Mother’s Day:
This is for the mothers who have sat up all night with sick toddlers in their arms, wiping up puke laced with Oscar Mayer wieners and cherry Kool-Aid saying, “It’s okay honey, Mommy’s here.”
Who have sat in rocking chairs for hours on end soothing crying babies who can’t be comforted. This is for all the mothers who show up at work with spit-up in their hair and milk stains on their blouses and diapers in their purse.
For all the mothers who run carpools and make cookies and sew Halloween costumes. And all the mothers who DON’T.
This is for the mothers who gave birth to babies they’ll never see. And the mothers who took those babies and gave them homes.
This is for the mothers whose priceless art collections are hanging on their refrigerator doors.
And for all the mothers who froze their buns on metal bleachers at football , hockey or soccer games instead of watching from the warmth of their cars, so that when their kids asked, “Did you see me, Mom?” they could say, “Of course, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” and mean it.
This is for all the mothers who yell at their kids in the grocery store and swat them in despair when they stomp their feet and scream for ice cream before dinner. And for all the mothers who count to ten instead, but realize how child abuse happens.
This is for all the mothers who sat down with their children and explained all about making babies. And for all the (grand) mothers who wanted to, but just couldn’t find the words.
This is for all the mothers who go hungry, so their children can eat.
For all the mothers who read “Goodnight, Moon” twice a night for a year. And then read it again. “Just one more time.”
This is for all the mothers who taught their children to tie their shoelaces before they started school. And for all the mothers who opted for Velcro instead.
This is for all the mothers who teach their sons to cook and their daughters to sink a jump shot.
This is for every mother whose head turns automatically when a little voice calls “Mom?” in a crowd, even though they know their own offspring are at home — or even away at college.
This is for all the mothers who sent their kids to school with stomach aches, assuring them they’d be just FINE once they got there, only to get calls from the school nurse an hour later asking them to please pick them up. Right away.
This is for mothers whose children have gone astray, who can’t find the words to reach them.
For all the mothers who bite their lips until they bleed when their 14 year olds dye their hair green.
For all the mothers of the victims of recent school shootings, and the mothers of those who did the shooting.
For the mothers of the survivors, and the mothers who sat in front of their TVs in horror, hugging their child who just came home from school, safely.
This is for all the mothers who taught their children to be peaceful, and now pray they come home safely from a war.
What makes a good Mother anyway?
Is it patience? Compassion? Broad hips? The ability to nurse a baby, cook dinner, and sew a button on a shirt, all at the same time?
Or is it in her heart? Is it the ache you feel when you watch your son or daughter disappear down the street, walking to school alone for the very first time?
The jolt that takes you from sleep to dread, from bed to crib at 2 A.M. to put your hand on the back of a sleeping baby?
The panic, years later, that comes again at 2 A.M. when you just want to hear their key in the door and know they are safe again in your home?
Or the need to flee from wherever you are and hug your child when you hear news of a fire, a car accident, a child dying?
The emotions of motherhood are universal and so our thoughts are for young mothers stumbling through diaper changes and sleep deprivation…
And mature mothers learning to let go.
For working mothers and stay-at-home mothers.
Single mothers and married mothers.
Mothers with money, mothers without.
This is for you all. For all of us.
Hang in there. In the end we can only do the best we can. Tell them every day that we love them. And pray.
Usually, when someone sends me a forwarded e-mail I read it, chuckle, and promptly delete it. But I have kept this one for years. Most of my friends who are moms live a similar lifestyle to mine – they have husbands or partners, own a house, and work. But there are mothers out there who live very different lives from mine, either by circumstance or choice. My own mother’s situation could not have been more different from my own. And even among women whose lives seem similar on the surface, there is so much divergence of opinion on how to parent: to work or stay home; to breast or bottle feed; to make baby food or buy it in jars; to baby-wear or use a stroller; to public/private/home school; how to discipline; and so much more. But at the root of it we’re all trying to do what we think is best for our kids, no matter what our socio-economic situation is, what our education level is, what our values are, what our family or religious background is. Most of us try hard to do the best we can for our children, without losing ourselves in the process. There has been a lot written on the internet lately about types of mothers - good and bad mothers, privileged and underprivileged mothers, mothers who advocate and those who are disenfranchised - but I hope that the universality of our experience can do something to mitigate those differences. That we can recognize in another woman – no matter if her situation is like yours or not - someone trying to get through it alive with everyone in one piece, just like us.
On of my favourite bloggers, Mommy Wants Vodka, asked her readers, as part of a contest, to write a post nominating someone for the Nobel Prize of Awesomeness (it’s a real thing – look it up). I wasn’t going to do it as I couldn’t think of anyone in particular (and I’m lazy), but when I started to think about a Mother’s Day post, the two ideas came together. One unexpected gift that has come from this blog has been the Facebook and blog comments and e-mails from other moms, near or far, who have offered advice and insight, or who just want to tell me they’ve been there, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So it was a natural choice to nominate moms. All you mothers – mothers by birth or adoption or relationship, grandmothers who have parented grandchildren, any woman who has taken responsibility for a child’s life in some way, you are awesome. If I could give you all a prize for your incredible awesomeness, I would.
I have been lucky to have wonderful examples of motherhood in my own life – my mother, my grandmother, my friends who are discovering parenthood alongside me. I’ve been fortunate to walk this path alongside amazing women who are finding their way through motherhood just as I am. I’ve made rookie mistakes, and had to change my master plan for parenting my daughter to adjust to the fact that my real, live baby wouldn’t go along with the plan. But I think I’ve done a good job so far – my daughter is healthy and happy and safe. And my friends have been right there with me, telling me that there is no single “right” way to be a mom, and that ultimately different things work for different moms and their kids. Women I have known since high school, women I’ve known since university, and women I’ve only known since we moved into our neighbourhood, have been an amazing support system for this (no longer new) mom. They’ve loaned baby supplies, answered puzzled e-mails, offered to babysit, shared war stories, had play dates that were more for my sanity than my daughter’s enjoyment, held my crying baby, offered encouragement and sympathy, and, sometimes most importantly, revealed their less-than-perfect parenting moments, which made me feel less terrible about my own. My closest friend, an incredible mom in her own right, has done all of this and, best of all, has made us feel that our family is her family too.
Thank all of you – I hope you know how much it means.
So Happy Mother’s Day to the wonderful mothers I know, and to mothers by birth, mothers by adoption, mothers by marriage, mothers who have made the difficult choice not to keep their babies, mothers who have to endure the loss of a child, grandmothers, godmothers, and women who saw a child in need and, by stepping up, became mothers. Mothers who work and who don’t, mothers who make it look easy but find it really hard (or not). Mothers who “do it all” because you have no other choice. Motherhood is a hard job, possibly the hardest, but our reward, if we’re lucky, is heart-cracking happiness. I am amazed every day by your examples. You are awe-inspiring.
My husband is a romantic man by nature, and he is the prince of all gift-givers (he really is very good and always thoughtful, ask anyone). And in the past week I got flowers from him not once, but twice. The first time he arrived home with a lovely bouquet of spring flowers in shades of Easter purples and yellows. See Figure 1:
Pretty, right? The second time, last night, he brought home a house plant. An orchid, to be specific. See Figure 2:
Now, I consider myself a fairly competent outdoor gardener and am quite anxious to get started on our flower beds, herb garden, and tomato plants. I’m considering putting in some strawberry plants too. But my backyard success belies a dirty secret: I kill all houseplants, almost upon contact. It’s worse if they’re the flowering kind. I don’t mean to kill them, but I’ve never managed to keep a houseplant alive longer than, say, a few weeks. Poinsettia sometime linger for a while after Christmas, but it is never pretty near the end. With all plants that enter my care, inevitably the flowers fall off, the leaves brown, and what was once lush and healthy withers, dies, and gets pitched into the compost bin. Every time someone gives me a houseplant as a gift I cringe, because I know that it will not be alive the next time they visit, and I am privately too mortified to confess that I killed it, so I say nothing. I know some people take a moral stance against cut flowers as environmentally wasteful, but honestly, in this house it’s all the same – nothing survives my particular brand of tender care.
So, the orchid. When I saw that the paper wrapping was obviously holding some sort of potted something, I was a little alarmed. When I saw it was an orchid, a delicate, lovely, fussy orchid, I immediately felt my black thumb start to pulse with evil intention. What I said to my husband was something along the lines of “thank you, it’s gorgeous” but what I was thinking was “What the hell, dude? What the hell?” He should know better. I will follow the care instructions (decent amount of light, moderate temperature, water once a week) and it won’t make the slightest bit of difference. I’m pretty sure “Phalaenopsis” is Latin for “Take a good look, I won’t be around long.”
The combination of a toddler, a newborn and a Canadian winter could potentially equal DOOM. The biggest challenge I’ve faced so far on this maternity leave has been finding ways to entertain Abigail while leaving time to meet Spencer’s needs, all in weather that precludes spending much time outdoors. It was somewhat easier when Erik was home for a few weeks immediately after Spencer’s birth, but since he went back to work I’ve come to realize that I have to schedule non-errand activities or outings for us at least a few days a week or Abigail goes bat-shit crazy (and so does her mama. There’s a proportional relationship there, you see). When Spencer was first born, our friends were amazed that we were out and about so quickly, attending a Christmas drop-in and a New Years’ party within a couple of weeks of his birth. But really, it wasn’t that remarkable – our survival depended on leaving the house. So in the last three-plus months, in addition to the more pedestrian at-home playdates at our house or a friend’s, multiple visits to both sets of grandparents, and the occasional walk outdoors when temperatures permitted, we’ve done the following: started Abigail in once-a-week nursery school and attended the additional playclasses they offer; enrolled her in a gymnastics class that ran January to March; went to the large, Lord of the Flies playgroups at the local community centre; visited the Experimental Farm (which was okay but since Abigail sees lots of horses and cows when she visits my parents, she was kind of underwhelmed since only the cow and sheep barns were open); went to the Children’s Museum at the Museum of Civilization twice (and it’s awesome, I highly recommend this place); farmed Abigail out to a grandparent so I could take Spencer to stars & strollers; got family photos done; painted stuff at Gotta Paint in Westboro; and just started her in soccer last week. Phew.
As fun as it is to devise new and interesting ways to entertain my super special snowflakes, I’m struggling a bit with how to keep myself “entertained.” If I’m completely honest, I have to admit that I am not always that stimulated by playing “stickers” or drawing with crayons or watching yet another episode of Dora the Effing Explorer. I love that Abigail loves these things, and I love that she wants me to play with her, but sometimes I just think, oh, seriously? Again? I know I am incredibly lucky to be able to share so much time with my children, and to have such direct input in the entertainment/education/stimulation of my daughter at such an impressionable age. But the things that a two-year-old loves are not always the things that I love (I know, shocking), and because I have a pretty functional brain I sometimes miss using it for more complex tasks than piecing together MegaBlocks. I sometimes miss my job for this reason, and it’s probably also the reason that I read a lot on maternity leave, mostly while nursing, even in the middle of the night. I have to cram in some time for myself somewhere. The thing I struggle the most with when on maternity leave, aside from sleep deprivation, is the long days of little stimulation, when I’m expected to provide almost all the stimulation for another being (or two). My husband works long hours, so I’m alone quite a bit with the kids, and while Abigail is getting better at entertaining herself I always feel guilty if I leave her to her own devices (or in front of the television) for too long. I spend a lot of time engaging with her, reading, talking, playing, and it’s fantastic, but it’s also draining sometimes. Some days I’m so bored, or so tired of the toddler power-struggle death matches, I want to punch myself in the face just for the sake of doing something different. Often, those are the days when the weather is particularly bad and I have nothing planned, so we spend a lot of time watching cartoons and playing with her toys (she does monopolize the television so!). So, for her sake and mine, I fill our days with activities and visits and pray for better weather when we can go for daily walks and she can play at the playground and in our backyard. I feel like once I’m able to say “Abigail, throw on your sandals and let’s go!” instead of “Abigail, sit on the potty, then put on your boots – no, I said sit on the potty! – then boots, then we’ll put on your coat, hat, mitts, oh, you want your scarf too? Not that scarf, a different scarf? What scarf are you talking about?? Okay, fine. I don’t know where your sunglasses are, where did you leave them? Could you PLEASE GET ON THE POTTY?” things will be easier.
This maternity leave has actually gone really well so far, despite my griping above. Some days are tough, but overall we’re doing really well, my kids are happy, and I’m enjoying it. The fact that Abigail is old enough to actually talk to me helps, since it’s not the same as being at home alone with just an infant, which I found really tough when Abigail was little. And like with my first maternity leave, things get better as we all get more sleep and our routine becomes more set. (I hate to mention it because I believe in the power of the jinx, but Spencer has had a predictable 8:30 bedtime for a little while now, and twice in the past week he’s slept nine hours straight at night, so things are getting much, much easier on the sleep front). An additional saving grace is that playdates with friends means I have someone else to talk to, I can visit with my friends while Abigail visits with hers. Maternity leave can be terribly isolating, and on that one score I know I am very lucky to have friends on maternity leave at the same time I am, and to have family nearby.
But sometimes I feel like most days feel like every other day, that we play the same games, sing the same songs, tell the same jokes (“Guess what? Chicken butt.”) have the same arguments, etc. – has anyone else experienced this? It’s like maternity leave and the weather ganged up to do a little crazy-making. Am I having a lactation-induced existential crisis? A Treehouse-rooted bout of ennui? I know that mothering is supposed to be completely selfless, and some people will likely tell me that I should shut it because it’s not about me right now, it’s about the children, oh sweet baby jesus think of the children! That, by saying that sometimes parenting can be boring or taxing I am somehow betraying myself as a bad or selfish mother. But, frankly, I kind of think those people are ridiculous. Too few people actually talk about how much being at home with kids can occasionally suck. It can also be gloriously fabulous, but if you try to convince me that every moment is sparkles and rainbows, I will ask you what you’re on. And whether I can have some. Raising kids is hard, and part of the challenge is setting aside your wants and desires and consistently (although maybe not always) putting their needs and desires first. I didn’t (entirely) take out my brain, or my likes or dislikes, when I popped out a kid. And three months into this maternity leave, most days are entirely enjoyable and I take a great amount of delight in spending so much time with both of my children – I mean, have you seen my kids? they’re adorable and sweet and charming - but some days I wish for more free moments to myself to … well, I’m not sure what I would do with it, but I know it wouldn’t involve crayons, Max & Ruby, or stickers.
And what is it with toddlers and stickers? I’m peeling them off EVERYTHING.
While I ruminate on a much longer post, I wanted to dash off a quick one in an attempt to start posting more often. Unfortunately for you, the topic that is occupying most of my brain space lately is poop. Specifically, potty training and how much it sucks for me (but probably more so for Abigail). We attempted this when Abigail had barely turned two, and quickly realized that she was miles away from being ready for it. We left the potties (argh, I hate that word – mini-toilet?) hanging around, but a while ago I put everything potty-related away and asked people (specifically, family members) to stop talking to Abigail about it, with the idea that we would take the pressure completely off her for a while then make a fresh start when the time seemed right.
Erik had a few days off last week, so we pulled the potties out of storage and started potty-training in earnest a week ago last Saturday. We’ve got a potty in every bathroom and one in the basement rec room in front of the TV, and Abigail has been spending a LOT of time with her little butt parked on them. We’ve been rewarding her with stickers for pee, and stickers plus chocolate for poop (how’s THAT for symbolism?). We’ve tried to make it a positive, “big girl” experience so that she would be excited about it, which worked initially but is now clearly irritating her. She’s “performed” at other people’s houses as well as ours, and has produced …emissions… of both types in the potty – I understand both of these things (going to the bathroom at someone else’s house and pooping in the toilet) are significant challenges for some kids while toilet training, so I take them to be good signs that perhaps she is ready.
Abigail is super-excited about her little undies (the My Little Ponies and Strawberry Shortcake graphics help), but less so about the sheer amount of time she’s spent parked in the bathroom. We read to her, and she can watch TV on one of them, but she now has to be talked into it most of the time. I don’t quite understand her reluctance, since if I could hide in the bathroom for several hours a day I probably would. Unfortunately Erik put an end to that when he taught her how to open a door. Anyway, she’s had good days and bad days, and I’ve been doing a fair amount of laundry. For those of you in a rush to potty-train your kid, cleaning poop out of underwear is not the same as changing a diaper (it’s waaaay more gross), that’s all I’m saying. I’m not entirely sure we’re making much progress, but she does have ‘dry days’ when we’re at home, so we’ll see, but we haven’t mastered the art of her telling us before she needs to go, so we are trying to pre-empt accidents by putting her on the potty after meals, upon waking, etc. I have no idea if this is in fact “training” her or not.
I recently read something by a psychotherapist, Alyson Schafer, in this book (don’t judge me, I never thought I’d be someone to read parenting books by psychotherapists, but sometimes the tantrums and demands require someone else to provide me with a sober second thought about how we are dealing with them and that her behaviour is totally normal…). I don’t totally agree with everything Shafer says or advocates, but she equated potty-training with developmental milestones like walking and talking, and I thought it was a brilliant point to make, and one that should be obvious but isn’t really. There are scads of books on potty-training, but probably none on “training” your children to walk, so perhaps we are wrong-headed in thinking we can “train” our kids to go on the toilet at our urging and that there is such a thing as “success” or “failure” while potty training. It just happens when the kid is ready, and if it’s not working they are not ready. Certainly guidance and instruction are required, but if the kid isn’t ready it probably just prolongs the amount of time it takes for the kid to be “trained.” All this to say we’re working on it, but like everything I do the first time, I have no real clue about whether we’re doing it effectively or not. Time will tell. Suggestions accepted in the comments. It’s amazing how your life gets narrowed down to the most basic functions (theirs) when looking after small children, especially when on maternity leave. I have to go now, nature calls.
We get asked a lot about how Abigail’s doing with Spencer’s existence (it’s usually put more eloquently than that, but that’s the gist). Before we brought Spencer home we did worry that Abigail would go through a major adjustment period. But, as usual, we picked exactly the wrong thing to worry about. I do think some of the “terrible twos” behaviours that she’s specializing in lately may be a reaction to the changes in our home, but she has never once directed any jealousy or aggression towards Spencer. Just the opposite, in fact. She is very gentle with “my baby Spencer,” or “Buddy” as she calls him. We sometimes have to remind her to be gentle with him when she’s bouncing around with legs and arms flying a little too close to his head, or when she wants to give him a “biiiiiiiig puuuuuuuush” in his swing (see illustration below, it’s a little terrifying when she does it – see his hedgehog hair standing straight up?) but overall that part of our transition to a family of four has been painless.
Like most little girls, she acts like a little mama and wants to help. Abigail’s favourite thing to help with is to give Spencer a bath. One of the first times she saw Spencer in the tub she noticed that his boy bits are different from her girl bits. Now, I firmly believe in teaching children the correct anatomical names for their body parts, even if it means having a daughter who will be the only kid in kindergarten calling a vulva a vulva. So when I told her that his boy parts were called a penis and testicles, she took it in, processed it in her little brain, and now cannot be convinced that I didn’t say they were “a penis and icicles.” Close enough, I suppose.
Two kids are definitely more than twice the work of one, but I think a lot of that has to do with the stage Abigail is at, which is “two-and-a-half-holy-hell.” She’s kind of tough right now - she challenges us, says “no” a lot, and doesn’t really listen all that well. I joke that I only have two methods of discipline – bribe and threat – but it’s kind of true. That’s all she responds to, either getting a reward or having something taken away as a consequence to her behaviour, good or bad. They really are primal little animals at this age, aren’t they? We’ve tried time outs, but they don’t really work since sometimes she’ll tell us she needs one just for the hell of it (dont’ we all?) And we started potty-training last weekend, so we’ve introduced another element that is arduous (but going well, despite the increase in laundry) for us all.
But despite the challenges, she is also the most fun she’s ever been, and she’s wicked smart. (I know every parent says that, but in this case it’s true). She’s got an impressive vocab, knows her letters, numbers, is an ace at drawing faces, has a large repertoire of songs and dances, and even has a couple of knock-knock jokes up her sleeve.
In an effort to give me a couple of hours a week of time with just the baby, and to get her into a program with other kids where she can learn to listen to an adult who’s not a family member and also to help her gain confidence and autonomy (although I’m sceptical that she needs help with those), we enrolled Abigail into a nursery school program on Monday mornings. So far she likes it (and I love it, except that between Family Day, a snow day, and March Break, we’re paying for an awful lot of cancelled days, ugh). But I think we both need this, and it’s going to be great for her in the long-run. So we pack her little backpack and drop her off once a week.
I can’t entertain her all day every day and still take care of Spencer and keep my sanity, so this works out pretty well. It breaks for the summer (Nooooooo!) but we’ve enrolled her again for two mornings a week in September and we also have her in gymnastics on the weekend, to be followed by soccer later in the spring, so I think that’s enough for one toddler’s schedule. And we keep busy most days with play dates, playgroups, errands, visits to grandparents, walks outside on the aberrant day when it’s warm enough to venture outside (seriously, Spring, any day now…), and anything else I can think of to occupy our days. This might get tougher as Spencer gets older and less portable (i.e. less happy to hang out in a bucket carseat or get strapped to me in an infant carrier) but we’ll manage. I still can’t believe how big she is, so I’m trying just relax and enjoy the luxury of getting to spend a whole second year being home with her as well as Spencer. It’s not all rose-coloured, and some days are just plain exhuasting, but that will abate a bit as Spencer gets older and sleeps more at night, and it certainly beats being at work when they’re so little.
I am an only child, so I have no experience with what it’s like to have a brother or sister. And when I found out we were having a boy, I briefly thought that it was too bad Abigail wouldn’t have a sister to grow up with (don’t ask me why I thought this – as I said, I have no siblings so what the hell do I know?), but I see how she is already bonding with Spencer and think that it’s going to be a wonderful thing to watch them grow up together, and that she can teach him so much. She’s a kick-ass big sister.
In what is probably the most delayed birth announcement in history, I’d like to present our son, Spencer Lucas, who was born on December 18th, 2010 and weighed a hefty 7 lbs.:
Except now he’s eleven weeks old, is almost twelve pounds, and looks like this:
And here a couple more from the past weeks because he’s pretty darn cute:
First, a note about the name. My husband maintains that “Lucas” is a nod to both Skywalker and George, but I maintain that we picked it simply because it’s a lovely name. And that’s all I’m saying on that subject.
Spencer was due on January 13th. I finished work on Friday, December 17th, so I was counting on a good four weeks of quality at-home time over the holidays leading up to the birth of the baby. Although the plan was to have Abigail home with me during this time, I was still thinking of it as “down time” for all of us and really couldn’t wait to have some quality time with her while getting things done in preparation for Peanut’s arrival. (Remember this post, in which I actually used the word “huzzah” at the prospect of having time off? I’m such an idiot). Imagine my surprise when my water broke FOUR HOURS after I arrived home from my last day of work. My first thought, after I accepted that my water had actually broke and I hadn’t just wet myself, was something along the lines of “you’ve got to be effing kidding me, not again.” It wasn’t as early as Abigail, but it was still too early for my liking, since I was only just 36 weeks at that point. Off we went to the hospital, and Spencer arrived the next morning at 5:50 am after a relatively quick and good labour and delivery. Okay, “good” might be overstating it, since it involved being induced and it then really, really, really sucked pretty quickly until the nice epidural lady arrived. Then it was just fine and Spencer arrived healthy and howling, a big “late preterm” baby with no health issues.
We went home the following day but had to return to the hospital the following morning (Monday) for a bilirubin test because Spencer’s jaundice levels were “borderline.” Because he was preterm they were more strict about his levels than they would have been had he been full-term. When we went back Spencer’s levels were up so he got checked back into the hospital – this time into the NICU. This was the same NICU where Abigail did her time, and he was put in the incubator right next to the spot where Abigail stayed. This gave both Erik and I a queer turn (there may have been some tears…I blame the hormones), but at the same time we knew the drill for this NICU and had supreme confidence in their ability to take care of our baby. The maternity, labour & delivery, and NICU nurses at the General Campus, Ottawa Hospital are ridiculously good at taking care of babies and coddling postpartum mums, and I really need to do something for the NICU again.
I spent Spencer’s first night in the NICU in a “swing room” at the hospital, which was kind of terrible – you’re just a person occupying a hospital room, no longer a patient, so there’s no food, no attention to the temperature – FREEZING – in the room, no blankets or towels unless you request them, etc., which is a pretty awful way to spend a night just two days after giving birth. Spencer’s levels were down enough that we could go home on Tuesday, but we were back the Wednesday morning for another test which showed that his levels had rebounded again so he spent another overnight in the NICU. That night I made the tough choice to turn down the option of a swing room and the NICU manager’s offer of the couch in one of the NICU’s parent rooms, but I hadn’t seen my daughter in several days, she was confused about where her baby brother was, we had Christmas to get ready for, and luckily my milk had come in by then so I could leave bottles of milk for Spencer to be fed for the few feedings I would miss. And that list of justifications shows just how hard it was to leave a(nother) baby in the hospital and go home.
(Side note: I had nothing but difficulties nursing Abigail, presumably because she was a preemie, and I really struggled to breastfeed her - think nipple shields, pumping to supplement with a bottle, weekly consultations with the NICU lactation consultant for weeks after Abigail was discharged, and many tears of frustration - because I thought it was best. But I was glad she took a bottle as well, and never more so than when I found myself at a loss to explain her nursing strike that put an end to breastfeeding her before she was five months old. Because we had been given her breast milk in a bottle fairly regularly we were able to give her formula without any problem. I had some irrational guilt about having to put her on formula (although there wasn’t anything else I could do, and my ten-pound four-month old couldn’t afford to lose any more weight), but in the end it was what was best for both of us. That experience led me to decide, before Spencer was born, that if I had the same trouble with this baby I would formula-feed sooner unless a doctor or lactation consultant could perform some quick magic that didn’t work for Abigail and I. So imagine my amazement at the ease with which Spencer took to breastfeeding. Maybe it’s a boy thing, but nothing has highlighted to me more that every baby is different, and just because something was tough (or easy) with one doesn’t mean you are doomed to repeat the experience with another. So if you struggled the first time, it doesn’t mean it will be tough the second time around. And if it is, I hope you have less guilt about whatever choice you make for your baby than I did. Because guilt – or being judged – about feeding your baby in the way that makes sense for your family is pointless, as I learned the hard way.)
So I went home the night of the 22nd, saw my lovely daughter the next morning, and went back for a long day in the NICU on the morning of the 23rd. And all I could think about was what would happen if Spencer wasn’t home in time for Christmas. What would we do? Abigail needed a Christmas with Santa, presents, etc., but how could I leave Spencer alone in the NICU on Christmas? And all Erik kept saying was that he wanted our family – all of us – home and together for Christmas, with everyone at our house for Christmas dinner. Luckily we didn’t have to face that choice as he was allowed to come home, with no follow-up tests, late in the evening on the 23rd. Bringing him home for the second time was lovely – I was by myself at the hospital, so I got to bring him home to Erik and my parents, who were staying over for a couple of days over the holidays. What a wonderful Christmas Eve surprise for Abigail, to wake up the next morning with her brother in the house.
We were very lucky that both of our parents chipped in to help take care of Abigail and get us ready for Christmas, I don’t know how we would have managed otherwise. At least by the time Spencer arrived we had the tree up, most of the shopping done, and I had hosted a cookie exchange so we were well stocked with sweets. Erik had to do some last-minute Christmas and grocery shopping while I was at the hospital and our parents watched Abigail, but we managed. It was a whirlwind first week, and the in-and-out at the hospital was a bit upsetting, but we were incredibly grateful that Spencer was home in time for Christmas. We hosted Christmas, which sounded less crazy when Spencer was supposed to be in my tummy at Christmastime. But the parents really came through – especially my dad, who did almost all of the cooking, and the moms took care of the cleaning up, so it wasn’t that stressful at all. It was nice not to have to travel to someone else’s house with a brand-new newborn too.
Since Spencer has been home I have thanked my lucky stars more than once that he’s a relatively easy baby – or, at least, he’s easy relative to our experience with Abigail. He eats better, sleeps better, and cries less. And most importantly, there has been no sign of the dread Colic. He’s good and sweet and a great addition to our family, and Abigail loves him. Since this post is getting long enough, I’ll save the details of the sibling adjustment for another time.
The last several weeks have been a blur of night feedings, poopy diapers (or not, Spencer has had some issues in that area – seriously, who has an infant that doesn’t poop enough?), a bit of stress, and a lot of fun. Here’s hoping I find a bit more time to write, because every day there is a moment that I’d like to share, to write about here so it’s not lost forever in the blur and hustle of growing children and passing time. Since things do pass so quickly, and we’ve never done formal family photos, we decided to have some taken when Spencer was a couple of weeks old (these were supposed to be pregnancy photos taken in mid-December followed by newborn photos a few weeks later, but my children work on their own timetable, apparently and we had to cancel the pregnancy photos because I was in labour, *sigh*).
All photos below by Baby and Belly Photography.
n.b. I hope I don’t get sued for using the Charley Harper picture in my masthead – I got Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life for Christmas, and it is a most excellent book with gorgeous illustrations.
Also, the Junk Drawer has an addition and I’ve fixed some disappearing links. The Library will be updated soon since I did a decent amount of reading over the past few months what with being tied to a nursing chair and all, and I’ll have to update my “About” page to include our little Chub!