Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Common courtesy

When we lived in San Diego, reserved parking spots for pregnant women were pretty much everywhere. I was in awe and loved the idea that society was being considerate to the needs of these moms-to-be. When we moved back to Montreal in 2006 I couldn't help but notice the lack of these type of spots in comparison. But over the past 2 years they have started to pop up pretty much everywhere from the grocery store, to the mall and Toys R Us. Even Canadian Tire has a few! Some of them are specially designated for "Pregnant women or parents accompanied by young children." Being out and about with a 3 year old, a 1 year old and a ever growing pregnant belly, these parking spots have made life so much easier for me, and I am appreciative whenever I do manage to snag one for us.

I have noticed however the disturbing trend of single men parking in these spots, especially at the grocery store. I am there 3 times a week (once for grocery shopping and twice to go to the gym which is located inside the store) and so I have seen an amazing amount of men ignoring the sings completely, somehow feeling like they have a right to park there. It annoys me to no end to see a pregnant mother dragging her groceries to the far end of the parking lot in the rain just because some inconsiderate man decided that the rules don't apply to him.

I was at the end of my rope yesterday after seeing another single man pull out of a reserved spot when I arrived, so when another single man pulled in beside me as I was putting the kids into the car to leave I actually got up the nerve to say something. Now it's important to note that I am a pretty shy person when it comes to conversing with strangers and really do prefer to avoid confrontation as much as possible. But I had had enough at this point and decided to speak my mind. I went over to him as he was getting out and said "You know you're parked in a pregnant woman's spot right?" His response floored me. He said "What, just because you see that I'm brown you automatically think that I'm stupid?" I was shocked my this but still managed to get out: "No, I see that you are a man parked in a pregnant woman's parking spot and I automatically think you are incredibly rude!"

Obviously this man had issues that stemmed far beyond simply being inconsiderate and as I shook my head and went about buckling the kids in, he continued to spout on and on about how "people like me" are all the same, always assuming that "brown people" are idiots, etc etc. The whole thing was completely surreal to me. And then lo and behold, as I finally pulled out of my spot, who should pull into the spot across from mine? Yup, you guessed it, another single man. I flagged down an employee of the store who was gathering up some shopping carts and asked him if there was anything that could be done about the situation. He said I would have to take it up with the manager. Sheesh.

So now as I am contemplating writing a letter to the manager of the store, I can't help but wonder what has happened to the world we are living in. Were people always this rude? Did they always have this kind of sense of entitlement? Where did it come from? What would their own mothers think if they knew that their grown sons were behaving this way? I have always been one to give up my seat on the bus to an elderly person or hold the door open for the person coming out behind me. Am I in the minority now? Is common courtesy really dead? For my kids' sake, I sure hope not...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Moving on

I am definitely one of those over-emotional mothers who will privately cry over many of the seemingly minor milestones that my kids reach. One such milestone recently occurred with Nicki and nearly broke my heart.

When we moved Gabe into his new "big boy" room we bought him an Elmo doll to sleep with in his new bed. He never really got attached to the teddy bear we had placed in his crib, so we decided that a new friend to sleep with might make the transition from a crib to a bed a little easier, and since he LOVES Elmo, it just made sense. Well, not wanting Nicki to feel left out, we decided to buy her a Sesame Street toy too and got her an Abby Cadabby doll for her room. Never in a million years would I have expected her to want to sleep with it, but she took it to her bed right away, relegating Mr. Bear to the floor.

Mr. Bear. The adorable little brown bear that has slept right by her side every night since she has been born. Faithful Mr. Bear. I can still remember buying him from the furniture store where we bought Nicki's crib. He was just the cutest thing and he always seemed to have his own little personality, from the very first day we brought him home. I can remember how Eddie and I placed him on the kitchen table for months before Nicki was born. He had somehow become to us a symbol of the new life we were about to bring into this world and we liked to see his little face every day while we sat together at the table and pondered how our lives were about to change. I can remember how Eddie used to make him come to life, by making him wave or nod his head. But best of all, I can remember how Nicki would hold him tight when I tucked her in at night and how I would find him crumpled up beneath her the next morning, crushed by her weight but so happy to be loved.

To her the switch was a no-brainer: new doll comes in, old one moves out. But to me, the switch symbolized the end of an era. Nicki is no longer the little baby she used to be. At 3 years old she is her own person, with her own unique personality, her own ideas, her own opinions. Gone are the days of cradling her in my arms for hours, gazing into her eyes, soaking up her smell. As hard as it is for me to admit, I know I have to start letting her grow up, even though she will always be my baby.

Which brings us back to Mr. Bear. The irony has not been lost on me that he is now actually sitting on the floor beside her bed in the lap of none other than Humpty Dumpty, the very same Humpty Dumpty that I slept with in my bed for so many years as a child. Now the two sit there together, taken down from their pedestals, but certainly not any less loved. I am secretly hoping that the magic of Mr. Bear can live on a little longer by asking Nicki if she would like to give him to the new baby when he or she arrives. I guess I'm just not quite ready yet to never see chubby little fingers curled around him again. I guess I'm just not quite ready yet to move on...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My 13 year old 3 year old

Nicki has become quite the little drama queen lately. Her behaviour is quite different though from the tantrum throwing of a child who didn't get her way. When she gets in a "mood", it's usually brought upon by what she perceives as being misunderstood, but the fact is, there is really very little to misunderstand when Nicki tries to convey something. As articulate and verbose as any adult I know, Nicki usually doesn't leave much room for confusion. And yet, she behaves as though she's desperately misunderstood by the parental world. I can only imagine the angry song lyrics or angst-filled poetry that she is sure to pen someday.

I swear if hear one more sigh, see one more eye roll or am privy to one more exasperated "Oh Mommy..." I am going to lose my mind. How is it even possible that my darling little 3 year old is even capable of such condescension? Ok, I'll admit it, I'm definitely guilty of sighing. I do it quite a lot actually. But it's never accompanied by a head shake and tongue click, nor is it followed by pouting and moping. Plus, it has to be better than swearing out loud right? Right?!? I'm pretty sure no one on Sesame Street or Dora rolls their eyes. I don't think any Disney Princess books relay the idea of extreme moodiness as acceptable behaviour. So will someone please tell me where all of this is getting picked up?

Picture this: It's bath time and Nicki is getting on the potty before I brush her teeth. The tub is filling up, so I can't hear whether or not she was actually successful in her attempt to pee. She wipes, gets off the potty and then stands there frozen with a look of confusion on her face. I ask her what's wrong and she looks up at me and says "I think I peed." I know that something isn't right because normally if she has peed, she will just wipe, flush, wash her hands and move on without any discussion about it. So I ask "Are you sure? You don't look sure." To this she replies "I think it was just blank pee."

Now just to get everyone up to speed on the lingo here, we have had the discussion in the past about her distinction between regular pee and what she has labeled "blank pee." Apparently "blank pee" is pee that comes out clear (as opposed to yellow).

So I tell her that it doesn't really matter what colour the pee was, just that some actually came out. I then ask her "Did any pee come out or not?" This was met with the most exasperated sigh, a head shake and an eye roll, followed by a long drawn out "Oh Mommy..." I try to remain calm and suggest that if she isn't sure, then she should probably sit back down on the potty again just in case. She starts to cry and tells me how I never understand her and how she's just so tired of everything. Pretty intense for a 3 year old, no?

A few seconds later, a tidal wave of pee comes rushing out, confirming my suspicion that nothing had happened the first time around. Hoping now that the episode is behind us, I brush her teeth and try to engage her in unrelated conversation. She resists, still sighing and looking miserable. So I tell her that it's time to get in the bath and that she has the choice now to have a fun bath together or to keep being upset; it's her decision. She tells me that she doesn't want to have any fun and would prefer to have a fast bath (i.e. wash and get out, no toys, no bubbles, no playing) so she can just go to sleep. She even tells me she doesn't want me to read her a bedtime story, and for Nicki, that's saying a lot.

And so it goes at our house. 90% of the time Nicki is a typical happy-go-lucky little girl, full of smiles and giggles, wit and charm. But the rest of the time, she becomes sad and withdrawn, almost to the point of seeming utterly dissatisfied with her life, and often without provocation. Just today she said to me that she's "tired of being in the same place all the time and seeing all of the same things", and would prefer to "travel all over the world and never stay in one place for too long." All of this with a sigh and a shake of her head. Doesn't this sound more like the musings of a middle-aged woman who, after pondering the meaning of her life decided that it needed more substance, than the reflections of a 3 year old child? What on earth is this little girl going to be like in 10 years? 20 years? I can only imagine...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Soccer moms

Now that I have officially become a "soccer mom" I have had the incredible misfortune of being exposed to other soccer moms on a weekly basis. I am astounded by the behaviour that many of these moms display and by the way that they speak to their children. What is it about watching their kids play sports that turns regular every day moms into shouting, raving lunatics? Aren't kids allowed to just have fun anymore?

Now remember, these kids are 3 and 4 years old. Any rational human being would agree that there's only so much you can expect from them performance-wise right? Well, a couple of weeks ago I was seated beside one mom in particular who was continuously yelling at her daughter on the field. She sounded something like this:

"Sofia, run faster! You're going too slow! You have to get the ball and kick it in the net! Why are you looking over there? Keep your eye on the ball! You're not paying attention! No, you don't need any water, keep going!" This went on and on for the entire length of the game and it took all of my will power to not shout "Just leave her alone, will you?!"

It was incredibly heartbreaking for me to watch this little girl on the field and see her become more and more demoralized with each passing minute. Does this mom not realize that what she's doing isn't exactly motivating to a young child? I mean seriously. The poor girl was obviously doing her best. I can only imagine the "I'm never good enough" complex this child is going to have as she goes through life.

Aren't parents supposed to be the greatest supporters of their children? Aren't we supposed to be their "soft place to fall" (to steal the expression from Dr. Phil)? Aren't we supposed to be the people that our kids can turn to when their world is spinning out of control? I'm not saying that we should set our kids up for failure in the real world by constantly sugar coating the realities of life. But should we not make them feel that, at the very least, there are two people in this world that will always have their arms spread open wide for them to run into, whether they succeed or whether they fail?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

8 years and counting

Yesterday was my 8 year wedding anniversary with Eddie, my wonderful, amazing, perfect husband. All in all, we've been together for 10 and a half years, and to be honest, I think a lot of people are surprised. Our relationship wasn't exactly your typical run of the mill boy meets girl story. Here's a quick recap:

We met in December of 1997 at a house party thrown by someone who was a friend of separate friends. Both of us were on the heels of pretty intense break-ups with our long-time significant others and weren't exactly in the best emotional shape to jump into a new relationship. On top of that, Eddie was only in town for a week before he had to head back to school 6 hours away. But for some reason (fate?) we were drawn to each other at that party and have been together ever since. After spending all but one of his remaining days in Montreal together, we decided to go ahead and try to give the long-distance thing a shot. Pretty bold move for people who barely knew each other. Everyone around us was skeptical, throwing around the opinion that it was a "rebound" relationship for both of us that was doomed to fail from the get-go. Amazingly, but not without a mountains of enormous phone bills and many miles wracked up on our cars, we made it work for over 2 years.

When Eddie graduated from university in 2000 he came back home and moved in with me. I can still remember counting down the days! I had graduated the previous year and was working at a job that I loathed. We lived in a small apartment downtown for a couple of months and then our lives took another turn. He got offered a job in San Diego, CA. This was the first of many life changing decisions we eventually made together. With nothing really tying us to Montreal, we decided to take the plunge and move to the US. Another bold move, this time for two people who hadn't even lived together for more than a two months!

Upon our arrival in San Diego, we made another huge decision, one that shocked many people and got us in deep trouble with our families once the truth finally came out 5 months later. We decided to get married and keep it a secret. The reasons why we did it were so clear at the time and yet seem totally murky to me now. Part of it was because I needed to have a visa to legally be allowed in the country (he obtained one through the company he was going to be working for) and by being married I could get a "spouse's visa" quickly and without hassle. But another part of it was because we were so incredibly happy to finally be together after 2 and a half years of waiting. It was as if we were so crazy in love that we wanted to do everything all at once. So just 4 days after our plane landed in San Diego, we went to City Hall on Eddie's 24th birthday and tied the knot. No one was there but the justice of the peace and a girl from the office that they brought in to be a witness. The decision to keep it a secret was made because we were afraid of being judged, afraid that our families would disapprove or feel left out. While I don't regret getting married at that time at all, I do regret keeping it from the people that we love. But that's a topic for a whole other post...

When we did finally tell everyone what we had done, they were quite disappointed in us, and once again skeptical that we could make it work. But boy have we proved them wrong! In 2001 we bought our first home and filled it first with a couple of dogs and later in 2004 with our first child. In 2006 I got pregnant again and low and behold, another major decision was made, this time to move back to Montreal. In June 2006, after 6 years in the US, we made our way back to Montreal and finally it seemed like everyone could see how strong our relationship really was. In September of that year our second child was born. And now, after 8 years of marriage, I am once again pregnant with another beautiful baby. Our family is growing and is happier than ever.

Our relationship has had its ups and downs just like any other, and when I think about it, we have definitely gone through a lot in the past 10 years, including dating long distance, getting married, having kids, home buying and selling, and job gaining and losing on both of our parts. And yet, our relationship is as strong as it has ever been and I honestly believe that we will grow old and gray together. I cannot for a minute imagine my life without Eddie. And I really don't want to. I think that for us the secret is that neither of us have really changed. We are still the same people we were back when we met at 19 and 21. We were sure of who we were and what we wanted and that hasn't changed, even a decade later.

We are hoping to renew our wedding vows for our 10th wedding anniversary in 2010, this time surrounded by all of the family and friends that support us and love us, as well as our children. I never got proposed to, never had an engagement, never had a wedding dress, never got wedding photos, never got to dance a first dance. Given the chance to do it again, I would love for that day to not only be about Eddie and I, but about the family we have created. I would love to not only make vows to each other, but to our children as well. It would be so beautiful. And if I had a choice, this would be the song I would play as our first dance. I'm not a Shania Twain fan by any means, but these lyrics really couldn't be more appropriate, don't you think?

You're Still The One

(When I first saw you, I saw love. And the first time you touched me, I felt
love. And after all this time, you're still the one I love.)

Looks like we made it
Look how far we've come my baby
We mighta took the long way
We knew we'd get there someday

They said, "I bet they'll never make it"
But just look at us holding on
We're still together still going strong

(You're still the one)
You're still the one I run to
The one that I belong to
You're still the one I want for life
(You're still the one)
You're still the one that I love
The only one I dream of
You're still the one I kiss good night

Ain't nothin' better
We beat the odds together
I'm glad we didn't listen
Look at what we would be missin'

They said, "I bet they'll never make it"
But just look at us holding on
We're still together still going strong

(You're still the one)
You're still the one I run to
The one that I belong to
You're still the one I want for life
(You're still the one)
You're still the one that I love
The only one I dream of
You're still the one I kiss good night

(You're still the one)
You're still the one I run to
The one that I belong to
You're still the one I want for life
(You're still the one)
You're still the one that I love
The only one I dream of
You're still the one I kiss good night

I'm so glad we made it
Look how far we've come my baby

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ideal spacing

I was at the park yesterday riding the see-saw with Nicki. A woman and her grandson sat down on the one beside us and said hello. She noticed that I was pregnant, looked at Nicki and then said, "That's the perfect spacing between the two!" While in the past I have found comments like this annoying, these days nothing seems to bug me. I honestly replied, "Actually I have another one in between!" and pointed over to Gabe who was across the park. Her eyes widened and she said "Wow, that's a busy house!" to which I just smiled and laughed.

That conversation got me thinking last night about what the "ideal" spacing of children really is. I suppose it really depends on each individual family, though I can see pros and cons to both having children close together and having them further apart. It would seem that having them spaced further apart would make things easier in the sense that the older child would be more independent by the time the next baby came around. But on the other hand, the kids could be less likely to play together and could quite possibly have very little in common depending on how many years separated them.

There are just over 7 years separating my brother and I, and truth be told, we didn't really play together much. I wished for a younger sibling to play with and was disappointed when my parents decided I was the last child they would be having. When it came time to have my own kids, I thought that a 2 1/2 to 3 year spacing between them would be perfect. As it worked out, there are just under 2 years separating Nicki and Gabe, and Gabe and the new baby will be almost exactly 2 years apart, with only a couple of weeks separating my due date from Gabe's 2nd birthday.

So we ended up having subsequent kids a little sooner after the first than we had originally thought, but so far it has worked out well. Maybe it's because Nicki has always been so mature for her age that the 23 month age gap between her and Gabe has always seemed much wider. I'm more worried this time about how small the gap will be, since Gabe is less verbal than Nicki was at the same age. On the other hand, he is much more independent than she is even now, and he of course has her to play with, so maybe the addition of a new baby will actually be smoother than I think. Only time will tell... I have been told that the third child is actually the easiest one of all, because the constant action of the older two keeps them entertained!

Many people have commented on how close together we decided to have our kids, saying that it must be very difficult. I'm quick to remind them that what works for one family may not work for another, and besides, I know people with 3 kids born even closer together than ours that are doing just great (you know I'm talking about you Grace!)

In the end I guess you adapt and adjust to whatever spacing you choose or whatever hand you are dealt. No one family is better or worse, closer or more distant, calmer or more chaotic than any other. Everyone finds their own rhythm, their own speed, their own flow. I am looking forward to welcoming a new life into this world and into our ever growing family. I know that having 3 very young children will be a mixture of joy and frustration, but I'm up for the challenge!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Magical meltdowns

It is so amazing to me how young kids can walk away from a meltdown as if nothing ever happened. They just move on with no residual frustration, no lingering anger or resentment. I can't help but wonder what goes on inside those little minds...

A couple of days ago I heard Nicki begin to rustle around toward the end of her nap. Then suddenly she began to cry, soft sniffles at first which promptly escalated into full on crying. This is extremely out of the ordinary for her, so I ran up to see what was wrong. When I walked into her room, her quilt was completely disheveled and partially over her head. I went over and peeked under it and she began to wail saying "Mommy, go away!" I knelt down next to the bed and told her that I had heard her crying on the monitor and was worried about what was wrong. She said that she was frustrated because her quilt had fallen off the bed and she couldn't get it back on properly. I suggested that we solve the problem by switching out the quilt for her lighter fleece blanket instead (it was getting to hot for that quilt anyway!) She agreed to this, but continued to sniffle.

I opened up her blinds and she saw that it was a sunny afternoon. She asked me if we could go swimming in the kiddie pool, but I said no because we had swam in the pool the two previous days and it was scheduled to rain for the rest of the week, so I wanted to take advantage of the weather and head out to the park. I explained to her that Gabe loves the park as much as she loves the pool and that we have to take turns doing each so that they can both be happy. This was met with a huge tantrum, including "BUT I DON'T WANT TO GO TO THE PARK! I'M NOT GOING!" followed by an avalanche of tears and the stomping of feet. I can't even begin to explain how out of character this is for her. I did my best to keep my composure and tell her that we were all going to the park together and that we could swim in the pool another day. Then I told her that I was leaving the room and closing the door and that she could come out when she was all done crying and ready to play.

After a few minutes of full-on screaming and stomping (during which time Gabe announced "Nicki crying! Gabe hug!"), she emerged from her room and sweetly asked if she could come out and play. I asked her if she was done with her tantrum and she said yes, so I gave her a hug and the 3 of us played together for a little while before leaving for the park. I watched her closely during that time, and amazingly there was no sign of the meltdown that had just occurred. She was happy and smiling and playing, and even mentioned with enthusiasm that maybe we would see some friends at the park because it was such a nice day.

I was completely stumped (albeit relieved!) by the sudden turnaround. How could she go from an utter loss of emotional control to being perfectly content within the space of a few minutes? I have to admit, I was a bit jealous. When I breakdown, the feelings of frustration seem to linger around for hours, tainting the rest of my day. How glorious it would be to be able to lock myself in a room for a few minutes of screaming, tear shedding and foot stomping and then emerge feeling like a new woman, refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to move on! Maybe these kids are on to something!!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Food fight

I will be the first to admit that Gabe has never been, and probably never will be, the hearty eater that Nicki is. While Nicki is pretty much willing to eat, or at least try, anything that is placed in front of her, Gabe on the other hand takes things to the other extreme. And lately it has only gotten worse. These days his diet consists of the following:

-Bread (and any bread-like product such as bagels or english muffins)
-Cereal: Cheerios/All Bran/Oatmeal Squares
-Fruit, fruit and more fruit
-Peanut butter
-Cheese Whiz (sometimes)

And that's all! It's scary to me that he can exist and be fully nourished on this type of diet. I'm just thankful that, at the very least, all of the food groups have a representing item on that list. But he doesn't eat any meat at all, any vegetables at all, any pasta at all, any rice at all. It's not just a "healthy food" thing either. On our rare splurges with less than healthy food, we have discovered that he won't go anywhere near pizza or even french fries. In fact just last week when I made brownies and Nicki was happily licking the batter off the spatula, I approached him with a batter-covered spatula of his own and he literally ran away from me crying. Never in my life have I met a child who didn't jump at the chance to lick a chocolate covered spatula!

At every meal we always put a small amount of everything we are eating on his plate. He will eat the bread and fruit and drink the milk, but won't even touch the rest. Actually that's not true; he will will pick up the other items, name them and then drop them with disgust and disdain back into his plate, leaving them to be ignored for the rest of the meal. He certainly isn't lacking in examples, because Nicki sits right in front of him eating everything, even occasionally saying "Look Gabe! It's good!" It isn't a lack of hunger issue either, because if we keep giving him bread or fruit he will continue to eat. If we try to put the undesired food into his mouth ourselves he will simply spit it out. Nicki has never spat food out in her life, even as a baby... What a difference.

My hope that continually putting the food in front of him might lead him to eventually branch out and try something is waning as of late, since his list of foods recently diminished again. He used to eat cheese, now he doesn't; he used to eat yogurt, now he doesn't; he used to eat veggie burger patties, now he doesn't; he used to eat peas, now he doesn't. When he first began eating table foods way back when, he would take the occasional nibble of meat here and there, maybe sample a noodle or two, or test out a carrot once in a while. But it's been ages since any of those foods have made it anywhere near his mouth, despite their continual reappearance on his plate.

It is incredibly frustrating to see him eat (or not eat) this way, since as a mom I am eternally concerned with my kids nutrition. I have to be honest though and say that he truly appears to be incredibly healthy and strong. Maybe I'm putting too much thought into this whole ordeal and should just take a step back and let him hopefully discover these foods in his own time. But it sure would give me a whole lot of hope if he'd just eat a noodle!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Mommy image part 2

Interestingly, after my last post, Nicki saw a woman applying her make-up in the locker room after swim class. As I brushed and tied her hair, she stared at the woman's reflection in the mirror for a while and then asked "Mommy, why is that lady drawing on her face?" The woman laughed and I replied that she was "putting on make-up" and that "some mommies like to do that." She then said "But Mommy, she shouldn't use pencils on her face, that's for drawing on paper!" So I explained to her that what she was using wasn't a regular pencil and that it was made from different things that were safe to put on your face. She seemed satisfied with that answer, but continued to study the woman intently as she finished up.

Not long after that, Nicki got out an old mirror that was in one of her toy bins and began pretending to put on make-up. She then announced to me that my own make-up must have "fallen off" and that she needed to put some more on me. I felt uncomfortable with this type of play, but I obliged anyway, not wanting to squelch her fun. In the end she said she was actually drawing pictures on my face (butterfly, Elmo, hearts, etc) which I found interesting, since she obviously equated the application of make-up with the face painting she has received in the past.

The next day she asked me why I never put any make-up on. I had been anticipating this question due to her recent interest and yet still felt unprepared to answer it. The last thing I wanted to do was pass judgment on anyone who does wear make-up by making it sound like they are insecure about their appearance. But I also didn't want to glorify the idea of cosmetics. I dread the thought of her turning into one of those teenage girls who is traumatized by the idea of stepping out of the house without putting make-up on her face. I answered her question by telling her that even though some women choose to wear make-up to feel more beautiful, I think that I look beautiful just the way I am without make-up, just like I think she looks beautiful just the way she is without make-up.

Thankfully my answer was accepted this time around, but I can't even imagine what I will do when she hits those "tween" years and starts to have friends who wear make-up and wants to do it too. I don't know if I should try to discourage it and risk making it more appealing or just let my own hang-ups on the topic go and let her do what she wants. I have no clue at what age (if any!) I would find the practice of wearing make-up acceptable. I already know that I'm overly strict and massively over-protective and that I should probably let this go in the end and pick my battles wisely. I just wish I knew how to impart on her a sense of the importance of inner beauty versus outward appearance and how to give her the confidence and self-esteem to view herself as naturally beautiful.

I think my husband put it best when he responded to my previous blog. He told me that "there is a beauty in simplicity" that he loves, which was music to my ears. So hopefully with a mother who doesn't spend hours in front of the mirror every day and a father who appreciates the value of natural beauty, Nicki will grow up to be confident in her appearance without ever having to give it a second thought. I guess only time will tell...

Friday, June 6, 2008

Mommy image

We recently borrowed a book from the library entitled "Just Like Mommy". I thought this would be a cute read for both kids, but hesitated after I read the content. In the end we brought it home because Gabe truly seemed to enjoy the repetition of the words "just like Mommy" on every page, but it has been grating on me ever since. On each page there is a drawing of a young girl doing the same things that her mother is doing and goes as follows:

"I have a necklace. I have earrings. Just like Mommy!"
"I have rouge. I have lipstick. Just like Mommy!"
"I have a bracelet. I have nail polish. Just like Mommy!"
"I have socks. I have shoes. Just like Mommy!"
"I have a comb. I have a hairbrush. Just like Mommy!"
"I have curls. I have bows. Just like Mommy!"
"I have a pocketbook. I'm going to work. Just like Mommy!"

I think that this book bothered me so much because almost none of it applies to me. In fact the shoes, socks and hairbrush were the only representative items of me on that list, and even then the "socks" were actually pantyhose and the "shoes" were high heeled ones, neither of which I have worn in ages. And no, I don't even own a pocketbook or wallet, I just throw my money into the sorry excuse for a purse that is hiding in the bottom of the diaper bag.

All this book has really done is make me even more self-conscious about the differences between me and so many other moms I see on a daily basis. After attending a few field trips with Nicki's preschool, I became painfully aware of how I actually look. It's kind of ironic actually, because I don't really have any major issues with my general appearance. I think I'm in pretty good shape and don't really have any complaints about about my body or face or hair etc. But I swear these other moms look like they just walked out of the hair, make-up and wardrobe area of a major motion picture. They always look perfect! And more and more lately I have been wondering how they do it.

I mean seriously. These moms have kids the same age as my kids. How in the world do they find the time to look so perfectly put together? I'm talking perfect hair, perfect make-up, perfect nails, perfect outfit. They wear fancy shoes, have fancy jewelery, carry fancy purses. Eddie thinks they must plop their kids in front of the tv while they take the time to primp in the morning or that they must have nannies. As for me well, to be honest I'd rather keep looking like I just rolled out of bed than do that. I shower at night after the kids are in bed. In the morning, I get Gabe dressed and then we all have breakfast as a family. Afterwards Nicki and I get ready together. We get dressed, brush our teeth and hair and wash our faces. Then we go back downstairs and play until it is time to venture out for the day.

So in reality I know in my head that I am making a conscious choice not to take the time to look that way, choosing instead to spend time with my kids rather than make myself "look good", and yet I wind up feeling crummy whenever I'm around these other moms who look so great. Me in my track pants and sneakers, with my ponytail and unmade face, with my too short nails and a diaper bag on my back. I can't help but feel beneath them, like a lower class citizen, like a frump. I wonder sometimes what they must think about me, if they feel sorry for me or even secretly laugh. I wonder sometimes what my husband must think, if he's sad that I don't take the time to "look like a woman", if he'll eventually start to see me as only a "mom" and nothing more. I wonder why I even care about this all of a sudden when it never used to cross my mind before. And then I snap back into reality and get down on the floor to play with my kids some more, knowing that I've made the right choice for me, appearances be damned.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The sound of music

It has been a very busy month of May around here, so this will likely be my one and only post this month. Due to lack of time, I debated skipping this entry completely, but something kept nagging at the back of my mind to write it, lest the memory be gone forever...

I am constantly amazed by my kids' love for music. Gabe in particular seems to enjoy it immensely whenever I put music on (which is pretty much all the time), retreating into himself and going off into his own little world. When there is no music playing, Gabe seems to be more clingy and demanding of my attention. But as soon as the tunes start blaring, he can play by himself for what seems like an eternity at his young age.

Both of my children were soothed by music as infants, as I'm sure most babies are. Both began very early on to be able to distinguish and identify some of the various instruments in the songs we would put on, such as drums, piano and trumpet. And both have musical tastes that extend far beyond your traditional children's music, as they often seem to prefer to hear the music that Eddie and I listen to over their own kiddie CDs.

As I bring Gabe down the stairs every morning he demands "Jack! Jack!" for Jack Johnson's latest release "Sleep Through The Static", and when I comply (which I always do!) he proceeds to groove his way through the songs, bobbing his head to the beat with a rhythm we had no idea a child so young could have. In the car, a resounding chant of "Ani!" is yelled out by Nicki before we're even buckled in, as she makes her request for Ani Difranco's 1998 release "Little Plastic Castle", before Gabe can make his choice known. When Gabe does manage to sneak a request in, it's usually for one of our favourite radio stations, 99.9 The Buzz, which touts itself as "the rock alternative" and puts out a varied play list of such artists as Foo Fighters, Disturbed, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Linkin Park and Puddle of Mudd, just to name a few... Gabe will point to the radio and say "Buzz! Buzz!" over and over until we turn it on. We are seriously thinking of sending an audio clip of this to the station, it's just too funny. Ben Harper is another of Nicki's favourites, as she repeatedly asks to hear songs from his "Burn to Shine" album, which was released in 1999. She even brought it with her to preschool one day when the kids were asked to bring in some of their favourite CDs. Probably not what the teachers were expecting I'm sure! And of course any and every Bob Schneider CD (Mommy's personal favourite) is likely to be heard as well, and both kids clap their hands, kick their feet and even sing along. Not quite what you would expect a 3 year old and a 1 year old to enjoy and yet they love it!

Of course this is not to say that they don't listen to their fair share of children's music too. It would seem that our "Dora the Explorer" CD is on constant rotation in the playroom, played so often in fact that both kids instantly know which song is coming up next as soon as the previous song starts. There are actually two other CDs that our kids love and that Eddie and I actually enjoy too. The first is "Dog Train: A Wild Ride on the Rock-and-Roll Side" by children's author Sandra Boynton, which boasts a compilation of diverse and humourous songs done by an eclectic mix of artists such as Blues Traveler, Alison Krauss, The Phenomenauts and even (get this) Weird Al Yankovic. The second is a Sesame Street compilation called "Songs from the Street: 35 Years of Music". Not only do we get to hear all of our favourite characters, such as Ernie, Bert, Grover and Big Bird, we are also graced with the voices of many of the fantastic singers who have performed on Sesame Street in the past, such as James Taylor, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash and Billy Joel (brining back great memories for Eddie and I) and even those who have made appearances more recently, such as Steven Tyler, Hootie and the Blowfish, Spin Doctors and Goo Goo Dolls.

Growing up in my family, the radio was on from the time we woke up in the morning till the time we went to bed at night. We spent countless hours dancing around the living room, truly having the time of our lives. I can remember my parents spontaneously grabbing each other to dance to a song they particularly liked, even if it was in the middle of doing the dishes. I can remember dancing up a storm to Jose Feliciano with my mother and grandmother in the basement on Christmas Day and have now been blessed with the memory of doing the same with my mother and my own daughter this past year. Music was an important source of happiness in my family and concerts were something we enjoyed going to together. I can still remember my first concert which I attended with my brother and my mother when I was only 8 years old: Whitney Houston. I have lost count of how many concerts I have been to since then but I know that it is a huge amount, as the ticket stubs that I have saved from every single one of those shows are overflowing in a memory box that I keep. It's fun to go through them every now and then and see how much my musical tastes have changed over the past 22 years!

I hope that music can continue to play a huge role in my children's lives as they grow up. I hope that it can continue to be for them all of the same things that it has been for me over the years; a source of joy and happiness, a source of comfort, an outlet for frustration, a way to bond with the other members of my family. And most of all I hope that I never EVER turn into the mom who yells out "Turn off that infernal racket!" when my kids turn their music on full blast. :)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Out after dark

Tonight I took Nicki out on what she deemed to be "an adventure". My parents were out of town and they asked me to check in on their house periodically while they were away. Rather than wait until Nicki was in bed, I decided to take her with me. I helped her shower, got her into her jammies and then we hopped into the car just as the sun was going down.

She was ecstatic to be out of the house in her jammies for starters, but to be out after dark seemed to be the real thrill for her. We drove to the house, checked everything out, watered the plants together and then headed back home. On the ride home she kept noticing little things with awe in her voice, like how the street lights had started to turn on one by one and how she could see inside people's houses as we drove by them.

As we sat idling at a red light, I turned to look at her in silence. Her face was lit by the neon lights of the gas station we were next to. She had a look of pure delight on her face as she stared out her window, clearly amazed at how the same sights we see day after day during daylight hours could look so different after the sun goes down. I couldn't help but notice the contrast between how young she looked sitting there in her jammies with her face awash in wonder, and how big she truly is now with her long gangly legs hanging far over the edge of her car seat. I can still remember when her feet didn't even come to the edge of that seat. It almost felt like if I blinked again she would somehow be a teenager, like time was truly slipping by that fast. So I forced my eyes to stay open and sear that image of my sweet little girl into my brain. Please don't grow up too fast Nicki... and never lose that sense of wonder ok? Mommy loves you. Goodnight.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fresh air = tired kids!

Ever since the nicer weather has begun, we have been spending hours outside each day, enjoying every possible second we can outdoors. The kids are thrilled to pieces to be able to run around the backyard and make daily trips to the park. Nicki has been having a blast practicing on her tricycle and scooter and from the time Gabe wakes up in the morning he is asking to go outside, running to get his shoes and bring them to the back door.

The best part about all of this fresh air and exercise is that both kids have been sleeping like logs. They both pass out at nap time without so much as a peep and most days I have to wake them to get up and go outside again. At bed time they are asleep within minutes of their heads hitting the pillow and are waking up later and later in the mornings. For the first time in his life Gabe slept over 12 hours last night, waking up at a lovely 8:15 am.

I know I have been writing a lot about the weather, so I promise this will be my last post about it. It just plays such a huge role in our day to day lives up here, and after such a long and hard winter it feels like we are finally free!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

And baby makes 5

Ever since we announced 5 weeks ago that we are expecting our 3rd child in September, we have been getting mixed reactions from our family members and friends. Well let me rephrase that... We have been getting congratulations left, right and center, but most of them seem to be laced with an afterthought ranging from "You guys are nuts!" to "You guys rock!" The most prolific reaction so far has definitely been one of shock and surprise. Apparently a lot of people thought that we were all done having kids, although I have no idea why. Eddie has always said he wanted to have 3 and I even envisioned 4 at one point, so why anyone would think we would stop at 2 baffles me.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we have both a girl and a boy. After Gabe was born we got many comments that alluded to the fact that our family was now "perfect" since we have "one of each" and that we must be so happy about that fact because now we didn't "have" to have any more. This train of thought really irritates me. It seems so odd to me to base the completeness of one's family on the number of children of each gender. Would we have had another child if Gabe had been a girl instead of a boy? I can't say for sure that we would have, despite the fact that many people seem to assume that we would obviously "try for a boy" had that been the case. And what if we had yet another girl after that? When would it end? How would the final girl feel knowing that we had supposedly been hoping for a boy all along? The whole thing just seems so ridiculous to me.

What sealed the deal for us in the end was after sitting down and talking about it one day, Eddie and I both admitted that our family just didn't feel complete as it stands now. Don't get me wrong, we are more than happy with the 2 incredible children we have been blessed with, but it just felt like there was a piece missing. We easily envisioned another little one as a part of our family and we knew that we had more than enough love to give a 3rd child. I knew that I wasn't ready to never hold a newborn in my arms again, to never rock another baby to sleep, to never nourish and love another tiny human being. I also felt in my heart that Nicki and Gabe would be excellent older siblings and would have so much to offer a little brother or sister.

I know that being a stay at home mom to 3 young children will be difficult and exhausting. I am not disillusioned about how tough and stressful the ins and outs of everyday life will be. But nothing makes me happier than the thought of having 3 little babies to love. Motherhood is a wonderful thing. :)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The great meltdown of 2008

No, I'm not talking about one of the kids throwing a tantrum here, I'm actually talking about the snow! I am utterly amazed by how quickly the mountains of snow have melted in the past week. To say that they were melting before our very eyes would not be an exaggeration - we actually paused on the street one day to stare in amazement at a snowbank as it slowly drip drip dripped and melted away one tiny drop at a time.

On Monday of this week our neighbourhood park was still covered in snow, but it had gone down enough that we could trudge through it in our boots to make it to the swings and go for a quick ride. By Friday, only 5 days later, the snow had all melted and squealing and delighted kids (including my own!) ran around the in sand, built castles, climbed structures, slid down slides and took turns on the swings. And all of this in t-shirts and bare feet no less.

We have sort of been scratching our heads lately at the irony of the fact that we are dressed for summer as we walk by the piles of snow that are still scattered here and there. I took a funny picture of Gabe that really represented the incongruity of the remaining snow with the oh-so-high temperatures we have had over the past few days. It is a photo of him in the backyard with no shirt on, standing in front of what remained of the snow. (Note: his pants are all wet because he accidentally splashed in the melted snow that pooled in our empty sandbox - this also explains the lack of shirt!) It was a gorgeous 23 degrees Celsius that evening and the only thing that belied the fact that it wasn't actually June or July was that darn pile of snow...! Looks like spring is finally here. :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The waiting game

I have taken Gabe to the grocery store with me pretty much every week since he's been born. The truth is that during the time span between 6 and 10 months he hated it. It was always a race to the finish, with me trying to throw as much from my list into the cart as I could before he completely melted down. It made me sad that he didn't enjoy the time out and about, despite the fact that I always tried to make sure the trip was made during a window of time when he was well fed and well rested. Nicki and I always enjoyed grocery shopping together and from the time she was a baby I would wheel her around the store teaching her all about the different foods we saw, letting her touch and hold various fruits and veggies, counting things out as I put them in the cart. We would take our time and were never in a rush. Many people would comment to me as we went along how nice it was to hear a mom talking to her child so much, making a tedious task enjoyable.

It was a fun bonding time for Nicki and I, so like I said, it made me sad that Gabe just wanted to get out of there as fast as he could. But eventually, he came around. And now we have a blast! He loves to zoom around the store and hold various boxes and cans as we go. He knows the order that I usually get items in, so as soon as we get the milk for example, he starts yelling out "Eggs!" because he knows that's what comes next. He enjoys helping me put all of our produce into little plastic bags, naming all the fruits and veggies he recognizes as we go.

After all of that fun you would think that waiting in line to pay would be a big let down, but in reality that's where we have the most fun of all. The lines are excruciatingly long at the grocery store I go to, and with no one to bag your order, it takes forever for the cashier to move on to the next customer. Today for example we got in line at 9:45 and didn't roll away with our groceries until 10:05! That's 20 minutes in line!

But Gabe and I had a fine time while we waited. As he munched on his apple, I showed him various magazine covers and asked him to name the letters from the titles. We looked at a cooking magazine and named all of the foods we recognized. We looked at the cover of Châtelaine and named all the parts of the woman's face. We checked out the clothes in Vanity Fair and all of the celebrities in US magazine. At one point I was talking to Gabe about the colors of the dresses that the women were wearing and then said "Oh no they are wearing the same dress, that's a no-no in Hollywood!" The woman behind us in line laughed and thanked me for entertaining her as well. :) She gave me a wonderful compliment, saying that it was refreshing to see a mother with so much patience. She then started to talk to Gabe and the women behind her chimed in as well, feeding him a grape and telling him what a good boy he is.

After we paid, he waved and said goodbye to both of them and I walked away feeling happy and proud that we had fun while we waited and helped a couple of other people smile too. If only I could always slow down to this speed, make waiting fun and realize that there's a learning opportunity hidden in every experience with my kids. Hopefully this will serve as a great reminder for me and maybe you too. Happy grocery shopping!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The differences between boys and girls

Nicki is slowly but surely starting to realize that there are differences between boys and girls. For the most part we have done our best not to let silly widespread stereotypes, like boys shouldn't wear pink or girls shouldn't play with trucks, become a part of her mindset. But there's just no arguing with the physical differences that she is now beginning to notice!

A week or two ago we were in the entry getting ready to go for a walk when she asked me "Why is Gabe a boy?" Dancing around the obvious answer, I replied "He was born that way, just like you and I were born girls." This was of course not good enough (hey I can dream can't I?) and so she repeated "Yeah, but why is he a boy?" I attempted to skirt the issue again saying "Everyone is different. Some people are girls and some people are boys and both are just as good." Getting frustrated now, almost as if she knew the answer she was waiting for, she once again asked "But WHY is he a boy?" Finally I could avoid it no longer and answered "Because he has a penis", bracing myself for the barrage of questions to follow. But none came. Nicki simply had a pensive look on her face, like she was evaluating the validity of my answer, and then just continued to put on her boots, dropping the subject completely.

The following day after bath time, Nicki was sitting beside me wrapped up in her towel as I dried Gabe off. Whenever I wash them, I always name all of their body parts, so Nicki is familiar with both the terms penis and scrotum. As I was drying that area on Gabe, Nicki pointed in the general direction of his thigh and asked "Is that his scrotum?" So I matter of factly showed her exactly what was what, hoping that she wasn't too young to be told this kind of thing. Satisfied with my answer, the subject was once again dropped.

A few days later, we were once again in the entry getting our jackets on when Gabe wandered over. Nicki exclaimed in an enthusiastic voice "Hey Penis Guy!" I was so taken aback by it that I had to bite my tongue so as not to laugh out loud! Instead I said "Have you ever heard anyone say that before?" hoping that she hadn't picked it up at school. She said no. So I asked her "Why would you call him that then?" and she replied "Because he has one!" I couldn't exactly argue with that logic and was still so surprised that I couldn't get out more than an "Oh, ok." I didn't want to say anything that would make her think badly about our so-called private parts.

In retrospect I should have told her that it's impolite to call people by their body parts regardless of whether or not they have one, sort of like I don't go around calling her "Nose Girl" or Gabe "Elbow Boy". But that bit of sound parenting completely escaped me in the moment. I'll have to keep it in my back pocket for another day, as there surely will be a next time. In the meantime I guess I'll just have to cross my fingers and hope that she doesn't yell out "Hey Scrotum Boy!" to Gabe when we go pick her up at school one day. Oh the looks I would get for that one, I'm sure! :)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Matters of a sensitive nature

My daughter Nicki is an incredibly sensitive little girl. I only truly realized this when we started letting her watch TV not long after her second birthday. At first all we allowed her to watch was Sesame Street and then gradually introduced such things as Dora The Explorer and Curious George. She is limited to only 30 minutes a day which I think is more than enough for a kid her age. But some days I want to just cut out TV altogether because she has been frightened multiple times by things she has seen on the screen...

Who would have ever thought that something as wholesome as Sesame Street could cause a preschooler to burst into tears? Well it has quite a few times and even as recently as last week. The latest occurrence was during the opening segment when Oscar the Grouch was hosting a game show called "What happens next?" meant to teach kids about simple scientific concepts. It started off innocently enough with Slimy the Worm diving off a diving board into a pool of mud. Elmo needed to guess if he would make a big splash or a little splash and hypothesized that since Slimy is small he would surely make a small splash. He was of course right. Next Slimy climbed up a tall ladder and was to jump into the same pool of mud from much higher up. Alan explained to Elmo how because Slimy was higher up he would be going faster when he landed in the mud and would therefore make a big splash this time around. Slimy did indeed make a huge splash and got mud all over Alan in the process. This caused Alan to yell out "Oscar!" in an angry voice which made Nicki cry and hide her face in my arm. Oscar continued on with a few more "experiments" each one resulting in some sort of mess that made someone angry and in turn made Nicki cry.

There was another instance this past month when we took Nicki to the movies to see Horton Hears a Who. During one of the previews for Ice Age, a scary dinosaur appeared on screen roared loudly and showed his teeth. Nicki immediately started to cry and cling to me for dear life. I was amazed that in this theater filled with kids, some older, some younger, not one other child cried. Nicki was the only one who seemed to be affected by it at all.

Though most of her sensitivity has been evidenced by her reactions to things seen on screen, it has not only been limited to that. At her preschool earlier this year they sang a song called "There Was an Old Woman". The first verse of the song goes:

There was an old woman who swallowed a fly,
I don't know why she swallowed a fly,
Perhaps she'll die.

The song goes on to have the woman eat bigger and bigger creatures so that they will catch the smaller creatures, until at the end she finally eats a horse and they say "She's dead, of course!"

Now I won't even go into my personal opinion of how inappropriate this type of song is to sing to a class of 3 and 4 year olds, but the truth is that all the other kids in her class were laughing and thought the song was hilarious. Nicki burst into tears and had to be taken out of the room so that she could calm down. (Side note: I have been assured that the song will no longer be sung in class.) It's interesting to me how deeply affected she was by the lyrics while the other children seemed unfazed.

What is it that makes her so sensitive to things like this? Have I kept her too sheltered so far in her short life? Should she have already been exposed (and possibly desensitized?) to the harsher realities of life? To be honest, all her reactions make me want to do is keep her sheltered even more, keep her innocent as long as possible and let her live a worry free childhood. Or is it possible that she is more in tune than other kids to these types of sensitive matters, which makes topics like anger and death affect her more? Does that mean I actually need to be more careful with what she is exposed to and not less?

I feel like all I can do is be there to hold her and comfort her when she gets scared and try to explain to her in words she can understand what all of these frightening things mean. There are so many things in her life that she is going to need me to explain and walk her through as time goes on. I hope that I can somehow help her to learn what life is all about without putting negative thoughts in her head and yet also without giving her a false illusion and naiveté about it all...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sleeping like a baby

I am truly amazed. Last night our burglar alarm when off in the wee hours. Eddie and I both jolted out of sleep, jumping about 10 feet in the air. Thankfully it was just a false alarm, but I was astounded by the fact that neither of the kids woke up to the incessant blaring which went on for over 2 minutes. I watched a report a while back where they tested kids to see how quickly they would wake up and leave their rooms if the smoke alarm went off. It took many of the kids as much as 15 minutes to finally rouse from sleep with some of them never waking up at all. I didn't believe it then, but now I certainly do. Makes me wonder why I tiptoe around the house when the kids are napping. Sheesh!!

Monday, March 24, 2008

"Snow, snow, go away..."

This has been an incredibly long winter and I am itching for some nicer weather. I just looked at video taken a year ago today and we were at the park playing on the swings and slides, with only patches of snow here and there on the ground. We were wearing light jackets and no mittens! The thought of that is so far off at this point with the snow banks on each side of our driveway being over 7 feet tall. And it is still below zero every day. We're freezing and it's the end of March!

Last winter we were blessed with a very late first snowfall, somewhere around the last part of December and like I said, by late March only patches of snow were left. That means only 3 months of snow!! This year our first snowfall was in early November and it feels like it has never stopped. We are going on 5 months of snow right now with no end in sight. The 7 day weather forecast predicts 4 days of snow. We are going stir crazy despite our daily walks. There's no way to go out and play in the snow because it is just too deep and the kids just sink down and can't move. And besides that, it's just so cold that keeping them out any longer than 20 minutes or so leads to frozen fingers and toes, cheeks and noses, even if we are all bundled up. Blah.

I'm not the only one feeling this way either. Nicki has been asking me for the past 2 months when spring is going to start. When the first day of spring came last week, I think she thought I was joking. "It can't be spring Mommy, look at all the snow!" She even made up her own twist on an old favourite, changing the words to "Snow, snow, go away. DON'T come again another day!" She keeps asking about going to the park, making chalk drawings on the driveway, taking out the kiddie pool, and going to the lake. At this point I don't even know when to tell her we'll be doing any of those things. At the rate things are going, it almost seems reasonable to think that the last of the snow won't have melted until mid-June. Good thing I bought both kids new rain boots last week. With all the snow that there is to left to melt, I think there will be a lot of puddle stomping in our future!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Daddy's little girl

My dad and I have had an interesting relationship over the years. I wasn't necessarily what you would call Daddy's little girl, but I do have a lot of good memories about my dad from my childhood. I can remember him reading children's books to me, like our favourites Cinderella and The Penguin That Hated the Cold. In elementary school, I can remember him walking me to school on the mornings that he had his "9 days off" (he worked 9 days, followed by 9 nights, followed by 9 days off back then). I can remember us painting the fence together one year. I can remember lounging by the pool with him. I can remember him helping me put together my dinosaur project in high school. I can remember him preparing early suppers for me on evenings when I had a 5 o'clock shift at my part-time job. I can remember how he would drive out to pick me up, no matter where, no matter what time of night, whenever I needed him to.

I also know that he disagreed with many of the decisions that I made as I got older. I remember how he was vehemently opposed to my having a long distance relationship with my boyfriend (now husband!) for over 2 and a half years, insisting that I had no idea what he was doing behind my back when he was away at school. I remember how much he hated the idea of me moving out of the house at the age of 19 to live in an apartment downtown with one of my girlfriends, preaching how dangerous it was for 2 young women to be living alone. I remember how upset he was when I didn't finish my post graduate CA program and instead chose to move away to California. And most of all I remember how disappointed he was when I chose to leave my job and become a stay-at-home mom, saying that I was wasting all of the education that I had worked so hard for.

Which is why the compliment that he gave me a week ago was one of the most touching I have ever received. While we were out to lunch last Sunday, out of the blue he said to me: "I have to say that you and Eddie and doing an amazing job raising those kids." I was completely speechless. I lowered my head and said thank you, fighting back tears of joy. Because compliments don't flow easily from my father's lips, it meant the world to me to hear such high praise. Knowing that he didn't support my decision to stay home with my babies made what he said that much more poignant.

When all is said and done, I don't begrudge him for opposing many of the decisions I have made along the way. Being a parent myself now, I can finally understand that he was just doing what he thought was best to protect me. I hope that he can now realize that the choices I made were not made to spite him in any way and that I was doing what I truly believed was best for me at the time. And in reality I don't regret a single one of those decisions. Each one of them has brought me great joy and happiness. Each one of them has brought me to the place I am today and there is no place else I'd rather be. I hope that he can see that and be proud of who and what I have become. I love you Daddy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sibling relations

Every day when we get home from our afternoon walk, we head upstairs to do what I call "upstairs chores". This is basically a 15 minute chunk of time that I dedicate to preparing the bedrooms for bedtime and the bathroom for bath time. This is of course something I could do later in the evening when the kids are playing with their Daddy, but I've come to view this time as something of an experiment in sibling relations. I do the rest of my daily cleaning/tidying/washing/folding when the kids are asleep so that I can spend as much time as possible down on the floor playing with them. But that also means that they have very few opportunities to play alone together. So this "upstairs chores" time gives them the opportunity to play together if they want to and figure out the give and take of their unique relationship.

When I first started doing this, they didn't play together at all. Nicki would go to her room and look at books and Gabe would follow me around, bring me toys, or just stay in his own room and listen to the CD I had put on in there. But slowly they have come to enjoy each other's company, at least most of the time. Some days I will find them in the same room, each doing their own thing, some days they are actually interacting and getting along. But it changes from day to day and even minute to minute sometimes. One day last week, I was thrilled when they spent the entire time playing together. Gabe was sitting in the tent we put together in the guest room and Nicki was running back and forth between the bedrooms and the tent, filling it up with every toy imaginable. Every time she brought in a new toy, Gabe would squeal with delight. Not once was I called in to referee and in fact the only time either of them addressed me at all was when Nicki ran in to say "Mommy, we are having SO much fun!"

The next day however was a different story. Gabe was in a foul mood and Nicki's preschool was closed because of a snow storm. So we went to the bookstore and then to Toys R Us where I bought them a Little People garage set. They both love the Little People toys we already have, and at $15 off I just couldn't help it! So we brought it home and put it together. I thought it would be the perfect toy to share because it came with 2 people and 2 cars. But boy was I wrong! Gabe insisted on having one car in each hand at all times. I repeatedly asked him to give one car to Nicki, explaining that Nicki would have one car and Gabe would have one car. He would give up the car but then proceed to burst into tears and flail around on the floor like the world was ending. I can't even count the number of times this exact scenario was repeated:

1. They each have a car.
2. Nicki sends her car down the ramp.
3. Gabe snatches it as it gets to the bottom and runs away.
4. Nicki says "Mommy, Gabe has both cars!"
5. I insist that Gabe give one of the cars back to Nicki.
6. Gabe has a mega tantrum and loses his mind.
7. Return to step 1.

I honestly thought that eventually Gabe would get the idea, but he never did. Nicki was doing her best to be patient and even suggested swapping cars when he would try to take hers, but of course that wasn't what he wanted. Eventually Nicki gave up, in part because it was so frustrating for her and in part because she hates it when Gabe cries. She left the room to play by herself, but since I didn't want Gabe to think that his persistence had won the battle, I put the toy away instead. The whole scene had lasted only about a half hour, but it felt like an eternity!

I guess that 2 day snapshot is actually a pretty good portrait of what their relationship will be like over the years, one minute the best of friends, the next minute arch enemies. I don't have much first hand knowledge of sibling rivalry. My brother is 7 years older than me, and to be honest I don't really remember playing with him at all. I do remember him chasing me out of his room with a staple remover saying it was going to bite me. And him telling me that if I pressed the red button on the side of his watch the room would explode. And him tricking me into believing that my parents had moved away and left us one day when they were late coming home from work. But I also remember that as I got older our relationship got better. I remember him helping me learn French. I remember him taking me to see every Tom Cruise movie that came out because I liked him so much. And I remember going into his room after school just to chat and not being chased out.

So I have hope for my kids too. With less than 2 years separating them I know that there are many more disagreements, arguments and fights that I will be called in to referee. But I also hope that there will be a bond between them that deepens with time and that they will view the relationship that they have with their sibling as one of the most important in their lives. I hope that they will come to respect each other, rely on each other, and in essence know that the other will always be there for them no matter what. Isn't that what family is all about?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Food for thought

I have never been a big fan of kids eating whatever they want to, whenever they want to and where ever they want to. I'm sure that this goes against all of the "expert" advice about letting kids eat on the run and snack here and there all day long, but at our house, everyone sits down at the kitchen table for meals and snacks. We put the "two bite" rule in place a while back, which means at every meal we offer a nice variety of fruits and veggies, whole grains, meat and dairy, and two bites of each offering must be eaten before anything else can be consumed.

In my mind, this ensures that the kids will have some diversity to what they eat, unlike other kids I know who exist on chicken nuggets alone. Not only do they get at least a little from each food group at every meal, but they also get exposed to new tastes on a regular basis, even if it is only two bites worth. I have found that over time, repeated exposure to a food a couple of bites at a time will lead not only to acceptance of that food, but to requests for it as well. Once they have eaten their two bites of everything, they are then free to ask for more of anything they want. Most of the time this works amazingly well, and we have been surprised and delighted by requests for more vegetables over and over again.

But there are are also days every now and then when meal time turns into a long drawn out process. For example, a couple of nights ago at dinner time, Nicki did not want to eat her meat. When we reminded her that she had to take her two bites, she came up over and over again with a list of excuses as an attempt to stall the inevitable. The conversation started off something like this:

Me: "Nicki, don't forget to eat your meat."

Nicki: "Ok Mommy. But first I need to take a sip of milk."

Me (inwardly sighing because I know where this is going): "Ok Nicki, you had your sip, now have some meat."

Nicki: "But my hair is in my face. Can you please fix my elastics first?"

Me: "Just brush the hair out of your eyes and you'll be fine."

Nicki: "I need a tissue."

Me (after getting her a tissue and helping her blow her nose): "Ok go ahead with your meat now."

Nicki: "Wait, my eye is itchy."

Me (sighing out loud now because I know it's going to be one of those days): "Nicki you're stalling. Eat your meat or your going to end up sitting here until bedtime."

Nicki: "Ok... but first I need to scootch up my sleeves!"

Me (tired of repeating myself): "Nicki this is the last time I'm going to say it. Please eat your meat."

After much sitting there staring at me with a pouty face that I attempted to ignore, Nicki brought the conversation down to this level:

Nicki: "I'm sad at you."

Me: "Why?"

Nicki: "Because I don't love you."

Me: "Why not?"

Nicki: "Because you're not nice!"

Eventually of course, her two bites of everything were eaten, although on this particular night it took much longer than on any other night that she had put up a fight. I wondered to myself why. Usually our mealtimes go quite smoothly and it wasn't as if she was being offered anything she had never eaten before. Maybe she was feeling particularly stubborn that night. Maybe she wanted to see how far she could push me before I cracked. I guess I'll never know.

All I know for sure is that I'm trying to do what's best for my kids and have them eat a healthy and diverse menu of food. I don't see what I'm doing as being akin to force feeding, since it's not like I'm insisting that they polish off a whole plate of food; two bites hardly seems like torture. I just hope that I'm not screwing it up and setting them up for a lifelong battle with eating disorders as those "experts" would have me believe...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Raising readers

I recently counted the number of children's books we have in our home. In the playroom alone we have 232. Add to that the 92 we have in the upstairs bedrooms and we are at over 300. I also have a pile of 45 books sitting next to me on my desk right now (which I plan to give to them once a week for the rest of the 45 weeks of 2008) from when I went a little nuts ordering books from the Scholastic program at Nicki's school. Not to mention the closet full of books in our basement that holds selections that are a little too advanced for the ages that the kids are now.

Why so many books? There is an incredible drive inside of me to raise kids who love to read. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because it is something that I love to do. Maybe it's because I think that kids who are avid readers will have a leg up academically. Maybe it's because I can remember how, as a kid, books transported me to a different place and let my imagination soar. Whatever the reason, I know that I would be a very sad mommy if the only time my kids ever picked up a book was when a teacher said they had to. I want them to enjoy it so much that they do it for their own pleasure. It would break my heart to to hear them say something like "reading is boring." I am doing my best now to make sure that day never comes...

I have read to both of my kids since the day they were born. I remember reading novels out loud to Nicki as I breastfed her when she was an infant. And from a very young age she would happily listen to anything and everything I pulled out to read. Eventually she would be the one to toddle over to the bookshelf and make a selection, promptly bring it back to me holding it up for me to see, and point to herself as her way of saying "Please read me this book!" I constantly obliged. If there was one thing I could never deny, never be too busy for, it was reading to her. I would always stop what I was doing, no matter what it was, to read her a book if she brought one over to me. Books were a large part of our days and we made them a part of various rituals, like "digestion story time" after meals when she was very young, and included them as part of her pre-nap wind down. Of course bedtime stories (or "snories" as we now call them) were a must, but really there was no time that wasn't a good time to read.

By the time Gabe was born when Nicki was just shy of 2 years old, she already had a solid foundation for her love for books. I wondered to myself if I would be lucky enough to have 2 kids with a passion for books and what I could do to help foster the same enthusiasm in Gabe as I had in Nicki. I knew that there would be much less time to devote to reading, just due to the simple fact that having two kids is a much busier life. I tried my best to read to him as often as possible, but I am the first to admit that it wasn't nearly as often as I had with Nicki. I was worried for a while when he was a baby because he just didn't seem to want to sit and listen to anything I chose, but eventually I figured out that it was because I wasn't choosing what he wanted to hear! Unlike Nicki who would listen to anything, he had a select few books that he wanted to hear over and over and couldn't care less about the rest. And that was just fine with me! I read the same 3 books to him till I was blue in the face and didn't mind it one bit. His obvious happiness each and every time was all I needed. Every once and a while I would throw in a different selection and judge his reaction. Some days he would turn away, other days he would listen to a page or two, and on the rarest of occasions he would listen to the entire thing. It was this strategy that made his list of favorites slowly increase and as he started to be mobile enough to crawl over to the bookshelf and make his own selections, I was surprised (and thrilled) to see that every now and then he would pull out a book he had previously snubbed.

Now at 17 months old, I am happy to say that reading appears to be his number one favorite thing to do. He will bring me books all day long and if he sees that I am in the middle of something like making lunch, he will happily sit and "read" by himself. Often I have looked up from the food I was preparing in the kitchen to see the two of them side by side, happily looking at books on their own. Gabe will even sit and listen to much longer selections now, which is fantastic because I can read books to both of them at the same time that they both find interesting, something I couldn't really do before. Either Nicki would get bored with the 10th reading of Hop On Pop or Gabe wouldn't stick around for the entire length of Dora Climbs Star Mountain. So when I found that the book Nicki chose might be too long for Gabe to handle, I would often compromise with her and tell my own story about the pictures in the book, which gave them both the general idea of the story without being on each page for an eternity reading every word. Now he is happy to listen to all of the words (most of the time!) which makes Nicki happy too.

I knew for sure that I had a reader in Nicki when we went to the library last summer, which we did just about every week, and she jumped up and down and exclaimed "Mommy, I'm so excited!" You seriously would have thought I had taken her to a toy or candy store. And now I know I have a reader in Gabe too, because whenever we drive down the street that leads to the library, he starts shouting "Brary! Brary!" from his car seat and looks so sad if we drive on by. I take them to the library every other week now and it's such a great time for the 3 of us. We look at a ton of books and always borrow the maximum allowed. Both kids know where their favorites are; Nicki knows where to find all of the Franklin, Berenstain Bears and Arthur books and Gabe knows which aisle has the Sesame Street books and which one has the Dora books. I hope with all of my heart that this love of reading will continue for the rest of their lives. I hope it never gets to the point where they see my enthusiasm for it and decide that it's uncool.

Which brings me to an amazing scene I saw one day at the library when we lived in San Diego. I was there with Nicki reading some board books when two kids about 8 and 10 years old walked over to the couch-like chairs and sat down side by side. They dove right in to the book that each of them had brought over and every once and a while one of them would nudge the other and share something from their own book that they found interesting or amusing. They would share a laugh or a smile and then return to their own reads. I watched with fascination as these kids bonded over books and clearly enjoyed their time together. A little while later their mother came over with a younger sibling of maybe 5 or 6 and read her own book as the child joined the other two and started reading her selection. As I stared at the 4 of them sitting there so happily together, I hoped and wished with all of my heart that what I saw was really a foreshadowing of my own life and that someday I would be that mom sitting in the library reading books with her kids and savoring every minute of that quiet time together.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The magic of earplugs

Prior to my daughter being born, I was what most people would consider a heavy sleeper. But all that changed on my first night of being a mother. Every sound that came through the baby monitor jolted me awake in a fit of panic. What was that sound? Is something wrong? Is she breathing? Should I go check? Ironically the thing that woke me up the most was actually the sound of her breathing, go figure. I slept horribly for months, with every little breath, sigh, roll, rustle, and snore making me jump. And all this with the monitor set at the lowest possible setting! Eventually I gave up and turned the monitor off. We shared a common wall with Nicki's room and our house back then was small enough that if we left both doors open a crack I could hear if anything important was going on.

But the damage had been done by then. I had become (eek!) a light sleeper. From that point on, any and every sound you could imagine would wake me up, from the floors creaking to the wind blowing. It was terrible. Eventually we moved into this house and Gabe was born shortly after. The down side of a much larger house was that I now had to go back to my old baby monitor ways. And now we didn't only have 1 monitor on, we had 2! As you can imagine, between the 2 kids there was enough rustling around to keep me up half the night. And if it wasn't them, then it was a car driving by or a bird chirping. The cacophony of sounds just never seemed to end.

I was hesitant to turn off the monitors because I didn't trust myself to be able to hear if one of the kids needed me in the middle of the night without them on. And yet I kept telling myself that this was ridiculous and that there had to be some sort of way to block out all of the background noise and still let the important stuff through. Then one miraculous day last year my brother-in-law John told me that he sleeps with earplugs. I wondered if that could work for me! I was skeptical because unlike him, I wasn't trying to block out all sound. I needed some sort of futuristic earplugs that you could pre-program with what sounds are acceptable to let through and which ones aren't. Now there's a million dollar idea!

But anyway, I went to the store and bought the plain old regular kind. That night I popped them in and cranked the monitors up super loud because I was so paranoid that I wouldn't be able to hear anything. Amazingly, they worked like a charm! Even with the monitors at a low setting I could still hear if one of them was calling out for me. But gone was all of the breathing, sighing and rolling around that had kept me up in the past. Also gone were the sounds of birds chirping at 5 am, snow plows clearing the street and the heater clicking on and off. To make a long story short, I was in heaven. My sleep improved so dramatically that I felt like a new person. Now I sleep with earplugs in every night and couldn't be happier about it!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The big 3-0

Well this is it! I'm officially 30. For months it seemed to loom over me, but now that's it's here, it really doesn't seem like such a big deal. I didn't wake up and suddenly feel old. Phew. And I have to admit that having a sweetheart of a 3 year old sing me Happy Birthday while her little brother bounced up and down to the tune will most likely be the highlight of the new decade for me. It just lit up my world. How did I get so lucky? :)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The case of the disappearing breasts

Ok, so here's my problem: I used to have breasts and now I don't. I'll be totally honest here and admit that they were never "all that" to begin with. Barely filling up and A-cup wasn't exactly going to win me the cover of Playboy or a job at Hooters if you know what I mean. But they were mine and I liked them. We had a sweet deal going; I never complained about their size and they stayed out of my way during volleyball. They also did their job extremely well, nourishing 2 kids for a combined total of nearly 3 years (32 months to be exact, but who's counting right?)

I knew that breastfeeding would take a toll on them, but since they were small at the outset I figured I wouldn't wind up with the common saggy breasts dilemma that plagues so many large-breasted nursing moms. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that they would just disappear completely. I mean really, imagining my breasts any smaller than they already were was pretty much impossible. And yet it happened just the same. Once my breastfeeding relationship with Gabe ended back in December, I was both happy and sad. Sad that this extremely close bonding phase with him was over but happy to be reclaiming my body as my own. Except that there was nothing left to reclaim! I was shocked at what I saw. It must have happened so gradually that I didn't notice, almost like they began a slow retreat saying "Our job is done, we're outta here!"

I'm not sure why this is bothering me so much since it's not like I'm an appearance obsessed diva or anything. I never wear make-up, can't be bothered to do anything more with my hair than throw it in a ponytail, and spend 99% of my existence in track pants. I guess I just never really expected to come away from this experience with less than I started. I supposed I could take the high ground here and say that I will wear my new non-breasts as a badge of honour and a testament to all of the many many many hours spent feeding my babies. But that would be a lie! I'm embarrassed and it sucks. Just what I needed to boost my ego as I turn 30 in a couple of days. Sheesh...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The birth order theory

I have been thinking a lot lately about the differences in my children and how much of this is due to their own innate personalities and how much really is due to the order in which they were born into our family. How different would they each be if their order was flip flopped?

As much as I'd like to say I was the same mother to each of them in their first years, this is definitely untrue and most likely impossible. Nicki was the recipient of my undivided attention for the first 23 months of her life. She was my sole focus, my precious first-born child. Unfortunately she also bore the brunt of my parenting learning curve, forced to endure the endless trial and error of my choices.

Gabe on the other hand has had the luxury of a mother who has more confidence in herself and her parenting skills. Sadly for him though, he has had to fight tooth and nail to get my attention. I do my best to spend as much one on one time with him as humanly possible, but I know that it will never compare to the attention his sister received in her early years. I try to console myself about this fact by telling myself that he has something that Nicki never had: an older sibling to shower him with love and attention. That probably doesn't make up for the difference in quality time with me, but it has to count for something right? I sure hope so.

That being said, my parenting style has definitely changed in the past year or so. I find myself being much less strict with Gabe than I was with Nicki. Is this because of the guilt I feel over not giving him as much attention as she received? Or is it because with experience I've learned to pick my battles more wisely and ease up on the structure a little? Maybe it's because now I have a witness to my parenting coups and mishaps, a little set of eyes watching every move I make. Do I really want Nicki to witness the meltdown that Gabe would inevitably have should I choose not to let him bring a toy to the kitchen table at lunch? She blocks her ears and runs away whenever he cries, so it may very well be that I let him get away with more to keep her from getting upset. Strange dynamic, no?

Nicki perfectly fits the profile of the "typical" first-born child: smart, cautious, structured, and more comfortable around adults. Are these all traits that she would have had anyway had she been born a little further down in the order? Or are these truly all a result of her being our first? Gabe also displays the 2 main traits of a second child, as he is very sociable and amazingly affectionate. Could this really be a coincidence?

I guess I'll never know the answer to most of the questions I've posed here. No matter though. I love my kids exactly as they are. I embrace their differences as well as their similarities and hope that as they grow up they will be able to do the same. I want them to be proud of who they are. I want them to be proud of who their sibling is. I want them to look at each other with admiration and love and know that even though Mommy may have loved them each differently as they grew up, I loved them both just as much. And that's a whole lot.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pondering life and death

Every now and then something happens that makes me contemplate my length of time on this earth. I wonder how long I will be around, whether or not I will have made any significant contribution to the world, and what the quality of my life will be like before I go. Sometimes this ends on a happy note, thinking about everything I have done in my short 29 years so far, and other times it ends on a sadder note, thinking about everything I would miss out on being a part of should I make my big exit earlier rather than later.

What brought about these thoughts this time around was taking the kids to visit their great-grandmother or "Grandmaman" as we call her. I am truly amazed every time I spend time with this woman. She is 91 going on 40 and has a spunk about her and a sparkle in her eye that make her seem so much younger than she really is. She has no serious health problems and is completely coherent when making conversation. She lives in an apartment complex for seniors, but in no way is it a retirement home. They all live independently, prepare their own meals, take care of their own apartments, and no medical services are provided there. It's hard to believe that she is only a few years away from 100. We should all be so lucky.

She raised 2 children and watched as they grew up, got married and blessed her with 5 grandchildren, one of whom is my husband Eddie. Not only has she lived long enough to see those grandchildren grow up but she now has 5 great-grandchildren to love and adore. She joked with me this past weekend that she was going to have to start writing everyone's birthdays down because she was starting to lose track!

The thought of making it to the same point in my own life is unimaginable to me. My kids are so young that I can't even fathom being a grandmother, let alone being around when my kids' kids have kids!

On the flip side of this is my aunt, godmother and namesake who is in her early fifties and very ill. She has a condition called Amyloidosis which apparently has been present since birth but was only detected now during a health screening by her insurance company. The ironic and truly sad part of all of this is that she is possibly one of the most health conscious people I know. It's frustrating to think that you can spend so much time taking good care of yourself and your health and then be blindsided by a disease that you have absolutely no control over. She has said that she has made peace with the fact that she is dying, but can anyone ever really be at peace with that thought?

The possibility of losing her to this disease saddens me on so many levels. It saddens me to think that she won't be a part of my life anymore. It saddens me to think about the husband and daughter she will leave behind. It saddens to me think about all of the things in her daughter's future that she is going to miss, like her playing softball in the Olympics this year and maybe someday getting married and having kids of her own. I know she would have been an excellent grandmother. It saddens me to think of her mother, my grandmother, who will outlive her own daughter. I can't even imagine the grief of watching your own child die and being completely helpless to do anything about it.

When I think about losing her, I can't help but think about my own life and death. There are so many things I've always just seemed to take for granted, like being around to raise my kids, seeing them off on their first day of kindergarten, helping them with their homework, cheering them on at their sporting events, hugging them at their high school graduation. And of course there are other things too like being there to hold them when they feel sick, to support them through a broken heart, to encourage them to follow their dreams. I've never considered the possibility of not being there to dance with my kids at their weddings, not being there to hold my grand-babies in my arms.

I guess all I can do is take the best care of my kids' mommy that I can, hope for a long and healthy life and let them know every single day how much I love them. Isn't that really all anyone can do?