Walking, Walking Away

13-month-old Jacob is really walking these days. He can handle uneven terrain, he can get up without help or anything to support him, he can pivot and turn. He takes great delight in his new abilities. Sometimes he just walks laps around the kitchen and laughs with glee. It’s fabulous to watch, and even though I’ve seen this before with my daughter Hannah, it never gets old. I bet you it would still be miraculous to see if I had 12 children.

Wobbly, wide-legged gait
Jacob walking one month ago

I could not wait for those first steps. I wondered when my little man would stop clinging to my hands, and then my hand, and then just my finger for dear life. When he would have the confidence to venture forth on his own. I was so eager and excited on his behalf. Let’s face it, watching a baby master new skills is inspiring and exciting.

Running!
Jacob walking last week

And then Jacob reached the same point that I remember Hannah reaching. He went from sort of being able to walk but mostly crawling, to walking. It was as if he just got up one morning and decided, “All right, then, henceforth I shall walk.” And he did. He falls down, and he gets back up. He doesn’t resort to crawling when the distances are great or he wants speed. Sometimes he even walks with no particular destination in mind. (Or, at least, no destination that I can see.)

Taking a step
Mid-step

But. But. It’s suddenly become very bittersweet for me. I offer Jacob my hand, and he bats it away. I try to help him up, and he declines. I kneel in front of him with my arms out and he walks around me. He is going places, and he doesn’t need my help to get there thankyouverymuch. I was handy as a sort of learning aid, but he’s not learning anymore. And I feel sad.

Escaping from mom
Escaping from me

Parenting is this dance. You’re trying to help your kids learn new skills, and it’s fun. You help them on the path to independence and you love each other fiercely and that’s all good. But the inevitable outcome is that they, well, become independent. Sometimes, when I am alone with two cranky children and it’s dinnertime and I’m all out of ideas and don’t want to cook that sounds fabulous. I dream of being able to say, “Fend for yourselves, children, and make a little extra for me.” But the truth is that I will miss this time terribly, when I was the sun, moon and stars to two little people. I know I will.

I can’t be the only one who becomes nostalgic every time my kids master a new skill. I know I can’t. Please, commiserate with me as my baby turns into a toddler before my very eyes.

Motherhood, Making me Better

I was just reading a blog that I love, called The Happiest Mom, all about pursuing happiness within motherhood. In a recent post the author Meagan Francis asked, “How has motherhood changed you for the better?

It’s a good question. A lot of the time I think about how motherhood has changed my life, and by extension me, for the worse. The sleep deprivation, the lack of time to pursue outside interests, the alarming frequency with which I lose my temper. But the truth is, that’s not the whole story. While personal growth is certainly possible regardless of whether or not you have children, having children sort of forces it. You experience the biggest change possible in the shortest amount of time, and in many ways you come out the better for it.

One of the big ways that motherhood has changed me for the better is that it has made me more outgoing. More willing to step outside of my comfort zone.

I tend to be anxious and introverted. Even though I was never a loner, I’ve never had a lot of friends. Extending myself in that way, and coming out of my shell was difficult for me. There were just too many variables. What if that person didn’t want to talk to me? What if they were busy? What if I said the wrong thing? I wanted to reach out, but I didn’t know how, and that freaked me out.

But then I had my first baby, and I found the experience of sitting at home alone with her to be isolating. I felt lonely at a time when I really needed people around me. People who understood. People who hadn’t slept more than 3 hours at a stretch in the past few weeks either. I couldn’t just stay home and slowly lose my mind, I needed to get out there. And that meant that I had to extend myself and reach outside of my comfort zone.

It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I forced myself to say hello to people at mom and baby groups. I accepted invitations and offered them in return. I introduced myself and even had cheap business cards printed up so that people could easily contact me. And in the process I met some really cool people. Other moms who were also glad to have a reason to get out of the house for the afternoon. People who have become very dear friends over the past few years.

In many ways, I actually am a happier and more confident person than I was before I had kids. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff, because if I did I would never stop sweating. When another person is pooping on you, it forces you to get over yourself pretty quickly. So I stop casual acquaintances in public, even if I’m not sure exactly what to say. I accept playdates with moms that I may not share every little thing in common with. And for the most part, it just works out. We all have a good time.

Every time I reach outside of my comfort zone, it gets a little easier. I’m nearly always glad that I did it, too. That I grew just a little bit. So yes, while motherhood is hard and has many downsides, it’s not all bad. Sometimes it changes you in ways that are very much for the better.

What about you? How has motherhood changed you for the better? There’s got be at least one way, I’m sure of it.

Ice Cream and the Meaning of Life

Today I am participating in the Carnival of Breastfeeding. So after you read my super deep and meaningful ruminations here, check out what everyone had to say about combining breastfeeding and working.

A couple of weeks ago the kids and I went away to Bamfield, a remote village with a population of 250. During our visit we took a walk along the boardwalk and stopped in at the general store, which was much smaller than your average convenience store in my neighbourhood. This is not a big place, and so the local merchants do not carry a lot of goods. If you need groceries you order them and they come by boat a couple of times a week. I am sure that quantities of exotic cheese and grass-fed beef would go bad before anyone bought them in Bamfield.

But this general store does offer ice cream cones. And after schlepping my 20-pound toddler up and down the boardwalk in the baby carrier, I was ready for something sweet and cold. So we stopped in at the store on the way back for some ice cream. I walked to the back case with anticipation, and discovered they had only 4 flavours. And one of those flavours was ‘a little soft’ because it had just arrived in town. I admit it, I was sort of disappointed.

General storeBut here’s the thing. I happened to like all four flavours on offer. In fact, three of them are in the running for my favourite flavour ever, and I usually choose them even when I have 197 options. Really, it was no poverty to me that they didn’t have bubblegum or cotton candy or rum raisin, because I wouldn’t eat them anyway. Plus, having ice cream cones at all in a remote village in the off season is really quite the luxury in the first place.

Those four tubs just looked so forlorn in the ice cream case. Really, it was half-empty. And that’s not something I’m used to. So my first reaction was sort of negative. I just automatically thought, “Where is all the ice cream? Is this it?”

Hannah eating ice creamI think there’s some sort of metaphor for life in this. Looking at the ice cream case I realized that really I like the illusion of choice. Even if it doesn’t particularly benefit me, or all the options I would ever consider are available, I like thinking that I have limitless flavours to pick from. It makes me feel important or something, I guess. Like the world’s my oyster and the heavens are at my feet. But I’m not sure that it makes me happy, wanting all of these options that I will never use.

I think that happiness probably lies more in saying, “Oh, wow, they have moose tracks ice cream in Bamfield! I love moose tracks!” In appreciating what you have, instead of being sad about what you don’t. And so I forced myself to have an attitude adjustment. I bought my ice cream, and I liked it. I bought some for Hannah, and she liked it, too. I gave my empty cone to Jacob. He was thrilled. Really, no one lost out in this little exercise in treat acquisition.

What about you? Are you able to be happy for the ice cream cone, or do you sometimes get caught up in the choices (or lack of choices)? I’m sure I’m not the only spoiled suburbanite who expects a full ice cream case.

Working and Breastfeeding a Toddler

Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! I’m glad you’re here. Be sure to check out the other contributors, whose links are at the end of this post.

I’ve spoken a lot about how lucky we are to have a full year of paid maternity and parental leave in Canada. I believe that these months at home with our babies are very valuable in many ways. One of the big advantages is that being off of work for this long facilitates breastfeeding. Because while it is possible to combine working with breastfeeding a very small baby, it does present challenges. Being at home for a full year allows Canadian mothers to avoid many of these challenges.

Because Canadian maternity leave lasts for so long, and because a minority of mothers breastfeed their babies up to the one-year mark or beyond, it is often par for the course to wean a baby from the breast in order to return to work. I would certainly never question another mother’s choice about when to wean her baby. However, I was able to successfully combine work with breastfeeding my toddler Hannah for years, and I found it surprisingly easy to do. I know many other mothers who shared the same experience. So, with the aim of providing a perspective and alternative I will share my story.

When I considered returning to work the first question on my mind was whether or not I would need to pump. I did some research and read some articles about weaning from the pump at work. I discovered that many moms stop pumping at work at around the one-year mark, even as they continue to breastfeed. I also learned that many toddlers will not drink expressed breast milk. I found that to be true for my own daughter – she loved to nurse, but she frankly wanted it only from the source or not at all.

Even having that information, I wasn’t sure how my own milk supply would adapt, since I would be working full days Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I was away from my daughter for up to 10 hours at a stretch, and I thought it might be hard for my body to regulate a one day on / one day off schedule such as that. However, I decided that I would prefer to avoid pumping if possible, since I knew my daughter wasn’t interested in the milk, and since it would present an interruption to my day as well as require me to locate facilities. I was willing to jump through any hoops if it was necessary, but I was hoping that it wouldn’t be.

When I returned to work I brought my hand pump, and decided to just see how it played out. On my first day back by about 3pm I was pretty full. I expressed enough milk to relieve my discomfort. Over the first two weeks I continued in the same manner, expressing to my own comfort when necessary. I found that within weeks my body adjusted, and I was able to comfortably go 10 hours without pumping.

My one-year-old did change some of her nursing and eating habits after my return to work. She began ‘reverse-cycling’, nursing more at night when she was otherwise asleep. I discovered that this is a pretty common occurrence when nurslings are separated from their moms during the day. By bedsharing I was able to get enough rest and accommodate the increased night nursings. My daughter also ate more solid foods at daycare than she did at home, and drank more water. Again, I think this is pretty common – when nurslings don’t have access to the breast they make up for it by eating and drinking other things.

As I said, I was able to continue nursing my daughter for almost 2 years after returning to work, until she weaned at 34 months. Before her birth I didn’t anticipate that I would continue breastfeeding after my return to work, but I’m so glad I did. It really reduced the stress on both of us, since we were already going through enough change as it was. It also provided a great source of comfort and means to re-connect at the end of the day.

The human body is an amazing machine, and it can do so much more than we give it credit for. In my case, I was happy to learn that it could produce the right amount of milk at the right time for my toddler, in spite of my work schedule. It’s almost like my body just knew what to do, even when I didn’t.

Now check out these other great posts. You will be very glad you did! :)

Jellyfish Blooms

I grew up here in BC, and in my time I’ve seen my share of jellyfish. Mostly we saw the white ones, which are harmless. I remember the swimming area off the dock at summer camp was just lousy with them. I also remember hearing lots of warnings about red jellyfish, because they sting, however I’d never actually seen one. Until this summer, at least, when I saw many of them. Most were dead, washed up on shore at high tide and left to disintegrate on the rocks and sand. I saw them on a couple of beaches, too, separated by at least 50 miles.

This made me wonder – what’s up with the jellyfish? Why so many this year? Is it a natural cycle, or does it mean something? Or, am I just imagining that I am seeing more? I decided to do a little bit of research to see what I could find.

IMG_8737
Dead jelly number one

It seems like I am not imagining things. Or, at least, that the population of jellyfish is actually increasing. Jellyfish blooms, in which lots of jellies suddenly appear, are on the rise in our oceans. Scientists don’t know why, exactly, but there are likely several contributing factors. Some possible culprits include:

  • Reducing numbers of jellyfish predators, such as the leatherback turtle.
  • Overfishing means jellyfish face less competition for food.
  • Jellies can survive (and thrive) in changing ocean conditions that other species can’t handle.
  • Increasing ocean temperatures.
  • High nutrient levels from agricultural run-off or sewage cause organisms that jellies feed on to thrive.
  • Dead jellyfish at the beach
    Dead jelly number two

    There is still a lot that scientists don’t know about jellyfish. These are ancient creatures who have lived in our seas for over 650 million years. And their population does seem to ebb and flow. While it is clear that increasing numbers of jellies indicate that something is changing, it is not entirely clear exactly how and when those changes cause the superabundance of jellyfish.

    I thought that maybe our warm summer is behind the jellyfish showing up on beaches. And it sounds like it might be, but other factors may also be at play. All that I know is that after seeing all of those squishy masses I do not feel much like swimming. Not at all. I’ve never experienced a jellyfish sting, and I’m not keen to try it. Although if it does ever happen, I am glad to know that urine does not actually neutralize the sting, in spite of what I may have learned on Friends.

    Canadian Parental Leave and Multiples

    It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! Today I’m talking about possibly the biggest challenges any parent faces when trying to find balance, which occurs with multiple births. I have the utmost respect for parents of twins or more. I think that anyone who’s cared for one baby can appreciate how much work must go into caring for two at the same time.

    There are many countries that offer enhanced maternity and parental benefits to parents of multiples. In Sweden, for instance, parents share an additional 180 days of leave if they have twins, increasing the total leave from 480 days to 660 days, or nearly 22 months. Canada, however, does not. Here is a quote taken from a government website answer FAQs about Employment Insurance (EI), the system through which maternity and parental leave is administered:

    If I have or adopt more than one child at once, do I get more money?

    No, the weekly EI payment and the number of weeks to be paid remain the same.

    The idea was that maternity and parental benefits were paid for each pregnancy, and not for each child. So if you had twins or triplets you received exactly the same benefits as any other parent. However, an Ottawa couple recently challenged that rule, and won.

    The crux of their argument centres around parental leave. Maternity leave, which comprises the first 17 weeks of the year-long leave, is reserved for the exclusive use of the birth mother. The remaining 35 weeks of parental leave may be shared, in whole or part, by both parents. The total amount of parental leave claimed by both parents cannot exceed 35 weeks. So if my husband takes 10 weeks then I can only take 25. The parents in this case each applied for 35 weeks of parental leave. The mother applied for one of the baby girls, and the father applied for the other one. He was initially rejected, since the law does not provide for this situation. They appealed, and a court finally decided to allow the father’s parental leave claim.

    This decision applies only to the couple in question, and is said to not be precedent-setting. It remains to be seen if the government appeals the decision, and what the long-term implications will be. Even if this does become policy it’s likely that many families would not be able to take this much parental leave for financial reasons. And there would be many cases where one or both parents would not qualify for EI. All the same, this is definitely an interesting development, and I am sure that parents of multiples are taking note.

    The biggest objection that someone might make to the policy change is that it is somehow unfair. I don’t see it that way. The mother in this case is still receiving only 52 weeks of leave, just as I did. She will not get any additional time with her children. She will get additional time with her partner, which is great. However, if they had these babies separately they would receive a total of 104 weeks of leave and 100 weeks of EI benefits, instead of the 87 weeks of leave and 85 weeks of combined EI benefits they are receiving. Those of us with singletons are really still coming out ahead.

    The father, Christian Martin, said a similar thing in an email:

    “It is not about multiple-birth parents getting more benefits than parents of single births, but rather to get the equivalent treatment since there are more babies to care for. Two sets of benefits are normally given to the same claimant for two separate babies if they come a couple of years apart.”

    The thing that most impresses me about this case is the tenacity of the parents. They saw a rule that they felt was unfair, and they fought to change it. I think that many of us aren’t so proactive. We might complain about the way things are, but we don’t actually step outside of our comfort zone to advocate. I know that I rarely write to my elected representatives or engage in activism, even on issues that I care deeply about like breastfeeding support, environmentalism, or maternity leave. It’s a question that I’m carrying around with me a lot right now, as I consider where I will go and what I will do next.

    Am I willing to step outside of my comfort zone? Am I willing to engage with others, stick my neck out, and fight for change? I’m still figuring out the answer, but I hope that it’s ‘yes’.

    (If you want to know more about how maternity leave works in Canada you might want to read my post on Canadian Maternity Leave, or get my super-cool guide, which are more comprehensive and general.)

    My Favourite Day of the Year

    Today is supposed to be all about my husband Jon, because it’s his birthday. But as usual, I am making it all about me. Because yesterday I was interviewed by the truly fabulous Ann Douglas. You have to stop by The Mother of All Parenting Blogs to read The Quick Guide to Canadian Maternity Leave — and the Mom Who Wrote It. And, of course, check out my guide if you haven’t already. :)

    Back to the topic at hand. Today is my Jon’s 33rd birthday. For those of you who keep up with these things, yes, I did turn 33 myself back in May and my husband is younger than me. 141 days younger than me, to be exact. Which isn’t much in the grand scheme of things. However you had better believe that for those 141 days every year he totally lords it over me that he is younger than I am. That, oh, yes, I am 33 but he is still a fresh-faced 32. And so in addition to celebrating the fabulosity that is my husband every September 23, I also celebrate the great equalizing. Now we are the same age for another 224 days.

    (Lest you think my husband is some kind of jerk, I have to admit that I totally lorded my age over him when we were younger. For instance, when I had my driver’s license and I was driving his 15-year-old self around. Or when I could order a drink with dinner. Or when he was 24 on our honeymoon and not allowed to drive the rental car. It’s a good-natured teasing we have going on. Now that we are older, it’s simply his turn to get the digs in.)

    scan0001One of the ironies of having children is that even as you get older and would sort of prefer to ignore the birthdays, you’re not allowed to. There is no way that a 4-year-old is going to let a chance to eat cake and ice cream and open presents pass her by. Of course she would sort of prefer the presents are toys for her, but in a pinch she’ll open your boring socks and gift cards, too. And so this evening we will decorate cupcakes and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and celebrate Jon.

    Happy birthday, Jon! Welcome to the land of the 33-year-olds. It’s not that bad, especially for me, because now I am not alone any longer. Don’t worry, in 7 1/2 months you’ll be younger than me once again. :)

    Hannah's photo of Dad
    The top photo is Jon at 1 year, and the bottom photo is Jon at 33 years

    I would love to hear how age has played a factor in everyone else’s relationships, if at all. Are you older or younger than your partner? And does that make you feel smug? Please share your stories!

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