Happy 5th Birthday to My Girl

Today, at 4pm Pacific time, my daughter Hannah turns 5 years old. 5! How did that happen? I don’t know, I’ll tell you that much.

I have been waiting for the feeling I’ve felt on Hannah’s previous birthdays to kick in. I call it Preemie Birthday Sadness – the feeling that February 19th should not have been Hannah’s birthday. The feeling that someone made a terrible mistake, and we should be celebrating sometime in early April when she was due instead of mid-to-late February when she was born at 34 weeks. Because the truth is the day I gave birth to Hannah was not an entirely happy day, it was a very worrying day, too.

So far this year I have not felt the Preemie Birthday Sadness. While I will never be able to look back on the day of Hannah’s birth without some wistfulness, I have finally shed the extreme worry. I have made my peace and I know that we will be OK in spite of it, or possibly even because of it. We have come through some rough patches together, and I wish they hadn’t happened, but I know that we can persevere when we need to. I do not need to carry the fear around with me anymore.

Today I celebrate my daughter, who is an amazing 5-year-old and a fabulous person. She is defiant and stubborn and compliant and kind and full of contradiction. She loves dresses and sparkles and Barbie and me. She sings and draws and dances and runs, and she wants to live with me forever. And me? I’m inclined to say yes, because I can’t imagine a morning when she doesn’t wake me up by jumping on me, uncomfortable though that may be. This is the kid who made me a mother, and I don’t really want to let her go anymore than she wants to let me go.

Happy birthday, Hannah girl! You are the coolest 5-year-old I know, and that’s no lie.

Newborn Hannah in the incubator
11-month-old Hannah
Funny toddler Hannah
Mmm, peanut butter
2 1/2-year-old Hannah at the daycare picnic
Rock star fairy Hannah
3 1/2 year old Hannah
Daydreaming
Hannah and her art
'Silly' pose

Toddlers Don’t Do Time Management

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! February’s theme is time management. In the past two weeks I talked about the nature of having no time and how I’m learning to seize the moment. This week, I’m talking about working with small kids underfoot.

I have tried to do the work-at-home mom thing once before. I had a baby carrier business from 2006-2008, or thereabouts. It started because I am sort of obsessive about crafting, and I sewed myself dozens of baby carriers in pursuit of the Perfect Carrier. A few of my friends started buying carriers, and had good things to say. It all started when my first child Hannah was 1 year old, and I had visions of launching a successful business and quitting my day job. I would be able to work from home and spend more time with my kid and life would be sunshine and rainbows.

The reality of working from home was much different than how I pictured it in my head. My daughter was not remotely interested in playing happily at my feet while I worked on the computer or sewed. She was also of an age where I couldn’t bring her anywhere without risking disaster, so any visits to suppliers or my seamstress or the accountant had to be done at a time when someone else was taking care of her. In the end I couldn’t devote the time to my business that was required, and I made more money in less time working as an engineer, so that’s what I did.

Now, here I am with another 1-year-old, dreaming of working at home. In spite of my previous experience, I believe it can be done, although I understand that working around small children is not easy. They don’t understand deadlines, or why Mama really can’t let you talk to the person on the other end of the phone. So how do work-at-home parents do it? I don’t have the miracle formula, but I can tell you a few things that I’ve discovered along the way:

  • Pay attention to the kid first. It can be really tempting to try to finish this email, but it is going to take you 4 times as long with a little helper. Sometimes, 20 minutes of undivided one-on-one time can fill your child’s need for attention so that you can get more work done. And often it’s time-saving, since bored, attention-seeking kids can delay your work by much longer than 20 minutes.
  • Ask for help. If you need your partner to take the kids for a few hours, ask. Be clear and respectful about your needs. If you’re not, no one is going to know about them. It can be hard to vocalize what it is you want, but it really beats not asking, not getting your needs met and feeling bitter.
  • Childcare. Some work-at-home moms use childcare or a mother’s helper. Others set-up babysitting co-ops or even just playdates with friends who will understand if you need to spend some time on the phone all by yourself. Others are fortunate enough to have family nearby who can take the kid to the pool for a few hours while you get some quiet time.
  • Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. What really needs to get done now, and what can wait? Do the important thing first. This sounds intuitive, but I often fall in the trap of doing the most pleasant thing first, even if it’s not really that important. It seems like more fun at the moment, but in the long run it’s much less fun when you’re paying late fees on your tax return.
  • Pad your timelines. Things are going to take you at least twice as long as they did before your co-worker was an 18-month-old. Build that into your schedule as much as possible, and just know that this will not last forever.
  • Remember why you’re doing this. It’s good to periodically re-examine how working from home is going. If you started because you wanted a more balanced life, but it’s less balanced than ever before, that might be a sign. It doesn’t necessarily mean that working from home is impossible, but it might mean that you need to do a little tweaking. Living your dreams isn’t always going to be sheer bliss, but if it’s soul-destroying it’s probably not your dream.
  • What about you? How do you manage to work with small kids at home? Please share your secrets, or just commiserate with me on how hard it really is.

    February’s Crafting my Life series is about time management. Exciting? Debatable. Important? Absolutely. On the last Thursday of the month, which just happens to be the 25th, I will include a link up. To participate, write a post on this month’s theme and add yourself to the list. Then go off and read everyone else’s ideas and thoughts and be inspired! Check out January’s link up to get a feel for how it works.

    Adventures in Veterinary Medicine

    I have a cat, and her name is Dorothy. She has a bad attitude. An ‘I could take you all out and I wouldn’t even break a sweat’ sort of attitude. In spite of the fact that she doesn’t make it easy, we do love Dorothy. She is funny and playful and she has the good sense to keep away from the babies. Since we love our pet, and we are responsible caretakers, we make the annual visit to the vet. It’s quick and easy, and we want only the best for our feline companion. And so, in an effort to promote the health of our furry friends everywhere, I present this to you now:

    How to Take Your Cat to the Vet in 15 Not-So-Easy Steps

    Dorothy the cat

    1. Receive a reminder card from your vet, stating that your cat ‘Dorathy’ is due for a check-up. Mutter about spelling briefly, and then move on.

    2. Ignore the reminder card, even as you write a post about how you should just do these little annoying tasks right away, because putting them off wastes time and energy.

    3. Call and make an appointment. Cross that item off your to-do list. Feel slightly less hypocritical professing the virtues of getting things done on the internet.

    4. Getting out of the shower at 11:37pm, remember that the vet appointment was that morning. Say bad words. Cry about how you can’t remember anything anymore.

    5. Call the vet again, apologize profusely, and make another appointment.

    6. Dig out the cat carrier and some towels to put in it, because no one wants a cat loose in the car. Well, actually, my 5-year-old Hannah wants a cat loose in the car, but I’m driving so I make the call.

    Our cat carrier and some towels

    7. Wrestle the cat into the carrier. I recommend putting the carrier on its end so that the open door is at the top, and stuffing the cat in feet first so that she can’t see what’s happening until it’s too late. If need be, you can wrap one of the towels around her to make this easier.

    Dorothy in her carrier

    8. Get the children dressed. Realize you probably should have gotten the children dressed first.

    Hannah, playing in her tutu

    9. Decide not to argue with your daughter about her choice in clothing, because you are running late and while it is February, you live in Greater Vancouver and it’s unseasonably warm anyways.

    Hannah, dressed to go outdoors in February

    10. Be thankful that it’s only a 3-minute drive to the vet, so that you arrive a mere 4 minutes late.

    11. Wait in a very small room with a skittish cat who was removed from her carrier for weighing, and two small children, for approximately 7 minutes. It will feel more like 387 minutes.

    Dorothy checking out the vet office

    Jacob trying to escape from the vet office

    More Dorothy in the vet office

    Kids playing in the vet office

    12. The vet will arrive, and examine your cat. You will discuss exciting topics such as hairball medication and cat food. Your 5-year-old will talk non-stop, revealing embarrassing personal details including the time that you yelled at her and then apologized, or how her brother accidentally scratched his boy bits and they bled. The vet will say, “There are no secrets at your house, are there?”

    Hannah experimenting with new poses

    13. Thankfully, the cat will get right back into her carrier when the appointment is over, because she is just as eager as you are to get the heck out of here already.

    14. Pay the vet bill, and listen to your 5-year-old reveal yet more embarrassing tidbits to the receptionist. Why won’t that kid just stop talking already?

    15. Head for home, satisfied with yourself for your excellent pet care. Consider how much quieter your life was when that pet was your only child.

    Here’s to pets! And to at least a year of their continued health, so that you don’t have to show your face at the vet’s office again until they’ve forgotten who you are.

    Making Hospital Birth Better

    Last week I watched Pregnant in America. It was a good film, with a very similar message to The Business of Being Born. My brief summary would be that, often, decisions for labouring women are made because of expediency or the fear of litigation, without taking the mother’s desires into account. Statistics like the rising cesarean rate seem to indicate that birth is highly-medicalized in many cases, although I am in no position to speak authoritatively on this subject.

    Watching movies like this, and reading natural birth articles and blogs, homebirth is often promoted as the remedy to problems that can occur in a hospital. Many of my friends have chosen homebirth, and were very happy with it. I think it can be a great option, and I believe that it is as safe as hospital birth when experienced help is on hand and medical care is nearby. I am glad to see homebirth advocates fighting for birthing women, and ensuring that they have a choice of care providers and birthing environment.

    While I believe in natural* birth, I know that homebirth is not an option for everyone. My first child was born at 34 weeks, and so the only responsible choice was to head to the hospital. Approximately 1 in 8 babies are born prematurely in the US each year, which is not a small number. And while most health authorities agree that the cesarean rate is too high, even if we reduced it by half, more than 1 in 10 women would have a surgical delivery. Homebirth is not the first choice for most folks when things go well, either. It could just be personal comfort level, it could be that homebirth is illegal in their area, or it could be that medical insurance won’t cover it. Even finding a homebirth provider can be a challenge, as demand for midwives frequently exceeds their availability. One way or the other, people are going to end up giving birth in the hospital

    Watching Pregnant in America I wondered, once birth becomes a medical event, is it possible to retain its humanity? No matter what the circumstances are, no matter how many machines are in the room or how many masked and gloved surgeons are on hand, this is still about a family welcoming a new member. You will remember the events that unfold and the things that people say for the rest of your life. When things don’t go well, when you’re vulnerable and scared, that is all the more true. I will never forget the nurse who chastised me for being in labour at 34 weeks. I’m sure that she didn’t mean harm, but her offhand remark stuck in my head, and the message that I was at fault is something I still carry with me.

    As it turns out, I gave birth prematurely because I had an acute infection. Another consequence of that infection was that I hemorrhaged severely following my daughter’s birth. Had I given birth in 1805 instead of 2005, I would not have survived the experience. The combination of antibiotics, synthetic oxytocin administered after I gave birth to stop my bleeding, and a blood transfusion likely saved my life. Modern medical care certainly has its place in childbirth. But so do compassion and gentleness. A kind word, instead of an unkind one, will not compromise someone’s care, but it can make all the difference.

    I fear that there is polarization in the way that we approach birth today. There are people who advocate for natural birth and reduced interventions, which are great things. But they are often at a loss in terms of how to address a situation once it has already been medicalized, particularly if that medicalization is necessary. Then there are people who want all the bells and whistles and pain medication and machines that go ping. Their message is about protecting the health of babies, which is also incredibly important, but it doesn’t always acknowledge the emotional and psychological dimension of birth. I wish that there were a larger middle ground between these polarities, because I suspect that’s where most mothers actually fall.

    I don’t have good answers, and I wish I did. I do think that as progress is made and women make their desires known change can happen. I hope that it does, and that it happens in such a way that all birth options are protected, and all mothers are treated respectfully and thoughtfully in childbirth, no matter how or where they birth.

    *I don’t particularly like the term ‘natural birth’ because it is ambiguous and somewhat loaded, but it was the best I could come up with, without heading off on a major tangent.

    18-month-old Jacob

    As of February 13 Jacob is officially 18 months old. In my mind, 18 months marks the transition from baby to toddler, from a largely malleable and compliant kid into a strong-willed person with definite ideas of their own. I saw that with Hannah, and I’m seeing it now with Jacob. More and more his cries are angry cries because I removed a dangerous object from his hands, instead of hurt cries or sad cries. More and more he ‘tells’ us what his preferences and interests are.

    Jacob tries his dad's old hockey stick
    Jacob playing with his dad’s old hockey stick

    Jacob loves high places. He’s engaged in an all-consuming pursuit of increased vertical ground. It’s impressive, but it wears me down after a while. I can only fish the kid off of so many piano shelves before I lose my ever-loving mind, you know? Yesterday I fetched Jacob off of our dining room table, the back of chair in our living room, my desk, the bookshelf beside my desk and the kitchen island. Word to the wise – you have to consider the potential messiness of foods in a new way once your kid can reach the counter from his stepstool. He used to stand nicely and eat his cereal, but now he gets up and dances in his cereal. Then he surveys the mess and beams with pride.

    He's very proud of his mess
    The aftermath of Jacob dancing in his cereal

    Jacob’s favourite things have buttons and knobs. If he can push a button or switch and make something happen he is in his element. He frantically points and yells, “Dee! Dee! Dee!” when he sees ATM machines, crosswalk buttons, light switches, telephones or remote controls. He can open and turn on my laptop, open the sliding door on a CD / DVD player and flush the toilet. The last one, flushing the toilet, I particularly worry about. Thank heavens he’s not yet tall enough to reach a door knob.

    Love that cheesy grin
    I love Jacob’s cheesy grin

    Jacob is very physical, and really interested in how things work and how they fit together. He can also climb and throw and kick. He is not, so far, very verbal. He has maybe 2 or 3 words he uses regularly, and 4 or 5 baby signs. He does love to be read to, and is generally able to make his desires known through a combination of noises and gestures, but I can’t understand what he’s saying. I frequently remind myself that children all develop in their own time. Jacob is very social and outgoing, he’s just more of a watcher than a talker. Or maybe between Hannah and I he just can’t get a word in edgewise.

    Jacob sleeping at 3 months
    Jacob napping at 3 months old

    Looking at Jacob, I see less and less of the baby he was every day. I feel so wistful about it. I wish I could press the pause button for a while with this kid, and soak up what’s left of his little fingers and toes and funny smiles and open-mouthed slobbery kisses while they last. It’s all enough to make me want another baby something fierce. Although maybe I should wait until the temper tantrums start and see how I feel before running off and making any big decisions. ;)

    Tell me, did you know when you were done having babies? Or do you always miss it, just a little?

    The Valentine Blues

    I am not a big fan of Valentine’s Day, and I never really have been. I don’t say this as a single woman wishing she had someone to celebrate with, either. I started dating my husband Jon in May of 1991, so this is my 19th Valentine’s Day as one half of a couple. Even so, the occasion has never quite lived up to the hype.

    I think there is just way too much room for disappointment in a day that’s supposed to be the most romantic occasion of the year. There are way too many opportunities for someone not to catch the hints you’ve been dropping about the gift you really wanted, to burn the dinner that they spent hours preparing, or to get stuck working all day. In fact, I think my husband has worked most every Valentine’s Day since we’ve been married. The downside of having a spouse who works in television is that he heads into the office when everyone else heads home.

    This year, it’s going to be me and the kids holding down the fort while Jon works his 5th day out of the 18 straight at the Pacific Colliseum. He will be running a tape machine so that the world can see Olympic figure skating and short-track speed skating. It’s an important job, and an incredible opportunity, and I’m happy for him. But it also means that Valentine’s Day 2010 joins the long list of days that I spent alone eating chocolate and feeling vaguely bitter about Hallmark holidays.

    Even when Jon hasn’t been working, Valentine’s Day hasn’t always gone smoothly. There was the year that I expected him to propose, and instead he bought me a Home Depot gift certificate. Or there was the year that we spent in Las Vegas for my sister’s wedding, when I was 7 1/2 months pregnant and everyone around me was drinking and I contracted an infection that led to me giving birth prematurely 5 days later. I just don’t have a good track record with this day, as I reflect on February 14ths of yore.

    Thankfully, I have quantities of cinnamon bark to see my through. It’s like peppermint bark, but more valentine-y. When I make mine I omit the butter, and add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon extract to the chocolate chips. And then I consume it at alarming rates, as furtively as possible.

    Cinnamon bark

    Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope that the cynicism doesn’t overwhelm you, and that you receive as much chocolate as any one person can hope for. Or, if the cynicism has overwhelmed you, feel free to share here, and let me know I’m not the only one.

    Catching the Spirit

    On Thursday morning at a little after 7am the Olympic Torch entered my city, a few blocks from my house. I decided to get the kids out of bed super-early (we usually wake up at 8am or so) to commemorate the once-in-a-lifetime occasion. What’s a little sleep deprivation in exchange for photos that will last forever? Nothing, I say! Plus, this early wake-up call is extremely minor compared to the countless times they’ve woken me up at I-just-want-to-cry o’clock, so I say that they have nothing to complain about.

    In the end, Jacob didn’t wake up with me so I left him at home with Jon. Of course, he woke up right after Hannah and I left. Kids love to sleep only when you don’t really want them to.

    In spite of the early hour, and the fact that it was rainy and still dark out, people were out in full force in our neighbourhood. Some had driven there, as evidenced by the total lack of parking on the side streets. We all found spots lining the road and waited, chatting with people we’d never met. It made me well up to think that so many people were willing to haul themselves out of the comfort of their warm beds to stand on the cold, dark and wet roadside for a glimpse of the Olympic Torch. It must mean something, if so many of us did that.

    Amber and Hannah waiting for the torch
    Hannah and I waiting for the torch

    The back of the Coca Cola party truck
    The back end of the Coca Cola party truck, which seemed just a little too boisterous for 7:12am

    The police preceding the torch
    The police clear the way – if you squint you can see all the people lining the street

    The torch running away
    The one extremely poor shot I got of the Torch bearer from the back

    In the afternoon the Torch had moved on but our community threw a celebration. We had to check it out and see our favourite children’s performers ever, Bobs and LoLo. Here are some photos from the festivities.

    Hannah made her own torch
    Hannah made her own torch

    Amber and the kids with the (unlit) torch
    The kids and I with a runner and an unlit Torch

    Bobs and Lolo move their hands
    Bobs and Lolo moving their hands

    Hannah trying to drink from the downspout
    Hannah trying to drink from the downspout

    Tonight the Olympic Winter Games kick off at BC Place. I remember the excitement when Vancouver won the bid, and I can’t believe it’s actually here. I hope that all of the locals get a chance to do some celebrating, and that the rest of you enjoy the show. I might be keeping it real in a suburban enclave, but Vancouver will always be my city, and I am proud that the world will be watching us. Happy Olympics!

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