Working Around Children

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! This year, I’m just writing about whatever is currently on my mind. And if you would like to chime in and contribute a guest post about your own journey, please drop me a line and we’ll chat.

My son Jacob is starting daycare in a few days. He’ll be attending part-time, at the same childcare centre we sent Hannah to when she was his age. He’s been on the waiting list for a long time, and I think this is a good time for him to start. Although, as with any change, I do have mild trepidations about how it will go. Will Jacob hit the other kids? Will my non-napper be OK during nap time? Only time will tell, but on the whole I’m very happy that he’ll be in such excellent care.

There was a time when I would have raised an eyebrow at a mother sending her child to daycare when she’s not employed outside the home. My daughter Hannah started daycare as a one-year-old because I was returning to work, and it was very wrenching for me. I couldn’t imagine voluntarily subjecting myself and my child to that kind of separation. At the time, I had a very idyllic idea of what life would be like as a work-at-home parent.

And then, somewhere around the time that Hannah was the same age Jacob is now, something changed. She became more outgoing, and more content to accept care from people other than me. She made friends at daycare, and had the chance to gain experiences that she couldn’t have easily had at home. I also realized that if she wasn’t in daycare, she was at the age when I would likely have started her in preschool.

On top of that, I had the experience of working part-time from home (thanks to a flexible work arrangement) when Hannah was a toddler. I discovered that it’s not so easy to be productive while you’re also wrangling a two-year-old. Kids that age need a high level of supervision, and they’re not good at entertaining themselves. I started to understand why someone who was running a home-based business would use childcare. If you’re going to be productive, it really helps to have some kid-free time to do it in.

I tried hiring a nanny as a compromise position last fall. It allowed my kids to be at home, with each other, while I spent a few hours at the library getting work done. It worked well for a time, but then Wonder Nanny had a family emergency and ended up leaving the province for good with virtually no notice. I understand why she did what she did, and I wish her well. But I’ve seen first-hand how depending on a single person can leave you hanging when life happens. I’m hesitant to do that again.

And so, after six weeks without childcare, I’ll be the mom who spends the day at home while her kid goes to daycare part-time. (Side note: Why do I keep feeling the need to point out that it’s part time?) I think it’s the right choice for me. I have been neglecting some important projects, and I haven’t been able to take new things on. And Jacob is ready. He asks every morning if today is the day he can go to school. He knows the centre from taking Hannah there for the first two years of his life. And I trust that he’s in good hands, and that his experienced teachers can handle anything he throws their way.

When you have kids, your world changes. We all know this. You can’t just drop everything and go to the late movie or spend hours browsing a book store. And you can’t spend all day at your computer while also caring for your child. As parents, we all have to structure our own lives in a way that works for us. That includes how we balance work (inside or outside the home) and caring for our children. Whether you use daycare or not, whether you send your children to school or not, and no matter how old your child is, you are the only one who can assess how your situation is working for you. I’m just crossing my fingers that my new set-up will work for me. And if it doesn’t, I’m open to changing it.

I’d love to hear how you manage work – paid or unpaid, inside or outside the house – with caring for your children. Did you find that there are certain ages when it’s easier to work while your kids are around? How did you find the right care setting for you? And are you happy with how things worked out? Please share!

PS – Every month I do a monthly review of things I learned. Some are serious, some are funny, and all are hard-won. I will be running my June review on Sunday, July 3. If you want to play along, there will be a link-up, so write a post on or before the link-up date and come back here to include it.

My Inner Stage Mom

Yesterday was my daughter Hannah’s last day of kindergten. The day before yesterday was the end-of-year party, complete with a talent show. The teacher had asked us to help our child rehearse, and to keep their presentation to less than three. I imagine this was to prevent the kids from just standing up and doing 10-minute-long improvised song and dance routines, which is totally something I could see my own kindergartner doing.

I let Hannah decide whether she would share a talent with her class, and she said that she wanted to. Her choice? Playing her brother’s guitar. But she’s never really played a guitar before, and neither have I. Plus, her brother’s guitar is currently broken. My inner over-achieving star student couldn’t see sending my non-guitar-playing kid into class with a broken instrument.

Jacob's broken guitar

Undeterred, Hannah opted to play her pentatonic kinder lyre for her class. You may recall that she broke it five months ago, but I finally got off my butt and repaired and tuned it just so that she could practice. We have a pentatonic song book and I found “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, which seemed easy enough. I even made Hannah a cheater sheet to tape under the kinder lyre to make it easier. But then Hannah decided to try tuning the kinder lyre herself, and broke it again. And by this point, I was out of fresh strings.

Hannah's (re) broken kinder lyre

What is one to do when musical instruments fail? Sing, of course. Hannah wanted to do a song from Barbie and the Diamond Castle, but I flipping hate that song. Plus, I will admit, my inner hippie couldn’t quite face up to my kid performing a number from a Barbie direct-to-DVD-movie for her whole class. So I suggested “Tomorrow” from Annie, or “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz. She knows both songs reasonably well, and they both seemed like a good choice for a 6-year-old girl.

Hannah decided to go with “Tomorrow”. I tried going through it with her, and while she knew the words she kept mixing up the order. She got half-way through and then instead of finishing ended up back at the beginning, and I saw that this could easily turn into the dreaded 10-minute-long number. So we sat down and watched countless little girls sing their hearts out on YouTube. (FYI, I recommend this version. But this version, not so much.)

Hannah on the last day of school

After watching all those videos, Hannah had a much better handle on the words, but she still occasionally got confused. I drilled her and found myself becoming overly invested in the process. I really wanted my kid to do the song, and do it well. I was unleashing my inner stage mom (or maybe my inner tiger mom) and I didn’t entirely like it. I asked if she wanted to opt out of the talent show, and she said yes. But five minutes after I stopped applying the pressure, she was humming the song to herself.

I kept thinking that if Hannah could read, there would be no problem, because I could make her a song sheet. But she can’t read. Finally, I hit on the solution – I made a song sheet with pictures. I drew people hanging (so you gotta hang on ’til tomorrow) and cobwebs (clear away the cobwebs and the sorrow). It worked. Hannah loved it, and she helped me by adding additional images to cue her memory.

Hannah's pictographic song sheet

Once she had her song sheet, she was ready to roll, and she started singing “Tomorrow”. At top volume. Over and over and over again. All through dinner, she sang instead of eating. All through story time, she sang instead of listening. And when she should have been sleeping, she was still singing. Do you know how annoying “Tomorrow” is on the 87th go-around?

But Hannah sang in class, and gave it her all. Her teacher was impressed, and she enjoyed herself. And that’s the bit that really matters. Although I will admit that my inner stage mom is feeling a little smug over her success.

Have you ever had to prep your child for the class talent show? Were you able to maintain your sense of detachment, or did you go all stage mom on your kindergartner? And do you have any suggestions for how to get “Tomorrow” out of my head? I’d love to hear!

PS – I have video of Hannah singing “Tomorrow”. But I decided that my inner stage mom was lying when she told me the whole world would love to see it, so I won’t be sharing it. You’re welcome.

To my Daughter on the Last Day of Kindergarten

More than 9 1/2 months ago, I wrote a letter to my daughter, Hannah, on her first day of kindergarten. Time flies when you have kids, and here we are on her last day. It seems fitting to once again impart my parental wisdom.

Hannah smells a dandelion

Dear Hannah,

Last September I walked you up the hill to start kindergarten. You were a little bit nervous, a little bit excited, and totally ready. I was a little bit nervous, a little bit excited, and totally wistful. I’m your mother, you can expect me to be wistful a lot. It’s my best good thing, right after delivering mini-lectures on the importance of vegetables.

Going to school for the first time was a big step in your life. In doing so, you moved further down the path from belonging to your parents towards belonging to yourself. You are learning how to take your own place in society, and you are doing beautifully. I don’t worry about how you will behave when you are not under my direct supervision, because wherever you find yourself, you seem to know just what to do. I wonder if you really can be mine, and I hope that I had some small part in who you are becoming.

Your growing independence sometimes takes my breath away. You tell me things you learned at school that I don’t even know. You share with me how you handled a disagreement with a friend, and I am struck by your consideration and maturity. You and your friend whisper in each others’ ears, and when I ask what you’re talking about, you refuse to tell me. I am no longer privy to all the little details of your life, and I’m not even privy to all the people in it. You are your own person, with your own interests and your own social circle, and while I am still a part of it, my role is getting smaller all the time.

This year has been about starting school, yes, but it’s also been about playing soccer and attending your first day camp and learning how to do a real cartwheel. It’s been about coming into your own as a big sister, and showing great care for your little brother. It’s been about solemn declarations that you’re too old for potty humour, and discussions about where babies come from. You are continually learning and growing and stretching yourself. And I have to stretch myself, right along with you. Unfortunately, I no longer have your flexibility.

Today I will walk you up the hill to school for your last day as a kindergartner. The next time that we make that walk together you will be in grade 1. I am glad that you are excited about taking the next step in your formal education, because you are. But I sometimes wish that you weren’t in such a rush to get bigger. You have no time to waste, and I understand that. But I always feel as if I am a few steps behind you, just trying desperately to keep you in my sights. I want to pause for just a moment and enjoy you as you are, before you race off to do the next thing.

But there is no pausing. If I’ve learned anything from parenting, it’s that there’s no pausing.

I’m so proud of everything you’ve done this year, my girl. So proud. You’re turning into a really excellent person, and I’m thrilled to be your mother. As wistful as I feel, and as fast as it goes, nothing can change that. Seeing you come into yourself in a new way has been such a privilege. I can hardly wait to see what you do next. Please, whatever it is, just hold still long enough so that I can get a picture of it, OK? Because I don’t want to forget a minute of this.

Love,
Mom

Haircuts I Have Known

In my earliest memory of having my hair cut, I’m in my kitchen, sitting on a chair that’s positioned on top of something to raise it higher. I’m wearing an improvised cape which consists of a garbage bag with holes ripped out for my head and arms to poke through. My mother is the hairdresser, and the experience is excruciating. She’s just giving me a quick trim, but it takes forever. Once it’s all over my bangs are super-short, because my just mom kept on trimming, trying to make it all even. And then for a week after she chases me around the house with scissors, snipping stray hairs.

When I was about four years old, I took the job into my own hands. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking it would be easy to cut my bangs. I also remember how not easy it turned out to be, and how it earned me an immediate ticket to the garbage bag cape. I was sufficiently traumatized that I never attempted it again. My daughter Hannah, on the other hand, still occasionally cuts off little pieces of her own hair even after her own self-haircut-fiasco. I didn’t make her wear the garbage bag, maybe that’s why.

When I was about 10, my parents started seeing a hairdresser named Esther. She was short and had short red hair, and for years we followed her from salon to salon to salon. Even after my parent’s divorce, the whole clan still saw Esther, just separately now. She was a real stylist who took her craft seriously. She would wash your hair in the sink and then cut it and style it. She used product and gave me tips and had the world’s biggest curling iron, and I enjoyed the experience.

New hairdo, second pass
Hannah after my attempt to fix her self-inflicted cut

But in my teen years Esther moved to a bigger, fancier salon downtown, and my mother didn’t want to pay so much for haircuts anymore. So for a while I got my hair cut by a family friend in her kitchen. She’d been to hairdressing school but she wasn’t working in a salon, so she knew her stuff but she was much cheaper. There was no hair-washing or blow-drying, but it was fine.

When I moved away to university, I got my hair cut at the “no appointment necessary” place in the mall. They did a reasonably good job and the price was right. But then in second year my roommate decided to try a fancy salon downtown, and I went with her in the name of bonding. For a few years I went there, feeling very indulgent as I made the long trip on transit. But after a while I got tired of schlepping all that way without a car.

Mother-and-daughter haircuts
Mother-and-daughter haircuts

When another roommate started going to a salon in our neighbourhood, I decided to try them out. That’s where I met Lesa, and I sort of clicked with her. She was a few years older than me and just getting married. I ended up seeing her for years – through my wedding, two pregnancies of hers, and two of mine. I moved, and then she moved and opened up her own salon. But eventually, with two little kids it became difficult to find the two plus hours it took me to make the drive and get my hair cut, especially when Jacob was too small to be away from me for long.

I tried a couple of other salons in my neighbourhood, with no luck. At the first one “my” stylist kind of annoyed me, plus she hurt my head repeatedly when she brushed my hair. At the second I realized I was the youngest woman there by a good couple of decades. I ended up going 11 months between hair cuts until my friend invited me to a salon in her neighbourhood, and that was good, but Jacob cried for me while she held him and I didn’t want to subject her to that repeatedly.

Pre-haircut
My hair after going 11 months between cuts

This is how I found myself going with my daughter Hannah to the local Great Clips. It takes us about 45 minutes from the time we walk out our front door until the time we walk back in. Hannah loves the bonding experience, and I like that we don’t need an appointment. I can seize a moment that works, it’s cheap, and they do a fine job. After all, I am not in a stage in my life where I’m styling my hair to perfection every morning. I need something that can dry while I grocery shop and still look OK. Anything fussy is pointless.

Sometimes I worry that I’m doing that mom thing and not taking care of myself. It’s certainly true that as an adult woman at the fast and cheap salon I’m in the minority. But you know what? Hannah and I have created a ritual now. And because it’s easy I make it in for a cut a few times a year, which is far more often than I ever have since I had kids. It’s working for me.

I got my hair cut!
My hair after my most recent cut

From my start in the raised chair in my kitchen I have run the haircut gamut. I’m not sure what that means, really. Does it matter who cuts my hair, or where they do it? Could someone off the street pick out the people who spend a lot of money on a haircut from those who don’t? Do I deserve the indulgence of a high-end salon? I don’t know. But I do know that when my Hannah takes my hand, practically jumping with excitement as we head off to get our haircut, I don’t really care.

What’s your haircut history? How does the experience of having your hair cut change the way you feel about yourself and your hair? I’d love to hear!

PS – I’m still looking for your feedback. So please, take a moment to share the love and complete my reader survey. I’d really appreciate it!

Midwifery and Birth in BC and Beyond – Part 2

Last week I shared an interview with Ganga Jolicoeur, Executive Director of the Midwives Association of BC. We talked about issues in maternity care, as well as other issues facing midwives, and the women they serve. Hint: we need more midwives! We also need more spaces for midwifery students.

Because Ganga and I both love to talk, I broke the interview into two parts to keep things a little more manageable. Today I’m sharing the second part with you. We talk about how you can support midwifery in BC and how midwifery care works. For example, did you know that even if you end up with a C-section, your midwife can stay with you through birth? We also discussed how midwives and doulas work together on a birth team.

Side note: If you want to get the doula’s perspective, listen to my interview with Sarah Juliusson.

In birth, having people by your side who advocate for you and empower you is so important. Your doula, you partner, your family members and your friends can all have an important role to play. But choosing the caregiver who’s right for you can also make a big difference. You want someone who will respect your wishes, and who understands what’s important to you. Midwives were a key part of my own birth team for this reason. I knew and trusted them, and that really helped me on my journey through pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period.

I really enjoyed the chance to talk midwifery with Ganga. If you’re interested in birth, babies and midwifery, you’ll want to listen to this interview. And you’ll also want to hear the interview coming up in a few weeks with Natalie Angell, who is doing work to support conscious birth in Africa through Shanti Uganda. Subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, and make sure you don’t miss a thing!

How to Snag a Parent Blogger

Yesterday, I got up on my high horse and explained why I wouldn’t use my platform to promote McDonald’s. I stand by what I said. The idea of aligning my personal brand with the McDonald’s corporate brand doesn’t work for me, so I’m not going to do it. I’m not even going to apply to do it. Although I do understand why people like my friend Karen are applying, and I hope they choose her.

The fact that I’m passing up this one campaign doesn’t mean I’m immune to PR pitches, though. Because I’m not. Do you want to know how to lure me in? It’s not by sending me a press release outlining how awesome your cleaning product is. It’s by offering me the chance to do something fun with my kids. Like, say, offering free tickets to the new show (cough Birds up Close cough) happening at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Because what parent can resist this?

The kids love the giant plush beluga

Or this?

Checking out the sea stars and anemones

If you can convince me that my kids will even be learning something by attending, well, you’ve really got me. It’s now my solemn parental duty to attend, especially when it supplements the unit my daughter’s class did on birds of prey this year. Just think of the enhanced education she’ll be receiving!

Bald eagle in flight

Up close with the turkey vulture

Throw in free food afterward, and let my 6-year-old go back for seconds of the chocolate mousse, and I will kiss the ground you walk on.

Jacob chows down on his hot dog

Hannah's face after 2 bowls of chocolate mousse

And to cap it all off, who could resist a freaking baby beluga? I am not made of stone, people.

The baby beluga and I share a moment

Here’s the point I’m getting at – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with brands connecting with bloggers, and hoping for a little bit of cross-promotion. We all just have to make our own decisions about what does and does not work for us. And if you throw in the chance to share a moment with a baby beluga, well, that never hurt anyone, either.

What do you think makes for a great evening out with your kids? Do you find baby belugas as irresistible as I do? And do you have a killer recipe for chocolate mousse? Please share!

PS – I’m still looking for your feedback. So please, take a moment to share the love and complete my reader survey. I’d really appreciate it!

Using Your Voice Wisely

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! This year, I’m just writing about whatever is currently on my mind. And if you would like to chime in and contribute a guest post about your own journey, please drop me a line and we’ll chat.

Before I get into my post for today, I am going to get this out of the way: I eat at McDonald’s. Not very often – probably about once every three months or so – but I go there. My kids eat there, too, and far more often than I do. A fast food meal out is their go-to treat when they spend time with their grandparents, which means they visit a couple of times a month, and I choose not to stress about it. The world is a complicated and nuanced place, and a person can hold an opinion and not always act in accordance with that opinion. Call it hypocrisy, call it cognitive dissonance, call it being human. I am willing to own it, and I am not about to pass judgment on anyone else who consumes the occasional fast food meal.

Now, on to my point. I am a proud member of the Green Moms Carnival. Yesterday, one of the other members sent an email to the group asking if there were any Canadian residents who would be interested in applying for one of three spots as a McDonald’s All-Access Mom. Her idea was that if one of those moms is environmentally conscious, they may be able to shine a light on behind-the-scenes practices at McDonald’s. I am pretty much the only Canadian resident in the group, so I checked it out.

Right after my email exchange with the Green Moms, I saw my friend Annie’s post about the All-Access Moms, complete with a video that shines a light on some of McDonald’s questionable business practices. If you’re not familiar with them, I recommend checking out Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Food, Inc. But for right now, let me summarize my personal concerns with McDonald’s:

  1. A McDonald’s meal comes with a lot of disposable packaging which ends up in the landfill – or worse, on my front lawn.
  2. McDonald’s is constantly working to drive down the cost of their food, which means that their eggs and meat produced under inhumane conditions.
  3. Their food is not healthy – and it doesn’t even decompose.

If I applied to be one of the McDonald’s All-Access Moms, I could do so as a skeptic. In the unlikely event they actually chose me, I would tour their production facilities with a critical eye, and I would do my best to remain objective. Would I succeed? It’s hard to say. There’s a reason journalistic ethics require that reporters don’t receive gifts from the people they’re reporting on. When someone’s flying you around and treating you well, you’re naturally going to be inclined to like them. And when you like them, it’s hard to rip them to shreds when you write your article.

On top of that, I have to assume that some amount of care will go into what the moms get to see. They’re likely not going to be entering slaughterhouses, or talking to disaffected employees. They’re going to be presented with a polished and crafted image. It’s understandable, really. When I know that company’s going to be coming over, I clean my house, so that I’m giving the best possible impression. I’m sure that McDonald’s would do the same. When they’re showing what “really goes on” at McDonald’s, they’re going to show their best side.

There’s another factor at work here, too. The point of this exercise – like all PR exercises – is to generate positive publicity for McDonald’s. And one of they ways they do that is by partnering with moms, so that they can use their names and images. To continue the thought experiment, if I were accepted, and even if I did manage to maintain my objectivity and find some real answers to hard-hitting questions, in the process I would be lending my name to a company whose practices I don’t condone. Occasionally taking actions in my personal life that don’t conform with my highest ideals is one thing, but publicly promoting a brand I don’t believe in is quite another.

As a blogger, I have created a personal brand. I think of this, really, as just another way of saying that I have a reputation built around my personal platform. I view this platform as an almost sacred space, and I am very picky about who or what I talk about here. In part, this is to maintain my personal credibility and keep my blog from becoming a PR pitch machine. But an even bigger part comes from the journey I’m on to live a life that I’m comfortable with. If I don’t want to work in a job that doesn’t fit me, why would I use my platform in a way that doesn’t fit me? I want to live authentically, which means using my voice in a way that affirms my values rather than undermining them.

So, while part of me thinks it would be interesting to get a first-hand view of the fast food industry, even if only to see what they are and are not showing me, I’m not going to apply. If I don’t want to give McDonald’s the right to use my name and image, I’m not going to offer it to them. That’s my decision, and I will own it. Your decision may be different – and I respect that. But however you decide to use your voice, I hope that it affirms your life and conforms with your values.

Tell me, would you submit an application to be an All-Access Mom? Do you think you could maintain your objectivity when they wined you and dined you? And would you be comfortable with your name and image being used to promote a company whose practices you disagree with? I’d love to hear!

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