Hannah + 10 years and 12 days

There were a few things that I gave up when I became a mother:

  • Bathroom privacy
  • Adequate sleep
  • The ability to leave the house in less than three minutes
  • A rigid adherence to schedules

It should come as no surprise, then, that I’m sitting here writing about my daughter’s 10th birthday almost two weeks after the big day. This is just how I roll these days.

It’s been a decade, now, since Hannah made her surprise entrance into the world six weeks ahead of schedule. The fear over having a preemie has long subsided. So has my desire to maintain my pre-baby identity. I’m okay with letting a blog post slide.

Of course, for all that I’ve given up as a mom, I’ve gotten so much more. I’m able to let go of who I used to be because the person I am today is actually a whole lot better. I’m more flexible, more pragmatic, less selfish and less judgmental. Those early years broke me down and built me back up, a new and improved person. I might not be as chipper and fresh-faced, but looks can be deceiving. I am proud of my children, and I am proud of the person that I have become thanks to them.

Of course, the changes never end when you’re a parent. At my daughter’s party, surrounded by nine and ten year olds, I watched as the children danced around the arts centre to songs I didn’t recognize. They knew all the words, and they sang them out loud while they chased the little circles of light reflected from the disco ball. It was supposed to be a theatre party, but the highlight was definitely having a personal DJ who played every song they requested … provided they were age-appropriate, of course.

As Hannah’s age turns to double digits, her connection to pop culture is growing stronger while mine is waning. She is entering the world and has a strong thirst for staying current. I honestly can’t bother anymore. It feels like I’m passing the baton. Here, you keep track of what clothes I should wear and what music I should listen to and what movies I should see. And I will do my best to let you express yourself without passing judgment. Deal?

Soon Hannah will not be my little girl anymore. But right now, as she settles into tweendom, she still expresses glee over testing her skills against a boy at fencing class. She still tells me I am cozy. She still insists I sing her a lullaby every night. She still asks me for advice about pretty much everything. And so I watched her dancing with her friends and soaked up the moment, knowing that like all things in parenting, this will end long before I’m ready. At each step I memorize as much as I can. I don’t want to forget what this was like. Please don’t let me forget.

I know I will forget. See: sleep deprivation.

The first decade of parenting has been a wild ride. When all is said and done, it’s been amazing. I would do it all over again without any hesitation. I can’t wait to see what the next decade holds, for me and for my daughter.

happy birthday 10 year old

Farewell to the Silver Bullet

Sometimes life brings the unexpected – events that are completely out of your control, and you could have never seen coming. Such an event happened to me last Friday. I had just set out from my house to run some errands when another driver turned left out of a townhouse complex driveway and straight into me. Luckily I wasn’t going that fast, and I did have a second to see her coming so I had time to brake and slow down further. As a result I wasn’t hurt, and neither was the other driver – at least not physically. My car wasn’t so lucky.

car accident
My silver Honda after the accident

This was the most serious car accident I have ever been in, by far. I called 911 and the fire department, police and paramedics came. They took pictures and I gave a statement and my kids’ principal came down to see what all the commotion was about because we were right down from the school. The other driver and I made friends and hugged and cried. I know that she didn’t mean to hit me, and there was nothing to be done about it at that point. Eventually they came and loaded my car up on the tow truck and the police officer gave both of us drivers a copy of his report and I walked home.

car on flat bed tow truck
My car on the tow truck

I called the insurance company and reported the accident and then waited to hear what would happen. On Sunday I got a call from an insurance estimator letting me know that my car had been declared a “total loss”. I could come and get the rest of my stuff out of it from the estimate centre. In that moment, I found myself feeling indescribably sad.

broken honda civic
Saying good-bye as I collect my stuff

My car was not a new car. I bought it brand-new, but that was way back in 2000. It was my first act as a fully-employed university graduate. I paid the car, which I nicknamed the Silver Bullet, off in full within two years. It was nothing fancy, but it drove like a dream and was always reliable. And in a decade and a half we’ve been through a lot together, that car and me.

The Silver Bullet took me from my life as a single university graduate to a married woman to a mother of one, and then two. That car has seen me through multiple jobs, lengthy work commutes and a return to school. I was in that car (parked, in a driveway) when I called Jon to let him know that I was in labour with Jacob. I brought my wedding dress home in that car. I took it on road trips and to the grocery store more times than I can begin to count. It was like another living space for me, where I could set everything up exactly as I liked.

My car had been hit and scraped before, but it was always fixable. It always came back to me. And I was planning on driving it for another 15 years. By all accounts, with only 113,000 km (70,200 miles) on the odometer it had a lot of life left in it. This time, though, the damage was too bad. I had to say good-bye.

Dealing with the insurance company and finding another car isn’t easy. Being in an accident is no fun at all. I’m not relishing the experience. But mostly, I’m feeling sad. I realize my car was just a car, but it really had come to mean a lot to me. I don’t want to let it go, but the decision has been made for me. All I can do now is make the best of it, so I’m trying to do that. Trying to look on the upside. I get a new car – that’s something. I’m sure I will come to like that new car, too. But it will never be the same. It will never be my Silver Bullet.

Picky Eater

It’s been a while since I opened Use Your Words by Kate Hopper, which is unfortunate because it really is full of great ideas. Today’s post was inspired by one of the writing exercises in that book.

The other day my six-year-old announced that he was a vegetarian. Actually, though, that’s not exactly right. We were doing his home reading, and the story he brought home from school featured a bunch of animals going fishing. His response? “Fishing isn’t nice. Fishing kills living creatures.” I asked him if he was becoming a vegetarian and he replied, “No, mom, I’m a scientist. Scientists know that all animals are alive, and we shouldn’t hurt them because that’s not taking good care of the earth.”

Flash back to my son the baby. One of his first solid foods was pureed beef, which he loved. Because I am a hippie mama it was pureed grass-fed, free range, hormone-and-antibiotic-and-chemical-free, purchased straight from the rancher at the farmers’ market. While my son no longer eats with the full-bodied gusto of a six-month-old discovering a whole new world of tastes and textures, meat is still one of his favourite foods. And given how picky he’s become about what he puts in his mouth, I’m not sure what his diet would look like without it. I’m guessing it would be comprised almost entirely of nachos (without any vegetables) and breakfast cereal, with, perhaps, the occasional serving of fries thrown in for good measure.

I’m sure this is all my fault, of course. If I’d fed him like a French child, he would eat anything. If I’d offered him nothing but beans and rice and vegetables until he ate them all eagerly he wouldn’t turn his nose up at them today. If I’d offered him the right foods, in the right quantities, in the right order, there’s no way he’d refuse to even taste something because it “looked weird”. After all, I’m his mother. It’s my job to establish good eating habits.

baby eating food
Before it all went wrong

I remember reading an old copy of Penelope Leach’s Your Baby and Child that a co-worker gave me when my daughter was born. The book actually claimed that babies who weren’t started on the right purees at four months of age would become “problem eaters”. I didn’t start my son on solids until he was almost six months, and then it wasn’t purees but mashed banana. I should have anticipated that he would turn into the world’s choosiest vegetarian by the time he was in first grade. It was all there right in front of me 10 years ago, but I ignored the warning.

I also heard, back in my new parent days, that if a child refused a food the first time it probably meant they were just getting used to the taste. So you should offer it again. And again. And again. Until, eventually, that child would learn to love the food in question. I tried this with my daughter, who turned her nose up at avocado. She refused it once. She refused it twice. She refused it five times. She refused it 27 times. And today, with her tenth birthday rapidly approaching, she adores sushi but uses her chopsticks to remove all the avocado before eating it. Clearly, the 112th time would have been the charm, but my persistence faltered and with my son I decided to actually respect his decisions about what he did and didn’t like. I know, I know, I was so very, very wrong.

Of course, there really aren’t any hard-and-fast rules for what foods to introduce and when to introduce them. Different cultures have different practices, and still, somehow, all adults grow up to think that food is pretty good and they should eat it. Not everyone likes the same foods, but I’m living proof that you can turn up your nose at corn on the cob or sweet potatoes and still live a full and happy life. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any 40 year olds out there that are still subsisting on milk because their mothers didn’t give them pureed green beans at exactly the right time. Or at all. And speaking of pureed green beans, I’m living proof that you can live a full and happy life without ever touching those, either.

As for my son, we talked more about his food choices. He’s decided that for now, he’s avoiding fish, but he’ll eat other meat because it’s “already dead”. My guess is that this choice is mostly about what foods he actually likes. He’s six, so that fact that he enjoys meatballs and passes over salmon isn’t exactly shocking. I’m not going to insist on logical consistency from a kid who is still learning to tie his shoes. And later on, if he sticks to his decision not to eat meat and decides to go completely vegetarian, or vegan, or what-have-you, I will support him as best I can.

For now, though, I’m really glad that my picky eater will consume the foods I’ve come to depend on to keep dinnertime running smoothly. Because I didn’t have the foresight to shove pureed green beans down his throat until he liked them.

My Happiness List: January 2015 Edition

My last post was a little bit down, I think, so I decided that it was time to share another happiness list. I blogged my last personal happiness list almost ten months ago, so I’m clearly long overdue. Who couldn’t use a little hit of positivity once in a while? There’s all kinds of research to show that it’s very good for you. Plus, it’s just plain fun.

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

massage therapy happiness list

My Happy List

  1. Rooibos chai tea. All the goodness of chai, none of the caffeine to make me jumpy.
  2. Comfortable new pants I bought on clearance.
  3. Really good chocolate. Always.
  4. Finishing my prerequisites for teaching school and earning a GPA of 4.06. Hooray!
  5. Massage therapy.
  6. My new seed order has arrived. Let the garden dreams begin!
  7. The teacher I’m volunteering with, who is a fabulous mentor.
  8. The students I’m volunteering with, who are more awesome than a hot fudge sundae.
  9. Living in Vancouver in January. As we like to say, you don’t have to shovel the rain.
  10. My son’s love for his new loft bed – which we scored for free from someone who outgrew it, so double extra bonus points.
  11. My daughter’s newfound love of fantasy novels. I really enjoy watching her sink her teeth into a book.
  12. My children’s teachers. Both my kids are really enjoying school this year.
  13. Singing in the kitchen in the morning.
  14. Podcasts. I do love podcasts.
  15. My husband’s piano is out of storage and I get to listen to him play.
  16. New books to read.
  17. Getting back to blogging again. This space floats my boat.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

Finding Comfort

Yesterday I had a brief meltdown at about 10:00am. I came home from dropping the kids off at school and tackled my to-do list. Then I finished my to-do list. Then I had nothing in particular to do … and it was still only 10:00am. This is a very foreign thing for me.

Sure, I can always find things to do. There are always smudges to clean and books to read and yoga practices to return to. But for several hours, I didn’t have anything I had to do. I’ve been operating in a state of low-level panic for so long, just trying to keep my head above water. When that urgency was gone I felt disquieted. Surely I must be forgetting something. Surely there must be a paper to write or an article to edit or 147 unread emails to tackle? No, no and no.

We live in a world that values busy-ness and productivity. We’re expected to always be striving for results. If you’re in a place in life where you suddenly aren’t busy it can leave you feeling less valuable. Who am I, if I don’t have some accomplishment to point at in order to justify my existence?

Luckily, in the midst of my existential angst I found comfort in two things. First, I read some blogs, which is something I haven’t done in ages. This post from Britt Reints – Why I’m Trying to do More and Get Less Done – really spoke to me. It came at just the right time, and helped talk me down. Second, I made myself a big plate of spaghetti and cheddar cheese.

cheddar cheese
Photo credit – Jamaila Brinkley on Flickr

There’s something about food that is so comforting. This meal, which is fast, easy and cheap, was a staple of my single days. When I was hungry and cooking for one it always hit the spot. Is it healthy? Not particularly – there isn’t anything green in sight. The paleo set would shudder, no doubt. But as I sat down for lunch and ate it I remembered who I was, and who I am now, and how far I’ve come. I made it from 19-year-old engineering student to fully-fledged engineer to wife to mother to writer and editor to aspiring math teacher. I can make it the rest of the way, as long as I have blogs to read and carbs and cheese to ground me.

To comfort!

Censoring Queen Victoria: Who Was She, Anyway?

I have been really behind for a really long time. This means that while I received Censoring Queen Victoria by Yvonne M. Ward almost a year ago, I’m only reviewing it now. My apologies. You can expect more of these coming up in the not-so-distant future, as I embrace the policy of ‘better late than never’ and attempt to make good. Call it an exercise in forgiving myself. Anyways, on to main event.

censoring queen victoria history book reviewAs soon as I heard about Censoring Queen Victoria: How Two Gentlemen Edited a Queen and Created an Icon I was intrigued. I have a thing for royal histories, although I know quite a lot more about the Tudors than pretty much anyone else. I viewed this as an excellent opportunity to get up close and personal with one of England’s most renowned monarchs – and the mother of Canadian Confederation.

The premise behind the book is that Victoria’s son, Edward VII, commissioned a book containing the late queen’s letters. Two men – and gay men, by all accounts, to boot – were given the job of editing the volumes. As Victoria was a prolific writer this was no small task. The editors had to be brutal, including only a small fraction of the queen’s correspondence, and trimming even those pieces that they selected. They also had to be very careful that nothing they selected would portray Victoria – or anyone else – unfavourably. The were tasked with creating an interesting book that wouldn’t ruffle any political feathers at home or abroad. In short, it was no small task.

The title – Censoring Queen Victoria – suggests a more sensational book than this one actually is. It’s more about the politics of the editing process, and how the selections that these two men made framed Victoria in a very specific light. This is a history book, not a tell-all or a romance novel. Still, it was a fairly short and easy read. I wouldn’t describe myself as a lover of academic writing, and I didn’t struggle with this. If anything, I could have used more.

censoring queen victoria history book review

The editors

So, what was edited out? There are a variety of examples. For instance, the queen gave birth to nine children while she was on the throne, but pregnancy wasn’t deemed a suitable subject for a book of this type, so any mention of expecting or delivering a child was omitted. Similarly, while Victoria corresponded with many women, the editors found such letters boring, and included very few. Here is where I would have liked more detail from Ward here, though. What exactly was excluded that would really change our impression of Queen Victoria? A few juicy tidbits can never hurt.

If you enjoy history, specifically Victorian history, this book is a great, quick read. I enjoyed it, and I’m sorry it took me so long to actually pick it up.

A Word for 2015: Strength

For the past few years I’ve been choosing a word at New Year’s to represent what I wanted to bring into my life in the 12 months ahead. In 2011 that word was space. In 2012 I chose clarity. In 2013 I chose presence. And for 2014 my word was forgiveness. This year, possibly for the first time, settling on a word was easy. For 2015 I have chosen strength.

strength*Photo credit – Colleen McMahon on Flickr

Choosing a word is about setting an intention for the year. This year, rather than choose an aspirational intention, I’ve decided to go another way. In past years I’ve chosen a word that represented something I wanted to bring into my life, but thought I might be lacking. In 2015 I’m opting for something I think I already have, but may not always see. That is, I’m already strong. I think maybe we are all strong. For me, this is about acknowledging and owning my strength. This quote from Marianne Williamson speaks to what I’m getting at by choosing the word strength:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.

The past couple of months have been hard for me. It has been all too easy for me to fall into a place where I feel overwhelmed by all that is happening around me. Because you know what? Sometimes life is just too much. I was having a bit of a moment one day when my husband said, “You can do this.” And you know what? I thought to myself, He’s right, I totally can. This year I want to spend less time worrying about my shortcomings, and more time facing up to the challenges in front me. Curve balls will come my way no matter what. Running from them won’t change that, so I may as well step up to bat.

Here’s to claiming our strength, wherever it lies!

How about you – are you choosing a word for the year? If so, I’d love to hear what it is, and how you’re setting your intentions for 2015!

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