Sunday, 29 July 2012

Working your way to a mediocre day - a how-to

If you wake up Sunday morning, miserable and ready to fight with whoever makes too much eye contact, there’s really only one thing to do: see if you can get rid of your entire family for a few hours. It helps if your husband can be convinced that he owes you one. Capitalize on even the faintest hint of imbalance to buy yourself some solitude. You took the kids to a friend’s yesterday so he could work on the floors uninterrupted?

He clearly had the better deal.

Once he agrees to get himself and the kids out of your hair, it’s in your best interest to get them ready and out the door – you don’t need him wandering aimlessly looking for the baby’s shoes. On a good day this can rub you the wrong way. Today? It could push you over the edge.

Once they’re gone, make yourself a second cup of coffee and take five minutes to soak in how rotten life is.

And mental note this – write it down if you have to: The next time you’re feeling vulnerable and emotionally generous, promise to keep your theories to yourself. Telling your already fed-up and cranky husband that you might be suffering from a low-grade depression due to weaning your two-year old will most definitely come back to haunt you. Because when next you are acting irritated and unreasonable for seemingly no good reason, he will wax psychologist and suggest you look into hormone replacement therapy.

He won’t care when you accuse him of having paid attention to that Oprah episode.

Drink your coffee and read a few pages of Anne Lamott or Jon Kabat-Zinn but whatever you do, don’t check your Facebook account. If you do, you’ll selectively hone in on only those friends with suspiciously flawless lives – you know who I’m talking about: they’ve already run 10K, cleaned their houses and are now enjoying some educational outdoor time with their perfectly behaved children. And it’s not even 9 am.

Decide to do something that will make you feel better but keep your expectations low. Feeling even a smidgeon better than this will be an improvement.

I suggest cleaning the upstairs bathroom. Especially if looking at the disarray of downstairs due to renovations is making you crazy enough to commit yourself just to have a clean room to live in. Scrub the toilet. And the tub and the sink. You may have to go so far as the floors.  

It’s possible you’re feeling this bad.

Once you get going, you’ll naturally move onto the bedroom. Vacuum up the crackers next to your bed – stop berating yourself for letting the kids eat in your room. It was the only way to get them to settle down enough so you could enjoy one lousy glass of wine before starting the bedtime routine after a long day at work.

Prepare yourself for their return. Have a plan because your husband will likely storm through the door acting entitled and overwrought – after all, he just had the kids for two hours and will point out that you of all people should know how much work that is.

When the kids get in, bring them upstairs because there is no furniture in the living room. Put the baby gate up, turn on Treehouse and tell them you’re going to take a shower. Don’t feel guilty for putting TV on mid day because they were just at the splash pad for a few hours, they could use the break.

Try to resist the urge to weigh yourself before getting into the shower– it could wreak havoc with your delicate emotional state. But if you do give into the urge, don’t (and I repeat, DON’T) weigh yourself a second time to verify that you indeed are down two pounds. It could be a technical glitch with your digital scale and your temporary high, that sense of possibility that all your hard work at the gym is paying off finally, will be short lived, reinforcing that you do actually have a crummy life because on top of everything else you are bloated, overweight, homely and unfairly afflicted with adult acne.

And because it's now your turn to entertain the kids, go somewhere you can tolerate. Costco has a lot going for it. Woo them with hotdogs in the cafeteria and fulfill your need to restock the things you're running low on.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Especially on my lowest days

I go through Anne Lamott phases more than you might think.

She might just be my all time favourite writer. I've read most of her books a few times each and I can't say that I haven't loved every word she writes – she’s generous and the opposite of self-important, not smug, inclusive, human, relate-able, honest and incredibly funny – and she gets me.

Oh I know we've never met but I'm certain that we must be kindred spirits. 

I own Bird by Bird, her guide on writing. It’s easy and funny and so, so good - I've told you that before. I’ve read it at least half a dozen times and in the off time, when I need a little inspiration I open it to a random page and can always find something relevant. I’ve borrowed most of her other books from the library multiple times.  

She writes those kinds of books where only the paper copy will do. I'd like to own them all.

There are so many days each month where emotionally I feel like I’m barely surviving. The bickering between Shaune and me, the nagging feeling that I’m failing at something – work, parenting, marriage, friendships, my physical health.

Her words are a balm. Like I'm not the only one who has felt this way. 

Take last week when I fell off the wagon. I’d been eating really well for the past few months – eating “clean” as my friend Pam puts it. I’d cut out whole wheat and started eating sprouted grains and cereals without a trace of sugar. I tried only to eat lean cuts of meat, lots of green leafy vegetables and healthy nuts. I increased my water intake, started drinking almond milk, added green tea in the morning and cut out most sugar.

And you know what? I felt fantastic.

But then I came back from a week's vacation and well I was tired and sunburnt, overwhelmed at being behind. I didn’t exercise on my week off, ate steak and ribs and not enough salad, drank more wine than normal. It was the first week in over a year that I didn't didn't run or go to the gym. I felt like a failure. I felt afraid that I'd lost my momentum.  

She says of beauty: Sometimes in certain lights, I could see that I was beautiful, not in spite of but because of unusual features - funky teeth, wild hair, acne scars. My mother's nose, very English, with pinched indents at the tip and what she called horns - incredibly helpful to my self-esteem as a child...and my father's crooked teeth. Cellulite that would make Jesus weep...This culture's pursuit of beauty is a crazy, sick, losing game, for women, men teenagers, and with the need to increase advertising revenues, now for pre-adolescents, too. We're starting to see more and more anorexic eight  and nine-year olds. It's a game we cannot win. Every time we agree to play another round, and step out onto the court to try again, we've already lost...

I decided to be gentler on myself and begin again. 

Every year during a certain month - I honestly can't recall which one it is - there are Pro-life picketers outside of the hospital on my way to work. A lot of older men with thinning hair and beer-bellies, little old ladies, presumably their wives, walking up and down the paths surrounding the hospital holding their anti-abortion signs. 

I find it an offensive time-waster to even read their messages. 

When my sister was pregnant at 15, a lot of people had strong opinions when she was given the option to abort the baby. She didn't go that route, her daughter is now close to 30, but those people, the ones who made it clear there was only one choice, life, well they never once came by her tiny apartment, with so much as a casserole, where she struggled as a single teenage mother day in and day out. 

Not once. 

When I read this a few years ago in Grace (Eventually) Thoughts on Faith, well I realized this was exactly what I'd always wanted to say to those people: 

I also wanted to wave a gun around, to show what a real murder looks like...I could not believe that [people] committed to equality and civil rights were still challenging the basic rights of women...Most women like me would much rather use our time and energy fighting to make the world safe and just and fair for the children we do have and do love not to mention the children of New Orleans and Darfur. I am tired and menopausal and would like to be left alone: I have had my abortions, and I have had a child. But as a Christian and a feminist, the most important message I can carry and fight for is the sacredness of each human life, and reproductive rights for all women are a crucial part of that. It is a moral necessity that we not be forced to bring children into the world for whom we cannot be responsible and adoring and present. We must not inflict life on children who will be resented; we must not inflict unwanted children on society.

I know this is a controversial topic for some of you who drop by here. If you have something to share please, please be respectful. 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Interpreter

I also wrote this post on my hiatus.

Naveen speaks really well for his age if you ask me. I remember wondering if Deaglan would ever talk. He said almost nothing until he was two and a half. I can only assume having an older sibling helps language develop quicker.

He speaks mostly in clear sentences. Even the Daycare staff are stunned by his ability to communicate, constantly regaling me with delightful little things he’s said, prefacing each story with how ahead of other two year olds he is. It has occurred to me that they could be overcompensating with praise because he’s the only kid who still clings to me at drop off as if after my departure they shackle him to a wall and beat him mercilessly with an Australian bullwhip. It’s occurred to me that they want to show me how okay he is throughout the day and that he does indeed like being cared for by them.

Despite his obvious genius in the verbal arena, there are still many times where he might as well be speaking Gujarati because we don’t have a bloody clue what he is muttering. This is saying a lot from me since I am the resident expert in interpreting baby talk. Like a few weeks ago when I handed the phone to him as he was on the verge of having a small cow because I was speaking on the phone and well, the phone is his most desperately favourite thing especially when he sees one of us using it.

Anyway, I hear my mother-in-law on the other end saying things like “Oh is that right? That sounds wonderful sweetheart!” I hated to do it but I had to break it to her that he was recounting how he’d just finished smacking Deaglan in the face and was also pinching Mommy for not handing the phone over quickly enough. We had a good laugh and she complimented me on my amazing interpretive skills.

What can I say? I'm gifted.

Deaglan however does not possess this skill. He thinks he does but much to my irritation it’s just not true. Annoying though, he busies himself interpreting for his younger brother all the time. Like tonight at dinner when Naveen refused to eat his chicken nuggets and instead pounded on the fridge crying “Mama get me gagou, I want gagou!”

“Take out your choo-choo (soother) and tell me what you want, I don’t know what you’re saying,” I begged wearily.

“He says he wants Mogute,” pipes in the Interpreter. “Mommy don’t you understand, he wants Mogute.

Gee thanks for clarifying, why didn`t I think of that? 

I eventually opened the fridge and asked Naveen to point to what he wanted. Turns out he was asking for yogurt.

But other times Deaglan’s interpretive skills aren't so benign. Like when I tell him he must eat all of his dinner in order to get dessert (you swear you’ll never do it but faced with a picky eater you get desperate) his four year old self extends this courtesy to an invariant two year old who once set on something – well I`m sure you get the picture – you endure a tantrum or give in. It goes something like this:

Naveen without touching a thing on his plate: Mama I want [gobbledy guk].

Me: Honey I don’t know what you’re saying, tell me again what you're saying.

Deaglan: He says he wants ice cream.


And just like that his enunciation is dead on.

Some more pictures of us at Shannon and Jeff's cottage. It's hard to have a relaxed dinner with a three week old, two two year olds and a four year old. I think we were able to sit for about three minutes before each of us was getting up to tend to the kids' needs.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Things I wrote while the internet was down

This is the longest blog break I've taken in my almost five years writing in this space. At first I was just busy. School was ending for Shaune and Deaglan. Nursing was scheduled to end for Naveen. And we were looking forward to a vacation. But then when I did finally have a little time to write, the internet was down. And then the vacation was over and I needed to go back to work and get Deaglan warmed up to the idea of summer camp. I thought I'd just publish the few posts I wrote during that busy time to catch you up on where my head's been at.

I wrote this one two weeks ago when school was almost out:

I feel sad when things end. Anxious when something new has to begin. It’s the way I’ve always been. 

All week long Deaglan has peppered me with questions:
Why can’t I go to school anymore?
Will I be in the same class next year?
Why do I have to go to a different school in the summer?
Why can’t my friends go too?

It’s a small ending. One that is regulated and out of my hands yet I feel gloomy and helpless. I mourned deeply every school year-end, especially in my younger years. I cried and vowed to write to my teachers every week. Very Anne Shirley I know; change has never failed to rock me to the core.

The mild irritation we’ve felt this year with Deaglan’s teachers and the school in general, well he’s felt none of it. He’s lived blissfully unaware; been madly in love with school, his friends and his teachers. He has sometimes dragged his feet on a Monday morning but by the end of the day when I’ve gone to get him he can’t bear to leave.

And there is this other ending.

I thought I was done writing about breastfeeding but it turns out I’m not.  I hesitated though; imagined you rolling your eyes, saying not again with this! But then realized the beauty of this space, my space to share with you what is important to me. I write about motherly things – you know that. I write about them again and again. I tell you about what makes me happy. I tell you why I get sad. I mostly write about how it has felt to be a mother to these two boys.

So I pushed my hesitation aside to talk about it again.

Because today is the third day that I have not nursed Naveen and I am mixed-emotions. I’ve been weepy and elated all at the same time. Sad that it has to end but exhilarated at the thought of resuming once again, sole proprietorship of this body.

And yesterday was hard.

At daycare drop-off, Naveen was sad. Not throwing a tantrum-sad. Not wanting something he could not have-sad. But achy-break-my-heart-sad.  I watched him in the rear-view mirror, softly crying. I guessed that he was grieving; missing something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He wasn’t interested in the landmarks I pointed out, the ones I always point out on our drive downtown, things that usually had him interested and engaged.

When change is inevitable, I steady myself by keeping everything else as normal as possible. I go to the gym. I show up for work. I clean the kitchen. I isolate the thing that must change. It helps me remember that everything else won’t be different, just that one thing.  I talk to myself gently, think of other times when change came and I survived.

I know why I’m like this.  It stems from those first years when I had no say or control over all the big endings: Leaving my Bangladesh family to live in an orphanage. Coming to Canada.  Losing my brother. So that any change sends me into a panic. Even if the current state has been dissatisfying I still dread the new.

I’ve learned though, that I don’t need to deny these parts of me. These flawed, undesirable parts, the opposite of go-with-the-flow and easy going. I’ve realized that I don’t have to take 12 steps to change it.  I already know all the right answers: I'll be fine. The kids will be fine. I just need to write it down. And live through it.

Well I have to tell you, Naveen has done splendidly! He asks me for the breast about once a day in a sweet inquiring voice and a tilt of the head: Mama, Milky da-da? Once I tell him it's all gone, he usually moves on. The best part? He's become more generous in doling out kisses and hugs. To my unending delight, he often comes to wherever I am and asks if we can cuddle.

And Deaglan is doing just fine with the ending of school, which means I'm doing just fine too.

I wrote this one last week sometime and didn't finish it when I realized the internet was down:

We’ve been vacationing.

Like you couldn’t tell.

Nothing exotic or tropical; a few days at a friend’s cottage; a day trip or two. Being with the kids all day everyday for more than just a weekend heals me. I really do feel that it does. At the same time though, it is exercise. Skills that don’t see the light of day most week days, well they are forced out of hiding, to face the music.

Patience. Play. Listening.

It’s an odd thing to work and be away from your children for so long each day. These little people who make your life worth living, give you a real sense of purpose, a reason to work harder and better. A sense that you belong somewhere, to someone.

In each phase of my life I’ve searched for that belonging.

In my middle school years in Tucson Arizona, I had a group of friends who I adored and who really loved me. We spent all of our free time together in front of Frank Vogel’s house on Bellevue Street. We talked, listened to music on a ghetto blaster, made trips to the Circle K for Jolly Ranchers when we had the cash, and rode our bikes through the desert streets.

I felt that kind of belonging. To a place. To people – a hand-full of tweens and early teens. I don’t think we were the popular kids; we didn’t go to the same schools, we weren’t the same ages. We weren’t rebels. We were just kids hanging out after our chores were done.

In high school my heart belonged to my sister Tara’s new baby. I spent most weekends with them and together we exalted every new phase, tiny step and mispronounced word.  A teeny version of us, this baby girl stitched us together in this lonely place where we had never seemed to fit in. We finally had another, no longer just the two of us without authority.

In my university years I studied enough to get by. I drank a lot of cheap wine and draft beer and staggered home when I’d run out of money. I worked hard to keep my growing anxiety at bay and find a dream that matched my parents’ expectations of me.

I didn’t realize for a long time how unrealistic that was.

And even when I met Shaune, I still didn’t know how much work I would need to do to get here. Here, where little boys steal the olives out of your salad every time, demand cookies for breakfast and rule your heart with their shiny chocolate eyes. Where a husband tries to distract a four-year old during the racier parts because you’ve wondered out loud if it’s a good idea that the kids watch Law & Order SVU. Where making a case for a few minutes alone is necessary to keep your sanity. 

Other things of note:
  • I don't know when it started but Shaune, mostly to entertain himself, responds to most of Deaglan's requests for something he needs (ie a drink of water, a show on TV, a cookie, ice cream etc) by saying "Water (insert item) is for suckas." Tonight when Naveen asked for meatballs (we had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner), Shaune said his usual (imagine me rolling my eyes). However, Naveen responded with "Meatbaws are for Kool Dudes, Daddy."
  • At First Choice on the weekend, Naveen was crying as if he was being tortured so that the stylist couldn't even finish his haircut. He now has very short hair on top and uneven shaggy whispy pieces at the sides and back. When one of the less irritated customers looked at me sympathetically and asked, First haircut? I swallowed the desire to lie and truthfully admitted, Nope, fifth.
  • A few times last week after school had ended, a little boy who lives on the street behind us, who is a year older than Deaglan came over unannounced accompanied by his older brother and knocked on our door. "Gryphon, my brother, would like to play with Deaglan," announced his eight year old brother Sloan without the slightest hint of nervousness or stammering. Although in the past I'd smiled at their mother on walks in the neighbourhood, there had never been any discussion about getting our kids together. It reminded me of my own childhood when "calling on" someone is what you did. I loved it and so did my Deaglan.

I'm hoping to get back to writing here with some regularity. Here are some pictures from the last while.

 Shannon and Taylor - our friends who invited us to stay at their "cottage". When we arrived Deaglan asked us why we were at a mansion.
 We celebrated Taylor's 2nd birthday at the cottage.
 Nothing tickles this boy's fancy like something chocalatey.

 Deaglan came up with the design of Taylor's birthday cake - some licorice, M&M's and fuzzy peaches and did the decorating himself.
 We spent a good deal of time at the beach on our week off. 
The last day of school.