A French Artiste Party

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Our eldest daughter H wanted an artist party to celebrate her ninth birthday this year. Her actual birthday is September 11th, but because of two busy back-to-back weekends our earliest opportunity to celebrate was this past weekend. Our plans to host the event in our nearby park were foiled by the two week difference in seasonal change, and this left us faced with the reality of managing twenty-five kids in our not-so-big house. Fortunately, our amazing family came to the rescue.

We decided to up the ante a little by adding some flair to our theme and making it a French artist party, which went a long way towards pulling together food choices. Here’s how the day shook out, complete with incredible photos by Mama S.

• We had Daddy’s brother (the amazing Chacha) tarp our third floor patio and create a painting studio. We stocked the studio with dollar store canvases, paintbrushes, and acrylic paints and taped more tarp to the floor.

• Chacha also created a clay studio in H&A’s bedroom. Twenty-five pounds of clay was purchased on Amazon for super cheap, and we got dollar store sculpting tools.

• Mama S and I made red, white and blue giant tissue flowers and some black and white brocade tissue flowers to hang over the dining room table and living room.

• The cake was a giant custard-filled slab cake that Mama S carved into the shape of a palette complete with blobs of icing paint.

• H&A helped Daddy make the “loot” – we bought plastic palette trays from the dollar store and filled them with rainbow Skittles, M&Ms and Jelly Bellies. Then we used our shrink-wrap machine to keep it all together.

• Mama S found a great price for bulk packages of felt berets in bright primary colours on Amazon. We had one for each kid, and I insisted on completing the look with fake moustaches. The kids got to take this stuff home. Many of the kids came in “French painter” costumes too.

• Daddy’s sister (the fabulous Fui) took the girls to the park in the morning to help them blow off some pre-party crazy excitement. This helped us get all of the food prep done. Daddy’s mum fought through a head cold to help with this, and worked tirelessly afterward to help clean up the kitchen.

• Fui and Chacha basically ran the show upstairs with the kids, which was so, so appreciated!

• We served mini quiche (four different kinds), brie, goat cheese with dried cranberries, cubes of cheddar and baguette, grapes, profiteroles with chocolate drizzle, and an assortment of other pastries. The kids had either red or white grape juice in plastic wine glasses and the grown ups had the real deal

• Our dear friends Emily and Jordan agreed to dress up and make a surprise appearance as French Mimes. They were easily the highlight, and though I had to rescue them a couple of times from some over-zealous kids who were getting too physical, I think they had fun.

After the party, we recouped and recovered with family, and Mama S and Chacha did some kind of record-time clean up on H&A’s room, which looked like it had survived a mudslide. This helped ease my hormonal nerves, and got the girls into bed right on time. H said it was her best party yet, and A was a very charming co-host who enjoyed the fun and gave up the spotlight in a most gracious fashion. Score another one for the parents!


The Big Happy

My pregnancy app told me to have a pajama day today, and after surviving a birthday party in our smallish house with twenty-five of H’s friends and cousins yesterday, this is exactly what I did. Who am I to argue with technology?

So today consisted of me padding around in my Nick & Nora flannel pj pants (Japanese parasols) and a new maternity tank, with my one and only maternity jacket (a grey zip up hoody) to keep me cozy. I packed up all of the birthday treasures in a large basket, stored the gift bags and tissue in our storage closet downstairs and tucked the cards away for keepsakes. I spent much of the day wrapping up the last bits of my Coquettes work and doing laundry. I think with some practice I’ll be able to walk away from the Coquettes work, but the laundry will always be there.

I love doing laundry. It’s the only chore I really like, and I know this will seem weird, but I always feel really close to my family when I’m taking care of their clothes. Folding their socks and sweaters, I think about each of them and what they mean to me. I think about how much the girls are growing, and how they’ve moved through so many different sizes since I met them. I think about Mama S and how strong and brave she is, and all we’ve been through, and where we’re headed. I think about Daddy and how I never get tired of spending every day with him working, living, and dreaming. Now I’m washing lots of tiny things for baby, and that brings a new kind of bliss.

Now it’s the end of the workday, and while dinner is in the oven (shepherds pie) I’m stealing a couple of minutes to write. A Facebook friend tipped me off about a live Mumford & Sons concert as part of the iTunes Festival and so now that’s playing in the background as the girls mill about and Daddy finishes up his work. The kids are totally into the music (A is presently dancing naked, waiting for the washer to stop so she can have her shower). I love this band. Their music is so uplifting and beautiful, and it’s kind of the perfect soundtrack to this fall day. Tidying in the kitchen and glancing up to see my family all bopping their heads to the music just filled my heart suddenly and unexpectedly with floods of love.

The very best people, the people I surround myself with, are the people who make me want to be better than I am, either because they inspire me with their work or by virtue of their warm and wonderful hearts. H’s birthday party turned into a bit of a family hang out after her school friends left, and I got to spend time with some dear friends and close family, unwinding together and eating our way through the rest of the food. I feel so, so lucky to have such incredible people to surround our children with love.

This week my goal will be to focus on our family business, keep really active, and continue with the various housekeeping tasks that need tending to before baby arrives. I want to finish up the homemade baby book for Noah, and spend some time writing in various journals. Most of all, I want to relax.

30 Days

Real Labour Stories

This morning I’m trolling through Facebook profiles of old friends and acquaintances that are recent mommies, and their baby photos are melting my heart. I can’t believe that I’m only a month away from meeting this amazing little being I’ve been GROWING IN MY BODY.

I used to really pride myself on the creative things I’ve accomplished in my life, but really nothing compares to making a person. For me, that was always a goal I wanted to achieve, but as I approached my mid thirties it seemed more and more like a pipe dream. I believe whole-heartedly that women everywhere can achieve great and wonderful goals without ever procreating, but to look back on darker times in my life when I really believed I would never have the chance to even try to get pregnant, I feel pretty damned grateful.

This morning at about 5:45 I awoke with my first for real, full-fledged contraction. I think it was like a super Braxton Hicks or something because I shifted positions and it eased up. There haven’t been any more since. It was unlike anything I’ve ever felt, different than cramping for sure. I felt my entire midsection give a squeeze, right down to my pubic bone. It didn’t hurt, but it did make me marvel at what the real deal might possibly be like.

I fell asleep watching ‘More Business of Being Born’ which is a follow up mini series to the Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein documentary ‘The Business of Being Born’. The particular episode I was watching featured various celebrities talking very candidly about their own birthing experiences. It was really touching and honest. I was seriously impressed with model Gisele Bundchen. She spoke of the whole thing as a very empowering, spiritual experience, and she seemed to have mastered the art of staying calm and relaxing through the birth. I figure if she (who has not been blessed with my wide birthing pelvis) can squeeze out a person so serenely, then surely so can I. My grandmother birthed twelve babies, so I’m going to believe that I’m genetically primed for this kind of work.

I am getting nervous. Not afraid, because I really do believe that I can handle whatever happens, and I’m prepared to do whatever needs to be done to bring the baby into the world safely, but I think I can say there’s some fear of the unknown setting in. I think it’s comforting to know that every single experience is unique, and that just because some people had a hell of a time, it doesn’t mean that I will. I think if I keep focusing on the spiritual and very positive elements of birth, it will help tremendously.  Everyone seems to swear by Hypnobirthing, and while I like the idea of deep relaxation, I found this book impossible to read because it’s so, so fruity.

So many of you have babies of your own. What kind of mental prep or labor coping tools did you and your partners employ?

31 Days

I love that Fall is in the air. It’s my favourite time of the year, and I’m so looking forward to enjoying all of the smells and the colours with my kidlets. Today it’s rainy and cold, and even though I’m very, very tired I think it’s the perfect kind of day.

The rest of our weekend was very relaxed. I had a pretty lazy Sunday with a bit of shopping and then a rehearsal with my Coquettes (one of my last before mat leave!). Mama S and I did some belly photos, and I’m amazed by how talented she is. Check it out.

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I’ve told her that I’d try to pimp her out to some other willing subjects so she can build up her portfolio. If you want belly photos, boudoir or pin up portraits, portraits of your children (her forté if you ask me), or family photos email me here. Mama S will shoot for free, with you only needing to pay for a studio space and makeup artist as required.

It’s another busy week of trying to wrap up my work responsibilities, and then a birthday party for H on Sunday. If our lives keep going like this, it will feel like no time before our due date is upon us. Thank goodness we’re mostly ready for baby to turn up. It’s a big load off my mind to know that we’re prepared. We’ve only got picture hanging left on our nursery to-do list, and that feels fantastic!

On Sunday I noticed my RLP (round ligament pain) had returned, which means more growing for baby. RLP is a feeling best described as a ‘stitch’ in my lower abdomen whenever I stand up too quickly, and I haven’t felt it since early in the second trimester. Yesterday I was really crampy all day long, like menstrual cramps in my belly and back. The Internet isn’t much help with the new things my body is doing. Half of what I read says everything I’m feeling and seeing is normal for third trimester, the other half tells me it might be premature labour and that I should call my midwife. Our next appointment isn’t until next Thursday, so I think I’ll keep checking in with my body and if I feel like I need to call the midwife, I will. Right now, I feel like everything is okay. Baby, I think you need a couple more weeks of baking, so please don’t steal your big sister’s birthday thunder by arriving early!

This week’s focus is on being very gentle and easy, both on myself and everyone else around me. I’m trying to really pay attention to how I feel and what I need, and to articulate those things calmly and clearly when I’m in need of help. I don’t think stress should be on the agenda right now, and so I’m crafting a schedule that eliminates the possibility of stress entering into each day and taking time out as required for naps, distractions, busy work (like organizing) and healthy snacks. It’s only Tuesday, but so far I’m feeling pretty good!

34 Days

Saturday, September 15th 2012.

So after a rough start yesterday, I spent the rest of the day in the chair at Lid, the salon where my lovely friend Angela works. She colored and cut my hair, and I must say, there was something really cathartic about being perched in a crowded Yorkville salon in the state I was in. Imagine me with my huge belly fighting against the leopard print tank dress I was wearing, stuffing my face with a banana chocolate chip muffin, smiling through the tears that just wouldn’t stop coming. Certifiable, for sure, but now with a richer red, shaggier hair do. The kind of wash and go action a new mamma will be grateful for.

Last night I curled up in my big bed with my fella and we had a great heart-to-heart. It was a tricky one, but we did a great job, and I felt safer and happier and remarkably closer after. Sleep was easier last night, and no weird dreams woke me.

This morning we all woke up and tackled our house, which has been undergoing some remarkable purging and organizing, but hadn’t had a proper cleaning in some time. Cleaning felt amazing, until I could no longer move with a stiff lower back. Then I collapsed in a heap on my bed, drooling and unconscious in minutes. When I awoke 45 minutes later it was with a jolt, realizing that I had to get ready for the baby shower our friends were hosting for us.

What a day we had. I’m so exhausted now, but it was such an awesome time. I promise to post photos soon. My best girls Ming, Amanda and Kathryn planned such a beautiful day with some backup support from my girl Oonagh who is due with her second baby on MONDAY! Holy crap! The owner of Revival (where Les Coquettes play in Toronto) graciously donated the space to us. The food was so delicious and the Prairie Girl cupcakes were abundant (I think their strawberry cream cheese icing is one of the greatest things I have ever tasted). So many of our wonderful friends were on hand to wish us well, and we were even treated to a surprise appearance by Tyler Yarema who sang and played the piano! What a sweetheart he is. I got teary when I learned how quickly he’d agreed to gift us with his performance.

You can imagine how emo I was all day, but the piece de resistance was when my daughters took to the stage, wireless mics in hand, and serenaded me with the Rose song from their school. They’d been bursting at the seams trying to keep the surprise a secret from me, and in fact the whole thing almost didn’t happen because H caught a wicked case of stage fright moments before. Her other parents swooped in and pushed her up there, and I’m so glad they did. Her nerves melted away before our eyes, and despite the jitters she sang out loud and strong, and I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my life. I was a blubbering mess, and so very proud of them.

What a beautiful thing to see my friends, and their partners and their beautiful children all gathered together to wish us well. My life is full of rich moments, but some of the richest are when we’re all together and I realize that my family extends beyond blood to my family of friends. Noah is so lucky to have such wonderful people in his life as his sisters can attest.

35 Days

Today I am 35 weeks pregnant and have 35 days left to go.

Last night I had a dream that the clinic that helped us get pregnant called to tell me that my trial fertility run was over, and that my abortion had been scheduled and they were ready to inseminate for real. I was shocked and horrified and I turned to both of my partners, but they were nonplussed by the news and took me to the hospital for my appointment, asking me what else I expected. I kept pleading with them, with doctors, etc to just wait out the next month so we could have this baby, but everyone kept telling me “That’s not the way it works.” Finally I faked needing to use the bathroom to make my escape and woke myself up, but felt so profoundly that my dream was real. Needless to say, there was no going back to sleep for me. It was 3:00 am.

My Babycentre pregnancy app tells me that I have 35 days left to go. Last week I would have told you that felt like a lifetime. This week I can tell you it doesn’t feel like enough time.

I don’t think I’m a good parent. More accurately, I know I’m not the kind of parent I would like to be. I’ve been working really hard in therapy, and with my own reading and research to unlearn a very deeply ingrained way of thinking that was largely instilled by my paternal grandmother who helped raised my brother and I; this idea that children and adults are not equals, and therefore don’t receive the same kind of respect; this notion that being stern and needing control is equal to good discipline; the “because I said so” school of thought. I would venture that many of my peers were raised the same way I was, as this seemed to be the North American standard of our generation. We weren’t unloved, but we realized we had a very different place in the hierarchy of our households, and we were constantly reminded that this place was below the adults.

The Daddy in my family today was raised a very different way. As he tells it he was constantly spoken to with respect and love and patience. He always felt valued and important. There was nobody barking commands at him, and every request was punctuated with a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Sounds Utopian, no? Mama S had about ten good years of witnessing this kind of parent/child interaction through Daddy’s family before her babies came, but here I am in year three of my massive learning curve, and I feel like I’m always getting it wrong.

So yeah, maybe my body has done a great job with growing this tiny man for the last 8 months, but what the hell happens once he’s out in the world? How can I possibly get my shit together enough in 35 days to be the kind of parent I’d like to be and do great justice to the lives of not only my bio offspring, but the two amazing stepdaughters I’ve been blessed with?

How with lack of sleep and raging hormones do I find greater depth in my seemingly shallow reservoir of chilled out patience? How do I switch off the need to control the children’s actions (so they don’t hurt themselves, others, or god forbid develop unhealthy habits) and just really relish in their experience of childhood?

How do I prove to my partners in 35 days that I am worthy of the monumental task of parenting? How can I stop sounding like my stern grandmother when I’m not having a great day? What can I do to help the people around me relax and trust that I’m growing and changing and learning and that I’m not going to become perfect overnight? I need the benefit of the doubt to be able to grow, just as my precocious, wily, headstrong six-year-old does.

How do I push through all of this fear and trust myself enough to let my body take over the task of bringing this baby into the world? 35 days just isn’t enough time.

Budget Baby

Not long after finding out we were pregnant, it became my personal mission to not fall into the trap of many first-time parents who go totally overboard with spending on baby things. The baby market is a booming one, with everyone claiming their product is something you “must have” but for me the essentials were having as little clutter and stress as possible in welcoming our new addition.

Our office/dumping room (where all of the random odds and ends of our household were landing) was to become our nursery. All of the office things are being re-located to the basement as I type. It’s been a slow process, but with our end-of-September deadline looming, things are coming along nicely now and everyone is working so hard at getting organized. Organization makes me happy, so it feels really, really good to be taking care of this. The nursery is nearly complete with a few random bits to make their way downstairs, a crib mattress to purchase, and some art to be framed and hung on the walls.  For nursery décor, I wanted something simple and eclectic with a few splashes of colour. I wasn’t interested in anything too “matchy”, and I wanted a place for everything, with a forest theme as the basis for our decorating choices.

We were lucky to have a beautiful crib and a change table donated by two of the families at the school. These pieces suit the space really nicely, and were in beautiful condition. We’ve re-purposed a small grey cupboard with doors for baby linens and bibs, and I made it a bit less somber with some adorable decals that my parents got for us. Instead of a dresser, we hung some fabric organizers in the closet and stocked them with baby clothes. The futon will stay in baby’s room for guests (until Noah moves in there when he’s older) or for sick baby nights when one of the parents needs to be near by. I’m going to recover the dark grey with something more cheerful, like red, and I’m working on a very whimsical flannel rag quilt to add some colour there. I promise to post some images once the nursery is complete.

Some friends who had things to pass along have given us baby slings and wooden toys in mint condition. We’re trying to create a more “Waldorf” space for all of the children, but staying away from plastic and commercial toys. Early in my pregnancy, I made a monthly date with my mom out of raiding Value Village for clothes and shoes and accessories for baby. I scored four pairs of mint Robee shoes for $3 a pop (retail is $40) and a brand new Baby Gap newborn snowsuit for $10. Then I put the call out on Facebook to anyone who might have some baby boy clothes that they would like to get rid of. This resulted in so many bins of clothing that we’ve had to store half of it with my in-laws.  I meticulously washed and sorted everything by size, keeping only the newborn to six-month items at home for now.

Daddy compromised on his stroller choice, and selected a much more reasonably priced Britax B-Agile model that handles like a dream. My parents generously purchased this for us. Mama S’ family surprised us with the Mamma Roo chair which doubles as a swing. We’d registered for a less expensive version of both chair and swing, but this elegant splurge was very welcome, and it’s so compact and sleek it looks very handsome in our living space. Daddy’s family bought us the Skip Hop crib set I indulged in on our registry. I knew if this wasn’t a gift item, then we’d find a cheaper alternative, and I’d already made four crib sheets, but I really loved the Treetop Friends pattern. (See my Pinterest board for crib sheet instructions – so easy!)  We ended up getting TWO sets because of my very generous cousin, so now one of these will help us buy our very extensively researched Britax Chaperone car seat.

We’ve still got one shower to look forward to this weekend with all of our wonderful friends. Once that fun has been had, we’ll fill out the rest of our needs by shopping online and shipping to our UPS inbox in Niagara Falls NY. The trip across the border is worth the incredible savings to be had by shopping online.

How did you cut corners and save on costs when your little ones arrived?

What They Don’t Tell You

On this Labour Day Monday of my first-ever pregnancy, it’s time for some true confessions. Despite having read nearly every reputable book on pregnancy (and a handful of really stupid ones) this third trimester business has completely and totally caught me off guard.

I suppose I believed that because my first and second trimesters were a breeze, I would sail through this entire experience feeling like I had sunshine blazing out of my ass. Like I had been somehow blessed by the goddess of fertility who had granted mercy on me and helped me avoid all of the usual symptoms. I’m telling you friends, this is no longer the case.

Everything you’ll read about pregnancy will tell you that you “may” feel “some discomfort” in the third trimester. Not one single source (except for a girlfriend or two) has told me that my body would feel like it as been hijacked and that I’m trapped somewhere deep inside my head watching it waddle, lurch, bump, and heave it’s way through the next two months. They warned me, but I felt so good and I was so happy, I didn’t think it could happen to me.

DISCLAIMER: In no way should the following words be interpreted as ungrateful, or as a sign that I hate pregnancy. (This should give you an idea of the kind of guilt I feel complaining so publicly about this miracle that is happening, and frankly I think having to feel guilty at all is some kind of bullshit!)

My third trimester sucks. There’s nothing delightful or magical about what is happening right now. I do not feel radiant. I do not feel sexy. I do not even really feel like myself. Some of you moms out there are reading this and thinking, “Well yeah, what did you expect?” But honestly, did you know how you would feel once your body succumbed to all of the symptoms described as possibilities in your pregnancy books?  Were you seriously able to take it all in stride?

I’m going to bet you didn’t chuckle merrily at your ENORMOUS feet and entirely vanished ankles. It’s entirely likely that you didn’t find it funny every time you squatted down and got stuck there, only able to rise again by shifting slowly to your hands and knees and curling up (or hoisting yourself up by yanking on the freezer handle to then be concussed by a cascade of toppling sunscreen bottles). If you tell me you enjoyed feeling like you have to pee every moment of the day (and often peeing when you’d rather not be) I will straight up call you a liar. And nobody, not nobody enjoys the experience of having a fart squeak out and then being unsure if it actually even came from you in the first place.

Up until now I have loved being pregnant, and there are still days (or at least portions of days) where I can really savor the feeling of having this little being inside of me, but I’m now mostly frustrated at my inability to do so many things that used to be quite simple. The first seven months literally flew by, but now it seems as though time is suspended. Last night in one of my daily crying jags (this particular one was not a moment of happy tears) I think I nailed why this has become so challenging. I’m a control freak, and I’m realizing I’m not in control anymore. My inability to accept my limitations is now making me fearful that I won’t be able to handle the rigors of labour!

I think if there were more focus on the spiritual side of being pregnant, this would be easier to take. (If more books examined the sacred power and mythology of pregnancy instead of focusing so heavily on the experience as a medical condition, for example.)  Imagine if we were taught to really embrace the experience of losing control and having something much greater than us at work in our bodies?  Then maybe we would know to just sit back and relinquish control knowing how temporary this all is, and how the end result (beautiful baby) is our reward for our discomfort.

Maybe this feeling of no longer driving the ship is perfect training for labour when trying to hold on to any semblance of being in charge is the worst thing we can do. Maybe when I wake at 4 am because my pelvis is aching from sleeping on only one side I can breathe and relax and trust that in a matter of weeks that feeling will be replaced by not sleeping because I’m feeding the little soul I have created.

Maybe I can try to have faith that even if I don’t like what’s happening; my body knows exactly what it’s doing. That some ancient feminine wisdom is guiding me through the next chapter of this pregnancy and simply being a vessel for that wisdom makes me blessed and strong (instead of awkward and incapable). Maybe learning to embrace this loss of control is the best training for motherhood I could ever ask for.