Embracing the Hell of Moving

moving-2I hate moving, which is hard to believe when you consider how nomadic I’ve been over the last several years. I think the longest I’ve stayed in any place at one time is about three years, and of course there is the hilarious number of times I moved in and out of the Fortress of Solitude. (I had an apartment leased by my friend’s parents that I moved into no less than three times, each after a breakup. They, thankfully, managed to keep their eyebrows at a level position over all of this.)

I suppose having so many moves under my belt has honed my skills when it comes to packing and purging, but moving a house of six people plus a business may be my greatest challenge yet. By that I mean, I’d really rather crawl into bed with a stack of books and a thermos of gin and watermelon slush and re-surface when it’s over. It’s hard to not feel overwhelmed, and I will admit to some actual tears being shed over the volume of work ahead. (Read near-daily mental breakdowns, particularly in conjunction with PMS.)

These last couple of months have been beyond stressful with several years of income taxes to prep and file for two businesses, some hard decisions to make about our life, and now the spectre of purging and moving looming again. Add to that cocktail a teething baby, and mama NEEDS some cocktails to get through it all. My good friends at the LCBO are on a first name basis, and have started giving out cookies to my kids with each visit. Kidding. Sort of.

Here are my patented Schnoo-tested tips for tackling a move:

  • Whenever possible, book your move for mid-week. Movers charge more on weekends. Also, avoid the end of the month, if you ever can. We have gotten very, very lucky here and sometimes you’ll find sympathetic landlords. It never hurts to ask about the possibility of moving in a little early, especially when displaying your cleavage.
  • Collect boxes from places like No-Frills or your local grocery store. Small to medium sized boxes are easiest to manage. The liquor store is a gold mine for these (I should know). Make friends with your store manager (Hi Chris!), and find out the best days and times to pick boxes up.
  • Grab stacks of those free newspapers that seem abundant in the city, (especially the stupid, elitist ones who no matter how hard you’ve tried over the last ten years, refused to write about your theatre company) or save any newspapers you may have at home. You’ll need them for packing fragile stuff. Grab felt sheets from the dollar store for packing precious dishes. The felt is nice to layer between plates to make sure they don’t scratch/chip.
  • Go room-by-room and purge, purge, purge. Take this opportunity to turf any clothes you haven’t worn, books you’ve already read, accessories that are collecting dust, and useless knick knacks. Be critical and don’t let yourself hang on to things you don’t need and aren’t using. You’ll be so happy to lighten your load, especially at the end of the day when you get the bill from the movers. You can either sell your stuff or donate it to charity. Some charities, like the Diabetes Association, will even come to you to pick stuff up!
  •  Plan to have a yard sale just before you move. Put prices on stuff as you pack them into labeled boxes for your sale. Think of cute and clever ways to get rid of things. For example, we packed collections of the girls junky little items into brown paper bags that we stapled shut and labeled ‘surprise bags’ and we hope to sell these for a dollar each. It was easy to convince the girls to part with lots of their old toys and such by telling them they could keep the profits from their sales, and I’m hoping that their adorableness will help move more goods. In some instances, I am in favor of child labor. More yard sale tips in a forthcoming post.
  • Before you start packing everything up, take photos of each room of your house for posterity. This is a great idea, especially if you have kids. It will mean something to them to be able to look back on where they’ve lived, and it will be amusing for you to have at least one photo of each room really clean and clear of clutter.
  • Pack fragile items carefully, with lots of extra padding. Movers aren’t always as gentle as one might hope. Especially if you’ve made the brilliant decision to offer them some brewskies. Lesson learned.
  • Label your boxes. I once used a floor plan and a color-coding system with corresponding labels so that our movers would know where each item went. This worked for about half an hour, and then they stopped giving a shit. I once had a colleague who insisted that all movers were ex-cons who couldn’t get work elsewhere, so perhaps my expectations were too high. I was disappointed, but the system was useful for us later. I think a less crazy-lady alternative would be to label each box on two sides with the room it will belong to and a brief description of the contents. I find it useful to add a star to any of the items you will need quick access to once you’ve landed at the next residence and you can ask the former criminals to keep those boxes accessible. There is a slim chance that they might not look at you like they want to strangle you. Eek.
  • Pace yourself. Try to do a bit each day, rather than leave it all to the last minute. Make a fun afternoon project (complete with treats and grown-up drinks) of big rooms like the kitchen.
  • Enlist helpers! Kids love to get involved in home projects, and some of your family and friends can be drafted too. Even if you’ve used up your quota for packing help (for a lifetime), maybe your friends can keep the kids busy at the park so that they aren’t under foot. (Ahem…wink, wink). Pet sitting will also be a huge help, if you have a pet. Or a husband who hates packing.
  • Pack a last minute box with toiletries, sheets for each bed, pjs, books, towels, etc. This should basically be an overnight bag that includes something to sleep on and shower with. Count on sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
  • Expect moving day to be long! Usually double the length you had imagined. Provide snacks (for everyone, including the movers), make a dinner plan that is very low maintenance and keep the refreshments flowing (DO NOT GIVE THE MOVERS ALCOHOL until they are finished, and then limit them to one cold beer. Try to have fun (I know…easier said…) and remember that the kids don’t know that moving seriously sucks.
  • If you can afford a cleaning service to clean the place you are moving to ahead of the movers, do this. It is money well spent. Be sure to budget time and energy to do a decent cleaning of the place you’re leaving, and build good moving karma. Don’t leave your crap behind for the new tenants either. I’ve actually arrived at new residences to find closets full of clothes and dirt caked all over the kitchen and bathroom. Yes, I cried.
  • Don’t rush to get all of the unpacking done, and definitely enlist the kids for this one. It will be really empowering for them to help set up the new space. Think of it like a ritual to claim your new home. In fact, if you’re a closet tree-hugger like me, you could even do a ceremonial sweep and sage smudge.

So in summary, here is what I’ve learned over a total of fifteen moves in as many years; keep it fun, especially for the kids, use alcohol to maintain your sense of humor (unless you are driving or operating a forklift), remember that some movers might be ex-cons, throw out your crap before you move it to yet another home where it will sit untouched, and DO NOT give your movers booze. Also, don’t forget to bring the dog with you.

Do feel free to share your moving tips! I can use all the help I can get.

School of Mom

Things my children have taught me:

  • The importance of play, even for grown-ups
  • How to inject new life and meaning into household tasks/chores
  • A whole new pleasure in cooking for (and with!) my family
  • How to view everything like it’s fresh and new
  • How to slow down
  • How to lower my expectations of perfection (from myself)
  • How to be okay with not being on time sometimes
  • How to be creative and make art every single day
  • To enjoy sewing!
  • To be thrifty and frugal
  • Patience that I never thought I’d have
  • How to laugh at myself
  • To turn inward and really work on my own struggles
  • To respect money and resources
  • That I want to be a writer, who writes books for them to enjoy
  • To be reverent and terrified of the passage of time
  • That there are one million outlets for my imagination
  • That their opinion of me is the only one that matters (after my own)
  • How to melt away my hard exterior
  • To (always try to) speak with love and respect even when I’m feeling frustrated or tired
  • That their ideas, insights, theories and notions are often more touching, profound, brilliant and pithy than those of most adults I know
  • That I am a good mother and dedicated parent
  • How to (strive to) make them feel how loved and cherished they are all of the time
  • That I belong somewhere, to someone
  • That my family, in all of it’s quirky, evolving, unusual glory is the most important thing in the world to me
  • That their amazing, delightful, beautiful selves are proof positive that I am good and doing something good for the world

City Mouse No More

Two gals who are very excited to move to the country.

Two gals who are very excited to move to the country.

It’s our so-called spring here in Southern Ontario, and new beginnings are the theme around here in Schnooville. After finally sharing the news with all of the most important people in my life (namely, my children) I can now leave an update here. I’m leaving city life behind, at least for a little while.

Our family business has left us wanting more, and so while we contemplate the future and hatch our next great plan, we will be heading to Niagara-on-the-Lake, to the house in the country that we love so well. We call it ‘The Lincoln House’, and that’s how I’ll refer to it here. With 30 acres of secluded play space, our children will hopefully thrive in a way that just isn’t possible in the city.

We’ve built up a nest of memories here in our Toronto home – equal parts good and bad. It’s sad to leave because I love this house, I love our neighbourhood, I love the school our children go to, and I love having the energy of the city at my fingertips in those rare moments when I want to venture out. I haven’t lived in the country in about a decade, when I did a brief newlywed stint on a very isolated one-hundred-and-fifty-acre nature preserve in upstate New York. That was another lifetime ago, and an experience that still feels bittersweet.

There is no Waldorf school to speak of in the area, and another round of private school tuition just doesn’t make sense right now, so I am undertaking the wonderful challenge and adventure of homeschooling the girls (and I guess little Noodle) with Waldorf curriculum created for homeschooling families. At first I thought this idea was insane, (I mean, I never imagined myself as the marm of the polyamorous family who lives in the country and homeschools) but now I’m really, deeply inspired, and feeling so passionate about this opportunity. I already feel closer to my children. We’ll do this for a year and see how it goes, and see where we’re at. The ideal end goal is to set up home in a slightly more urban area with a Waldorf school nearby, but who really can tell what will happen next?

All of the adults in our home feel the need to simplify, and so we’re going to extensively pare down our material goods, selling everything and keeping only the very basic things we need. I’m overbrimming with glorious information gleaned from the countless, inspiring blogs I’ve found from homesteader types who have dedicated their life to family and simplicity. I can’t wait to purge, pare down, cut out, and free ourselves from so much STUFF! Stay tuned for the yard sale to end all yard sales.

We’re leaving the city at the end of June, when the school year is through. Before the move, we are planting an extensive vegetable garden at the Lincoln house as both a teaching tool, and a way to nourish our family with vegetables that we know are organic and safe to eat. I’ve never undertaken anything quite so extensive, and to say it’s an experiment will be a bit of an understatement.

The girls took the news so much better than we expected. They were excited, and very accepting, with lots of questions, and the predictable concern over friends and keeping in touch. We’re hoping some of the families we’ve gotten close to will be up for weekend play dates, but we’ll be sure to find some extracurricular activities that allow for creating a new social circle.

I’ll still continue with Les Coquettes, because I love performing with them, and I love creating shows. I do wonder what we’ll have in store after this year? So many of us are having families, and/or our priorities are shifting, and I personally find that writing satisfies my creative energy in a way that nothing else can compare to. Perhaps my Showgirl Madame days are coming to an end?

My new life will afford so much more time for writing. I want to share each step of this experience, and all of the little nuggets of wisdom we can pick up along the way. I used to think maintaining a certain glamorous, artsy, sexy persona was the key to my happiness, but with each passing day I realize that my happiest moments are with my children, and they are the greatest legacy I can leave behind. They afford so much opportunity for creativity and connectedness, and I have never experienced anything as inspiring as them. I feel like they are the catalyst that has led me to step into the next pair of shoes I was meant to wear – the pretty, yet comfortable ones that feel much better than the platform stilettos of old.

There is a giant field of question marks that I stare out into every day. This field is daunting, some parts of it scary, but  the breeze that rustles through it whispers of excitement. Change is a wondrous thing, isn’t it? By taking charge of our life, and making some big decisions, I feel like we’re empowering ourselves to be bigger and better.

What’s the biggest, scariest decision you’ve ever had to make?

Spring Break

I have nothing to do until September.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. I have no Coquettes shows to work on until September, but I have plenty to keep busy with. Namely, parenting, which is my favorite full time job in my work history. I love my kids, and with our two weeks of March Break now concluded my days are so much less full; I wasn’t really sure how to start this week.

The Noodle is eating solids now, and sitting up mostly unassisted. He’s so long that his five-month-old body is wearing nine-month-old clothes, and his only intelligible word is “Mama”. Every day I love him a little bit more.

Hannu spent most of the break with her dad and I while Mama S whisked Aylu away to Texas to visit Auntie Crystal who just had her third little boy. Hannu and I got to bond over crafts, books, and baby. It was such a delight to have some real one-on-one time with her. She’s an angel, and that’s no exaggeration. We spent a leisurely weekend at the Niagara house working on building a Gnome Home for Ayla’s seventh birthday, and even Daddy got in on the fun. I also took Hannah to Smock – this fabulous craft café on Roncesvalles. She had a blast, and we need to go back there soon. It’s such a peaceful space, and I felt inspired just being there. 2013-03-19 13.40.24

Ayla came back from her trip mid-week during the last week of the break. She was a fire ball, and I had to get used to her amazing energy all over again. What an incredible girl. I harnessed her power in a very fun game of “Let’s Do Spring Cleaning”. She took such pleasure in cleaning our home together, and I was seriously impressed at her attention to detail. We cleaned and cooked and had a big celebration for the Equinox and Navroz, which is the Muslim New Year.  Our menu included sautéed asparagus with butter and lemon pepper, this amazing soufflé recipe from Alton Brown and this yummy strawberry rhubarb crumble for dessert which I found on Epicurious. I would make the crumble the day before next time, because it was so much better for dessert. Ha!

2013-03-21 17.46.45I’ve always wanted a ‘Spring Tree’ to decorate, so Nekky hacked some low-sprouting branches from the maple tree in the back yard and we potted them. I then spent all day on Thursday creating ornaments with the girls, and then we decorated our tree. When Hannah and I were out on our Roncesvalles adventure we picked up some pale pink tulips and pussy willows to adorn our home. It’s really quite festive in here. I think it’s really important to honour the changing seasons in our home because I think it helps to keep these city kids connected to nature. It’s also really meditative for me; I find myself really noticing the subtle changes that are starting to occur in our neighbourhood gardens while I’m out strolling with Noodle, and I’m really appreciating each increased degree in temperature.

Spring is all about new beginnings, and this is a huge theme in our household. Our home business is getting tired, and we are craving change, and greater prosperity and adventure. What happens when it looks like the end of the road is in sight for one era, and a new road is opening up before you? The three of us grown ups are united in our dreams of travel with our children, and a lifestyle that affords us such opportunity, and we all want to be pro-active in creating our own dream life. I want the very best life for my children, and that life consists of huge horizons, adventure, family and friends, opportunities to do good for the world, and a thirst for knowledge and experience. 2013-03-21 12.15.30

We are talking about exciting possibilities, we are making plans together and dreaming together, and working together to make great things happen for our family, and the very best part is that we are doing this together.

The Other Side of Pregnant

414485_10151108980017583_1202952274_oWe’re at the Niagara house as I write this, and I love this place. It’s gray and misty today and the back forty looks like a painting with the tall grasses a rich palette of umber and golden. I’m watching my family pass around little Noah who is snoozing peacefully in their arms, and my girls are curled up on the sofa with Faerie Tale Theatre playing on the television. My life feels very rich.

In my vast amount of pregnancy reading, there seemed to be lots written about how the bonding process isn’t always instant. I had no worries about bonding with my baby. I knew when he came out into the world I would feel very connected to him, and feel very natural about my role as mother. What I didn’t count on was how much love I would feel for him. I love this little creature with every ounce of my being and I feel that he is completely a part of me, which I guess is true – I grew him with my body, and with my body he continues to grow. Deep in my heart, I know he knows that I am where he came from, and that we are connected by blood.

With parenthood comes the knowledge of the very deepest kind of fear. Never before have I been so aware of my own mortality, or of the finite amount of time we have in this life. One of the easiest triggers for my postpartum tears was contemplating how soon my little babe would grow out of his tiny clothes, how fast the passage of time would fly, and how one day he’d be in the world without me. I cannot imagine a time when I can’t just reach out and touch my son, and yet that is exactly how the natural course of things unfolds. We create lives, we nurture them, and then we set them free to find their own way. I want this little man of mine to experience all of the richness and love that his own life has to offer.

This love I feel is so profound that now I understand why people unflinchingly say they would do absolutely anything for their children. This love is the deepest ache I’ve ever felt, and that ache is compounded whenever I think of my own mother, and any of the moments when I was unkind to her. I cannot imagine that anyone has ever felt for me what I feel for little Noah, and the realization of that love is the most humbling thing I’ve ever felt. I hope my children can look at the scope of their parents’ love one day and feel like they are worthy. For me, it is only through having children who are so beautiful and inspiring that I feel like I’ve done anything to deserve a love as deep as a mother’s love.

My heart is on my sleeve now. If I feel like compassion is hard to reach, I merely think of my baby and then think of how each person (hopefully) has a mother who loves them as I love my little boy. I think of how they were once perfect and unmarred by life’s heartbreaks, and how they received such deep and simple comfort in their mother’s arms. With my stepdaughters I feel a true sense of sadness, realizing that I missed so much in not knowing them when they were babies, and I understand so clearly now the bond they share with my partners. I know how despite loving them with all of my heart, and knowing I want their lives to be filled with love and happiness, there is something unique about shepherding a tiny life from conception on.  I understand the huge risk my partners took in deciding to let me be a part of the girls’ lives.

Have you had friends who’ve had children, only to vanish from your life, forsaking you for the company of their new parent friends? I now realize that this choice isn’t personal. The experiences of childbirth, postpartum hormones, insane new sleep schedules, and early breastfeeding woes are not unlike having survived a traumatic event. You are left raw, and changed forever by what you have felt and seen. You need the company of other survivors who know what it’s like to glance up from the dinner table when your baby coos, only to burst into tears as you realize you’ve created this magnificent little life and he totally depends on you. We probably don’t give our child-free friends enough credit, but I think we’re afraid to speak candidly about these feelings and experiences in case we frighten them, or worse, have them judge us.

I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to make a baby. Now, on the other side of baby-making I have few regrets. Each step I’ve taken has led me to the path of motherhood, and I feel confidant in my abilities and so very blessed to be able to give life. My child has three amazing parents, two unbelievably brilliant and beautiful sisters, three adoring grandmothers, three proud grandfathers and some truly golden aunties and uncles. We have the means to provide for our children, we have a wonderful network of friends, an incredible school family, we live in a beautiful house in the heart of a beautiful city, and we are healthy enough to enjoy the life we are living. Without the mistakes of my past, I would not know the success of my present, and this present really does feel like a gift.

Birth Story Part One

Time is in fast-forward now, and the hours and minutes have lost all meaning to me. My time is tracked from feeding to feeding, and each free moment is spent eating or bathing or napping. Writing seems to be sitting and waiting for me to return, and so I try to steal a moment here and there to remember the events of the last month. I want to try to paint a picture for you. Especially for those of you who are pregnant, are thinking of getting pregnant, or have already been on this wild ride.

In the quiet 4:00 am moments, my bedroom is cast in a soft amber glow by the new night-light that is always on. It’s warmer than I like for sleeping, and warmer still with the hot flashes I get while nursing. My hair is unruly, with my overgrown bangs sweeping in waves around my brow like the horns of a barn owl – a look made complete by my decidedly owlish glasses, now permanently smeared with lanolin cream, which I’ve been priming my nipples with after each nursing session. I am nodding off intermittently as a tiny, perfect little man-person is feeding from my body, resting on the deflated skin-pouch that was once my magnificent baby belly, and before that the average thirty-something mid-section that I hope will one day return. I breathe in his smell and the tears prickle behind my eyes because I know that all too soon this moment will be gone and he’ll be too big to tuck under my arm.

Each day is a deliberate choice to stay in the moment and savor every precious second of the sweet smell of my son’s head. He’s resting now in his high tech swing, and as I take this time to write I realize that these are a few more moments when I won’t get to drink him in.

How did we get here?

The nine-month journey came to an end (or a beginning) on the first day of my 39th week of pregnancy. My water broke at 3:30 am on Friday October 12th and Noah Nekky Jamal came screaming into the world at 2:22 on Saturday October 13th.

Friday night I was snug alone in my bed when I awoke to realize that my water had broken. I knew this would happen on one of the nights when I was alone, and that was okay. It was in fact this beautiful, peaceful moment of reflection where I was able to really come to terms with the fact that in a matter of hours our son would be here.

‘They’ are right, there is NO mistaking when your water has broken. Any confusion is dispelled by the fact that the fluid continues to flow no matter what you do, and in my case this continued through the entire day and night until I was pushing out my baby. I had started sleeping both with a towel and a waterproof puppy pad under me, and so at least I was prepared for the mess. I rang Daddy and Mama S who were just upstairs, and they came down excitedly. We all three attempted to fall asleep again in my room, but I think only Mama S was successful at this because she can sleep anywhere, under any circumstance. I was far too excited for sleeping, but at least I made myself lie down and rest.

At a more humane hour of the morning all three of the grandmothers were dispatched and made their plans to head to our home with Daddy’s sister Nadia who would be our caregiver for Hannah and Ayla while the rest of us were at the hospital. We told the girls what was happening as soon as they were up, and they were nearly too excited to go to school. Fortunately (and coincidentally) we had arranged play dates for each of them that kept them out of the house until just before bedtime. Mama S was home from work for a doctor’s appointment too, and Daddy’s father was on a plane flying to us from Africa. Noah has some remarkable timing I think.

The day unfolded slowly. Labour really didn’t show much progress beyond some very mild cramps for more than half the day. We walked around the block, I did some yoga, I used my birthing ball to open my pelvis, we had a Grey’s Anatomy marathon as the grandmothers chatted and enjoyed tea. The midwives came to confirm that my water had actually broken, and then suggested I might try some castor oil to speed up contractions, as I was nowhere near what they call ‘active labour’. After they left, Sarah and I walked three blocks to the near by Shoppers Drugmart with our moms in tow to get some castor oil and some snacks. I took the castor oil with a shot of oj when we returned home.

Soon my contractions began to get a bit stronger. I began to crave the quiet of my bedroom, so the three of us retreated there. This is when the details start to blur a bit for me now. We continued watching television for a while, but soon we had to switch to music because the TV became annoying. I hooked myself up to a TENS machine for a while, but within half an hour I also became annoyed with that sensation. Dinner was ordered for the grandmas and the rest of us. I ate some rice, and started to become annoyed with everything, including our food options. I began to run out of comfortable positions for the contractions, and the various relaxation techniques I had learned began to fail me. The midwives were dispatched again.

Here, the contractions began to work their way deep into my self. I considered each one and tried to take them in stride, but it was impossible to not think about the contractions yet to come. I breathed. I thought about opening up. I tried to surrender. Inside my head a little voice said “I think you better really, really think about what you want to do here because you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” This voice felt like it knew what it was talking about, but I wanted to wait and see what the midwives had to say.

I think at this point I looked good to the outside eye. I think I looked like I had things under control, and that I was managing well. I didn’t feel that way on the inside. I felt like someone about to weather their first tornado. It wasn’t fear of the pain yet to come that gripped me, but the intensity of the actual pain I was experiencing. I seemed totally unable to find a way to ride each wave of sensation.

When the midwives arrived, they checked me and I was only 2cm dilated, but fully effaced (my cervix had completely thinned out). This could mean things would happen quickly, or it could mean that we were many hours away. They told me that I had still not begun active labour, and realizing that I was having a hard time with pain management, suggested that I draw a bath and hang out in the tub to see if it would help my body relax so I could deal better with the contractions. I thought of all of the serene water births I had witnessed via Youtube and conceded.

The tub did nothing to help with the sensations. I felt like an angry cat being drowned in a sack in a pond. Nothing could make me at ease or comfortable. This is when I began to want to leave my body. I began to utter phrases like “I don’t…” “I can’t…” “help me…”

Soon I couldn’t stand to be in the water a second longer. I looked at Nekky and Sarah and evoked the ‘safe word’ we had decided on that meant our original birth plan was about to change.  It meant “You guys, I straight up need drugs. For real.”

After the bath, the midwives checked me again. I was 5cm. The student midwife told me I had some options, we could me stay home and labour another FOUR HOURS or so, or we could head to the hospital. I tried to imagine four more drug free hours and I said “Hell no, we’re going to the hospital.”

Stay tuned for part two, where I unleash the beast within and scare a lot of strangers…