Identity Crisis

Photo by Jesse Milns

Photo by Jesse Milns

This blog has been alive for six years. SIX YEARS! I can’t believe how far I’ve come from when I started writing here. When I began blogging, I was newly single after a tumultuous four-year relationship hot on the heels after separating from my ex-husband. I was just about to max out a credit card on a trip to Paris, all by myself. I can see you rolling your eyes and shaking your head – you’re right, things were messy. So messy, but I was so filled with hope.

Now I’m a mom, a partner in a rather unconventional relationship (new readers, see this post!), an artist and entrepreneur, and more of a grown up than I’ve ever been. I’ve found so many of the things I was craving back when I began writing here, and I’ve found them in my way, on my own terms.

Adventures in Schnooville was a name I came up with because a work colleague and friend had nick-named me ‘Schnoo’. It’s a very silly name for a blog, but it suited my purposes – I wanted to remain under the radar, and I mostly wanted my mom to have some peace of mind while I explored Paris without much of a safety net. I never could have imagined then that over 50,000 visitors would land here and read my reflections.

Over the years I’ve had so many touching emails from people encouraging me to write, and thanking me for helping them feel a little less alone out there. What a gift that has been, to know my sometimes narcissistic indulgences are actually serving to help in a way that touches me so deeply in my soul.

Today, Schnooville is going pro!

I’ve had other blogs. I’ve written as my stage persona La Minouche for the theatre company Les Coquettes. I’ve written as a modern-day answer to Dr. Ruth as a girl-next-door sex and relationship advice blogger, I’ve even published some fiction out there on the Internets. Schnooville has always felt like my most authentic voice, and has always been the place where inspiration comes easiest to me, but the name of this blog is hopeless for branding, useless for marketing. It’s cute, but I just don’t feel like its time has passed. After today, I’ll be posting at my new site, where I’ve migrated this entire blog – Playboy Mommy.

When I began to realize that motherhood was an experience with which I was actually going to be blessed, there were definitely people who were shocked/surprised/afraid of the idea of me as a mom, based largely on what my world looks like from an outside perspective, and based on their own ideas of what motherhood should look like. It seemed that wanting a family of my own to nurture and love was incongruous with my lifestyle. This was the age-old Madonna/Magdalene paradigm coming to life, and that’s a seesaw I’ve always strived to straddle firmly in the middle. Ahem.

Playboy Mommy has such delicious, fun connotations, doesn’t it? I think of a free-spirited nurturer who can sip a martini while whipping up a prize-winning batch of brownies. Playboy Mommy sounds like the kind of mom who has made some very interesting, very colorful friends along the way who can certainly help in a pinch. I relate on so many levels to the character this moniker conjures. When I discovered the domain name was available, I was shocked, and took it as a sign.

I’m so excited about developing this blog. Here are a few tips for how you, wonderful readers, can help take this little corner of the Internet universe to the next level. I wouldn’t be here without you, and I’m grateful for you each and every time I post.

1. Subscribe to the new blog, either by email or RSS feed so you can read posts as they happen!
2. Follow me on Twitter @Playboy_Mommy
3. Like my new Facebook page here and share it on your timeline so your friends can enjoy.
4. Be sure to write your comments in the blog comment section if you want to comment on a post, rather than on Facebook. Blogs are more successful if you can build a community of readers who engage.
5. I’ve started an advice section! Help me populate it by emailing me at askmommy@playboymommy.com. I promise to protect your anonymity.

Tell me what you’d like to see more of at Playboy Mommy!

Retail Reflections

Retail Reflections

fleamarket

I cemented something for myself last week – I hate the mall. Noodle was having a really fussy day, and Nekky was at a lunch meeting for most of the afternoon, so I packed up and headed to Yorkville Mall because I knew I’d get nothing done at home.

Shopping is the last thing I should be doing during these very frugal days, but I had a stack of gift certificates for Gap Kids and Gymboree, so I decided to take advantage and see what I could find for the monkeys. Noodle and I caught a lift with daddy, and soon we were fully immersed in the artificial oasis.

I’ve been doing a lot of thrifting lately. Most of the kids’ clothes, almost all of the baby’s clothes, and a large chunk of my maternity clothes were second hand. The women in my family have always loved a good treasure hunt. My mom and her sisters grew up very poor, and my clever grandmother managed to turn salvaging other people’s cast offs into a fun adventure. The glee with which my aunties can pour through a Value Village or Salvation Army was contagious as a child, and now I share that love of discovery.

I remember frequent trips to the nearby Amity with my Grandmaman when I would come to visit. We were allowed to pick out a simple toy to add to the toy box in her modest little apartment, and the result was a constantly refreshed trove for her many, many grandchildren to enjoy. One of my favorite playtime activities while visiting was to hand wash an entire vintage pillow case full of baby doll clothes using my grandmother’s own wash board. Then I would lovingly hang each tiny item to dry on the line she kept on her balcony. It’s no wonder that laundry is a chore I actually still enjoy.

My aunts invented Shabby Chic long before it was ever a thing. Each of them owns a collection of unique treasures discovered at antique markets, yard sales, and estate auctions. They’ve worked these gems into their décor with seamless elegance and whimsy. With a tilt of a head, they can re-imagine a sturdy chair with a new coat of paint or refreshed upholstery. They are such wonderfully creative women. market6

As Noodle and I strolled from one brightly lit store to the next, assaulted by the loud, obnoxious music, and overly friendly staff I began to feel more and more stressed out. The prices seemed ludicrous, even on the sale racks, and I couldn’t find anything that I wanted to use the gift certificates on. Soon Noodle began to fuss, because I think he felt affronted by all of the obnoxious over-stimulation. He began to return the overzealous employee greetings with stink-eye, and started trying to rip clothing off the racks while grunting like a little ape.

It was inevitable that I would soon feel the guilt creep in, I am a fallen Catholic after all, and I began thinking about all of those poor people in Bangladesh who died so horribly because they were neglected by a property owner who only cared about making money. In a sense, they died because we want the cheapest deal on manufactured goods, but so many of us are too proud to be caught re-using perfectly good items that are available everywhere for unbelievable prices.

The cheap labor debate is one that I have mixed feelings about. Some overseas factories really do offer people a livelihood and a means to support their family in the face of some seriously heinous alternatives. This is no excuse to neglect people or take such horrible advantage of their position. I think so many of us get caught up in our tendency towards commercialism that we don’t think much about how those much-coveted items arrive in our malls and how lives are affected in the process.

Of course I want adorable clothing for my kids. I also don’t want to waste some perfectly good gift certificates that were gifted to us. I LOVED the Joe label before this Bangladesh catastrophe gave me pause, but how can I spend money on their products when 300 people died and Joe doesn’t seem in any hurry to make their factory conditions better? The company website states that in the face of the Bangladesh tragedy they are “taking steps” to ensure better conditions, but I’ll be more impressed if they dedicate a portion of their website to seeing how that plays out. A carefully crafted press release feels a bit like lip service to me.

I’m not militant about these things. I’m lazy, and cheap, and I’m sometimes a real consumerist pig. I love Target for example, and I’ll probably keep shopping there, but we need to think about this, don’t we? How badly do we need “stuff”? Is it worth taking advantage of people who are already struggling so that we can get a cheap deal? Can’t we cough up a couple of additional dollars so that they can make a more decent wage?

It’s easy to just hit Walmart and drop some dollars to get the best deal. We do it every week for our groceries because the savings is unbelievable. How does a family of six justify spending hundreds of dollars more each week to buy locally raised meat and local produce? Costco has saved us SO MUCH MONEY!

I don’t have answers to these questions, and I’m not going to be a preachy hypocrite. I think it’s because I’m feeling my own disgust at all of the stuff we’ve amassed over the years that I feel so grossed out by consumerism. How do we make these issues better without extending ourselves beyond our means?  What can we actually do?

I suppose a place to start is buying clothing more responsibly. Here’s a great article from the National Post with some ethical shopping tips. I’d love to hear from readers about how this. Are you shopping ethically? If not, what’s stopping you? If so, can you give us tips to make this work for our large family?

Allowing Allowance

BFA-Child-Financial-Planning

Our girls are now nine and seven, and lately our eldest has been asking for an allowance. All three parents grew up with allowance once we reached a certain age, so we weren’t opposed to this concept, but we definitely wanted to have some shared goals in rolling this out to the kids.

 

 

  1. We didn’t want to tie doing basic helping tasks to a monetary reward. We all help take care of our home because we love our home and each other. We don’t want anyone to feel like they are getting paid to do the tasks that we’d like to nurture some pride in.
  2. We didn’t want the girls to get competitive over allowance. Rather than tie monetary value to chores, we agreed on a set amount per week that was the same for both girls. These two monkeys will compete over who can get the most air. Homeschooling them is going to be a real trip.
  3. We wanted to teach the children smart money management, social responsibility, and some value around money.

Here’s what we did:

Using the Melissa and Doug Responsibility Charts that we bought for the girls a while back, we create a list of suitable household responsibilities that were the same for both girls.

On a Sunday night after dinner we let them know that now that they are seven and nine years old, we felt like they were at the right age to take on some added responsibility in our home. We directed them to have a look at their charts and had a chat about what their responsibilities were, and how we expected them to take pride in caring for our home together.

We let them know that another part about growing older and more responsible was being given the responsibility of a weekly allowance (here there was much cheering and celebration) and that every Sunday they would each receive five dollars.

Then we explained that an allowance was a great responsibility because it helped them learn how to be respectful of money. We let them know that they could spend or keep two dollars of their allowance, and that they would save two dollars of their allowance, and give one dollar of their allowance to our family charity of choice – the Aga Khan Foundation .

To keep their allowances straight, I got them colour-coded glass jars from Dollarama, with one for each portion of their earnings. We’re also keeping track of our wages in a spread sheet, and (probably after the move) we’ll open a bank account for each girl.

Generally, it’s going very well, with the exception of the time we were over a week late with paying out, and my mother suggested we add a dollar of interest. The kids definitely thought that was a good plan!

How have you handled allowance with your kids? How are you teaching them to be responsible with money?

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.