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
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Weathering the Shitstorm

Five great reasons to get my act together.

Five great reasons to get my act together.

Calorie counting, which I am mostly diligent about, but have taken a break from because my father-in-love is in town and he equals FOOD, has helped me shed about fifteen pounds since I last wrote here. I’ve limited myself to 1600 calories each day because I’m breastfeeding, and I’m generally staying away from complex carbs and refined sugar. Right now I’m about ten pounds away from my target, and I’m now seriously contemplating exercise each day. Note that I haven’t said I’m going to start exercising each day. That’s more commitment than I can handle, and the careful food choices seem to be working well. Score one for me.

I’m back to work (part time, I guess), and back on stage with the Coquettes, and about to head to Alberta with them for our first out-of-province shows. My experience with becoming a mother, birthing a baby, and watching my body turn inside out and upside down has created this insane confidence on stage. More than ever, I feel like I’m there to have fun, help the audience have fun and I really don’t give a shit about what might come out of my mouth in the process. This has made for some great shows as far as I’m concerned. That edit button is gone it seems, and hilarity ensues. Score two for me, I guess.

Noah is thriving, and smiling like a maniac nearly all of the time. The little monster is only four months old but fitting comfortably into nine month clothing, all while exclusively breastfeeding! He’s so long, I think he may end up a giant like my 6’7 brother. His sisters are wonderful too. I just had the absolute pleasure of two glowing parent/ teacher interviews where both teachers sang the praises of our wonderful children and our wonderful family. Score three?

I’m giving myself this cyber pep-talk because in therapy I’m experiencing what you might call the eye of the storm. The work I’m doing there feels like complete and utter shit. It feels like teenage days all over again. I sort of hated high school, so on Sunday nights I would feel absolutely sick with dread knowing that I had to return there on Monday. This is the same feeling I get now on my pre-therapy days. What’s going on there? Well, the simple answer is when I’m faced with difficulty, criticism and my own short comings, guess what I do? I go stony, I detach, I shut down. I do this because I  feel like I’m a terrible person and everyone around me is better off without me. I want to crawl in a hole and run away. That’s what happens inside. Outside I look like a cold-hearted bitch who doesn’t care about anything.

When there is a problem in your relationship, you want your partner there with you. You want them emotionally present to help work through difficulty. I can’t do this, or at least I haven’t been able to do this. I hate this about myself  and now I’m taking a very critical and thorough look at where this comes from and how I can stop it. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and it hurts like hell.

So, how does a Schnoo deal with such a difficult emotional place?

1. Binge eating. Yes, I allow myself to completely and totally pig out, but only for one day. I know I can get back on track quickly, so I just go for it. Emotional eating is never a great idea, but sometimes only chocolate and popcorn can make the pain go away.

2. Maid mode. Today, after gorging myself last night, I have been a cleaning maniac. Cleaning through stress is the best thing. It’s a physical opportunity to scrub away all of the ugly, and it feels so good to take care of it while my partners are hard at work earning our bread. This morning marked the best on-my-hands-and-knees-in-front-of-the-toilet catharsis yet.

3. Makeup. If I feel like shit on the inside, I can’t stand to look like shit on the outside. I try to take extra time to focus on the things I can control, like glowing skin and bright eyes. I love makeup, I love the art of makeup application, and I love how this simple act picks me up.

4. Writing. It’s like puking the contents of my head onto paper, and I swear it’s the greatest gift I was born with. No other physical act makes me feel better.

5. Fresh air. I need to leave my physical space when I feel like crap. I used to take my iPad to the cafe near by, but with the little Noodle as my constant companion, I can’t indulge in out-of-the-house writing excursions these days. Instead he and I are going to drag daddy out to the new diner around the corner for lunch where I will sport my fresh and dewy face, indulge in a milkshake, and try to not feel like such an asshole.

If I have these wonderful people in my life who say they love me, and who are trying to build a world with me in it I can’t be so horrible, right? Is it shame that I feel in the face of making them hurt or feel frustrated and disappointed in me? Why can’t I let myself make mistakes and be a ‘work in progress’? Why can’t I just say “Yeah, that IS shitty, let’s fix it” instead of wanting to run away and hide?

I used to question the logic of  my friends who would start therapy and then quit, but now that we’ve scraped well beyond the surface and am digging into the meat of my psyche I can totally understand the impulse to stop the process. I won’t though. Somewhere beyond all of this crap-ass feeling is the realization that I (and all of those I love) will be better for it. Somewhere my mind knows that crying like a maniac is actually better for me than going all stony and hard so I don’t have to feel things. Therapy is best approached like a very sticky bandaid – get in there, rip it off, and deal with the pain rather than gingerly peel it back, or see if it will eventually fall off in the shower. That last one always ends up a dirty, stinky mess, doesn’t it?

Spring time goal: getting rid of the hard candy shell to enjoy the gooey centre.

16 Days

A Little Tin of Chocolate

I began writing this blog in 2008, fresh after a breakup from a very complicated relationship, and filled with excitement because I was about to embark on a solo vacation to Paris. Life felt pretty huge and terrifying then. I was raw with emotion, and apprehensive about what the future held for me. When I returned from my trip, I would have no place to live, and I’d be facing the realities of being single and thirty-something.

I drank Paris in, and fell deeply in love with a city that I always suspected would have a special place in my heart. Because I was on a very tight budget, I allowed myself only a few token souvenirs, mostly purchased at a well-stocked supermarket and the Parisian equivalent of Winners. One of these mementos was a tin of French drinking chocolate, so I could enjoy the delicious little ritual I had created for myself each afternoon no matter where I ended up back home in Canada.

When my new family and I combined our households, the chocolate tin came with me. I hadn’t expected the chocolate to survive, but the tin was pretty so I imagined we could use it for storage in our kitchen. French chocolate is resilient though, and to my amazement still tastes as good as it did when I first bought it almost five years ago.

On Tuesday night, A and Daddy made us a post-dinner hot chocolate and marshmallow nightcap, and all five of us sat around the table enjoying it together. As I gazed at the faces of these beautiful girls who have been one of the greatest gifts of my life thus far, I was suddenly overcome with emotion. Strolling through the aisles of that Parisian grocery store, trying to choose just the right thing to bring home, I had resigned myself to believing that children and family were a long, long way off and perhaps something that were not meant for me in Schnooville. But now I sat surrounded by my family, (a family I have chosen against all odds, and a family who freely chose me despite all of my flaws), drinking that Parisian chocolate and ready to burst with another brand new life who gets to go through each day with these wonderful people. I feel no fear about this huge milestone because my heart believes I am exactly where I should be, with the people I need most in my life.

Look defeat in the eye and love yourself even harder. Tell disappointment that you deserve better. Treat your broken heart to vacations and decadent chocolate and trust that somehow, probably in the most unpredictable way, it will all work out. If you believe that you are lovable, the love you crave will find you.

H & A Enjoy Some Tummy Time:

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.

Return to Home Base

Our final vacation day was a whirlwind. We did much of the packing the night before so we could get up early and enjoy the pool before we had to check out of the hotel. Our final swim felt a bit bittersweet. I was really loving the climate in Florida, and was so pleasantly surprised that I didn’t find it too hot. I’d really miss all of the beautiful vegetation, and would certainly miss having daily access to the pool and the lounge chairs.

The kids were really good-natured about not protesting too much when it was time too leave. I was moodier than they were, in fact. We checked out, grabbed a bite, and then headed to the airport where we had a lot of time to kill. Mama S and I indulged ourselves with some foot massages. My masseuse was a pregnant lady who talked incessantly about her own pregnancy and her two young sons. Not so relaxing. 

Daddy had some fun with the girls by giving them all of our American change and having them spend it by themselves in the gift/snack shop across from where we were sitting (where we could see them of course.) Thank goodness the cashier was patient! After a late lunch, we were finally ready to board our plane.

The flight home felt fast, and because I requested that the Mamas sit together and Daddy sit with the girls, I even got a good nap in. The trip home from Buffalo airport felt so epic though. It didn’t help that we realized that we’d left Daddy’s handicapped parking permit in our rental car. In Florida. After stopping for late dinner, dealing with border traffic, and the long drive home it became a very late night and we were all exhausted. It was really good to be home.

What an amazing experience to spend an extended time together, enjoying being a family and exploring new parts of the world! All five of us were together in very close quarters and we all survived! I think it’s essential to invest time each year in each others company without the distractions of our work lives and adult responsibilities. It was really amazing to just focus totally on the kids and try to enjoy living in the moment (a real challenge for me at times). I have a little fantasy about an extended cottage rental where grandparents and friends can come and stay. I feel so inspired after this amazing trip, that I want to start planning for next year!  If anyone has any leads on great cottage rentals for the month of August, let me know!

 

It’s Gonna Take A Lot To Take Me Away From You

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Have you ever remained in denial about a thing until it was right there staring you in the face? Of course then what happens is that all of the feelings and fears you refused to acknowledge are there en mass, and there’s no pretending anymore.

I’m folding tiny clothes and tiny socks and packing up suitcases and trying to stay bright and positive, but I’m not good at missing people. I’m not good at “aparting” as my five-year-old would say. My fella and my girls are off to Africa for three weeks and my lady and I must stay behind.

It’s a huge opportunity and a huge adventure for the girls and my man hasn’t been back in 22 years. It’s an important trip for the extended family, surrounding an important religious occasion, and I’m excited for them but so sad.

Sad to miss so many firsts, sad to be so far away, sad to not be able to take time off to visit such an amazing place, and sad that their first time couldn’t be our first time too.

There’s a bright side too because there always is. I get three very quiet weeks to focus on work, reading, writing. I get three weeks to enjoy some alone time with my lady. I’m hoping those great pluses will take the edge off my worry and sadness.

I furnished the girls with a fresh new sketch book, we will Skype every day, and hopefully the time will fly by. In the New Year, I’m hopeful that we can go on a family vacation – something we’ve yet to do all together.

What a magical time for them! I guess it’s a little tough for me because I’ve missed a lot of their magical experiences already, and I’m new to the maternal separation anxiety thing.  I’ll focus on the magic that we’re bound to share as their lives unfold, enjoy the quiet time for reflection, and celebrate the adventures that await us all.

Dear Friends

You are really and truly amazing and important to me. In many ways, I think of you as the family I have chosen, and I hope that you share that sentiment with me. My home is always open to you, as is my heart, and when I love people there isn’t much I wouldn’t do for them.

I have a few requests of you, so I hope you are listening.

1. I am in a closed romantic relationship. Though it defies convention, in many ways we are the same as conventional couples. We are “monogamous” insofar as we can be. We welcome your hugs, kisses, platonic love and mild flirtation, but please know that we are not recruiting.

2. The children in my life call me “mama”. They believe I am their mother. I believe I am their mother. My partners believe I am their mother. Please address me as such, particularly in front of my children, and kindly do not address parental-type conversations directly to their biological parents in front of me. We are called “mamma S” and “mamma C” if you need to make a distinction. Please treat my children as you would if they were my adopted or biological children. I call them my step kids, but it’s a bit different, isn’t it?

3. We are living in the open. Therefore when thanking us as a family please address us either by our individual first names or lump us all together under one tree. Either use my full name and say “and the rest of the x family” or just say the “x family”. We care what you think. We don’t give a shit about what your parents/aunts/uncles/strangers/etc. think.

4. If you can’t invite all of us to events and occasions because you’re afraid of what people will think, please don’t invite any of us. We won’t always ALL be able to come, but we’re not really into leaving anyone behind for reasons other than schedule conflicts.

5.  We are all partners now. Terms like “husband” and “wife” no longer apply to any of us, unless you are trying to be cute and are bestowing titles on all of us.

6. Thank you for your love and support. We’re going to have a lot of explaining to do in this lifetime, and some unintentional social blunders to wade through because of the choices we’ve made. We anticipate this, and hope that this post has been helpful. There aren’t really any etiquette tips that apply to our situation, so we are creating our own.

Take a moment and reflect on your own relationship, if you are in one. Some of you wouldn’t have the love that so enriches your lives if it weren’t for pioneers to blaze the trail to the rights you now enjoy, and perhaps take a little bit for granted. Maybe one day, we’ll be able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of our own courage in a way that extends well beyond our four walls.

With so much love,

Schnoo