Thursday 16 July 2020

This is just a stage.

Parenting is hard.

I was 30 years old when I had Liam and 32 when I had Katie. I had been married for over 5 years at that point, had been to University and College and had various jobs. I had always wanted kids – when I thought of my future it always included children. Plus I loved kids – I worked with them, volunteered with them, spend a lot of time with my younger cousins all throughout their childhood – I thought I was prepared for motherhood. But I wasn’t….

The sleepless nights, the worries & fear, teething, sickness, sleep regression, tantrums, daycare transitions, night terrors, terrible twos, biting, big emotions, epic meltdowns – the list is endless. And that was just with one kid. Going from one to two with only 2.5 years between them, made life even harder. Suddenly you are transitioning to having two kids, trying to help the older one adapt to the new baby, and going through all of the above at different times. Plus for those first few weeks you have all the post-partum pain and emotions going on, so that just makes it worse. It’s a lot.

Maybe motherhood and all it entails comes more natural to some people. I am sure there are supermoms out there that handle all of the previously mentioned aspects with ease and grace. Who find everyday, every struggle and every stage easy. I try to roll with it all. I try to keep calm during the harder aspects and not let it overwhelm me or get to me.  But sometimes it does. Tonight was one of those nights. It was a long day, I was exhausted and feeling crappy – and by dinner I was counting down the hours until bedtime. But bedtime wasn’t easy tonight – bedtime was drama, drama, drama. When I was putting Katie to bed, Liam was calling for me. When I was putting Liam to bed, Katie was crying for me. (Note – my husband works nights and leaves for work before bedtime – so 5 nights a week I am on my own for bedtime). For the next hour I was going back and forth between their rooms. Katie is teething badly (her molars are coming in) so she needed pain meds. Liam was upset that a glow in the dark star from his ceiling fell down. Katie needed cuddles due to the pain. Liam was upset about his light being left on. Katie lost her pacifier. Liam hurt his finger – it was never ending. 

When I first had Liam, the local Early Years Center ran a drop-in program called “Mindful Mamas”. Basically it was an hour-long timeslot once a week where new moms (I think it was aimed at moms of babies who were 0-12months) could drop in and connect with the leaders and other moms. Sometimes there was a specific topic but other times it was more open – going in whatever direction the moms that day wanted. It was led by some wonderful women – and was something I really enjoyed attending.  I found it helpful – not only to make connections with other moms – but for the reassurance it provided. I got to see that I wasn’t the only mom feeling overwhelmed, or with a ton of questions, or with some various concern. I got to raise those questions and concerns and get feedback, while providing my own input on other topics. It was an amazing resource for new moms and I was sad it was no longer running when I had Katie.

I don’t remember all the specific topics covered in the times I attended the program – it’s been over four years so I can only recall snippets here and there. But there is one thing I do remember – a piece of advice from the leaders that I took away and try and keep with me daily.

This is just a stage.

I can’t recall what topic brought up this advice – maybe it was teething, or sleep regression – but it was something that some of the moms were struggling with that day. And the leader made a point to remind us that almost everything in parenting is a stage. The stage can last a few days, a few weeks, a few months – maybe even in some cases years – but eventually that stage will end. And at some point you may even look back and miss that stage in some way. So her advice was to try not to be overwhelmed by these stages and try not to wish them away. Because while you are wishing away the teething, and then the sleep regressions, and then the terrible twos, and so on– your child is growing up and time is passing. So when things are hard, just take a deep breath, remind yourself it is a stage and won’t last forever, and focus on the good.

I honestly think that piece of advice is probably the best advice I ever got as a new mom. And while sometimes in the stress of a moment or day, it’s easy to forget that advice – I really try and keep it in mind.  

So after bedtime was finally over and I finally had a few moments of peace – I reframed my thinking and reminded myself that:

  • Liam eventually stopped teething and Katie will too.
  • Liam eventually slept through the night – and then every night– and Katie will too.
  • There will be a time that Liam won’t want or need me when he gets hurt – but I am lucky that day isn’t here yet.
  • That Katie cuddles are rare and worth every second because they also won’t last forever.
  • Despite the exhaustion and crappiness I am feeling, being a mom is the best feeling in the world and I am so lucky they still want me to tuck them in, read them stories and spend time with them.

So yes, parenting is hard. I am often overwhelmed and exhausted. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Friday 10 July 2020

Reading, Giving and the 29 Gifts Movement

Now that my kids are both sleeping in their own rooms and napping at the same time (both of these things took far longer then I expected) I finally have a bit more free time to myself – which was further helped by the pandemic. At the start of the lockdown I was in a cleaning/organizing frenzy, cooking, baking bread, walking, binge watching TV – all the things everyone else seemed to be doing. But when the lockdowns extended longer then I anticipated those things got boring. I needed a new tablet and finally convinced myself to spend an insane amount of money and get a new iPad mini. Once that arrived I started reading again. Thanks to the Overdrive app and access to the local library system I have been able to read a lot lately…. Far more then I have in years.

I am a member of the Goodreads community where you track the books you have read and can leave reviews/ratings for other members.  One of the things they have is a yearly challenge where you set your goal of books to be read each year. 

As you can see I haven’t been reading much the past few years. Which is crazy because reading has always been one of my most favorite pastimes. Ever since I was a little girl I have loved reading – and read often. I won a reading competition through my local library in the early 90’s and another one through my school due to the sheer volume of books I would read. (Both of those contests had kick ass prizes so that helped my motivation – through the library I won tickets to the Mirvish production of Beauty and the Beast, and from school a $100 gift certificate to a local fine jewelry store). My love of reading was also the main reason I opted to do a specialist in English in university. A University degree based around reading and discussing books? It was a dream! And when I wasn’t reading/discussing and writing about books for my English degree, I was working in the local bookstore. Working in a bookstore was a glorious thing – first, the discount was amazing, as was the ability to borrow hardcovers and read them (I feel like that perk may not continue to exist). Secondly, I was introduced to so many new series, authors and genres from my co-workers and customers. Lastly, I got to attend some cool events like author readings and trade shows. I was even more fortunate that I worked with some amazing people – and even now 15 years later, I still meet up with a group of former co-workers for our Good Times dinners as we have become lifelong friends

But recently between life and kids I didn’t have as much time for reading – or really any of my hobbies - so I didn’t do it as much. Having this time and access to free ebooks has reignited my passion for reading – and I have been spending most of my free-time doing just that. I’ve also been trying to expend my horizons and have been reading other genres and new authors.

One of the books I read, “You are a Badass:How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” by Jen Sincero (a really awesome book by the way!) included the book “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life” as a recommended read.

Here is the Amazon summary for book:

"After a devastating MS diagnosis, one woman shares her inspirational journey in gratitude and generosity--in this New York Times bestseller. At age thirty-five, Cami Walker was burdened by an intensified struggle with multiple sclerosis, a chronic neurological disease that left her debilitated and depressed. Then she received an uncommon "prescription" from South African healer Mbali Creazzo: Give away 29 gifts in 29 days. 29 Gifts is the insightful story of the author's life change as she embraces and reflects on the naturally reciprocal process of giving. Many of Walker's gifts were simple--a phone call, spare change, a Kleenex. Yet the acts were transformative. By Day 29, not only had Walker's health and happiness improved, but she had also created a worldwide giving movement. 29 Gifts shows how a simple, daily practice of altruism can dramatically alter your outlook on the world."

The title and theme of the book immediately interested me so I checked it out from my library’s online catalogue. (Side note – I always vowed I would never read books on a tablet but I have really come to appreciate the ease and convenience of them, especially with the online catalogues during the pandemic). Once I started the book I was hooked. The story was compelling and the writing was honest and truthful. The book is categorized as self-help, but it isn’t something full of research and facts – it’s simply the story of the author - her journey and her life. The author is honest about her past struggles with addiction and mental health and how her MS diagnosis and flare-ups played a role in those. When she began her 29 Days of Giving, she was in a really dark place – but slowly through these acts of selflessness, she began to switch her mindset. She felt more positive and was able to focus on the good in her life. She felt happier and slowly felt healthier too. By the end of the 29 days she was in a much better place – personally and professionally. Her marriage was stronger, her life full with new friendships, her career seemed to be in a better place and she had started this amazing movement. She wrote online about her 29 Gifts and started an online community where others joined to do the same. By the end of her 29 Days, there were over 100 other people participating and that number only grew. Her book became a bestseller, it was talked about on Oprah and the Today Show and her giving movement and community continued to rapidly grow.  

It was a quick read – but a compelling one - and I managed to finish it in a day. At the end I felt moved, uplifted and inspired. I tend to be the type of person who tries to focus on the good rather then the negatives anyways, but the book just spoke to me on some level. Maybe it’s the whole scary pandemic atmosphere we are currently living in, or some of the aspects of my own life I am not completely happy with – either way, I finished the book grateful. I am so blessed – but sometimes it is easy to forget the good. It is so easy to let the stress of the day get to us. To focus on what went wrong or unaccomplished. To read the news and be upset at the state of the world or fearful for all the evils and horrors that seem to surround us.

I see this in my parenting sometimes – where I am so focused on trying to get kids fed, or cleaned, or in to bed that I get annoyed at the little things that interrupt that. But often it’s those little things that can make the day memorable or special. For example - Liam’s new favorite game is “The floor is lava” and involves laying pillows, books, mats all over the place and jumping from them to avoid the “lava”. Obviously this creates a giant mess and tends to happen right before bedtime during puppy time. (Puppy time is the 10-30 minute period before bed where Liam, Katie and their cousin Rome play. It started with them playing with Paw Patrol toys and items – hence the name “Puppy Time” but is now a period of chaos right before bed!) So anyways, I would usually have the room all cleaned before bed only to have Liam going around throwing stuff back on the floor, jumping around (sometimes falling) and making a giant mess. This was stressful. I’d say we couldn’t play, get annoyed, and have to pick up all the toys again. Liam would be disappointed, I’d be annoyed – it just was meh all around. But it really is all about your outlook. Does the mess of the room really matter? Is some pre-bedtime insanity really an awful thing? Sure I am tired and just want the kids in bed, but these are memories being made. The past four years with Liam have shown me just how quickly it goes by – do I really need to rush bedtime and forgo these moments? Before I know it they won’t want puppy time or to play silly games like these – I have to stop and enjoy these little things. I have to change my outlook and focus on the positives and not the negatives. Trust me, it is hard – especially when tired and stressed after a long day with two kids – but its something I am trying to work on.

Anyways the book just spoke to me on many levels and I truly felt inspired to try and make some changes in terms of my outlook and focus. I also wanted to try the whole 29 Day Challenge myself. I figured it was such an amazing concept and what a great time to do it when we are in the midst of a pandemic. Plus I was curious about the author, so after I finished reading the book, I turned to Google.

Sometimes it is better to wonder.

The book was written in 2009 so it’s been over a decade since this movement began.
It turns out that the author recently passed away – I found an obituary for her dated April 2020. It provided a small glimpse into her life since the book – she and her husband had divorced (he was the man she wrote about with such love and appreciation), and she had remarried and had a child. There were a small number of tributes on the page – including one from the spiritual leader who had inspired her movement which simply (and almost coldly) stated “Rest in peace, may you travel well”.

I also found an online community for the 29 Gifts Movement – still active – which led me to the open Facebook page of the author, which she was using up until the time of her passing. She talked about the 29 gifts movement as well as her current struggles – her son was living with her parents in another state, she was separated from her current husband, she was living in a motel and trying to find some sort of affordable housing which was hard as she couldn’t afford much. There were also several links to a GoFundMe page where she was trying to raise money for some dental surgery she needed and something relating to her therapy dog. It painted a very sad picture of her recent life.

The whole thing left me really shaken and really stuck with me. It’s not like I knew this woman – and all I did know was gathered from a book, an obituary and a social media page. But there was such juxtaposition between the author as she presented herself at the end of the book to what she became at the time of her passing. The book ended with her hopeful and inspired. Over a year had passed between her initial 29 Days to the book being published – and in that year life was going well. She was happier, things were looking up, her marriage was strong, her friendships more meaningful and her business was doing well despite the confines of her illness.  Then the book came out and the movement became even more popular. The book became a best seller – she made appearances and got recognition from people like Oprah.

I don’t know what happened in that time between 2009-2020, and I am in no place to speculate based on an obituary and Facebook page.  But it just seems tragic. There weren’t any tributes on her Facebook page despite the thousands of friends. No articles about her passing and the incredible giving movement that she started. Nothing mentioned on the 29 Gifts website. Even the author, whose book included this as a recommended read, didn’t have anything posted acknowledging her passing.

I don’t know why this has stuck with me. Maybe it was seeing the face of her son in many images on her Facebook page – a little boy probably only a few years older then Liam. Maybe it was sadness over the reality that despite the positive place the author ended up in, life didn’t remain positive for her. Maybe it was facing the reality that sometimes life just sucks. I honestly don’t know. But whatever the reason, it really made me look at my own life. To really examine my own mindsets and focus on the things I have to be grateful for. And of course it reiterated the importance of selflessness – and made me vow to try and give/help others – as a part of my daily life.

Regardless of what happened in the author’s life over the last decade, she wrote an amazing book and started an amazing movement. I am so glad it was something I came across and read.

Thursday 9 July 2020

New Motherhood and Friendships

“New motherhood often affects old friendships, without intention.
They’re caught up with demanding responsibilities and tasks. They rely on sharing information with each other, to get through this jolting start to parenthood. It’s not uncommon that friends without children get neglected.” 

I read this exactly a week before I went into labor with Liam - Yup, literally almost 4 ½ years ago - and I remember saving the link on my phone and  thinking to myself, “I won’t be like this, I’ll make sure I keep making an effort and won’t let this new journey affect me.” So I saved it. Thinking it was a good mantra of sorts to hold on to - “Don’t let this change you,”

But in looking back, my relationships had changed even before Liam was born. 

None of my friends had kids. They didn’t understand pregnancy, hormones and the anxieties and stress of new motherhood. Sure they were supportive and excited, but they couldn’t fully grasp how I was feeling. While they were off having amazing celebrations for their “Dirty Thirty” birthdays, mine (which occurred when I was 6 months pregnant) just involved a quiet family dinner. While they were off at summer cottages and all-inclusive vacations - I was at home, sicker then I had ever been in my entire life and taking medication for severe morning sickness. The few times I was included in plans, I either became the designated driver or went home feeling this weird disconnect.

Obviously now I see the reason for the disconnect. Just as they didn’t understand pregnancy and everything I was dealing with, I couldn’t really relate to all their current issues. I had been married for 5 years at this point – I didn’t know how frustrating dating sites had become. How awful it felt to have countless bad dates and to have to start back at square one. And in other areas where they were finding joy and fulfillment (living in their own homes, finding career fulfillment) I couldn’t relate to that as I was still living with my parents and working a job that I hadn’t ever wanted or envisioned for myself. Basically the highs and lows of my life didn’t match up with the highs and lows of their lives.

This isn’t a reflection on my friends – I have some amazing friends. It just became very obvious that we were suddenly at different points in our lives. And now with having 4 years of reflection and clarity – I see that a lot of it had more to do with my own mental state of feeling overwhelmed and anxious about this new life journey then their purposely doing anything to cause it.

But the bottom line was – expectant motherhood and motherhood did change those relationships.

I won’t lie - it was a hard time. And those first few months of new motherhood were even more isolating. The sleepless nights, the hospital visits for breastfeeding support, the worries, the fears, the hormones, the body changes – it’s a lot. I remember taking Liam one of his early appointments with my family doctor and bursting into tears about something insignificant. I was just overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious.

Liam and I - 5 days into Motherhood. 
Friends who would visit got to come and snuggle a baby for an hour or so – but then they left. Everyone knows, baby snuggles are amazing. You have this tiny little human, snugged all up in your arms, sleeping peacefully as you gaze down at his or her perfect little face. I loved the baby snuggles. But the massive poop explosions, projectile vomiting, pain of breastfeeding, having to track formula/breast milk amounts & times as well as record the numbers of poops and pees is not amazing. A screaming baby is also not amazing. The lack of sleep – broken due to all the previously mentioned screaming and feeding – is really not amazing. So my friends didn’t really get the complete picture of my life beyond those super amazing baby cuddles.

But other moms did. Suddenly the people I started seeing most frequently were my new friends… the friends I made who had children.

Mommy and me baby groups were truly a godsend for me – as was my mentor teacher (MT) from teachers college. I had spent 6 months in my MT’s grade 6 classroom five years prior to this, and we got along well and stayed in touch. Her daughter was born a month into my pregnancy, so she was who I initially reached out to. Over the next 8 months she was so helpful with pregnancy/baby advice, useful information, and product recommendations – basically anything an unprepared soon-to-be-mom needed to know, came from her. She lent me her bassinette, a bouncy seat, passed along gender-neutral clothing – she was incredible. Knowing now just how overwhelmed I really was about it all – I can tell you she was a godsend and an amazing friend. I am so grateful that I was placed in her classroom all those years ago, became she became an important part of my life when I really needed someone. So thank you Bernadette.

The mommy and me groups are also something I am so thankful for. I started going to them when Liam was about 4 months old – right around the time he was vaccinated. I have always been a social person, but I initially had to step outside my comfort zone with these groups. It was hard at first – especially the time spent sitting around in a circle singing ridiculous baby songs - but the connections became vital. From these groups I met mom friends – women I would see weekly. Once our kids aged out of the groups, we hung out at play places, farms, the zoo, swimming lessons. From those places we met other moms – and then I did some of that all over again 3 years later when Katie was born (mind you not as much as I would have liked to as it is harder when there is another child at home). I still see some of those moms even now 4 years later despite some of us having gone back to work, moved to other towns, had a second – or third – kid. I couldn’t recite any of their phone numbers off of memory and I generally only know their birthdays when Facebook reminds me – but they became the friends I saw most. The friends who I could relate to and who could relate to me. The friends I could ask parenting questions to and be reassured I wasn’t making a mess of this whole being a mom thing.

So that article was true. My friendships did change. But so did I. It was naive of me not to realize that change was inevitable. I have always been someone who resisted change. My Kindergarten teacher saw it way back when I was 5 years old – when I cried on the first and last day of school – she told my mother she had a feeling I would always be someone who didn’t do well with change. She wasn’t wrong. I don’t do well with change, but once the change is upon me I do adapt. And I have adapted.

My life now has a great mix of new and old friends and friends with and without kids.

I still have most of the friends I had pre-kids – and in some cases my friendships with them are stronger then ever. Now that my kids are older, it is easier for me to leave them for a girl’s night. Sure, some of those friendships have changed or ended, but that is the natural progression of life and 2020 Chantal is much more adaptable and understanding of that, then 2016 Chantal was.

Sometimes change is for the good – and while the initial journey wasn’t easy – I am so grateful for those changes. And I am so grateful for all the amazing friends I am fortunate to have in my life – both the old and new.

2020 may not be shaping up to be the easiest year – or the best – but it helps when I focus on what I am grateful for and all the blessing I do have in my life – and my friendships are plentiful.

Monday 6 July 2020

40 Things Before 40

When I stopped writing I had 6 months left until I turned 30 and had completed only 8 things on my 30 things by 30 list. 

1)   Visit a psychic - [DONE – 10/2014]
2)   Sing karaoke in front of people [DONE – 10/2014]
3)   Learn Archery [DONE – 11/2014]
4)   Learn to Curl - [DONE – 12/2014]
5)   Try the Hydrotherapy treatment at St. Anne’s Spa - [DONE – 12/2014]
6)   See ONCE (the Musical) on Stage  - [DONE – 02/2015]
7)   Take a bartending/cocktail making class [DONE – 03/2015]
8)   Do the H20 floating Pod spa [DONE – 04/2015]

Though I didn’t write about them I did manage to complete the following items as well.

9)   Visit the Grand Canyon [DONE – 05/2015]
10)  Get my boating license [DONE – 06/2015]
11)   Attend a renaissance festival [DONE – 08/2015]
12)   Try axe throwing [DONE – 08/2015]
13)   Finally create the photo book of our wedding [DONE – 11/2015]
14)   See the Pandas at the Toronto Zoo [DONE – 10/2017] This was after I was 30!

I was really enjoying my 30 before 30 list but between pregnancy and the timing there was a bunch of things I wasn’t able to complete. I think that the idea of the list was such an amazing opportunity to expand my horizons and get out of my comfort zone, but giving myself only a year to complete it made the list problematic in many ways. When compiling it the focus became what was realistic and manageable and that was limiting in some ways. The more I thought about this whole process the more I realized I wanted to do this, but I didn’t want to be constricted by a short timeline and the limitations of what was realistic.

In 4 months I turn 35 so by starting a 40 Things by 40 List, I am giving myself 5 years and 4 months to complete this list.

Having such a long timeline allows me to really think big and focus on what’s important to me rather then what’s reasonable. I decided to carry over the remainder of my 30 before 30 List as a way to start (those are 1-16) and then go from there. It’s not complete yet – it’s something that I am taking a lot of time and reflecting on, but undertaking this is an exciting prospect. My life tends to be so consumed with the kids and their daily wants/needs, that time for myself and my interests don’t exactly come easily. I can’t recall the last time I was able to sit down and do something I wanted to do, let alone try and learn something new. Even now as I try and make time to write, its usually occurring at the very end of the day when I only have the energy to spend 30 minutes or so on the laptop, before collapsing in an exhausted heap on the bed.

I think that’s the other reason I want to really utilize my time in compiling this list. This list is about me – it works into my hopes, dreams and what I want for my life. Life hasn’t exactly turned out the way I envisioned in some aspects – but in all honestly when does it ever? I am so lucky to have my kids, my husband, my family, and my friends. I am blessed to live in a country that offers me rights, freedoms and free healthcare. And I am grateful for all the experiences I was able to have pre-kids in regards to my education, traveling and seeing the world.

Would I have liked to have something else going for me professionally? Sure, but at the end of the day I am helping in my family’s business and the job allows me the flexibility to work from home and be with my kids. Would I change our living situation? Of course, but again at the end of the day we have a roof over our heads and our kids have this incredible relationship with my parents and my brother and his family.

So here is my 40 Things Before 40 List.   

1.     Learn to make Sushi 
2.     Get certified in CPR and First Aid 
3.     Take Level 4 in Cake Decorating and make a 3D cake  
4.     Visit the Royal Ontario Museum and/or Visit the Bata Shoe Museum 
5.     Go sea-doing
6.     Go snowmobiling 
7.     Go to an NFL Game 
8.     Play Blackjack at a Casino (On my own without coaching) 
9.     Visit the Scandinavian Spa at Blue Mountain
10. Take some sort of dance class (Ballroom, Burlesque – something new)
11. Volunteer Somewhere 
12. Get back into doing Yoga – or something else like Pilates
13. Take WW seriously and lose 75lbs 
14. Try and to do selfless acts more often  
15. Take a Class for Professional Purposes
16. Swim with Dolphins
17. Go Snow Tubing
18. See the Northern Lights
19. Visit 2 Provinces I’ve never been to. 
20.  Write some of the short stories that I have ideas for
21.  Finally get a tattoo
22. Continue to work on being the best mom I can be
23. Be in a different living situation
24. Be fulfilled professionally
25. Try Horseback riding
26. Ride an ATV
27. Visit the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
28. Explore Napa Valley (Michelle call dibs on going with me!)
29. Pick up some sort of creative/crafty new hobby (knitting, sewing, string art – just something!)
30. Visit at least one new country – in addition to Iceland
31. Get comfortable driving the 401 – even if it means taking some sort of lesson

That’s what I have so far. There is room for 9 more – I vow that before my 35th birthday I will have this list complete! So stay tuned.