I can’t clean up because…

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The top ten reasons why my three-year old can’t clean up her toys…

10. “We still need these for our camp site.”

9. “It’s a lot of work,” or “It’s too tricky.”

8. “Uhhh, you first!”

7. “I can’t see my toys.”

6. “I already did.”

5. “I’m busy cooking onion strawberry soup for dinner.”

4. “My back hurts.”

3. “It hurts when I bend over.”

2. “The baby/sheep/horse/puppy in my belly makes it hard for me to bend down.”

1. “Because mommy likes to clean up my toys!”

One step

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Before our sweet Madeleine came along, we got a lot of advice from other parents. Still to this day, the two most important pieces came from a colleague of mine, and a colleague of Eric’s.

A woman at my work said to me, “You are never going to be or feel ready. So just do it when you think it’s right.”

A man at Eric’s work said to him, “When things aren’t going well, don’t worry, they will get better. When things are going well, be warned, they will get worse.” The natural ups and downs described so easily.

When Madeleine arrived, people told us,

“Don’t worry, it will get better.”

“All babies cry.”

“You will get to sleep again.”

Amongst a number of other things. I often reflect on these comments and think that they need some changes.

Don’t worry, it will get better. It might not get better, but you will get better.”

It’s true that as parents, you figure things out, and you get better. But, it’s also true that those memories of the first time spent with your baby are engrained and tough to remove.  When you think you’ve been able to move on, you are expecting a second, and the fear and panic from those days comes rushing back. You remember the isolation, the loneliness, the exhaustion. You remember how it felt as though nobody believed you. You remember the feelings that to so many people, you are simply a carer-of-baby, and not a person who is equally as important as baby.

Then you cross your fingers and pray that next baby will be different. Next baby won’t have colic. Next baby will want to be soothed. Next baby will smile and laugh. Next baby will sleep for longer than an hour at a time when he or she is 9 months old.

But, then you’re hit with the realization, that next baby is the least of your worries, and that first beautiful baby of yours is who you are most worried about. Most people will tell you not to worry, first baby will adapt. But, most people have not lived in your home. Most people have not lived through what you have lived through. Most people don’t can’t understand.

All babies cry. All babies cry. Some cry more than others. Sometimes crying means that something is wrong. You are probably right if you think your baby is crying too much.”

Yes, this is true that all babies cry. It is actually not helpful to tell a new mom that all babies cry. She will be too polite to let you know that this is something she has known for many, many years. She will forgive you for saying something like this, because she knows that you’re just trying to be helpful. She won’t need you to know the myriad of reasons she discovered that her baby cried more than most. She won’t have to, because someone else will have validated her experience for her. She will share the bits and pieces that she’s comfortable sharing, with the people that she feels safe sharing them with.

You will get to sleep again. You will get to sleep again… in 18 years.”

The level of exhaustion I felt in Maddy’s first year is something I’m not sure I will ever experience again. It was a true life lesson in why sleep deprivation is used as a torture method. It was an experience where exhaustion played at sanity. I remember waking up to a crying baby, and physically not being able to move. I would try to will my body to get up, but it was not possible.

Over time, sleep does become more consistent. It’s true that you will sleep more than when baby is 3 months old. But, it’s also true that you might not sleep through the night again for many years. You might have a child that doesn’t sleep, no matter what you do. You might be woken 7 times in a night when your child is 3, on a regular basis. You might have a child who takes hours and hours to settle into sleep, no matter how consistent and routine-based your evening is. Your expectations of sleep will change – and you will somehow figure out how to be productive with all of that waking. You will let your body be your guide, and take it easy when it needs you to.

The last three years have been a time of ups and downs, with unexpected curves, and needed plateaus. It has been a time of wild growth, and of deep love. We have learned, we have been hurt, we have been tested, and we have been cared for.

There was a time that I wasn’t sure that I could manage a second baby. There was a hesitant decision to listen to our hearts. Now there is fear and uneasiness. We are entering a kind of work and preparation I never thought I would need to do to expand our family, but we are showing up each day, and taking one step at a time.

 

 

Peaks and valleys

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I’ve been having a rough go emotionally the last little while. I’ve sat down a few times to blog, but couldn’t get the words quite right. The last couple of months have thrown us some twists.  A family vacation that was more difficult than we imagined, despite our endless preparations for it. Repercussions from our family vacation. Follow-up visits with some of our lovely doctors/therapists. Appointments that included information that we weren’t prepared to hear quite yet, and that have left me in a state of confusion and with a feeling of helplessness. A pregnancy that keeps moving forward towards the arrival of a beloved babe, but that sometimes feels like another test to add to our family load. These challenges followed a very lovely and emotionally positive and strong winter – it feels like the a temporary valley. A valley that has its own beauty, even though I’m actively working on climbing out of it.

There are many lovely, amazing things happening right now too – which are acting as an equalizer to this funk. My work hours have reduced to 24 hours a week. Even though I adore my job, I feel like I can breathe and I’m finding balance after a hectic work winter. We are enjoying the summer, spending most of it outdoors, as that is Maddy’s favourite place to be. I am finding strength in my closest friends, in my community, and at home. I have a lovely new haircut thanks to a very talented, long-time friend. Nothing like a new haircut to make you feel like you can take on the world :)

The hardest feeling that I’m battling is hurt. As I’m sure any parent reading this will understand, I hurt so deeply when things are hard for Maddy and I can’t fix them. I hurt so deeply when I run out of patience and am not the mom I want to be, especially when I know that the situation that I have lost my patience in is beyond mine, Eric or Maddy’s control. I hurt so deeply, when I’m on the edge of coping, and I have to leave Maddy in a time when she wants me. I worry that she sees it as a punishment for something that isn’t really her fault. I worry that she might use those times to assess her worth or value in this world. I always try to explain when we’re both in a place to talk, but I don’t know if my words are enough.

Parenting is amazing, exhilarating, and incredible, but it sure has tested me more than I expected. Some days it feels like one foot in front of the other is a success to celebrate. Other days I sit and look over the past 3 years and can’t believe what we have accomplished as a family. Every day I love Maddy for exactly who she is, a sometimes over-the-top silly, clever, very inquisitive, strong-willed, determined, active, beautiful little girl. But, there are some days that I wish more than anything that the road was not so hard for her, or us.

 

Throw a life preserver!

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I am so fortunate to adore my job, and the people I work with. I have found a spot where I feel that I can contribute to my community in a positive way. I have found people who are passionate about the same things that I’m passionate about. I interact daily with people who constantly challenge my beliefs, and my assumptions about the world. I am learning every day. To top it off, I am given freedom and flexibility. I really couldn’t ask for much more.

One of the best parts about my job is how I am constantly getting the opportunity  to engage with a diverse group of amazing people. I had a work meeting in Coffee Culture this afternoon with an incredible woman. After the important work things had been accomplished, we had a little extra time to chat about non-work related things.

This woman is spiritual, energetic, passionate, quirky, and very funny. Her energy radiates, and creates waves in the room. She is a joy to be around.

We are very different, but also alike. We have one striking similarity – we both have bleeding hearts (INFP right here, folks). We talked about some of the strengths our sensitivity brings to our life, and also some of its challenges.

We talked about how we often feel as though we’re perceived by others as too soft, too feely, too emotional, too sensitive. But, we connect deeply with those who don’t see us as ‘too’ anything (insert amazing hubby and my dearest girlfriends here). They seem to understand the seemingly irrational side I sometimes have when I can’t quite articulate what I can feel in my soul. 

life-preserverWe talked about the overwhelming emotions we feel when someone close to us is hurting, and how that can impede our ability to hold space for that person. She shared a great metaphor with me about this very situation. She said, “When someone else is hurting, we need to throw them a life preserver instead of jumping on the sinking ship with them.” In other words, we need to hold space for that person so that they can work through their own emotions. We don’t need to talk, or intervene, and we do need to let it be about them and not us.

It all comes full circle, because I shared with her one of the things I’ve learned as Madeleine’s mother. When Maddy is in distress, and unable to calm herself down I used to panic, fear that I was a terrible mother for not being able to help her calm down, and try to intervene. That was my instinct and my gut reaction, but it couldn’t have been more wrong. When I did that, I was making something about me that wasn’t about me. I wasn’t holding space for Maddy.

What I’ve learned, is that when we are in a situation like that, it’s best for me to not say anything at all, not to intervene, and to just be present. If I do say something, it’s likely one of three things, “You are very safe. Mommy is right here,” “I love you when you’re happy, sad and angry,” or “Let me know when you need me to help you calm down.” It’s my way of throwing a life preserver, instead of jumping on the sinking ship.

Now, I’m not perfect, and like all of us I do sometimes make things about me, and react in a way that’s not most effective, but now I am able to reflect back on those times and try to explore what triggered my emotions. I’m much less likely to cry with Madeleine these days, and unless Eric is on deck with Madeleine, I never bury my head under the covers any more. I have learned the skill of holding space.

I see the life preserver metaphor as applying not just to adult relationships, but also those with our children. Our need to want to fix something is about us, and we shouldn’t be putting those needs on someone who is already hurting, or having a hard time. Instead, if we hold space for the person, and we allow their fire to run its course. In the end, we’re all better off.

 

It’s buggin’ my ears

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M: “Mommy, what is that?”

A: “What is what, honey?”

M: “It’s in my ears. What’s the noise?”

A: [Hears dead silence…] “Um, do you hear a noise?”

M: “Yes, turn it off. It’s buggin’ my ears.”

A: “It’s bugging your ears?”

M: “It’s in my ears. What is it?”

A: “I don’t know, bug, I don’t hear anything. I believe that you hear something though. If it’s hurting you, we could get your headphones. Do you want your headphones?”

M: “Yes. I need my headphones.” [Sits happily with headphones for 10 minutes]

People who have a sensory processing disorder do not process their sensory information, like auditory input, the same way people without a sensory processing disorder do. Sounds that don’t hurt us, can hurt them. It is not someone being sensitive, demanding or manipulative. It is someone trying to manage a difficult situation.

 

Sensitive Santa

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A year ago we attempted to visit Santa twice. It was an awful experience, not just for Maddy, but for us as well. It was too much… too much everything. Our first visit ended with a Santa who was quite unhappy with us, and a comment from a stranger who felt that our struggles were because, “That little girl is just begging for some love and that mother is denying it.” This woman at least had the respect to not say this in front of me, unfortunately, she didn’t know she was standing next to Eric.

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I’ll spare you the details of the actual day, but we ended up with a photo of a screaming, terrified Maddy with a grouchy Santa. As a parent, it was a totally shameful experience that left me questioning my behaviour. Why was it that I wanted Maddy to see Santa so badly? Did I really not know it was going to be so difficult, or did I force us to go because it was something that I wanted and I didn’t care what Maddy needed?

I still look at the photo from that day with mixed emotions. On the one hand, what’s a Christmas album without the classic baby/toddler crying with Santa? On the other hand, I know that Maddy’s crying was much beyond the typical crying photo, and was related to a host of factors that don’t impact most kids.

I wanted Maddy to have the same experiences that other kids would have – but, the thing is, I wanted her to have the experience that I imagined, not the actual one we had. The Christmas tradition of visiting Santa is not really a magical experience if it is an anxiety-provoking, traumatizing event with a very grouchy Santa.

We were so fortunate this year to snag a spot with Sensitive Santa. The Kitchener CTV News talks about the event here. It was an overwhelmingly positive day. I can sum it up by saying that they do their very best to reduce sensory input (dimmed lights, no music, Santa doesn’t ring bells, etc.), they mail a social story in advance (Maddy requested we read it at least 15 times before our visit this morning – it helps manage anxiety and provides expectations of what will happen), there are no waiting times, an area with blocks and colouring for the kids to enjoy, and perhaps most importantly – the staff and Santa are skilled and patient.

It is an entirely child-led visit, allowing the child to interact with Santa in their own way. When Maddy was hesitant at first, they encouraged her to explore, she walked around touching all of props. They then introduced her to a stuffed Mickey Mouse, and asked her to help Mickey explore. When Maddy wanted to leave the space, they let her take Mickey and we walked around and watched another child visit with Santa. When Maddy wanted to try again, they patiently waited until she was ready to get close to Santa. Maddy explored her gift and looked up for a picture. Santa watched her cues very closely, and spoke to her in a way that wasn’t overwhelming – pausing to allow her time to process, and prompting when necessary. We had filled out an information card in advance, so Santa knew exactly what to talk to Maddy about! We finished our visit with a high-five, and Maddy said thank you and Merry Christmas to Santa.

What struck me most, was that every child’s visit with Santa was completely different. Instead of every child being forced to fit into a prescription visit, the visit moulds around the needs of each child. We give Sensitive Santa a big thumbs up and encourage anyone who thinks that it is an event that their child can benefit from to give it a try.

A cozy tea cozy!

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I’ve been playing around with some quick projects for Christmas this year. I came across a pattern by Miss T called Café – it’s the perfect little tea/coffee cozy.

I just adore this, and it’s a super simple and quick knitting pattern for beginners. It’s also a great way to use up some of those yarn scraps you have lying around.

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I’ll definitely be whipping up more of these!