Category Archives: Parenting

2016

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Starting 2015 caught me off guard. I didn’t expect the day to cause such pain, because new years was not a day that I typically spent with my mom or uncle. This year, I was prepared that it would hurt.

A new year. A year that I will see, but that they won’t. A year of memories to be made, memories that will not include our beloved mom and uncle. A year of seconds. The first year that we will look back 365 days and not have them there.

It’s hard to explain, and yet not hard at all. Special people are missing, and all I can do is miss them. To stop missing them, would hurt more than to miss them with every fibre of my being. On good days… and bad days. In happy and sad moments.

Eric and I are entering 2016 trying to make some big decisions as parents. At least, decisions that feel big, even huge, in this moment. All I want to do is call my mom. Not because I have a specific question that I need an answer for, not because there’s nobody else we can talk to, and not even because I have something particular that I want to say, but simply because she’s my mom.

When I was pregnant with Madeleine, an extended relative hosted a baby shower for me. My mom was there. She was always there. One of the planned activities was for all of the mothers in attendance to share a story with me about motherhood. They each gave brief stories – some funny, some full of love, some about the challenges of navigating motherhood. When it was my mama’s turn, she told me about the time I fell off the counter and landed face down as a baby. Then she told me about the time she fell down the stairs holding my oldest sister in her arms. She told me that she wanted me to remember those stories the first time I dropped, or otherwise injured, our new baby.

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And, I did drop Madeleine. She rolled off the change table. I was standing in front of her and my hands were pulling at the box of wipes, so I tried to catch her with my leg. I basically kneed her into the drawer and then she fell to the ground. I laugh about it now, but I felt awful when it happened. Even though I felt awful, I did remember my mom’s stories. I remembered how much I adore my mom even though she has made mistakes. I remembered that even my mom, who always seemed like super mom, like a woman who just took motherhood in stride, once dropped not one, but two of her children (and who knows about the other two, haha!).

I want to call my mom. I want her to tell me that Uncle Rob is at the house. I want her to say, “Uncle Rob wants to know….” And I want to hear his random question. I want to know more about when I was young. I want my mom’s comfort. I want them to still be on my team, cheering my small family on. I want to know that no matter what decision Eric and I make, that they would be with us on the rollercoaster.

My mom taught me that a mother, like any person, doesn’t need to be perfect. She also showed me in a million different ways how to do good for others, not just as a mother, but as a friend, a colleague, a mentor, and a community member. She showed me enough that I learned what I think she wanted me to, but it wasn’t enough that I was done with absorbing her love and lessons.

A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take. Cardinal Mermillod

 

still searching

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Shortly after my mom and uncle’s accident, I was at my uncle’s house with Eric and Madeleine. I was still pregnant. Walking into the empty house was like walking into a room without oxygen. The idea that my uncle left the house on October 18, and that since then, nobody had slept another night there, left me breathless. It literally knocked the wind out of me and I had to consciously take deep breaths.

At some point while we were there, my “uncle’s car” drove down the road. Now, obviously this was not my uncle’s car. My uncle’s car was in pieces. I had seen the photos. And yet, as I stood in the living room looking out the window, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the road. Even though my mind knew better, my heart had a strange hope hiding deep inside. Hope that the car would turn into the driveway. That my mom and uncle would get out. That this was all some misunderstanding. At the time, I found it completely bizarre how I could “know” that they were gone, dead, never coming back, and yet, at the same time harbour hope that I would still see them both again one day.

I recently joined the What’s Your Grief online book club, and the first book we’re reading is Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I am only half-way through, but I love the title – magical thinking – that bizarre hope that a person you have seen dead with your own eyes, is really not dead. And, a week ago when I started the book, I thought in my head, “yes, yes… I know what that’s about. I used to have that.”

Then, tonight, while waiting to be seated at a restaurant, I got a glimpse of a man who looked similar to my uncle. It knocked the wind out of me, just like that black car did many months ago. After my brief glimpse, I woman stood between us, blocking my view. And, wouldn’t you know, I squirmed, without taking my eyes off of this man, until I could get a full view to confirm that it was not my uncle. Those brief seconds felt like forever, and I desperately hoped that this man was the man whose lap I had sat in as a child. I hoped that I’d be able to run up and be wrapped up in his huge hug. That I could cry into his shoulder and tell him how awful it was thinking that he was gone.

I’m not sure why, maybe because of seeing that man at the restaurant, I chose to read Love You Forever to Madeleine tonight. At the end of the book, we were talking about how mommies and daddies love their babies forever and ever even when they get sick and old. Madeleine burst into tears and told me that she didn’t want Eric and I to die, and then asked if Grammy was old and that’s why she had to “go up there” (her 4-year-old way of speaking of the abstractness of heaven). In that moment, in a very different way, I had magical thinking. I wanted to tell her that of course we won’t die on her. We’ll be here for as long as she needs us.

But, now, even more than ever, I know that I can’t tell Madeleine that. Because even though I don’t want to ever leave her, that is not within my control. I want to be able to forever nurture her, and reflect back to her who I see her as – a perfectly imperfect person. I don’t ever want either of my girls to feel the pain that I feel, to be motherless. But, that is the price we must pay for deep love and connection.

 

 

 

Big, scary feelings

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We use the term big feelings in our house to talk about strong, overwhelming, or scary feelings. When Maddy is having a tough time we acknowledge her big feelings, label them as best we can, and try to help her manage them. We talk about how everyone has big feelings, even adults. We work hard to have her understand that big feelings are okay to have, that we can learn to work with our big feelings instead of against them, and most importantly, that she can trust us to help her with her big feelings for however long she needs us to.

Since the accident, I am the the one having non-stop big feelings. Grief is overwhelming, consuming, and can be downright scary. Right now, I am messy and broken. I have felt messy and broken before in my life… but not this kind of messy and broken. This is new territory for me. I sometimes feel like a shell of my former self, just trying to get through the day, or sometimes the moment. Grief is unpredictable. Emotions wash over you at unexpected times… sometimes contradictory emotions that feel difficult to reconcile. Grief can be irrational, and even though you can identify the lack of rationality in your thoughts, you can’t control the feelings that surface, you can only work with them so that you can continue to heal.

It’s scary to not recognize yourself, to not know who you are anymore. Who am I now that I don’t have a mother? How does my family fit together without the glue? Where do I fit in the world now? I will always miss my mom and uncle, and the world will always be a different place after this experience. I woke up as one person on October 18, and fell asleep as a completely changed person. I am traumatized, grief-stricken, forever changed. I have become, and for the rest of my life will be, a motherless daughter.

Sometimes I feel shame as a grieving parent. I feel guilty that the girls have to live in a house so full of sadness, and anger; that their mom is irritable, sluggish, and pained. I feel guilty thinking that my mom and uncle would want the girls to live in a happy home. Even though I can recognize my mom as an imperfect, but wonderful mother; I feel as though my imperfections, so apparent while I’m grieving, are failing my family. I can tell myself that my mom and uncle deserve to be grieved, and that they would understand, but guilt is a sticky emotion.

I have worked through this idea of being an imperfect parent before, finally accepting that showing your children that you’re human is of huge service to them… because they too are human, and need to accept themselves as the beautiful, unique people that they are. Our family anthem is pretty much Secrets by Mary Lambert. But, I have never felt as imperfect as I do right now. I am not present with my girls in the way that I’d like to be. I am doing my best, but it feels like it’s not enough.

Tonight, while we were driving in the car, I began to cry. After some time, from the backseat we hear Maddy say, “What’s that sound?” There was a pause. Eric responded, “Mommy is crying. She’s feeling really sad thinking about Grammy and Uncle Rob. It’s okay to cry when we’re sad.” Another pause. Then my sweet child said, “Mommy, I want to hold your hand. I want to help you calm down.”

The next time I feel shame creeping into my thoughts, I will think of this moment, of those words. Despite what I want, my girls will one day feel messy and broken. Maybe it won’t be the result of the early loss of their mother, but it will be something. Life gives everyone their knocks, and one day, hopefully a long time from now, it will be Maddy and Ella’s turn. When it’s their turn, I want them to be able to be loving and kind to themselves. I want them to feel as comfortable as they can with those big feelings. I want them to allow themselves to show their messy selves to the world.

Grieving will not just expose the girls to sadness and anger, it will expose them to an imperfect mother who keeps putting one foot in front of the other. A mother who works through big, scary feelings, who shares her big feelings with people she can trust, and who asks for help when she needs it. I hope that it will one day show them that despite all the heartbreak, we can heal into a new version of ourself. Life might break us sometimes, and we might accumulate more life experience than we may have ever wanted, but we can be our authentic, real, imperfect selves.

My sweet Madeleine, Grammy and Uncle Rob would be so proud of the thoughtful, kind, and caring little girl you are becoming. I am so very proud to be your mommy.

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.