Fear

When I had Owen, the one thing I was not prepared for was the fear that something bad would happen to him. I guess I knew on an intellectual level that I would love him, but I did not realize how much his limbs would become an extension of my limbs, and that I would almost feel his pain in my body (or heart?). Not quite daily, but often, I find myself terrified that something will go wrong, and when things happen that could have been worse (like he falls down two stairs and cuts his lip, or I let go of the stroller and it almost rolls off the front porch), they run through my mind for days.

For example, last week I was mowing the lawn. We have a manual mower that can’t even cut through a twig (or a dandelion stem, if it’s at the wrong angle). And I had Owen standing at a bench with some toys on the other side of the lawn. He was smiling at me, and I said hi periodically, checking in with him to make sure he was OK. And I mowed that lawn! But then, for some reason, all evening long, I had visions of his limbs caught in lawnmower blades. I had to shut my brain off, but for days, this image kept creeping in.

Before we had Owen, Duncan and I both had our fair share of cynicism. We didn’t understand why children were presumed to be more important than adults. We would roll our eyes at certain (fictional) shows where children were always the victims of crimes (think: CSI Miami). And the bad guys were worse guys because they did bad things to children. OK – I can still muster an eye roll at that show, but I have also become one of those people who can no longer watch bad things happen to a child. I wasn’t before. It hurts me now to see a child separated from a parent. Last night, I was reading a wonderful book (small spoiler alert if you click on the link). And when the mother’s child is taken away from her, possibly forever,  I had to put the book down. I couldn’t go back to it until the next day. When I hear news reports of children who have gone missing, who have drowned, who have been hit by cars, I crumple inside. For me, having a child has opened up a connection with humanity. Owen has been an antidote to cynicism.

The other day, we were out walking with Owen (in his big, fancy, expensive stroller) and a teenager came up to us to ask first for a cigarette (we don’t smoke) and then for some change (we’d left the house without our wallets). The boy could have been anywhere from 14-19. He was slight, had sores on his face, and looked like he was having a really rough time. I realized then, as I’ve acknowledged so many times since Owen was born, that we need so much from our parents, from society, and from life. Owen is so so lucky to be loved and held and laughed with. When he was just starting to smile, I remember thinking: what would happen to a baby who didn’t get a smile back? What would happen if a baby kept flashing toothless grins and no one was there to mirror those smiles? I know that people can surmount all kinds of difficulties, and I’m certainly not trying to draw any easy conclusions here. I don’t know how long our lucky streak will last. And I can’t keep Owen from hurt. Life is full of hurts, small and big.

So all I can do is hug him and love him and smile back … and hope we stay lucky. I am so scared of the alternative.

Scaredy Lady of Shalott

Note: There are probably twenty people on earth who will get this, but I came up with this connection in class one day and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It’s based on a WONDERFUL children’s book by Montreal author Mélanie Watt (which you should buy for yourself, if not for your child):

and Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous poem “The Lady of Shalott”:

Anyway, this is what happens to your brain when you teach Victorian Literature but are spending a great deal of time reading children’s books: Enjoy!

Scaredy Lady of Shalott

Scaredy Lady of Shalott never leaves her tower.

She’d rather stay in her safe and familiar tower than risk venturing out into the unknown. The unknown can be a scary place for a lady.

A few things Scaredy Lady of Shalott is afraid of:

  • Reapers reaping early
  • Surly village churls
  • Red cloaks of market girls
  • A curly shepherd lad
  • Two young lovers lately wed
  • Knights in shining armour

So she’s perfectly happy to stay right where she is.

Advantages of never leaving the tower:

  • great view (through a mirror)
  • plenty of weaving
  • safe place
  • no reapers, churls, market girls, shepherd lads, young lovers, or knights

Disadvantages of never leaving the tower:

  • same old view (through a mirror)
  • same old weaving
  • same old place

In Scaredy Lady of Shalott’s tower, every day is the same. Everything is predictable. All is under control.

Monday: weaving – Tuesday: weaving – Wednesday: weaving – Thursday: weaving –Friday: weaving – Saturday: weaving – Sunday: weaving.

Scaredy Lady of Shalott’s daily routine:

  • 6:45 am            wake up
  • 7:00 am            do some weaving
  • 7:15 am             look at view (through mirror)
  • 12:00 noon      do some weaving
  • 12:30 pm          look at view (through mirror)
  • 5:00 pm            do some weaving
  • 5:31 pm             look at view (through mirror)
  • 8:00 pm            go to sleep

BUT let’s say, just for example, that something unexpected DID happen…

You can rest assured that Scaredy Lady of Shalott is prepared.

A few items in Scaredy Lady of Shalott’s emergency kit:

  • Parachute
  • Hand mirror
  • Embroidery floss
  • Net
  • Pen

What to do if the curse is activated, according to Scaredy Lady of Shalott:

  • Step 1: Panic
  • Step 2: Run
  • Step 3: Liberate tapestry
  • Step 4: Put on kit
  • Step 5: Consult Exit plan
  • Step 6: Exit tower (if there is absolutely, definitely, truly no other option)

Exit Plan “TOP SECRET”

  • Exit 1: Note to self: Watch out for churls and market girls
  • Exit 2: Note to self: Do not land in river. If unavoidable, find a boat and write your name on it.
  • Exit 3: Note to self: Look out for reapers and  knights
  • Exit 4: Keep in mind that young lovers are everywhere.

Remember, if all else fails, playing dead is always a good option.

With her emergency kit in hand, Scaredy Lady of Shalott watches (through a mirror). Day by day she watches (through a mirror), until one day …

Thursday 9:37 am

Sir Lancelot flashes into the crystal mirror!

Scaredy lady of Shalott turns to look and cries “A curse is on me,” knocking her emergency kit out of the tower.

This was NOT part of the Plan.

Scaredy lady of Shalott jumps to catch her kit.

She quickly regrets this idea.

The parachute is in the kit.

But something incredible happens …

The magic web floats wide and she hangs on for the ride. Scaredy lady of Shalott is no ordinary lady. She’s a flying lady!

Scaredy lady of Shalott forgets all about the knight, not to mention the reapers, churls, market girls, shepherd lads, and young lovers.

She feels overjoyed! Adventurous! Carefree! Alive! Until she lands in a boat.

And plays DEAD.

After Lancelot says “She had a lovely face,” Scaredy Lady of Shalott realizes that nothing horrible is happening in the unknown today. So she returns to her tower.

All this excitement has inspired Scaredy Lady of Shalott to make drastic changes to her life…

Scaredy Lady of Shalott’s new-and-improved daily routine:

  • 6:45 am             wake up
  • 7:00 am             do some weaving
  • 7:15 am              look at view (through mirror)
  • 9:37 am             float into the unknown on magic web
  • 9:45 am             play dead
  • 11:45 am            return home
  • 12:00 noon       do some weaving
  • 12:30 pm           look at view (through mirror)
  • 5:00 pm             do some weaving
  • 5:31 pm              look at view (through mirror)
  • 8:00 pm             go to sleep

P.S. As for the emergency kit, Scaredy Lady of Shalott is in no hurry to pick it up just yet (it’s between two young lovers. Ew.)

THE END

The Ungracious Host; Or, sometimes it’s nice to be alone

My mother-in-law was here last weekend, and she is a wonderful guest: generous (she arrived with a suitcase of presents); helpful (she made dinner, including one of the best rhubarb crisps I have ever had); and respectful (she almost never offers unsolicited advice). I know! She’s like a dream-mother-in-law… And yet? in the brief 4 days of her visit, I realized how much I craved my alone time. And I don’t even mean time alone with Duncan – I mean A-L-O-N-E all-by-myself time.

A year ago today, I was just over 8 months pregnant, and it was starting to get a little ugly. Well, I felt a little ugly. I told Duncan he had to tell me, periodically, that I was beautiful  – “but not now because then I’ll know you’re just saying it to placate me!” – It never worked. I always suspected him of following orders after that…

And I had heartburn (maxing out on the recommended daily dose of antacids for pregnant women). And my hips ached. And my pelvis felt like it was cracking/had cracked. I had a really easy pregnancy – these above represent the sum total of my complaints, and they really only kicked in in month 7. But while I was creaking and groaning and Owen was scratching my insides (“where nae men should be!”)* – scritch, scratch – people who had had babies were telling me that I’d miss being pregnant. That I should enjoy my peace and quiet while it lasted.

But I kind of disagree.

I wasn’t the most gracious host. I resented the bloat and the discomfort. An hour or two after Owen’s birth, yes, I was marvelling that we had a son, I was also so extraordinarily joyous NOT to be pregnant anymore.

“I’m not pregnant!” I said, jubilantly, as soon as Duncan and I were alone with Owen. I seriously think the “now we have a baby” part might have been second on my mind.

People talk about getting your body back after pregnancy – and they mean losing the baby weight – but seriously? What was WAY MORE IMPORTANT was having myself to myself. And even though the first several weeks were sleep-deprived, my hips stopped aching, my heartburn went away, and my pelvis knit itself back together. And I could take naps BY MYSELF.

I’d like to do the pregnancy thing one more time, and I’ll consider myself lucky if I get there again. But I so vastly prefer having a child on the outside than on the inside.

*A quote from Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Cranford, referring to a band of housebreaking men. It’s a great book, about spinsters!

Watching the Wor(l)d Go By

Here’s a little baby

One, two, three

Stands in his cot

What does he see?

PEEPO!

So begins PEEPO! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, a board book that gave me more hope and perspective on parenting than all the parenting books I read combined. The lesson? Your baby doesn’t have to be entertained every minute. It will get to a point where you will be able to put your baby down and he will watch you as you go about your daily business!

The book is rich with detail. In the first scene, you can just glimpse the dress that the mother will wear throughout the day, and spot the rubber ducky that will appear in the evening bath scene. The clutter is encouraging (other people have messy houses too!) but also really fun to look at. It’s interesting historically, too, since it’s set in 1940s England (there’s a barrage balloon!).

PEEPO! was a gift from my brother Luke, who arrived at our house within a few days of Owen’s birth with four books that he had selected because he thought they might make Owen smarter. Each was wonderful in its way, but PEEPO! was the one that gave me some perspective. When Owen was very little, he would very infrequently lie calmly. He wanted always to be breastfeeding or asleep (or very entertained). But when I read PEEPO! I saw a little baby (older than Owen was then, of course), who could watch his mother iron shirts, his grandma hang laundry, his sisters fish in the pond…

And then once Owen could finally sit on his own, oh my goodness! it happened! He could play by himself! And then he learned to crawl and stand and it was all over. Well, not entirely – outside is still OK. Inside seems like a minefield, though. Today he fell and hit the side of his head on the coffee table (we padded the corners, but not the sides – gah).

But it’s coming, and I do have a little boy who stands in his cot and waits for me to come and get him in the morning, and when I peek around the side of the door (PEEPO!) I see the biggest grin every single day.

Wooo Wooo! Kids’ Music for Grown-Ups

I heard the Train Song on Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café on Mother’s Day last week. Charlie Hope is my new favourite singer. Duncan bought her CD “I’m Me” yesterday and I can’t stop listening to it. It’s a children’s album, but it is soooo beautiful, and some songs are ageless (especially the Train Song). Her voice is young and light and fresh.

Also, her frogs try to eat edamame before being reprimanded and resuming their ordinary diet of flies.

Enjoy!

I’m Me!

What I wish for you:

  • Confidence
  • Happiness
  • Trust
  • A clean planet
  • Strength of body
  • Strength of character
  • Love
  • Family
  • Adventure
  • Traditions
  • Money
  • Sleep
  • Travel and exploration
  • LOTS OF GOOD FRIENDS
  • A good education
  • Mental health
  • Physical health
  • Resilience
  • A job you love
  • Long-lived parents!
  • Long-lived grandparents! and all family members!
  • A long and happy life.

xoxo Mum

Screaming at the Baby Whisperer

Warning: This may turn into a rant.

There is a whole lot of desperation in the early days of motherhood, when owning a book with “secrets” and “baby” in the title sounds like exactly what you need. But Tracy Hogg’s Secrets of the Baby Whisperer is an evil book because it tells you to trust your instincts, as long as your instincts follow a predictable pattern that she has set out for you: the (in)famous E.A.S.Y. (Eat, Activity, Sleep, You). Because there should be time for massages and pedicures in the life of every mother of every newborn.

There are some lovely ideas in The Baby Whisperer. I loved Hogg’s insistence on communicating with your baby from the first moment, giving your baby a tour of the house, explaining what you are doing when you’re changing a diaper or putting the baby down for a nap. I think she’s right that as awkward as it seems to talk to a newborn, you never know what the baby will understand and when. Also, your baby won’t really be talking back for at least a year, so you might as well get used to chatting with your alternately silent, cooing, and whining child.

I won’t even get into the fact that the book’s co-writer decided on a conversational style in which the Yorkshire-born Hogg addresses the reader as “ducky.” How alternately tacky and condescending. But I said I wouldn’t get into that.

My real issue with Hogg is that she makes you feel guilty for feeding your baby.

My son Owen was born hungry. He emerged from the womb ravenous, as though I had been starving him for 9 months, though his birth weight was a healthy 7 pounds, 15 ounces. Within hours of his birth my nipples were black and blue. Within days of his birth they were cracked and bleeding. I half-joked that my son could survive in the wild – that he would latch on to the teat of a she-wolf and find sustenance somehow. At the hospital, I asked one of the nurses how it was possible that I was supposed to feed him every three hours when he ate for 2 hours in a row. When we got home, my husband’s finger stood in for me as I tried to sleep between feeds:

And while I was feeding Owen, with my one free hand (the other was supporting the “latch”), I would hold The Baby Whisperer and read about the secrets of raising an E.A.S.Y. baby. And I realized that what I was doing was all wrong. Feeding your baby to sleep will teach him bad habits and prevent him from being able to fall asleep on his own! Only one kind of cry meant that he was hungry, and good, attentive parents learned to interpret their babies’ cries! If I didn’t learn to interpret Owen’s cries quickly, he would stop differentiating between his staccato cries with hiccups and his long wailing cries and soon there would be no pattern to follow and I would be lost! After several weeks of this, I actually threw the book across the room, walked downstairs, and said to my wide-eyed husband “The baby whisperer is full of s***.” I eventually talked myself into putting the book away and following my instincts (without the pattern). And yet … though I haven’t opened it in months … it still beckons.

I do believe that in time, you will develop a routine with your baby. I do believe that by the time your baby is 6 months old (maybe), you can tell if he’s crying because he’s tired or because he’s hungry. But when he’s 2 weeks? 2 months? Crying is crying. Even when your baby isn’t crying you hear echoes of the last cries. Out for a walk without the baby I heard him crying. Alone in the house I heard him crying. I still do and he’s over ten months old. It took me months to get over the guilt that Tracy Hogg instilled in me. And I don’t think any new mother needs any more guilt than she is already feeling.

For a satirical send-up of Hogg, check out: : http://www.lets-panic.com/parenthood/newborns/interpreting-your-babys-cries/

P.S. I am sure the baby whisperer has worked for some people. I am not one of those people.

A Womb Welcome

A couple of days ago, I was using google as a calculator. You can do anything on google. I typed in 26 and the search engine supplied “26 weeks pregnant.” Immediately, I had a flashback to myself, a little over a year ago, as I looked up the stage of my pregnancy week by week … by week. I really did google every week of my pregnancy, and I often skipped ahead, marvelling at the inner and outer diagrams of my and my baby’s growing bodies. I was curious about the mystery growing inside of me – an actual person who would emerge and develop his own perspective on the world – but I was also nervous about my own transformation into a mother.

I read books (lots of books) to try to prepare myself for this momentous change. What I noticed right away was how very certain about their own messages (yet how contradictory!) these books were. Everyone agrees what a fetus looks like at 26 weeks gestation, but no one agrees on how to get a baby to sleep through the night. This certainty, while it might sell books, can be really demoralising for a newly-minted, bleary-eyed mother. So I sought out some specific narratives of pregnancy and parenting from friends and from a couple of blogs. I have found their variety of experience infinitely more reassuring than any published prescriptions for happy babies.

My son Owen is now (already!) 10 1/2 months old, and I have been feeling more and more like I have things to say about my experience of parenting (and about babies, who I actually gush over now). Not that I claim to know what I’m doing, because I still have all kinds of doubts and am really just muddling through, but because I want to share my ideas and hopefully, eventually, get feedback. Parenting can be a very lonely state full of self doubt, especially in our current social environments, where an ideal model often seems to involve a mother alone in the house with a baby. I think that the internet can actually function as a kind of community where we can share our ideas and feel a little less isolated. So I’m adding my thoughts to the fray, and if you’d like to read along, welcome.