To Seamus at One

Oh Seamus, my little independent, laughing, clapping boy: happy birthday!

You arrived in such a hurry last year, right after the fondue – but before dessert. Despite your frenzied arrival, you’ve been a pretty calm kid. You crawled only after ten months of sitting. And the crawl is an odd hybrid – you walk on one leg, crawl on one knee. I call you Quasimodo, affectionately.

You speak so much! You can say ball (aba), book (guk), all done (ada!) Dada, Mama, Owen (Oweh!), Owl (Owuh!), clap (cap), and more. You love to clap more than almost anything right now, with the possible exception of pulling yourself onto your feet and slapping a table.

You are better at playing by yourself that Owen is – still – which is pretty amazing. You love books, and they do not make them nearly sturdy enough for your curious pulling hands. Your favourite book is fast becoming more glue than cardboard.

You love food, and if there’s something you don’t like, you look at us with amusement and toss the offending morsel aside. When you are in a performative mood, you flick food into your mouth with a flourish. I have no idea where you learned this trick.

I cannot wait to see what you learn to do next. You’re wonderful. Keep it up!

Love Mummy.

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Now We Are Six

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

A. A. Milne

Part of me would like to freeze my boy at this age forever and ever. He has matured so much in the past year that it’s a bit breathtaking. He grips his pencil elegantly, drawing his inventions with rapt concentration. He can colour inside the lines, and he wants to. He makes about three new Lego creations daily, many of which change their purpose as he goes. A train recently turned into a train, car, plane and boat, all at once, with a pulley to hoist the driver onto the roof. Currently he’s working on a museum of “amazing things,” including an exhibit of a dragon without wings.

He takes seriously his ability to create. When we went to a friend’s book launch in the fall, he came home and wrote two books (one was posted here). He was an author, and he was going to sell his books. (Actually, he did sell his books at our January Levée). When we took him to an exhibit of the art of Mary Pratt, he seemed initially bored. Recently, though, he has been equating good art with Pratt’s work: “Daddy, don’t I colour just as well as Mary Pratt?” Our friends’ daughter is a prodigy on the piano. The other day, I showed him a video of Natasha (6 years old) playing Mozart on a grand piano in a theatre lobby. He was duly impressed and disappeared. He returned moments later with a triangle, which he started dinging along with the video. He really had no idea why I was laughing. Then he took off to prepare for his own concert, which was to be later that day. I love the grandeur of his ambitions. He really does believe that if he puts a sign at the end of the driveway (we are the last house on a dead end street), his public will appear. And be amazed.

He is loving and kind. He loves his little brother so much that when he had to choose one photo of himself to show his class, he chose one with Seamus in it. He wouldn’t hear of using another one. He does, however, think his brother is a little germy. If he so much as touches the pacifier, he goes to wash his hands. He whispers “I love you” a dozen times a day, though lately his adoration often gets turned into a song/rap with nonsense rhymes. We shush this child more than we probably should, because he talks/sings incessantly. But when I stop and listen, I hear a smart and sensitive boy.

Like I said, part of me wants to keep him here, hold him at six, with his absolute certainty about both magic and nonsense. But I also want so much to see where he goes next, what he discovers, how he changes, who he becomes.

Nostalgia time:





I love you, sweet Owen! Happy happy birthday!

Go Fly a Kite!

This weekend, Owen decided that he wanted to make a kite. So he did. There was not a breath of wind, but that did not prevent him from flying it with the speed of his running. Here are some pictures of the event.






“Didn’t I make a good kite? Didn’t it get off the ground really well?”

The Limits of Free-Range Parenting

I watched a good documentary last night, Born into Brothels. It’s not new (released 2004-2005). I remember hearing about it a long time ago, and it’s now on Netflix! A photographer, Zana Briski, gave cameras to the children of sex-trade workers in Calcutta, and documented their images and their struggles to escape the red light district. It won an Oscar, deservedly so, I think.

Anyway, there is a recurring scene in the film of a toddler (2-3 years old), chained by the ankle. It’s shocking. It reminded me of a film I’ve shown about Romanticism in which William Blake’s shock at chained children in the late 18th century are narrated. The idea is the same: these children are trapped by their upbringing, by their poverty, no better off than zoo animals (another extended metaphor in the Born into Brothels film).

Obviously, I am not condoning chaining up children and obviously, I found the scene horrific, but what struck me most about it is the reason the child is chained: for his safety. If you are a sex-trade worker and can’t afford a babysitter (a point made in the film), then it kind of makes sense, if you love your child, to tie him up so he doesn’t get into trouble – fall off the building, get run over by a bus, etc.

Please understand that I am not going to put chains on my children, but I had my own moment of wanting to tie up my five-year-old child last week. He LOVES his scooter. It makes him “cooler than a mustache,” as fast as fast can be and, apparently, fearless. After going for a coffee in the village with my friend and her daughter, we were walking home and I was pushing Seamus in his stroller. Halfway there, Owen told me he had to go to the bathroom. I told him he had two options: hold it till we got home, or pee in the bushes. He opted for the first option. Now usually, we have a deal that Owen blitzes ahead but waits for me at the next stop sign. We’re in a low-traffic village, but there are no sidewalks. Anyway, this time, I quickly lost sight of him altogether. I thought I would see him when I got around the corner, but he was nowhere to be seen. I wasn’t THAT worried, but I was a bit anxious. I imagined he had made his way home – BUT he has to cross a fairly major street and has been known to drift across without looking, so there was some cause for worry. I am all for free-range parenting, but maybe not with a kid who seems to have so little fear of cars hitting him.

In the end, all was well. He had made it home and got to the bathroom in time. But we took away his scooter for a week because we wanted to make an impression – that he can’t just lose sight of us and go off on his own. Another thought that crossed my mind, given some recent cases in the media, was what if someone did call the police about an unaccompanied child. I am pretty sure we would have been in trouble as parents.

So, while I am not going to lock the boy up, and while I am horrified by the circumstances that would drive a parent to do so, I am sympathetic to the underlying desire to keep a child — who still lacks judgment — safe.

Sharing Some Shame

To counterbalance my last post, in which everything was going so well, I thought I would share with you an example of my poor parenting, this time of the other child.

Poor Owen. Like me, he is a bit physically uncoordinated. On Sunday, in Ottawa, he was so anxious to run but we were on sidewalks and crossing streets, so we had him wait until we got to an open space. In front of the National Gallery, he was free. One, two, three, four, five running steps and trip and hands and head and knees scrape rip… down he went. As he said later, reflectively, shaking his head, “My pants were not broken when I crossed the street.” True enough, they were not.

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He loves gymnastics class, but has more trouble than most with anything that involves moving against gravity (which is kind of what gymnastics is). When I watch him try to do a cartwheel (gamely: he is really trying), I remember my own attempts with a childhood friend. She could do cartwheels like a champion; I could not. She could leap. I fell in a ditch up to my waist in mud. Anyway, like mother, like son.

So Friday, we had decided, was the day that the training wheels would come off the bicycle. And this is an example of bad (read: competitive) parenting. Because I feel like a 5-year-old should be able to ride a bike without training wheels. Why? I feel this in part because Owen is bigger than most 5-year-olds and since he looks like he’s 8, maybe parents are judging me for not encouraging him to be active enough and … do you see at all what is going on? Why on earth do I care what other people, most of them strangers, think of my child’s cycling skills?

With Seamus in the stroller and Owen on his bike (training wheels on), we made our way down our steep, steep hill into the village. At the parking lot of the community centre, I undid the training wheels and started helping Owen the way I remember my dad doing with me, or the way you see in movies. I thought in a worst case scenario he would gain some confidence, in a best case scenario I would be able to let go and he would sail around by himself.

I had not anticipated that he would let go of the bicycle and cling to me in terror, leaning so steeply that it was all I could do to keep him and the bike from keeling over. I had not anticipated that he would start crying and run away from me (and the bike). I had not anticipated that once I had convinced him (with threats, I think) to get back on the bike, that he would brake so we couldn’t go anywhere at all. I had not anticipated my anger and, I confess, my embarrassment (we were in a parking lot… other people saw my inept parenting). I was rough with him – way, way too rough. And he was apologizing the whole time. “I’m sorry, Mummy, but I don’t trust myself.”

Eventually, once he started braking (good strategy, kid), I got the hint and put those training wheels back on, where they will stay for a while. Here’s the thing. I love riding a bike. I kept telling Owen that once he gets it, he will love it too. I told him that he will get it eventually. But then I pushed him way too far. I am writing this down in part to remind myself of what I already know: that kids will progress at their own pace. If I think back, Owen was a little slow at all of his movements (rolling over at 8 months, walking at 14 months), but he got there every time. It is possible that he will never do a cartwheel. I know I never will. But I am convinced that he will eventually ride a bike. Now I just need to back right off and let him get there on his own.

Take Two (Double Take)

I can hardly believe how smoothly things are going this time around. I am writing this on a “difficult” day. It’s past noon and Seamus has slept just 30 minutes since he woke up at 7:30 this morning. He’s cried – comparatively – a lot. Like 5 minutes? I won’t even get into how long he slept last night (really long). I am not trying to torture anyone. I haven’t done anything differently (except, possibly, relax), but he’s just an easier baby.

Owen, as I recall, was ravenous ALL THE TIME. I felt like a mammal in the most primal sense. I was the food supply. I oozed milk. I WAS milk. Seamus seems to see me as both nourishment and nurture. He’ll cuddle without eating. And I like cuddling him. As a result, I am not in as big a hurry to put him down.

Now, as I write I am listening to the sounds of some fretting on the baby monitor. I may have to leave this post any minute now, but I am more willing to endure fretting, so long as it doesn’t devolve into crying.

Please know, if you have had or are having a difficult time, that I am not gloating. I was prepared for sleeplessness, spit up, pee fountains, etc., and there have been some of these! I like to think that would be immensely grateful regardless for this second try at mothering a newborn. Right now though, I am just grateful for this particular delicious newborn who is adapting so beautifully to the outside world.

Here are the things that have helped me this time around:

1. Incredibly quick recovery after incredibly quick birth. I am just lucky. There was no way to predict or prepare for that.

2. Wonderful team of nurses at the CLSC who noticed that Seamus wasn’t gaining weight and intervened early but not precipitously.

3. Wonderful lactation doctor who understood my limits with pumping and intervention and realized that if we couldn’t solve the problem quickly, the baby was going to get switched to formula.

4. My ability to make clear my limits with both the nurses and the lactation doctor (i.e. No tubes!… I need to leave the house! …  If this takes more than 6 weeks, I’m done!… etc.)

5. Duncan’s more constant presence in the house – this is huge – his working from home has been a life saver. I have showered EVERY DAY.

6. My ability to endure fretting and to let Seamus calm himself down without jumping to see what’s the matter – on the other hand, I think Owen went straight from silence to screaming.

7. Wearing the baby. I have a sling that I bought with Owen, but he was so heavy and the weather was so hot that I hardly used it. I wear Seamus around a lot (though by no means all the time!!) and it’s great. But it also helps that he doesn’t scream when I put him down.

8. The Internet. Streaming video was in its infancy when Owen was in his, and I hadn’t heard of a podcast. Now there’s entertainment within easy reach all the time (do you think John Oliver knows that some of the people watching him on YouTube at 2am are mothers pumping milk for their underfed babies?). Also, I bought an ipad, which has to be a breastfeeding mother’s best friend. I can check facebook at 3am! Though it does disappoint me when I check again at 6 and nothing has changed. What have you people been doing for 3 hours?

9. The Internet. I am having my doubts again, but when I discovered Priscilla Dunstan’s baby language last week I was an instant convert. She argues that there are 5 “words” that babies make before they start to really cry (for hungry, tired, need to burp, lower bowel pain, and skin sensitivity – hot/cold/wet). I haven’t heard Seamus make the hunger or “skin sensitivity” sounds, but the other 3 are bang on, and it really helped me, when I was at my wits’ end, to know that his screaming had to do with a sore belly and not my bad parenting.

10. Last but not least: Owen. This (first) child of mine has been so helpful since the day Seamus was born. He goes and gets me my nursing pillow, he fetches me water, facecloths, burp cloths, diapers… He talks to me so I don’t get bored… Honestly, his presence has made having a baby so much better.



Anyway, this is what has gone well, so far. Maybe some other day I will write about all the minor horrors of double frenectomies and low weight gain babies, but for now, that’s over, so I am revelling in the good (by the way, that fretting baby fell asleep!)




Seamus Wilder Cowie

Hello again. I feel like I need to make some kind of explanation for my very long internet absence. It’s complicated. For one, Owen was not causing me as much existential angst as before, so there’s less to unload about. Also, I got busy, though that’s hardly an excuse, since I could have stopped looking at Facebook so much. Also, I was so anxious that something about my pregnancy wouldn’t work out, that I waited a long time to say anything, and it felt dishonest to write when the thing that was foremost on my mind was inadmissible. Anyway, here I am, with no promises. I did want to share with you our latest addition: meet Seamus!


Seamus arrived on Valentine’s day. He was in a hurry to have that birthday, apparently. He was “due” on the 12th, and we were kind of hoping he wouldn’t be born on Friday the 13th. It did seem, however, that the Valentine’s baby would not materialize. Owen and I attended a winter festival, on a cool -14C day. We danced. I pulled Owen (who weighs a lot!) around on an inner tube on the ice. All attempts to be careful with myself had gone out the window come 38 weeks. We had hot chocolate. We came home.

For supper, we (with Duncan) had a lovely Chinese fondue. We all kissed when we lost food in the pot. We had prepared fruit for the chocolate fondue Valentine’s dessert. During supper, I was feeling twinges of indigestion. Duncan was looking at me funny, because I guess I had a look on my face that was not quite compatible with “eating fondue on Valentine’s day.” I assured him it was NOT labour. “It’s not painful enough,” I said.

After supper, the twinges became more pressing, but still not painful. “I don’t think it’s labour,” I said. But I had Duncan google “how painful is labour?” He came back with the Internet’s reply: VERY. So again, I said, “I guess it isn’t.” But then it kept recurring, and I knew I needed to get my parents to our house from an hour away, so I called the hospital to ask them if it could be labour. I thought they might know better than the Internet. They, too, were doubtful. Time your contractions for an hour, they said, and call us back. Put your parents “on call,” just in case. I did. They were attending a concert given by Stan Rogers’ son. My dad kept his phone on vibrate for me.

Needless to say, it was. Long story short (short labour), we arrived at the hospital around 10:00 pm, by which point it was clear that there was no time to wait. We left the car at the entrance of the hospital (with our bags, my wallet, etc. still inside). At 10:09 I was holding a baby. I was still wearing my scarf and one sock. The doctor showed up in her coat at 10:20. Hats (scarves?) off to the nurses at the Lakeshore, who bossed me around and got that baby out safely!

Since then, Seamus has blended into our family like he’d always been there. It’s kind of awesome. He’s the easiest baby I have ever encountered. He’s 2 months old and is already smiling when he wakes up. So, anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to.

The Bears and the Circus

Owen has been very business-minded lately. Earlier this week, he decided that he would make paper wigs and sell them for five dollars each at Home Depot. He would put them in plastic bags and punch a hole in the top of each bag so they could be hung up. He would also add the price, which we had suggested should be closer to ten cents (“What’s the sign for cents?”). He later decided that the toy store might be a better place to sell paper wigs. Duncan and I, meanwhile, were trying to both encourage the spirit and discourage the actual going-to-the-store-to-sell-paper-wigs thing. We were trying to suggest that he start by selling to family.

This morning, Owen decided he was going to write a book. When he was finished, he said, “Now let’s copy it and I can sell it at Chapters for ten cents and I will keep the original.” As I was trying to envision this scenario, he changed his mind. “No, let’s take a picture of the book and put it on the internet so everyone can read the story.” I got on board right away.

Without further ado, here is Owen’s story:







Owen and I just returned from a lovely, restorative holiday in Europe. We visited my sister, her husband, and her son in Frankfurt, and then stayed with wonderful friends in London. Here are some highlights of our trip:

Cousins connecting
Welf climbing
Playmobil Park and Pirates!
Erin, Welf, and Owen in Medieval Nuremberg
Palmengarten, Frankfurt
The London Eye!
Big Ben from the London Eye
Buckingham Palace
High tea at the Wolseley
Riding a Double-Decker Bus
Communing with Victorian Dinosaurs in the Crystal Palace Gardens
More Dinosaurs!
Lounging in Green Park with the lovely Alma
More tea parties!

Owen, you are one excellent traveller! xox

Unjust Punishment

I still remember the time I got in trouble for running in the upstairs hallway (during a parent dinner party), when I had been begging and pleading with my siblings and friend to STOP running. I got in trouble because I was the eldest and the host and “responsible.” That punishment stung so much more than usual, because I was reprimanded for something I hadn’t done (and had even tried to prevent).

Owen and I were at the dollar store a couple of days ago. I guess the store had been losing carts, because they have now welded eight-foot-tall poles to the side of every cart. They don’t fit out the door, and they certainly wouldn’t fit in a car. We took one of these carts and proceeded through the store, with Owen pushing. I was right behind him. Owen hadn’t napped that day, and was already a bit whiny. Anyway, at one point he stopped. I tried to push the cart and it wouldn’t budge. I pushed harder. It reared up and crashed back onto the ground. Two employees were stocking shelves ahead of us. I was frustrated and also embarrassed. I pulled Owen away from the cart (pretty roughly) and knelt down and started to tell him that his behaviour was unacceptable, etc. I was angry. Then one of the employees pointed out that it wasn’t his fault. The eight-foot-pole had caught on one of the boxes stacked over our head. At this point, realizing my mistake, I apologized profusely to Owen, but the whole ordeal had been too much for him, and he burst into tears. He was sobbing and sobbing, and all the while saying “I’m sorry I’m crying, Mummy. My body just wants to cry.”

I hugged him and kissed him and hugged him some more in the middle of the aisle. And I was laughing (with nerves), and trying not to. The employees, no doubt horrified by the mood swinging parent in front of them, left. I felt like a colossal jerk. I guess I still do. Owen forgave me and we continued with our shopping and with our lives. What gets me is how swiftly my anger emerged. I know it was partly because people were watching. For some reason, I want to be perceived as a parent who takes bad behaviour seriously and disciplines appropriately. But there was nothing appropriate about any of what I did (except for the hugs and the apologies, I guess). I have been feeling the stress of work more lately, but I hadn’t realized how highly strung I was. Breathe, Anna, breathe.