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.

IMG_1618 IMG_1624 IMG_1647

The Flood

Owen has been paying attention to the warnings about climate change. Well, he’s been paying attention in a six-year-old’s way, where imagination fills in about 80% of the holes in his understanding. When the Paris Conference was on, he heard stories about sea levels rising and flooding. In his mind, what climate change will do is cause floods. Our house is way up on a hill, and we live really far from the ocean (as Duncan daily laments). It would take catastrophic upheavals in our planet for our house or village to flood (I am pretty sure no humans would still be around). Nevertheless, Owen and some of his willing friends have decided that they have to stop the flood. It has become the theme of virtually all of his school-time play (I mean work, as he constantly corrects me).

Owen no longer wants play dates. He needs work dates. His best friend arrives with supplies and ideas. Together, they draw plans of drains and tunnels. They construct prototypes out of toilet paper rolls and tape. Owen took one of my notebooks with him to school. His hands are now red and chapped from working in -10 weather… I have now forbidden him from taking it outside at recess. “Sorry Mummy.”

His friendships are confirmed by who does and does not believe in the flood. There were five of them before Christmas. Now there are just four. “It’s not a quarter of the class anymore!” Is my son a cult leader?

But Owen and his most loyal friend have found the source of the flood. It’s the Thames, in London. They came up with plans to drain the Thames… and then all the oceans… until they realized that they would hurt the sea creatures. So it is back to the drawing board.

I am frankly not sure whether to be pleased that he is taking an interest in the survival of the planet or dismayed that his play has become so apocalyptic. Did I play nuclear war when I was six? Is this how children deal with fear? Or is it just constructive imaginations playing, working out solutions that the rest of us don’t want to hear?


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!

On being a baby

Voiceless, prone, powerless, even naked, I had a couple of experiences this week that made me feel like a baby. As I was lying on two very different tables, I considered how I might improve my own baby’s experience in the first months of his life.

The first instance was pure bliss. When I was pregnant, my book club friends gave me a gift certificate for a massage at a yoga studio. I have had only one other massage and do not remember it much. This one, though, either because of the zen atmosphere or the considerable skill of the masseuse, left me feeling actually loved.

The part I remember most was having my legs and feet lifted. I have never liked my legs. Tree trunks, elephant legs. My feet, too, are neglected. I had not polished my toes. My heels were a little cracked. And yet, lying there, legs lifted and massaged, how could I dislike something that was being treated so tenderly? My feet were held and caressed like I caress my baby’s feet. I don’t mean to say that the massage therapist loved me or anything. That would be weird. But she allowed me to love myself and to relax utterly. I felt like a baby must feel when rocked to sleep, allowed to rest in warm arms, cared for and protected.

My experience yesterday was less good. In the dentist’s chair, I felt not protected but powerless. I have had a wonderful dentist all my adult life but she has recently acquired a partner and somehow, by not protesting, I ended up as his patient. He is a nice man and his dental work seems very good, but he is not nearly as gentle as my previous dentist. Anyone who has been in the dentist’s chair knows the particular feeling of powerlessness I felt yesterday. “Does it hurt?” Well, it did, but I cannot speak to tell you so. The dentist discovered the pain by my attempts to bury my head back into the table to escape the needle. I have never been afraid of dentists, but I get it now. When he asked me to open my mouth for the third needle, I couldn’t do it. My jaw wouldn’t cooperate. In the end, I did it because I had to, but also because that morning I had taken Seamus for his 4-month vaccination needles. He, too, felt shocked and abused. He recovered, as I did, laughing out loud by the time we left the doctor’s office. I couldn’t laugh. I was too disfigured by the anesthetic.

The two experiences were so similar in that I was at the mercy of someone else. The whole time, I thought, this is how Seamus feels. And while the one experience was soothing, loving, and comforting, the other was disorienting and painful. Now, obviously, shots aside, I don’t hurt my baby, but other elements of the dentist’s chair were uncomfortable, like getting sprayed in the face with water, twice, or having water drip down the side of my face into my ear. It was like baby drool, but without the loving parent to wipe my face.

I am sure you get the point. Like us, babies want to be respected. They want adults to be kind and gentle. I am not saying I won’t still walk around holding a baby slung over my shoulder while carrying the laundry up the stairs. I am sure I still will. But I will try to respect his need for comfort and security a bit more because of my two opposite experiences.

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.

2015-04-26 17.11

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: