Accountability Post #3

*So this year, I resolved to increase the happiness in my home. I’m using Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier at Home” book as a loose guide. March and April were all about Parenthood…*

I am not one of those people who always knew she’d have kids. I liked babies, sure, and kids were ok. But I just didn’t think I was suited to caring for them. Even as a babysitter, I was only ever in it for the money to get new clothes, not the kids.

I’m not sure what changed, but at 28 I suddenly decided I very much wanted to have kids. So I jumped right in and had them. As a result, both Budsie and Pixie were born at highly inconvenient times. There is no good time to have children, but 2.5 months before your wedding (Budsie) and 5 months before moving overseas (Pixie) is…poor timing. And sometimes I wonder if poor timing hasn’t been the theme of their lives ever since.

Because annoyingly, I have a habit of always doing big things at just the wrong time. Take law school for example. Whatever people say about the wonderful example I’m setting for the kids, or the way I’m tackling this challenge head on, the fact of the matter is that this was an easily avoidable challenge. Just go BEFORE having kids, rather than (hypothetically speaking) spending your twenties wandering about aimlessly. Had I gone before having the children, neither of the kids would have seen me fall apart over a bloody paper. Budsie would never have had to worry about me looking tired prepping for finals, and I wouldn’t miss school performances of Pixie’s because of some ridiculous class.

But most importantly, I would be more cheerful, the way I was before I went to law school. I used to be such a cheerful mum, but in the past two years, law school has sucked the cheer from my parenting. Everything is timed so carefully so that I have enough time to get work done that there is no room for lazy Sunday mornings playing LEGO or extra long stories at bedtime. Which makes me sad.

The challenge for March and April was twofold. First, I wanted to make more time. A seemingly impossible task, given the term I was having and my commitment to give A. more time, but it had to be done. Second, I wanted to make sure that the time I made was worth making. This meant setting aside my tired ass self, with the sometimes clipped voice and divided attention. It meant focusing on the things that were important to each child, and just forgetting about school completely.

How did I do: Not bad. Although April was crap.

Successes:
1) I started alternating who helped me with dinner on nights I was cooking, setting the other kid up with some art project or LEGO adventure or what have you. I was finding it impossible to really focus on one kid and hear what they were saying when they were both trying to help in our tiny kitchen. Inevitably if Budsie is in a room, he takes over, which means that a) I never hear Pixie, and b) I’m constantly nagging Budsie to stop interrupting, ruining the fun of it all. But I want to teach Budsie to cook. Now that they alternate nights, I know WAY more about what is going on in Pixie’s little life, and Budsie is still learning (as a happy side effect, his piano has improved because he’s used his off nights to practice).

2) Similarly, I started alternating who I had deep conversations with each night. One kid or the other (but especially Budsie) wants a deep conversation about space, death, or a friendship problem at least a couple of times each week. I used to try to tackle these issues with both kids in the room as we were getting ready for bed. But it’s impossible to focus for the same reasons outlined above. Also Pixie again tends to be overlooked. Focusing on them individually, which I thankfully have the luxury of being able to do, has been super helpful.

3) I let some things go. As with A., I reasoned it was better to do a little worse at school if it meant the kids got more time with me.

Failures: 
1) I’m trying to be more interested in the things the kids like. But I HATE POKEMON. Good gods. And I’m terrible at pretending I don’t hate it.

What did I learn: 
1) I’m still cheerful deep down.

2) I need more sleep to parent well (of course I knew this, but apparently I needed to re-learn it).

3) That Pixie loves cooking.

4) That Budsie has a crush on two girls in his class. :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On the wagon … again.

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I have tried NUMEROUS times to manage my relationship with alcohol. I tried to reel it in in 2008, when A. was in K-town and I was handling his absence…in an unproductive way. I tried again in 2013, after a significant time spent self-medicating my postpartum depression. And I tried again in 2015 after a summer spent partying it up with other ex-pats.

To an outsider, I suspect my problem with alcohol probably seems pretty minor, if non-existent. As it stands now, I rarely have more than two drinks in an evening, and I’m not a morning drinker, or a three martini luncher. I don’t have blackout periods, and I’m not into shooters or hard liquor. I have never woken up and not known where I was, and I no longer hide wine in my closet so I can drink without judgment. So I’m good, right?

Not so much.

Because like smoking and coffee, while I’m not a heavy user, I’m crazy dependent on alcohol. And it’s the dependency that’s key here. When I was a smoker, I never smoked a pack a day. But I had to smoke at least a couple EVERY DAY. I don’t drink five cups of coffee each day, but so help me if I don’t have one. You get the idea. And the problem, of course, with dependency that does not become excessive and overtly disruptive, is that it’s easy to think you’re fine. And it’s easy for others to think you’re fine. So there’s no incentive to change the behaviour.

But the thing is, I’m not fine. Because I want to drink all of the time. Because whenever I have one beverage, it has to be two. Because once I have two, I am incapable of not putting my foot in my mouth. Because my body has started to react even to two beverages by making me excessively grumpy the next day, and incapable of accomplishing any task before noon. Because I’ve had nights where I’ve needed to do school work, and I haven’t because I needed to drink, and then I was incapable of focusing. Because I’m a shitty parent after one beverage, alternating between nonchalant and ridiculously overprotective, and overreacting to everything the kids are doing. Because I use alcohol to numb pain and to manage anxiety.

Something has to change. I am, in fact, in the exact same mental spot that I was in when I finally quit smoking, and I’ve decided to approach alcohol the same way when it comes to stopping. I never said I was going to quit smoking when I did. All I said was: “I’m not going to smoke today.” And I kept doing that every day until before I knew it a year had gone by, then five, then ten.

So I’m not going to drink today.

 

 

 

Accountability Post #2

*So this year, I resolved to increase the happiness in my home. I’m using Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier at Home” book as a loose guide. February was all about marriage…*

My love for family law is completely at odds with my love of being married to A. I spend my days studying the breakdown of families, reading various family law statutes and regulations, and thinking about creative ways to help people emerge from broken relationships relatively unscathed and financially stable. It’s not that I take joy in people separating, but I do take great joy in helping them navigate the law that underlies the terms of their separation.

I spend my nights happily married to A, or at least I try to. Law school, jobs, kids, the mundane tasks of  home ownership, all work together to ensure that A. and I hardly see each other anymore. Most days, I see A. for an hour in the morning (during which time I’m making lunches, breakfast, and dinner, convincing Pixie to eat, answering twenty questions from Budsie, dodging Zoe, and making myself look presentable), and two or three hours at night (during which time I read, write, and occasionally pass out watching The Office). All told, A. and I probably spend an average of 25 waking hours each week with each other, and almost all of it is consumed by other activities.

Yes, law school is some serious relationship kryptonite.

So this month’s challenge: be married. Like, actual married. More importantly, I wanted to let A. know that I was happy to be married to him, despite the fact that I never see him, and despite the fact that I spend my waking hours talking about divorce, and despite the fact that I could easily be mistaken for an unhappily married person, given my complete lack of engagement in his life.

How did I do: Not bad.

Successes: 

1) I made sure to ask A. about work every day, and I actually listened to the answer. I noticed that I had begun to ask about work more as a habit, forgetting that I actually find A.’s job interesting. This month, I focused on genuinely listening to what A. had to say, committing the story to memory, and remembering to ask follow up questions later.

2) I tried not to intervene when A. was parenting. Ok, I’m not sure I was entirely successful with this. IT’S HARD. I was home for years, and as the most visible parent, I was just always in charge. But intervening undermines A.’s awesome parenting, and that’s a shitty marriage thing to do. So I’m trying. Super hard. Not to do that.

3) I worked less. This was particularly hard. I wanted to leave early, stay late, and work every waking hour. But I reasoned that one extra hour with A. in the morning or evening would help secure a relationship without which I cannot succeed. Also I just really miss A. We sat up one night, drinking beer and eating naan until 2am. It was the closest to pre-kid, pre-law school life we’ve ever been and it felt amazing. More of that is needed.

Failures:

1) I still give directions as though I am CEO of the house. Again, this is because for years I was CEO of the house. I organized everything from food to bill payments to family outings, and I had everyone’s schedules memorized, and I knew who was outgrowing pants, and who needed new rain boots, and who had a birthday party to go to, and blah.  And of course I was happy to do all of it because I have serious control issues. Letting go and trusting that A., as a full grown man with a brain and opposable thumbs, can manage the task of feeding two children and caring for a home, continues to elude me. I will get better.

What did I learn:

1) Quality over quantity. While I would prefer to spend more hours with A. than I currently do, it’s really the quality of the time we do spend together that is important.

2) Modelling a healthy and balanced marriage is good for my kids. I already knew this, but this was confirmed to me when Pixie called out for A. instead of me in the night, when I noticed how much the kids love it when A. and I joke around with each other, and when Budsie determined that A. and I are best friends who got married.

Accountability Post #1

*So this year, I resolved to increase the happiness in my home. I’m using Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier at Home” book as a loose guide. January was all about possessions…*

I went through a phase in my twenties when I thought that if I could just streamline my stuff enough, I would feel less anxiety. This led to some less-than-sensible decisions, like getting rid of all but one of everything in my kitchen (as a chronic non-dishwasher, this just resulted in my eating more take out), or donating my entire CD collection, then realizing I had forgotten to back any of it up. And, of course, simply getting rid of stuff, or trying to lead a so-called minimalist life, will not automatically cure anyone of anxiety. Indeed, if you are the kind of person who takes comfort in being surrounded by memorabilia or trinkets or heaps of books, then reducing could actually cause more anxiety, not less.

As someone who gets anxious when things are cluttered, but who also doesn’t want to reduce her children’s possessions to two books and a puzzle, I needed to find a balance between too much stuff and Spartan living. So that was this month’s challenge: carefully consider what is in our home, highlight the stuff that we love, and donate the things that would be happier living in another person’s home.

How did I do: Pretty well, actually.

Successes:

1) I finally donated the backup wedding dress that had been sitting in my closet since 2010, and that actually went to Israel and back again (WHY?!). This dress was my In Case I Can’t Fit My Actual Dress dress because it turns out having a baby two months before you get married is stupid. I had tried to consign it, or sell it on Kijiji, and it wasn’t moving. So off it went, hopefully to a happy wedding.

2) I got rid of all of the small appliances that we don’t use or that are broken. I tried finding a small appliance repair person, but nothing that was available was reasonable. Goodbye, broken space stealers!

3) Three (three!) garbage bags of my clothes left this house. If I didn’t love it, if it didn’t make me feel amazing, I reasoned it would make someone else feel good and so off it went. Also gone? All of my high heeled shoes. Because I hate wearing them.

4) I re-arranged some of our house to focus on what is important to the kids now. For example, I brought the desktop computer upstairs because Budsie has taken an interest in research. I moved Pixie’s play kitchen into the kids’ bedroom so she could have more elaborate adventures with her dolls, something that has become increasingly important. I created a puzzles and games area in our tiny living room. And I stocked the craft shelf with kits and supplies I had previously stored in the basement “for when the kids are older,” reasoning that they should just make use of everything. Both kids LOVED the changes, and more stuff is getting used.

5) I purchased things we needed. It may seem counter productive to buy stuff when you are getting rid of stuff, but our lives had become needlessly complicated because we didn’t have certain objects. A good, working vacuum cleaner, for instance. A working food processor. A recycling bin for the kitchen.

Failures:

1) It turns out, it is better if the kids have a laundry basket in their room. I had removed it because it took up valuable play space, and because the laundry room is next to the bedroom. But all that has happened is their dirty clothes are in front of a washing machine that is forever mid-cycle. Annoying.

What did I learn:

1) Even though our house is tiny, I can make it feel larger by creating centres. The craft area, the lego area, the puzzle and game area, a magic kit shelf for Budsie, a tea party + restaurant space for Pixie – carving out these spaces helps highlight the things that are important to the kids, and creates better flow in the house.

2) I cannot control what other people do (this will be an ongoing lesson). In my decluttering frenzy, I failed to inspire Andrew to tackle his own closet. But why should he? It’s his stuff, and it doesn’t make him anxious. And I don’t get to impose my anxiety on him.

3) Getting ready for the day is way easier when 3/4 of your wardrobe doesn’t make you look gross.

4) Less clutter definitely makes me feel less anxious. I feel mentally lighter. Yay!

Resolutions and Happiness

For Christmas this year, A. gave me a copy of Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier at Home,” the follow up to her wildly successful “The Happiness Project.” Gretchen Rubin was a lawyer, and at one point clerked with Sandra Day O’Connor. These days she writes about happiness, and has the spammiest of blogs I’ve ever unsubscribed from. 

I am aware of the shortcomings of these books. This is classic white privilege stuff – Rubin is financially secure, well-connected, and hasn’t had to face the numerous obstacles that stand between most people and happiness (poverty being the big one). But there is just something about these books. Maybe it’s her writing, or her ability to acknowledge her own shortcomings, but I enjoy the read, and I really enjoy the guidance, however superficial it may seem.

“Happier at Home” is all about teasing out the happiness in your own space, an idea I find enticing. Maybe it’s because I spent a few years abroad, where my focus was really on building up a social network for my family and not my physical space. Maybe it’s because I’ve moved so many times over my adult life that I’ve never really felt I had a physical home, per se, preferring instead to view home as wherever the people I love are. Maybe it’s because for the last year and a half, I’ve basically never been home except to sleep and stuff food into children. Hmm.

Like Rubin, lately I find myself feeling homesick. I desperately miss the house I grew up in on Vancouver Island. It was sold years ago, after my parents separated. I haven’t set foot inside the place since 2001. But I can smell it and feel it. I remember the big window in the living room, which looked out over the front yard and the beach. I remember the kitchen, with the blue and brown flowered backsplash. I remember the wrap around deck, the giant back yard. I remember smoking and reading YM magazine in the rafters of the garage. I remember always feeling happy when I set foot inside that house.

I feel happy in my house today, don’t get me wrong. I love hearing the sound of my kids playing, love hearing Andrew in the kitchen, love the lighting in my bathroom. We are outgrowing our space, but it’s cozy in a good way. Yet, I could be happier. Sometimes I feel like the four of us are just floating through this house without really engaging with it. Some of that comes from knowing we’re always on the move, but some of it, I think, comes from the fact that we all four live busy, slightly disconnected lives. I want to tie us together better, and connect us to our home, even if it’s a temporary space.

To that end, for my new years resolution this year I resolve to follow Rubin’s “Happier at Home” book. Rubin takes 9 months to complete her project, but considering my life, I bet it takes me the whole of 2018 to get there. Given the terrible success rate of new years resolutions, I’ll try to remain accountable by updating the blog once a month.

My first challenge: Possessions. Here, Rubin isn’t suggesting I get rid of everything. Rather, she suggests that I make spaces in my house to highlight the possessions and experiences that are important to me and my family, then go shelf by shelf to remove those items that are not especially meaningful and serve no function. So here we go!

Late thirties

There’s nothing particularly exciting about turning thirty-seven. It’s not as big and scary as FORTY, but it’s not young sounding like thirty-two. It’s just thirty-seven. Married with a couple of kids age. Saving for retirement and worrying about a rapidly slowing metabolism age. Looking around and wondering why everyone looks so grown up and realizing you are too age.

Ugh.

But instead of letting the dull wash over me, I’m focusing on the awesome. At 37, I have the best kids, the funniest husband, the dearest friends, and a caring and insane family. I have a great cat. Rumour has it there will be burgers and cake tonight. I just joined a new book club. And I’m about to kick off my second year of law school, the craziest, stupidest and best decision I ever made (well, about my work life anyway). Also, 37 is a prime number. So that’s neat.

Yes, 37 will be a good year I think. Provided the Asshat Cheeto doesn’t destroy the planet, of course.

 

There’s no manual? Seriously?

Of course, I always knew there was no actual parenting manual. I guess I just thought that if I had kids, I’d know what to do with them. That this information would just appear in my head.

Unfortunately, like so many other Adult Things (cooking, buying a house, marriage, fixing stuff), parenting is just winging it. That’s right, my childless friends: everyday, I’m just waking up and guessing at everything. Some stuff you figure out pretty quickly. For example, it’s pretty much always a bad idea to let your kid stay up super late on a school night. Don’t feed them junk food all day, everyday. Probably avoid letting them play with knives and matches. Teach them how to use the washing machine as soon as they can reach the buttons. Force them to drink water, change their underwear, and brush their teeth occasionally. Hose them down every so often.

Some stuff is harder. How do you teach your kids to deal with bullies? How do you answer some of the difficult questions they ask about divorce, poverty, war, racism, in an age-appropriate way that won’t give them nightmares? How do you help them feel at peace with themselves? And when should you give them a little push out of their comfort zone? Should you ever do this?

I forced Budsie to take skating and piano lessons, join Beavers, and go to swimming. With each activity, he said he didn’t want to, he hated everything, he just wanted to stay home. He now LOVES 3/4 of those activities (he really hates swimming). And a few weeks ago, I forced him to audition for the Variety Show at his school. He said he hated me, that everything was the worst. But then he got in the show, performed his magic ball trick in front of his entire school, and had an awesome time. He loved the attention, loved the clapping, loved it all. Sigh.

Sometimes I feel bad, pushing him into this stuff. He’s not an outgoing kid, more of a thinker than a doer. And sometimes I think I should just leave him be, let him pick what he wants to do. But honestly, if I did that, he’d pick nothing. And whenever he misses out on stuff, he gets upset. Sooooooo…yeah. It’s all about finding balance, reading signals, staying sharp. Gods, it’s all so exhausting.

Seriously, there should really be a manual.

that Mum look

This morning, I looked in the mirror and I didn’t recognize my face.

I’m not even sure when it happened. Losing my face, that is. I mean it was there in 1999. It was there in 2006. It was even there in 2012. I may have lost it in Israel. Honestly, I haven’t checked in a while. Most mornings, I frantically throw on the closest t-shirt and skirt and just bolt. Lipstick is applied by looking at a tiny mirror in the car, or on the bus. I never look at the whole picture, really.

But some time between 2012 and this morning, my face, and indeed my entire look, went missing. Replacing it: The Mum Face. With Mum clothes. And a Mum body. I stood in the bathroom today and I honestly stared at myself for a full five minutes, not recognizing this boring ass woman. I was wearing a t-shirt with holes in it, baggy men’s shorts, and black flats. I’ve been wearing the same outfit for an embarrassingly long time because I a) work from home, and b) have gained 15 lbs, and don’t fit my own clothes anymore. My unwashed hair, which is greying unevenly, was plastered to my face, presumably held down by grease. I suddenly noticed the permanent frown line between my eyes. I had a mascara smudge under one tired eye, which accented the gigantic bags beautifully. Funnily enough, I don’t remember the last time I put on mascara. There was toothpaste on the corner of my mouth. Like, a lot of it.

And I dropped the children off looking like this. I talked to people. Dear. God.

So I guess that’s this summer’s mission: Find my face. Because this look isn’t working for me. I don’t look like me! I look like some sad, tired, and puffy version of me. When did I stop caring? When did I stop paying attention? Well, no more. My kids deserve better. My husband deserves better. MOST IMPORTANTLY I DESERVE BETTER. I know I’m not 25 anymore, but surely almost 37 isn’t when everything goes to hell in hand basket, is it? Not for this lady.

REBOOT.

***
NOTE: Mums are beautiful in all shapes and sizes. This is not a slight on Mums. And this is not a post to complain about weight gain or aging, which is perfectly natural and also, it’s not like I’m enormous/old here. There are plenty of people with worse problems than what I’m describing, and I know this. BUT there is something disconcerting about not recognizing one’s face. I did not care for it.

 

 

 

 

11

Probably the most popular question I was asked during my first year of law school was “How are you doing this with kids?” My answer varied: “Oh, well, they’re not babies so it’s not that bad” (false: it is that bad), “You get really good at time management” (true, but it still sucks), “Oh, you know, you just do it because you have to” (false: I did not have to do this. I could have easily not done this. Wait, why did I do this? *jumps over rabbit hole*).

Anyway, however varied my answer was, it always included “with A.’s support.” Which was the understatement of the year. “With A.’s support” sounds like he was just sort of there, cheering me along. And he was, but he cheered while making dinners, doing all the bedtime, driving kids to piano/scouts/swimming/skating, never getting to sleep in on weekends, and taking many, many days off work to deal with sick kids. He cheered while setting his own career ambitions aside. He cheered while listening to me complain and question my abilities. And he continues to cheer even though he has at least two more years of this garbage.

In other words, he cheers me along while being the truest of true partners. Gods, but I love this man.

Happy eleven years, A. It’s been #sofuzzy.

 

 

 

 

my kids rock

Warning: this post is all about how awesome my children are. I’m totally going to brag about them for, like, 400 words. As the kids these days say, #sorrynotsorry (people still say that, right?).

My kids are amazing.

Ok, so they are 4 and almost 7, and sometimes they aren’t amazing. They fight, they whine, they need to be told to brush their teeth a million times before they will do it, they leave dirty clothes all over the place, and they complain about going to the bathroom/washing their hands/”boring” desserts/the lack of television in their lives/setting the table/going outside/coming inside.

But then there are days like today. Today I woke up to someone stabbing me in my ear. Or what other folks call an ear infection. I didn’t think it was that bad until the sound of pouring cereal into a bowl made me double over in pain. So there I was, sitting on the kitchen floor, unable to say or do anything because all sound was torture. And what did my kids do? Well, first Budsie asked if he should call 911. Having established this wasn’t an emergency, but that Mummy was clearly in a bad way, he and Pixie decided to have the quietest breakfast in the world. They whispered to each other, they didn’t fight over the cereal/water cup colour/seating arrangements, and they said nothing when it took me 300 years to cut up apples for their breakfast. Later in the day, when I was stuck in a dark bedroom, full of painkillers and antibiotics, they came in and calmly sat with me. They looked at pictures on the computer, and later just quietly watched my show (‘Friends’), and didn’t complain that it was boring grown-up television.

This may seem like a small thing, but this was huge to me. Because sometimes kids smell fear and pounce. Today, they were both caring and compassionate. Yeah, they rock big time.