Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Unplanned Hiatus

I’ve been absent from this blog for too long. It was not intentional, but a combination of life being insanely busy and a computer that is really hit & miss with which wireless connections it will use. But apparently it’s willing to connect to our home internet now, so I’m back! So much easier to write blog posts when i can actually publish them from my own computer.

Much has changed in a few (six?) brief weeks. We found a place to live in Burnaby (bedfellow with Vancouver proper in BC), moved, and are in the next stage of the “what now” bit that comes after a chapter closes. David is now officially Dr Dave, or Dr Daddy, depending on who is addressing him. I’ve had a lot of fun tagging “Dr” onto things with his name on them.
Lots more to come, so watch this space!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Parenting Two under Two/Dr Marshall's 5 Tips

I’ve been meaning to write on impressions about parenting for awhile, but it’s been hard to do without sounding like a complete jerk (here are a list of things that people say/do that piss me off) or a sanctimonious prick (this is how wonderful life with children is blahblahblah). This is, of course, because raising children (or doing anything else in life) has its good days and its bad days and the truth is often somewhere in the middle.

Then Fr John at Blog of a Country Priest (one of my favourite priest blogs) posted a link to this excellent article by Dr Taylor Marshall. An article giving tips for young people raising large families? I’m there! The article is worth a read even if you don’t have kids or a large family, as I think his tips are sensible for living a life that errs on the side of happiness. His comments on mentors, or what I might term community, really struck home. My biggest attraction lately? Blogs (or articles) by other people with large young families. Since we only have two kids, following the trials, tribulations, and jubilations of those with more than two always makes my life look easier. But because we have two-under-two, I don’t feel guilty when I compare my chaos to other people’s, because I feel we’re all in the trenches together. It’s a form of camaraderie.

See, I've realised that people who don’t have little children, or a lot lot lot lot LOT of children, forget reality pretty quickly. It’s like that cliche about giving birth – it hurts like hell but you forget it as soon as its over. That’s why it’s so annoying to hear things like “treasure this time – it passes so quickly” or “your generation likes to complain a lot” when you talk/complain/vent about the insanity. Both of these statements can provide a useful reality check but if I lock you in a room with a tantruming Walter and fussy Emily during the afternoon when both kids seem to be perpetually needing diaper changes and food and constant entertainment ALL AT ONCE, just see how much of your moment-cherishing-not-complaining spirit remains. It takes some time to recover from the battle and return to that happy state where we are reminded yet again of what blessings children are. Unfortunately for those of us in this season for life, the chaos, which is relatively short lived in the human life cycle, is blissfully forgotten by those well meaning, or not so well meaning, commentators. Which, if you think about it, is pretty good news because it means we’ll probably also forget just how crazy it was (unless we have so many kids that it becomes permanently engrained in our memory).

Didn't ask for cheerios. Was given them anyway.
Another great point from Dr Marshall’s article was about counting all things you complete in a day, instead of focusing on what you failed to do. I know that my days end on a great note when I remind myself of everything I did do rather than letting all the stuff I didn’t do drag me down. In fact, my house may be messier but I am turning into a better housekeeper because I actually take the time to clean in when I have a chance. I’m an introvert who recharges by sitting and reading books/sewing/watching a movie so after a fourty-hour work week it was always difficult to find the energy to clean. Now that I spend a lot of time watching the babies with one eye and reading books with the other, it’s a nice break to go scrub or vacuum.

This journey with two little babies is teaching me that I have to let go and turn things over to God’s timing. Rather than a “to-do” list I have a “hope to accomplish” list. If things aren’t getting done, I pray about the list & ask God to help me accomplish the things that are important. It seemed silly at first but I found that not only did it work, it helped me relax about the things that weren’t getting done. Of course it also involved honesty on my side – in return for God’s help with my day, I had to make the conscious decision to be a good steward of my time.

Dr Marshall also talks about ensuring that both parents get enough sleep. With Walter, although I was pregnant with Emily and therefore always feeling exhausted, it wasn’t that hard to sleep when Walter slept if I needed the extra rest. But with two babies it is certainly harder to get a complete rest. And I know that my marriage suffers when we’re short on sleep. It’s so easy to take everything personally when I’m tired, and I also have no patience to do anything but push through the day. It isn’t always possible for us to get enough rest, although we try to help each other, but it is important to remember that the days when one of us is super tired are the worst days for problem-fixing. I get frustrated, because sometimes it feels that waiting for the right moment to talk about important things can take weeks, but important discussions when one of us is exhausted are almost always an exercise in futility. And I’ve found that if it’s something pressing & important it works best to have all my points layed out in advance, so that no precious time is wasted & I can easily communicate what needs to be said, and to pray that God will give us a chance to talk & make a decision.

What I find helps me the most is to remember that married life, and all it has brought with it, is my vocation. It’s more than just a job – it’s the path God has put me on to help me grow in holiness. When I lose sight of this it is easy to indulge in self-pity and frustration. Taking care of small demanding humans who can’t say “I love you” or even “thank you” does not make each day feel rewarding. The repetitive chores of housework can often feel maddening, especially when I find myself cleaning up the same mess over and over again. And, of course, this life is so counter cultural. I like to think that my career-life had a bit of glamour to it – trips down to London to work in the corporate office, helping the police with their investigations, giving advice to multinational companies & major airlines... life before kids seems like life on a different planet.

Oh the glamor -- a pool table AND a Foosball table in the lunch room
Then I think about what it means to embrace married life, to embrace openness to life, as my vocation. I’m called to serve my family. I think that this is counter cultural – as a 21st century woman, I feel like I should be fighting this idea, especially as it’s currently defined in my reality of cooking & cleaning.  Then I think about Christ washing the feet of the disciples. I take care of my family because I love them, but on the days when I don’t feel a lot of that love coming back I remember that I also take care of my family because I love Jesus. When a good day comes to an end, I go to bed feeling positive & happy. And when a bad day comes to an end, I try to do the prudent thing and remind myself that loving & serving this family of mine is my calling. I might feel that no one is noticing my sacrifices, stress, & exhaustion, but I know that God is watching every virtuous & unselfish action of mine and encouraging me to continue on. Repeating a dose of selflessness & sacrifice on a daily basis is only going to help me grow.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Unplanned Parenthood

I’ve got all these thoughts on babies and “openness to life” floating around in my head. Having two kids so closely together has sort of lumped us into the “large families” category, even though two isn’t really that large. But of course if we managed to crazily produce two within 12 months of each other, who knows what madness we’re capable of!

Although I’m passionate about natural family planning (NFP), going into long explanations about trying to live a life, to have a marriage, that is open to life is never something that I’ve wanted to get into in the fleeting situations that bring up most of the comments about our intended family size. I usually just smile and say something affirmative when people assume we’re trying for a lot of kids, but lately I’ve started to be honest. And my honesty seems to be putting people into a position of not knowing what to say next. How many kids do we want?

We don’t know.

Crazy, isn’t it? In a culture that is so heavy about planning your [perfect] family, we’re operating without a plan.

Sure, numbers get bandied about. I always liked the idea of having four kids. Two girls and two boys. David, meanwhile, teases me about double digits. But we’ve never come up with a number at which we’ll look at our family and say “now it’s complete”. I don’t think we ever will. It sounds like the opposite of everything my organized, plan-loving heart wants, but it’s actually very freeing to not have this all planned out. I am too easily trapped by my own plans. I don’t shift gears that well and often have to remind myself that a change is ok. So planning NOT to have a plan actually works great for me, because it makes it easier for me to handle reality.

My pregnancy with Emily did rock my confidence with how much I thought I knew about my body. I’d had a choice to make – follow the advice my instructor had given me, prior to Walter’s birth, if I wanted to keep using the method to prevent pregnancy during that tricky period after birth/breastfeeding, or take a gamble in assuming things were back to normal before they were. But you know what? A surprise pregnancy at a time in life when most people would’ve said having kids was the dumbest thing ever was NOT the end of the world. There are moments when being a mom is so utterly exhausting and thankless that it feels like the end of the world, but now that this first year and chapter of “two under two” is drawing to a close it’s getting better & better. I’m glad that God had other ideas to my more rigid plans on child spacing. Emily took all the broken pieces of last year and made them work together, providing our family with a way of staying together while giving David the chance to finish his PhD. When I look at how everything has worked out so far it is so clearly God’s planning, not ours, just in the perfection of each little event that had to happen at just the right moment in time.

Crazy, messy life but totally worth it -- and hard to believe that was almost a year ago!!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Walter's Baby Schedule

In doing some computer-house-cleaning, I found the very detailed schedule of Walter's day that I typed out for David last year, in anticipation of my return to work. Needless to say it was a lot more detailed than David needed, and the two of them came up with their own way of doing things, but I want to keep a record of it as it reminds me of Walter's baby days.

Walter’s Normal Schedule

On a good day, I try to keep Walter as close to this schedule as possible. The times are approximate, as they depend on when he wakes up and what sort of mood he’s in. He is fairly flexible so if you need to head out with him for any reason he can adapt to the day:

8am: Walter wakes up “for good”. He likes to sit up and tell you about his sleep. He’s usually in a really good mood, unless he’s woken up crying because he’s wet himself. The first thing to do when he is ready is to change his diaper. If necessary you can put him into clean jammies.

8:30/9: Once Walter is changed, I like to give him breakfast right away. For breakfast he has cereal with fruit (you just add water and stir it to a consistency that he’ll take). He wears a bib and I try to get him to eat the whole bowl. I have breakfast at the same time. When we’re both done eating, or if Walter finishes first and is really fussy, I wash his hands, face, & highchair tray with a warm damp cloth. Then I put the bib aside for his next meal, rinse out his bowl & his spoon, and release him from his chair.

9-10: After breakfast we try to have playtime. I encourage him to entertain himself and I usually take this as an opportunity to read. He hates being left on his own, so if I have to leave the room I usually put a show on that he likes so that he can watch it when he gets bored of his toys.

10-12: Usually within 2 hours of waking up, Walter is cranky, rubbing his eyes, and ready for his morning nap. He likes to drink a bottle (pause halfway through to burp him, and then once again when he finishes) as he goes to sleep. He sleeps on his tummy, in his crib, with a light blanket covering him. He likes to be rocked to sleep while being sung to, and I usually wait until he’s dead asleep before trying to put him down in his bed.

Once he’s asleep it’s the ideal time to get things done, so it’s worth the effort it takes to get him to fall into a deep sleep. He’ll usually nap for 1-2 hours, although sometimes he goes a bit longer (it’s best not to let him nap for more than 3 hours at a time during the day unless he’s had a really bad night).

12: Walter will usually let you know when he’s awake, but it’s up to you at what point in the process you want to pick him up. Sometimes he wakes up and plays happily with toys in his crib, in which case you can leave him be (he’ll want to come out of bed as soon as he sees you), and other times he wakes up shouting/crying and demanding instant attention.

If he’s crying a lot and didn’t finish his bottle before bed, I sometimes give him the rest of his milk to drink. Otherwise I just change his diaper straight away. This is the time that I put him into his “big boy clothes”. He can wear any daytime outfit of your choosing – just remember to put socks on him! I use this as an opportunity to get dressed if I haven’t managed it thus far. If by some miracle his jammies are still clean, they can be put aside for the evening.

12:30: Now it’s lunch time. For lunch I like him to try some grownup food. He doesn’t always like to eat a lot at lunch time. I try to have my lunch either with him or shortly after he does. Same routine as the morning in cleaning him up after eating.

1-2 or 3: This is Walter’s second playtime. Same as the morning. This is usually a good opportunity to take him out for fresh air or to run any errands/get out of the house, as he’ll have already had one good sleep in the day.

2/3 – 4/5: Around 2 hours after he wakes up, although sometimes closer to three hours, he’s ready for his afternoon nap. Again with the crankiness & eye rubbing. Same as before with milk, songs, rocking, and on his tummy to sleep. I usually use this nap to get things done and make sure dinner is prepped.

4/5: Walter may only nap for an hour, or you may get lucky and he’ll stretch it to two. Once he’s awake I change his diaper and, if he’s soiled his daytime clothing, he goes back into jammies. He can use this time to finish any milk that he has left from before his nap, or he may want a fresh bottle made up.

Late Afternoon/Early Evening: His routine at this time of day is a lot more flexible, since it depends on what time the adults are having supper and if there are any plans for the evening. If it’s early & light out, it’s sometimes a nice time to take him out for a walk if you didn’t get out earlier in the day, especially as you don’t need to be home until bedtime. Other than that he can play, drink milk, and harass you as he sees fit.

Sometimes he will start vigorously rubbing his eyes and acting incredibly cranky. He often likes to take a 30-60 minute ‘cat nap’ in the evening. He is allowed to do this any time before 7pm, and if he does sleep then he needs to wake up by 7:30pm.

Around grownup suppertime is when he has his last solid meal of the day – right now he eats rice cereal, because he needs to have something plain & easy to digest, but as he gets better with solids this will change to more of what we’re eating.

If the evening’s activities are done early, then I like to give him a bath around 7 or 7:30 to help him stay awake & relaxed until bedtime.

8/9: It is very important that he heads to bed no earlier than 8 and no later than 9. I change him into his special night time diaper (pampers baby dry), make sure his jammies are relatively clean, and put him into his sleeping-bag. Then I turn the lights off and give him his bottle while we say prayers. Then follows the drinking/rocking to sleep. For night he goes to sleep on his back.

Ideally, he’ll sleep for 11-12 hours after going to bed, maybe only waking up at 5am for a drink of milk. In reality he might wake up every 3-5 hours, until he is up for good the next morning (around 11 or 12 hours after he goes down to bed), and then you get to do the whole thing all over again!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

7 Quick Takes -- Vol. 21, or mostly the No Sleep Blues

--- 1 ---
You might be familiar with the plight of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim. I saw brief mention of it on the news the other night, and I’ve read more in-depth articles via my Facebook feed. A friend of mine wrote an excellent article with all the information one needs in order to help voice outrage at this case to the appropriate people. Spare a minute, click the relevant links, and add your voice to ours. Saints Felicity & Perpetua, pray for us!
--- 2 ---
St Felicity is the saint that I chose for Emily, so I have felt particular outrage at Meriam’s story (as she has been likened to a modern day St Perpetua/St Felicity). SS Perpetua & Felicity were some of the first non-Biblical saints that I’d heard of. I thought maybe I was being silly for choosing a martyr of the early church, because it didn’t seem like it might be relevant any more. Clearly I was wrong.
--- 3 ---
On a happier note, at least for me...David & I have been really lucky to get a couple date nights recently – we put the kids to bed and my parents obligingly watch them while we head to the late show. We’ve seen Neighbours, which I loved, and Godzilla, which I only found so-so. Driving home from the movie theater makes me feel so young, because late-night drives across Port Alberni always take me back to the summers when I was a desk clerk at the Esta Villa Motel and worked the late shift.
--- 4 ---
And in other news...this has been the week of no sleep blues. On Sunday the monsters babies both slept in so late that we were late for Mass because our human alarm clocks didn’t go off at all. After that, most nights, it’s been a party here from 2-5am. Not fun. Possibly, hopefully a growth spurt that will end soon???
--- 5 ---
I’ve been too sluggish feeling to contemplate leaving the house, so we’ve been trying to get our exercise this week by frisbee playing. It’s loads of fun to toss it around in the backyard after supper. Walter runs & plays & occasionally comes over to see what the adults are doing, and Emily sits outside in a little rocking chair, cheering & waving her legs & sucking on her shoes.
--- 6 ---
Although this has been a week of no sleep blues, I’ve at least been rockin’ in the kitchen when I finally haul my butt in there. Highlights – Long Boy Cheeseburgers (and thanks to my cousin for an old Menu Plan Monday that led me to these babies), buffalo wings, honey mustard pork roast with crackling....so good. And both kids have been eating like there’s no tomorrow, with Walter even saying a big “yeah!” to the question of if he liked mama’s special chicken.
--- 7 ---
Brain too fried to come up with another take, so here’s the theme song for this week (Incredible String Band's No Sleep Blues)

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

18 Months of Walter

Even at 18 months, it was hard for me to think of Baby Walter as a baby. And it’s always been that way, which is how I suppose it usually is for us eldest children, because we are always the ones surprising our parents with how much we can do at such a young age. I’m less surprised when Emily does stuff, unless it’s super early, because that’s what she *should* be doing at that age.

It doesn’t help that Walter is so tall. By 18 months he was ready for 24m/2T sized clothes. He’d been walking for more than half a year and is really sturdy on his feet, and he’s never had a really ‘baby’ look so he looks like a short toddler rather than a tall baby as he charges around.

I’ve chucked all the baby websites & books out and only tend to reference them when I’m really stuck. It means I’m not that up to speed on what milestones he should be hitting when. With all the moving around, I wanted to hold off on potty training until we were all a bit more adjusted. He went through a screaming phase, which lasted for way too long, and that was in full swing by 18 months. So we introduced time-outs, to help him identify boundaries, and he is pretty quick to understand that “do you want a time-out” is his last chance to end his negative behavior.

packing himself for our trip to Canada
He’s really good at understanding instructions but not so great at using his words. He doesn’t use the same ones consistently, although he gains a new word every week or so. But, even if he’s not speaking much English (or Spanish), he’s babbling constantly and he’s always, always singing. And perhaps saying Mass – he loves to wander around, chanting, and solemnly handing out imaginary hosts (or something) to everyone in the room. And I think he says little homilies, because sometimes he’ll get a very serious look on his face and let loose a volley of Walter-babble, only to stop & laugh & ensure we’ve all be listening. Then he goes on with chanting & hanging stuff out.

he still loves reading Daddy's books
He’s developed an attachment to his blue blanket, and Blanket has to accompany him to every nap & for long car journeys. He likes to have a variety of ‘stuffies’ in his crib, especially Oscar (a monkey) & Paddington Bear. He will turn almost anything into a toy, but in particular he favours trucks & trains & computers. Trains are his absolute favourite thing – he loves train spotting when we’re out and Thomas & Friends is constant TV demand.

train selfie!
His teeth stopped coming in once winter hit, so that brought him to a grand total of 12 by 18 months. He’s toddler-weird with foods. Toast with peanut butter & jam is his mainstay, along with milk, although he is usually quite fond of fruit, bread, beans, cheerios & eggs. He loves a “full English” and will happily devour his own breakfast and the breakfasts of those around him. He is a chocolate monster but will turn his nose up at most other sweets.

He’s usually pretty great about going down for naps & bed, but he’s not a long sleeper (most of the time) and he tends to favour early mornings, which is a bit rough as Emily likes late nights. I’ve always preferred the early morning time of day, even if I can’t usually get myself up without Walter’s siren song, and so we try to make that our special time together.

Walter is everyone’s Little Buddy. He is friendly, kind, & very affectionate. He has a real sense for adventure and loves to be out & about, exploring new places with his family. He has added so much richness to our lives and we are so thankful for our little man.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Emily is Six Months! (nearly three months ago...)

Squeaking in under the mark just a few days before sure turns nine months old, here is Emily’s long-delayed 6 Month post!

The official 6-month shot
We’ve been having so much fun with our little princess, and she certainly has the whole family wrapped around her little finger, including her big-baby-brother. She is sweet & genial natured, although as Walter is “full of sound & fury” she has learned to assert herself when she really wants something.

Her smashing power increased ten-fold once she learned to sit
Whereas Walter has always been interested in things, Emily seems to genuinely enjoy toys and will usually opt for them instead of just grabbing random objects. She is incredibly strong and was army crawling at an alarming speed by 6.5 months. It didn’t take her long to figure out that she could follow us around, and she particularly loves to follow Walter when he tries to move toys away from her reach.At her five-month check-up she weighed around 16lbs, which keeps her in the 55th percentile (same she's been in from birth). Like Walter, she is very slim & delicately featured... I figure that this is David's aristocratic blood at work!

Learning to enjoy books (but mostly as objects for sucking)
Shortly before we left England, she was able to master sitting up and my job because a lot easier. It also meant that we could move her to a high chair & attempt solids, although I’ve had a harder time starting her on solids than I did with Walter. She likes flavours but has a hard time keeping food in her mouth and she doesn’t eat a lot in one sitting. Trying her on chicken broth for the first time was hilarious – she enjoyed it so much that she bounced and kicked and shouted and had the whole restaurant in stitches with her antics.

Trapped in a high chair!
Getting her to laugh at 6 months was like pulling teeth, but we were starting to get more of her gentle smiles. With her big eyes & sweet smiles she tends to trick people into thinking that she’s a demure little girl, but she loves to bounce and pound her fists and shout at the top of her lungs.

How could you not love this little lady?
She is a bit of a night owl, and her bedtime was hovering around the 10:30pm mark for the longest time. She makes up for it by sleeping until 8am or later, but with an early bird brother I found this routine very exhausting. David decided that in order to save my sanity we needed to start sleep training her, as most nights it would take me close to an hour just to rock her to sleep and she’d wake up as soon as I put her to bed. It took a couple of months, but now bedtimes are a breeze with her. She doesn’t sleep through the night yet, but she usually only wants a little milk and a cuddle in the middle of the night.

Attempting to relax her with a bath... note the alert eyes
By 6-month’s her nickname of “bug bug” or “bug” (after the ladybug) has seemed to stick for good and the ladybug is fast becoming her emblem. Although she is active & feisty she is also a proper little lady who loves jewelry, pretty clothes, & compliments.

She also loves being a tigger :)

Friday, 9 May 2014

7 Quick Takes -- Vol. 20

--- 1 ---
In an attempt to try to get healthy & keep a handle on my well-being even on days when I can barely get a moment to think, I’m keeping a food diary again. I did this a couple of years ago and found it really useful. I’ve gone a little more hi-tech this time around, and at my brother’s recommendation am using myfitnesspal.com (+app on my new iphone!).
--- 2 ---
It’s interesting to look back at each day and see the relation between the day, the weather, my food choices, and my overall mood. For example, this Wednesday was really awesome. I managed to eat well and get some great cardio exercise (pushing 70+lbs of baby up & down hilly gravel paths). I felt really energized and thus made better food choices. Whereas Thursday, where the children were non-stop-attention-seeking-monsters, was a bad day. Bad food choices, partially motivated by not enough time to do anything but heat up freezer food and partially motivated by stress cravings, meant a really unbalanced day. And it poured with rain all day, so I couldn’t escape for a sanity walk with the monsters!
--- 3 ---
David’s been away since Tuesday and to say that the kids have been a handful would be putting it mildly. It didn’t help that we had the flu on the weekend and they were still getting over it. It was so, so nice tonight to see them actually playing together instead of fighting with each other/me. Walter was hiding in a curtain and Emily was trying to find him in it and they were both laughing hysterically, as was I. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine.

Playing together one evening last week: even managing to sit side by side without fighting/crying. Miracle of miracles!
--- 4 ---
Fortune’s Wheel still seems to have us in her lower half. But I’m trying to be brave and not give in...so when my dad, who’s messed up his knee, asked me to walk to the mailbox today I took the kids for a cardio-heavy walk around the block, instead of just walking to get the post & returning to my melancholy musing on the couch, and tried to just enjoy the moment. And it mostly worked :)
--- 5 ---
My Gramma has dementia, and lately she’s been pretty out of it. But today when I saw her for dinner she seemed in fine form. Instead of her usual four topics of conversation, she actually seemed involved in what the rest of us were doing. And she thought to ask if there should be some other ladies (my cousins) with us, which is great because a lot of the time she can’t remember us when we’re not there. It was so special to have a relatively normal evening with her, especially this close to Mother’s Day.
--- 6 ---
When David flew out on Tuesday, he left from a small, relatively local (Nanaimo) airport. We had such blast dropping him off. The airport is so small that departures/security were right beside his check-in desk, and the staff were super friendly (so much so that when the check-in attendant saw the long line at security, she told us to go and enjoy some coffees for awhile before he bothered going through, even tho’ his bags were already tagged and technically you’re supposed to proceed straight through security at that point...or at least them’s the facts in Vancouver). We got to spend a lovely hour with him before he took off, and it’s one of the most relaxing times we’ve had at an airport in recent memory.
--- 7 ---
I recently had to cancel a trip that I’d really been looking forward to, because my health couldn’t handle the additional stress of it. To cheer me up, David got me Jennifer Fulwiler’s new book, Something Other than God. I probably won’t get to start reading it until June, but it seems like everyone else is loving it so I’m sure that I will too. Ordering a new book, especially one that isn’t fiction, is a big thing for me as I usually only ask to own books that I’ve read before (or where I’m so familiar with the author that I know I’ll love the book). Needless to say, I’m really excited to get my hands on it!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!