birthing babies · Kids

Day 467: Eleven!

N is eleven years old today.

He came into the world screaming; as he grew he became quieter, but he was watching and paying attention. His passion for puzzles kept me running to thrift stores to buy more and more difficult ones. He still loves jigsaw puzzles. Actually, he likes all kinds of puzzles: math puzzles, word puzzles, logic puzzles.

When he was a baby, he used to sit up on his knees in bed, wrap his blanket around himself like a cape, and then flop forward to go to sleep. He still does it today.

N is a sensitive soul with a remarkable mind. Tonight I didn’t have eleven candles for his cake; no problem, N said, just cross two of them in an X and leave the other alone… Roman numerals!

I am so lucky that I get to be his mother.

Happy birthday, N.

birthing babies · crafty · DIY · Kids

Day 292: Six!

Six years ago today, my kids went out for Chinese food with my parents. One of them cracked open a fortune cookie and read the fortune: “A new friend shall soon be made.” They didn’t know it then, but around the same time and a few kilometres away, E was born.

And we’ve all doted on her ever since. All of my babies were cute, but E was breathtakingly so—and still is, much of the time. Today she’s vivacious, friendly, clever, and stubborn. She is the self-appointed “shnuggle monster” of the family and makes sure that I get my “shnuggle” as soon as I wake up every morning.

She’s my last baby, and she is undeniably no longer a baby. A couple of weeks ago I asked her to go through her stuff and get rid of things she doesn’t use or play with anymore. An hour later she proudly announced that she was done; when I went up to survey the results, I saw all the Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig toys in the “give away” pile. She adored them, played with them every day, took them in the bath with her… and now she’s done with them. The Paw Patrol stuff has already gone to an appreciative friend, and Peppa Pig is still looking for a new home.

These days, she’s into playing dolls with R, who now has a whole family of MapleLea and American Girl dolls. R decided to give E one of her dolls as a birthday gift, which I thought was very sweet of her. E decided that her new doll will live in the big dollhouse with all the others.

I should have thought about a gift for E weeks ago, but my usual knee-jerk reaction kicked in (“I gave her life! Do I have to give her a present, too?”) and I did nothing until this morning, when I kicked into high gear, doing what I do best: I went down to the makery and made E some food for her dolls. All I can say is thank God for the internet, because I googled “DIY American Girl Doll Food” and found a website that had a ton of printable food packaging scaled for dolls. I ended up making her two boxes of cereal, a box of mac & cheese, a can of Pringles, a box of individually-wrapped granola bars, and a pack of Oreos with some cookies inside. E was thrilled.

So here’s to my six-year-old E, who loves elephants, chickens, dolls, and her family. Life with her is always interesting, usually joyful, and full of unspeakable cuteness. Happy Birthday!

birthing babies · Jewy goodness · Kids · The COVID files

Day 256: On Denial and Procrastination

This January marks K’s Bat Mitzvah. Just before COVID hit in March I was researching venues, because after the service at which she would be called to the Torah we would of course want to celebrate with our friends and family. Needless to say, that’s currently impossible.

Beyond working with K as she learns to chant her Torah portion, I have done pretty much nothing to prepare. I haven’t ordered personalized kippot (plural of kippah) or, as everyone is doing these days, personalized fabric masks. We can’t really have a party, so I haven’t engaged a caterer or any kind of musicians, nor have I ordered invitations. And even though we could have a photographer and/or videographer (the better to share the experience with our family and friends,) I haven’t hired one yet.

COVID-19 has definitely forced many of us to live in the moment and not plan too far ahead; I might be taking that to an extreme, though. I just don’t want to plan a bunch of stuff that I then have to un-plan or re-plan. Who knows what level of restrictions we’ll be under by the time mid-January rolls around? A month ago we were talking about being allowed to invite a maximum of thirty-five people to the synagogue. Today that number would be a maximum of ten. Will it have risen to twenty-five by January? Who knows?

I’m no stranger to procrastination. I’m also no stranger to denial and refusing to plan. When I was pregnant with K, the shock and grief of my recent miscarriage was still very strongly with me. I walked around grateful to be pregnant, enjoying every moment (really!), but not expecting to have a “take-home baby” at the end of everything. A couple of weeks before my due date I finally bought a car seat (you can’t go home from the hospital without one,) a stroller, and enough baby clothes and supplies to get me through the first few days until I could send the grandmothers out shopping. That was it. We didn’t have a crib or change table or rocking chair. If the worst happened, God forbid, there wouldn’t be too many things in the house to augment my grief.

K was definitely a “take-home baby” who needed the stuff all babies need; but the fact that I had prepared only the bare minimum of stuff didn’t hurt us at all. All the things we needed for her could be acquired in a single day.

I’m hoping the same approach to K’s Bat Mitzvah will work equally well, because half of me is not expecting the actual ceremony to happen. As long as she’s prepared to do her part (chanting the Torah portion and Haftarah, and giving a speech about them) and has something appropriate to wear (she does,) everything else can probably be done at ten days’ notice: inviting people (because nobody’s going anywhere or doing anything anyway,) getting a photographer (for the Tuesday afternoon rehearsal, not a high-demand time,) and ordering a maximum of 70 take-away brunch boxes to give to everyone who comes to services that morning.

So many of the trappings, like centerpieces and floral arrangements and a logo for the Bat Mitzvah—really? a logo? apparently everybody has one—just don’t matter at all. And while I’d love to be able to get together with family and friends from near and far, and we’d all love a good party, I’m kind of thankful that K’s Bat Mitzvah will be focused on the ceremony itself. It’s like people have been saying for years: “Less Bar, More Mitzvah.”

But just in case, I’m gonna go order some kippot and masks.

bikes planes and automobiles · birthing babies · Keepin' it real · parenting · waxing philosophical · weight loss

Day 161: Living (Extra) Large

I’m typing this while sitting at my new desk. In about thirty minutes of ignoring my kids I was able to cut, glue, and install the slide-out tabletop which will house my keyboard, mouse, and laptop. My large monitor sits on top. This is a very comfortable setup, not least of all because I’m sitting in a chair that lets my feet sit flat on the floor while my back is supported by the chair back, my keyboard is at an appropriate height, and my monitor is at eye level.

Translation: my new desk is low, but it’s exactly the right height for me. It’s been a long time since I was this comfortable at a workstation. I’m forty years old and I deserve to be comfortable, dangit! And I’m not just talking about my desk.

I have gained fifteen pounds since the COVID shutdown. In the year prior to that, I gained fifteen when I was sidelined for months by a concussion. Both of these gains felt like huge setbacks because two years before the concussion, I managed to lose 45 pounds that really needed to be lost. I was mostly keeping it off, too. But then concussion happened, and COVID came, and here I am spilling out of my clothes.

I’ll pause here to tell you that I really hate the value judgments that come with weight gain and loss. I’ve never had as much positive attention as when I’d dropped those 45 pounds. I’ve run a half-triathlon, written and recorded a solo CD, won scholarships and academic medals, and built an awesome house. In short, I’ve done a whole ton of fabulous things. Why do I get the most praise and interest for losing weight?

All my life I’ve been hearing that weight loss is good and weight gain is bad. That thin is good and fat is bad. When I was thirteen my ballet teacher told me I should lose ten pounds if I wanted to continue dancing. I wasn’t thin, but I sure as heck wasn’t fat. I never went back to ballet.

Our colloquialisms betray those values. Phrases like “fat slob” and “fat and lazy” are rarer now than when I was a kid, but still not rare enough. People come away from performances saying things like, “He’s fat, but boy, is he an amazing dancer.” Why “but?” I love to bike, dance, and paddle. I’ve done these things when I was fat, thin, in between, and nine months pregnant. My skill level has not fluctuated with my weight; indeed, I was able to bike a farther distance with a much heavier load back when I was wearing the largest sized clothes my closet has ever housed.

Ah, larger clothes. I wish I had some. Sadly, I mostly bought into the philosophy that if you get rid of all your “fat” clothes, you’ll maintain your lower weight because you’ll want to fit into the clothes you have. So now I’m relying on stretchy capris and roomy t-shirts (some of them pilfered from Mr. December, without his knowledge — sorry, honey!), and some empire-waist dresses. Last year my summer clothes were snug but wearable. This year if I do up the button on my jean shorts, I have a muffin top to rival all others and I can’t breathe deeply. So I spend many of my days slightly very uncomfortable in the clothes I’m wearing, because maybe by making myself feel terrible in them I’ll get motivated to lose some weight. It’s ridiculous.

For the record, I don’t hate my body. It’s carried me this far, dancing, biking, walking, running, building, and birthing babies. Right now it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, saving up energy just in case there’s a famine on the way. As Eric Cartman said on South Park, “I’m not fat, I’m famine resistant!” Yes, I’m less comfortable with the extra padding around my torso, and yes, I’d like to be slimmer, but the extra weight doesn’t make me less beautiful, just less svelte.

I’ve decided that this is where I’m drawing the line. I’m going to buy myself clothes that fit me right now, not “aspirational” sized clothes, even though I don’t plan to stay at this size for too much longer. I’m going to be able to sit, walk, eat, and move without discomfort. I need to start choosing and using things — furniture, clothes, tools and equipment — that fit my body, rather than trying (and failing) to make my body fit those things and hurting myself in the process.

I need to show my daughters that the value of our bodies lies in our strength, resilience, endurance, and agility — not in our body fat percentage. And if I want my daughters to believe that, I’d better start acting as if I do too. Right now I believe it intellectually, but emotionally I’m not quite there. So I’m starting with clothes that fit me.

If anybody needs me, I’ll be in my room…y new pants.

birthing babies · Good Grief · waxing philosophical

Day 140: I Thought I’d Be Sad

I thought I’d be sad when I finally weaned my last baby. I loved breastfeeding them and couldn’t imagine every wanting to stop. But one day I realized that whenever E was ready to stop, that would be fine with me. I thought I’d be sad, but I wasn’t. Nor was I happy. I just was. E was weaned, and it was okay.

I thought I’d be sad about not having a baby in the house anymore. I love babies — the baby years are my forte when it comes to parenting. We had nine straight years of diapers, sleepless nights, babywearing, and peek-a-boo. I thought I’d be sad, but I wasn’t. Our family was ready for new experiences, for being able to go places without a huge stroller or a diaper bag, for having toys with tiny little choking-hazard parts strewn around the house, and it was okay.

I thought I’d be sad when I couldn’t lift my kids up in my arms and carry them around anymore. But they got heavy and my arms got tired, and I found that I enjoyed walking hand-in-hand with them or watching them go on ahead, strong and independent. It was okay.

From the moment our first child was born, we heard this message from all sides: “Enjoy it while it lasts!” “I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.” “One day you’ll miss these times!” Everyone implied that as we moved on from the baby phase we’d be bereft. It was as though we were supposed to mourn our babies growing up. And indeed, I cried when our oldest outgrew her newborn-sized diapers at four weeks old.

Many years ago I was talking to a friend about how I felt after my miscarriage. I described having this awful empty feeling in my belly where the baby should have still been. “But Sara,” she asked me, “did you have that same feeling when your belly was empty after giving birth to a living baby?”

Did I? Probably, but the emptiness in my abdomen was nothing compared to the fullness in my arms and my heart. It was a transition, not a loss, and it was okay.

It’s probably in my nature to feel thankful and content with what I have now. Do I miss high school? High school was a phenomenal experience that I’ll never replicate, but I love this time in my life, building a home and raising my kids. Do I miss the newlywed days when Mr. December and I lived downtown and could just decide, at the last minute, to walk across the street for dinner and a movie on a random weeknight? A little. But If we had that, we couldn’t have this. Life changes; the world changes; people change.

My favourite neighbour, Olga (may her memory be a blessing), often said that things would happen “in the fullness of time.” I love that notion. I think that when things change before their time — when someone dies suddenly or too young, when a pregnancy ends in anything other than a live birth, when anything in life gets snatched away without something else arriving in its place — that’s when shock, pain, and grief set in. But in my life, there’s usually a bit of serenity and grace around big changes. I’ve been able to let go of what’s over and embrace what’s coming.

And you know what? It’s been okay.

birthing babies · crafty · education · fame and shame · Kids · mental health · parenting · whine and cheese

Day 92: Not My Sport

I’ve been listening to The Parenting Junkie Show (podcast) for over a year now. There have been a lot of good topics and episodes, but my favourite by far was Avital’s comparison of parents to olympic athletes.

Her point was that nobody expects an elite athlete to be good at every sport. Of course all athletes are physically fit, but nobody criticizes a sprinter for being bad at swimming, and no skier spends time frantically trying to get better at bobsledding. Every elite athlete focuses on one event.

Parents, on the other hand (myself included here), feel like to be good (or amazing) parents we have to be good at all the things parents are supposed to do. It doesn’t feel like enough to be amazing at planning travel and outings with the kids; We also need to be able to plan birthday parties, do crafts, help with algebra homework, instil discipline, enforce bedtimes, discover and nurture the children’s talents, and foster social skills. Oh, and get a nutritious dinner on the table (and into their tummies.)

Anyhow, Avital pointed out that as parents, it’s okay to have a specialty. I tried to get my head around this philosophy (I don’t have to be good at everything? But I’m the parent! I do have to be good at everything because it all falls to me!) but as much as I’ve tried, I can’t help feeling like a failure when I bump up against one of my weak spots.

Last night I jokingly told Mr. December that I’m considering having a fifth child just so I can feel competent again for a couple of years. You see, I’m really good with babies and toddlers. I get them. I can handle the crying, the constant holding and rocking and shushing, the diapers, the feeding, the spontaneity and the need for flexibility. I understand what they need, and I love providing it. I don’t know if I’d call myself an elite athlete in the baby event, but I’m pretty darn close.

Then those babies grow up and go to school, and it’s not my sport anymore. I mean, I’m not a delinquent by any means, but the school years seem to require so much more organization and consistency, which are two of my weakest areas. I can create systems and organize supplies beautifully, but enforcing the systems consistently? Nope. Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

Do you know why my kids’ school agendas were never signed? Because I only remembered to ask for them once a week at best. Yes, they should be responsible enough to remember to get them signed in the first place, but my point is that I couldn’t consistently reinforce that at home. When my kids were at Montessori they used to bring home a portfolio of their work every Friday, to be returned empty on Monday. After a few months the teachers started giving my kids their homework in a paper envelope; they’d figured out that those plastic folders weren’t coming back. For reasons unfathomable to me, I just couldn’t return them.

All of this to say that these days I’m constantly feeling like I’m failing, or like I should do better or be better, and I suspect it’s probably as frustrating as a swimmer being told she has to pivot and become a distance runner. I could do it, but where all the other marathoners were running, I’d be walking (and then limping) to the finish. And yet these things need to be done, and by and large I’m the one who needs to do them. I have to teach these kids consistency and discipline even though my own is sorely lacking. It doesn’t help that Mr. December is nothing if not organized and disciplined. I look pretty darned incompetent in comparison.

But we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to other parents, right? We’re supposed to have our own events and focus on our strengths. And yet… it’s lovely that I can design a house, build furniture, sew quilts, navigate all sorts of medical issues with aplomb, comfort most crying infants in mere seconds, lead singalongs, plan a fabulous road trip, and read stories with all the funny voices; still, the truth is that right now (for the past three months if not more) none of those skills are in demand. So what’s a mom to do?

better homes than yours · birthing babies · blogging

The more kids I have, the more organized I get.

It’s been an eventful five(!) months since my last post. Most notably, I had a baby. She’s beautiful, magical, sweet, everything a baby should be, really. For those of you who have difficulty keeping track, I now have four kids.

I get a couple of different reactions to my large family. Generally, religious people (of any faith) say something along the lines of, “what a blessing!” or, “isn’t that wonderful!” while the non-religious seem to favour, “you really have your hands full.” It’s a fascinating dichotomy which I’m sure reveals some deeper societal tendencies, but I’m too sleep-deprived to think any more deeply about it right now. If you can draw conclusions and articulate them, please share with the rest of us by leaving it in the comments.

But I digress.

I’ll let you in on the secret to having four kids and not going completely insane: organize, ritualize, and build infrastructure. And having some help, either paid or grandparents, doesn’t hurt either. But I can’t tell you how to make that happen, so I’ll elaborate on the first three.

Organize:

Every person in our family, adult or child, has a binder which contains all of their official documents, all of their health information, school reports (for the kids), extracurricular information, tax information, and – for those who need it – sections for speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. Everything gets filed in these binders so that everyone knows where to look for the important stuff.

Each child (well, not the new baby) has a “look at me binder.” It’s just a plain binder with plastic page protectors inside. Whenever they bring home work that they are especially proud of, it goes into a page protector in that binder. If there’s a whole pile of artwork or school work, I ask the kids to choose a few favourites to keep. Those go into the binder, and everything else goes into the recycle bin. The binder doesn’t require any annotation, creativity, or time, and yet it creates an archive of work that’s very easy to flip through and enjoy.

We write everything down. Corollary: if it’s not in writing, it didn’t (or won’t) happen. I have a chalkboard in the kitchen where I write down the menu for tomorrow’s breakfast (usually a smoothie and something else) as well as any important notes, like “remember to bring gym clothes for trampoline class” or “no lunches – today is pizza day.” Not only does it remind us of what needs to happen, it seems to reduce tantrums, too. Recently K suggested, “Eema, you should write down what’s for dinner on the blackboard, too. That way I won’t have to feel disappointed.”

Speaking of dinner, I finally got smart and typed out a 3-week meal plan along with recipes for every dinner on the plan. The recipes are written simply (so that one day the kids will be able to cook from them) and include serving suggestions and side dish recommendations. It’s all in one binder (yes, I love binders) in the kitchen, which eliminates the frantic scramble for dinner ideas and then for recipes. Of course, we often don’t feel like what’s on the plan, so we improvise, and then there’s a scramble anyway… but on days when I can’t think or decide, the dinner binder is a lifesaver.

And lastly, the smartphone. Yes, I caved and bought the smartphone I was so afraid of. Everything is on it – calendar, “to do” lists, random notes – and it’s like walking around with an extra brain outside my body, which is a good thing since the brain inside my body seems to have lost its sharpness for now.

That’s about it for being organized. In fact, that’s it for this post. Tune in next time, when I expound on creating rituals.

What organizational tricks can I learn from you, readers? Please comment and let me know.

birthing babies · blogging · crafty · Infertility · mental health · Renovation

Is this thing on?

*tap**tap* *feedback noise*

So… it’s been a while. How’s it going?

The past year has just been so full of everything, good and bad, that it’s hard to know where to begin. I offer no excuses for my absence, and I would like to thank both of my loyal readers for sticking around.

Anyway, for those of you who are here because you like hearing about my life, here’s the update (in no particular order):

  • The children are now ages 6.5, 4, and almost 3. K (girl, 6.5) has lost four teeth and is currently sporting the adorable gap-toothed look. N is as sweet as ever. R just started potty training and has now gone 26 hours with no accidents.
  • Mr. December is pretty much the same, although this past year he started a very demanding volunteer position, which I’m tempted to blame for at least some of my blogging hiatus. For the record, I’m very proud of the work he’s done (even though I won’t be blogging about it.)
  • We still live in our little house, although we’re slowly putting together plans for a second-storey addition. I’m getting to the point where I’d really like to have my own bathroom (separate from the kids, anyhow,) not to mention the fact that we’re going to run out of room sooner or later because:
  • I’m pregnant. Once again, I’ve lost all my infertility cred. Come January, God willing, we’ll have four children.
  • Depression still looms large in my life, though I’ve finally gotten the hang of treating it like any other chronic illness.
  • I still sew, but I’ve found that I have less and less time for it. You’d think that evenings (after kids’ bedtime) would be a good time, but I’m usually too tired to contemplate going downstairs and starting to sew. Instead I stay up way too late on Facebook, arguing for common sense in the face of hysterical helicopter parenting.
  • I still bike, although I haven’t done any really serious biking in almost a year, and it looks like I won’t be biking any significant distances until maybe March or April, or whenever the ice melts around here.

In short, life is good. I am well. And I plan to pick up blogging again, even though at times I am, as Elizabeth Bennet says in P&P, “unwilling to speak, unless [I] expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.”

And on that note, I’m off to bed. ‘Night!

birthing babies · family fun · have you bento my house for lunch? · Jewy goodness

Shabbat Shalom!

Ah, the secret to speedy Shabbat prep – bentos in the bath! A wooden cutting board make the perfect floating table.

The stories this bathtub could tell... births, babies, bentos...

I’m still trying, as I have been for years, to make Shabbat feel more restful and holy. Last week I managed to resist the lure of my laptop (and the internet) for the entire 25-hour day, only because just before Shabbat I shut down the computer and took it downstairs. I spent the day talking with Mr. December, playing with the kids, napping, and getting together with friends. Our Shabbat day is a work in progress, but this feels like a step in the right direction.

And speaking of progress and steps… R seems to think that she has to keep up with the other little people around here:

Up on all fours and rocking. Mummy is not ready for this!

And so, I’m shutting off my computer to spend Shabbat with the little people. I hope your Shabbat (or just plain Saturday, as the case may be) is delicious, relaxing, and happy… just like the current moment in our home.

birthing babies · blogging · Infertility · whine and cheese

Horton runs for office.

You guys know Horton, right? “A person’s a person, no matter how small”?

I think we all know where he ended up… in the Oklahoma state senate. Supporting the newly passed Oklahoma personhood bill.

The bill declares that unborn children (by this bill’s definition, any stage from newly fertilized ovum up to full-term fetus) are recognized as persons, with the same rights as any other person in Oklahoma. This, of course, opens up all kinds of potential abuses:

“But officer, Iam a high-occupancy vehicle! I’m a fertility doctor and I have three hundred test-tube embryos in this cooler!”

“I’d like to claim a dependent on my taxes… how old? um, six weeks gestational age.”

All joking aside, I’d like to explain to you why the abortion debate infuriates me:

It seems to me that there are a couple of straw men here, at least one for each side. The pro-life camp decries the use of abortions as a form of too-late birth control. They seem to feel that, left to our own devices, women would throw caution to the wind and have unprotected sex because “there’s always abortion!” Perhaps there are some women who operate that way, but I can’t imagine there are so many of them.

In the meantime, the pro-choice camp trots out the argument that no woman should be forced to carry to term a pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest (although I don’t really understand the “or” there; if it’s consensual incest, she could have forseen the possibility of pregnancy and it’s not the same thing as rape. If it’s forced incest, how is that different from rape?). Again, I’m sure that there are some women who have been assaulted, became pregnant as a result, and chose to terminate. But to use that example over and over again as the reason for keeping abortion legal is missing the point of a movement called “pro-choice“.

Because when you really get down to it, the legality of abortion affects all kinds of reproductive choices – it’s not just about terminating a pregnancy. If a fertilized ovum is a person, if a three-day-old blastocyst is a person, then any infertility doctor who creates more embryos than she intends to transfer back into the womb would be a murderer. So would any infertility patient who, after having frozen a number of surplus embryos, ends up getting a divorce and choosing to destroy the embryos rather than use them. These issues alone would be enough to make many fertility treatments unfeasible, thus restricting women’s right to choose to get pregnant.

Women who get pregnant the “good old-fashioned way” aren’t exempt here, either. If a pregnancy is discovered to have implanted outside the uterus (some figures put this as happening in 2% of all pregnancies) it generally must be terminated. Yes, must. An ectopic pregnancy can cause the rupture of the fallopian tubes or other organs, leading to hemorrhage, leading to death. It’s not even a question of the mother’s life or the baby’s life in those cases – it’s either the mother’s life, or nobody’s. Under the personhood law, a woman who is treated medically for an ectopic pregnancy could be found guilty of murder, although one presumes that she could plead self-defense.

And let’s not even get me started on the alarming idea (already a reality, albeit a rare one) of court-ordered caesarian sections on the basis that the mother may be endangering the life of the fetus (for example, a mother who wants to have a vaginal breech birth.)

There are other cases I won’t go into here, but I think you get the picture. The abortion debate is about choice, and it’s not just about termination. I don’t usually hold with slippery slope arguments, but as soon as you erode one reproductive choice, you erode them all.

See these guys? The one on the right is N (we think.) The one on the left (aka "the one who didn't make it") could be Oklahoma's new poster child.