Good Mother

Though I am absolutely certain that I do not want to have any more children, there are babies in my life again. A couple of our friends are expecting or recently welcomed newborns so I am back in the baby state of mind. Of course I squeal when I see their little peanut bodies and they look up at me with their moon-shaped faces; my body has a 20% desire to have one but my mind says “no.” There are several reasons for this resolution, ranging from wanting to figure out my career to just being so exhausted some days from raising two extroverted children that the fact that I never have to give birth, sleep train or nurse again is what gets me through the day. Also, the four of us fit perfectly across an airplane aisle. For two people who love to travel I feel like that’s a sign from the universe that the number of family members in our little group is complete. The Smiths are complete.

All this baby talk, excitement to meet my friends’ kids and shopping for baby clothes has me reflecting on when I started out as a new mother. Luckily I had two tries at this thing called motherhood and if I can say so myself, I’m owning it with T. From the beginning I was prepared for T, from having my hospital suitcase packed a month in advance to reading the books and actually following through with the sleep training, I am confident in my role in his life. I truly believe that because of this relative calm and security, T’s nature has maintained the sweet and jubilant facets that he was born with. Let’s just say that he has always been easy. C on the other hand, the poor kid, got the “scared” mommy version; he started his life with someone who second-guessed many things and was just petrified of not being perfect. For what it’s worth, I feel like since the age of two or so I’ve made up for it with him. From the beginning, nothing has ever been easy with C but he is truly one of the most interesting people I know. His lust for life inspires me. His kindness astounds me. In spite of any struggles I had with adjusting to motherhood, C turned out to be a bright, beautiful and wonderful kid.  Seeing his trajectory made me just calm the eff down with T. Calming the eff down makes the experience of being a mother infinitely better, trust, for everyone involved.

Related to the discussion of what it’s like to be a new mother, I liken it to baptism by fire. There is a reason that people shower you with gifts and adoration beforehand: you are not ready and will never be ready for how your life is going to change. I recently read a beautiful piece by Bryce Dallas Howard on GOOP, found here and she likened her experience with postpartum depression to a sense of heaviness. It really spoke to me, not only because she honestly articulates its impact on her identity and family, but also because I too felt this heaviness that I would not measure up to being a “good” mother. I did not have postpartum depression but let’s just say that all of us mothers walk that line. I felt paralyzed that I could not provide what C needed, from breast feeding and ensuring that he received enough sustanance to how to hold him properly. I was scared shitless and as a result I withdrew. It’s a pretty shitty feeling to withdraw from your baby, especially when I have never loved someone as much as I love him.

To be honest, with those difficult lessons what saved me was work. Because I returned to my role as a graduate assistant four months after his birth I was forced to function. My mind was not nearly as clear or as sharp till C was a little over a year, but yes, all of those theories and theorists allowed me to claw my way out. That is why I have such a high regard for work. When I reflect on it now I realize the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive people. My husband knew that I was struggling but he never judged and just quietly took on a more active role. My mother and Aunt W constantly reassured me and said that they could see all of my efforts reflected in how C was growing and thriving. But life is not like that wholesome family drama where everyone in your corner should be there and of course I also interacted with individuals who probably made my recovery a little bit harder.

T was born on a sunny August morning and he was right on time. He joined a family and the existing three individuals of this unit were so happy to meet him. He just fit. A few months before he was born I sold all of C’s 0-6 months clothes. I sold every article of clothing that reminded me of that difficult period of adjustment and the gifts from individuals who only added to the worries. Is that petty? I’m not sure but that was my way of letting go. I hope that any new mothers who are struggling with the baby blues lean into their support networks. Thank you to those giving the understanding love to these mothers without judgement. Even in times of weakness they are not weak. Ladies, do what you need to do, and above all, you’ve got this.

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Partner in crime

I’ve always had a weakness for the canon of friends crossing that line and becoming more.  You know, that moment in romantic comedies when they decide: “I want to ruin our friendship.  Let’s be lovers instead.”  They are not exaggerating; when you risk taking a perfectly good platonic relationship to the gutter by deciding to bet on something more tenuous, you are rolling the dice.  Sometimes, no matter how much you fight it, there is no choice but to take it to that level.

Now, you might ask, how can this person who has only ever dated one person be going on and on about love?  Really, what would I know about that?  People forget that even though Andrew and have known each other since we were 14 years old and been romantically involved for 18 years (jesus christ!), we have had our fair share of ups and downs.  Honestly, I would have been more worried if we hadn’t had these struggles when we’ve been in each other’s lives for longer than some marriages.  At all of these emotional crossroads of course one of the options would have been to let go.  Making that choice was even easier when we didn’t have two kids.  But each and every time we chose to try again.  In my opinion that is more romantic than anything you ever say to each other on your wedding day.  When you decide to forgive and have another go, that party in a big white dress just pales in comparison.

There are a multitude of reasons why couples may choose to say together.  A lot of my issues and fear of commitment were rooted in never having been with anyone else.  Andrew and I have very similar life histories from having attended the same university and graduate school.  When you build a life together, the representation of your bond starts to have similar friends, streets and places.  What I realized though, when I had the chance to be away from some of these comforts on the other side of the world, is that I didn’t need to actually be romantically involved with anyone else to see how much better my partner was.  It’s only when you are in a foreign country, and you meet people of a similar age but vastly different backgrounds and outlooks, that you know there would always be another individual out there for you.  But, it’s important to make the distinction that what is possible shouldn’t necessarily be your future.

Can things change?  Of course.  I believe that love can shift and end to no fault of the parties involve.  Sometimes you grow apart and decide that being amicable is the next step.  It is not a failing to decide to be happy another way when there is a limit to our time here.  People are able to salvage these ties when faced with such circumstances because they remember the love that was there and is still there in a different form.  Even in other cases where you might meet someone new who will offer you something else it’s important to be mindful that the initial excitement will cool.  Are you still compatible when you have to be two adults making your way through life?  My advice to someone in that situation, seriously, take a year, at least 6 months to be alone.  Do not be with the next person till you are a bit less broken.  They will wait till you are whole because I’m telling you, if you jump right in, that relationship is not going to last.

Being with someone from such a young age ensures that you grow up together.  There is no one in this world who understands me the way that Andrew does.  There is not a single other person who I want to continually give more to.  He is the person I want the best for and I want him to count on me to be there even when it’s difficult.  The reason I don’t fear the unknown is because I know that I have my partner, a true intellectual equal to work through what is ahead.  We don’t really celebrate Valentine’s day because this is the commitment we make to each day every single day.  We have a resilient love and that is truly romantic.  And god forbid, if it should ever end, because you know I never tempt the fates by feeling like I know everything that will go down, we will always have the friendship.

P.S. Let me add some gossip to your Valentine’s day.  I have a deep affection for a certain Canadian ice dance pair whose names rhyme with Lessa Curfew and Dot Lawyer.  If you go through my archives for pieces around spring 2014 I wrote about them a few times expressing my confusion about the state of their relationship.  Well it turns out that I was not a crazy person and they did have a “thing” around that time.  Actually, they’ve been on/off since 2012 but speculation even runs further back than that.  They are a perfect example of two childhood friends turned elite athletes and business partners who have had to define their relationship over the years.  After a couple of false starts rumour has it that they’ve been quietly seeing each other since late 2015.  In fact, their Free Dance is about second chances.  Watch it here it’s gorgeous.  Fingers crossed that one day all of Canada can breathe a sigh of relief that the two people the entire nation wanted together figured their shit out.tumblr_oh9u18r7dg1tvcpffo1_1280

Let’s dish

Isn’t receiving unsolicited advice just the darnedest thing?  That and unwanted personal questions rank high on my list of things I would not wish on anyone.  I think both actions breach commonly known rules of good taste and sound judgement.  The kicker here though is that those who commit such faux pas would not be self-aware enough to recognize it.  So, let me provide you with my litmus test of when you might have crossed the line.

I am a stickler for boundaries in my personal life, perhaps because I am an only child or just my general temperament but over the years I have found that respecting these limits often prevents you from making social missteps.  It might seem counterintuitive that a feminist and politically liberal individual like myself would care so much about rules.  While I still believe that it’s completely your prerogative to break them, the discomfort you may cause someone with your cluelessness has social consequences.  I’ve always felt that what you say and do is written in ink.  Of course the most important people will still love you but if you don’t work on these flaws and try to be better, they might not actually choose to spend time with you.  What you do makes people think of you differently, that is fact.  As a woman who spends her days caring for her family and her evenings writing, staying in tune with literature in my field and working through the next steps of her career, I don’t waste my social time with judgmental know it alls who believe they are the Ann Landers to everyone’s problems.  The next time you feel like offering someone a solution to their life’s problems, remember that people wrote to Landers asking for advice, not the other way around.

Of course constructive criticism and knowledge in general are key to having a full and textured life.  You only grow when someone expects more from you and it’s always refreshing to hear someone’s perspective about their experiences.  I put in the time to research and read reviews before I travel or even purchase some organic cotton bath cloths.  The difference between these instances and undesirable opinions is that I choose to seek them out.

We all play a role in someone’s life.  Whether you’re a friend or colleague, we will all find ourselves in positions where we want the best for someone.  As a mother I know that eventually the job of raising my kids will be done.  C and T will be “finished” so to speak and it’s up to them to make their way with (I hope) a set of good values.  Eventually, my job will be just to listen.  I’ve always felt though that part of the learning process is trial and error.  What’s the point of having the answer to every problem?  Life would literally be the most mundane endeavor if you didn’t have to struggle at times and figure things out.  Also, the choices you make are informed by your personal history and value system; what works for you could be a disaster for someone else.  The one advice I’d give, and I assume you want to hear it because you continued to keep reading, is to try to look at the social situation.  Before you offer that piece of wisdom ask yourself, do I have an intimate relationship with this person?  Does she share her innermost secrets with me or do we operate on a different level?  Also, if the individual could retort with “what’s it to you?” it probably means that she either doesn’t care about your take on where she does her shopping or that you are not really in the position to offer advice.  So, if you get yourself into these situations, please choose to keep your opinions to yourself, back away and dismount off your high horse.  Because even the most enlightened person wants to grab a step ladder to push you right off the mount.  Peace.

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Finish line

Well folks, I am back and it’s story time.  I once saw the end of a race.  The cyclist had just completed a long and arduous course and was going to come out on top.  As a result, he begins to raise his fists with joy.  Unfortunately, while he is busy celebrating his impending victory he falls off of his bicycle and the competitor behind him wins.  Really in these types of situations do you laugh or cry?  In my case I get a take-home lesson without having to feel the heartbreak myself: you shouldn’t relish something you haven’t quite attained yet.

I’ve stayed away because I didn’t have the mental energy to write any posts.  I had to put all of my effort and focus into completing the last revisions and defending my dissertation.  Well, it is done and surprisingly does not feel nearly as satisfying as you would think.  Of course I’m happy and relieved but also hungry for my next challenge.  It is never enough.  I also had another baby a month after defending and he is a sweet little bun.  I am in a house filled with boys and people always say that it means that I’ll always be taken care of.  Being adored sounds pretty good to me.  I’m back but I’m also sleep-deprived.  While the thoughts are still there getting them down on paper takes a bit more effort and it doesn’t sound quite as sharp.  But onward right?  If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from the last time it’s that the fatigue lifts, the body rebounds and the mind becomes quick once more.

That cyclist’s fate reminds me of why I continually try to practice restraint and discretion.  In my mind there is nothing worse than revealing every little part of yourself.  What some people consider friendly I call boring.  Musings from Lainey and Kristen Stewart of all people support my point.  Lainey’s sound advice is that “you light it up when you’re done.”  This is a great reference when you’re working hard and making sacrifices to meet your objective.  At one point during the revision process the frustration was starting to get to me.  Really, you can only re-read a 200 plus page document so many times without just being over it.  I once told Andrew that if my diss became a person and knocked on my front door I would slam it in her face.  That’s right I became so crazy that my thesis gained a gender and legs to come visit me.  But this is when you muscle through it because giving up on all of those years you’ve invested is not an option.  Giving up would be a disservice to not only yourself, but to all those people who have helped you in the past and believe in you still.

It’s also tempting to use your bragging rights much too soon and in this instance I paraphrase Kristen Stewart.  She says that till you’re on set with those giant boom mics above you and you’re actually filming, you don’t talk too specifically about a future project.  Because here’s the truth, life is full of so many factors that you can’t account for.  So, until you are actually in the midst of it all why talk about it?  Hell, I don’t even want to talk about it sometimes when the job is done.

The truth of the matter of is that you only gain this type of perspective when you are finished.  So when things are not so pretty in the middle that’s when you keep working at it.  All that I have gained from my graduate degree from the intellectual development to being a resilient person would not have been acquired without all of the trouble.  You just don’t grow unless you’re a bit uncomfortable and challenged to be better.  Being in grad school taught me to be critical and not buy all of the ideology that society is trying to sell.  That in my opinion is worth everything.

It’s great to be back friends.  I’ll be seeing you.

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Particularities

One of the very best things that maturing as an individual offers you is the practice of mindfulness.  Put simply, you start to recognize when you’re being difficult, whiny, indulgent and you change your behavior accordingly.  For example, it simply puzzles me how certain people need to take a survey of everyone else’s opinions before making certain life choices.  Aren’t you the one using the mortar/pestle, dress etc?

Similarly, when you’ve been exposed to certain theorists in the social sciences, your eyes begin to pick up on certain aspects of everyday life and think of them in novel ways.  For example, when you’ve learnt of Bourdieu you can never really go back.  Of his many theories, the one I find most relevant in my life is the one of “habitus.”  To summarize very broadly, it just means that our upbringing, values and past experiences all shape our current socio-cultural outlook and outcomes.  In the larger scheme of things it matters because there are also practices in play that impact the process of social climbing through the accumulation of wealth and privilege.  Face it, we all want the best and are a part of the game, whether we are aware or not.  So, this is helpful in two ways: one, if you want to take part and win a little, you can actively take on endeavors that will help you reach your objectives for success; two, you are able to understand people’s motivations with a bit more compassion because, habitus comes into play for all of us.  Now, it is important to remember that the best players make it look effortless.  Everyone tries but some come off a bit desperate.

Taking this into consideration, I can better understand certain aspects of my own character.  My love for fashion did not come out of nowhere but was initiated by a mother who taught me from a young age that it matters how we present ourselves to the world.  God, you should have seen some of my outfits as a child, she has impeccable taste.  It is from her that I learnt the value of clean lines, well-cut tailoring and how our styles can reflect our sense of self.  When you love fashion, it’s easier to engage with these principles when you have a body that you’re comfortable in.  Life’s too short not to look and feel great and obviously everyone defines this for themselves and on their own terms.

Secondly, I am particular when it comes to aesthetics, not just in fashion but also the material world.  This type of need for perfectionism also carries through to my love of the culinary arts.  There is nothing that feeds the soul more than good food.  Yes, you can still indulge in this realm while setting limits on portion size and using some common sense.  And god, if you do have a treat don’t waste it by feeling guilty.  You would have done better not eating it at all.  Being particular means that I’m also a control freak who tries to not ask for help.  Therefore, when you come over to my house my answer will probably be “no thanks” when people graciously offer their assistance.  It’s no slight to them, I’ve just been raised and surrounded by perfectionists who have thoroughly frustrated me.  When someone takes you up on your offer to help out, but nit picks everything in the process, you kind of want to say, WTF, do it yourself.  Therefore, knowing this, I do it myself.  And, if I do ask for help I relinquish control and try my best to keep my mouth shut so that the person gets to feel the full satisfaction of getting something done.  Really, you can change it when the individual goes home anyways to not hurt their feelings.

Thirdly, control freaks are infamous dissectors and this often gets worse when they become parents.  Especially in this day and age when there are so many books available about various methods, it’s easy to become too mindful of your actions.  My very blunt PhD supervisor, who is also a mother, once said to me “hey, as long we’re not locking our children in closets and beating them, we’re doing pretty good.”  So, a little common sense comes into play.  Love them, be there, and do your best but give yourself a break.  There are so many critics already, do not add to the noise.  It is also pretty likely that with any social interaction, we will crash into each other in the best of ways.  Habitus demands it.

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Game on

I have a strong dislike for football.  I know that most sports are physical but there’s just something about having a position that solely consists of running through other bodies and dealing with the damage that doesn’t sit well with me.  Also, sitting on a commuter train with a hoard of Patriots fans on Super Bowl parade day didn’t exactly endear me any more to the game.  So needless to say, my husband and I are going to discourage our son from playing this sport in the future even though he will be growing up in America.  Andrew takes a stronger stance and says that “C will never play this sport.”

My perspective softened slightly after the Patriots won the Super Bowl and I started to listen to some of the media interviews.  I only really became interested because of the Malcolm Butler story.  Come on, who does not love the underdog triumphing in every way imaginable on game day?  One soundbyte that was quoted frequently basically involved Malcolm saying that it doesn’t matter where you came from, but it matters what you do when you get there.  This is a scrapper who did not give up.  Fuck, that’s inspirational.  If you watch the interception you notice that he sort of puts his shoulder in front of the other player to get at the pass.  You get that grit from having to fight for a spot on literally the last train that was going to come for you in your pro career.

Many other players also spoke of how what ensued on the field was nothing special because these were the exercises that they performed each and everyday.  What they achieved did not happen because of an exceptional event but instead was the result of the time they put into their craft.  That is such an important message to any young person who may be looking up to them and hanging onto their words.

Never having been particularly sporty, other than excelling at swimming, I wished that I had had this sort of influence for most of my life.  This type of work ethic and determination can positively impact so many other aspects of your wellbeing.  I’m happy that my son has an athletic father to grow up with who can nurture this part of his development.  My husband is not cocky, loud or boisterous, in spite of both his intelligence and talent in various athletic endeavors.

Through his immersion in learning to ice skate each Sunday, my son’s current idols consist of hockey players.  A few weeks ago a young player was practicing on the ice with his full gear on.  As he’s making his way off the ice, C points out to his dad that there’s a real hockey player.  This thirteen year old kid, with Ashworth on his uniform, smiles and comes over to say hi and gave my son a high-five.  Later on, when C takes a tumble on the ice Ashworth comes over, helps him up and even demonstrates for a bit how to skate, and man, he was a great skater.  I was amazed that at a such a young age he was so humble, nurturing and sweet.  I’ll take these type of hockey stars over Spiderman or Batman any day.  Play on player.

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Rush rush

Isn’t it strange that you sometimes don’t understand the profound depth of song lyrics till you’re a bit older?  “Life is a highway.”  True facts, thank you Tom Cochrane.  This all stems from my recent experience of caring for my son while my husband was in California.  My relationship with motorized vehicles has strengthened my resolve that my child will learn to drive at the age of sixteen.  He will then have years of practice and not be like his mother at the age of thirty-two, pretending not to be scared when driving in winter for the first time.  The process of reading signs and signals will be second nature to him and this life skill will be much like breathing and not gasping for air.

The other lesson I’ve obtained from a week of shuttling my young son to and from preschool is that it stresses me out when my husband takes business trips.  It’s not because of the bedtime negotiations or preparing the meals.  No, I just don’t want to get behind the wheel.  The stakes are much higher when my most favourite person in the world is in the back seat and I want to be the perfect chauffeur.  But like any challenge that makes you grow, the best decision is to always take it on, because practicing is precisely what lowers these stakes.

Most importantly though, I’ve learnt the value of slowing down.  When in doubt, put your foot on the brakes (safety permitting), breathe, and figure out how to solve your latest problem.  This made me realize that any mistake I’ve made in life has been because I’ve wanted to rush through things.  I have a very bad habit of avoiding the pain.  Sure sure, I take on the challenge but I also occasionally shut my eyes and wildly make my way through without being focused and deliberate.  This is not a good strategy whatsoever.  Everything from test scores, performance reviews to the health of relationships are impacted negatively by this type of tactic.

Instead, why not just take your time?  I know that we are forever taught to get the answer, to get to the point.  You’re rewarded for putting your hand up first in class and it becomes addictive to be the smart, nice girl.  This can make us rush headlong towards this type of praise instead of being intelligent with our efforts and mindful about the quality of the product.  So, I’ve learnt to slow down because eventually getting it over with just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Maybe being in your thirties can make you more self-reflective because you do start to notice the passage of time.  I no longer want to waste my time on half-assed results.  Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in being timely and not letting perfectionist tendencies stall projects.  I just don’t believe in distinctly separating the work and play aspects of my life nor prioritizing one over the other.  Both deserve your undivided attention.

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