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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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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Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

Drive Part 2

The holiday season always makes me a bit more reflective.  Maybe it’s because a new year is upon us and I think that most of us would agree that 2016 has been one big (your choice of expletive language).  But even amongst those moments of disbelief that so many things could go wrong in one year, there were also sparks of utter joy.  My general approach to life is to try to see the good.  The more cynical individuals will argue that it might rob me of a certain depth to not wallow in that pity.  Sorry, but being smart and miserable are not one and the same.  I would argue that you’re missing out too.  Life can be one long dinner party with excellent conversation if you choose to be a good guest.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for every single blessing I have.  But that’s not to say that Andrew and I don’t work hard for every single thing we have.  There I said it, I work.  That word is probably the only word I have trouble saying with any semblance of confidence when trying to define where I stand in this world.  It was much easier when I was working towards a degree.  It was even simple when I was weeks away from defending a 200-page document that encompassed much of what I cared about for a few years.  But then, you reach a point when you can no longer define yourself so easily within a society that values certain markers of success.

A few weeks ago I heard Andrew tell our son C not to worry too much about “stuff” and to think more about who he is because that’s something that no one can take away from him.  Those words hit me hard because of the simple truth in it.  Is that what we all are building ourselves for?  It’s true, no one can take away my years of education and doctoral degree.  I know, that those “things” don’t go away even if you haven’t found a place for yourself with the credentials you’ve earned.  As a feminist I should be even more critical since I can see through everything that devalues what I do each and every day and the care I give someone else.  Like my mother said, maybe T was meant to grow up with me for a few years.  The bond I have with my son that I’ve forged by being there for him, day in and day out, is also not something that you can rob from me by placing me inside a box, or perhaps more appropriately, within the home.

I think this struggle with ourselves is just how driven, competitive women are built.  It is part of our muscle and sinew to want to be better, the best, to always want more.  The trouble is that sometimes these inner workings can make you a shadow of a person.  Empty people are not present because they’re already 10 years ahead of themselves.  Sometimes it it much healthier to practice some self-acceptance and to offer ourselves the kindness we try to offer others.  Thinking that “it is written” is not defeatist or lazy.  In some ways it allows you to take things in stride.

I know that there are so many women who are working through defining where they want to sit amongst this brave new world that allows us to have whatever we want.  Some of us have made choices but somehow placing the career ahead of so many other possibilities is sometimes seen to be more noble than being “good” in other, smaller, ways.  Smaller, not small.  Being a good mother is the hardest job I’ve ever done and trust me, I once worked in a restaurant hauling dishes up flights of stairs.  I am no princess.  The truth of the matter is that family members may believe that there are a million and one things that you should be doing.  Others worry that “women like you” will be destitute in the case of a divorce.  To these people I respectfully, and with the utmost care tell them to take their need to judge everyone out on some adult coloring books.  Also, newsflash is that many of us would probably marry again, or maybe, just maybe get back to our careers?

At the end of the day, if I know that I’m still trying to find my place in the world, I’m good with that.  Try is the operative word.  Believe it or not, most of us still wake up each morning hustling to reach larger goals.  And to the backseat drivers offering their pert opinions and concern, kindly get out of my car.

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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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Bend it

Whatever would we have done without our 20s?  Those glorious days when we had the opportunity to be bad, chase boys, be irresponsible and then make our way home.  All within reason of course.  Initially I was going to say within the limits of not hurting people but who are we kidding, we hurt plenty of people in those days.  Most of us just attribute it to the process of growing up and I’m pretty sure that no one is holding onto those slights.  I would hope that we are all over it.

But seriously though, how can you possibly make your way towards being a semi-whole person without that time to falter a bit while still trying hard to be good?  How can you determine what your values specifically are without testing the boundaries?  How do you know what you will and will not stand for without witnessing first hand what you and others are capable of?  How do you function without the ability to not be a judgmental brute?

And you know what, maybe those who never participated were always more sure of themselves than the rest of us.  I’m pretty sure that they were busy winning awards and their names were honored at convocation.  Seriously, congratulations on working so hard.  No, seriously, that type of discipline is often more valuable than actual talent.  But I do hope that you were just not afraid of what other people might think or what punishment you’d receive for breaking the rules.  Because if that is the case, you might have missed out on an integral life phase too.  Judging by the careers of my friends and peers we made it out alright too, non?

You know when you need this “wild” time the most?  You need it when you’ve learned to reign it it, or as my favorite blogger and media personality Lainey would say, when you’ve learnt to “sit down.”  Because there will be plenty of occasions in life when you have to be the more honorable person and behave with grace and dignity.  There will be times when you’ll be called on to be selfless and put the well-being of your family above your own.

These thoughts and others are what I ruminated on a lot when I was in the early months as a first-time mother.  The lack of experience with babies drove me, a perfectionist, absolutely crazy.  I like to be prepared and sorry to say that this is the one time when you kind of just have to learn as you go.  I also have always liked to have my own space and my own time, which are the very first things that go.  Suddenly, you have someone who depends on you all the time.  Funnily enough, when my calling came to give it all, I thought about the times when I was the most selfish.  As strange as it sounds, this integral phase when I had to diminish my wants, at least for a little while, was made easier because I already had had that time to be free.

So many people are petrified of raising girls.  I’ve heard it said again and again, about how a girl would be nice but they would be so much harder later.  As many of you know, I grew up mainly with women since even in a large family where both my parents had four other siblings, everyone inherited daughters but one.  I say that we are blessed.  Observing all of my cousins I am proud that we are so different but all found a way to use our talents to callings that we love.  I’m so honored to be amongst women who stayed true to themselves.  So, I don’t fear raising a daughter.  I think she could do worse than a woman who was trained academically and by life to be a feminist.  Because, due to my politics I believe in her gender equality.  Part of that gender equality is faith in her personhood and belief in my chance to help instill good values that she can always return to.  I have the best parents.  Trust me, we always come back.

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Like

I always tell my son that he has to try liking everyone, with try being the operative word.  I’m sure it’s common practice to say to most toddlers, whose worlds are very literal and often black and white, that they have to like everyone.  Well, I don’t really believe that.  Do you like everyone?  I imagine someone with a fake smile plastered on their face, a smile that never really reaches their eyes.  Frankly, it kind of creeps me out.  But I do emphasize making the effort to like someone because it is our duty to behave respectfully towards everyone, there is no alternative to that.  Plus, having different personalities in our lives are an important part of growing as individuals.

Don’t you find though that there are some people whom you will never really connect with?  No matter what they do it’s your first instinct to react, and react with varying levels of negativity.  My husband says that it’s very much a lens and one that was built over a history of misunderstandings.  It’s like having Instagram on all the time and on one of those filters that distorts and make everything a bit unattractive.  To some, having this type of relationship would bother them.  They would start to examine how they were being judgmental or unkind.  Of course some of that comes into play but I also consider how the other person, intentionally or not contributed to the situation.  So, what can you do?  I mostly try to lessen the impact of these toxic connections on my life because it’s just too exhausting to manage those negative emotions.

Sometimes though, you don’t have a choice in the matter and these are relationships that may be life-long.  No matter what, this person will be a part of your existence.  So, you have two choices: you can try to change how you feel about them or you can put some distance between the two of you.  In the end there’s only so much you can do to eliminate frictions that result from having different approaches and values.  As vanilla as it sounds we tend to gravitate towards individuals with similar experiences and outlooks.  I don’t even think it’s malicious, conversation just tends to form more easily with some more than others.  I say, lets not stress about it but allow ourselves to be particular.  Let’s not fight.

A prominent guru Ram Dass states that “If you think you are enlightened, go home for Thanksgiving.”  The writer Elizabeth Gilbert takes this further in her analysis by emphasizing that your family will of course push your buttons because they are the ones who put them there.  I don’t view this negatively at all.  Truly loving someone means that you see chips in their facade and love them all the more for it.  Anytime you gather together a group of strong personalities there is bound to be some conflict, whether it gets articulated or not.  I find that we are made to fear frank discussions so much because it’s not seen to be particularly dignified.  I just find it way less “classy” when people are leaving things unsaid but you know that they will gossip about it tomorrow.  I do agree that silence is sometimes the best thing for these situations because the need for honesty should be tempered by long-term thinking.  Do you really think the specific context will improve when confronted?  If not, then maybe a bit of acceptance is key.

The thing with family too is that you know that they are always going to be a part of your life so treat them well.  You have a history together and a bond.  So it is a balance, like everything else in life.  I believe that Ram Dass also states that it is our purpose to love everyone in the world since respect is integral to forming this type of affection.  But some people are better loved from a safe distance.  Now, that is one of the most pragmatic and real things that I’ve heard from a guru in a very long time.  Sometimes a little bit of space can be the best thing for a relationship.

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Things things things

If everything goes according to plan I will have another child at some point in time.  With this in consideration I’ve made a mental check-list of things that I would do differently.  Isn’t it great that we often have opportunities to be better the second time around?  As someone who likes her world to be orderly and calm it bothered me that I was all over the place after I gave birth to my son.  Some of that can be attributed to the pressure of experiencing motherhood for the first time but in other ways I was ill-prepared.  So let me take away some of the guesswork and advise you on how to be a pro.

This is not a new concern of mine and you can find my post on baby clothes here.  The main principle that both articles emphasize is that part of being ready means that you don’t skimp on the necessities.  I was too careful and always felt that I could manage without.  You know what the reality of it is?  That person advising you to focus on the basics is not the one nursing at all hours of the night.  So put in the time to do the research with mommy blogs and others who offer valuable insight into not making it harder on yourself.  Please, the next time around I will ask for the epidural shortly after changing into my dressing gown and know that everything will not go smoothly, but it’s my reaction to these situations that matters.  So here’s some baby gear that I could not live without and other products that are the first on my shopping list when the occasion calls for it.  I’ve categorized them as now and then, and though it’s far from comprehensive, it is a start:

NOW

1. Sleep Sheep

Because infants hear your heartbeat and swooshing of blood while in the womb, they are not particularly fond of silence.  This little lamb will provide soothing background noise for the first few months and many years to come.  My son is two and half and still falls asleep to the sound of rain each night.

2. Robeez

Made of genuine leather and a team of talented artists, these little slippers will help keep socks on when they’re young and keep their toes warm once they’re more mobile.  Because they stretch as their feet grow, you will be able to use a pair for even longer than you intended.

3. Baby Bjorn

My son has always liked human touch and is a snuggle monster still.  So he loved to be right next to us when we were out and about.  The reality is that I’ll be caring for our child mostly on my own next time so I will also think of getting a body wrap for when our next child is very young.  Bjorns should be used only when they reach the specified weight.

4. Bogs

These boots are comfortable, waterproof and durable.  Toddlers will love the shorter ones for their first winter and the taller boots are great for the boys.  Their lovely designs are also winners in my book.

5. Pottery Barn furniture

Their pieces are well-constructed and certain items, like bookshelves can be in your child’s room right up till university.  If their tastes change you can also transfer them to the guest room and not be too worried about it.

THEN

1. Aden & Anais

These breathable swaddlers made of 100% cotton will not overheat your newborn.  Though they are on the pricier side they literally are first on my shopping list for when the time comes.  About two sets should do it.  They’re excellent for wrapping your child when they’re transitioning to sleeping on their own.

2. Bouncer

They love to lounge and this gives you a chance to fold some laundry or just chill out.

3. Bassinet 

I would get one both for my stroller and for placing in our room for the first few weeks.  I believe that Health Canada recommends that newborns stay by their parents’  bed for the first six weeks.

4. Stroller organizer

This allows you to not have to carry a purse when you’re out and about.  There are pockets for your cellphone, credit cards and coffee.

5. Pottery Barn bedding

My next nursery is going to have a theme and a Pottery Barn sheet set.  We love our current Peter Rabbit collection sheet and pillow sham and will complete it with the quilt and bumpers.

6. Comfortable seating

You truly need a comfortable seat in the nursery.  Whether you choose to nurse or bottle-feed it’s important to have a chair that you can hold the baby in.  Buy one that you wouldn’t mind using in another room.

7. Dresser/Change table

I would not have a separate change table but instead have a change-table item to place on top of a dresser.  That way you can remove that item when it is no longer necessary.

So there you go.  And remember no matter what, enjoy this time and know that you are so very loved.

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