There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather – Just Poisonous Things

Silicon Valley is like one endless suburb. Big Head in the aptly named show, “Silicon Valley” said it best when he wondered, “Why is this place so expensive? It’s such a shithole…”

Okay, a shithole is a bit strong of a word – because the weather is amazing and there are thousands of fun family-friendly activities you can do around here within an hour’s drive from your front door. But it is an endless, expensive suburb.

Surprisingly for such a sea of single-story residences, there is a lot of open space reserved for nature. It’s a wonderful spot for hiking, cycling, sailing, climbing, horseback riding, and kitesurfing. But even more surprisingly, natural environments here are not very child-friendly – at least for newcomers it seems that way.

Perhaps it is the lengthly list of horrifying predators your kid can encounter in the open space preserves around here: ticks with lyme disease, poisonous black widow spiders, rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and poison oak are EVERYWHERE.

Growing up in the City of Calgary, my friends and I would ride our bikes to “the ravine”, a natural creek-way that ran through the centre of our subdivision. We would build forts from fallen branches and sticks. We would skip rocks across the creek. We would run with our dogs off-leash, weaving together strands of sweetgrass, and come home covered in mud.

Some summers, my family would vacation at my grandparent’s cabin on a lake in Newfoundland. My brother and I would play in the sawdust piles from chopping wood for the stove, wander through “our trails” in the woods, build forts, dig up potatoes in the garden, swim in the lake, and pick wildflowers. We would be outside from breakfast until after supper. My grandma would heat up water on the woodstove for our baths.

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Fishing on the pond with my grandma.
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“The bog” a few hundred feet from my grandparents house – where we were absolutely *not* allowed to go, as it was an extremely deep marsh that my grandpa had once tried to measure its depth and never found it. Even though we had freedom to roam – we never went in the bog.

Some day, I’d love for DK to have similar childhood experiences immersed in nature, making his home in the woods. Right now we can’t even afford to buy a primary residence, let alone a summer cabin – but a girl can dream.

Lately I’ve been fascinated by literature about children’s experiences in nature, diving into: “There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather” by Linda Akeson McGurk, “Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators” by David Sobel, “Hands on Nature” by Jenepher Lingelbach and Lisa Purcell,  “Last Child in the Woods”; “The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder” and “Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life”, all three by Richard Louv. I plan to do reviews of each of these books on this blog – so check back for more details about each book in the coming weeks.

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A common theme that runs through each of these works is the importance of unstructured childhood play in nature and how little of it children get these days.

In “Last Child in the Woods”, Richard Louv writes, ““In the United States, children are spending less time playing outside – or in any unstructured way. From 1997 to 2003, there was a decline of 50 percent in the proportion of children nine to twelve who spent time in such outside activities as hiking, walking, fishing, beach play, and gardening.” (p. 34) At the same time, there has been a drastic increase in the number of clinically obese children, with one in six children in the USA fitting that descriptor (CDC 2018).

We are told to limit screen time and do more exercise – but what kind of exercise? Where? One 2014 survey found that 68% of American parents do not think children aged nine and under should be allowed to play unsupervised at playgrounds and 43% want a law preventing children aged 12 and under from playing unsupervised at playgrounds (McGurk 2017).

There is only so much time for organized sports in a day – but going to the park for thirty minutes before supper is do-able. And while organized sports do teach many things – teamwork, hand-eye coordination – I would argue that running around on a man-made soccer field hardly conjures a sense of kinship with our natural world.

So where do I go from here? I believe in the importance of nature-based play for DK’s childhood – but at the same time, a mountain lion killing a deer mere feet from a trail that I frequent with DK is a little close for comfort.

I asked in my local mom’s group – what did people do as children who were born and raised in the Bay Area? And their answers re-assured me – they ran and played without worry.

  • Mountain lion attacks on people are rare (there have been fourteen mountain lion attacks on people in California since 1986, only three of which were fatal. Of the fourteen victims of attacks, five were children). Mountain lions are notoriously evasive. It is rare to even see one. Keep your toddlers close, don’t go out at dawn and dusk and you’re unlikely to be affected.
  • Rattlesnakes are only really a problem when they are surprised by a silent hiker who steps on them – which children rarely are. The bigger risk is that I drop dead from cardiac arrest if I see one – I am so phobic of snakes. As researchers at the University of Florida put it, “The chances of dying from a venomous snakebite in the United States is nearly zero, because we have available, high-quality medical care in the U.S. Fewer than one in 37,500 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year (7-8,000 bites per year), and only one in 50 million people will die from snakebite (5-6 fatalities per year)…you are nine times more likely to die from being struck by lightning than to die of venomous snakebite.”
  • Black widow spiders are fearful of people and while they are reputed to be the most venomous spider in North America – their venom is rarely fatal to humans. Black widow spiders are not hanging around on every leaf waiting for DK to come near them – they are seriously introverted recluses who hang out in dark, dry shelters like rodent holes, hollow stumps and shed eaves, generally areas that I discourage DK from sticking his hands. So, it is unlikely that DK will even come in contact with one if one should be around, and if he does – it is unlikely he will get bit unless he provokes it. Additionally, it’s only the females who have poisonous venom, and even then – a bite these days with access to medical care and anti-venom is unlikely to result in death.
  • Tick bites are not ideal – but it is clear when you have a tick bite as their bodies will be visibly burrowing into the skin (k, I know I’m trying to reassure people here, but let’s take a moment to say, THE HORROR!!!!), so while DK getting bit by a tick would suck – it’s treatable and we can send the tick for testing for presence of lyme disease and drug treatment, if necessary. The Mayo Clinic writes, “Only a minority of blacklegged tick bites leads to Lyme disease. The longer the tick remains attached to your skin, the greater your risk of getting the disease. Lyme infection is unlikely if the tick is attached for less than 36 to 48 hours.”
  • Poison Oak. What can I say? It’s everywhere. It has clusters of three leaves – but sometimes five, but sometimes seven, but once seventeen. It is green, but sometimes yellow and sometimes red. Sometimes the leaves are shiny. It sometimes has berries. It sometimes has white flowers.  It sometimes doesn’t have leaves – but the leafless stems will give you a rash just the same. Basically – it’s always a nightmare for a parent of a wandering toddler. I don’t really know what to say other than I expect someone in my family to get a rash from poison oak at some point. It is not fatal. It is itchy and treatable and I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Maybe I’ll buy the child who gets a contact rash a special trophy or medal of honour to lighten the mood and make it feel more like an accomplishment of a well-lived life.

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I guess what it all boils down to is I’m not going to prevent my son from experiencing unstructured play in nature. I’m going to *hopefully* teach him to be aware of his surroundings, announce his presence to the surrounding critters, check for ticks, and stay away from plants with three leaves, or five, or seven…oh what the hell, never mind, I’ll start polishing that trophy.

Being a parent as an Enneagram 2

When I was in grad school, my friend Sarah introduced me to the Enneagram.

“Take this test! I bet I know which number you are but I want to see if I’m right.”

A few minutes later, “it looks like I’m a…Two?” I said.

“That’s what I thought. I’m a Nine.”

Two? Nine? What did this mean? Little did I know then how much I would learn about myself…my strengths and weaknesses as a friend, spouse and parent through studying the Enneagram.

To give you a brief synopsis, the Enneagram is a tool for personal and spiritual development. Through it, you can identify your basic personality type (1-9) as well as wings (sub-types) and learn about unhealthy and healthy practices to help you live as your best self.

You know those times when you do or say something stupid, even though it was well-intentioned? I’ve found all of those ‘mistakes’ can be explained by my Two-ness and where I am on the healthy-unhealthy continuum.

You know those times when you feel deeply hurt by somebody or something and you rationally know it’s silly and it’s not a big deal – but it pierced your heart? Well maybe only Twos know what I’m talking about…but in any case, the Enneagram has helped me explore and understand and accept those emotions so I can move on.

Enneagram Diagram

I’m a Two, the “Helper”. And the more I read about it, the more embarrassed and insecure I became because OMG It’s TOTALLY me.

Here’s a rundown on the 2, from the Enneagram Institute:

Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs. At their Best: unselfish and altruistic, they have unconditional love for others.

I feel best about myself when I am helpful to others. I rarely feel like I need “me time” or a “break” from DK. I love hosting parties for friends, I love introducing people to others I think they will find mutually interesting. I have all the time in the world for my friends and family. I will say, “Yes” to anything. I will “volunteer” for anything. I will say, “I’m good,” when someone asks if I need any help. I will push myself to the point of exhaustion and anxiety to help others. I will bubble like a cauldron of resentment when I do things to help people and they don’t notice. I will force my help and my ideas on people even when they don’t want it and then I will act the role of wounded victim when they say it’s too much. I tell ya, I’m a real treat.

When I think of hell, I imagine lying in a hospital bed surrounded by my friends and family and unable to communicate to them. However, I can hear and understand everything they say – and as it turns out they actually think I’m the worst person on the planet and give detailed examples of every single time I offended them or hurt them. Just the thought of that now makes my palms sweat.

As a parent, I am very attached to DK. I believe it’s important to respond to his needs promptly. I rarely let him cry out – dropping whatever I’m doing to answer his plea. My Two-ness gives me almost un-ending energy to make time for my family. But my Two-ness can also be enabling, smothering and manipulative.

Enabling

One of the great things about being a Two is that I can easily anticipate needs. I will notice when someone’s glass is empty. I will listen in the gaps of what someone is saying to what they aren’t saying and offer help and comfort in those gaps. I can literally feel when someone in a crowded room feels out of place or left out or uncomfortable and I will turn on the charm like a light switch to engage them in conversation.

But, I will also let people get lazy in my presence. DK doesn’t have to use his words to ask me – I will get him what he wants. My husband doesn’t need to set an alarm in the mornings, do laundry or go grocery shopping – he knows that I will wake him up, make sure he has clean underpants and food in his belly. Shy people stick by my side as I carry the conversation, asking questions and coming up with topics so they don’t have to stand there in uncomfortable silence.

As a Two-parent, I have to sit back and force myself to watch DK struggle. To other Enneagram types, this would not even be a necessary consideration. They would not have to actively think about not engaging – but I have to ACTIVELY and FORCIBLY stop myself from intervening.

Smothering

As a Two, I love to help others – even when they don’t want my help and definitely didn’t ask for it. I love sharing information (hello, this blog!) that I think others may find useful. But that doesn’t mean people actually want to hear it. So what if I notice you struggling with communicating with your coworkers and I learned about DISC Communication Styles and can tell you how that helped me enormously in communicating with neurosurgeons, engineers, and artists at my previous job? That doesn’t mean I should share it. I have learned that sometimes people just want to vent – they don’t want help, they don’t want a solution. They just want to be heard.

I have read and heard from other mothers further along on the parenting trajectory from me that you do not want to obey your child’s every command. Just because my kid  is in tears, screaming “I want that chocolate bar” at the grocery store – does not mean I should get it for him. In fact, it means the opposite – I must NOT get it for him, lest I raise a spoiled brat. But helping others and putting their wants and needs ahead of my own comes so naturally to me that I know will absentmindedly offer him the chocolate bar before he even says that he wants it – although that still does not mean he should have it. My challenge as a Two-parent is to say “No” more often than I think I should.  

Manipulative

The dark side of the two is an unpleasant sort of fellow. A manipulative, controlling, passive aggressive witch who does lots of nice things for you – but there are a ton of strings attached.

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile says, “Though they’re not always conscious of it, the help un-evolved Twos provide others comes with strings attached. They want something in return: love, appreciation, attention, and the unspoken promise of a future emotional and material support. Their giving is calculated and manipulative. Twos think if they can wrest appreciation and approval, and evoke a feeling of indebtedness in others, then others will sense when they require help and provide for their needs without their having to ask for it”.

This is my fantasy.

Seriously. I daydream while I fold my husband’s underwear that he will come home, give me a big hug, say, “What would I do without you!? My underwear would never be folded and I’d go naked through the streets. My hyper-sensitive nose can smell the garbage from here, let me take it out now without delay!”

As a Two, I have to actively engage my kids and spouse in household chores – and be okay when they aren’t done quite to my standards. I have to ask for help.

Being Healthy

As moms, we talk a lot about self-care. It is important for all types to engage in self-care – but especially Twos – because we so easily get lost in our giving to others and the more we give, the unhealthier we become with our giving – and soon we aren’t doing things for our kids and spouse because we love them, we are doing things for our kids and spouse because we want them to love us. Not the same, and for a Two – the distinction is a chasm for emotional well-being.

Self-care for me means saying “No” a lot more than I want to and asking myself “Am I doing this because I want to help or am I doing this because I want to appear helpful?”. When I put myself first and do what to me feels incredibly selfish but to my husband and anyone who is not a Two is just normal functioning, I have energy to do things I enjoy, like write.

Cron and Stabile write, “When they’re feeling secure, Twos move to the healthy side of Four, where they’re okay with not having to pretend they love everybody.” You know I’ve been doing my homework  when I don’t care if you like me or not. “These twos have some understanding of the need for self-care and can focus inward, where they invest in themselves by doing creative things, which brings them joy.” (hello, blog!) “This is the place Twos can imagine feeling good about themselves when they aren’t helping someone else.”

So, here is my soul – bared on the page. And now you know, that if I’m saying Yes to everyone else and No to you – it’s not you, it’s that I’m tapped out and to say Yes to you would be to say Yes with tons of strings attached – and trust me, you don’t want that!

Like Mother, Like Son

I always thought I hated poetry. Figuring it out in school was tedious: “What did the author mean in this verse?”, “What are 5 reasons the author chose the word “blue” in this stanza?” As a teenager, it was cool to like music and the lyrics of rap songs, but reading poetry was for losers. 🤷🏻‍♀️ And so I declared to hate poetry to be one with my peers and it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I picked up a poetry anthology and said with each page I turned, “ooh I love that poem.”

For Christmas this year, my mother-in-law gave me a copy of a most beloved book of poetry that her father gave her and that I have read from almost every time I have visited their home. I’ve taken it out many times from the library and am glad to finally have my own copy.

I have poured over many of its poems, but one poem that has particularly resonated with me lately is Like Mother, Like Son by Margaret Johnston Grafflin.

Do you know that your soul is of my soul such a part,
That you seem to be fibre and core of my heart?
None other can pain me as you, dear, can do,
None other can please me or praise me as you.

Remember the world will be quick with its blame
If shadow or stain ever darken your name.
“Like mother, like son” is a saying so true
The world will judge largely the “mother” by you.

By yours then the task, if task it shall be,
To force the proud world to do homage to me.
Be sure it will say, when its verdict you’ve won,
“She reaped as she sowed. Lo! This is her son.”

To me, this poem is both uplifting and stressful. I love the sentiment to send my son out into the world to do good and make me proud. I strive to be the kind of mother who fills her son’s soul with generosity, goodness, humility, kindness, and love. But then the stress of it sinks in – what if, because of the world we live in and in spite of my best efforts – he grows up to be a miserable, angry, greedy man?

In Silicon Valley, especially among the high-tech circles, I notice there is a lot of emphasis on pre-school. When DK was ten months old, other moms were asking me which preschools I’d toured.

“But he’s only ten months old…” I’d respond.

“I’ve toured seven, and I’ve got my name on the waitlist at six of them,” one mom told me.

“But she’s only a year old!”

“If you want the right preschool, you have to get your name on the list now,”

“That’s insane.”

“Maybe. But if you want to get into the right private school, you need the right preschool. And forget Stanford without the right private school,” she said matter-of-factly.

Stanford?! My son couldn’t even use a spoon yet. I was stressed enough about his interest in learning to walk, let alone heaping on the pressure of an ivy league admission.

The thing with high-tech families in Silicon Valley is that often at least one parent is ivy league educated – so the pressure to raise a child who achieves at least an ivy league education is very real, and the pressure on teens in this area “to force the proud world to do homage to me” is intense, even culminating in a devastating suicide cluster a couple years ago.

It brings to mind another poem in this anthology, “Making a Man” by Nixon Waterman.

Hurry the baby as fast as you can,
Hurry him, worry him, make him a man.
Off with his baby clothes, get him in pants,
Feed him on brain foods and make him advance.
Hustle him, soon as he’s able to walk,
Into a grammar school; cram him with talk.
Fill his poor head full of figures and facts,
Keep on a-jamming them in till it cracks.
Once boys grew up at a rational rate,
Now we develop a man while you wait,
Rush him through college, compel him to grab
Of every known subject a dip and a dab.
Get him in business and after the cash,
All by the time he can grow a mustache.
Let him forget he was ever a boy,
Make gold his god and its jingle his joy.
Keep him a-hustling and clean out of breath,
Until he wins – nervous prostration and death.

I’m not saying an ivy-league education is not valuable or worth pursuing – but it’s not  something I’d trade DK’s childhood for.

While I think the sentiment of pride in your children’s achievements is nice in Grafflin’s poem – I think the pressure she speaks of is very dangerous, both for the mother and for the son. I do not want DK to feel like my happiness is dependent upon his success. I do, however, hope he is a moral and just human being. My challenge as a mother will be to listen to my thoughts above and let DK be DK – not hover, not manipulate, not try to mold him like playdough, as described by Mary O’Donnell in Promise.I try not to cast too much shade.

I try not to cast too much shade.
Sin would be
to use the excuse
of her growth in my womb,
to imagine her as a limb of myself.
She is her own tree,
late-winter’s indomitable shoot.
She takes cupfuls of sun.

I stand well clear
as the branches stretch
like flutes playing allegros.
Not for anything
would I poison her
with an act of possession,
conceal her from the woodsman
whose task is to make room for all.

RinkydinkMum in 2018

Becoming a mum for the first time is a rocky transition.

When you’re pregnant, you’re sooo looking forward to meeting your little bundle of joy and becoming a parent and you want to punch every well-meaning truth-speaker who tells you to “enjoy life while you can”, “you can’t even understand how much your life is going to change”, and “be selfish now!”

I know I hated people who said that to me. Of course I know life is going to change. Why do you think I signed up for this in the first place? I can’t wait for my life to change. Enjoy life? My life will be even more enjoyable once I welcome my baby into the world. Seriously, I hated those people. But now, 17 months in, with daily 3 am nightwakings, mopping my floor every day from far-flung-food, and listening to the constant frustrated whines of a young toddler – I find myself saying to my pregnant friends, “Congratulations! You’re about to walk off a cliff of delusion. Enjoy your life while you still can.”

Once you become a mom, shit gets HELLA-REAL and you realize very quickly that while you thought of yourself as a pretty selfless person – happy to give your time and energies to others – you didn’t even know how to spell the word before becoming a mother.

In the newborn phases, people say “Oh the newborn phase is the worst, the sleep deprivation is just killer.” But you read Happiest Baby on the Block and you and your newborn are coping just fine. So you start to find your identity as a new mom, deciding to set up camp as an attachment/baby-wearing/co-sleeping/positive discipline/no-screen-time parent and you truck along not realizing that again, the parents who are a year or two ahead of you on the parenting trajectory shake their heads and think, “She just doesn’t understand. Just wait until ___”.

I’ve made some big mistakes this past year in my relationships with some other mothers. And I’ve paid the price and been hurt in retaliation for some poorly chosen words.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of what I want for RinkydinkMum – do I want it to be a sounding board of my ideas/opinions on parenting (No!), do I want it to be a place where I highlight my parenting achievements and showcase myself as a supermom? (BARF, ABSOLUTELY NOT). I want it to be an honest, authentic account of being a mom. My successes and failures, information I’ve found interesting or helpful, and perspectives I don’t know that I agree with, but can wrestle with in an open and honest way. Lastly, and most importantly for 2018, I want my blog to be a place where I lift up the triumphs and trials of other mothers in the thick of this confusing, exhausting, ever-changing, loving, infuriating journey.

I’ve mentioned before that once-upon-a-time I completed a Master’s in Anthropology. I studied “mutual interest communities”, a fancy, non-embarrassing way to say “Harry Potter fans”. Seriously. My thesis was entitled “Trust, Friendship, and Hogwarts Houses”. I read a lot of books on ethnography (“the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures.”) and I thought maybe in 2018, I’d attempt to make RinkydinkMum more of an ethnographic account of motherhood in Silicon Valley; Providing a voice and a platform for other mothers to share their stories of motherhood.

Do you have a story about motherhood you’d like to share! Let me know!

Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!

Sometimes I feel like I don’t really know *who* I am exactly. Am I this kind of mom? Or that kind? Is my personal style classy preppy or boho cozy? Am I a bangs girl or full-of-regret bangs girl? I waffle a lot. My interests change constantly. I’m into blogging right now…but in six months? Might be time for some watercolours….just gotta ride the ship of my fleeting fancy.

But, one thing I do know without a doubt about myself is that I love Christmas. I love everything about Christmas. I love the good deeds and the feel-good spirit. I love the cookies and candy canes. I love red and green and silver and gold and glitter and snow and fluff. Christmas cards and carols and the smell of cinnamon and cloves. I love setting up my Christmas tree, stringing twinkle lights, lighting candles and snuggling on the couch, sipping a Christmas tea while reading a good book. Wrapped up in all this joy is my all-time favourite hobby – giving people presents. I literally Christmas shop all year. I’ve had my father-in-law’s gift picked out since May.

In California, it is definitely harder to get into the Christmas spirit because it’s still over 20 degrees (Celsius) in November, but I don’t let that stop me. I let tradition guide the way, and if there’s another thing I love just as much as Christmas, it’s family traditions. So here are some traditions that we have started in our family to welcome autumn and usher in the holiday season.

1) We host an annual Friendsgiving Party on Canadian Thanksgiving (the second weekend in October). This year I asked friends to bring a dish of something that reminds them of home and/or brings them comfort. One of the cool things about living in diverse Silicon Valley is we had culinary traditions from all over the world at this feast. We had Palak Chole Tikki (an Indian spinach garbanzo patty), a French olive loaf, and Canadian butter tarts. We had mac and cheese and mashed potatoes and meat pie and bbq chicken. This themed potluck was a lot fun and not a lot of work for me because everyone contributed, so I could also socialize and spend time with our friends instead of stuck at a stove top!

2) We don’t have family in California for American Thanksgiving and most of our friends head home to different corners of the country to celebrate with their families or they are immigrants like us and don’t really celebrate the holiday. Some years we have been invited to friends’ feasts but usually my husband takes the on-call shift at work over thanksgiving which means he has to be internet connected at all time and ready to solve a software glitch at any time, which makes travel tough. This year we opted to stay home and have a four day staycation over the thanksgiving long weekend and have some quality family R&R before the craziness of holiday parties and Christmas travel. And instead of making a huge turkey dinner for two people and a baby – we made homemade pizzas and this was so fun and tasty I think maybe we will do it again next year!

3) We set up our Christmas decorations on Black Friday

It takes a lot of self control to not set up our tree November 1st. I love the beauty of the Christmas tree – but I also know that I can over-do it by going too big too soon and by December 24th, I’m ready for Christmas to be over. So I have to hold back and we set up the tree the day after American Thanksgiving. One thing I LOVE about the house we live in is it has this huge space above the fireplace that fits the Christmas tree. This is awesome with a toddler in the house because he can’t grab at the tree and constantly take the ornaments off.

Another favourite of mine for Christmas decor is these tiny santa hats I found at Michael’s a couple of years ago. They fit perfectly on my existing mantle figurines, so I can dress them up instead of hiding them away.

4) I host a Christmas Pyjama Breakfast for my mom-friends and Devon’s baby-friends. This is the second year that I’ve done it and I find it really fun. We have breakfast, we wear our jammies, we take pictures of the kids, and we play Pass The Present. This year I gathered up some little self-care gifts (tiny bottles of alcohol, single serve bags of coffee, chocolates, face masks) for my friends and I bought a pack of Christmas cards and puff-stickers from the dollar store for each kid (who were all between 12mos – 2 1/2). Then I alternated between mom-kid gifts and wrapped them one on top of the other until I had a giant ball of presents and wrapping paper to pass around. This was the perfect game for the age-group – the kids loved passing the present and unwrapping each layer. The cards were also the perfect little present for this age group – they liked opening the envelopes, pulling out the cards and pressing the puff stickers.

5) We have our little family Christmas with just the three of us before we head home to Canada to celebrate with grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends. Usually we go out for lunch after we open presents and weather permitting (which it pretty much always has) we sit outside on the patio because we can!

What about you? What are some family traditions you’ve started to bring in the holiday season? Would love to hear your comments.

From our family to yours we hope you had a wonderful December and a great 2018!

Merry Christmas!

Barfmas 2017

It could have been worse. It could have been so much worse. We could have been on a plane, for instance, on Christmas Eve at 3 pm when the first eruption occurred; vomit bursting out of my son’s mouth onto the floor.

“Uhhh Heather, DK just barfed,” said my husband.

“Like a lot?”

“Yeah”

“Ohhhhhh nooooo.” Time stopped for a second and my mind zoomed in to macro-focus on my son’s mouth and shirt.

Yeah. It was a lot. Fuck.

It was Christmas Eve at my family’s house – we alternate every year and this year was my year. We had old friends coming over in a couple of hours for supper. I had been helping in the kitchen for much of the day. And now….the next 24 hours flashed before me as ones sitting with DK, covered in vomit. Whyyyyy?!?!

We moved to get the old towels, strip him down, wipe him off. And then another explosion – this time my husband completely covered.

Okay. So really not good. 2 bouts of barf in 20 minutes. Not good.

This was DKs first stomach bug. My own stomach flipped when I realized that the day before we had been at a family reunion hosted at a community centre in a small agricultural town in rural Alberta, and while the place seemed very clean and DK had the time of his life scampering around with his toys, there was very possibly traces of farm animal feces on people’s shoes who came into the hall….the bug was probably related and maybe I shouldn’t have been so lenient letting him explore every nook and cranny. But then again, you can’t protect your child from every bug. It happens.

Thirty minutes later, another stomach attack. I’m trying to remember what the BRAT diet is, and how many wet diapers he’s supposed to have, how to make sure he doesn’t get dehydrated, how to get barf out of the carpet, and how to protect myself from getting hit. Thankfully I was at my parents house and my mom knew what to do.

And so for the next 12 hours, I nursed DK on demand, held him close while he puked back up most of what I fed to him, cleaned him off, gave him some sips of water, and watched Winnie the Pooh as he fell asleep. Our Christmas Eve dinner guests hardly saw me.

Thankfully, although I didn’t know it at the time, (at the time I was in tears from exhaustion and having to change my shirt again) he started feeling better around 4 am, fell asleep for a few hours and aside from being tired, was back to his usual happy self by mid-morning, keeping down breastmilk, apple sauce and saltines, ready to open presents, and play with some new toys.

So yeah, it could have been so much worse.

Update: A friend of mine who is a family doctor commented that norovirus is the likely culprit as it was just barf (not also diarrhea – thank God!) and resolved pretty quickly.

Flying Solo with a Baby

When I relocated to California, one caveat was that we always go home to Canada for Christmas. I love Christmas. I love celebrating Christmas at my parents’ house. I love snow. I’ll be darned if I miss out on that in California and do Christmas among the palm trees.

This year, however – my husband didn’t have quite enough vacation time to go for as long as I would have liked – so DK and I flew home a week early so we could spend more time with my friends. The Christmas season is hella-busy with family, so unless we get together early – I sometimes don’t even see my friends before it’s time to go back to California.

And so DK and I departed a week early for Canada. It was DK’s first time flying since becoming a mobile toddler and my first time flying alone with a child. I had nightmares of a screaming child running around the plane covered in his own feces. My stomach was in knots thinking that our flight might be delayed or cancelled. I worried that we’d end up sitting next to an unsympathetic grinch. I panicked that we’d have problems at the border because DK and I don’t have the same legal last name.

Sitting with these anxieties, I got busy preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. And thankfully – the travel day went surprisingly well, in spite of a mechanical delay.

Here are some things that I prepared that helped us get through the day, as well as a few things that I did prepare as worst-case-scenario-Andrea:

1. A notarized letter signed by my husband giving his consent that I travel across the border with our son.

Perhaps the most important provision I packed for us – it would be pretty awful to be detained at the border for kidnapping…

2. I wrapped a bunch of little gifts from the dollar store as well as his snacks. Unwrapping the toys and snacks took a few minutes and then the joy of a new toy to play with or snack to eat occupied him for quite a while. Putting them all in a ziplock bag gave me a spot to put the ripped wrapping paper afterwards.

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4. I put some goldfish crackers in a weekly pill-organizer I got at the dollar store. Then I wrapped it.

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5. I didn’t take a stroller, but carried him in a Tula carrier.

As much as I love my compact travel stroller, I can’t push it with one hand – making it impossible to push a cart-load of luggage at the same time. Therefore, I opted to take only my tula carrier, and I’m glad I did.

6. I wrapped a pack of post-it notes…peeling and sticking them to the tray table and seat occupied him for 30 whole minutes!

7. I can’t claim credit for this, but I got lucky and was given a row to myself as our plane wasn’t full. DK entertained himself for a while with the seatbelt.

These ideas worked great to keep DK busy without a screen (although we did watch about 15 minutes of Winnie the Pooh too). By the time we landed and were supposed to get off the plane, I had one tired boy!

Holiday Food Challenge

After Thanksgiving in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I make a lot of plans to celebrate the season. Parties to host and to attend, big meals to cook – and in the midst of all of this socialite planning, I like to also finish off the year by finishing off the food in my house. Part of this is that we will be going home to Canada for Christmas and would prefer to not have a bunch of rotting food when we come back, and part of it is that it feels good to return home in January, turn over a fresh leaf for cooking and fill my fridge with healthy ingredients for new recipes.

To start, I clean out my fridge, which is a true horror story. I’m not sure if the cheese is blue cheese or just unrecognizable brie. I can’t remember buying this soy mirin, but it’s the third year in a row that I’ve thought “does this go bad?” during my annual purge and shuffle it back further in the middle row of shelves. I hold up a bottle of super spicy szechaun sauce that not even my husband could enjoy and the lemon tamarind salad dressing that tasted like a foot and I give myself permission to get rid of it – because let’s be serious, I’m not going to use it again.

Then I prepare my remaining produce. I’m way more likely to snack on celery and carrots if they are cut into bite-size pieces. I’m more likely to add green pepper to an omelette if it’s already diced – hells, I’m more likely to use my eggs to make an omelette if I have a diced green pepper to add to it.

Next, I take stock of my freezer to figure out which meats I have in there that can be turned into meals. I feel like cleaning out my freezer is a time for self-reflection when throwing out freezer-burnt muffins I made from freezer-burnt bananas that surprise-surprise DK nor I ever ate, and I make a promise to myself – during this challenge, I will eat what I make as it is fresh. I will not add more individually-wrapped “burritos” to the frozen pit to feel like I “used” up a can of black beans. Because I know me, and I know I won’t remember to eat them and my freezer will be too full for ice cream. And so I issue myself an I-love-me-commandment: Thou shall not make any more freezer muffins/burritos/pancakes/baby purées/casseroles under the guise of being economical. The exception to this commandment is soups because dang I love a good hearty home-made soup for lunch, and that is the one thing I will pull out of the freezer and reheat for myself.

Then I go through my pantry and re-familiarize myself with my impulse-Costco purchases. 12 cans of lentils? Check. 100 pounds of pasta? Check. 5000 kg of rice? Check. Canned tomatoes, canned tuna, canned chickpeas, cereal, tortilla chips, sloppy joe seasoning, granola snack bars – the list is practically un-ending.

I make a list of the ingredients I want to use up before I leave for Canada (I love lists!) and I start brainstorming/looking in cookbooks for things I can make with them.

Some ideas I’ve come up with:

  • Sloppy Joe Sandwiches
  • Hamburgers
  • Shrimp and pea frittatta
  • Pan-fried tilapia with braised brocollini
  • Spaghetti squash, sausage and lentil stir-fry.
  • Western omelette
  • Chicken taquitos, Chicken tacos, Chicken quesedillas
  • Chicken cesar salad

The thing I like about this exercise is before I started it, I was almost afraid of my fridge and ashamed of what I’ve wasted. But in going through it, starting fresh, and making a plan to not be more wasteful as we head into the holiday season, I’m actually looking forward to mealtimes again and trying these new ideas.

What about you? What do you do in the weeks leading up to Christmas? How to you eat-it-up before you feast-it-up?

Motherlode, a poem

Happy Tuesday after American Thanksgiving! I’m told we are officially allowed to start celebrating the Christmas season, my FAVOURITE season of all. To kick off the season, I thought I’d share with you a little poem inspired by The Night Before Christmas.

Motherlode

‘Twas early one morning
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse.

Mum and babe nestled quietly,
The babe on her breast.
She smiled down at him
A perfect moment blessed.

And then a rip roar tore
through the silence.
The gastric distress
startled like a siren.

Babe’s diaper filled with
A substance nothing like sand,
And mom hopefully prayed
she bought the leakproof brand.

And then came the truth
The diaper wasn’t ready for war
With the hot putrid liquid
That exploded galore.

It trickled down babe’s legs
And shot up babe’s back.
Mum’s outfit was compromised;
Even her hair was full of crap.

Dad came in to do
A post mortum analysis
Of the diaper’s construction
And limits of “infant”esimal calculus

A final report was concluded
But no one is confident
If it was the diaper
Or parental incompetence.

 

 

Long Road Trips with a Baby

We are from Canada but have been living in the SF Bay Area for the last 3 years. We try to get home every summer and every Christmas. We didn’t make it last summer because I was too pregnant, but this year we headed home to celebrate DK’s first birthday with family and friends! And we drove. A 23 hour drive. With a baby. Yeah, I’m sure you’re not jealous.

But actually, it went remarkably well. We are super lucky to have a baby who is not afflicted with car sickness. If we did, we’d probably never leave home. Thankfully that wasn’t an issue, so we already had a head start on the long drive.

But it was still a long time for a little guy to be in the car. Here are some things that we did that I think made it doable.

1) Swimming, swimming, swimming every day

DK loves swimming. He will kick kick kick in the pool until he’s pruney and blue. The BEST thing we did (I’ll admit, by accident) was book hotels with pools. Before we left in the morning, we’d pack up the car and then we’d take him for a swim, which would exhaust him. We’d get him changed and then I’d nurse him and he’d be so drowsy that one minute into the car ride, he’d be asleep…for 3+ hours. It was a great way to get in a chunk of driving.


2) Not overdoing it

Before kids, my husband and I would do long road trips. Like long. My husband is a long-drive enthusiast, happily doing 16 hours at a time. I can go about 9 before I’m squirrelly. Thankfully, I planned this trip and I tried to make sure (through the help of Google maps) that we were only driving between 5 – 7 hours per day.

3) Packing strategically

We needed two suitcases to fit a week’s worth of clothes for three people…one for me (hey, I like light layers) and one shared between DK and my husband. This works for airplane travel…but it is not effective for car travel. You have to lug too many things in from the car to the hotel room. So I got smart and re-packed it all so that we could fit 4 days of road-trip clothes and essentials in one suitcase and the other suitcase for everything else.

4) There’s an app for that! 

The PlayPlaces app maps according to your location where the nearest restaurants with PlayPlaces and rest stops with bathrooms are located. This app was a life saver on the long sparsely populated drive across northern Nevada and southern Idaho. We ate at McDonalds A LOT. But they have change tables, and a place for DK to crawl around, and McFlurries. Enough Said.

5) Toy bag

A few weeks before our trip I gathered a bunch of small toys and books and put them in a bag out of DK’s sight. I also bought a few small new toys to include for something new and novel. After a few weeks without those toys, everything was exciting again! I passed him one toy at a time and when he threw it away or stopped playing with it, he could then have another one. This worked well for most of the trip. The final 3 hours both directions he was definitely DONE with the car seat and the toys – but we got a 20 hour run with them…so I consider it a success!

6) The Honey Song

I don’t know what it is about this Youtube Video, but it’s like a psychedelic baby drug. DK loves it. We downloaded it for offline viewing and in the final 20 minutes of every day when he was just NOT COOL anymore, we’d watch it on repeat. Sometimes we also just played the soundtrack song for him on Google Play on repeat, and that would also work without the screen-time!

 

7) Snacks

So many snacks. Just think of how many snacks are reasonable, and triple it.