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.

 

 

Mental Load and Equality

A few weeks ago a friend of mine shared an article about the mental load many women bear in running a household and how labour is never really “equally” divided between spouses because of all the additional planning, administering and remembering that falls onto the plates of wives and mothers.

I have this love/hate relationship with feminism, and reflecting on what I expect of myself as a feminist and what other women/feminists expect of me as a feminist is an entirely different blog post or, frankly, series of blog posts. So for this post I’m just looking at what equal division of labour and mental load of household management means to me in the context of raising a son who believes in the equality of all people and whose actions reflect it.

So back to the article, the comments and discussion that this article generated were prodigious and I shared the article with my husband late one night as it really did reflect a lot of what I was feeling.

I don’t think of myself as someone who needs a lot of verbal reassurance. Generally I’m pretty confident, probably to a fault. However, the thankless and unnoticed work I do behind the scenes to keep our home running sometimes grates on me. Something simple like taking DK to the pediatrician is not just the time travelling to and from and at the appointment – but the mental exercise of finding the pediatrician in the first place, scheduling the appointment, calling our insurance company to make sure the provider I found was “in-network”, paying the bills afterwards, remembering the correct dosage and timing of his medications. These were all “background” things my husband did not realize I spent any time doing.

My husband works full-time and he provides for our family so that I can stay home with our son. This is what we both want and I’m happy that I have the opportunity to be with my son every day. As such, I don’t really have an issue with taking on the huge bulk of the household management. I’m better at it than my husband and I’m home all day, so it makes sense that I would take it on. But that doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t need some recognition for how much work it actually is and it doesn’t mean I want DK to grow up assuming that household management is “women’s work”.

We’ve talked about me one day going back to work and my husband has always been keen saying we’d split chores more evenly when that day comes, but I’m honestly scared to go back to work because I know that even though the intention will be to equally divide the labour, I’ll still be the one managing the household and deciding, organizing, planning, delegating, asking, reminding, and remembering all of the things on top of my for-pay job. That thought is exhausting and this article was helpful for us to open up dialogue on these real fears.

And then our dishwasher broke. And for three straight nights my husband patiently siphoned gross water out of the bottom of the dishwasher and solved the problem, only for it to come back again with the next wash cycle. The third night after he got home from work he spent over three hours fixing the problem, pulling out the dishwasher and dealing with mucky water.

And I realized that I did not give him enough credit for his mental load in household management.

Yes, my jobs are constant everyday small things – but his house-tasks are usually at super inconvenient times, unpredictable, time intensive and expensive problems often involving grey water or sewage and multiple trips to Home Depot. Toilet clogs? My husband is on it. Shower won’t drain? I don’t even have to ask him. Our bike tires never need to be pumped up because he always makes sure they have air. Our car almost always has gas in it.

I think I am just as much to blame for not noticing all the mental load he carries and all the little things he does around the home for us as he is for not noticing my mental load and all the little things that I do.
When it comes to how we raise our son, I want DK to help around the house because he’s a part of our family, but I don’t know that equality has to mean getting my husband to do my traditionally female jobs and me to do his traditionally male jobs. While hypothetically I like the idea of raising a son who doesn’t consider chores “pink chores” and “blue chores”, but just “chores”,  I think the chivalry involved in picking up a dead mouse in the yard or unclogging an overflowing toilet is nice. It makes me feel loved as a wife and thankful that my husband will protect me from ugliness.  I would be honoured to raise a son who takes his future spouse’s disgusting hair ball out of the shower drain without being asked because he knows that’s what husbands do. And if this means that as a result of teaching him this he fails to learn how often one needs to clean a toilet – I’ll still feel like I succeeded as a mom.

Treating my phone addiction with clocks

Do you remember life before you had a smartphone? I barely remember.

I got my first iPhone in 2010 when I was in grad school studying social cultural anthropology. I needed an audio-recorder for doing interviews and a way to take quick notes in the field for my research. I decided to splurge on the iPhone 3G, which was the previous year’s model when I bought it.

It was probably the most life altering purchase I have ever made.

Before my iPhone, my Samsung flip phone was almost always dead. I would only text the bare minimum because I didn’t understand how T9 worked and typing out messages on a 9 digit keyboard was excruciating. When my phone was charged and turned on, the voicemail blinky light would always be flashing. I never checked my voicemails because I had to enter a passcode and most of the messages were just from my dad saying, “Hi, it’s dad. I’ll try calling you again later.” I remember feeling so irritated when I checked my voicemail that I lost 2 minutes of my time listening to that message.

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Now, I waste dozens of minutes per day just checking the homescreen of my phone to see if anyone has contacted me.

I used to be hard to reach; but when I was with you, I was with you.

Now, I’m quite punctual in responding to people. It bothers me to have an unread notification – and if I read it, I have to respond because otherwise I’ll forget and that person will think I’m ignoring them. But I’m distracted when I’m in the flesh.

I used to manage a full-time university course-load and a part-time job. I used to hang out with friends daily, date, read books for pleasure, scrapbook with my mom, and watch TV with my brother.

Now, I take care of a one year old, clean up after 3 people, maintain this blog (and we know that I’m pretty infrequent with that), and check my phone. I rarely read entire books for pleasure anymore. I hardly find time to cook. And I’m horrified to say that my husband and I can spend entire evenings sitting next to each other both looking at our phones.

Something had to change.

When my brother was visiting, he noticed that my phone would send me notifications for absolutely everything: “The University of Calgary (my alma mater) retweeted the Calgary Herald”; “Sally Stranger posted in Mom Group”; “You took 6789 steps today!”; “Have you played 2048 recently?”. It was too much. My phone was buzzing every few minutes, and I’d look at it to see if it was important. But all that brain power, all that distraction for interruptions that I didn’t even care about was sapping me of my time. My brother suggested I turn off all notifications and when he said it, I looked at him like he had three heads.

“You can do that?!”

“Yeah. Just go to settings.”

It was seriously mind-blowing to me that I had the power to affect incoming information like that. Such a tiny action and already my smartphone dependency was becoming more manageable. I turned off notifications for every single app except iMessage, Hangouts and Messenger, because I wasn’t quite ready to become the kind of person who is hard to reach, especially being abroad. And let me tell you, it has been liberating! The impact was immediate – I was looking at my phone less. I was spending less time on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter because they weren’t constantly asking for my attention.

A few months went by, and I adjusted to this new freedom, but my phone still felt a bit too much like an appendage. It was always at my side. It was my best friend, in a way, because it was my support system – linking me to my friends and family back home in Canada. I was constantly pressing that home button and looking at the home screen, like a nervous tick.

I went to my friend Sarah’s house for a playdate and I asked out-loud what time it was, motioning for my phone. Sarah looked at her wall (not her Facebook one, her actual wall) – there was a clock there. A great big clock with a white face and black hands. And this blew my mind. A clock? On the wall of your living room? Like as decor? Is that a thing?

And then it dawned on me that the next stage of separation from my phone was to no longer treat it as my watch.

I used to wear a watch, before DK. After he was born, I found it impossible to transfer him from my arms to his crib without his head chaffing on my watch, so I took it off and began relying on my phone for the time. I put my watch back on.

I used to have an alarm clock on my nightstand that glowed red digits in the dark. But one day I spilled water on it and it died. I had started charging my phone next to my bed, you know, in case someone got in an accident in the middle of the night and I got a phone call. And so my phone easily replaced my alarm clock, my night-light, and my bedtime-reading all at once. I bought a $14 alarm clock on Amazon with big red numbers so I could see it without my glasses on in the middle of the night and not have to check my phone for the time, inevitably seeing middle of the night notifications. I started turning on my lamp for my bedtime reading.

And I bought a $10 wall clock to hang in the space between our kitchen and our living room. Next to it I hung a Gilmore Girls-inspired poster, “In Omnia Paratus”, which means “Ready for Anything”, and a painting of a girl with her nose stuck in a book, as reminders of what I wanted to make time for. And I check the clock – all the time.

I still have a long way to go weaning myself from this life-changing technology. I don’t want to go back entirely to the way things were before I had a smartphone. I think I’m a better daughter, friend, sister and wife when I’m reachable. But I do want to stop putting everyone else in the wide world of the internet on a higher pedestal than my son, my husband and myself.

My next steps to cure myself of my smartphone dependency are to move its night-time charging spot off of my nightstand. Reading on my phone late at night keeps me awake. I know it keeps me awake. Scientific research knows it keeps me awake. And yet, night after night, I decompress from the day lying in bed staring at a tiny glowing screen in the dark looking at Taylor Swift gifs on Tumblr.

Next, I need to determine a resting spot in the house where I will keep it during the day instead of always within arm’s reach and allow myself to check it a specific intervals. The thought of it makes my palms sweaty, which is why I know it needs to happen. Perhaps perching below In Omnia Paratus will be a good spot for it – and then I really will be Ready for Anything because my mind won’t be buried in my phone.

 

 

 

Halloween as a Rite of Reversal

Halloween, in California, is bigger than Christmas. People go all out here with parties, costumes, trick or treating, and house decor. “Graveyards” line front yards, ghosts haunt every corner, cobwebs aren’t swept away, but embraced. Back home in Canada, very few people hosted parties (or at least none that I was invited to), costumes had to fit over snowsuits (hello fat-Cinderella, hello fat-Power Ranger, hello sumo-wrestler), and Halloween decor was minimal. We would put out Jack O’ Lanterns and maybe a few cutouts of ghoulish faces in the windows – but other than a couple haunted houses in each neighbourhood, people did pretty much the bare minimum. Upon moving to California, I learned that outdoor decor is a competitive sport, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is a feasible costume and you can’t carve your pumpkin until the day of because it will rot if it’s not -20C outside (who knew?!).

In spite of the love of all things Halloween-ey, I was surprised to learn how down on candy many Californians seem to be. Nuts/Sugar/Gluten are almost considered obscenities here and I was stressing about what kind of treat to give out at my door on Halloween night. Some of my mom-friends are going the non-candy route, to be respectful of allergies, but honestly I dread a shit-ton of rubber bouncy balls entering my home more than I dread a sugar-inebriated child.

The thing about Halloween is candy is a major part of the celebration. Halloween is what we anthropology -nerds (yes, many moons ago I graduated with my MA in Social and Cultural Anthropology) call a Rite of Reversal.

A Rite of Reversal is a ritual in which the social order is reversed; the world devolves into chaos and then reverts back to order. These rites are important in human culture because they remind us why we have social conventions and rules in the first place. Sure chaos is fun for an evening, but at the end of the day, when you crawl into bed, you’re happy that when you wake up in the morning, things will go back to the way they were. Trick or Treating on Halloween night is an example of a Rite of Reversal.

On Halloween:

  • Children, who are usually only in public spaces in the daytime, get to run through the streets after dark, often without their parents.
  • Children get to go to stranger’s homes and rather rudely, threateningly demand candy (Trick or Treat!).
  • Children get to dress in costume.
  • Spooky and scary replaces light-hearted and predictable.
  • Children get to eat lots of junk food/candy.

TRICK-OR-TREAT

Every day I try to teach my child to be polite (say please and thank you, do not be demanding or threatening), to dress appropriately (not go out in public in costume), to eat healthily (celery sticks not chocolate bars), and to not ever take candy from strangers. Yet, on Halloween, the opposite of these behaviours are allowed and encouraged. We literally send our kids out at night in a costume to threaten strangers to give them candy or they will play a trick on them.

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Halloween is special. On Halloween you can break the rules. In doing so, it releases tension between child and parent and also reinforces why we have rules at all. While Halloween is a super fun night and some kids might wish it were Halloween every day, the fact that it isn’t every day is what makes it so fun and so special.

So yeah, I don’t care if my neighbours are giving out rubber bouncy balls. I’m giving out candy that will rot your teeth. And I hope when my son has enough teeth to chew, that he gets candy that will rot his teeth (and learn how glorious it feels to brush your teeth after an over-indulgent night of sugary snacks) because that’s the one night per year where eating candy for a bedtime snack is okay. It’s part of the rite.

Someday, when my kids are older, I hope to extend this Rite of Reversal to include a Ghoul’s Dinner on Halloween night before Trick or Treating. At the Ghoul’s Dinner, table manners don’t matter. The intention is that this fun night of belching, eating with our hands, wiping our faces on our shirts, blowing bubbles in our milk, building castles with our potatoes, banging cutlery on the table and throwing food on the floor will reinforce why we have table manners all other nights of the year. People, and especially our children, are creatures of habit. We like to know what to expect. We certainly wouldn’t want a chaotic meal with spaghetti in our hair every day, so when you do a ritual of reversal for fun on a set day of the year, it reinforces why we care about correct behaviour. Life generally is more pleasant when we follow social conventions and we don’t have to clean globs of food off the floor – but once a year, it’s nice to let loose and reminds ourselves of that.

Of course, I have a 15 month old, so every meal for me is currently a Ghoul’s Dinner. First I need to teach him table manners before I can reverse it to chaos, so consider that a parenting goal for the future.

Happy Halloween-ing!