Tag Archives: milestones

A Few Meditations On Being a Feminist Parent

25 Sep

My kid has a tractor obsession. Like, he goes bananas any time he sees one of the damn things. This bit of information will, hopefully, help explain why I found myself at the International Plowing Match And Expo on Friday with Theo and my mother.

The plowing match was held not far from where I grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, and was filled with men who looked like this:

The pipe is my FAVOURITE PART

It was basically a whole day of mingling with old white farmer dudes, watching people use old-timey plows and admiring farming equipment. In a way, it was oddly comforting, or at least comfortingly familiar – I feel like a lot of my Kitchener childhood was spent around old white farmer dudes, so seeing their mutton chop beards and dingy overalls definitely gave me the warm glow of home.

Anyway, Theo basically had the time of his life. There were so many dang tractors at the show; there was even a tractor square dance. I kid you not. I bought Theo a toy tractor, which he promptly named Go and hasn’t put down since.

That night, after we got back to Toronto, I went over to my friend Caitlin’s place to help her pack for an upcoming move. Afterwards, I texted Matt to let him know that I was on my way home, and asked how Theo was doing.

The response I received was less than encouraging:

Bad. He just threw up.

Theo spent the rest of the night throwing up, and part of Saturday. Weirdly, he seemed totally fine in between bouts of vomiting – he would get ‘er done without much fuss, then run off and go about his business. He was fine all day Sunday, so we brought him to daycare this morning.

Unfortunately, Theo-the-puke-machine turned into Theo-the-poop-machine this afternoon. Which means that one of us has to stay home with him tomorrow.

So here’s where things get tricky: as Theo’s mother, and the person who has been his primary caregiver for, oh, pretty much his entire life, I feel like I should be the one to stay home. But I won’t be, because, as a person who has recently joined Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Club Of Serious Grown Ups And For-Real Feminists, I have to, you know, go to work. Matt’s job is in some ways more flexible than mine, and it was easier for him, in this particular instance, to take the time off.

This made me feel guilty. Because, really, doesn’t a sick baby need their mother most of all?

I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt lately. Granted, we’re only about two and half weeks into Theo’s daycare career, but I’m frustrated that I’m having so much trouble ironing out the bugs in our schedules. The hardest part is that I feel like I barely see him.

In a perfect world, I would only have to work two evenings a week, and would be able to pick him up mid-afternoon most days. In the real world, I’ve had to jump at a few subbing opportunities that have come my way (the first rule for new yoga teachers being Make Yourself Available), and I often find myself coming home before going to pick my kid up so that I can get a bit of housework done before Hurricane Theo returns.

I guess that what it boils down to is, what’s most important to me right now: being with my kid every moment that I’m not managing the studio, or trying to balance my Theo time with my building my career as a yoga teacher time? More and more often, I’m finding that building my career is winning out.

Why? Well, I spent the first nineteen months of Theo’s life devoting the vast majority of my time and energy to his well-being. I’m glad that I did, because that was what worked best for me and my family. But now that Theo is older, and really beginning to assert himself as his own person, daycare seems to be a really good fit for him. He’s excited to go, and he often talks about his friends there: Ella, Anand and Eliana have all come up recently in conversation. Oh, and my favourite, Jonah, which Theo pronounces “Gonad”.

It’s not that Theo and I didn’t have fun when we were home together, but I’ve realized something: this is a tough age for me. I don’t mean that Theo is difficult to be around, or that he’s throwing terrible tantrums (not yet, anyway), but I often find myself unsure of what he needs from me as a mother these days. When he was a tiny baby, it was easy to know what he wanted: me, and plenty of it. When he’s older, and we’re able to have proper conversations, I think I’ll find that easier, too. But this stage, this in-between I-need-you-but-don’t-need-you stage, is tough.

I have a hard time knowing when to inundate him with talking and singing and general in-your-faceness, and when to just let him play quietly. I feel like I spend so much of our time together chasing him away from things he’s not supposed to be touching, and trying to convince him to do whatever it is I want him to do. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I think that being in daycare for a good chunk of the day makes him more eager to listen to me when he does get home. And instead of spending my time half-assing my way through housework while he desperately tries to get my attention (or dragging myself through it late at night, after he’s gone to bed), I can get it done quickly and easily while he’s not there.

And then there’s the whole work thing: these early days are important for networking, and I need to build a reputation as someone who is eager to work, and able to pick up classes on short notice. I’m creating a foundation for what will hopefully be a solid career. This is something that will, someday, benefit not just me, but Theo, and Matt, and any of our future kids too.

And, finally, it’s becoming increasingly important for Theo to learn that it’s not just mom who’s the solution to all of his problems. As Matt spends more and more time with him, Theo is learning that his father can be just as much of a source of tenderness and comfort as his mother can. He is learning that the world is much bigger than just one person and her boobs, and that people other than mama can be relied on to fulfill his wants and needs. The more time he spends apart from me, the better Theo is becoming at communicating just what those wants and needs are.

You guys, Theo is growing up.

I guess that what I ultimately want to say here is that being a feminist parent is about balance: learning to balance your kid’s needs with your own, and figuring out how that will shape your life. It’s about realizing that you, as a mother, do not need to be the be-all-end-all of your child’s life. You can learn to share the responsibility. You can figure out when to step back and say, I’m going to focus on myself for, like, five minutes and my kid will be just fine.

Most of all, it’s about accepting the fact that you have needs, too, and your kid does not always trump those needs, no matter what some magazine or parenting blog or conservative politician wants you to think.

Now, if only I could beef up Theo’s immune system and get him to stop bringing home these daycare bugs, I would be totally set.

Advertisements

How I Met Your Father (or, guess what my favourite feeling is? the answer is nostalgia)

12 Sep

Today is my wedding anniversary. Three years ago today I got married.

Matt and I first met in early 2005. We were in a one-act play festival together (I almost wrote one-cat play festival, which would be AWESOME), and we met when I was hanging out backstage with my friend Debs. Matt walked in and immediately took off his shirt (because he had to change, not because he wanted so show off his sweet abs), and I remember thinking three things:

1. He is totally my type

2. He looks super young, though

3. Don’t let him catch you staring at him

Later, during the same festival, I came backstage and saw him sitting alone. For some reason I’d gotten it into my head that he was 18, and I felt super gross that, at 22, I had a giant crush on an 18 year old.

One thing that you have to know about me is that I have a history of saying awkward things at awkward times. This explains why, when I found him there, I immediately blurted out, are you really only 18?

No, he said, giving me a weird look, why? Did someone say I was?

No reason! I said, trying to sound super casual and not like a possible cougar. But, um, how old are you?

20, he replied.

Oh. 20. Well, that was do-able (literally, heh).

Okay, I said, starting to back away from him. Well, that’s good! Good to know, I mean. Okay bye!

At the cast party a few days later, we kissed. Then we kissed some more. This was all well and good, except that the party was at the apartment of someone I didn’t really know, and now we were making out on a stranger’s bed. So I asked Matt if he wanted to come back to my place, and he said yes.

Here’s the thing: I was 22 and had never had a one night stand. Though I’d had a succession of roommates who had brought the occasional stranger (or familiar face) home from the bar or a party, I’d never been brave enough to try it myself.

As we walked back to my place in the wee hours of a bitterly cold early spring morning, I couldn’t help doing a little silent preening.

This is it, gloated my inner monologue. My first one-night stand. I am finally a cool grown up who does cool things like bring strangers home. Home to my BED, that is. 

(Oh God I hope my mother isn’t reading this)

The problem with the whole one night stand thing was that it turned out that I really liked Matt. I realized this the next morning when we went out to The Spartan (the greasiest of greasy spoons) for breakfast. We were all messy morning hair and bleary, happy eyes, and the old Greek women clucked their tongues scoldingly as they brought us our food.

We giggled as the women retreated behind the counter, occasionally throwing us dark looks while muttering in a language neither of us understood. We know what you’ve been up to, their eyes seemed to say.

It probably didn’t help that Matt had several large hickeys on his neck. Whoops.

We had so much to talk about that morning. I don’t remember any of what was said, but I do remember thinking, this is good.

We saw each other fairly frequently over the next couple of weeks. At some point Matt started to want to define our relationship, but I was hesitant. I’ve never been great at relationships, and I figured that what we had was so nice, why should we risk screwing it up?

Plus, I really loved how grown-up it sounded to say, Oh, him? No, he’s not my boyfriend, he’s just the guy I’m sleeping with.

Then, after several months of not paying the utilities bills, my power was shut off and everything kind of went to hell. We had no electricity, and no hot water. Until we got our shit together and figured this out, my roommate and I needed to find other places to stay.

I called Matt in tears, expecting him to say that he didn’t have room for me.

Come on over, he said. Just come whenever and stay as long as you want.

Later that day I showed up at his front door with a knapsack full of clothing and frozen food. He hugged me and carried my bag upstairs.

At that moment, I realized that he was definitely my boyfriend.

Even after my power was turned back on, I stayed on at Matt’s place, all through that spring and summer. When I think back to that time, it has this sort of enchanted, hazy in-between feel to it. The days were cold and wet, even well into the month of June, and we spent most of our time together in bed. We drank wine and ordered in Chinese. We rented the first two seasons of The O.C. and watched episode after episode, pretending we were sitting in the warm California sun.

We were so young. 20 and 22. That’s crazy.

On September 12th 2009, I walked down the aisle of a tiny stone country church while my friends Rachel and Caitlin played the cello and clarinet. I had a crown of flowers in my hair and Matt, who was waiting for me at the altar, wore a kilt. My smile was impossibly huge; he had tears in his eyes.

Afterwards we went to the Officer’s Mess at the Royal Military College, which had this wonderful feeling of old-world shabby-gentility. We ate, we drank, we danced, we sat by the water and watched someone  set off fireworks on Wolfe Island.

Our wedding wasn’t big, or fancy, but it was perfect. I’m a big believer in not thinking of your wedding as the happiest day of your life but, you guys, it was so happy.

And here we are, three years later. This morning I was woken up in the dark hours of the night by Theo wanting to nurse, something which would usually bother me. Today, though, it was different. Waking up to feed my baby reminded me how far we’ve come since we first met, how happy I am that we’ve been on this journey together, and how amazed I am that we made this tiny, sturdy, independent little person. So instead of my usual grousing at having to get up late at night, I leaned over, kissed Matt, and said, happy anniversary.

I love you, Matt. I’m so happy that you’re in this with me.

What I looked like after I found the open bar.

In case you were wondering, this is the song we danced our cheesy first dance to:

And then the next day I got really fucked up on Ativan and flew to Paris for the Best Honeymoon Ever, but that’s another story for another time.

Daycare (or, what the hell am I doing here?)

29 Aug

One of my (many and abundant) gifts is that I have a really, really great sense of direction. When we were in Paris a few years ago, I was able to navigate all the twisty-turny alleyways armed with only a small book of street maps and my wits. Although I couldn’t have told you which direction was north, I somehow always had an innate sense of where the Seine was, and would direct us accordingly.

The flip side of this is that feeling lost or disoriented is incredibly terrifying for me. This includes feeling lost and disoriented in a whoa what street am I on and how did I get here? way and also in a larger, more general whoa what the hell is happening in my life right now? sense.

Change is very disorienting for me. I am the kind of person who loves routine, who thrives on knowing what will happen next. I eat the same thing for breakfast every morning. I am not the kind of person you want to take with you on a spontaneous backpacking trip to the Amazon. I find it difficult and painful to break out of any routine, even one that is seriously not working for me. Letting go of a routine makes me feel unmoored, as if I’m sitting in an oarless, rudderless boat, watching the shoreline shrink as I drift out to sea. I usually experience a brief moment of breathless euphoria at my newfound freedom before total panic sets in.

All of this has been a very verbose way of leading up the fact that this morning, I registered Theo for daycare. Next week I am going back to work full time.

Let’s get a few things out of the way: I think that daycare is awesome. I went to daycare and loved it. I think that it will be hugely beneficial to Theo, in part because of the socialization it will offer him, and also because of the structure he will have there. Although this particular daycare costs a little more than we were hoping to pay, it came highly recommended by a friend, and everyone I’ve mentioned it to has something positive to say. I am really, really happy we got a spot there.

But I still feel panicked.

Partly it’s because I’m worried about how the change will impact Theo. Will he understand that I’m coming back at the end of the day? Will he think that I’ve abandoned him? Will he miss me unbearably?

Another thing that freaks me out is the fact that no one there will know Theo as well as I do. How will they be able to interpret his needs properly? How will they understand what he’s saying? Will they be able to learn to speak Theo?

I was talking about this last night with Scott, a super lovely, laid back philosopher/yogi who teaches at our studio. He had some really smart things to say, but when I tried to repeat them to Matt, I couldn’t get the words right. So I emailed Scott and asked him to remind me of what he’d said, and this is what he sent back to me:

What you said to me was that you were worried people would fail to be as a good a mother to Theo as you are.  That they would not be able to read his subtle gestures and give him what he needs when he needs it.

I said that that was exactly what he needs.

“The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure” (Winnicott, 1953)

Having all of his needs met in a relationship were no one is failing to provide for him as he demands actually turns out to be disadvantage, as Theo is coming to know who he is precisely through those failures.  These are not grand or abusive failures where he becomes scared to develop into his own self, but just the right kind of misattunement that will occur at a daycare where someone doesn’t know him as well as you. And when misattunement happens those caretakers will be able to support him and help make reparations with him.  This is what is actually so important: that his caregivers fail to meet his needs and yet in an environment of love they support him through that failure and help him realize that he is a unique person in relationship with others who can survive these failures of connection.

It is what used to happen in extended family care all the time and now must happen in daycare scenarios. It’s an important part of child development that Theo needs at this time. Sounds weird but you send your child off to an other who you expect will not do as a good job as you so that Theo can grow into the independent and capable person he needs to be.

Which was exactly what I needed to hear.

The third facet of my panic is all about me:

What if I don’t like working?

I will be managing a yoga studio (which I already do, but I will be putting in more hours), and trying to pick up some classes to teach to supplement our income. I’ve never done this as a full-time job before. Scratch that, I’ve never taught an actual class, for real money before – everything I’ve done so far has mostly been volunteer work or freebies for my friends. What if I hate teaching yoga as an actual job? What if I can’t find any classes to teach?

What if I fail?

Looking at it one way, I will paying twice the cost of the average university tuition in order to put Theo into daycare so that I can go work at a job that I’m not sure I will love, a decision that might leave both of us miserable. In this scenario, both of us are in the oarless, rudderless rowboat, heading slowly but surely for open water.

Looking at it in another way, maybe this is the only way (or, at least, the best way) for us to grow. We’ve spent a year and a half living in an almost totally symbiotic relationship; maybe now it’s time for us to break free of each other and begin to discover (or rediscover, in my case) who we are as unique individuals.

Maybe we will both love this new arrangement. Maybe he will flourish in daycare, and I will realize that I am finally doing work that I love and feel passionate about.

Perhaps this will give us the chance to develop the skills we need to make or find our own oars, or discover a way to get back to shore under our own power.

Or maybe we will learn to love living at sea and, instead of turning back to what is familiar to us, we will take our homemade oars and chart a course for adventure.

Image

Theo at 19 months (or, you guys, my baby is so old now)

18 Aug

Dear Theo,

You’re 19 months old today! I meant to write a post about you when you turned 18 months, but then July got a little crazy and by the time things settled down, you were almost not 18 months old anymore, so I apologize for that. Lucky for me you’re still illiterate, so hopefully you’ll never know about my little faux pas. That is, unless I post it to some kind of “web” that is “world wide” that never forgets anything you post on it ever. Oh wait. Well, maybe the internet won’t exist by the time you’re old enough to Google your own name.

You are a super rad kid. You are so full of mischievous energy that it’s hard to keep up with you sometimes (okay, most times). I love you so hard.

You’ve got an adventurous streak a mile wide. You’re totally happy to run off in any direction and just assume that a responsible adult will follow you. You are becoming more and more interested in testing boundaries, but you’re so funny and cheeky about it that it’s hard not to smile instead of correcting your behaviour.

You’re talking all the time now, and starting to put together a few small (as yet verbless) sentences. One of my favourite things is to ask you what your name is, because you will proudly point to yourself and say “baby!” I love going for walks with you, because you point out so many things to me – we have lengthy discussions about every fire hydrant, bus and tractor that we pass.

One amazing thing that has happened in the last few days is that you are starting to become interested in letters. Your favourite is the letter O – you point it out everywhere you see it and say “ooooooh”. When you see a D, you say “woof woof!” because D is for dog. I’m so excited that we’re jumping into this world of letters and words and reading. I hope you’ll love books as much as I do.

I love the names you make up for the people around you. I’m Mama and your father is Dada, of course, and then there’s Gaga (your grandmother), Nana (either our friend Nathalie, or Anna who works at the Early Years Centre), Mimi (Nathalie’s daughter Marine, who babysits you), and Gack (Jack Layton, who I have totally taught you to recognize). Now if only you would learn to pronounce Catherine and Claire, you would have a pair of very happy aunts.

You’re finally starting to become more interested in solids, although you still nurse quite a bit. You’re tall and a little on the skinny side, but you come by that honestly from your father. From me, you got your love of all things carbohydrate. Every time that we go to the store you demand that I buy you bread. That’s my boy!

You love reading, playing with your train set, playing “house” with your little people, and above all, you love any toy with wheels on it. You love music and dancing, and your two favourite songs are The Perpetual Self, Or What Would Saul Alinsky Do? by Sufjan Stevens and Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. You will specifically ask for each of these songs.

You love going to the park, donning your “yark” (shark) bathing suit and splashing around in the wave pool. You go to the park several times a week with Marine; now when I take you I feel like you’re a celebrity, because everyone there knows and loves you. You adore Mo, a little girl we often see at the park – when you catch sight of her you call out “Mooooooooohhhhh!”

You’ve definitely got a budding sense of humour, and you’re nearly always in a good mood. It’s very rare for you to cry, even if you fall and hurt yourself. You’re curious, crazy stubborn, and above all, you’re so much fun. I love you so much.

My little yark