29 October 2010

Things I'm Learning - Hallowe'en Edition

I grew up in a family that didn't celebrate Hallowe'en. As kids we dressed in costume for school events, but we never went trick or treating or were given pillow cases full of candy. So like most of the other beloved traditions of mainstream childhood (we also didn't sit on Santa's lap or have Easter egg hunts) I edge up to these events in Margaret Meade mode: observe the actions of the tribe and try not to be too obtrusive or obviously out of place. HWSNBN has a very standard background, so there are expectations about holidays. Which is fine, it's just that every time is kind of the first time for me; I'm learning as I go. Add in all the first-time stuff you get up to as a parent, and well... I'm often a little bit at sea.

I was lucky enough to be invited, along with The Imp and his Grandpa, on a trip to the pumpkin patch in Richmond last weekend. I'd never been before and had no idea what to expect, but given that The Imp has talked about it non-stop since, am guessing that it will have to be an annual event from here on out.

Things I didn't know:

1) It's a big deal. Not just a stroll out into a muddy field full of pumpkins. No. Parking lot directions of military precision, farm animals on display, duck ponds and bridges, musicians, dancing pumpkins, hay rides complete with fiddles and banjos. All week The Imp's been excitedly telling me several times a day, "We say 'yeehaw!'" I think having experienced it once, he would very much like a hay ride from his bedroom to the breakfast table every morning, shouting "Yeehaw!" the whole way.

2) The price of admission includes a pumpkin to take home. Why I didn't know this, I don't know, maybe because I've never been a big celebrant of Hallowe'en. Or it could be that I'm just not very clever.

3) There's a corn maze. I've never been in a corn maze before. I knew I was capable of getting lost - as soon as I'm inside a shopping mall I get totally turned around in about 17 seconds. A corn maze is a lot like that, but with more mud. And decidedly less perfume-sample smell.

Child of the Corn

4) I don't actually know what to do with a pumpkin. And now I have an ample supply of them sitting on my kitchen counter, because there were three of us. Three pumpkins. Sitting on my counter. And I really, really don't like pumpkin pie. It would be no exaggeration to say that I despise pumpkin pie and everything about it. The texture, the flavour: bleck.

So on Monday when I went to get the Imp from daycare I took one of the pumpkins with the intention of leaving it there.

Much consternation on the part of The Imp. "MY pumpkin!" He shouted, and stomped his feet, and would not be consoled or convinced that leaving it at daycare to play with the next day was a good idea. He did not care that we still had two more at home. He was especially adamant that he WOULD NOT SHARE it with his friends. "MY pumpkin. It's MINES!" (Yes, he says "mines" instead of "mine". It's logical, if you think about it. Your becomes yours. Her becomes hers. Even his ends in an "s". Why shouldn't "my" become "mines"?)

I really hadn't anticipated this strong a reaction. The Imp's usually the first kid to share his toys, he readily gives up a spot on the playground swings if there's another kid waiting, and he's generally a pretty laid-back little dude. (Since we discovered his dairy allergy, anyway.) No amount of cajoling was effective. Back home and onto the kitchen counter went the pumpkin.

My pumpkin! MINES!

Now, understand, The Imp has no context for pumpkins. He doesn't know they're food, he's never seen a jack-o'-lantern. We've never had one in the house before. We've never really celebrated Hallowe'en with him, because for the first one he was only a few months old, and last year he was not even 18 months. And we live in a high rise apartment building, so we don't even get trick or treaters at the door. There didn't seem to be a lot of point.

So I asked him, as we were cleaning up after dinner that evening.

Me: What do you think pumpkins are for? What do you want to do with your pumpkins?
The Imp: Fling them around.

I was not expecting that.

Me: You want to fling them around?
The Imp: Yeah.


Me: Honey, we don't fling pumpkins around. (Fumbling) We... we carve them into jack-o'-lanterns. Yeah, jack-o'-lanterns! We make faces on the pumpkins. And we can make soup. Pumpkin soup. And seeds, we can do something with the seeds! We eat pumpkins. We do not fling them around.
The Imp: Soup! We eat soup! We eat soup now!

Me: Um, no. We have to make the soup first.
The Imp: Okay. (Pause, thinking.) We say "yeehaw?"

Me: Yeehaw!*

By Tuesday morning, HWSNBN and I had managed to talk enough about how good it feels to get presents and how nice it would be to make his friends feel that way by giving the pumpkin to the daycare, that he consented to the transportation of his! pumpkin! to school with him. And he allowed that his friends could look at it, but they could not touch it. We placed it in plain view on a high counter so everyone could see it. He was skeptical, but let it sit there all day.

Wednesday, he allowed the teachers to touch it, but not all the teachers. There was a substitute, and she was not! allowed! Only the every day teachers could touch it. But he did relent enough to allow them to take if off the counter to show it to the kids at circle time. But he insisted that "friends not touch it!"

Thursday when I went to pick him up, he came running to me shouting "Jack-o'-lantern! Jack-o'-lantern!" at the top of his lungs, and grabbed my hand to drag me to his pumpkin, now sitting on a low table, and yes, carved into a jack-o'-lantern. The teacher told me that while he was still proprietary about it, he was happy to let other kids touch it, and help scoop out seeds and whatnot. Yay, progress! Clearly this was a big deal to him, as he woke me up at four this morning, by shouting "Jack-o'-lantern! My jack-o'-lantern!" at the top of his lungs in his sleep.

Hallowe'en's this weekend. And I have two not-small pumpkins on my kitchen counter. I'm sure I can manage to carve some triangular orifices and a gap-toothed grin into them with The Imp's help - after all he's more experienced at it than I am, having already done it once. But then what do I do with them?

For all my blustery bravado in front of The Imp, I really don't know what to do with a pumpkin. Anyone have a soup recipe they can recommend? How do I make the seeds edible?

I am wide open to suggestions, people. I'll make anything but pie.

Or I suppose I could just fling them around.

*This is the actual conversation we had. Verbatim, no embellishments. In a thousand years, even with a thousand monkeys pecking randomly at a thousand keyboards, I could never come up with "fling them around" as an answer to that question. 

Also: when did we stop spelling Hallowe'en with an apostrophe? I must have missed that memo.

28 October 2010

Things That Are True - Shout Outs Must Be Made

In the early days of my relationship with HWSNBN, we were sitting around my apartment one evening, and I was playing music for him, some on the stereo, some on my guitar. Songs I loved, lyrics that said something I believed in, music that was important to me. After half an hour or so of this, he looked at me and said, "Your music is really earnest."

Me, being earnest with my guitar this summer

I bristled a little. I suppose I'd never analyzed the music I loved, just well, loved it. To have him put a label on it made me a little cross, offended even.

That was almost ten years ago. In the time since, I have come to accept that my music is, in fact, earnest. That I am, in fact, earnest. And that I'm okay with all this earnestness. More than okay with it, I seek it out. It drives my relationships, my parenting, and the way I run my business*.

And it is because of this superfluity of earnestness in my life that I was close to tears numerous times today.

A few weeks ago, I was approached about making a donation for a silent auction from my company, Chill Monkeys, to the BC Cancer Foundation's Inspiration Gala. I immediately said yes, and then because I don't do anything halfway, suggested that I could not just donate one of my hats to their silent auction, but that I would put together a package of mom and child focused items from local mom-entrepreneurs for them. I made a couple of phone calls, had a few conversations; things were well on their way.

And then I got sick. Apocalyptic life-on-Earth-ending sick, with the nastiest, most persistent Virus of Doom I have ever had. I do not recall in my adult life ever feeling so sick and being so debilitated for so long. It's been two and a half weeks, and I'm not 100% yet. Gah.

In my fuzzy-head cold-meds just-get-through-the-day mindset, I thought that the big event was this weekend, giving me a couple more days to pull things together. For some reason I decided to check this morning what date the event was being held. Good thing I did. The gala is tonight.

Gulp. I had in my possession only three items for the basket. And no actual basket. Not good. Serious loss of face if I couldn't pull this off.

So I put out the call on twitter, and yea verily, twitter responded. I spent the day driving all over the place, picking up donations of really great stuff. Then I went and bought a basket and some tissue paper. I had hoped to collect items enough for a total package value of $100-$150.

I underestimated the generosity of my peers.

This is the part where shout outs (shouts out?) must be made. I am continuously humbled and inspired by the support of the Vancouver mom- and women-entrepreneur community, and the outstanding way that we are all able to connect on twitter.

Zoe, Anna, and Rachel from Playpants responded with a lovely package of three modern bloomers. So adorable I almost wish I had a girl. (In addition to The Imp, not instead of!)

Erica and Lorraine of The Survival Guide for Rookie Moms donated a copy of their great book.

Maria from Little Jots gave me one of her delightful books of notes for children.

Patty from Zoolu Organics sent me the softest, most covetable long sleeved lion graphic shirt. Had it not been sized 6-12 months, I might have been seriously tempted to keep it for The Imp.

Maureen from Emily Press labels didn't hesitate to give me a $25 gift certificate for use on her site.

And Sue from Raspberry Kids came through with Leah Douglas' Gourmet Pregnancy, (a fantastic cookbook that had me wanting to run home and cook directly from the Raspberry Kids warehouse), a Sprig Toys excavator, a Seedling kit (the Creature Creator Kit) and a sushi-themed bib from the awesome Mally Bibs.

And I, of course, added a Chill Monkeys cap to the mix.

I was fighting back tears with every item I picked up. Such response! And as I rushed home with all the goodies, and the basket I'd bought to put them in, I was very pleased at being able to promote these generous companies, and to contribute to fundraising for such a worthy cause.

But I was gobsmacked when I made the list of items for the event organizers and actually added it all up - doing math in my head has never been my strong point.

Total value: $265

Two hundred and sixty five dollars worth of local entrepreneur donations in a few short hours. Wow.

The photo above was hastily taken on my kitchen table as I prepared to zoom over to the event venue and drop it off. The basket will look even better in the elegant surroundings and soft lighting of the gala tonight.

Also: I should've bought a bigger basket. When I put everything together, there was not enough room for the toy excavator - so I placed it outside the basket as if it was digging through all the fantastic goodies inside!

I can not thank everyone enough. I am overwhelmed by your generosity, by your spirit of community, and by your instant response and support. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And when I dropped it off to the event organizers, they were very pleased. So they thank you too.

Earnest's not so bad.

Yay for people coming together, in earnestness, I say.

*I don't talk much about my business here. This is my personal blog, and I like to keep things separate. I don't hide the fact that I have a mom blog. I don't hide the fact that I have a business. But I don't link much from one to the other. For one thing, I've been known to swear in this space, which is maybe not the best thing coming from a designer and manufacturer of children's clothing.

27 October 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Across the Generations Edition

A busy restaurant, a Sunday brunch. A restless Imp makes his way around the table to sit on Grandpa's lap for a horsey ride.

My heart, it melts.

20 October 2010

Things I've Learned - Fail Better

This morning I managed to stand up in the shower for ten whole minutes without needing to sit down. I've been so sick the last few days that everything but breathing has fallen by the wayside. There are any number of reasons I've been ill: The Imp's in daycare, a seething petri dish vector of disease if ever there was one; I've been taking on too much, running around trying to be all things to all people; but mostly I think I just had a little almost-breakdown in the last two weeks.

I've been thinking a lot of my past work in project management - there comes a time, on a troublesome project, when you just look at the patchwork that's been done to fix problems as they come up, and stop everything. Look at things from a new perspective, assess as objectively as you can, and then decide to tear the whole thing down and start over fresh. That's what the last two weeks have been like for me on an emotional level. And suffering through The Cold Virus of Doom That Will Not Die has slowed me down enough to really deal with some things for the first time.

A couple of weeks ago I connected some dots and gained some insights into the roots of problems I've struggled with all my life. Issues of fear, of giving up before I even try, of reacting with towering anger to minor setbacks. To an outside observer, what I'm going through doesn't look like much, but internally it has shaken me, rocked me to my core. I've had to rethink my approach to everything: relationships, business, and especially to parenting. Looking at patterns from my childhood and sifting out that which is good to pass on to The Imp, and finding a way to acknowledge and discard that which is not.

I don't have any pictures of me sick. So here's one of The Imp.

I think turning 40 has been a catalyst for much of this introspection. Realizing I don't care what people think anymore has opened the door, but it's events of the last couple of weeks that have really knocked me down and made me figure out how to pick myself up again. The revelation of the the source of so much of my anger has given me the freedom to consciously change the way I react when The Imp is acting up. A couple of mornings ago as we were cuddling before breakfast, I said to him, "Let's have a good day today. No hitting, no kicking, no scratching, no pinching. And no shouting. What do you think? Wouldn't that be great?" He looked at me and very seriously said, "And no naughty corner."

My heart: breaking.

"That's right. No naughty corner. Let's be gentle with each other today."

"Okay, Mommy."

And not for nothing, the last two days he hasn't hit me once. We've had two whole days without a trip to the naughty corner.

Despite me being so physically ill I could barely manage to bundle The Imp off to daycare in the morning, things have been better than I have any right to expect.

I'm not saying everything's magically all better now. I will struggle, I will fall down, I will fail utterly. But right now I'm feeling like the falling down won't be the calamitous, paralyzing thing it's been in the past.

Sometimes you really do need to stop what you're doing and tear it down. Rebuild from a stronger foundation, fail better next time.

And be gentle with each other.

I just hope next time it won't take getting the plague to make me see that.

18 October 2010

Things That Are True: Do It For The Boobies

This has been on my mind, as of late:

So even though I am dealing with The Cold That Will Not Die, there was a bright spot in my overall health picture revealed when I received this letter in the mail today. The mammogram I had two weeks ago came back normal. A bright spot, indeed: when I was 26, my doctor found two lumps in my right breast. The weeks between finding the lumps and getting the ultrasound/mammogram appointment were terrifying. I could think of nothing else; my hand would stray, unbidden, to my breast to try and feel if the lumps had somehow grown in the five minutes since I'd last checked. Ultrasound determined that they were nothing to worry about, and consistent monitoring has reassured me on a regular basis since.

Two of my aunts, one on either side of my family, have survived breast cancer. My cousin was recently diagnosed, has just had surgery, and now begins an exhausting course of chemo and radiation.

In BC, once you turn 40, you don't need to be referred for a screening mammogram. You can just call them up and make your own appointment.

Do it.

15 October 2010

Things That Are True - And The Body Says No Thank You

I've been running on empty for a while. Not enough sleep, not enough time, not enough focus. Just not enough.

Well, today The Body has said, "Enough."

Went to bed feeling not-great, woke up feeling not-good-at-all. This used to happen when I worked in the film business. I, along with the rest of the crew, would push myself, working 16 hour (or more) days in nasty weather, starting work at 6am on a Monday and 5pm on a Friday, which meant driving home at 9 or 10 on Saturday morning, sleeping the day away, doing laundry on Sunday, and starting all over on Monday.

On set in 1999 - Aftershock, a mini-series about an earthquake in New York. Photo taken by John Mavrogeorge. I worked my longest day in film on that show: 28 hours straight. Madness.

But the thing about the film industry, as hard as we work when we're on a project, there's a hard out. A pre-defined end date. Sure, if things don't go well during the shoot the end date may be extended by a day or two, but it's freelance, project-based work. You know it will end, so you push and push yourself, looking forward to the time off between projects to rest, recuperate, learn the names of your friends' kids, and wear something other than gore-tex and comfortable shoes. I would always get really sick a day or two after the words "That's a show wrap" were uttered.

I worked in film for twelve years; that lifestyle is habit-forming. I don't know how to NOT do things at mach 3 with my hair on fire. And that's good, I think. That basic operating system has made me strive to achieve, to learn, to grow. With time to rest in between spurts of tremendous energy output.

But? Parenting and running your own business have no hard out. Well, they do; everybody dies some time.

And today The Body is telling me that if I don't stop for a minute, that some time will be sooner than later.

Okay, Body, I get it. I'm listening. I'll spend the day wrapped in blankets, eating chips and chocolate healthy food, and watching TV trying to sleep.

And just so you know, Body, you didn't have to get all huffy when I dropped off some stuff at the Post Office. It was on the way home from The Imp's daycare. It wasn't really necessary to throw menstrual cramps into the mix. That's just not playing nice.

14 October 2010

Things That Are True: The Body Knows

There seems to be a theme to my October so far - it's like the gods I don't believe in* summoned up all the flotsam and jetsam of my past, washed it up on the beach of my consciousness and said, "Listen, sister. Deal."

Beach flotsam I just happened to catch on camera last weekend, English Bay

Yesterday, after three days of agonizing writing, reviewing, rewriting, and crying, I sent an email that almost killed me to write. I don't know how it will be received. I don't know how or if it will change some pretty important relationships in my life. But I'm just so done with some of the stuff the email's about, I had to send it. I had to reclaim my belief in myself. So now I sit, angst-ridden, simultaneously stalking and avoiding my inbox, wondering what the fallout will be; what kind of nuclear winter we'll have to suffer through before we can move on.

So that's fun.

Also yesterday, while sitting enjoying a perfectly lovely hot chocolate in one of my favourite haunts, I saw him. He was just walking by, he didn't see me, there were a few metres and half an inch of glass in between us, but still, my stomach instantly tied in knots, and I immediately felt like throwing up. After fourteen years, just seeing him at a distance can still make me physically ill. It affected me so much I had to interrupt my conversation with my coffee pal just to process it.

He was my first serious relationship, the first person I lived with, and the first (and only, I might add) person to hit me in the name of love.

It was textbook: he dazzled me, he made me feel like the best thing ever, and then he gradually, so gradually I didn't notice it was happening, undermined my confidence, estranged my friends, controlled everything I did, and hit me, telling me it was my fault. I think about it now, and can't believe it. How did I, the me that I am today, allow that to happen? (That's probably an entire post or five all on its own.)

Anyway, that relationship ended 14 years ago. I've seen almost nothing of him since, just chance encounters. Our social circles don't really intersect, our professional lives don't inhabit the same space. In the years since that horrible relationship I have very purposefully revisited spots we used to go to together, and replaced the bad memories with good ones. And I have never allowed myself to sink so far into a relationship again that physical abuse was somehow okay.

But it's the week for insights, and things I can't unknow, it seems. After I got home yesterday, one hit me so hard I had to stop moving, stop even breathing for a second.

The Imp is at a stage where he hits when he's frustrated. Since he's two, and testing every boundary, pushing every button, and still learning to communicate, he gets frustrated a lot. So he hits a lot. More precisely, he hits me a lot. He doesn't hit at daycare, he doesn't hit HWSNBN. He hits me. A lot.

The physical pain from these little two-year-old attacks of fists and feet is minimal, and transitory. I'm the grown-up, and I act accordingly. The Imp spends some time in the naughty corner, as he and I both get control, and as I tell him "calm down our bodies". There are times when it is really difficult for me to reign in my anger at being hit. There are times when my anger is all out of proportion to the assault. I've never lost control, the intellect has always prevailed in these situations. A couple of quiet minutes, a calm discussion of why we don't hit, a warm and loving hug, and on with our day.

But I realized yesterday, all in a heartbeat, that it's not the two-year-old hits I'm reacting to. It's the fourteen-year-old attacks that send me into a towering rage, that make me struggle to keep my voice calm, to explain why We. Don't. Hit. That make me need to take a quiet moment behind a closed door before I can give The Imp a hug and go back to reading stories, and playing games, and enjoying all the mind-numbingly beautiful moments of parenting, that happen all the time, every day, mostly when we're not looking.

The anger towards The Imp is an involuntary physical reaction, just like the stomach tightening and nausea yesterday when I saw my old flame. The body still reacts, even when the mind knows better.

I'm hoping that knowing this, processing it, figuring it out, will help me be a better parent. Will allow me to let go of this anger I didn't even realize I've been carrying around all this time, after all these years.

This morning, The Imp, as if looking straight into my brain at breakfast, said, "Hitting makes people sad." Yes, honey, hitting makes people sad. And not just the people being hit.

Then he wrapped his arms around himself, beamed at me, and said, "Hugging makes people happy!"

I must be doing something right.

*I don't believe in God. But if I did, it would have to be Loki. Because, well - just look at the world out there. It's the only explanation that fits. (With a hat tip to my Uncle David, who first mentioned that to me years ago, and it's stuck.) Either Loki, or some well-meaning but harried old chap in the sky. When I worked in the film and television industry, we used to joke: Good, Fast, or Cheap - pick any two. The God I most often hear described, despite his reputed omniscience, seems to be a variation of that: All-Loving, All-Knowing, All-Powerful - pick any two. That's my personal opinion, and I stand by it, but it doesn't prevent me from having, and more importantly, hugely respecting my friends and family who are devout in their faith.

13 October 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Breakfast is Served Edition

On Sunday, as I was sitting at my desk sorting paperwork (my least favourite part of running my own business) The Imp brought me a lovely tray of some of my favourite foods. Before he handed it to me, he said "Be careful, Mommy, might be hot." Then he thoroughly blew on the food twice, smiled up at me and said, "It's all cool down now Mommy. You could eat it."

Funny when they start to echo back to you the exact words and behaviour you show them, isn't it?

I decided paperwork could wait, and had a delicious imaginary breakfast with my boy. Because that's what Sundays are for.

12 October 2010

Things That Are True - Pity Party Edition

It's been a rough week or two. Emotional fallout from events both recent and in the past have me bone tired. Although past blog posts have touched on some of it, if tangentially, I may talk about it in detail at some point, once I've had a chance to process it more. Or I may decide it's petty and unworthy of even this much attention. There's some turmoil here, and I need to sort it out for myself before I deconstruct it in public.

In the last week some dots have been connected for me, and I'm finding myself angry all the time. I'm not sleeping well. The Imp isn't sleeping well either. I'm not sure if it's The Imp waking repeatedly at night that's contributing to my tension and short fuse, or if it's the tension and short fuse that The Imp's picking up on that's making him wake repeatedly at night. It's a chicken/egg thing, and either way I'm feeling like my parenting is less than optimal.

I'm just so tired of being tired. Night after night I go to bed barely able to form a coherent sentence, morning after morning I wake exhausted. I'm trying to let go of some of this anger, but it's been kept down for a long time and it just keeps bubbling up out of me, like an internal hemorrhage.

I am weary in my soul.

I want to hide in my room, sleep for three days, forget these insights I can't unknow. But I'm working on getting on with it, standing strong, letting the fog bank move through and past me so I can stand blinking in the sunlight.

Because of this. Because everything, all the time, is about this:

There's no opting out of this. Which may be what saves me.

06 October 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Family Resemblance Edition

Me, age 2
The Imp, age 2
 When he was born, The Imp was all HWSNBN. Their newborn photos were interchangeable. I think maybe The Imp's starting to look a little more like me. What do you think? Do you see any resemblance?