I always thought this was the stupidest advice. It usually comes with examples like “Jump off a plane” (with a parachute) or “swim with sharks.” I always think “You’re supposed to be afraid of sharks!” That’s why the human race has made it for so long. That’s why have the Darwin Awards.
Do one thing a day (month, year…) drips with self-indulgence. The bucket-list variety of fear-facing is often costly, self-centered and just plain counter-intuitive. When someone pays a small fortune to indulge in a one-shot deal, the cynic thinks the money would have been better spent elsewhere. No greater good is advanced when the affluent takes navel-gazing to a dangerous level. When it’s not dangerous, it tuns into a long Eat, Pray, Love -style insult to decency, an ode to emptiness.
And yet, heroism is made of the same willingness to overcome fears and obstacles, to face the insurmountable, to push the limits of intuition and self-preservation. Oddly enough, the self-centered and the self-less share the strength to push through: one outward, the other inward. It breaks my heart when I think about the wasted potential for greatness sunk in a dark hole of egotism.
Fear facing is what places us in front of our limitations, allows us to look at them in the eye and walk over them. But more often than not, the biggest growth happens quietly, discreetly, in a whisper rather than a bang. When we choose to give of ourselves past the point where it hurts. When we find meaning through challenges and difficulties. The fears that paralyze us through our ordinary lives are not the big ones, like sharks and heights, but the smaller fears of failure, judgement, discomfort and pain. The limitations we need to overcome are not physical obstacles but self-imposed, dictated by the demands of comfort, affluence, predictability. The real hero doesn’t shop which fears are worth overcoming. Real heroes face the fears that are thrown at them with grace, dignity and strength.
I have no desire to swim with sharks, jump-off a plane or sink my family’s hard-earned money into some international adventure tourism attraction. I just pray that I will have the courage to overcome the insurmountable when it shows up at my door. When fear will choose me, instead of me choosing it. And I also pray for the courage to overcome the molehills that my fear of failure make into so many mountains. Because what is the use of swimming with sharks when I’m still afraid of high school science?
I finished part 1 of this series by questioning why it was so hard for mothers to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to care for their young children. The previous post wasn’t strictly about daycare but the undervaluation of a mother’s role and experiences is an important consideration when discussing the interactions between women, daycare and the workplace.
“Right now, I will be paying more in child care than I will make at work part-time, but I will keep my job, my benefits and my continuity of employment. The money that it is costing me to go back to work, I see it as an investment in my career.”
I was privileged to be interviewed for a Globe & Mail piece on childcare. You can find the piece here. When Roma Luciw interviewed me, we were pulling into Rivière-du-Loup Qc after 10 hours on the road. I wasn’t sure what the article would be about but I hoped that I sounded sane. The daycare tipping point, or the decision to stay home or go to work from a daycare cost perspective:
When does it make sense to put your career on hold and look after the kids versus going back to work and forking out the money for child care?
It’s a directed look at childcare and I am always in support of more public discussion about women, family, children and society. But the decision to work for a pay cheque is rarely as one-dimensional as the piece’s angle. I propose this series of posts as a reflection on childcare beyond basic math. It’s not about assigning blame or responsibility where no blame is deserved or responsibility owed. It’s a reflection about how we can do better for our sake and for our children’s sake.
Running, how I’ve missed thee. Well, “missed” might be a generous word. I missed the feeling of doing something healthy. I missed feeling sore for a good reason. I missed the good fatigue. I missed feeling energetic and motivated. The running part is just what I do to get there.
Sunday morning I left for an early morning run with my husband and the 3 under 3. We both pushed a jogging stroller, me with the twins and my husband with our preschooler. It felt great. I may have packed a few ice cream pounds during our holiday in Cow’s country but the constant babywearing has kept my legs and core in good working order.
That’s when I saw her. She was sitting on a patch of grass in the shadow of a large green electrical box. Even at 8:00 am the sun was hitting hard at the tail-end of a dry heat wave. In suburbia, the saplings don’t provide shade, the utilities do. She was sitting in the shade of an electrical box next to a public transit stop, waiting for a bus. A little old Asian lady, with a face like a dried apple. What was she doing at a bus stop at 08:00 am on a Sunday morning? She wasn’t dressed to go to Church. Was she going to work? Was she at the end of a night shift? Maybe as a nighttime home caregiver? Was she going to babysit a grandchild? She looked tired, seeking shade and rest in this sea of asphalt and concrete. There’s nowhere to sit in suburbia. You are either coming or leaving. You’ll sit when you get home.
She watched us run by and I suddenly felt self-conscious, burdened by the sadness and futility of our lifestyles. “How crazy is that?” I asked my husband. Here we are, on a Sunday morning, running nowhere. We’re not running because we’re being chased or because we’re chasing something. We’re running because we are an affluent couple with such sedentary lives that we need to get special shoes and special strollers to make our bodies do what they’re supposed to do to stay healthy, keep illness at bay and avoid decrepitude.
Our bodies were not made for grocery stores with just-on-time delivery and beverages with enough calories to cover two meals. They weren’t made for cheap, easy, fat, sugar and salt. Our bodies were not made for online shopping, Facebook and desk jobs. In the absence of anything to chase, haul, till or hack we are left to devise contraptions like the treadmill and the weight machine to trick our bodies in the belief that our lifestyle is healthy and active.
I ran past the little lady sitting in the shade of the electrical box on a Sunday morning thinking the world was upside down. Sunday used to be a day of rest. My husband and I can rest on Sunday but we shouldn’t. This little lady should rest on Sunday but she can’t.
This Sunday morning reflection lead me down the path of our recent to move into a rental house and our decision to start saving to build our not-so-big passive house in the country. I yearn for an active lifestyle that keeps me fit in itself. And as much as I enjoy working out and breaking a good sweat, I will not look back when I stop running nowhere.
My street team, also known as my
We just left for our 3-week trailer adventure, towing our little house (emphasis on little) all the way from Ottawa to the maritimes with some fun stops along the way. One of the challenges of fitting 10 in a trailer made for 9 (on paper, reality is more like 7) is what to do with the babies. The trailer is either in eat mode or sleep mode with strictly enough room to do one thing at a time: prepare food or sleep. The outside is dirt.
Before going any further, let the record show that camping with babies is a royal nuisance and should be avoided. But if you can’t avoid it because, like me, you have other children for whom the definition of a good time goes beyond napping at regular intervals in their own bed, then you may need to find ways to compensate for the sheer lousiness of camping with infants.
(Some people camp with baby because they love camping and want to share their love of sleeping on dirt with their unappreciative infant/toddler. There is nothing I can say to help these folks.)
(As another aside, my 3 year-old just fell asleep singing “I want to go home to sleep” on the tune of Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift. So there.)
But yes, so you have to camp with infants or toddlers because you have ABSOLUTELY NO OTHER CHOICE and you are looking for tips to make your life more pleasant or at the very least less miserable. My first tip would be to get a cheap wading pool (cheap as in $15 is too much) and bring a bag of toys. The wading pools are the first things out of the trailer and the twins have a clean dry place to play. They can also be filled with one inch of water and placed in the shade at the splash pad on a hot day.
Sleeping in tents with babies can and will be a pain in the neck. And the lower back. Co-sleeping has been our saving grace. For Lucas especially, home is where the boob is. And it may sound like a drag at home but it’s a boon on the road. Here he is snuggling-up to Sarah in the queen size bed we share.
Of course, co-sleeping can be dramatic especially when you wake-up with your 3 year-old violently throwing-up on you. This morning’s shower was the best ever and it is with little sleep and some unplanned laundry that we hit the road for the second leg of our RV extravaganza!
As you may have noticed, the move and consecutive adaptation-reorganization have punched a significant hole in my ability to blog. Not only time is at a premium but I am mentally and physically exhausted and unable to string two coherent ideas together. I have posts started on attachment parenting twins, the twins’ 9 month update, the twins’ birth story, an update on the running diaries about setbacks (ha!) but I’m unable to finish them. So until my brain returns, here is another lazy picture post.
This month we are experimenting with different infant/child carriers. With 3 under 3 at home during the day (and with me to run errands), I am definitely short a few hands. Pushing a bulky double stroller just adds to my misery and I started carrying the twins in two baby carriers, one at the front and one at the back. We went on a countryside stroll this Father’s Day and left the stroller in the van. In this picture (above), Clara is carrying Lucas in an Ergo baby carrier, Eloise is carrying Eve in a BabyHawk Mai Tei and I have Sarah in a Boba 3G.
The Boba 3G was a loaner from a local breastfeeding and babywearing store. Go give Milkface some love: they are awesome. The carrier goes on and off easily and is the best I found for carrying a squirmy preschooler. My daughter is 35 lbs and fits in the Boba like a dream thanks to a high back, wide body and handy foot stirrups.
… but bear with me: it makes my life a lot easier. She is near me, under control, and will stay in the carrier a lot longer than the stroller. When it’s time to walk, she goes up and down easily.I thought it would also be a good workout but the excellent design and weight distribution in the Boba 3G makes it feel like a whimpy daypack…
The children love carrying their baby siblings in carriers. And I love the help!
Everyone agrees with me yet that big families and good carriers rock?
My apologies for the light blogging. A perfect storm of moving, listing our house, moving, medical appointments, moving, sick baby, sick baby, moving, sleepless nights, napless days and more moving has severely curtailed my ability to do anything but moving and holding babies.
In the last couple of weeks, the twins turned 8 months, got sick and then better. One twin is on a cocktail of 4 different drugs and things — fingers crossed — seem to be settling. And by “settling” I mean that this baby is no longer crying for 2 to 4 hours for no apparent reason in the middle of the night, twice a night, night after night. Dealing with a child with a chronic condition, albeit mild and probably recoverable, has given me a new bone-deep appreciation for parents of severely ill children. It is relentless.
Many friends and members of my family have ganged-up to give me a hand moving and looking after the children. This in turn has given me a new, bone-deep appreciation for the value of community. Some have helped me pack boxes, others have helped me prep our house for showings, others — with a medical degree — have decided that enough was enough and we shall get to the bottom of this with the babies. Some people wonder how I do it with a large family. This is how. I don’t do it, we do it. There is nothing miraculous about having a large family when you have as much support as I do. To my most awesome family and friends Cheers! (and a heartfelt thank you.) You can see how well the house shows in the gallery below. I hope to have good selling news soon!
When we listed our house, our agent asked that we leave our kitchen table in the kitchen to make it look more kitchen-y. As a result we are eating off these two very ugly 6-ft tables. You’d think I would be looking forward to selling our house so we can get on with the business of paying off our debts, living cash-flow positive and start looking for land on which to build our forever home. But really, I just want to sell so I can get my kitchen table back.
I have written several posts about my sleep struggles. Well, not technically my sleep struggles — my sleep would be awesome if I could get any — but my struggles with getting my baby boy to sleep. Or more precisely, to fall asleep and stay asleep. You can find my sleep deprived rants intelligent analysis here (in French), here and here (in French).
This is not a new issue for me. My interest — some would call it an obsession — with good sleep goes back to my oldest child. Or, more precisely, was caused by my oldest child but didn’t gel until I had my second child. See, my firstborn was sleeping 8 hours at night by 3 weeks and 12 hours by 6 weeks. Uninterrupted. And she also had long naps during the day. It’s hilarious when I think about it: this child would go down for the night at 8 pm and sleep until 8 am. Then she would go back down for her morning nap at 9 am and sleep until 11. Then she’d be down around 1 pm until 3 pm and would often have an evening nap around 5 pm for an hour or so. Then she’d be down for the night at 8 pm. This “sleep routine” was well established by her 2-month mark. What’s hilarious is that I — 22 year-old omniscient me — thought (a) this was normal, and (b) I was doing something right that other struggling parents were obviously not doing.
(As an aside I would like to add this word of warning to young parents with easy babies. I have eaten back every single critical word I ever said about other parents. Even those I said in my head. If you have easy, manageable children take this advice — especially if you are hoping to have more — offer a word of deepest gratitude to God and Shut Up. If you don’t, the aforementioned God will “bless” you with babies/children exhibiting every single trait you ever criticized in other people’s kids and you will be plagued by an ever-present urge to call them and grovel at their feet begging for forgiveness. Take it from me.)
When my second child came along a year later he was immediately different. For one, he did not like being left alone in a bassinet. When at age 3 weeks he did not sleep through the night, I wondered “What is wrong with that child?” (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha *cough* *wheeze*). By 7 months of age, he was still waking-up to nurse every hour. I was fried and I read Ferber’s Solve your Child’s Sleep Problems. We ferberizedour son and it worked, more or less, like the book said it would.
But the Ferber method was not only difficult for me as a parent, it just didn’t work with my next dreadful sleeper (in the person of my fourth child). She was nearly a year old when we started implementing the 5-10-15 method (also know as gradual extinction) and she cried, and cried, and cried, and cried…. for 10 hours a night, for a full month. Oh, she would occasionally stop for 30 minutes and rest a little. But otherwise, she cried. And we gave-up. Eventually I weaned her and she stopped waking-up to nurse. But that premature weaning weighted heavily on me. I wanted to understand why some of my children were such lousy sleepers and what I could do to help them before getting to a point of desperation where I had to let my babies cry their hearts out. I didn’t want to have to choose between nursing or sleep. I was thinking in terms of the ecosystem of the family. It didn’t make sense to me that the need for rest, comfort and sustenance in mother and baby should be mutually exclusive. Yet, in my case they were.
I read Tracy Hogg’s Secrets of the Baby Whisperer but her antiquated approach to breastfeeding turned me off and made me wonder what else in her approach might not be, let’s say, based on sound science. If you want to learn more about her E.A.Z.Y. method start by reading the Amazon.ca comments section. You will notice that the reviews split between 5 stars and 1 star: very little middle ground reviews. My warning would be that if your child does not respond well to being put on a schedule (some do, some don’t), you can ruin several months of your baby’s babyhood trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. This doesn’t make for good memories.
When my sixth child was born, I quickly noticed that she was showing the tell tale signs of being a lousy sleeper: brown hair and brown eyes (yes, this is how it goes in my family: brown eyes = lousy sleeper, blue eyes = self-soothing baby. It splits evenly between the 8 and even alternates.) Someone recommended Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Blockand by far this book has been one of the most helpful I have read. It comes with some mild words of warning, most notably that the book is infuriatingly repetitive. It could have been published as a pamphlet. Also, I would like to see some scientific evidence related to that “calming reflex” and that “fourth trimester”: because something seems to work doesn’t mean that it has to be “trademarked” into some pseudo-medical concept. Finally, I would take the claim that his method solves colic with a boulder-sized grain of salt. That being said, his time-tested method of swaddling, white noise and rythmic motions will result in a calmer, more settled infant. This book — and a few Aiden & Anais swaddling blankets — is my go-to baby shower gift. It is better read before the baby comes along. Despite what the book claims, I would set the best-before date on this method at 6 weeks meaning that after 6 weeks, it may not help you as much as it would have before. My 3 year-old was swaddled well into her 5th month and my twins at 3 months will still moro-reflex-themselves silly if left unswaddled.
All this being said, Happiest Baby on the Block says little about sleep problems and what to do when they occur past the 4th month. Someone gave me Marc Weissbluth Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Childand I bought Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Twins (essentially the same book with more emphasis on scheduled awakenings). If you want to learn more about the science of sleep and its importance, this is the book for you. In a nutshell, his approach to sleep is that “sleep begets sleep” and that a well-rested child will naturally sleep better at night and during the day. It can be a dry read if you are as severely sleep-deprived as I am but the summary at the end of each chapter is enough to get you going. While Weissbluth’s method is not a straight-up Cry-it-Out approach, it can get to that if you let it.
All these books have helped me better understand my babies’ sleep. Each book describes at length how its method will help your baby sleep better. Each book has testimonies from parents whose children used to wake-up every 10 minutes and went-on on sleep 12 hours!! In a row!! Without waking-up!! Ever again!! But none of the books has a decent troubleshooting section. For instance, Weissbluth claims that if you put your baby to bed drowsy but awake at the right time (ei, before he gets overtired and cranky) he will quietly settle into sleep. When I put my son in bed drowsy but awake after the first signs of drowsyness, he wakes right up and freaks out. Now what? That doesn’t seem to exist in Weissbluth’s method: I must have missed the signs of drowsyness and waited too long. So I try again with shorter intervals of wakefulness. Still no success. Now what? Troubleshooting may suggest that the method in question is not a slam-dunk, and this may not be on any parenting book author’s wish list. But it would be nice to understand why some kids just don’t get it.
In the end, if my experience with 8 newborns has shown me anything it’s that some babies are able to fall asleep and stay asleep unassisted and others aren’t. Among those who are unable to fall or stay asleep unassisted you will find different degrees and variations of difficulty. For instance, my son can’t fall asleep on his own during the day but has no problem at night and overnight. It is possible to turn a good sleeper into a bad one through bad sleep hygiene (for instance if baby is constantly being woken-up or unable to nap adequately) and it is possible to turn a moderately bad sleeper into a moderately good one. Really lousy sleepers from hell and colicky babies are just that and your best bet is to aim at survival. That’s why Karp and Weissbluth are my favorite books: they propose to instill a good sleep hygiene through gentle repetition of time-tested routines. But if your child does not respond to the approach by sleeping like an angel, you can still keep those routines going without loosing your mind. Not so much with Ferber’s gradual extinction or Hogg’s Pick-up/Put down.
For my twins, I have adopted my own set of sleep principles. My approach has two pillars. The first one is survival: I need well-rested happy babies and this means that they must have naps during the day. At their age, we are still looking at 3 naps a day or more if they are very short. The second pillar is enjoyment: these are my twins. Having twins is a unique life experience and I’ll be damned if I waste it in a constant struggle with my flesh and blood. I have every intention to have wonderful — if blurry — memories of my twins’ infancy: raising twins is too tiring not to make the most out of every smile.
In order to give Lucas the rest he needs during the day, I have resorted to the swing, which I used to not-so-lovingly call the neglect-o-matic. I only put Lucas in the swing for his naps. I nurse him, swaddle him and put him in the swing with white noise. He can sleep 2-3 hours like this. You may wonder, as I do, how the heck I will wean him from the swing. The truth is I have no clue. I’m trying to address this issue in steps and right now I am getting him in the habit of sleeping a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the afternoon and an hour or so in the evening. When his body is used to sleeping, I figure that being drowsy and falling asleep will come naturally and we can transition to sleep out of the swing. I’ll write a post when we get there. At night, he can usually fall asleep on his own in bed so I cultivate this ability like a delicate flower. I figure that he has the ability to fall asleep on his own and will eventually apply it to his daytime naps as well.
As far as night sleep goes, once again, the two pillars. Survival means that if Lucas needs to finish the night in bed with us, so be it. That’s what David did and our early morning cuddles are some of my fondest memories. Survival also means that I will not spend a night awake listening to my baby cry. If I’m going to be awake, it will be drowsy with a nursing child. Ève is starting to sleep through the night (from 7:30 pm until 4-5ish) so the days when I’m up every hour with one or the other will be soon over. I know that to a parent of a singleton, waking-up to nurse every 3 hour sounds like a nightmare but to a parent of twins, it sounds like a trip to paradise: I haven’t slept 3 hours in a row since mid-August (I’m writing this in January).
In conclusion, Solve your Child’s Sleep Problems and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child are the best resources in terms of understanding the science, physiology and importance of sleep to overall health. However, if you are not willing to let your child “cry it out”, just skip that part of the book. To establish gentle sleep routines and help your child sleep better — undertanding that “better” is only relative to your baseline and may mean going from no sleep to 2 hours — Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and Happiest Baby on the Block are your best bet. They are a nice complement to each other. If you have no problems letting your child cry it out, save your money and don’t buy any books: both Weissbluth and Ferber agree that no harm will come to your child from crying it out assuming they are not hungry, sick or in pain. Just close the door and walk away.
I may be getting too old for this but I’m done pretending that I don’t care about my babies.
New Year’s Day must be right around the corner judging by the high rotation of TV ads for debt consolidation and weight loss products. January must be Boxing Month for the good folks at Fitness Depot, Weight Watchers and gyms everywhere. I have been thinking of re-joining Weight Watcher for a while but I don’t want to do it in January. Smacks too much of pre-ordered failure.
(As an aside, my spell-checker is taking issue with the word “pre-order” which is leading me down a philosophical path of reflection on pre-ordering. This should be the neologism of the year, a completely made-up notion for the purpose of online marketing. Think about it. What does pre-order mean? Before ordering. What is there before ordering? Not a whole lot. You order pizza because you want pizza. The order comes before the pizza but what comes before the order? The stomach grumble? The twinkle in the eye? Ordering is by definition an initiation of something. We only started pre-ordering stuff when Amazon thought it would be a good way of preventing potential clients from walking over to their nearest bookstore once the latest Harry Potter became available. Might as well wait for UPS, it’s been pre-ordered…)
Last year, I poached a retrospective from another blog. It’s a series of questions meant to make you go back on the year just over. They are superficial — what did you do on your birthday? — rather than life-changing but it’s very entertaining a year later. It’s like The Economist’s The World in… forecast issue. It’s always a good read when it comes out but not as much as it is a year later.
As it turned out, 2011 was The Year of the Twins. I spent the first 9 months of the year pregnant and the last 3 caring for two infants. And that sums it up! Here’s one question that makes me roll on the floor laughing:
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I was committed to losing those damned “last 10 pounds” but I put on 30 instead. I wanted to start hosting dinner parties for my adult friends, without kids. Instead I had an army of friends making me frozen dinners and bringing supper to my house. I wanted to take the children swimming and skating more often. Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha! *Wheeze* . I wanted to make more time for friends and family, instead I lost touch with people I care deeply about. I have only managed to keep close to my closest friends because they don’t take no for an answer and invite themselves over. It seems like the twins have made us even more insular than we already were.
Here’s another side-stitcher:
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Army Half Marathon. Getting out of bed at 5:00 am to run before work last spring.
ROAR! Getting out of bed at 4:45 to grab the first bus, getting off downtown and running 7.5 km at the crack of dawn in frigid weather before heading to work. It was cold, it was wet… and I have wonderful memories of it! Running will ruin your brain that way… This year, I hope to go for a walk. Once.
But I wasn’t laughing anymore when I started reflecting on this one:
13. What did you get really excited about?
We had twins and that was exciting but more like a slow burn. For sure, the birth was a lifetime high. But that must be, in my opinion, one of the saddest part of being constantly exhausted and busy: I don’t get excited about anything anymore. The grind of getting anything done gets the excitement factor out of things that should have been — or used to be — exciting. Like running my boss’ re-election campaign. Nothing is exciting anymore, it’s all in degrees of “exhausting”: somewhat, mildly, very, completely…
And maybe this will be my Twin-First-Year-Totally-Manageable-New-Year-Resolution: get excited about something. Change my outlook. Stop seeing things in degrees of exhaustion and start getting excited again! (I feel like I should add some exclamation marks here)!!!!!!!!