Category Archives: Blink and you’ll miss it

The Unintended Age Gap

One of the unexpected bonuses of moving back to Canada was ending up in the same city as friends from our graduate school days. They are, like Q. and I, a couple who met while pursuing graduate degrees. They are, like Q. and I, a mixed-nationality couple (she’s Canadian, he’s Irish). Their children, like E. and P., have dual citizenship and think nothing of travelling overseas; it’s just what you do to go visit one half of your family.

We really like them.

We almost never see them, even though they live relatively close by (if anyone can be said to be “close by” in this city if you have to drive to see them).

Partly this is because of their schedules- both parents work full-time in high pressure jobs. Someone is often away on a business trip. They’re not great at returning emails.

Partly this is because they are more Q.’s friends than mine and he’s not great at organizing social engagements. I usually take care of that side of the calendar but I’ve been dropping the ball when it comes to seeing our friends for, let’s face it, close to two years now. All I tried to do in 2016 was survive and then 2017 has been equally busy (if less stressful and filled with less sorrow) with kids and work and life.

We used to do better at getting together three or four times a year but in the last few years it’s really dropped off (case in point: we’ve seen them once since P. was born, and when we sent out an email announcing her arrival they were extra surprised and excited because they hadn’t known I was pregnant).

When we do get together, we always have a great time. We value their friendship. It’s a rare thing to have that length of history with someone when you’ve moved around as much as we have.

The sticking point is our kids.

Their two boys are ten and eight.

They have extracurricular activities, interests, friends of their own.

It was easy to make the time to get together when they were little and we didn’t have any children of our own yet.

It was still relatively easy to get together when E. was a baby because their boys weren’t yet in full-time school.

It’s much harder now.

I think intentions are good on both sides, but their kids have their own lives, and our kids are too young to be interesting on their own merit.

It’s one of the hidden costs of infertility nobody like to talk about because you look ungrateful if you voice any kind of regret after you’ve been able to build your family: you end up out of sync with your friends.

I don’t want to trade my family (I hope that goes without saying).

But there is no denying that if E. had been our second child (as he could have been if we’d been able to get and stay pregnant when we first started trying), our kids would fit more easily in with theirs. The same would be true of another set of good friends (who are relatively close by but not in the same city). Their kids are ten, nine, and six, and I know they spend a lot of time with another family with three kids similar in age to theirs. That family lives in the same city we do, so it’s not a question of geographic proximity.

It makes sense that this happens, but it’s still hard.

I have lots of women I talk to when I’m dropping E. off at school, who all obviously have children the same age as E. since they’re in his grade, but, despite my best efforts, I still haven’t managed to turn any of them into actual friends. We’re stuck at friendly.

My actual friends had their children before I did.

The oldest of those children will graduate from elementary school the same year P. starts.

It’s hard to catch up.

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Filed under 21st Century Parenting Politics, Blink and you'll miss it, Friends

Road Trip

We drove back yesterday from visiting both parental households. Q. and I spent most of the drive discussing the current state of my parents (mother very stressed but long-term prospects are still good; father’s situation provokes rage and despair in equal measure). There was a lot of ranting (not all of it from me) and some serious talks about what to do next, all buried under loud music for the sake of the little pitcher with huge ears in the back.

Meanwhile, it the backseat, the drive looked a lot like this:

Five scenes from a six hour drive

Scene 1. Turia is driving. P. is asleep. E. is telling a story to himself.
E.: *unintelligible* “Don’t worry, I borrowed it from the solar system! The Earth said it would be all right.”
*muttering*
*sound effects of crashing and explosions*
E.: “And all the planets were consumed!”

Scene 2. Turia is driving. We are thirty minutes away from stopping for dinner.
P. *shrieks of laughter*
E.: “Pick up the monkey and throw it back to me, P.!”
*flurry of motion in the rear-view mirror*
E. & P. *shrieks of laughter*
Repeat scene with everything within reach in the backseat

Scene 3. Q. is driving. We are trying to get back on the highway after having to take a detour to avoid an accident right before our on-ramp.
P.: “P. Door. Car.”
E.: “How far away from home are we?”
P.: “P. Door. Car. Out.”
Turia: “One hour and forty-three minutes, according to Google, once we get back on the highway.”
P.: “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!”
E.: “I meant, how many kilometres?”
P.: “P. DOOR. CAR. OUT!!!”
Turia: “One hundred and sixty-eight.”
P.: “Mummy, Mummy, MUMMY!!”
E.: “Oh, ok. I will not start to look for the [very well-known building] yet.”
P.: “P!!! DOOR!!! CAR!!! OUT!!! MUMMY, MUMMY, MUMMY!!!”

Scene 4. We are listening to Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s Greatest Hits. Q. is driving. “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” is playing.
E.: “You know, I think there are other versions of this song where they are eating things other than chicken and dumplings.”
*song ends*
P.: *very quietly* “Choo-choo.”

Scene 5. P. is asleep again. Q. is driving.
E.: “I still feel sad when I think about P. [our cat who died in April of 2016] just like I still feel sad when I think about Grandpa I. [my stepfather, who died in August 2016].”
Turia: “It’s ok to feel sad, E. You feel sad because you loved them and you miss them. I still feel sad when I think about them too.”
E.: “Remember after Grandpa I.’s funeral and I said that maybe at night he would get out of the cemetery and go geocaching? Maybe our cat gets up at night too.”
Turia: “Do you think she’s the one who makes our floorboards creak when L. [our other cat] is asleep on our bed?”
E.: “Yes!”
Turia: “Is she a little cat ghost?”
E.: “No! She is a cat zombie! She gets down off the shelf in her box and goes all around the house.”
*long pause*
Turia: *very quietly, to Q.*  “We really need to make time to bury her and get the box off of our bookshelf.”
E.: “Brrrrraaaaiiinnnnssss!”

Happy chaos.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Choose Happiness, E.- the seventh year, P.- the second year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Winter is Coming

We had our first big freeze last night, severe enough that Q. came home early from work to make sure he could roll up the hoses and put the cover on the air conditioner.

Last night, once both kids were in bed, I thought to myself, “It would be a really good idea to go and find all the cold weather gear now.”

And then I watched an episode of House of Cards with Q. instead.

This inevitably led to me running around in a mad panic this morning when I woke up and discovered that yes, it really was -12 outside and yes, there had been a dusting of snow. Luckily I knew where all the winter gear was and E. went off to school this morning in snow pants, jacket, neck warmer, waterproof mittens, hat, and winter boots (last year’s- he says they still fit, so the ones I bought on sale in the spring are still in the box for now). When we left, P. was marching around the house in her new (to her) snow boots and looking deeply pleased with herself.

At drop off, I couldn’t help but notice three or four kids who were wearing snow pants that stopped at the tops of their boots. I’d have been right there with them except two weeks ago I had the sense to realize that E. was going to need new snow pants this year and I asked a friend for a recommendation as I hadn’t been happy with our two previous pairs. The brand she recommended happened to be on sale that weekend so I ordered E. a pair along with a hat and a balaclava, and a neck warmer for P.

I could be feeling smug about how well prepared we are for winter (we put our winter tires on the car at the end of October) except for the fact that I have over 150 bulbs I haven’t put into my front garden yet.

Luckily it’s supposed to be well above zero again by the middle of the week, so I should be able to get them planted.

Are you ready for winter?

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Daily Life, E.- the seventh year, P.- the second year

This Is Six (and a Half)

  • Adult front teeth that crowd out the baby teeth (loose but not yet lost) on either side
  • Shoes that dwarf his sister’s
  • Mittens into which my own hands can squeeze
  • Trousers with legs so impossibly long I hold them up and shake my head because they will never fit, except, they do
  • Circuit bugs and recycling creations, experiments and home-made volcanoes
  • The Titanic, tornadoes, and trains
  • Tears, shouting, and stomping, but snuggles, hugs, and kisses as well
  • Questions, endless, endless questions
  • Silence, except for the sound of pages being turned
  • Love and irritation, pride and jealousy: a big brother who loves that he is but sometimes wishes he wasn’t
  • Stories invented and told, the sound effects and exclamations a nightly soundtrack in his bedroom after his lights go out
  • Two night lights and his best stuffed companion flung over his head in sleep, to guard against the dark and the monsters which live in it
  • Paper hearts, cut out and coloured and presented to me “just because” he loves me so much
  • A head that reaches my rib cage
  • A hand that still sneaks up to hold mine when we walk
  • A heart that is kind
  • Big, but still little

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, E.- the seventh year

Hallowe’en

Mel’s most recent Microblog Monday post (which I yet again missed participating in as Mondays are devoted to prepping Tuesday’s class) was about sucking at Hallowe’en.

The title grabbed me, as I was, for once, extremely confident that I was rocking at Hallowe’en this year.

Then I read the post and discovered that for Mel, sucking at Hallowe’en meant not being super creative with her choice of costume and opting for comfort over clever. Since it hasn’t occurred to me to dress up at Hallowe’en for more than a decade, my definition of sucking has to be different from hers.

We are largely minimalists in our Hallowe’en preparations at our house, a combination of lack of time (both), lack of creative skills (me) and a lack of interest (Q., who comes from a country where Hallowe’en was a non-event in his childhood and is only now starting to get a bit of a foothold thanks to the inundation of American culture). Q. is happy for me to do whatever I want to do, but finds the entire holiday deeply strange.

I buy the candy (and secretly eat too many tiny chocolate bars) and buy the pumpkins and carve the pumpkins with E. and roast the pumpkin seeds and organize E.’s costume and take him trick-or-treating. Q. stays home and hands out candy (and secretly hides the tiny Snickers to eat later).

I suspect this is our last year where our house boasts only one (or two, if I’ve felt ambitious) inexpertly carved pumpkins, as E., at six, is now cognizant of all the decorations on the other houses. He believes firmly that we should “make our house more scary” next year. I quite like the giant webs stretched over people’s front porches, complete with equally giant spiders lurking in the corners. I’d be happy to string something like that up next year, provided I can buy a pre-made web (see above re: lack of creative skills). I think Q. would draw the line at some animatronic monstrosity.

This year was especially complicated since a) P. was now in the mix and b) I teach on Tuesday nights, so would be unable to participate in any of the evening festivities. Luckily my youngest sister was in town and was happy to come and help out.

As of Monday morning, our house had no candy and no pumpkins. Despite discovering on Monday morning that our two closest grocery stores were out of pumpkins (although there was still plenty of candy), by Monday night all was sorted, and we’d even managed to carve the pumpkin after dragging it home after school (E. picked the largest one in the flower market and we were just able to get it home by draping the bag over the handle of the stroller to take some of the weight). E., like last year, drew the design for the pumpkin and (new this year) did some of the carving himself, as well as most of the scooping.

I felt like I spent most of Monday rushing around in a blind panic, but I was still utterly confident that we were going to have an amazing Hallowe’en because E’s costume was THE BEST.

Months ago, E. decided he wanted to be the Titanic for Hallowe’en.

He never changed his mind.

I haven’t been one to make E’s costumes in the past. He was a hand-me-down monkey his first year (when he didn’t go trick-or-treating), a shark his second (I picked that costume and purchased it), a bunny his third (the first year he decided what he wanted to be- a friend made him bunny ears and a bunny tail and I dressed him in brown), a monkey (again) his fourth (because he was insisting he wasn’t going to go trick-or-treating at all and I had a (different, larger) hand-me-down costume that we stuck on him when he changed his mind (predictably) on the day itself), a red snake his fifth (I ordered a snake mask from Etsy and made a tail of sorts by stuffing paper into one leg of a pair of red tights), and a witch his sixth (I ordered a witch’s hat online, stuck him in my graduate gown from the UK and handed him the child’s broom we have in the kitchen). My approach to costumes can best be summed up as “buy it and keep it simple”.

This approach doesn’t work when your child wants to be the Titanic, especially when your child is obsessed with the Titanic and has firm ideas about how the costume has to look (“The fourth funnel was a decorative funnel, so all the funnels have to have smoke coming out of them except for the fourth and it needs to have working red and green lights to show the port and starboard sides and an iceberg dangling off the side, but just the tip of the iceberg because most of it would have been under the water”).

Between E’s vision, his auntie’s creative genius, labmonkey’s willingness to use her Amazon Prime membership to purchase a captain’s hat at short notice, Q.’s deft touch with an electric drill, our surprisingly appropriate collection of craft materials, and my determination not to disappoint my kid, over the course of a couple of weekend afternoons, we built a Titanic costume.

And I am not going to #humblebrag here: it was AMAZING.

E. brought the house down at his school’s costume parade.

On Hallowe’en night, trick-or-treating with his baby sister, the shark (reusing his old costume!), he was a sensation.

He came home with a frightening amount of candy. “People gave me extra as soon as they saw the costume!” he told me the next morning.

He was SO happy.

He’ll probably remember that night forever.

I don’t think we’ll be able to top it- we’ve peaked at age six (either that or we’ve just set a very worrying precedent when it comes to creating unusual costumes from scratch).

It was so worth it.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), E.- the seventh year, Family

Microblog Mondays: Thankful

It was Thanksgiving here north of the border a couple of weekends ago. Q. and I opted to rent a cottage for the weekend, rather than making the drive to see my parents, partly because we couldn’t face the idea of driving in holiday traffic in both directions after the abject horrors of said drive the previous year and partly because we realized that we hadn’t gone anywhere without friends or family since August 2014, when E. was three.

It felt both wrong and right to put my little nuclear family first, even though we found another weekend this fall where we could go to see my parents (E. has the Friday off from school and we’ll pull him out on the Monday as it’s not feasible to do both houses unless we have four days) and there’s the possibility that my father might be actually moved into his new house by mid-November. Gaining an extra five hours to visit (instead of sitting in traffic) and avoiding the horrors of visiting in the ICU with a toddler in tow seemed like a no-brainer, but I still felt guilty knowing that my sisters had made similar decisions and this meant that all the parents would be alone over the holidays. Our family is not in extreme crisis any longer, but it would be a lie if I said either situation was easy at the moment.

When asked if I was looking forward to the cottage, I said that I expected it would be not remotely relaxing but that it would be a nice change of scene, and (surprise, surprise) I was right.

There were some excellent moments (E. learning to kayak, discovering a tree castle on an island in the middle of the lake that E. could climb, watching the storms blow in and blow out again, E. catching tiddlers off of the dock, P. sitting up on the big outdoor benches eating her lunch) and some less than perfect ones (having both kids screaming within ten minutes of going outside because E. had fallen off a wooden swing and hurt his tailbone and the swing had then swung forward to smack P. in the head, not going hiking with our friends because the car couldn’t get back up the driveway that I had told Q. on arrival I didn’t think we should drive down, but which Q. thought would be fine, and then taking two hours to get said car up the driveway, breaking a taillight in the process). P. struggled with the slope of the ground between the cottage and the lake (read: fell down a lot), and tried to throw herself (or any toys within reach) off the dock at every opportunity.

E. had a blast.

Q. and I each managed to get in a bit of solo kayaking, and Q. even braved the lake for a (very) brief swim. I didn’t get much time to play with my camera, but I did what I could.

 

 

 

A cottage will be easier next year, when P. is older, and even easier the year after that, but I am trying not to wish away the phase of life that is my present. Two years ago we went to another cottage with friends for Thanksgiving. I had learned I was pregnant the day before we left. We didn’t yet know how it would turn out, but now, two years later, here was P., giggling and smiling and climbing into the kayak when she thought we weren’t looking.

I am so thankful.

How do you balance vacation time between your immediate family and your extended one(s)? Does anyone else find this incredibly difficult?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Choose Happiness, E.- the seventh year, Microblog Mondays, P.- the second year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Accountability- September

Today is my last day of work for September, my last day of work in my first month back from maternity leave.

What have I accomplished?

  • I have written just shy of 8,000 words of the first draft of a chapter for the edited volume which Q. and I are editing. The chapter is meant to be no more than 10,000. I will be over this in the first draft, but I am not worrying about that at this point.
  • I have entered all of my evidence into my giant spreadsheet, which means I no longer have a million post-it notes in several books, left over from the reading I was able to do in the spring. I’ve also read a few more authors and have added their evidence too. I am not finished collecting evidence, but I’m far enough along with the project that my argument is clear and it makes sense to write at the same time as I read.
  • I have read and provided feedback on some of the other chapter drafts for the edited volume (although not as many as I feel I should have, since our co-editors aren’t doing their work and the lion’s share has landed squarely on Q’s shoulders).
  • I am 25% of the way through the fall semester of my class. I have taught the second half of this class before, but the first semester is new to me, so there is a lot of prep work. I am enjoying the teaching and my anxiety about teaching has largely dissipated now that I have a connection with the students. (I am a very good teacher but I always feel sick before teaching a class, especially in the first couple of weeks. I think it’s a form of performance anxiety. I’m so introverted that even though I genuinely love teaching I have to consciously prepare myself to do it.)
  • I have managed a daily (almost) writing practice on work days. Four days a week, I sit down first thing in the morning with my laptop and write for ninety minutes (or two hours if it is going well). The morning is my most productive time by far and I have fiercely protected my writing time from teaching prep, marking, reading, email, life admin, etc. I have always been an academic writer who think and thinks and thinks and then writes and writes and writes. I wrote my dissertation by not writing for weeks or months at a time and then writing 1,000 words a day (or more) for a few weeks when it was time to produce another chapter. This wasn’t a form of procrastination- it was just how I operated. I thought about my ideas for so long that when it was time to write them up the first draft needed very little to be changed. It worked well with the dissertation, where probably 85% of the finished product is identical to what I first drafted, but it meant I hit a hard wall when it came time to think about making revisions for the book. Admittedly, with this current chapter, I have been thinking about it for months, but I can certainly see a difference in the way that I’m writing. My hope goal is that when I get the draft finished I will be able to just start tinkering with editing the book manuscript, since I will have established writing and rewriting as part of the daily routine. I love to write and hate to edit. I’m trying to change that as it’s become abundantly clear to me that I will never publish if I don’t.
  • I have found places I like to work, particularly a little room on the second floor of one of the smaller libraries of the university that is not mine (but at which I have borrowing privileges).
  • I have completed the first three weeks of the C25K running program (and started week four this morning). That is the most consistent running I have managed since I last completed the C25K program, right before our final FET in the fall of 2014. I have run three days a week every week for three weeks. That should make a habit.
  • I have read five books for fun and am well advanced on a sixth. That is the most books I have read in a month since December 2015.
  • I have mostly stayed on top of our life admin. I have figured out how to pay our nanny; booked a cottage holiday for Thanksgiving; ordered hot lunches for E. at school and signed both children up for activities (swimming lessons and an after school science class for E., music with her nanny for P.); read emails and (mostly) answered them; had my eyebrows waxed and my bangs/fringe trimmed; visited the dentist (twice in two weeks since I am someone who needs to go every three months and I hadn’t been in nine).
  • I went out for lunch with Q., the first of our monthly lunch dates that Q. packed into my tin lunch box on our tenth anniversary, even though we didn’t actually go to the restaurant he had planned as it was so unseasonably warm I insisted we find a patio. I went out for lunch on two other occasions with dear friends whom I never get to see often enough.
  • I ended my work day early once to go and sit in a cafe and drink tea and eat cake and read a book. It was so lovely I had to promise myself I would only do this once a month.

There are still things I am working on. I haven’t quite figured out the best way to use my time in the afternoons when I am tired from the writing and the reading and the deep work but it’s still too early to pack it in for the day. I haven’t solved the problem of how to get up from my desk frequently during the day, particularly since I have to bring my laptop, phone, and wallet with me wherever I go. My original plan was to walk over at lunch time from the small library to the big library, but it turns out I don’t like working in the big library all that much.

I do not feel like I am being a good mother, at least not to the standards to which I hold myself. I am not getting enough sleep because P. is up more than she should be at night and she gets so angry and sad when Q. goes in to try to settle her that it is just easier for me to go in instead and give her the cuddle and the milk that she wants. I am sure I would be better at managing this if I were home more during the day and did not feel as guilty. I am convinced she wakes up because she is missing that connection with me, but it is probably teeth or developmental or habit.

I am not as patient with E. as I would like to be, which is a constant battle made worse by the fact that I feel like I should have so much more patience for him since I now see him less. I have a lot of patience, but there are many days where it is not enough.

I do not always manage to have a real conversation with Q. rather than one about logistics and timings and schedules and house needs and kids needs. This morning I volunteered to take E. to school since I was going to be ready to go at about that time anyway, and then E. took a very long time to brush his teeth so I ended up bundling him out the door and forgot that I hadn’t said a proper goodbye to Q. or given him a kiss.

I still think Q. is doing too much of the housework, but every time I suggest an alternative he restates his position that he thinks it makes sense to just get it all done in one morning. He certainly is doing too much of the cooking, but I have to admit that the nights when I need to cook from scratch are frantic and stressful as it turns out there are very few meals you can cook from scratch with a toddler on your hip who is usually trying to nurse. My idea of “easy weeknight dinners” is not the same as Q.’s, so if he wants to do most of the prep on the weekends, I think I should just gracefully accept.

I am still not sure this is what I want, but I do like having the time and space to think about my research and I can see how difficult it would be to build momentum if I had any less time in which to do that. It’s also extremely difficult for me to rationalize taking any time for myself if I’m working less than four days a week, as I feel that if I’m not with the kids I need to be working, especially if Q. is at home with them.

I am still taking it one day at a time, but, on balance, I think this month has gone well.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Choose Happiness, Life after the PhD, My addled brain, Nursing, Sleep, Who am I really? (Career Angst), Writing