Monday, December 8, 2014

The early riser(s)

About a million years ago (or like 5-6 years ago), I used to get up really early so I could have an hour or two to work on my novel before working my "day job."

I thought I was being mega-disciplined and it felt hard to get up that early. But in retrospect, it was easy. Darling Husband slept through anything. The dog slept through everything. There was no one to worry about waking, and no really obligations once I stopped writing and started getting ready for work.

I used to get so much done during those early-morning sessions, and I've been missing them over the last half-decade (yikes, that sounds too long -- let's stick with "five years").

The internet is full of stories of how moms should get up an hour earlier than their kids so they can have time for a cup of coffee/tea, to enjoy the quiet, plan out their day, etc.

I love that idea, but when you have kids who are (A) early risers, and (B) incredibly light sleepers, it just doesn't go down this way.

Photo credit

My oldest, D (exactly four-and-a-half, as of the other day) has always been both. No matter what time he falls asleep at night, he's up at exactly the same time -- cheerful and rested -- as if he's been programmed by a clock-maker. He's also a super-light sleeper, so if I ever *happened* to try to sneak up before him, he hears me and wakes up, too (sometimes cranky, because it's before his internally-scheduled wake-up time).

My baby girl, C (two-and-a-half) is not an early riser. She loves to sleep in, just like her dad. However, she *is* a light sleeper. There are plenty of mornings where she would sleep in for an extra hour, but she's woken up by D running to pee or loudly playing with trains in his bedroom. Nine times out of 10, she doesn't wake up "naturally" and therefore wakes up like a cranky-but-cute bear cub.

This morning, though -- wow, took me a long time to get to my point? -- was different.

I have no idea why the kids were extra-tired this morning, but my alarm went off at 7 a.m. and the house was quiet. Darling Husband had been up and out at 5 a.m. for a shift, and the kids were still asleep.

I tiptoed around getting dressed, washing my face, and brushing my teeth -- which ordinarily wakes D up immediately, no matter how quietly I'm creeping. But ... nothing.

When my bare feet hit the stairs, I knew it would wake him up because the stairs creak. Still nothing.

I actually made it downstairs, made a pot of tea, did my makeup, and THEY WERE STILL ASLEEP. It was exactly as relaxing as all of those mom-bloggers promised!

I ended up having to *wake* both of the kids before my friend came by to drop off her son (we drive him to preschool a few days a week). It was crazy. Why can't this ever happen on the weekend?!

I know today was a one-off, and tomorrow D will be up bright and early again -- blinking at me in the darkness and asking if it's morning yet. But this morning was nice while it lasted.

It's made me even more determined to get a Chromebook in the Boxing Day sales so I can quietly do some writing (in bed!) and not risk waking up my light sleepers.

Book, I'll publish you yet. Somehow.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Surviving the pre-Christmas chaos

We're only five days into December, and my sanity is already slipping.

I'm tired of seeing posts about how we should just "say no" to all of the Christmas chaos, in order to enjoy the month and not collapse into a weeping ball of stress and tinsel.

Because it's not that easy.

You can't say no to Christmas concerts. You can't say no to buying gifts. You can't say no to wrapping the aforementioned gifts. You can't stop putting together gifts for your neighbours when you do it every single year, because then they'll be all "Hey, what's up? Did we spit on your lawn or something?"

You probably *could* say no to making cookies, but who wants to say no to that?

Photo source
Some people are saying no to writing and mailing a zillion Christmas cards (I totally wanted to say no to that), but I think of it as the only communication I have with some people over the year (family friends, relatives across the country/in other countries) so I stick with it.

This is the time of year when none of us really have it together, even if people think we do.

We have had company for the last six nights, and do you know what I have been looking forward to -- a lot -- since last week? Spending tonight on the couch with my husband, watching Homeland, and eating sour cream and onion chips. Seriously. I. CAN'T. WAIT.

You would *think* my December wouldn't be as nutty, since I did all of my gift-shopping in October and November (ow! stop looking at me all pointy-like), but it doesn't feel that way.

(My closet looks like a bomb went off. Shopping bags and shipping boxes are everywhere, and gifts are half-buried in mountains of clean (dirty? ...) clothes. My closet won't be decent until gifts are wrapped and clothes are picked up, but I can't seem to figure out which to do first ... so I've done neither.)

Yes, my Christmas tree is up, the outside lights are up, and we've checked the Santa visit off, but now my mind is running through all of the other "special" and "magical" holiday traditions that need to come next.

Annual sugar cookie-baking and decorating (lot of work + lot of mess). Annual hand-print decoration making to see how the kids' hand-prints have grown (lot of mess). Annual viewing of Christmas specials X, Y, and Z. Buying a toy for one of those kids-in-need trees, which I CAN'T EVEN FIND THIS YEAR. Gift tree, what gives?!

The thing is, real life doesn't slow down -- or get easier -- just because Christmas obligations are piling up. I have two weeks left to cram in four weeks' worth of work. Darling Husband and I are working opposite schedules, as always, and I'm starting to forget what the guy looks like. Clients aren't paying me. The weather is frigid but not at all snowy, so it's hard to feel in the spirit.

I think the trick isn't saying no to a bunch of things in an attempt to make the Christmas rush easier. I think the trick is acknowledging that December is INSANELY BUSY for EVERYONE, and trying to find tiny pockets of time to relax a little.

Throw yourself into December -- the parties, the baking, and yes, the once-a-year obligations -- but don't forget to scheduled the odd "free" evening with the potato chip of your choice. You will need it.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Magnetic letters that aren't hideous

You've seen those fridges. THOSE fridges -- the ones that are covered with horrible little plastic letters and artwork. I'm sorry, but I like artwork (even kiddie artwork) on my walls, and nothing on my fridge. I'm kind of a hard-ass that way.

I've been getting some great reader emails about this weekend's "My Handmade Home" column (which runs in the Chronicle Herald, if you're local). 

Inspired by Roo Ciambriello's post on non-obnoxious alphabet magnets (over on Semi Proper), I decided to put something together for the kids. Our fridge is decidedly un-magnetic, so I had to make a special board for the magnets, too.

It was a really easy project, but the kids were thrilled with how it turned out.

These remind me of chocolate, but I have no idea why. They're gold!

Check out the full column to see how my magnetic letter board turned out!


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Brats without bribes? Nah, more like bribes without brats

I was worried about the latest instalment of my parenting column, The Mom Scene, because I know parents can get really uppitty about bribing -- rewards, incentives, whatever you want to call it.

I didn't want people to think my kids were little brats who only behaved with the promise of a sucker. That's just not the case. I'm one of the most strict parents I know. My kids are damn well-behaved!

Before publishing it, several friends told me they really disagreed with bribery, so I wondered if I was totaaaaally off-base.

So far, though, I've only heard from parents who totally get it. They're just like me, doing what they need to do to get through the errands unscathed.

My mom was an expect briber when we were kids — dangling exactly the right reward in front of us when it was time to buck up for vaccinations, or if she needed us to behave for a babysitter we didn’t like.
I don’t consider it any different from offering M&Ms during the potty-training process: it’s about encouraging good behaviour until it become a habit.
But if you say, out loud in 2014, that you have no problem bribing your kids? Hoo boy! I’ve had friends whisper that they bribed their kids in order to leave a store without a fuss, and they say it like they’re the worst parent in the world. When did bribing become so shameful?

Read the full column over here at the brand-new I'd love to have you!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Teaching an old couch potato new tricks

I was in a really bad mood yesterday.

There was no particular reason for it, really. I just felt like the whirlwind weekend (overnight trip + kiddie birthday party + lots of driving) had left me exhausted. I was craving alone time. I was swamped with work projects. I had to rush through errands in between preschool drop-off and Mommy & Me gymnastics. The kids were cranky. Darling Husband was sleeping all day after an overnight shift.

The perfect storm for Extreme Crankiness, really. It could have been a carbon copy of any shitty Monday from the last year or two, except for one key difference ...

All day, I was looking forward to my 5:30 Zumba class.

I changed into my exercise clothes hours before I had to leave, because just wearing them -- just KNOWING that the class was coming up -- was enough to improve my mood. As I plowed through my afternoon workload, I kept checking the clock to make sure I stopped in enough time.

I ran out the door at 5:10, zoomed to my class, and spent a few minutes chatting with the other women while we laced up our sneakers. (If you're a local, I go to Zumba with Heidi B, because she's the absolute best).

No kids. No dishes to wash. No clients (I keep my phone in my bag, and refuse to look at it for 60 minutes, which is basically a big deal in my self-employed world).

At 5:30 sharp, the lights went down, the music started pumping, and I fell into my Zumba trance. I couldn't think about work or the kids, because I was so focused on the instructor's every move. That's exactly the way I like it.

Actual video I shot of my class a few weeks ago

Dancing -- or anything involving coordination -- doesn't come naturally to me, which is why I love the ability to do nothing but copy someone else. When her arms go up, mine go up. When she kicks forward, I kick forward. No thinking required, just mimicking.

At the end of the hour, I'm sweaty and loose. I feel so much better than I did earlier in the day. I've always heard people talk about exercise being good for stress, or being something they "can't live without," and I used to roll my eyes. I honestly felt like it didn't apply to me, because, hey, I wasn't an exercise person. I was a sitting-and-read-a-book-is-relaxing person.

I mean, I tried running (on a few different occasions) and that didn't really work. But it turns out, wow, they were onto something?

Because lately I have been going to these hour-long classes three times a week without fail, and I feel like I *need* them. These classes have become a permanent part of my schedule -- in bold letters in my beloved Google Calendar matrix -- and I feel like I'm managing my stress better because of them.

I woudn't say I've turned into an exercise fanatic, but I'm definitely a couch potato who has seen the light. Regular exercise is for us squishy types, too, even though I wouldn't have believed it myself a year or two ago.

Now is it Wednesday yet? Because all this talk about Zumba has me itching for another class.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Get the Behavior You Want ... Without Being the Parent You Hate! {Book review}

I don't read a lot of parenting books. In fact, I think I've maybe read less than five -- unless you count Rebecca Eckler's Wiped and Toddlers Gone Wild, which I totally do.

This sounds kind of ridiculous, considering I write a parenting blog (hi), I write a parenting column for six newspapers, and I used to write a parenting column in a magazine. (Does reading your own stuff count? No. Probably not.)

I dutifully read pregnancy and infant-care books when I was pregnant with D, back in the day, because I was determined to READ! LEARN! Totally MASTER this parenting thing from the get-go!

And then ... of course ... I had the baby and lost basically all of my reading time. Most of my parenting knowledge was suddenly coming from blogs instead of books.

Check it out here

Get the Behavior You Want ... Without Being the Parent You Hate! is like a fun parenting blog, in paper booky-form. Unlike a lot of parenting books that require you to sit down and pore over each chapter like you're studying for a test (hint: no one will get an A+), this book is full of quick notes and bullet points, broken down by age.

Parents with an eight-year-old and a 10-year-old don't want to read about toddler tantrums, and parents of one-year-old twins don't give a hoot that nine-year-olds are craving independence. We all just want some tips and advice about the exact stage of our own kid(s), right?

The table of contents makes it easy to quickly skip ahead to your Problem Du Jour, whether it's fighting or homework or whining or mealtimes. Everything is broken down into quick, manageable sections -- with fun names like "I'm Boooooooooooooreeeeed!" and "Forms: Don't Fill 'Em Out."

I remember thinking, when D was a baby, that I wish I'd made cheat-sheets back when I was "studying" to be a parent. Little highlighted index cards that I could refer back to, when I was stumped about why he wasn't napping, or how I could keep him off window-ledges and counters teetering stacks of storage bins.

Well, I've found my cheat-sheets, four years later.

Thanks, Dr. G!

Dr. G provided me with a review copy of Get the Behavior You Want ... Without Being the Parent You Hate! All opinions (and water bottles in the background of photos) are my own.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Canadian who hates to drive in snow

Snow is beautiful to look at. I get excited about the first few snowfalls, like everyone else.

When it's softly falling outside my window, it makes me want to put on a fire and light my (fake) candles and drink hot chocolate because snowwwwwwwwwww! *twirls around romantically in a long woolen scarf*

Of course, then I realize (A) I will have to drive it in, which makes me panicky, or (B) Darling Husband will have to drive in it, and I will worry myself sick.

Yes, I'm the lifelong Canadian who fears driving in snow.

I have never been a good snow-driver. In university, I spent two years tearfully navigating my tiny car 45 minutes (or three hours, depending on snow traffic) into Halifax to get to my classes.

I was so happy to live in Halifax for my final two years (in an apartment with Darling Boyfriend), because I could take the bus to university and not worry about driving in snow.

When we got married and bought our condo in Bedford, I mostly either took the bus (good ol' #80 or #82) to work, or Darling Husband drove me (score!).

(Sidebar: Remember when I took the bus in snowpants when I was pregnant? I was clearly THE COOLEST.)

We were DINKS (double income, no kids) and had a Jeep at all times. Jeeps have four-wheel drive and are total monsters in snow, so I actually became SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT driving in bad weather. Other vehicles would be skidding off the road, and I'd be plowing ahead gleefully in my Jeep, like I can get through anythinggggggg!

It was short-lived, though, because then we had Baby D, I stopped working full-time, we were totally poor, and traded our heroic Jeep for a crappy sensible car. POOF! My fears of driving in snow were back, with a vengeance, because now I also had a baby in the car with me.

Then, of course, we moved to the country, had Baby C, became even poorer, traded our sensible car for a minivan (also not great in snow), and then I suddenly had TWO kids to drive around in the snow. Plus, since we weren't in the city anymore, the conditions were usually even worse.

Yesterday morning, it was snowing hard when it was time to leave for preschool. I got three kids into snow gear (my two, plus my good friend's son), dragged them out to the van, buckled them in, and spent 10 minutes brushing off snow/scraping ice. I backed out of the driveway, spun around, and probably pulled back into the driveway.

Eff preschool! I thought, as I dragged the kids back inside and removed their snowgear. It's not worth it!

Then, of course, the snow let up and I felt like a total wimp for not taking them. Darling Husband got home from work half an hour later, and ended up driving them in. (In my defence, he said the roads were sh-t and that I "never would have made it." So I stand by my decision)

It's only mid-November, guys.

We will have snow until April.

It's supposed to be an extra-hard winter.