Monday, September 24, 2012

A date night in terrible haiku

Do you remember when I shared that I wrote Matty a dirty haiku for our fifth wedding anniversary? Classy, I know. Today I thought I would share our most recent date night, the first night in almost five years where Matt and I were able to sleep in a separate house from our children (they were in a whole other town!), with some very badly written haiku poetry. Note to readers: I have at least one graduate degree in religion where I focused on the traditions of Asia, including Japan. This in no way, shape, or form has given me the slightest idea how to compose a haiku. Obviously.

Ready? Consider yourself warned.

The kids were not there
Too busy eating sugar
They love their Nana

My gracious, wonderful, looney mother offered to host Alyce and Shira for a sleepover on Saturday night. Between extended breastfeeding (yes, we're still doing that) and spending so much time living in Delaware away from free childcare family, this is the first opportunity for Matt and I to have real alone time together in almost five years. Five. Years. I happily packed up the girls and drove the hour to my mum's to deliver them. After a quick visit with mum and a few errands I was back on my way to Toronto. I was running a bit late and was excited to head out for dinner with Matt, eager as we were to have the best pizza in Toronto. A little too eager, it seems, because I was pulled over for making an illegal right-hand turn about two blocks from our house.

I turned the corner
Turned out that I shouldn't have
I got a ticket

No big deal. The kind police officer, who accidentally mistook me for a man (thanks, new hair cut!), was so embarrassed that he reduced my ticket by one hundred dollars. Whatever, it was date night. Soon Matt and I were headed downtown to enjoy what we hoped would be the best pizza in Toronto. Pizza is hands-down my favourite food and something I haven't mastered at home (my hand always pokes through the middle of the dough as I'm trying to stretch and shape my pizza crust). After some excellent advice from friends, and taking into consideration that we didn't want to spend our entire date waiting in line for a table at the busiest of restaurants, we chose Terroni, a decidedly popular place where a table seemed promising if we got there before seven. We ended up with a great seat at the bar and were grinning like fools.

Long story short, the pizza stopped me in my tracks. Yes, it was that good. It was almost a perfect dinner, with the exception of a ridiculous restaurant policy that prevented my dear husband from enjoying a white pizza, his favourite, without ham. After I ordered my pizza covered with roasted eggplant, zucchini, olives, and mushrooms, Matt asked for the white pizza, no ham. Oh no, our friendly bartender informed us, the kitchen does not allow anything to be removed from the pizzas. No matter our cries, pleas, or rational arguments, our bartender would simply not budge. What's a Jewish boy to do? Order the tomato and mozzarella, it turns out. Again, annoying, but whatever, it was date night.
The waiter said no
The ham must stay on the pie
We were so confused

There is nothing more ridiculous than a couple of parents enjoying the high brought on by someone else watching the kids for a night. We love our children, love them to pieces. But Saturday night could have thrown man-eating pandas at us and we wouldn't have cared too much about anything. I could share the rest of the details with you (well, not all of them), but mostly they would read like this: we ate frozen yogurt and grinned, strolled along Queen St at night and grinned, waited for the subway and grinned, watched three episodes of Sons of Anarchy, season four, and grinned (mostly). I hope we do this again before the next five years are up.

The house was quiet
But the cats were still annoying
It was a good date

The End.

P.S. Update: It seems that I'm not the only thinking in haiku tonight. Clearly, it is the season.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fragmentation: a weekend cure

I'm sure you're familiar with this: Yesterday I found myself complaining loudly (to no one in particular) about how Shira has been waking up through the nights again, not napping or sleeping well, oh--and she had that fever the other day for fourteen hours, and then there was that time I was trying to take her temperature that day with the ear thermometer and she screamed murder, and then it finally dawned on me. Ear infection. Clearly becoming a parent doesn't automatically bless you with smarts, because it took me days to figure this out. This is how I found myself at a McDonald's eating fries and drinking chocolate milk with the girls last. Our family doctor sees urgent cases only through a walk-in clinic and this is how we ended up at the McDonald's next door, trying to kill time during the ninety-minute wait to see our doctor. We have ventured through those doors only a handful of times, but boy does it work. Not sure what Alyce is doing in that photo, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with checking to make sure Shira didn't get more chocolate milk than her.

And now Friday. It feels like a lost week between the infections and the flu and multiple visits to the doctor, but it was a full week nonetheless. I was thinking today about how busy my days feel with Shira, even now that Alyce is in school full-time. I think one of the reasons I struggle so much with time is that I radically misjudge how my days are spent, or how I think they ought to be. Do you ever do that? Before the day actually gets started I think that Alyce goes to school with Matt and then I have an enormous day in front of me, filled with space for me to use (productively or not). Of course Shira needs a nap in there, and we both need lunch, but aside from these necessities there is all this space! Is it a mental disorder that prevents me from acknowledging all of the demands on my days? It isn't only the tough, annoying, makes me want to procrastinate kind of things that I avoid acknowledging, but the good stuff, too. I think I will name the disorder Fragmented Brain Amnesia. (Do you trademark these kinds of things? Probably not, it's a terrible name. I'll be accepting suggestions below.) Fragmented Brain Amnesia manifests itself when there are many different things on my plate. I expect that anyone can suffer from this disorder, in any job, but I can only speak to my experience as a parent who works from home while also running after the children.

Here are the symptoms:
Messy hair (from the running through of hands)
Glazed eyes (from all the running through my brain)
Constant snacking (from the 349 times a day I'm in the kitchen)
High shoulders (tense from missing deadlines and/or personal goals and expectations)
Goofy grin (usually experienced in the morning when I've forgotten, again, just how busy I'll find myself)

The Causes:

What to do next:
Review short and long-term goals
Make new lists
Actually look at list (mentioned above)
Settle with "made it through the day" instead of "perfection"
Smother family in kisses
Watch some Sons of Anarchy (Season Four)
Enjoy a date night with husband while girls sleepover at their Nana's house
Have brunch with friends 
Go to a book festival

*These last six items are my therapeutic plans for the weekend. What are yours?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The holiday that never was

Did you know that it was Rosh Hashanah these last two days? I had almost forgotten! I love this time of year and had been busy making apple cake (just pretend that you're surprised I found the recipe here) and some round challah (found there, too). We shared a wonderful dinner with friends on Sunday night (Jewish holidays begin at sundown the night before), but then before we could even awake the next morning to put on our finest new year clothes I was called to a birth! It was my second birth as a doula and hands down one of the best ways to welcome the new year. After catching up on my sleep Monday evening, we were all set, once again, to try again on Tuesday for the second day of Rosh Hashanah only to discover that Matt and the girls had the stomach flu.

I like to think that we are starting the new year by getting the inevitable sickness out of the way before all the good things get started. That's what I've decided. In the meantime I remain grateful for the beginning of another year. To all of you, whether you are celebrating Rosh Hashanah or not, may it be the sweetest of years! L'Shanah Tovah, everyone!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday is the new Monday

A little after school dress-up.

In honour of last night's post about time management, and my desire to create a to-do list that is both manageable and accomplished, I offer you my day's list, in no particular order (which might be part of my problem in the first place, but I digress):

  1. Clean entire house. Just kidding. But do clean some of the house because a) the Shabbat deserves a nice clean house, b) Matt invited a guest for dinner, and c) bathrooms don't clean themselves.
  2. But seriously: vacuum carpets, clean the bathroom, and wash the kitchen floor.
  3. Give Shira a duster and encourage her to clean like the wind!
  4. Spend thirty minutes on my course website reading more of my students introductions. There aren't many obligations for my students this first week of classes, but I do expect they'll introduce themselves. It's only polite.
  5. Edit a birth story I've written for my first doula clients. I hope they'll find it useful. Have I mentioned already how amazing that was? Oh right, I did that here.
  6. Come up with, bake, and (eventually) devour a dessert for tonight's Shabbat dinner. Alyce and Shira always have something special with their Friday night dinners and today I'm going to prepare a few chocolate covered strawberries for them. But I'm still not sure what to make for the grown-ups. Maybe chocolate covered strawberries.
  7. Remember to actually prepare the strawberries instead of just talking about them here on this blog. 
And in honour of my renewed optimism, here are a few things that have inspired me this week:

She constantly reminds me that it is ok not to be perfect. Read this (and all her other words) and you'll see what I mean.

This post saved me from having my own meltdown a couple of weeks ago. It is really good to be good to other people.

Because I think it's important to sometimes write just for yourself, instead of the entire internet.

Have you answered this question yet?

What is on your list today?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Because then I start to panic

I'm really glad I captured this moment the other day. There is this magic moment, a particularly stunning convergence of events, where both of my children find a quiet spot to read. It's been happening a lot more lately, even again this morning, where I find the two of them quietly sitting next to an enormous pile of books. It's competitive reading and I strongly encourage it. Alyce is still just learning to read, recognizing words but not quite happy to try sounding things out on her own. No matter, because who needs reading when you can stare at pictures and make up your own stories? Oh my heart. And oh my I get fifteen minutes of quiet time.

The optimism I feel on Mondays tends to have run low by Thursday, and having one fewer child in the house now that school has started doesn't seem to make a difference. It's kind of my own private hell cycle. Everyone struggles with their own schedules and obligations and this one is mine. I love the potential time offers me and I envision crossed-off to-do lists, completed projects, and organized piles, but I often feel overwhelmed in the follow-through. Once I start feeling overwhelmed time feels less like potential and more like panic. Whenever I've spoken to anyone about how to improve my time management or organization I'm usually reminded that I should make lists and then cross those things off the list. Simple math, really. But I'm terrible at math! I need something else, another way of understanding time management. I need your help. I really, really do.

I expect that it would be a good idea to identify the things that stand in my way when it comes to the follow through of my well-intentioned to-do lists. Here are a few offenders: I'm terrible at estimating just how long it takes to accomplish a given task, my reaction to stress is withdrawal instead of action, and my attention span chokes under the chaos of my day, or if we are being honest (and we are, right?) it really just takes me a long time to get started. Give me two hours to work and I'll work exceedingly hard for the second hour. The first hour? Not my best side. I've never been very good at throwing myself into a task without warning. My brain prefers subtlety, a few first soft steps in the direction of work. I've accomplished many things in my life using this approach, but it I'm frustrated by the inefficiency of it all.

When I catch Alyce and Shira reading so effortlessly on their own I see potential. I see time. An opportunity. Now I just want to find a way to make use of that time, even if only for ten minutes. I'm in this strange place in life, where I have so much freedom in determining how I spend my time but so many competing obligations and goals (children, school, two jobs, cooking, home, writing, and our family). This is where I need your help: how do you carve out time in your day? If you write a list each morning, what practical things do you do to accomplish your tasks? Do you have a favourite approach/book/blog you can share with me? I'll be waiting right here, with a sharp pencil and paper.

Seriously, I'm actually waiting.

(Thank you from the bottom of my overwhelmed heart.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Welcome back, Monday!

I need to catch my breath. Could anyone else use a moment, too? I'll wait.

September is my new year (in many ways). Even before becoming a parent of a school-age child, my 456 years in school have trained my senses to know a proper new year when they meet one. I feel September all the way down to my toes, toes that ought to be sporting brand new back to school shoes. Even in the first year of my PhD I bought back to school shoes, beautiful red leather Mary Janes, in celebration of the new year. Now, of course, I have new September rituals, but the feelings are the same. There is so much potential (which I adore) in September's air, but more than that there is action. A lot of action.

I guess it has to do with the beginningness of September, but there are just so many things to be done this month. No other season begins so abruptly as fall does in September, and no other time when I rush out to accomplish so many tasks. Of course I love buying summer sandals as much as the next shoe enthusiast, and I often find myself craving the early summer harvest of asparagus and strawberries months in advance. And as much as I love winter, there isn't a single moment that defines the beginning of winter for me (Thanksgiving in Canada happens far too early to help usher in winter. It is firmly a fall holiday). No, it is September's suggestion of fall that gets me every time. Time to get moving.

Needless to say, the first week of September has been a busy one. First the girls and I joined some friends at the Toronto Zoo to mark the last day of summer vacation. Then there was the baking of the night-before-senior kindergarten macaroni and cheese along with the first-day-of-senior kindergarten chocolate chip cookies (make sure you use the really good salt). Next we welcomed a new routine of Matt walking Alyce to school while Shira and I waited for the afternoon to roll around so we could pick her up. Every morning we had to remember to pack her backpack with her lunch, snacks, and water, and then remember to walk to school an hour later to drop off the things we had forgotten. There were after schools snacks (that's where the cookies came in handy) with glasses of milk big enough for dunking. In between all of this there were dinner parties with old (for Matt) and new (for me) friends, a birthday party for another friend (perhaps the most impressive forty year old I've ever met), and a week filled with cooking, something I haven't felt like doing in a long time. I'm exhausted just writing it all down.

And now we get to get started all over again! But since I'm such a nerd for Mondays, I don't even mind at all. I've decided that since I'm not quite busy enough that I'll add a few extra posts into my rotation again. It's feels like months since I've posted regularly and I miss writing here, especially the opportunity to capture my days right now. I hope to see you back here again, too. Maybe you'll tell me what your week looks like?

On Instagram? Follow me @mostdaysiwin and let me know where I can find you!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dear Alyce

First day.

Dear Alyce,

We often write letters to people when we aren't quite sure how to say what we're feeling in person. Or, maybe when we really want to make sure that we're heard. We talk a lot, don't we? Sometimes you do most of the talking, other times it's me who can't stop going on and on. Do you like our conversations? Do you wish they were mostly about princesses and rainbows and sparkles, and less about responsibilities and manners and growing up? You might, and I'd understand that. You're four (and a half) and your primary job in life is to surround yourself with things that make you smile. On most days I want you to concern yourself with imaginary friends, fairy tales, dress-up clothes, and dancing, but sometimes I have to direct your attention to things that don't at first seem like any fun at all.

Like school.

You and I are alike in more ways than I ever could have imagined. We both adore moving our bodies to music and singing loudly in the car. And I think given the freedom to do so, you and I could spend the rest of our days wandering around the city, bouncing from bakery to bakery, delirious from all those quality carbohydrates. I think you'd choose chocolate cupcakes every time, and I would probably alternate between an airy pastry of some kind and a good baguette with some chocolate. We also both love so hard that sometimes we get all wound up in the intensity of those feelings. Because we love so much we get hurt a lot, not in the grand, dramatic kind of heartache, but by those smaller (though powerful) wounds. And don't think I haven't noticed how much time you spend worrying about other people's feelings. I could write a book on that skill, and I'll lend it to you some time, though I'd rather not. And it's funny, isn't it, how we can so immediately become wrapped up in each others feelings?

Off to school.

This happened a few mornings ago. It was your first day of senior kindergarten and your first day at a new school. Holy cow, that's big. Of course you were a junior kindergartener last year, but somehow that seems so beginner, so part-time (and to think you were only three years old)! But this year is different and no matter our preparations, it caught all of us by surprise, taking the wind out of us a bit on Tuesday morning. Now you are four (and a half) and you're ready for the big-time (or the full-time, at least). I have been so excited for you, eager to help you pick out your favourite backpack, lunch bag, and back-to-school gold sparkle shoes. Now if only you'd put them on your feet instead of carrying them around all day. (That you carry your special treasures with you at all times in bags or in your hands is one of the things about you that sneaks into my heart, never to leave.)

They are awfully nice shoes.

But Tuesday morning was a tough one. I had stayed up late the night before making you a special back to school card and planning a chocolate chip pancake breakfast. I even put the good linens on the table. I am a hopeless (hopeless!) romantic when it comes to school. No matter the rough ending of my dissertation, school has always filled me with the same kind of joy that Mondays bring me, though on a much bigger scale. I love the potential of school, of all the things you can learn and all the ways your world can change. When I was younger, though a bit older than you, I'd daydream about running away to a school for dancers, or a private school where I could wear a uniform (influenced as I was by Fame and Dead Poet's Society). When I watch you take for your first steps toward school, my heart beats a bit faster because I can already see how much you and I are alike. I can already see how you look ahead to your own transformations, even at four (and a half). You are so ready to step out into that world.

That first day I was eager, I often am, and I was unprepared for your reaction that morning. Of course it really isn't a surprise that you rejected my card and refused chocolate chip pancakes. You were hurting and scared and all the while you were watching me, aware of how you were hurting my feelings and caught between wanting to make me happy and wanting to put your foot down in the face of your big first day. I am not going to school, mama. Not even once, you declared repeatedly. Not that you said much at all. You marched around the house trying to show me how much you were hurting by trying to convince me that you didn't care about anything at all. But you did care. You were missing your old friends, worried about making news ones. I tried to be brave in the midst of all these hurt feelings, but mostly I was disappointed that you didn't like my card or my pancakes.

Of course, and it was plain to see, my hurt feelings weren't really about you turning your nose at my card, but were about that panic settling in under my skin, that realization that you were leaving. Until now you've always been mine at home, even when you spent time in that other world. No matter anything else, you're still mine, and I'll hold on as tight as I can, even when I'm not paying attention to myself. Because if I had been paying attention I would have seen that the card, the linens, the new school clothes were really about me avoiding an enormous sense of grief over my first child growing older, and happier and stronger and funnier and sillier. Yes, of course, I'm grateful that I have the blessings of a healthy family and my grief isn't over the sadness of ill health or tragic circumstances. But it is still a grieving. Watching you grow is a complicated sport. I am cheering for you, encouraging you to reach further and faster, but I also kind of just want you to stay behind with me.

No wait, I don't want you to stay behind at all, I want you to move forward. And I'll always be here if you want to fill me in on the details. Like I said, it's complicated.

All of those feelings emerged when, a few moments before it was time to leave, you found your way into the kitchen where I was nursing my own sad heart and asked me if you could have some breakfast. I asked you what you wanted, and you only replied, I want you, mama, before running into me so hard I almost lost my balance. Your emotions, like mine, had finally come to the surface and you were able to just cry for a few moments, exposed as we were. I scooped you up on my lap and we sat for a few minutes, maybe more, just hanging out with each others fears. And then that was it. We love hard, we get hurt hard, but then we just get things done, you and me. You quickly ate your pancake (the ones I had planned the night before) and we all set off for school, you, me, Shira and Papa. Somehow I just knew that I should pack your back-to-school card, and I'm glad I did. You showed it proudly to your new teacher and have barely let go of it since.

There are many good things that come out of such intensity, so please don't ever apologize for that. Do apologize to your sister, however, who four days later is still completely devastated by your departure each morning. I guess you've got it all figured out now, but Shira still feels a bit lost. Thank you for giving her such big hugs after school each day. It brings her so much joy, which helps take some of the edge off of the fact that you run to her first after school, not me.  I don't mind waiting.

She waits all day long for you to come home from school.

I'm not sure if you'll remember this, but the first thing you said to me after school on Tuesday was this: This was the best day ever. Ever.  I think our work here is done. We are quite the team, aren't we?


Sunday, September 2, 2012

But they're so little

I wanted to share with you this photo of my cousin, Joanne, and her little boy. I think it was probably taken soon after his birth because the two of them have that perfectly contented look on their faces, one that speaks of relief, delight, exhaustion, and, of course, love. And exhaustion.

The thing about this photo is that today this little boy left for college. Yes, you read that right. For college. This week, as our children begin or return to school, I want you to think just for a moment about this photo.

Our children are going to grow older.

They might throw themselves into the world, or reluctantly step into it, but no matter the path, they will grow. My Alyce begins senior kindergarten on Tuesday (along with so many little ones I have the privilege of knowing and loving) and when I look at this photo I am immediately reminded that my (sometimes loud) complaints about the perils of parenting young children are often misplaced. Yes, I'm a bit tired. Yes, I wish Alyce would wait patiently for me to answer her 5,398 questions each day. Yes, I would like to do at least one task a day uninterrupted.

But now I know the secret: it won't always be like this. I can already hear my future self lamenting over the passage of time. I am already asking Matt if he remembers when Alyce learned to sing (shortly after birth, it seems, and shows no signs of stopping) or how she used to mispronounce the word yogurt. She is already growing up. Rather than focusing on the complaining (though there will still be a few complaints, since, well, I'm a human being), I would like to think instead about how I struck gold. It doesn't get much better than my little family and I know it. Let's not waste our time with other thoughts.

Alyce is leaping and dancing through these years and I better quit bothering with complaints and just focus on catching up with her. Thanks, Joanne, for the heads up.