The Best $1.99 I Spent in January

We were out grocery shopping a few weeks ago when one child presented with a sudden – and overwhelming – need for water.

I am not in the habit of bringing drinks along for errands anymore; the kids are old enough to manage these things independently and can typically hold out until we get home.

But this time I knew we were at least an hour from wrapping up errands and I also learned said child had not had any water since the previous day (this child usually drinks a LOT of water and I do not monitor their consumption because it is so regular, but they had been at a birthday party the previous afternoon and had skipped supper because they were full…and then had a big breakfast and somehow managed to not get a drink then, either?).

I thought there might be a fountain in a nearby shopping complex, but the logistics of coordinating this pit stop were complicated. But, this was the only logical solution, right?

Water is free! Water is not something we buy! We have a water cooler full of refreshing aqua at home!

As we were standing in line to check out – with a thirsty child and a pile of groceries – I attempted to coordinate with John how to split up and go on a hunt for a water fountain.

And then, shocking even myself, I added: Or I suppose I could just buy a jug of water.

I grabbed a $1.99 4L bottle out of the nearby fridge – it was the exact same price as a 950 mL bottle, so I didn’t throw frugality to the wind entirely – and within seconds our very thirsty child was chugging water. (This is the best water I have EVER tasted was their official response).

Because of my hardwired desire to pinch pennies – and because water is something that I equate with being free – it was not my default reaction to shell out $1.99 to buy a bottle of the stuff. But I did…and it ended up being the most satisfying $2 I spent in January.

Your turn. What’s the best small purchase you’ve made lately – let’s say something under $5. Do you have a hard time spending money on “convenience” items?

Header photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Thanks + A Quick Update

Thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement on Friday. Each comment and e-mail felt like a warm hug.

We had a very long (almost 2 hours!) and thorough appointment with a wonderful gastroenterologist. Test results remain reassuring; based on some relevant markers it appears to be a virally induced response (probably his 48-hour flu bug back in November). The solution?

Time.

It could take weeks – or months – for his body to fully heal.

That said, we walked out of the appointment with a game plan (including some at-home supports aimed specifically at children with chronic abdominal pain/nausea). We’ve also been brainstorming how to best support each other as a family, and have lots of great ideas – many coming from the kids!

I’m not going to lie. Nights are still very bleak. But we’re working on those, too. As Nicole so wisely said: There will be a time after this.

Indeed there will be a time after this; in the meantime, while I’m in this time – with its worry and frustration and lack of sleep – thanks for coming alongside and offering support.

Header photo by Manuel Cosentino on Unsplash

Casual Friday + There Is No Manual

This week had some really hard moments. After relative calm for the first half of January, things started to unravel.

Last Friday night, John, Levi, my dad, and a few friends went to a local university hockey game. Everyone had a delightful time right up until the last five minutes of the game when Levi started feeling nauseous and complaining of belly pain. They rushed home and we whisked him to bed.

Unfortunately, we seem to be right back where we started with those nebulous abdominal issues that presented at the beginning of December.

We’re back to night wakings (so. many. night. wakings).

We’re back to staying home from school (at least in part over the anxiety of having a nausea attack while away from home).

That issue aside – helping another child navigate middle school is no joke.

And my period started (hopefully for the last time, but I’ve said that before!).

Oh, and first thing Sunday morning, John flew halfway across the world.

Harumph.


Monday and Tuesday were terrible. I felt sick to my stomach just waiting for the next symptom or interruption (paying attention to work tasks took Herculean efforts, partly from exhaustion and partly from anxiety).

Mostly, there was a sensation of being completely and utterly trapped. I couldn’t leave – couldn’t go on a walk to clear my head, couldn’t lock the door to the office and focus on work. At a certain point, I could/should have called my parents, but I was too tired and having to engage with anyone outside our four walls felt like more than I could handle. (Also, turns out the text I sent my mom providing an update didn’t get through, so they didn’t even know things were going down the proverbial toilet.)

I hate the sensation of having such limited control over fixing an issue.

But by golly, I sure tried. I refilled a prescription (it hadn’t eliminated Levi’s symptoms, but it had seemed to help; he had finished the one-month trial the doctor suggested a few days before his “relapse” but it came with a refill just in case, so I pulled the trigger on that). I grabbed armfuls of hardcover books off the shelf to elevate his bed by 7 inches (maybe it’s GERD). I cut out any last remnants of dairy and gluten. I warmed Magic Bags and chilled ice packs. I prepped apple slices and warmed up bowls of soup. I doled out probiotics and vitamins. I closed curtains and put on white noise. I got the shower temperature set to “just right” many, many times.

I also ugly cried in my bathroom – and at least once at the dining room table in front of the kids.

At one low point on Tuesday, I started telling myself over and over again: This will feel different tomorrow, This will feel different tomorrow, This will feel different tomorrow. Tuesday felt like rock bottom in terms of despair, Wednesday felt a bit better, parts of Thursday were back to rock bottom but, by the end of the day, I was feeling signficantly more optimistic…and here we are at Friday. Life is looking brighter even if I am dead tired.

Fortuitously, I decided to call the local children’s hospital (a multi-step process, so I can see many people electing not to bother) to see if I could get an estimated wait time for our gastroenterologist referral; because I had called in, we were offered a cancellation slot for today. Praise the Lord!!

Other things helped, too. It’s not always easy to make room (or find energy) to do activities that counterbalance the hard, but it’s almost always worth the effort. I made some comfort (but free from wheat and dairy!) foods. We lit our beloved candles. I put on makeup even though I was, essentially, housebound. Once my mom knew what was happening she sent some food and offered sympathy, love, and a listening ear. Friends checked in regularly.

I also thought – a lot – about how I never, ever realized how all-consuming and exhausting parenting can be…

things nobody told me about parentinG*

*To be fair, it wouldn’t matter if someone had told me all these things about parenting because without actually living it, I don’t think I could have comprehended how completely – for me at least – it impacts every aspect of life.

  • Parenting is a rollercoaster. I am not a fan of rollercoasters. I have only been on a handful of rollercoasters in my life (most notably the Behemoth which, until 2012, was the tallest and fastest rollercoaster in Canada); they make my stomach churn and I keep my eyes clamped shut the entire time. Much of parenting consists of gentle kiddie-ride rollercoasters. Regular ups and downs – giggling at the breakfast table over Knock Knock jokes, a tantrum at the grocery store. But sometimes the bottom drops out of the ride and you start plummeting. You look for the panic button – something to stop the freefall – but there isn’t one. Also? No one ever told me that once you hop on the rollercoaster, you can’t get off. Once you’re strapped in, you’re on this ride for LIFE. This reality can feel claustrophobic at times, especially when you’re up every night with a crying infant or, in my case, an unwell 8-year-old.
  • Control is an illusion (at best). As a parent you have to make it look – to your children and those around you – that you are in control. This is a facade. You have no control over when your toddler will vomit (frequently, usually over clean clothes without a bucket handy), or throw a tantrum (frequently, usually when there is an audience), or wake early from a nap (frequently, and always when you are most desperate for them to sleep; the one time you need them to wake early, there is a 100% chance they will be impossible to rouse).
  • Parenting is a 24/7/365 job. A few years ago, I was waiting with a group of parents to collect our kids from a summer tennis lesson when I mother I barely knew leaned in and whispered: No one told me parenting was a 24/7 job – FOREVER. Even when I’m away from the kids, I’m still parenting them.

I knew exactly how she felt. I can’t remember what I envisioned parenthood would look like pre-kids. I do remember babysitting two elementary-school children for a week while their parents were away on a trip when I was about 20; I was shocked at how utterly exhausted I felt at the end of that week. I knew that parenting was a big responsibility. What I didn’t know was how it fills every crack and crevice of your life.

Parenting has changed in the modern era and I suspect our parents spent a lot less time worrying about violin lessons and SAT scores (we don’t actually have to worry about those in Canada; phew!) and screens than we do. But my kids are never not on my mind. They might be minimized on my radar, but I live in a hypervigilant state. 365 days a year there are kids who need breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They need clean clothes. They need to see doctors and dentists. They need to get to school on time, complete their homework, and take in extra boxes of Kleenex for their classroom stash. They need new winter gear and presents at Christmas and milk for their Cheerios.

I’m not saying every interaction is exhausting – most are not – but the sheer amount of time and responsibility associated with parenting does shock me. And while I love my kids with every fiber of my being, sometimes I wish I could turn off the relentless worrying and tending and caring and loving. I get tired of putting on Band-aids and packing lunchboxes and reading bedtime stories. I know I’ll miss this when they’re gone and I don’t want to wish away time. And yet…it’s a lot.

  • There is no user manual. NGS recently asked readers what sort of user manual they’d most like available for adult life and I answered without hesitation that I wish such a thing existed for parenting. Specifically, how to parent my children. Sure there are plenty of books on child rearing, but one of our favourite jokes when Abby was an infant was to say she was the asterisk to every statement in parenting books. For example, experts assured us that babies like long car rides and jaunty walks in the stroller. She HATED these activities and would scream bloody murder for the entirety of every car and stroller ride. I wish I could have flipped to page 42 to learn that Mam brand soothers (and only Mam brand soothers) would be the solution. I wish I could turn to page 311 to get play-by-play instructions for helping a child navigate the challenges of a school bully. I wish page 106 told me how persistent I should be with reminders to clean their rooms and brush their teeth. But that user manual doesn’t exist – I have to create my own manual as I go and, most of the time, I feel like a complete fraud (I’m no parenting expert, except…I HAVE TO BE BECAUSE I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR TWO TINY HUMANS AND THEY DIDN’T POP OUT OF MY UTERUS CLUTCHING A USER MANUAL*). *Wouldn’t that have been convenient
  • Parenting involves a dizzying number of decisions. No one told me I would quite literally be making dozens of decisions before 9 am. [6:30 am] Knock, knock, knock. Can I come in? The kids aren’t supposed to knock before 7 am so should I say Yes (they might be sick), or No (if I say Yes, this sets a bad precedent for tomorrow)? [7:02 am] What’s for breakfast? (Good question, What is for breakfast). [7:18 am] What should I send for lunch? [7:43 am] Should I allow them to go to school without snowpants (and, if I don’t make them wear snowpants, should I sneak a set into the bottom of their bookbags for “just in case”)? [7:44 am] Should I make them wear their rainboots even though they’re begging to wear sneakers but the weather forecast says it’s going to rain? [7:51 am] Should I let a child wear mismatched (expensive) winter gloves to school or turn the car around and get them to put on a matched set (I don’t mind the aesthetic, but what a nuisance if they lose them because the Lost and Found at school will assume there is no match; spoiler alert: I did turn the car around and made the child in question get a matched set). Then there are bigger questions: Should I sleep train? Should I put my child on antibiotics for their inflamed ear, or wait it out a few days to see if things get better? Should I send my child to public school? Consider a language immersion program? Should I take them to see the dentist about their toothache today – and have them miss their band recital – or wait until tomorrow? What if the tooth winds up being abscessed? Should I make them eat the bell peppers they hate, or capitulate and give them carrot sticks instead? Should I let them stay up late on Friday night to watch the movie? If so, will this backfire for me Saturday morning? As a parent I’m always thinking, always advocating, always weighing pros/cons. Plus, not only do I have to do this for two tiny humans – I STILL HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF!
  • Parenting involves so much guilt. I feel like I’ve discussed this before, but I second-guess and feel guilt every single day. In little and big decisions, Guilt is my shadow. My kids have great lives but, still, the guilt plagues me. Like somehow I’m messing everything up. (Maybe some parents feel fear or stress or anger as their predominant emotion, but I suspect guilt ranks very high as the go-to emotion for mothers). I feel guilty for saying no to participating in a bedtime routine on a night I’m exhausted. I feel guilty for saying no to organizing a playdate. I feel guilty for forgetting to put money under a pillow from the Tooth Fairy (that neither child believes in, but that they reference every time they lose a tooth because they want some moolah). I feel guilty for sending my child’s reading log back empty after a week because I never carved out time to have them read to me. I feel guilty for raising my voice when I’m upset. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Is parenting supposed to feel this hard? Or am I just doing it all wrong? [This is a rhetorical question; I know I’m not doing it all wrong. I’m doing my best and my kids are blessed to have two loving, involved – wait a minute, are we too involved? not involved enough? – parents.]

Parenting is also amazing. I’ve been on enough rollercoasters to understand they defy gravity and what goes down…must also come up.


things making me smile this week

  • The kids received a set of belated Christmas gifts from a friend, including a game called Quick Pucks which they have loved!
  • Without a doubt, one of the highlights of my week was listening to Levi read me the story he is writing. The way he annunciates his words melts my heart. (Synopsis: There is an evil sorcerer living in a castle, and four brave siblings – Lilac, Jiny, Bill, and Levi – head out to save the day. Move aside Julia Donaldson.)
  • Abby came home from drama class to announce she got the lead part she was desperately hoping for (Miss Minchin in A Little Princess).
  • One evening, hair soaked from the shower, Levi slapped his cheeks and grinned (can’t remember why?!) and looked so much like Kevin McCallister from the Home Alone aftershave scene that I grabbed a mirror for him to see and we both laughed.
  • Restless and feeling sick, Levi climbed into bed with me every night this week; he didn’t say anything, but always cuddled in and felt around in the dark until he found my hand and then proceeded to hold it with that soft little hand of his. I really wish he was sleeping better, but the hand-holding is sweet.
  • Last Friday we walked through a snowstorm (school was canceled – snow day!) to see Grammie and get one of her famous homemade cookies.
  • After a tough day for one of the kids, we all sat on the bed and brainstormed solutions to a variety of tough problems. While Abby and Levi can fight like cats and dogs, when one of them is hurting emotionally – they show up for the other in remarkable ways. This family meeting lasted over an hour and I was blown away by the tenderness and very practical, insightful sibling support.
  • I’ve always loved this picture John captured of Abby looking through giant binoculars; I finally got around to printing off an engineering print (the cheapest way to create large DIY art!) and framing it (IKEA Ribba).
  • Thursday afternoon, in the middle of a major wind/rainstorm, the power went out. After wallowing in self-pity for a few minutes, I checked my e-mail and a sweet blog reader had sent a message saying my posts were “a little ray of happy” in her days. Sometimes I feel silly for investing time in a writing hobby, so feedback like this means a lot (Thanks Shannon!).
  • When the power was out, Levi and I were trying to find a quiet, relaxed activity to fill the afternoon that didn’t involve electricity. We played some Crokinole, but the big hit? A puzzle recently gifted to us by my aunt. I am not a puzzle person; I find them tedious and frustrating. But 300 large-sized pieces with lots of colour and pattern were perfect. Once Abby got home from school she joined in on the efforts. This was a great family activity.
  • I ordered our 2022 photobook. This is a huge undertaking for me each year and I am so relieved to be done. This is my biggest book – by far – and I’m not going to lie: I really disliked working on this one. It has over 1000 pictures and was very cumbersome. But it’s done and I know how much we love having these visual compilations of our family adventures. Now we just have to wait for it to arrive (Blurb has a 20% off + free shipping offer on until the end of the month!).
  • Okay, this final one actually made me weep, but it also warmed my heart. I sent Levi’s Grade 2 teacher an e-mail early this week about what was going on and never heard back. Since he wasn’t at school, I didn’t realize she was actually out for several days. When she got back and saw my note, she called me right away. Within 10 seconds of picking up the phone, I was sobbing. She was just so loving and supportive and it meant the world to me that she reached out in such a kind and compassionate way.

Onward, upward, and happy weekending.

Your turn. How was your week? If you’re a parent, what most surprised you about the realities of parenting? If you don’t have kids, what has most surprised you about adulthood? Do you like rollercoasters?

Header photo by Matt Bowden on Unsplash

A Memorable Snowy Day: Remembering Acts of Kindness

Last week I wrote how my doctor’s “compliment” about my ear canals gave me an unexpected – and disproportionate! – morale boost. It’s funny how seemingly insignificant moments (or comments) can take on extra weight and stand out for years to come. Why do some memories and words have extra sticking power?

I have been on the receiving end of many acts of kindness, yet some experiences that could be dismissed as unremarkable have left the biggest mark.

Here is the story of one of those acts of kindness!


Years ago, when Levi was still a toddler and Abby was attending preschool, John was away on an early spring work trip. We had two vehicles, but only one of them had been fully winterized. John headed off with that vehicle since his trip involved lots of highway driving. I didn’t think much of this decision until, overnight, our area was hit by a snowstorm. Waking up to a world of white, I realized there was no way I could get Abby to preschool – a route that involved several steep hills – in our car without snow tires.

I didn’t relish the thought of being stuck home with two kids in our apartment all day and decided I would simply have to get Abby to preschool the old-fashioned way. Human power.

I bundled up both kids in the relevant cold-weather gear and headed out.

The snow was deep. And heavy. Under summer conditions, getting to preschool required a 20-minute walk. Under snowy conditions, with a toddler in tow (without the option of a stroller – the snow was too deep), I figured it was likely to take me over an hour. Abby was content to tromp bravely ahead, but I knew her little legs would tire eventually and she’d need to join Levi on the sled.

While still in view of our apartment, I was a sweating, exhausted mess. Levi was so young that his gloved hands couldn’t grip the sled handles properly. I focused every ounce of my concentration and energy on moving forward through the snow, but what I really wanted to do was collapse to the ground and have a nice, long cry.

Then, miraculously: This is getting easier!

I looked behind me only to realize Levi had fallen off the sled and was sitting in a snow drift 100 feet back. No wonder my burden felt lighter.

Best case scenario we were 500 meters into our trip. Then one child (maybe both?!) started crying, and I felt completely and utterly defeated.

At that exact moment a black SUV pulled up beside us. With AWD. And snow tires. It was another parent from preschool. She had her own kids buckled up in the back, and asked if we might be interested in a ride the rest of the way.

I will never forget how wonderful it felt to settle my kids into her vehicle and drive the rest of the way to preschool. By the end of the day the sun was shining, the roads had been cleared, and Levi and I were able to use the car to collect Abby.

The feeling of overwhelming despair and exhaustion that was so quickly and completely relieved by that random act of kindness – the preschool parent seeing us struggling through the snow and stopping to help – stands out distinctly in my mind from that season of life.

I suspect she didn’t think twice about her actions and, if I asked her today, chances are high she wouldn’t even remember that morning from years ago.

But I remember. And I’m forever grateful she stopped, loaded up my kiddos and our sled, and drove us past kilometers of snow-covered sidewalks.

Your turn. Does a particular act of kindness from your past stand out in your memory? One time, in a store lineup, I commented to the kids I had forgotten my reusable bags in the trunk of the car. I was frustrated with myself – now I’d have to buy a bag – when the woman in front of us handed back an adorable reusable bag and told me she had plenty and that I could keep it. I still have this bag and every time I use it, I remember that random act of kindness.

These are not from that particular snowy day (same era) but I couldn’t resist including a few throwback pictures. When did these two get so big?

Look at all those baby teeth!!
This was 2015 – right after Levi was born – a year it snowed continually for weeks and weeks and weeks.

Header photo by Ali Inay on Unsplash

Casual Friday + “The Worst Birthday Party Ever”

The finish line is in sight, my blogging friends. This time next week NaBloPoMo 2022 will be in my rearview mirror. I love writing (and reading and commenting), but I have to say: I’m tired! Once again, a huge thanks to San for organizing this event, and congrats to my fellow participants for seeing things through to the end.

The hardest posts for me to write – without question – are these weekly Casual Friday missives. I want to pull in all the adventures (and misadventures) from our life. I love having this record of the mundane (and exciting), but it takes…a lot of time. And I hate wrangling pictures.

Anyhoo. It was another busy week, so let’s jump right in.

levi’s birthday

Shall I start with the good news, or the bad news?

Good news? I think his party guests had a phenomenal time.

Bad news? He told me, and I quote: “This was the worst birthday party ever.” (I just flipped back to my post about last year’s birthday – when we arranged a big surprise – which at the time didn’t go over too well, either.)

Sigh.

Shall we discuss?

I’d say it was 90% awesome, with a few rookie mistakes thrown in for good measure.

We rotate “big” (a number of guests up to their birthday age; so, for Levi, that was 8 guests) and “little” (max of 3 guests) parties. This was a “big” year.

For some inexplicable reason, I had the party run from 2:00-4:30 pm. I know better! How/why did I do this? Two hours would have been absolutely perfect. 2.5 hours was too much of a good thing. I literally was not paying attention when I had Abby design the invites, and poof, we ended up with 30 extra minutes – ROOKIE MISTAKE!

One – very adorable – guest happens to have a lot of excess energy. He’s sweet and well-behaved, but also LITERALLY bounces off the walls. In combination with all the stimulation of all those extra kids in our house, sugar, and being the center of attention, Levi told me at the end of the night: My favourite part of the whole party was when everyone left and it was just me and O (his best friend since preschool). For years this is exactly what we did for his party – even years he could have gone “big” – it would just be him and O hanging out.

Levi and his bestie playing Tic-Tac-Toe – two peas in a pod since they started preschool together years ago!

The actual party events went very smoothly.

We played some games:

  • Four corners. You number each corner in a room. Someone stands in the center and spins around and counts to four with their eyes closed. Still with their eyes closed, they pick a number between 1-4. Anyone standing in that numbered corner is out. You keep repeating until only one person remains.
  • Musical chairs. On oldie but a goodie. The kids seemed to really enjoy this one. Maybe it’s so old they’d never played it before?
  • Doodle paper. Inspired by the Catherine Newman house tour, I covered our dining room table in IKEA craft paper, set out some markers and let the kids have free reign. This stole the show. From drawings (including the requisite poop emojis and barfing clouds) to Tic-Tac-Toe (the biggest hit), it was a lot of fun.
Without some wall-bouncing guests, I think Levi could have stayed at the Doodle Table for hours. Look at that face <3
  • Candy hunt. This is a tradition for every birthday, big or little. We hid candy inside and outside the house and the kids all loved this (obviously). I think they could have been hunting for rusty nails and owl pellets and would have been almost as enthusiastic. There is something so primal and exciting about racing around a yard/house and trying to find hidden things.
Abby hid all the candy inside; John did the outside. I also set up Twister, but there were no takers!
  • Balloons. As per usual, I opted to skip any elaborate decorations and just blew up a few balloons and left them sitting on the floor/chairs. Fun fact: kids love to bat balloons around (adults, too)!

The cake was also a big success. One boy looked at me very seriously and pronounced: This is very good cake. I take that as high praise, indeed. Another boy had at least 3 slices, at which point we lost count. (Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone, but it was a cake mix). Levi requested a surprise rainbow cake which is high impact, but extremely easy. Just divide plain batter into a few bowls, add some food colouring, pour one colour into the bundt pan at a time. Bake. Ice. Cut. Impress small children.

Oh, hello there hidden colours! The purple looks a bit brown in this picture, but no one lodged a formal complaint.

The day of his actual birthday, John and Abby headed to the airport to get my father-in-law, so Levi and I hung out at home. I was tired and felt sad I couldn’t give him some awesome birthday experience (especially since he had just endured “The worst birthday party ever“). But his best friend popped up for an hour and they played Twister. Then we played Tic-Tac-Toe on the doodle paper.

We made boxed Macaroni and Cheese. He lit our special Danish candles for the first time in 2022. We drew together. John was in Barcelona a few weeks ago and got him an FC Barcelona hat for his birthday which he now wears constantly.

He tested his new spy glasses (part of a kit he got for his birthday; they have reflective mirrors on the side; very cool).

We played a round of the board game Sorry. He worked on a fairy tale writing project for school. The evening ended up being very nice. And I kept looking over at him and marveling at how much he’s grown.

It was bittersweet for me, but only sweet for him. Just the way it’s meant to be, I suppose?

We agreed the whole Mac n’ Cheese + candles close to Christmas reminds us of Kevin McCallister in Home Alone. Thankfully, Marv and Harry did not show up.

Home Alone Has A Secret Canadian Connection Nobody Noticed - MTL Blog

MISc

  • It snowed. I did my daily walk on Sunday in the middle of a squall. If I wasn’t walking outside daily, I’m sure I would have found some excuse to stay inside. I wouldn’t call the walk pleasant, per se, but there was a feeling of satisfaction coming home covered in snow.
Km 1 = light flurries
Km 3 = squall/white-out
  • Years ago, before Levi was born, we finalized our will. I’ll never forget how grown up I felt leaving the lawyer’s office. Last week we hired someone to come clean our windows inside and out. It was surprisingly inexpensive! I don’t plan to do it annually, but every few years – absolutely. It also felt like such an adult thing to spend money on. Window washing?! That sounds about as exciting as hearing aid batteries and incontinence underwear. Trust me, it was exciting and I can now see out the back window into our yard while I wash dishes.
  • I was out of sorts on Monday; I felt very flustered and couldn’t put my finger on why. Mid-evening I realized: I didn’t give myself a Top Five To-Do list for the day. I’m sure that wasn’t the only reason I felt a bit “off”, but it really helps me focus my day when I have a Top-Five list. And I’ve made sure to prep one every day since!
  • I sent out my Christmas photocards; I know it’s early, but I had everything ready and I wanted to officially cross it off my list. Done.
  • Join us in congratulating Eufy, who is now a big brother. Eufy Jr. entered the Frost family earlier this week; $40, in like-new condition, and he happens to be the spitting image of Eufy Sr. Eufy Jr. lives in the basement and, as I type this, Eufy Sr. is making quick work of the mulch that spilled out of Meatball’s cage.

company

My father-in-law arrived on Monday and it has been a wonderful visit! I planned a “Greatest Hits” menu.

  • Tuesday was Levi’s all-time favourite meal: Meatballs, rice, peas, and pecan pie.
  • Wednesday was a traditional Portuguese boiled cod dinner – bacalhau. Hear me out on this one. It sounds crazy, but it’s actually delicious. It’s salt cod, potato, broccoli, chickpeas, hardboiled eggs and garlic. We are mashers, so everything goes on a plate, you mash it to a pulp and then top it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I was…skeptical…when I met John, but it’s shockingly good, even if it does look like baby food on a plate.
  • Thursday was our go-to fav with company: Chicken Mango Curry + skillet cornbread.
  • Tonight will be supper out at our favourite “family” restaurant – with coupons, of course.

Once again I realize how nice it is to have people visit when the kids are in school/have their regular routine in place. There’s lots of overlap, but also a nice amount of breathing room. And it’s so nice for grandparents to be able to observe grandkids immersed in their normal routine. Just like last year, my father-in-law comes along for the walk to school, helps pick them up from the bus, and goes with us as we shuttle them to different extracurriculars. It’s a lot nicer – to me at least – than hosting company when the kids are off on vacation.

coming up

  • Christmas gift prep continues plodding along. I have been using – and loving – my Christmas spreadsheet, inspired by Sarah. I’ll post about that sometime in December.
  • I am still so behind on photo organization. This time last year I basically had our 2021 photobook ready. I don’t want to talk/think about it but, also, it’s not going away and it’s not going to get any easier if I wait. Maybe now that my photocards are done, I’ll turn my attention to the digital disaster that is a giant folder full of hundreds of pictures? [I woke up in the middle of the night and have finished 8 pages of my 2022 photobook, so there might be hope for me yet…]
  • I’ve put up a few more Christmas decorations (wreaths on both doors), but I’ll leave most other things until we get our real tree at some point the first week of December. I always seem to decorate in tiny bursts. Two or three items one day; a few days later two or three more, etc.
  • My parents arrive next Tuesday! Woot, woot.
  • The live nativity production spans three nights the end of next week. Abby has decided she wants to join me in the angel choir and I’m elated. I really wanted to do it with her, but she had no interest at first. I’m not sure what has changed her mind, but I didn’t push her on the matter and I’m just happy we’re going to do this together!

Happy weekending. If you’re doing NaBloPoMo, are you excited to be nearing the end of the month? How’s your Christmas prep going? Do you have a go-to holiday hack/tip you’re willing to share? What was your “worst birthday party ever?”

P.S. I’ve just put on my first Christmas music of the season – Ingrid Michaelson’s Songs for the Season which, in my opinion, is one of the best Christmas compilations ever. JJ Heller and Sarah McLachlan are solid options. My sentimental fav, from childhood, is The Living Strings album White Christmas. But I’m looking for more recs (as long as your suggestions do not include Last Christmas – yes, I’m looking at you, Nicole – or Mele Kalikimaka).

Header photo by Simon Harmer on Unsplash

Ask Me (Almost) Anything: Vol. 1 – Kids + Travel

First of all, thank you to everyone for submitting such thoughtful, hilarious, entertaining, ______(insert other descriptive words) questions. I have a feeling this will be a long post, so let’s jump right in:

KIDS

From Lisa: How long were you married before you had kids?

Less than two years. I was surprised to get a positive test result a few weeks before our first anniversary but it definitely made sense – I was EXHAUSTED all the time. This means I was 7 months pregnant when I defended my Master’s thesis – and my due date was 2 days after the end of a research contract – so there was not much buffer between graduate school and motherhood!

From Katie: Curious how you decided to have 2 children and what your favorite parts of having a girl and boy are?

Honestly, two kids felt like all my body and mind could handle. Before actually having children, I was convinced I would have four. This was my family structure growing up (2 sisters + 1 brother). But then I ended up with an unexpected C-section, an especially challenging second pregnancy (which also required a C-section), and was unable to nurse. Both kids had colic and reflux, and motherhood took a huge toll on me mentally and physically. Also, because I have a “thin uterine lining” and a whole lot of scar tissue, a VBAC would be out of the question; plus, because of said scar tissue, the risks associated with additional C-sections weren’t inconsequential either.

Favourite parts of having my girl: watching her grow up and become more of a friend. I love thrifting with her and sharing an interest in things like Harry Potter trivia and listening to music when we’re driving somewhere solo. (And I have to admit I 100% loved all the pretty dresses when she was little. It might sound cliché, but dressing a toddler girl was so. much. fun.)

Favorite parts of having my boy? That he’s sensitive to those around him and tends to have excellent emotional IQ. I love how dirty he gets playing outside – he’s very enthusiastic about whatever he’s doing and that shows in worn knees on all his pants and scuffed sneakers. He’s an “all in” sort of kid. I love his voice – it’s truly the sweetest – and our hushed conversations at bedtime. I also appreciate what a deep thinker he is; he can go from climbing trees to discussing huge existential topics in the span of just a few minutes.

From Suzanne: Did you always know you wanted kids? Was it always two?

Yes, I knew I wanted children and always envisioned a family of 4. This didn’t happen; see above!

Also from Suzanne: How did you choose your kids’ names?

John entered my life loving the name Abigail. I didn’t have any strong attachment to specific names (though as a teenager I thought Mackenzie for a girl was the cat’s meow). If Abby had been a boy, she would have been Elijah – Eli for short. We briefly discussed: Charlotte, Catalina, and Violet. But, really, it was Abigail all along.

Here John and I butt heads – he thinks he suggested Levi, and I’m pretty sure it was me. Either way, I firmly believe it’s the best boy name EVER. One thing I know for certain: I read a book by Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts) when I was newly pregnant with Levi. She wrote about one of her sons named Levi being involved in a farming accident; when I read that story I immediately 1) loved the name Levi and 2) “knew” something was about to happen in my life. A few days later we had our routine 20-week ultrasound and the next few months were an intense blur of appointments. We didn’t find out the gender, but I felt in the core of my being it was going to be a boy. Fun fact: because Eli had been our “boy” name for Abby, for the first few weeks after Levi was born, I kept calling him Eli.

As for middle names, those are more personal. Abby’s middle name – Isabella – is a play on her grandmother’s name. It is also a nod to her Portuguese heritage. Levi’s middle name – Indiana – comes from John’s love of the Indiana Jones movies. People assume it is related to Indiana the American state; nope – it’s because of action movies. (To put this in more context, John and I walked down the aisle at our wedding to the Imperial March -Darth Vader’s theme song. At our rehearsal, my Mom heard it for the first time and said: This is a joke, right? That’s not actually the song you’re walking out to? It was not a joke, but I did put an asterisk by the song title in our program that read: By special request of the groom.)

From Sarah: How do you strengthen your kids’ faith while they are in public school (presumably)?

Yes, both children attend public school and faith is a big part of our lives! I’m no expert – and every situation is unique – but here are a few thoughts from my experience:

We encourage our kids to ask questions. The Bible mentions talking about spiritual things when you wake up and when you go to bed and we end up doing this most days, often in the form of open discussions. We answer questions as we’re able, but also admit we don’t have it all figured out! A few years ago I read the following (paraphrased): Wrestling with God is a full-contact sport; as in, if you’re asking questions and working through things, you’re in contact with Him. I’d rather them feel secure in asking questions – even if they’re hard/unanswerable – over becoming apathetic! (To quote C.S. Lewis: Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.)

We support our kids when they engage with others. One child in particular is very open about their faith. They emerged from a day camp recently and literally the first words out of their mouth were: “Do you know So-and-So doesn’t believe in God? But we sat together at lunch, and he said it would be okay if I talked to him about God. So I did. And he shared his lunch with me.” I was gobsmacked. How did this come up in casual conversation? And how are you so confident at (insert young age) that you broached this topic over Cheetos and apple slices? About this same interaction, the child said: “He doesn’t believe in God, but he knows about Him. And everyone has to make their own choice about believing, don’t they?

We openly discuss where beliefs diverge. Specific religious beliefs of any kind are not championed in our local public school, but perhaps because we’ve been so open with our kids, they realize and are curious about those around them. For example, we discussed Ramadan one year when a friend reached the age where they were fasting during the day. We’ve talked about the difference between atheists and agnostics. We never try to pretend that everyone believes the same things. This comes up in conversations about language, too. Both kids have mentioned people using the Lord’s name in vain at school and we discuss how/why others might use these terms so differently from us. We can be sensitive to it (and not participate in it/prefer no one used this language), while realizing there are inherent differences in other people’s spiritual beliefs.

We raise our kids in light of certain truths we adhere to, but they are going to have to make their own choices. I love a point I heard once that God doesn’t have any grandchildren – as in, we each make independent decisions. My deepest desire is for my kids to have a personal relationship with Jesus because I believe in sin and His redemptive sacrifice. I think their response to this question is of infinite importance. But our kids are independent individuals and I recognize they will have to make their own faith choices. We are trying to equip them to think critically, we are offering them regular exposure to faith-centric activities and discussions, and we live out our own faith journey in front of them – the rest is between them and God.

Also from Sarah: How do you limit screen time for your kids?

Um. We kinda don’t? They have no set time limits. There is no way they “earn” screen time. There is no quota for the week. We try to naturally limit things – between extracurriculars and school, there are a lot of hours they can’t be on screens. For the most part, this approach works. Many days they watch nothing, but there have certainly been plenty of Saturdays where they watch 6+ hours. Nothing catastrophic has happened yet.

From NGS: What are your top five picture books?

You’re kidding, right? FIVE picture books. You want me to stop at FIVE? This is clearly an impossible question (I’ve got a whole post about picture books and favourite ones here). I’m going “cheat” and do this in two categories.

My top five favourite sentimental books:

Top five picture books from the last few years?:

And since you asked (wait, you didn’t ask?) here are five books my kids might list:

I feel like I’m reading an Oscar acceptance speech and the music is playing and I still have a dozen people I want to mention…

TRAVEL

From Lisa: What is the best trip you and John have taken?

Paris, 2019. Full stop. We talk about this trip constantly. It was the experience of a lifetime. Perfect weather. Amazing food. Sitting on the lawn at Trocadéro with a bottle of wine watching the sun go down and the Eiffel Tower light up is one of the best experiences of my entire life. It was my first time visiting Paris and it was everything I had hoped for and more.

Also from Lisa: What is the best trip you’ve taken with kids?

We haven’t done many “big” trips with kids (aside from 3 weeks in Denmark when Abby was a toddler). Thus both by process of elimination – and because it truly was an incredible experience – I’d have to say our trek to South Carolina last May. The weather was great; plus, my sister and her family are pure fun. Seriously. There was so much laughter on that trip. Bless.

Denmark, 2012
En route to South Carolina, 2022

From San: If you could move anywhere (for a while), where would you want to live?

Somewhere warm. Not hot, just temperate. In an ideal world, I’d leave Canada from December 26th to May 1st.

If it was for year-round living, somewhere in Scandinavia.

From Tobia: What is the furthest you traveled from home?

Sydney, Australia – literally the other side of the world. While it wasn’t as memorable as Paris, it was another great trip. And it changed the trajectory of our lives as an impromptu meeting while there launched John on a new career path.

With Abby’s “Chickie” in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Fun fact: I wasn’t on an airplane until my last year of university. My parents didn’t have much money when I was growing up, and aside from a few road trips down to South Carolina, I basically never left a 4-5 hour radius of my childhood home until I was almost 20.


Okay – that wraps up the first round of questions. I’ll be back tomorrow with Vol. 2 which is a more eclectic mix (favourite fruit! minimalism! how I’d use three wishes! irrational fears! desert island foods!).

Also, if you have more Ask Me (Almost) Anything questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, or via my nifty Google form.

Your turn. What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken? The furthest you’ve traveled from home? If you have children, how did you settle on names – and was it a consensus or compromise?

When My Kids Are Sick, I Act Like The Mother I Thought I’d Always Be

On my very first date with now-husband John, I leaned across the table and confidently proclaimed that what I really wanted to do with my life was to be a stay-at-home mother. I didn’t want a career. I didn’t want to pursue more education.

I also told him I wanted four children.

Oh, honey. You sweet, young thing.

I have been a stay-at-home mother (sort of). I have had a career (sort of). I did pursue more education.

I most definitely have not had four children.

But I think what I didn’t whisper on that date, but what I felt with every ounce of my being was: I’m going to be such an amazing mom.

Because before I became a mother I thought…actually, I don’t know what I thought? Motherhood was this broad vision for my future; in reality, I was a kid (23!) having a kid. What did I know?

Just a few weeks ago I practically wailed to a friend: If I could just rewind time – armed with what I know now – I’d have been a much better parent.

But life doesn’t work like that. There is no rewind button. I’ve done the best I could with what I knew and understood at the time, and my methods continue to evolve, hopefully for the better. Deep down, I just have to pray the kids are patient with me – and me with them – and that when they look back on their childhood they believe I really did try my best.

I’m not as patient or as fun as I thought I would be. I spend more time with my head buried in a device than I could have anticipated (considering smartphones weren’t a “thing” when I first became a mother. Imagine! All those newborn photos were taken with a little point-and-shoot camera whose sole purpose was to capture pictures, not to manage phone calls or digital calendars or playlists).

But, sometimes, I get glimpses of what I thought I would be like as a mother, and these almost always emerge when my children are sick.


Weeks ago, one of the kids was sick. Like, sick, sick. If you’re a parent you know there are distinct degrees of sickness.

The worst sick – for me – is when the kids are sick enough they need to stay isolated at home, but are not sick enough to rest in their beds. This sick is a form of parental purgatory. They want attention and I know the situation warrants it, but they have so much energy and enthusiasm I spend most of the time doubting whether they are actually sick after all. Without at least a little bit of vomit or a hint of fever, well, my inner Florence Nightengale finds it hard to make an appearance.

But then there is real sick. It’s sad and I immediately wish it away. But, there is beauty in this sick, too. I spend nights beside them on their bed, rubbing backs and running to the bathroom at 2 am to re-wet a cloth for their forehead. My fingers can find the right buttons on the thermometer in the dark; I’m constantly poking my head into the room to offer little dishes of dry Cheerios. I heat up Magic Bags or dig ice packs from the freezer, depending on the ailment. Do they want heat and cold? Sure thing. Mom is on it.

Real Sick Mom is patient and kind and attentive. I close their doors softly and stroke foreheads and they lay there and receive it all with a weak appreciation that melts my heart.

And in those moments I think: This is how I thought it would be all the time. This endless patience, soft voices, quiet afternoons of rest in bed.

It’s not. And Praise the Lord. I am so grateful that, generally, my kids are healthy and vibrant and fever-free. In healthy moments I can send them to the kitchen to heat their own Magic Bags or locate their own ice packs. But I’m also grateful for those moments of connection in sickness. I hope they remember these experiences – not the vomit or the fevers or the rashes – but a soft hand rubbing their back in the night.

We can’t control how our kids recall their childhood; I hope they’re gracious and round out any of the hard edges. And maybe, someday, they’ll be tossing and turning all night beside their own feverish offspring and whisper: You know, little buddy, when I was little, Grandma used to sleep beside me when I was sick too! It always made me feel better. Would you like to hear a few stories about that while you try to fall asleep?

Header photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash


Your turn. Do you remember being sick as a child? Are any aspects of those memories pleasant with regard to how your parents related with/tended to you? If you’re currently raising kiddos – share your best suggestions for helping little ones cope with illnesses without losing your own mind!

Director’s Copy: Independence Scripts

Scene One: A family is driving through their small town. A mother is at the wheel, her daughter is sitting in the front seat; her son is in the back. As the mother approaches a stop sign she turns to her daughter.

Mother: Do you think you could walk to choir from here? It’s not very far, and it would make it so much easier for me to get home.

Daughter: [Shrugs] Sure. Bye, Mom. [She exits the vehicle, and confidently crosses the street. She raises her hand to wave goodbye, and then walks down the hill without looking back.]


Scene Two: The same mother, daughter, and vehicle. They’re heading to a thrift store. The mother puts on a Spotify playlist through the car’s Bluetooth speaker.

Daughter: What’s the name of this song?

Mother: Joy by Andy Grammer. Do you like it?

Daughter: Yes. [She’s in the front seat, so she can access all the media controls – she turns up the volume.]

A few minutes later, a different song.

Daughter: What’s the name of this song?

Mother: Love Broke Thru by TobyMac. Do you like it?

Daughter: Yes.

[She rummages through the center console to find a pad of paper and pen. She proceeds to write down the name of almost every song on her mother’s Spotify playlist.]


Scene Three: At the thrift store.

Daughter: What do you think of these shoes?

[The mother looks down at the glitter shoes with a tiny – but perceptible – wedge heel on her daughter’s feet, not sure how to respond.]


Scene Four: The mother is trying on clothes; the daughter is sitting outside the change room on a wooden chair.

Mother [under her breath]: What I really want to find is some new-to-me shoes.

[Seconds later, several pairs of shoes slide under the curtain.]

Daughter: I found some in your size. What do you think?


Scene Five: The mother and daughter are back in their car, on the way home from the thrift store.

Daughter: I really need to use the washroom.

Mother: Hmmm. Do you think you can make it home?

Daughter: Yeah, I can.

Mother: Actually, let’s just stop at the gas station by the traffic lights. Can you run in by yourself while I find a parking spot? I’ll be waiting right outside when you’re done. Do you think you can find the bathroom okay?

Daughter: Yup.

[A few minutes later the daughter emerges. She proceeds to buckle herself in – of course she buckles herself because, one day (a day the mother can’t recall specifically), this daughter stopped needing a 5-point-harness or a booster seat.]

Daughter [Picks up her notepad and continues to work on her playlist]: Don’t worry, I washed my hands.

Mother: Great!

Daughter: Can you put that Joy song back on, please?


Scene Six: At the family home. The son opens the entryway door. He has walked home from supper at a friend’s house.

Mother: Hi, honey! How was supper?

Son [Taking off his shoes and lining them up somewhat neatly]: Oh, it was good. I’m hungry.

Mother: Didn’t you have enough to eat?

Son: I had a huge bowl of lentil soup. It was good.

Mother: And you’re still hungry?

Son: Mom, I’m always hungry.

Mother [Quiet sigh]: Okay. What would you like to eat?

Son: I think I’d like some scrambled eggs.

[He walks to the fridge, opens it, and locates an egg carton. While the mother puts the pan on low heat and adds a dollop of butter, the son opens a cupboard door to get the folding stool. He sets the stool up in front of the stove. He cracks two eggs, puts the empty shells back into the egg carton neatly and then slowly scrambles both eggs in the pan.]

Son [Several minutes later]: There. Perfect.

[He gets off his stool and rummages in a different cupboard for some tortilla wraps. He hops onto the counter to get a plate, locates a bag of shredded cheese in the refrigerator and sprinkles cheese very deliberately over the tortilla, making sure there is even coverage. He walks to the microwave, heats the tortilla until the cheese is melted, adds a healthy portion of eggs, squirts on a line of ketchup, folds up his wrap and carries his plate to the dining room table.]

[They both sit at the table, the mother and her son.]

Son [Between bites]: Wow. This is really good. [The mother and son talk until he finishes his wrap.] I’m going to go make another one.

[The son repeats the process, solo, while the mother sits at their dining room table and watches her son maneuver around the kitchen. The bittersweet reality of the moment is palpable. After the son finishes his second wrap he loads his dirty plate (the mother has to remind him to do this) into the dishwasher and goes to his bedroom to put on two-piece dinosaur pajamas.]


To Be Continued…


Your turn. Do you have vivid memories of major independence milestones from your childhood? If you have kids, how does independence factor into your parenting experience these days – are 5-point harnesses a distant memory or a current reality?

Header photo by Abdul Azeez Garbadeen on Unsplash