If Nova Scotia was a team sport, Peggy’s Cove would be the kid that always gets picked first. You know, the athletic one that so effortlessly pulls off a swagger.
If Nova Scotia were a postcard, Peggy’s Cove would be the picture. Actually, it kinda already is. Pick up any promotional magazine, browse a local tourism website – or go buy a provincial postcard – and chances are good you’ll come face-to-face with Peggy’s Cove. It’s our Taj Mahal, Sydney Opera House, Eiffel Tower, and Empire State Building. Nova Scotia’s darling, Peggy’s Cove has popular charm in spades.
As a family, we’re big on adventure. In particular, we like finding hidden gems; places off the beaten path – spots that require us to follow grassy trails through the woods to reach a derelict lighthouse or chartering a boat to reach an off-shore island. While touristy destinations are all well and good, we like to champion the unsung heroes of our province. But Peggy’s Cove is one giant exception.
Of all the locations we’ve adventured as a family, Peggy’s Cove is hands-down the kids favourite destination. Local friends admitted that several of their (fully grown) children had never even beento Peggy’s Cove. We went three times in 2020, including Christmas Day. To say we’re obsessed might be underselling things a bit.
Our devotion to those giant rock formations and that iconic lighthouse is unwavering. We visit with friends, we visit with family, and sometimes we just hop in the car on a random Friday evening to chase a sunset. We’ve been there in shorts and a T-shirt, and we’ve explored in winter coats. Sun, rain, and fog, we’ve seen it all.
Built in 1915, the current lighthouse is one of the most photographed locations in all of Canada. For good reason. She’s a beauty. But the winner for our family: those long, sloping rocks – nature’s jungle gym and the climbing wall of every child’s dreams.
Each trip I have to temporarily suspend anxiety. There are rules: no going on (or near) the black rocks. Notoriously slippery, and indicative that pounding surf reaches that area, people are washed out to sea here every year, sadly. I watch and follow the kids like they’re on invisible leashes, but I can tell they feel free. From the time they were toddlers our motto has always been “Pick a path.” Here, more than anywhere, the kids have learned to be intentional about their choices. Taking risks, assessing safety, pushing their bodies, and factoring all that information into making the way forward.
Senses go into overdrive: crashing surf, the smell of sea air, a happy assault of colours, the rush of wind.
Cheers, Peggy’s Cove; until we meet again. I have a feeling it won’t be long.
A few years ago, with tears literally dripping onto my keyboard, I made a list titled: “Good Things I’ve Done.” A pretty lame title, I’ll admit, but it was the best I could muster. My desperate attempts at a self-esteem boost were precipitated by a less-than-stellar parenting performance. Let’s rewind…
I was flying solo, again, while my businessman-husband hopscotched the globe (clearly pre-COVID). This particular day we had made it to a park, gone on a family walk, and even arrived at Sunday School on time (and in reasonably clean attire). But at supper, when my son’s toy lightsaber caught my daughter’s arm and her bowl of chili made a perfect arc to the floor, I ended up on the couch in the fetal position. Kidney beans and tomato sauce sent me to my knees and kept me there – literally and figuratively.
I want parenting – motherhood – to look and feel effortless. I want my children to see a mother in control – poised, unflappable. Not in a staged, artificially perfect way, but a quiet confidence that says: I’ve got this. But oh how often I feel like I don’t “have this.”
One year on Mother’s Day I read an article by a prominent speaker who spoke of how he could never remember seeing his mother flustered. She was cheerful, kept a spotless house, always seemed happy. Oh, and did I mention her husband traveled all the time too? Oy-yoy-yoy. I can only hope he writes with selective memory. Note to self: this is not the type of article I should be reading on Mother’s Day (see pictures below for further reference).
Maybe this only happens to me but have you ever been reading a parenting book, thought about your many (many, many, many) weaknesses as a parent, and then come across a line that says something to the effect: if you’re reading this book, chances are you’re already a good parent? It reminds me of an extra help class my Organic Chemistry professor offered when I was in university.
Organic Chemistry is a notoriously difficult subject. It’s hard for me to believe now but, back in the day, I knew all the stages of glycolysis. I could sit in an uncomfortable plastic chair in a crowded gymnasium with 500 other students, read the final exam command to demonstrate the stages of the citric acid cycle and start drawing the mechanism: acetyl CoA (two carbon molecule) joins with oxaloacetate (4 carbon molecule) to form citrate (6 carbon molecule). Next citrate is converted to isocitrate which is oxidized to alpha-ketoglutarate, releasing carbon dioxide. You get the drift; and, yes, I Googled it this time.
But before Google was a verb and when I had to learn it myself, I made sure to arrive early to get a prime seat (front row, naturally) at the help session. I needn’t have worried – there was only one other person in attendance. I was struggling tremendously with the material despite being a strong student. Alarm bells started clanging and within seconds I’d convinced myself everyone else understood the material. My mental spiral began; before the professor had even arrived I was already packing my bags for home – failure was, surely, imminent. That evening my professor told me something I’ve never forgotten. She said, “The reason you two are the only ones here is because you’re the only two who understand the material enough to ask questions.” I’m not sure that was completely accurate – perhaps a class full of 19-year-olds could think of more exciting places to be at 8 PM on a Friday night – but I think there was an interesting element of truth to her words. I felt lost, but I could identify what I did and didn’t understand, allowing me to ask quasi-articulate questions. I put my head down and worked; I asked questions the rest of the term and I clicked and popped my molecular set 1000 times until I could do mechanisms in my sleep. And then I aced the exam.
I have to hope parenting will be a case of history repeating itself. Deep down I know it won’t; there are no gold stars and A+’s doled out for mothering. But I diligently show up to class – I read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Siblings Without Rivalry. When they were babies I read: The No-Cry-Sleep Solution, Happiest Baby on the Block, The Baby Whisperer, and even the hotly debated Babywise. I go to help sessions – coffee mornings with moms where we ask “What would you do?” “How should I handle this?” and start text chains with my Mom or my sisters, wise women who have gone before me.
There are days I’m convinced I’m one bad test away from flunking out; I look around and assume that everyone else has this parenting thing all figured out (they don’t). My kids are sassy. There are fights over vegetables and bedtimes that escalate to disproportionate levels. There are personality conflicts and frustrating behavioural patterns. There is spilled milk and spilled chili. Kidney beans and tomato sauce may very well send me to my knees again.
But I’m learning to better communicate with my kids. I’ll name my emotion(s): fear, frustration, sadness. I’m learning to put things in perspective – mole hills can look like mountains, but they aren’t really. And every day I try to tell them “You are a joy and a blessing,” because they are and parenting them is, but it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done (and I took Organic Chemistry, so that’s saying something).
Some days are going to look like this:
And other days are going to look like this (which happen to be 3 out of 4 Mother’s Days; the missing Mother’s Day my husband was away for work, or we likely would have photographic evidence of tears. It’s too ironic for me to be making this up. Note the same general outfit on two separate Mother’s Days because that’s the way I roll.
I’m learning to accept that a day can be tough for no apparent reason. It’s okay to struggle. Parenting is hard. I will raise my voice. I will cry. I will make mistakes; say no when I should say yes, spend more time looking at a screen than in my children’s faces. But isn’t it nice to remember that tomorrow is a new day, with no mistakes in it yet? Well said, Anne Shirley, well said.
So I’ll bake cookies, and read books, and roast s’mores and crawl into bed next to them to scratch their backs and hear about their day. Every week there is some new hurdle; a behaviour that needs work, an anxiety that needs calming, a physical ailment that needs tending. I’ll be doling out Bandaids – mental and physical – for the rest of my life. And that’s okay. It’s my job; I’m a student of my children and I’m in school for the long haul.
So if I make parenting look hard – it’s because it is. Worth it? Absolutely. But hard. If I make it look easy, you’d better see an eye doctor…
I don’t do crafts with my kids. I have no skills in makeup or hair design. I can’t paint a room, I rarely make bread from scratch, and I will stall a 5-speed car every time I get behind the wheel. Even worse – in a house full of fanatics – I can’t even solve a Rubix Cube.
When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were reserved for cartoons. This was before binge-watching was a verb and forget about Netflix – we didn’t even have cable. If you didn’t get your butt out of bed by 7 AM to watch Bugs Bunny, you were out of luck. Aside from happy hours spent with Inspector Gadget and Looney Tunes, I vividly remember the Saturday morning service announcements put out by Concerned Children’s Advertisers. They came up with witty numbers like: “Don’t you put it in your mouth. Don’t you stuff it in your face. Though it might look good to eat, and it might look good to taste.” Does anyone else remember those furry little blue creatures?!
But the commercial I remember best depicts a series of kids demonstrating their “thing.” There’s Aiden, waving his magic handkerchiefs (against a backdrop of the same wood paneling we had in our dated 1970’s basement), while his sister shouts “Mom, Mom. Aiden cut me in half again.” Classic.
Opportunities for comparison are everywhere. Power up your computer or swipe your finger and you have access to a world of women we perceive to be better: better workers, better wives, better mothers, better daughters, better friends. Few people are immune to this comparison game.
We know. These are curated snapshots, they don’t actually represent reality. These women have insecurities too. I’ve heard it. You’ve heard it. Yet that photo of the smiling family in matching outfits on the beach, or that impressive law school degree, or that sunset shot from a yacht off the coast of Greece make it pretty tough to ignore the messages we tell ourselves.
You’re not enough. You’ll never be enough.
We live in a world telling us to embrace our strengths while it subversively asks us to recognize our weaknesses. We are, directly or indirectly, made to feel less than if we haven’t mastered all the categories. Women – and I’d argue mother’s all the more – are expected to: have a fulfilling career, be a good cook (healthy, organic food for bonus points), be physically active, and volunteer in numerous capacities; extroversion is a must, and don’t forget to prioritize self-care in the form of yoga practice, meditation, and routine massages.
Amidst the drone of outside chatter, what if we could all say, with confidence, “This is my thing.”
Hi. I’m Elisabeth, and my thing is books. I read on the couch and in the car (but only when it’s stopped or, hello barf bag) and on airplanes; I read in waiting rooms, poolside on vacation, and before bed. Aside from feelings of wistfulness that there are always too many books and too little time, this is the one area of life where I feel 100% guilt-free. And nowhere do I need this more than in the guilt-ridden landscape of motherhood.
We’ve read classical literature (Swiss Family Robinson, Anne of Green Gables, and Laura Ingalls Wilder) and newer hits too (Harry Potter, Roald Dahl). We read Bible stories at breakfast, and Nancy Drew at night. We’ve read picture books about talking narwhals, a gluttonous caterpillar, and the sounds on a construction site (at night and at Christmas). We’ve tackled tough topics: cancer and grief, slavery and war, disability and persecution. We’ve read about children living on the streets of Paris; we’ve cheered as Matilda stands up to that bully Miss Trunchbull; we’ve wondered how a guy named Mike and his steam shovel could possibly win the bet.
When you strip away my bursts of frustration over dirty clothes on the floor, my woefully intermittent enforcement of flossing, and my unwillingness/inability to engage in imaginative play of any sort – books, this I do well.This is my thing.
I haven’t read a book on how to paint a room, drive a stick-shift, or make sourdough. And that’s okay. Life is short and I’ll let painting and driving and kneading be someone else’s thing.
Nobody’s good at everything, but everybody’s good at something. What’s your thing?
2020 and 2021 have been historic years. From lockdown restrictions to career changes and the intense personal trauma and grief so many people have faced, I’m more than happy to put this period behind us.
But there have been lots of lessons learned amidst the challenges and I was recently struck by a parallel I noticed with the story arc from one of our favourite children’s books.
All winter we shuffled along; schools and churches and businesses were open, but everything felt harder and less spontaneous. I complained more than I’d care to admit. I missed my family. I was tired of sending my kids to after-school lessons and clubs in masks. I wanted this “new normal” to be abnormal again. And then came May. Variant cases skyrocketed in our province; with positive tests rising each day, we entered a month-long lockdown. Schools were closed, non-essential businesses shuttered and travel was heavily restricted.
I wasn’t prepared for how hard this second lockdown felt. Masks are familiar and not being able to visit family when we want to feels sadly routine. But something felt different this time; having friends and family living in regions with re-opening strategies (my sister sent pictures from Disney when we were slogging through another round of Math via Google Meet), all felt extra discouraging and isolating.
And then the glorious news that a combination of high vaccination rates, along with the success of our lockdown measures at curbing the spread of COVID, was paving the way for the re-opening of schools. All winter I grumbled about school lunches – the hassle and mess and time. I have never been so happy to pack a school lunchbox as I was June 2nd. Walking the kids to school for their first day back, I couldn’t shake the jubilant feeling that I was living out the major plot points of A Squash and a Squeeze…
In A Squash and a Squeeze, the first book by duo Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, we follow the trials and tribulations of a grey-haired lady who bemoans the size of her house, which she calls “a squash and a squeeze.” She consults a wise rabbi-like man (this picture book is based on a traditional Jewish folk tale), who tells her to bring her farm animals into the home. She does just that, eventually welcoming a hen, goat, pig and other creatures that squawk and moo. You can imagine the scene – chaotic, loud, messy. Her already-small home shrinks before her eyes, but she continues undaunted, though acutely aware of the dwindling real estate: “It was teeny for four and it’s weeny for five.”
When the wise old man finally tells her to bring all the animals out again, that home she disliked – the one that felt like a “squash and a squeeze”- feels palatial.
A month of screen shares, Math worksheets, Playdoh creations, and constant snack requests was exhausting. But I’d been complaining of the pressures of juggling work and life pre-lockdown. How free my schedule feels now; how happy I am to pack lunches and look at homework folders and set a morning alarm. Life feels spacious and light when I compare it to our own “squash and a squeeze.”
It helps to remember that perspective can often change our reality. And inspiration for that perspective can come from the most unlikely of sources, including the children’s section of your local library.
When my daughter was born life turned upside down – literally. Delivery required far more medical intervention than I had expected and my vision of motherhood – rocking a contented baby, having hours just melt away while I watched her delicate little features in sweet slumber – couldn’t have been further from reality.
I’d pour a bowl of cereal at 8 AM and, if I was lucky, eat it by noon. The first few months were a haze of sleepless nights and days filled with tears (hers and mine) while we navigated infections, colic, and endless feeding challenges.
The biggest sticking point: I’d always planned to nurse my children. It was healthy, economical, convenient. It was also what a good mother would do. Not only did I want to do it, I was inundated by messaging that encouraged, championed, and elevated this aspect of mothering. I was also surrounded by mothers that could do it. Baby-hour at the library was basically a lesson in how to feed and nurture your little one naturally; you could find me wallowing in a corner covertly wielding a bottle.
I dealt with these things – as one does – by cycling through stages of denial, anger, depression, and pseudo acceptance (there wasn’t much bargaining to do; she was 2 months old after all). I researched techniques, bought supplements, and consulted experts, before officially conceding defeat.
Spoiler alert: she got older, things got easier. By 9 months she was pure joy – full of all the spunk and personality we cherish today; happy and chubby and practically perfect in every way. Though the crying was behind us, guilt lingered. And then a new friend entered my life and managed to shift my entire perspective with one sentence.
This friend and I were out for an evening walk. Somehow I had circled back to discussions of feeling less-than because of my inability to naturally deliver and feed my (now toddler) daughter. This friend paused for a minute and said, wisely: “You know, Elisabeth, she can still be a doctor.”
What she meant – and what I needed to hear – was that the future was unwritten. The unexpected complications of the past, which were completely out of my control, didn’t mean my daughter was doomed to a life of illness, missed opportunities, and continual disadvantages. No. If she wanted, she could still be a doctor. Or a stay-at-home mother. Or a physicist. Or an artist. Or anything else her determined self wants to pursue.
When my son was born several years later, I met with a lactation consultant, did all the right things, and gave it my all for a week. When the nurse told me, gently, it simply wasn’t working…I cried. It was sad and hard and disappointing. But, I also knew: he can still be a doctor. Or a pro-surfer. Or an electrician. Or a teacher, or a financial analyst, or a stay-at-home dad, or a playwright. The sky is the limit. It really is – after all, he could be an astronaut.