Potty Training for Dummies

As I’ve been making an attempt to cultivate gratitude in my life, I thought I would write about another thing I am hugely grateful for, and that is the fact that Maya is potty trained. I have been told that girls accomplish this most magnificent of feats earlier than boys, but whatever the reason Maya accepted this sacred teaching, I am grateful. When I tell people how easy it was to potty train Maya, Dave informs me that I have romanticized it because I wasn’t the one stuck home with her for weeks sitting on the floor of the bathroom. He may be right, but here is my version anyway.

The motivation to potty train Maya was partly (okay mostly) financial. We had just moved to the most expensive city in North America. Maya had just turned two and I had gargantuan student loan payments. My piddly little salary was supposed to provide for our entire family for the next year and four months. Diapers did not fit in the budget.

I had seen potty training books at my brother and sister-in-law’s as we made our way out west, and realized that I had not a clue on how potty training actually happened. Judging by the number of books available on the topic, it seemed complicated. We had bought a potty months ago which we left it in the bathroom, and we had a book called “The Potty Book for Girls”, given to us by Dave’s cousin, but that was it. Luckily, Maya loved the book and we read it over and over. It taught her important lessons, such as the fact that potties don’t go on your feet; instead, they are for sitting on, which to her, I could tell, seemed like a lot less fun.  I had to ad-lib at this point and point out that while sitting, “You can go pee pee on the potty! You can go poo poo on the potty!” which was said with greatly exaggerated excitement. The one thing I’ve noticed about parenting, is that if there ever was a small, maybe secret part of you that regretted not being a cheerleader in school, that part gets a second chance. Parents of babies and toddlers cheer wildly at the most inane accomplishments.

It was also about this time that I realized that Maya’s toys often had more influence than Dave and I did, as her parents, and that we could exploit this fact. Dave often uses Maya’s beloved Pinky Bear to encourage her to eat (he is constantly worried she will actually starve herself to death). I have used Pinky Bear to help me get her to floss her teeth, a task which used to involve chasing after her multiple times.  “Maya why don’t you show Pinky Bear how great you are at flossing your teeth? He’s never done it before you know.” Pinky Bear will look at her and agree. “Maya can you show me how you floss your teeth?” She will jump right up on the bed and be so proud to show Pinky Bear what a good flosser she is. “Pinky Bear look! Look Pinky Bear! I’m flossing my teeth!”

But Pinky Bear, as beloved as he was, would need help. Luckily, Maya also loved Elmo, who unlike Pinky Bear, had his face plastered on everything. So I bought an Elmo seat to go on the toilet, and an Elmo potty book.  The Elmo book talked about underwear and how great they are. That was my in. I told Maya how cool panties are and promised her that we would go shopping together for new panties and she could pick them out in all different colours. Wearing panties is the greatest thing in the entire world, and when she was a big girl, she would get to wear them too, just like mommy.

Up until that point we hadn’t really pressured Maya to use the potty. We had put her on the potty to try it out and sometimes she had actually peed. So of course we made a huge deal out of it, and phoned all of the grandparents and aunts and uncles to tell them the big news, really loudly and with great fanfare. “Guess what Maya did Grandma? Maya went pee pee in the potty! Isn’t that great?? We’re so proud of her!”

After months of introducing the concepts, but without any pressure, Dave and I decided to take the plunge. She had shown most of the signs I had read about in the potty training I had flipped through (i.e. hiding behind the curtains when she went poo) so, we figured, let’s give it a shot. Maya and I went on our first mommy/daughter shopping trip and bought about 20 pairs of panties in all different colours. The whole time we talked about what a big, big girl she was and how exciting it was that she was going to get to wear panties.  

I think what really worked, however, was that every time we talked about panties, and how awesome they were, I would tell her, “But when you’re a big girl and wear panties you can’t pee pee or poo poo in your panties.” “I can’t go pee pee in panties?” “No. You can’t. When you’re a big girl and you wear panties you have to use the potty.” The result of those conversations, was this: Maya would ask us, “Mommy am I wearing panties or a diaper?” “You’re wearing panties Maya, you have to use the potty.” And off she would go. But if I told her she was wearing a diaper, she knew that meant she didn’t have to use the potty, she could, as she always had done, go in her diaper.

This tactic, I realized, fit with a “no diaper” philosophy I had heard of, where right from the beginning parents learn to watch for their child’s cues and then sit with them on the toilet, thereby rarely, if ever, having to change a poopy diaper. The benefit was that the child would then learn how to use a toilet from the start and never have to unlearn (and you unteach) two or three years of what has become, for most children, an absolute truth – that they can take a crap in their pants and someone else will clean their little bottoms while they lay back and relax.

We, of course, did not subscribe to that philosophy at birth, having neither the time nor the patience. But like that philosophy, our own muddled way involved learning, but no unlearning. Maya didn’t have to transition from “When I wear diapers it is my absolute privilege and right to, at any time I desire, release my bowels in my pants” to the knowledge that this cherished liberty has been unjustly and arbitrarily curtailed. When we put Maya in panties, the diaper truth never changed. She knew if she was wearing diapers, nothing changed, if she pooed her pants all would continue to be well in the world. Since she was wearing panties all the time now, if she ignored the new lesson and went while wearing panties, it was to her peril.

She learned rather quickly that it is both an uncomfortable and unwelcome experience. My Dad and his family came for a visit within weeks of this experiment.  We decided to walk to a neighbourhood cafe to have brunch. During our 1.5 hour long meal I took Maya to the potty twice. She went neither time. Five minutes after leaving the restaurant, however, she realized she had to pee. I tried to get her pants off so that she could at least pee on someone’s lawn, but no such luck. It got all over her and her pants were soaked.

As I took out a new change of clothes (thank God Dave and I had taken our good parenting pills that day and there actually were fresh clothes in our bag, unlike that one diarrhea accident) Maya looked up at me with shock. She said “I don’t like that Mommy!” And that was that. She never peed in her panties again. A few weeks later she didn’t even need a diaper at night.

I am, in actual truth, really proud of her and of us. Potty training, according to Freud, is one of life’s most important developmental achievements. If, as a parent, you screw this up you are sentencing your child to a lifetime of anal retentiveness, so the theory goes. The fact that we got through it relatively unscathed taught me an important lesson: Dave and I make a good team. And for that, I am very grateful.

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Cultivating Gratitude

Yesterday Maya and I spent the morning on top of Grouse Mountain in the North Shore. It was foggy in the city but when we reached the top of the mountain the sky was a magnificent blue and the sun was beaming. It was glorious. The North Shore spends much of the winter under every possible type of rain imaginable. I have always said that people who live here develop a type of episodic amnesia, similar to what women experience after child birth. The type of amnesia that helps women forget the pain of giving birth so that they will actually contemplate going through it all again. Here, it can rain for months straight. It is truly a miserable existence. But every now and then you will have a brilliant sunny day and it erases the collective memories of all of those rain filled days.

I love going to Grouse with Maya. She loves playing in the snow. The benefit of living in the North Shore is that if you want snow, it is a mere 10 minute drive away. Previous to this trip we had gone to Mountain Equipment Co-op to use some of Grandma Sue’s Christmas money to purchase better winter clothing for Maya. The last few times we had gone to Grouse it had started well, but ended in tears. Her feet were cold. The tears turned to wails. “I want a hot dog!!” “Maya mommy has snacks for us. We’re not having a hot dog.” “But I WANT a hot dog! That girl is having a hot dog and I want a hot dog mommy!!!” She sobbed as if it was the most devastating thing in the world. Then the screaming started. I did NOT want that happening again. So off we went to MEC to get her pink long underwear and a good pair of socks (purple of course). I bundled her up in layers upon layers of clothing, her new snow suit, and packed 3 extra pairs of mitts just in case.  It was so surprisingly warm that she didn’t even need a jacket or mitts.

To get to the top of Grouse in the winter you must take the Gondola. Maya loves it because the Gondola sways back and forth when it goes by two towers. It is just the perfect amount of scary to be fun. I have heard many people complain of how aloof Vancouverites are, but I have had lovely conversations every time I have taken that Gondola. It must be the mountain air. It makes everyone friendlier. On this trip I learned two things that had actually been on my mind: when the best time is to buy next year’s pass (from an Aussie) and whether the International French School is good (from a woman from Lebanon). My abnormally friendly encounters could also be as a result of me turning into my mother, who is possibly the friendliest woman alive. I am in awe of her ability to have a lovely chat with anyone within a three foot radius.

Maya and I made it to the top of the Gondola, had our breakfast of strawberries and hot chocolate, and then went outside to play. We had an amazing time. There were hardly any people there and therefore no line ups to take the sleigh. It was so relaxing I had to remind myself that we were not on vacation. We watched people ski and skate and go snow shoeing. Maya was fascinated by the snowmobiles. After explaining why she couldn’t slide down her bum all the way down a ski run, we took the sleigh back and she spent about an hour climbing up some snow steps to slide down a little hill. I sat on a bench to soak up the sun and watch her enjoy herself. Climb up, slide down, stand up and repeat 30 – 40 times. In the process of all of this sliding she made two new friends. One was a little girl Maya was convinced was a baby, but who was actually two years old. Maya took her hand to lead her up the stairs and show her how to slide down the hill. She cooed, “Here you go little baby. You just walk up the stairs like this. I will show you. Don’t worry.” Then she shouted at me “Mommy what’s this baby’s name?”

I love watching her make friends. The combination of her being an only child  and me working means that I don’t have a lot of opportunities to see her interact with other kids. Last week I had taken her to the Vancouver Aquarium. There was a volunteer reading a story to several children in the kids’ area. A little girl sat next to Maya and asked if she wanted to hold hands. Maya took her hand and looked up at me with a big smile on her face. She said excitedly, “Mommy I have a new friend!” It was so cute it almost broke my heart. You can tell who are the parents of only children. We get very invested in their friendships. When the story was finished, Maya and I went to leave. We passed by a man (the girl’s dad) who said to us “Did you see them hold hands? It was so adorable!” He looked a little teary and I totally understood.

This mornning was Maya’s fourth big girl swimming lesson. The last two didn’t start well. Both times Maya was cold and started to cry right before the lesson. She wouldn’t let go of my hand and wouldn’t go with the teacher. Luckily there was an assistant who took her both times (with the promise of toys). The last lesson, however, Maya’s tears were contagious and resulted in both boys in her class sobbing and refusing to go as well. So today Maya and I had a talk before the class. We talked about how to stay warm if she is cold, and how important it is for her to be brave, because if she cries the other little boys will cry too. But if she is brave the other little boys will be brave as well. When the lesson started she started to cry. She was cold, but this time there was no assistant to help. I could hear the voice in my head say “DON’T PANIC!! DON’T PANIC!!!!”. The voice was accompanied by a woman running around in circles, in complete panic. Not helpful! Her teacher then walked away with the two other boys and I was left with Maya by the side of the pool. I was out of ideas. The lure of wearing life jackets did not work. Luckily, she was intrigued enough by what the three of them were doing to brave the cold and walk towards them, her little shoulders all hunched up, shivering. In a few minutes she was smiling, and I let out a long breath. Who knew swimming lessons could be so tense??

As I write about our weekend, I realize how little time time I have with Maya. Two full days is not enough. I feel this pressure to ensure that every waking moment is amazing. But of course, that is impossible. I remind myself that every moment with her is precious, even the moment today where she was wailing and sobbing for no discernible reason (the real explanation being that Dave and I likely waited about 15 minutes too long to give her lunch and get her ready for a nap). It was in that moment that I was hugely relieved that my plan to wean her had not been fully realized. My super boobs worked, she had her num nums, calmed right down, and had a lovely nap (see Bye Bye Num Nums for the scoop on my attempts to wean).

I know that If I focus too much on the little time I have, it is an open invitation to my neuroses and guilt to wreak havoc in my life. To combat that, I have decided to spend some time cultivating gratitude, which, I have found, is an awesome antidote to many things including grief, anger, resentment and guilt. I’m sure there are others. Here are the things that I am grateful for tonight. I am grateful for this weekend with Maya and Dave. I am grateful for the sun that warmed my face for a few lovely hours. There are likely several million things I am grateful for, but for now, Imagethis is a good start.

Surviving an Attack of Working Mom Guilt

Yesterday as Dave and Maya and I were having dinner, Dave told me that Maya had said this to him on their way to pick me up at the sea bus. “Daddy I don’t want Mommy to be a lawyer. I want Mommy to be a Mommy.” All of the good feelings I had built up while writing my last two posts about successfully challenging the guilt of being a working mom came crashing down. Thud. Heart starts breaking. “No!!!” I said and covered my face with my hands. Dave shook his head. “I shouldn’t have told you. I knew it.” Maya looked at me “Are you crying mommy?” “A little it.” I peer at her between my hands. She smiles. “Cry mommy!” she says with glee. She is laughing. “You little scampy scamp!” And the moment passes.

That night, as I helped her get ready for bed, my love for her felt like it was going to leap out of my chest. I desperately wanted her to know how much I love her. The tinge of desperation in that desire was reminiscent of me as young woman and the agony I felt when I would fall crazily in love with a man and frantically want him to know how I felt. It should not have come as a surprise that the most common reaction was for him to run, quickly, and as far away as possible. Thinking about it now makes me cringe. Desperation is really not my most attractive quality. Understandably so. So I reined it in. Maya and I had several tickle fights and read some Christmas books together and I MAINTAINED CALM within myself.

This morning I felt a familiar dark weight in my heart as I thought of those words, “I want mommy to be a mommy.” In my past that darkness could be, and often was, invasive. It would take weeks out of my life with its suffocating presence. It reminds me of when I visited Australia and a guide on one of the excursions I went on described the introduction of a new species of toad to Australia. Cane toads were brought from South America to Australia for the sole purpose of ridding the sugar cane they were trying to grow of a particularly destructive bug. What seemed like an easy fix, however, turned out to be a disaster. The bugs and the toads didn’t share the same sleep cycle; when the toads were awake the bugs were asleep. They didn’t share the same habitat either. The bugs lived on top of the sugar cane and the toads lived on the ground. The toads were very poisonous, but the animals, not having experience with these particular toads, ate them and died. The toads, having no natural enemies, proliferated, and are now threatening to destroy the entire ecosystem. So it is with this darkness. Originally I’m sure it had a valid purpose. A cue, a warning that there was some loss or sadness that I should pay attention to. But like the cane toads, it had no enemies, nothing to limit its growth. Left unchecked, each day it would grow just a tiny imperceptible bit until suddenly I would be paralyzed by its murky weight.

I am well aware of the toll that darkness can take if I allow it. It can take weeks, months to climb out of that hole once one has fallen in. I used to be terribly judgmental of that woman who allowed herself to be sucked into that hole over and over again. I judged her mercilessly, that dark and angry girl who held all of my sorrows. I hated her. I wanted her imprisoned, locked up in a cold, black place with her misery and her pain. It took me a long time to be have the strength and courage to face her. To look into her angry eyes, unafraid, and give her permission to release all of her grief and rage and to love her anyway. It was me that had locked her there, left her there alone with her pain. No wonder she was angry.

Now, when I feel that tinge of heaviness in my heart head, I know that I must face it head on. But I take more of a Buddhist (my version anyway) approach to it now. I name that weight. It is grief. I give it permission to wail all of its sorrows. “This isn’t fair! I don’t want to work anymore. Why are we so poor? Why do I have to work? This is too hard! Maya will hate me. She will think that I have betrayed her. She will think I don’t love her. She will feel abandoned by me. She will love Dave better.” I listen, but not with judgment, which only made the weight in my heart dig its claws in deeper in defiance. Instead I listen from a position of curiosity and compassion. As I listen, there is a part of myself who notices, “So this is what I do when I feel grief and guilt about working. I think this. I feel this. How old is this part of me? Quite young. Interesting.” And there is a part that observes all that is being released with compassion, what I would feel if a small child was in pain. You love them even though you can’t take the pain away. And then, I move on.

I have found that this stance of curiosity and compassion is the best way to melt the heaviness, lessen the guilt, and get on with my day, as I must. I have found that as I nurture compassion within myself, I feel more compassion for others. I laugh more. I don’t take life as seriously. My mantra is one that I learned from a speaker at a conference I attended. His name is John Briere, a psychologist who specializes in working with people who have been profoundly traumatized from war, torture and abuse. He described humanity and our connectedness like this: “We are all just bozos on the same bus.” His humour and irreverence were endearing. My favourite line at this conference, however, was when he was explaining to a room full of “experts”, mostly doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, how important it was to have compassion and not judgment for their patients. He said “If you had lived through the same experiences that these people have, you would be sucking that guy’s cock too.” I loved that. Years later he came out as a practicing Buddhist. His brand of irreverent compassion is what I try to emulate.

Now, I feel back to myself again. All of the empowering messages I wrote about in my last two posts come flooding back, and I am calm, resolved and knowing that it is Friday and I have two full days with Maya. And that is something to be grateful for.

The Four Guilts of the Apocalypse – Working Mother Guilt Part II

The second of my Four Guilts of the Apocalypse of the working mom is guilt in relation to work. I have worked since I was 14 and have been accused of being very driven and having a ridiculously high work ethic. I read with horror not too long ago that a recent trend with some American employers is to purposefully not hire or promote mothers for the simple fact that as mothers, so the argument goes, their work will suffer, their productivity will decrease, their loyalty will be divided and as a result, their value as employees, such as it was prior to childbirth, will now clearly be greatly diminished.

 Why these same conclusions about working mothers are not applied to working fathers is just another part of the mystery that is gender discrimination. I suppose that in a “traditional” family fathers were not expected to, nor did they participate or particularly value the mundane routines of family life. Here is my idea of the perfect (from an employer’s view) “traditional” (perhaps mythical) working father. Father would come home from a long and difficult day at work. He would regale the family with his heroic antics at work, his children and wife listening with rapt attention and awe. Father would then devour his meal, lovingly prepared by his wife, play with the kids for a moment or two, and then retire to the study to work some more while mother would get the kids ready for bed. He would greet another working day well rested, with a good breakfast in his belly, ready to work some more. Father was the star of his own movie; the king of his castle. His life had importance and his achievements had meaning. As my ex once explained to me (in the way one explains difficult concepts to a small child), “My time is more valuable, Julie, because I make more money.” He may have actually patted me on the head.

But there is a potential downside to that traditional/mythical father. When he is older, and his children are all grown, and his achievements, viewed with hindsight, are, perhaps, not so heroic, a sudden realization will hit (often categorized as a mid-life crisis). He has missed out. Perhaps he will realize, with a jolt, that his relationship with his now grown children is superficial at best, or, at worse, nonexistent; he may even recognize that he doesn’t actually know his children nor have a clear idea of who they are as human beings apart from what they have achieved. He may, as a result, experience intense grief and say to himself “What have I done?” But the beauty is, being a man, he can try again; he can marry again, have children again and embrace a second chance to be the kind of father he wished he had been the first time around, had he known then what he knows now.

Women, clearly, are not physiologically equipped to give it another go. If we miss out on it all the first time, that’s it. There is no second family, no second chance unless it is with another mother’s children, which comes with its own set of unique challenges. Women, as such, don’t have the luxury of ignoring their children to promote their careers. Mothers, when they work, juggle competing priorities. If one is going to trump, I can almost guarantee it will be their children. Does this mean that employers are right when they say that women’s work will suffer once they bear children, but not men’s? It is an interesting question.

I believe that today there are both women and men who are shrugging off the traditional script of the working parent. They are changing the way things have always been done. No longer are many women and men content to make a forced choice to sacrifice their families for their careers. When that invitation is offered to them, they calmly but defiantly turn it down. Work-life balance is not a new catch phrase, it is a reality. Without it, I believe, we all suffer. I don’t think it is a coincidence that as the stresses of balancing life and work have increased, so have the rates of mental illness, marital breakdown, etc.

I, interestingly enough, have recently entered a profession in which work-life balance is an inside joke. When I attended a panel discussion on how to be successful at interviews the panelists all agreed that addressing work-life balance in an interview was professional suicide. In one of my classes on employment, in which work-life balance was discussed, a female classmate pronounced definitively that “Women just can’t have it all. They can’t be a good mother and a good employee. It’s not possible.” To be fair, when I decided to take the leap of faith and enter this rather challenging profession, it was partly because I had been informed that I wouldn’t be able to have children, so it made sense to enter a profession that had a reputation for being all consuming. It’s not like I had anything better to do. 

Then Maya, my little miracle came along. Oops! What had I gotten myself into? Perhaps it is the fact that I entered a new career with another one under my belt, or perhaps it is my history of irreverence, but I decided that when I looked for a job I would not heed the panelist’s advice, I would break those rules. I would not take any job that came my way, but I would search until I found a place of employment that matched my own values, one that recognized that promoting work-life balance actually produced better, happier and more productive employees.

When it came time to look for a job, I was lucky to have several interviews. Going into these interviews I felt a bit like a woman dating in her 30’s who wants to settle down and have a family. She can’t any longer biologically afford to date someone for a couple of years here and there; she needs to know, within the first five minutes of meeting a prospective mate if they are on the right page. Men who are not are given short shrift. In each interview, therefore, I asked the forbidden question. I asked how their organization supported working mothers. I expected a standard formulated response. What surprised me was that the question was so unexpected that they didn’t even have a standard reply. And because they hadn’t a standard reply, I actually received some honest answers, most of which sounded a bit like this: “That’s a good question. We haven’t quite figured that one out yet.” Yikes.

The one place that had an excellent answer to that question was the place I chose (luckily they chose me too!). It is not as prestigious or glamorous as some of the other places I considered, but from what I can tell thus far, it is real. The people are authentic. They work hard and do excellent work, but not at the expense of their families. I had heard that when they started many people predicted that they would fail; that there was no way an organization in this profession could succeed if work was actually balanced with life. What I love about my new employer is that they have proven the establishment wrong. They stuck to their vision and instead of failing, they have been quite successful; a fact that is ultimately threatening to the established order because it is evidence that promoting work-life balance does not equal failure, does not create less productive employees.

Instead of being filled with dread at how I will manage work with a family, I am excited. I can see myself having an amazing and fulfilling career there. The opportunities for personal growth in my career are both expansive and exciting. But, unlike many of the organizations I visited, I also envision a future for me with my family, a future in which I grow old being connected with my daughter and my husband, and knowing that with the right support from my family and my workplace, I really can have it all, or at least mostly all, without sacrificing either of them. And if I can have it all, so can Maya. 

The Four Guilts of the Apocalypse – Working Mother Guilt

While mommy's at work

Being a working mother of a toddler, I’ve started to read a lot about working mothers. Here is what I have gleaned thus far; mothers working will be the death of civilization as we know it, and, on a side note, when mothers work they are not just terrible mothers, but terrible employees too. It reminds me a bit of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; pestilence, war, famine and death. I wonder what horse working mothers would ride? Would it be pestilence or war? The women’s movement has often seemed like a war over who will wield power in public and private life. The gains women have made to have a legitimate voice in our homes and our communities are countered with a backlash of opposition. The ridiculous notion of “legitimate rape” and attempts to revive the abortion debate are just recent examples. But I have also seen the phenomena of working mothers described as a type of pestilence; we are the plague that will destroy society as we know it.

 There is no doubt that the women’s movement has impacted society in remarkable ways. The average age of mothers at the birth of the first child has increased by almost a decade in one generation. The number of mothers working (by necessity or not) has increased dramatically, with the numbers of stay at home fathers increasing as well. These changes have had ripple effects on private and public life. On the public side, employers have, by necessity, had to adjust or risk losing a significant portion of their workforce. The profession of law is a good example. The research suggests that after five years of working in private practice, where the culture expects an 80 hour work week, women, and increasingly men, leave in droves. There are committees that have been created to try to quell this exodus. So far there have been no workable solutions proposed, because to work it would involve restructuring the entire firm’s method of making money.

 On the private side, both women and men have had to create new scripts and modify gender role expectations. What does it mean to be a mother when she works full time and is not fulfilling traditional gender roles? What does it mean to be a father when he is a stay at home dad and also defying traditional gender roles? I had not realized how powerful gender role expectations were until I challenged them. One side effect of that challenge, however, is guilt. It’s not just the guilt of being a working mother. Instead of the four horses of the apocalypse, I suffer from the four guilts. The first is the working mother guilt in relation to my family, that I am missing out on the mundane routines of everyday life with a toddler, minutes and hours that are irrecoverable. The second is the working mother guilt in relation to my job; I am not able to give as much to my career and my employer as I should. The third is the older mom guilt, that I will likely be dead by the time my daughter is my age; I will be too old to appreciate and know her children, if she has any. The fourth is the guilt that she will be an only child, and will truly be orphaned when Dave and I are both gone, having no siblings with whom she has a shared history of our family.

 My four guilts, if I let them, would likely suffocate me with their combined messages of how terrible a person I am. How do I deal with them, you may ask, and prevent them from sucking the very life out of me on a daily basis?

 I strongly believe that a lot of our personal misery is as a result of the meaning that we make of our lives, our choices, our roles etc. There are powerful messages all around us that try to influence how we make meaning, but it is possible to defy them – I like to engage in small acts of protest whenever I am faced with a meaning that is soul sucking, instead of life affirming.

 In relation to the first guilt, today’s topic, the meaning that I have made out of my life and my role as a working mother is this. Maya’s introduction into my life was a miracle. I was told by specialists that she would not be (without heroic and expensive efforts), and I spent two years mourning her loss. The whole time I was in mourning, however, that message did not make sense to me. Since I was a young child and envisioned my future, I had always envisioned a child. One child. In this future my job was unclear, the man with me was unclear, but the child was a certainty. “How could this be? How could I be childless?” I wondered. I had trusted in that future. And then, when I least expected her, when I had come to terms with my barrenness, she was created in a relationship of love and healing. She was created after I took a stand for myself, by leaving my husband after being told “You’re too masculine, too driven, too much like me. (I think his exact words were – “You’re me with a cunt. I don’t like it”) I know plenty of women who can raise children, work full time, make the meals and clean the whole house without any help. My time is too valuable to help. What is wrong with you?” I told him to go find a woman like that, if they were so plentiful, and he did. And I was freed.

 I have noticed that every time I take a leap of faith into the unknown in order to be true to myself, it has been acknowledged. By what, I’m not sure, but I believe that somehow we are connected to an energy, something undefined, unknowable. It is important to me that Maya see her parents being true to themselves. My truth is that I have always believed that I have something I am supposed to do in this world beyond being a mother. I have something to offer, even though I’m not entirely sure what it is.

 Maya is growing up seeing both her mother and father follow their dreams. She is in a family where dreams are supported, even if it results in a non-traditional looking family, where mom works outside of the home and dad works inside. My life, despite my honest efforts, has not been traditional. Why would I expect that I would be a traditional mother? I actively protest the socially constructed meaning that by working I am a terrible mother. Yes, there are days when I feel tremendous loss and grief when I’m not with her during the week. There are days when I believe that if I won the lottery I would quit my job tomorrow and never work again.

 But the truth is, working is who I am just as much as being a mother is who I am. I have worked in some form or another since I was 14 years old. When I was a child, the women in my family told me I could be anything I wanted to be. They hadn’t had that choice in their lives, theirs had limits. Although they all went to university, it was with the understanding that the most important degree was an MRS. I grew up understanding that work increased one’s personal power. I once told my mother I wanted to have lots of money when I grew up. She responded with “Well you had better marry someone rich!” I responded with “Why would I do that? I’m going to make my own money!”

 I am increasingly aware of the millions of shoulders I am standing on, the shoulders of women who sacrificed and who fought for the choices I have the freedom and support to exercise. I honour those women by being the best mother I can be, and the best woman I can be. The best woman I can be involves work. I don’t believe the two are irreconcilable. Maya will grow up not just knowing in an abstract way, that women can dream without limits, and their dreams can be realized, she will see it in action. And this, perhaps, is the best gift I can give her as a working mother. 

Let’s play!

I am really fascinated by Maya’s ability to play.  Being an only child, her choice of playmate is often limited to me, Dave, or her various stuffies, her favourite, of course, being Pinky Bear. I am often ordered to “Be Pinky Bear mommy!” and she will have a lovely little conversation with him, or we will all have tea. Playing with me, however, is easy. I’m completely focused on her and take orders well. “Mommy take this dolly’s dress off!” It’s been really interesting, however, to observe her interacting with other kids. Our landlords who live above us have twin boys who are a year older than Maya. She ADORES them. Every time we pass by their front door Maya starts walking up the steps to let herself in. If I say “No Maya it’s dinner time, we’re going to go home for dinner” it will be followed by many tears and a lot of wailing. I truly believe she would move right in if she could. The twins, together, are like little maniacs. I have never seen so much energy. Watching them exhausts me. Their mother likes it when Maya comes to visit as she says that Maya calms them down.

My understanding of the differences between the sexes had been that there is as much variation amongst men and women as there are between men and women. But I started to doubt this when I started watching toddlers play. There is a little inside play area in the mall close to our house. It’s a great place to go when it’s raining. Based purely on observing these toddlers playing, I am convinced that nature plays a much bigger role than I had thought in the nature/nurture puzzle. Boys play rougher. They are, literally, like little monkeys climbing up the walls, swinging off of them, jumping from cushion to cushion. It is chaos. Maya, being used to this type of play with the twins, will join in and race around with them. And that makes me happy.

But a few times I have watched Maya in the play area, there have been all girls. The difference is startling. They work together and build things. It is order. Once they built a stage out of the cushions and had the audience sit on the chairs and they performed a little concert.  When they were trying to figure out what song to sing on their little stage Maya said to one girl excitedly “We can sing Pokerface on Rockband!” Maya seemed confused when this little girl just stared blankly back at her. She looked to me for help. She doesn’t yet realize that not all little girls are being indoctrinated into liking their parent’s music. With some prodding, they finally decided on a suitable kid song, “Twinkle twinkle little star”.  Three of them, all around 3 years old, got on this little stage and sang to their audience of other little girls. It brought tears to my eyes. They all took turns. Eventually the girls got bored and decided to move on to another game, but Maya was having none of that. She kept one cushion from the stage, stood on it and kept on singing. Not anything recognizable, but her own song, sung loudly and made up from her own little language. I was so proud.

When we were coming back on the ferry from my mom’s house we spent most of the ride in the little play area they have there. There were about 4 older girls between 5 and 6 that were playing in an enclosed area on the top of the slide. Maya decided to join them. I was curious as to how she would fit in with these older girls, one rather large, loud, and flailing. I gathered they were playing baby as I heard two of the girls start to argue. “Babies don’t go to school!” “Yes they do!” “No they don’t!!” “Yes they do!” “Babies don’t go to school!!” “But my baby sister goes to school. She goes to music lessons.” “BABIES DON’T GO TO SCHOOL!!!” “Yes they do!!!!” “No they DON’T!!!!!” Their voices started to rise even louder. I waited to see how these girls would resolve this deadlock, but soon realized that young girls of 5 or 6 likely don’t have very  sophisticated conflict resolution skills. I wasn’t convinced there wouldn’t be blood. I decided I should try to intervene. As I was about to open my mouth, my little Maya, barely 2 and a half and thus far totally silent, stood up, looked right at the girl who was insisting that babies do, in fact, go to school, and said calmly and determinatively “Babies don’t go to school.” And that was that. The argument ended, the girls dispersed. The little girl followed Maya down the stairs, still trying to convince her that babies do go to school because her baby sister takes music lessons, but Maya was having none of it. Maya listened patiently, waited for her to finish her argument, but wasn’t convinced. “Babies don’t go to school.” I was thrilled. It was the first time I had seen Maya where she seemed to have come to her own conclusion, all by herself. Those two weeks of law school she attended when she was just a week old were paying off!

Reclaiming privacy

Last night was the first night I have not had a bath with Maya in over a year. I don’t even like baths, particularly. Mommy daughter baths started off innocently, as a way to get her to have a bath when she was really cold and refused to get in. “How about Mommy gets in the bath too? Wouldn’t that be fun Maya?” But, like many things in our family, what was supposed to be an occasional thing has developed into a rather rigid routine.

I had told Maya on Sunday night that we were starting a new routine. I would have a bath with her that night, but not the next. I made sure she had heard me. She told me that she understood. The next night I poured her bath.  She got in and started playing. There was no “Mommy you get in the bath with me!” I was so excited by this unexpected cooperation that I rushed into the living room to tell Dave the good news. Just as I was whispering “She’s in the bath right now and hasn’t even asked me to come in!” I heard a small voice in the background say “Mommy I want num nums!” Silence as my elation deflates. “Mommy I want num nums!!” More silence as I decide how I’m to approach this. “MOMMY I WANT NUM NUMS!!!” 

I go into the bathroom. “Maya I told you last night that mommy is not going to have a bath with you tonight.” “But I want num nums mommy!” she says tearfully. “I know sweetie. You can have num nums when I put you to bed.” “But I want num nums now!” said even more tearfully. “I know sweetie. I know it’s hard.” Now the tearful pleas turn into wailing. Oh boy.

I sit by the bathtub and REMAIN CALM. I use my compassionate-counsellor voice and remember that this won’t last forever. And I wait and say soothing things, knowing that everything I suggest or say will be responded to with a “NO MOMMY!!!! I don’t want to do that!!!” It is at this point that I am eternally grateful for my training as a therapist. I spent a great deal of time having to sit with people (and not run away) while they experienced very intense and unpleasant emotions. And all I could do was be with them in that time, often in silence, and say the odd soothing thing. “Everything you are feeling is completely okay.” There were times when the intensity was intolerable. But I survived and I knew I would survive this. I tried as best as I could to exude compassion. It sometimes works.

The lovely thing about Maya is that she can often be distracted out of her anger or sadness. So I waited for an opening. After a few minutes of wailing, she stopped and played with a little bath toy. “That’s it!”, I thought. But she quickly remembered her despair and the wailing picked up where it had left off. As she was flailing her legs in protest, her foot made a squeaky sound. We both looked surprised and I pounced on the moment. “What was that Maya?” said with exaggerated surprise and delight. “Can you do it again?” And for the next few minutes Maya tried to get her feet to make the squeaky noise and giggled every time she did it. Tragedy narrowly averted!

When thinking about our bath routine and all of the other little funny routines we have developed in our family, I have concluded that whatever privacy I may have craved prior to Maya, it is completely absent now. When I am home, Maya is with me. Everywhere. This includes the bathroom. If I have to go the bathroom, Maya has to go to the bathroom. She will sit on her little potty and I will sit on the big one. And while we are going potty together, she will hand me her Pinky Bear and demand “Do Pinky Mommy!” And I will talk for Pinky Bear and she and Pinky Bear will have a delightful conversation.”Hi Pinky Bear!” “Hi Maya! How are you?” “I’m going pee pee!” “I can see that!” “That’s funny Pinky! Mommy your name is Flushie!”

But while I have abandoned any notion of privacy long ago, Dave still covets his. Especially privacy in the bathroom. Last night while we were getting Maya ready for bed, Dave was in the bathroom with the door shut. Maya and I were playing with her pizza set in her room. She wanted to bring Daddy a piece of pizza. I knew this would drive him nuts as he does not like to be disturbed when he is using the potty. So of course I said “Yes Maya I bet Daddy would love a piece of pizza!” And off she trotted to the bathroom with her piece of toy pizza for Daddy. “Daddy!!! I have a piece of pizza for you!!!” And he was a good sport the first time. “Thank you sweetie! But could you please go back to your room and shut the door? Please?” Not so much the second. Or the third. I sat in her bedroom laughing hysterically. Hopefully he won’t read this because he will be furious that I am writing about him using the facilities.

So this is me, on the road to reclaim a little bit of privacy from my daughter, who I love to bits. Not only am I taking my boobs back (see post below), but the rest of my naked body as well. Hopefully my laissez faire attitude towards nudity has helped Maya to be comfortable with her body. She has such a cute little baby body! From her incessant streaking through the house every chance she gets I am pretty confident that thus far, she has no body image problems. She also knows that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina, and labia and a clitoris, even though she’s not always clear about who actually is a boy or a girl. She judges people’s sex by the length of their hair.

Another benefit of a general lack of privacy is unexpected moments of intimacy. I deeply treasure the intimacy that Maya and I have developed as we have shared these private moments. After her bath, for instance, she will run naked into our room and get under our covers. I will follow her and get under the covers too and we will wait for “Daddy Crane” to come and get us. (Daddy Crane uses his big crane arms to come and pick her up. Whenever he comes near she squeals and jumps into my arms). Snuggled together under the covers, looking into her face and mirroring her expression of joy, excitement and anticipation as she hears “Daddy Crane” coming, is a moment of private joy. It is like a part of me is observing and experiencing such awe and bliss that a moment like this can exist. So although I am may be slowly putting limits on physical privacy, those moments of private intimacy will be unbounded.