Diary of a Working Mom

The last few weeks have been quite hard on Dave. Maya is going through another mommy phase where, as soon as I walk through the door, it’s as if Dave ceases to exist. I can imagine watching this little love affair between Maya and I must be difficult for Dave, who takes very good care of her all week long. I know that the fact that she is taking him for granted is a good sign; it means that he’s doing an amazing job with her. I also know that this intense bonding between Maya and I is necessary to make up for the five days out of every week that I am not there to applaud when she figures something out all by herself, to cheer when she learns a new skill, or to soothe her when she is hurt.

The mommy phase started on the Easter long weekend, which was the first time I had been able to spend four entire days in a row with her in months. Most of that weekend she spent playing with her cousin, who is about 8 months older than her. Being an only child, cousins are as close to siblings as Maya will have. As she hadn’t seen him in almost a year I wondered how well they would get along. They were inseparable, which made me very happy. It was the first time I didn’t have to hover in the periphery, ready to intervene should a conflict arise. Aside from the few times where he needed a break to play alone, they got along famously. I was in awe that these two toddlers could actually manage 3 days together without one volcanic eruption of “He/she won’t share with me!” or “That’s MY toy!”

That weekend, watching the joy on her face as she played with her cousin, made me realize how deeply I love this child. Although there were other adults around for me to interact with, what I wanted most to do was to watch my daughter play. Perhaps it is the fact that I’m a full-time working parent, or that I had been resigned to childlessness before she arrived in my life, or the fact that I am an older mother, but I find that I want to spend every spare moment I have with her. My time with her seems more precious. What broke my heart when I was struggling with barrenness was that I would not be able to love a child the way I had been loved. I wanted to be able to pass that love on. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel that Maya’s presence in my life is sacred. I don’t want to take a second of it for granted.

It’s for that reason that I often turn down invitations to be with my colleagues (aka other adults) after work. Truthfully, most of the time I’d rather be home playing with my daughter. Being the only parent out of my colleagues at work has left me feeling rather isolated. They likely think I’m incredibly rude. So I’ve tried to make an effort to meet up after she’s gone to bed. But by the time we’ve had our dinner, had our nightly bath, read stories, and I’ve spent an hour in a dark room waiting for her to fall asleep (I know, terrible parenting practice), the thought of putting adult clothes on again, getting into a car and driving somewhere seems like a punishment and not a pleasure. Of course when I force myself to do this very thing it is invariably enjoyable and I’m glad I pushed through the inertia.  But more often than not, the inertia wins.

Although being away from Maya during the week is difficult, work is very important to me (although I likely would not work full-time given the choice). At this late stage of my life I’ve chosen a challenging career, which is a perfect fit for someone like me who needs stimulation to feel human. I love my work and derive a lot of personal satisfaction from it. For most of my life it was my work that primarily defined me and it continues to be an important part of who I am as a woman. I think it would be difficult to give that identity up.  Despite this, however, the most memorable moment in the past few weeks was not my work accomplishments. It was the moment when Dave picked me up from the seabus after work. There was Maya in her car seat, holding a bouquet of dandelions tightly in her little hands, with the proudest smile on her face. “These are for you mommy!” she exclaimed, her face beaming with joy. It made my heart sing.

And it also made me ask the question, what would I be willing to give up to have more moments like those?

How to Mess Up the Weekend with your Toddler in 5 Easy Steps

As a full-time working parent, to say that I look forward to spending the weekend with Maya, who will be three in a week, is a massive understatement. I cherish the time I get to spend with her. Saturdays are special time just for Maya and me, so that Dad, who stays home with her during the week, can finally get some work done. Sundays are our family days. This past weekend, however, it was special time with Maya all weekend long. I should have realized, from experience, that it is not wise to place high expectations on things that are likely to fall far short, things like an entire weekend with your toddler. In hindsight, there were several things that I did that messed up my weekend. You can learn them too! Here they are, in five easy steps.  

1. Have ridiculously high expectations

It is difficult not to do this. I cannot help but look forward to the weekend and envision everything going perfectly well: a perfectly behaved child who listens and immediately complies with all commands and requests; a child who asks for nothing, but when given something remembers to say thank you; a child who is gracious and humble; and most importantly a child who gives me random hugs whilst telling me she loves me. We walk hand in hand, skipping along through the day like Mary Poppins. The sun shines a little brighter for us. Flowers bloom as we walk by. Birds and small animals come right up to us to say hello. That was my hope. I forgot to factor in two important things, however. One, she had just gotten over a fever a few days previous, and two, she was, after all, a toddler. High expectations are just a recipe for tears and disappointment.  

2. Go to places where they will legitimately expect treats, and then deprive them

As per Maya’s request, on Saturday we went to the Vancouver Aquarium. After perusing the fish on the upper floor, we went to where the real action is, the play area at the bottom, where Maya can take a large stuffed seal and pretend to nurse it back to health. After about an hour of this I dragged her away so that we could go outside. It was the first sunny day we had had in days and I wanted to take advantage of it. Being a weekend parent means that I am not as familiar with schedules as I should be. This is coupled with the fact that I have an organization deficit. If I remember to eat during the day it is a small miracle. I often come home from work ravenous and irritable, having forgotten that bodies and minds need sustenance to function properly. When I was the full-time parent, I was quite proud of myself that Maya and I had made it through a day, properly fed. It was quite an accomplishment. 

But I have not been her full-time parent for almost a year now, and my awareness of her routine has faded. By 11:30 she was starting to get irritable. She was probably starving. I sat her down near the beluga whales and took out the snacks that Dave had prepared. I forgot, of course, that the last two or three times we had been there she had had a slice of cheese pizza. And a juice. What did I have with me? Water and slices of cheese, apple, and ham.

Maya has amazing recall for an almost three-year-old, and remembers every single pattern of behaviour. These become her routines. If we deviate from these routines, she will protest. Loudly. “Mommy I want cheese pizza and a juice!” “Maya, mommy brought nice snacks that Daddy made us. Look we have cheese slices! And ham! You love ham!” I reply. She ups the volume. “Mommy I want cheese pizza and a juice!!!!” After several minutes of this, with the pitch of her whines getting higher by the second, I try the scolding tactic. “Maya we are not having pizza and juice. Now I want you to stop this or we’ll just go home right now.” This was followed by howls of despair. When your toddler is having a mini meltdown in public, it really is difficult to ignore the fact that people are watching you. If you don’t calm your child down immediately, you can hear the judgment “Look at her! She doesn’t even know how to be a parent. If that were my child well let me tell you…”

I ignored the real or perceived judgment and took her in my arms. I used the tactic that works best with me. A calm voice and a dash of creativity. “Look Maya!” I said excitedly, “I bet those seagulls over there would love your ham and cheese snack! Why don’t you show them how good it is?” And she calmed down and started eating her ham and cheese, while the seagulls watched from a distance. I was quite pleased with myself. Which leads me to step number three.

3. Ensure your toddler returns home wounded

Just as Maya was happily enjoying her snack and wondering when we would give the seagull some of her cheese, a gull took flight and flew right towards her. I stared at it in shock as it swooped right in front of Maya and tried to take the cheese right out of her hand, biting her finger in the process. I was so shocked that I barely reacted, except to say, “Maya watch out!” which was completely and utterly useless. It was another parent who had the sense to shoo the gull away. Maya, of course, burst into tears, with the cheese still in her hand. I did my best to comfort her, but I knew, immediately, that I had lost. I had lost all credibility as a person who could make things better. If anything I was the one who invited the gull to attack her for her cheese snack in the first place.

I took her into the line for the cheese pizza. The only battle I won was that she settled for water instead of juice. Wound or no wound, I wasn’t paying $4.00 for a juice for the love of god. I asked an employee if they had some kind of bacterial wipe or handwash. The gull had broken the skin. I was pretty sure that gulls beaks were teeming with all kinds of exotic bacteria that were now making their way into my child’s bloodstream. I may have made it sound worse than it was. Two first aid attendants rushed over with a gigantic first aid kit. Seeing that there was no blood, they got on the walkie-talkie, “It’s not a Code Two, just a Code One.” One sighed, with relief or disappointment I couldn’t tell. But in between bites of her cheese pizza Maya got two bandaids and a sticker. I wondered if they had a sticker for “worst parent ever.”

4. Only visit playgrounds where no one will play with your toddler, no matter how cute she is

The next day I couldn’t decide what we should do. It was going to be a beautiful day and I wanted to go to the beach. I had hoped to go to Crescent Beach, where I had spent my summers growing up, but we had quite a late start to the day and it was a long drive. We settled on a beach closer to home that had a playground. Maya LOVES playgrounds. I love watching her interact with other kids. Her eyes light up when other kids play with her and she smiles the most wonderful smile that is reserved for the pleasure she gets from playing with new friends. Knowing she will be an only child, watching her can be an emotional experience for me. I am always so happy when other kids play with her.

But this time, no matter how hard she tried, the other kids ignored her. It didn’t help that she tries to play with kids a bit older than her, or that all of the kids seemed to come to the playground in pairs, not needing or wanting a third. I watched with distress as Maya’s attempts to join in the play were rejected. She is so good-natured that she kept following these kids, scampering after them, saying “I’m coming!” so that she could go down the slide with them, never noticing that they weren’t really interested. For whatever reason, that day, watching her broke my heart. I felt like weeping. I am weeping now as I write about it, and wept earlier today as I told a male colleague about it. He was mortified that my tears just kept coming. I couldn’t stop them.

I struck up a conversation with one of the moms of the child that Maya was following and lost sight of her. I peaked around the corner to where the stairs were, and saw her. Her mouth was open in a silent cry. I ran towards her and saw an indent in her forehead. Within seconds it grew into a terrible, giant lump. It made me wince just looking at it. As I held her and walked to the bench, one of the dads told me that she has slipped on the metal steps. It looked like she hadn’t even the time to brace herself. I held her and did my best to soothe her. She cried and cried. But, being a toddler, within a few minutes she was fine and wanted to go back and play. Luckily all of the older kids, that I now wanted to throttle, had left. There was a little girl with her mom. Maya went right up to her, and she looked up adoringly at Maya. Maya took her hand and led her to the slide and we all went down together.

It finally looked as I might have turned the corner on the weekend, but no! Any semblance of redemption was eliminated by the fifth and final step.

5. Make sure your toddler does not nap under any circumstances 

We have been experimenting with Maya and her nap schedule. There was a period of time where she wasn’t going to bed until 9:30 or 10:00 at night. I would put her to bed, then walk from her room to mine and go right to sleep. No time to myself. It was intolerable. That is when Dave and I had “the talk.” His eyes widened in horror when I told him we should take away Maya’s afternoon naps. “I’m not ready for that yet!” he exclaimed.

So we experimented. The days she didn’t nap she went to bed at around 7:30 and wasn’t all that grumpy. But there were some days where she still needed it. Desperately. Saturday was one of those days. Of course because we were out for the entire day doing fun things, napping was not part of the schedule. We had recovered from the seagull incident and had relocated to Second Beach, with the best playground in the city. There were lots of kids there, and Maya found friends easily.

On the way home, Maya fell asleep in the car. I had asked Dave to meet us at the shops so that we could pick up a few things. I figured he could use a nice walk. He found us in the parking lot and got into the car. Maya woke up. She was not happy to see her daddy. She screamed the entire way home. She screamed and thrashed when I got her out of the car. She screamed when we got into the house. She wanted juice. Dave brought it to her and she almost kicked it out of his hands. She screamed for juice again, and again thrashed wildly when he tried to give it to her. She struggled to get out of my arms but then screamed if I wasn’t holding on to her.

Normally, in situations like this, I would use my super powers and have the situation immediately under control: super powers being my boobs (see Bye Bye Num Nums for a more detailed description). But my super boobs were out of commission. Dave and Maya had gone to Ontario for 10 days and when they returned, I had tried, as gently as possible, to let Maya know that mommy didn’t have num nums anymore. That first night she arrived home was terrible. After a long day of flying and time zone changes, she settled into my arms all set to nurse. I tried to remind her that mommies don’t have num nums forever, and she wailed in reply, “I don’t want to be a big girl mommy!” After several minutes of her hysterically trying to withdraw my boob from my bra, we both sat in the big chair in her room and cried. She finally fell asleep with me stroking her hair saying, “You’ll always be my baby sweetie pie. Mommy will always be here. You’ll always be mommy’s baby.” The next morning she protested slightly, and that was it.

But that Saturday, I would have given anything for those super powers. I had never seen her like this, completely unable to calm down. I was at a loss. Then I remembered how terrible it is to have feelings like these that are completely out of control. I had felt like that before. It was an awful experience. I felt a deep sense of compassion for how horrible she must feel. I contained her thrashing as best I could and cooed to her “I know it’s really hard to have these yucky feelings sweetie. It’s really hard to feel all of these yucky feelings. I know. Mommy is here and we’ll just wait for all of these yucky feelings to go away. I know it’s hard sweetie. We’ll just wait.” This seemed to do the trick. She quieted down and eventually drank some juice. Then she was back to my loving child. Sundays “no nap tantrum” was thwarted by the arrival of my friend Jeremy, who Maya adores, particularly because he drives the same Triumph Bonneville as her Uncle Jason.

As I took the sea bus to work this morning, I couldn’t figure out why I was in such a terrible mood. It was a gorgeous sunny day. Flowers are blooming while the rest of the country is under a thick blanket of snow. I should feel good. But I felt miserable. It was when I started weeping while talking to my mortified colleague about the playground rejection incident that it hit me. The weekend I had so looked forward to wasn’t perfect. There were some terrible moments in there, moments where I felt like a failure as a parent. There were moments that were heart wrenching. I know that part of it is that I’m not there for her the majority of the time. I need to grieve those bad moments. Because when I do, when I look at these moments with compassion, the magical moments appear. As we were driving home Sunday, after a weekend of emotional highs and lows, a part of my dream weekend did come true. Maya said to me, out of the blue, from her car seat in the back, “Mommy I really love you.” I really love you too Maya.

Falling in Love – Part III of Trust in the Process

I wish I had a romantic story about how Dave and I met…but I don’t. We met online, of all places. I’m old enough to still find this slightly embarrassing. I had tried to date right after I separated from the ex, but it was a disaster. I went out with one guy and halfway through the date I had to leave. I felt nauseous. I realized I needed to grieve, and running into some other man’s arms was not going to allow me to do that.

I started to do things for me, things I hadn’t really been able to do when I was married. I went out with friends. I went dancing. I joined a group of other mature students to do an “Artist’s Way” group, which was designed to help people nurture and cultivate their creativity. It was in the process of being in that group of amazing women and working through the daily exercises that I reclaimed myself. The first time I needed to reclaim myself was after my first marriage many moons ago. It took years. I allowed myself to disappear in that relationship to the point that I could barely recognize the pieces I needed to pick up to put myself back together. This time it didn’t take long at all, as I hadn’t let the cherished parts of my self stray too far.

I remember waking up one morning, feeling energized and mischievous. I love the mischievous, playful part of myself and welcomed it. I have noticed that it is one of the first things to go when I am on the wrong path. It is near impossible to be playful when one is anxious or depressed. That part of me gets shoved to the side while the anxious/depressed adult in me wrings her hands. When I start to feel playful again, I know I am in the clear. That morning, something had definitely shifted. I knew that I was ready to go out in the world and find a new adventure. And the playful part of me wanted a love affair.

I did not expect to find my love affair online. I used the dating site I signed up for mostly for ego boosting or procrastination purposes. Most of the men on this particular site were not the “love affair” type. They were more one-night stand material and not what I was looking for.  I expected absolutely nothing from it.

The Artist’s Way group reminded me, however, that when you are attuned to the world around you, when you are connected to the mystery that is life, you can put your dreams out in your hand, and the universe will reach out to you. So it was with my request for a love affair. I was ready, and the universe responded.

I remember coming across Dave’s profile shortly after my brazen announcement to my Artist’s Way ladies that I wanted a love affair.  What struck me most about his profile was that he actually sounded like a normal human being. On this particular site, that was rather shocking. He was in film and had just moved back to Ontario from B.C., where he had lived for the past 13 years. I wrote to him immediately. The title of the email was “I am in exile too!” The small city that I lived in while completing my degree had been quaint at one time, I was told, but I hated it. It was the type of city where people asked where you went to high school. And it mattered to them. When I married and realized that I would likely be there for the next 20 years of my life I went into mourning. If this guy had lived in B.C. for 13 years, I knew he would understand that.

He wrote back that day and we wrote daily to each other for a week.  Then we had our first date. It was one of those dates that go from coffee, to dinner, to drinks, to a movie, to more drinks. I knew the first day that I met him that he was a good man. He had a beautiful, open heart. And for the first time in my life, I could receive openness from a man and return it. He told me later that he fell in love with me the minute we met. I felt the same. I was giddy.

I have always believed that every relationship I have been in was for a purpose. Relationships teach us important lessons if we are open to learning them. If we don’t learn the lesson in one relationship, another will come along. The universe is patient and doesn’t mind if we keep banging our heads against the same wall. I had finally learned my lesson. I was courageous and strong enough to not only love with an open heart, but to be loved in return. I wasn’t afraid of his openness and his love. I was home. Instead of feeling threatened by my accomplishments, my drive, he felt inspired by them. He, in turn, inspired me by his creativity, his ingenuity and his desire to challenge himself. So I did the thing I had never done in my life, the thing that had terrified me for as long as I can remember, the thing I had slowly worked towards in all of my relationships, baby step by baby step. I told him I loved him (before he told me). It was a risk. We hadn’t known each other for long. It broke all of the “rules”. My friends warned me not to. But I trusted my intuition, and told him anyway. I took the leap of faith. He told me he loved me too. We both knew it was ridiculous because we just weren’t supposed to be in love after only knowing each other a few weeks. It felt naughty and delicious. Our secret pact against the world.

I told him all of my dirty secrets: that I couldn’t have children (he didn’t want any so that was fine); that I had been married not once but twice (he laughed, said “that’s awesome!” and kissed my hand); that I would never get married again (he didn’t believe in marriage anyway); and that I was leaving in a few weeks to go to Peru for a month (not the best tactic when starting a new relationship).

The energy we had between us was immediate and palpable. So palpable, in fact, that I started to take notice. It felt like my body was speaking to me. Because I believe that we receive messages from the world around us in many different ways, often mysterious, I listened. What came to me was this: Dave was healing me. Uh oh. (We were having unprotected sex!)

I sat Dave down and explained to him that while I had told him I couldn’t have children, because my tubes were twisted and my fimbriae were gnarled, it wasn’t a complete impossibility. But that medical fact coupled with my advanced age (my eggs, in dog years, were about 160 years old and well past their due date) meant it was virtually an impossibility. “I need you to know this because I think you are healing me” I said seriously. “Okay” he replied. I didn’t really expect him to understand the magnitude of what I was saying.  He didn’t know me well enough to know that every now and then I know things from the deepest part of myself.  Those things always come true. Always. It’s a bit eerie. I’m sure he just thought I was a bit of a flake. Nothing to worry about, mind you. Just a tad flakey. (He must have thought that because we continued to have unprotected sex!)

Five or six weeks after Dave and I met I left for Peru. It was likely the last big trip I would be able to do for a long while and I was very excited about it. I was going with my half brother, who had just separated from his wife too. I had met him a decade ago at his wedding when I flew to New Brunswick to meet my birth mother for the first time. I knew it was a risk to leave for such a long period of time right when Dave and I were getting to know each other. I had travelled before after starting a new relationship filled with promise, returning to discover that the magic had disappeared. I left with my eyes wide open that leaving might change everything. Little did I know how much change I was in for.

Stay tuned for the next installment!