Exciting News!

TMN-logo_Square1We’ve got some exciting news to share!  4Mothers1Blog has been nominated for Toronto Mom Now’s Toronto Mom Blogger 2014 Award!

Please head over to Toronto Mom Now and check out the other nominees.  Lots of great reading out there!

We love what we do, and we are so grateful that one of you nominated us for this award.  (We’d love to thank you in person if you’d like to send us an email!)

Please check out the blogs on the list, and vote for your favourite three.  Voting closes on Monday, July 14.

 

 

 

Mad Mums’ Martinis

I hosted a Mad Mums’ Martini afternoon for some other half-day Kindergarten kids and mums.  This is the aftermath:

mad

Note that the jello salad is almost all there, the spam is untouched and the vodka … well, not untouched.

One of us wore pearls and heels.  One of us wore a twin set.  One of us wore one of 200 dresses in her closet from the fifties.

All of us had fun.

Because sometimes in this crazy journey we call motherhood, we have to make a detour for the carnival.

 

Other Mothers

10267762_10154070721210014_6298337845483811914_nThere’s something I’ve noticed about the way I occasionally think about and judge myself as a parent.  I love structure and order and discipline, and for the most part, I stand by the parenting decisions that fall under that category of order and predictability.  Sometimes, though, sometimes the further outside of my comfort zone I stray, the more unlike my usual self I am, the more I feel that I deserve some kind of a parenting gold star.  It’s as if by not being myself, I am being a better self.  The hard work of keeping life on schedule and enforcing rules of civility actually feels pretty effortless to me.  It’s allowing the rules and the schedule to relax that feels like hard work.  To be honest, sometimes fun feels like hard work, and that’s when I most doubt the parenting path I have chosen.

I let the kids splash in rain puddles, I give myself a pat on the back for not freaking out about the mess (while secretly freaking out about the mess).

I say “yes” to letting the kids dog-sit, professing a kind of generosity of spirit while feeling anything but generous.

I let them stay up late to watch the hockey game, and for most of every minute past bedtime, I’m on edge, but I congratulate myself for being able to let fandom prevail over clock-watching.

More troubling, I herd my children home from the park for bath and bed and watch other parents letting their little ones stay up later and get dirtier than my kids (ie. letting them have more fun) and I wonder if they are doing it better.  Do those Other Mothers have more gold stars?  Are the mothers who say “no” less often better in some essential, incontrovertible way?

Fruitless feeding of the mommy guilt machine.  It’s the dark side of empathy: moving so much outside of yourself that you begin to question that self and all it holds dear.

The really refreshing thing about reading many of the essays in The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood, was that I could really immerse myself in other ways, in others’ ways of being and simply enjoy that otherness without thinking, “I have to be more like that.”  It was glorious to look into that kaleidoscope and feel as much myself as ever; it was wonderful to look at difference without feeling the need to be different.

Carrie Snyder’s wonderful essay about reveling in being a mother of four did not make me feel like I had to have a fourth in order to keep up.  I simply enjoyed her telling of her tale of motherhood.

Heidi Reimer’s essay about adopting her infant niece made my heart fill with joy that there are such generous and daring people in the world, people who can let love into their lives, and make it multiply, in spite of the enormous emotional risk.

But I was most affected by the essays by women who are not mothers, by choice.  It’s dangerous territory, walking with the happily child-free.  It’s not like I, a mother of three, could ever go there.  Would they make it sound too appealing?  Would their profession of their child-free bliss, their certainty, open some part of me to gnawing jealousy or doubt?  Would my hard-earned share of parental satisfaction be diminished by opening myself to their stories?

Not in the least.  As certain as they are about being childless, I am certain that motherhood, and the way I am practicing it, is exactly the right choice for me.  It was the best kind of exercise in empathy.  It was a chance to have a privileged perspective on another way of being without feeling in the least bit diminished by it.  On the contrary, I felt enlarged by reading these essays, I felt certain about my own choices without the least trace of smugness or self-righteousness.

Sometimes what defines us is what we are not.  Sometimes that’s a tricky thing to negotiate.  In this collection of essays about motherhood, in all its manifestations, nothing felt tricky.  None of the stories about what I am not made me think less of myself.  Some of the essays were difficult to read because they tackled difficult topics, but they did what good art does: it moves you, it purifies and purges the emotions and offers renewal and restoration.

Guest Post: Farah Allen of Mellowed Mums

SelfieOur guest post this week is written by Farah Allen, the founder of Mellowed Mums in Burlington, Ontario.

This is the story of how and why she founded her mother’s group.

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What is it about this day and age, where we are most connected with our phones, ipads, social media groups and twitter, that we feel so disconnected?  Where is our sense of community?  Who is our community?

These were the questions I was asking myself everyday when we packed up our family of 6 and moved from Toronto to… the burbs.  My community has always been my working colleagues, my friends and family.  But as a mom on maternity leave and living in a new city, who is my community now?

My kids are too young to be in school where you meet other parents that you connect with, my friends are in Toronto are going for walks in the Beach or having coffee on College St., and my hubby is working. So where does that leave me?  Isolated? Trapped?

Too often I have spoken with other moms and they tell a sad story of how lonely and frustrating their year of maternity leave really was, and even more so after their second child is born.  Having a new baby and a toddler is really hard. Trying to get out of the house can be an epic battle some days and more often than not it just doesn’t feel worth the effort. It is sooo much easier to just stay home.  But as days of staying home turn into weeks and then (gasp) a month…you start to lose a part of yourself.  For me it was my mind!  I wasn’t the same person. I wasn’t fulfilled.  If I can be honest, I wasn’t happy.

What was I missing?  What was I craving?

The time had come to make friends and build the community I wanted for myself and my family. Making friends sounds so grade school, something you did on the playground as a child and not something you do as an adult, not as a mother of 4.  Or was it?  I have always worked and had an active social life, but now being at home with a couple of toddlers and newborn twins while learning how to live in a new city it was time to brush off these “making friends” skills and put them to work.

I started a meetup group called Mellowed Mums using the meet up web tool.  The intro I wrote in the about us section reads like this:

Like many of the finer things in life… we mellow with age.

The same goes for motherhood.  Whether you have 1,2,3 or more children in your life, your mummy style changes with every child, adapting to their different needs and personalities.  This is a group for moms who have multiple kids with multiple interests. Or one kid with multiple interests…

I have had one too many playdates for my 8 month old, only to have my 3 year old bored to tears (and then I`m in tears).  Let`s get together to find local activities that appeal to the varied ages of our kids.  Burlington is an awesome city with family focused events that we can enjoy together that are fun and economical. Or if you need a night or afternoon away from your kids – we can do that too!

I am still surprised at the response.  In under 6 months we are now 128 Mellowed Mums strong and growing every week with over 130 meetups under our belt.  We do all kinds of things: taking trips with the family to the local farmers’ markets, exploring our local parks, going for walks, going for drinks (without the kids of course), organizing book clubs, wine clubs, attending kite festivals, Canada day parties, pajama and movie days, St Patrick day crafts at someone’s home… and the list goes on and on.

The response to my group tells me I am not alone, there are hundreds of other moms out there searching to fill a void, to find their community, to make friends.

I can honestly say that those lonely days are long gone… I continue to build my community, explore my new city with new friends and along the way I am finding pieces of myself around every corner.  So for any of you out there… moms or dads… who are feeling isolated and don’t know how you are going to stand another day stuck…check to see if there is a meet up group in your community… or start your own – I think you’ll love it!

I Write to Learn

This week at 4Mothers we are participating in a blog hop about why and how we write.  We were invited to participate by Kristina Cerise at Defining Motherhood, whose blog is one of my all-time favourites.  I love the combination of the polished and provisional in her posts: she begins with just a word, and it’s a word that could take her anywhere, and I’m always curious to see where her essay will go.

I feel like I have a bit of a split personality in answering these questions.  I do two kinds of writing: this blog, which is fun and effortless, and essays, which take a lot more out of me and are, therefore, often left to languish.

cuskWhy do I write what I do?

I write essays about motherhood because reading essays about motherhood saved my sanity.  For two years after having my second son, I was unable to read for pleasure.  I was still teaching university English, and at the end of the day, I was just too tired.  It felt like grief.  Then I read Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work, and it was so filled with exactly the right phrases for so much of my joy and trouble as a new mother.  I wanted to make sense of that joy and trouble with my own words.  I get enormous and indescribable joy from reading.  Writing is … less joyful.  What I’m aiming for is the sense of satisfaction of having worked something out.  I’d like one day to achieve the sense that what I write is as important to me as what others write.  I’d still much rather read than write, not having reached the point of believing that what I can write could make a reader as happy as I’ve been made by others’ words on the page.

I write a blog about being a mother because I love the community it makes.   I love the women I write with, and I love that it’s introduced me to so many other women to admire.  I learn a lot from this community.

How is my writing different from others in my genre?

It’s mine.

What am I working on/writing?

In addition to this blog, I’m also working on a collection of essays about how becoming a mother brings us back to childhood, in good and bad ways.

How does my writing process work?

When I’m writing an essay, I begin with just the kernel of an idea, an image or a phrase.  This was true of my university papers, of my doctoral thesis and of the essays I write now.  The main idea is always the last thing to appear.  It’s counter-intuitive, but my thesis is always the last thing I write.  (This is not advice I would ever give to my students.)  When the paper comes together in the final stages, it feels like magic, and I have to make myself believe that the magic will work every time I set out to do it.  I begin with an enormous amount of procrastination and doubt and work towards faith and a final product.

Blog Hop: Writing

Kristina Cerise, author of one of our favourite blogs Defining Motherhood and previous guest poster, has invited us to participate in a blog hop asking bloggers why we write.  This theme is right up our alley; as some of you may know, the 4 mothers of 4Mothers met in a memoir writing class about motherhood, and writing has been in our lives in one way or another for quite some time.

So we are more than ready to jump in and join this blog hop, we’ll be sharing this week the ins and outs of why and how we write.  We’ve been offered the following questions as a framework:

Why do I write what I do?

How is my writing different from others in my genre?

What am I working on/writing?

How does my writing process work?

Which means, quite possibly, that some people consider blog writing a genre, which I think I’ll go off and ponder for a bit.

We’d also like to introduce the bloggers who accepted our invitation to continue this blog hop and keep the conversation going.  Without further ado, please meet:

TheVanillaHousewife-button

Jhanis, self-described “grunge mom” of The Vanilla Housewife, blogging from all the way over in Cebu, Philippines.  Jhanis writes about mothering and life in general, which special attention paid to the vital nerve centre of the home, also known as the kitchen.  If you’re looking for fun, varied musings as well as some great recipes, it’s time to pay this blog a visit.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the Philippines to Australia: one of the wonderful things about writing on-line is discovering just how small the world is.  Our next blog hopper, Pip Marks, writes about environmental and social sustainability.  I particularly enjoyed this post about walls and fences in Australia.  It was lovely to see the dry stone walls from my Yorkshire childhood appear in photos from Australia.  Like I said, small world.

Hop over and check them out!

 

Acts of Kindness: We Followed Through

015Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

In the spirit of the holiday, we decided to write briefly today about acts of kindness we have been meaning to perform, and have recently finally performed.  If, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, we took a few steps heavenwards this week by following through on our good intentions.  We met in January to discuss our editorial calendar for the next few months, and thought that planning this post would put into motion all of our good intentions when it comes to committing random acts of kindness.  Resolutions met!  Here are some other wonderful stories of random acts of kindness.

Nathalie

For two years I’ve been carrying around a bookmark from The Children’s Book Bank, a charity close to my heart, but, apparently, not close to the top of my to do list, because for those same two years I’ve had bags of books waiting, waiting, waiting to be taken to them.  The Children’s Book Bank collects and distributes gently used children’s books and distributes them free of charge to children who might not otherwise have a chance to own their own books.  Today, they are getting a few dozen more to distribute.

Since Valentine’s Day also happens to be International Book Giving Day, won’t you please join me in hauling a bag of books to your local book bank, school, shelter or charity?  It will make my terrible procrastination feel a bit less weighty if I know I have at least added to my haul by encouraging others to give, too!

Beth-Anne

I find the term “random of acts of kindness” difficult to define.  Buying an unsuspecting person a cup of coffee is both random and kind and not to mention surprising for the recipient.  I am sure that the receiver goes about their day with an extra spring in their step, not from the caffeine but from the generosity of a stranger.

But in my books most random acts of kindness fall squarely in the “be a good human” column and sadly, being the receiver of a “good human act” is often just as random, kind and surprising as someone buying you a cup of coffee.

Being a kind human isn’t that difficult.  It’s the little things: shoveling a neighbour’s walk, bringing in your neighbour’s trash bins, sending an out-of-the-blue email to a friend letting them know how fabulous you think they are or waving a polite thank you when someone gives you the right-of-way.  These are the things that make people feel appreciated and feeling good is contagious.

In the midst of the polar vortex, with the sidewalk slick with inches-thick ice, I happened upon an elderly woman pushing her grocery buggy tentatively on the sidewalk, using the handle for balance.  I pulled my car to the side, much to the confusion of my son, and rushed to the woman’s side.  Together we navigated the buggy to a stretch of cleared sidewalk where it was safe for her to make her way home.

The woman was shocked that I had stopped my car to help her and her thank you was so genuine, it reminded me of the weight those words can carry.  However, it was what she said next that filled me with a deep sense of gratitude: God bless you!

I am not an overly religious person, but it was the way she said those words, with such feeling and authenticity that made me feel worthy, appreciated and valued.

Carol

I’m into honesty (maybe a bit too much), so I’ll tell you that I googled “random acts of kindness” when 4Mothers decided to write about it.  At first I considered this a testimony to how lost the art of kindness may be, that I needed to “research” examples.  As it turns out though, most suggestions for performing random acts of kindness is just a long way of saying “good”.

To put a little extra intention into “good”, I took into account the distinction of today, and tried to think of who might benefit from a good valentine but wouldn’t ordinarily receive one from me.  Two people came to mind:  a friend whose husband has gone overseas to say goodbye to his ailing sister, and a friend whose long-term relationship is ending and for whom the day will not be especially celebratory.

With the help of my oldest son, I made a three-layer peppermint bark (not nearly as well as the first time I tried it, I might add), but with enough heart that I hope it’s decent enough to be given away.  I have no idea whether this sugar treat will be eaten by the intended recipients, although their children may enjoy them well enough.  But it almost doesn’t matter; in truth, it’s me who needs to give them something, and whatever its contents, I hope the package tells them that someone is holding them in their thoughts.

It’s this that makes me wonder whether an act of kindness can ever really be random.  What creates the kindness is the intention behind it, whether it’s long pre-meditated or spontaneous.  It’s the difference between good luck (also nice) and a good turn.

And the icing on the peppermint bark is realizing consciously and joyfully how much kindness is sent my way, be it an unexpected card in the mail, the woman at the restaurant who commented on how well-behaved my boys were (true story), the pediatrician who cast no impatient glances when those same boys crawled all over her office and my youngest threw a slipper at (and hit) her, and the driver who didn’t honk even though I probably shouldn’t have made that turn.

With this in mind, we wish you lovely valentine vibrations that we hope will carry you through the day and well beyond.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Perfumed Evening

scentI hosted my neighbourhood book club this month, and my choice was Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent.  It’s a wonderful account of his year following a perfumer and a celebrity as they create new fragrances: Claude Ellena, who makes Un Jardin sur le Nil, his first as the in-house perfumer for Hermes, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who embarks on her first fragrance for Coty, Lovely.

We often do food and drink that’s linked to the book in some way, so I got rose Turkish Delight, Chowder’s violet candies, lavender jelly for the cheese board, and I made a cardamom and ginger dressing for the cantaloupe and a rosewater-flavoured yogurt for the strawberries.  Yum!  For drinks, I had spiced rum punch and Elderflower pear cider and Elderflower liqueur.  All highly recommended!

As part of the evening, I got samples of the perfumes Burr discusses in the book, and I asked everyone to bring their favourite perfume: a smell and tell component to the evening.  We had a tour through all the samples, and it was striking how polarized opinion could be on some of the perfumes.  My favourite perfume, Dzing! by l’Artisan Parfumeur, makes me deliriously happy because it smells like hay and animals and, yes, a bit like manure.  Two other women who smelled it smelled, wait for it, electrical fire!!  One of them had had an electrical fire recently and said it smelled exactly like it.  Obviously not a happy connection.  We rounded out the night by discussing the book and told stories about our fragrance memories and about how we came to love our favourites.

imagesUB2XEPSXWe all had our memories of heavy perfumes we left behind with our youth, like Rive Gauche, Poison, Anais Anais, Obsession and Ralph Lauren.  Do you remember those?   We all had memories of women in our lives who are inseparable from their fragrances.  For me, it’s my mother and Youth Dew.  Inseparable.

My fascination with all things perfume truly began about five years ago when I discovered that there exists a perfume called In the Library, made by Christopher Brosius for CB I Hate Perfume.  It turned out that the only woman in Toronto to carry his perfumes was right around the corner.  Sadly, I really did not like the smell of In the Library, but two of the notes in it, Tobacco and Old Leather, were available as individual scents.  I bought them on the spot, and gave them to my husband to wear.  They are simply scrumptious, and it gives me a profound sense of calm and pleasure to smell those scents on him.  I have since bought about six of his perfumes, each with its own wonderful story and unfolding pleasures.

His In the Library started me on a quest to find other perfume that smelled like books.  I’d get very strange looks when I asked about it, but one store owner who really knew his stuff said, “Nothing like books, but what about hay?  Some people think this one smells like paper.”  And he introduced me to my beloved Dzing!  His store has since disappeared, so my favourite scent remains elusive.  All the better to make you yearn, my dear.

What perfumes have you forever left behind?  What are your current favourites?

Guest Post: Karen Wolfe on the Limits of Etiquette

untitledMy mom tried – hard.  She taught us to welcome guests with a warm ‘hello’, to make requests with a ‘please’ and to follow up with a ‘thank you.’  She taught us to eat the meals set down before us at any table.  We learned to listen to those around us (especially the adults) and to ask to be excused.  Mom even tried to teach us to write ‘thank you’ notes.

But when it came to table manners, she had an uphill battle.  We knew how to hold a fork, knife and spoon. We knew how to set a table properly from a young age and we knew to clear it, but those rules are more about work ethic than etiquette – at least in our home.  Real contribution to the family has always meant more than polite impressions.

The root of her battle lay with the fact that my dad has questionable table manners.  He sets a table in his own creative way, he frequently talks with his mouth full, occasionally puts his elbows on the table, and he has been known to lick his knife.  And as a child I watched judgmental people dismiss him as a result of these habits; now, as an adult, I dismiss them in turn.

You see, people’s attention to etiquette can lead them to swift and superficial misjudgment of character.  And so I have always had rather ambivalent feelings toward etiquette, and to sports and leisure activities encoded with extensive rules;  golf and tennis tighten my jaw; country clubs stiffen my back.   Etiquette is used in social circles to reinforce classism, to justify exclusion – if you don’t know the rules then you are not part of ‘the club’, and if you are not part of the club, then you are expendable or invisible.

Please don’t misinterpret me.  I would like to teach my twin daughters “the rules” so they can wield them wisely. Actually, if I’m being absolutely honest, I would like my husband to teach my daughters “the rules.”  He is much more adept and knowledgeable about the subtleties of polite social interaction.

I would like to teach the girls to be considerate and present. My dad has taught us this.  He has taught us to always shake the hand that is offered first.  He has taught us to sit down with people, to make eye contact with those who are talking, and to actively listen to what they have to say, because everyone has something to offer.  He has taught us to participate in conversations, but to avoid taking up too much conversational space.

From my dad, I have learned that small gestures can have a tremendous impact on the lives of others – taking in a neighbour’s mail, shoveling an elderly person’s driveway, opening up a conversation with someone who is sitting alone.  And from my dad, I have learned that peanut butter can taste great licked from a knife.

I would like my daughters to approach others with his kindness, generosity, and sense of humour.

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Karen Wolfe is a mother of twin girls and lives in Toronto.

Manners, Boys

I’m a little … uptight about manners.  In fact, I’m so uptight that I am, ironically, not very polite to my kids when they have less than stellar manners.  Since I’m definitely a glass half empty kind of person when it comes to assessing my kids’  manners, my impolite calling them out happens fairly often.  Basically, I am regularly an obnoxious scold because my kids aren’t unfailingly polite.

Hmmmmm.  A case of the pot calling the kettle black.  I’m working on it.3A26B0E9

The good news is that although I have a tendency to focus on the negative when it comes to their behaviour, we hear great things about our boys when they go visiting friends or relatives.   Practically every time they go somewhere, my parting words are, “Remember your manners, boys.”  Usually, when they are returned to me, I hear a variation of , “The kids were great.”  My Dad, who babysat the boys one long weekend recently and who would have no hesitation in telling me if the boys had misbehaved, said there wasn’t a single problem all weekend.

Hmmmmm.  So that obviously can’t be true, but it  was close enough to the truth I think he wanted to tell me:  Nobody’s perfect, but these kids did their best, and I have no complaints.

Nobody’s perfect; no complaints.  Perfectionist that I am, this is a middle ground I’d happily tread with no fear of hypocrisy or mediocrity.