Yoga With Kids

270Along with pretty much everything else, yoga has been on a hiatus lately and I’ve been feeling it.  But I fit in it yesterday.  I was with my youngest babe, and for whatever reason, he suggested it.  It’s been a good long while since we’ve done any yoga and honestly I don’t even know how he would know to ask for it.  But I’ve been meaning to get back to it anyway, and there’s no time like the present, so in popped the video.

I did this even though in exactly six minutes I had to pick up my older boys from school, but I figured six minutes is a huge improvement on the nothing I’ve been doing, and my body would benefit from anything.

And then I had the happy (and kind of surprising) experience of mentioning it to the boys after school and hearing:  “Yeah!  Yoga!  Let’s do yoga!  Yoga, yoga!!”

So we traipsed up the stairs and into the bedroom where the computer is and got started.  There is absolutely no room for four of us; there’s barely room for two.  We squished two (sometimes three) on the floor, and one (sometimes two) on the bed.  Yes, my children did yoga on the bed.

Yoga with the kids is also more vocal than when I do it alone.  I heard:

I’m the best at this!

Is this supposed to hurt?

What does she mean take 5 breaths?  I already took 5 breaths!

My feet smell too bad.  I’m too close to my feet.

There’s space right here on Mommy!  See?

Who wants to play the game where we run and bump each other?

Meditation is not the name of the game when I do yoga with the kids, but it’s hard to imagine enjoying it more.  I am in awe of what practicing yoga can do for the body, mind and spirit, and yet there really is something to be said for a good belly laugh (or six).  I’m thankful for all of it.

Community Success

photo 3My proudest time as a teacher was taking a group of students to South Africa on exchange.

In 2007, I took eleven Nelson Mandela Park Public School students (from grades five to twelve) to Cape Town, South Africa, for a month.

For close to two years, the school and the Regent Park community worked together and supported the exchange in every way (financially, emotionally, physically) through fundraising, learning about South Africa and Nelson Mandela, and through communicating with Battswood, our sister school in South Africa.

Prior to our trip, in December of 2006, the Regent Park community hosted a group of teachers, parents and students from our sister school in their homes and classrooms for a month.

The community aspect, both here in Canada and there in South Africa, was amazing.

It was a lot of hard work, but at the same time it was easy because we knew that other people were supporting  the project.

What was most remarkable about this whole experience was the level of trust from the school, the community, and the families that these children could be successful in doing the unexpected.

I was privileged to be a part of this life changing experience.

(Recounting this story brought tears to Sherri’s eyes).

 

What do you learn from your students?

photo (10)Being a teacher and spending my days with young children has taught me to embrace living in an imperfect world. The lives of children are often messy and complicated, but that messiness is usually short-lived and turns into joy and exuberance more quickly than we adults anticipate. I am always amazed watching children make mistakes as they are learning or as they are navigating the social world of the playground because I am also witnessing them build resilience and their inner strength, which I know they will carry into their adult lives.  Watching them build their resiliency or come to accept when their ideas don’t work out as planned makes me remember it’s okay to exist in a place that isn’t always neat and tidy, where it’s okay to fail because we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.

Sense Memories

dustOne of the things I loved about Moira Young’s Dustlands trilogy was the way she describes smell.  The narrator protagonist Saba is caught in a love triangle, as the heroines of young adult fantasy and dystopias often are, and each of her love interests has his own characteristic smell.  (Actually, she has three men vying for her attention, but the third does not get a sense description, so we know that we can dismiss him as a contender fairly quickly.)  The books are set in a post-apocalyptic world of drought, dust and danger, and on those rare occasions when there is time and water available for bathing, it is described as something wonderfully soothing and quietly aromatic.  And her men?  One smells of sage and the other of juniper.

I had my first kiss in middle school, and the boyfriend in question smelled of Polo, the signature scent of boys in the eighties.  And when he gave me his jean jacket to wear, I could carry that smell around with me everywhere.  It was the smell of butterflies in my stomach, of relief to be paired up, of pride to show it off.  It was the sensory equivalent of the fog I was in in those heady days of fumbling around for a sense of place and selfhood.  I loved the smell then, and I took every opportunity to bury my nose in the soft, frayed collar of the jacket.  I smell it today with mixed emotions, not all of them pleasant.  What hindsight throws into stronger relief is the tumult of emotions that goes along with first kisses and first loves and first heartaches.  The 1000th and 10,000th kisses are so very much better, though they never fail to give me butterflies.

What is your scent memory of your first kiss?

 

Ladies, do you think you know your vagina? Think again!

photo (51)As a teenage girl, I would cringe if my mom talked about periods when my dad was within earshot. Clearly much has changed because as a grown woman, when I learned about the annual Kegels and Cocktails event hosted by fitness expert Samantha Montpetit-Huynh, certified Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist Julia Di Paolo and Kim Vopni, The Fitness Doula, I had to buy tickets. And drag along two of my close girlfriends who can yap about vaginas with the best of them.

When we arrived we were greeted by a cheerful woman at the door who was eager to make us feel welcome, “Let me get you some punch! With alcohol or without?” She sped away and I surveyed the crowded room noting several pregnant bellies and more than a few teeny infants. Our perky hostess returned seconds later balancing three fruity, pink punches expertly. “Here, have some pussy punch!”

And with those words, the night began.

To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had interviewed Samantha for an article I wrote last year for Viva Magazine and loved her energy. Immediately we bonded over our mutual hatred of “bump watches” and “post-baby body” stories that dominate the tabloid newsstands and breed unrealistic body expectations. I figured anything she was involved with, was something that I wanted to learn more about.

Boy, did I learn.

I walked into the event thinking, what are they going to tell me that I don’t already know? I do my kegels! I have three kids! I (and everyone on the 7th floor of Mount Sinai Hospital, and that stunned gift shop employee) know my vagina.

You know how Oprah talks about having an Ah-Ha! moment? Well, I had an Oh-Shit! moment.

Certified Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist Julia Di Paolo captivated everyone’s attention when she stood at the podium and made an impassioned plea for women to make pelvic wellness part of their overall healthcare. Di Paolo explained the importance of a well-functioning pelvic floor. She likens the pelvic floor muscles to a trampoline. A trampoline is taut and firm but it has flex, and will give but it will always return to its original form. Well-functioning pelvic floor muscles act the same. They have just the right amount of give (not too much or too little) and they retain their elasticity. If the muscles slacken too much and sag, they can’t effectively do their job, and internal organs like the uterus, rectum and bladder can shift and fall.

Then she dropped the bombs.

50% of women who’ve had children will have some prolapse. (Hagen & Stark, 2011)

Women who’ve had one vaginal delivery are at 4 times the risk of developing a prolapse and the risk increases 8.4 times with two or more vaginal deliveries. (Mantal et al. 1997)

But I don’t think I have a prolapse. Actually, I’m sure that I am fine; I generally have very good luck. I think this as I squiggle in my chair and straighten my posture acutely aware of my vagina.

Di Paolo clicks the mouse and the slide changes. There is audible murmuring from the room of women and my girlfriend who’s seated beside me lets out a deflated sigh.

Symptoms of a prolapse:

  • Feeling pelvic pressure
  • Feeling uncomfortable within the pelvic cavity
  • Rectal pressure
  • Constipation
  • Feeling like your insides are falling out
  • Incontinence or retention of urine
  • Tampons do not stay in place
  • Some women are asymptomatic

Oh-Shit!

Di Paolo has made it her mission to empower women before, during and after pregnancy about the importance of a healthy pelvic floor. She maintains there are many ways to help prevent or reduce the severity of prolapse.

What to do?

  • Learn to do kegels the right way (Note: I was doing them wrong and judging by the collective gasp in the room, I wasn’t the only one)
  • Modify your workout routine since many popular exercises can actually exacerbate pelvic floor weakness and prolapse
  • Stay hydrated
  • Stop being so sedentary, get out and walk more!
  • If you’re thinking of getting pregnant or are pregnant, see a pelvic floor physiotherapist before you give birth!

Most importantly book an appointment with a pelvic floor physiotherapist and learn about your body. Don’t assume that the damage is done or that you have to live with discomfort. Di Paolo says with treatment most of the time patients are able to restore their prolapse by one degree and learn how to prevent further damage.  Bottom line: be informed, be proactive so that you are not dealing with issues years down the road.

To find a registered pelvic floor physiotherapist in Ontario click here. To contact Julia Di Paolo or a member of her team of Pelvic Floor Physiotherapists, visit her Women’s and Pelvic Health clinic PhysioExcellence located in Toronto, Ontario.

The Eras of Childhood, As Measured by Trips to the E.R.

A light-hearted look at our trips to the emergency room, written while touching wood and counting our blessings that we can laugh about them now.  4Mothers would like to say that we are extremely grateful to be able to take our emergencies to The Hospital for Sick Children.  Every time I go in there, I feel so proud and so blessed to be a Canadian tax payer!

The Era of Croup, infancy

“Who are you and what have you done with my baby?!” you say to the seal who seems to have possessed your barking infant.  Off you rush to the E.R., because it’s 3 a.m. and you have a seal in the crib, but apparently, this is so benign it does not even require medical attention.  “Walk around outside [in -20 degree cold] for a few minutes,” says Doctor.  The cold air will, indeed, fix it.

The Era of the Ear Infection, infancy to 3

It’s Friday night.  Your child has had a cold all week, and it’s gotten steadily worse.  Now that the doctor’s office is closed, his little ear canals have filled up and festered, his fever has spiked and he is screaming blue murder every time he goes horizontal.  You know it’s an ear infection.  The pharmacist knows it’s an ear infection.  Neither of you can do anything about it without a prescription from a doctor.  He will finally fall asleep in the ER.

The Era of Allergies, toddler to school age

The definition of an anaphylactic allergy is that two or more of the body’s systems react violently to the allergen.  Skin.  Respiratory.  Digestive.  If you are lucky, you will rush your little lobster to the ER, both of you covered in vomit, and pray that you have enough diapers to get through the visit.

The Era of Poisoning, toddler to school age

Rhubarb leaf.  Who knew?

Concussion, school age

Head meets ice through helmet.  Headache and vomiting ensue.  Get thee to the ER.  Always better to be safe than sorry.

The Era of Broken Bones, school age

You will go into the ER, for example, with Eldest, who has a broken bone in his hand, and while you wait, a lovely, eager medical student will zip over to ask you to fill out a questionnaire about Trampoline Safety.  You will say yes because that’s the kind of Helpful Person that you are.  You will fill out the questionnaire then read the safety guidelines that she hands you informing you that, actually, Canadian pediatricians are asking for a ban on all backyard trampolines.  You will say to her, in all certainty, that as a mother of three boys, “A trampoline will be the reason for my next visit to the ER.”  You will be right.

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Did I miss any?

We’re All in This Together

Anne Taintor, we love you!  Shop here.

Anne Taintor, we love you! Shop here.

I often catch myself saying to one of the boys, “Can you do me a favour, please?  Can you sweep the floor/set the table/put the groceries away?”

Implicit in the way I ask the question, of course, is the idea that it’s my job and that they are helping me to do my job rather than helping to do a job that just needs doing.  This is not the ethos I’m consciously trying to nurture in my house, though.  It’s a throw-back to my mother’s way of doing things.  Not only did she do all of the repair/electrical/plumbing/carpentry/painting work, she did all of the housework, rarely asked for help, and was rarely offered any, more’s the pity.  My father is much better now, but when I was growing up, he didn’t even clear his own plate from the dinner table.

Not on my watch, mister.  No way.

Let me tell you, kids get readily invited back to this house on the basis of who clears his own plate after eating.  It’s not about housework; it’s not about gender; it’s about respect.  And I hope that when my kids visit other people, they are pulling their weight around the house.

But what will happen when they have houses of their own?  A lot, not all, but a lot, of that depends on the here and now.  My hope is that they will see a clean house as a thing of joy and beauty and just do what needs to be done to get it clean and keep it there.  In order to model that, I try to avoid martyrdom, I pose housework as a set of problems that need to be solved by us all, I make the clock and the schedule the boss.  Housework is just a job that needs to be done, and we do more of it before company comes over, but the house is usually in good shape.

I am a SAHM, for now, and for that reason, I do more housework than my husband.  When we both worked, the division was more even.  Maybe it will be again one day.  It really does not register anywhere on my radar of things to fuss about.  Maybe that’s because my husband clears his own plate.

Stephen Marche notes that while men have picked up a larger share of childcare and of cooking, they still are not pulling their weight with housework.

The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it. …  The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is just that simple: don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. Don’t fix the garden gate. Fail to repaint the peeling ceiling. Never make the bed.

A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Hope is messy: Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.

Forgive me if I am not in a rush to embrace this particular vision of equality, but “squalor” is not and never will be part of the vocabulary of this house.  Hell, no.  There may be a gender inequality between the married parties, but all three of our boys do chores and will, I hope, grow up to think themselves capable of and responsible for the care and nurturing of all aspects of the household.  Period.

At Issue: Housework

A while back, Stephen Marche wrote an op-ed piece about housework for the New York Times.  He notes that while men have picked up a larger share of childcare (cool dads!) and of cooking (manly, manly bbq!), they still are not pulling their weight with housework.

At least one thing is becoming clear: The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it. …  The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is just that simple: don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. Don’t fix the garden gate. Fail to repaint the peeling ceiling. Never make the bed.

A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Hope is messy: Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.

Lower the standards, he says, and the problem can go away.  Marche  is at work on a book about the end of the gender wars, and this, we are given to understand, constitutes part of that body of work.  It’s a great read, but so is the angry response from Jessica Gross.

She is quick to point out that lowering standards to let slacker men off the hook is no solution at all:

once you have kids, you can’t let them live in filth. Toddlers will eat dust bunnies, and parents will trip on the miles of plastic crap lying around. We’re not talking Martha Stewart perfection; we’re talking a baseline of cleanliness.

What’s more, she says, she has written a lot about the debate with which he engages, and he fails to credit her ideas:

In a way, this is just a classic example of chauvinism: belittling and ignoring female contributions, whether they are intellectual or domestic.

Will this quarrel over housework ever go away?

This week, 4Mothers will discuss gender and housework and how things look to us.  We love it when you join in, whether to offer your own perspective or to simply say that you enjoyed a read.  Don’t be shy; drop us a line.

Our guest this week will be Kelly Quinn, who has written for us before, and whose idea this was in the first place.  Thanks, Kelly!

 

(Multiple) Guest Post: Mothers in Children’s Books

Oh, the glories of book shops!  Where you can go along of a summer evening and listen to a group of interesting and funny women talk about books, and mothers in kids’ books to boot.

Kerry Clare and some of the other contributors to The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood gathered at Parentbooks on Harbord Street to discuss the representation of mothers in children’s books.  They brought books and food and insights and laughter to share and it was a wonderfully intimate discussion about  finding or not finding mothers on the pages of our kids’ books.

Kerry began by telling us that one inspiration for the topic was a blog post by Liz Harmer about how, at one point in her parenting life, the picture books she was reading to her children were more helpful to her as a struggling mother than parenting books:

in the horror-show that was my life after the second child was born I had already found my parenting identity in martyrdom. All I knew how to feel was guilt. I had no idea that a new baby would find all of the breathing room in my full life and take it for herself. I had no idea that the toddler would respond to my being overwhelmed by cranking up her own despair.

At this point, any parenting advice was a smart to the open wound I’d become.

And so, we began to talk about mothers and parenting and how they unfold on the pages of children’s books.  What do we find there and how does it speak to or about us?

pippi_longstocking1Heather Birrell read from her own childhood copy of Pippi Longstocking and talked about how, while her own daughter is rather indifferent to the book, as a writer and a mother, she loves the fact that Pippi is motherless.  She is successfully independent as an orphan of nine, and a lot more likeable than the kids up the street with intact families .  The absent mother in kids books, a remarkably frequent thing, allows kids independence, freedom from rules and from cloying love or authority.  Pippi’s mother, so Pippi imagines, watches her from her perch in the sky through a little hole in the clouds, and Pippi is always able to assure her that she is doing perfectly well.  As a writer herself, Birrell said she is always killing off mothers in her short stories.  It’s just so much more convenient to the engine of the plot and character development to have them out of the way.

We agreed that it was wonderful to find yourself, as a mother, celebrating books that did away with mothers so that kids can bloom, because isn’t that what we want for our kids, after all?

roseiAmy Lavender Harris talked about how grandmothers often fill the maternal role in the Eastern European tradition, and she read from Rosie’s Dream Cape by Zelda Freeman to illustrate the multiple roles that the grandmother fulfills; she is the figure of authority, conscience, forgiveness, generosity and connection to the old world and to the missing mother.

 

eddie

Heidi Reimer read from one of Sarah Garland’s Eddie books, Eddie’s Kitchen, and made the wondenderful observation that the illustrations enable a kind of covert and underground conversation, mother-to-mother.  The illustrations are wonderfully lush, and the house is packed and cluttered.  The mother in these books exemplifies grace in the chaos of family life, though the illustrator is also careful to portray her outside of her role as mother.  At one point, she is huddled on the stairs, alone, speaking on the phone to a friend who is having a rough day.

Patricia Storms chose Tomi Ungerer’s No Kiss for Mother from which to read and reveled in the illustrations that would never pass muster today: a depiction of kids smoking stolen cigars and parents punishing their kids (with canes no less!).  Originally published in the 1970s, the book has been reissued by Phaidon, and perhaps the fact that the family in the book is a family of anthropomorphic cats makes it possible to publish it again today.  She admired that the conclusion of the book does actually provide a conclusion to the tension between an adoring mother and a son who does not like to be coddled and kissed.  They compromise; each gives ground.  The ground has shifted for both of them by story’s end, and the rebellious child is not simply drawn back into the normative family fold.  That family has had to change, just a bit, to accommodate him.9780714864754

Kerry finished off the night with a discussion of one of Shirley Hughes’s Alfie books, Alfie Gets in First.  Kerry remarked on how wonderful it was to read about another mother struggling with the mind-numbingly boring but immensely difficult negotiations of motherhood: how to get the stroller through the door and up the stairs, ditto with baby.  Predictably, Alfie gets into the house before mother and stroller and baby and locks himself in and them out.  Panic ensues.  Kerry was grateful for the feeling of solidarity she felt with the mother in the illustrations and how she felt a lot less alone reading those books to her children.  Again, the illustrations are lush and chaotic and depict the clutter and detritus of the busy family home.

alfie-gets-in-first

Kerry finished up with a reading of Stephany Aulenback’s lovely  If I Wrote a Book About You and talked about how motherhood enables creativity and productivity and how finding solutions to the stupid problem of the stroller on the sidewalk and through the narrow door could be worthwhile in and of itself as well as leading to all manner of other kinds of creativity.

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My Car: The Backseat Boys and Me

Our family bought two cars within six months last year. Hubby got a sweet sky blue hybrid (he has some significant commuting); I got a 2004 Corolla. It’s okay: you may find it hard to believe, but I opted for this.  I wanted something as little as we could manage because of ecological and financial reasons, because I wouldn’t be driving long distances, because I didn’t want to make driving more tempting than it already is, and because we can get away with it now. When my boys become long-legged creatures like their dad, we’ll re-assess.

But the main point is that the car is small, and not especially convenient for a family with three kids.  Though I prefer it this way, I offer this preface to contextualize the state of the car.  Without further ado, and in notable contrast to the good-looking/clean vehicles that I knew Nathalie and Beth-Anne would present on this blog without any consideration for me, here we go.

001

This is the foot area of the passenger seat.  Frequently, the seat itself looks similar because it carries a passenger about 5% of the time and I need the space for storage.  I thought about cleaning up some of the garbage for this photo shoot and then thought whatever.

On closer examination… the paper bag contains food and paper garbage that perpetually manifests in the car.  The grey bag contains an extra pair of shoes for my 2 year old (and there is another unphotographed pair wedged under the seat).   The white shoebox contains music for the car.  The baggie contains craft supplies for a preschool project that my son refused to do.  The yellow bits are a mapbook and a school folder containing important unread papers.  The blue plastic cup came home from a friend’s house because holding it was the only way my son would leave.  The Scotties box is our house’s prized box of tissues – I try to avoid paper products and we mostly use handkerchiefs – but I keep tissues at home for guests or as a treat to myself.  This one made it to the car a couple of months ago when my nose would not stop running and hasn’t emerged since.  The teaspoon was salvaged from the schoolyard.

002This is what sits behind the glove compartment that fell off when we tried to open it after a particularly cold winter day.  (The glove compartment now sits in the car trunk, which I forgot to photograph.)

004Love this feature of the car – the tape deck.  Tapes!  It’s so much fun to find kids’ tapes at rummage sales – they’re necessarily older and kitschy and I even found a reading of Caps for Sale.  Since you can’t even buy a freezie for a dime or a quarter anymore, they are basically cost-free fun for the kids.  Oh, and the cassette under the player (next to the harmonica and hand salve – best place to moisturize your hands is at stoplights) was made by my brother for me 20 years ago and probably features Billy Joel.

017The carseats.  Bane of early motherhood.

018The only ding in the car, created by me.  I carefully brought back a big stack of wooden boards home from Home Depot to make raised garden beds.  Then I not carefully took one off the top of the car in the garage, and it fell on the car.

020The bike rack my husband used to take my messed up bike to the repair shop, to facilitate leaving this precious dreadful car in the garage more often.

022The garage door opener/closer – the best feature of the car by a long shot for my two year old.  Also the rearview mirror, perhaps the best feature of the car for me, because I get to see my backseat boy brood with it.