Bedtime Stories Are My Abiding Delight

I am a big believer in making time, and lots of it, for books before bed.  My family was even interviewed about it once by Andrea Gordon at the Toronto Star.

Four years later, and the boys are bigger and, significantly, they play a lot more hockey.  All three boys play competitive hockey, and we make 10-12 trips to the rink a week.  This is a good thing, mostly, and I’m a little bit proud and a lot relieved to be raising kids who are so eager to be fit and healthy and active.  (Not my DNA.)  However, hockey eats into time for all kinds of things: playdates, family dinners, unstructured time, and, yes, bedtime stories.

Time is never found, it’s made, and I make time for bedtime reading whenever it’s remotely possible, which is still usually four times a week of an hour of reading aloud before bed.  I am a stickler for bedtimes, because some of us are quite cranky if we don’t get a full night’s sleep, even if some of us are in our forties.  But if I can squeeze in a chapter before Youngest’s bedtime, I will always go the extra mile to do so.  I’m now reading aloud to Youngest and Middlest, and it’s all Harry Potter all the time.  After Youngest pops off to bed, Middlest reads by himself, sometimes curled up with me and my book, and sometimes for up to two hours before it’s time for his lights out.  (Definitely my DNA.)  It’s a magical time.  I am so profoundly grateful for it.

endgameEldest does not read with predictable regularity any more, though, and that saddens me.  He is at the rink most often, and he comes home late.  He will occasionally get immersed in a series, but it’s not a dependable thing.  I recently heard an interview that impressed me so much, I went out and bought the book for him.  (Seriously, go listen to this interview: James Frey being interviewed by a boy named Joshua for The Guardian.  It’s not often I am more impressed by the interviewer than the interviewee, but this kid is sharp.)  Anyway, I learned from this interview that James Frey’s new YA novel The Calling, the first in the Endgame trilogy, has a puzzle built into it, and the first person to solve the puzzle has a chance to win $500,000 of James Frey’s own dollars, currently sitting in a vault in Las Vegas in gold bars.  “This will get his attention,” I thought.  I’m glad to say that while it did get his attention, and while he did find my enthusiasm about the interview infectious, he did not make a huge effort to read the book quickly to solve the puzzle to win the gold.

Reading should be its own reward, and I’m glad that money was not sufficient enticement.  I have a quiet faith that one day, when there is somewhat less hockey (and soccer and basketball and swimming) on his schedule, Eldest will make his way back to daily and lengthy engagements with a book.  Reading is my abiding delight, and I do so want them to have that kind of pleasure in their daily lives.

The Gift of an Extra Hour

560146_10154829745705014_3080396294445167686_nAnd you, you busy mother, what will you, did you do with the gift of an extra hour this weekend when the clocks turned back and the night closed in?

What gift will you, did you give yourself in those sixty precious extra minutes?

Sleep.  Sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep.  And/or.

A full pot of hot coffee and time to drink it quietly.  And/or.

An early-morning slip out of the front door and up the hill to the damp dark park for long quiet walk.  And/or.

Bread, from scratch, to make the house rise with its smell.  And/or.

A bath alone and piping hot.  And/or.

A project from beginning to end.  And/or.

A meal, unhurried.  And/or.

Yes instead of no.  And/or.

Extra chapters at bedtime.  And/or.

Sleep.  Sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep.

 

 

Mindfulness, Meditation, and Making the Most of the Day

056It must be about 15 years ago now that I went to my first yoga class.  I had finished law school and landed a job at the University of Toronto, where I would stay for awhile before becoming a litigator.  The Associate Dean of the law school was my supervisor, a bright light at the school whose work ethic and good judgment was jettisoning her career at rapid speed.  This type of life is predictably stressful, and it was she who recommended that I try yoga, because it had done wonders for her:  “It sounds cliche, but it’s transformative,” she said.

This wasn’t an endorsement that I could ignore so I went.  And shoot, it wasn’t transformative.  I just felt twisty and disconnected and wondered what the deep rumbly noises all around me were (ujjayi breathing).  In other words, I had no idea what I was doing or why, which kind of means that I really wasn’t there.

Gratefully I tried again, with a very good friend who introduced me to an Indian teacher from whom she first learned in India, and who she continued to follow when he moved to Canada.  And the classes were, well, transformative.  It was my first real foray into meditation, or less loftily, simple calming the mind (I’m pretty sure he would not call those classes meditation by a long shot, but it’s me writing the post).  My body was doing all kinds of interesting things, but focusing on one’s breathing for an hour and a half (even when it’s raggedy and you should cool it a bit with the pose), is profoundly restful for the mind.

Mindfulness is a pretty catchy term, which is always a signal that one should explain what one’s definition of it is.  For me, it means being more awake to my surroundings and my choices, to live more intentionally.  I have been doing this for quite a few years now, sometimes with great success, and sometimes not.  At the moment, I am operating in a less successful window.  I could cite some reasons, but why bother – I’m just (over-)busy, much like you.

But if my hold on being mindful were stronger, I would know that it is precisely during such times when meditation and a calm mind is most needed and most helpful.  I woke up yesterday really feeling like a shift was due, and set my sights on a 30 minute window for a mindful meditation.  An unexpected turn in my husband’s schedule eliminated this possibility; I was with my 3 year old until the end of the school day, when I’d have my boys on my own until bedtime.

I’m vulnerable to being plowed under when best laid plans like these don’t materialize, but in one of my better moves, I noticed that the weather was clear and warm-for-fall, and my boy and I went outside.  I finally set up the cages for my mushroom logs (best-tasting mushrooms ever, by the way) to keep the darn raccoons away, and the neglected garden got some attention, with some of it put to bed (not the kale though, it’s still going strong). We were outside for a long time, my little guy sometimes helping me, sometimes doing his own thing, almost always talking to me.  We worked.  I worked, but I stopped often to see his centipede, or to find the wet hat lost in the summer, or to pick chamomile.  We came into the house hungry and happy and settled.

It was not a meditation, but it was mindful, and it felt like a breather for an over-active mind.   I was active and productive at home, and yet the world slowed down for me, and the conscious choosing of my time felt grounded and right.  The benefits felt similar to those from meditation, and I’m so glad that I didn’t give up on mindfulness when my allocated 30 minutes of meditation slipped away, because there was still a whole day remaining.

It won’t do for the purists I know, but maybe meditation or at least its benefits can come in different forms, and maybe it’s not quite elusive this way.  A walking meditation maybe, a listening meditation, a gardening meditation, a playing meditation.  Just actually noticing where you are and making the most of it meditation.

Yesterday this happened.  Today is a new day.  I’m going to try.

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.

10590667_10154510172545601_4903459479458543356_n

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.