Happy Mama

I had a speaking engagement this weekend at the Healthy Kids Expo in Toronto. The headline speaker was that Dr. Oz fellow who has a regular gig on Oprah. Needless to say, I was not the headline but Dr. Oz aside, there didn’t seem to be much of a draw at all – the show was disappointingly quiet. Interesting to note, however, that in the conference hall next door was the “Everything About Sex” show. By contrast, it was packed out despite the 25 bucks-a-head cover charge. Clearly when folks have the choice between information about healthy families or healthy sex lives, the latter wins hands down!

Many assume that when we’re talking about healthy kids it’s all about eating well and getting exercise. I think we get all that so my focus was on being happy and balanced mamas. I assured everyone that they were doing great if they were not pouring that first glass of wine before 5:00pm.

Mamas must make decisions that will make them happy because there is serious trickle down effect in families. No one is happy if mama is not happy. I think for mama to be happy she needs a healthy dose of self-awareness that drives her decision-making process. I think there are two situations where this is particularly true.

1) The decision about how many babies to have. Everyone willingly imposes their opinions on this topic – you should have more, less, closer together, further apart. But this is a decision no one should influence, even daddy-o to a certain extent. If daddy-o is pushing for another kid, while his input is welcomed, you need to consider whose life will actually be impacted. Let’s face it, there’s one person whose life is going to change completely, and it isn’t his! Ignore what your friends are doing and what your family is expecting. Take on one baby or take on eight – but only take on what you want to.

2) The decision about whether to stay at home with the kids or head back to the rate race. Many mamas don’t have a choice in the matter, but for those who do there needs to be some time for self-reflection. You may delight in years at home with small children, or you may feel like poking your eyeballs out half way through your first maternity leave. For the mama with the bleeding eyeballs, going back to work may be the best choice for all. There are countless amazing mothers who never stay home with their kids. So you need to shut out those outside voices and do what works for you. You may even have to shush an inner voice that may be nagging you saying “but shouldn’t I want to be home?”

As my wise and childless-by-choice sister often says: in life, we are the authors of our own books. For mamas, however, our books have an impact on some little novels that are still in the early chapters. We all want more than just a happy ending – we want happy words on every single happy page. The trick is figuring out for ourselves what is going to create that happiness so that we can share it with our families. For right now, it’s looking at the clock and seeing that 5:00pm is long gone and pouring myself a glass of wine. Cheers to us!

Divide and Conquer

I spent the morning at the pumpkin patch with four of my five kiddos. There were many families there spending the sunny autumn day together. Most families looked pretty nuclear – a mom and dad with a kid or two. Often when I rock up to places alone with a handful of kids I get the ‘wow, you’re brave’ look from by-standers. I don’t think people realize that it is all relative and comes down to what you are used to – stress levels for me to take four of five out would be no different to what they were a couple years ago when I’d take out two or three.

But seeing all those families spending the day together as a family unit did remind me that when you have a bigger family, you often have to split up for certain activities based on a number of different circumstances. We call this the “divide and conquer”. Today was a common case – our youngest had a fever so daddy-o stayed home with him while I took the others out for an adventure.

As we sat on the tractor awaiting arrival to our pumpkin patch destination, I asked the kiddos to remind me of our pumpkin picking rule. In unison the four little voices said “we can only pick a pumpkin that we can carry ourselves”. Many parents had a laugh and recognized that it was a sensible rule since I was on my own. I boarded the tractor for the return leg entirely empty handed while one set of eager parents were each loaded down with two huge pumpkins for their one and only darling. Perhaps if I had not been alone, I would have allowed for bigger pumpkins, but I seem to recall that this has been a long standing pumpkin picking rule of thumb, whether or not daddy-o is present.

A couple of weeks ago I had a more complex divide and conquer moment when one kid had her first hockey game, another his first cross country running meet and I was running late for a flight. We had to involve a third party in this one, namely the reliable grandmother known affectionately by all as Nan.

The divide and conquer philosophy spills into chores and errands as well. If daddy-o is heading out to the grocery store, he knows there is no going empty handed – a car seat or two better be occupied because you don’t do anything without a couple of little tag-alongs.

I remember feeling very sad at one divide and conquer moment when someone had to be taken to the hospital. It must have been a few kids ago because I remember feeling a bit fragile and wondering if I could manage it on my own, but I knew that both of us taking one child to the hospital made no practical sense at all.
I have come a long way since that time. When I was heading in for my last c-section I considered telling daddy-o that I’d just run myself down to the hospital because it would be easier if he just stayed home to manage the home front.

So while it can be difficult juggling who is taking whom to soccer, hockey or the birthday party and we sometimes quibble over who will stay home with a napper while the others head off to the park, I’m reminded of something my Aunt Sheila said at her daughter’s wedding in June that assures me that all this hard work is worth it. Aunt Sheila noted that families and sports teams are very similar -the teams that work the hardest always gain the most. Here’s hoping she’s right because it is something that gets me through some very tough days!

Being Thankful

I love going around the table and hearing what the kids are thankful for. The big kids are a bit boring because they know what they should be thankful for so give all the standard answers such as family and good health. The little kiddos come out with the real zingers. It appears the small children in my family are most thankful for ice cubes, band aids, chairs, cactus and shelves. Yes, they have charmed lives indeed!

I’ve been recently working on an article about how motherhood can sometimes regress into a culture of complaining. Easily done – and entire group of humans who are sleep deprived and whose lives are no longer their own. Admittedly, I’m not a big complainer. I was raised by a non-complainer and it worked well for our family. I figure if I complained more, people would listen less and I quite enjoy feeling like my voice is heard.

Recently Mabel’s Labels was involved with an online blog auction to raise funds for some mamas who have really come into some tough times. When I heard about their situations, it really drove home that we mamas who are complaining about being tired and carrying a bit of extra baby weight are pretty darned lucky.

The first mama is Carol Decker from Washington. She battled a devastating infection, resulting in the emergency c-section of her second daughter. Immediately following the cesarean, Carol had both legs amputated blow the knee, as well as her left hand. Oh, and she’s also blind now. The medical bills are astronomical.
The second mama happens to be a fellow mama blogger named Stephanie Nielson. She and her husband were recently in a private plane crash. Stephanie has burns on over 80% of her body. She has no less than four small children.

Not to be a downer on this Canadian Thanksgiving, but it sheds a bit of perspective on it all. So this year I am thankful for being tired, not having ‘me time’, and feeling a bit bloated after all the turkey I’ve had.
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