Flying Solo

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I’m going to be solo-parenting for the next little while, and so far the experience has brought a few things forward for me. First is a deep appreciation for all that my partner does in the running of our household. I sometimes feel resentment because the childcare falls primarily to me. But now that I also must monitor our water and fill the water tank weekly, keep the generator fueled and its oil changed, clean up the kitchen after I cook, find someone to buck up a cord of firewood, find more firewood…I really see just how much he does. Even the little things, like starting a fire in the early, chill hours of the morning, putting on the birch because I love how it smells: I see them and appreciate them now more than ever.

Last night, when I came home late from work, I got the fire going again so it would be warm when we woke up today. Crouched in front of the stove, breathing life into the flames, watching them lick up the kindling that I’d split in the yard a few days earlier, I felt so grateful to the friends helping me through. Who not only babysit my children but clean my house, too. Who take my kids to the park so I can write (or, you know, run some errands unaccompanied), or who give up their weekend so I can go to work.

I felt grateful for this whole experience. In the last week, I’ve learned skills that I never made time for before. I feel empowered and independent again, something I have missed since getting married and starting a family. It was easy to give over all these running-of-the-home tasks to him. But I would also feel frustrated if they needed to be done, and I had time but lacked the knowledge. I used to worry: what if something happened to my partner and I had to keep this place going on my own? It’s hard for me to ask for help. It’s hard for me to be dependant on another. And this experience has challenged both of those things. Leaning on my friends for help with the kids, while gaining a measure of independence at home. I can now do almost all of the things that I’d previously boxed up as “blue jobs.” (I know, super sexist.) The only thing I’d like to learn is how to run the chainsaw. That will have to wait, for now.

I’m grateful for all the hard work I’ve done in the last two years to learn how to better take care of myself. I know those skills will be essential in the coming weeks. I’m down to bare-bones self-care, but I try to savour it. Making time for meditation when I can. Not worrying about writing and polishing poems, but instead focusing on 10 minute freewrites, just to keep my hand moving across the page. Taking some extra time in the shower, even. I’m grateful we have a dog that forces us out for a walk, and that there’s no cell signal in the woods. It’s an hour where I’m far away from my phone.

The season is turning abruptly here. We had a week of uncomfortable, dry heat. Each afternoon, it would reach 35 degrees celcius in the sun. Then: cool mornings and the leaves of the birch and aspen turning golden and brown. One night, strong winds blew much of the leaves down, at least around our place. Geese gather, ready for the long flight south. My thoughts turn to the woodpile, to soups and stews and home-baked bread; to checking which kid needs new boots this winter, or a new coat, and actually trying to be prepared for that (because I’m never prepared for that). I pulled the big duvet out last night and put it on the bed. It’s cozy with the kids in there, too, and for once, I’m glad we still co-sleep.

I’m going to try and keep up with my weekly posting here, but if I miss a week or two, please know life is busy right now and I’m okay! You can find me sporadically on Twitter, and more frequently on Instagram (my account is private, so if you want to follow and we don’t know each other IRL, just send me a DM) and Facebook. Take care, friends!

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Dig In

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Four days of intense travel. A total of 10 hours on the road, 4 and a half hours in airplanes, an hour in a taxi. Hours spent in hotel rooms, trying to keep 3 little kids entertained in such a small space.

Taking them to a park in Vancouver where the ground was squishy mud, Aedan getting his boots full of puddle water just 2 hours before his appointment at the diabetes clinic. Me, most unprepared parent ever, even after 5 years of parenting, not having a spare pair of shoes for him. Drying his boots out in the hotel bathroom with the hair dryer.

P and I switching off for the appointments: he and Aedan first while I try to get Charlie to nap, Treehouse keeping Colm quiet, sort of. Then my turn: taking an unhappy 3 year old to his appointment with the allergist. 2 hours in a room at the clinic, giving his history to a resident. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting in that little room to finally have a chat with the Doctor. Forms signed, skin test finally completed, we’re free.

Walking to the Japanese restaurant in the rain, the server not understanding my requests for plain tofu for my allergic son, getting the battered tofu…ordering endless sides of rice, rice dumped on the floor, imagined side-eye from the mom with the calm kids at the table next to us. Impatient husband. Octopus baby in my lap. In the highchair. Back in my lap. Repeat for 4 days.

Crying baby in the truck, she hates the car seat. Puking baby, I don’t know why. Roadside stops to pee. Roadside stops to clean up puke.

The herd of elk just south of Braeburn Lake. Stopping the truck so the boys could get their fill of the animals nosing through the thin layer of snow, tearing at dried grass with teeth, totally unconcerned by our presence.

The two linx P and I saw playing at the side of the road near Tintina Trench. They ducked into the ditch before the boys could spot them, before I could wrestle my phone from the baby to snap a photo. Some things are meant to be experienced fleetingly. All things, maybe.

Tumbling back into our reality, except it’s all our reality, isn’t it? Back to work, back to school. Fighting about school. Wrestling him into his clothes. Mindlessly eating. Pulling myself back. What do I need to do on these days when I Google hopeless things like “how to survive when you hate being a parent”? Google can’t tell me. You can’t tell me. Only I can. Only I know. Come back to the breath. Go easy on myself. Get outside for a moment. Write. Right here, write. Read a poem. Root deeper when you want to run away.

Dig in, because this is it.

Self-Care and Mom Guilt

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Yesterday afternoon, I was texting with a mom friend who was feeling lonely and overwhelmed at home with her two little ones. I asked her if she could get a break today. She replied that it didn’t look possible; that she’d been to the gym a few days earlier so she shouldn’t be complaining, anyway.

Shortly after that, I saw an opportunity to go out for a run and I took it. And the day before, I’d been to a yoga class. And the day before that, I’d been for a run, too. I didn’t tell my mom friend that I was going for a run the day after I’d been to a yoga class, though. Instead, I texted a vague “gotta go, love you!”, threw on my sneakers and dashed out the door. As I ran, I thought about self-care and the seemingly endless guilt we mothers feel about it.

I know exactly how my friend was feeling: like we only deserve so much. Like asking for more, even a significant break on a daily basis, is selfish, is asking too much. So many times in my journey to better self-care, I’ve told myself I’ve already had enough for that day or that week. That asking for this one more thing is just too much. I wonder, do fathers struggle with this? When they decide to go to the gym or a drive or have a night out with friends, do they carefully weigh how many hours they’ve already had to themselves this week? Why do we, as mothers and, let’s face it, primary caregivers, feel like there is a limit to how much time we can give ourselves in a day or a week?

Guilt waits at every turn for me. I feel like we’re nearing a decision on whether or not to send Aedan to kindergarten. It’s something I began to write about here a few months ago, in a post about homeschooling as a writer. I am leaning heavily towards sending him to kindergarten, and his brother and sister after him, but oh my, is it wracked with extreme feelings of guilt and failure. This morning, I reached out to the doula I had when Aedan was born: I recalled her talking about homeschooling, five years ago, and I also remembered that recently she’d announced on Facebook that she was getting ready to self-publish a book. I wondered if she’d homeschooled and found a way to balance that with her writing. She wrote back that in the end, she sent them to school. She reminded me that in tribal cultures, there are 4 adults to each 1 child. She told me that school is a part of her tribe that helps her to raise her kids. I had never thought of school in those terms before, but those words felt so right, so affirming to me. They felt like permission to drop my guilt.

We are not meant to parent alone, but we do, so much of the time. It’s so lovely to think of our “tribe” as being made up of aunts and uncles, grandparents, older siblings and cousins, friends and elders who can all play a part in raising our kids, in caring for each other, in household work. But it’s just not our reality. Our tribe can also be made up of teachers, daycare workers, free childcare at the gym, or the teen down the street who hangs out with your kids for an hour on the weekend so you can go out alone. There should be no shame in pulling together the resources we have available so that we can fill ourselves to overflowing and be more present for ourselves and our families.

I’m going to try and stop keeping track of how much time I’ve spent on self-care. I’m going to try and stop thinking of it as too much, and instead think of it as always just enough of what I need to function. In these intensive years of parenting little ones, we do need breaks every day. And I realize it’s not possible a lot of the time. But we shouldn’t feel guilty for the wanting. We shouldn’t feel like we’re complaining or like we’re not enough because we’re struggling to do something we were never meant to do alone in the first place.

Permission to Have a Bad Day

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Yesterday was one of those days where I woke up exhausted. I muddled through breakfast and my first cup of tea. I lay down in what passes for the kids’ playroom and watched them play, trying to stay awake. I had my second cup of tea, the sun still not even close to being up in the sky. I felt low, in general. My negative self-talk was a grumble in the background. You should be doing more. You should get the kids out. You should put pants on. What kind of mother are you? Get up. Get up. Get up! On top of that, I was feeling anxious about Halloween (how am I going to get through trick or treating when I’m already so tired? I don’t want to do small-talk in the street!) I was also feeling distress at the state of the world and my place within it.

I struggled with this as I drank my second cup, and then I told my chattering mind to just hush. I stopped following those anxious thoughts and just let myself rest. I gave myself permission to just have a bad day. Though that’s not quite right, either. I gave myself permission to be feeling low right then. No promises or expectations for the rest of the day. And so that’s what I did. I spent the morning watching the ebb and flow of the kids at play, reading books when asked, redirecting when things got too rough, dozing when things were calm. Charlotte went down for an early nap as the sun came up at 10 (10!), I wrote a blog post, and then P came home from work.

Lately, I’m big on doing, as Glennon Melton calls it, “the next precise thing.” And what I wanted at precisely that time was a shower. Not even to wash: just to stand in the hot spray, the close humidity of it, the absence of little hands tugging at me. And that was just enough of a reset for me to get dressed, get the kids dressed, and go for a walk along the river after we ate lunch.

All in all, it wasn’t a stellar day, though our friends did pop over for tricks and treats, so that when Colm fell asleep at 5 and actual trick or treating didn’t happen, nobody was sad about it. I went to bed early, too. The thought crossed my mind more than once that maybe I need to get antidepressants. But today dawned differently. Even though it started at 4:30 for me and Colm, I don’t feel nearly as exhausted as I did yesterday; I’m already dressed, we made muffins, we walked to the store and back.

Part of my recovery from PPD, and from a lifetime of bouts of depression, has been learning that just because I have one bad day, or two bad days, doesn’t mean I’m doomed. It doesn’t mean I’m failing, it doesn’t mean I’m going back “down” again. Sometimes, we just have a shitty day. We’re tired, our energy is low. It’s winter and sunrise is 10 a.m. Giving myself permission to feel that way yesterday was an act of self-love and self-care. Staying present with whatever feelings arise, without making sweeping statements about what they might mean for tomorrow or even five minutes from now, is what’s getting me through each day.

Today, I hope you’ll give yourself permission to feel your feelings, whether they’re high or low or just neutral, without making any judgements. Love yourself as you’d love your best friend.

Image via Flickr user Asja Boros

When Your Choice Doesn’t Feel Like a Choice

Both yesterday and this morning, I woke up with my stomach in a nervous knot, feeling like I could cry. I’m short tempered with the kids: remaining patient with them requires a lot of mental effort. And now that I’m writing it, I realize that for the last four or five days, I’ve been struggling with all of my usual go-to, escape reality habits: screen time and strong urges to overeat and have a few drinks. My mind is trying to hide from an impending return to reality.

Of course, the last month of staying with my parents here in Ontario has been reality, because it’s what we’ve been living. And in that month, I’ve gotten myself back on track. Back to self-care, back to self-awareness, back to some connection with my kids. It’s easy when there are two other adults to help with the kids. This is the way we should be raising our families: in extended family groups. This is the way I’d like to be doing it. It’s the way I feel most sane.

This return to reality, though, a return to my every day reality. And how it’s making me feel sick to my stomach. When I first went to Dawson City, I was unfettered. Sure, I was still fucking up, making mistakes, depressed and far from my true self, but I was free to do it. I had no dependants. I could go where I felt taken. If I wanted to go home tomorrow, I could. If I wanted to move to Quebec City, I could. If I wanted to travel, I could. But now, I’ve got a boatload of responsibility that calls be back to Dawson. I can’t shake it, I can’t run from it. Our livelihood is there, the business that supports my family. And I’m tied to that business because I had children with, married, the person who owns and operates that business.

When we made the decision to move back there last spring, I spent my final therapy sessions circling over the same thing. (And crying. Lots of crying). Over and over, “I don’t want to do this. I have to do this. I don’t want to do this. I have to do this.” I try to frame it as us making a choice, being active in the course of our lives. But really, what kind of choice is it when the alternative is to run the business into the ground and go bankrupt? How do we handle these non-choices in our lives?

Call it being responsible, call it adulting, call it “doing the right thing”; call it what you will. It is fucking hard. Hard to stay focused on the positives, but I’ll list them anyway: we own a well established business. It affords us the luxury to travel across the country several times a year to visit our family. My partner and I can make our own work hours. We have a home there. We have wonderful friends there. We are surrounded by wild beauty. We are a part of a thriving, creative community of people who largely choose to be there.

And yet. And yet. If I could, I would choose to raise my kids close to their grandparents, their aunts and uncles and cousins. I would choose to stay in the place where I got all the help I needed to get my mental health back on track. I would choose the support, the village I already have here. I’m making a choice that I don’t really want to make. Is that even still choice?

The fact is that we have to do these things sometimes. We go where our paths take us, and this is where mine leads. No matter how I look at it, this is the only thing that makes sense. I’ll go into it calling it my choice, because I suppose that feels empowering. I’ll stay focused on each step directly in front of me on the path. Instead of thinking about the things I don’t have, the people I’m missing, I’ll focus on what I do have and the people who show up for me. I’ll keep my eyes open for the opportunities that appear.

It’s the leaving that’s so hard, the taking off, the leap. Not to mention the actual travel: packing everything again, flying across the country with three kids. The whirlwind of Whitehorse, the 500km drive back to a house that will be cold and dark. Taking up life again there. The doing of the thing weighs on me, makes me wish I could just live wholly in one place or the other. Not this straddling the country. But that’s how it is.

I’ll see you on the other side, friends, when I take the next step.

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