Thursday 29 October 2015

A trip around the sun

I already wrote about AJ's official birthday celebration, but I can't let today go without an acknowledgement. I had notions of setting an alarm at 4:32am to be awake for the anniversary of her big entrance, but sleep is too sweet to interrupt on ceremony. (AJ has been a good sleeper the past couple of months, but one can't take things for granted, and sometimes I'm a worse sleeper: if I wake up I'm not going back down.)

So many things I could say, so many things I feel, so many media and art projects I could do/finish to keep as a souvenir: but then there's reality.

What I did do:

  • Typical early morning routine with AJ, but a little more lighthearted than usual. (Early mornings are the hardest part of my day, emotionally: it's when I feel most conflicted and anxious.) AJ wore her dress up dress for the day.
  • Had the best morning at school that I could: did crafts with the students, participated in Halloween events.
  • I took the afternoon off. The reason was that AJ had eye and doctor appointments, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to also enjoy the afternoon. Before picking up AJ from daycare I went to the grocery store deli and bought myself a yummy lunch: butter chicken, salad, naan bread, orange pop. Then I went home and ate it while reading a magazine.
  • Picked AJ up from daycare and headed off to appointments, squeezing in a little bit of shopping for myself. Appointments were a little frustrating since everyone was running late. But it all worked out and you'd think the doctor was the most exciting thing ever, because AJ was so happy.
  • Then off to my parent's place. Mr Turtle and my brother met us there. We had dinner and did FaceTime with my other brother out of town, so he and my dad could share some birthday fun with AJ.
  • Everyone was being brave- or faking it - but we were all sad and uneasy, because my dad's most recent news was not too good. We still don't know the whole picture or treatment plan, but at least a couple of doctors have said that cure may be not possible, which means discussion of controlling vs removing, and a lifespan with a limit.

...of course we all have a limit on our lives, but nobody really wants to hear what it is. Everybody knows we have to say goodbye to our loved ones one day, but we don't want it to be now, or next week, or in six months, or even next year, to be honest.

I remember particularly the first time my parents met AJ. It was our second day in the hospital. They were over the moon with excitement, of course. But I particularly remember my dad talking to AJ about all the things he was going to do with her in the future: cycling, sailing, going to the opera. I remember finding this touching and funny and awkward and a little bit frightening: because who knows how much time we really have? I wanted us to all live in the present. (Of course as the mom of a newborn the present was about all I could handle.) But still I hate being right. My parents have never wasted their time or opportunities, never given anything but their whole hearts to each other and their family. It makes the thought of their time being cut short that much more sad.

And my mom almost went to pieces when we were about to leave and she remembered we hadn't taken photos. (We took them.)

AJ fell asleep in the car and after an short interlude of inevitable irritation at being woken up for bedtime routine (done as quickly as possible) went peacefully back to sleep. I'll try to follow her example.

Sunday 25 October 2015


Today we celebrated AJ's first birthday with a small group of family and friends.

Fancy cheese, veggies, hummous, cupcakes, birthday cake, peas, juice and pop. Yum!

We had talked briefly about a themed party with costumes, decorations, invitations, etc. Yeah, that was never going to happen. We opted to go for adults only, mainly because we are lazy parents, and most of our family and friends don't have kids. Also, I didn't grow up with birthday parties and to be honest they scare me more than a little. We plan to raise AJ with North American traditions and celebrations, so we will throw birthday and holiday parties. However, I don't mind putting it off as long as we can get away with it.

We went to the party store the day before for supplies and decorations. It was full of Halloween shoppers, mainly families with kids who all seemed to be having meltdowns. Mr. Turtle and I both dislike stressful shopping experiences: we tend to freeze and be unable to make any decisions, and end up walking out with nothing. But we had no time to anywhere else so we hunkered down, focused and bought banners, paper pom-poms and colourful plates. Instant theme: polka dots and bright colours!

We collaborated on the cake. I found a peas and carrots smash cake recipe. I bought the groceries; Mr. Turtle baked it and made the icing. Then I put the pea decorations on and my friend C. finished it off when she got to the party.

You know how people ask "Can I help with anything?" when they arrive someone's house, and usually the hosts say "Nope, all under control!" Well, when you come to our house you hear "Sure: here's your job and be smart about it, because we've got another one when you're done." That's how slick and organized we are.

The cake turned out really well. In addition to the smash cake, the recipe provided for a dozen cupcakes. We had guests fighting for the last one, including my stepmother in law who never takes seconds of anything! I might be making this recipe again. Also it is really easy.

AJ enjoyed her cake. She started by picking peas off one by one and eating them, then slowly but efficiently made an excavation. She probably ate about a third of it. We had her stripped down in

just a tutu, but she barely made a mess: that cake was going into her mouth! She ate about a third of it and the rest we were able to save for later.

It was an awesome party. AJ was blessed with many good wishes, and enough new toys and clothes and books to keep her stylish and playing and learning for months to come. Most of our family in town was able to come, minus my dad who had had a PET scan recently and didn't want to be near AJ. (His initial tests showed no spread of the cancer, which is encouraging, but we don't know the results of the most recent tests.) Several out of town family members were present via Skype. The focus was on being together, on living and laughing and loving with AJ.

I can feel the passage of time this weekend. I have mixed emotions about it, or rather I have emotions that are like different sides of the same coin. We went to Bab.ies R Us this weekend, and it was kind of a weird experience. We first went to this store when I was late in my 3rd trimester, and we felt a little like impostors.  Were we really going to have a baby? We've been back many times since AJ's birth for clothes, toys, furniture, and it didn't take long for the place to become familiar and even routine. But when we went again yesterday, I found myself looking around and again feeling like we didn't belong there. Breast pumps, bassinets, infant swings, teeny tiny clothes...AJ is too big for 90% of the stuff in that store. She's outgrown it!

On one hand I feel good about this: proud, even relieved. We have a strong, happy, healthy child, and I think she's pretty darned smart and good looking too. She completes and defines our lives. If our world is a puzzle, we know exactly where her piece fits. Of course she has and always will have the ability to surprise us, but we are not bashful, nervous new parents with a squalling bundle of mystery. She's our daughter, we have a relationship.

On the other hand, it is unnerving to see the early months of her life fade into the past, into a nostalgic, beautiful irrelevance. I don't think I so much miss AJ as an infant, as I (sometimes) miss being the mom to an infant. I prepared for that role, I (at times) struggled with it, I learned how to be good at it. And now it's over. So quickly.

But with more of AJ to fill my arms and heart every day, there's no way to not love the present.

My brother wrote a sonnet for AJ, which I think is the best birthday greeting I have ever read. It speaks to my heart.

"Oh, have a Happy Birthday, AJ, dear,
This is your day to smile and not to cry,
To celebrate your life of just one year,
A year, your first, of joy and fun gone by.
Not every day was full of fun and games,
Nor will all the days to come be all like this,
Not every day will live up to what it claims,
A day to celebrate and reminisce.
But every happy life must have its first, 
There can't be two or three without a one,
Year four needs three and two and one rehearsed,
That's why we celebrate your life begun.
So clap your hands and smile, you're made it here,
Now and again, until this time next year."

Monday 12 October 2015

A Tale of Two Octobers

I am pretty proud of myself today.

I finally have my photos up to date and organized! I use Go.ogle Pic.asa, which I know some people dislike because it's a bit like the Borg and it takes over your whole computer, but my photo situation is so chaotic I need the Borg. Up until July, I was creating a monthly album for AJ and emailing it out to family. After July I kind of lost it, and I didn't get the albums up to date until today. I also sent 511 photos to print, which means that in theory AJ may have a baby book by her first birthday (for now I've decided to go the scrapbook route rather than the photo book route) and our house will have updated photos on the walls. Maybe even in time for (Canadian) Thanksgiving dinner.

Speaking of which, going through the photos from the past year was a good excuse to dwell on gratitude, and let go of some anxiety and worry. Resolution and completion have not been the themes of my life lately, and it leaves me feeling scattered. Whether I'm at work or at home or somewhere else, it is really hard to finish projects and have the sense of accomplishment. I know in my head what to do, but the time runs away, the tasks multiply, technology breaks down, the baby crawls, someone behaves badly, the principal calls an 8am meeting, a kid hits my car...And I just want to go home/hug AJ/watch TV/eat cheese/read a book/go for a walk/hug Mr. Turtle. Since I'm not very good at being a martyr that's usually exactly what I do. But I still have this supposedly ideal life in my head. And it can make me anxious.

But the past year has been a year of consciousness-exploding change and growth and miracles. This time last year we were still waiting for "Ember" to make her appearance. Nobody knew for sure when or how! Pregnancy was an amazing trans-formative experience. As time goes by and my body returns to its ornery ways it's hard to believe that I was capable of such a thing. Thank goodness it's all documented in such detail.  On the other hand I do like to feel slender and have boobs that don't draw small objects into orbit with their gravitational force.  Even more amazing though is how AJ has transformed from a tiny newborn into this.....person.

This picture collage tells the tale of two Octobers:

In the right photo AJ looks like she's assessing a real estate deal, makes me giggle every time.

I also have a resolution. I'm not going to apologize for things, not unless I've done something really rude or harmful, which I don't think happens much. But I'm not going to apologize for not having everything up to the ideal in my mind (or the ideal in someone else's mind, for that matter). I'm going to try to respect the energy I have and the difference it makes in the world.

Sunday 4 October 2015

Eleventh Month

Our little baby is more and more a little human. Sometimes she seems huge, sometimes very tiny. No mathematician could possibly explain how she gets exponentially cuter every week.

Here come the bullets.

  • AJ is eating 3 solid meals a day plus snacks, all food groups represented. She eats what we eat for the most part, but we will sometimes make her some "moosh" if we need to balance her diet or she might not like what we are eating. She also has breast milk about 3 times a day: 6am when she gets up (usually a little later on weekends), about 5:00pm when I get home (occasionally this feed is skipped) and before bed. I still enjoy breastfeeding, and so does AJ, and I feel guilty if something happens that prevents me from breastfeeding (e.g. one of my disgusting illnesses the past month). But I'm also slowly realizing that AJ survives just fine without the breast, and this ritual of infancy is in its last weeks. It was hard, almost impossible to imagine her going without when she fed from the breast every two or three hours, and even when we had reduced to five times a day. And yet, here we are. As long as we are both happy with the current arrangement though, it will continue.
  • Given a choice of finger foods: AJ sorts them by preference. For example one day I gave her mixed vegetables and chicken. She put the corn and chicken off to one side of her tray table and then methodically ate all the peas. I offered her some green beans and she ate those. When all the green food was gone she ate some corn and chicken. Mr. Turtle is a sorter too and says she learned it from him.
  • Most recent favourite foods: Grapes and oranges. Still likes the "classics": lentils, sweet potato, prunes, peas. Watermelon is out of season now.

Verbal and social behaviour:
  • We hear words every now and then that seem to refer to specific things: e.g. "Apple" when she sees an apple. "Orange" when she sees the colour orange in one of her books. In those cases I heard the words repeated many times in the same context so I felt she was trying to say the word. But she hasn't said those words on other occasions. "Kitty Cat" is still the word we hear most consistently applied.
  • At times AJ says things that sound disturbingly like sentences. One morning we were offering her scrambled eggs when she wanted muffin. Both of use heard her clearly say "I don't want those" -- with vocal fry. Our instantaneous, affronted, and probably incorrect response was "YES you DO want that!" (In the end she got the muffin - of course she did.)
  • AJ is very interested in people and what they are doing, and especially in other children. Any time she hears another baby or child she immediately looks for them. Maybe because of this, she had a very smooth transition to full time daycare. She also enjoys being in restaurants and we can have a rather hard time getting her to focus on her food because she is busy looking at all the people.
  • Laughing a lot more. She used to only laugh at home, but now she laughs in other places too, around other people such as her grandparents.
  • Waving to more people, not just Dad and her reflection
Gross motor:
  • For the first part of the month, AJ would crawl backwards and hate it, because she wanted to go forward and couldn't figure it out.
  • By her 11 month birthday: Finally crawling forwards! Not very quickly or efficiently, but definitely crawling. She started off with one knee tucked under her, in pigeon pose, and dragged herself forward. She is quickly learning how to get two knees under her though. Parenthood just go that much less lazy.
  • AJ still needs a good motivation to crawl. She doesn't expend energy just to expend energy (so we can still be a little bit lazy). At the moment, books seem to have the biggest appeal. I have three wicker baskets of different sizes with lids. I put her books in them sorted from biggest to smallest. She loves to crawl over to the boxes, take the lid off and pull out the books.
  • A couple of times AJ was able to get up to a sitting position from being on her belly, but I don't think she knows how she did it.
  • Pulling up to her knees (again with one foot tucked into the other knee)
  • Loves to walk with support: her favourite is to walk to one parent while the other holds her.
This crawling photo is just impossibly cute to me.

Fine motor:
  • AJ is very delicate with her fingers. She manipulates objects carefully and thoughtfully. She certainly does bang things too, but when she has something new or interesting in her hands she is extremely gentle and thoughtful. When she is in this analytical mood she doesn't look like a baby somehow. She looks like a scientist or an engineer analyzing a problem, or an artist doing especially delicate work on a painting. If we interrupt her she will give us a dirty look like we are foolish oafs wasting her time.
  • If I give her food slices, she pokes holes in them and wears them like a ring (assuming she's not overly hungry). She also likes to put food in her hair and all over her face so maybe she is practicing self-ornamentation.
  • AJ has started putting toys back. Most recently she was able to return one animal piece to its correct place on the puzzle board. 
Personality/Social life/Play:
  •  AJ has intense focus. For example, we took her to the play area of the mall once.  There were a variety of play stations around and kids tearing about, including some babies. I stood AJ by a small table that had a bead play set on it: the kind where you slide the beads along a wire. She was engrossed by this. Most of the other kids would head to one play centre, stay about 30 seconds, and move on to another one. AJ on the other hand stood and played with the beads for about twenty minutes, perfectly happy. However, this does not mean she wasn't interested in what else was going on: she also liked being able to see all the room and the other people. At one point I took her to a play station that was up against the wall. AJ did not like that at all, and kept looking over her shoulder and fussing.
  • Loves toys that make noises. One off her Grandmas gave her wooden toy rattles and that was all she wanted for a few days (unfortunately one of them broke).
  • Loves books. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that it is probably the daycare staff more than myself that encouraged this. I hardly ever read to AJ when she was at home, maybe because it seemed kind of boring compared to all the other fun and cute things she could be doing. But AJ does enjoy having a book in her hands, although the appeal is probably more in the physical manipulation of it rather than the "story" (most of her books aren't really stories, anyway). She especially likes the books that have different textures to touch and the Sophie the Giraffe books with "peekaboo" windows.
  • AJ can play for long periods of time by herself, although she likes attention. She talks to her stuffed animals, gives them kisses, bangs her rattles, and looks inside her nesting blocks and her toy bags (and of course boxes of books). Lately she likes to try to get into our stuff, especially the stuff we tried to hide from her. She is happiest when we are all hanging out together, relaxed.
The S-Word (sleep)
  • Since the middle of the month AJ has most often been sleeping through the night (fingers crossed). She had some disrupted nights when she was sick and/or I was sick, but most of the time she goes to bed between eight and nine and sleeps until 6am or slightly later if we don't wake her. Sometimes she wakes up and cries a bit but she usually falls back asleep. We did nothing in particular to achieve this other than be patient. Daycare might have helped because she didn't have mom or dad feeding/rocking her to sleep for naps. So, if you don't want to sleep train or it doesn't work for you, it is possible for baby to learn to sleep through the night without it. But don't expect it to happen at 3 months or six months or whatever deadline.
Me, 11 months post-partum

It sounds a bit weird to say "11 months post-partum" but I don't know how else to say it. Mainly I feel like myself. Unfortunately that means some of the negative sides of my personality are coming back, too. Like my anxiety and moodiness. Maybe it's hormonal and maybe it's just an inevitable part of life getting more complicated.

After starting work, my weight has returned to pre-pregnancy levels, albeit at the upper end. This was a combination of being on my feet a lot, higher anxiety and therefore eating less, and getting sick. I don't at all recommend anxiety fasting or getting sick as a weight loss method, but it is certainly efficient, at least in my case. Most of my trousers still don't fit comfortably, but a few pairs do. My boobs have also shrunk. I still wear my G-cup nursing bras, but they are looser.

My menstrual cycles have almost all been short since my period returned: around 21-24 days. This sucks but I hold out hope that I can still have a normal cycle occasionally.

I have frequent episodes of "who am I and what have I become." I don't think about it in any kind of logical fashion (which might be a problem). I have many demands on my time and energy and usually I'm preoccupied with just getting things done. But odd things bring home the changes in my life. Most lately, I was out at a debate club event with students from our school and other teachers. For whatever reason most of the other teachers there were young and in their early years of teaching. I've known for a while I'm not a young teacher anymore, but I've never thought too much about it either. I don't want to hand in my "beginner pass" because I still feel like I have a lot to learn. But watching and listening to twenty-five year old, (probably) single, and definitely childless people talk about their lives, priorities and plans made me realize how different my life and feelings and thoughts are now. I had to clasp my hands tightly together so I didn't pat them on the head and say "You are so, so cute." At the same time I feel insecure because have I really done and learned anything important in all these years? I know I have, but I question it. Could I be a useful mentor to younger people or are they all wishing I was just out of the way?  I think this is called getting old(er). It's probably good in the big picture of things that I'm at a new school, because I think it's good for me to be challenged in this way instead of staying in my comfort zone. But I don't necessarily enjoy it.

The big picture of things? Life is interesting, life is fun. Even if it can be terrifying, unpredictable, confusing, unfair and (sometimes) too short. Among a million other things. I never forget how extraordinarily lucky I am to be where I am. I don't mean just the event of AJ's birth, but all the things that got me here. I just hope I can make the most of it all.