Tuesday 31 October 2017

I hosted a birthday party!

"I hosted a birthday party..." some people might read that and go, so what? Because there are people who grew up with parties, love parties, wanted children so they can throw more parties, get invited to lots of parties, are expert/competitive party planners, have parties for everything. They exist. I assume they are happy. I hope they live long virtuous lives.

I am not one of them.

Sometimes it feels like a character failing, but there are a few actual reasons:

  • My family was involved with a religious cult for a few years of my early childhood. One of the rules of this cult was that you don't celebrate birthdays. (Or holidays, or sing/stand for the national anthem, or participate in any mainstream culture, or be friends with people who were not in the cult....Yeah they were great for the social life.) Luckily, my parents saw  the light when I was around 4 and left. But old habits died hard and we never celebrated birthdays until I was mid teens or so. Honestly, I didn't usually feel the lack as a child, but it means I got no exposure to birthday celebrations and grew up indifferent to them. (There is one exception: I made a friend at around age 8 who probably struggled socially, though I didn't think of that at the time. Somehow my mom let me go to her St. Patrick's day party, and after that I remember getting an invitation to a birthday party....maybe more than one? I recall receiving one card that said "Please, please, PLEASE come to my party!" And my mom made me write a card back saying I don't go to parties. I felt bad writing that card, both for myself and for my friend, but I couldn't say why. To this day I feel sad thinking of it; it was just plain wrong to not go to that party. It was wrong of my mom to not allow it. The fact I lost touch with my friend later makes it feel more wrong.)
  • I got a better social life later on as a young adult, and part of that was going out for drinks or having little celebrations of friends' birthdays and buying them presents. I enjoyed that.  But I have never invited anyone to celebrate my birthday, partly because I wasn't used to doing so and partly because it's on December 26th. Kinda awkward.
  • I am an introvert and tend to shrink away from drawing attention to myself. There have been a few exceptions: one, when I graduated with my first degree I was very happy and proud and threw a party for friends. Two, before I went to live abroad I had a sort of going away party. Three, my wedding. There you go. Can count them on the fingers of one hand. Now, I have organized many other social events, but they weren't about me specifically.
So, fast forward to married and child bearing age....that didn't help, actually. As I've noted before, most of my close friends and immediate family are childfree by circumstance or choice. Whatever extended family I have or acquired through marriage doesn't live close by. This was quite convenient when we were struggling with infertility (note past tense) but there no invitations to baby showers, children's parties, etc. (OK, *cough* there was one...I didn't go) Again, nice for a childless infertile; not so great for a new parent who is supposed to know all about these things.

Well, so now I am AJ's mom and have to make decisions about her life. While there is much I appreciate about my childhood, the social isolation piece of it is not something I want to replicate. (My parents were very good, dedicated parents; they would have given their right hands before seeing their children harmed. They also had their flaws like anyone else and they were at times victims of things they did not understand.) So, Mr. Turtle and I agreed we would celebrate birthdays and holidays and encourage AJ and any siblings to be social. Excellent; but then we had to actually make it happen. Mr. Turtle is supportive, but unfortunately a little too similar to me socially and lacking the sense of urgency and obligation.

For AJ's first and second birthdays, I kinda cheated by only inviting adults to the parties. My excuse was I didn't have any mom friends, and she was too young to have real friends anyway, and, um, it was just easier to have our childfree relatives and friends over and have a good time. But I could see as her third birthday approached that AJ was forming relationships with children at her daycare, and was pretend playing at birthday parties (often with imaginary friends invited), and I started to worry that soon she would learn to feel different or left out if we didn't get our act together. So I felt anxious and did....well nothing until last month. OK, not quite nothing: I made friends with one daycare mom, and it turns out we have lots in common including subfertility. (In a lucky break, she is pregnant too, and hopefully it will continue to go well). So thanks to that AJ got *invited* to a party, and I had less excuses to not throw one.

So, what did I do to make this birthday party happen? Well telling that will take a lot less space than telling all the reasons I procrastinated.

  • I figured out who AJ's most consistent friends at daycare were, through observation and asking her several times and taking the mode of the answers. I decided we would invite 4 (two boys, two girls)
  • As I breezed past parents during daycare pick up and drop off, I worked up the nerve to say "We really should exchange phone numbers!" with enthusiasm. I was encouraged by the enthusiastic responses. Though none of us ever had our phones at the time.
  • Finally, with a week to go, I found some pretty note cards and wrote: "I always mean to get your number but it hasn't happened. Here's mine and by the way we are having a celebration for AJ....call or text me). And all four of them did and said they would come.
  • I printed invitations using a Microsoft template. No suspense wondering if people would say yes because I knew they would.
Party planning was pretty easy. I had a decent idea what the children liked from observing them, and I wasn't about to try anything too adventurous.
  • One and half days to clean the house and blow through the week's laundry to get ready
  • One trip to party store for decorations (I've bought the same polka dot themed stuff all three years, which means I can reuse some items every year.
  • Dairy Queen for ice cream cake (same as last year; AJ requested it again)
  • Activities: I set out some of AJ's toys that could be good for sharing, and set up a little craft table. We had playdough, colouring pages (AJ chose the pictures) and some puzzles.
  • Pre-made fruit, veggie and cheese trays from the grocery store
  • Pizza ordered in for early dinner
  • Picking out stuff for swag bags was actually kind of fun. I made them a little snapshot of AJ's current interests:

Kitty keychain, dinosaurs, Frozen crayons, Spiderman finger puppet.
The little bags were all different colours so each child could pick a colour.
AJ helped create the swag bags. They were a hit!
    So, if anyone is like me and has anxiety over preschooler parties, there's your easy party template.

    Also, not to leave out our relatives and childfree friends, we had a get together at a family friendly Japanese restaurant the night before the kid party. This worked really well since we weren't overwhelmed with too many people at our house and we could spend more quality time with everyone. 

    • Number of children (and parents). Four (plus one one year old sibling) was juuuuuust right. The house looked like only a small tornado hit it afterwards. And it wasn't too busy for some real conversation with the adults.
    • Playdough and dinosaurs
    • Ice cream cake
    • Snacks
    • AJ was mostly good with sharing and did a good job of welcoming her friends, paying attention to all of them and telling them what the activities were.
    • All the play, laughter, smiles and hugs. Social learning around sharing and party conventions happened too. We found a nice balance between letting the children do their thing and intervening to teach some skills. I didn't get a weird vibe from anyone and I made sure I was warm and welcoming to each child. It's not hard because they are all sweeties and really much less of a challenge than my special ed class of 9 teenage boys. 
    • At least one parent is keen to follow up with a playdate. I have confidence I can build further relationships with all of them now.
    Misses (not many, but live and learn)
    • Many colours of play dough. Looked pretty but in a few minutes all the colours were mixed together to make brown. Now I know why the daycare only puts out one colour at a time.
    • Pizza: the kids weren't that into it, and we had way too much left over and had to eat it ourselves. It was OK, but I think fried chicken next time.
    • Putting out new toys to share: AJ did great for the most part, and had no problem sharing her brand new dinosaurs. The  dealbreaker was a colourful domino set one of my friends gave her the day before. I think she just wasn't ready to share it. She wanted to play with it in her own way, and when her friends started grabbing the dominoes she was not happy with them. After some partially successful social coaching from me and the other parents, I decided the best thing to do was distract her with some snacks and make the dominoes discreetly disappear until the party was over. Luckily she easily recovered and did not get in a mood.
    The big win is AJ enjoyed herself, so did the other kids and I MADE IT HAPPEN. Woot! AJ has been dancing about  every since saying "I'm a preschooler!" Wait, how did that happen? Never mind, everything is awesome.

    Friday 20 October 2017

    Baby Sister

    (Content: second pregnancy, siblings, ultrasound photos added maybe later)

    I don't have a sister, and Mr. Turtle doesn't have a sister, so "baby sister" means.....AJ is going to have a sister! Sprite is a girlie!

    Since I last updated in August, I've returned to work, which mostly accounts for the lack of posting: I've been floundering in Too Much To Do for weeks. This week I finished individual program plans and parent meetings, which is giving me at some space to breathe (lots still on the to-do list, but at least I don't have my face in the computer every available moment during workdays and weekends). I don't feel like SuperTeacher/SuperMom, not even close, but I feel less stressed. I can actually take a few minutes to myself and not give a !@#$.

    Pregnancy update:

    19 week ultrasound was at the beginning of September. Sprite looked good, and was identified as a Girl! whee! This will be my first life experience with sisters (I didn't even have close female friends until I was older). I hear they fight all the time, and are best friends, etc. I am quite particular to say "a girl" and not "another girl" because the latter can sound dismissive in my opinion. Sprite is not Another Anything: she is a freaking miracle baby, and treasured as such.

    My mother was concerned that Mr. Turtle would be disappointed the baby wasn't a boy. Uh, no. He had actually deternined the the odds were in favour of a girl, since he understands things about genetics and statistics. I think he said 5/8,  chance; don't ask me how he came up with that number. But as one of 3 boys, apparently he has more chances of having girls than boys. I always assumed sperm were 50/50 distribution but I guess not. Anyway, the way I see it the "girl sperm" were the fastest  and strongest, and who am I to argue with that.

    We had to do two ultrasounds as they couldn't get all the photos the first time. It was actually fun to get two looks, and it felt like we saw a lot more the second time. The procedure was done by a student and a preceptor, and the preceptor had to explain everything, which meant we had a better idea of what we were seeing.  They called the baby "cute" and "photogenic" with which we totally agreed....

    I still have a fibroid near the cervix, same as last pregnancy. I'm not concerned about it especially since it wasn't an issue before, but it means at least one more scan in 3rd trimester.  The first ultrasound at 19 weeks showed "marginal cord insertion" meaning the cord was near edge of placenta, but when they looked a second time they said it wasn't marginal anymore, so either the first photos were unclear or it changed.

    I feel lots of movement now, and it is sometimes visible from the outside. Of course this is lovely and reassuring, and I currently don't have any worries about this pregnancy, though I take things a week at a time. So lucky. I'm also quite big and noticeably pregnant, enough that "what's your due date" is a common conversational opener. I definitely feel awkwarder and heavier and I really don't like getting up from a squat position. I have been keeping up my stepdancing (easier class, drop ins) and so far I don't have any issues with my ankles twisting. I'm hopeful that dancing will keep them strong and improve my balance as things get more unwieldy. I haven't been able to schedule any prenatal yoga yet.

    One thing that's different from last pregnancy is I have great hair. When I pregnant with AJ I always felt like I had a dirty mop on my head. My hair was so greasy. Now it is thick and glossy and so well balanced I only wash it every 3 days. The other side of that though is I have struggled with shampoo. It started at around 12 weeks when I went to the stylist and pampered myself by buying some fancy shampoo. Problem was it had this weird smell, like olive oil, that grossed me out.  I didn't want to get rid of it because I paid so much money, but finally I had to. I looked for another which I thought had no scent....it was OK for a while and then it started to disgust me too. So now I'm using an organic shampoo that smells like peppermint, which so far is not making me gag. It's a pretty trivial problem in the big picture of things but still annoying.

    Speaking of the nausea, it's mostly gone. I went off the medication completely around 20 weeks and survived. For a few weeks I would get occasional waves of intense nausea, which mercifully would pass after a minute or so of deep breathing. Those too have become increasingly rare though. I don't miss that aspect at all! Other than the fact I am easier fatigued, I am following a regular busy routne with no major problems. I have a good appetite most days, even at dinner which was usually the meal I didn't want.

    I have had less round ligament pain than first pregnancy. I guess things just stretch easier.  Speaking of which I have no stretch marks or anything like that. I did not have them with AJ either. Lucky again I guess. I have a lot of veins showing.

    Last week I was 24 weeks, so we are at viability, which is awesome. November marks the beginning of the 3rd trimester, which seems kind of crazy, but I feel intensely happy and privileged that this process is proceeding smoothly and well....proceeding.  There is nothing like the growth of new life to make me feel the passage of time, but the feeling is sweetened by the expectation of a promise fulfilled.

    So, emotions and mental stuff? My biggest struggle has been coping with the busyness of work and trying to have enough time and attention to divide between family/health/pregnancy/work. On top of that I got quite sick with a bad cold / sinus infection for a couple of weeks which didn't help. I feel like I don't have much time to process the fact I'm pregnant or a second child is incoming just because I am always so distracted. I wish I could dwell on it more, take it in. Of course, it is due to the fact things are going well that I can have this distracted attitude. If they weren't, the whole shmozzle would come crashing down and I wouldn't even care. So anything I can possibly complain about is really due to amazing good luck.

    I do have moments of "wow" and it's starting to sink in that I get to give birth again, and have a newborn, and it's actually a very joyful thought. Right now I am only remembering the amazing, thrilling parts of the process so it's all positive. If/When we get around to doing more actual preparations for the new baby I'm sure these feelings will intensify. So far I've only cleaned out a closet which was a big accomplishment but only one of many steps that has to happen. Because we have a smallish house and we use every room, we have to do some pretty major reorganizing before we have a space for a new baby's room.

    We should meet with our doula soon, which should be awesome since we haven't seen her since the week after AJ was born. I've shown AJ some pictures of her so she has an idea who she is. We also have maternity/family photos scheduled for end of November.

    AJ is also awsome. She is 3 in two weeks and I hope to have more of a "real" birthday party with a few kids. So far I believe 2 of AJ's friends are coming and I'm hoping two more, but I've procrastinated getting contact info for AJ's daycare friends so I'm hoping to run into them. Or maybe just start distributing business cards, because whatever gets the job done. We'll finalize plans this weekend, now that I have more of my brain back. I've told Mr. Turtle he has to actively plan because I suck at this stuff.

    AJ has been processing that there is another baby on the way, in her way. She calls her "baby sister" and talks about things she will do with her when she's born. She expects that baby sister will inherit all her baby furniture, which is true. She also talks about how Spiderman (her doll) has a baby sister, Talking Baby (her baby doll).  It is quite adorable. AJ has been fascinated with babies for a few months so I think this is pretty good timing. AJ is well on her way to being a little girl. She is mostly potty trained during the day and is regularly discovering new interests as well as being very conversational and imaginative. Since this is a long entry already, I'll save AJ updates for another time.

    Sending love and light to everyone, wherever your path takes you.

    And when your river runs high
    Let it flow, let it flow
    It's your time with life to let your garden grow
    And when your burden gets rough
    Let it go, let it go
    Let your strength return on every breeze that blows

    -from Island Girl,