It hasn’t been a bad year

So… have you at any point shot a worn-out look at a friend and uttered something along the lines of “Seriously, what’s up with 2016?”

I sure have. I’ve waded through the never ending shit-storm of a brutal separation. I’ve watched loved ones endure loss and hardship. I’ve questioned humanity and my place in it while alternately binge reading and hiding from news of Aleppo, Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, Brexit, and the enormous wank of a US President-elect (not to mention Jian fucking Ghomeshi).

I’ve been bewildered at how absurdity, tragedy and gross injustice can continue to pile up without reprieve, and felt happy to soon be saying good riddance to a shit year. Surely there’s some planet junk going on and 2017 will be better. The cosmic scales owe us an enormous solid, has been my general read.

This is where my head was at until last week, when I learned that Jackson has a tumour in his left clavicle. When I stopped in my tracks, on my way to dinner with colleagues on the other side of the world, to hear words like “CT scan” “biopsy” and “chemo” come through my cell phone. When I turned around in the blink of an eye to throw my things back into a suitcase and travel 30 straight hours from Johannesburg to Halifax, where my little boy was already being seen by oncologists at the IWK.

I don’t know what to expect yet. Tomorrow morning at 7:30 we will sign consent forms and send him in to be sedated for an MRI, tissue biopsy, and a bone marrow biopsy to find out if I’m to face my worst fears. I’ll meet his dad there and we will try to let our shared love for the sweetest 5-year-old boy subdue our boundless fury.

I understand now that this hasn’t been a bad year. I’m in my mid-thirties, and I’m having to come to terms with what life is. Life is a disaster. It’s a hot mess of pain and suffering, disappointment and wtaf..?

I do realize I’m several thousands of years late to the party on this one, but I’m finding there is peace in this place of acceptance. Please don’t misread – I don’t for one second encourage or condone acceptance of a status quo that is wrong and needs challenging. But I am experiencing some lightness and freedom in knowing there’s no better year coming. 2017 is going to blow too, and we’re going to fight when we need to fight and rejoice when we have the opportunity to rejoice.

I’m scared, and I may not sleep tonight, and I know this post will knock the breath from some of the people who love me. I promise to do a follow up post when I’ve had time to process the results. But for now my larger lesson is not to sideline myself in the mind’s waiting room hoping for the storm to break, when there is fleeting beauty that needs attention.

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Photos by someone I’m very, very thankful for.

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Fuck you, Jian

It’s Day 3 of the Jian Ghomeshi trial, the first witness has been discredited already and we’ve now moved right along on to number 2.

During the time the story broke that he was being fired from the CBC as sexual assault accusations came to light, every woman I spoke to about it was deeply disturbed. Deeply disturbed. Every woman. No matter her age, level of Q fandom, political leanings and/or lifestyle, this story, of all news stories, had knocked the wind out of her. She couldn’t get it out of her head. Couldn’t stop thinking. Things were coming back to her. Feelings, and questions, about interactions she’d buried in the subterranean sludge of her mind for years. Interactions that were flooding her now. She couldn’t breathe.

I’ve been degraded, I’ve been humiliated, I’ve been coerced, I’ve been pressured, I’ve been guilt-tripped, I’ve been taken advantage of, I’ve had my humanity neglected, I’ve been made to feel worthless, and vulnerable. I’ve had this happen a lot. As in, more often than not. We all have. #YES #ALL #WOMEN.

And the most shocking part, that I think is what absolutely gutted so many of us with a painful visceral blow as the Ghomeshi scandal broke, is that we accept it as normal. We don’t want to offend. We don’t want to hurt feelings. We’re probably overthinking it. We’re definitely too repressed. We’re just not enough fun. Are we being crazy? We’re not sure what’s going on here. We should be enjoying this. He seems to be enjoying it. Let’s be honest – it really doesn’t matter if we’re enjoying this, so just get it over with so we can get out of there. But don’t upset him on your way out. Does he like me?

The woman, discredited witness #1, wrote him flirty emails a year later, attaching a shot of her in a red bikini. Does that mean Jian Ghomeshi didn’t assault her?… Nope. It means we live in a society where women are so devalued that the deeply engrained desire for male approval supersedes our own intuition constantly. We don’t even know how to recognize our intuition, let alone respect and heed it, because we grow up speaking less, being listened to less and being recognized as complex and intelligent, worthwhile individuals much less. We are raised on sexualized imagery of subservient females in every space at all times. Any natural authourity over our bodies we might assume is corroded into a smear of fine toxic dust by the highly paternalistic family, school, medical and legal structures that govern women’s bodies and self expression everywhere, always, from birth until the day we die.

We all know about dangerous men. We know to be afraid of rape and violence. We know to look out for the “creeps” and how to maximize our chances of getting home safe. But the big secret, that Jian Ghomeshi blew wide open last year, is that there is a sickness in our culture. A sickness that allows nice guys, educated guys, guys with culture and thoughtful analysis – gentle guys – to feel entitled to treat women as less than human. And we accept it as normal, because it’s the air we breathe. And it causes us a great deal of inner pain that we tuck away and continue to shine light through, until one day a beloved radio host is just another regular asshole and we can’t take it anymore because we are really well and truly fucked, and so. damn. angry.

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[Painting by Elizabeth Blaylock: Girl in Red Swimsuit at the Water’s Edge]

Autumn Mac & Cheese

I love squash. 4 year old doesn’t. 4 year old LOVES store bought mac & cheese. I do not… ick. Compromise! We both enjoy this fall harvest staple, and it’s a great quick & dirty go-to for busy weeknights.

IMG_2464Ingredients

2 c pasta of choice

1/4 buttercup squash, peeled, seeded & cubed

1 c. chicken or vegetable broth

1 c. shredded sharp cheese

1 tsp. dijon mustard

1/4 c. milk or substitute of choice

sea salt

 

Directions

Boil your pasta, drain & set aside. Throw squash in another pot with your broth and steam until tender. Blend or mash the squash until smooth, stirring in cheese, milk, dijon and a dash of sea salt. Toss in pasta. Easy peasy.

Disclaimer: I’ve made this many times without ever actually measuring. If your sauce is too thin, you may want to add some more cooked squash. If too thick, add more broth or milk. Add cheese, mustard and salt to taste. So simple, you really can’t go wrong!

This would be yummy with rice or quinoa too. Greens on the side. Yum.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

The “I love you sweet toddler, but I’m so done” guide to mother-led weaning

So I’ve weaned two babies now, both around the age of 18-20 months. Although I’ll always support moms in breastfeeding as long as they want, I don’t use the terminology “full term” or “extended” breastfeeding, because there is no term. Not term to complete, no term to fail to complete, no term to exceed.

It starts with a newborn who blindly, hungrily, instinctively nurses for survival. For an exclusively breastfeeding mother, this essential nursing carries on for about a year, or until the baby gradually becomes interested in and then well nourished by solid foods. Take advantage of this time, mothers! It is so incredible to be able to go anywhere with your precious cargo and know that you don’t really need anything but the clothes on your back.

baby J

But of course breastfeeding is about more than simple nourishment, it is an act of love and holistic nurturing. Once the baby’s nutritional reliance eases up and their little bodies are supported by real foods, the relationship evolves. What that means is completely unique to each mother-baby duo, but the fundamentals are universal: love, trust, closeness, comfort. There’s absolutely no expiry date on that.

Breastfeeding is also not the only way to offer these things. And there is one other (I believe) universal trait of breastfeeding relationships: convenience. I will never understand why people say that breastfeeding is a difficult path, assuming everything is in working order (which it almost always is, until the allopathic medical system breaks it). I have cracked. I have bled. I’ve cried. I’ve writhed and wailed in agony in the first weeks of both of my babies’ lives. I’ve put in time massaging out clogged ducts in hot showers. But those hurdles have never in any way diminished my wholehearted understanding of the overriding ease and utter convenience of breastfeeding.

It’s this convenience factor that I think leads many of us to struggle to end the breastfeeding relationship long past when we’re actually really ready. I believe it is fully within the mother’s right to end this relationship when she is done. For me, that is ideally after year one, but me and my ideals are really not relevant to another woman with another body, life and child. I do not at all relate to the guilt I so often hear associated with weaning, as many women wrestle with the weight of regret for having actively weaned their (now grown) babies. It’s okay, in my books. It’s right, if it’s what you want. And it’s difficult, because breastfeeding is so bloody convenient for everyone involved!

For me, 18 months is when I’m done. So far, anyway, with my two kids. At 18 months, my babies are thriving, adorable bundles of chaos and mayhem, and breastfeeding becomes something that feels half sweetness, half chore, half crutch (yes I know that’s too many halves). Around this time, I am looking at my babies, and noticing how they’re really not babies anymore. Or at least I’m noticing them hurl themselves with 200% confidence in the general direction of full-blown childhood.

Around this time, I am still enjoying some of those sweet moments nursing provides, but I’m also tired. I’m tired of having my shirt tugged at impatiently in public by a crying toddler. I’m tired of not being able to snuggle or read a book without nursing. I’m physically tired by the demands on my body. I’m tired of being the only one who will “do”, in the middle of the night or during a big upset. I’m starting to sense that my baby-child is ready to move on from relying on this fall-back, and begin to embrace their independence and the variety of new comforts awaiting them.

I am often asked about my approach to weaning, because it can be such a very difficult transition for so many. So here’s my practical guide, all laid out:

Step 1: Never offer, and if they’re asking always try other comforts and distractions first.

Step 2: Wear bulky, high-necked clothing to hide the goods.

Step 3: Tell your toddler that mommy doesn’t want to breastfeed anymore for whatever reason is important to you. With Ocean, I told her I had “owies” because it was true, she was in the habit of comfort-nursing so much at night that it was getting sore & uncomfortable for me.

Step 4: Change up your routines. So if bedtime is normally nursing to sleep, try giving a cup of warm milk before crawling into bed – or only if they’re crying for your milk. Freely offer yummy (healthy) snacks as a distraction in tough moments (yes I endorse bribery and emotional eating). You have to get creative, and it requires energy – hence the immediate appeal of just surrendering yourself to the prospects of breastfeeding forevermore. Attempt to stay strong, while honouring your child’s needs.

Step 4: Assess. For me, this process takes time. I hear your stories, tales of children who self-weaned at 12 months, or just couldn’t have cared less. This hasn’t been my experience, and with both kids I payed careful attention to how truly upset they seemed. With both, this was a stop-start process over 1-2 months. Nobody knows my babies better than me, and when I listen closely I recognize a distinct difference between the desperate “no, I’m not ready!!” cry, and the “this is different, challenging and uncomfortable!” cry. One state, I won’t leave my babies to languish in. The other is okay. It’s my sign to stay strong and be there for them in new ways as I gently nudge them along.

So there… that’s as scientific as I get when it comes to weaning. There’s no magic formula – just your own trust in your inner voice, and a little bit of creativity and stamina. Listen to yourself, and listen to your baby, and someday soon you’ll be trying to remember for a friend how you weaned your babies.

Bon courage!

XO baby O

Sweet Potato Pie

Eat your pie kids! The last time I made this the whole thing disappeared in one evening. Perfect.

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Sweet Potato Pie

  • 1 lg sweet potato
  • 1 lg carrot
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 c. milk/almond milk
  • 1 tbsp butter or coconut oil
  • 2 Tbsp honey*
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • dash sea salt

1. Peel and chop sweet potato & carrot, toss into a pot with about 1 inch of water in the bottom and steam about 10 min or until soft.

2. Mash the veggies and stir in all ingredients (I like to use my immersion hand blender – super tool! – but can just whisk until combined).

*add honey just to your taste – you may prefer to use less since the vegetables are sweet and pie spices add to the dessert flavour.

3. Grease a pie dish with butter or coconut oil & pour mixture in.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 min or until firm on top and golden brown around the edges (glass dishes are nice because you can peek at the bottom to make sure you’re not burning).

5. Mange!

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Zucchini Carrot Apple muffins

We’re sitting around enjoying these Zucchini Carrot Apple muffins for breakfast on this drizzly grey morning, so I thought I’d share the recipe. I find it tedious scrolling through a whole long blog post when all you’re really interested in is the food part, so here you go: delicious healthy-ish muffins that are keeping my two kids quiet and content enough for me to post.

#itsthesmallthings

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Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • about 1/4 c. honey or sweetener of your choice (use more if you like a sweeter treat)
  • 2 cup flour (I used spelt, could use whatever you prefer or have on hand)
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 cup applesauce (or shredded apples – I didn’t have any)

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the zucchini, apple, carrot, honey, eggs, and oil.
  2. In another bowl mix together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Dump contents in with wet ingredients and stir just until combined. Don’t overstir!
  3. (**Secret step** pour half the batter back into your other bowl and add chocolate chips for the big kids. Must take all measures to be discreet — it is imperative the 16 month old not know there is an alternate chocolate version.)
  4. Fill your muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes or until the muffins are firm when you tap the tops.

Eat em up with nice yellow butter for breakfast.

Bon appetit!

XO

On Fear and Transition

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before.

Transition in birth… those of you who’ve been through it, close your eyes and bring yourself back. What did it feel like?

***

Those of you who’ve read countless birth stories and watched countless videos in preparation for your own upcoming birth, what have you learned to expect?

***

I didn’t experience this stage in labour with Jackson’s birth, because of the epidural. I had AROM at 3cm but was disappointing everyone by becoming “stalled” at 6cm. With my baby’s heart rate indicating distress (you and me both, kid), I was being pressured to accept Pitocin, told I was quickly becoming a candidate for c-section, and that I was putting my baby at risk. After protesting as long as I could, I knew I had to start choosing concessions. There was no way I could cope with the Pitocin as I was, confined to the hospital bed by the fetal heart monitoring machine, with no way to cope naturally with the pain – which already felt severe. So, I asked for the epidural first, which I am actually grateful for, all things considered, because this allowed me to relax a little and dilate to 10cm fast enough that I was able to escape surgery. The rest is a bit of a mystery… all I know is that at one point the nurses assured me I was ready to push, and then they assured me that I was pushing, and then a baby came out, with a little help from a vacuum stuck to his head.

(Before anyone critiques the language I use here – yes, I know. It is intentional. I was passive, the fetus eviction-and-extraction process was being performed on me, and no amount of self-empowering language will change that.)

hptl ***

I went into labour and gave birth to my second child at home (you can read Ocean’s birth story here). My husband was home but preoccupied with other matters, including our 2 year old, and I went through the stages of labour solo, moving in between my bedroom and the adjacent bathroom. It was late December and we were in the midst of a power outage. Both of my birthing rooms were dark, lit softly only by a few faintly sweet-smelling beeswax candles. As the sensations washed over me with regularity, I laid in the bed, got up, sat on the toilet, got back up, laid in bed. Alternating like this between the two spaces throughout the night and into the early morning, my body calmly and gradually readied for birth while my mind drifted off to la la land. I was in my primal brain; the only thoughts going through my head were literally “Thank you! I am so grateful and fortunate to have this comfortable space, this roof over my head. Come on baby, you can do it”. No pain, no fear. Compared to my hospital birth, this was a revelation.

Until transition. Everything was fine and dandy until my body entered into this stage of INTENSE bearing down coupled with loud uncontrollable groaning and a hot as hell burning sensation. What in the… oh yes. This must be that transition phase I’ve heard so much about! When things suddenly entered into this phase, I felt an inkling of fear. And discernible just beyond the edges of that fear was panic, and an awareness of the terrifying vast depths of the unknown. I felt the presence of this fear, this panic, and I told myself: “It’s okay. You’re okay.” Repeatedly, out loud. Then I had a baby, and she was perfect 🙂 bed What I can’t believe I never thought of before is how much all major transition in life is like this moment in birth.

It’s hard to admit this. I’ve been going through a separation from my husband, the father of my children, since early December. It is something that has been brewing for three years, simmering for two years, and boiling over everywhere, burning everything and everyone for the past year. It has been a sad, stressful, horrible experience (I know there is someone, somewhere reading this who can relate).

What my friends, and neighbours and family keep saying to me during it all is “You’re doing so well”. And it’s true… I have been, for the most part, dealing with an insane amount of constant stress with absolute focus and calm. This isn’t because I have it figured out, or I’m numb, or I don’t care. This is because I have the acute awareness that panic is just within arm’s reach. It’s something I could easily stumble in to, but if I did, I would be swallowed up and would never make it out in one piece. It is not an option. I must stay strong, stay clear, stay focused, breathe.

This is transition. In life, and in birth, it is a time of being stretched beyond what is known, what is comfortable, and what is “safe”. It is a time when the fires of pain and blind panic may lick at our heels, and if you should have the good fortune to experience it, it is the most powerful you will ever be in your whole entire life. When you find yourself being pulled into the intensity of transition, and you give yourself to it, and you let yourself open up to the very limits of physical, emotional, spiritual possibility… you emerge on the other side with an understanding of your own unsinkability that will help keep you fearless and afloat for the rest of your life.

I don’t know what the outcome is going to be from this part of my life, but I know enough that I can acknowledge the presence of fear without giving in to it. My incredible female body taught me that.

Now here’s a photo of me. Still whole, though slightly worse for wear. me XX