To Pandra at four months old

My dear Pandra, you are four months old. You have made herself quite at home and I’m starting to forget what things were like before you arrived, when it was just me, your dad, and your big sister Lyra. At four months you’ve really started to show your personality. You may look almost identical to Lyra at the same age, but you are definitely not the same as she was. And you’ll have to forgive me for this, but Lyra is the only small girl I’ve learned this much about, so it’s hard not to compare you to her. I promise I’ll try to keep it to a minimum as you get older.

Physically, you’re a lot bigger than Lyra was — you’re already over 14 lbs. Lyra had barely broken ten pounds by the time she was six months old. You’re a lot more active, too. You roll over and hold your head up higher than Lyra did at this age, and you love tummy time while she generally hated it and wanted out after a minute or less. You’ll happily hang out on the floor, rolling over and back, kicking merrily at the air, and grabbing at whatever’s nearby. Lyra didn’t want us to put her down — she was in tears and assumed the tigers were coming for her the moment she left our arms, generally.

Four months old today

Sweet Pandra, you’ve been a lot easier a baby than Lyra was at the same age. Or you mostly have. That tiger-panic I mentioned about your sister? You don’t get that. Yes, you cry, but it’s just crying. And you sleep. You. Sleep. To this day, Lyra has issues with sleep. She was three years old before she slept through the night. Even the newborn version of sleeping through the night — five hours or more — was so rare before she was three that it felt like heaven when it happened.

But you, my lovely little sleeping baby, you have been such a wonderful, normal, sleeping baby, that I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. You’re up maybe three times a night, sometimes only two, and you nurse and go back to sleep in minutes. You let me put you down when you’re awake, and drift off to sleep on your own. It’s a whole new world of baby sleepytime that we’ve never experienced, and I want to thank you for it.

For the first month after you were born it wasn’t quite as easy — you had yelling sessions that would go on for at least an hour or two, between 1:00 and 4:00 in the morning. We gave it a name: Yelling Hour. It graduated into something else when you got even louder or inconsolable: Pandramonium, as named by our friend Steve. Oh how clever we were.

I watched a lot of the summer Olympics in London to pass the time in the middle of the night, while you were up and yelling. It was so much like the times I spent up in the middle of the night with Lyra watching the summer Olympics in Beijing when she was a newborn. I will probably forever have a soft spot for the summer Olympics because of the two of you.

You’re still the calm little baby that had the steady heartbeat throughout labour. You take everything in with huge blue eyes, and it takes a lot to upset you. You let us know quickly and effectively when you are upset, however. It’s possible that you’ve damaged my eardrums on more than one occasion, and you’ve definitely set the bar for high-pitched scream against which I will compare all other screams. It’s both loud and high, and it rattles my brains enough to have given me more than one headache. Fortunately you give us a warning (usually) before you launch the full-on sonic attack — the epic sadface, or various levels of fussing and complaining that escalate if we don’t respond.

And the chatter! You like to chatter. It feels like you’re constantly making some sort of sound, endless baby sounds as you explore what it’s all about. Will you be a non-stop talker in the tradition of the Silver family? Lyra has her talkative moments, but she’s also content to sit in silence and keep her thoughts to herself — nowhere near as much of a chatterbox as you seem to be. I have to wonder if I’m destined to sit at the dinner table listening to you and your dad talk over each other, much like his family seems to do. We’ll have to wait and see.

Your eyes are bright and you’re endlessly curious already. You charm people, and I receive endless compliments on how cute you are, how quiet you are, how aware you are of what’s going on around you. I remember receiving similar comments about Lyra, and I feel blessed to have another bright, curious, and beautiful little girl.

I can see a fiery spirit in you already. You’re quick to laugh and quick to anger. You’re an active baby — you kick, you roll over, and you’re constantly flailing. You love being tossed around, and I think you’re a lot more physical than your big sister. But still, you watch and consider everything so closely, and you adore your big sister — you light up every time you see her and she can make you laugh when no one else can. She loves you just as much, and seems anxious to spend as much time with you as she can. She’s already looking forward to getting bunk beds, and playing with you for real, and she loves to show you everything that you’ve never seen before, which is everything. She’s excited by the prospect of growing up with you, and it’s amazing to watch how much she loves you.

Of course, we all do — your sister, your daddy, and your mommy are all so happy to have you in our lives, and we can’t wait to share the world with you. There will be so many adventures!

Mommy guilt and daughters

A friend once explained to me that having two kids was like being married to two people at once — you feel as strongly for one as you do the other, and it can be just as complicated.

I’m starting to understand what he meant.

The love part I already felt, of course. Before I had two kids I honestly wondered how I could care as much for the second as I did for the first, but I did. It just happened that way. The complicated part wasn’t as obvious. But now that I’ve been home with both Lyra and Pandra for the last three months or so, it’s become more clear.

I don’t think Lyra likes me much right now.

Lyra and her dinosaur
Lyra can play with her toys happily by herself…

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still her mommy. She still needs and wants me around. But if there’s someone else around who can help her with things, do fun stuff with her, read her stories, or anything like that, she’s choosing them over me.

I can’t blame her for it. Nearly every moment of time I’ve spent with her over the past three months has included Pandra. I can’t play toys on the floor with her because I’m nursing Pandra. I can’t run around the field with her because I have Pandra in the wrap and can’t run with her. I can’t give her my complete, undivided attention for very long because Pandra interferes. And Lyra has never complained about Pandra, or shown herself to be particularly jealous.

What has changed is her relationship with me. She tunes me out more, as expected I guess, since I’m now the authority of her daily life. She gets mad at me and refuses to tell me things. She shows her preference to spend time with other people. I’d be tired of hanging out with me too, considering all the time we spend together now.

On the other side of things, my relationship with her has changed too. I have to be more than I was before, since I’m her daily source of entertainment, education, or whatever other activities she may need. I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m not very good at that part. I don’t enjoy coming up with or carrying out age-appropriate activities. I’m not creative in the right ways to be very good at it, and what’s more, I don’t have fun doing it. So I’ve taught her how to play some computer games, and I try to do things like bake with her (she’s only interested in the eating part, really)… things that I enjoy too. I take her to playgrounds and she runs loose and plays with other kids. I take care of her — she gets the things she needs. But I’m not a teacher, I’m not a daycare, and I’m not a kid who can play at her level. When I do push myself to do things like this, I don’t have much fun, and I’m sure Lyra can tell.

I’m happy that she’s in preschool – for two hours, three days a week, she’s getting some of those activities in, and meeting and playing with other kids. I’m getting time alone with Pandra (and sometimes, if Pandra naps, time alone, period). But I wonder, and I’m worried. If we don’t have fun, or if I’m distracted taking care of a three month old baby, or if I’m just exhausted and frustrated and tired of trying to entertain the bottomless pit of boredom known as my Lyra, is it going to hurt us somehow?

Mommy guilt

Tonight Adam told me that Lyra confided something in him that I would hope she would be willing to tell either of us. She said she didn’t want to tell us about it at all.  I’m glad she has that strong of a relationship with her dad — I shouldn’t be upset that she told him about it and not me. I am, but not the way I thought I would be. What I’m upset about is this feeling of guilt — that I’ve somehow done something wrong in my mommy duties lately, and that I should be working harder to not get frustrated with her, and trying to get better at keeping her engaged.

Being a mom is hard. Mommy guilt is painful.

I’m afraid of somehow ruining our relationship. I think it’s a bit early for that, but I guess it’s better to keep that fear in mind and act to prevent it than it is to realize someday in the distant future that it’s already happened, and that I’m not someone she trusts or wants to be with.

And so, I’m up at one o’clock in the morning, worrying about how to fix things. And I might even be on the right track.

I need to find something special that Lyra and I can do together — just the two of us, no Pandra, no Daddy, no uncle Jordy. We need to spend time together in a way that isn’t tinged with frustration on either of our parts, and it has to be doing something that both of us enjoy. Now I just need to figure out what, and fit that into our schedule somehow.

Being a mom is way more difficult than being married. And I’ve got two girls now, plus I’m also married. It’s both fragmenting and infinitely fulfilling.

Searching for praise and approval

While cruising Reddit the other day I discovered a parenting article about the power and perils of praise. It got me thinking about my own complicated relationship with praise, effort, and accomplishment, and the skills I would like to help Lyra and Pandra learn when it comes to dealing with these things.

In short, the article talks about studies that suggest that praising children constantly for the things they are in an effort to build their self esteem may actually be creating problems in the long-term with their ability to work hard, follow through, and be successful. It’s not necessarily all about the self esteem. Kids need to learn how to be proud of their own efforts, instead of the results of them.

It’s hard, as a parent, to not praise your kids for everything. The author of the article addresses that, too. You really want to support them and show them that they’re awesome, so you tell them they’re smart when they figure something out, they’re strong when they do something that was hard for them, and so on. But what the studies suggest is that this isn’t the right approach, and that we’re potentially creating people who need constant praise and approval, as well as the feeling that they’re good at something without trying, instead of people who work hard at something that doesn’t come easily and find happiness in their own efforts rather than the recognition of others.

I’ve seen it in action in plenty of adults. And I’ve got my own personal demons when it comes to looking for approval and praise, although I don’t think, in my case, it’s because of an over-abundance of praise received as a child.

My history of feeling bad at everything

I may not remember things as they exactly were, but in my memory, praise was never given easily or lightly. It was a rare commodity when I was a child, and more often I remember being on the receiving end of comments that made me feel like nothing I did could ever be good enough, if I got any response at all. This made me desperate for praise and approval from anyone who would provide it.

In elementary school I remember wanting to be asked to read aloud in class because I knew I was good at it, and I loved doing it because I was good at it. But I never felt like I got asked. It seemed to me that the kids who weren’t good at it got asked way more than I did, and it was frustrating. Looking back, of course, I can see that the logical thing for a teacher to do would be to give the opportunity to students who needed the extra practice, but to a young, insecure girl who wanted to show that she was good at something it always felt like I was being ignored.

Throughout most of my school years, from elementary to high school, this trend continued. I wanted, desperately, to be singled out and told I was good at something — anything — because at home I never felt like I was good enough. I can remember with a vivid clarity the day I was walking around the house, singing the entire soundtrack to the Little Mermaid. I was probably around fourteen years old, and my self esteem was already low, but I felt like singing was something I was good at. I was, and I still am, and singing always made me happy. But on that day, as I danced around the house pretending to be Ariel, dreaming that someday I would grow up to be a voice-over artist for cartoon musicals (yes, that was a ‘when-I-grow-up’ dream of mine) I was shattered by one offhand comment from a parental unit.

The girl in the movie does it better.

From a sibling, the comment would have been easy to shrug off. From a parent? Well, I pretended it didn’t bother me, but I was devastated. I started to avoid singing when people were home, and wanted badly to hear words of praise for something I thought I was good at — but began to believe I wasn’t. The slightest criticism of my singing made me flush with shame and embarrassment.

It wasn’t just singing. This sort of offhand criticism had been going on for years. I wrote a song when I was six years old that I sang for my family, and was told outright that I stole it. Didn’t write another one until I was 21, and still feel the pain of that accusation to the point that I just don’t play or sing the songs I write. Ever.

Slowly, with everything I was slightly good at, I convinced myself I wasn’t anything special or that I was actually bad. I waited and hoped that someone would recognize I was good at things — music, writing, photography, or anything else I showed promise with — because I believed that I needed that approval and praise to prove to myself that I was worthwhile. Other people had to believe in me before I could believe in myself.

The kind of approval I needed — a direct assurance that I was good at things — never came from my teachers. Maybe they assumed I knew already, because my marks were good in those areas. I’m sure they didn’t know the kind of response I got to being good at things from home — indifference to criticism — so how could they know that I felt broken inside, and that I couldn’t ever be good enough at anything? And they probably didn’t realize that those good marks I got were mostly achieved without any real effort on my part. I try not to think about how good I might have been at school if I had put some effort into anything. I wanted them to tell me outright what I was good at, because then I thought I might try harder at that one thing. They didn’t, and I didn’t.

It didn’t come from family either. All I got from that corner was indifference at best.

As an adult, it slowly started to come from friends, some of whom eventually buckled under the weight of my neediness, I think, and drifted away from me. There’s only so long you can tell someone they aren’t useless before you get frustrated with their inability to believe you, and stop trying. And then sometimes it would come from jobs.

Wherever I found this praise and approval, I would cling to it. It was never healthy — sometimes it got me into a lot of trouble — and I turned into someone who required praise to feel like I was good at anything.

When things got hard, I would quit

The side-effect of this was that if I wasn’t automatically so good at something that I could receive accolades for my skill, I simply wouldn’t continue doing that thing. The effort of learning something that I wasn’t already good at wasn’t worthwhile to me. I missed out on the opportunity to learn so many things, and get better at so many others, just because they were a little bit (or a lot) hard in the beginning.

In college, there were projects I never even started because they were too hard, and collaborations I avoided because I didn’t think I was good enough for anyone to want my contributions.

In work situations, there were jobs that I walked away from because I would have to learn and do new things that were challenging and difficult.

In daily life, I would try an activity once, determine that I wasn’t an instant prodigy, and abandon it.

This went on for years. And then, at some point, I started to change.

Maybe it began when I decided to get rid of my phone phobia by taking on a reception coverage job. I hated the phone passionately. I would get a panic attack every time it rang. So my self-diagnosed medication was to get comfortable with the phone by making it my job to use it. It worked. I got over the phobia (and instead developed a hatred of talking on the phone, but that’s an entirely different issue).

I started mountain biking years ago. The whole idea terrified me in theory, but I tried it because Adam wanted to get into it and I wanted to do something with him. I wasn’t very good. I kept trying it, and fell down a lot. I moved to British Columbia, and realized that mountain biking on real mountains + a fear of heights don’t mix. I kept riding. I got myself hurt. I kept riding. I got better. I’m still not very good, but I kept going out there, afraid of hurting myself or worse every time. But I figured out, somehow, that the actual riding is a whole lot of fun. Mountain biking may be the first thing I’ve tried, sucked at, and kept doing anyway — all for the sake of the effort, the trying, for getting better at it and for the joy I feel when I ride really well. I came to terms with not being a prodigy, not being among the best at it — I never will be. But it’s fun, even if I’m not the best.

That lesson took me until my late twenties to learn.

I backslide sometimes — especially at work, when I realize that I want to do something well simply because I want my manager or co-workers to rain accolades on me, and reassure me of my awesomeness. It’s a hard lesson that I keep having to learn, wanting to do something because it’s worth the effort.

Praise, approval, and my own children

So I’ve said a whole lot about myself and my experience with self esteem issues, praise, and approval. But how can I use what I know to help my children be better at this than I am? Because, ultimately, I want my kids to be better at me than everything.

The article I linked at the beginning suggests praising a child’s process and effort, rather than the outcomes or their skills directly. For example, rather than saying “You’re so smart!” as a general concept that might leave a kid thinking “I’m smart, that means I don’t have to work hard at things” a parent could say “You did a great job working so hard on that tough math homework.”

It seems like a good approach to me. I want my kids to learn that hard work will get them far. They might have some uncanny talent that takes very little training, but practising that talent will make them better. And they’ll also have a hundred things that don’t come easy. I want them to feel the satisfaction of working hard to accomplish something, or to feel pride that they overcame their fears to do something awesome. I want them to be determined to succeed, not necessarily for the sake of success and the praise it will bring them — that praise might be empty and unfulfilling. I want them to be proud of the work they’ve done to get something.

I want them to not give up on something just because it’s hard.

I want to give them the tools to be better than I was.

The baby keeps growing, and tugging at my heartstrings

Pandra is now over two months old, and has become a lot more aware of herself and the world over the past week. You can see it when you look at her — she looks around and actually sees things, and you can attract her attention easily. She shows us when she doesn’t want to look at something or deal with something by turning her head away. Lyra hasn’t really learned how to respect that, though, and tries to forcer her to look back at her from three inches away. I’d be trying to look away too, if I were her. Lyra can be a bit imposing and boundary-crossing at times.

It’s taken me a while to fully connect with Pandra. I’ve felt the unconditional ‘this is my baby and I adore her because she’s my baby’, but I didn’t notice until the past few days that I didn’t feel fully connected to her. I don’t know if it’s something I can put into words. I felt connected because she’s my baby, but I didn’t feel connected to her as a person.

Oh, hello thereI didn’t realize this until the past week, however, when I started to have flashes of that connection — on the change table when she really looked at me, rather than looked in my direction, or nursing when she paused and stared up at me for a few seconds before unleashing a huge grin (without letting her latch go, as she takes her latch very seriously most of the time). Without those moments, and a few others like them in the past week, I might not have realized the disconnect. But they happened, and I did.

Little hands have a strong grip

Pandra has discovered her hands, and takes great pleasure in nomming on her fists. She babbles and yammers whenever she’s awake, and we have little conversations with her that bring on more of the huge grins none of us can get enough of. This morning I set her down on a blanket on the floor with Lyra lying next to her talking to her, while I did some dishes. Lyra got up to go play with some toys in her room, leaving Pandra alone on the floor, still making all sorts of chatter noises. Suddenly she started screaming as though she was in pain. I knew Lyra was in her bedroom, so I didn’t know what could possibly be wrong. I walked over to look at her, and there she lay, one hand up over her had, with her little fist buried in her full head of baby-soft hair, pulling as hard as she could. I looked at her for a moment, then laughed hysterically while I picked her up to disentangle her from her own strength. Poor girl…  she’s good at grabbing things, but hasn’t really figured out the letting go part, or the fact that she can actually hurt herself. I felt a little bad laughing at her. But only a little — it was pretty funny.

Having only Lyra as a solid frame of reference, it’s pretty much impossible not to compare what Pandra is like with Lyra at the same age. She’s a very different baby than Lyra was. For one thing, I can put her down to sleep in the other room — sometimes even when she’s still awake, but sleepy. We can barely do that with Lyra now; she hates sleep that much. I’m grateful that Pandra’s a better sleeper. She also talks a lot more. She’s growing much faster, and has already reached a higher weight at 2.5 months old than Lyra was at 6 months old. She’s already 1/3 of Lyra’s current weight! But Pandra was a bigger baby when she was born, and she wasn’t 3 weeks early, and she had absolutely no trouble learning how to nurse and latching on properly, where Lyra was too sleepy to bother trying. I remember we had to use ice cubes on Lyra’s bare skin just to keep her awake and nursing for the first month.

I wonder sometimes, like I did when Lyra was tiny, who this little person is going to be. What will she like, and what will she think is funny? Which parts of Adam’s personality will she reflect, and which ones of mine? How will things be similar to our experience with Lyra? What will be dramatically different? This is really a whole other baby, again, that we will take care of and spend the next couple of decades doing our best to turn into a basically good person; or so we hope. Who is that hiding behind that incredible, addictive little grin?

 

Slow cooker macaroni and cheese recipe

I’ve been planning to make some sort of slow cooker mac & cheese for a couple of weeks now, but didn’t get around to it until today. When I mentioned this on Facebook, I got numerous requests for the recipe, assuming it turned out well. All I did for the recipe was surf a bunch of different google results for ‘slow cooker macaroni and cheese’ until I had a vague idea of the ingredients needed, bought them from memory (vaguely) and hoped I could piece something together.

I went with the basic mac & cheese, rather than doing anything interesting with it, for two reasons. One, my daughter is a picky eater and I wanted to feed this to her, and two, I wanted to make sure I had a good base recipe to start from before I started doing fun things. This is your plain, ordinary, super-awesome macaroni and cheese.

In the future, I would consider adding peas, cauliflower, or other veggies that complement cheese, as well as bacon, sausage, or chicken breast pieces. I’d also happily mix up the cheeses — either different types of cheddar, or a blend of cheddar, gouda, mozzarella, and whatever other cheeses I had lying around the house. Because I usually have them lying around the house. I’m not kidding. If I wasn’t cooking for a picky four-year-old, I’d add some pepper during the cooking process too. I’d also add some sour cream or cream cheese to see how that affected the texture and flavour.

Slow cooker Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:
Half of a 900 gram box of macaroni noodles
1 tbsp olive oil (or vegetable oil if you prefer)
1 can (370 ml) evaporated milk
1 1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
About 4 cups of shredded cheese (I used extra old cheddar, and probably closer to 5 cups by the time I was done shredding)
1/2 cup of melted butter

Here’s how I prepared it:

Cook your macaroni noodles prior to putting them in the slow cooker. I may try cooking them in the slow cooker at some point, but I think the amount of liquid in the recipe would need to be increased.
Pour the cooked noodles into the slow cooker. Add about a tablespoon of oil. I used olive oil.
It’s a can of evaporated milk! I bought the stuff that was on sale.
Add the evaporated milk with one hand while attempting to take an in-focus photo with your SLR with the other. Or skip the photo-taking step. Your call.
Add the non-evaporated milk, again using the same one-handed technique for effective photo-taking.
Stir, stir, stir. Add the salt and stir some more.
Take a break from adding ingredients to the crock pot and attend to the cranky infant. If you don’t have a cranky infant to attend to, please feel free to borrow mine. As a secondary option, you can also attend to a bored four year old. I have one of those you can borrow too.
My mom worked at the Kraft cheese factory when I was a kid. My fondness for Cracker Barrel Extra Old Cheddar is a part of my history. This was my cheese of choice for this recipe, but for a creamier, less sharp final product you may want to go with a milder cheese.
Pour the shredded cheddar in to the mix and stir well.
Mmmm. Melted butter. Finally, pour in the melted butter and stir. I never claimed this was a low-fat recipe.
Let it all simmer in your slow cooker for 3-4 hours on low. Stir occasionally.
Serve topped with pepper and some shredded cheese to be extra classy — and enjoy.
Other people’s children approve of this recipe. Ignore the yellow light. Oh crap you’re looking at it now that I mentioned it.
My own child approves of this recipe. And she’s the picky one.

Babywearing attracts attention, and other things I’ve noticed when I’m out with my kids

The girls and I do not respond well to staying home all day. Even Pandra, as early as 3 weeks old, was crankier and complained louder if we hadn’t left the house each day.  And so, from the first week after Pandra was born, we were getting out of the house at least once a day.

Lyra, Jenny and Pandra by the river
Out walking by the river’s edge with the family – Pandra (1 week old) is sleeping in the cuddly wrap

My preference (and Pandra’s) is to use a babywearing wrap — in our case, we’re using the Cuddly Wrap by Peapod Creations. It’s the same one I used with Lyra when she was a tiny baby, and once we’re done with it I’ll give it away and switch to using an Ergo Baby that we also used with Lyra for a long time. I’d rather have my hands free than pushing the stroller up and down the hills around my house, and Pandra would rather be cuddled up against my chest than sitting in her carseat, staring up at the sky from the stroller.

I’ve discovered that by having the baby at eye level instead of waist level, people will talk to you about the baby. A lot. And if Pandra is wearing any colour other than OMGPINK then she is automatically a boy. Maybe she has masculine features? Maybe it’s the full head of brown hair? I really can’t explain it, but even if she’s in a flowery white and purple outfit they assume she’s a boy, and the neutrals (brown, yellow, green) are all automatically boy clothes to random strangers. The only outfit so far that makes her look like a girl was bright flowery fuschia combo. I generally try the subtle ‘she’s a girl’ approach with my answers, or not bother correcting them, since I’m unlikely to have a long-term relationship with them. The questions are usually as follows:

How is he sleeping?

I’ll answer with ‘Better than her sister did’ or something along those lines, which is the absolute truth. She sleeps, she wakes up, she eats. The only comparison I have is to her sister.

How old is he?

She’s [insert age here, currently 2 months old].

Wow, he really loves to sleep on mommy like that, eh?

Pandra
Pandra doesn’t get mistaken for a boy in this – mainly due to the pink bows on her socks.

Yep. Always sleeps in the carrier.

Is he a good baby?

Much as I want to answer “no, she’s a complete demon, terrible baby, just awful” I know that sarcasm on the west coast is usually unrecognized in casual conversation, so I’ve learned not to be as sarcastic as I used to be. I’ll just smile and not at this one, since I’m uncertain as to what makes a baby ‘good.’ Are you a good adult? Am I a good mom? How do we answer these vague questions?

People will also ask Lyra if she’s a good sister, and if she likes being a big sister. Her standard response is to look at them for a moment and then just say “Yep,” with a disconnected tone that suggests she’s answered this question a hundred times. That seems to go over well, when people can hear her. Lyra’s a little soft-spoken.

The supermom effect

I’ve also discovered, by being out with the kids so much, that people don’t expect me to be out with them when Pandra is so young. That’s starting to fade now that she looks less like a newborn and more like a regular baby (and that’s one of those differences I can’t explain — you’ll know what I mean if you’ve spent enough time with a growing new baby).

When I would be out walking with Lyra, Pandra strapped to my chest, I got nonstop comments about how impressed people were that I had left the house.

Wow, you’re out already?? That’s amazing!

I would look at them and say something like “well I have a four year old, she can’t stay in all the time,” when really I just don’t understand why it’s such a shock to them. I can’t stay inside. It would make me go completely stir crazy. Apparently I’m the exception by being out and about every day with my newborn.

So if you want people to think you’re a supermom when you have a newborn, leave your house. It’s that easy.

The sleep question

The standard question people ask when they see a mom with a new baby is about sleep — are they sleeping well, are you getting sleep, how’s the baby sleeping? Everyone who’s had a baby knows that sleep is the hardest part of dealing with the new baby, and that the less sleep a parent gets the less functional they are. They mostly ask out of a sense of sympathy, I’m guessing. I developed my standard reply because I had to answer this question so often, and I’m guessing most new parents do the same, but I’ve become so tired of the question.

The comment I get in addition to the sleep question is how I look so good — so very well rested — for a mom of a newborn. At first I thought it was just a false compliment; something people were saying to make me feel better about myself. I’ve slowly realized that I was mistaken. Apparently I really do look well rested. I feel all right — somewhat tired, but nothing like how tired I was with Lyra during her wake-up-every-two-hours-every-night phase (the entire first year of her life, and again when she was 18 months old). So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m getting enough sleep, and that I actually do look good for having a two month old baby. Pandra sleeps fairly well at night for her age, and I feel lucky that she’s not like Lyra in that sense.

Hooray for compliments that aren’t false, and for getting enough sleep to look reasonably well rested!

Don’t blink, or you’ll miss something important

Two nights ago I handed the baby to my husband and settled in to put Lyra to bed. Her bedtime routine hasn’t changed much since we started doing it — two stories, two songs, a couple of minutes just sitting with her or lying next to her before saying good night and leaving the room. Since we brought Pandra home it’s mostly been Adam doing bedtime stuff with Lyra, since the baby is often cranky right around that time of night. Lyra doesn’t mind, and because she spends so much time with me during the day I think she actually prefers it to some extent — she just loves storytime with her daddy.

But Pandra was in a reasonably good mood, so she got to hang out with her daddy while I read stories and sang songs for her big sister.

Somehow in the past month and a half I’ve completely missed out on how big a big sister she’s become.

I don’t know when she got so tall…

We sat down and read the books, then turned off the lights and I sang her two songs. There used to be a variety of songs to choose from, but these days every night she wants to hear only the same two songs: The Rainbow Connection and Inchworm. I sang them and then lay down to cuddle with her for a couple of minutes. When I sat up to leave, I asked her for a hug and she climbed into my lap. That’s when it hit me.

I don’t know when it happened, but the tiny waif of a child who fit snugly on my lap and could curl up into a ball in my arms has turned into a long-limbed, gangly, almost awkward little girl-creature. It is awesome and adorable and I love that she’s growing up, but in that moment of realization, that the last physical traces of my baby girl had disappeared in what felt like the blink of an eye, hit me all at once. I wrapped my arms around her and held her in my lap where she didn’t fit the same as she used to, and I had to struggle not to start crying in front of her. Tears were running down my cheeks in the dark, but I didn’t let her know it, because there was no way I could explain to her why her mommy was crying. Even now writing this down I’m crying… fortunately she’s fast asleep on the couch next to me, because I still can’t find the right words to tell her why I’m sad.

The thing is, I’m not really sad. I’m excited to see her grow, I love who she is now and who she’s becoming every day, and I’m infinitely proud of all sorts of things she does and says and learns. I wouldn’t turn back time to recover the baby version of her — or the toddler version of her — if given the opportunity. The tears aren’t tears of joy though… they’re as unexpected as the sudden realization that she has changed so much without my noticing until that moment. I miss the big leaps because I see all the tiny steps, so when I have a moment like that one, when I’m holding her and those emotions are hitting me like a tonne of bricks, it’s jarring. The only human way I could possibly react was to cry.

And otherwise, just reassure myself that I am paying attention, and I need to keep doing so. I don’t want to miss a thing.

Boredom, decisions and the four year old

Lyra has been going through a phase where she isn’t interested in making her own decisions. Every morning I offer her breakfast and she refuses everything I offer, so I follow up with asking her what she wants. She replies, “I don’t know, what should I have?” The same happens at lunch. Dinner is whatever I make, so she doesn’t have the same options… but she’ll happily go without eating much for breakfast or lunch, and subsisting on snacks instead.

I’ve figured out that she’s waiting for me to offer her the ‘treat’ option for food — berries or crackers or something that we don’t have every day. But there are reasons we don’t have those things every day, and I’m not giving in to that. So she just doesn’t eat as much as she could. I’m confident that she’s still healthy, since her energy is still as high as it’s ever been.

Lyra loves her berriesThe other thing she’s been doing lately is demanding that Adam or I entertain her. She walks up to us and half-whines, “What should we dooooo?” to which we respond with a couple of suggestions (usually ones she rejects). Sometimes it’s because she’s looking for us to offer a specific thing (a computer game, Netflix, going swimming, going to the playground), and sometimes I think it’s just that she’s bored and stuck in that bored loop where you’re so bored you can’t actually motivate yourself to do anything. I admit it, I know that loop well.

For the first week or so after she started this, we tried to provide her with options, or play with her ourselves as much as we could. It didn’t seem to help the core issue, though… in fact it made her worse, and she started asking “What should I doooooo??” every few minutes. It was driving us completely mad.

So we stopped helping and told her to figure something out for herself. That led to more whining and crying, which we ignored. And eventually she walked away, went to her room, and picked up her animal toys or her cars and started playing with them. It worked!

She keeps asking the question, thought not as often, and she’s accepting it when we tell her to go do something on her own. I’m pretty sure these are skills she’s going to need for the rest of her life — I still have trouble with being bored and wanting someone else to tell me how to fix it. If she can learn to entertain herself now, she’ll be a step ahead of me.

It’s the tiny victories that make it all worthwhile.

Birthing the baby dragon

Baby Pandra
This is Pandra. She looks almost exactly like her sister did at that age. It’s like we had twins four years apart.

It started with the strawberry pie.

They were fresh, local, in-season strawberries, and when I bought them I knew we couldn’t just eat the entire basket, so I decided I should make a strawberry pie. I put it off for a couple of days, but finally pulled some pastry dough out of my freezer, thawed it and rolled it out on the afternoon of Friday, June fifteenth.

But I wasn’t yet ready to eat the strawberry pie on Friday. Instead I put out an open invitation for people to join me in eating the pie on Saturday. Naturally, there were folks willing to partake in the pie, and so Saturday evening was devoted to pie eating before and after dinner, in the company of friends. It was a mighty tasty homemade strawberry pie.

We went to bed around 11:15 on Saturday night, much like any other night. I was uncomfortable, but no more so than I have been at night for months. I went to sleep and didn’t wake up for about an hour and a half.

At 1:15, I had strangely woken up on my own and heard Lyra’s door opening. She came out of her room to go to the bathroom. She was having trouble with her nightgown, so I got up to help her and put her back to bed with no real issue.

With Lyra back in her bed, I realized that my stomach was feeling kind of upset, and hoped it wasn’t because of the excess of awesome strawberry pie. When my stomach started cramping harder, I considered that it could theoretically be labour… or maybe not. I was too uncomfortable and awake to go back to bed so I went to sit on my computer for a while.

There wasn’t much going on online, it being 1:30am, and I was restless. I kept standing up and sitting back down, pacing up and down the hall, and just feeling crampy and yucky. At one point a friend sent me a message on Facebook asking what I was doing up, and I told him that it was possible — just possible, mind you — that I was in labour. Or my stomach was upset. After which I got up from the computer again and decided to run a bath and wake Adam up. It was 2 a.m.

I woke Adam to tell him that I was either in labour or had a really upset stomach. He wanted me to confirm which it was, naturally, but I wasn’t totally willing to do that yet. I told him I was going to run a bath and see if it helped me feel better, and that I was leaning towards it being labour, and he got out of bed.

The bath made me feel better, but it didn’t change anything otherwise. I kept rolling from one side to the other (beyond awkward in our tiny bathtub) and thinking that I wasn’t totally ready to be in labour yet. I finally caved and had Adam time the contractions, knowing that I had to come to terms with being in labour, since all signs pointed to it.

All the paperwork and instructions from the midwife suggested that we should call when contractions were regular, 4 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute each, or something along those lines. When Adam started timing them, they were pretty regular (two or three minutes apart) and anywhere from 30 – 45 seconds long. So they were close but short. I was confused – I had only really been in labour for about an hour or so, and I expected a longer build-up of occasional contractions and pre-labour and all of that. I did not expect to be having contractions so close together and so early into the process, even if they were shorter than they had to be.

I wasn’t yet ready to call the midwife. It wasn’t yet 4 a.m..

The contractions were already pretty strong, and I was wandering around from room to room trying to find a way to get comfortable. Adam woke up Lyra and called a friend to let her know that we’d probably be dropping the little girl off at her house around the corner, and then we decided to call the midwife. It was around then, I guess, that I wandered back to my computer and sent a tweet: Labour? Yeah, pretty sure it is. Ow. The internet tells me that it was 3:52 a.m. when I sent it.

Lyra is concerned
Lyra rubbed my back during contractions and asked me if I was okay. It was incredibly sweet.

I remember being on the floor in the office at one point with Lyra asking me if I was going to be okay. I remember telling her that I was going to be fine, and that the baby was coming. She was rather concerned, and wanted to help somehow, so Adam told her to rub my back. It was pretty much the sweetest thing ever.

We called the midwife at that point, and she talked to me for a few minutes before saying we should wait as long as we were comfortable before going to the hospital. I was fine with that and went back to my fast, short, close-together contractions while Adam packed Lyra up in the car and took her to our friend’s place down the street. I think he was worried to leave me alone, but I have to admit that before I noticed he was gone, he had come back.

I was in contraction limbo for the next couple of hours. I moved from the office to the living room on the couch. I would look out the window from time to time and be surprised to see that it had moved from the darkness of night to pre-dawn light to dawn when I wasn’t paying attention to it. Adam asked me a few times if I was ready to go to the hospital yet, and I kept putting it off. I must have given in sometime around 6 a.m. – I remember climbing into the car and thinking that I really wasn’t looking forward to the drive, but at least it was early on a Sunday morning so there wouldn’t be any traffic…

Onward to the hospital

The drive to New Westminster’s Royal Columbian Hospital was uneventful (there were contractions; they weren’t fun), as was checking in to the hospital itself. We were put into the only labour and delivery room without a window and were told by a nurse that the midwife was on her way. We settled in for another round of contraction limbo and waited for the midwife, who didn’t arrive for a couple of hours I guess. I still had no sense of time, and with no window in the room I was beyond reality.

Stink, the octopus
This is Stink the Octopus, one of Lyra’s animals that she let me bring to the hospital so it could keep me company. Stink made me happy.

There hadn’t been much change by the time the midwife arrived. She checked me over and said that I was at 4 cm. They hooked up the monitor for the baby — since I was trying for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After C-section) they have to monitor the baby for the entire span of labour — and put in an IV. Those are, I’m told, the primary differences between a VBAC and a vaginal birth for someone who hasn’t had a c-section. There are possible complications in a VBAC, so they prefer to be prepared with the IV, and they want to monitor the baby much more carefully than they would otherwise.

Once the monitor was hooked up, we could hear the baby’s heartbeat. Nonstop. For the entire duration of labour. We were to become very familiar with that 150 bpm sound…

The midwife also suggested I try dancing with Adam during contractions to help get through them. They were strong and required all of my focus. It seemed to help manage them, although I wouldn’t say it made them any less painful. It just made it easier to cope.

When they brought the hospital breakfast, I tried to eat some oatmeal, but everything made me queasy… or at least, contractions made me queasy. I stopped trying to eat after a few mouthfuls, knowing I would probably regret it later.

An unknown amount of time went by. At some point, the midwife checked me and said nearly nothing had changed, so she decided to rupture the membrane (aka break my water) in the hopes that it would move things forward. I swear it looked like she used chopsticks to do it. Once that was done, in theory, labour was supposed to move ahead — my cervix would dilate further, the baby would move down more into the pelvis, and we could go ahead and get the baby out of me.

In theory, anyway.

And then nothing changed for a long, long time

More time went by. The midwife kept checking on me and finding that, although I was still having regular contractions, nothing else was progressing. My cervix had basically stalled around 5 cm, I was utterly exhausted, and contractions were still every couple of minutes. And the baby’s 150 bpm heartbeat filled the room.

I guess sometime around 11 a.m. or noonish, the midwife offered an epidural so I could take a break. I had been having strong contractions nonstop every few minutes for around 11 hours. I remember holding on to Adam and saying “I just want a break”.

We didn’t have a birth plan beyond ‘have a baby at the end of the process’, so there were no preconceived ideas about going drug-free or no epidurals and so on. I was perfectly happy to take the midwife’s offer and get at least some form of rest before figuring out what to do next. So they called in the lady with the drugs and got me hooked up and lying on the bed. And I managed to get a bit of blessed sleep.

The in-labour epidural feels rather different from the one they did when I had the c-section with Lyra. I could still move my arms, and if I needed to I could move my legs a bit, although I wouldn’t have trusted myself to stand. With the c-section, I was completely without sensation from the upper chest down.

Variable intensity control
We were all pretty sure that if we played with that dial we could vary the intensity in the room, but we didn’t want to mess it up, just in case things got a little too intense.

I continued having contractions, but with the epi in I just didn’t feel them. It was a huge relief to get bits of sleep. I started to feel a bit hungry, but by this point the discussion had turned to the likelihood of my having to get a c-section if nothing progressed soon… It was starting to look like it might be the only option. The midwife decided to ask the on-duty doctor to come by and check me out (he who would be performing said c-section, should it go that way) for his opinion. She put in a call to have him stop by and see us.

We, however, were not at risk, by any stretch of the imagination. The baby’s heart rate was still going strong at 150, unchanged for hours. There was nothing specifically wrong… things just weren’t moving they way they ought to. That put us at the bottom of the list for the one doctor on the floor who had to visit a whole lot of other people — all of whom were having their own issues, more urgent than ours.

It was many, many hours of limbo before the doctor could make time to see me. By the time he did come in, I was starting to feel contractions again. I could only feel them on one side of my pelvis, which was weird. It started as pressure on the left side of my pelvis, and slowly, after a while, became more and more uncomfortable.

The doctor finally came by to see me. When he checked me out, he noted the same thing that the midwife had — I was still around 5 cm dilated, maybe 6 cm. He took a look at the scar from my previous c-section and commented on how invisible it was, then asked me who the doctor was that had done it. I couldn’t remember her name — I told him it was a woman in North Vancouver who had a really short name — and he guessed who it was. As soon as he said her name I confirmed it. He planned to tell her she did a great job the next time he saw her. I felt weirdly proud of my almost invisible c-section scar and the awesome doctor who did the work on me…

We discussed what was happening with me at that point, and where we thought things were going. The general consensus was that we were heading for a c-section, which I thought was both a disappointment and a relief. I was so very tired by that point I just wanted to have the baby out of me. It was late afternoon, and I hadn’t slept for more than a half an hour at a time since basically a day and a half earlier. And contractions are hard — they tire you out!

Time to try something else!

The doctor and midwife decided to try Oxytocin for two hours, just to see if that would get things moving the way they were supposed to. I was happy to give it a try, but also exhausted to think that it would be another two hours before we decided if I was having a c-section. I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea, had come to terms with it, and was ready to move on.

And so they plugged me into the Oxytocin, and the contractions got stronger and more frequent. I was still under the epidural, but it was wearing off and I was starting to feel the contractions stronger as time went by. They were pretty painful, actually. A friendly nurse upped my epidural, but that didn’t help. She then brought me the nitrous. I was a big fan of the nitrous. It made anything and everything bearable — I could still feel the pain of the contractions as the epidural wore off more and more, but when I breathed through that Darth Vader mask of awesomeness it just didn’t matter so much. It made dissociation even easier than I usually find it — and I can be pretty good at dissociation.

And so it went for another 1.5 hours. But the baby… she didn’t like the Oxytocin so much. There were a couple of drops in her heart rate as the stronger contractions kicked in. Nothing that required an emergency intervention, but after it happened a few times, the nurse decided that we should stop the Oxytocin drip just to be on the safe side. She turned it off after about an hour and a half of Oxy time. The midwife came back from getting dinner, and I was feeling contractions basically full-on (the epidural had worn off almost entirely for pain relief). I was leaning on the nitrous tank to get through the contractions, which were stronger than ever.

I noticed during one particularly strong contraction that, even through the laughing gas, I was feeling an overwhelming urge to push. I didn’t, but when I came out of that contraction I told the midwife exactly that. She decided to check me again and see if anything had changed… and things had! I was actually at 10 cm dilation.

They called the doctor back in, and he confirmed things. Up until that moment, I had basically given up on the VBAC and was assuming things were going to c-section territory – we all had, including the midwife and the nurses. It was evening, I was exhausted, and when the doctor said that we should go ahead and deliver this baby in the usual way, I remember that I thought I don’t know if I can do that. I really didn’t want to have to recover from a c-section again, though, and there was no way I would express any doubts aloud at that point. Some part of me was still stubborn enough to see it through — and that part of me is louder than the tired, doubting, scared part of me was.

So it’s not going to be a C-Section after all?

I don’t really know what time it was by the time we decided to try and deliver the baby. I can only say that it was evening. Adam told me later, when I asked, how long I pushed for — not long, maybe half an hour — so it must have been after 8:00 p.m. when we made the final decision.

The first thing I had to do was get the baby to move down. She wasn’t where she should have been, and I could feel that she was in the wrong spot. I learned pretty quickly how to push — it involved a lot of holding of the breath — and I felt her position change. Every time I pushed, I could feel it when I was doing it right, because she moved and I could tell it was right. It was hard — so much harder than just coping with the contractions had been up to that point, and that wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.

The midwife said something about having to make a cut because I was going to tear, and told me she was putting a topical freezing cream or something on. I’m not sure I would have noticed either way. I was both more inside my own body and more disconnected from pain than I had ever felt before. There was only moment after moment of push, then breath, then push, then breath, then take a break between contractions and refocus on what I knew was coming next. I was hyper-aware of my body and there was a lot of pain there, but my brain decided to brush it aside, force it to the back of my mind and just focus on the work that I had to do. Accept the pain and move on to what’s important: evict the baby from my body.

I could hear the conversation Adam and the midwife were having about the baby’s head showing, then going back, then showing again. It was strange, but motivating – I knew when I pushed and they saw the top of her head, I was doing things right and that it would be over at some point. There was no soon — there was only infinite now. But someday now would be not about evicting a baby.

When I finally pushed enough that she came out, it was like an intense pressure had just completely disappeared from my body. I was so relieved that, when they showed me the baby, I didn’t really care that I couldn’t see if it was a girl or a boy. I didn’t care that they were taking it over to check it out and make sure all was well. I didn’t even hear if they told me if it was a boy or girl. The baby cried, loud and strong, and I knew that she was okay, but I couldn’t really think. I could only feel, and all I felt was an overwhelming sense of relief that I was done trying to force a small person (who had proven throughout the day that she did NOT want to come out) through an even smaller opening in my body. I was relieved, I was happy, I was done with pushing (the placenta was a breeze after the baby experience) and that was all that mattered.

Jenny and baby Pandra
I finally had something to show for all of my hard work!

I got back on the nitrous while the midwife stitched me up. I remember making at least one joke… something about crazy hippies… and they gave Adam the baby while I underwent repairs. Our baby girl had been born, and she was healthy and looked exactly like her older sister did on the day she was born, which was weird. And I didn’t have to recover from a c-section this time around, which made me happy now that I wasn’t actually in labour anymore. She was born at exactly 9:00 p.m. on Father’s Day, June 17th. I had been in labour for 20 hours, and had slept for approximately 1 hour before I went into labour. I don’t think I’ve been so tired ever before. Adam didn’t look like he was in much better shape. But we had a new baby, so everything was lovely.

Naming the dragon

Lyra had us calling her new sibling Baby Dragon, so it only seemed right to keep a piece of that memory. We chose Pandra as the new baby girl’s name — a name that means chief dragon and is related to Pendragon. Her middle name, Galen, means calm — because that heartbeat just stayed the same, hour after hour, no matter what we seemed to throw at her. She was born at precisely 9:00 p.m. on Father’s day: Sunday, June 17th. I don’t think Adam minded giving up his Father’s day for that.

Maternity leave and spending time with my daughter

I’m in the last few weeks of pregnancy, and have now had the last two weeks off work. Maternity leave in Canada is a wonderful thing.

I spent my first week of mat leave just getting things done and relaxing around the house. I got to put in some quality time on Mass Effect 3, after having lost my save game 25 hours into the campaign during the epic failure of Adam’s computer. I haven’t yet caught up to where I was, but at least I’ve restarted with a build from ME1 & ME2 savegames to make the ME3 campaign as close to my own character as I could without replaying the first two games. I was able to do this because Lyra was still in daycare for the week – and it made me happy.

It was undeniably strange to be away from work without the feeling that I should check in to see how things are going, to make sure nothing was terribly broken before I had to go back in. By the time I have to go back a year from now, nothing I have worked on (and half the people I’ve worked with, especially interns) will even be there any more. Last time I took maternity/parental leave, by the time I went back my team had more than doubled in size and my job was completely different. It was a hard transition, but I eventually found my place and helped build a strong team to support the organization. And now I’ve left again, and who knows what things will look like when I go back, and it’s strange and unnerving if I let myself think about it too much.

Fortunately for me I guess I won’t have that much time to worry about it in a little while.

Learning to spend all of my time with a little girl

My second week of mat leave Lyra has been at home with me. It’s been challenging, since I’m not used to keeping her engaged and entertained all day, every day. Weekends are different – we have things to fill up our time, activities and visits and stuff that just needs to get done in the short time we have, and Adam is usually around being a parent. Spending all of my time with her alone is hard. I knew it would be. It’s harder being this pregnant, with my energy reserves running low and my general awkwardness making it tough to play with a nearly 4-year-old high-energy kid. I’ve been trying to think of things to keep her busy, but early in the week I definitely relied heavily on Netflix and computer games while I just lay around being tired and pregnant.

And then I felt guilty about it.

She’s reaching a stage of pushing every boundary she can find, and trying to claim more power in her relationship with us. She’s more wilful than she’s ever been before. It’s exhausting, and my patience is at a remarkably low level these days, so she can push my buttons without even trying. I don’t want to feel frustrated as often as I am, but I am. I need to find ways to keep her entertained and get her out to see other kids that don’t ultimately exhaust me too. It makes me wish I had managed to get her into preschool for September, but I had a bad few weeks of anti-social, I don’t want to deal with anything mental breakdown during the window when I could have done so, and I missed the opportunity. I should have gone ahead with it when I could, and I didn’t, and it’s entirely my own fault.

I am immensely thankful that Adam has two weeks off when baby Dragon arrives. I would probably break down completely if I was on my own with the two kids right off the bat, so I’m glad that he’ll be home to wrangle Lyra while I try to figure out the new arrival.

I’m also nervous about when he goes back to work and I really am on my own with the two of them every day. Spending every day with Lyra alone as a newborn and for the first year was easy. Juggling the needs of a newborn and 4 year old is not going to be nearly as straightforward. I’ll figure it out, but it’s really, really not going to be easy.

Lyra is truly a person now. It makes life interesting.

Outside with Lyra on a sunny day