Thursday, July 28, 2011

On Cottages, New Love and Being Grateful

The Reds and I have just returned from a Lake Erie cottage, having spent the week being spoiled rotten by friends-who-are-like-family.

I left my camera there, which is sad because I got some truly amazing shots of the boys in the pool. They're still awake upstairs, which is also sad, because I am exhausted, but I am glad to be home, so am pretending not to notice.

We had the time of our lives: eating, laughing, swimming, drinking, repeat.

To sum up:

Dear Inventor of Water-Wings,

God bless you, you-who-are-clearly-a-parent. The Reds had a blast, hurling themselves into the deep end, learning to hold their breath underwater and proudly sporting their brand-new goggles and flutter boards. I enjoyed paddling about without a flailing bodies climbing onto to my head in a panic.

Happy Paddling,
A Grateful Mother

Dear Smirnoff,

Bought coolers for the first time in 20 years a long time. Was delighted to find "Blueberry Lemonade Vodka" coolers. 

Was not AS delighted to drink one.

Perhaps you might consider renaming the drink, "Blueberry Muffin Mix-Mosquito Repellent-Purple 'Thrills' Gum", for that is exactly how it tasted.

"Pina Colada Vodka Mudshake" Lover

Dear Baileys,

You know how much I  love you. But I have also found myself spending a great deal of time with "Pina Colada Vodka Mudshakes." I wish I could say I feel guilty, but they're far too yummy for that.

I hope you're OK with that.


Dear Matthew and Luke,

Thank you for not fighting (much), for surviving 10 hours of driving cheerfully and without peeing in your car seat (Luke). Thanks for great manners, snuggles at dawn, laughing so hard, swimming so happily and for at least trying new foods (Matthew). You make me very proud.

Every day, you bring me great joy. Thank you, especially, for that.


Dear Telfords,

You are wonderful, wonderful friends and consummate hosts. Thanks for great food, awesome drinks, soft beds, Fruit Loops for my gobsmacked "Mummy-only-let's-us-have-Cheerios" kids and for letting me sleep in EVERY morning.

Thank you for sage advice, chatting until dawn, not freaking out when my son (who-shall-remain-nameless-but-might-be-called-Luke) peed on the brand-new couch and for making each moment relaxing and easy.

Belly and the Reds

Monday, July 25, 2011

Journeys, Destinations and Everything In Between (A Guest Post)

I'm at a Lake Erie cottage this week, to sit about and eat, laugh and collect more freckles on my arms.  While I'm west of the Friendly City, Tina Klein-Walsh (who lives east of me, in Ottawa) will fill my musing space with some compelling musings of her own.

I can't remember exactly how Tina and I became fellow-followers on Twitter, but I'm awfully glad we have. Aside from a mutual love of coffee and wine, Tina has some pretty big changes to contemplate and I'm happy to share her thought-process/mulling here - kinda like watching the inner-workings of a wise, Mama mind!

*    *    *
Recently, I posed the following question to my two closest friends:
“I am seriously flirting with the idea of relocating downtown and living car-free... provided I can line up near-enough work to support the habit and solve the problem of where to keep the bikes! Does this seem out of character for me, or could you easily imagine the next chapter of my life story playing out this way?”
Within minutes, this Dalai Lama quote appeared in my Twitter Feed:
“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.”

I am deeply moved. And inspired:
I am 43 years old. Nearly 44.

Life has been kind to me: I am the mother of two [internationally adopted] children. My eldest, nearly 11 now, splits her time between two divorced parents. At 6, my youngest lives with me full-time. I adopted her as a single parent when I was 42. She’s the reason I went back to full-time work in 2009, after 7 years of part-time consulting project.

Even half-time daycare does not come cheap.
A few weeks back, I learned that my current full-time job would be ending soon. As a single mother of two, it’s a bit scary not knowing how the next chapter of my life story will read. I am not sure I have the nerve to write it either, but I am feeling pretty good about the door opening again.

I still have my consulting company. I have mixed feelings about reviving it.
I moved out to Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, from Nepean shortly after separating from my ex-husband in 2006. There are a lot of high tech companies in the area. At the time of my move, many of them were my active clients. I am an all-season bike commuter. I bike approximately 100 kms a week.
Yes, I do own a car. My bike commuting slows down considerably in winter, but only hail and freezing rain will scare me off the roads completely. There are bike lanes out here and they are well kept in all seasons.

In that sense, I am already living the dream.
I’ve enjoyed several luxuries during my time in Kanata. My family lives close to all amenities, including the public library and ample forested spaces with real live deer. We walk across a pedestrian highway overpass for our groceries and take a shopping cart.
We are also very fortunate to have exceptional home daycare within walking distance, which has been a luxury item with two years of half-day school. These past two years, my daycare expense has been higher than my mortgage, but the worst is over. My kids are growing up.
My youngest starts full-day school in September, and my eldest is nearly old enough to babysit. I’m not quite ready to leave her in charge of the household though, but for sure the times are changing.
Lately, I’ve been doing a bit of recreational night cycling, with my youngest in the attached Chariot (and my eldest off for summer vacation with her father). We go downtown, and much to my surprise, the urban core of this city appears more vibrant than it used to be. I see lots of cycling families, and I entertain the fantasy of relocation for my family, to live completely car free.
I’ve opened my job search to something in the downtown area. It can’t work otherwise. I don’t thrive in isolation and I need my exercise. While I like the flexibility on paper, I know that working completely from home is not healthy for me.
I’ve worked downtown before, and I know how to stay there once I get there, despite the volatility of the high tech sector. After five years in Kanata, I am open to a change. Kanata North is a wonderful place to raise children.
The cons of such a move involve a change of schools for both children. However, the eldest is on the brink of it anyway. Getting rid of the car does not mean eliminating transportation costs entirely either, but I think it would reduce them.
In the plus column, the Vrtucar service is more established than it used to be. Between that, the school bus, the bikes, and public transit… I think that we could work something viable out.
I have mixed feelings about selling my place in Kanata. It would make a good rental property, it’s a nice location, and I might prefer to rent a place downtown for the next year at least.
In writing this post, I learned that the wise real estate agent who advised me to buy close to the highway is Liz's aunt. I met her once, five years ago, at an open house in the area. She told me I’d be moving again soon.

(From Belly: Isn't that something? When Tina sent me her original piece, I mentioned how excited I was to forward my blog link on to Mark's auntie (She's mine now. I claimed her, fair and square) who is an Ottawa-and-area real estate agent. Turns out, Tina and Emma have already met. I love the universe.)
I shift my focus back to my job search. I am the sole breadwinner in this family, and I do have a lot of responsibility. Reducing expenses and living more in tune with the planet are closely aligned with this theme and my values.
For sport and out of curiosity, I rode in the newly constructed bike lanes on Laurier Avenue downtown last night. It’s the dawn of a new era. The urban space in this city is getting bike friendlier, and I want in.
I’m more about the journey, than the destination.
And you?

If you have the opportunity to align your entire life with your inner values, what would you do? Where would you live? Would you every day experiences look the same or vastly different?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On Norway's Lost Children

As I write this, my children are behind me, munching apples and waiting until it's time to leave for their cousins' birthday party. This morning, we shopped for another birthday party tomorrow, which will be followed by a week-long cottage holiday with friends.

We are blessed and lucky to have this life: awesome family, generous friends. Each other.

A world away in Norway, dozens of families are not so lucky and hundred of lives have been lost, torn apart by a lunatic.

My mind is trying not to imagine the horror that has stricken the tiny, peaceful country, but failing miserably. Memories of 9/11 assailed me when I heard the first news reports about the bombing in Oslo. I vividly recall a sense of unreality, a slow unravelling of the smug sense of safety that can only be felt by people like me, who've never known war or true terror.

But then came the truly devastating news: 80 children dead. Trapped, some so terrified they hurled themselves into the sea to escape the fatal bullets from a madman's gun.

They'd been camping - a large group of young people on an island, mid-summer. It's the sort of idyllic scene and experience I want for my own sons, one day. I loved summer camp as a young girl and look forward to letting the Reds know that same freedom and adventure.

I cannot allow myself to wonder what compelled this handsome, ordinary-seeming man to wreak such havoc in his own country, ending the lives of so many, especially ones so young. I do wonder what his mother is feeling, knowing that her son has tossed an entire nation into mourning.

 But my tears are not for her.

Instead, I weep for the parents of Norway's lost children - especially for their mothers. I am helpless and heartbroken for them all, imagining their agony but feeling - guiltily - so grateful that my sons are not among the dead.

And while I can imagine - in vivid, awful, gut-wrenching detail - their pain, I do not KNOW it. Even as I ache for them, I am aware of my own blessings and thank God for his grace.

It's a terrible kind of joy.

Isn't it?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Off to the Circus!!

Hot out, eh? So. stinkin'. hot!

No matter - today I am off to the circus! The Six-Ring-Circus, that is. Annie's place. It's where she blogs about life with FOUR (holy heck, how DOES she do it?) kids. Mostly, she makes me giggle and nod with recognition.

Anyhoo...I was delighted to be asked to guest-post in her space because a) she is awesome and b) she gets me. (And c) I feel special)

So, Life With Bellymonster will be Under the Big Top today. See you there!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bedtime Tales and the Suckie Fairy (A Guest Post)

I've been promising my dear friend, Moe, that I will tell her "Give-Up-the-Guckie" story. Instead, I convinced her to write it out for me and am delighted to post her story here, in her own words.

Moe's warm, funny and well-adjusted kids are certainly not mourning the loss of their beloved "guckies'." I credit their awesome mum - and this lovely, magical story she spun them - for all of it.

One evening Liz and I were having a catch-up dinner when she mentioned she was talking to other mothers about the use of pacifiers. My kids are six and four, and I have successfully (without the tantrum) convinced them both to give up their suckies.

A little background on me:

I am completely PRO-PACIFIER. I used 'em, loved 'em and happily tell new moms I meet to go ahead and use 'em. Whatever works, right?

See, I was once  am currently a thumb sucker. Granted at almost 40, it now happens only in private when I'm hugely upset or needing comfort in some way. AND I don't think there is anything wrong with me (that's what my shrink says anyway).

It's a comfort mechanism, that's it. But it drove my parents crazy: they tried everything to make me stop. The biggest problem they had was that it was permanently attached to me. A suckie isn't.

Knowing the comfort I derive from thumb-sucking, I wasn't about to force my kids to stop using their suckies.  However, I do know about the dental problems, and the embarrassment that this can sometimes cause. But I made it their decision and didn't pressure them. Too much. And they had gotten to the age where they were embarrassed to have it in front of friends or family.

Instead, I told them a story, repeatedly, until they could tell it back to me.

By the way, we believe in fairies.

Here goes:

In a "Tinker Bell" movie we learned that fairies are born with the first laugh of a new born child.
In the movie "Hook: we learn that fairies can be killed with a child saying that they don't believe.
They can be brought back to life when the child claps and says "I believe in Fairies!"

Remember the Tooth Fairy? There's Suckie Fairy, too.

See, each new born fairy is so grateful for the life the new born baby has given them, s/he
 presents to the new baby a suckie -  to give them comfort and make them feel safe and loved.

The baby can use the suckie for however long they need it, but as they get bigger, they should need it less.When the baby becomes a big boy or girl, they are to put it under their pillow for the Suckie Fairy toretrieve, in return for a coin/present.

This way a new fairy can give the suckie to a new baby, as a thank-you for the gift of life.

The first time I told this story to my Tink-loving four-year-old, she was so upset at the prospect of giving up her suckie that she exclaimed, "Mommy, I don't believe in fairies!"

I jumped up and started dancing around the room clapping my hands.Startled, she began to laugh and asked what was I doing. I replied that her words had made a fairy sick somewhere and that she too, should start clapping, in order to save the fairy's life.

So we both jumped around the room clapping our hands, shouting, "I BELIEVE IN FAIRIES!"

Three months later she put her suckie under her pillow without being asked.

Moe's DH made her these memory boxes as a gift.
One box, suckies included, for each child.

And you? How did you convince your child to give up their favorite gucky/suckie/lovey?

Truth Hurts

Tonight, Luke shoved Matthew on the stairs as I herded them upstairs to bed. I told him to apologize, so he dutifully turned around and barked a decidedly UNapologetic "Sorr-Y!" at his brother.

Sigh. It would have to do.

But as we crested the landing, Matthew turned his sad, gorgeous eyes to me and said this:

"You always make ME say sorry nicely, Mummy. Why didn't Luke have to say it nicely? It's not fair."


"You're absolutely, positively 100% right, Matthew. It's not fair and beginning tomorrow morning, I promise to be more aware of it. OK?"

"Why can't you talk to him now?"

"Because it's late and everyone's tired and because I don't have the energy to fight with Luke, to be honest."

"OK, but Mummy, you have to promise to remember. Luke won't learn to say it nicely if you don't tell him right away when he says it wrong."

"I promise. I'll remember. Thank you for being patient and reminding me, Matthew."

Seriously. Seriously? This kid. He shows me every, single day who I am. Today, I am not a thing of parenting prowess, that's for darned sure. I am an ugly, shrewish witch.

So thhhhheeeennnn he says THIS:

"Mummy, can I tell you something else that's not fair?"
"You sure can, Bug."
"You call me names sometimes and it hurts my feelings. You tell US we can't call names and you do it. That's not fair."
"Uh....names like Bug and Silly Monkey?'
"No. Names like ,"Sneaky" and "Menace" and  "Little Boy" in your mean voice."

(As in, "Don't push your luck, little boy," in an admittedly sneering and nasty tone.)

"Boy, Matthew, you're really helping Mummy today. And you're right. It's NOT fair of Mummy to call you names that hurt your feelings, especially when she's grouchy. I'm sorry. I'll be aware of that, too."

"OK, Mummy. I'm glad I didn't hurt your feelings telling you. I just get sad and frustrated when things aren't fair."

OUCH. Oh, what a terrible agony truth is.

Every day.

Every, SINGLE day I have the opportunity to mold and shape this wonderful little boy into a compassionate, kind and thoughtful man. And every day, but especially today, he shows me that he is already all of those things.

It is I who needs lessons in compassion and thoughtfulness.

Thank God I have Matthew to show me - to teach me - what my best should look like.

My best? Is him.

A few days after this lesson, I guest-posted over at Six Ring Circus. It's a follow-up to this post, and is called "Truth and Forgiveness." Check it out!

Love, Belly

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Boy: n. A noise with dirt on it

Dear North Key Construction,

First, allow me to compliment you and your crews for all their hard work here on Charles. The complete reconstruction of our street is ongoing and while it's messy and dusty and a bit tricky to drive through, it's also long-overdue and absolutely necessary.

In the meantime, your crews are prompt, professional and friendly. In fact, watching them progress down the street has been fascinating - for me, as a homeowner, but more so for my two young boys.

It's like "Mighty Machines" come to vivid life.

Better still, there is dirt. Lots and lots of dirt.

A pile of dirt, actually.

Whether by design or sheer dumb luck, our lawn was chosen as the spot for dirt. Every morning, a huge pile of dirt gets dumped in front of my house. By nightfall it's gone, much to my sons' disappointment.

But this Friday, the cheerful front-end loader guy asked my youngest son if he'd like them to leave the pile of dirt for the weekend. Luke, gobsmacked, could only stare as I nodded, most enthusiastically.

Yes, please!

This then, is how the dirt pile on Charles looked this afternoon:

By the time this enormous project is complete, my street will be beautiful and all of us will be pleased and grateful. But until then, thank you for making two little boys - and their Mama - very, very happy.

Bellymonster and the Reds

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How Not Parenting Makes Me a Better Mum

My parents took the Reds camping this weekend - without me. In their absence, I stayed up late, slept in until mid-morning, cleaned the house and hung out with Mark. I also learned a few things about parenting.

Specifically, I learned a few things about parenting my kids:

1. I have great kids. I knew that, of course, before the weekend. It's just that sometimes, that truth gets lost amidst the sameness of being with them every day, all day long. I get so caught up in teaching them manners, and nagging reminding them to pick up their toys, to get along, to poo in the toilet, to stop unbuckling their seatbelts while the car is in motion...that I forget.

I forget to praise them for being kind to one another, for putting the cap on the toothpaste, for coming when called, for spelling words correctly, for remembering their hats, helmets and to stay out of the sand pile.

Without them here, I remembered.

2. I must rediscover my sense of silly. On Saturday, I had the rare privilege of watching my niece and nephew for a few hours. I have never had them all to myself before and I was delighted to read them a dozen books, using all my "silly voices". I laughed aloud when they did, loving the happy sounds they made. I spent 10 minutes kissing invisible boo-boos up and down their limbs, making them laugh harder and twirled my fingers into their curls, holding them closer, gently, for as long as I could.

As I did so, feeling my shy, prickly niece relax into my side and sigh with tired contentment, I tried to remember the last time I got goofy with my own kids. Seems I don't do it often enough, because I couldn't recall a recent "Funny Five Minutes" and vowed then and there to change things for the Reds.

Without them here, I remembered.

3. The Reds are my everything, but maybe there's room for others, too. It has been many, many years since Mark and I have spent more than 24 hours alone. And the three-day weekend sans kids is the first one we've had since before Luke was born. It was also the longest stretch of time alone together that didn't end with a door-slamming, curse-hollering fight. Sad, but true.

I had forgotten the quiet pleasure of  sitting together on the deck with only our books and our coffee. I had forgotten how much fun a trip to the hardware store, to window-shop and dream - could be. I had forgotten what brought Mark and I together years ago and this weekend, I was given a glimpse of the people we used to be.

For a few brief days, I allowed myself to be the wife I've never been and focused my attention solely on Mark. I was rewarded with a relaxed and cheerful man with whom I peacefully shared meals, coffee and forgotten laughter. And I realized that, in putting the Reds first, always,  I do our family a great disservice.

Without them here, I remembered.

I am so grateful to my children.  Even when they're not here, they teach me the biggest, most important lessons in life: Let go. Be silly. Forgive.

And you? What have your kids taught you lately?