A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #10

A conversation:

Jane: I don’t understand. I don’t understand how two people who love each other as much as I know you two do can fight so much!

Flora: Oh, Mom. Don’t worry. We’re just like Sadie and Carter. (Sadie and Carter Kane, from The Kane Chronicles.)

Cinder: Yeah, we fight all the time…

Flora: … but we cooperate when it matters.

Cinder: Yeah, we’d totally work together to save the world. Right, Flora?

Flora: Right… Ouch! Why’d you punch me?

Cinder: The world is not in peril right now.

June 15, 2012

A reading assignment that will change your life:

On Kindness by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 7.08.45 PM

Preview the book’s insights on BrainPickings: How kindness became our guilty pleasure.

 

A writing exercise (that is also a secret discipline tool) to do instead of breaking up the latest fight between your kids:

Script the next fight between your kids. Then have them act it out. Present the play to your partner when s/he gets home.

Variant: the next time your kids are fighting, whip out your notebook or laptop and start transcribing

 

An explanation:

This is the tenth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant

First published July 30, 2013

It’s 2 a.m. The telephone rings. It’s dark and I’m groggy as I race through the house for the telephone. I don’t get there in a time and I’m in a brief moment of panic as I crouch beside it and wait for it to ring again. My Flora’s sleeping out of the house this night and this phone call can only be about her.

The phone rings again; I pick up; the panic subsides. Yes, it’s Flora. Sleep over fail. She woke up in a strange place, a strange bed and is frightened. Wants to come home.

Sean runs over to get her—and we’re both briefly grateful about the place we live, where sleepovers take place a couple of doors down instead of across the city—and a short two minutes later, she’s in my arms, face pressed against my chest. She’s whispering “the whole story”: how it was so fun, and they had a great time, and she had no trouble at all falling asleep, and then she woke up, and it was dark and strange and she didn’t want to stay…

I listen and then shush her, tell her to go back to sleep. She presses tight against me. Now that she feels perfectly safe and secure, she also feels embarrassed that she bailed. I reassure her in a sleepy voice… and shush her again. “Now sleep, Flora, sleep.”

She presses against me. On the other side of me, Ender flips over, rolls. But doesn’t wake. It’s doesn’t happen very often these days that I find myself squished between two little bodies and I take a sleepy minute to savour the moment.

And I think about how much parenting takes place in these dark hours—when, really, we’re at our worst. Exhausted. Unconscious. Still on duty, but too tired to perform.

None of that ends when the baby (toddler, preschooler, kindergartener!) “sleeps through the night.” Our Cinder actually reached that milestone relatively quickly—sometime around two years. And so what? A few weeks of blissfully uninterrupted sleep followed. Then came the night terrors. When the first wave of those subsided, he got out of diapers—and had to get up to pee in the night. Six times a night, it seemed (probably just once or twice). Then Flora arrived and being awake for Cinder became irrelevant because I was waking up for Flora. When she nightweaned, she started waking up at 3 a.m., raring to go for the day. When she’d sleep late (aka, until 5 a.m.), Cinder would have night terrors. Inevitably, on the nights both kids slept soundly, the dog would have diarrhea… Or, naturally, I would have insomnia.

As I’m cataloging the different stages of post-child sleep deprivation, Flora presses her closer against me. “I’m going to roll over; you can hug my back,” I whisper. “Can’t I roll over with you?” she whimpers. “No, stay there—Ender’s on the other side.” I readjust, so does she. “I like your soft side better,” she sighs. Her head is between my shoulder blades. But her breathing is winding down—sleep is almost there.

“Mom?”

“Sleep, Flora.”

“Does Monday come after Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, Flora.”

“Is tomorrow Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, baby.”

“And then Monday?”

“Mmmm.”

“Good. I have plans on Monday.”

And she’s asleep. Ender does another flip. But doesn’t wake up. I send a prayer to Morpheus—or should I be petitioning Ra?–that neither of them wakes up with the sunrise. It’ll probably be a four pot, not four cup, coffee day, tomorrow, I think as I feel my breathing reach the sleep rhythm. And I’m out.

I don’t  belittle or dismiss sleep deprivation. It’s tough. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. And each family needs to find its own unique solution to ensuring all members—especially the primary caretaker—gets enough sleep. But “sleeping through the night”? That’s irrelevant. Because kids keep on needing their parents at night, long after they wean. Sometimes just for a minute, for a quick squeeze and reassurance. Sometimes for longer. But if not exactly forever—for a long, long time.

Ender wakes up that morning, by the way, at 5:30 a.m. I curse Morpheus and tell off Ra. Then we tiptoe downstairs. I make coffee. Pull the electronic babysitter—aka Backyardiggans on Netflix—onto duty. Cuddle the Ender. Write most of this post.

Flora streaks downstairs at 7 a.m. “Hi, Mom, I’m going to Meghan’s!” she calls. “Hug? Kiss?” I holler. She backtracks. Hug. Kiss. And for Ender. And for Maggie the runt terrier. And she’s off.

I look at Ender. Hug. Kiss. Soon, I’ll roll off the couch and make the second pot of coffee. By the third pot, I’ll be ready to face the day.

Pot number four, I decide to save for the inevitable afternoon crash.

Koala sleeping on a tree top

 (N.B. For those concerned about my caffeine intake, I should clarify they’re pretty small coffee pots. It was a purchasing mistake. We thought the small press would make us drink less coffee. Nope. It just makes coffee drinking a more labour-intensive process. Live and learn. On the plus side, the cafe is always fresh.)

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #3

A conversation:

Sean: Hurry! I need to pee and the baby is grabbing the camera, the box of nails and my beer!
Jane: Where are you?
Sean: In the bathroom! Hurry!
Jane: Your camera, box of nails, and beer are in the bathroom?
Sean: Now is not the time to discuss the inappropriateness of me putting all these things in the bathroom sink. Just save my beer… and the camera. He can have the box of nails.

September 9, 2011

 A reading assignment that will change your life:

Vera Pavlova’s If There Is Something To Desire: 100 Poems.

for a shot of Vera to convince you to devour her beautiful book of poetry, check out this article she wrote for Poetry magazine: Heaven is not verbose: a Notebook.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of wishing you were writing:

This is my favourite Vera Pavlova poem:

I walk a tightrope,

a kid on each arm for balance.

This is all a poem can be, this is all a poem should be. Now. Write your own. Two lines. That’s all.

 

 

An explanation:

This is the third week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

In defence of routines

 (first published on September 21, 2011)

I wrote this essay in response to a long and heated thread called “Discipline for Young Children” on one of the yahoo groups I belong to. I’m not as active a participant in those discussions as I was when Cinder and Flora were little―partly because I no longer have napping kids, partly because I’ve become much more reluctant to offer advice, even when nominally asked for (because I’ve learnt most people don’t want advice and solutions: they just want to whinge, and get unconditional support for their whinging… but that’s food for another post), but mostly because I work and write for money so much more now than I did in those first years… and I’m kind of written out at the end of the day. But every once in a while, against my better judgement, I just can’t resist…
…I would like to offer a defence of―or the case for―rhythms and routines in an unschooled life, with young children and older ones too. [Another poster] wrote in one of her earlier posts “Whenever someone reaches for some additional form of external or arbitrary ‘structure’ I wonder, usually in my head, what is making them feel insecure this week and why they feel that will solve the problem…”

And I would like to answer that with, yes, actually, it can.

The stuff that you have a predictable routine/rhythm for―so long as it works for you in a positive way―is stuff you don’t have to expand energy thinking about and reacting to. (I’m reminded of The Big Bang Theory episode in which Sheldon uses gaming dice to make all non-essential decisions to leave his precious brain cells free to do the important work of “the mind.”)

My partner and I are both self-employed, random-deadline driven people engaged in creative, chaotic work. That injects a great deal of surprise, unpredictability and “must make this decision Now!” and “must upset any and all plans made to date and respond to this Crisis Now!” into our professional―and because we are self-employed and work from home and see our lives as intertwined etc.―personal lives.

The counterbalance or anchor if you prefer that word to that chaos is predictability and simplicity wherever it makes sense. And we didn’t arrive at that conclusion/practice overnight: it slowly evolved as we kept on adding children and responsibilities to the chaos.

So we have a morning routine, for example, that I stick to even when there’s a deadline fire burning under me and what I want to do the second I wake up is start pounding away at the keyboard. It’s a routine that honours the fact that 3/5 of the members of this family suck at mornings, and 2/5 are ridiculous early birds, and it includes things like me sitting on the couch with a book ignoring the kids while I drink my first―and hopefully second―cup of coffee and my eldest not speaking or looking at anyone for 45 minutes or so after he wakes up and playing his X-box or just lying on the couch with a blanket over his head. (A routine, see, doesn’t have to be about “doing” stuff. It can also be about safeguarding time to just “be.”) It also includes things like getting dressed, brushing hair, recorder practice, tossing a load of laundry in, making the big bed, and culminates with a morning walk with the dog. But its most important thing is―the time for three of us to just wake up and hang for a bit. (Two of us starting playing and doing stuff as soon as they wake up. The bums.)
This is what we do 9 out of 10 mornings. And it’s not something that anyone complains about as rigid, boring, limiting―it’s a guarded part of our day that, on that 1 out of 10 mornings where we have to miss it―where we have to get into the car first thing in the morning for example―makes us appreciate it all the more on the morrow when we return to it.

There are other anchors like that throughout the day and the week―I’m pretty protective of the last part of our evenings and bedtime, for example, so even though there’s no magic time by which everyone’s in bed or sleep, there sure is a rhythm to the last part of each evening. I have a built-in 3 p.m. tea break for me―that’s the magic time when I run out of steam and get cranky, so I plan for it: tea for me, snack for the kids, something to do (if just flopping on the couch to watch a DVD) so that I don’t become Evil Exhausted Mom (it took me six years to realize I consistently lost it at 3 p.m. Super-observant, I am.) We go swimming each Monday and Thursday―unless something else comes up, but that’s the “default” setting on each week, just as our girl’s music class mid-week is. But there was a time―when my eldest was four to six in particular―when the routines had to be perfectly predictable and inviolate, because that was what he needed at that time.

This last year, I’ve outsourced dinner to routines, a la Taco Tuesday, Slow Cooker Wednesday, Pizza Friday. (Also “What the Fuck’s for Dinner Thursday,” the day that reminds me to stick to the boring predictability of the rest of the week.) This is not my default setting: my default setting is―I’m getting hungry, what should we make for dinner, oh no, the fridge is empty, let’s go out―but this Taco Tuesday setting, although it makes me sound like the most boring person in the world, is better. It means we eat even when I’m on deadline, when my default setting is to not eat at all until the project is done―oh, crap, you mean you kids need to eat?

There are personalities, families, life cycles and individuals who don’t need any of this and don’t thrive on it. For sure. But there are very unschooled families who do. And hyper-organized people who need strict routines to have something to deviate from. And hyper-unorganized people who need some kind of even aspirational guideline to be fly-by-the-seat of-their-pants with.

I’m not sure which one I am, or my family is: we’re five individuals with very different personalities. But I do know that routines/rhythms/anchors―whatever you want to call them if the word schedule gives you the willies―make our family life more peaceful, our work life possible. Most of our days have plenty of spontaneity, go with the flow, live in the moment kinda stuff―too much, I would argue, on the days when work throws me a really unexpected curveball.

Does Slow Cooker Wednesday and 3 p.m. tea mean the baby getting sick, the washing machine flooding the basement, the 9 y o breaking an arm doesn’t throw us into chaos? Of course it doesn’t. But Slow Cooker Wednesday does mean we eat a good supper on Wednesday even if we spent most of the day at the ER (unless of course the broken arm happened before the chicken went into the slow cooker) or mopping up the basement and calling plumbers (see previous caveat).

Making my and my eldest’s morning incapacitation part of our morning routine respects our biological clocks and sets the stage for a good day―and it keeps me from unproductive feelings of guilt over being unproductive in the mornings. And that 3 p.m. tea break I give myself? I don’t like being Evil Exhausted Mommy. And it takes such a small act and such a small amount of planning to keep that from happening.

End of pro-routine pontification.

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #1

A conversation:

Welcome to my time machine. It’s 2005. Flora is brand-new, and Cinder is not quite two and a half, and trying to figure out what babies are for. So many many things.

Babies are for wrestling:

Jane: Why is Flora crying?

Cinder: Because I wrestled her.

Jane: Did she like it?

Cinder: No, that’s why she’s crying. She’s too little. I’ll try again tomorrow when she’s bigger.

Babies are for jumping on:

Jane: Cinder, what are you doing?

Cinder: I’m going to build a mountain and jump on Flora.

Jane: I don’t think that’s a good idea.

Cinder: It is a good idea. Flora said she wants to play with me like that.

Babies love to play leap frog:

Jane: Stop!

Cinder: What, mama?

Jane: You’re stepping on Flora.

Cinder: No, I’m not. I’m playing leap frog, like Franklin and Rabbit.

Babies are for poking:

Cinder: Mama, can I poke Flora in the eye?

Jane: That’s not a good idea. We have to be very careful about eyes.

Cinder: Mama, can I poke Flora in the ear?[etc. Etc.]

Jane: How about we don’t poke Flora at all?

Cinder: But I like poking Flora.

From Life’s Archives, April 5, 2005.

A reading assignment that will change your life:

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Take 12 weeks to read through it. Do the exercises. Even the hokey ones.

 

A writing exercise to do instead of asking “when do you find the time to write”:

Notebook. Pen. Cup of Coffee. Start writing Morning Pages. Now. If you’re reading this at 2 p.m.—don’t wait until tomorrow morning. Write your first three morning pages now.

Get a grip on the Morning Pages without reading the first chapter of The Artist’s Way (although don’t you wanna?): Morning Pages write up & video.

 

An explanation:

I’m going AWOL for 12 weeks. No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

The Ultimate Secret Behind Parenting

(originally published May 7, 2012)

A friend expecting his first baby actually asked me for parenting advice. After I picked myself up off the floor (most of us, before we have children, know everything about parenting. Everything. Sigh. I miss that time), I gave him a big email smooch and hug. Even when childless, he thought our kids were super-cool and all the whacky stuff we were doing with them made total sense for him. He wanted me to spell it out for him in anticipation of his own journey. Here’s what I wrote. (Language warning for the sensitive of eye and ear: we’re university friends, he and I, and the way we talked about politics, education and philosophy back in the day contained a lot of four letter words. When it came to talking to babies and being a parent… well, old habits and all that.)

2008… As for baby advice, one day I plan to write a book, and in the meantime, my short-hand advice is this: no child should be raised by the book (not even my book). We’ve consciously parented off the beaten path, centering our practices and behaviours around the self-evident truth that children are human beings and should be treated and respected as such. Many of the things we’ve done are “attachment parenting” (watered down mainstream guru of approach is one Dr. William Sears, widely published) principles—baby wearing, sleep sharing, extended breastfeeding—but really it’s not what you do that’s important, it’s who you are as a parent. As a person, really. Now that our kids are older, I absolutely think the most critical part of the parenting journey is maintaining that focus on fostering attachment and bonding between parents and children and siblings, and casting anything other people call “discipline” within that context.

That means, among other things, that we don’t punish our children. Not by withdrawing privileges, not by disguising punishment by consequences, not by trading negative stuff for excessive positive reinforcement and rewards. Doesn’t mean we don’t periodically get angry, frustrated and yell. It doesn’t mean we don’t correct undesirable behaviour—but we don’t time out, send to room, cancel plans etc. But I’m jumping ahead: we can talk about all that when you have a toddler or preschooler.

First, you’re going to have a baby, and that means your focus for the next year is going to be all about keeping that teeny weeny creature alive, healthy and happy, and you’ll find a way to do it. You want to know what the real secret of parenting is? Ready? Here it is: humans have done it for fucking millennia. It’s not that hard. Actually, it’s not hard at all. One of the things that makes it hardest is the legion of self-proclaimed experts preying on the insecurities on new parents in order to sell books of dubious value.

What makes it hard, also, is that so many of the structures and rhythms of life today don’t fit children or families. That’s the biggest adjustment, I think, of post-baby life. We don’t socialize or live as families—we do so as age-segregated units of peers. Why are parents so focused on getting babies to sleep through the night? Two reasons: 1) because the parents need a good night’s sleep wake up at 7 a.m. in the morning and go to work for 10 hours. But even before that, 2) because they want “their life”—time to do adult only things.

Well, surprise: once you have a child, you transform from a couple into a family, and the predominant mode of life should be family life. I believe that’s one of the self-inflicted stresses of post-partum, people wailing “When do I get my life back?” You don’t. You’ve got a brand new life now, with a brand new person in it—and you can move forward and create patterns that work for the three of you, or wail and rant and make all three of you unhappy and estranged.

Everyone wails a little bit.

When that adjustment stage gets tough for you, meditate on this secret: humans have had families and found a way to make things work for fucking millennia. You’ll find a way. (Ours is dramatically different from that of our peers—we’re both working from home, for example, and we take our children with us to virtually everything. Flora’s thrown up on many a Bay Street suit, and there is Cinder pee on the carpet of most of my editors/clients. But I don’t advocate that as the only way—it’s our way and right for us, right? You’ll find your own—but do think in terms of creating new patterns and rhythms, instead of biding time until you can go back to the old ones.)

When revisiting the past, it’s always interesting to see how one’s perspective has changed. I cringed throughout my re-read of that infamous “Why isn’t it natural” post. In this case, no cringing. I would still give the same advice again. The secret of parenthood: humans have done it for millennia. Addendum: no child should be raised by the book.

A Nepalese woman and her infant child.

Summer rerun6: The ultimate secret to parenting: it’s evolution, baby

A friend expecting his first baby actually asked me for parenting advice. After I picked myself up off the floor (most of us, before we have children, know everything about parenting. Everything. Sigh. I miss that time), I gave him a big email smooch and hug. Even when childless, he thought our kids were super-cool and all the whacky stuff we were doing with them made total sense for him. He wanted me to spell it out for him in anticipation of his own journey. Here’s what I wrote. 

2008… As for baby advice, one day I plan to write a book, and in the meantime, my short-hand advice is this: no child should be raised by the book (not even my book). We’ve consciously parented off the beaten path, centering our practices and behaviours around the self-evident truth that children are human beings and should be treated and respected as such. Many of the things we’ve done are “attachment parenting” (watered down mainstream guru of approach is one Dr. William Sears, widely published) principles—baby wearing, sleep sharing, extended breastfeeding—but really it’s not what you do that’s important, it’s who you are as a parent. As a person, really. Now that our kids are older, I absolutely think the most critical part of the parenting journey is maintaining that focus on fostering attachment and bonding between parents and children and siblings, and casting anything other people call “discipline” within that context.

That means, among other things, that we don’t punish our children. Not by withdrawing privileges, not by disguising punishment by consequences, not by trading negative stuff for excessive positive reinforcement and rewards. Doesn’t mean we don’t periodically get angry, frustrated and yell. It doesn’t mean we don’t correct undesirable behaviour—but we don’t time out, send to room, cancel plans etc. But I’m jumping ahead: we can talk about all that when you have a toddler or preschooler.

First, you’re going to have a baby, and that means your focus for the next year is going to be all about keeping that teeny weeny creature alive, healthy and happy, and you’ll find a way to do it. You want to know what the real secret of parenting is? Ready? Here it is: humans have done it for fucking millennia. It’s not that hard. Actually, it’s not hard at all. One of the things that makes it hardest is the legion of self-proclaimed experts preying on the insecurities on new parents in order to sell books of dubious value.

What makes it hard, also, is that so many of the structures and rhythms of life today don’t fit children or families. That’s the biggest adjustment, I think, of post-baby life. We don’t socialize or live as families—we do so as age-segregated units of peers. Why are parents so focused on getting babies to sleep through the night? Two reasons: 1) because the parents need a good night’s sleep wake up at 7 a.m. in the morning and go to work for 10 hours. But even before that, 2) because they want “their life”—time to do adult only things.

Well, surprise: once you have a child, you transform from a couple into a family, and the predominant mode of life should be family life. I believe that’s one of the self-inflicted stresses of post-partum, people wailing “When do I get my life back?” You don’t. You’ve got a brand new life now, with a brand new person in it—and you can move forward and create patterns that work for the three of you, or wail and rant and make all three of you unhappy and estranged.

Everyone wails a little bit.

When that adjustment stage gets tough for you, meditate on this secret: humans have had families and found a way to make things work for fucking millennia. You’ll find a way. (Ours is dramatically different from that of our peers—we’re both working from home, for example, and we take our children with us to virtually everything. Flora’s thrown up on many a Bay Street suit, and there is Cinder pee on the carpet of most of my editors/clients. But I don’t advocate that as the only way—it’s our way and right for us, right? You’ll find your own—but do think in terms of creating new patterns and rhythms, instead of biding time until you can go back to the old ones.)

When revisiting the past, it’s always interesting to see how one’s perspective has changed. I cringed throughout my re-read of that infamous “Why isn’t it natural” post. In this case, no cringing. I would still give the same advice again (maybe skip the Dr. Sears plug, though). The secret of parenthood: humans have done it for millennia. Addendum: no child should be raised by the book.

NBTB-its-evolution-baby

 

2014. So. That post was written in 2008, and then published originally on May 7, 2012. It still doesn’t make me cringe. Except for this: I’m no longer arrogant enough to think I should-could-want-to write a book about parenting. Christ. Last thing the world needs. And also, I would add this: once you figure out how to be a family together… you need to refigure out how to be a couple-dyad-lovers-of-whatever-configuration within the family. But more on that in a bit. There are yellow leaves on my Common and Nothing By The Book‘s Rerun Summer is almost over. And what a summer. If you want to have a peek at its public-publishable moments, stroll through my  Instagram (NothingByTheBook) because I won’t be recycling summer memories in the fall.  September has its own delicious and terrifying agenda.

Be good. Or at least, interesting.

xoxo

“Jane”

Why insomniacs, obsessives, the mildly neurotic and the otherwise troubled and imperfect make better parents

It’s 2:13 a.m. and I am very, very awake, listening to shadows, watching noises (it’s 2.13 a.m. in the morning—that’s when one listens to shadows, you know), and alternating between looking my demons straight in their frightening faces or hiding from them behind empty “life is good” mantras.

Tip-tap-tip-tap. A tiny little body hurtles into the bed, crawls in beside me.

“I can’t sleep, Mama!” the four-year-old lies, and, as he curls up against my body, falls back into deep, deep sleep. I inhale the smell, essence of him. He becomes my non-empty mantra…

Tip-tap-tip-tap. Flop. A not-so-tiny body clambers into bed between her Daddy and me.

“Mom? I had a horrible, horrible nightmare.”

I hold her. She whispers the dream, already fading, into my ear. Closes her eyes. Minutes pass. Maybe hours.

“Mommy? I can’t sleep.”

I tell her to try a little more, a little harder, a little longer—but before long, we both give up on sleep and the bed, and tip-tap-tip-tap downstairs. I wrap her in blankets and put on a show for her. Get her a bowl of cereal.

“You’re the best mom in the world,” she says, and that disarms one of the demons that was keeping me awake. I could probably sleep now. But—I look at the clock—it’s now 5 a.m., and I often write really well at precisely 5 a.m. …

I’ve often had erratic sleep patterns, both in hard times of high stress and in glorious times of high creativity and excitement, and I know that my own knowledge and acceptance that sometimes—often—an uninterrupted eight hours of sleep just wasn’t going to happen—helped me be a better night-time parent. When my littles woke me up at night—and woke me again and again—I was able to take it much more in stride, I think, than an adult who hasn’t known insomnia. An adult for whom the pre-child norm was a solid uninterrupted eight. Who hasn’t been NOT able to sleep, no matter how physically exhausted—no matter how much she really, really wanted to.

It’s always easier to accept what we’ve experienced ourselves—to understand what we’ve also lived. Especially… if we accept that part of ourselves. If we don’t resent it, fight it, hate it.

Sometimes, I can’t sleep.

Sometimes, I get angry. Irrational. Bat-shit crazy, really.

Sometimes, I don’t want to be with people. Not even the people I love. Not even, my most beloved, you.

Sometimes—I don’t want to eat. I know it’s delicious and you worked really hard to make that meal… but I’m just not hungry. Not at all. Or just not for that.

Sometimes, I don’t want to do the fun thing you planned for me to do. I just want to curl up on the couch with my book. (Or blog ;P)

Sometimes, I procrastinate. And procrastinate. And don’t do that thing that I really ought to do before I do anything else…

Sometimes, I’m moody and unsettled.

Sometimes, I’m completely obsessed with this one utterly unimportant, irrelevant thing, and you can’t distract me from it no matter what you do…

Sometimes—oftentimes—my kids, my mate, other people I love, have exactly those same feelings, needs.

Knowing, accepting—not resenting, not hating—those parts of me makes it easier to accept, to love those parts of them.

Being utterly, completely imperfect makes me a better parent. A better friend.

How about you?

xoxo

“Jane”

photo (17)

P.S. What? I’m versatile. Sometimes, I’m utterly sweet and sappy. Sometimes, I’m an elitist bitch with a tongue like a guillotine. Imperfect. Deal with it. Love me as I am or screw off.

P.P.S. Recent posts in a similar vein from my tribe: Stephanie Sprenger pens a lovely Letter to my daughter who is just like me and Kristi Campbell wishes she was a more perfect mom.

P.P.P.S. If you’re a YYC or AB floodster and you’ve been sent here to read THAT post, and you’re a little confused about what the hell is up with THIS post, you are at the right blog. You’re looking for this: After the flood: Running on empty and why “So, are things back to normal?” is not the right question.

##

The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant

Sleeping Ender in Wagon

It’s 2 a.m. The telephone rings. It’s dark and I’m groggy as I race through the house for the telephone. I don’t get there in a time and I’m in a brief moment of panic as I crouch beside it and wait for it to ring again. My Flora’s sleeping out of the house this night and this phone call can only be about her.

The phone rings again; I pick up; the panic subsides. Yes, it’s Flora. Sleep over fail. She woke up in a strange place, a strange bed and is frightened. Wants to come home.

Sean runs over to get her—and we’re both briefly grateful about the place we live, where sleepovers take place a couple of doors down instead of across the city—and a short two minutes later, she’s in my arms, face pressed against my chest. She’s whispering “the whole story”: how it was so fun, and they had a great time, and she had no trouble at all falling asleep, and then she woke up, and it was dark and strange and she didn’t want to stay…

I listen and then shush her, tell her to go back to sleep. She presses tight against me. Now that she feels perfectly safe and secure, she also feels embarrassed that she bailed. I reassure her in a sleepy voice… and shush her again. “Now sleep, Flora, sleep.”

She presses against me. On the other side of me, Ender flips over, rolls. But doesn’t wake. It’s doesn’t happen very often these days that I find myself squished between two little bodies and I take a sleepy minute to savour the moment.

And I think about how much parenting takes place in these dark hours—when, really, we’re at our worst. Exhausted. Unconscious. Still on duty, but too tired to perform.

None of that ends when the baby (toddler, preschooler, kindergartener!) “sleeps through the night.” Our Cinder actually reached that milestone relatively quickly—sometime around two years. And so what? A few weeks of blissfully uninterrupted sleep followed. Then came the night terrors. When the first wave of those subsided, he got out of diapers—and had to get up to pee in the night. Six times a night, it seemed (probably just once or twice). Then Flora arrived and being awake for Cinder became irrelevant because I was waking up for Flora. When she nightweaned, she started waking up at 3 a.m., raring to go for the day. When she’d sleep late (aka, until 5 a.m.), Cinder would have night terrors. Inevitably, on the nights both kids slept soundly, the dog would have diarrhea…

Or, naturally, I would have insomnia.

As I’m cataloging the different stages of post-child sleep deprivation, Flora presses her closer against me. “I’m going to roll over; you can hug my back,” I whisper. “Can’t I roll over with you?” she whimpers. “No, stay there—Ender’s on the other side.” I readjust, so does she. “I like your soft side better,” she sighs. Her head is between my shoulder blades. But her breathing is winding down—sleep is almost there.

“Mom?”

“Sleep, Flora.”

“Does Monday come after Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, Flora.”

“Is tomorrow Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, baby.”

“And then Monday?”

“Mmmm.”

“Good. I have plans on Monday.”

And she’s asleep. Ender does another flip. But doesn’t wake up. I send a prayer to Morpheus—or should I be petitioning Ra?–that neither of them wakes up with the sunrise. It’ll probably be a four pot, not four cup, coffee day, tomorrow, I think as I feel my breathing reach the sleep rhythm. And I’m out.

I don’t  belittle or dismiss sleep deprivation. It’s tough. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. And each family needs to find its own unique solution to ensuring all members—especially the primary caretaker—gets enough sleep. But “sleeping through the night”? That’s irrelevant. Because kids keep on needing their parents at night, long after they wean. Sometimes just for a minute, for a quick squeeze and reassurance. Sometimes for longer. But if not exactly forever—for a long, long time.

Ender wakes up that morning, by the way, at 5:30 a.m. I curse Morpheus and tell off Ra. Then we tiptoe downstairs. I make coffee. Pull the electronic babysitter—aka Backyardiggans on Netflix—onto duty. Cuddle the Ender. Write most of this post.

Flora streaks downstairs at 7 a.m. “Hi, Mom, I’m going to Meghan’s!” she calls. “Hug? Kiss?” I holler. She backtracks. Hug. Kiss. And for Ender. And for Maggie the runt terrier. And she’s off.

I look at Ender. Hug. Kiss. Soon, I’ll roll off the couch and make the second pot of coffee. By the third pot, I’ll be ready to face the day.

Pot number four, I decide to save for the inevitable afternoon crash.

Koala sleeping on a tree top

 (N.B. For those concerned about my caffeine intake, I should clarify they’re pretty small coffee pots. It was a purchasing mistake. We thought the small press would make us drink less coffee. Nope. It just makes coffee drinking a more labour-intensive process. Live and learn. On the plus side, the coffee is always fresh.)

First published The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant, June 10, 2012, Nothing By The Book

The Authoritative New Parents’ Guide to Sex After Children, Redux

(or, how to make sure you keep on doing that thing that landed you with children in the first place!)

Two Hearts

Ambitious title, but I bet I’ll deliver. Tell me afterwards. Two caveats. First, if you’re currently childless, don’t read this. It will either depress or embarrass you. Especially if you’re a guy. It’s the weirdest thing, really: when it comes to talking about sex and bodies, there is no creature more uptight than the childless male. Anyway, if you’re one of those, go read How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games or Math + Gun = or … (I’m not being sexist, am I? You can read this if you really want to. But I know you’ll be mortified… Here’s a test: let me tell you about the time my bestest male friend first saw me breastfeeding. Where are you going? Come back!)

Second, if you’ve got young children and you’re having all the sex you want—really? Honestly?—you probably don’t need to read this. But you should anyway, because maybe at the end of it, you might be having more sex. And what could be better than that?

And thirdly—I said two caveats, right? Oops—in case you haven’t noticed, this post is going to be about sex. That’s how you get children. If reading about sex makes you squeamish, stop here and go read… how about It’s not about balance: creating your family’s harmony or 10 habits for a happy home from the house of permissiveness and chaos. Or that fabulous, famous They tell you, “It gets easier.” They lie post.

Also, mom, dad, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother—um. Yeah. You’re excused. Go read how Cinder and Flora became Greco-Roman Pagans. And never, ever mention this post to me. OK.

The rest of you, come with me.

English: 3 of hearts.

OK. Here are the three assumption I’m making:

1. You have kids. Babies, toddlers, preschoolers, sentient school age kids. The babies need to be breastfed and rocked to sleep at all hours of day and night, the toddlers and preschoolers exhaust you, and them older kids stay up later and later and open doors and need help with homework and need you to feed them and take them places and…

2. You don’t have enough sex. Define enough as you will. You’d like to have more.

3. You’ve got a partner to have this sex with (if you don’t, I canna’ help you with that, but I hear there’s these dating sites…). The partner would also like to have more sex. The will is there. What’s lacking is time and opportunity AND STRATEGY. (If the will’s not there… well, I can help you with that a bit. There will be an addendum about that at the end.)

With me so far? Want to. Don’t have (enough) (at all these days). Don’t worry. There’s hope. Really. You’ve just got to rethink a few things.

Two Hearts Beat As One

First, there are three principles you have to internalize.

1. Sex is more important than sleep.

2. Sex is more important than cleaning.

3. Sex is more important than work.

Somewhere between child one and two—or maybe it was two and three?—my partner and I made the following pact: either one of us was free to wake up the other at any other time for some quick love making (stress on quick: I’ll come back to this point shortly)… unless the sleeper had a 6 a.m. appointment with the client from hell or some other such situation. We made this pact after the following conversation:

Jane: Dear God, do you realize this is the first time we’ve had sex in… oh my god, has it been three weeks? Four?

Sean: Well, by the time I come to bed, you’re always asleep. And I know you’re going to be up half the night with the baby, and then up super early with the toddler, and…

(This is why I love him so, by the way. What a guy.)

Jane: You can wake me up.

Sean: Really?

Jane: Yes.

Sean: You can wake me up anytime, too. I mean, if you’re ever awake after me. Well, unless I have a 6 a.m. shoot. Don’t wake me up then.

Jane: Deal.

Sean: Deal.

(And we draw the curtain so we can have some privacy.)

two hearts

So. Make this pact with your partner. Sex is more important than sleep. (Or watching that 10 p.m. show on HBO. Turn on your PVR, and romp. If you’re not drowsy after, then watch your show.) Agree to wake each other up when you’re horny. Agree to say yes—at least 4 out of 5 times. (I’m assuming you’re going to show appropriate discretion in when you’re doing the waking up. If partner’s got strep throat, you know, let the guy sleep. If the baby’s been going through a particularly tough phase—let the mama sleep. Find a different time for sex. We’ll get to that in a minute.)

Next: what do you do when that most miraculous thing of all happens and all your children are either simultaneously asleep, totally mesmerized by a movie or activity that doesn’t require your presence, or (gasp!) out of the house?

If you’re a mama, I bet in 9 out of 10 cases you clean. We can’t help it: the little monsters are messy, and if we clean when they’re out of the house, then at least we have the satisfaction of a clean house for a few minutes… an hour.

I’m not going to tell you to stop cleaning. But have sex first. The children are asleep—quiet—gone. Put down the vacuum cleaner, turn your back on the kitchen floor, and go fuck.

You can scrub the bath tub afterwards.

This is really easy for me, because I hate cleaning. However, if you derive some pleasure from the cleaning process, this may be harder for you. Do this: tell the messier partner to grab the initiative. When the children are asleep—quiet—gone, it’s his or her job to drag you to the bedroom, bathroom or living room rug. All you have to do is say yes.

Say yes.

Happy Valentine's day!

Sex is more important than work. In our case, we both work from home, so this is how it goes—one or the other or both of us is always on deadline. There’s always one more thing to write, edit, produce, revise, research.

There will always be one more thing to write, edit, produce, revise, research.

Have sex first.

Then go back to the computer. Have a project you took home, memos to revise, report cards to mark? Fine. They’ll still be there in fifteen minutes. Five, if you’re both properly motivated. Two, if it’s been as long as I think it’s been… Have sex first. Then work.

Now before you quote Dan Ackroyd at me,* it really is that easy. If you believe that…

1. Sex is more important than sleep

2. Sex is more important than cleaning

3. Sex is more important than work

…you will have more of it. Maybe not as much as you’d like to… but more.

To have even more, embrace the next three principles:

4. Foreplay is icing.

5. Beds are optional.

6. Matinees rule.

Valentine

Remember those hours and hours and hours of sensuous, languorous foreplay that went on and on and on and on…

Yeah, I don’t really remember either. It’s been 10 years… eleven. Well, there was that one night we sold the kids to the grandparents for the entire night exclusively for those purposes… but that might have been four years ago. Anyway. You now have kids.

That means foreplay is being alone in a room together.

Agree with your partner that foreplay is icing. Frankly, when you’ve got toddlers, it wastes precious time. You can after-play if the kids don’t barrel into the room. When you’re in one of those “OMG we never have time for sex” phases, this is your modus operandi:

A. Hey, we’re alone!

B. Clothes (but only the essential ones) off!

C. Coitus.

Everything else is icing.

Bed

Note how nowhere in the above did it say we’re alone in bed. Beds? Who needs beds to have sex? We’re alone in the bathroom. We’re alone in the kitchen. We’re alone on the landing. In the living room while the kids are in the bedroom… If you’ve got a family bed, the kids are always in the bed. Have sex somewhere else. Anywhere else. Just draw the curtains first.

Finally—especially when you’ve got teeny ones around—break the sex/night association. No law. Not mandatory. Repeat after me: you can have sex in the morning. In the afternoon. When the baby’s napping. If one or both of you has a regular Monday-to-Friday job, you’ve got less flexibility—but you’ve still got weekends. The hour before supper. You got the baby and toddler down for a nap on Saturday afternoon? Cancel the visit to Joe and Marla, and screw.

Be late for dinner at Mom and Dad’s. Don’t clean, don’t nap, don’t work until after.

“But Jane… you know… the truth is… I don’t really want to. I feel blah. Unattractive. Unsexy. Touched out.”

I know. I think every mother—and many a hyper-involved father, frankly—has been there post-partum. Babies and toddlers take a toll on you. (This part’s mostly for the mamas, boys, but read along to get educated.) Your hormones might be out of whack, and you might simply be exhausted. I’m going to send you to kellymom.com or Dr. Jack Newman’s breastfeedinginc.ca to look for some evidence-based research on how pregnancy and lactation might affect your libido, because I’m no doctor. From personal experience I can absolutely tell you this: I love my partner dearly and I love making love with him—and with each child I’ve gone through stretches where it’s just not been a priority and desire’s been hard to scrape up.

Here’s what’s helped me:

1. Exercise and sunshine. Bonus: if you do the Pavlovian “I have an orgasm after exercise” association, the motivation to exercise spikes.

2. Going to Mom’s Nights Out. Really. How does hanging out with a bunch of women help your sex life? Simple. You dress up and spend an evening with adults talking adult stuff and enjoying a meal without anyone throwing up on you. You go home—and if your partner played things right, the children are asleep. S/he’s not. Woo-hoo.

3. Put it on the schedule. OK. Least romantic thing ever, right? It sounds awful. Sex Saturday. You know what’s worse and less romantic? Not having sex at all.

4. Make it a habit. Here’s the weird thing about thinking you don’t want sex when you’re not having sex–as soon as you start having sex, your priorities shift. You think, “Sweet Jesus, this is great! Why don’t we do this more often?” Hold on to that thought… and do it more often. In the afternoon. Instead of cleaning. Before working on that work project. Quickly if you’ve only got five minutes. Hey, if it turns out you’ve got more time, you can always do it again…

Heart

Photo (Heart) by mozzercork

All right then. That’s it. To recap:

1. Sex is more important than sleep

2. Sex is more important than cleaning

3. Sex is more important than work

4. Foreplay is icing

5. Beds are optional

6. Matinees rule

Get off the computer, and go wake up your partner. And if you’ve got other tips for reigniting your sex life post-children, share them.

xoxoxo,

Jane

PS Veteran mamas, can you tell I just weaned the third? I bet you can…

PPS Play carefully, eh? Seems every time we have a frank sex post-children discussion on one of my groups or lists, someone gets pregnant. Once it was me…

English: Pregnant Elf

*(That’s Jane, you ignorant slut, the best SNL quote of all time, read about it here if you don’t know what I’m talking about, and no, it doesn’t show you how old I am, I saw it in re-runs.)

PPPS For a different point of view, visit my brilliant friend Dani at Cloudy, With A Chance of Wine and read Having kids kills your sex life, but then, pop over to when she changes her mind and tells you the 5 ways sex gets easier once you have kids. And then pop over to read Julie De Neen spew coffee all over her friend in Lying to your kids about sex toys.

PPPPS “Woman, I need an antidote to all the sex talk, cause I ain’t getting any.” I’m so sorry, babe. (But you know there are toys, right?) Go visit Wonderland by Tatu and read Hi, my name is T. & I am a screamer. Get your mind out of the gutter! Not everything’s about sex–she’s talking about something else. And, do pop on by The Sadder and Wiser Girl as she celebrates the one year anniversary of her blog–good on you, Sarah, and write on!

PPPPPS One more. The funniest thing from my over-crowded in-box this week so far comes from The Book of Alice: Wrongly Accused. It’s about boogers. And children. So you know it’s worth clicking on.

Jane out.

It’s 4:30 a.m.: do you know where your children are?

sleep

You know this Calvin & Hobbes comic panel, of course you do―it’s a cultural meme embedded on all of our memories: Calvin, climbing out of his bedroo
m window and racing over to a payphone. Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep, he dials. And, the punchine:

“Dad? It’s 3 a.m. in the morning. Do you know where I am?”

Flora loves this strip, and she reads and quotes this over and over again.

“Mom, you know I’m going to do this to you one day, right?” she says.

And stupidly, tears circle in my eyes, and I say, “Oh, baby. You’ll do worse. Much worse.” And she stares at me confused, because, after all, what we are sharing here is a joke, and I’m ruining it. But I finish it.

“You WON’T call me at 3 a.m. And I WON’T know where you are.”

She doesn’t get it, of course, nor, at age eight, should she. But this night, tonight―it is 4:30 a.m. and I know exactly where my children are. The elder two are asleep in their beds, and if I still my head and eliminate the creaking noises of the house, I hear their breathing.

The 3.5 year old is sitting on my head.

We’re in a prolonged “phasing out the nap” stage with the Ender, which on this day manifests itself by the boy not napping at all―and then crashing for the day at 6:45 p.m. I do the math as he falls asleep and figure if I’m lucky, very very lucky, he’ll sleep until 5 a.m.

When you’re the parent of a toddler-preschooler, 5 a.m. is almost morning. You can wake up for the day at 5 a.m. It sucks ass, and it means it’s a four-pot (coffee, ladies gentlemen, coffee) day. But you can do it.

Ender wakes up at 4:15 a.m. What a difference 45 minutes makes…

By 4:30 a.m., I give up trying to get him back to sleep. And I give up playing co-sleeping parents’ roulette. If you share your bed with the kids at least some of the time, you know what I’m talking about―which of you can take more of the rolling and poking and singing? Who’s going to break first and get up with the little dude? Neither of you is sleeping―but at least you’re both horizontal… and that’s almost like sleep…

I break. I take the Ender downstairs. Change his soaked night-time diaper. Wrap him up in blankets and give him milk, oranges, avocado and an iPad. Kiss him.

“I don’t want to be alone here!” he wails.

And were he child number one, his mother would sigh, and curl up on the couch beside him, and fade in and out of sleep for the next three hours, with Pinky-Doodle-Doo or another Nickleodeon-show blaring in the background, and the Ender occasionally asking for snacks, hugs, the moon.

But he is child number three, and I have two other children who’ll need me conscious when they wake up, plus plans for the day that require at least some of my brain to be working. So:

“You’re not alone. Mama and Daddy are right upstairs. I will leave the stairwell light on, and if you want to come back to bed, you climb up the stairs and very, very quietly climb into bed. Flora will be down very very soon, and then you won’t be alone down here.”

He acedes for he must. And I think―it’s 4:30 a.m., and I know where all my children are, and this is good. It doesn’t feel good, mind you, at this particular moment… and I look at the Ender, and I wonder if, when it’s 4:30 a.m., and I won’t know where he is, whether I will be able to sleep?

Probably not.

Sigh.

Maybe I’ll become a little more hardass over time.

It’s 5:27 a.m., and I know where all my children are. One of them is sitting on my head, singing, “Maaaaay-peeee-niis! My! Penis!” Quite quietly, actually, but still.

Sean loses the co-sleeping parents’ roulette. “Get off your Mom!” he howls, because he’s a good Daddy (and good Daddies, have I mentioned, are so hot?). And he drags the dudling, protesting and howling back, back downstairs.

When sleep comes, I dream that I don’t know where my children are at 4:30 a.m.

Sigh.

But when I wake up at 8:30 a.m., there is a tousled little redhead tucked under my arm, snoring the way only three-year-olds can snore.

I forgive him everything, instantly.

 (Photo credit (Sleep): Sean MacEntee)

The Authoritative New Parents’ Guide to Sex After Children

(or, how to make sure you keep on doing that thing that landed you with children in the first place!)

Two Hearts

Ambitious title, but I bet I’ll deliver. Tell me afterwards. Two caveats. First, if you’re currently childless, don’t read this. It will either depress or embarrass you. Especially if you’re a guy. It’s the weirdest thing, really: when it comes to talking about sex and bodies, there is no creature more uptight than the childless male. Anyway, if you’re one of those, go read How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games or Math + Gun = or … (I’m not being sexist, am I? You can read this if you really want to. But I know you’ll be mortified…)

Second, if you’ve got young children and you’re having all the sex you want—really? Honestly?–you probably don’t need to read this. But you should anyway, because maybe at the end of it, you might be having more sex. And what could be better than that?

And thirdly—I said two caveats, right? Oops—in case you haven’t noticed, this post is going to be about sex. It’s how you get children. If reading about sex makes you squeamish, stop here and go read… how about It’s not about balance: creating your family’s harmony or 10 habits for a happy home from the house of permissiveness and chaos.

Also, mom, dad, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother—um. Yeah. You’re excused. Go read how Cinder and Flora became Greco-Roman Pagans. And never, ever mention this post to me. OK.

The rest of you, come with me.

English: 3 of hearts.

OK. Here are the three assumption I’m making:

1. You have kids. Babies, toddlers, preschoolers, sentient school age kids. The babies need to be breastfed and rocked to sleep at all hours of day and night, the toddlers and preschoolers exhaust you, and them older kids stay up later and later and open doors and need help with homework and need you to feed them and take them places and…

2. You don’t have enough sex. Define enough as you will. You’d like to have more.

3. You’ve got a partner to have this sex with (if you don’t, I canna’ help you with that, but I hear there’s these dating sites…). The partner would also like to have more sex. The will is there. What’s lacking is time and opportunity. (If the will’s not there… well, I can help you with that a bit. There will be an addendum about that at the end.)

With me so far? Want to. Don’t have (enough) (at all these days). Don’t worry. There’s hope. Really. You’ve just got to rethink a few things.

Two Hearts Beat As One

First, there are three principles you have to internalize.

1. Sex is more important than sleep.

2. Sex is more important than cleaning.

3. Sex is more important than work.

Somewhere between child one and two—or maybe it was two and three?–my partner and I made the following pact: either one of us was free to wake up the other at any other time for some quick love making (stress on quick: I’ll come back to this point shortly)… unless the sleeper had a 6 a.m. appointment with the client from hell or some other such situation. We made this pact after the following conversation:

Jane: Dear God, do you realize this is the first time we’ve had sex in… oh my god, has it been three weeks? Four?

Sean: Well, by the time I come to bed, you’re always asleep. And I know you’re going to be up half the night with the baby, and then up super early with the toddler, and…

(This is why I love him so, by the way. What a guy.)

Jane: You can wake me up.

Sean: Really?

Jane: Yes.

Sean: You can wake me up anytime, too. I mean, if you’re ever awake after me. Well, unless I have a 6 a.m. shoot. Don’t wake me up then.

Jane: Deal.

Sean: Deal.

(And we draw the curtain so we can have some privacy.)

two hearts

So. Make this pact with your partner. Sex is more important than sleep. (Or watching that 10 p.m. show on HBO. Turn on your PVR, and romp. If you’re not drowsy after, then watch your show.) Agree to wake each other up when you’re horny. Agree to say yes—at least 4 out of 5 times. (I’m assuming you’re going to show appropriate discretion in when you’re doing the waking up. If partner’s got strep throat, you know, let the guy sleep. If the baby’s been going through a particularly tough phase—let the mama sleep. Find a different time for sex. We’ll get to that in a minute.)

Next: what do you do when that most miraculous thing of all happens and all your children are either simultaneously asleep, totally mesmerized by a movie or activity that doesn’t require your presence, or (gasp!) out of the house? If you’re a mama, I bet in 9 out of 10 cases you clean. We can’t help it: the little monsters are messy, and if we clean when they’re out of the house, then at least we have the satisfaction of a clean house for a few minutes… an hour.

I’m not going to tell you to stop cleaning. But have sex first. The children are asleep—quiet—gone. Put down the vacuum cleaner, turn your back on the kitchen floor, and go fuck. You can scrub the bath tub afterwards.

This is really easy for me, because I hate cleaning. However, if you derive some pleasure from the cleaning process, this may be harder for you. Do this: tell your partner to grab the initiative. When the children are asleep—quiet—gone, it’s his or her job to drag you to the bedroom, bathroom or living room rug. All you have to do is say yes.

Say yes.

Happy Valentine's day!

Sex is more important than work. In our case, we both work from home, so this is how it goes—one or the other or both of us is always on deadline. There’s always one more thing to write, edit, produce, revise, research. There will always be one more thing to write, edit, produce, revise, research. Have sex first. Then go back to the computer. Have a project you took home, memos to revise, report cards to mark? Fine. They’ll still be there in fifteen minutes. Five, if you’re both properly motivated. Two, if it’s been as long as I think it’s been… Have sex first. Then work.

Now before you quote Dan Ackroyd at me,* it really is that easy. If you believe that…

1. Sex is more important than sleep

2. Sex is more important than cleaning

3. Sex is more important than work

…you will have more of it. Maybe not as much as you’d like to… but more.

To have even more, embrace the next three principles:

4. Foreplay is icing.

5. Beds are optional.

6. Matinees rule.

Valentine

Remember those hours and hours and hours of sensuous, languorous foreplay that went on and on and on and on… Yeah, I don’t really remember either. It’s been 10 years. Well, there was that one night we sold the kids to the grandparents for the entire night exclusively for those purposes… but that might have been four years ago. Anyway. You now have kids. That means foreplay is being alone in a room together. Agree with your partner that foreplay is icing. Frankly, when you’ve got toddlers, it wastes precious time. You can after-play if the kids don’t barrel into the room. When you’re in one of those “OMG we never have time for sex” phases, this is your modus operandi:

A. Hey, we’re alone!

B. Clothes (but only the essential ones) off!

C. Coitus.

Everything else is icing.

Bed

Note how nowhere in the above did it say we’re alone in bed. Beds? Who needs beds to have sex? We’re alone in the bathroom. We’re alone in the kitchen. We’re alone on the landing. In the living room while the kids are in the bedroom… If you’ve got a family bed, the kids are always in the bed. Have sex somewhere else. Anywhere else. Just draw the curtains first.

Finally—especially when you’ve got teeny ones around—break the sex/night association. No law. Not mandatory. Repeat after me: you can have sex in the morning. In the afternoon. When the baby’s napping. If one or both of you has a regular Monday-to-Friday job, you’ve got less flexibility—but you’ve still got weekends. The hour before supper. You got the baby and toddler down for a nap on Saturday afternoon? Cancel the visit to Joe and Marla, and screw. Be late for dinner at Mom and Dad’s. Don’t clean, don’t nap, don’t work until after.

“But Jane… you know… the truth is… I don’t really want to. I feel blah. Unattractive. Unsexy. Touched out.”

I know. I think every mother—and many a hyper-involved father, frankly–has been there post-partum. Babies and toddlers take a toll on you. (This part’s mostly for the mamas, boys, but read along to get educated.) Your hormones might be out of whack, and you might simply be exhausted. I’m going to send you to kellymom.com or Dr. Jack Newman’s breastfeedinginc.ca to look for some evidence-based research on how pregnancy and lactation might affect your libido, because I’m no doctor. From personal experience I can absolutely tell you this: I love my partner dearly and I love making love with him—and with each child I’ve gone through stretches where it’s just not been a priority and desire’s been hard to scrape up.

Here’s what’s helped me:

1. Exercise and sunshine. Bonus: if you do the Pavlovian “I have an orgasm after exercise” association, the motivation to exercise spikes.

2. Going to Mom’s Nights Out. Really. How does hanging out with a bunch of women help your sex life? Simple. You dress up and spend an evening with adults talking adult stuff and enjoying a meal without anyone throwing up on you. You go home—and if your partner played things right, the children are asleep. S/he’s not. Woo-hoo.

3. Put it on the schedule. OK. Least romantic thing ever, right? It sounds awful. Sex Saturday. You know what’s worse and less romantic? Not having sex at all.

4. Make it a habit. Here’s the weird thing about thinking you don’t want sex when you’re not having sex–as soon as you start having sex, your priorities shift. You think, “Sweet Jesus, this is great! Why don’t we do this more often?” Hold on to that thought… and do it more often. In the afternoon. Instead of cleaning. Before working on that work project. Quickly if you’ve only got five minutes. Hey, if it turns out you’ve got more time, you can always do it again…

Heart

Photo (Heart) by mozzercork

All right then. That’s it. To recap:

1. Sex is more important than sleep

2. Sex is more important than cleaning

3. Sex is more important than work

4. Foreplay is icing

5. Beds are optional

6. Matinees rule

Get off the computer, and go wake up your partner. And if you’ve got other tips for reigniting your sex life post-children, do share them. Cleanly, eh? (I’m still a little worried my mother’s reading this. I’m pretty sure I lost my father at the “Dear God, do you realize this is the first time we’ve had sex in… oh my god, has it been three weeks?” I may be the mother of three children, but… yeah.) While I go off and ponder how to tag this post so it reaches its intended audience and not the spammers…

xoxoxo,

Jane

PS Veteran mamas, can you tell I just weaned the third? I bet you can…

PPS Play carefully, eh? Seems every time we have a frank sex post-children discussion on one of my groups or lists, someone gets pregnant. Once it was me…

English: Pregnant Elf

*(That’s Jane, you ignorant slut, the best SNL quote of all time, read about it here if you don’t know what I’m talking about, and no, it doesn’t show you how old I am, I saw it in re-runs.)

The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant

It’s 2 a.m. The telephone rings. It’s dark and I’m groggy as I race through the house for the telephone. I don’t get there in a time and I’m in a brief moment of panic as I crouch beside it and wait for it to ring again. My Flora’s sleeping out of the house this night and this phone call can only be about her.

The phone rings again; I pick up; the panic subsides. Yes, it’s Flora. Sleep over fail. She woke up in a strange place, a strange bed and is frightened. Wants to come home.

Sean runs over to get her—and we’re both briefly grateful about the place we live, where sleepovers take place a couple of doors down instead of across the city—and a short two minutes later, she’s in my arms, face pressed against my chest. She’s whispering “the whole story”: how it was so fun, and they had a great time, and she had no trouble at all falling asleep, and then she woke up, and it was dark and strange and she didn’t want to stay…

I listen and then shush her, tell her to go back to sleep. She presses tight against me. Now that she feels perfectly safe and secure, she also feels embarrassed that she bailed. I reassure her in a sleepy voice… and shush her again. “Now sleep, Flora, sleep.”

She presses against me. On the other side of me, Ender flips over, rolls. But doesn’t wake. It’s doesn’t happen very often these days that I find myself squished between two little bodies and I take a sleepy minute to savour the moment.

And I think about how much parenting takes place in these dark hours—when, really, we’re at our worst. Exhausted. Unconscious. Still on duty, but too tired to perform.

None of that ends when the baby (toddler, preschooler, kindergartener!) “sleeps through the night.” Our Cinder actually reached that milestone relatively quickly—sometime around two years. And so what? A few weeks of blissfully uninterrupted sleep followed. Then came the night terrors. When the first wave of those subsided, he got out of diapers—and had to get up to pee in the night. Six times a night, it seemed (probably just once or twice). Then Flora arrived and being awake for Cinder became irrelevant because I was waking up for Flora. When she nightweaned, she started waking up at 3 a.m., raring to go for the day. When she’d sleep late (aka, until 5 a.m.), Cinder would have night terrors. Inevitably, on the nights both kids slept soundly, the dog would have diarrhea… Or, naturally, I would have insomnia.

As I’m cataloging the different stages of post-child sleep deprivation, Flora presses her closer against me. “I’m going to roll over; you can hug my back,” I whisper. “Can’t I roll over with you?” she whimpers. “No, stay there—Ender’s on the other side.” I readjust, so does she. “I like your soft side better,” she sighs. Her head is between my shoulder blades. But her breathing is winding down—sleep is almost there.

“Mom?”

“Sleep, Flora.”

“Does Monday come after Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, Flora.”

“Is tomorrow Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, baby.”

“And then Monday?”

“Mmmm.”

“Good. I have plans on Monday.”

And she’s asleep. Ender does another flip. But doesn’t wake up. I send a prayer to Morpheus—or should I be petitioning Ra?–that neither of them wakes up with the sunrise. It’ll probably be a four pot, not four cup, coffee day, tomorrow, I think as I feel my breathing reach the sleep rhythm. And I’m out.

I don’t  belittle or dismiss sleep deprivation. It’s tough. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. And each family needs to find its own unique solution to ensuring all members—especially the primary caretaker—gets enough sleep. But “sleeping through the night”? That’s irrelevant. Because kids keep on needing their parents at night, long after they wean. Sometimes just for a minute, for a quick squeeze and reassurance. Sometimes for longer. But if not exactly forever—for a long, long time.

Ender wakes up that morning, by the way, at 5:30 a.m. I curse Morpheus and tell off Ra. Then we tiptoe downstairs. I make coffee. Pull the electronic babysitter—aka Backyardiggans on Netflix—onto duty. Cuddle the Ender. Write most of this post.

Flora streaks downstairs at 7 a.m. “Hi, Mom, I’m going to Meghan’s!” she calls. “Hug? Kiss?” I holler. She backtracks. Hug. Kiss. And for Ender. And for Maggie the runt terrier. And she’s off.

I look at Ender. Hug. Kiss. Soon, I’ll roll off the couch and make the second pot of coffee. By the third pot, I’ll be ready to face the day.

Pot number four, I decide to save for the inevitable afternoon crash.

Koala sleeping on a tree top

 (N.B. For those concerned about my caffeine intake, I should clarify they’re pretty small coffee pots. It was a purchasing mistake. We thought the small press would make us drink less coffee. Nope. It just makes coffee drinking a more labour-intensive process. Live and learn. On the plus side, the cafe is always fresh.)

The ultimate secret behind parenting: it’s evolution, baby

A friend expecting his first baby actually asked me for parenting advice. After I picked myself up off the floor (most of us, before we have children, know everything about parenting. Everything. Sigh. I miss that time), I gave him a big email smooch and hug. Even when childless, he thought our kids were super-cool and all the whacky stuff we were doing with them made total sense for him. He wanted me to spell it out for him in anticipation of his own journey. Here’s what I wrote. (Language warning for the sensitive of eye and ear: we’re university friends, he and I, and the way we talked about politics, education and philosophy back in the day contained a lot of four letter words. When it came to talking to babies and being a parent… well, old habits and all that.)

2008… As for baby advice, one day I plan to write a book, and in the meantime, my short-hand advice is this: no child should be raised by the book (not even my book). We’ve consciously parented off the beaten path, centering our practices and behaviours around the self-evident truth that children are human beings and should be treated and respected as such. Many of the things we’ve done are “attachment parenting” (watered down mainstream guru of approach is one Dr. William Sears, widely published) principles—baby wearing, sleep sharing, extended breastfeeding—but really it’s not what you do that’s important, it’s who you are as a parent. As a person, really. Now that our kids are older, I absolutely think the most critical part of the parenting journey is maintaining that focus on fostering attachment and bonding between parents and children and siblings, and casting anything other people call “discipline” within that context.

That means, among other things, that we don’t punish our children. Not by withdrawing privileges, not by disguising punishment by consequences, not by trading negative stuff for excessive positive reinforcement and rewards. Doesn’t mean we don’t periodically get angry, frustrated and yell. It doesn’t mean we don’t correct undesirable behaviour—but we don’t time out, send to room, cancel plans etc. But I’m jumping ahead: we can talk about all that when you have a toddler or preschooler.

First, you’re going to have a baby, and that means your focus for the next year is going to be all about keeping that teeny weeny creature alive, healthy and happy, and you’ll find a way to do it. You want to know what the real secret of parenting is? Ready? Here it is: humans have done it for fucking millennia. It’s not that hard. Actually, it’s not hard at all. One of the things that makes it hardest is the legion of self-proclaimed experts preying on the insecurities on new parents in order to sell books of dubious value.

What makes it hard, also, is that so many of the structures and rhythms of life today don’t fit children or families. That’s the biggest adjustment, I think, of post-baby life. We don’t socialize or live as families—we do so as age-segregated units of peers. Why are parents so focused on getting babies to sleep through the night? Two reasons: 1) because the parents need a good night’s sleep wake up at 7 a.m. in the morning and go to work for 10 hours. But even before that, 2) because they want “their life”—time to do adult only things.

Well, surprise: once you have a child, you transform from a couple into a family, and the predominant mode of life should be family life. I believe that’s one of the self-inflicted stresses of post-partum, people wailing “When do I get my life back?” You don’t. You’ve got a brand new life now, with a brand new person in it—and you can move forward and create patterns that work for the three of you, or wail and rant and make all three of you unhappy and estranged.

Everyone wails a little bit.

When that adjustment stage gets tough for you, meditate on this secret: humans have had families and found a way to make things work for fucking millennia. You’ll find a way. (Ours is dramatically different from that of our peers—we’re both working from home, for example, and we take our children with us to virtually everything. Flora’s thrown up on many a Bay Street suit, and there is Cinder pee on the carpet of most of my editors/clients. But I don’t advocate that as the only way—it’s our way and right for us, right? You’ll find your own—but do think in terms of creating new patterns and rhythms, instead of biding time until you can go back to the old ones.)

When revisiting the past, it’s always interesting to see how one’s perspective has changed. I cringed throughout my re-read of that infamous “Why isn’t it natural” post. In this case, no cringing. I would still give the same advice again. The secret of parenthood: humans have done it for millennia. Addendum: no child should be raised by the book.

A Nepalese woman and her infant child.

“What’s Bedtime?”

Or, why you should probably never listen to anything I say about bedtime routines and sleep

Flora to me, after reading Madeline and the Gypsies: “Mom, did you know that some children have to go to bed at the same time every single night? How weird is that?”

Madeline and the Gypsies

Madeline and the Gypsies (Photo credit: brianfling)

From Life’s Archives, September 18, 2009… but it could have been said yesterday

Need A New Bedtime Routine?

This is a slight reworking of a response post to a good friend of mine whose bedtime routine had just gone sideways. You’re reading a 1/10th of the conversation here, for which I apologize, but the remaining 9/10ths are not mine to repost:

…Keep this in mind about routines, bedtime and otherwise: humans (even those of us who think we’re uber-spontaneous) are habitual creatures, and we form bad habits and bad routines just as we do good ones (and faster too). So at certain ages and stages it doesn’t take much for a couple of out-of-whack nights to push us into a bad routine–the whole bath-pjs-book-sleep to be turned into bath-pjs-book, book, book, whine, run around, complain, have a meltdown sleep –and then do it again the next night, because this is what I do every night, right?

Every few months, I find myself in this situation still with one or all three of mine, and need to press the reset button! But I find that before returning to the positive routine–or building a new one–I need to get into a “throw everything out and surrender” for a few nights, and not do any of the things I’d usually do (or want to do in the new bedtime routine). Does that make sense?

These days, I find the mistake I’m making with bedtime for the kids is that my head gets into bedtime space as soon as the freakin’ sun sets, and I start the whole thing too early.

…I should ‘fess up that one of us still stays in the room with the kids until they fall asleep. But we have a “disengage.” So a really long reading session is part of our bedtime. I mean long. I’ve read for two hours at bedtime (critical part of the homeschooling plan, frankly) for the older two these days, cause during the day, they don’t sit and snuggle on the couch with me as often as they used to.) And then, I’m done–or Sean’s done–and I read my book quietly. Or work on the laptop.

Our kids like lights on to fall asleep, so that’s feasible. If you need to do it in the dark–disengage with i-Pod headphones on and listen to a book on tape or something. And they drift off to sleep, and I get “me time” and “sitting on my butt time” (my favourite these days!) all at the same time.

In Defence of Routines

I wrote this essay in response to a long and heated thread called “Discipline for Young Children” on one of the yahoo groups I belong to. I’m not as active a participant in those discussions as I was when Cinder and Flora were little―partly because I no longer have napping kids, partly because I’ve become much more reluctant to offer advice, even when nominally asked for (because I’ve learnt most people don’t want advice and solutions: they just want to whinge, and get unconditional support for their whinging… but that’s food for another post), but mostly because I work and write for money so much more now than I did in those first years… and I’m kind of written out at the end of the day. But every once in a while, against my better judgement, I just can’t resist…

…I would like to offer a defence of―or the case for―rhythms and routines in an unschooled life, with young children and older ones too. [Another poster] wrote in one of her earlier posts “Whenever someone reaches for some additional form of external or arbitrary ‘structure’ I wonder, usually in my head, what is making them feel insecure this week and why they feel that will solve the problem…”

And I would like to answer that with, yes, actually, it can.

The stuff that you have a predictable routine/rhythm for―so long as it works for you in a positive way―is stuff you don’t have to expand energy thinking about and reacting to. (I’m reminded of The Big Bang Theory episode in which Sheldon uses gaming dice to make all non-essential decisions to leave his precious brain cells free to do the important work of “the mind.”)

My partner and I are both self-employed, random-deadline driven people engaged in creative, chaotic work. That injects a great deal of surprise, unpredictability and “must make this decision Now!” and “must upset any and all plans made to date and respond to this Crisis Now!” into our professional―and because we are self-employed and work from home and see our lives as intertwined etc.―personal lives.

The counterbalance or anchor if you prefer that word to that chaos is predictability and simplicity wherever it makes sense. And we didn’t arrive at that conclusion/practice overnight: it slowly evolved as we kept on adding children and responsibilities to the chaos.

So we have a morning routine, for example, that I stick to even when there’s a deadline fire burning under me and what I want to do the second I wake up is start pounding away at the keyboard. It’s a routine that honours the fact that 3/5 of the members of this family suck at mornings, and 2/5 are ridiculous early birds, and it includes things like me sitting on the couch with a book ignoring the kids while I drink my first―and hopefully second―cup of coffee and my eldest not speaking or looking at anyone for 45 minutes or so after he wakes up and playing his X-box or just lying on the couch with a blanket over his head. (A routine, see, doesn’t have to be about “doing” stuff. It can also be about safeguarding time to just “be.”) It also includes things like getting dressed, brushing hair, recorder practice, tossing a load of laundry in, making the big bed, and culminates with a morning walk with the dog. But its most important thing is―the time for three of us to just wake up and hang for a bit. (Two of us starting playing and doing stuff as soon as they wake up. The bums.)

This is what we do 9 out of 10 mornings. And it’s not something that anyone complains about as rigid, boring, limiting―it’s a guarded part of our day that, on that 1 out of 10 mornings where we have to miss it―where we have to get into the car first thing in the morning for example―makes us appreciate it all the more on the morrow when we return to it.

There are other anchors like that throughout the day and the week―I’m pretty protective of the last part of our evenings and bedtime, for example, so even though there’s no magic time by which everyone’s in bed or sleep, there sure is a rhythm to the last part of each evening. I have a built-in 3 p.m. tea break for me―that’s the magic time when I run out of steam and get cranky, so I plan for it: tea for me, snack for the kids, something to do (if just flopping on the couch to watch a DVD) so that I don’t become Evil Exhausted Mom (it took me six years to realize I consistently lost it at 3 p.m. Super-observant, I am.) We go swimming each Monday and Thursday―unless something else comes up, but that’s the “default” setting on each week, just as our girl’s music class mid-week is. But there was a time―when my eldest was four to six in particular―when the routines had to be perfectly predictable and inviolate, because that was what he needed at that time.

This last year, I’ve outsourced dinner to routines, a la Taco Tuesday, Slow Cooker Wednesday, Pizza Friday. (Also “What the Fuck’s for Dinner Thursday,” the day that reminds me to stick to the boring predictability of the rest of the week.) This is not my default setting: my default setting is―I’m getting hungry, what should we make for dinner, oh no, the fridge is empty, let’s go out―but this Taco Tuesday setting, although it makes me sound like the most boring person in the world, is better. It means we eat even when I’m on deadline, when my default setting is to not eat at all until the project is done―oh, crap, you mean you kids need to eat?

There are personalities, families, life cycles and individuals who don’t need any of this and don’t thrive on it. For sure. But there are very unschooled families who do. And hyper-organized people who need strict routines to have something to deviate from. And hyper-unorganized people who need some kind of even aspirational guideline to be fly-by-the-seat of-their-pants with.

I’m not sure which one I am, or my family is: we’re five individuals with very different personalities. But I do know that routines/rhythms/anchors―whatever you want to call them if the word schedule gives you the willies―make our family life more peaceful, our work life possible. Most of our days have plenty of spontaneity, go with the flow, live in the moment kinda stuff―too much, I would argue, on the days when work throws me a really unexpected curveball.

Does Slow Cooker Wednesday and 3 p.m. tea mean the baby getting sick, the washing machine flooding the basement, the 9 y o breaking an arm doesn’t throw us into chaos? Of course it doesn’t. But Slow Cooker Wednesday does mean we eat a good supper on Wednesday even if we spent most of the day at the ER (unless of course the broken arm happened before the chicken went into the slow cooker) or mopping up the basement and calling plumbers (see previous caveat).

Making my and my eldest’s morning incapacitation part of our morning routine respects our biological clocks and sets the stage for a good day―and it keeps me from unproductive feelings of guilt over being unproductive in the mornings. And that 3 p.m. tea break I give myself? I don’t like being Evil Exhausted Mommy. And it takes such a small act and such a small amount of planning to keep that from happening.

End of pro-routine pontification.

November? What November?

How you know I had a baby in October: I don’t remember November. Apparently, we went to a few homeschool days and even joined a craft co-op. I filed my first post-baby story on November 9―just a 900 word, no-interview column―and started interviewing for my first real story in the last week of November―talking with the CEO of Deloitte’s on November 22nd while breastfeeding Ender, Austen and Flora playing with their trains underfoot. Somewhere in the middle of all that, my aunt arrived from Poland and started cooking up a storm for us. Stuff happened. Good stuff. But I honestly don’t remember.

Austen and Flora adjusted extremely well, possibly more in love with their baby brother than I was. (Nah, impossible. No one could love him more than I do. But they came pretty damn close).