TORONTO – Sarah Mulholland vividly remembers the first time her 13-month-old son called out “Mama.”She was cooking about two months ago when little Conri began clamouring for her attention, clinging to her legs and whining until he suddenly uttered those two simple syllables that send mothers’ hearts fluttering.
It’s official. I’m a working mom. I’ve heard this described on the interwebs as ‘super mom.’ Which seems silly to me, because aren’t like, almost all moms working moms these days? I guess we’re all super. Anyway. It’s hella hard. But our family is finding a groove. If you can call 4:30 a.m. wake up calls a groove. Yay!
There have been some unanticipated changes in my job, and more coming down the pipe, that feel positive and refreshing, changes that in the longer term are going to keep me challenged and give me room to grow. I hadn’t dared to hope these opportunities were going to present themselves, but voila. Hooray career! More to come eventually.
And it’s spring. I’ve already bought my herbs from Richters and I have tomatoes, chiles and some basil sprouting under my grow lights in the family room (we finally have a family room!!). I even managed to spend a few hours sifting compost for the veggie beds, although I discovered my composter was seriously off balance and the compost was way too wet and mucky, and not decomposing properly. It was desperately in need of brown (dry, carbonaceous) waste, and was way too heavy in green (nitrogen-rich) waste. Good thing there’s a big ravine out there full of dead dry leaves. Composter re-balanced.
I had a good 6 weeks of the kiddo being in daycare before I went back to work so I cracked out some major quilt projects that involved some creative thinking and problem solving (again, more to come on this). I also had a chance to spring clean and to squeeze in some freezer cooking to help keep up the healthy family meals while I adjust to working mom life. I’ve established a system for meal planning that seems to be working so far. Now if only I can get the munchkin back to waking up for the day at a reasonable hour!
Back in August I harvested my 2015 crop of garlic. I’m still tallying up the totals (everything I do these days is done in the fastest, most efficient way possible, but not always with the same attention to detail as I used to give; having an infant around will do that to you). This weekend I finally retrieved it from the shed lean-to where it was curing for the last couple of months, and I planted next year’s crop.
I opted not to replant a couple varieties this year that didn’t do well. A few varieties seemed susceptible to rot, so I focused on the best performers for next year’s crop: Music, Leningrad, Siberian, Ukrainian and Persian. I’m giving up on Korean and Russian Red. There are about 285 cloves in the ground — five varieties instead of nine — all mulched and ready for winter. Yay! What a huge relief to have that done. I was a bit worried the way the weather was going that I wasn’t going to get them in, but we got to the farm on the weekend with just enough time for me to hastily plant before the rain blew in. I plan to put a few rows in my raised beds at home as well, because it’s nice to have some garlic within reach when it’s ready, and this is really the first fall I’ve had my raised beds back in action since we moved.
The two varieties I didn’t plant at the farm are Purple Glazer and Hungarian, so I think I’ll plant a few of these here. Purple Glazer is so small in size that I’m tempted not to bother with it at all, but it is a lovely garlic I’ve been growing for years and always grows well, so I’m not quite ready to give it up. Hungarian is the other variety I didn’t plant at the farm; it seemed predisposed to rot last year but did better this year, so maybe it will do better in my raised beds here in the city.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks holidaying out west and at the farm, so I’ve been a little preoccupied. When we got back to the city from each trip I had a huge cache of tomatoes to deal with (even though I only planted four tomatoes this year!). The first batch became roasted tomato salsa, quickly canned after the munchkin went to bed. The second batch was also roasted and turned into passata, also canned after bedtime.
The passata is amazing. I love that recipe, from the River Cottage Handbook No.2 Preserves by Pam Corbin. It’s pretty simple: roughly chop your tomatoes, put them into an oiled roasting pan with your choice of herbs, some garlic (peeled or not) and if you want, some chiles and onions (we’re thrilled to be growing our mystery chile that I was growing ten years ago the summer Chris and I met, which we’ve saved seeds from). Sprinkle the tomatoes with a teaspoon each of sugar and coarse salt, and a few glugs of olive oil. Roast at 350ºF for about an hour. If you have watery tomatoes you might need to do it a little longer to help evaporate off the extra liquid and intensify the flavours of your sauce. Cool your tomatoes and then put them through a tomato press if you have one. If not, you can use a sieve, but if you like to make your own tomato sauce I highly recommend investing in one of these presses — they are the bomb.
To ensure they’re acidic enough for preservation, I added a 1/4 tsp of citric acid to each 500ml jar of sauce and processed in a boiling water canner for 35 minutes. This sauce is a bit labour intensive, but so worth it, and perfect for doing in relatively small batches as your tomatoes ripen.
If you’re a bit lazy and don’t feel like going through with pressing the sauce, you can always roast the tomatoes as per the above directions and then just bag and freeze them to add to your favourite soups, stews and sauces. They’ll still be just as awesome.
Four months?! Where has the time gone? Our little munchkin is now rolling from back to front and front to back, and pushing himself forward. I fear we’re going to have an early crawler! Waaah! I’m not ready!
Actually for the most part we’re having a lot of fun these days. He is noticing the world around him much more (hey, is that our dog??) and it’s fun to watch him discover new concepts (wait… if I look behind me you’re there?! WOAH DUDE — MIND BLOWN). There are times when he’s fairly self sufficient hanging out on the floor doing his thing and other times when god forbid you put him down. We go for a lot of walks and I’ve impressed myself by the distance I can cover with a stroller in an hour and a half. We’ve even ventured out on the subway a fair bit lately, me wearing him in a baby carrier (because taking a stroller on Toronto public transit is not my idea of a good time).
I’m adjusting to this new gig although I have my moments. I was so unprepared for the monumental shift of…everything…that is involved in becoming a mom. And while I have friends who have done it before me, I think that as people adapt to their new roles there’s some kind of amnesia that happens. It’ll probably happen to me too. The people I can relate to best right now are other women who have babies of a similar age. I suppose that’s a no brainer, but for the most part, it means developing new friendships. And there’s something kind of hard about forming new friendships later in life. It’s already hard that as a new mom, everything you do needs to be “relearned” because now there’s a baby involved, let alone discovering that you need to build other new relationships and form a new support network, too.
I winge a lot these days. I mourn my old life. I complain about how hard it is to get used to how things are now. I spend a lot of time planning how I’ll go about a task, an outing, an appointment. I develop anxiety about logistics. I don’t know if that’s how other new moms get but this is how I get. I think I used to be this way more and then as I got older I got better at managing these parts of myself… and now that I’m in this new role, those old characteristics that I thought I’d learned to manage are running a bit wild again. Everyone says it gets easier. Perhaps it’s that people adapt. Only time will tell, I guess.
One of my favourite jam recipes is Canadian Living’s Strawberry Vanilla Jam. It’s been a couple years since I made a batch, due to our renovations and such, so I was really craving getting some going this year before strawberry season is done for the year. But of course I now have an infant, so canning anything seemed like a bit of a stretch.
However, I managed to get a few quarts of Ontario strawberries (the ONLY strawberries I buy!) yesterday for $4 each, and so my 2 hours of free evening time were booked!
Instead of using pectin with this batch however, I tried out the Redpath Quick Set Sugar from the grocery store. And boy did it set in a hurry — almost before I got it into the jars!
Anyway, this is an amazing jam if you’re so inclined. My photo above is inspired by paintings by Mary Pratt. Don’t you just love that red glow?
Look! It’s a post about gardening!
Obviously with a newborn baby virtually all my hobbies have had to take a back seat this year. But since I missed out on gardening the previous two seasons I just had to get something going this year. I managed to sprout some tomatoes and our beloved mystery chile peppers from my years old seed collection so those have made it in the ground and are doing well. I also squeezed in some onions, beets, arugula, carrots, chard, kale and lettuce. I tried to go modest this year because I knew I’d have almost no time for it.
However last week I had a look at my chioggia beets and noticed they were all browning and dying off. Upon closer inspection I could see they have little worms inside them! EW. This is new — I’ve never had any trouble growing beets before. I did a little research and my best guess is these are beet army worms. GROSS. Only thing to be done was pull them and drown the bugs in a pail of hot soapy water. Nasty. I had to do the same thing to the few chard seeds that sprouted as beets and chard are virtually the same thing — only one grows a root crop and the other is savoured for its leaves.
Since most of my seeds went in rather late my raised beds are looking a little wonky and unbalanced. Only a few lettuce leaves have popped out of the ground. Kale is a little hit or miss as well. Even some of the onions are only just now coming out of the ground (and I used sets for those, not silly seeds which for onions, I just cannot be bothered with). The only leaf crop I’ve been able to enjoy with abundance as of yet is arugula. But at least our tomatoes and chiles are going to make for a good (if not a little crowded) showing. I was definitely off my game when planting them and could have given each of the plants a LOT more room to spread out. Oh well.
The soil we got for these beds leaves a lot to be desired, so this could be part of the problem. We had some triple mix dropped off to fill them and I should have stuck with an order of top soil because it was the crappiest (or perhaps it’s that there was a lack of crap?) soil I’ve ever had delivered. It’s going to need a lot of compost love over the next few years to meet my standards. It seems very grainy and dry, like it doesn’t have much in the way of moisture retention properties. I’ll have to see if I can truck some well composted horse manure up from the farm this fall (to make it crappier…hahah!).
Anyway, between these two beds, which I can stick my nose into every few evenings after Conri goes to bed and while it’s still light outside, and my slap dash perennial beds I’m trying to fill in out in the front of the house, I’m managing to squeeze in a few green thumb moments to keep me sane. I also managed to throw some geraniums in pots on the deck, and put together a meagre herb garden out at the edge of the ravine, which hopefully won’t get swallowed up by the rampant wild grapevine that grows back there. It all feels a little haphazard and not well planned — an approach I said I’d never take with perennial gardens again — but what do you do. I have years ahead of me hopefully during which to move things around, divide and conquer. I’d really like to widen the perennial beds out front but that will have to wait for a year or two. I like to think that when Conri is a little bigger and mobile, he can fart around and play while I garden. But for now, I have to squeeze my gardening into moments when he’s either in bed or Chris is on Daddy Duty. And that’s just fine for now.
My husband told me I should update my blog, because people are concerned. So here I am. Everything is okay. I’m finding my way with this new mommy gig.
So breastfeeding. Yup, we’re still doing it. But I did have another blocked duct about a week ago. It sucked. Again. But again, it cleared up relatively quickly. And I heard about ultrasound therapy I can look into next time (unfortunately the timing made it hard to get any help over the weekend). Same breast and only two weeks after the last one. Seems like my little one (LO) has a harder time latching on that side and perhaps can’t drain the breast quite as well. So I’ve changed my hold to football on that side and that seems better, although we’re currently going through a fussy couple of days again. But overall I think breastfeeding is generally going better, especially after I decided and accepted that exclusive breastfeeding just isn’t going to happen for us and it is no longer my goal. We’re combo feeding. Interestingly, no one really talks about combo feeding except the formula brands’ websites. Go figure. Anyway, it’s working for us and we’ve found a pretty good rhythm with a few bottles a day in addition to whatever he can get from me. He is gaining weight well, and I feel a ton better about where we’re at with this.
The other major change for us in the last week has been sleep. Hooray sleep! I was in a bad place with sleep when I last wrote. We were co-sleeping, with LO falling asleep on my chest after every feeding, being moved to beside me once he was good and asleep. And this worked for us for a while, but for at least a couple weeks it was not working nearly so well. I was waking whenever he stirred (and he is a very active sleeper, kinda like his mommy). In addition to his night feedings he was waking up routinely around 5 a.m. — for the day. This was not only impacting mine but also his sleep, and Chris’s. But I was stuck — I didn’t know how to break this pattern and find another way. We had a system of bouncing and chest sleeping and it was all I knew how to do at this point, but I also knew this was not sustainable. We’d all but given up on the bassinet, believing he couldn’t be reliably put down to sleep in it. But I had a chat with my doctor about post-partum depression and how things were going, and she gave me some strategies for moving LO off me and teaching him to get to sleep on his own. She felt if I got more sleep, I’d be doing much better (and she was right). So we kicked hubby out of the bedroom for a few nights and I put LO down to sleep on that side of the bed, not on me. This began to work almost immediately, and I went to sleep with him for a couple consecutive nights at 8 p.m.
Our first night went well with only a bit of crying, but we were up again for 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. feedings, and then up for the morning. The second night he skipped his 1 a.m. feeding, ate at 5 a.m. and even went back to sleep until about 8 a.m.! I couldn’t believe it. My doctor had said he could sleep through the night at this age, and that it would likely take just a few nights to adjust, but I didn’t expect it to transform our nights so quickly.
By the second day I also started reading the Sleep Sense Program, which was more or less the same advice my doctor had given, but in more detail and with more explanation. I had been under the impression that sleep training was something you couldn’t really do until your baby was older, say 5 months or so. But no, helping your LO learn how to fall asleep on his/her own is something you can do right from day one. We now have a baby that goes to bed at 8 p.m. without much struggle, and I have reclaimed a couple hours of time for myself in the evening. I feel great about what we’re doing — it feels right and like we tapped into the signals he was already giving us (he was already sleeping on my breast starting around 8 p.m. in the evenings, so we’ve simply harnessed that into a sleep schedule where he goes to bed without me). It feels wonderful to have a couple hours to myself in the evenings and to be getting good rest when I do go to bed. We now have LO sleeping in his bassinet again and hope to transition him to his own room and his own crib soon. I’d always intended to have him in his crib by about 3 months so I feel pretty good about where we’re at with this. I think we’ll all sleep better in our own spaces. Now if only we could cure Chris’s snoring…
The next major challenge is naps. I’ve tried putting him down for naps a couple times when he is very obviously tired, but he isn’t having it. He’ll cry and cry and cry. And I know I should try to wait him out but so far my capacity for this is an hour. He either naps my lap after feeding, or in the car, or out in the stroller, at the moment. Which means he’s not really getting that terribly long or restful naps. He has always been quite alert during the days, right from the start, so I suspect napping will be an ongoing challenge for us. I will keep trying to get him into a schedule of naps, but for now, it is what it is. I’m thanking the sleep gods for giving us our nights back so far.
I thank those who have expressed their concern because of my last couple blog posts. One thing I’ve heard over and over from other moms, especially those that have a few years under their belts ahead of me, is that no one talks about how hard it really is, adjusting to your new life, taking on a massive new role, being needed and depended upon 24/7 for everything, figuring out how to do almost everything in your life anew, except now with a needy little person in tow. Especially when we don’t always have the benefits of familial supports close by. It seems to me like we should talk about it more.
I still mourn my old life and how easy everything was — how I knew how to do things. My challenges with breastfeeding created a huge amount of anxiety about how to do anything — going out, going shopping, going to this or that medical appointment. I still have some of the anxiety but I feel a lot more capable now that I’ve had some sleep, and I’ve had some help from family and friends (when possible) in actually going out, which has built up my confidence that I can manage it. And I was developing anxiety about how to deal with our sleep problem, because I knew it was contributing to my falling to pieces over everything, but I didn’t know how to transition to something new. But here we are another week under my belt and experiencing massive improvements in the sleep department. This parenting thing is quite the learning curve. You think you’re going to be good at it — hope you are — and you never really know until you’re doing it. I guess it’ll always be like this and I better just get used to it, right?
Off to make the next day’s batch of formula…
Last time I managed to catch up with my blog I posted about how we had finally gotten breastfeeding going. Well it hasn’t been without its ups and downs. I hear this is pretty normal but I think for us it has been especially difficult.
My first Mothers’ Day started out very sweet: a little bit of extra time to sleep in, home made eggs Benedict and a gift of hand crafted earrings featuring Conri’s birthstone. But as the day wore on, it devolved into what I can only assume was a milk duct blockage that was incredibly painful, and resulted in Conri refusing to nurse that side (he may have been refusing to nurse that side which led to the blockage — it’s all a blur but I know he was extra fussy ahead of the blockage, and after). And the thing about a blockage is you need your baby to nurse to move it through. Once again I was in tears and questioning my commitment to this breastfeeding thing. It’s been almost nothing but challenges, and that one was awful. It was a full week of suffering — not so much the blockage, which after much research, massaging, hand expressing of milk and continued attempts to nurse worked itself out in a few days — but the remainder of the week I was beside myself with low milk supply issues and a baby who was unbelievably fussy on the breast. I fell apart emotionally. Coupled with concerns about weight gain expressed by my midwife and doctor, I was pretty sure I was ready to cry uncle.
In fact, every time we run into difficulties with this I question everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Like why I even wanted to do this parenting thing in the first place. I go down some dark tunnels exploring regrets and feelings I never thought I’d have. Like, my life is changed forever and I don’t like it, no sir. Like my entire identity has been whittled down to become a feeding and baby sitting machine that doesn’t get to sleep, barely carves out non-crying time to eat, and has virtually no time at all to do any of the things that make up who I am…who I was.
Now I know, I know, it gets better. Or so other parents tell me. And my rational brain mostly believes them. But my dark, pessimistic brain is often freaking right the hell out. And I feel horrible thinking such things. Because at the same time, this wee person I’m in charge of is also simply amazing. He is miraculous and beautiful. And I want nothing more than the best for him.
Is this something all new parents go through? It’s scary as hell and leaves me feeling raw and wiped almost all the time. The lack of sleep doesn’t help.
And this doesn’t even speak to the breastfeeding challenges we’ve had and all the convincing I have to do for myself to keep at it. The decision to keep going or change to bottles and formula is wreaking havoc on me. Things are marginally better today, and I am continuously told by the clinic that it’ll get better soon. But I’ve come a long way in my thinking about bottle feeding and the potential freedom it offers has become EVER SO TEMPTING. But then I start feeling guilt about that. Gawd I never imagined that the method I chose for feeding my child to become such a personal dilemma.
I’ve rarely, very rarely, experienced my son getting that fulfilled milk coma from breastfeeding. That only seems to happen when we top him up with formula. I don’t have leaking breasts; I don’t have a sensation of let down. I don’t notice a dramatic change between full or empty breasts. I usually end feeding sessions after 45 mins to an hour rather than Conri indicating he’s done. He would probably be there all day if I don’t. Often he fusses so much in the later part of the feeding that I just get worn out and tired of it all. They tell me to switch breasts 8 to 10 times each feeding because, supposedly, there’s a new let down each feed, and this builds milk supply. I don’t know. I don’t see it happening, and 8 to 10 switches is exhausting — not just for me but seemingly also for him, because each switch gets him more awake and often more wound up. The reality is I vacillate between letting him nurse as long as he wants on each breast (or rather as long as I can stand it) and trying to switch often.
We keep hatching a plan to keep on trying for the next … week … weekend … until the next clinic visit. And like I said, things seem to marginally improve here and there (until the next challenge arises). But I’m tired. So very tired of it. I don’t really even enjoy it like I had hoped we would. There’s not a lot of satisfaction that comes from trying to feed my child when it often is so fraught with mystery — is he getting enough? Will he start gaining weight soon? When will I have truly had enough of it? Maybe there’s an improvement right around the corner and if I stop now I’m short changing my child? Sigh. I don’t even necessarily believe that and I’ve had so many chats with people who have had similar experiences, who say don’t beat yourself up over it and whatever decision you make is the right one. And I’m not at all interested in being a martyr. I’ve gone over the pros and cons of both, over and over. And over again.
Anyway, I’ve yet to figure out if it’s time.
This video got me thinking about all the unspoken things about becoming a parent that no one ever tells you. There are so many more than the four they outline here, I think. So far, in my very short experience.
That’s it for now… back to my personal purgatory of keep on keeping on… until I decide what to do next… if I even have to decide? Sigh.
Hey there… just checking in. This Momming thing is hard.
So we have breastfeeding going — woot! Well sort of anyway. I’m still finding it massively frustrating at times but we’re sticking with it. We’re supplementing (still with the lactation aid) about 2-3 times a day with formula because my little man doesn’t seem to get enough from me. They say have faith that nature will do it’s thing and supply will meet demand, but I feel like we’re still waiting, a couple weeks into full breastfeeding. I’m trying to be patient but I have my moments.
Tomorrow Chris returns to work and I’m torn about it. This is seriously a two person job… at least two person in order to maintain my sanity. I’m impatient about how breastfeeding seems to not only be difficult to get established, but now that Conri is happily at the breast, just how long it takes to feed (easily an hour) and that he seems insatiable, often fussing a lot, especially if he was just on the breast and hour beforehand (or less) and that he’s not getting what he thinks should be served up. Having someone else to take him for 15 minutes here and there so I can do SOMETHING ELSE has been really important to staying cool headed. I’m sure this is not an exclusive experience I’m having, of course. But it’s hard all the same.
At the same time I do welcome the chance to at least try to establish some routines for our days. Conri doesn’t really sleep much during the day; any rest he does get is hard won through car or stroller rides (not always a guaranteed win) or by wearing him in a sling, which after an hour is killer on my back. It probably won’t happen right away but as we work through our time alone together I hope to find some techniques for getting him down for naps that don’t involve me rocking or touching/wearing him to be successful. Ha! So ambitious am I.
It’s been painful for me to watch the weather warm and the landscape green up. This is the third spring wherein I’ve not been able to do much gardening and I am so anxious about it. I (again) overly ambitious about what I might accomplish this spring. I have a few tomato plants, some peppers and onions I want to get planted. Maybe some lettuce and spinach too, if I don’t totally miss the coolest part of the spring. I also want to establish my herb garden in the back yard. Maybe by the end of the summer. Maybe.
Anyway, I wanted to share an article that I can totally relate to, now that I’ve made at least one foray out into the world via public transit. Denise Balkissoon posted this story a couple weeks ago in The Globe and Mail and it totally sums up my feelings on the issue: “Immobile like me: The inaccessible truth about public transit.” I’ve always felt I did what I could to fight for access for people with disabilities — mainly in my work as a communications expert. But certainly I do consider myself someone who thinks seriously about issues of accessibility. And then I got to really experience it for myself — what it’s like to navigate our city when you need to rely on elevators. Talk about hassle and stress. Not to mention what happens if you find yourself stuck with a broken elevator. It really makes me appreciate my mobility. Enjoy this great read.