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Memories Matter More Than Mess

Monday, December 13th, 2021

We bought a fixer-upper. Andrew proposed to me in this house in the main bedroom the day we took possession. While he was literally on his knees, Quincy pooped on the carpet in the livingroom. I came out of the room and said “I smell pet mess.” And thus began my constant battle to focus on the happy memories and not the gross stuff around me.

The house had been a rental for so many years that when the repairman came to fix the washer and dryer, he knew the machines and the last three tenants that lived here.

There have been so many problems with this house. Which isn’t even a house by the way. It’s a double wide trailer with an add-on.

It’s not obvious at first glance because it’s on a concrete foundation with painted wood siding and has roll roofing (full of leaks). But you sure can tell when you look up at the faded yellow plastic strips in the ceilings, moisture filled tin window sashes, and thin hollow wood panelled walls.

The addition is the livingroom and it is shaped exactly like a shoebox. The ceiling is just as dark and low as a cardboard lid too. There’s a doorway punched out of every single side, two of which go directly to the outdoors. Dirt and leaves are trampled in from every direction. It’s essentially a mudroom that we watch tv in.

The main bedroom is off this room. Double french doors divide the spaces. They don’t close properly and light and noise cut through the panes of glass. The water closet in there doesn’t even fit a sink. When I was pregnant I couldn’t even close the door when I was inside because the toilet was too close to the door swing.

The whole house is hard to describe and feels like a hodgepodge of handyman “temporary solutions” that the passing of time made into permanent mistakes. Because it’s mostly “open concept” when it gets disorganized it looks like someone picked the whole thing up, shook it and dropped it.

It’s deceptively small.

There’s a pizza box hot glued over a hole in the kitchen ceiling and I’ve painted it white. It’s not fooling anyone and it’s starting to sag. The sink is about to fall through the countertop. That pretty much sums up the kitchen. I’m purposely avoiding describing the washroom because it’s just a sad sad space with a mildew problem and a few families of spiders who don’t give you privacy when you shower.

I’m green with envy when I see moms post photos of their kids having bathtime in brand new white shiny tubs and beautiful tile surrounds. Not to mention livingrooms with soaring windows. Daylight just pouring in, flooding their clean white walls, their “ballet studio” floors awash with with celestial zen.

We can’t put too much money into this shack because we will never get it back out. But we also have to invest something into it because it’s our home and needs to be functional as one.

I have a list of problems with this house that goes on forever. But I remember that this is our home. And it’s full of memories. Not just problems.

When I first gave birth to Walter and our midwife was visiting, the house was in an even worse condition then it is today. No paint or flooring even. And dirty from the dogs.

I put it down. Cursed it and apologized for the state it was in. I didn’t want it to represent (to her) anything about me.

It certainly didn’t reflect the type of mom I envisioned myself to be, or my hard earned degree in interior design.

My house reflected nothing that represented anything about me- except the things I’m self conscious about.

How it’s our first house and was so hard to even get approved for a mortgage because of that. How we had false starts, and even lived with my parents to scrimp and save. How even then, we barely had any actual money to buy it with. We had to take what we could get. How I was exhausted from university (I went back when I was 30-35 and had already been through school in my twenties) I was burned out. Honestly, how overworked I was in that program made me despise interior design and never want to go back. So the house sat untouched longer than I wanted it to.

The midwife didn’t know any of that. She just knew what to say. She stopped me and said,

“This is your home. Do not put down your home. This is YOUR home. And it’s perfect.”

And she was right.

I instantly felt self conscious that many new moms don’t even have a house to call their own.

There have been generations of different families living here in this very home since the 1980’s. Maybe even a family or two that desperately didn’t want to leave it. And that this house, as slap-happy as I feel it was built upon and repaired over the years, has kept people safe and alive and housed from the elements.

When our real estate agent was showing us the house, she said she remembered playing here as a girl. When her little friend lived here it was newly renovated in the best of late eighties fashion. She remembered thinking it was “so fancy.”

This house is all my children know. This is their home. I don’t want to put down their house.

Most of their childhood will be spent here and we are making the best of it. I’m hoping with each little improvement they are thinking it’s pretty darn “fancy” too.

I’m updating it, chipping away at it. Hanging wallpaper adorned with woodland creatures, painting antiques and sprinkling magic every time I make a new design decision.

I’m making memories in the mess.

I will never stop cursing it occasionally or reminding my visitors when they come over that it is “a work in progress” and that I have “so many plans and ideas” for it.

There’s something so vulnerable about inviting new people into the space wherein you live. Especially if it doesn’t reflect who you are, where you have been or what you envision for your future.

It’s a daily exercise on gratitude and humility. It’s a daily reminder that it is ridiculous and false to think you really know anyone based on the home they have or how they keep it.

Miserable people on the brink of divorce live in gorgeous expensive houses. An exquisite condo in a sky scraper can feel like a freezing dark hole in the middle of the ground if the love you shared it with, suddenly, is gone.

Sad, heartbroken children will keep their bedrooms tidy if they are scolded enough.

As my father (who is a retired professional in the field of domestic violence prevention and education) likes to remind me,

“The state of a home doesn’t tell you the whole story of what really happens within those walls. Men who beat their wives (and children) can have the most meticulously mowed lawns and the cleanest most orderly houses.”

That has also always stuck with me.

Houses aren’t always a measure of success either. I have friends in million dollar houses bought by their parents and they’ll never tell you that outright.

I have brilliant and remarkably hardworking friends steeped in the modern day reality that they may never be home owners. Costs nowadays are outlandish. You could simply be living somewhere where it’s cut and dry—there just aren’t enough houses for everyone.

We shouldn’t be so quick or bold to judge anyone- because really, a house is just a container for the people and relationships inside it.

Abundance, joy and love abound here. That’s what nobody can tell by looking at our house.

How the dining room is really mostly a dance hall, the livingroom is a comedy club or movie theatre, and the kitchen is the best restaurant in town. The bedrooms are where we all cuddle, rest and heal and the bathroom? You’d never know by looking at its condition, but (to the kids) its a trip to the waterpark. They play in the bath for hours. They don’t see the mildew or cracked tiles and outdated faucets or stained tub surround.

And this is just one of so many lessons mothering my children has taught me.

On days where the mess really gets to me, especially when there are no corners to hide from it- or doors to close, and it has just all become too much, my mom will pick me up in her car.

We will strap the kids in their carseats and drive around the island where I see nothing but the beautiful, yet chaotic perfection that is the natural landscape.

The forrest envelopes us with all it’s stages of decay, fallen trees and jagged stumps filled with bugs. We will drive down to the shoreline and stare at the vast expanse that is made up of slimy and slick rock piles dotted with clusters of sharp barnacles. The driftwood full of tangled smelly seaweed that the stormy waves have strewn about.

The natural environment is infinitely kaleidoscopic and ever changing. It is at once totally chaotic and bursting with art and beauty. My little family and I are no different. There are days when we’ve been slapped by a windstorm, or days where we are as calm and clear as a serene pond with water as still as glass.

We can find connection and joy by existing in all types of places. By being together in the here and now. Everything of real value is available at anytime, regardless of the state of your home. Because it isn’t about the physical structure. It’s about the simple act of weathering the storms with the ones we love. The people inside our rooms, whatever they look like, and the story of our lives that we write together.

The place where memories matter more than mess.

Motherhood and the Pandemic Part I – The Big Grey Area & The Decision to Vaccinate

Monday, September 13th, 2021

I’m a breastfeeding mother. I got vaccinated. Because of the COVID vaccines roll-out, people have pretty much stopped dying. The statistics are irrefutable. These are facts. Read that again-
People have stopped dying!

But listen-up. Here’s another fact- there simply is not enough adequate science for many pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to feel safe regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

So please think about this when you judge, pressure or berate pregnant and breastfeeding women. We aren’t in the same category as Joe down the street.

We don’t know if it travels out of our arm muscles into our breastmilk, we don’t know how it effects our babies in utero. We have no science on how it effects children under the pre-teen age in the long term. We can’t know this right now. Go try and find science for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers on the spike protein. You won’t find much. The little science that is out there is on small groups and short-term data. And no, this isn’t an antivax conspiracy theory.

This isn’t an antivax anything.

It’s just the truth.

So, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are taking a huge leap of faith. We are backed by the last year of anecdotal success stories. Large governing bodies that look after the health of huge populations will tell all of us to vaccinate because right now in this moment, the science of this vaccine is indisputably lifesaving on the population whole. However, we are still injecting our bodies with a vaccine that has characteristics unlike any other vaccine before. It’s a unique position pregnant and breastfeeding mothers find ourselves in. One unlike any other generation. Also choosing to vaccinate our children.

One of the reasons I started Mothering It Out (my blog of art and essays) is because us pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, are in a special category.

We are an understudied population medically (and psychologically).

Socially, we are at once invisible and highly visible in inaccurate ways in terms of media representation.

We’re portrayed as if motherhood is an effortless joyful fantastic experience all women want for themselves. Or, that it’s a horrible body wrecking postpartum depression and anxiety inducing experience.
Truthfully– it’s everything. All of the above, none of the above and just some weird random place in between- the big grey area.

We have the pressure to make the kind of life altering decisions that no other human has to make when we grow human life in our bodies and feed these lives with our bodies. We are scrutinized, held accountable and judged and looked at under a microscope from every direction. We put immense pressure on ourselves to do the right thing. We learned very early on, that our bodies don’t just belong to us- and our decisions don’t just affect us. They have intergenerational impacts. And we as matriarchs bear the brunt of the blame.

The pandemic has had extraordinary invisible effects on mothers.

Our inner thoughts fraught with life and death loops that keep us awake at night, as if the crying children’s wakings aren’t doing that enough. False information riddled and emotionally charged social media groups become our main resource for support and information but also stress.

Additionally, the position we’ve been put in to make this choice during one of the most emotionally vulnerable and stressful times in our lives cannot be discounted. It is a scarcely spoken about- extremely difficult choice for us to inject ourselves and lives we are carrying inside ourselves.

Labelled as an ignorant anti-vaxxer for having any sort of a critical lens, being sent well-intentioned relentless messages that “…The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and more than a dozen other medical organizations recommend that all pregnant and breastfeeding women get the vaccine.” The expectation that when we read that, we sit down and shut-up and get the poke. When the repercussions will be experienced by us and our children directly with a ripple effect to infinity and beyond. I’m all for trust, but not blind trust. This is a good way to be as mother. Especially when diligence to research reveals that science is scant, and contradictory for *our* demographic.

It should be said that, it is a remarkable and admirable choice we do make to get the vaccine. It is thankless like so much of motherhood in general.

Here’s where I, as a mother, stand.

I believe we should be leaders and role models. Not just to the population at large that we are in a precarious interconnection to- but to our children who will learn from the type of humans we are.

It is an ethical responsibility of the individual to protect the health and wellbeing of the collective if the consequences to the individual is minute compared to the catastrophic costs to the whole. We are all interconnected. We are one planet, we are one people. That said- if the individual is harmed irreparably by vaccination they have the right to protect their health.

We are polarized in this vaccine debate because the interpretation of “personal harm” is wide open. Misinformation and fear mongering is an epidemic. Mistrust of governing health organizations is widespread. Alternative views have grown into a “pro ‘other vaccines’ but anti covid vaccine” counter culture.

The truth is though… unless we have a coordinated collective action as a population together we will not be able to stop the spread of this virus. Everyone’s personal rights to freedom will be quashed. Those who have the right to not be exposed and potentially killed by a deadly virus, and those who see the vaccine as too risky a measure.

We are already seeing case counts, hospitalizations and deaths go way down with very few, rare negative side effects to vaccine recipients. Vaccination is working. The covid vaccine is indisputably saving lives. It is because of the courage, honour and respect toward fellow members of our one race (the human race) that more of us haven’t lost our treasured loved ones or perished ourselves. Despite aversions and anxiety about the unknowns I myself have aligned myself with the majority, taken a leap of faith and been vaccinated. At the end of the day I simply couldn’t see how we could have a vibrant, healthy, free and prospering human race if we as individuals didn’t think about how our personal choices effect entire populations. For better or for worse.

We Are All Wrong – Sleep Training Wars

Wednesday, January 6th, 2021

So, Why Are We Fighting Anyway?

We all have a bias! Whether it is conscious or not. This is definitely inciting all these sleep training wars.

A Facebook mom’s group post says “put your baby to bed however you feel best mommas but, here’s a huge whack of studies that prove no harm whatsoever comes from sleep training.”

Another post says “there’s not nearly enough support and encouragement for anti-sleep trainers…” then continues, “ judgement  to people who do it!”

Not surprisingly both posts had the comments switched off almost instantaneously. The first mom “sweetly” adding later “…I see that my very neutral post is getting ‘mom-shaming’ so I’m going to go ahead and close all comments now.”

Infuriating! Not just because I had retorts locked and loaded, but because you can’t call something neutral when it’s steeped in bias. It’s pretty obvious who was pro and who was anti-sleep training. It’s these sorts of mom posts that start wars, and they never properly get finished because usually the post is a grenade toss and run sort of thing.

Also, have we forgotten to be compassionate? I think we’re all just a little too self-righteous. It’s good to remember almost every mom in mother’s groups is trying her best. I’ve caught myself in the act of (unintentionally) hurting other moms feelings on this topic before. I refuse to do it again because it feels crummy. At the end of the day, if I met any of these moms in person, I know we’d probably be fast friends. Or at least have camaraderie about our pregnancy and child rearing experiences overall.

What Are the Anti-Sleep Trainers Saying?

People who are “against sleep training” are not usually against all forms. Usually just the extinction method or “Cry-It-Out.” They are against the idea of leaving your baby to cry for long periods of time, whether it is night time or daytime. They say it feels wrong on a primal level to let them cry without intervening. That we have an instinct to respond to crying infants and it goes against nature to repress that urge. They believe that by ignoring babies you are sending the message that you are not available to help them when they are suffering and this is traumatizing. It can create attachment disorders which are not visible until adolescence or adulthood. These are no small thing- they are theorized to be a reason behind anxiety, depression and addiction.

What are the Pro-Sleep Trainers Saying?

People who are pro sleep training often don’t feel there is enough hard evidence to prove letting their baby cry it out causes attachment disorders. They feel they are executing a standard practice. Or, they feel the consequences from being chronically under-slept outweigh the consequences of a baby enduring the CIO method. Often they are struggling in terms of having support. They either have multiple children, a job that has no flexibility, or numerous other confounding factors that make tending to the baby multiple times during the night an impossibility. Many of these families do not have extended family support, the financial means or physical access to an overnight nanny, or any kind of help. These mothers even mention that their mental health status makes the extinction method their only option.

Why it Gets Muddled

In many ways, not having to sleep train your child is a privilege not all moms have. You could even say that most moms don’t have any other option, especially since most moms work, or have more than one child who struggles to stay asleep. This is probably why it seems as though sleep training is just normal, and why you can feel isolated in your choice not to sleep train. It’s hard to know how many moms sleep train because they have no other choice, and how many do it because they actually believe it is beneficial to their baby. The attachment disorder theories are also linked to other forms of parenting neglect so it’s difficult to separate all the factors. There’s also all sorts of shame about the method you choose, fake bravado, or defensiveness because it’s such a touchy topic.

Why We Are All Wrong… All Of Us!

What both pro and anti sleep trainers need to understand is that in reality there is no proper data and no science to support either choice in the long run. Every study “that shows sleep training has no negative consequences” stops looking at a child around the age of five. And there are no studies looking at the damage a crying baby does to a mother’s mental health, or to the family structure (economic and otherwise) when it goes on for months without intervention.

-Zero studies have monitored the outcome and consequences (for or against) sleep training past children of kindergarten age.

-Zero studies have looked at how a mother’s mental health is affected after she endures sleep training her child when she didn’t want to.

-Zero studies measured the consequences (positive or negative) to the families as a whole after sleep training.

Why We Need To Stop Fighting About It

We all want sleep! We all really really want sleep! And–no matter what side you are on trying to get that sleep, there is a burden of proof that cannot be fulfilled with long-term scientific data. This leaves the many different sleep-time approaches up to the discretion of mothers and families themselves.

This is where we as moms need to decide if it’s worth waging war on one another, or if it’s probably best to support each mom in each individual circumstance the best we can. Placing careful attention on the mother who in either scenario has crazy challenges she has to face, and never wins a prize either way.  Always sacrificing something in the name of motherhood.

And at the end of the day, this is why we have these mother’s groups. To be a network of encouragement through all the unknowns and often thankless trials and tribulations of parenthood.

..and stop turning-off those comment sections willy-nilly! Debate and discourse are a vital part of hashing out these controversial issues. After-all, this is one of the ways we are “mothering it out.”