Monday, 16 March 2015

Our Little Liturgical Year -- Part I

One thing that I really enjoy about these early years of being a mum is building our family traditions. There is such a wealth to draw on between childhood memories, the different cultures we’ve been exposed to, and our faith traditions.

The liturgical year, as we practice it as Catholics, fits with the rhythm of the seasons. Advent, that great period of longing, waiting, & preparation comes in those last few weeks of winter when the nights are darkest, and at Christmas we welcome the infant Christ, light of the world, while we notice the slight lightening of the evenings after the Winter Solstice. Easter falls with the first rush of spring, especially here, and the little buds sprouting on empty branches or the green shoots pushing up amongst the brown sludge of winter’s remains provide the perfect setting to meditate on death, life, & rebirth. Aside from these four longish periods in our year there are all the little feasts & solemnities to celebrate, a way weaving our family life into the greater life of the Church. This year, for example, I am going to find a way for us to start marking the Feast of St Anthony, our family’s patron saint.

Of course, being a busy mum of two toddlers it is necessary to retain some reality & prudence when marking out our feasts & fasts. The children are keen to join in with activities, but they have little attention spans & very big propensities for making messes & distractions. There is always a lot that I can accomplish in my imagination, but I’ve found that a less-is-more approach works the best right now. There will always be time to build on our activities as they grow. I know that these are just quick & little ideas, but I’ve found that even a small change in routine is enough to inspire toddlers with excitement & interest. It’s the first step to teaching them to let their faith alter how they live their lives, and it gives us a really fun way to interact as a family.

The Smallest Scale:

Every Sunday is for feasting! I’ve noticed that the Catholic world really loves the post-Mass doughnut, and there is usually no exception in this house (or at least the post-Mass banana muffin for the smallest members of the family). The children aren’t yet involved in dinner too much, because the things I make aren’t high on the toddler approval list, but I do try to shake up their regular eating routine as well & do something fun when I can. David & I usually indulge in some form of Sunday Roast (a great British tradition that I’ve been happy to bring back to Canada—the leftovers are repurposed into another meal or two for following weeks) and I’ve been documenting this on Instragram under #wias (What I Ate Sunday).

The opposite of Sunday, every Friday is for penance as we mark the weekday of Christ’s crucifixion & death. Like the majority of our fellow Catholics, we abstain from meat on this day. We are out in the world enough that it often does feel like a sacrifice – my office’s cafeteria always seems to smell like bacon all day on Friday and there are enough special events involving food on Fridays that it is not always the easy road to take. But I like doing something that allows us to live our faith without having to make a big showy deal of it -- and it certainly has prompted a few conversations with people who know that we regularly are happy to be carnivores. I also think it’s important as a reminder of how lucky we are to be able to choose not to eat meat, rather than having that choice thrust upon us by poverty. Of course, Friday is also our family fun night, so we’ve tried to find a way to incorporate that in—most Fridays we make pizza from scratch. It’s something fun we can do together and which can be easily tweaked to include meat for some but not all when non-Catholic friends & family join us for the evening.


The Catholic world has a gamut of different things to do to celebrate Advent at home. It’s a season of repentance & preparation, that time of great longing when we realise how much we need salvation & wait to welcome Christ at Christmas. In our house:

  • David is allowed to start playing Christmas music on the First Sunday of Advent, but we don’t put any decorations up until Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent)
  • This year we celebrated the Feast of St Nicholas with chocolate Santas & Christmas pajamas. The kids put their shoes on the window for St Nicholas to fill. We have a little talk about who St Nicholas is and about how he is going to bring presents to help us celebrate Jesus’ birthday:
Sneaking into their room to put presents on the windowsill while they slept was no small feat!
  • We have been transient for so long that investing in an advent wreath hasn’t seemed prudent. Thus a family tradition was born – each year we make our advent wreath. Ideally we forage on a nature walk for winter greenery with which to weave it, but this year the pickings seemed a bit sparse (although next year I know where to harvest my holly!) so we hit up the dollar store. We aren’t always great with remembering to light the candles, since toddlers + fire are not the best combination and it can be difficult to find a good place to keep the wreath lit, but the kids are always excited to be involved in the project and really love lighting the candles & saying the prayers.
"Ducks", bows, and bells -- Can you tell that toddlers picked these decorations?
We can enjoy fire when Baby Annie's contained. Walter kept telling me that it was hot. 
  • chocolate filled Advent Calendars to help us count the days until Baby Jesus’ birthday party.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Annie's 1st Birthday

My darling chuffle-bug,

It seems so hard to believe that you are already one. I sure understand why the babies in the family always get babied. You are still so small & precious, even if you’re turning into a toddler at an alarming rate.

Your birthday morning
When I look at you, it’s hard to believe that you were such a tiny, helpless little thing such a short time ago. I still remember holding you all night in the hospital, trying to warm you back up after your UV treatment. These days you are often too busy to sit for a hug, but I know not to worry about that too much – once you learn that the world will always be there to explore I know you’ll be ready to cuddle again.

You are such a funny little girl. You like to dress up in ribbons, bows, & fancy dresses but it is often pot-luck as to whether a stranger will get one of your beautiful smiles or a goblin-growl when they compliment you. Perhaps you’re just tired of hearing about what beautiful eyes you have! You are a very determined little girl and you like to believe that you’re in charge. When we displease you, you try to smack us & shout, but then either immediately apologise or run off telling us “no Annie, no Annie!”

You are very good at talking and can express your desires with little trouble. You pretend mischief more than you actually cause it. You love to sit & read books and to play with your baby dolls & stuffed animals, although you’re happy to drive trucks & trains whenever Walter is not looking. You are a complete & total daddy’s girl, although when it comes to drinking milk & having snugggles in the middle of the night only mummy will do.

There is so much less worrying with a second baby. It has been a delight to be able to relax and enjoy your baby ways while we get to know you. Walter adores you, when he's not fighting with you, and names the prettiest character on all his shows "Baby Annie". You are a special, special little precious, a bundle of sweetness & light, and we cannot imagine life without you.



And a few shots from Annie's Afternoon Tea Garden Party:

Nana pulled out a selection of her finest china for us to use!

Bunny cakes!

Your ladybug pendant, all the way from Israel

Monday, 12 January 2015

What I meant to say on our anniversary (August 7th wasn't that long ago, right?)

I began penning this on our four year anniversary. I’d been up since somewhere around 3am. First the baby woke me up. Then, just as I was falling back asleep, David woke me up with his coughing & blanket scrounging. Summer colds – no fun for anyone. By 5am I figured I might as well give up on trying to get back to sleep, since the wee sma’s always give me terrible anxiety if I’m laying awake trying to sleep.

I’ve reckoned it up: 4 years married, in which we lived in 3 different countries, had 2 babies, and completed 1 PhD. As David jokingly reminded someone yesterday, we’ve been living out of suitcases for the past five years. So I’ve summed up the past four years as “not easy, but worth it”.

And now it’s quarter to ten at night on our anniversary. My plan for the day – let David sleep in until 10 or 11 and then get him to watch the kids while I took a nap. We’d have a nice relaxing day at home and then head into town for an early supper with Deacon Harrison, Walter’s Godfather, in order to celebrate Walter’s recent birthday. I’d come home refreshed & relaxed and spend part of the evening finding the perfect balance of romance & reality for this post.

In actual fact, I spent the majority of the day at the hospital. David woke up seriously ill. I drove him to the hospital and helped him check in to Emerg, then drove off with the kids to find lunch, then drove back to find out what was up, and then waited with two well behaved but not easy kids. And then it turns out that David has double pneumonia....

This brings me back around to where my thoughts were heading this morning, when I couldn’t find the words to say what I wanted to. I wanted to sell you, and my future self, the idea that with the right person marriage is easy. That with the right person at your side, you can fight the good fight & weather the storm without really having to deal with the messiness of reality. That good communication means always making the right decision & never struggling. I wanted to look back at these past four years of marriage, these past ten years together, and say YES – life is perfect and has always been perfect and will always be perfect because we are together.

That’s not reality. Reality is that marriage, like most of the things worth having in life, is a battle, and it seems to be that we either choose to fight with each other or to unite & fight against the world. And it’s messy and it’s hard and it’s not always easy and it’s so much far from the perfection I aspire to. That’s the price we pay for daring to experience life rather than observe it.

Even with all the struggles & difficulties & uncertainties & sleepless nights, we manage to have fun. We’re always going out on adventures and we’ve never let anything stop us from enjoying our time together. We share our love of books & music & movies. I never thought I’d find someone whose interests so closely aligned with mine. I’m sure David never thought he’d manage to find someone who actually enjoyed living in a sea of books & records (we’re never short of things to read or listen to!). We usually understand each other’s sense of humour & our views on religion, politics, & family life are pretty close.

It’s been over ten years since our first date and there are still surprises. There is still that necessity to learn to balance two similar but different personalities: introvert & extrovert, literal & hyperbolic, sense & sensibility...

I’ve been short on words to newlyweds lately. My life has just seemed a bit too difficult & depressing to want to burden those starting on their hopeful voyage with my doses of hard reality. But I think, if anything, I would tell my newlywed friends to stay strong & committed to the promises they made. The hard times will come & go & come again and they are not a sign of failure. They are just the inevitable price we pay for choosing to live.

The picture is almost a year old and it's the best I could do for one of both of us sans-children. Oops!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Walter's Second Birthday (only 5 months late...but I started writing it in August!)

My darling Walter,

Today you are two years old! Time has certainly flown and it is so disconcerting to see you acting more & more like a “big boy” and needing me less & less for the basics (like moving you from place to place or eating). You certainly know your own mind and are very quick to let people know that you mean business when you’ve expressed “mo” or “yeah”.

Every day with you is a delight and parenting you is becoming less of a mystery now that you can communicate a little better. You are most definitely Mommy’s Little Man and we usually spend an hour or more snuggled together, reading books, watching a show or taking a nap. You really get drawn into your playtime and love lining up & parking all of your trucks (arrrrrrrrrrrrrr), trains (eeeeeeeeeeeee), and cars (spee bars). Your sister drives you mental because she makes constant chaos of your ordered world, but you are very loving to her when you relax enough to stop worrying about what she’s going to destroy next.

You love going to Mass and identify anything related to it as a “Jeezaba”. You usually sit on Daddy and act like a perfect little gentleman. You’ve learned to say “alleluia” so we try to get you to follow along, but mostly you prefer to soak it all in and occasionally stack the hymnbooks.

Ash Wednesday, 2014
Trains are your absolute favourite thing. You’ve been riding on them since you were seven weeks old and you are becoming a fast collector of all things train-related. I loved surprising you with a Thomas the Tank Engine birthday party because you were so excited with all the train decorations that Uncle Johnny had designed for you. You were a good little host and your guests had a wonderful time.

After your ride on the Stanley Park Miniature Train in July -- You were reluctant to leave!
You’ve been hitting or surpassing all of your milestones. Lately your talking has really taken off and it’s fun listening to you come out with your own thoughts & phrases, instead of just mimicking what we try to get you to say. You love to play jokes on us & can always be counted on for a good laugh.

You are a little shy of strangers & no one can make you be friendly to anyone you don’t want to be around, although we’re working on acceptable ways of communicating that. Once you get to know people, however, you are a friendly & constant companion.

Two years ago, you crashed into my world and you’ve had me racing to catch up with you ever since. I treasure so many memories with you, like our special time together sightseeing in Berlin or the “Mummy & Walter” time we share when ‘Baby Annie’ is taking a nap. Daddy calls you a special little boy & he is 100% accurate in that!


 And a few shots from Walter's Thomas the Tank Engine Birthday Party:

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Unplanned Hiatus

I’ve been absent from this blog for too long. It was not intentional, but a combination of life being insanely busy and a computer that is really hit & miss with which wireless connections it will use. But apparently it’s willing to connect to our home internet now, so I’m back! So much easier to write blog posts when i can actually publish them from my own computer.

Much has changed in a few (six?) brief weeks. We found a place to live in Burnaby (bedfellow with Vancouver proper in BC), moved, and are in the next stage of the “what now” bit that comes after a chapter closes. David is now officially Dr Dave, or Dr Daddy, depending on who is addressing him. I’ve had a lot of fun tagging “Dr” onto things with his name on them.
Lots more to come, so watch this space!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Parenting Two under Two/Dr Marshall's 5 Tips

I’ve been meaning to write on impressions about parenting for awhile, but it’s been hard to do without sounding like a complete jerk (here are a list of things that people say/do that piss me off) or a sanctimonious prick (this is how wonderful life with children is blahblahblah). This is, of course, because raising children (or doing anything else in life) has its good days and its bad days and the truth is often somewhere in the middle.

Then Fr John at Blog of a Country Priest (one of my favourite priest blogs) posted a link to this excellent article by Dr Taylor Marshall. An article giving tips for young people raising large families? I’m there! The article is worth a read even if you don’t have kids or a large family, as I think his tips are sensible for living a life that errs on the side of happiness. His comments on mentors, or what I might term community, really struck home. My biggest attraction lately? Blogs (or articles) by other people with large young families. Since we only have two kids, following the trials, tribulations, and jubilations of those with more than two always makes my life look easier. But because we have two-under-two, I don’t feel guilty when I compare my chaos to other people’s, because I feel we’re all in the trenches together. It’s a form of camaraderie.

See, I've realised that people who don’t have little children, or a lot lot lot lot LOT of children, forget reality pretty quickly. It’s like that cliche about giving birth – it hurts like hell but you forget it as soon as its over. That’s why it’s so annoying to hear things like “treasure this time – it passes so quickly” or “your generation likes to complain a lot” when you talk/complain/vent about the insanity. Both of these statements can provide a useful reality check but if I lock you in a room with a tantruming Walter and fussy Emily during the afternoon when both kids seem to be perpetually needing diaper changes and food and constant entertainment ALL AT ONCE, just see how much of your moment-cherishing-not-complaining spirit remains. It takes some time to recover from the battle and return to that happy state where we are reminded yet again of what blessings children are. Unfortunately for those of us in this season for life, the chaos, which is relatively short lived in the human life cycle, is blissfully forgotten by those well meaning, or not so well meaning, commentators. Which, if you think about it, is pretty good news because it means we’ll probably also forget just how crazy it was (unless we have so many kids that it becomes permanently engrained in our memory).

Didn't ask for cheerios. Was given them anyway.
Another great point from Dr Marshall’s article was about counting all things you complete in a day, instead of focusing on what you failed to do. I know that my days end on a great note when I remind myself of everything I did do rather than letting all the stuff I didn’t do drag me down. In fact, my house may be messier but I am turning into a better housekeeper because I actually take the time to clean in when I have a chance. I’m an introvert who recharges by sitting and reading books/sewing/watching a movie so after a fourty-hour work week it was always difficult to find the energy to clean. Now that I spend a lot of time watching the babies with one eye and reading books with the other, it’s a nice break to go scrub or vacuum.

This journey with two little babies is teaching me that I have to let go and turn things over to God’s timing. Rather than a “to-do” list I have a “hope to accomplish” list. If things aren’t getting done, I pray about the list & ask God to help me accomplish the things that are important. It seemed silly at first but I found that not only did it work, it helped me relax about the things that weren’t getting done. Of course it also involved honesty on my side – in return for God’s help with my day, I had to make the conscious decision to be a good steward of my time.

Dr Marshall also talks about ensuring that both parents get enough sleep. With Walter, although I was pregnant with Emily and therefore always feeling exhausted, it wasn’t that hard to sleep when Walter slept if I needed the extra rest. But with two babies it is certainly harder to get a complete rest. And I know that my marriage suffers when we’re short on sleep. It’s so easy to take everything personally when I’m tired, and I also have no patience to do anything but push through the day. It isn’t always possible for us to get enough rest, although we try to help each other, but it is important to remember that the days when one of us is super tired are the worst days for problem-fixing. I get frustrated, because sometimes it feels that waiting for the right moment to talk about important things can take weeks, but important discussions when one of us is exhausted are almost always an exercise in futility. And I’ve found that if it’s something pressing & important it works best to have all my points layed out in advance, so that no precious time is wasted & I can easily communicate what needs to be said, and to pray that God will give us a chance to talk & make a decision.

What I find helps me the most is to remember that married life, and all it has brought with it, is my vocation. It’s more than just a job – it’s the path God has put me on to help me grow in holiness. When I lose sight of this it is easy to indulge in self-pity and frustration. Taking care of small demanding humans who can’t say “I love you” or even “thank you” does not make each day feel rewarding. The repetitive chores of housework can often feel maddening, especially when I find myself cleaning up the same mess over and over again. And, of course, this life is so counter cultural. I like to think that my career-life had a bit of glamour to it – trips down to London to work in the corporate office, helping the police with their investigations, giving advice to multinational companies & major airlines... life before kids seems like life on a different planet.

Oh the glamor -- a pool table AND a Foosball table in the lunch room
Then I think about what it means to embrace married life, to embrace openness to life, as my vocation. I’m called to serve my family. I think that this is counter cultural – as a 21st century woman, I feel like I should be fighting this idea, especially as it’s currently defined in my reality of cooking & cleaning.  Then I think about Christ washing the feet of the disciples. I take care of my family because I love them, but on the days when I don’t feel a lot of that love coming back I remember that I also take care of my family because I love Jesus. When a good day comes to an end, I go to bed feeling positive & happy. And when a bad day comes to an end, I try to do the prudent thing and remind myself that loving & serving this family of mine is my calling. I might feel that no one is noticing my sacrifices, stress, & exhaustion, but I know that God is watching every virtuous & unselfish action of mine and encouraging me to continue on. Repeating a dose of selflessness & sacrifice on a daily basis is only going to help me grow.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Unplanned Parenthood

I’ve got all these thoughts on babies and “openness to life” floating around in my head. Having two kids so closely together has sort of lumped us into the “large families” category, even though two isn’t really that large. But of course if we managed to crazily produce two within 12 months of each other, who knows what madness we’re capable of!

Although I’m passionate about natural family planning (NFP), going into long explanations about trying to live a life, to have a marriage, that is open to life is never something that I’ve wanted to get into in the fleeting situations that bring up most of the comments about our intended family size. I usually just smile and say something affirmative when people assume we’re trying for a lot of kids, but lately I’ve started to be honest. And my honesty seems to be putting people into a position of not knowing what to say next. How many kids do we want?

We don’t know.

Crazy, isn’t it? In a culture that is so heavy about planning your [perfect] family, we’re operating without a plan.

Sure, numbers get bandied about. I always liked the idea of having four kids. Two girls and two boys. David, meanwhile, teases me about double digits. But we’ve never come up with a number at which we’ll look at our family and say “now it’s complete”. I don’t think we ever will. It sounds like the opposite of everything my organized, plan-loving heart wants, but it’s actually very freeing to not have this all planned out. I am too easily trapped by my own plans. I don’t shift gears that well and often have to remind myself that a change is ok. So planning NOT to have a plan actually works great for me, because it makes it easier for me to handle reality.

My pregnancy with Emily did rock my confidence with how much I thought I knew about my body. I’d had a choice to make – follow the advice my instructor had given me, prior to Walter’s birth, if I wanted to keep using the method to prevent pregnancy during that tricky period after birth/breastfeeding, or take a gamble in assuming things were back to normal before they were. But you know what? A surprise pregnancy at a time in life when most people would’ve said having kids was the dumbest thing ever was NOT the end of the world. There are moments when being a mom is so utterly exhausting and thankless that it feels like the end of the world, but now that this first year and chapter of “two under two” is drawing to a close it’s getting better & better. I’m glad that God had other ideas to my more rigid plans on child spacing. Emily took all the broken pieces of last year and made them work together, providing our family with a way of staying together while giving David the chance to finish his PhD. When I look at how everything has worked out so far it is so clearly God’s planning, not ours, just in the perfection of each little event that had to happen at just the right moment in time.

Crazy, messy life but totally worth it -- and hard to believe that was almost a year ago!!