Relating to parents with fewer (than 9) children


I went fishing for blog topics on Facebook and as always, my friends were more than generous with their suggestions. Someone asked me two very good and related questions:

– How do you respectfully communicate with parents who are sometimes and/or all the times overwhelmed with a single child or two, when you have many (ie; not pulling the “you have it easy” card and edifying and respecting them as parents)?

– Likewise, how should those with a singleton respectfully communicate with you and your family?

I found these questions interesting because my problem is usually the opposite: people with smaller families are afraid to complain to me about their problems because they assume that I have it worst, or they apologize for feeling overwhelmed. In other words, they project their own feelings of inadequacy unto me. My challenge is not to communicate respectfully with them but to convince them that I understand.

How should people communicate with me? Respectfully is always appreciated. But if I’m allowed a second request, it would be to stop calling me (A) a Saint/Hero, or (B) Crazy. It makes me really uncomfortable to be called a saint because I’m not. I have character flaws the size of Texas, and I have been born into so much privilege I would be insufferable had I not allowed the size of my family to humble me a little. Being called crazy is just insulting. It’s probably better to err on the side of making me really uncomfortable by calling me a saint than insulting me by calling me insane. But I’m at a point where I avoid telling strangers how many children I have because intelligent conversation tends to die there. And that’s not cool because my family is my life’s work and I am immensely proud of it. Ask me anything and I’ll talk your ear off (just like I’m doing right now). Don’t just stand there with your mouth agape calling me a Saint or a Nut.

I think it’s important for everyone to know that I’ve been overwhelmed since 1996. I was struggling with two children, and with three children, and with four children… you get the idea. Nature abhors a vacuum and when given 24h, each one of us fills them to the brim. We used to wash clothes and dishes by hand and we thought that inventing the washing machine and the dishwasher would free us up. But instead of enjoying the extra time, we replaced homemaking chores with work chores. When a promotion gives us more disposable income we incur more expenses. We fill our houses with stuff and when we get a bigger house, we get more stuff. If we can’t get a bigger house, we rent a condo for our stuff (Dymon anyone?) Whether we fill the void with activities, worries or things, we take our 24h and 3 lbs of brain and use them to the max.

People feel like they have their hands full with one child because they do. It’s not my place to tell them how their hands should be full or to pass judgment on the wisdom or advisability of filling their 24h the way they do. When it comes to time in a day or in a year, we’re all dealt the same hand. Time is the great equalizer.

The truth is, I love people, and I love diversity. I love how in the words of Don Henry sung by Miranda Lambert:

Ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning
It takes all kinds of kinds.”

Listen, I have 9 children spread over 18 years. I’ve been pregnant 11 times in the last 22 years. I have been entirely focused on my family at the exclusion of everything else. If everyone was like me, the world would not be a better place. We would be missing a lot of art, a lot of excellence, a lot of invention, a lot of service and a lot of philanthropy.

Walk with me for a minute. I am a talented musician. Music comes easily to me. But I gave up honing my skills 22 years ago when I had my first child. I didn’t play any music for 12 years until I picked it up again 2 years ago. Now I dabble, I play a bit of this and a bit of that, all of it poorly. The basics still comes easy to me but I hit a wall as soon as hard work comes in the picture. Jason Isbell is almost 40. He spent the first 37 years of his life playing the guitar and getting his head and heart smashed in creative ways. He had nothing else to worry about than his own foibles before he got sober, married Amanda Shires, and had a daughter. How many hours of writing, noodling, and living went into writing Last of My Kind or Speed Trap Town? I drove 5h to upstate New-York last Summer to see Jason Isbell in concert. I have 9 children and I can tell you: outside of the four walls of my house, I never touched anyone’s life to the point where they would buy a ticket, book an Airbnb and drive 5h to watch me do my thing. Don’t try to tell me my writing is touching lives: I tried crowdfunding this blog two years ago and 7 readers committed to paying a total of $63 a month, two of them were related to me. Of the 500-ish people who read my blog, only 7 thought it was worth paying for. That did my head in for a while, that’s why I stopped writing for two years. I’m a fragile little thing that way. Jason Isbell is touching lives, including mine. The world needs him to spend a fair amount of time navel-gazing his way into thoughtful lyrics, practicing his guitar and touring the United States.

My point is not that you should be Jason Isbell or make a ton of money blogging if you have only one child. My point is that everyone leaves their fingerprint on the world and every fingerprint is different. I’m volunteering at my children’s school for the first time in 18 years! Who do you think raised funds for activities, helped with field trips, decorated the school and organized the movie nights my children have enjoyed since my oldest started school in 2000? People with two kids and a job, that’s who.

One of my parents’ dearest friends is helping Syrian refugees settle in Canada, accompanying them to the grocery store, acting as a cultural translator, teaching them how to access the services they need, finding volunteers to fix bicycles for their children, and businesses to donate food and clothing. How many children of her own does she have? None. Do you think people like me are doing what she’s doing? No, they’re not.

Sometimes getting up in the morning is heroic. Some of my friends do not volunteer. They do not run successful businesses. Some of them have grown up in dysfunctional families, some of them have suffered abuse, some of them have overcome physical and/or mental health challenges. And every day they get up and they do their level best to give their children a kind of love they have never received. I watch in awe as some of my friends create happy families out of thin air, having never been in one. They are studying and learning through trial and error the fundamentals of loving, of being patient, of being self-sacrificing, all things that I learned from my parents like my first language. Some people work way harder at normal life than I do. Raising one child is as hard for them as raising 9 is for me because I received so much from life.

And some people are just selfish. Some people are jerks. Some people roll their eyes and tell me “I don’t know how you can have 9, I only have two and it’s too much” *in front of their children*. Some people are just clueless. Last week I was volunteering at our school’s book sale during the parent-teacher meetings and the children had written lists of book suggestions to help their parents in their shopping. One mother picked up her grade 5 daughter’s list and seeing with horror that it had been written in script rather than cursives, called home to tear a strip off the kid for writing like a baby. Told her she was personally insulted by it. Asked her why she would embarrass her that way. Said she was going to buy her the books but since she had written like a grade 1 kid, wasn’t going to reward that. Her sister would get books but not her. Told her never to insult her like that again. Repeated everything twice to drive it in. I felt so bad I wanted to drive to her house, find her daughter and give her a hug. I’m sure this mom loves her daughter and wants what’s best for her. I’m sure this mom thinks her brand of tough love is how you raise competent, well-rounded adults. I’m sure this woman doesn’t have 9 children and probably shouldn’t have 9 children. It’s ok not to have too many children when your parenting toolbox includes shaming and belittling.

When people tell me they are overwhelmed with 1 or 2 or 3 children, I simply say “I was overwhelmed with 3 too!” Which is 100% the honest-to-goodness truth. I remind them what is difficult about their lives. Your children are all under 4. Or you have 3 active boys. Or your husband works two jobs. Or you suffer from anxiety and depression. Or you had fertility struggles. Or you live with your aging parents. Or you are a single parent. Don’t look at me and feel bad. Look at where you are. If you feel like you can stretch a little more, stretch a little more. If you can’t, don’t injure yourself. Accept the pace. Try to finish a little ahead of where you started, try to leave the world a little better than how you found it. If everyone reaches just a little farther, we’ll come out ahead in the end.

How do I respectfully communicate with people who only have one child? I just assume that their lives are as full as mine, just with different things. I don’t need to know everyone’s story to assume they have one.

 

 

Parenting Quotes I’m Eating Back Today


This post was first published on Vie de Cirque in September 2014. I was having coffee yesterday morning and overheard a young woman talk about how having children wouldn’t change her routine, that it was all a matter of making the right choices. It reminded me of a blog post I wrote 4 years ago.

I once read a quote. It went a little like this:

“at the beginning of my career I had no kids and 12 principles; today I have 12 kids and no principle.”

I was blessed with 4 relatively compliant children before I gave birth to 5 more. When I was having children in my 20s, I believed <clears throat with embarrassment> that my success in raising easygoing children was no-doubt related to my stellar parenting skills. What I lacked in skills, I made-up in youthful exuberance. Now that I have experience and some skills, I will readily admit that I have no clue. It’s true. My experience parenting is like the used children’s shoes in my basement: no matter how many I keep, I can never find a pair of the right size, at the right time, for the right season.

Over the years, I have developed an expertise in each one of my children but here’s the catch: no matter how many children I have, they all come out as unique individuals. Never seen before and never to be repeated again. Isn’t human reproduction amazing that way? If 18 years of parenting has taught me anything, this is it: the lessons learned from raising this child are rarely applicable to raising that child. I still don’t know what I’m doing but I am more “zen” about it. Instead of seeing children as problems to solve, I see them as a puzzles to complete. I did not draw the picture, but with careful dedication I can help it come together.

When I think about my early years as a parent, it is often to eat back some pearl of wisdom with a generous serving of Humble Sauce. Gulp. Here are some of my gems.

“Children won’t draw on walls if they have access to paper.” Did you know that I spent the first 8 years of my life-with-children without a single drawing-on-walls incident? Then we sold a house and shortly before we moved my 3 year-old decorated a wall with black Sharpie. Now I have children who won’t draw on paper if they have access to a wall.

“I will never buy size 6 diapers.” Seems simple enough: if a child is big enough to wear size 6 diapers, he’s old enough to potty train. Right? Guess who just purchased a Costco-sized box of size 6 diapers for her 3-year-old child? Take heart, all you parents of late potty-trainers for it turns out that potty-readiness is completely out of your hands! The good news is that accepting this simple fact will make potty-training a lot easier for everyone involved.

“I won’t let myself get fat.” When I was dating my now-husband, he came to visit me at my parents’ house on his motorcycle wearing his full-leather gear. I was in the pool at the time and we couldn’t resist the temptation of taking a biker chick picture, him in his leather chaps, me in my bathing suit. I found out that I was pregnant shortly after and upon seeing the picture, my aunt – who had 4 children – said “Keep that picture because you’ll never look like this again.” I declared that I would not let maternity ruin my body. Well guess what?? Maternity never asked my opinion. Maternity took my body and turned it upside down. It moved my organs around and re-shaped my pelvis to its liking. It not only packed-on pounds as it was growing 9 healthy humans, it refused to lose even one as it was busy feeding them. I ran and I dieted and I ran some more. I stretched and planked and even starved myself at some point. It never went down. I got sick, I de-calcified my teeth, but I never lost a single breastfeeding pound. Today, after my easiest pregnancy and a beautiful home birth, I am breastfeeding a 4 month-old and a 3 year-old and I weight as much as I did during my last week of twin pregnancy. I am 60 lbs heavier than I was on that infamous picture 18 years ago and my dress size has more than doubled, going from 6 to 14. I’m definitely bringing booty back. And boobs. And legs.

“If your child is old enough to ask for breast milk, he is too old to nurse.” Refer to previous paragraph about nursing a 3 year-old. She’s been old enough to ask for milk for almost 2 years. She can explain the difference between cow’s milk (milk in a cup) and breast milk (milk in the mouth). Heck, she can ask for milk in both official languages.

What about you? Did you know everything about parenting until you had kids? What pearls of wisdom are you eating back today? Share in the humble pie!

Daily Blog: Change, Change, Change, Part 1


I’m continuing down the list of suggested topics my friends sent me on Facebook. One friend asked me to write about change and another one didn’t know we had moved (thank you Facebook algorithm for being weird, I’ve been yapping about nothing else for 6 months it seems… or maybe she just muted me… who knows?). If you are into podcasts, I shared our move story here. My friend said she didn’t have 53 minutes to listen to a podcast with all the children screaming and what-not. It reminded me of this Tweet from Dan Wilson:

All I’m saying is that a podcast and a pair of earphones is a great antidote to screaming children and what-not. But I digress.

Let’s try to make this short… Ok. In 2012 we bought land, in 2013 we started building a house on it and in 2014 we moved. The house we built was in a little community called Middleville, in the township of Lanark, about an hour west of Ottawa. The house was supposed to be our forever home, it was perfect for us as if we had designed it ourselves. Oh wait, we had!

Our move to the country was supposed to allow us to grow closer as a family, through homeschooling and a calmer, more family-centric life. I had reservations. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy living in the country right away but I thought I would grow into it. My reasoning was that I have a lot of drive once I set my mind to something. I go through phases of loving stuff, and when I love something I love it a lot.  I thought it was a matter of will. I didn’t appreciate to what extent it was also a matter of personality and temperament. I also didn’t appreciate to what extent the success of this project was predicated on everything working well forever.

We didn’t have a plan B. Homeschooling had to work. Our health had to remain perfect. Paul’s employment situation had to stay on an upward swing. We could not need a second income. Our teenagers had to buy into the project. If even one of these things went south, the integrity of the whole thing was compromised. But we never thought of that.

First, my health went south. I suffered a traumatic miscarriage in 2015 which triggered an autoimmune condition and sent my ADHD into overdrive. It took two years to diagnose and manage properly, during which I gained 60 lbs, suffered from insomnia, had a paradoxical reaction to a treatment,  started suffering from intractable back pain, depression, anxiety, basically a tornado of causes and effects that became nearly impossible to untangle.

Homeschooling was eating me alive. I lived in a state of perpetual exasperation, frustration and crippling anxiety over my inability to teach anything without a fight. In the middle of everything I was struggling with, I didn’t have the mental strength to always be the bad guy. We were also facing a steep learning curve, trying to homeschool two high school students, two elementary school students, two preschoolers, and a toddler. When you “homeschool from birth”, you grow with the curriculum. The first three years are a period of learning but I didn’t have three years: I had kids in grades 9 and 10! By the end of the second year of homeschooling, I was suffering from a classic burn-out and my husband started taking time off work to catch the children up in their schooling. So much for his earning potential remaining on the up and up. He enjoyed homeschooling and the children responded well to him but we couldn’t simply send me off to work so he could stay at home: we had a giant mortgage and maintenance costs that could not possibly be met by a writer’s salary.

We started talking about putting the children back in school in the Fall of 2016. In December 2016 I dressed my toddler up to play outside and promptly forgot him. He was found on the road by a school bus driver who called 911. The police came, followed his little boot steps back to our house and brought him back to me. I had no recollection of anything. I was completely dysfunctional. In January 2017, our children were back in school in Carleton Place, a lovely little town about 30 minutes from where we lived and I was looking into therapy and medication.

For a few months, the children made the hour-long bus ride to and from school every day but by the time September rolled around, we decided to drive them instead. My life became completely scheduled around driving the children to and from school, going to medical appointments and doing groceries. It made it impossible for me to work, which made it impossible for my husband to work less and be home more. We were completely stuck in these silos: him making as much money as possible so I could spend my days driving in circles between Middleville, Carleton Place, and Ottawa. The weeks flew-by in a flurry of driving, we spent the week-ends catching-up with housework, grounds maintenance, and logistics. We no longer had time to host on weekends, we lived too far to see people on weekdays, it was a very regimented and isolated life. We had a beautiful property that we didn’t have any time to enjoy, a beautiful house that was starting to feel like a prison, our older children were almost never home, nothing felt like it was supposed to.

Sometimes in life, we are called to persevere and sometimes we are called to quit. One teaches us fortitude and the other teaches us humility. Depending on your journey, you may be called to grow in fortitude or grow in humility. Throughout our married life, Paul and I have been able to make bold decisions because we give ourselves permission to persevere or quit. We made a decision to homeschool and move to the country based on a set of circumstances. When those circumstances changed, we allowed ourselves to change course rather than persevere down a dead-end. Some people admire that but honestly, it’s a costly way to live your life. Given Paul’s professional success, we’d long have a house paid-off by now had we stayed in one place instead of trying different things: sending me back to school, starting a company, closing a company, buying a house, deciding to live debt-free, rent a house, buy land, etc. So while people admire our ability to change course — and we certainly flexed that muscle numerous times in the last 20 years — I often feel like we are constantly reacting to things rather than planning them.

When we decided to move, we set our sights on a suburban community in the West end of Ottawa called Stittsville. The three schools our children would be attending were on the same stretch of road, meaning that we could find a house within walking distance of all three schools. We couldn’t find anything suitable right away and had to wait almost a year before a rental house came on the market. The real estate market was red hot and we didn’t want to saddle ourselves with another McMortgage, especially as our older children were starting the leave the house. When a suitable rental came on the market, we had all but given up on the idea. Paul and I took a day off to visit the house, go for coffee and re-hash why we wanted to change course. By the end of the day, we had made a decision and grabbed the rental. Within four weeks, from late March to May 1st, we had moved out of Middleville, put our house up for sale and started settling in Stittsville. In late June we got an offer on our house and it closed in August, wrapping-up this episode of our life with a bow.

We are now suburbanites with no mortgage (my favorite way to live). We live on a busy street corner with a bus stop in our backyard. There’s red carpet everywhere and really ornate window covering. The kitchen is that dark oak that was popular in the 90’s… Everything looked wrong for a family who was hoping to homeshool and homestead in their perfectly designed house. But on the day we moved, our 9 children were sitting around the table for supper. Not because it was a special occasion but because they could. They didn’t have to stay in town to work or find accomodations for their Summer job. They could just live here. Everything looked wrong but everything was right again.

 

 

 

 

Just shoot me


“Mom drinking” by Colin

Every once in a while I get invited to give a talk, sit on a panel or chair a board of directors and a request for a headshot inevitably follows. It always feels something less than professional to send my latest selfie but all the other pictures of me were taken my children and involve either my less flattering appendages, booze, or both.

A nagging little voice kept telling me that I should pay for professional headshots but an even less pleasant little voice always answered “It’s not like you’re paid for these gigs, right?” Why should I fork real money to be reminded how old and doughy I’m getting? When there are guitars to buy and live shows to attend?

And so the little voices stood at a standstill on my shoulder until I had to apply for a job using LinkedIn, making my profile selfie my first chance to make a good impression. Chastised, I booked an appointment with a fellow mom and local photographer and started planning my 5 minutes of glamour.

This is what I look like in my head. I feel way cooler than I look.

First, I would get a new outfit. Simple but classy, I had it all figured out: new skinny jeans, a loose-fitting linen tunic with some new jewelry and a new pair of sneakers. Then I would book the few hours before my headshots for a haircut and getting my nails done. My bangs are almost nose-length, it was necessary anyway, and my hair person could style it for me, a skill I was not blessed with at birth. It would be a headshot session doubling as a day of beautification and pampering, the perfect antidote to a sagging spirit. Monday would be clothes shopping day. Tuesday would be eyebrow threading and leg waxing. Wednesday was hair and pictures. Everything blissfully booked while my children were at school.

It all came crashing in a thundering mess on the Sunday evening when I got the photographer’s email reminder. “We’re looking forward to see you tomorrow, Monday June 12th for your session” … I had it all planned out on the WRONG DAY! Right date, wrong day. I had nothing to wear, an overgrown haircut and bushy eyebrows.

In a panic, I hit my oldest daughter’s closet for a dress, any dress. Unfortunately, my oldest daughter, while statuesque, doesn’t have the right curves at the right place. One does not simply carry 9 children to term and expect to fit in a dress from Sirens, even in a size 10. I grabbed some XL shape wear with the desperate energy of the moribund and almost died trying to get it off. Relieved that the jaws of life were not necessary to get me out it, I reluctantly accepted that I was too shapely for shapewear. I grabbed a simple black and white dress from Walmart that made me look as grumpy and unkempt as the Walmart in my small town but at least it covered the right parts and I could take it off without calling the fire department.

The little voice of insanity kept whispering in my ear that Monday morning would not be too late to go dress-shopping. Like a Home Depot ad suggesting “You can do it, we can help.” Like the Scotiabank’s “You’re richer than you think” So many reminders that stupidity could pay off, if only, NO STOP IT!!

On the morning of the photo shoot, I concluded that the only way to avoid a desperate attempt at dress shopping and hair cutting would be to  go to the gym. I could shower and dress at the gym with only minutes to spare for make-up, which should discourage any delusions of grandeur but the most humble slapping of foundation and mascara. On my way out the door to drive the children to school I grabbed a curling iron, a flask of tinted moisturizer and my daughters’ mascara; threw the Walmart dress on top of my gym bag and attacked the day with a significant lump in my throat. The day of pampering and beautification had become just another fight with chaos.

After my workout and shower, my hair was kinked in its usual pony tail shape and I knew I couldn’t beat it so I might as well join it. I arranged my hair in a high pony tail and tried to curl some of it behind my back. I didn’t even know how to turn-on the contraption but maybe I could use it backwards with my arms extended on the wrong side of my head, the one without eyes. Once I found the “on” button, I let the device heat on a ziplock bag of bobby pins. I curled molten plastic into my hair repeatedly before cluing-in, combed it out over the next five days. So far so good.

Undeterred, I whipped my daughters’ new mascara out of my bag. My daughters, while genetically-related to me, have a gift for make-up. It’s a form of artistic expression. See for yourselves.

Is that a brush or a weapon? It depends on who wields it.

 

If your main consideration when choosing mascara is “can this brush maim me permanently?” you shouldn’t borrow it from my daughters: they’ve been using it without poking their eyes out since grade 1. This was my reflection as I beheld the sickle-shaped, black-paint laden, rigid object I was about to take dangerously close to my eyes.

I emerged from the gym’s change room with a “this is my normal face” attitude, hoping that no one had seen me wipe melted ziplock off my curling iron, and stepped into the car for a mad drive across town. I knocked on Sara’s door taking my first breath since breakfast and greeted her with an executive summary of my confusion and the effort exerted to get my butt into her studio. She laughed and said “On the other hand, this is exactly what you look like in real life. Sometimes I meet people at business events and I don’t recognize them from their headshots.”

She’s right isn’t she? I don’t wear make-up because it bugs me. I don’t have nice clothes because I hate shopping. I’d rather spend my time writing, playing music and answering emails about parenting struggles and victories. I’m not at an age and stage where I can  look polished and be a decent human being at the same time. Every morning, I choose being present and un-rushed to being properly dressed and styled because being-both-level has not been unlocked yet. This is who I am.

And this is exactly what I look like.

Photo creds: Sara McConnell Photography http://www.saramcconnell.ca/

 

 

 

The skinny on the Whole 30 challenge


Two of my girls — the first girl I gave birth to and our nanny — embarked on a Whole 30 challenge at the beginning of March and successfully completed it today. As the family cook and principal grocery shopper, I am equally proud and relieved that it is finally over.

I’m proud of them because it’s one thing to do the Whole 30 in all its restrictive goodness when you are fat, middle-aged, and suffering from a host of chronic conditions; it’s another thing to do it when you are young, healthy and beautiful with not a single pound to lose.

Clara and Hannah, 3 weeks into their Whole 30, looking as stunning as ever.

I have to bear some responsibility for switching my family on to the Whole 30. In December 2014 I hit the proverbial wall and on a friend’s recommendation, with my husband’s support, I went for it.

I have always been able to lose most of my baby weight — slowly — in between pregnancies. I am the proud owner of a metabolism that doesn’t gain weight easily and doesn’t lose it easily. For my first 7 pregnancies, I would gain 30 lbs while pregnant, lose 10 giving birth, gain another 10 while breastfeeding and eventually shed it after weaning. After the twins were born, I went on Weight Watcher to lose that pesky 20lbs because it wasn’t coming off on its own and that’s when my health went pear-shaped. As soon as I restricted calories, I started gaining weight. That spurred me into more restrictions, believing — as I was told all my life — that the only reason one gains weight is because more calories go in than come out. So I cut back, and I gained weight. I ran longer distances, and I gained weight. I became anemic, and I gained weight. I counted how many carrots I ate with my tablespoon of hummus and I gained weight. I realized that an avocado was as many calories as a double chocolate chip muffin. I stopped eating avocados and I gained weight. I replaced sugar by Splenda in all my baking and I gained weight. And every week, the Weight Watcher app would tell me:

“Ooops, you gained. You’ll try harder next week.”

I tried some more and I gained some more. I had my thyroid checked and was told it was normal (it wasn’t but that’s a whole other post). I was discouraged and overwhelmed. I felt guilty every time I ate something I enjoyed.
Then I got pregnant with Damien. And I gained A LOT of weight. A month after he was born, I weighed as much as I did when I was 38 weeks pregnant with the twins. I went back on Weight Watchers when he was 7 months-old. I gained 11 lbs in 6 weeks. My husband, who is really the most supportive husband I have, told me: “There is something weird happening with your body.” Seeing myself in pictures at Christmas made me cry. I lost sleep over my ballooning body. I was always on my feet, I ate well, I was making breast milk for two children, one of them exclusively breastfed. Then I saw my You Tube babywearing video, with my size 8 jeans, and I almost broke down.

9 months before Damien was born, newly pregnant, weighng about 145 lbs. Today I can’t even lift those pants past my generous thighs. But I keep trying….

 

9 months after Damien was born, weighing almost 200 lbs. Just before I started my Whole30.

I told my husband: “I am almost 200 lbs! I just need to stop gaining! I know I won’t lose much while breastfeeding but the gain must stop!” I was no longer fitting in my pyjamas. I had gone from a size 6-8 to a size 14 while doing Weight Watchers and the best my doctor had to offer was:

“Maybe you’re cheating on your food journaling.”

You went to med school for how long so you could tell me that? It was clear to me that the problem was not “how much” I ate but “what” I ate. I didn’t eat too much; I knew that from years of food journaling. The story couldn’t only be about my caloric intake. I watched this video about the effect of sugar on our metabolism and I reduced my sugar intake. That’s when I stumbled upon a friend’s testimony about the Whole 30: 30 days of strict no added sugar, no grains, no legumes and no dairy. I thought: “No way!” but the idea kept nagging at me. I knew that I couldn’t moderate my refined carbohydrate intake: I needed to punch my carb demon in the throat.The Whole 30 is not a lifetime commitment to never taste a brownie again, it’s a chance to reset your eating habits, to give more emphasis to good food and keep the less healthy stuff in proper proportion within your entire diet. It is not presented as a weight loss diet or a cleanse, but as a tabula rasa, a baseline from which to start eating well again.

On January 1st 2015, I started my Whole 30 and completed it successfully 30 days later. Other than accidentally licking a spoon of oatmeal I was making for my children, I didn’t slip. After my Whole 30, I didn’t return to my old eating habits. I still eat 80% paleo and 100% gluten-free. I allow myself milk chocolate treats, milk in my lattes when I’m not at home and occasional gluten-free baked items. I have since been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that explains a lot of my weight gain, fatigue, and depression issues.

Since doing the Whole 30 and switching to a sort-of Paleo diet, I have noticed some positive changes in my overall health. On the whole, It has made my autoimmune condition easier to manage. Here is a bullet-list of my observations, in no particular order:

– I am much more alert during the day, especially when driving. I used to have a major slump mid-afternoon which caused me to fall asleep at the wheel. I no longer suffer from these attacks of daytime sleep. As someone who spends a fair amount of time driving young children on lonely country roads in winter, this is a welcome improvement.

– I am awake in the morning (but this might be due to a switch in my migraine meds). Still. My 5 youngest children hit the ground running at 6am sharp. It used to take me an hour or two to catch-up with them. Now I wake-up awake. I don’t want to get out of bed at 6:00am but I can.

– My night sleep is still crappy. I only ever sleep with one eye open. I am never deeply asleep. I had great hopes that the Whole 30 would address this but it hasn’t.

– My sugar and refined carbs craving are gone. At least they don’t control my life anymore.

– I have discovered the natural sweetness of food. I find almond butter sweet. I find the taste of blueberries to be an explosion in my mouth. I really appreciate the food that I eat.

– I rediscovered the sense of smell. When my friend came over with her award-winning brownies, I found that having a deep smell of them was satisfying. The smell fills your nose and mouth and your brain gets a little kick, just enough to be able to walk past them without having to eat them at all cost. My husband thinks I have a problem sniffing croissants but I think it’s awesome that I don’t feel compelled to EAT ALL THE PASTRIES (ALL THE TIME).

– I don’t feel like the pastries in front of me are the last ones I will ever have. That’s a big one. I always indulged in whatever pretty sweet things were in front of me because I had a scarcity mindset about food, even though I have never gone lacking. I think it was due to the addictive nature of sugar and refined carbs. I felt driven to indulge. And if I didn’t indulge, my mind would stay stuck on the food items. Now I feel in much better control of my eating.

– I don’t want to eat all the time. I can easily go between breakfast and lunch without a snack. I don’t even think about eating unless I am really hungry.

– When I am tired in the evening, I want to go to bed, not eat a gallon of ice cream. My body is better able to read its own signals without reverting to “EAT” automatically when it needs rest, exercise, fresh air, water or relaxation.

– Because I’m not always lusting after food or ravenously hungry, it’s easy to skip meals or snacks. I don’t get irrationally grouchy when I have to go without food.

– And from the TMI files: it really helped with my menstrual cycle, making my periods less debilitating. Although PMS perfection has come from properly diagnosing and treating my thyroid condition.

– I drink my coffee black and it no longer tastes like death warmed over.

– I have been struggling with generalized pain all my life. Tests performed in childhood and as an adult were always inconclusive and the pain remained. The Whole 30 helped a lot with pain but didn’t make it go away completely. A food intolerance panel ordered by the doctor who was investigating my thyroid dysfunction revealed that I had an intolerance to eggs and corn (among other things). Cutting the right foods from my diet has made a huge difference in my generalized pain. I saw a physician specialized in body mechanics (a physiatrist) who told me that while there was little scientific evidence linking generalized pain with diet, she saw it all the time in her practice. Especially as it concerns dairy and gluten.

– And the big question: did I lose weight? Not a whole lot. I lost 12 lbs doing the Whole 30 but I was still firmly a size 14 until I started weightlifting in summer 2016. I lost another 10 lbs when I started training. Now I’m somewhere between a size 12 and a size 10 and I haven’t lost a single pound in a year despite eating well and exercising with a personal trainer. At 180 lbs I’m still ways away from my personal “normal” of 135-140lbs but honestly, I have (almost) accepted the fact that I have done everything humanly possible to lose this wretched weight. Thanks for nothing, thyroid jerky.

Whole 30, before and after. I went from 190 lbs to 178 lbs. I was not exercising at the time.

 

On the cost of having kids


 
My friend Andrea Mrozek from Cardus posted this article on my Facebook page asking for my thoughts: Many Canadians Too Cash-Strapped to Have Children. In the discussion that ensued, working parents noted that daycare was expensive, stay-at-home parents noted that daycare was not a necessity, those who have several children noted that the bills don’t multiply as the family grows, and those feeling the crunch noted that it doesn’t have to multiply to be unaffordable.
 
News articles about the affordability of children are a sure sign of Spring and their conclusions are as predictable as the proverbial lark.
 
The cost of raising children looms large in the eye of many and seems inexistent in the eyes of others. How critical “affordability” is to our family size decisions is prone to reflect our own values about family, money, and security, rather than our spreadsheets. Our upbringing, beliefs and life experience anchor our ideas about family and money. The financial argument comes to bolster the life decisions we already made.
 
The Globe article sets a figure of $13,900 a year to raise a child born in 2015. Yeah, ok, whatever. Daycare in Ontario will run you about $2000/month per child which adds up to $24,000/year give-or-take a few weeks. The figure looks astronomical when viewed as a bill but childcare workers earn less than the average parking attendant. I’ve been described as generous for paying my babysitters over minimum wage — throw in room and board for our nannies — but if I can trust my latte to $12/hour barista I don’t see why my children shouldn’t be. For if where our treasures are, there our hearts be also, our Nation’s vehicles rank above our children.
 
I have 9 children. Beyond “do you know what causes that?” the questions I get most often are “What does your husband do?” and “How can you afford it?” My husband is a self-employed consultant in the Defense sector. I moonlight as a technical writer. We never considered finances in our decision to have more children because we never had to. We’re well-off by any definition. Not independently wealthy, the money runs out at some point. My children have to pay their way through University and start holding part-time jobs at age 14. How can we afford it? The same way everyone else does: by not spending more than we make. But don’t let the large family aureola blind you: we are not frugal. We have two dishwashers and two laundry rooms for crying out loud. We could be debt free but we are not. If we were, we could pay for our children’s post-secondary education. It’s all about choices, and most people have choices. We may not like them but we have them.
 
Numbers are numbers. I don’t want to argue about numbers. You can make a statistic admit anything if you torture it long enough. I have friends who have more children than I do on a third of our income. I have friends in the States who do it without health insurance. I have friends with special needs children, orphan conditions, and one income. Whatever your financial excuse for not having more children, I can put you in touch with someone who blows it to smithereens. And the truth is that it won’t change your mind. Because the reason we don’t have more children is because we don’t want to have more children. It doesn’t matter how much we like an idea, our actions make our path.
 
We do not want more children. As a culture, as a collectivity, as a civilization. We admire attachment, vulnerability, and self-sacrifice as the idiosyncrasies of the saints, not as ideals worth the skin off our knees. We condemn individualism in others but we would rather be caught dead than dependent. Functional happy families are about everything our culture despises: self-sacrifice, unconditional love, giving until it hurts. Once a year, Learned Academics release a study stroking our victim narrative: “I would have had 10 kids but for the cost…” so we can avoid admitting that children simply ask more than we can give.
 
When I worked for a Member of Parliament, I received a letter — or rather my boss did — from a woman who had to move back with her parents after her divorce. She had two children and a full-time job as a clerk but her income was not enough to keep them housed and fed. It’s a common story in my area. The five of them, two grandparents, one mom and two children squeezed together in her childhood home. She wrote to complain about the hardships of living on a fixed income in a ballooning economy. “Do you realize, she wrote, how humiliating it is for a woman to move back with her parents because she can’t afford to support her children?” And all I could think of as I drafted my — I mean my boss’ — reply was everywhere else in the world where ganging up together to face hardships is the norm.
 
The cost of raising children is as high as it is because we expect to do it all on our own. Our delusion of independence is an anomaly for which our culture will be remembered. Assuming we leave enough children behind to do the remembering.