Fashion intervention


Recently, a friend posted a link to this article giving a big fat middle finger (or two) to the idea that anyone should have to “dress for their shape.” Everyone should be able to wear what they like, it claims, regardless of body type. I agree, in theory. That said, I wonder if in all our conviction about avoiding body-shaming, fat-shaming and recognizing the sad reality that most people don’t receive a loaded credit card one morning to turn their wardrobes around we haven’t thrown the baby out with the bath water. By this I mean that some people might want to know if they look ridiculous.

Case in point: me.

I am the type who gains weight while breastfeeding. My body is a wonderful baby-making machine. It conceives easily, carries uneventfully, delivers at home and breastfeeds for years. Only, it’s taking its job too seriously, to the point of overdoing it a little. This would have been an important survival scheme  in prehistoric times but in today’s context of overabundance, it bites a little. Especially since fashion is so cruel to the curvy. I used to consider “extended” breastfeeding to be anything past the introduction of solid food and never had trouble regaining my pre-pregnancy weight before conceiving again. Now that I get pregnant with the next child while still nursing the last one, I just pack-on the pounds.

Last winter, I found myself weighting just shy of 200 lbs and that was not cool. I shared about my weight-gain-loss journey on my babywearing blog. I started a Whole 30 program and lost almost 20 lbs. I kept eating Paleo but the weight-loss leveled-off. Oh well. I’m 15 months post-partum, I have back fat and love handles, a twin muffin-top and cleavage. I went from being a boxy size 6-8 to an apple-shaped size 12-14 and I don’t know how to dress!

Whole 30 before and after
Whole 30 before and after. I’m still as heavy as I was 38 weeks pregnant with twins on the after picture. For realz.

My idea of clothes-shopping involves grabbing a pair of jeans between a box of pancake mix and a head of broccoli, thank you Joe Fresh. You can do that when you’re a size 6. Recently, I learned an important lesson upon returning from a family walk during which my oldest daughter held the camera: you can’t do that when you are not mannequin-shaped! Exhibit A:

Whose butt is this anyway?
Whose butt is this anyway?

What? Is this really what I look like with skinny jeans? I used to look great in skinny jeans! Those skinny jeans were $19 between the tea bags and the Epsom salts! But the most pressing question is: WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME I COULDN’T WEAR TAPERED LEG ANYTHING ANYMORE? WHY? It wouldn’t have been body-shaming, it would have been good judgement!

Now can we talk about low-rise jeans and t-shirts? Regular normal t-shirts? Once again, you can’t do that when you carry 45 extra pounds between your chest and your midsection. Listen, it’s not that I’m ashamed of my muffin: it has successfully nourished my last 3 children. My belly has accumulated the pounds where my children needed them. But! Being body positive doesn’t mean I have to flaunt my muffin. So why am I still wearing low-rise jeans with fitted t-shirts I ask you?

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My body likes being pregnant so much that it wants to look pregnant all the time. Nice.

Because I don’t know how to dress that body, that’s why. It’s a new body that came to me in my early fourties and that I have to tame.  I want to see that body as beautiful and it’s hard to see a size 12 as beautiful when you’re trying to fit it in size 8 style.

This article is an invitation. And invitation to send me a fully loaded credit card your best fashion tips, tricks and resources for turning my wardrobe around on a dime. Style inspiration, shopping websites, links, how you do it (especially if clothes shopping involves a lot of little people and very little time), banks to rob, you get the idea. Post your best links, tips and recommendations in the comments and be assured of my eternal gratitude. Friends don’t let friends go out looking like that.

Homeschooling sanity


Whenever you are out and about with a gaggle of homeschooled kids, someone is bound to ask if they are sick or on holiday. And whenever the children answer “No we are homeschooled!” someone is bound to reply one of two things:

Oh, I could never do that, I don’t have the patience!

Or

Oh, I could never do that, my kids wouldn’t listen to me!

Ask my kids, they’ll tell you I don’t have the patience either. Really, who in their right mind would choose to lock themselves-up in a house all day with a bunch of school-aged kids? Honestly, I don’t know. But if you think that homeschooling moms have a special gift (or illness) that gives them supernatural powers of patience and understanding, you are sorely mistaken. I have yet to meet a homeschooling mom who never had a day (week, month) where she thought of calling the school’s registration desk right ‘freakin’ now. Or just put her kids at the bus stop and hope that the driver wouldn’t notice and take them away.

Three people have asked me (separately) how to stay sane while homeschooling. According to some of my closest family members, my sanity is (A) questionable, and (B) in danger. But if you come closer, I will tell you that the question of staying sane while spending my every waking hour with my own children kept me from homeschooling for the last 8 years. Yes, you read that right. My husband and I started talking about homeschooling 12 years ago and we kept our now-18-year-old daughter at home for grade 1. Within 6 months, I was struggling so badly we decided to stop homeschooling. That’s not quite the whole story but it is all you need to understand that I GET IT. I know what you mean. This failure has been weighing heavily on me ever since, not the least because I believe so fervently that homeschooling can bring the best out of children. Before we re-launched this year, I had to spend some time in deep thoughts (and prayer) on why we had failed the first time and what we would do differently this time.

First, this blog post will not be a grocery list of concrete things to do. I think that emotional balance is mostly in your head, meaning that if your head and heart are not healthy, no amount of shopping sprees, traveling and weekends away will restore it. I also think that concrete things – like hiring a cleaning lady or going to the gym – are very circumstantial. In other words, it might not work for everyone in their current circumstances. Whenever someone suggests that I do x,y,z “while the babies nap” it reminds me that my babies no longer nap and it makes me feel even more discouraged and overwhelmed. I want to encourage you! As a result, I will stay away from suggestions that hinge on having more time or more money (usually both) because if my life is any indication, they are both in short supply.

Before we dig-in, I would like to specify that the sentiments and dispositions of the mind expressed in that blog post are my own. I am not saying that you should feel the same way. I strongly believe that happiness has to come from within and that’s why my approach to homeschooling sanity is to work on my own heart and soul as opposed to trying to control my circumstances. In today’s world, we are more likely to blame others and the limitations they impose on our choices than turn our gaze inward. If you are looking for a “Top 10 tips that will save your sanity for sure,” you may have knocked on the wrong door.

1. Accept the pace. Homeschooling is hard. The first step in remaining sane is to accept that what you are doing is hard work. It’s physically and emotionally demanding. It’s a counter-cultural decision for which you will face opposition and criticism. Sometimes from your own children. You will feel pressure to perform and turn out prodigies. Your children’s character flaws and temperaments will be in your face, hour after hour, day after day. Homeschooling is hard but it is worth it. Find examples in your life of situations that were difficult but ultimately worth it… Having children, getting married, maybe conceiving or adopting your children was an uphill battle filled with heartache. Accept that homeschooling is the path less traveled and there is a reason for that. As my husband often says about having 9 children – but it applies to homeschooling: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

2. Mind your head. If you are struggling with mental illness, even if it is a mild case of depression or anxiety, you will need to deal with it first. When we tried to homeschool for the first time 12 years ago, I was struggling with undiagnosed post-partum depression. Homeschooling chewed me up and spat me out. It takes solid footings to lock yourself up in a house with a bunch of young children day after day.

3. Remember why you are doing this. There are as many reasons to homeschool as there are homeschooling families. Homeschooling is a deliberate decision but it’s easy to forget when the children are swinging from the chandeliers and the school bus drives by your house. Whether you knew you would homeschool since your child’s birth or fell into homeschooling accidentally when the system failed your child, you are homeschooling for a reason. Write it down, stick it to your fridge or set regular reminders on your smartphone, but remember why you are doing this or your child will be back in school within 6 weeks.

4. Mind your marriage. Unless you are parenting solo, you will need the support of your spouse to homeschool. It goes beyond the decision to homeschool. You will need support and encouragement and your spouse is equally invested in the success of the endeavour. A dysfunctional or unloving marriage will completely crumble under the pressures of homeschooling. As your house becomes your base of operation, you will need love and harmony in the home like never before. Your marriage relationship sets the tone for all the other relationships in your home. If you face a lot of opposition outside the home from your friends and family, you will need the support and encouragement of your spouse all the more. My husband is my unquestioning cheerleader. Good day, bad day, I’m always doing great. Poor curriculum purchase? It’s ok, we’ll sell it on Kijiji. When I think I’m failing the children, he reminds me that a slow day is not a fail. He keeps me grounded and centered and I could not homeschool without him. If your marriage is strained or failing, deal with that first. Your children will benefit more from an intact and happy marriage than from homeschooling. This is the truth.

5. Put your oxygen mask on first. Don’t wait until you are struggling. When my daughter underwent surgery at 4 months and again at 4 years, her medical caregivers explained to me that if I dealt with the pain before it became unbearable, I was likely able to control it with Tylenol. This meant giving her pain medicine before she was in pain. If I waited too long to medicate her and the pain became acute, she would need much stronger medicine to be comfortable. In the context of homeschooling and being stuck at home with a bunch of young children, it means that small self-care practices can go a long way if you start them before you need to. Prayer, meditation, physical exercise and a coffee date with yourself will help if done regularly. Don’t wait until you need therapy and a month away at a resort.

6. Find your support system. Finding supportive friends in the homeschooling community is key to maintaining your perspective. You will need people who can listen to your good days but especially your bad days without judgement. Your circle of support will help you remember why you are homeschooling and help you get back up when you stumble. You may not live in a vibrant homeschooling community as I do and you may have to turn to social media and the Internet for support. That’s ok as long as your circle of support builds you up. The Internet can be a nasty space. Don’t waste time in online communities that leave you discouraged and defeated.

7. Work on character before curriculum. If you can’t get any compliance from your children, if you must yell to get your kids moving 10 times out of 10, if your relationship with your teenagers is strained on a good day and downright hostile the rest of the time, you need to deal with that first. It doesn’t mean that homeschooling is not for you. In fact, homeschooling might be the best decision you made in years. But you won’t make any headway in math and grammar until you have a better relationship with your children. Trying to teach curriculum to children who do not respect you will sap your will to live, I can promise you that. Deal with character issues first, even if it means that you don’t get to curriculum for a few months. You will make-up for lost time once you have a solid working and loving relationship with your children.

8. Don’t fight the change. Homeschooling is a lifestyle as well as an education decision. Whereas the choice between public and private school is an education decision, the decision to homeschool will affect your entire life. It will completely turn your daily routines and expectations on their heads. If you try to live as if you had simply made an education decision, you will burn out in no time flat. Your children are now with you all day. Your house will get messier, your spare times will get fewer and your school-based pressure valves – like art, outdoor play and physical activity – will disappear. You will learn to be happy where you are and with what you have but you will need to give yourself the chance to learn. I used to be the mom waltzing down the Staples aisle in September singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”. Homeschooling is a journey of learning for the parents too! Approach the growing pains with acceptance and let the challenges grow on you. Fighting change will not work.

You can follow our journey in pictures on Instagram where I post as @happy_chaos_

Warts and all


I had a moment the other morning. You know the kind? A “Mother of the Year” moment.

I’m telling you this because I used to think that mothers of large families were different. I used to think they had a special gift, a special patience, a special temperament. That they were “good with children,” whereas I wasn’t.  I used to think that mothers of large families found joy in the little aggravations of motherhood, whereas I found exasperation. I used to think that they had boundless patience and energy, whereas I ran out of both shortly after getting up in the morning.

I am now one of those mothers. I have 8 children including a pair of twins. I am expecting my 9th child in the spring of 2014. I am a member of the large family club although I expect someone to knock at my door and revoke my membership any day. Mothers of large family are inspirations. They make people think they can do it too. I don’t think anyone looks at me that way. Or maybe they look at me and think: “Yeah… let’s not and say we did.”

Mothers of large families have moments too. Moments like the other morning, when my 4 year-old woke-up just a little too early. I dragged my sorry behind to the kitchen to help her with breakfast before she could wake-up the twins. No luck: I heard one baby stir and thought that I may be able to nurse him back to sleep for another hour or two. I hurried to prepare my daughter’s bowl of cereal before the crying twin could wake-up his sister. Doing so, I inadvertently poured the milk instead of letting her do it. We’ve all done this right? Except that the difference between you and I is that you only have two children: I’ve had 17 years to learn these lessons and I still screw-up.

I am nursing one baby to the sound of a major melt down in the kitchen. She is screaming like her arm has been chewed-off by a shark. The second baby starts waking-up. I return the first baby to his bed and leave the room. Return to the kitchen and that’s when I had my “moment”. I grabbed my daughter by the arms, sat her down a little too firmly in front of her bowl of cereal and told her to stop screaming. Actually, I may have told her to shut-up. I did not threaten to tape her mouth shut with duct tape although the fleeting though may have crossed my mind. My entire day was going up in smoke: the twins up before 6 am meant that they would certainly fall asleep in the car when I left for errands at 9; the short car nap would certainly knee-cap the afternoon nap; no afternoon nap means no work in the afternoon; no afternoon nap means a hellish supper time; a hellish supper time makes everybody cranky and uncooperative. And I dumped all this squarely on my 4 year-old’s shoulders. Because yeah, she should know, right?

By now, I was back nursing my second twin back to sleep but my daughter was no longer screaming: she was wailing and sobbing for a hug. And from upstairs, stuck nursing in the dark, my heart sank. My child is only 4 and her need for affection and affirmation is gigantic. Not that my other children’s needs are less significant. But this particular child feels everything keenly. The frustration of having the milk poured for her but also her mother’s disapproval and anger. The firm arm grab, the harsh tone of voice, they just broke her apart. And now, I was at a loss to understand how after parenting so many children for so many years, I could still let a 4 year-old get the best of me.

I did give her a big hug. And I did apologize. Later that evening, as we were reading bedtime stories and cuddling in bed, I still felt the sting of failure but she didn’t seem to remember. We read about the wolf and the seven kids, naming each kid after her siblings, puzzling as always over who would be left out (all the kids are swallowed whole by the wolf so it’s a blessing really.) My little tantrum of the morning seemed all but forgotten.

In the balance of our parenting, we all hope that the happy, cozy, moments, the ones that we share around a bedtime story or a family walk in the park will outweigh the moments when we lose it. That’s why we need to love and cherish our children at every opportunity. So that on the whole, they’ll remember their childhood as a happy one, and their parents as loving. I don’t know yet how my children will remember me: a loving mom or a tired old hag with a short fuse? Maybe it will be a bit of both.

I used to parent with very clear goals and expectations in mind. I still parent with vision. But the minute expectations about my children’s table manners and church etiquette have given way to a broader vision of happiness and respect for themselves and others. If I can’t be a perfect parent, I will cover my imperfections with an extra layer of love and forgiveness. I hope that my children will remember the love over the imperfections. Warts and all.

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Random Bullets


– Have you been following Senator Mike Duffy’s expense claim kerfuffle? The claim form confusion seems to be affecting many Senators and, if I may add, their staff. Because who are we kidding here? It’s not like Mike Duffy fills up his own claim forms. But a mistake was made and monies will be repaid. The same week Mike Duffy was ducking TV cameras and avoiding embarrassing questions, I received a letter at work. It’s a letter I receive all too often, coming from a desperate taxpayer who suddenly finds him/herself in the cross-hair of the Canadian Revenue Agency. They owe taxes, in small or large amounts. They got confused filing their forms, like the Senators. They never tried to evade the taxman and that’s probably why they are in such trouble: if they were professional tax-evaders, they would know how to stay out of CRA’s radar. But no, they paid their money, or rather what they thought was their money, and sent it to CRA with their home address and vital information. Only they didn’t send enough money. And last week, they received a letter asking them to pay their taxes before close of business or else. Or else. And the “or else” is not trivial. Unlike Duffy, they never had the option to repay. They are not only taxed but fined, threatened with a garnishing order – which in some businesses, like bank employees, means a loss of employment – or foreclosure. So make my day Mike Duffy. While Senators think they are doing the honorable thing by repaying pocket change and keeping their jobs, the bureaucracy is putting the tax base through the ringer. And nobody bats an eyelid.

– Speaking of taxpayers’ dollars, my city was hit by a major snow fall. The quantity of snow was significant and the mild, slightly above zero temperature, made it heavy and water-logged. More than 200 city buses got stuck and jackknifed in the white stuff.  Even my minivan with its kick-ass winter tires got (shortly) jammed in the fluff.

Two days later, it was time for the giant snow blower to remove the snow from the main arteries. I have readers in tropical climes — or so my statistics tell me — so let me educate you.

When a Canadian city is hit by a major snowfall, the roads need to be cleared progressively while the snow is still falling. The snow is first pushed to the sides of the road by snowplows driving up and down major arteries.

Snow plow pushing the snow to the side of the road.
Snow plow pushing the snow to the side of the road.

All this snow creates big walls of snow on each side of the road and must eventually be removed by a snow blower.

Snow blower blowing snow in a very big dump truck. It has a big, gas-guzzling engine.
Snow blower blowing snow in a very big dump truck. It has a big, gas-guzzling engine.

The snow blower blows the snow into several very large dump trucks who then take the snow to a snow dump.

Another day at the snow dump...
Another day at the snow dump…

Because it takes more time to make a round trip to the snow dump than to fill a dump truck with snow, several dump trucks take turns filling-up while the others go to the dump and come back. It’s like a giant snow-removal-tag-team operation. When the City removes the snow, cars cannot park in the streets. So the City puts snow removal no-parking signs to warn people. And people don’t pay attention and park in the streets anyway, hence the need to tow cars out of the snow blower’s path.

If the little no-parking sign doesn't make sense to you, this is what will happen.
If the little no-parking sign doesn’t make sense to you, this is what will happen.
Does this make sense to you?
Does this make sense to you?

Last week, I drove past 4 giant dump trucks idling on my way to the vegetarian restaurant.  As I got near the restaurant, I saw two more giant dump trucks idling behind the snow blower. The snow blower sat empty, on a forced coffee break, while the tow-trucks were towing one car after the other. And as if the waste of taxpayers’ dollars wasn’t mind bending enough, a pick-up truck from the City of Ottawa was accompanying the tow-truck, no doubt to deal with disgruntled car owners.  In front of the all-organic-all-the-time vegetarian restaurant, a Toyota Echo and a hybrid Ford Focus were being towed. How’s that for a lifetime of greenhouse gas savings blown away over lunch? I hope that the irony of having half-a-dozen heavy-duty diesel-powered engines idling while their energy-efficient matchbox dinkies were being towed away wasn’t lost on them as they digested their local organic kale.

– I started writing this post 3 week ago. That’s how slowly I write, in case you are wondering why I am posting about the last snow storm on a beautiful sunny day. Not only that, but why would I be posting about manly trucks on International Women’s Day? I listened to a few radio interviews today in between hosting a weekly meeting for my local babywearing group. Yes, women who choose to be attached to their babies as much as possible. From what I heard, Women’s Day is all about abortion and contraception and how hard it is to get either. Isn’t there more to being a woman than to be sexually available and artificially infertile? Because my experience as a woman who raised and gave birth to 8 children, running a home and occasionally a slew of volunteer activities is worth nothing in today’s economy. My degree is outdated, I am unemployable to most but the friend who gave me my part-time job, and I can’t even get a biology credit to return to University without going back to high school. As if I hadn’t learned more putting my kids through school than is required to enter the midwifery degree I so long to get. But hey, what is really keeping women down is not having enough pills. No: What is keeping women down is the belief that women have to be barren like men to succeed and that childbearing and child-rearing are impediments to equality. So that’s your International Women’s Day reflection from a women who is not using artificial birth control out of principle. And while I call myself a feminist for my radical view on the beautiful integrity of the feminine body, ovaries and all, I know that most feminists would be ashamed to count me as their own. Cheers!

Twins Birth Story: Quick, normal, natural and uneventful.


I recently met several mothers expecting twins and I decided to post my birth story along with my Birthday Flikr photostream. The Internet is full of stories of how wrong things can get, I thought I would share my very boring story of a healthy full-term, hospital, natural, twin delivery. It’s not a beautiful home water birth or a terrifying train wreck. It happened in the operating room of a tertiary care centre in Ottawa, ON. All photo creds go to my oldest daughter Clara, minus one or two pictures taken by Dr. Doug Black, attending OB-Gyn extraordinaire.

Clara, taking a selfie. Aren’t we having fun?
The cast of characters: my doctor, his most amazing and highly competent resident and my nurse Sue.

First, some stats. My twins were di-zygotic, conceived from two fertilized eggs. Growing in-utero, they had two of everything: two amniotic bags, two placentas. We learned that we were expecting twins at 15 weeks of gestation. The girl was on the left, the boy as on the right and presenting first. They stayed like that until the end. Continue reading “Twins Birth Story: Quick, normal, natural and uneventful.”

My little stowaway


I had a moment the other night. Many people, me included before I had a large family, think that moms with lots of kids have it easier. That they are more patient, more loving, that their children are more manageable. But the truth is that even moms with lots of kids have moments when they think this is all a little too much. Moments we don’t brag about on Facebook.

Since the twins were born, the nights have not been great. But while I am severely sleep-deprived, I am functional as long as the routine holds. I can deal with a crappy night. But when it gets crappier, I have moments. Moments of intense frustration, almost anger.

Ève sleeps better than Lucas. She usually wakes-up once a night between 3 and 4 am after going to bed between 6 and 7 pm. She nurses quickly and goes back to sleep. Lucas sleeps with me and wakes-up constantly. I ditched the clock when it started to make me angry. I don’t know how often he wakes-up and it’s better that way.

The other night, around 11 pm, Lucas woke-up as usual and I nursed him for a good half-hour. Then Ève woke-up against regulation. She wanted to nurse too but there was no more milk. I only have one working boob. When it’s empty, I need to give it some time to refill. That’s just The Way Things Are. But Ève was not buying it. My husband tried to cuddle with her but she became completely hysterical. I tried to nurse her for comfort but she wanted FOOD!

I tried giving her a bottle but she refused.  For a while, she was fine cuddling with me, her watchful eyes wide open. I felt so lonely in the silence of my house, hearing my children and husband snore in the comfort of their beds. For a minute, I hoped that someone would come and sit with me and commiserate on the great injustice that was befalling me. Eventually, after a third dry nursing attempt and following return to bed, she lost it. I offered the breast again and instead of taking it, she grabbed it with her sharp little nails and violently threw it away. It hurt so much; I was so mad, I yelled “ENOUGH!” put her gently in her bed still screaming and walked-away. I may have slammed her door. I went downstairs and crashed on a couch. I heard my husband walk over to her room and pick her up.

I was mad at my body for failing me. Mad at the”insufficient glandular tissue” that made it impossible to produce enough milk for two babies. I was mad at myself for taking it out on Ève, for feeling so misunderstood and helpless, for expecting my 13- month-old to get it. I was mad that my husband had to go comfort our baby because I was too mad to do it myself.

I went back upstairs. I was eventually able to have a let-down and she accepted it as enough of the Good Stuff to return to sleep. My husband said “She needs as much closeness and affection as Lucas, she’s just not as good at asking for it.” And he is right. Lucas is cuddly and melts into your arms like soft butter, Ève gets mad and trashes about until you force the breast or the soother in her mouth and hold her tightly. Only then does she realize that you are here for her.

I went back to the day I found out I was pregnant with Baby#7. I drove the children to school on a snowy morning, stopped by the pharmacy to buy a pregnancy test, came home and took the test with my coat still on, in the downstairs bathroom by the garage door. I remember standing in the mud room thinking “Well… Here’s Lucas…” We told the children about the new baby on a car trip to Florida. When I found out we were having twins, I was so thrilled by this gift of life. A little freebie. A #8 tucked-in with #7. I was looking at our Florida pictures later that year, wondering how crazy it was that we had two babies all along. A little stowaway! For some reason, even though both babies were conceived at the same time, I always thought of Eve as my little stowaway, my little freebie, the little #8 tucked-in with #7.

When Eve woke-up the next morning, I went to nurse her. She laid her little head in the crook of my arm and relaxed against my chest. I stroked her soft wispy hair and kissed her warm round forehead. I looked at her soulful half-moon eyes and told her “I’m so happy you came along. I love you”

And it was all forgotten.