Dirty Dishes and Dusty Floors

Photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash

I Have A Dream

Pristine, swept floors – floors which seem to go for miles as your eyes trace the interlocking wood planks down to the bay windows on the other side of the house. The smell of baking. A garden, pruned and detailed. Weeded meticulously. Counter tops that serve their intended purpose – beyond mail, homework and neglected dishes. Pencils that sit neatly in their cup, waiting to be found predictably when needed. A crumbless kitchen. This is not my house.

When we lived in our little ’58 bungalow in the old part of the city, I was sure that our inability to maintain order for longer than 3 days (okay, 2) at a time, came down to a disproportionate ratio of belongings to space (1 456 491:1).

As I write this from my bigger, brighter open concept home, dishes sit, unwashed since last night’s dinner. Laundry cries out, spilling from hampers, garbage bins try to hold their own while we overwhelm them and my kitchen counter stares arrogantly at me. I think it’s saying: “Your Grandmother would never have let this happen despite her four kids”. My counters would be right.

Master of Her Domain

You see, I come from a family where neither the men, nor the women, sit down. They are productive from the time their feet hit the cold ground in the morning to the time they fall, presumably from exhaustion, into bed at night. I’d love to have had the genetics of these people. Instead, I was born with a love of cooking (not cleaning), more creative (less order) and a cynicism that suggests to me that to keep cleaning this house while my family lives here might just be paving my own road to crazy.

Other indicators of genetic difference can be seen when, for example, Grandma gets into a near-miss situation in her Lincoln and yells with passionate anger at the other guy: “TURKEY!” I’m not sure how I react to those situations. I can only assume I black out from rage. I digress.

Much as I’ve tried, nearly seven years in, I have never mastered the art of ‘staying home’. I have begun to wonder what it means to stay at home, exactly. I think the true definition lies somewhere between existential intellectual boredom, and doing everything you normally do, but from within the home while a 3-year-old dictator trades catastrophic mess for brief allowances of productive writing moments (unless there are bathrooms to be cleaned).

Whenever I have slept enough, and feel physically and mentally available to take on the disorder in my home, I have found my efforts thwarted by commitments, interruptions, or a general sense of the futility of the cleaning itself. When all things remain equal, the recommendations make sense: dishes daily, and laundry, too. Maintain, maintain, maintain. But that’s the thing about things. They’re variable.

Cosmic Balance

The only evidence of balance I see here is in kids who take turns with dramatic illness, returning to their devilish selves (Tasmanian, I mean) just in time for whatever ails them to be sneezed onto me. Or, my tired slowness from the seeming perpetual darkness that is Canadian winter is finally overcome, and then – cramps. You get the idea.

I sometimes question whether my frequent failure to keep up is an indication of a laziness or immaturity on my part. Like somehow, other moms know something that I don’t.  Maybe, I need to try harder for my family, find more time in the day and more energy to make everything happen at once. I’m slowly making peace with this notion, having analyzed my situation to death in the absence of the magic wand I so desperately require. Besides, my husband didn’t marry ‘lazy’ and my parents didn’t raise it. So here I am, left with the understanding that unless I stop writing altogether, the expectation of order will remain a hallucinogenic construct, bred of someone’s delusional mind – until the little kid years are over.

Aiming for Sanity

Since not writing is out of the question, these will be the times when I learn who my friends are. These will be the years that I look back on, when things are easier, and, with perspective offered from the vantage point of hindsight, give myself a break.  When kids are sick, and hair’s a mess and scarcely surviving is all that can be done – it’s okay.

Parenthood is an uphill battle for most of us, save a few saints who were put on earth solely to make other mothers feel like they didn’t get the memo. Amidst gauntlets of toys, shoes and washed but unfolded laundry that my husband tries to clothe himself from at 5 in the morning, we do the best we can. Some days we do okay, some days we might as well not have gotten out of bed at all. But if you accept the fact that, for now, you can’t win at this game, you get comfortable with participation points and the oft underappreciated consolation prize called Sanity.

On days like this I lean into this thought: that these are the years, and they won’t be here forever.

Writing for Peace

Always Someday

Before kids, I always thought that there would be a time for writing. Somewhere off on the horizon when I was done with the all-consuming (life sucking?) office job, when I caught up on things and organized my life. The funniest of my delusions included “when the babies come, and the stress is less”. At a time when my personal load of responsibilities was so manageable I should have been writing voraciously, but I allowed the someday mentality to overtake me, and writing had to wait.

In my youthful ignorance I had not factored in such things as babies being machines made for consumption of all available resources. I hadn’t considered things like sick babies who cry incessantly for the first 6 months of their lives, the fact that you can’t form thoughts when you haven’t slept or that when you write from the underbelly of postpartum depression, it shows. The babies came, and the job went away. Since going back to work outside the home in my fragile state wasn’t an option, I needed to find an alternate way to contribute. Writing wasn’t coming easy in my sleep deprived state, so it had to wait.

Much Too Much

Five years and another baby later, my flexible easy-going work-from-home side job had become what I did seven days a week. I rarely spent quality time with my family, rarely cooked them dinner, rarely saw my husband who was working obscene hours himself, and rarely smiled. Both my children had medical needs demanding my attention, and if it weren’t for my mother, I was guaranteed a failing grade on that score. I remember the day that I left my doctor’s office with seven (yes, seven) prescriptions. Some for sleep, some for my worsening depression, and some to help keep me upright from the debilitating stress and work induced pain all over my body.

At 32, I had become the person I never thought I would be. A joyless, overweight product of a lifestyle that was neither honouring me nor my family – and all in the name of making sure that no one thought I was lazy. I was going to contribute if it killed me, and it might have. Either way, writing had to wait.

In May of last year, the greatest gift of my recent years was bestowed upon me when I asked my body to keep going and it replied, simply and assertively, No.

That was that. My body wasn’t just asking for a reduction in the pace of things, it was making it very clear that until everything in my life changed, it wouldn’t either. My nervous system was shot, and I had no physical tolerance for anything. Light and sound stimulus was too much, I was uncoordinated, and I could feel my insides shaking even on the brink of sleep. I was scared.

Changing The Game

I didn’t take a break from work, I shut my small business down abruptly and entirely. We cut every expense that we could reasonably cut, and I was humbled into prioritizing and re-evaluating my values. I spent time sitting and staring at the walls. So much soul searching ensued, and my circle of concern shrunk dramatically. I no longer had time for relationships that weren’t reciprocal, I no longer felt compelled to prove anything to anyone, and I was left with the desire to actively control the quality of only three things in my life: family, health, and peace. Writing could join the conversation.

So we ate some green vegetables, I started sleeping, and I lost 20 pounds. My body came back better and stronger than I remember it. My husband and I put things in motion for him to get a regular 9 to 5 schedule and suddenly, we were a family again. I played with my kids, cleaned and organized my house and created a dedicated place for writing in the front of it, where the sun shines in from three beautiful bay windows all day long.


There is a moment after life events like this where, when you speak, the people who really love you listen. Without questioning and without judgment, though perhaps out of fear, my family heard me when I said that writing is where my peace lies. No longer was I going to be the mom who would like to write, I am now the writer who writes to keep the current of life from swallowing me whole. I am the writer who writes so that my children can see me smile. I am the writer who writes to remind her husband of what is Me. And when writing helps pay the bills, I celebrate it without making it my focus.

If you’ve ever wondered when, exactly, one becomes a writer the answer is this: when you start behaving like one. When you do what you need to do to put yourself in that world, you become, once again, who you are at your core.

Mining Gratitude

Happiness, it turns out, is found within fractional moments of inspired gratitude. Moments where we honour our foundational selves to the detriment of all the fake plastic, albeit necessary, pieces of our lives. Give yourself something to feel a moment of genuine gratitude for, something that makes your life feel uncontrived. Writing as a mother will never be easy, but carving out a protected place of respite from the demands of the day will allows me to give the very best of myself to the experiences and the people in my life who deserve me the most. After all, self-care is self-respect, and our precious children are watching.

No Rest for the Christmas Machine

Every Year, I Try to Muster the Courage to Take On the Christmas Season With A Smile.

I don’t consider myself to be characteristically negative, but I am sure that Christmas was designed specifically to upset the delicate balance that my family has worked so hard to strike since school started in September. Now it’s cold, it’s dark, and the most stressful time of year waits on its haunches to initiate its daunting regime of consumer slavery.

Time Demands

As if there aren’t enough demands on our time, Christmas events seem to begin in November and not end until the year is through. It isn’t like you’ll be hanging out with your friends to sip mulled wine and expensive beer to pass those months, either. Nooo. You won’t even see your friends until sometime mid-January when we’re all still too paralyzed with fear to check our bank accounts, but we manage to find couch change for a coffee together.

Instead, you’ll spend your time amidst coworkers and extended family in rooms with no circulation and 5 people who are perpetually hacking. Your weekends will consist of shaking something store bought into your favourite dessert dish, and convincing your 6-year-old that ‘yes’ is the correct response when Grandma asks if he helped make it. Which brings us to the age-old subject of communal food. As much as I’d love to try cat lady’s new recipe, the pictures of her cat sitting in every Tupperware dish she has exists on her cubicle wall as a constant reminder that it might be better if I did not.

Abstaining affords you better chances of not finding feline pelt in your food, and lowers your chances of being seen indulging your weaknesses by that weird uncle that everyone has; the one who must remark upon every stress induced pound you’ve incurred in the days leading up to this bizarre charade. Insert eye roll here.

Visions of Sugar Plums

I put this reality out of my head in the beginning, imagining quiet evenings by the fire with my husband and kids with a great glass of wine and Christmas movies. Maybe a quick drive around town to look at the beautiful Christmas lights that always warm my cold cold Christmas heart, having time for the kids to actually play with the things they received, and an entire day in pajamas.

I am typically disabused of this idealist notion by the first week of December, or the third migraine of the month, whichever comes first. Friends and colleagues are always abuzz with excitement for this all-too-frequent occasion, and I just feel like Wednesday Adams in the corner as reality takes a foothold in me.

Hold Your Horses

First, there should be a moratorium on the very word until the month within which “it” occurs. There is nothing more frustrating than living through chaos from November 1st through December 26th because your kids know it’s coming but can’t really understand when, so they exist in a continuous state of nervous excitability (read: no one is listening unless mom is crying). By December 15th I am always sure that if I hear my kids casually tell me to ‘add it to the list’ one more time while educating me on the virtues of the newest Poké-whatever, my head is certain to explode and traumatize somebody.

As early as mid-October, Christmas enters the commercial stage with about as much grace as a cross eyed seagull on skates. Pumpkins are lucky to make it out in one piece after that magnificent red bully shows its face. I’m pretty sure the atmosphere in a shopping mall around Christmas could be effectively used for military-grade interrogation. Put me in a 30-person lineup with some shrill Christmas Carol on repeat and I promise you my composure will not last. I’ve had more public altercations in Christmas lineups than Edith Bunker was told to stifle. The year that I was six months pregnant at Christmas I should not even have been allowed to participate, it would have been easier for everyone.

Dollar Bills

Trying to do Christmas on a budget these days is practically impossible, given the expectations. I can scarcely manage supplying my immediate family with what they deem reasonable, it fills me with rage when I am pressured to perform at the level of extended family (many of whom I don’t even see on the regular). You might as well just concede and buy for everyone you’ve ever so much as cast a sideways glance to, because the second you think you’ve had the ‘we’re not going crazy this year, only buying for the kids’ conversation, someone will decide to give you something anyway and act like it’s possible for you not to stand there feeling like a shmuck.

There’s always the scenery to admire while you’re shopping, though, isn’t there? Line after line of enthusiastic parents and tired hungry kids waiting for a snapshot with old Saint Nick. Oh, mall Santa. There’s something about an aged man voluntarily subjecting himself to being sat upon by kids with leaky diapers and random animals all day long that just doesn’t compute for me. Between that, and Santa’s awkward joke about my eight-month-old wanting dog food for Christmas, I have pretty much made my peace with this particular issue. So, my kids are deprived and I’m a bad mom – you can add that to the list, too.

On to the family festivities you’ll go, boxes of overpriced trinkets in tow. Ready to dive into another potluck feast before crawling back into the snow-covered car to test your threshold for terror on icy Alberta roads to get to the next event that you hope you can keep yourself awake for. This is another consequence of the divorce rate, you know. Since no one is married anymore, good luck spreading your holiday time around equally! You’ll end up spending most of the day taking your kids in and out of the car and bundling and de-bundling them in a futile effort to keep everyone happy before eventually succumbing to the festive season stroke you so-deserve (unless you’ve already yielded to death by small talk). Hospital stays are the new all-inclusive parental retreats, dontchaknow.

Scotchy Scotch Scotch

There is unprecedented pressure not to drink too much at Christmas, which I think, given the circumstances, is cruel and unreasonable. And because I’m not good at following rules, I tend to do it anyway, say f*ck too many times, and generally remind people of why they judge me from January to November. Whomever said that I lack in gregariousness has clearly not spoken to me at 9 o’clock on Christmas night. Exhausted by the leadup, and unstable with resentment, I usually find my ‘socializing groove’ somewhere between 8 and 9pm. Right about the time that my husband is trying to politely point me in the direction of the car while I regale him with a passionate story about some delicious potluck mystery I just fell in love with (because four glasses of wine is the magic number if you’re trying to transcend your fear of potluck-anything).

Everyone has anxiety, traffic is insane, terrible music is absolutely inescapable outside the confines of your own home (I dare you to turn on your car radio). Just when you get done with the mounting, lighting, decorating, purchasing, wrapping and bedazzling (all while working your full-time job, of course) you settle in for your 5 seconds of peace and realize – it’s over. It’s over and tomorrow real life will start again. Not an ounce of Christmas vacation, and certainly no vacation from Christmas.


Balance – A Futile Quest

Married to Shiftwork

Trying to explain what life is like for moms of little kids is like trying to explain gravity to a chicken. Trying to explain what it’s like to have small kids with a shift working partner is harder.

The Shiftworkette exists in a strange purgatory somewhere in between single parent, and single parent with a roommate whose erratic schedule ensures that routine is never established.

For the record: there is no person in this whole wide world who appreciates my husband’s sacrifices more than I do. He works long hours, hard hours, and often while contending with and managing complex and dramatic workplace politics. Been there. Don’t miss it. Barf. 

I am a Canadian woman. I am so blessed to be living in a country where my family’s freedom and resource needs are abundantly met. I’m also increasingly aware that there are a whole bunch of flaws in our system where it comes to balance.

Remember the glow of your first pregnancy? (Yes, I know it was really just sweat from incessant morning sickness, but follow me here…) We were the best of friends with our  husbands. They were our ‘rock’. We were going to “co-parent”. Ha! We would continue to share responsibilities equally, and (get this!balance would emerge organically to support the dynamic of our adorable growing family. Masssssssive eye roll.  

And then the shift work offer came in and you thought – wait for it- this will give us more time together. He’ll get a whole week off at a time? Sounds dreamy, thank you!

You didn’t realize though, that when you agreed to that you were giving up the possibility of balanced domestic responsibility. Of balance altogether, really.

I’m Not Built for This

I do about four days before I want to choke the life out of anyone for anything. It isn’t justified and it isn’t fair, but I wrote it down so it’s staying there. I get nothing done the week that he’s away, so the week that he’s home is spent taking turns parenting the kids while the other runs out to do any of the one thousand items that need to be covered.

All the ‘Shoulds’

The problem that I see is that the stay at home mom really cannot win. If you’re exclusively a SAHM, you should really be taking on a part time job. If you’re a SAHM who tries to cram in some work time because you need the break (or you need the money!) your children are now ‘suffering’ in your absence.

If you’re a mother working outside the home, you must actively dislike your kids. And your house needs to be clean, and dinner should be made and you should be able to do all of this with a smile on your face and not a trace of fat on your ass. Subsist on stale closet goldfish crackers and develop the unshakeability of a brick fucking wall because if you crack even a little, the whole structure implodes. And if that happens it’s on you, mama! It was probably your fault anyway, the kids could feel your anxiety. (Don’t you love it!)

Recently, I was told that by giving my child a phone to watch in a restaurant that I wasn’t just giving myself and the other patrons an opportunity to consume an adult meal in peace as I thought. Nope. By letting this happen, I have instead engaged in what this spirited old broad called “raising the next serial murderers of our time”. Silly me. Moms. Can’t. Win.

It’s all barely manageable without superhuman tenacity, and if you add any kind of neurological challenge on the part of any member of the family (ADHD, depression, anxiety etc.) just say goodnight.

Balance is Out of Reach

The fact is, balance doesn’t exist these days. And it won’t for a while; even longer for many of us. All we can do is talk to each other and keep talking. Our husbands are good people, but they’re not here living this, after all. And he’s doing all he can too…maybe. The verdict’s out. I haven’t had time to ask him.

We can talk about positive self talk and self care, but the reality is that you’re probably better off doing away with any lofty fantasies of bubble baths and quiet cups of tea. Get used to the lukewarm bathwater you commandeer after your 2 year old is done for the night. Tell yourself that there’s no pee in there. Nope, no pee.

Reach out to the lonely mommies in your community in solidarity, be kind to yourself so you can be kind to others in your position. And most importantly, if you find yourself living through the small kid years in total bliss and I sound like a total nut bar to you right now, appreciate that with the totality of your being. Dinner together 5 days a week is a novelty occurrence for many of us.

Hang in there, warrior mamas. You’re not alone. Batshit is the new normal.

Making Italian

Photo by Piotr Miazga on Unsplash

We just came through four months of being sick. Four months of my 5 year old bringing home every god forsaken germ he could locate at the local Kindergarten, and blowing it on us. It pains me, really, to think of the number of things he must have licked in an effort to accomplish this incredible feat. But accomplish it, he did! Like a puppy looking for love, arriving at your feet with an avian corpse. It’s not that I’m overly enthused with the number of magpies anyway, but germy gifts are not gifts of love.

So we were sick. Stomach flu, head cold, ear infection, ear infection, chest cold, ear infection, and sometimes two at once! I think we have slept once since our adventure began and never once ate a vegetable that my mother didn’t cook for us. (Is it possible we also had scurvy?) Days would blend into weeks and the crying from the baby never, ever stopped.

Lots of days I pity partied until I either read my news feed (insert:Syria), or until something else happened to knock me off the pity stick that was, like, sooo up my ass. One day I’m video conferencing my friend, S, while in a sad attempt to make it to bedtime with my sanity and manage to feed the kids. ‘Feed them what?’ I thought. I forgot we don’t even own food anymore.

Back to the pantry – got it! Kids all like ramen noodles, right? I assume. I don’t think mine had had any before. So I’m doing it, but I’m slightly embarrassed to be feeding sick kids something so totally full of msg. And I’m not crunchy! It’s just that I feel like you wait until you have fully developed livers and kidneys before you fuck with ichiban.

So I tell S what I’m doing because I know she’s good peeps and isn’t likely to judge me (but also because if I don’t offer a play-by-play of my every move, what good am I?!). She could sense my defeat, my sense of ‘doneness’ with everything. Perhaps the unwashed hair and questionable substances smeared into my shirt gave it away? As if on cue, and with no judgment or other disparaging insinuation as to my parenting she announced, as this deep fried/boiled concoction came into her view, “Look at you! You’re making Italian!”  

“Obviously”, I say. “There is no substitute for nutrition, and my children deserve the best”.

Lean on your friends, the good ones will remind you to laugh.