To James on his first birthday – 50 of 100

My dear James,

You turned one last Monday. I thought I would have this message all written and ready but sometimes life just doesn’t go as planned.

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It’s been quite a week. Last Thursday, I spilled a glass of water on my laptop while working on this blog and another paid writing gig for a print magazine. I’m telling you this for a few reasons.

#1. I’ve always been a little clumsy and careless. I’ve tried so so hard to change that about myself. But as the old saying goes: nobody’s perfect. That goes for me – and you. It’s hard when the things we hate most about ourselves rear their ugly heads. But try not to beat yourself up too much Baby.

#2. The thing about the laptop is: It was new(ish). I bought last fall, after I unexpectedly landed a copywriting job and made some extra money. We used it to buy the laptop so that I could be a portable writer. I’ve used it to write here – and I’ve also now written four published (or to-be-published) pieces. I guess what I’m saying is that those good things and bad things in our personality are with us always – side by side. Sometimes we’re kicking butt and sometimes we’re failing miserably. And sometimes, we just have to surrender.

#3. I knew dad would be pretty mad about the computer. Once, I briefly lost my wedding ring. I’ve never seen your dad so distraught. He could barely talk to me at breakfast. (It’s a really special ring.) But the thing was: my aunt and a high school friend were both sick with terminal cancer. I couldn’t stop thinking about them when I thought about the ring. Of course I valued the ring – I loved it as much as I had ever loved anything. But I also could not be heartbroken about it. It was a ring. A piece of metal. My husband that I loved was sitting across the table eating breakfast with me.

Dad was mad. But he let it go. I know it was a mistake, he texted me, as I drove to the Apple store. I guess what I’m saying is – Perspective. Keep it. Choose your fights. What really matters? Right now, my fizzled laptop is here beside me. You, my living breathing one-year-old son, are sleeping in your crib.

But enough about the dumb laptop.

Your Auntie Fiona and Uncle Kevin are visiting from Ontario. We spent the weekend with them in Canmore. On Sunday night, you woke up with vomit all over you, your sleeping bag, the crib. It was the night before your birthday. You cried and cried. Uncle Kevin took a bath with you (he’s crazy about you). We rocked you. Cleaned you up. You threw up again and again.

Finally, we got you back to sleep. The next day, we drove home and Dad and I frantically prepared for your party. You weren’t throwing up but you weren’t yourself. We got balloons. I baked a cake (carrot). We wrapped presents. We dressed you in your cute gray vest. Then your cousins and your aunts and uncles were here and even though you weren’t feeling very well, I think the chaos swept you away for a while.

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I mean: It’s pretty great to be loved so much. Especially when everything else feels like crap.

On Tuesday, the day after your birthday, we went to get your shots. They said it as ok even though you’re not feeling the best. You were crying before the needles even came out. I pressed you hard against me and held down your arms and watched as your face twisted red in terror and pain. I’ve never heard you cry so loud and hard. You screamed in the waiting room while we waited the 15 minutes they make you wait. I thought I’d never forgive myself. Maybe we can hurt someone we love when we’re trying to protect them.

Dad came home with flowers for me. (James, your dad is the best. Take notes.)

I was supposed to go back to work on Wednesday. But I knew I couldn’t leave you with someone else, not after the last two days. You woke up screaming at 5:30 that morning. Dad and I couldn’t console you. You were so sad and uncomfortable and there was nothing we could do but be here and hold you.

It made me think about all the things I couldn’t protect you from. I tried not to get too overwhelmed by it, as I held you in our rocking chair, your warm tears streaming onto my chest, your blankey draped across your chest.

So I stayed home with you.

But you know what? Not one- but two friends stopped by to drop me a note and a treat to wish me well. I kept getting emails and texts from friends and family asking how I was doing at my first day back.

Like I said, James: It’s pretty great to be loved when everything is else feels like crap.

A few people suggested that you knew what was up – that I wouldn’t be spending every day with you anymore. But how? I wondered. Around a campfire last night, our friend Roger suggested that before they have language, babies just know things – their intuition is heightened. I think he’s right. It’s also true that I kept bursting into tears last week. While pushing the stroller in the street. While reading “Owl is dirty. Owl is clean. Owl is blue. Owl is green.” with you on my lap on living room floor.

I feel like it’s unfair to feel so sad about going back to work when we had 53 whole weeks together. But I’m sad. I’m sad for every minute I’ll miss this year.

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We have this way of being together, you and me. You’re my son and my buddy. We communicate with no words. Our world, governed by heart.

On Thursday, I had to go back to work so Daddy stayed home with you. He was changing you when you got home and when you saw me you cried Mamma Mamma and reached for me and climbed up onto me like a little monkey – naked – too quick to let Daddy get a diaper back on you. Your head fell onto my shoulder and you melted into me.

I had this total freak out that maybe you wouldn’t need me in the same way now that I’m not going to be around as much. I know it’s irrational. But FUCK – welcome to motherhood. I just barely remember the definition of rational.

That night I had another good cry on the couch.

Sometimes I ask you: Do you know how much I love you?

You’ll never know, I answer.

And in some ways, that’s true. You’ll never know. On the other hand, it’s the first and only thing you’ve ever known. And someday, if you decide to have a little bean of your own, you will look down at their impossibly perfect face and then you will truly finally know how much your dad and I love you.

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I want so many things for you in this life, James. I want you to have adventures, discover wonder and beauty in the world, find the things that light you up. I hope that you find happiness. But maybe the whole point of this long letter is that happiness isn’t what you think it is – because real happiness is feeling all the things. It’s crying while reading a board book about owls with your son’s hair tickling your nose. It’s being there to hold him while he throws up all over you. It’s heartache, sorrow, pain, forgiveness, failure, success, bliss. It’s this year – for me. Because this year–learning to being your mom–has been all the things.

Mostly, I want you to find love – all different kinds of love! Love grounds us. Gets us through the thick of life. (I think.)

Ours will always always be here for you.

Happy birthday sweet baby boy. I love you.

Yours,

Momma.

A year ago, I was thinking – 48 of 100

I found this in my saved drafts. It’s pretty sweet to see where my head was at a year ago. And think about those long, lazy Sunday mornings. I’m thinking in this next week, I’ll try to clean up a few of the pieces lingering in my drafts folder. Why not?

It is early-ish on a Sunday morning. Well it is exactly 7:47 a.m. but it feels SO early because it is still pitch dark out, as tends to be the case on winter mornings in the Great White North. The house is silent except for hum of the refrigerator and the heat kicking through the vents.

I don’t really have much to write about today but I wanted to sit down and try.

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I am 35 weeks pregnant. Five weeks to go. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. We’re at this funny moment where nothing is really happening in our life and yet everything is happening. Weekend mornings are devoted to coffee and long hours of reading. Eventually we’ll get the grocery store. Maybe take a walk.

Usually, I would go bonkers with this kind of quiet. We would be racing for the ski hill, driving to the mountains. But right now, it is like medicine.

I find myself looking around and studying this time, knowing that in one year, three years, 10 and 15 years, I will say, ‘remember when we used to wake up on Saturday mornings and read for hours on the couch and it was so quiet? Remember how good it was?’ Of course at that time we’ll be in throes of some other kind of good. Or maybe things will be hard. Or somewhere in between.

But right now is good.

The other week, I slipped into Dan’s arms and said, ‘Do you think we’ll always be this happy?’

He shook his head. ‘No. Not always.’

Of course he’s right. We can’t always be happy. Life can’t always be just right.

Sometimes, I can’t believe the person who will change our lives the most is growing right now inside my belly. That we haven’t met them yet. Perhaps it is knowing that we are about to embark on the greatest change, challenge, adventure that I am dwelling in calm right now. I am letting it swirl around and soothe me. Until this mysterious miraculous creature becomes the centre.

My friend Erica – 47 of 100

In an excellent episode of Dear Sugar, the Sugars talk to relationship therapist Esther Perel about infidelity. There are SO MANY great takeaways from this podcast (like you should go out into the world and do something that makes you feel sexy – like dance or hike or whatever and then bring that energy home to the bedroom), but one thing that stuck out in my mind is that many of us expect all things from our marriage: our partner is supposed to be the love of our life, our best friend, our co-parent, our business partner, etc, etc all while maintaining a fabulous sex life. Esther points out that its ridiculous to believe that one person can be all things – and it’s ridiculous that people expect this of their marriages. You need a village.

You need family. You need colleagues, creative partners, mentors, etc. And you need friends. (And you need the Sugars, because they are amazing.)

One of my weird life-long complexes is that I believe that people do not like to be around me. It began in middle school (where else?) with the crippling desire to be super duper popular while deep down wanting to hide under a rock and never be seen. If people saw me, they might see me for the boring/annoying/waste-of-time-to-be-around loser that I was.

It can be hard to make friends when you feel like you’re a mosquito. But the thing is: I have great friends. Inspiring and amazing people, for real. I think beer helped me in college. And sometimes the universe delivers an instant-friend, that requires almost no effort, someone that rides your same wavelength in life, you know?

Like my friend Erica.

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I met Erica on the first day of my pre-natal yoga class. We got paired up for an exercise, chatted for that brief moment and realized our due dates were three days apart. She was  the only person I ever really talked to the whole five months or so that I took the class.

When our due dates grew near – our bellies so round – we exchanged numbers in the locker room after class. That was the last time we saw each other at yoga.

About a month after James was born, I got a text from her. Our littles – Lucy and James – were born on the same day. We saw each other soon after.

And now I don’t know what I would do without Erica. Every new Mom needs a friend like this: one who is going through exactly what you are going through, one with a similar parenting philosophy but would never judge anyway, whose child somehow naps at the same times (mostly) as yours so getting together is a breeze – and it turns out is just generally awesome and inspiring and you’d have been friends in life before babies too.

Erica and I have walked many miles (actually kilometres because we live in Canada) with the little ones. We have talked about baby sleep for hours on end. We have commiserated about how our (amazing) husbands sometimes just don’t get it.

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Lucy and James – birthday twins

I think James may have finally sent my people-don’t-want-to-be-around-me complex packing. I don’t have the time or the energy for it. Moms (and dads) need each other. The experience is just too big to go at alone.

This year, a couple made a very long difficult flight with James tolerable…even memorable. A local toured me around Castle Mountain. Sometimes, I feel like James (or babies in general) is a magnet for goodwill. Just yesterday, a mom came up to me before she got off the train to say: He’s a beautiful baby.

It’s so easy to blur out the people around you. But James can bring things like that into focus. He’s brought down a wall. He’s opened me up.

Rituals – 46 of 100

This morning, I was thinking about rituals. Morning is full of them for us. James wakes us, I go to feed him, while Dan lingers in bed for a few more minutes and then gets up to make coffee. I change James, Dan fills a bowl with berries for J, mugs of coffee for us.

Dan used to feed James fruit because it was the only way to keep him still for a few morning snuggles. Now the two of them love their moment. So they sit in the lazy boy with their berries and I drink my coffee on the couch.

We play. We eat breakfast.

Our morning walk ritual began in Florida. Every morning, before his first nap, I’d load James into the Ergo Baby and we would walk along the ocean. I realized it was exactly what we both needed. James, not quite ready for sleep, but not bursting with energy either. Me, tired from playing/mothering for those first few hours. The walk served as quiet time for us to be together and look around the world.

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Morning walk views in Florida

I vowed to keep it upon our return home. Winter be damned.

And we have. We get James into his fleece bear suit. Load him into the backpack. We walk Dan to the train station, kiss him goodbye and have a quiet walk around the neighborhood.

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James after I unclip him from the carrier. This moment always cracks me up.

I’m busy thinking about all the things I’ll miss when I’m back at work. The morning walk is one of them.

I’m thinking about what I want to get done in these two weeks. I’m never going to finish 100 posts, but I’d like to get to 50. That feels like a solid number to me.

For his first birthday, I want to publish the birth story I wrote down way way back when but never finished. I have a writing assignment for the first print issue of Crowfoot Media (!)

I want to enjoy the pre-nap snuggles because I’m going to miss them like crazy.

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Taken in Waterton: our morning walk set up.

I feel this clarity that I can’t quite explain. Maybe it’s more of an energy. I think sometimes we feel this way when change is imminent. When you know you MUST be where you are because soon life is going to sweep you right along – you’re circling an eddy in the river.

When I was on those morning walks in Florida along the ocean I would think: I could do this every day. Pulling off my shoes. Walking on the sand. Looking out out out at the wide ocean. The salty sea air. My son breathing at my back. My heart beating, my blood moving. The young morning sun.

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Mmmhmmm. I could do this every day.

Maybe that’s what rituals are for. To clear the noise. To make space for ourselves. To find the center.

That feeling – when the past, present and future – who you are, your ideas, what you really want- the whole world – gather close – like a pulse. It’s when you could burst into tears at any moment, because: Life. You know? It’s what I wish I could write down here in words, but can’t.

It’s here now. I want to press it like a shell to my ear and listen.

Back to work – 45 of 100

With two weeks left in my maternity leave, the question I am asked nearly every day is:

Are you excited to go back to work?

It’s such a big question with so very many answers.

I mean, yes. And no.

I am ready to work. I’d even venture to say that getting back to work will make me a better mom. I can feel my brain itching and drifting when I’m with him sometimes. Aching to do something other than mother (like the other day, I was so lazy. I should have taken him to do something fun! But I also just don’t feel like it. Anyway, I sat on the floor and watched him unroll all the toilet paper for a while.)

My boss texted me yesterday about new responsibilities and projects that immediately sent me looking for books to read and things to research. Yeah! I was excited. For real.

I’m excited to wear skirts and dresses and make-up and walk around the world with blow-dried hair. I’m excited to not wear nursing bras.

I’m worried that I won’t have any time. For personal projects. For exercise. For anything. I’m already plotting and scheming how I’ll manage to keep making yummy healthy dinners at night. I mean really: How do working parents do it all? Reveal your secrets, please.

There’s all the guilt and worry about leaving him in someone else’s care full time (it probably doesn’t help that I was run over by a car at a daycare when I was two). I’m having the hardest time getting my head around someone spending more time with him than us. Socialization, learning to listen/be with another adult. All good. But still.

And-of course-I’m going to miss him. Chasing him around the house. The way his giggles re-center the whole world. I’ll miss zipping him into his little bear suit for our morning walk. And hauling the stroller up and down the stairs to take him to the park. I’ll miss all the little nothings that happen over the course of the day.

Really, the hardest thing is not going back to work – but that first year of his life has come and gone. My first year as a parent.

I’ve wondered my whole life: What will it be like to be pregnant? To give birth? To be a mom? Who will my first child be? What will they look like?

A few of life’s great curiosities have been answered. Of course, of course, there are so very many more. So much to discover about this little human. About being a parent and life.

In a way, I feel like I’m launching a little planet from my orbit. He’ll ride next to me for a while and keep testing his limits, exploring, scooting away. Sometimes I think about how at the beginning, I was his universe. Then, Daddy entered. And incrementally from there, the world inches into his life, bit by bit. Less mom, more world.

But for this first year of his life, our worlds were one.

It’s been the best year of my life.

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A couple of other things:

1. Last Friday, we had dinner with some friends. We were talking about our jobs. I said something like:

“There’s this idea/ideal in your head about work – this place where everything is clicking, you’re doing exactly what you want to be doing, killing it, surrounded by people that inspire you to, you’re making the right amount of money. You’re fulfilled in every way. But does it really exist?”

Do you have a vision? In my head, I see a blue sky and an ocean view and there’s a vibration, a hum, like a tuning fork. I’m not sure what this vision has to do with my career. Am I writing from a desk looking out at it? Or does it just feel to me what looking out at the ocean feels like? I really don’t know.

I do think that career exists for some people. But I also think the reality of it so much messier and more difficult than the picture in your head, that castle in the sky.

I had coffee with a friend the other day and she and her husband are living their dream. But it’s hard. He’s away traveling a lot, leaving her to parent alone. Work and family life are all mixed up. They work A LOT. There’s no going home at the end of the day and leaving it all behind.

All I’m saying is that reality is not in the clouds. It’s on the ground.

2. On Saturday we sat down to our finances. We want to buy a house so we mapped it all out.

I always find budgeting a little empowering and a little sobering.

Dan and I have been through some real financial distress. When we moved to Calgary, we were struggling in a big way (long story). It was scary. When we finally got out of the hole, I promised myself I would never go back. We’d be smarter. More prudent.

We have a good set up here. Our rent is low, and that allows us to focus on things like travel and adventure. Of course, James changes things. We have him registered at a dayhome and then we got offered a spot at a daycare that is $500 more a month. $500 is a lot of money to us. If we buy a house, would it be feasible? We could do it, but what would we be giving up?

And should I feel guilty if I choose something – anything! –  over higher priced (possibly better, but who really knows?) care for my son? (I do).

And then your brain really spins out of control: How will we ever afford activities for this child? For any future children? Will we get on a plane ever again when we’re paying for three or four plane tickets? Gawd!

Take a breath.

Dan and I like our jobs. We made conscious decisions to work for the places that we work. And we like the work that we do.

Cross that bridge when you get to it. You are ok. Remember those jeans you bought? You can make it happen. (I keep telling myself.)

And: If only wine, beer, cheese and books cost a little less in this country. It’d be so much easier.