Like many people, I think September is truly the start of a new year. For years, Labour Day has been my January 1. Whether it was going back to school myself, starting a new hockey season or sending my kids off to school, the first few weeks of September have always by synonymous with change and opportunity, making it my favourite time of year. After all, who’s motivated to embrace fresh starts in the middle of winter? Not this cat.
To me, September represents a gentle transition from the frantic pace of summer, when we’re determined to keep the kids busy and make the most of every sunny day, to the slower rhythm of autumn with its wood-burning fires, crisp air and gorgeous sweaters.
Every year, as I reluctantly move indoors, there are two things I do consistently, without fail. First, I look around and think “how can I possibly celebrate this season of renewal when I’m surrounded by all my old stuff?” And so I march off to Homesense or Urban Barn looking for the “seasonal accents” that will take the sting out of spending the next nine months indoors.
The second thing that happens is that I start paying more attention to food. I spend hours (okay minutes… but lots of them) pouring over cook books and magazines in search of new recipes, healthy tips and creative lunch box ideas.
This bizarre phenomenon is called “nesting”, and it’s a thing. Oddly, it’s most common among pregnant women who are driven by a biological need to feather their nest, so to speak, during the latter months of pregnancy. I assure you there is no bun in my oven yet every September I start caring about things I normally ignore (namely keeping a nice house and meal preparation). If I didn’t have a kid in the bath and a kid …ummm…. somewhere else… I would do a little research and hit you with some impressive psychological jargon. I’d talk about nesting as a product of our primal instincts, bears hibernating, changing seasons, etc etc. But in the absence of any real effort on my part you’ll just have to trust me: nesting is the real deal.
But sadly, it isn’t all scented candles and pumpkin patches. Nesting can be a cruel and sneaky mistress. She can also be a bit of a bitch, if you want my honest opinion.
One of the biggest traps I fall into when nesting? Believing that ads like this represent real life. Believing that with the right throw pillows, blankets, furniture and “seasonal accents” we too can have a picture perfect family. Take this Ikea ad:
I mean, WHO LIVES LIKE THIS?? No one I know I can tell you that.
In my house the chairs would be mismatched and crusted with dog barf. And they most certainly would not be white. The “accents” would be leftover from my student days, not stylish and colour co-ordinated. And don’t even get me started on the idyllic family scene. At chez Millard the kids would be fighting, crying and looking homeless.
Lately I’ve also spent a lot of time at Michael’s carefully selecting craft supplies I think we both know I’ll never use. I’ve never even HAD a wreath let alone made my own. A recent craft cupboard inventory found hot glue, spray paint, dollar store feather boas, decorative bird cages, push pins, fake pussy willows and a 24-pack of Martha Stewart Crafts Essential Colours glitter. So if Cher ever offers to babysit, we are in business.
Another nesting trap? Convincing yourself school lunches aren’t the anti-Christ. The nesting instinct makes you believe you can make them fun and healthy, that with a little extra effort you’ll be rewarded with smiling, well-fed, academically advanced children envied by their peers because their mom sends “Where The Wilds Things Are” themed lunches.
During the first week of school I went slightly berserk with the heart-shaped cookie cutter, using it for everything from sandwiches to cheese. Then I pre-wrote a week’s worth of lunch box love notes, baked up a storm and spent a small fortune on bento box accessories because for some reason having all the food in one container is no longer socially acceptable.
Being on parental leave (ie. surfing Pinterest and Googling “DIY body scrubs” all day) means the nesting sickness has been able to escalate beyond a minor affliction (think bee sting) to something more acute (think smallpox). And like most diseases that result in physical scarring, nesting has left its mark. What have I got to show for all this shopping, crafting, pinning, cooking and creating? Pretty much nothing, unless you count the bento boxes that have been lost, melted in the dishwasher or eaten by a dog. And aside from my daughters’ teachers thinking I am bat-shit crazy, I’ve also managed to set a ridiculously high standard for lunch box cuisine that, upon my return to work, cannot possibly be maintained. Now I have to start reintroducing poor overall presentation, processed snacks and general ambivalence much earlier than I anticipated. Fiddlesticks!
But it’s not all bad. Truthfully, I’ve enjoyed putting more effort into all things domestic, and I’ve really enjoyed having the time to make cookies instead of buying them, and to search for the perfect kid-sized gloves that will make my little Cinderella and Elsa absolutely giddy with happiness on October 31st. Turns out I don’t hate being domestic, I just hate being too busy to enjoy it.
I also joined a swim team and two weeks ago I had my first legit practice in 25 years. Naturally I haven’t been back since, but whatever. Baby steps. And I’ve found a great organization to volunteer with. If you’re interested in child welfare and want to see an aggressive, optimistic and visionary plan for finding homes for 30,000 foster kids by the year 2020, please check out http://www.untilthelastchild.com. If you’re mean and heartless, don’t bother. And if you want more tips on nesting, just let me know. I’ll get them for you as soon as I find my other kid.