10 Blogs My Family Wishes I’d Never Written

Everytime I post a new blog I’m pretty sure my mother makes the sign of the cross before reading it. We’re not Catholic but I think this is her way of saying “please don’t let this be about her sex life. Again.”

I get a lot of feedback about my writing but the comments that make me the happiest and most gratified are the ones that say something like, “I can’t believe you said that, but I’m so glad you did.”

I started my blog, in part, because I was reading so much about parenting that I couldn’t relate to, such as Pinterest-worthy school lunches, sleep training, managing behaviours, raising a reader, etc. etc. Most of it was good advice but it was not reflecting my reality as an adoptive mother of one, and then two, young girls who came to me hard-wired with their own opinions, beliefs, likes, dislikes, traumas and experiences. I wasn’t trying to carve an apple into a perfect spiral or teach my pre-K daughter how to write her name, I was just trying to survive.

My tell it like it is style was born, therefore, not out of a desire to be funny or provocative, but because anything less seemed like a waste of time. And since I can’t do it any other way, I might as well own it.

Right, mom?

10. That time I made pizza that turned out like the creepy snake-face guy from Pirates of the Caribbean. https://wineandsmartiesblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/day-2-of-the-rest-of-my-life-cue-sobbing

9. That time I wrote about waxxing toddlers and told everyone to mind their own business. https://urbanmoms.ca/parenting/i-defend-your-right-to-parent/

8. That time we let our oldest daughter befriend a lobster before we cooked it alive. She is now a vegetarian.http://blog.mabelslabels.com/were-eating-your-friend-pass-the-butter

7. That time I electrocuted Leila (by accident). https://wineandsmartiesblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/patience-is-a-virtue-until-you-get-electrocuted/

6. That time my ten-year old had to learn about periods and sex while staring at my 44-year old body floating in the bathtub.https://urbanmoms.ca/parenting/teenagers-parenting/period-talk-my-daughter/

5. That time I wrote about drinking too much. http://blog.mabelslabels.com/moms-lets-talk-about-the-drinking and the time after that,

http://blog.mabelslabels.com/still-talking-drinking , and then the time I vlogged about it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7ZpxO96qCk

4. That time I railed against the stupidity of school welcome packages, which is only funny because I’m Chair of the parent council at my kids’ school. https://urbanmoms.ca/parenting/i-defend-your-right-to-parent/

3. That time I made the kids hold my bags while I pooped in the middle of a street in broad daylight. http://www.savvymom.ca/article/myth-perfect-family-vacation/

2. That time I wrote about scheduling sex. http://www.savvymom.ca/article/started-scheduling-sex-calendars/

1. That time I wrote about my first, but certainly not my last, vibrator. https://urbanmoms.ca/parenting/sex-parenting/buying-my-first-vibrator-was-about-way-more-than-sex/

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Why I Surrendered in the War on Stuffies

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In the past six years, a sinister force has taken over my house.

It’s not the chicken nuggets, frozen cheese pizzas and boxes of Kraft Dinner. Nor is it the lack of toilet flushing, or even the endless conversation about what they did in the toilet.

I’m talking about a plague that comes in all colours, shapes, and sizes; one with glass eyes, whose ability to transmit lice and the norovirus is as impressive as it is disgusting.

I’m talking about stuffed animals. “Stuffies” are a big part of life at chez Millard, and I’m pretty sure they’re breeding.

But even as I fantasize about permanent extermination, I have to admit I get it.

As a kid, stuffies were my constant companions. I never got into Barbies (who wants to cuddle a stick insect?) and my short-lived doll obsession was limited to the Cabbage Patch variety. For a short time, Millicent the redhead and Amber the preemie replaced the dozens of cats, bunnies, dogs, seals and indeterminate woodland creatures I played with and loved every day. But it didn’t last.

Stuffed animals were my go-to toy and I treated them like real live pets. When I was super-stressed by world events (such as the Flintstones shifting time slots, or finding my brother’s He-Man figurines violating my Care Bears) my stuffies’ soft fur and sweet faces were the ultimate comfort. Even in my late teens when my friends were cruising the cosmetics aisles and pouring over Seventeen magazine, I still had a select few hanging about. And by hanging about I mean sleeping in my bed with me every night. I have no memory of whittling my collection down from 100 to ten, but it must have been gut-wrenching.

I would spend hours positioning my stuffies for classroom lessons and TV watching. Their bed-sleeping rotation schedule was executed with the accuracy and precision of a Navy Seals training exercise. When they weren’t learning fractions and watching cartoons, my animals could be found in the bassinets and baby buggies I stole from my actual human brothers. Come on, where were my stuffies supposed to sleep? On the floor?

Fast forward thirty plus years and I find myself secreting garbage bags full of plush creatures out to the curb. Not because my kids don’t want them, but because we are simply out of room. My suggestion that we wash and donate some was met with horror so, like any good, compassionate mother, I waited until they went to school then packed as many as I could get away with into garbage bags and buried them at the bottom of the bin. (And let me tell you, life was a whole lot easier before this “clear bags only” business).

But just because no one has asked to see Tommy Turtle (yet), doesn’t mean I’m proud of my behaviour. In fact, I’ve recently become very, very ashamed.

The stuffies are ever-present in our house but when my girls are particularly anxious or out of sorts, they’ll play with them more than usual. Recently, critters I thought had disappeared (courtesy of my own cold, dead heart) were suddenly reappearing. They’d escaped my wrath by hiding under beds and at the backs of closets and were now enjoying tea parties and natural light. And this is when it hit me: not only had I thrown away some of my kids’ best friends, but I’d done so with as much compassion as a serial killer dumping the bodies. Thinking about Tommy Turtle going from a warm, comfy bed to a landfill in Michigan – and my daughters finding out about that – made me feel sick to my stomach.

While these toys may not have actual feelings, the meaning we assigned them made it seem as if they did.

When I watch my kids play with stuffies I see them learning to care for and about something other than themselves. I see them using empathy and demonstrating compassion. When they make sure each stuffy gets a turn on the swing I hope they are learning to be fair, and when I see them playing with their non-favourites, I hope they are learning that everyone needs a friend.

In my house, stuffies are helping bridge the gap between two little girls with little in common personality-wise. My oldest, who constantly reminds me she didn’t ask for a sister, is still, three years later, wary and mildly resentful that she’s no longer the only game in town. But when the stuffies come out, the playing field magically levels. They collaborate and connect in ways they don’t with other toys.

I’ve always been an animal lover and my kids are too. Sometimes I wonder if my love for animals fueled my stuffie obsession, or if my stuffie obsession taught me to love real animals. I guess it’s a question of what came first: the (stuffed) chicken or the egg. Regardless, I love watching my girls brush their stuffed horses, cuddle their stuffed kitties and refuse to walk their stuffed dogs, just like they do in real life.

Many people don’t understand the attachment people like my daughters and I can form to inanimate objects – how we can love something that doesn’t love us back. Psychologists will refer to our stuffed animals as “security objects” or talk about attachment issues that follow young stuffie lovers into adulthood. And once I slowed down and stopped obsessing about how stuffies were cluttering up my house I remembered what a treasured part of my childhood they were. And the killing stopped.

If you’re not there yet, I understand. If you’re still committing stuffycide in the middle of the night consider these important facts: they’re cheaper than American Girl dolls, they’re easier to clean up than glitter, and they hurt less than Lego when you step on them.

Not convinced? Come and see me. I have some clear plastic bags you can borrow.

 

This post was originally published on blog.mabelslabels.com in April, 2017. 

Throwback ….

Repost from June 2016

I wrote this last spring but the list of still holds true. These books are some of may favourites. Each one captures the joy, trauma and complexity of motherhood in very different ways. Just in case you’re looking for a new  novel to lose yourself in this weekend … Happy reading! J xo

http://blog.mabelslabels.com/six-books-that-nail-motherhood/

Originally posted on June 16, 2016 for Mabel’s Labels on blog.mabelslabels.com

 

So … About that Easter Bunny….

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Confession: I just Googled “What is the religious meaning of Easter?” Because when your almost-5 year old asks “Why do they call it Good Friday?” and the best answer you can come up with is “because there’s no school,” you know you have some work to do.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Easter or Resurrection Sunday,is a festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred three days after his crucifixion by Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. It is the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.

Hmmm… Still a little fuzzy. Let’s try “What is the religious meaning of Good Friday?”

Good Friday is a Christian religious holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary. The holiday is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday preceding Easter Sunday, and may coincide with the Jewish observance of Passover. It is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, Black Friday, or Easter Friday, though the last term properly refers to the Friday in Easter week. Based on the details of the canonical gospels, the Crucifixion of Jesus was most likely to have been on a Friday (the day before the Jewish Sabbath).

That clears things up a bit, but how does all this translate into a giant bunny breaking into our home to leave chocolate and over-priced pastel-coloured stuffies?

Glad you asked. Another quick Google search of “What is the connection between Easter and rabbits?” turns up a Huffington Post article from 2011, which states: “The Easter Bunny is perhaps the biggest commercial symbol of Easter. But how did a rabbit and eggs become associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Well there clearly seems to be no correlation between the secular symbols and the Christian holiday.”

Great. Let’s try again.

Discovery.com says “Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. These tropes were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. These tropes were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead. According to the University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture, the origin of the celebration — and the origin of the Easter Bunny — can be traced back to 13th-century, pre-Christian Germany, when people worshiped several gods and goddesses. The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.”

So let me get this straight: in order to explain the religious origins of Easter and Good Friday and why we celebrate these days the way we do, I have to talk about death, resurrection, goddess worship and sex. And not just any kind of sex: rapid, frequent and very effective sex – the kind that only rabbits and pro athletes are (fortunate?) enough to be having.

I think I’ll stick with “Because there’s no school.”

Meet criminal Barbie

If you read my last post you know that naked Barbie dolls are littering my backyard, turning the space between the cedars and the school yard fence into the set of a slasher film. Venture back there and you’ll see a dozen naked blondes covered in dirt, painted eyes staring vacantly up at the sky.

Of course I wasn’t happy about this (Barbies aren’t cheap!) but as we also established in the last post, I am not great at attending to domestic chores in a timely manner.

Now it seems the Barbies have suffered yet another indignity. One that involves being shoved through the holes in the fence so Harmony and her friends can play with them at recess.

I know this because I was asked to stay after school and speak to the teacher about it. I also know this because a young boy was apparently “quite traumatized” by finding naked girl dolls in the school sandpit. I also know this because I happened to see Mermaid Barbie sitting on the Principal’s desk during a meeting that, thankfully, was NOT called to discuss the tiny sex offender living in my house.

Sigh.

So we had a talk with Harmony about not bringing toys to school, and about why a little boy might be surprised to find a naked female form that looks nothing like his mother buried in his playground.

Shame on me for thinking that would be the end of it. Double shame on me for not realizing what she was doing outside the next morning before school.

Can you guess?

Yup. PUSHING THE BARBIES BACK THROUGH THE FENCE. A tidy little “F you” to the powers that be including, or perhaps especially, her mother.

Then, later that day at recess, my little criminal upped the ante by lying to the teacher who came to investigate the crowd gathered around the sandpit.

Harmony, whose credibility might have been hurt by the fact that she was sporting a leopard-print vest, pink tights, blue rain boots and a tiara, could sense her reign of terror was coming to end. Refusing to go quietly, she calmly lied through her baby teeth and said “Nope, no Barbies here.”

To his credit, the teacher figured out pretty quickly that he was being sold a bill of goods. A bill of dirty, naked, anatomically incorrect goods. So he reached into his arsenal of shame and manipulation tactics and said: “Harmony, you empty my bucket when you don’t tell the truth so I’m going to give you to the count of three to tell me what’s going on here.”

Finally, Harmony caved. But not until he got to three, of course.

Now, all of this wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t been elected Chair of the Parent Council last week. Thankfully, I insisted the morality clause be removed from my contract but how long until I’m impeached is anyone’s guess.

 

 

The Black Dog

 

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There’s nothing I can say about Robin Williams’ suicide that hasn’t already been said. I can’t mourn his loss,  celebrate his talent or rage against the demon that is depression any more eloquently than has already been done. But one of the crazy things about depression is this: even though people who suffer with it generally experience the same symptoms, it is a very individual and very personal disease. There are few experiences  that are so universal yet so isolating. Depression, thought it might manifest in the same or similar ways, grabs us and keeps us and affects us very differently, which is why I believe that sharing our experiences (without comparison or judgement) is so important.

Mental health is a tightrope many people walk every day, and depression is often triggered by a major life event. For me, it was an ovarian cancer scare followed by pulmonary emboli, surgery and recovery. (Sorry to make light, but anyone who’s given themselves needles in the stomach and been forced to wear a horse-sized maxi pad for weeks knows these aren’t things you easily recover from. I can’t even see a white surfboard without breaking out in hives.)

After hearing those amazing words – “there’s no cancer” – and being sent on my way sans left ovary, everyone around me celebrated (except for the right ovary, who was very lonely). But returning to normal life and trying to put my body and mind back together quickly became an insurmountable task. Some people describe depression as “the black dog” (sorry Austin) or a dark cloud. For me it felt like being trapped in quicksand (now that I have kids I would describe it as silly-putty on steroids.) It was a persistent pressure that smothered me from all sides every minute of the day. It made getting out of bed or off the couch feel impossible. I cried over everything and couldn’t feel happy, let alone ecstatic, that I was going to be okay. I had terrible nightmares about being told they’d made a mistake in surgery and that there actually was cancer but now it was too far advanced to treat.

Predictably, the people around me didn’t understand this. How come I wasn’t happy? How could I be sad when I’d just received the best news ever? So what if I hadn’t pooped for 17 days and my bedtime ritual was a needle in the stomach … there was NO CANCER.

I was emotionally drained, exhausted, sore, mad and VERY hormonal. All before noon. I was like an angry hornet: pissed off because I wasn’t invited to the party and determined to ruin it for everyone else. I didn’t want company but I didn’t want to be alone either. The things that always gave me pleasure, books, my dogs, my favourite TV shows, FOOD…. I didn’t enjoy any of it. Intellectually I saw my emotional state as ridiculous, but I couldn’t do anything about it which only made me feel worse.

The missing ovary and resulting hormonal instability (“hormonal instability”, THERE’S an understatement) probably deserve some of the blame, but whatever the cause I was a MESS. I tried counselling but that got off to a rocky start when my therapist left the office early the day of my first appointment. Apparently she forgot I was coming.

Even before the surgery I’d been taking a low dose anti-depressant. Depression and mental illness lurk among the branches of my family tree so I’ve always been a bit obsessive about my mental health. I told myself taking anti-depressants was just being proactive but in truth they made me feel like a different person. I was less irritable and emotional and better able to manage setbacks. Minor disappointments were no longer the end of the world, and I was now able to enjoy myself and my relationships with more of an even keel.

In her amazing book “Twenty Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed”, Sherrie Eldridge wisely counsels parents to “Evaluate Your Emotional Health” during the adoption process. Often, the stress of infertility, the waiting for a child, the setbacks, the multiple disappointments can all lead to depression. And then when you actually get your child, there can be challenges you were completely unprepared for and ill-equipped to manage. It’s a cruel fact that the thing you’ve yearned for and waited years for, can be the thing that sends you down that rabbit hole. When you realize that the serene fantasy you’ve spent years envisioning is never going to happen, it can be a real shock to the system.

But we soldier on. We all do. Each of us finding ways to manage our demons and our stresses. Some work and sadly some don’t, but as long as we’re trying and hoping, I think there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Even at my worst, I never even contemplated suicide and for that I am incredibly thankful because I know that place exists, and I can scarcely imagine a hell any more real than that.

 

Dear Daren…

It’s been 7 days since you escaped left for the cottage. I hope you and your buddies are having an AWESOME time golfing and that the weather has been spectacular. I hope you’re getting lots of sleep and enjoying many delicious meals and adult conversation. Don’t forget to try that new seafood place we talked about!!

Not much is new here. The girls have now memorized the entire soundtrack from Frozen and sing it to each other every night, substituting key words with “poop” or “vagina”. Last night they fought for 25 straight minutes about whether dolphins or mermaids were better. I’m not sure who won because I was smashing my head into the concrete and could not hear, but it seemed pretty heated.

Yesterday Harmony asked “why?” when I told her she should not open the door of a moving car, so I’m pretty sure we made the right decision to send her to summer school. Speaking of which, a bunch of artwork came home on the last day and I saved it for you in the recycling bin.

Good news about the plumbing! It was NOT a diseased muskrat after all. Turns out they had not been flushing the toilet in their bathroom for a few days (thank you environmental science unit!) so we had a talk about conserving water in more practical ways. And speaking of water … here’s what went down in the pool this afternoon:

This is Harmony crying because Leila accidentally hit her in the head with a golf ball. Where did those come from I wonder???

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This is Leila crying because Harmony yelled at her for hitting her in the head with a golf ball:

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And this is the toad who had the misfortune of hopping into our yard but mercifully kept them busy for the next 5 hours. Expect a call from PETA.

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And this is me, taking my first selfie just for you.

You wish

You wish

Can’t wait to see you on Monday. Don’t be afraid to bring wine to the airport.

Your loving wife.