Winter Cottaging

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When I decided to try for an autumn baby, I based that decision entirely on my experience having had my first baby in late summer. It worked so well that time! I had a little bit of nice weather with my newborn before the snow flew. We went for walks in the late summer sun while she was still really little and fragile. By the time the cold weather arrived, she was bigger and we were into a good routine and rhythm and it was no big deal to take her out for winter walks in her chariot, or to the YMCA for postnatal fitness classes. And then by the time she wanted to be mobile, it was summer again. Perfect!

The problem with this is that I planned my second baby entirely around my experience of having one baby at home. Somehow I forgot that I would still have a toddler kicking around (bored, mostly). Whoops.

The other problem I encountered, having had my second baby in October of 2013, is that this winter has been the worst winter in the history of time.*

Bundled, as usual

Bundled, as usual

So we’ve felt pretty cooped up most of this winter, and we’ve all had some pretty bad bouts of cabin fever.

My parents bought a new cottage at the end of November, but Pete and I hadn’t even considered going out there for a weekend, because the baby was still getting up so frequently at night (and exhausting us in the process). But one Saturday morning in late February, Pete said, “why don’t we go to the cottage?” This was at 9:00 am. By 11:00 am, we were in the car, and on our way.

This was the best decision we could have made. I didn’t realize how much we would love it out there.

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The cottage is at the very end of a rural road, at the edge of a provincial park, and right on Georgian Bay. It’s peaceful, serene and gorgeous. It’s exactly what we needed.

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And the things we were worried about turned out to be non-issues. C slept in a big-girl bed for the first time and it was great. The baby slept well in a playpen, and woke up to feed just as often as he would at home, but not more. C really took to all of our traditional cottage activities, such as obsessively putting together puzzles for hours on end. She’s going to fit right in.

Puzzle success!

Puzzle success!

The weather was very cold and windy, so we stayed inside a lot, but the change of scenery was very therapeutic.

Our first attempt at a cottage family photo - photobombed

Our first attempt at a cottage family photo – photobombed

Attempt number two

Attempt number two

We went back this past weekend and had an even better time. The baby only got up three times to eat (it’s better than five!) and C got to go outside and enjoy the outdoors a bit more.

Champion sleeper

Champion sleeper

The weather was glorious this time, mild and sunny, so she got to go tobogganing.

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Pete even made her a little skating rink on the ice out front. It seemed silly to make a rink on March 8th, but it was certainly cold enough, and we got enough use out of it.

And if this all weren’t enough, we had a lovely family dinner with my parents and two sets of uncles and aunts. Did I mention that two of my uncles and two of my aunts live a few doors down from our cottage? It doesn’t get much better than that.

After all, that means there are four extra people for C to do puzzles with.

Puzzles with Uncle Louis

Puzzles with Uncle Louis

I can’t wait to go back. Is it the weekend yet?

*I don’t have meteorological data to back this up at present, but I’ll look into it.

Morning Glory Muffins

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This is a recipe I got from my lovely blogging friend Meaghan over at The Ginger and the Giant. They are Morning Glory Muffins, a recipe she found in a cookbook called Spilling the Beans, and they are definitely glorious.

I don’t make them as much as I would like, because they can be somewhat labour-intensive, by muffin standards. Now that I have a toddler-helper, I do some of the prep before I get her involved. While C was out ice skating with her Dad, I grated two cups of sweet potato, boiled some red lentils and chopped up an apple for the muffins. Toddlers do not have time for that sort of thing. The baby, however, was happy to watch from his vibrating chair while giving me encouraging smiles.

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These muffins are not only super delicious, but they stay moist for ages. They’re full of fruit and nuts and coconut and have a pretty small amount of added sugar. And rather than using carrot (which Pete has an aversion to since the carrot cake incident) I grate sweet potato. They’re super yummy, and they usually don’t last long around here.

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According to C, these are the muffins “that mommy helped me make.” Hmmm.

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Baby Goals, Revisited

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I was just re-reading my September post about the things I hoped I would do differently with my second baby. Some of the goals seem completely manageable, even in retrospect. And others, well, clearly I was dreaming. I looked back on that post and just laughed and laughed. Sigh.

Let’s revisit these goals, shall we?

Here are the five objectives I set out for Baby Number Two:

1) Naps in the Crib.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. How did I think I was going to achieve this? Sure, newborn babies will sleep anywhere, but once they are past the incredibly-drowsy-will-sleep-anywhere phase, babies generally do not like to nap in cribs. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but this generally applies.

It is possible to encourage young babies to nap in their cribs, but usually this involves nursing, rocking, soothing, and other such comfort measures that take time and quietude. Where did I think my toddler would be during these times? On vacation? Making me lunch? Playing quietly and responsibly by herself? Good one, me.*

2) Introduce a Pacifier Earlier.

Well, we certainly tried with this one. Baby Number Two hates pacifiers. We tried and tried. We bought every kind of soother available in this country. We dipped them in breastmilk. We begged and pleaded. In the end, he used me as a pacifier instead, until he outgrew the need to comfort himself this way. I’m two-for-two in the failure department so far.

3) Use a Baby Carrier.

Success! We bought an Ergo, since we hated our other baby carrier, and we’ve used it numerous times, even though it’s been ridiculously cold outside for four months. We did it!

4) Relax about Feeding.

Another success, although I don’t think I can pat myself on the back too much for this one. Baby Number Two figured out how to nurse right away, and never looked back. You don’t get to be nineteen pounds by four months by being an unenthusiastic eater.

5) Go Easier on Myself.

Yeeeah, this didn’t work out so well either. I certainly didn’t push myself to do too much with two kids, but I definitely haven’t been easy on myself. This one is a work in progress.

So, I’ve had mixed results. But all in all, it’s mostly been a success. I have a happy baby and thriving toddler. I can’t ask for much more than that.**

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*The baby has actually started napping fairly well in his crib, at just over four months. So we eventually achieved this goal.
**Except sleep. I can, and I do, ask for sleep.

I Had a Baby!

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Four months ago!

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It’s amazing how things like blogging, exercising, banjo-playing, and sleeping go right out the window when you have a new baby.

But yes, I had a beautiful baby boy and he’s a very sweet little guy. He’s an easy baby during the day, which is great because I have a rambunctious two-year-old to wrangle. He’s relaxed and happy, although he still thinks he needs to wake up every two hours to eat in the night. He also just turned four months and weighs nearly nineteen pounds. Could those two things be related? Hmmm.

Anyway, the fact that this baby has kept us so sleep-deprived has meant that I’ve had almost no time or energy to do much of anything other than baby and child care. But I’m determined to somehow reboot this blog. We’ll see how this goes.

Because I’m not doing much of what I originally set out to do in this blog (namely, things that I enjoyed pre-parenthood such as playing my banjo) I’m going to incorporate the things that I do with my little people. C and I have started baking together, so I’m going to start documenting that. Baking with a two-year-old is both stressful and hilarious, and I’m hoping I can convey all that in some new posts. We’ll see what else I can cook up (pun!) for the blog in the next few weeks.

Thanks, as always, for reading! It’s good to be back.

Five Things I Hope I’ll Do Differently with my Second Baby

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Baby and me...off for a ride!

Baby and me…off for a ride!

I made sure to add the word “hope” to the title of this post, because if there is one thing I’ve learned in my 24 months of parenting, it’s that babies have their own agendas. You can have all sorts of intentions but in the end, you’ll save your sanity if you just do what works. Flexibility is the name of the game.

Also, I probably could have saved myself some time and just written that with my second baby, I’m going to chill out more. For instance, I wouldn’t have been riding a bike this late in my pregnancy with C. I was just too nervous about falls and crashes. This time I’ve mellowed, and although I’m careful on my bike, I’m definitely not stopping yet. That’s the beauty of the second baby.

That said, there are a few specific things that I did with C that I’m hoping to avoid this time around. Sure, we muddled through all right, but it would be nice to avoid some of the pitfalls we encountered last time. That way we can have the time to try to fix all the new mistakes we’ll surely make with Baby #2.

1) Naps in the Crib.
C was always a really good night sleeper. She was always easy to put down in her basinette (and later her crib) and she only woke up when she was hungry or teething. But naps were a different story. She seemed to need movement to nap, and so I indulged her, first in a vibrating chair, then in a swing, and sometimes in a car or stroller. This became tricky when we took her on a ski trip when she was five months old. Either we had to bounce her to sleep in a carrier (and she hated carriers) or Pete had to take her out in the Chariot for an hour-long cross-country-ski-nap. She was still napping three times a day at that point. He got A LOT of exercise that weekend.

2) Introduce a Pacifier Earlier.
We were so afraid of jeopardizing our breastfeeding efforts that we didn’t introduce a pacifier early enough. But she must have had a strong sucking need, because once we successfully got her using a pacifier (at about four months), she was a much happier baby.

3) Use a Baby Carrier.
C was never really into baby carriers. She tolerated a few walks in a sling when she was a few weeks old, but after that, she put her foot down. This time, I’m hoping that if I invest in a good-quality carrier and put the baby in it more often, it will go more smoothly. Because I’m sure that with a toddler running around, it will be a lifesaver to have the new baby in a carrier once in a while.

4) Relax about Feeding.
I had a really difficult time breastfeeding, for the entire nine months that I managed to do it. I won’t go into details here, but suffice it to say that while I would like to breastfeed this baby, I’m not going to stress about it. I’ll do my best. But I won’t beat myself up if I have to use a bottle now and then. And probably (or at least I hope) that if I go into it with a more relaxed attitude, it will be easier this time.

5) Go Easier on Myself.
I did all sorts of things in the early days with C that probably weren’t in my best interest. I tried to cook, clean, bake, read, run errands, exercise, socialize, and have overnight guests to visit. Two weeks after I gave birth we were out hiking in caves on a very ill-advised outing. I took three-week-old C out to vote in a provincial election. It was all too much for an incredibly sleep-deprived new mom. It caught up with me when she was about seven weeks old. I started hallucinating and I genuinely believed I would die of exhaustion. Not this time. My only goals for the first three months are to keep two children alive and relatively happy. The end.

And now, a question: Does anyone have any tips on transitioning from one child to two?

How to Camp Without Your Baby

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Step 1: Leave your baby with your wonderful, doting parents.

Step 2: Enjoy.

So much simpler than camping with one’s baby/toddler. Pete and I were lucky enough to finally have a weekend away, just the two of us. We have both had weekends away separately, but this was our first overnight trip together, sans Little C. And it was so relaxing.

We spent two nights camping in Algonquin Park in early July. Since my previous camping posts seemed to be all about lessons in list form, I’m going to continue with that theme here. Here is what we learned this time around:

1) Algonquin Park is beautiful.
I was lucky enough to spend four summers living and working in Algonquin Park. Even though it can be really busy in tourist season, it’s still such a gorgeous place. It’s easy to forget that when you’ve been away. I did a lot of deep sighing on our trip.

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2) We are old.
I bumped into one of my old co-workers at our campground and while we were chatting, he asked me how long it had been since I worked there. Ten years. It’s been ten years. He replied “Whew, I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m getting old.” Me too, my friend.

3) Resist the urge to call the babysitters.
When Pete and I became parents, we swore that we wouldn’t talk incessantly about our baby when we were able to go on date nights. We wanted to stay connected as partners, not just as parents. An extension of this policy was that we wouldn’t call my parents to check on things while we were away. This was our time to reconnect and be together as a couple. This may not work for everyone, but it’s good for us.

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4) Enjoy the little things.
When you aren’t chasing a little person (or people) around, it’s a lot easier enjoy the serenity. You can really experience the smell of the white pines, the call of a loon, and the sound of the water lapping against your canoe. Try to take it all in.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

5) Appreciate the trip for what it is.
This was something I learned about camping with a baby, and it applies here too. Even though Pete and I were on our own this time, we were still more exhausted than we were before we had C, and ended up asleep in our tent both nights before 10:00pm.

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We also really wanted to do an interior canoe trip, but my parents were nervous about this and asked that we camp in a campground instead. Fair enough. We will be able to go on a canoe trip someday. It turns out that this plan worked well for us anyway. We did some canoeing day trips and between my aching back and Pete’s bad shoulder, we weren’t able to paddle for more than a few hours anyway. See point #2.

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6) Document the experience.
Even if this amounts to taking a lot of photos, do it. As parents, we tend to document our children’s lives at the expense of our own. This is natural, of course, but I think it’s important to remember times like these. When life gets hectic again (for us, that will be around October 27th), being able to relive a relaxing time like this will be invaluable. Well, that and wine.

Scaring Pregnant Women: A National Pastime

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When I was pregnant with C, plenty of people issued dire warnings from the other side (of parenthood). I’ve mentioned them here before, but I was regularly told that my life would never be the same again (and this was always said in an ominous tone of voice). I was warned that I would never have time to read or even to take a shower. This all turned out to be complete nonsense. Although I was very sleep-deprived for the first three months of C’s life, no amount of “enjoying my sleep” while I was pregnant could have helped me to avoid it. People who tell pregnant women to “sleep now!” seem to think that sleep is something you can stockpile, like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter. It just doesn’t work that way, folks.

So you would think, having been through this once before, that I would be immune (or at least resistant) to the fear-mongering that people seem to enjoy when they interact with the visibly pregnant. Nope. I still regularly get anxious after talking with someone who says something like “Whew, you’re going to have your hands full soon. Good luck.” Uh, thanks? Or “So this is your second? Get ready for life to get crazy.” Um, okay? How do I do that, exactly?

Luckily, once in a while, I’ll bump into someone who is reassuring. I met someone last weekend who has two little girls (only a year and a half apart) and she asked me a few questions about my situation.

“What will the age difference be?” – 26 months
“Do you have any help?” – My parents live an hour away, but are able to help sometimes, and my husband works a lot but is super awesome.
“Will your older daughter go to daycare?” – Yes, two days a week.

Her response? “Pfft. You’ll be fine. Don’t even worry.”

Now that is what I needed to hear.

It’s not that I think having two kids will be a walk in the park. I know it will be difficult, particularly for the first year. But there isn’t much I can do now to prevent that. Worrying won’t make the transition, or the exhaustion or the craziness any easier. That is why I’ve decided to hold onto that lovely woman’s response and dismiss any negative comments I might hear in the next three months. Because worrying will get me nowhere. And besides, I’m pretty sure those people just want attention, and I’ve learned from my toddler books that conscious ignoring is a great strategy for dealing with that sort of behaviour.

Outsmarted by a Toddler

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When Pete and I learned that we were expecting Baby #2, we were apprehensive, of course.  How would a second baby affect our lives?  We have a nice little family routine going that will be completely turned on its head when the little one arrives.  Little C won’t be the star of the show anymore.  How will she react?  Will she be able to adjust?

Well, we decided to try to tackle some of these issues, rather than just worrying fruitlessly about them.  In order to get C used to the idea of a new baby in our lives, we started to rock and sing to some of her stuffed animals.

“Brilliant,” we thought.  “She’ll see us nurturing something other than her and she’ll get used to the idea that she’ll have to share our attention.”

She would watch us closely while we rocked her animals, singing “Rock-a-Bye Baby” to them.  After a while, she even started to want to rock them herself.  It was working!

Oh no.  That was pride before the fall.  We should have known that nothing with a toddler is that simple.

Now, C insists on being rocked like a baby by both of us.  This is a child who never, ever wanted to be rocked as an infant.  Even before she was able to hold her head up, she wanted to be held in a sitting position, facing out, bouncing, so that she could be part of the action.  Rocking was for suckers.

Now we have a 25+ pound child who can speak in (nearly) full sentences demanding to be held like a baby while we sing lullabies to her.  She’ll demand “Rock baby!  Pleeeeaase!  Rock-a-baby-top!”  (She hasn’t quite figured out the title yet).

We now see how things are going to be around here.  Uh-oh.

A Parent’s Guide to the NICU

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300990_10150802984205344_1412243073_n(N.B. This post is for parents who may spend a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks in the NICU with their babies as they recover and grow stronger. I don’t pretend to know what the NICU experience is like for parents of micro-preemies, and I would certainly never speak for them.)

When C was born, she was a tiny 4 lbs 6 oz.  Her gestational age was 37 weeks, which is considered full-term.  But, as I explained in a previous post, she had not had enough nourishment in utero due to placental insufficiency.

C spent two weeks in the NICU, before she was sent home with us. We were extremely lucky.  Our baby came home.

We had advanced notice that C would likely spend time in the NICU, and we were given Parents’ Guides to help us prepare.  Those guidebooks were valuable, in that they prepared us for the equipment we would encounter, for the constant alarms, and explained the roles of each type of medical staff.

But beyond that information, I wish I could go back and give my past, pregnant self some advice.  Here is what I would have told myself:

1) Get some rest:

The nurses at Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie told us this, many times.  They told us that attending each and every attempted feeding (every three hours, start to start) was wearing us out.  Each attempted feeding and diapering took at least an hour, but usually longer.  Pete and I would then have to go to a room to pump breastmilk and then deliver that milk to the nurses and then wash the pump parts.  After each session, we tried to sleep.  This was Hell on Earth.  It’s nothing like the feedings you do with a newborn at home.  Not even close.

Finally, the nurses and our neonatologist sat us down and insisted we take two night feedings off per night and get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, or we would be of no use to anyone once C was discharged.  I felt guilty.  I felt like a terrible mother.  I was afraid C would think the nurses were her parents, instead of us.  But those few hours of sleep helped us cope with everything we were going through.

2) Nurses are wonderful, but they are not always right:

The nurses who looked after C at both hospitals were wonderful.  My Dad is a registered nurse, and he is also wonderful.  Nurses usually know best, but not always.

C had very low blood sugar when she was born because she was so deprived of nutrients in utero.  She was give a sugar solution intravenously but we tried to get her to breastfeed as well.  The problem was that she was exhausted.  And the nurses at Mount Sinai in Toronto insisted we try to get her to breastfeed every three hours, for forty-five minutes at a time, even when she couldn’t keep her eyes open.  I know that newborns are sleepy, but this was different.  And Pete and I felt that.  We didn’t speak up, however, because we’re just lay people and didn’t feel we could contradict the nurses.

It turns out that the nurses at the Mount Sinai NICU are less accustomed to full-term babies like C and more at ease with very premature infants.  Once we arrived in Barrie, where the staff are accustomed to less severe cases, the nurses immediately recognized that C needed to rest.  From then on, we would try to get her to breastfeed for five or ten minutes, until she tired out, and then gave her the rest of her milk by feeding tube while she slept on our chests.  She improved dramatically from that point forward.

3) Learn from the nurses:

I have to mention again that Pete and I were very lucky parents.  We got to take our baby home, at a robust 4 lbs 12 oz, after only two weeks in hospital.  And because our baby was fairly healthy and not on a respirator, we were allowed to perform a lot of baby care ourselves.  What we got in the two NICUs/nurseries was a sort of newborn boot camp.

The nurses taught us how to feed her, how to bathe her, how to change her teeny-tiny diapers.  In fact, after you’ve changed dozens of preemie-sized diapers while negotiating all the monitors and wires, through the two little holes in an isolette, regular diaper changes are a breeze.

4) Find some kindred spirits:

If possible, talk to some of the other parents.  They understand what you’re going through.

And although it can be difficult to find parents you “click” with, you might just be surprised.  The other parents in Barrie seemed to be so different from us, but then one day a couple came in and they seemed like kindred spirits.  And then, the next day, the husband half of the couple walked into the nursery wearing a Rad t-shirt.  Pete was so very excited.  Rad is a very cheesy ’80s movie about BMX bikes that all of his biking buddies love.

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5) Laugh:

During the hours I spent pumping, Pete often put a DVD on on his computer to amuse us.  We watched I Love You, Man, The Forty-Year-Old Virgin and because it was on TV in our care-by-parent room, Kindergarten Cop.  Pete has a bizarre love for that movie.

6) Spend some quiet time together:

Pete and I made an effort to go for some quiet walks near the hospital together.  It was so nice to step outside the hospital and enjoy the weather outside.  Hospitals can be so oppressive.  It was also nice to reconnect as a couple while going through such an intense experience.  It helped us to feel like “us” again.

7) Spend some time in the “real world”:

This is similar to the last point but the emphasis is to socialize a bit.  After five full days inside the dark and cavernous Mount Sinai, we stepped outside and said “oh, the real world, I forgot about this.”  When Pete and I had a few dinners at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Barrie, we really started to feel like humans again.  No alarms, no buzzers, no hospital equipment, no medical jargon.  It’s so important to interact with people slightly removed from the NICU world in order to feel normal again.

8) Don’t let specialists scare you:

The neonatologist really, really scared the bejesus out of me.  He told me that because of my placental insufficiency, C was at risk of developmental problems, speech delays, problems with motor skills and that she was at much higher risk of death by SIDS.

The nurses got annoyed at him and told me not to worry about C.  One nurse (thank you, Sandy!) saw me crying after the neonatologist told me C was at risk for cognitive delays, said “I’ve been doing this for more than twenty years, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that little girl.”  Did I mention that nurses are wonderful?

9) Remember that the situation is temporary:

I should give the specialist-who-scared-me some credit for this one.  He was the one who reminded me that two weeks was a tiny fragment of C’s life and a fragment that she wouldn’t even remember.  Sometimes it’s hard to keep this perspective in mind.  Time goes by so slowly in the NICU, when you’re always awake and always worrying over every monitor, every alarm, every glucose reading, every ounce eaten, every ounce spit up, every drop in heart rate.  My bond with C was not diminished by this experience, no matter how much attachment parenting books terrified me into thinking it would.  She’s a happy, healthy toddler with no recollection of her rough beginnings.

10) Enjoy your baby:

It can be difficult to enjoy your baby when you’re worried sick about her health, when you’re so sleep-deprived you can barely think, and when you’re away from home and living out of a suitcase in a hospital.  It’s easy to feel too afraid to become attached.  It’s normal to be nervous to pick up a tiny, fragile newborn and cuddle her.  And it’s easy to feel that you’ve had what was suppposed to be the most wonderful experience (the birth of your healthy baby) taken away from you.  But try to remember to enjoy that little baby.  Even though time has slowed down, almost to a standstill, it will speed right up again soon and your 4 lb peanut will be an opinionated toddler.  Try to cherish these times, as difficult as they are.

What is a “Week-End”?

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I’m sure you’ve seen these e-cards popping up on your Facebook newsfeed periodically.  This one is particularly fitting for me.  I’m a stay-at-home parent to my eighteen-month-old, and weekends don’t really exist anymore.  The problem is that I still (after a year and a half) haven’t managed to absorb this new reality.

All week, I look forward to Friday.  I think, “Friday’s almost here!  Woooo!”  And then Friday arrives and Pete and I are both exhausted.  We put C to bed, have a beer, watch Marketplace (and The Fifth Estate if we’re staying up really late) and go to bed.

Before you feel too sorry for me, we sometimes have date nights.  We will often visit with friends during the day and we occasionally go away for the weekend.

But typically, weekends are very similar to weekdays around here.  They involve making meals, cleaning up after meals, dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, errands, and more laundry.  I’m starting to forget what a real (read: childless) weekend is like.  I’m a modern-day, non-fictional Dowager Countess of Grantham.

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Of course, the Dowager Countess doesn’t know what a weekend is because she doesn’t associate with anyone with a profession, but that’s neither here nor there.  I have something in common with the inimitable Maggie Smith.  Glass half-full!

I think the solution is going to be letting go of the concept of a weekend.  Weekends no longer exist.  They have been abolished by a small, semi-benevolent dictator.

The problem hasn’t been that I have bad weekends.  They just don’t live up to my old expectations of relaxation and rest.  In order to avoid the disappointment I feel every Sunday (when I’m more exhausted than when I started this weekend business on Friday) I have to make myself forget about the existence of the forty-hour work week.  If I just conceive of Saturday and Sunday as days when Pete happens to be around more, I think I’ll be able to enjoy those days for what they are now, rather than what I think they should be.

And besides, weekends are terribly middle-class, dear.