Breastfeeding, Loud and Proud

Breastfeeding, Loud and Proud

Before becoming a mother, I thought I would be a bold breastfeeder, nursing my babe on street corners and thumbing my finger at anybody who dared object. Yet when my first child was born a few years back, I found … Continue reading

Bullying: a Response to Steubenville

Last week, I started a series of posts about how the reality of having children compares to our expectations of doing so. My plan for this week was to write about bringing baby home. Instead, I will address something that I planned to get to quite a bit further down the line: bullying. I’m getting to this now, because I cannot let this week go by without reflecting in some way about the Steubenville rape case.

Here’s a photo of me at six years old, the year that I was bullied by my grade one teacher, a woman who was much loved by the other students in my class.

Me as a six-year-old

At the end of every week, this teacher had us vote on who had been the best-behaved student and awarded that student a prize. Maybe the point of this exercise was to make us treat our fellow-classmates with respect, but it was severely misguided, and ultimately became a teacher-sanctioned popularity contest. I never won the prize. Instead, my teacher did her best to humiliate me in front of my classmates. The incident that I remember most clearly began when I asked her if I could go to the washroom, and she would not let me go. When I asked again, knowing that I could not hold it in much longer, she told me to go in the corner of the room. It’s possible that she didn’t think I really had to go, and thought that this would put an end to my requests, but she didn’t stop me as I pulled down my pants and peed in front of an entire class of six year olds.

I relate this personal tale, because I have been thinking of bullying since I was a scared six-year-old who went to bed every night crying and praying that the next day would be different, that the next day I would have a friend, that the next day somebody would stand up for me when I was being made fun of during recess. Slowly, I learned to do a better job of fitting in. I made some friends, but because I was in the same school from age four to seventeen, the stain of my grade one year did not fully leave me until I left high school (if then). Kids continued to mock me for years to come, and to repeat what appeared to them to be my past transgressions. In grade thirteen, another student laughed about the time our teacher had pulled my pants—and underpants—down in front of the entire classroom to remove a splinter I got from the wooden play structure in the schoolyard.

Over the years, I have come up with many reasons as to why my teacher may have singled me out: I was funny looking, I was badly behaved, she could sense my insecurity… In reality, her behaviour probably had more to do with herself than it did with me: it’s a teacher’s job to manage her classroom, to prevent bullying, and to protect her students. And it’s our job as parents to do everything we can to stop bullying. In part, this means letting our children know that they can tell us anything. It means asking them not only what happened at school that day, but how they feel about their day, their classmates, their teachers. At six, I was afraid to tell my parents what had happened to me, because I thought they would side with the teacher and that I would only be punished further. I couldn’t tell them how I felt about my day, my classmates, my teachers, because I thought that not fitting in meant there was something horribly wrong with me. I don’t ever want my son to feel that way. I don’t ever want him to be bullied.

Nor do I want him to be a bully. How, though, do we teach our children that bullying is unacceptable? In my opinion, it begins with teaching them both self-respect and respect for their fellow human beings. In my household, this means zero tolerance for racist or sexist jokes of any kind: no supposedly innocent blonde jokes, no thoughtless Newfie jokes. I think that allowing our children to believe that it’s acceptable to single out any minority for ridicule correlates to them understanding that it’s OK to single out their classmates for bullying.

At eleven-years-old, I was the victim of anonymous bullying on the subway. This time it was physical. On my way home from school, three teenage girls stared me down on the subway in Toronto. When I got off at Bloor station, they got off with me. Their ringleader walked shoulder-to-shoulder with me, pushing me into the wall. I tried to get free, and she punched me in the eye. I ran to the washroom, and the three girls pursued me. I locked myself in a stall, and they surrounded it, taunting me the whole time. They convinced me to open the door, so that they could continue to verbally mock me while flicking their fingers in my face. I was terrified. This took place for about an hour. Many people passed through that washroom and looked the other way, despite the fact that it had to be blatantly obvious what was going on: I was eleven, crying, asking for help, and these girls were mature-looking sixteen-year-olds. Perhaps people were afraid to get involved directly, but what prevented them from contacting TTC security? I’ll never know for sure. Finally, a woman stood up to the girls, asking them: “What do you think you’re doing?” They scattered. It was that simple.

The fear of bystanders is often that if they stand up for someone being bullied, they will become a target themselves. How many of the Steubenville teenagers who watched Jane Doe being raped knew that what it was wrong but were afraid to say something for that very reason? How likely is it that Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were fuelled by the witnesses who either egged them on or did nothing to prevent their attack? Bullying is so pervasive because it is much easier to join the pack than to separate oneself from it to defend an underdog. This is why teaching children to respect themselves and others is so very important. In order to be brave enough to trust and act on their own sense of right and wrong, they have to believe in themselves, and to understand, fundamentally, that they should never treat anyone else in a way that they would not like to be treated themselves.

I’m not referring to the Paris Hilton variety of self-respect that is all too prevalent today: the type of self-esteem that allows children to believe themselves infallible, invincible, or above the law. The type of self-esteem that Mays and Richmond, as well as those who have since participated in the cyber-bullying of Jane Doe, appear to have. True self-esteem comes from within, not from one’s peers, one’s teachers, or one’s parents. It comes from doing the right thing, not from doing the popular thing. I hope that by acknowledging when my son does behaves according to his own moral compass, I can help him foster that type of self-esteem. I don’t expect him to always be right, but I think that he’s already developing a sense of right and wrong, and I think that—deep down—doing right feels better than doing wrong. I hope I’m right.

If You Want to Make God Laugh… Have a Baby (part one)


One of the first shots of our little munchkin.

If anything is a test of how good you are at rolling with the punches, it’s bringing a new life into the world. For many women, this becomes obvious during pregnancy: morning sickness, swollen ankles, back pain, and ever-changing breast size are just a few of the physical manifestations of the fact that you are no longer in control. I had a relatively easy pregnancy: the only negative symptom I had was a little lower back pain in the last month. Other than that, Callum was a good little passenger: being pregnant cured me of my allergies and migraines, I wasn’t sick once for the duration, and my little guy reassured me he was healthy with relatively frequent little kicks.

All the complications that I avoided during my pregnancy, though, were made up for during delivery. I had planned a natural hospital birth with a midwife, but by the time we got to the hospital, that plan had flown out the window: I was having overlapping contractions with no chance to catch my breath in between, and I wanted an epidural (stat!). When my midwife arrived at the hospital to examine me, she was shocked at the amount of blood I was losing and quickly transferred my care to an obstetrician. Further examination revealed that I had a placental abruption and that Callum was posterior.

Despite deciding on the drive over to let go of my plans for a natural childbirth, it was a long time before I got my epidural. We arrived at the hospital at 5:00 p.m., but the anesthesiologist was in the ER until midnight. When he finally arrived, I was so grateful for the relief that he provided me that I will never forget that man’s face! (It might also help that he was a dead ringer for Dom DeLuise.) Once the epidural kicked in, I spoke the first coherent words I had since about 4 p.m., when my water had broken.

After taking a quick rest, I pushed for several hours to no avail. Although Callum was descending when I pushed, he ascended each time I stopped. When the obstetrician eventually told me I would need to have a caesarian because Callum was in distress, I was too concerned for my baby’s wellbeing to be concerned about my plans. Callum was finally delivered at 5:06 a.m., weighing in at a healthy 8 lbs 13 oz. He needed medical attention at first but was soon testing the power of air in his lungs. Although we had planned to get out of the hospital within the first day, we actually spent three days there, due to the caesarian. As it turned out, I was happy for the extra support once this new little life had been placed in my hands.


And baby makes three: first family photo.

Thankfully, I wasn’t so attached to any of my birth plans that I was heartbroken by the changes to them. I had brought music, pillows, candles… you name it. If it had been recommended as something that might make me more comfortable during labour, I had it. We chose the hospital based in part on the fact that it had tubs that women could labour in. In the end, I didn’t use any of these things, and in the end, I didn’t care who was present for Callum’s delivery. I just wanted my baby delivered safely, whatever that meant.

Next up: Bringing baby home, and how that compares to expectations. 

Open House

It has been a while since I’ve been able to write, because we have had house guests for the better part of two months. Actually, since moving to Vancouver, our house has been the site of various visits from friends and family members. We’ve lived here for six months, and we’ve had house guests here for a tally of seven weeks! Since we dearly miss everybody back home, it’s always comforting to know that another visit is just around the corner. As much as we love seeing beloved faces from back home, however, we also enjoy getting back to our little threesome.

All of these house guests have led me to think about what makes a visit more pleasant for everyone. We’re in fairly cramped quarters here, and between work and baby, Steve and I are both pretty busy, so house guests who are able to help lighten the load are more than welcome! The most important thing house guests can do, in my opinion, is to observe what their hosts do, and to fit themselves into the routine of the household. Some people are able to do this as though by osmosis: they slip into the shower after Steve has gone to work and before I have finished getting Callum ready for the day, offer to make dinner, or to take Callum on his afternoon walk while I get some work done. Others have difficulty not being in their own homes, and so become somewhat of a difficulty in the homes of others: they can’t figure out how to make coffee for themselves in the morning, how to load the dishwasher, how to turn the shower on and off, and so on.

It seems to me that, however helpful a house guest might be, we all have our limits when it come to how long we can live happily with people other than our nuclear families under our roofs. These limits, for me, increase with my level of familiarity with whomever is visiting and shrink with the number of bathrooms in a house. The reason for this is a desire for privacy: the more I know people, the less I need to cultivate privacy from them. I need very little privacy from my sister, say, but a relative of Steve’s that I’ve never met before in my house for too long might make me run to my room, slam the door, and crank some music like a teenager.

To prevent this kind of drastic behaviour, it’s a good idea, I think, for those of us who have a lot of house guests, to establish boundaries. For starters, make it clear how long a visit is long enough for you and your family. Also, let house guests know that certain times are off-limits for visitors, and that back-to-back visits are a bad idea. Instead of expecting guests to miraculously fall in step with your routine, let them know what that routine is and alert them to how they might facilitate it. Accept help when it’s offered and don’t be afraid to ask for more!

Having written this, I pause to think that I must be a terrible hostess to expect so much from my guests. At the same time, though, I know that I can’t take a vacation from my PhD work (which I do at home) to accommodate the needs of so many house guests, and that trying to be the perfect hostess to everyone who stays here only leaves me a frazzled person who is terribly unpleasant by the time said guests make their way back home. Maybe some house rules for house guests would help make having them a more pleasant experience all ‘round.

So… anyone up for a visit?

From Diarrhoea to Tobiko in Three (Not-So-Easy) Steps

Well, it’s been a pretty crazy time since my last post, and now there’s so much to catch you up on. Since my last post, Steve has turned 40, we’ve had two sets of houseguests, and Callum was sick for over two weeks! I’ll soon write about each of these things and more, but for now I’ll focus on Callum’s first real bout of illness. This may not be for the faint of heart (read: those of you who are not parents).

Although Callum has had the sniffles before, he has never had a full-blown virus before this: runny nose, runny bum, and a very sleepy baby. Callum has never been particularly prone to diaper rash, but his diarrhoea (<< isn’t that the strangest looking word?) gave him such a red little bum, that we had to take him to the doctor to get a prescription for topical ointment. Poor little guy. When I said to Steve that knowing that Callum didn’t understand what was going on made watching him suffer so much worse, Steve joked in response, “He probably thinks that this is what the rest of his life will be like.”

Diaper changes were an absolute nightmare when the rash was really bad. He did not want to let me anywhere near his little bum! In order to speed the healing along, I gave him a baking soda sitz bath, which was gentler on his little derrière than using wipes. I then let him have some time to roam around diaper-free so that his rash could breathe. If you’re thinking that diaper-free and diarrhoea sound like a bad combination, you might be right! Fortunately, we have hardwood floors on the main level of our house, and Callum only took one poop on the floor. Sounds disgusting, I know, but I’ve cleaned up after various dogs and cats over many years, and this was certainly no worse than that. I’m also pretty hard to faze now that I have dealt with a year’s worth of regular baby poo and a week’s worth of diarrhoea.

And there you have it, folks: the glamorous life of a mom. Mother-to-be guides should let readers know from the outset that along with learning to accept probably never sleeping enough ever again, they will soon not care about dealing with poo, be it in a diaper or on the floor.

Callum is all better now: no sniffles, no diarrhoea, no diaper rash, and he is back at daycare after missing over two weeks. And now we both have to adjust to him being away from home three days a week all over again…


Proof that Callum is now 100% himself: a pic of him eating Tobiko yesterday!

Peach Porch

Before we moved in, our landlord told us that he would paint the front porch and over the summer. A couple of Fridays ago, he emailed us inform us that he would be coming by on the following Saturday to do the job and to let us know that the front porch would need to be cleared off and cleaned before his arrival. I cleared off the porch and used an old mop to clean it up, but when the landlord arrived the following day, he told me that that wasn’t good enough: I would have to scrub the porch.

Over the course of the weekend, the landlord didn’t finish the porch. Instead, he left us the paint, saying, “You can finish it.” Since when do people not ask when they want you to do something for them? I don’t take kindly to someone saying, “You’re going to have to get down on your hands and knees and scrub the deck. You’re going to have to spend the better part of a weekend finishing the job that I promised to do before you moved in, the one that improves the property I own.” So says you, Mr. Landlord! If you agree to paint the porch, shouldn’t prepping for the paint be part of the job? And shouldn’t you also finish the job? Such demands would be a lot easier to swallow if presented as requests, as questions rather than statements, or, if nothing else, if they were at least phrased somewhat apologetically: “Would you mind…?” or “I know it’s inconvenient, but I was hoping…”

The porch-painting last weekend wasn’t a particularly rewarding job either. Normally, a fresh coat of paint makes whatever it’s going on feel … well … fresh. The peach colour that the landlord chose (or as he calls it, “deck colour,” as though all decks were this putrid colour) looks dingy from the get-go. Not only have I never before seen porch this shade, but it does not match the existing exterior of the house, which is pale yellow and dark grey (and also due for a fresh coat), a colour combination that looks quite nice, actually. Oh, well. It’s done, and now we can move on to other things.

The steps and porch painted peachy-beige (a.k.a. deck colour)

I baked Steve some cookies as a reward for his hard work. Oatmeal Chocolate Chip. Yum. The reciped came from Martha Stewart’s website; she took it from Lucinda Scala Quinn’s Mad Hungry (Artisan Books, 2011), and I modifyied what’s below, substitutuing whole wheat flour for the all-purpose (so they’re healthy cookies now, right?) and using 8 ounces of chocolate chips (well, maybe it all balances out, anyway).


3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), softened, plus more for the pans

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

6 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon water

1 cup rolled oats

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Ingredients assembled! Note the baby monitor: baking happens when baby naps.


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter or line 2 rimmed baking sheets.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugars, egg, vanilla, and water. Add the flour mixture and stir to combine. Stir in the oats and chocolate chips.
  4. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheets, spacing the dough 1 inch apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly golden in colour. Remove to cooling racks.

The finished product: nom!

In the background of these shots, my kitchen assistants, duck and elephant. Together at last!

The Confession

In my last entry, I promised you Steve’s “confession,” so here it is: as I was prepping Callum’s room to paint it, Steve casually mentioned that he used to be a professional painter. Somehow, we managed to get through painting both an apartment and a house in Ottawa without this ever coming up. As soon as he revealed this to me, I began to imagine him painting our current home from top to bottom, from ceilings to baseboards, and everything in between, including the kitchen cabinets (they’re those ubiquitous 80’s jobs with the oak trim at the bottom). I wonder why he had kept his previous life as a painter to himself until now?

I suppose that divulging this information might have worked contrary to his desire to do as little work as possible on our rental home. Oh well. At least he left this on my pillow to make up for it:


That’s right, folks. Let your imaginations run WILD about what I might have had to do for all that Canadian Tire dough! I’m a lucky lady!

At any rate, we did get Callum’s room painted last week, and with a hectic week of him starting daycare, I’m finally getting around to posting some before and after pics. I’m much happier with the sunny yellow and crisp white trim than the drab mix of browns that was up before. What do you think?

Here’s a photo of the nursery with the old colours, as I was preparing the room to be painted:


And here’s a photo of the nursery after:


I painted the walls and Steve did the trim. Can you tell the difference between the professional and the amateur’s work?

In the meantime, transitioning Callum to daycare continues to be a bit of a struggle. I was thrown into a complete tailspin last Friday, when I went to pick him up and found—horror of horrors—processed cheese and 2% milk in the fridge in the infant room! The friend that I spoke to after these discoveries would attest to the fact that I was very upset by this. In retrospect, it may have been an overreaction, but so far, I’ve cooked all of Callum’s food, and as a result, he’s had nothing processed. Also, children under the age of two should only drink whole milk, because it contains fat that is important for their developing brains.

In the end, a quick talk with the lead caregiver in Callum’s room and the daycare centre’s owner seems to have resolved the situation. We went over what kinds of food Callum will be getting as snacks, and processed cheese is not on the list. They explained that they only occasionally give the children milk at all and that, when they do, it’s just a small amount on their cereal, and they let me know that I was free to bring in whole milk for Callum should I so desire. I have since done so.

Although these may seem like small things, everything seems all-important when raising a child, and the choices I’ve made along the way, such as making Callum’s food myself in order to keep processed foods our of his diet, seem all the more important now that I am letting go of having him at home with me twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I imagine the next twenty years or more will be a gradual process of letting go, but these first few steps are difficult!

Daycare: eep!

ImageToday was Callum’s first day of daycare. Although he was there less than two hours, since this week is his “gradual entry” into the program, and I was at the daycare centre the whole time, I was a bundle of nerves. (Last night I woke up at 2 a.m. feeling nauseous…) Leaving my one-year-old child in the care of complete strangers, no matter how lovely they may seem, is the most anxiety-provoking thing I have ever done.

We shopped around for a daycare, and this is a nice place: clean, bright, good caregiver to child ratio, good philosophy… Nonetheless, it feels like a baby farm to me: babies eating in high chairs in a circle, lining up to wash their hands. One little boy cried nearly the whole time we were there: separation anxiety. I felt his pain. I suppose I’ll get used to the idea, and Callum was a trooper, of course. He starting exploring the centre as soon as we got there, excited to see new toys and faces (in that order, apparently). I left the room a couple of times, and when I returned he didn’t seem to have noticed my absence: the first time, he was happily munching away on his lunch, and the second, he and another little person were figuring out a bead maze together. I’m proud of his independence! Maybe he can teach me a little?

Certainly, the song that was playing in the elevator as we made our exit didn’t help much: it was Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” As if I hadn’t already pictured terrible scenarios involving the daycare’s fifth floor balcony. Thanks for that, universe and soft-rock elevator music station.

Coming soon: photos of Callum’s now pale yellow room and Steve’s confession…

The house…

Nearly four months ago, our family moved to Vancouver from Ottawa. My husband, Steve, had been commuting between the two cities since February (flying home for three-day weekends every week, so that he could spend time with us), because I was committed to teaching a course at the University of Ottawa. When the course finally came to an end, I was thrilled to have my husband with us full time once again, excited to finally be moving to the West Coast, and eager to see the house that Steve had rented for us!

Taking care of a baby and teaching a university course meant that I hadn’t had the time to fly out and see it in person before moving in: the first time I would see the house would be the  moving day! Photographs that I had seen online led me to believe it had promise: a Victorian-style home built in the Edwardian era, it had lots of character in the form of mouldings and stained glass, its rooms appeared to be a decent size, and it had a big back yard as well as a large deck.

In person, I could still see the potential of the place, but I felt it needed some work to make it feel like our home. I’m no interior decorator, but I do like to take pride in my home. We would have to do some painting and change some lighting: the baby’s room was a drab beige with brown trim, there were watermarks on the paint near the window in the master bedroom, the matching eighties fixtures in the living/ dining area, one of which was also a ceiling fan, felt dated, but my two main points of contention were the burgundy and pink flowery wallpaper in the entrance and kitchen (complemented with a matching blue house border in the kitchen) and—wait for it—the pink ceiling fan in the master bedroom.

While I was gung-ho to fix everything right away, Steve was understandably apprehensive about wasting too much time and money on a rental. But, bit by bit, we’ve been making this place our home over the past few months: the landlord paid to have the wallpaper in the kitchen removed and a coat of off-white paint put up in its place, so I (unfortunately?) have no photos of the kitchen before. Steve has already replaced the light fixtures in the living and dining area, so I have no photos of those either, but here is a photo of something similar:

I wasn’t too sad to say goodbye to that one, but it was a bit of ordeal for poor Steve. The wiring in this house is O-L-D, and pieces of the ceiling fall out when he tries to change anything! Yipes! To give you an idea of what we’re dealing with, here’s a fuzzy picture of the light switches from our entranceway:

Side by side like these ones, they look like boobies. Quaint, no? But tricky to put new fixtures in without a junction box… The wires in the living/ dining area weren’t hooked up to any switches, so Steve had to convert the fixtures we bought with some pull switches (See the little pull switch on the left of the light? Steve did that!):

Today, Steve went out and bought paint, and tomorrow I’m going to start in Callum’s room! I can’t wait to start decorating in there and to turn that drab room into a fun space for our now one-year old guy! Stay tuned…