Name, your adventure

Nearly everyone has a story about how they picked their child’s name. For some it was the only name both partners could agree on. For others the name has some kind of sentimental or historical significance.

My father (May he rest in peace) claims that my parents put names on a dartboard and hoped for the best. He also said one of the other choices was “Petulia.” I was never entirely sure whether my father was fucking with me, but ultimately I ended up with a name that had no family history, and no middle name to boot.

As a child, I used to make up middle names for myself, because it seemed so cool to have a middle name.

When I found out I was pregnant we immediately started talking about names. We didn’t know the sex yet, so we had two lists. Thank goodness that we didn’t have a boy, because no boy’s name could be agreed upon. My husband agreed to Homer (which I still love), but I know that he would have changed his mind once the time came to make it official. I was hugely relieved when the ultrasound tech told us it was a girl, only so we could put the boy names aside!

For girls, I had a long list. A very long list. Eleanor, Maude, Rose, Tilda, Margot, Leah, Anna, Halle, Allegra, Lucinda, Edith, Agnes, Agatha, Gwendolyn, Iris, Rosemary, Amelia,Vera, Ilsa, Madolyn, Kiernan, Poppy, Elizabeth, Raquel, Beatrice, Goldie, Esme, Rita, Emmylou, Cate, Caroline, Florence, Ophelia, Daria, Fiona…

Ted was stuck on Margaret, which just didn’t appeal to me. It was so versatile, he kept telling me. She could be Maggie or Margie or Meg or Peggy!  I wanted to name her Frances, after my mother (isn’t Franny a cute nickname??) but it was immediately struck from the list because a guy named Francis shot my husband in the eye with an arrow when he was fifteen. Can’t make this shit up.

The name at the top of my list was Dagny. Ted hated it. I loved it, and I couldn’t tie my shoes by myself anymore, so it stayed on the list in sympathy. I started using it as my password at work. I tried it with all of the possible middle names. I Googled to make sure that there wasn’t a notorious serial killer named Dagny that I had never heard of before. Over time, Ted grew to accept and even maybe like Dagny a little.

In December 2010, we went to see “The Black Swan” starring Natalie Portman. I’m a pretty big NP fan, and I liked the director’s previous work, so I had been looking forward to seeing it. I told Ted he didn’t have to come with me because it might be a little weird and he might not like it, which made him insist on coming along. We both loved the movie, and Natalie’s performance as Nina. (And later, so did the Academy.) I immediately added Nina, in teeeeeeny letters, to the short list.

When Nina was born, she had a head of dark hair and olive skin, a lot like my husband’s. I felt like Dagny was a blonde girl’s name, so I immediately went back to the short list for something more suitable. I think the baby had three different names before finally settling on Nina. In the recovery room, she was Tilda. On the first night in our hospital room, she was Rose. For about three minutes, when the nurse was ‘strongly encouraging’ me for the hundredth time to sign the OHIP paperwork, she was Maude. And Ted was still calling her Dagny.

I could not believe the pressure from the hospital staff to pick a name so that you could complete the provincial health insurance papers! Prince Charles wasn’t named for almost a month, and he is the future heir to the throne of England, for Pete’s sake.

The mom that I roomed with in the hospital could not decide on a name for her son. On her last day in the hospital, she grudgingly signed the papers with a name her husband had chosen, and she confided to me that she hated. I thanked my lucky stars *again* that we didn’t have to pick a boy’s name.

Finally I decided on Nina. Ted didn’t like it. Mostly because he had spent so many months getting used to Dagny and he didn’t understand what had changed my mind. Even now, he rarely calls her Nina but refers to her as “Nin” (ryhmes with “kin”.)

Nina has turned out not to be dark-haired or dark-skinned after all, so Dagny probably would have worked out fine. I’m still very happy with Nina, and I hope that when she grows up she likes it as well.

And if she doesn’t like it, I can point out that at least it didn’t come from a dartboard.


The Princess and the Hoe

I am a feminist. Not an “I’m a feminist but…”

I unbashedly declare myself a feminist even though it is the sort of declaration that is often met with a raised eyebrow or a knowing sneer. Because when you are not afraid to admit you are a feminist, everyone knows what that means, and the ugly words that come along with it. Lesbian. Hairy. Ugly. Dyke. Man-hater. BITCH.

That kind of reductionist thinking is unfair and problematic, but the trove of feminist writing on the interwebs has given me more perspective on the unfortunate stereotypes swirling around all things “feminist.” I have learned that not all feminists are created equal, that there is so much intersectionality in the movement that it makes my head swirl, and lastly, there is a line of fundamentalism that I will not cross.

I believe in the right to equal pay for equal work and access to safe and affordable birth control. I believe that we need to do something, as a species, about the disturbing regularity with which girls and women are being raped, beaten, trafficked, and murdered all over the world, and the way that rape is being used as a tool of war to inflict the maximum amount of suffering on the enemy.

I believe that we need to step away from all of the plasticky, artificial, and photoshopped images and start rethinking the way we regard women’s bodies and their right to physical privacy.  I try to read a variety of feminist voices so that I can understand the issues facing women with lives different from my own, but some that are similar to mine as well. An article caught my eye just the other day, called “Why Drag Queens Are Better Role Models Than Disney Princesses.” I read it. And I was disappointed. The very first paragraph stuck in my craw.

Feminist mom resolved that her twin daughters would not grow up to be “hoes.” First of all, what a hateful word that is – “hoes.” How does one recognize a hoe? In their appearance? In their behavior? How would a parent prevent that? Where will they draw the line, and will their mother abandon them if they don’t grow up to meet her self-righteous standards? The one thing I can guarantee that this writer’s girls will be, if they follow her lead, is judgmental.

If I hadn’t already been so disappointed by the first paragraph, I might have laughed knowingly when she described her “horror” at realizing that her daughters loved the Disney princesses. Admittedly, I am not comfortable with Disney princesses, Barbies, Bratz, or anything of their ilk. I didn’t play with them as a child and I never fantasized about being a princess. I hate their pointy little feet that are permanently molded into the shape of a high heel, and I hate their frozen smiles.

But that is my deal. If my daughter goes through a princess phase, I will open up the conversation about princesses and what they represent, and I will let her make her own choices. Disagreement with the state of the world does not, in and of itself, relieve us of the responsibility of discussing it with our daughters. Pretending that princesses don’t exist doesn’t make them go away. Should all good feminists be jamming play hammers and trucks into their daughter’s hands?

Isn’t feminism about choice? Why does being a feminist mean that pink is no longer a legitimate choice? Do girls who like Disney Princesses all grow up to be “hoes”? I don’t believe that making sure your child doesn’t grow up to be a “hoe” is a realistic parenting goal. Let’s not underestimate our daughters’ ability to weigh the messages presented and decide what kind of women they want to be.

I still firmly dislike the division of toys into boy and girl sections. Especially when the girl section is dripping with fake rhinestones and maribou and gaudy pink plastic. Not only because it puts little girls into a single box, but because it does the same to little boys.

It is important to tell our daughters that their bodies belong to them, and that no one else has a right to access their bodies without consent. It is important for our daughters to be self-reliant, to be able to pay their own bills and take care of themselves. But to pretend that we all sing Kumbaya and get along? What a shock the real world will be for little girls raised in a feminist bubble. Princesses might be a fantasy, but so is a world where there isn’t so much work left to be done.

How do you know?

I envy people who confidently say, “one and done!” To all those staunch parents of one: how do you know that you’re done having kids? Is it something that you feel in your bones?  I’m in the strange position of being pretty sure that I’m done having kids. In truth, I had no idea for most of my life that I even wanted one kid. I didn’t enjoy being pregnant and I sure as hell never thought about doing it more than once. But I’m still not tie-your-tubes sure.

When people ask me “are you going to have another?” and I say “I don’t know”… is a MASSIVE UNDERSTATEMENT. Two children is a hell of a lot more work than one. But am I sure that our family is complete? Once you squeeze the toothpaste out of that tube, there’s no putting it back.

There is no guarantee that my second-born will be like my first. Just because the first pregnancy went well and was without complications doesn’t mean that there aren’t days and weeks of hugging the toilet ahead of me. There’s no evening nap or Saturday morning lie-in with a busy first-born running around. And that is if I don’t run up against the concrete wall of secondary infertility.

My advancing maternal age, as well as my genetic background, point to a high chance of having twins. Then I don’t have two kids, I have THREE. And three kids for a person who isn’t sure whether she wants two is just….so, so many kids. Toss in a couple of stepkids and OMG.

There are also a million things that can go wrong, that are pretty much out of one’s control – premature birth, a whole array of birth defects, and after birth? How does one wrangle a baby and a toddler? Am I ready to raise a special needs child? I don’t want to exaggerate the challenges of raising a child with special needs, nor do I want to deify the people who live with these challenges on a daily basis, but it isn’t an issue that should be treated lightly. Special needs children generally need more of pretty much everything – money, time, energy, equipment, patience, and so on. As a first-time parent, I didn’t think of these things. I hadn’t found a niche for myself as a mother yet and I couldn’t even begin to understand all of the “what-ifs” that having children bring. What if she needs a wheelchair? What if he needs to go to a special school? Am I prepared to learn sign language? Will I be able to get time off work for so many appointments?

And daycare? $$$$$$$$$$$$$ I cannot even fathom how daycare for two could be fit into our budget.But should money be the deciding factor? Lots of people make it work with far less money than me.

Nina and I had our struggles. Breast-feeding was a huge fail. Ditto with sleep-training. But there were two of us. It was a ratio that I could handle. Now that I have a couple of years of parenting under my belt, I have a clearer understanding of how little time there is in a day. When I was just starting out in life, the whole pie was mine. When I got a full-time job and got married I had to start slicing. As my life changes, I have to divide the pie into smaller and smaller pieces…and if I have a second child, will there be enough left for them? What about for me?

How important is it for a child to have siblings? I know that only-children have been unfairly shoved into a box labelled “selfish”  and “spoiled” but my own life experiences have shown me that it isn’t that simple. Plenty of only-children grow up to be hardworking and well-adjusted. The built-in-playmate benefits don’t start until the littler one is old enough to engage, and how many years does that take?

I mourn the things that Nina has outgrown, and that I might never get to enjoy again. No more fuzzy baby ears, no more tiny baby feet, no more wee hands and no more gummy smiles, no more sweet baby smell. But….is that enough reason to have another baby? How long is it ok to mourn these things before I start missing out on the cool “big-kid” stuff that my already-born is doing?

I feel as though I was so unequipped when Nina was born. I had no idea about the awesome parent community right at my fingertips. There are literally thousands of parent groups, websites, blogs, books, and chatrooms. I feel like now that I have been armed with these resources I could do everything so much better this time!

All of this to say, I still don’t know. I could sit and make a list of pros and cons. I could read a hundred articles. But it is a question that is bigger than all of that. It is talking about a whole new human being. So, how do you know if you’re done?

Falling Down


Just the other day at the park, I was telling Nina (in the simplest way I could) the changing of the seasons. How some things have to die and decay, or go into hibernation for awhile, to return again when conditions are more favourable. Leaves fall from the trees, the grass dies, birds go south for winter.
Without airing my dirty laundry in public, I will simply say that I am in a season of death and decay. Things are hard. I feel like I am forever pushing the same rock up the same hill, day after day. I feel shitty more often than I feel good. I don’t think that my contributions are making the difference that I want them to, personally or professionally. Sometimes I think that I want too much, that I want more from life than what was allotted to me. Or worse, that I have reached my quota of bad choices, and that I’m supposed to be learning a lesson from all of this.
I feel guilty about feeling bad, because I know that I have a lot of things that others could only wish for. I know that people of the Philippines are suffering immensely right now, and sometimes I feel like a huge turd for even daring to feel anything but grateful

I know that even in a period of death and decay, there are good things. The trees shed their leaves, the foliage dies, and the birds fly away. But still there is sledding and snowmen and Christmas. There are little slivers of light that show through. Nina is too little to completely understand adult feelings. She understands the concept of being “sad” or “frustrated” or “happy” (thanks to Barney et al) but I don’t know how to explain that I am happy to have her and to be with her, but I’m not happy in general.

I don’t want to teach her that she should hide her bad feelings so that she doesn’t upset other people. Faking it, going through the motions, just sucks. The best I can do right now is to try and teach her to fall down with a little grace. And more importantly I want to teach her to get back up again

The modern classics

If some of the classics had been written today, the stories would be quite different, wouldn’t they?

Oliver Twist asked for “some more” Cheerios after refusing to eat his delicious and lovingly prepared supper. He was given some more, and then refused to eat them, tossing them to the floor.

Wendy toiled away at two jobs to pay the bills while Peter Pan spent his days playing Xbox. Eventually she ran off with his stepfather, Captain Hook, a ruthless Wall Street trader with a yacht and a housekeeper.

Rip Van Winkle‘s wife had twins, so he only dreams about sleeping for a hundred years. He would settle for an hour-long nap.

The Poky Puppy sped things up once his mother bribed him with gummy bears and a new DS game.

Winnie the Pooh had gastric bypass, so none of that embarrassing stuck-in-a-hole business ever happened. With his new found confidence, he went on to be a pop singer known as P. Winnie. His success was marred by his penchant for hookers.

Goodnight Moon ….goodnight room, goodnight iPod, goodnight DVD player, goodnight cat meowing to be fed, goodnight toys that never get played with, goodnight pajamas of the wrong colour now crumpled on the floor, goodnight dust bunnies in the corners, goodnight rancid glass of milk under the bed, goodnight mama who fell asleep before she finished the story…zzzz….

The Velveteen Rabbit spent a month tightly sealed in a garbage bag in the attic because the whole family got lice. He emerged reeking of tea tree oil and shame.

The Runaway Bunny‘s mama got wise activated the “Find my iPhone” setting on his phone, so she always knew where he was.

And finally in Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane learned the shocking truth behind the headless horseman: he left his granola bar wrappers on the counter one too many times and his wife ripped his head off.

The default

Warning: this is going to be a bit of a rant. I have something to get off my chest, and I wonder if perhaps like-minded parents feel the same way as I do. And barring that, it feels good to have a little spew every once in awhile, doesn’t it? I have a point, I promise! 🙂

I had a spat with my husband this weekend (no I’m not going to be airing marital dirty laundry, this is merely to provide some context) and an issue came up that we have discussed on very few occasions, seemingly always following a heated argument. He very pointedly hissed that he wasn’t going to let our daughter walk all over him the way that I let her walk all over me. This statement has only been made a couple of times, and always in the heat of the moment. Typically when we have feedback regarding each others’ parenting, we bring it up in a healthy and respectful manner. But his comment, as off-the-cuff as it was, really pissed me off.

Because it sounds a lot like something that my mother has said to me a number of times. She laughingly tells me about her friend whose grandchild also “runs” her mother, just like Nina runs me.  Of course it was not said with malicious intent, but the message is clear to me. My mother is firmly planted in the old school, and she believes that there is a clear and absolute expectation that parents have “power” and children do not. She believes, based on her observations, that I don’t have power.

I’m not critiquing my own upbringing, or the way she treats my daughter. As a Nana, she doles out treats and kisses and applauds Nina’s milestones with gusto. When I was growing up, Mum worked very hard as a nurse to provide for us, through night shifts, nursing dying kids and adults, and she was competent and compassionate. When she was home, she provided good food and took care of the household. I don’t remember much yelling or spanking, although I do know that it was clear to me from my first memories that parents were the bosses, period.

The few times that I remember being yelled at or spanked, it was for doing really dumb shit like flooding the upstairs hallway to make a lake for our animal figurines (I know..) or smashing my Nana’s onions to hell with a croquet mallet (I KNOW!).

My method of parenting is what I would describe as gentle. I think that parents get back what they give to their kids. I don’t want to be yelled at, so I try to avoid yelling as often as possible. I try to model the behaviour that I want to see, by cleaning up after myself and being polite. I didn’t come to this parenting style through deep study or discussion with other parents. It is just what my gut tells me to do and I have no idea if I’m doing the right thing.

Of course I have read plenty of parenting blogs and books and talked to other parents, and I like to read about other people’s experiences with gentle (sometimes called attachment, among other names) parenting. There are many people who are more strict than I am, and many people who are far less strict.

The biggest surprise for me since Nina was born is that I never imagined that I could feel like this about another person. I spend my days at work, and each evening when I pick up Nina it is like seeing her for the first time, every single time. I feel like I have almost forgotten what her voice sounds like, the smell of her hair, the feeling of her arms around my neck and the sweet trill of her laughter. The “newness” that I feel every evening softens me. No matter how frustating the rest of the day was, she is a soft place to land and I can’t be sour and angry anymore. I just can’t. The warm bath of unconditional, unquestioning love, studded with big wet kisses and tiny hands reaching for mine pulls me right under.

I dislike the assumption that being gentle is simply the absence of doing SOMETHING, that I parent the way that I do because I was unable to decide whether I would be a yeller or a spanker or a time-out-chair-sender, or because I don’t know how to “win” the cosmic war against my child. When discussing this with more strict or old-fashioned style parents, they often ask how I will get my kid to stop misbehaving  if there isn’t a consequence to deter them? Many people, myself included, remember what a “consequence” consisted of as children –  a smack in the head, spanking, being hit with a belt or a wooden spoon, a very loud and scary lecture. I also know that personally, I was deterred from misbehaving further because I didn’t want another spanking, not because I understood why my actions were wrong.

Sometimes I wonder if the current generation of children is turning out to be so “bratty and unruly” because they are being raised by  generations of people who were spanked and shouted at, who were told in no uncertain terms that their parents were the “bosses.” Remembering how badly the spanking and shouting made us feel, we don’t want to continue the cycle with our own children. But without a model for effective communication, we are left trying to map out uncharted territory. The unfortunate consequence (because there always is one, right?) is that many kids are left with too little parenting. Not out of malice or neglect, but because we don’t want to do things the old way, but we haven’t figured out what the new way entails yet. I’m not attempting to relieve people of the responsibility to parent their children. But no one will ever convince me that a “good old spanking” is the solution to all of the world’s ills.

I try to make very mindful and deliberate choices about the way I parent as often as humanly possible. Being gentle doesn’t mean that Nina isn’t expected to pick up her toys, to share, to say please and thank you, or to do what is asked of her. Being gentle doesn’t mean that she eats cookies for dinner and draws on the walls and stays up all night. Please don’t confuse gentle with stupid.

Lest I make our evenings sound idyllic and filled with puppies and rainbows and balloons…Nina is quite  comfortable with expressing her anger and frustration, which as a two year old with limited autonomy, crops up regularly. She doesn’t want to wear what has been chosen for her, she doesn’t want to eat what everyone else is having for dinner, she isn’t finished playing or she really, really, really wants to paint instead of reading books. These are the typical disappointments of life, but at the age of two she doesn’t have the tools to cope with disappointment through calm introspection. That is something she will learn by watching the adults in her life handle disappointment in a healthy way.

One thing that I know that I want for Nina, absolutely, is that she knows she can trust me to be fair and not use my anger as a weapon against her. My dad passed away while I was pregnant with Nina, and before his passing he endured a sudden health crisis, a long period of hospitalization and then life in a nursing home. He did not have any concept of time or place, and he could not engage in a coherent conversation. I loved my dad, but there were some things that were said between us in anger that I desperately wish we could have healed before it was too late.

I won’t pretend that I don’t want to completely lose my shit sometimes. I have a hideous temper, but I have learned a few things about the consequences of uncontrolled anger over the years.  It usually ends with broken things – screen doors, plates, and even worse, people’s hearts. Cruel things cannot be unsaid. I’m not talking about having productive arguments that end with discussion. I’m talking about the white-hot, spewing bile, when you say and do things that can scar and frighten. And I’m working hard to live mindfully, learning to process frustration, fear and anger into something more productive and useful. It is challenging, and sometimes I miss the mark. But I am trying hard, and that has to be enough.