Friday, 30 August 2013

What I would've missed

The idea of whether to stay at home to raise our kids (sacrificing our careers and much of our sense of identity outside of being "Mom") or to return to work after maternity leave (suffering crippling guilt as we place our wee precious babies in the care of someone else) is a very difficult one to make.

These decisions - and the factors affecting those decisions - are different for everyone. Maybe your return to work is dictated by financial need: maybe you're the primary breadwinner, or the only income, or the household budget simply can't afford to be squeezed any further. Maybe, though you love your child more than life and cherish your family dinners and bedtime snuggles and weekend outings, the notion of being at home with your kids all day every day makes you want to gouge your eyes out with a blunt instrument.

I am forever questioning and second-guessing whether I've made the right decision, whether I'm doing the right thing for my kids and for me. And I have questioned and second-guessed myself no matter which decision I've made - when I was a stay-at-home mom by choice, a work-at-home mom by necessity, a work-outside-the-home mom for a time by necessity and for a time by choice, and now as a work-at-home mom by choice. I've felt guilty for putting them in childcare and I've also wondered if they're missing out by not being with other kids all day. I've felt like I'm missing their childhood while I'm at the office and I've also wondered if I might be a better mom if I had that few hours' break from them each day.

I don't know if there's a "right" decision - but for me, the most important thing is the time I spend with my boys during these few short years of their childhood, and there's no compensation for my working outside the home and having my kids in daycare that could ever outweigh that.

If I'd returned to work after maternity leave I'd never have understood so instantly my boys' babyspeak the way only someone who's with them twenty-four hours a day can. I'd have missed all those cozy daytime snuggles on the couch and teeter-tottery meandering walks to the park hand-in-hand. I'd have missed all our field trips and mom-and-tot groups and fun little outings. I'd have missed our walks to and from school together when we have some of our very best talks and my boys tell me all about their day, their dreams, what's going on in their heads and their worlds. I'd have missed all those after-school hours of homework and board games and bike riding and hanging out before dinner.

If I'd returned to work after maternity leave that's a couple of thousand hours a year I'd be missing with my kids. With only a few years to teach them and learn from them and make memories together until they're all grown up and off to live their own lives, it's simply too much to sacrifice for me.

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To work or not to work?

(That is the question...)

Whether 'tis nobler as a mom to suffer
The pangs and pain of outrageous guilt 
as I send my baby to daycare
Or to take the plunge in the working world
And by doing so strengthen our future...

For parents and children (and teachers, I would imagine) January first means very little. For us, September is the real start of the new year. New school year, new teachers, new grades, new after-school activities, new sports, new teams, new tryouts, new parents' groups, new daycare arrangements. 

September is the start of a new year with a new schedule for anyone with a family - so it's only natural as summer winds down and I'm busy getting the kids ready for back-to-school and registering for next season's sports that I find myself thinking about my own schedule. Not my family's schedule. Not my "Mom" schedule. Not my schedule as chauffeur, chef, cleaning staff, coach, classroom helper, personal shopper, personal assistant and referee. But my schedule. Me, as a human being in and of myself. Just me.

I'm thinking of going back to work.

I know - I've planned my entire life around being a stay-at-home mom because I don't want to miss my kids' childhood moments.

Here's the thing. My company's largest contract - the one that enables me to work from home and earn an income and raise my kids without missing any of those precious moments - is up early next year. For a variety of reasons and circumstances, it's not likely the current arrangement can continue. As my company's largest contract, I worked at this particular facility myself until my youngest son was born. If I choose to return to run the facility again I am almost guaranteed that the Board will renew my company's contract for another three years - and every three years for the forseeable future.

In an ideal world, I'd stay home until my youngest son started school full-time: two more years from now. The reality, however, is that the world isn't organized to accommodate my personal whims, and if I wait another two years this opportunity will likely have passed me by.

And this job is a dream job for a hands-on mom who wants to be home with her kids. I would work three hours a day, which means only a few hours of daycare for my youngest, and I could still walk the older boys to and from school - as far as they're concerned I'd still be an at-home mom. I'd get Christmas vacation and March Break off and up to five weeks' vacation in the summer. And - I'd earn a full-time salary. For teaching a couple of fitness classes a day while my kids are at school anyway.

It's a perfect job, really. I would never have left in the first place if I didn't want to be home to raise my baby. And therein lies my dilemma.

I want to stay home until all of my boys are in school.

When I go back to work I want to be there for my kids before and after school until they're grown.

This job gives me that opportunity - but this job will start a year and a half before Baby will start kindergarten.

There's no other job in the world that will pay me this kind of salary for these kinds of hours.

Is it worth giving up my dream job for the sake of one extra year home with my baby?

Did you have a tough stay-at-home or back-to-work decision to make? How did you decide? Please share your stories in the comments below!

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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Alone time as adults

My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary this month.

Although he was on vacation, we didn't manage to spend much in the way of quality alone time together.

He spent the morning picking up groceries for a special dinner he had planned just for the two of us while I took the kids bike riding and to the park. Then he was on kid duty while I went in to work to teach a couple of classes. Dinner was early as we had to race out for soccer practices - two different kids, two different fields - just as it started to drizzle. And when we finally made it home and all back together Baby was determined to keep us company all night, flat-out refusing to even consider bed or sleep.

So we celebrated our anniversary at separate soccer fields in the rain - what a perfect picture of life as parents. Not quite the romantic evening we might have envisioned a few years ago. It's hard to find alone time together as a couple when you have kids!

anniversary dinnerA couple of nights later we tried again, warning the boys ahead of time that we were having a special dinner together just the two of us after they went to bed and begging that they keep the "Mommy, can I..." calls down the stairs to a minimum. My husband spent the entire day cooking me a deliciously decadent roast beef dinner and we had a lovely evening celebrating the anniversary of the day we got married - and counting how many more years until we could have some real alone time. Like when the kids leave for university, perhaps?

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Monday, 26 August 2013

Art wall update

art wall, kids' art

Why hide our kids' artwork away in a box in the basement when we can put them on display where we can enjoy them every day?

We have a couple of favourite pieces out throughout the house, but the real "brag wall" for the kids is in the playroom on our art wall.

I sort through their artwork once a year, purge as ruthlessly as any mom possibly can, and pick out two absolute favourites. These get displayed, gallery-style, on our art wall in the playroom - two pieces for each boy for each year since he was two. Though he's not quite two yet, Baby's first masterpiece is proudly displayed alongside his brothers'.

I love being able to look at and enjoy my little angels' works of art every day - and in a room devoted to children and toys and play, I can't imagine any more appropriate decor for the wall.

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Friday, 23 August 2013

Caterpillar bookmark craft

My boys are avid little readers and tend to have more than one book on the go at a time, so we're often scrambling for bookmarks. Today we thought a fun craft would be to make some of our own.
crafts, kids' crafts, kids' activities
Caterpillar bookmarks

The boys decided on caterpillar bookmarks. They cut out a length of construction paper and coloured a picture of a caterpillar onto it. They then used a hole punch to punch holes all around the sides of the paper, cut lengths of different coloured wool, and tied the wool through the holes for the caterpillar's legs.

And now we have custom bookmarks for reading time tonight!

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Garden windchime craft

So much of our summers are spent outdoors - biking through the neighbourhood, hiking through the ravine, long walks to the swimming pool, playing at the playground, splashing at the splash pad, soccer at the park, running through the sprinkler and playing in the sandbox, drawing with the sidewalk chalk and climbing trees and building forts. It only makes sense to take some of our crafts outdoors as well.

This windchime craft was easy and fun. Wooden dowels and stainless steel washers from the hardware store, fishing line and acrylic paint and glitter glue from the craft store. It took a little fiddling to get the bits of wood and metal all strung together properly, but decorating them was a blast. A quick coat of clear outdoor varathane once the paint and glittter dried made them safe to live outdoors - hopefully hanging off our soon-to-be-finished second-storey deck.

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Monday, 19 August 2013

Mural, mural on the lawn

It's been one of those days. Older two children were utterly incapable of playing together for longer than three minutes without arguing and fighting and whining and constantly picking at one another. Youngest child refused to let me travel more than six inches from his side and grabbed my face to turn it toward him every time I dared to focus my attention elsewhere for even a moment - like, for instance, on breaking up an argument between his brothers.

Our morning Monopoly game deteriorated into arguments and accusations of cheating, so I ushered the kids outside for a bike ride. Older boys spent the enitre time racing to be first, cutting the other off, then tattling and crying. Baby screamed bloody murder at being put in his stroller but refused to pedal or be pushed on his bike. Bike ride fail.

We went to the park to play soccer. Older two children immediately started arguing over rules, scoring, field boundaries and possession of the ball. Youngest child said no to soccer, grabbed my legs and started pushing me toward the playground. Older two refused to play soccer without me, Baby refused to play near the soccer field. Soccer fail.

Gave up, herded children back into yard with vague notions of Baby playing happily in sandbox while safe in enclosed backyard, older children and I playing conflict-free game of soccer. Fantasy. Baby wanted "up," older children continued bickering. Offered approximately seventeen thousand suggestions for activities. All rejected out of hand - if possible, children even more whiny and argumentative.

kids craft, paintingSuddenly struck with brilliant idea: outdoor mural craft. Children very excited. All children. At the same time. Stroke of parenting genius.

We rolled out an enormous length of craft paper across the yard and dove right in - finger painting, splatter painting, puffy paint and markers. The kids had a blast with this project and it kept them entertained and argument-free for almost two blissful hours!

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Friday, 16 August 2013


The Ex is a must-do end-of-summer tradition for anyone living in Toronto. Nothing screams family fun in the city like a long day of midway rides and games and oversized prizes, cotton candy and caramel corn and slushies, flashing lights and throbbing music in the blistering sun of a summer day.

We love the Ex, and have gone every year for as long as I can remember. Carnival rides, a sports area, a music area, the farm building, a petting zoo, a reptile exhibit, character appearances and shows and games and giveaways keep the kids entertained and excited all day long, and the beer garden next to the jazz stage is a little mid-afternoon treat for Mom and Dad.

Ice shows, dance shows, music shows, magic shows, acrobatics and animal shows are running all day long in the buildings and bandshells and there are street performers all up and down the midway. The Mardi Gras parade is a circus on wheels when it rolls by tossing plastic beads to everyone lining the streets and the Air show is the the highlight of the day for the whole family.

Where else can you walk the streets in dollar-store bling, eat deep-fried macaroni and cheese, try on a flak jacket and ride in an army tank, milk a cow and pet an alligator, ride a roller coaster and learn to play lacrosse, see a life-sized Yoda carved out of butter and meet a robot and an Olympic champion while a guys walks past on stilts and fighter jets perform stunts overhead, all in the same place on the same day?

The Ex is a gong show. And it's an absolute blast!

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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Canada's Wonderland

We took our kids to Canada's Wonderland for the very first time this summer. What a blast! I spent half my summers there growing up, and with the park just around the corner from us I can't believe we haven't been sooner - the biggest, best theme park in the country is practically at our doorstep, and yet we travel all the way across the continent to visit Walt Disney World every year.

Wonderland has changed a lot in the fifteen years or so since I last visited and there are probably twice as many rides. The boys are a little young yet for the biggest, fastest roller coasters - Ghoster Coaster and Wild Beast were as brave as they were willing to get this year - which is why we've put off visiting Wonderland until now, thinking there wouldn't be much for them to enjoy. But I had no idea how much the children's area of the park has expanded!

Canada's Wonderland, rides, kids, theme park, summer
There are two themed areas of Wonderland for younger kids: Kidzville and Planet Snoopy. All of the rides in these areas are designed for little ones with family-friendly height guidelines and rider restrictions - although we thought we'd spend most of the day taking turns waiting out with our youngest, we were able to do almost every ride all at the same time, either all five of us together or split two and three. There's a great mix of slower rides like the Character Carrousel, Swan Lake, Jokey's Jalopies and the classic trains as well as faster rides like the Ghoster Coaster roller coaster, Taxi Jam mini coaster, Lucy's Tugboat swinging boat and Peanuts 500 racecars, and up-in-the-air rides like Snoopy's Revolution, Space Race and Red Baron, The Pumpkin Patch and Chopper Chase. The older boys had a blast and Baby almost lost his mind with excitement over riding the "big boy" rides with his brothers.

Canada's Wonderland, kids, rides, summer, theme parkThe wonderful thing about Wonderland is that it's almost like two theme parks in one - there are the two children's areas and the three areas packed with roller coasters and thrill rides (Action Zone, International Festival and Medieval Faire) but there's also Splash Works, a water park area as large as a theme park itself. We spent nearly half the day in Splash Works, working up from the kiddie slides, spray pad and pools of Splash Island to the family-friendly Lazy River to the fun of the Pump House and the Whitewater Bay wave pool and finally the action-packed "thrill ride" slides - Body Blast, Riptide Racer, Super Soaker, Whirlwinds, the Black Hole and The Plunge. Baby had to sit the big slides out, of course, but was thrilled to play in the Pump House splash area for hours.

I can't think of a better way to spend a scorching August afternoon!

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Monday, 12 August 2013

Family camping trip

One of the highlights for our family is our annual camping trip. Well, one of the highlights for most of our family. My husband loves camping. My children love camping. I love my husband and children, so I plan a camping trip every summer. But, for the record, I do not like camping.

It's not that I'm not outdoorsy. I spend most of my life outdoors with the kids, doing active outdoorsy kinds of things - swimming, biking, hiking, walking; pools, parks, beaches, botanical gardens, trails, ravines, splash pads. I like the outdoors. But - not for living.

My husband and sons don't have the same hangups about comfortable beds and proper plumbing, evidently, so I tolerate camping for a night or two at a time.

And it is fun.

Hanging out on the beach all afternoon building sandcastles and swimming in the lake. Long walks through the quiet, overgrown woods. Burgers and corn grilled over the campfire. Watching the children's excitement as they dance around the campfire waving sparklers and roasting marshmallows, their glow sticks and bracelets and necklaces tracing an eerie neon trail through the nighttime darkness outside the fire. A few quiet cocktailing moments with my husband by the fire when the kids are tucked away in their tent for the night.

Camping will never be my first choice for a family outing, but since the rest of the family loves it, it's slowly becoming another tradition - and, of course, another memory made.

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Friday, 9 August 2013

Dirt. A post about dirt. (And our organic garden)

organic vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppersOur vegetable garden has come a long way since it started as a wee basket of mixed herbs slowly browning and wilting on our apartment balcony a few years ago. My commitment to eating organic as much as we can, my husband's passion for gardening and the kids' fascination with all things growing and green have prompted us to devote an entire corner of our backyard to our crops.

This year we're growing three kinds of tomatoes, two kinds of peppers, cucumbers, carrots, strawberies and a variety of lettuces and herbs in our garden and we're so proud of how well it's doing.

It's taken us a few years to figure out and perfect our farming technique. We've tried a lot of different vegetables that haven't worked out for one reason or another - the squash grew way too big and took over the garden; the grapes had an unfortunate run-in with the weed trimmer; the eggplants were scrawny and pathetic. And we learned, after one summer's feeble growth despite constant attention, that the soil in our garden is planted in consists of a single very thin layer barely covering the solid clay beneath. Nothing grows in clay.

This year our garden is growing much better. We built up a stone retaining wall and filled the raised bed with rich organic soil. We're only growing those veggies that have done well in the past and that we'll eat every day. But the real secret to our garden's success?

That's right, dirt.

We make our own dirt, actually - we're just that fancy.

The composter is my husband's pet project. He built it himself and installed it in the back corner of our garden. He spent weeks researching the rules of composting, what kitchen scraps could go in and what couldn't and how to get the right mixture of carbon and nitrogen to create the most nutrient-rich earth. It was his project, really - I found the composter to be a bit of an eyesore, and having to sort our waste into yet another receptacle under the sink annoying and redundant.

I've changed my mind, though. A couple of trees and shrubs planted in front have hidden the box completely. Since last summer we've been determinedly collecting and layering dry leaves and garden clippings with banana and orange peels, eggshells, coffee grounds and the ends of lettuce heads. And the soil we pulled out to put in our vegetable garden this spring was the blackest, richest soil I've ever seen.

And that's the secret of our gardening success: dirt.

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Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Lazy summer days

There's something about long, lazy summer days spent at home with my boys that's so special. I wouldn't give up these moments with them for the world - and I'm so grateful that our lifestyle lets me share all these childhood memories with them.

I sometimes get so caught up in constantly planning field trips and special outings and activities that I almost forget that some of our happiest memories are made when we're just lounging about at home.

Lazy mornings curled up in jammies, eating breakfast in the living room and playing board games. Long hikes and bike rides through the neighbourhood ravine and arboretum, exploring the river banks and walking trails and climbing trees. Making massive sidewalk chalk murals on the driveway. Building sand-and-water cities in the sandbox. Kicking the ball around in the yard, slipping out the back gate to play at the park, coming back to cool off in the pool. Setting up the slip 'n slide and sprinkler and busting out the bubble solution for an afternoon of water play. A picnic lunch on a beach blanket in the lawn. Burgers on the barbecue and family dinners on the deck that extend for hours into the evening.

There's nothing better than these long, lazy summer days. The children won't be young forever, and this time with them won't last forever. The memories made in these lazy summer days will last a lifetime.

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Monday, 5 August 2013

Long weekends

There's something so warm and wonderful about summer long weekends - a mini-vacation, extra family time, an excuse to do something special.

For our family, the August long weekend has always meant cottaging at Wasaga Beach with the extended family - my parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, niece and nephews. Long walks on the beach and hours of playing in the sand, swimming out to the big rock in the bay and splashing around in the shallows all afternoon, exploring and chasing butterflies through the dunes and playing croquet on the lawn, evening cocktails and sunset-gazing on the deck and enormous family dinners outside.

Magical, and quintessentially Canadian.

This year we added the zoo and the splash pad to the long weekend festivities - we're so lucky to have had such perfect weather all weekend. The zoo is one of our favourite places on earth to spend a day and it's such a treat when my husband is able to come, too - usually the boys and I end up going during the day while he's at work.

And of course no long weekend is complete without the traditional fireworks show and sparklers for the kids. Happy long weekend Canada!

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Thursday, 1 August 2013

little townhome love is one

It's been one year since I began to write this little Mommy blog. It began as a hobby, a way to start writing again - something I hadn't had a spare second for since my boys were born - an outlet for my rants and ramblings and opinions, and a way to connect with other moms and add my two cents to the vast pool of parenting ideas we all dip into.

I'm so proud of what my little blog has become. It's so exciting to log on every day and see that I've had hundreds of hits that day, not just from North America and the United Kingdom but from places like Singapore and Lithuania and the Netherlands, that other bloggers have linked to my posts or repinned my photos and ideas or requested I write a guest post for their site.

A few months ago Google added ads to my site, turning a little hobby blog into a tiny income for this at-home mom. And just this week I was offered a regular staff writing post for an online magazine. It's not going to make me famous or earn enough to pay the bills. But it makes me happy that anyone thinks this little something I'm putting out there into the world has value of any sort.

So happy first birthday, little townhome love. I can't wait to see what happens with you in the next year!

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