I Dare You

What a whirlwind month! Thanks to all for sticking with me as I navigated the first thirty days of new motherhood! An especially large thank you goes to my two friends, Lindsay Eckert and Chantelle Behrens, for writing a couple of posts for me while I was away. I hope that you enjoyed the break!

Things in the Topping household have been interesting as we all try to find our place in our new family. We weren’t entirely prepared for Eggs’ birth so things were…a little out of sorts for the first week or so. He was due on January 3 and, since Monkey had come on time, we figured that Eggs would too. We were wrong. He showed up a week and a half early, which ended up being Christmas Day. I’m sure I’m going to hear about that for the rest of my life once Eggs understands what that means. Oh boy.

We had many visitors, little sleep, and a whole lot of work to do. We had a bunch of doctor appointments, gifts to put away, decorations to clean up, and a toddler who had no idea what was going on. I thought 1 year old was too young to feel jealousy. It’s not. Monkey’s personality did a total 180 in the week after Christmas. He forgot how to sleep through the night, he whined constantly, and he wanted to cuddle with me, which is something he’s never been fond of. But I was feeding Eggs so there wasn’t enough room on my lap for the two of them so Monkey starting to punish me.

Constant high-pitched whining gets on your nerves fast. There’s no more effective torture than a whiny toddler. Not just for minutes. Not just for hours. For days. I’m serious. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was whining. Thank God both my husband and my mother were around because I was getting ready to lose my mind. There are many things I can handle, toddler whining being one of them, but not without sleep. And with a new baby, you have to wake them every 2 hours to feed them if there is a chance they could get jaundice. I was desperate for quiet and a nap.

The whining wasn’t the only problem. Monkey was getting into things more than he ever had. Cupboards torn apart, garbage picked through, and constant spills became my life on top of a newborn that was having tummy troubles and spitting up everything he ate. I spent days trying to nurse Eggs and begging Monkey not to touch that or to close the cupboard or to put this down from afar. He knew I couldn’t come and stop him. I was at the end of my wits.

 

20160113_140114
The little troublemaker.

So I did what any exhausted, exasperated mother does: I Googled for help. There were lots of women out there dealing with the same thing I was, but their kids were usually older. I guess few people choose to have their kids spaced 1 year, 10 days apart. There was talk of potty training regression, toddler-on-baby violence, talking back, etc. Things I was thankful not to deal with, but then I found one piece of advice that has seen me through the worst of Monkey’s adjustment period: your child is daring you not to love them.

Monkey was afraid of being replaced, afraid that we no longer loved him and was acting out to get us to prove him right. And therein lied the challenge. Of course nothing had changed about my love for Monkey, if anything I loved him more because I was now reliving all the memories of when Monkey was an infant. But I was torn between wanting to show him love and feeling like I should be disciplining behavior that I didn’t like. I tried following the advice in the Alpha Mom column (seriously, one of my favorite places to turn when I don’t know what to do with my kids) and constantly praised Monkey for the good things he did. Did he close the cupboard when I asked him to? Yay! Such a good listener! Did he give kisses to the new baby instead of slapping him upside the head? Yay! What a good big brother! Did he finish his food without upending the bowl onto the dog’s head? Yay! Big boy gets a treat!

He learned a lot of tricks this month now. He opens cupboard doors just so he can close them when we ask. He gives kisses to the dog and to Eggs and to his teddy bears and to his books and, well, pretty much anything he can put his slobbery little mouth on. The constant whining is gone now and has been replaced by three new teeth (yes, the birth of our second child coincided with two molars and a lateral incisor. Lucky us).

He dared me not to love him and I proved otherwise. Not every day. Some days I couldn’t prove anything because I was exhausted and emotional and weak. But most days I showed him that he was still so very special to me. Most days he went to sleep knowing that his father and I love him very much. Not because of his behavior, whether good or bad, but because he is our son.

So overall, I’d call this month a success. There were ups and downs, highs and lows, but this two kid thing is actually not as difficult as I was led to believe. Do you agree? What were your experiences with older children’s reactions to their siblings? If you have siblings, what was your reaction to a new sibling? Or what was your siblings’ reactions to you? Tell me below!

Advertisements

S’more Pavlova

My family has done so much for me in the last month that I decided to throw a “Thank You” party for them this passed weekend. We cleaned up the house, bought some flowers, and made some food for my parents and siblings to thank them for helping us adjust to having little Eggs join the family. My husband cooked dinner (he’s so much better at cooking than I am. I burn everything) while I made dessert. One of the desserts I made is a S’more Pavlova.

I’d never heard of a pavlova until this year. My little brother spent 8 months in Australia and had it as part of Christmas (2014) dinner with a family that let him live with them for a couple of months. It’s pretty much just a giant meringue cookie covered in whip cream and, usually, fruit. Yum!

For Christmas, we usually incorporate a review of the year into our day. Sometimes the Christmas decorations are a colour that was important to us that year (like blue because my sister graduated and that was the colour of her dress). Sometimes it’s in the food. This year, we had a pavlova for Christmas dinner because Jo had been in Australia for half of the year. It was the first time any of us had tried it. It was delicious.

This weekend, I decided to have a little something for each member of my family. I made flapper pie for my mom. Brian made taco casserole for my dad. I had sprouted flower bulbs for my sister and her boyfriend. And a s’more pavlova for my brother. And since it turned out so well, I thought I’d share my recipe with you! I modified this recipe to make it my own (her pictures are so much prettier than mine so don’t click the link).

 

20160124_125257

 

Recipe For S’more Pavlova

Ingredients:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Baker’s chocolate bars (dark or semi-sweet – whatever your preference for sweetness)
  • 1 tub of cool whip
  • graham cracker crumbs (for garnish)

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. On parchment paper, drawn two 6″ circles and put on a cookie sheet. In a stand mixer and using the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs until they are stiff. Add the brown sugar one spoonful at a time until it is dissolved in the eggs. Divide the mixture in half.

Spread the mixture on the parchment paper so that it fills the two circles. Spread it flat and then indent the top of both so that there is a large space for the chocolate to pool (make it look like a deep dish pizza). Place the meringues into the oven and immediately reduce the oven’s temperature to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 1 hour then turn off the heat and let the pavlova sit in the oven for another hour to cool.

Once the pavlovas have cooled, melt your chocolate bars (leaving approx. 1/4 of one to the side for garnish). Pour half of the chocolate on top of one of the pavlovas. Let it cool. Take half of the tub of cool whip and spread it on top of the chocolate-covered pavlova. Sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs. Stack the second pavlova atop the first. Cover in the remainder of the melted chocolate (reheating if necessary). Let it cool and cover it with the remainder of the cool whip. Coarsely chop or grate the remaining chocolate and put on top of the whip cream with any remaining graham cracker crumbs you have.

Voila! There is your s’more pavlova!

Update: After eating this most delicious dessert, I’ve concluded one thing: it’s better to use a chocolate ganache or a chocolate spread because the hardened chocolate was really difficult to cut through. If you’re going to use melted chocolate, make sure to eat the dessert right away. 

Why I Didn’t Like Harry Potter

Hi, I’m Lindsay Eckert–a writer around these parts.Nice to meet you; however, you may or may not like me after reading this. And that’s ok. You still seem like a decent sort. Note from R.B. Topping: Whether you like her opinion here or not, I vouch for the awesome-ness of Lindsay. She’s got a degree in writing, a completed novel under her belt, and a certificate of true nerd-dom (if there were such things issued, I guarantee she’d have one. She can outclass any gatekeeper on ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’ lore with her hands tied behind her back–or cut off in a lightsaber battle). She’s got a blog and a twitter account if you’d like to follow. And trust me, you do!

 

I finished my very first read through of the Harry Potter series this year at the age of 26. Yes, you read that right. I had never before read any of the famous novels. Why, you ask? It’s complicated. Why didn’t you like it, you yell blindly at me, the stranger on the other side of the screen?

It’s complicated.

Harry Potter was a cultural phenomenon when I was growing up. Nearly all my school friends were reading them, debating which house they belonged to, I was inundated with Potter references as it exploded into popularity then seeped into everyday culture. And yet I never picked up a book.

There are two major reasons for this.

One: I grew up in a Christian household. That doesn’t mean I, or my parents, believed Harry Potter was born of hellfire and trained children to be witches. I read voraciously already so the books weren’t my breakthrough to start reading as I’ve heard it was for other kids, therefore my parents weren’t rushing out to buy it and…

Two: I just wasn’t interested. Not to sound egotistical, but when the first book came out, the reading level wasn’t challenging enough and lacked the robust writing I was looking for. I had absolutely no desire to pick it up.

After enduring a decade of being asked my opinion about Harry Potter, getting horrified and scandalized looks when I admitted I’d never read them, and having no opinion based on my experience to offer, I finally decided to get an informed opinion earlier this year. I was curious. Many cautioned me to read them simply as kid books, that the books would ‘grow up’ as the series went on, making sure they set my expectations right. Some were excited for the journey I was about to undergo, their eyes sparkling with nostalgic remembrance. Some were afraid that my book snobbishness (deemed so because I love reading books that challenge me rather than reading fluffy stuff) would impede my ability to see them for what they were—fun jaunts through a mystical world.

 

Before I enter into it, I don’t want to disregard anyone’s thoughts on the series, where my analysis mixes with anyone’s nostalgic love fervour. They were decent books. I do think though, just like certain videogames from my childhood I hang on to, our nostalgic experience affects how we feel about and remember them, which—if we don’t return to them in later years—tints the reality inherent in a closer examination.

 

I hated the kids. Harry, Hermione, Ron…I have squinty face just thinking about them. Harry was the root of it all, Hermione usually less so, but the children whined and bumbled their way through the machinations of adults—the plot that I truly cared about. I could not have cared less about what happened to our protagonists, but MAN was I invested in Snape, Dumbledore, and Voldemort’s tangled history. My sneaking interest in the adults’ storylines is what kept me reading.

Harry and his father bothered me the most. Harry is arrogant, selfish, spurns authority (especially good authorities like Dumbledore) in every book, explodes into tantrums at a whim (remember when he threw an object at Ron’s head, with intent to injure—that was messed up), and used Hermione to do most of his schoolwork. Charming lad. And James was worse! What a straight-up, no excuses bully. I never understood why Lilly flitted over to James in a love bubble.

And then Snape obsessively pined after Lilly the rest of his life to the point he made a deal to protect Harry because he’s Lilly’s son?! Really? Reeeaaallly? The line, “Always,” honestly just made me pity-sad for him.

I have to be real honest here: I’m having a hard time picking specifics out of my head about all the little sentences and behaviours that made me cringe. But I remember the whining. I remember thinking, why doesn’t Harry get over himself and just do something useful? Why is he yelling at Hermione and Ron AGAIN? You’re supposed to be friends with these people, Harry! That was our protagonist for seven books. And I remember savouring all the moment when we as readers got to learn a little more about the adults skulking around in the background who, truly, the books were about.

Dumbledore crafted everyone’s actions from day one to suit what he needed out of each person. Voldemort was truly creepy, although ‘evil to the point of being un-relatable evil’ isn’t terribly interesting. Snape was a bad guy until we learned more about his past, at which point I felt badly for him, but it didn’t excuse how he behaved in the present. I was waiting for the grand twist to drop where there was a reason why he acted like a bully to nearly everyone in his care. He protected Harry only because he was Lilly’s son, but treated him like a puppy that needed beating. Why bother protecting the kid then?

The plot kept the pages turning, the background of this world kept me going to the next book, but to be honest with you, at the end of it all I was frustrated, shrugged, then returned the books to their rightful owners and was happy to never look at them again.

This isn’t to say your opinions are invalid. This is my own rant on what I experienced.

 

And I’ll share a secret about me with you: I relish being contrary to popular opinion. If you want to read more of my contrary opinions, pop over to A Penchant for Words.

It’s Just a Phrase

Since Becka posted “Just a Phase” in November, I’ve been itching to write a response. And now I have a platform! Y’all should probably read it first if this post is to make any sense. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

We all caught up? Lovely. Let’s go.

First of all, I need to sincerely apologize to my dear friend, because I’ve certainly told her “oh don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it” more than once! I’d like to think I included helpful encouragement and advice, but I can’t guarantee that. I’m very sorry dear.

Secondly, the entire piece got me thinking about a couple things. One was the way that mothers as a species seem to fail in our continual quest to be helpful and support our fellow moms. The other was that cookies are severely underrated.

Seriously though. I’ve heard every possible version of “it’s just a phase” so many times throughout the past 18 months. It can get pretty grating, and is usually the least helpful thing that person could have said in that moment. However, I do sometimes grasp the sliver of hope it offers. It is comforting to be reminded that the present struggle will only last for a little while. There is an expiry date on every teething session, every mobility challenge, every sleep schedule good or bad: sorry girls, it’s sad but true. Relief can be found in the midst of seemingly endless chaos when I remember that a new and different chaos is just around the corner. (I’m an incurable optimist about 98% of the time. The other 2% is when I’m trying to get spaghetti sauce out of clothing.) And yes, I do appreciate the occasional reminder of just how fleeting these moments are. It makes it easer to deal with the hard times when I am reminded to savour the sweetness in every phase, no matter how tired I am. Easier said than done, I know, but we can always strive for the unattainable regardless of success.

However, in the moment when a fellow mum comes to us with her struggles and fears, perhaps we need to take a second and think “What would I want to hear if I was in her place?” Would I want advice, encouragement or sympathy? Perhaps a listening ear? I have observed, online but also in real life, that we desperately want to tell other moms how to behave and what to think rather than trying to share our experiences or commiserate constructively. “Be happy! You’re a mom! Moms are supposed to be happy!” “Don’t do that, that will have a negative long term effect on your little one.” “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” We spend our time trying to diplomatically tell mothers that they’re doing everything wrong and inform them of what they SHOULD be doing instead. Or just throw out a meaningless phrase and hope it somehow helps. Not nearly helpful.

Words matter. We need to pay attention to how we interact with each other. Are we listening? Are we empathizing? Are we offering practical and constructive help, in the form of baby sitting or cleaning or laundry or food or coffee energizing beverages? Are we encouraging each other? Or are we engaging in constant competition:”Oh you think YOUR kid is bad? just listen to MY story…” Bragging about our own personal wunderkind is also less than productive. I find most attempts at comparison take the emphasis from sympathy and support of our mothers in distress.

I’m not against the giving of advice, and certainly not the asking of it. If a fellow mom comes to me and says “I have this problem – what do you think I should do?” THEN I can step in with advice and anecdotes and my collective wisdom (oh so wise I am, mother of one tiny human.) But to offer a slew of well-meant recommendations before receiving the invitation to do so will probably end in grumpiness.I am a definite offender in this. I love to talk about my daughter and boast of her many accomplishments (a prodigy in everything, she is!) But I need to remember that there is a time to speak, and a time to just be silent and listen.

And maybe bring cookies.

Mummy dreams

Note from R.B. Topping: Please welcome my dear friend, Chantelle Behrens, as guest contributor. She will be writing a couple of posts in the coming weeks as I take time off to adjust to life as a mother of two! Follow her on Twitter: @chantellebehr

12-15-2015 11-07-25 AM

When you first become a mother, you have a whole plethora of dreams about what your life will look like and how you will raise this precious little bundle you’ve been given. Inevitably, those ideas encounter a bit of turbulence along the way, and we have to do the best we can to reshape our dreams to mesh with reality. Sometimes it helps to take a step back outside and reassess what your dreams for your children really mean.

A brief note: when my husband posted the above picture of me with my baby girl, I didn’t make it my profile picture. I didn’t like a few things about it:

  • My daughter is making a not-very-flattering face as she chews on that jelly hair tie. There are so many cute pictures of her with a giant smile, I usually opt for one of those.
  • My hair is kind of weird. I obviously needed my bangs trimmed and had been wearing that hair tie for most of the day.
  • The round shape of my upper arms, which I have a stupid hang-up about, is very obvious in this photo.
  • My head is tilted down. This means I look like I have a double chin.

Those last two points on my appearance are things I always check for in pictures because I am overwhelmingly self-conscious about them. I have so many pictures from our dream trip in Europe this year that I don’t like because of how I look in them.

I know, I know, I’m a cliche. And it’s my least favourite thing about myself, that I care about this stuff. And I’m working on it.

This post is not about that.

This post is about some realizations I’ve been having recently about motherhood and my dreams.

I won’t be able to give you my entire backstory here; suffice it to say our daughter was a bit of a surprise baby and through a series of events I ended up, six months ago and nine months into my maternity leave, the only gainfully employed person in our household. The original plan was that my husband would continue working at the end of my year of leave, and I would either talk to my boss and work some sort of deal so I could work just enough to earn my next maternity leave and we could finish our family, or I would quit working for a while and go back to school for my masters. We would figure out a bit of childcare here and there either way, while I would be trying to spend as much time with her as possible. This plan was now toast.

This picture was taken the day before I went back to work – my daughter’s first birthday party. It was a very blessed and happy day, so in the picture I am smiling.

That smile looks pretty good, when you consider that shortly before I had been weeping (not for the first time) at the thought of getting up the next morning and spending over 8 hours away from my baby. Despite the emotional challenges of motherhood, it was my fervent wish to continue as my daughter’s primary caregiver. For so many reasons, some admittedly selfish, some thankfully less so, it was incredibly important to me. Flashing that smile was a singularly difficult choice I made in that moment, to stay positive and trust that everything would work out even though it felt like my dreams had been thoroughly crushed.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I put that picture up on my profile because I love it. I love the tiny girl on my hip, all birthday’d out from two parties in a row. I love the evening light that highlights the tan we got on that dream vacation in Europe, when my husband and I just said “well, we’ll never both be unemployed for two months straight again, and what is money anyway” and flew off to Germany and Amsterdam and England and all the bits in between. We bought those pants she’s wearing in Berlin. I love that packing our luggage and walking everywhere and riding trains and carrying the stroller (!!!) took off that last bit of pregnancy pudge and my body looks pretty darn good! Those arms are muscular  and strong from hauling the tiny Bear and her gear around Europe. She learned to walk in Hamburg and Berlin, and cut a tooth or two in London. She will have those stories forever.

The picture reminds me that I had just spent the past year as her sole caretaker and what a joy that was. How in that moment, under that smile, all I wanted in the world was to continue to be that and do that for her. I love the feeling I get whenever she does something for the first time. Recently it’s been “oh yeah, she’s been doing that all day” from my husband when I get home. And I’m still proud, but I get a little sad.

It’s not all wistfulness. I do think that today I am a better mother than I was in that picture. Going back to work, establishing the accompanying routine for myself, being forced to look outside of myself and evaluate my life and ask “what do I really want my life to look like” and being able to take some steps to change it to suit has been invaluable and I wouldn’t trade it in a heartbeat.

But I wish I had the chance to be the most mother I can be.

Does that make sense?

I admit it’s a bit selfish of me. I want to spend time with her, I want to see her grow, I want to teach her things, I want to bring her up to be the woman I want her to be.

I think every mother wants that.

But now I know that I can still do a lot with the limited time I do get with her. Even though I’m working full time, I can still do my job as her mother. And that’s been an incredibly helpful realization.

It’s amazing what a little bit of perspective can do.

Happy New Year!

Good afternoon and happy new year everyone! I hope that this year brings many joyful surprises to each of you! We begin this year on the blog with a couple of wonderful guest contributors that I’m very excited for you to meet! I grew up with both of these talented ladies and share lots in common with them, especially a love for writing. As of right now, neither of them have blogs of their own, but you can follow them on Twitter to see their exploits and watch their careers blossom.

I will be back in February to do my regular weekly posts. Hopefully, my life will have returned by then to some kind of normalcy. Til then, I hope your January is filled with enough joy to make you look back and smile, enough sadness to remind you of your blessings, enough stability to keep you safe, and enough surprise to keep life interesting!