Top 10 Dates for Parents of Toddlers

If you’re like me, you’re always on the hunt for new ideas to keep your marriage/partnership strong. A great way to do that is to take some time out of your day just for the two of you. And if you don’t have the money for a babysitter, that’s okay! There’s plenty to do at home.  For some ideas, here are my top 10 dates for parents of toddlers:

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1. Cook Together

Nothing is more romantic than mixing up some aphrodisiacs while your children scream “up!” at your feet. Gaze lovingly at one another while setting the table. They bring the cutlery and you bring the ketchup because your kid literally will eat nothing unless its coated in that tomato-vinegar-sugar concoction that you end up smelling in their hair for days.

When the meal is ready, sit down together and taste the love that you put into it as well as the salt because “did you put salt in this?” “yeah” “I put salt in it. I didn’t think you did.” “Well, how am I supposed to know that you did?” “Well, maybe just listen to me for once in your life.”

Mac and cheese has never been so sexy.

2. Watch a Movie Together

Curl up on the couch and escape your lives for a while in another episode of “Paw Patrol” because that high-pitched fake barking is the only thing that will stop your kids from saying “What’s that?” “What’s that?” “What’s that?” “What does $!&# mean?”

Make sure to bring some chocolate you can feed each other and then lose because for someone so loud, your toddler is surprisingly sneaky and he seems to have run off with the rest of the bar and you’re now playing a murder mystery with chocolate finger prints as the clues and the murder that is sure to take place when you find that stinking kid.

Paw Patrol, Paw Patrol, whenever you’re in trouble…

3. Take a Romantic Stroll

Enjoy a beautiful afternoon together while soaking up some sunshine. Not only will you get some much-needed fresh air, you’ll also get a huge amount of exercise pushing those ridiculous strollers or chasing after a kid who has a knack for finding every. Single. Mud puddle.

You’ll love the looks from passersby as you try to wrangle a child who’s screaming bloody murder because you put their hat on the right way or that dog that walked passed wasn’t blue. The mounting adrenaline from the fear someone will call child services will kick start that sex drive.

And nothing is more relaxing than collapsing on the couch when you get home while the bundles of unending energy destroy the living room around you.

4. Get Some Ice Cream

Sweet, cold, and delicious, ice cream is a fun way to remain children at heart. That creamy soft-serve is sure fun to eat and clean up as it drips down your toddler’s fingers, chin, and shoes. Race to keep your own hands clean while your child runs her fingers through her hair and your hair or wipes her hands on the person sitting in the booth behind you.

And don’t forget that hard chocolate shell! That satisfying snap as it cracks beneath your teeth will send shivers down your spine–or is that the cone that has suddenly been placed on the nape of your neck because the kid is “all done!”

The underpaid teenagers will surely welcome you back to their place of work, especially when they find that someone at your table had an accident that didn’t involve the food.

5. Take a Shower Together

As every romantic movie has ever taught us, showers are a great substitute for that romantic kiss in the rain scene. The water will fall on only one of you and the other person will be covered in goosebumps because the apple of your eyes is busy swinging the door open and closed to play peekaboo with the dog.

Don’t forget to hold each other close as the shower curtain is violently pulled open and that small person climbs inside and immediately pees.

6. Stargaze

On the clearest of nights, curl up together in your yard and gaze at the sky. Watch for a shooting star so you can wish that your freaking kid will just go to sleep because it’s like midnight, Buddy, and you were supposed to be asleep five hours ago and I swear to God that if you ask for another glass of milk, I will lose my mind.

Make sure to make the most of that wonderful quiet time by starting to make out before packing it in because you’re going to have such an early morning and it’s already pretty cold.

Laugh together when you realize that your kid might have locked you outside and now you’re going to have to call your parents from across town to come and let you in your stupid front door.

7. Breakfast in Bed

Remind your spouse about how important they are by surprising them with waffles and coffee in bed. They will love being pounced on by a bunch of wild people and spilling syrup on what was once white sheets. Watch as the food that you made is ravenously consumed by the kids who refused waffles in their high chairs, even with ketchup, but somehow learned to love waffles on the way up the stairs.

You’ll even get to leave the house to treat your spouse’s burns from the coffee that was basically thrown at them when the toddler tried to drink it and burned their tongue.

All in all, a great way to start the day.

8. Cuddle in Front of the Fireplace

Gaze into the warm comfort of a fire while you snuggle. The entrancing beauty of the flames will distract you from the iPad playing at full blast as the toddlers watch another episode of “Paw Patrol” or play the loading screen of an app on a never-ending loop.

Watch your spouse heroically stop the kids from touching the hot glass on a gas fireplace or grabbing the red coals from a wood fireplace. You’ll never be hotter for them.

9. Go for a Romantic Drive

Take an excursion out into the countryside to see the local fauna and flora. The beauty of nature will excite and surprise you. You’ll be able to encourage your spouse not to drive into oncoming traffic while your toddlers scream in the back seat because they’re hungry or bored or thirsty or tired or fighting.

Discuss the world at large and hold each others’ hands until a prairie dog runs across the road and bump, bump, bump under your tires. Think about the deeper things while you try to explain death to your children when they see a bleeding mound of roadkill on the side of the road.

And just as you’re about to turn into your driveway, tell your spouse how much you love them and turn to see that your kids just fell asleep even though its only like two hours before bed and this is going to keep them up until midnight again.

10. Sneak in a Quickie

Enjoy the ultimate in marital bliss after you quietly close the doors of your napping children. Be in the moment with your spouse as you take off only what clothing is necessary to get the job done. Nothing connects the two of you more than being caught by the actually not sleeping kid because both of you assumed the other person would lock the door.

Okay, you know what? Just… screw it. Wait until the kids are teenagers.

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R.I.P. Tranquil Turtle

Welp, we had our first accident with the kids. Not car accident. Pee accident. It’s finally happened. I mean, they’ve peed on stuff before, but not like this.

Some backstory: Monkey hates diaper changes. He’d sit in a full diaper forever if I’d let him. I have to carry him to the changing pad and hold him down just to get a clean, dry diaper on this kid. He fights with all his might, sometimes with tears, sometimes with giggles, but always with flailing arms, kicking legs, and seventeen attempts at escape.

So today I was changing him. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster week here so I’m a little burnt out already. As I was changing his diaper, I found a pebble. Like a white, round river rock. And I was so perplexed at how it had gotten in there since it’s the middle of winter and we are covered in a good 1.5 feet of snow that I let my guard down. And off went naked Monkey.

Well, crap.

The first place he always runs is his pillow. It’s a body pillow as long as he is and he stretches himself out so that it’s hard for me to lift him. And then I hear it, that unfamiliar pitter-patter that I usually associate with rain on pavement. But there’s no rain here. It’s -25 degrees outside. And then I hear Monkey giggle.

I quickly raced to him, scooped him up and strapped a diaper on that kid before sending him away as I assessed the damage. What I expected would be a round puddle looked more like an over-sized coffee cup stain. That’s strange, I thought as I gazed at the crescent. Until I looked onto the bed and noticed Monkey’s most prized possession: a Cloud B Tranquil Turtle.

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This is a nightlight/sound machine, if you have never seen it before.

Monkey has had this turtle since he was born. It plays every night before he goes to sleep and, if he wakes in the middle of the night, he presses the buttons and puts himself back down. He loves it so much that he has another one that stays at daycare. I have to send this guy anytime Monkey is even going to nap somewhere. And the interior of the shell is full of pee.

I was about to have a full-blown panic attack. Not Brian. He’s pretty sure it’ll dry out just fine. Who knows, right? But me, I’m sitting in silence wondering if Monkey will ever sleep again. My heart’s racing, my breath is coming in short gasps, and my palms are sweaty. It’s like the time when my little sister gave up her soothers and I was scared to death that she would cry all night (a legitimate fear since we shared a bedroom).

I haven’t got the ending of this story yet because Tranquil Turtle is still dead in our laundry room and I can hear Monkey’s woeful cries from his bed. I will update soon.

Update: So last night was a nightmare. Took Monkey an extra half hour to go to sleep, which isn’t bad at all. I had hope for the night ahead. But at 3 am, I was awoken by a heart-broken Monkey. He didn’t want to be awake. I didn’t want to be awake. I tried lying down with him, which didn’t work. I tried a different nightlight, which also didn’t work. So we started our day very, very early.

Update 2.0: I bought two of these suckers and I plan on never living without one again. He’s going to college with a Tranquil Turtle.

What have I learned from this episode? Alway have a backup of the kids favorite sleeping aids.
What about you? Does your kid have something they just can’t sleep without? Did you? Have they/you accidentally destroyed that precious item? Tell me below and make me feel better.

 

With Thanksgiving

It’s dark in my living room tonight as I sit at the computer. Brian is putting dishes in the laundry as we listen for any indication that our boys aren’t sleeping. We are both filled with great amounts of food. The boys’ backpacks are ready for day care tomorrow, now carrying the requisite winter equipment. All of my most pressing homework is done, though I could always stand to get ahead.

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It’s snowing outside. The little flecks sparkle around the halo of street lamp light. It’s too early for winter and we weren’t prepared. The scramble begins for winter tires and snow brushes. The highways were frozen for Thanksgiving (see above)–a weekend full of travel–but our tables were still filled with loved ones.

The snow quiets everything. The honking of the migrating geese is gone. The chorus of frogs in the pond near our home has long been quieted. Even the train is muffled beneath the blanket of white.

It is here, at the birth of winter, or the death of fall if that is your view, that I am thankful. Thankful for the deep quiet before I head to bed for the night, which is something I had never realized that I needed so much until after I had children. Thankful that there are children to break up the silence, children who are healthy and relatively happy. I’m thankful that my two boys are growing and learning and changing every day. At the same time, I’m thankful that they stay the same in some ways, that I can enjoy the little moments with them. Those moments where I admire the locks of hair that curl around Eggs’ ears, or watch Monkey sign “please” when he wants something, or seeing them pet the wary dog.

I’m thankful that we have a balance between busyness and rest, something I worried that we wouldn’t have when I started school. I’m even more thankful to be in school, and with a husband that supports me 100%. I’m thankful that I get this second start so late into my twenties and that it’s something that I enjoy.

This Thanksgiving is different than every other one I’ve had. Things have changed, which is bittersweet. Gone are the days where my cousins and I gathered around the basement of my grandparents’ house and played pretend. Gone is the kids’ table, the nicknames, the bickering. It’s been replaced by polite conversation and card games. But the past is still there, under the surface. Then someone brings up a memory and we are giggling about the time my brother didn’t realize he was texting my aunt, not our cousin. Or when we pulled each other in the little wagon.

Now there are new kids at the kids’ table. New little people riding in the wagon. We watch from the couches, the same way our parents watched us. It’s strange. It’s wonderful. We talk about jobs and children and the Blue Jays in between interruptions of cries and sticky fingers and the pat, pat, pat of children wanting to ask something.

My twenty-seventh Thanksgiving is very different from before. I wouldn’t change it, though I wouldn’t say no to a quick trip back to my seventh or seventeenth. Just for a day. Just for an afternoon. Just for a dinner.

This Thanksgiving is over. In five years, ten year, fifty years, I’ll be looking back to this weekend the way I look back now. I’ll be thinking about grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles with a drifting kind of heartbreak after they are gone. I’ll be missing the glee on the faces of my children as they were pushed around in the wagon. I’ll forget the things we talked about and the way that Monkey’s hair waved like wheat as he steered his way around the pool table. I won’t remember how Eggs was just learning to stand.

There are a hundred Thanksgivings behind us and another hundred ahead (give or take). Don’t forget to be thankful. Because they are only the same for a season. And seasons always change.

 

Abandonment Issues

Well, August went by too fast. Am I the only person that feels this way? Fall weather is already upon the Canadian prairies, bringing sweaters and yellow leaves and pumpkin spice. Where has this summer gone?

Not only is summer gone, but so is my maternity leave. Well, technically my maternity leave expired in November, but my stay-at-home-mommy status is officially over at 9:30 tomorrow morning. Tomorrow I start the second half of the third year of my Bachelor of Communication Studies. Yes, now that all my friends have graduated, I’m going to go back and be super socially awkward around a bunch of 20-year-olds. Ah yes, being a mature student is super fun.

So tomorrow, I (actually, Brian) will be dropping off my two little boys with a friend who is going to be watching 4 kids under three. She is a brave soul. I’m not nervous about how she’s going to handle the kids, which is a relief. I know she’s going to be fabulous.

But I’ve got this sinking feeling in my stomach about the whole thing, you know? The guilt is setting in. I’m leaving my kids somewhere else so that I can go to school. Am I selfish? Am I a bad mother? Would they flourish more with me than with anyone else? Is my first responsibility to them?

Now, I grew up with working parents. From what I’m told, when my sister and I were very young, we went to my grandparent’s house or my aunt and uncle’s when my parents were working, but my earliest memory of babysitting was with an English nanny named Mrs. Wilson. She was very sweet and we had a lot of fun with her. I learned how to knit and she taught my how to make my favorite tomato sandwich. Sometimes I wonder, though, if I’d have been better off if one of my parents stayed home with me instead.

My mother works at a very taxing job. One that takes a lot out of you. She works all hours and deals with more bull crap than most of us ever have to. Then she comes home and works on the house and the chores and everything that needs to be done. I don’t know if she could relax even if she had the time. She always manages to do everything I do on a busy day and then claims that she did nothing all day. My mom is definitely a supermom. The job she worked made it so that she couldn’t spend as much time with us as a stay-at-home mom would, but I don’t think that makes her any less of a mom. Yes, I remember coming home to a babysitter after school often, but I also remember driving an hour with her to a voice lesson every week in high school. And her being there for a majority of awards ceremonies and recitals. She was there for all my big memories.

My mom was a working mom which fostered an independence in me that I’m sure Mom regretted until I moved out. But as a person, I’m glad I have it. It made me not afraid to be out on my own, to take risks, to make mistakes. It made me go to Europe when I probably couldn’t afford it, leaving Canada for the first time. It helped me take the plunge and go back to school. It got me into some trouble, which later made me a much better person. It also planted the first seeds of feminism in me, something I’m eternally grateful for.

And because I don’t believe that stay-at-home parenting is only a woman’s job, I also had a working father. He showed me a lot about work ethics and the value of loyalty. He taught me that a job is positive, but its function is to fund a life with family. While Mom’s job is part of her identity, I always felt like Dad’s was something that he did rather than something that he was.

I don’t know if I would have been a different person had either of my parents stayed home with me. But I don’t feel like I missed out. I know a relationship with parents is important, but I’m really happy with what our relationship is now. If they were home with me, maybe I would have felt like it was my calling to stay home too. But for me, it’s not. I love my boys very much, but I wonder if I’m not the best parent if I’m with them every day. Sinking every minute of every day makes me, I’m ashamed to say, resentful and angry. I need time to feel productive and raising kids doesn’t feel that productive. I know it is, but at the end of the day, it feels like I have nothing to show for how exhausted I am.

So tomorrow the boys go to day home. And I hope that they won’t feel like they’re missing out on time with their mom. I hope they enjoy interacting with other kids and feel the love that I know their caregiver will give them. I hope that they see that both their father and I are taking time outside the home so we are better for the kids when we are home (and, you know, making sure we all eat and have a place to live). And maybe I won’t feel so guilty once the first day is done. All I really have to say, though, is that I’m so very glad Brian is dropping them off tomorrow because I know there would be tears if it were me.

 

Hello? Is Anyone There?

Monkey loves to pretend to be talking on the phone. He lifts it up to his ear, tilting it back to listen to the screen rather than the ear piece. He grins and looks for approval from the nearest adult. But only if he hears, “Hello? Hello, Monkey! Hello? Is anyone there?”

I have a sound bite on my phone of me saying that. It’s fourteen seconds long. When it plays, he looks at my face because he recognizes my voice. He’s so confused and delighted when my voice comes from in the phone itself.

Yes, he loves talking on the phone, but only when someone talks back.

We are all like that. We love to post on social media, we love to have conversations, we love to interact with the world, as long as we are interacted with in turn. Being a stay-at-home parent is difficult because we don’t get a lot of that meaningful communication without at least double the amount of effort it used to take to get it.

Someone rang my doorbell this morning. I was upstairs in our living room with the two boys. Eggs was screaming because he seems to know when I’m thinking about leaving the room and it seems to be his worst nightmare. Monkey was screaming because we are transitioning to one nap and it is going so poorly. The dog was barking because someone was at the door. And I was angry. Angry that someone was at my door without sending me a message first to let me know they were coming. Angry that Eggs is still up through the night and I’m so tired and he won’t stop crying if any person leaves the room. Angry that Monkey is always miserable and always getting into things and always wanting to explore and I just want to sit. Angry that we never trained my dog to be quiet when people come to the door. Angry that Brian doesn’t have to be here every day.

I ran to put some clothes on because, I’m going to be honest, even getting dressed is hard for me these days. I bolted down the stairs to see if whoever rang my doorbell was still there. Leaving the boys upstairs provoked a new round of high-pitched wails that put my teeth on edge. I snuck out the door so that my dog wouldn’t follow me to find our landscaper had forgotten to charge us for something and here was another $1300 we needed to pay. He looked at me and said, “Rough morning?”

That was the first adult conversation I had today. If I didn’t have coffee planned this afternoon, it would have been the only conversation I had today unless Brian and I force ourselves to take time with each other.

Brian and I are often ships passing in the night. When he’s home, we each take a kid and do whatever it takes to keep them from injuring themselves or breaking things or screaming constantly. Conversations are limited to “Can you grab that for me?” or “Where’s the ____?” until the boys are gone. To be honest, we are mostly guessing what the other person is saying since we can’t hear each other over the jingling toys, the yelling children, or the dog. And, sometimes, the TV. If we get a conversation, it’s usually about the kids. During the week, we are bailing to keep afloat.

Sometimes I think that if 20-year-old me saw a day like today, she’d decide that maybe children weren’t for her. I wouldn’t blame her.

I long for communication, but I dread the amount of work it takes to get it. I have to start getting the kids ready to leave 45 minutes before we actually go anywhere. They need clean diapers, recent feedings, acceptable clothing, shoes on, bottles full and in the bag, sunscreen, bug spray, hats (that will be pulled off their heads and put back on about thirty times), and then I take the boys out to the car one at a time. Eggs screams because he’s been left alone.

When I get to where ever I’m going, I have to figure out how I’m going to get inside. Monkey wanders so there is no way that I can put him on the ground. He’d disappear in a minute. But Eggs can’t walk so I carry one kid in each arm and my bag slung around my shoulder. I’m often out of breath by the time I get to the building. Then we have to unpack where ever we are.

So I satisfy my desire for communication through texting and social media. Now I’m not criticizing those platforms for communication, but they are as satisfying as replacing a meal with candy. It fixes things temporarily, but it isn’t healthy. We all know how easy it is to present only the nice sides of ourselves on social media. Texting is good for small talk or making plans, but not much else. Tone is lost, non-verbal communication is lost, intimacy is lost.

I end up feeling profoundly lonely. It’s a loneliness that isn’t swept away as soon as I’m in the presence of another person. It’s a loneliness that has seeped into my soul because it knows that I may have someone to talk to today, but I know that tomorrow will be different. It knows that I had the energy to meet up with someone today, but I won’t have it tomorrow and there will be no time to rest because children do not leave time for rest. It’s a loneliness that tells you that no one else feels the same way you do because look at their pictures on Facebook. Look at how happy they seem with their lives. Look at them glow. 

Jenny Lawson says that depression lies but I think that loneliness does too. Sometimes you pick up that phone and loneliness is on the other side whispering, “You can’t do this. There is something very wrong with you. And no one can relate to that because everyone else was made factory perfect. The machine malfunctioned while you were on the line. And you just sound like a whiner to everyone else who has it right. Why do you keep trying when you’re missing the piece that makes a someone a good mother?”

I’m helping start a moms’ group at my church because I hope that I can help someone who feels the same. I kind of hope that there is someone who feels the same way, that my loneliness has lied to me about that. But then I feel like a bad person because feeling like this totally sucks. I’m not excited about this group, not because it’s not going to be great, but because the loneliness has called me again. “It’s going to be a lot of work to go. And no one is probably going to like you. You’re not like them. And your kids? The other moms will see your flaws in them from day one and they’ll wonder why you don’t have it together. You don’t discipline them enough. Your mom always told you that you weren’t disciplined. You’ll be that one person that everyone kind of hopes doesn’t show up. It’d be better if you stayed home.”

But if I go, if I spend time with others, if Brian and I spend time with friends, I know that it’s like I’ve hung up the phone. Loneliness doesn’t do face-to-face conversations. Loneliness loses some of its potency when its lies come to light. So if you are feeling the way I do sometimes, if you feel like the only person who has your number is that loneliness, I encourage you to reach out to others. Send me a message. Come to our moms’ group. Call a friend to go for coffee. Find a way to have a communication meal. And remember that it’s all just lies.

Motherhood is Made of:

  • Cheerios always stuck to the bottom of your feet
  • Clothes that never fit your kids because they are too tall or too short or too chubby or too skinny
  • Never enough sleep because you’re working on years worth of sleep debt
  • Unending streams of loud noises like screaming and crying and giggling and farting and more screaming and crying and, if you have a dog, barking
  • Constant grocery trips because we are out of milk or formula or baby food or diapers or wipes, all of which are never out at the same time
  • “Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up” under your breath
  • Fear when things are too quiet
  • Counting down until the next nap
  • “Did I eat today?”
  • “I ate everything in our house today.”
  • “Don’t touch that!”
  • “NO! NO! NO! NO!”
  • Pushing things farther and farther back on your table and coffee tables and end tables and desks because the kids grew another inch this month
  • Hiding snacks and remotes and cell phones underneath the couch cushions so your kids can’t get them
  • Searching for snacks and remotes and cell phones and soothers when your kids find your couch stash
  • “I don’t think I can do this.”
  • “Nope, definitely can’t do this.”
  • “Why did I even think I could do this?”
  • Looking outside and wondering if it’s worth it to take the forty-five minutes of packing the kids up to leave just to go for a walk that will probably end in either rain, screaming, or a dirty diaper as soon as you’re three blocks away
  • Looking outside and feeling like you’ve been imprisoned
  • Paw Patrol! Paw Patrol! We’ll be there on the double! 
  • Overly-enthusiastic talking toys
  • Hourly butt sniffing
  • “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry”
  • Surety that you’re doing this whole thing wrong
  • “WTF IS WRONG WITH MY KIDS?! I’m pretty sure they are defective.”
  • “I swear to God if you put that in your mouth…”
  • Repeating things thirteen times
  • Talking to yourself because nobody is around and you haven’t actually spoken in three days and you’re pretty sure this is why your kid is taking so long to learn how to speak
  • Telling yourself to calm down, immediately forgetting
  • Doctor appointments that always somehow fall in the middle of nap time
  • Hate for every single person who knocks on your door during nap time
  • Well-meaning, unsolicited advice
  • What you thought was a hug, but was actually the kid smearing snot all over your shoulder
  • Chewed food in your hair
  • Baby poop under your fingernails
  • Wondering what would happen if you just didn’t go and get them out of their cribs for another hour
  • “Did I say ‘I love you’ today? No? Well, I’m the worst parent ever.”
  • And all the mushy stuff that the other lists tell you about. You know what I’m talking about. The lists that are usually topped with a glowing picture of a well-rested mom in white smiling at a clean undressed baby that is not tugging at its diaper to get at whatever is inside. The lists that are usually on a pastel background and uses words like “adorable” and “sweet” and “cherish them while this stage lasts” as if we haven’t been told that six thousand times by every single person who is not in this stage and who looks like they have actually slept more than four hours at a time. The ones who would love to hold the baby until he starts fussing and then, surprise, it’s back to you. Those same lists that enchanted you while you were desperate to have a kid of your own and dreamt about the cuddles and kisses and the sweet smell of their little heads. Yeah, that stuff is real. They can be sweet and quiet and kind and sometimes they even smell good (in between the farting, dirty diapers, old food, formula burps, and spit up). They are those things, but they are also unstable nuclear bombs. Just as a head’s up.

 

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Yup, unstable nuclear bombs

Level 1

I love video games, have since I was quite young. The first video game I ever remember playing was called “Mixed-Up Mother Goose” and you moved your pixelated little character around a map, finding objects from Mother Goose rhymes and bringing them back to their characters. Then I got older and graduated to more complex games on PC and on consoles (N64 being my absolute favorite).

Something happens to me when I start playing a new game. I get completely engrossed, not just while I’m playing, but no matter where I am. I think about it falling asleep or at work or where ever I am and wish that I could be playing for five more minutes. It’s dangerous. I have to actively prioritize everything about playing a game or else I could end up surrounded by pop cans and bags of chips and fast food for days on end.

I’ve learned to prioritize better. I learned why games are so addictive, how they activate all the pleasure centres in the brain. They make you feel like you’ve accomplished things, like you’re important, while only investing fifty bucks. And a huge amount of time. They let you be someone else for a while and, let’s be honest, that’s attractive.

My life for the last year and a half has been solely focused on raising two little boys. It’s hard work and something that doesn’t pay off right away. I find myself sometimes just waiting for the days to end and counting down until the weekend. The selfish part of me found little joy in child raising.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about living deliberately and how the shift in attitude changed how much I enjoyed life. I kept that up for, like, a month. I know, it’s embarrassing. Some of the things I wanted to add to my life have stayed part of my life. I am still reading lots and I’ve been keeping up with this blog better than I thought, but I still park my butt in front of the TV and zone out until Brian gets home from work.

I’m not going to blame anything, but myself. I knew when I started making excuses and getting lazy that the end of my deliberate living was near.

But here I am again, feeling like life is simply being endured rather than lived. So, again, I’m looking to make my life feel more meaningful. Or at least like I’m an active participant in my life.

So I did some googling, as I often do when I have any kind of question, and I found Nerd Fitness. Now, it’s pretty much a guy who changed his perspective and forced himself to do the things that he’d always told himself he couldn’t.

As with any fitness/life guru, you gotta think critically about what he’s saying. The follow-blindly-and-I-swear-you’ll-be-as-successful-as-Robert-Branson thing is always too good to be true. The stuff that I thought wasn’t legit, I tossed aside, but I did find a couple of things that made me think a little bit.

1. You are the hero of your life

Steve Kamb, the creator of Nerdfitness.com, views life as if it were a video game. You are the hero and you live your life building up skills, exploring the world, completing quests, and leveling up your hero. Life does not happen to you, you get to decide what life is going to be like.

Because you are the hero, you get to decide what are priorities for you. Rather than seeing someone do something cool and thinking “Wow, they sure are lucky they can do that,” you think, “What are the steps I’d have to take to do that too?” You have to stop making excuses like having no time or no money or no support, and just step up.

2. You don’t go from level 1 to level 50 in a night

I love to play games like Pokemon and World of Warcraft so I totally get the leveling metaphor. You start the game as a level 1 nothing with a pot lid for a shield and a butter knife for a dagger. Your battle moves are either “Run Away” or “Cower in Fear.” So you kill a bunch of kobolds or spiders or what have you and suddenly you’re level five and you have a real dagger. Forty-five levels later and your dagger is enchanted and has a gem-encrusted handle.

Each level that you go up takes a bunch of baby steps. You may need to kill thirty kobolds just to get up to level two. You complete quest after quest and gain experience and skills, which then turns into levels.

It’s the same with life. What would your ideal life look like? What do you look like at level 50? For me, it’s a published novel and no mortgage. It’s writing full time and taking my kids to Europe. It’s learning new languages and being in shape. That’s level 50 for me.

But right now, I’m level 1. And it’s going to take lots of time and effort to get to 50, but right now, I’m just looking to get to level 2.

3. Let there be rewards and consequences

When you are rewarded in video games, the more valuable rewards are ones that are useful. You complete a quest where you had to fight a bunch of bad guys, you get a more powerful sword so that you can fight even more powerful bad guys. When you reward yourself, do the same. I’m not going to eat healthy for a month so that I can drink a 12-pack of Coca-Cola. I’m going to reward myself with something to make eating healthy easier, like a new cook book or a cooking utensil. When my German vocabulary is at 1000 words, I’m going to rent a movie in German and try to follow along.

And while it’s easy to reward yourself, you also have to be pretty liberal with the consequences of failing a quest. Kamb’s solution was that every time he didn’t exercise, money would go from his account to a political candidate he absolutely despised. He didn’t want to lose the money and he didn’t want to support a cause he didn’t agree with so he exercised. You need to hold yourself accountable.

4. Break down your epic quests

As a level 1 character, you don’t slay dragons. You slay spiders or rats. And sometimes they slay you. If your epic quest is to slay a dragon, break that quest down into smaller quests that you can complete short term to lead to that long-term goal. For example, I want to learn enough German that when we go to Germany in the future, I can speak it fluently for the entire trip. That’s too big for my n00b-ness so we break it down into smaller quests.

  • Quest 1: Research & download language-learning app (5 experience points, or “xp”)
  • Quest 2: Commit 15 minutes per day for six months to learning German (60 xp)
  • Quest 3: Teach the kids some German words (50 xp)
  • Quest 4: Download “The Hobbit” in German and read it (20 xp)
  • Quest 5: Watch a film in German (10 xp)
  • Quest 6: Find someone who speaks German and have a conversation (40 xp)
  • Boss Battle: Go to Germany and speak only German for the entire duration of the trip (100 xp)

By the time I ever get to the boss battle, I’m no longer level 1. Now I have a new skill (German fluency), I have helped others develop a new skill (teaching my kids), and I’ve experienced a trip to Germany. I’ve gone from “I wish I could speak German” to “I speak German and have used it to experience a country in a unique way.” By keeping the daily commitment small, it takes a longer time, but I’ve made achieving my goals more realistic.

5. Don’t travel alone

While some adventures require a sole hero, life is something best experienced in groups. And a lifestyle change needs lots of support. Brian and I are going to try some of these things together because we are both feeling like our lives need to be lived a little more deliberately and we want to be good examples for our boys. We also have family and friends who can keep us accountable. People who don’t think that we are taking on too much or that we are living our lives wrong. If you’re feeling like a change is needed in your life too, hit me up. We are officially lfg (looking for group).

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What do you think? What does your life look like at level 50? Let me know in the comments below!

Desperate: A Book Review

Today’s post doesn’t really know what it is. Is it a review or an advice column or just a rant? I don’t know, but that’s okay. The confusion today is brought to you by joy.

Yes, joy. It’s been a really hard week in the world, especially for my LGBT+ friends with the shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. And I am grieving, but in the midst of the heart break that surrounds us daily, I’ve found a small glimmer of hope. Hope in the form of a book.

Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson isn’t a book that I would usually pick up on one of my book raids. I wouldn’t even glance down the self-help aisle. But circumstances brought this book to my house and to my heart.

You see, I moved back to my home town just over a year ago and it is not the same place that I left. The close friends I had here are all over the world doing amazing things (living in London, graduating from optometry school, saving lives, that sort of thing) and I found myself more alone than I expected. A dear friend of mine sweetly introduced me to a mom’s group from her church and I, too afraid of being impolite to say that I was uncomfortable going, met at the hostess’ house on a Friday afternoon. And it went really well. I was welcomed, something I didn’t expect. I wondered if I’d get side-eyed all afternoon because I went to a different church and what was I even doing there and maybe I should just leave.

But that wasn’t the case. I was welcomed and prayed for. They didn’t even ask me to leave when I had to change Monkey’s stinky diaper. I started going again and again. That’s what introduced me to this book. We didn’t read it, but we would watch a minute video where the two authors would summarize the chapter. Then we would talk about it and pray together. I was so touched by the kindness of these women and I thought that if this book had anything to do with why they were treating me so well, I’d better read it.

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So I ordered the book (I couldn’t find a physical copy of it anywhere) and when I got it, I burned through it in two evenings. Quite the feat if you’ve got two little ones. And it really spoke to me.

It’s divided into three sections: “The Dream Life… Altered,” “Getting Real About Mama-hood,” and “The Redeeming.” I found that it started out being really helpful, but kind of petered out by the end. The introduction spelled out exactly how I was feeling about motherhood: “I can’t be a mother today, Lord. I’m too tired.” I wish I could type out the whole intro because I felt like I had written it, but here is just a very small part:

I felt very alone, and very, very tired. Depression snuck up on me; there was a shell of a woman where I once was. My ideals, my hopes, my joy were snatched away before I had a chance to notice. Pleas for help aimed at heaven seemed to be met with silence. The message was clear: this was my life, and I needed to just deal with it.

Adjusting didn’t go well. Anger and resentment were living just under my skin. Exhausted, out of my mind, and still hormonal, every day felt like a fight. Feelings of desperation were like an ever-present shadow over the good in my life… Motherhood was something I planned for, something I wanted, so why was living it out so drastically different from my expectations?

Sarah Mae

This was me. Exactly me. The feelings of guilt and shame I was carrying around seemed to dissipate when I read this introduction. There was someone else out there who felt the same as I did. Someone who loved her children, but felt like she was living the wrong life. I read nearly the whole thing to Brian and saying, “This! This! This is me! I’m not broken!” It was such a relief.

Once the book proper started, I learned some things to help me make it through motherhood with a joyful, intentional spirit. It’s written by two women: Sarah, who is a mom of three young children, and Sally, who is a more seasoned mother and a mentor to Sarah. Each chapter begins with Sarah’s experiences, her triumphs and failings, before Sally’s passages, which focuses more on advice. Some of the chapters are helpful, some are not (I’m looking at you, housework chapters). The advice that stood out most for me were: find a community, make sure to rest, and decide what is important to your family and emphasize it.

Sally’s advice for finding your community centered on moms. She firmly believes that we weren’t meant to parent alone, but in large groups of friends and family. How to build that community? First, find a group of peers who are in the same stage of their lives as you. Find people that can commiserate, celebrate, and spend time together. These are the people you can rely on for play dates, heart-to-hearts, and accountability. Your kids can spend time together, which can equal free babysitting (both for them and for you). Second, find a mother or two who have kids much older than yours. These women will be your mentors, encouraging you when you feel like this stage will never end and helping you when you are overwhelmed. Third, find mothers with children younger than you for you to mentor. My mother explained why you need to mentor someone as well with this analogy: the Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River (North) and feeds the Jordan River (South). It is vibrant and gives life to the land surrounding it. The Jordan River (South) then feeds the Dead Sea, which has no output. Nothing lives in or around the Dead Sea. If you only take and never give, you will become like the Dead Sea.

I appreciated this advice. And I felt thoroughly chastised when the book told me that I can’t expect a community to find me. I need to go and initiate. Ask people to come for dinner. Have coffee. Offer (free) babysitting. Not just sit in my house and hope that someone would knock on my door and say, “I hear you’ve been looking for a community. Well, here I am!” Suddenly, I could take the responsibility rather than cry in the drive-thru at Wendy’s because no one talks to me at church (which is totally a hypothetical situation in which I was very emotional and irrational and it definitely didn’t happen).

The second piece of advice seemed like common sense, but at the same time, it wasn’t. Yes, we hear “treat yo self” lots from the tumblr abyss, but when mothers take breaks, how often do we criticize because “she should be with her family”? This book gave me permission to say, “I need a break sometimes.” Turns out, parenting is a huge amount of work and there is rarely any time to rest, not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually, creatively rest. It’s years before you get to consistently sleep through the night or get time to do something that renews your spirit. So get a babysitter or take time here and there to do something you love. Ask one of your community members to watch your child for an hour or two. Your child(ren) deserves you at your best and you can’t be your best when you are burned out.

And the last piece of advice that I really liked was about decided what was important to your family and incorporate in your family life. For example, Brian and I both love reading. Our bookshelves fill up a whole section of our basement. Before we had kids, we devoured books like bacon, but there is very little quiet time to read anymore. We would love to instill that love of books in our boys so before bed, we read them two books. And anytime they bring us a book, we try to put down what we are doing and read to them. This is also important when you are trying to cultivate traits in your children. Like gentleness. We want our boys to be gentle with those around them. So we have to include gentleness in our lives. Yes, we rough house with them sometimes, but we are working very hard to be gentle even when we are upset. So no spankings or slamming cupboards or raising our voices. I’m not saying that we do it every time. We are imperfect people, after all. But we are trying.

I learned a lot from this book and I can think of several moms that I think could use its advice. There are some duds in it, for sure. The authors don’t encourage women working outside of the home full time and there is a yucky little passage about feminism warping our world (*rolls eyes*). But like all advice, you’ve got to find the things that will work for your family and the things that don’t. You don’t have to agree with all of it to use part of it.

So I am going forward trying to live a little more joyfully with my boys. I’m going to keep building my community and taking time to rest. I’m going to love on the moms around me because we are all in the same boat, even if our Facebook profiles look like we are Pinterest perfect. Motherhood is really hard, so let’s be in it together.

A Letter to my Sons

To my darling boys,

I hope when you read this, you groan and roll your eyes. I hope to hear you say, “I know, Mom” because your father and I have spent your whole lives consistently delivering this message to you both verbally and in our actions.

Your body belongs to you.

No one can touch it, touch you, without your consent.

Ah, consent. A word that has been used quite frequently in our household. Consent means “to permit, approve, or agree; comply or yield” by the dictionary definition, but in our house, it means to “to permit wholeheartedly and lucidly, without manipulation or coercion.”

We have taught you about consent, my loves, because it is a concept that our generation seems to have a problem understanding, specifically those with privilege. Yes, another word you have learned very well.

You are privileged because you were born white males in a society that deems white males to have the highest worth. You have more social power than any other group, and we hope we have taught you the responsibility that comes with it. Remember, everyone is born with a cup of beans. White, heterosexual men were given the most beans. White women, people of colour, LGBT+ people, and disabled people have fewer beans, to different extents.

Because you have the most beans, you have a choice. You can decide that your beans aren’t enough, that because you have the most beans, you deserve even more. You can decide that your wealth means that you have power over those with fewer beans and can take from them. After all, they aren’t worth as much (bean-wise) as you are. You can take beans from other people. And some people will applaud this, thinking that it is natural and masculine.

Or you can decide that your beans are worth sharing. You lend your support to people with fewer beans. You decide to help change the world so that your children will have fewer beans, but live in a country that has bean equity. You can use your bean wealth to advocate for people who are bean poor. This is what your father and I hope you’ll choose.

Consent and privilege can intersect in an awful way, my sweet boys. If someone with privilege choses to use their social power to override someone’s consent, we have a tragedy like the one last year that prompted this letter. Rape is a despicable thing and occurs when someone with privilege believes they are entitled to consent. But let me tell you something:

No one is entitled to consent.

No one is entitled to your body and you are not entitled to anyone else’s. Even if you’re dating. Even if you’re married. Even if someone is drunk or high or incapacitated in any way. Even if you have more social “worth” than they do. Even if you’ve consented once or twice or a thousand times. Even if her clothes aren’t “modest.”

My boys, I’m telling you this to protect you, and to protect others. I don’t want to see you victimized. I also don’t want to see you the perpetrator of this heinous crime. I will always love you and because of that, I will always take this seriously. Because your body belongs to you, you are responsible for the actions your body takes.

So, please, my little loves, I beg you to take this lesson to heart. I want you to be safe and to be someone that others can be safe around.

In love,

Your mother

It Takes A Village

Last Monday was a hard day in the Topping household. Eggs didn’t let us go to sleep until almost midnight on Sunday night and was up at 4:30 am the next morning. Monkey got up at 5:00 am, exactly as I was putting Eggs back down to bed. We got Monkey to sleep at 5:30 am, but Eggs was up at 6:00. And that’s how my day began.

When you’ve only had a few hours of sleep and you have to be responsible for two other lives, the world looks like an awful place. Even though the sun was out, even though we broke temperature records that day, even though the trees are starting to show a little green when you look at them out of the corners of your eyes, I was miserable.

So I sent a message to a friend of mine that comes and watches the boys once a week so that I can go be an adult for a couple of hours. A few hours later, she was hanging out with the boys while I passed out in bed. When I woke up, we went for lunch and then for a walk in the beautiful sunshine. Before I took her home, she offered to help me get some groceries.

The day would have been a very different one had she not been here.

I’d have been tired all day with zero patience for either child. Monkey would have been antsy to go outside, but because we have no yard (yet), we would stay indoors. I wouldn’t have had the energy to take them anywhere. I’d probably have missed lunch because there wasn’t a lot to eat in the house, which would have made me even grouchier. My bad attitude would soon affect the boys and we would have a pity party before the afternoon was out. By the time Brian would have returned home, the boys would be miserable, I’d be miserable, and no one would have felt love.

But that wasn’t the case.

Before I had kids, I didn’t understand the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child.” I thought it had something to do with kids needing to learn social skills or something to do with public schooling or something parents said before finding babysitters for their little ones. I have learned now that, while those things are important, they are not what it means.

Children are exhausting in every conceivable meaning of the word. After having kids, your sleep suffers, apparently forever. But not only that. You spend your days pouring every ounce of love, patience, and kindness into them. You try to teach them everything you know and protect them, mostly from themselves. And usually, this is the first time where you do this and you don’t get the same in return. Children can’t reciprocate this kind of love for many, many years to come. So it feels like you’re a bucket that is quickly emptied each day.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s rewarding, but you’re investing in the long term. The short term rewards are the small moments, like when Monkey kisses Eggs when Eggs is crying. When you get to see that the effort you put in is making a difference, you finally feel that reward. But then Monkey smacks Eggs in the face and we are back to reality.

But this why you have a community. You get the children at their best and at their worst. They get you for the same. And when your bucket is empty, we surround ourselves with people that help us fill it. These people offer to watch the kids, bring us snacks, or just send a message to see how we’re doing and don’t feel bad if we are too overwhelmed to reply. This community can be made of up unexpected people. Sometimes family, sometimes friends, sometimes coworkers or churchmates or neighbours.

It’s hard to find community sometimes. When we moved here, I realized that I didn’t know as many people as I thought. Once Eggs was born, I thought I was going to be so isolated. But there were SO many people at the baby shower. Then we got so much food and support from church. People were connecting with me so much more than I expected and I found my community.

You know what? People want to help. I’m serious. People see us moms with hair half-straightened, children missing shoes, and a huge barf stain on our fronts and think, “I bet they could use a meal or a break or a word of encouragement.” And if you make sure to repay their kindness with your own, then you’re doing just fine.

So to my community, thank you. Thank you for listening when I’m frustrated, for bringing us food when getting to the grocery store seems just as stressful as flying on a plane, for taking my kids so that I can take a break, for seeing my need for help and deciding to take the time to fill my bucket. Thank you.

An especially big thank you to my dear friend who rescued me that Monday (you know who you are) and have now left to better another community in the USA. Lots of love.