I am so enjoying these moments that we have together, the first since you were born that you do not have to share me with a sibling. Every second day, when Jude and Violet are both at school, I am all yours. You have folded me into the brightness of your spirit and I spend the day following your lead. This morning, you wanted to have a bath. I was feeling pretty low; financial stress in the midst of late pregnancy does that to me. So, with the morning light pouring into the tub with the water, I joined you. You washed all your toys with mommy's special soap (a gift from my blessingway), then washed all of mommy. Between my toes, my legs, my belly, my back, all soaped up by your little hands! You kept saying that I'd be nice and "snoov" and it was all I could do not to just grab you and give you a big smooch! You gave me a kiss on my tattoo and told me you want a tattoo on your back when you're bigger. We'll see, my girl.
I gave your hair a trim, then painted your nails in a light pink-dark pink pattern. We put on aprons ("like baker girls!"), baked muffins and you ate lots of frozen blueberries. You licked the sugar off the island.
Nanny called and suggested we join her and Aunt Julie for a visit in town and it was just the little outing we needed. You wore Violet's "Little Orphan Annie" coat, and looked so sweet. After we visited a gift shop, you took a moment to look out at the river. Your eyes take everything in, and I can see your mind spinning with so many questions.
We ate out, and you delighted the server by telling her that the baby's name is STE-LLA-LU-NA (no, it's not) and that she will be born really soon.
I'm excited and anxious for your sister to be born, while regretting that our time together is so quickly drawing to a close. You tell me that you love me with your whole heart, that I'm the nicest mom in the world, that you really like me sooo much. I hope that you feel the same while I adjust to sleep deprivation and the demands of a newborn. I hope I can summon patience for you when you are tired, too, or distressed by the shift in our family. And I hope we can continue to find moments just for the two of us, because you are one amazing girl.
I love you with my whole heart, too, Miss Margot Joy.
One of the rituals I love as I make my way into the last few weeks of pregnancy is the preparation of the homebirth basket. The list given to me by my midwives sits beside the empty laundry basket in my bedroom, a highlighter resting on top. There is a natural rhythm to when I start placing items into it; the room has to be just so. Of course, it must be cleaned, and I faithfully put away the laundry each day to keep all paths clear. It means putting in the personal touches that have been lacking since we finished our bedroom renovation: a shelf to hold candles, smooth stones, shells, and a piece of ocean-worn ceramic that has followed me from home to home over the past 18 years. My beloved vintage photo of a mother and babe hung on the wall. Curtains, and a fresh duvet cover. We have no door on our bedroom yet, but I have released my husband from worrying about it for now. Then, one by one, items start finding their way into the basket as I start washing linens, finding old cloths and towels to be used during and after the birth, and so on. The baby bathtub, a new washcloth and towel, and unscented baby wash is set up in the bathroom for her first bath. Candles are set around the tub for my comfort during labour. Gradually, as I wash the baby clothes, small garments are set into the basket. Maxi pads, a spray bottle for perineal cleansing after birth, a shower curtain to slip under the bedsheets, and clean sheets for afterwards are all part of the kit. You know that feeling before Christmas, when you finally know that you're ready? I get the same feeling before going on a camping trip, when I've made the list, checked it twice, and feel fully prepared. Somehow, I sense that my body knows when the homebirth kit is ready. I can relax and enjoy the last days or weeks of pregnancy, knowing that everything we'll need as we welcome our babe earthside is within reach, clean and waiting...
There is cause to reflect upon my journey as a mother as I step towards this fourth birth. I found out I was expecting our first shortly after our wedding; I remember a photo my sister took of us as we headed giddily to our first midwife appointment. I was glowing from newlywed bliss, and we both looked so innocent and well-rested! And was I slim! Nearing the end of that pregnancy, my sisters hosted a blessingway for me, full of beautiful, sacred rituals to honour the transition I would soon be making into the yet uncharted territory (for me) of motherhood.
Two more pregnancies and blessings later, I felt that things should be a little different this time. I still wanted to honour this baby's arrival, but felt that having been "in the trenches" for the past seven years, I was more interested in a celebratory hootenanny! I knew what I wanted: my daughters and older nieces present, a circle of amazing women, and drumming. I passed the planning on to my sisters, and all I had to do on the day was to arrive at mom's house!
The name we have chosen for our babe means "bright light" or "enlightened one"; she will be born at the darkest time of year and I love the symbolism of her shedding her light in our lives. At my blessing, I was gifted with inspiring words, quotations, and songs on the theme of light, and with a candle from each woman present. The intent is that when I am in labour, I will light the candles so that their warmth and light will buoy my spirits as my friends do until the babe is born. Lots of tears were shed, many smiles were shared, and every single hug poured strength into my soul.
Once the gifting of candles and words was complete, we did what women do best: we ate a beautiful feast of corn chowder, Moroccan stew, homemade biscuits, and a gorgeous cake while gathering in smaller circles to catch up, laugh, and gab! Then it was time to drum.
There are few things more powerful than a group of women sitting in a circle, speaking together through the rhythms that are shared throughout Africa and the world. Djole, Tassaba, Kuku, and Sorsonet...they just sound like whispered charms full of magic and power. As they are! My sister said it best: every young girl should receive a djembe as a coming-of-age gift. My heart was full to bursting at the sound of my daughters, sisters, and mother trying their hands at drumming, and the sight of my sister and niece dancing around the room with wild abandon!
Feet on the earth, hands on a drum.
With all the preparing that I've been doing, perhaps this was the most important: the preparation of my soul for the incredible task that lies ahead, through food, companionship, music, dancing, and light.
For this morning's bout of wild creating, I used a tag punch to make 25 paper tags. I couldn't find my stamp pad so used black acrylic paint to stamp number words on to each tag. I don't recommend this method. They look messy but I'm pretending that I meant to do it.
On the back of each tag, I'll write a "to-do" item for the Christmas season. Then I'll string them along some twine, clipped on with clothes pegs, to be taken off each day.
Here's what I've come up with, following my personal philosophy: KISS (Keep It Simple, Sister!)
1. Help Mommy set up "Mary's Star Path" and place Mary on the first star.
2.Listen to The Bells of Dublin by the Chieftains.
3.Create a Christmas story book basket.
4. Ask Daddy to tell you about a favourite Christmas memory.
5. Hang a Christmas wreath on the door.
6. Read a favourite Christmas story together.
7. Cuddle up and watch a Christmas movie together.
8. Go to the Santa Claus Parade!
9. Get the Christmas tree, and decorate it!
10. Put the animals in the Nativity stable.
11. Ask Daddy what his favourite Christmas treat is, then bake it!
12. Hang candy canes on the Christmas tree.
13. Lie on the floor under the Christmas tree with hot chocolate and candy canes.
14. Make a big mess with glue, glitter, and paint to make Christmas cards for your grandparents, and aunts/uncles/cousins.
15. Bake and decorate sugar cookies.
16. Do a kind deed for one of your siblings.
17. Ask mommy to tell you about a favourite Christmas memory.
18. Wrap presents for your siblings!
19. Call Nanny and Papa and ask them to tell you about Christmas when they were little.
20. Call Grandma and ask her to tell you about Christmas when she was little.
21. Call Grandpa and Granny and ask them to tell you about Christmas when they were little.
23. Watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" together.
24. Christmas Eve! Listen to the story of Jesus' birth, and hang your stockings!
25. Christmas Day! Add Baby Jesus to the Nativity and celebrate!
A friend told me about seeing this somewhere in the internet ether, but I don't have a link. The elaborate "Advent Sticks" that my friends and I usually do have been set aside this year, as I just don't have the time to craft 25 handmade items! Creating this list lit that spark of excitement I get every year at this time. It's all compounded by our own special, imminent birth. So much preparation and anticipation happening simultaneously!
I wrote about my sister Julie in yesterday's post. Today I write about my sister Lana. Lana has been at all three of my births as well. When we spontaneously decided to just skip the hospital and give birth to Jude at my cousin's house, Lana arrived with a basket, fully equipped for a homebirth. She always asks me what I want to eat after the baby is born. With Jude, I wanted spaghetti. One of the most honest photos I have of myself is after Jude's birth: I lie on a bed, my feet all waterlogged and white from the hours I spent in the shower and bath during labour. My t-shirt rides up a bit to show off my newly deflated belly. I am devouring a plate of spaghetti while our midwife checks Jude over. I worked damn hard to bring him into the world, and am thoroughly enjoying that plate of pasta! With Violet, mom had made a pan of chicken tettrazini. Somehow pasta is the ultimate comfort food after giving birth, at least for me. My sisters also brought me a margarita to enjoy on the sunny evening of Violet's birth. The memorable photo from her birth is me nursing my newborn, holding up my cocktail (lightly dashed with booze) up for a toast! As Margot was born at seven in the morning, the post-birth meal was bacon and eggs made by my dad. I was left in bed to nurse and rest, but it didn't take long for me to make my way downstairs, lured by the voices of my midwives, children, and family and the smell of coffee and bacon! A very memorable mental photograph is of everyone in our big sunny kitchen, tucking into a big hearty breakfast. This post is about Lana, because she brings comfort to me in many ways during labour and birth. She is my "big" sister, in that she is six years older than me. She always generously let me wear her clothes and flirt with her boyfriends when I was just learning to flirt. She knows me like I know myself. She is the person who hops on the bed when I begin to push, to support my legs. Homebirth is a very intimate affair, and she has been there like a rock at every one of my children's births. I draw comfort from her familiar presence, as I have since the day I was born. She is also the person I trust to feed everyone; even though I do not want to eat while in labour, I know that everyone else needs to keep their energy up. Her role is an important one: she plies the midwives, doula, and my husband with snacks, tea, coffee, or full meals depending on how long the birth takes. And she's there with a plate for me as soon as I can eat after giving birth. It's always something delicious, and exactly what I want and need at that time. I'll be making a batch of her slow-cooker spaghetti sauce this week, to pop into the freezer for after the birth if the time of day is right or for the weeks to follow. I know its familiarity will be a comfort to my children as we navigate our way into "sixness". Here's the recipe (I usually double it to feed our family of five for two nights!) Lana's Slow-Cooker Spaghetti Sauce 1 pound ground beef, browned 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes 1 5.5 oz can tomato paste 1 cup chopped onions 1/2 tsp garlic 2 tsp. prepared mustard 1/2 tsp. oregano 1 tsp. parsley 2 tsp. sugar 1 bay leaf 1/2 tsp liquid gravy browner (I usually omit this because I have no idea what it's made of!) 1 tsp beef bouillon powder 1 1/4 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp pepper Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook all day on low, or about 3-4 hours on high.
My sister Julie spent the first part of her life as a career woman ushering women through childbirth, as a doula. She has been by my side for all three of my births, easing my mind through the fears and shock of transition and pushing, anchoring my spirit to the earth with her intense, blue-eyed gaze. Her hands are unbelievable small and strong, and have brought comfort to me and so many others with their firm massages and gentle touches. Julie is not a woman to trifle with, and she somehow manages to banish the primal terror that often accompanies birth. In addition to comforting my body and soul during labour and birth, Julie has offered her post-partum care time and time again. As I have navigated my way through the not-always-simple transition into motherhood, she has been patient and wise, offering breastfeeding support, emotional support, foot rubs, and a gentle ear when I wanted to cry with exhaustion. She has also offered nourishment.
One of her famous recipes to aid with constipation before and after birth is her "Stick-O-Dynamite" Muffins. If you or someone you know is preparing for birth, please consider making a batch to give! The recipe makes plenty of muffins, more than enough to freeze! For me, making these muffins has become a pre-birth ritual. I individually wrap them, so that each night, I can set one beside my bed for a snack during the 2 a.m. nurse. With a slice of cheese and a glass of water, I feel nourished and can settle in for more sleep. I made four dozen yesterday, and somehow a bit more peace trickles into my mind as I strike that off my "to-do" list. Here's the recipe: Doula Julie's Stick O' Dynamite Muffins 4 cups spelt or whole wheat flour 1 cup All Bran cereal 1 cup oat bran 1/2 cup psyllium husk 1/2 Red River (or twelve grain) cereal 1 1/2 cups brown sugar 4 tsp. baking soda 4 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. salt Combine dry ingredients in a LARGE bowl (I use a big soup pot...this recipe makes LOTS!) In a medium bowl, combine: 4 eggs 4 cups buttermilk 3/4 cup oil grated rind of 2 oranges or lemons, or one of each 3 cups grated vegetables (beets, carrots, zucchini, butternut squash) 1 cup dried fruit (cherries, prunes, figs, dates, cranberries, apricots, raisins) 1/2 cup applesauce Mix wet ingredients into dry, and mix just enough to combine. Spoon into prepared muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees F until toothpick comes out clean, approximately 20-25 minutes for regular sized muffins. Yield: ~4 dozen muffins This recipe can easily be halved if 4 dozen seems like too many! They freeze well, too.
We recently refinished our kitchen table, and created a craft table for the kids in the playroom. The kitchen table was declared a no-crafting zone, as an attempt to create some order in our soon-to-be-even-busier lives. A few days later, Violet got her hands on a Sharpie, and voila. The "new" old kitchen table was baptized with black permanent marker.
This is the scene at the table at 7:00 this morning: pencil crayons, glue, pompoms, beads, knitting, colouring books, scissors, and of course, my coffee decorate its surface while three busy kids share beads, spill the glue (and stare at it as it pours out of the opening), argue, plan their day, and interrupt each other.
I simultaneously create a photo shoot of what I've been knitting and reading, make a fire in the woodstove, replenish my coffee, throw in "Mmhms" to Jude's lengthy story about playing in the schoolyard yesterday, remind the girls not to interrupt (again), and wonder how many more mornings like this we'll have before baby girl arrives.
I'm knitting: baby things (a modern layette: mismatched, stripey, colourful, fun), and baby fan wrist warmers for friends.
I'm reading: "The Girl Giant" (started it in the driveway yesterday when we got home from the library; Margot had dozed off and I sat for a half hour, engrossed), after finishing "Half Blood Blues" by Esi Edugyan. It was a fabulous read, set in World War Two Europe. It sheds light on the experiences of black jazz musicians in Nazi Europe, and the complexities and betrayals born of jealousy, talent, love, and fear. Compelling, to say the least.
We're nestling in here, aware that the routines and dynamics we've come to know as a family of five are about to shift. In a few weeks, we'll be ready for it, and will welcome the new rhythms that will be ours.
In preparation for the birth of our fourth child, we've undergone some mighty changes in the upstairs of our house. A wall has been built, a doorway cut, antique beds reclaimed, furniture painted, and everyone has moved from one room to another. Jude now has his own room, and the girls share their own room. It's all been a whole lot of work, in an incredibly short span of time. We've relied on friends and family to donate their tools, expertise, time, and energy, and in less than a month, we have three rooms instead of two. All three rooms have been freshly painted, and a massive toy and clothing purge is underway. Huzzah for the nesting instinct! What has been most impressive is how we've managed to do it all on the cheap. The biggest expense, obviously were the raw materials: drywall, boards, and paint. All of the furniture is stuff we had. Mom made a new quilt for Jude's room that completes his "boy cave", and we'll be making curtains in the next few weeks. A visit to Ikea for little details (curtain rods, baskets, shelf brackets, and new foam mattresses for the girls' beds) rounded it all out. All we needed was a door for our bedroom, and a vision for the decor on the beautiful, uninterrupted white wall that now divided the large bedroom into two. One day last week, something urged me to wander into what we've dubbed "the far barn". I happened upon old doors and windows, and the vision appeared. We'll be hauling some of those odd-coloured windows and that blue door to the house for a deep scrubbing this week, and will be completing our bedroom just in time for me to give birth in it. While browsing Pinterest, seeking ideas for repurposing old windows, I saw a comment: "Where does one find windows like these? The answer to that question on many old farms is clear: In the barn.
There is so much to talk about when you find a salamander in your basement! Such as: What's an amphibian? How is it like a snake? How is it like a frog? What do living things need to survive and thrive? Violet observed that each time the salamander moved, it made a new letter. After we dubbed him? her? an alphamander, we released him? her? back into his? her? dank, damp basementy home. I suppose the next question to pursue naturally, is how does one tell if a salamander is a girlamander or a salaboy?
On Monday, after I got the wood stove stoked up and the breakfast dishes washed, I settled in to knit. After two months of full time work, the novelty of sitting quietly, listening to music, and watching my children play was a much-treasured experience. Jude stayed home, and spent most of the day creating a spacecraft out of a cardboard box and Jenga blocks. Violet made apple wood-block muffins, while Margot played with the beloved mermaids. I was serenaded on the badminton banjo (with lots of made-up lyrics to Puff the Magic Dragon). Pasta for lunch, and many trips to the window to watch the early November snow that swirled around all day. A hurried foray outside when we noticed the shy November sun shining on the kitchen island, only to be chased back in again by the cold air. For this one day, all was peaceful and calm. There were no requests for Halloween treats or movies, as my three not-so-little little ones found many creative ways to keep themselves occupied. I sat and knit, camera and various cats at my side, marveling at how skilled they are at the work of playing.
Living in rural Ontario in a week when my kids have collectively been invited to FOUR birthday parties presents a quandary. Given lots of notice, I can craft and create a lovely handmade gift. But it is getting hard as my children get older. They all have ideas about what their friends would like, and unfortunately, the quickest and most convenient place to get kids' stuff is at Walmart. We used to have a beautiful, independently-owned toy store in Pembroke. It lay somewhat inconveniently on the far side of town, but was worth the drive for the wonderful selection of creative, educational games and toys. I used to do most of my Christmas shopping there and always felt good that I didn't have to wander the aisles of the W-Store with that horrified look on my face. Dolls that look like anorexic, slutty zombies. Disney princesses and Dora taking over everything from puzzles to playdough to Fisher Price to colouring books. Toys for girls that focus on fashion and hairstyling and nurturing pets and babies, and toys for boys that encourage them to dominate their enemies, build their own armies, and start cultivating gross levels of aggression and testosterone before they're five. There are virtually no educational toys that don't include some character from television or movies. I literally feel sick when I walk up and down those aisles. And I know that there are alternatives. My eyes widen in incredulous horror. If I meet other parents, I wonder why they don't seem similarly disturbed by what is on offer to the majority of parents who shop for kids. This year, with a baby due in December, I have resorted to the joys of online shopping. Here is a list of favourite toy suppliers, sites, and products that reject the notion that boys get active toys and girls get pink things. My five year old is really curious and interested in Science. But Science toys are clearly marketed to boys, unless it is a product called "Create your own spa chemistry set" or something to that effect. Don't get me wrong; I hope to spend a day or two sewing some Wee Wonderfuls dolls for my children (because I can never do a completely store-bought Christmas, new baby or not!) I'm all for dolls. But soft, handmade dolls are so much more appealing than the grimacing plastic babes on offer at Walmart! So, here it is. This is not comprehensive and I'll be adding to it as Christmas approaches. 1. Ravensburger Puzzles at Mastermind Toys (this Busy Farm puzzle is one of our family favourites!) 2. Scholars' Choice is a great source for board games that have not been commandeered by Disney Princesses, Cars, or Dora. Camelot Jr. is a great strategy game for five year olds. Chutes and Ladders is what we got for Margot (again, non-branded pictures), and Jude will get a lovely wooden checkers set. 3. Cabela's is a terrific site for outdoorsy families. Look past the firearms and hunting gear! This is where we've found a great starter bow and arrow set for our Robin Hood-obsessed boy. They also have some cute camping play sets (an outdoorsy mother and daughter with a pink tent and pink four-wheeler, of course!) 4. Lee Valley carries all manners of vintage-type mechanized toys, wooden models, cool science stuff, and outdoor gear. We love the kite we bought here, and plan to get Jude a wooden catapult model to add to his Roman obsession! 5. Usborne books...you can't go wrong. My daughters LOVE the "Sticker Dolly Dressing" series (the fairy book is amazing). When we buy them for our friends' children for birthdays, my girls cry because they want more of these books! I've also found a retelling of the Robin Hood legend, in an easy-read version for my boy. Other favourites include Natural Pod and Baby Naturopathics in Canada, and Nova Natural Toys in the States. When you shop for kids, where do you turn? I'm approaching my yearly "there are alternatives" rant...so be prepared!
Maybe it was the curly hair. Or the dusting of freckles. Or the honest way she wrote. When I stumbled upon her blog, Erin Ellenberger-March just stole my heart. I felt like I'd found the little sister I never had. Our early exchanges often focused on encouragement: that the hard days with our then-tiny kids would soon pass into easier times. I was a few years ahead on the life and mothering journey, and although I don't call it wisdom, I had a bit more perspective than I did when my youngest was still up at all hours and I was deeply sleep-deprived. When we realised we lived a mere two hours apart, we joked about visiting someday, showing up on each others' doorsteps with kids in tow, for an afternoon of tea drinking and that strange kind of catching-up you can do with a complete stranger who shares a kindred soul.
When Erin contacted me recently to ask if I would let her take some pregnancy photos of me, I squealed with delight at the irrationality of it all...piling her two small children, husband, and two dogs into the car, making the trip to a complete stranger's house, and spending a day together seems out of the ordinary and extraordinary all at the same time. On Sunday, Erin arrived with her entourage. We hugged, laughed, and felt like we'd always known one another. Our five children demolished the house (silly me for cleaning it in the first place), we learned about our children's respective quirks, we made and ate lots of food, and our husbands worked on getting the wood in. Erin and I sneaked out to do our photo shoot amongst the old buildings that decorate our farm. The day passed quickly and before I knew it, we had to say goodbye. One last photo shoot in the kitchen, with too much flash, and the house was quiet again.
In a life ruled by rhythm and the expected routines of raising small children, Erin's visit was a breath of fresh air and a thrilling exercise in spontaneity. Trusting in serendipity is something I've always been good at, and this gathering confirmed it all for me. If it feels right, say yes! Seek out "chance" encounters with like-minded souls. There's always room for one more friend, isn't there? Even if you live hours apart or days apart. It is so very worth it! Please stop by feather+anchor to see more of Erin's photography, and read her deeply honest writing in the blog section. You won't be disappointed!
Three kids are settled in under cozy blankets, watching "Charlotte's Web". We've moved the computer desk into the living/play room, so I glance over now and then at their rosy little faces and messy heads. Jude should be in school. But the joys of Daylight Savings Time means that everyone was up extra early yesterday and today, and we had an incredibly busy weekend. So, because I'm home today, I've let him stay home for the first time since September. The sky has that typical overcast November layer, with a sliver of watery blue close to the horizon. It's minus 7 degrees Celsius on the old thermometer that hangs on my clothesline pole, and I can see frost on my windshield. The kettle boiled, but will need reboiling before I make a cup of chai tea. After two months of working through the third trimester of pregnancy, a fog seems to be slowly rising from my mind. With the incredible demands of managing a classroom, teaching small children, communicating with parents, and all the other details that make up a teacher's day out of the picture now, I find that a whole corner is empty and glistening in my mind. Of course, the necessary bits of clutter are trickling in. Necessary things: like arranging visits with long-neglected friends; planning handmades for Christmas; packing up my homebirth kit; painting our bedroom and hanging a door for privacy; rationing out my to-do list to preserve my pelvis and sciatic nerve. My husband gave me a hug around the shoulders this past weekend, and thought my breathing sound funny. I have a baby hippopotamus pushing up against my heart and lungs. But today, without the daily stress of getting myself and two kids out the door and planning the work day while thinking ahead to dinner, my breathing is calm and even. The comments on my latest post reminds me of how deeply grateful I am that Canada has figured out the importance of mothers being home with their babes. A whole year ahead to play house. Yes, there will be financial worries, emotional meltdowns, refereeing of sibling battles, and lots of work. But it's all I have to focus on. Just being here. Just being mommy.