“Oh wow. This [expletive deleted] is for REAL.”

Schwoopy bangs, circa 2007

An early attempt at bangs, circa 2007

That sentence, that sentence above is what I texted to a friend on my first day at my new job. I think I had been there all of three hours yet already I found myself sweaty, exhausted, and with a cup of coffee I desperately needed going cold on the counter because I hadn’t yet had the chance to sit down and take a sip.

My new bosses are…crazy. First of all it’s like Office Space and I have three. Three. They issue contradictory instructions, their communication skills need work and even having been there for only a few days I’ve already witnessed some infighting as they strive to establish some sort of pecking order.

Ok I can’t keep up this cutesy facade any longer – my bosses are babies, guys! Like, literally babies. Well, toddlers to be exact.

Let’s back up a bit.

When we decided to move to Edmonton, the process of finding work and childcare for Olive was really stressing me out. The thought of putting her in daycare left me heartbroken, but, like most modern families, we simply don’t have the luxury of subsisting solely on one income. I had always hoped to stay home to raise our children, but I mean I’d always hoped to rock blunt bangs too, and sometimes one has to accept that reality looks different than you had initially imagined. Life happens, you know?

(Life, and an awkward cowlick, that is.)

Although I know many families use them and love them and I do really enjoy the opportunity for socialization that daycare can offer, I really didn’t want to put O in one. The thought of dropping her off somewhere each morning to spend her day with strangers who don’t love her like I do made my heart ache. And beyond that lay the sheer logistics of the thing. What comes first, the daycare or the job? What if I got daycare all lined up and then my job didn’t start for another month and a half? What if I found my dream job but couldn’t get her into a daycare we felt comfortable with? Thinking about it was stressful and confusing, and I had sort of hit a wall with where to start.

Then, serendipity. I was speaking with a dear friend of mine, a mother to two children. She was returning back to work in early April after a year long maternity leave. She too was debating childcare options and we were commiserating about the stress of finding some place that we felt our children would be loved, respected and safe, and she happened to say something along the lines of, “I wish you could just look after them.” I sighed and said, “I know.”

And then I thought, “Wait- why couldn’t I just look after them?”

I’d get to be with Olive every day, and earn a bit of an income, too. I wouldn’t have to put her in daycare. She would still get to play with little buddies each day, and my friend would know that her children were loved, respected, and safe. It seemed perfect.

But just like blunt-cut bangs, reality can sometimes look a little different. I think I had imagined some sort of Von Trapp situation (the coordinating clothes and the obedience, I mean…not the Nazi’s). I mean damn, people! Damn this shit is for real!

There are three of them, and one of me. Three toddlers:  a one-year old nicknamed Snuggy Boy, Olive (eighteen-months), and a three-year old I shall call Queen Elsa in homage to her favourite movie, one I have not yet seen but I suspect I shall gradually begin to absorb through the scientific process of osmosis.

The days are LONG. And tiring. And filled to the brim with poop, and wiping half-chewed food spattered on the floor, and me repeating inane sentences I never thought I’d find myself saying. Things like “Only gentle with other babies. Show me your gentle hands!” and “That’s not how we ask for things. Say ‘Put a Queen Elsa braid in my hair please.'” and “Are you pooping? Who’s pooping?! SOMEONE IS POOPING! WHO’S THE POOPER? WOULD THE POOPER PLEASE IDENTIFY HIM OR HERSELF IMMEDIATELY?”

I love it.

I love it because it affords me the ability to be with Olive every day, which is more important to me than anything. I get to see kids whom I love like they were family grow and evolve and become best friends with my daughter. As much as I love it however, it’s also (already) incredibly challenging. Mothers everywhere know that the work you do with children, while hard, isn’t at all stimulating or cerebral. It is rote, and monotonous, and repetitive. Days necessarily have to have a rhythm and a routine and this can make them all sort of blend into each other as you go through the process of preparing food, feeding food, cleaning up after food, putting jackets on, going outside, coming inside, taking jackets off, diapering and wiping and refereeing spats and then preparing food, feeding food…and on and on. Rinse and repeat.

At the end of the day if the house looks the same as it did and the kids do too, you count it as a success. We are all adjusting, these three little creatures and I, and although my expectations for this first week have been embarrassingly low, I am happy to say that I – WE!- are exceeding them! The children are happy and play well together, I have only overdosed on coffee once, we have even left the house once or twice! Olive gets to excited to go see her little friends in the morning, and I can’t wait to see the friendships that are formed by these three being so close.

Once we are more settled here in this here Big City I plan on contacting a few social service agencies so I can volunteer with them once or twice a month as a way of keeping my hand in, because if I ever do decide to work with teens again – barring an incredible leap to bestselling-author, super-famous “Don’t you know who I am?!” status, that is – it will come in handy to have a few contacts, and a bit of current experience under my belt.

In the meantime I have the good fortune of seeing three children grow and negotiate the world around them each day. I am so happy that we found a way to make this happen, and happy too that it’s a situation that benefits both me, and my friend, too. I think that informal/unconventional childcare arrangements like this can be a real saving grace for everyone involved.

And really, who else can say that one of their bosses brushed their hair for ten full minutes while proclaiming it “Bootifuww”, while the other two took turns chewing on a dog? (No one, I hope, good god seriously no one.)

I’m livin’ the dream, y’all! Livin’ the dream. Except now I keep thinking about those bangs…

I was going for a Donald Trump look. #NailedIt

I was going for a Donald Trump look. #NailedIt

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Survival

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You know what? I am kind of doing okay without her, that chubby baby of mine.

It’s a little like realizing you have a third arm, one you haven’t been using. It’s not that I’ve been missing it, because I didn’t even remember it was there, but now that I have it back things are easier. They get done faster. And this third-arm state isn’t something I really want to continue forever- or even for a few more days- because as much as it’s helpful it also feels strange and cumbersome and I’m used to having my hands full. The arm just sort of sits there, uncomfortable and ill-at-ease with the silence. 

I found myself turning on the TV every time I was in my hotel room, which is uncharacteristic for me because typically I hate the background-noise nature of the thing. They’re always on, in hospital waiting rooms and restaurants- even in the kids play areas on the ferry. It drives me nuts how people pause mid-sentence and stare open-mouthed. We become absorbed and entranced in the screen like moths to a flame- helpless! I do it too – how can you not be seduced by the flickering lights and catchy content?

So usually I avoid it but this week I think I needed the noise, it felt so strange to be sitting here swamped in my own thoughts and the sound of faint conversation passing in the hallway. 

 

Just in case you are feeling some sort of violent rage-envy at all of this talk about helpful superfluous limbs and sweet silence, I would like to inform you that I have a hotel room with not one, but two giant comfortable beds that even (inexplicably) have remote controls to adjust their firmness up or down, and yet I slept a grand total of ELEVEN hours in the last two nights. 

I lay there and could not fall asleep. It was the rudest thing ever and the more I thought about it the more anxious I got, “Madeleine! You’re WASTING it! Look at this bed! Feel these sheets! There’s no one else here! SLEEP, DAMMIT, YOU FOOL!”

But sleep wouldn’t come. So I tried tricking myself and decided to stay up to read – hoping I’d fall asleep mid-sentence as so often is the case these days. Of course tonight is the night I managed to finish about six chapters before I threw the book on the ground in a fit of rage and then lay there, seething, willing myself to sleep out of sheer spite. 

My days have been packed and my brain is at capacity. I am so glad I was able to come, but oh, guys, I am so ready to go home.

I’m baaaaaack

Last week, on Wednesday, I did something strange.

I woke up and brushed my teeth. I fed Olive, got dressed and then, then friends I went to work.

That’s right, I’m back.

After thirteen months of living by the baby instead of by the clock, wearing clothes that could stretch and be spat up on, shirts that would feel soft against Olive’s cheek; after thirteen months of pushing all of my giant dangly earrings to the back of my jewelry box and listening to my heart, my instincts and my intuition instead of my head, I’m back.

It feels good.

Strangely, thirteen months ago me returning to work was a sort of worst case scenario. I was crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t happen, I was looking forward to spending my days with my baby and dreading the inevitable- I was even half-heartedly investigating  all of those strange, sheisty little “make money at home!” gigs/shams/scams (one of them had to be legit, right?) and wracking my brain for any life that wouldn’t involve me leaving Olive.

What changed? Five things. Here we go.

  1. I missed thinking. I missed that high-powered rush of brain activity that signals firing synpapses and new forays into cognitive development. I missed feeling that stretch and release, the pushing growth as you absorb and adapt new knowledge. I missed that deeply in a way that I almost couldn’t articulate because I felt as though my language skills, vocabulary, and ability to identify and describe my own life experiences had decreased to a one year old’s comprehension level.

    By saying this I don’t mean to demean or underestimate the work-intellectual, physical, emotional and otherwise- involved in parenting, but I have found that it’s different work.

    So much of becoming a mother involves turning off that old analytical self and turning your ear instead towards heartbeats and rosy cheeks, to learning your baby instead of a book. And I have loved that. It has been a departure for me, to immerse myself so fully, for so long. It has been the sweetest experience of my life.

    But lord did I miss the thinking.

  2. Adam needs to be a dad. I mean, he is a dad. A fantastic one. But he’s a dad with a mom hanging over his shoulder suggesting and helping and encouraging and um, critiquing, occasionally (a lot) (almost always).

    I said I wasn’t going to be that mom, the one who barges in and takes over instead of letting him figure it out, muddle through and make mistakes as I did. But I am. Oh, guys, I am. So, despite my best intentions sometimes the best way to help Adam parent is so get the hell out of the way so he CAN parent. On his own.

    Whatever that looks like. Even when it looks like mismatched socks and feeding her coldcuts from Subway and just generally doings things in a way that is completely and utterly wrong different from how I do them. I can’t let him parent unless I get out of the way, and I can’t get out of the way unless I am forced to. Work accomplishes this goal quite nicely.

  3. I like to wear nice-ish clothes sometimesReal clothes. Clothes chosen for form over function, clothes that make me look good and feel good, and clothes I wouldn’t be embarassed to run into an ex-boyfriend wearing. Clothes that don’t scream, “I spent twenty minutes this morning singing nursery rhymes to a crazy-haired toddler as she sat on the potty”.

    I mean, I’ll still be doing that. And in fact, I adore our early morning potty singalongs, but I also enjoy looking like a real person sometimes and now I get to do both.

    A real, live, PERSON y’all! 

  4. It’s only twenty-one hours a week. Somehow I managed to luck into finding a position for just twenty-one hours a week.

    Even better, those hours are fairly flexible and can change from week to week – some may be more, some less. And sometimes in part-time positions you end up sacrificing challenge for convenience, you miss out on work that is rewarding and stimulating in order to find work that fits your life, but this position doesn’t ask for that sacrifice. The learning curve is steep, the opportunities are wide open and my mind hasn’t stopped working since I hit the ground running last week. It’s been an adjustment, but I’m surprised how thoroughly immersed I am already, and how much I’m enjoying myself.

  5. It terrifies me. And that’s a good thing.
    There’s a pithy quote, one that’s been repeated so often now that it seems trite: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
    I’ve been thinking of that one a lot. Oh, and also, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” (Oh, Eleanor. Thank you for your words, they are so apt and so perceptive, and I’m sorry I called them trite and pithy just now.)

    Leaving Olive terrifies me, and every day I feel I can not do it. It breaks my heart.

    I don’t want to miss a thing, I don’t want to be absent. I hate to think of her crying without being able to soothe her, or laughing her exuberant giggle without knowing why. More than that, I question myself and I question my abilities, my intelligence and ambition. I am scared and every day I feel I cannot do it so I know that I must

    I was at my old, pre-pregnancy job for over five years. I found working with at-risk teens challenging, exasperating and immensely entertaining. No two days were quite the same but all the same, after five years I think I was burnt out, and as is often the case I didn’t realize just how burnt out I was until I had a year’s distance for reflection.

    I’m not working directly with teens anymore but I’d like to return in that direction someday. In the meantime I am stretching my skills and growing my confidence and watching my fear ebb and flow with each passing day.

 

Internets, I’m back.

 

Nesting Rage – It’s a Real Thing

      

This is the extent of my motivation today, freshly washed and folded baby blankets.  A painting project almost finished (almost, almost!) and an itch to visit my favorite wool shop to stock up on soft yarns to knit a few toques for this baby to be.

I wish I could better articulate how it feels to have my interests narrow like this, a sort of all-consuming prenatal tunnel vision where all the world outside our home has fallen away and I don’t want to leave these four walls (ever), I just want to flit around inside preparing myself in dozens of small ways for the changes about to come.

(Is it some sort of psychological mind-game, this nesting? Do we really think that by having drawers perfectly organized, diapers neatly stacked, that we will be prepared in any way shape or form for the whirlwind that’s about to be unleashed?)

Of course I do have to leave these four walls for many reasons, not least of which is to go to work. This is becoming more and more of an exercise in foot-dragging with each day however, as I struggle to find the passion and ambition that propelled me into this field in the first place.

I work with teens in a drop-in centre. I love my job, I find it challenging and exhausting and exasperating and inspiring. Sometimes all within the same shift, sometimes the same hour. I feel incredibly fortunate to have forged strong relationships with many of the teens I have worked with over the past five years and there’s so much I’m going to miss about them and about the job itself – logically I know this.

Emotionally, however? Emotionally and irrationally (and perhaps hormonally, if I can play that card) I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to just walk out that door tomorrow and be done. It’s a weird sort of trick your mind plays when you have an end-date, a finish line. Getting there seems so much harder and that day, that “Last Day” seems to loom and stretch towards the horizon, never getting any closer although the calendar keeps flipping its pages.

This feeling of having one foot out the door is made all the worse on those off-days when work isn’t particularly inspiring or rewarding or fun. When I don’t feel like I’m actually helping anyone so much as banging my head repeatedly against a brick wall of teenage snark.

Yesterday was one of those days, it left me feeling drained and frustrated and idly researching how many vacation days I have accrued to see if I can start maternity leave early.

I ended up closing the centre a half hour early because I was so burnt out. Over the course of the night there were of course the regular issues of policing the kids and breaking up fights and mediating meal times, but there were other things too.

Someone pissed all over the youth bathroom, making the entire hallway reek like urine. At this age something like that isn’t an accident, it’s an angry middle finger thrust in your face. Someone else (I’m pretty sure the same someone) left a note in the anonymous question box, crumpled up. As I opened it I read the words “There’s jizz on this note.”

Aaaand that was that. I was done. I felt like bathing myself in disinfectant and/or screaming and/or crying. Stuff like this makes folding baby blankets that much more appealing, you know? Stuff like that makes it hard to wax nostalgic about missing the job, the kids, the work.

These sorts of incidents are few and far between – I can count them on one hand – and they in no way represent the majority of the teens, nor the bulk of the interactions I have with them. On the whole, the youth I work with are pleasant, hilarious, polite. They are kids I would love my son or daughter to turn out like. 

But occasionally, sometimes, there are difficult cases, difficult kids. It’s all par for the course and I’m used to it by now, nothing much shocks me anymore. But nonetheless, incidents like this are lately serving to propel me ever quicker back to these four walls, these small preparations. 

Today and tomorrow are my days off. Days I’m going to take to putter and futz and try and convince Adam to relinquish a corner of his man cave for a baby change area. With any luck I will (through divine intervention) be successful in this endeavor and have cute pictures to show for my efforts come Monday.

If not, I will be up again tonight, restless and itchy and contemplating moving (moving! at 7.5 months pregnant! When we’re planning to leave this town in a few months anyway! Hormones!) and googling “Nesting Rage”.

Happy Weekend!

The End

      

It has happened. This thing, this giant gargantuan THING that has been hanging over our heads and weighing down our shoulders, this larger than life albatross around our necks…it’s gone.

Just *gone*.

I’ve written about it before, here, and here (and here and here) but never with much detail, always in a frustratingly obscure manner. This post is probably the most I will ever say about it.

Seven years ago Adam bought a business. Despite how I often characterize him as a goofy,bumbling, man-child, Adam has another side to him. He is an incredibly ambitious man who truly loves working, and what’s more, he’s good at it. Really good.

He’s driven, smart, and truly has a head for business. So a few years after university he bought a store. Within two years of buying this store he had doubled sales, expanded its services and improved its overall look and layout. Not bad for a 24 year old.

But no matter how good you are, no matter how ambitious and driven and dedicated, there are still circumstances beyond your control.

The Olympics came and went. The economy tanked. Our town started to wilt and falter. Businesses started closing. Adam laid off some staff and began working 6 days a week to fill the gaps. I imagine he thought this would be temporary, but he ended up working 6 days a week for the past four years. I can’t even begin to imagine what that feels like.

The downturn continued and Adam kept working, because that was the only option. To just keep working and pouring more and more into the business to keep it going until things got better. He rolled with the punches as best he could – re-vamping the store to get more available floor space without having to pay more rent, streamlining some of the processes and cross-training staff to be more efficient.

It was amazing, depressing and humbling to see him work so hard. I admire him so much for this.

The store has been a source of great joy, great conflict and great stress for both of us over the past few years. And through it all, I struggled to write about it. I couldn’t write about it, I felt – and still feel- that this was Adam’s story to tell. It felt wrong somehow to chart the progress of something I had so little involvement in, comparatively speaking. And Adam wouldn’t ever write about it, just like he rarely complained about it. It’s just not in his nature to wallow or stagnate or bemoan his fate (I do that for both of us it seems ;).

Of course he had moments of frustration, handfuls of breaking points over the years- we both did. But whereas I got to bury my head in the sand and avoid the situation, go to my own job, forget what was happening, he had to be there. Every day. Dealing with all of the problems and carrying all of the stress and not getting much out of it anymore, because after paying rent and employees and bills, there simply wasn’t much left over to get.

When we found out I was pregnant, everything changed. We hadn’t planned the baby’s impending arrival being a catalyst for such change, but that’s exactly what it became. As the days and weeks passed and we began to contemplate in greater detail just how our lives were about to change, we realized that we couldn’t just continue waiting it out, hoping things would get better.

We needed a steady income, I needed my husband to be around enough to enjoy becoming a daddy. 

Adam decided it was time to move on and close up in September. I know this was a hard decision for him to make, and I tried to let him make it himself. I didn’t want to push or insist or cajole. I felt strongly that as hard as it was, he needed to say those words, come to that conclusion himself. I’ve had one foot out the door for years, but it’s a hard thing to let go of, a business you’ve poured so much into. So he had to say those words, he had to get to that point where it was okay to call it.

It took a while to sink in, but I think we were both beginning to feel comfortable with an end date in sight, even if it wasn’t the end we had hoped for. We’d still be coming out with less than we came in, but nonetheless for the first time in seven years we started planning for “after”, and it felt good.

Then, while we were on vacation, Adam got word that someone was interested in taking over the store at the end of July, instead of the end of September as previously thought. This was good news. This was great news. I had long felt nervous about these two huge life events – selling the store and having the baby – being tied so closely together. The thought of having a 3 month buffer to finish everything up, to decompress, for Adam to figure out what he wants to do next – this was a lifesaver.

So we came back from vacation, heard this news and were immediately plunged into an insane few weeks of non-stop back and forth, a crazy flurry of action. Due to the speed of the transaction, every day was a roller coaster of if’s and what-if’s, highs and lows.

The deal was going through, and then it wasn’t. Things were settled, and then they weren’t. We were going to be done at the end of July, and then suddenly the process would stall and things looked uncertain again. It was incredibly frustrating, emotionally exhausting.

In the evenings I’d get home from work and we would sit and look at each other. He’d talk and talk and talk, trying to figure everything out. I would listen feeling impotent and wishing I could do more, shoulder more. I rubbed his back and heard him speak and offered my support. 

I didn’t know what else to do.

Back and forth and back and forth. Two weeks filled with phone calls and meetings and deals, inventories and signed and witnessed letters. Adam’s dad came out to help him tie up in ten days all of the loose ends he thought he had three months to deal with.

And then, on Saturday, we handed over the keys. We were done.

I have imagined writing this post a million times. I have waited for this day, hoped for it, prayed for it. Every time I’ve done my tarot cards in the past two years I have searched their meaning for any sign that this day was on the horizon.

It was strangely anticlimactic, this calm after the storm.

I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, that it’s over. Things are starting to shift, to take hold – I hadn’t realized how much time I spent continually worrying about the store, thinking about the store. I didn’t realize how heavily it weighed on us until the last few days as I kept observing thoughts pop unbidden into my head, worries about staffing and scheduling and bills and whether or not I’d completed some task or other. It feels very strange to have these thoughts pop up and not have to take action, find a solution. It feels strange to be able to simply shrug my shoulders, wipe my hands clean. Not my problem anymore.

Adam has developed a great relationship with the new owner and is planning on staying on for a few months to show him the ropes, but in a much reduced capacity.

In many ways he’ll go back to how it was at the beginning, how it would have stayed if things had gone as planned. Working five days a week instead of six. Working 8 hours a day instead of 12. And actually being paid for the work he’s doing.

Miracle of miracles! I think he might just lose his mind from all this free time and money!

I’m a strong believer in taking the positive out of situations – even ones that have felt so depressing at times. By doing this I don’t want to gloss over how tough it’s been because that would undervalue how hard Adam has worked to keep all of it together. There have been many fights had and tears shed over this business, it’s put a great deal of stress on us as a couple, emotionally and financially. But nonetheless, there were incredible moments, fun moments, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I never thought I would get to this place, but I don’t regret it. 

I think this experience has strengthened us in a way that no other could. Working so closely with Adam has given me a unique view of him that I don’t think very many other people have about their spouses.

I learned that he’s an insanely hard worker, that he’s trustworthy and honest, he treats people right. He’s a genuinely kind person, – too kind sometimes, and he has a hard time saying no to those in need (but really, this isn’t a negative, is it?). 

I’ve seen how his customers have grown to respect him, love him.  It wasn’t unusual for people to phone him for a sale and simply leave their credit card number, trusting him to pick the right item for them and not screw them over. 

Whenever I worked in the store with him, as soon as people found out I was his wife they would tell me that I picked a good one. That I was lucky to have him as my husband.

And although it was hard at times, frustrating at times, and although if I’m honest, one of the things I’ve learned is that I never ever want to work that closely with him again for the sake of our sanity and our marriage and our lives please god NEVER AGAIN- goddamn do I agree with his customers.

I did pick a good one. I am lucky.

We are fortunate to have had this experience that has broken so many marriages, and come out stronger for it. I think that says a lot about us as a partnership, but more still about the kind of man Adam is, the kind of man he becomes when the going gets tough.

So no, I don’t regret it, but I am so, SO glad that it’s over. I can’t wait for Adam to have two day weekends, a full week of evenings off, a full paycheque. I can’t wait to see who he becomes without this weight, in the absence of this albatross.

I can’t wait to share these next few months with him unencumbered by responsibility, before a new, infinity more fun and rewarding responsibility emerges onto the scene with a happy wail.

More than anything though,  I am so very,very happy to write the following words in regards to this business, this chapter of our lives:

The End.

(But also, The Beginning!)