The other night, I was walking out of my garage into our back lane, when I ran into my neighbour, coming out of his garage.

I had Lark in the carrier, as I often do.

“I didn’t know you guys walked”, he said, joking.

“Sorry?” I said, startled. Unable to hide my defensive tone, I said, “Only every day.”

He quickly changed the subject and we parted amicably. But I was, shall we say, nettled. As happens so often when we have an emotional reaction to something, I couldn’t quite figure out why I was so irritated.

We live in a neighbourhood that rates a 91 on Walk Score. This means that you can do all of your daily errands and shopping on foot. All schools, shops, and restaurants are within easy walking distance.

Let me also add, that this particular person and his family do not own a car and pride themselves on getting everywhere on foot, bike or transit. They occasionally rent a car for long journeys.

When Craig and I first bought our house, we took transit to work every day and walked the neighbourhood on weekends, only getting the car out of the garage for road trips or specific errands, like a Home Depot run. This fell in line nicely with our personal beliefs. We were reducing our environmental impact by driving less and transiting more.

After I had my son in 2008, it was a joy to explore our neighbourhood on foot, with epic stroller tours, naps and fun activities to take him to. When he got a little bit older, I bought a Chariot bicycle trailer and began to pull him behind me in the spring of 2010. He loved going for a bike ride and usually fell asleep in the trailer on the way home.

But then he got sick.

Our life, for over a year, was a long series of back and forths to the children’s hospital, often racing the clock in the middle of the night to get to the ER. There was no question of walking, or biking or transit. It was car and car only. As much as I hated it from an environmental standpoint, I accepted the necessity of it. Actually, I remember entering into this curious mental state of “these rules don’t apply to me” as I cut corners and disobeyed traffic laws, all in an attempt to hurry, hurry and get to the next appointment on time. Such is the mindset of one living in a constant state of high alert.

As 5 years have passed from then to now, I’ve attempted to pull back from my incessant car use and retake our former walking lifestyle. It hasn’t been easy. My life with my son continued to be one, long trip to an appointment at hospital or various locales scattered across the city. The emergency scenarios didn’t decrease, and again there were many tense rides to ER with my little buddy listless and pale in the back seat, throwing up.

On our “good” days, when I attempted to walk Bean to school, the 1 km walk would stretch to 25 minutes and beyond. His long illness and continued poor health meant a huge decrease in stamina compared to other children his age. He would need to stop many times on the way to school to “rest my legs.” Each of these stops was frustrating, as the clock ticked onwards, making it more likely that he would be late, and more likely that he would suffer stress, so even more likely that he would then be ill. Emotional outbursts were prevalent.

On most days, I ended up just chucking him in the car when I thought the walk would prove to be too much. After the arrival of Lark last year, this frazzled mama was barely getting out of the house dressed, with kid and newborn in tow, squealing up to morning drop-off with only a moment to spare. Often the open door of the school would close in our faces as the last child trooped in. Which then meant getting the babe out of the car in the -20° weather and marching down to the other end of the school to deliver the kid through the western door. The result of all of this early morning frazz? Ring, ring. Ring, ring. An hour later. “Bean’s not feeling well and throwing up, you’ll have to come collect him.” Baby back in the car. Here we go again!

Here’s the turnaround point. Last March, Bean’s new medication kicked in, which has meant continued wellness for periods of more than one or two weeks. It has meant a huge increase in stamina and general well-being, and less anxiety and stress. He began to be able to walk the 1 km to school without complaint or multiple rest stops. As a result, our behaviour as a family has changed.

With the start of this school year, Bean and I agreed that we would try to walk to school every day, unless there is some compelling reason to take the car. We have stuck to that agreement since September. He has walked to school and then home, and then most often walked to his after-school activities or friends’ houses for playdates. I have been tracking my steps with the Health app on my phone. Each day, I’m walking roughly 5 kilometres, with a daily average of about 8,000 steps. On record days, I’ve clocked over 17,000 steps, or about 12 kilometers. Bean and I have been quite pleased with ourselves for sticking to our pact and leaving the car at home. Naturally, Lark has been along for the ride, either in the stroller or carrier.

You can understand then, maybe, why I was annoyed with my neighbour for his offhand remark.

I guess the problem here is that humans make judgements based on what we see. It’s almost impossible for us to make perceptive calls of other people’s behaviour based on what we don’t see. If, the majority of the time, my neighbour encounters me exiting our house through the garage, then he will assume that I most often drive. He doesn’t see me bumping the stroller down our porch stairs every morning. And, as stated above, we did use to drive pretty much everywhere, so at one point in time, his comment would’ve been accurate. Though, in truth, our reason for driving everywhere was painful.

Unfortunately, for me and the rest of us, we use these kinds of judgement calls all the time. Let’s say, for example, you have a friend who is trying to lose weight. You don’t witness the entire previous month that they have subsisted on kale smoothies, but you do see the big piece of cake, eaten as a treat at the birthday party. Your conclusion? Your friend isn’t working very hard at this so-called diet.

It can be disheartening when we work hard to change a certain behaviour, but our efforts go unrecognized by those around us. This is especially true when dealing with those closest to us, our intimate friends and family members. We like to keep our loved ones in the cozy pigeonholes we’ve crafted for them. As for acquaintances and strangers, we have no problem forming blanket opinions based on a small exchange or observation.

The moral of the story is the trite but true, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Sometimes these hard battles shape our behaviours in ways we wish they wouldn’t. We can only be forgiving, and attempt to stretch our brains to imagine the behind-the-scenes story, the battle that we can’t see.

As for me, it’s time to wrap this up now – I’ve still got 8,000 steps to take today.

Baby Basics I

The other day I returned to this blog after a longish break, and was dismayed to find it covered with cobwebs. Once I dusted it off, I realized that I haven’t written here in ELEVEN months! Does the Internet even let you keep a blog that’s been neglected for so long? What have I been doing for the past (almost) year that has prevented me from rolling out even the most cursory post?

Well. It could have something to do with the little being strapped to my chest and whining as we speak. Yes – my girl Little Lark arrived in the world in late October, and as I exit the haze of the fourth trimester, I finally have a moment to breathe.

Returning to mothering a newborn after SIX years has been an incredible gift. It has also been hard. But I – we – are floundering through as a family. I’ve been thinking a lot about the wisdom I’ve gleaned along the way. And now – whether you like it or not – I’m going to share with you some tips in keeping both you and your newborn happy. And alive.

1. Never say to yourself, “There’s no way she could roll off of that.” Because one day – surprise! – she will.

2. If breastfeeding, just accept that the answer – to any problem – will almost always be to feed your baby. Even if he just ate 20 minutes ago. Or 10 minutes ago. Don’t ask why. Don’t complain. Concede defeat. Enjoy!

3. Set the bar super, super low when it comes to household tasks. Maybe give yourself one, ridiculously easy chore to do in a day. Like: today I will put these already-folded towels away in the cupboard. Then you can tick it off your list with the satisfaction of a job well-done. Pat yourself on the back.

4. Sleep is the most important thing. Repeat: Sleep is the most important thing. Whatever you need to do to get the required sleep for your baby and for you is what you need to do. Don’t worry about what people on Facebook are doing. If you’ve been up all night and feel like your eyeballs are coming out, you may need to spend the whole day trying to nap with baby. So be it. You may need to pack baby up and drive around until babe is snoozing. Fine.

5. You will attempt to do everything with one hand and it won’t work.           Blog posts = limited success. Buttering toast = total fail.

6. Babies like to sleep on people. Wouldn’t you like to have a human pillow? That sounds grosser than I intended. But there’s a good anthropological reason for it. We’re carry mammals. Forget about the bouncy chair – mostly – and carry on.

7. Don’t even think about weight loss yet. Just don’t. Be forgiving – both of yourself, for eating that whole box of chocolate-covered almonds, (Hey, protein, right?) and of your belly for looking as it does. There was a tiny human in there for 40 weeks. Good job, belly.

8. When baby is sleeping on you, the thing that you want will be juuust out of arm’s reach. Your phone. The TV remote. Your glass of water, like an oasis in the desert. You will try to telekinetically move these objects closer. It won’t work. You will get up and wake your baby. Nap-time’s over. Dang.

9. The days (and nights) of early babyhood are long. But they also fly away faster than seems possible. So write everything down, because you WILL forget. Just when you’ve got something figured out, everything changes. Take a deep breath and live in the moment – as your baby does.

For some true pearls, here are a couple of articles that I like:

You Just Had A Baby

Why African Babies Don’t Cry

In Defence of Sleep

I am good at sleeping.

I rarely have insomnia, but when I do, I really suffer from the loss of my 8 hours. And I mean, tearfully, woefully suffer. Others around me suffer too.

The majority of the time, I strive to make those 8 or 9 hours happen. If I’m feeling unwell, I take to my bed for a solid 12-hour-marathon. I generally get up from these sleep-a-thons amazed at how restorative they’ve been. Well, duh.

Here’s a bit of info that might have escaped your attention: Sleep is good for you! It’s necessary for healing!

In most urban areas of the West, we view sleep-deprivation as a badge of honour. As though getting by on as little sleep as you can as is some sort of accomplishment for which we should be commended. There are countless industries and businesses which expect their employees to work their 40 hours and then some, and to still be “on call” in their off hours. Technology has not been our friend in preserving our sleep.

I am constantly astounded that doctors in hospitals are still expected to be alert and make sound decisions while on-call for 24-hour periods during residency. You would think that people with medical degrees would be very familiar with the essential nature of sleep. But this tradition is a cultural rite of passage, long-established and hard to eliminate.

This “sleep is for wimps” attitude that permeates the industrialized world is not doing us any favours. At no other point in history have people got less sleep than we do right now. We are all just so busy. We have work and deadlines and kids and social plans and endless hours of PVR’d TV to watch. We have gadgets that bong at us for attention day and night, and endless to-do lists that startle us awake at 3:00 am when we realize we forgot to respond to that timely email, and crap, that other errand just didn’t get done.

The question is, how can we get more sleep? Naps? I am a big fan of those. Unfortunately, for most of us above the age of 2, fitting an afternoon sleep in during a busy work-week is just completely impossible. And yet, there are times that getting a 30-minute sleep would be incredibly beneficial, as when we are caught doing the nod-and-jerk during that long and incredibly boring meeting, or find ourselves guzzling vast amounts of coffee to simply stay awake.

The National Sleep Foundation has this to say on the topic of naps:

More than 85% of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep for short periods throughout the day. Humans are part of the minority of monophasic sleepers, meaning that our days are divided into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness. It is not clear that this is the natural sleep pattern of humans. Young children and elderly persons nap, for example, and napping is a very important aspect of many cultures.

We tend to safeguard the sleep of our children. Every parent knows the special hell of dealing with a nap-deprived child. Non-parents are not aware of the non-negotiable nature of the nap. I remember thinking, in pre-kid days, that friends were being nit-picky about refusing to meet up during “nap time.” Couldn’t your kid just… miss a day? The answer, obviously, is no. No, he can’t. Ever. Unless you want to pay dearly for your mistake.

This morning my son didn’t wake up on time for school. He’s been ill lately, so I let him sleep until he woke up. There will be times in his life when he will have to be woken up, times when he can’t miss that test or that job interview. But for now, in kindergarten, I think it’s okay to allow a lie-in every now and again.

So why not allow yourself a little snooze of a weekend? Try turning off the telly and heading to bed an hour earlier. Protect your own sleep as you would the sleep of your child.

Your body will thank you for it.

(For an interesting read on sleep-deprivation click here.)

(Photo credit: Jessica Shyba)

A Deed a Day: #4 Windy Bins

Today when I was driving up my street, I noticed that four of my neighbours’ garbage bins were lying in the road. I moved them back onto the sidewalk so that they wouldn’t get run over by an approaching bus.

You’re welcome neighbours.

That’s it.

A Deed a Day: #3 Sponsor a Child Through Plan

You know when you get approached by charities on the street, and you either breeze past them with a sorry-I’m-too-busy smile, or you agree to chat and then ask them to call you later? But you’re not sure if you have any intention of actually contributing to this charity?

About six weeks ago I was stopped on the street by a representative of Plan Canada. On impulse, I asked her to contact me about their child-sponsorship program – and then proceeded to dodge their calls for several weeks as they always rang at the most incredibly inopportune moments. (Think 3:00 am in Australia)

Today the timing was also off – I happened to be in the toilet, but managed to answer my phone anyway.

After a brief chat, I agreed to sponsor a child with a monthly donation of $37.00. I asked to sponsor a little girl in Bolivia, as that country holds a special place in my heart, and I have seen first-hand the grinding poverty that many in that amazing nation endure. The child will be about the same age as my son.

Looking at it from that perspective, it’s so hard to imagine this other child half a world away with the same 5-year-old dreams and wishes as my child, but who struggles every day just to find something to eat.

This was pretty spontaneous for me, I would normally do a lot of research into it – is this the best program, best use of money, etc. But I’ve realized you can spend a lot of time and energy over-thinking things.

If you are interested in sponsoring a child too – here’s the link:

$37.00 goes to food, clean water, health care and education. That money would normally be squandered on snacks, coffees, parking fees and impulse buys. I’m sure I won’t miss it.