30 Days of Blogging, Day 25

I am so thankful that Avery has a cousin the same age as her. Since her sibling would/will be quite a bit younger, it’s so great to see her forming a relationship with the other kid who will probably be with her for the rest of their lives, as long as the family stays close.

This weekend we visited my sister-in-law for an overnight and the kids, who are 5 months apart, played like it was 1999. The laughter, happy screams, and even tough sharing or hitting moments made my heart full. They are growing up together, learning from each other about how to be in this world.

Avery also has this with daycare, but I know one day we’ll part ways with our daycare provider and the friends she has made there, when school starts.

On another topic, the drive home from our visit with family showed a new, more mature side of Avery. We had a long day full of fun, and left at bedtime. Long car rides at bedtime have historically been disastrous for us – Avery gets overtired and doesn’t want to be stuck in her car seat and screams and screams (once for almost all of a 2 hour car ride). But tonight she really seemed to get it when I said we were going home and would be going to bed as soon as we got there. She was calm. She was tired, rubbing her eyes and yawning, and still didn’t sleep in the car, but she was SO PATIENT. She asked me to sing her songs, she babbled to herself, and she just sat quietly and stared off into the distance for a while. No tears. No whining. I am loving this new level of communication so much. It’s so hard when they’re little babies and can’t understand why you’re making them do something they don’t want to do, and can’t hold their delicate shit together for long. That’s not to say toddlers can hold their shit together WELL, but it sure does get easier and easier as they get older!

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Savouring Sunday

Today is my wife’s birthday. I’m throwing her a surprise party, and trying to play it cool this morning before guests arrive. Yesterday was a manic day of getting the house and yard ready for the party, and my wife was micromanaging me in the kitchen, questioning why I was prepping so much food (her: “This is WAY TOO MUCH FOOD! Are you crazy??” – – me: “I want to be eating leftovers all week. I need a break from cooking”). 

Yesterday was nuts. I ran myself ragged, all with a baby attached to my leg or my arm. She’s going through a clingy phase. By evening I was feeling touched out and told my wife I needed to step away for an hour or I’d be too impatient to handle the bedtime battle. Stepping away helped, but it was still difficult to keep calm later as Avery cried and pleaded with me to not go to bed (she whines “bad Ga toe blee dudu poepoe…” etc., while reaching with all her might toward the closed bedroom door. 

I went to bed pretty exhausted last night, but the yard and gardens look pristine, the house is actually CLEAN (underneath this morning’s avalanche of toys), and I want to take a step back and enjoy today. 

Usually when we have guests over I get anxious and can’t relax and enjoy, but today I am determined to savour my time with my wife and my baby and our friends and family. I want to sit in the backyard with a beer, hold my kiddo in my lap, and listen to the conversation. Wish me luck! 

This post is in response to a daily prompt

4 Permaculture Tips that Saved my Veggie Garden

If you’re just starting out at vegetable gardening, you’ll probably be starting with the popular plants like tomatoes, zucchini, and maybe some herbs. Most people can successfully grow these, but sometimes the garden conditions you are working with (i.e., sun, soil, water) make even these common plants an uphill battle to grow. I’ve found that by applying some of the principles of permaculture to my backyard veggie garden, I’ve decreased my gardening workload and increased my yield. 

Now, by its nature, gardening takes years in the same plot to really perfect the growing. So don’t worry if you’ve just bought a tomato, a zucchini, and some herbs, plunked them in the ground or in a pot, and were hoping for the best. It might work out pretty great for you, or you’ll find some things that worked and some things that didn’t. Gardening – especially veggie gardening – is art on a canvas that gets wiped clean every winter. You get to recreate and try new things every year. Hopefully these lessons I’ve learned in permaculture techniques will help you as your garden grows and changes over the years to come. 

1. Pollinators are everything.

If you follow gardening, agriculture, or environmental news, you’ll know that populations of pollinators (like bees) are declining because of pollution, pesticide use, and loss of habitat/food sources. Without pollinators, most of the fruit and vegetables we eat will never form on the plants. Over the years I have learned that doing nothing to attract pollinators has had a detrimental effect on the amount of food I can grow. For example, I have 6 tomato plants in excellent, rich soil, I fertilize them, I water them, they get full sun, and they are properly pruned and tied to supports. The plants are extremely healthy and grow sometimes 5 feet tall. But each year I’m lucky to get enough tomatoes to eat in a few salads. Ideally, that many tomato plants would stock my freezer with tomato sauce to last all winter. In my neighbour’s garden, small, wimpy tomato plants are interspersed among a large wildflower garden. You should see how full with fruit these little plants get. They are so weighted down they look like they’re about to collapse. Unfortunately my neighbour’s front yard wildflower garden is far enough away from my back yard veggie garden that the pollinators she attracts don’t often find their way to my side. So on my list of garden to-do’s is to plant more flowers in and around my veggie gardens. There are a lot of flowers that are reportedly great companions to vegetables, and many are even edible. They also don’t have to take up a lot of space if you plant them interspersed among your veggies. 

    2. Plant for the sun you have, not the sun you wish you had.This raised bed only gets ~6 hours of sunlight a day, and peas, carrots and beets do best here.

    This has been a tough one for me… I have a big back yard and raised beds that are situated right in the afternoon sun. But if I look realistically at my yard, very few of my garden beds actually get full sun (i.e., ~8 hours a day), and the outside perimeter of my yard is pretty much in full shade all day. I also planned my garden when we moved here 6 years ago, and since then a neighbour’s tree has grown enough to completely shade the berry garden I had planted (the annoying part of gardening in the city…). If you plant plants that thrive on the actual light that your gardens get, you will be rewarded. If you plant high sun requirement plants (e.g., tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, strawberries) in insufficient sun, you will get leafy green plants with very little payoff. Waste of precious space when you’re trying to feed your family from an urban or suburban yard. I’ve started to adjust my garden to meet its changing light patterns. I no longer try to grow sweet bell peppers or eggplant, and I devote my two sunniest raised beds for the produce I know we will make the most use out of (like tomatoes). I also plan to move my asparagus this fall out of a spot that has become shaded thanks to tree growth, and I am slowly replacing my berry garden (currents, strawberries, yellow raspberries) with a wild native black raspberry that grows in the shaded understory of farm hedgerows around here. The berries are smaller and the thorny brambles are bramblier, but they taste amazing and they should grow like wild in my backyard. Which brings me to my next tip… 

    3. Plant native. 

    The young, curled up fronds of the wild Ostrich Fern are the culinary delicacy known as fiddle heads.

    I have been doing my research on native edibles and slowly changing my veggie garden from high needs annual vegetables (many from the Mediterranean, which is a long way from Canada!) to low maintenance native edibles from, well, right in my own backyard, so to speak. It’s amazing to discover what edible plants grow wild where you’re from, and an adventure in culinary creativity to learn to cook with them. For example, fiddle heads are a delicacy to buy in the produce aisle, but it turns out they grow rampant where I live as Ostrich Fern. I now grow Ostrich Fern in a shaded part of my backyard and have amazing stir frys with home grown produce as early as late May. The wild black raspberries, as mentioned above, are another example. There’s also a native perennial version of kale, called sea kale, that I plant once and eat from for years to come. So many hidden native treasures out there… 

    4. Mulch.Mulching is permaculture 101, and it’s not just for the fancy shrub or ornamental grass garden you see in posh neighbourhoods. The right kind of mulch holds moisture, provides nutrients to your plants, suppresses unwanted weeds, and will even attract beneficial insects (back to that point about pollinators!). I’m lucky enough to have a local organic mushroom farm that gives away a spent horse manure and straw combo that works GREAT as a mulch and as a tilled in compost for soil amendment. We can also use straw from our chicken run now. 

    These four points are some of the most important concepts of permaculture, and I’ve been able to apply them to my backyard veggie garden to make my life a lot easier. Gardening is always easiest if you can find a way to work with mother nature. Humans will never win in a battle against her (a fact I have to constantly remind myself every time a squirrel decimates my strawberries or my corn…).

    Quick update on life: 4 things 

    1. We have daycare!! Starting in September Avery will be going to a warm and sensitive caregiver with only one other 12 month old little girl, from 9-1, 3 days a week. We will slowly increase that to 9-2:30 4 days a week. It is the perfect situation for us. 
    2. Avery is getting into EVERYTHING. Crawling is awesome – I particularly love it how she can follow me around the house without needing to be carried – but the baby proofing has to catch up with her. Just this morning alone she cut her finger sticking it in the floor heating vent, she pulled an unattached wall heating vent over onto herself, she got her finger stuck in the cat door, and she pulled a book off the shelf onto her head. She’s also pulling herself up onto her knees, so it won’t be long before she’s reaching things even higher up. 
    3. The chicken coop is done (just need to build the run this weekend) and it looks like we will be getting the chicks in about 2 weeks.  
    4. We are booked up for almost every weekend this summer already. Too many family and friends, maybe? Oh well, at least Avery should be able to have lots of new experiences this summer (like camping, twice!) 

    Weekend Update

    On Saturday we took Avery to her first Pride event! She slept through the whole thing but what matters is that she was there. The not-for-profit I chair is host to my city’s Pride Week (although a subcommittee does all the Pride planning – I’m not at all hands on with that). Every year we go to the rainbow flag raising at city hall, and every year we have lingered at the Family Pride BBQ afterwards, just our little family of two adults… This year we were finally the members of the Community whom the event was thrown for  ❤️  Of course we spent the whole time in the beer garden, but we were there with two other families and their babies so it was still very family centred. 

    I was supposed to go to this month’s parenting book club meeting on Saturday morning, but I have been feeling so overwhelmed with STUFF I have to do – silly little errands, mostly, but it really takes away from my time to just enjoy my daughter. Lately we’ve been driving around from store to store, home only to eat and nap, and then as soon as she wakes, it’s back in the car seat. So I skipped this month’s book club. I still read the book, and I’ll still be putting out a review. 

    When we got home from the Pride Flag Raising, my wife got to work on the chicken coop while Avery and I puttered in the house. We also had a back yard cleanup bonfire, but it was too cold to spend much time outside with the baby. 

    Sunday we Organized, Purged, Tidied, Cleaned, Baby-Proofed… Avery’s “crawling” backwards now, and I found her next to an electrical outlet on Friday, so we got to work adding these handy do-dads to every outlet she can reach. Of course now I can’t plug anything in anymore because I can’t get the damn things off, but safety first. 

    We’re planning to let Avery show us what needs baby proofed (or removed) as she starts moving around more, but cupboards with cleaning supplies and electrical outlets aren’t things we want to think about AFTER she has had an encounter. We also strapped down top-heavy furniture. Otherwise, corners on coffee tables and books on shelves are free game until she shows us she can’t safely handle them. 

    Weekend update: Easter

    It was a beautiful spring long weekend. My wife got four days off (her new job gives both Easter Friday and Monday off!) and we only spent one day away from home. It was ideal. Busy, but at least we were busy in our own home doing our own stuff. Oh, and we were both sick, which was exhausting. We caught Avery’s bug. 

    Friday 

    I prepared an Easter dinner to have with my mom, and I managed to get the house cleaned too, all while taking care of Avery. It was one of those super mom days that balances out the days where I can’t even seem to get dressed by 5pm. My wife got a lot more progress done on the chicken coop, and my mom got a good visit in with Avery. 

    Saturday 

    I got some plants for the garden transplanted into bigger pots until all risk of frost has passed (mid May), and we sat on our first pub patio of patio season. Avery couldn’t get enough of the fries. 

    Sunday 

    We went to the in-laws for Easter dinner and Avery had a great time interacting with all the family she used to have stranger anxiety around. Except for her 1 year old cousin… She still has some issues to work out with him.

    Monday

    I had to go to work to invigilate an exam and Avery stayed home with her Mo. More coop building ensued, and some relaxing in the afternoon. 

    Sleep

    Since I last wrote about the floor bed arrangement, we have changed gears with sleep arrangements again. She seems to have matured a bit in the needing comfort area, because when she wakes through the night (which is still every 30 min to 2 hours) she doesn’t wail or cry in a panicked way. She cries in a complaining way now. So for a little over a week I have been putting her to sleep by nursing in the chair in her room, and then transferring her to her crib. The first transfer of the evening is hard. She needs to be really asleep to go for it, so it can take an hour and a half still. But after that all it usually takes to get her back down is a quick (2 to 15 minute) rock. She sometimes rolls around to get comfy after you put her back down, too, so she seems aware that she’s going back in the crib alone. 

    The problem I’ve had over the weekend is that I’m too exhausted to rock her back to sleep. My legs feel like they’re on fire and I just don’t have the will power and I instead sit down in the chair with her. Sometimes she nurses, sometimes she just cuddles. She falls asleep, but so do I. A couple of hours pass. This isn’t helping our “training” because she still spends half the night sleeping with me, and it doesn’t benefit me like bed sharing did because I’m so uncomfortable. 

    My wife took some of the night waking shifts over the weekend which was great for our “training”, but she can’t keep it up once she’s back to work this week. This will be my greatest challenge – staying the fuck awake through the night. 

    How To Talk So Kids Will Listen, a review 

    I joined a parenting book club. I hate reading, but I love comparing notes with other parents, and this book club (started by a friend) was advertised as reading optional. That’s the kind of commitment I can handle. Our first book was How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish. I’ll give you a brief review of the book in my not-so-humble opinion, and then in true book report style, a summary of the book in case you want to not actually have to read the book to know what it’s about. 

    Review

    Like the title says, this is a book about communication. Someone in the book club said that it could have been called “How to Talk to People” because it covered such basic communication skills. The skills taught in the book do seem basic, upon first glance. 

    “I would never talk to my kids like that,” I think to myself indignantly.  Right off the bat, I found the examples the book used to be obvious no-nos (like don’t tell your kid they can never be an engineer or an astronaut,  or some other cool career path, because they’re too stupid). But the book comes with exercises so you can role play and work out what you would actually say in a scenario (a really helpful inclusion), and I started to realize that hindsight is 20/20. One day, when my kid is a little older and having a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store for the 10th time that week, I might snap and say something that new-mom-me without the benefit of hindsight might think is a completely horrendous thing to say to a child. So I gave the book a chance and considered that we are all capable of stooping to hurtful, damaging phrases shouted out with quivering, wits-end tones of voice. We can all learn from this book. 

    Actually, that leads me to one of the things I liked about the book. It assumes that we will slip up sometimes. The lessons for communication it offers are great to have in your toolkit and to practice as often as you can, but you will probably still slip up sometimes and belittle your child as you choke back tears of frustration. When this happens, the authors advise to be honest with your child about your feelings (maybe after taking a breather and stepping away for a bit). It’s OK to say, “Johnny, I wish I hadn’t spoken to you in that way last night. I was feeling very frustrated and angry and I lost my ability to speak calmly with you.” Having this transparency with your kid should mean that, eventually, when they lose their cool in the future, they’ll have the wherewithal to say “sorry, let me take a step back and process my emotions.” Maybe. 

    Although the book is very 1980s with its examples (Johnny, put your records back in the record sleeves or they’ll get scratched), the communication skills are timeless and relevant. I took a Counselling and Communication Skills course in my undergrad and I saw a lot of parallels. I think, in order to find the book useful, you’ll need to be the kind of person who values emotional intelligence and who cares about making people around you feel heard. 

    I liked the book. It was easy to read, full of real-life (albeit dated) examples, and it has awesome comics illustrating each new communication skill. This book might even improve your relationship with other adults, too. 

    Summary

    The book breaks down communication with your kids into 6 skill sets:

    1. Helping children deal with their feelings
    2. Engaging cooperation
    3. Alternatives to punishment
    4. Praise
    5. Freeing children from playing roles

    The first skill, helping children deal with their feelings, is about accepting kids’ feelings and validating them. Like a lot of the skills taught in this book, I felt almost offended by being told not to snap at my kid when they tell me they’re sleepy/angry/scared and saying something like, “oh you’re fine.” Of course I’d never do that that. But then again, there’s this thing in psychology known as the “hindsight bias,” where things seem obvious only after you’ve heard about it. Anyway, the gist of this skill, like many of the skills in this book, is all in our ability to actively listen. Use paraphrasing to show your kid you hear them. 

    Kid: “I’m scared… I want to sleep in your bed tonight.” 

    Parent NOT being helpful: “You’re fine. There’s nothing to be scared of.” 

    Parent responding in a positive way that acknowledges the child’s feelings and helps them deal with their feelings: “You’re feeling scared and don’t want to be left alone? It can be scary sometimes when we start sleeping on our own”…and then you use the rest of the skills to complete the situation. 

    The second skill is to engage cooperation. This skill comes in handy when your kid is doing something annoyingly unhelpful, like not taking the garbage out after you’ve nagged and nagged to no avail. The book outlines ways to foster cooperation rather than turning your kid into a resentful rebel; instead of making threats, commands, lecturing, warning, etc., try:

    1. describing the problem (e.g., The garbage is still sitting by the front door); 
    2. give information (e.g., if the garbage doesn’t go out by 7 o’clock we’ll miss the garbage truck);
    3. say it with a word (e.g., Johnny, garbage) 
    4. Talk about your feelings (e.g., I feel frustrated when I see the garbage sitting by the door. I don’t like the smell wafting.)
    5. Write a note; e.g., 

    The third skill gives you alternatives to punishment. Punishment (like spanking, grounding, or taking away games or electronics or something) is something the authors believe doesn’t necessarily teach the child anything (besides “my parent is mean”). It may make you feel better to let off some steam, but the authors urge that you try alternatives. My favourite alternative is the skill of problem solving. The book goes into great detail on how to effectively problem solve with a child, but the gist of it is to: 

    • talk about your child’s feelings and needs
    • talk about your feelings and needs (model that good behaviour of expressing emotions!)
    • brainstorm together to find a solution, write down all ideas without evaluating them on the spot (even the ones the kid throws out there that are completely unreasonable)
    • and then decide which ideas work for both of you by each crossing out ideas you don’t like, one at a time, from the list. 

    It seems to me that this approach would take a lot of patience, when your kid has been misbehaving a lot lately and you are already tired of nagging/yelling. But taking a step back and finding out why the kid is misbehaving (e.g., maybe they are being aggressive with a younger sibling when forced to share toys), you might be able to work out a mutually agreeable solution (e.g., maybe the kid will be satisfied with a special toy that they don’t share, or more one-on-one play time with their parent without that annoying sibling hogging all the attention).

    The fourth skill, encouraging autonomy, is really quite simple. Sometimes we have to sit back and watch them struggle as they take 20 minutes to tie their shoelaces. The key tactics to encourage autonomy are:

    1. Let children make choices (e.g., would you like to have your bath before or after dinner?) 
    2. Show respect for a child’s struggle (the shoelace thing, and maybe say something mildly encouraging like “Tying our own shoe laces is something big kids do. Look at you working on a big kid skill with such persistence) 
    3. Don’t ask too many questions (e.g., trust that they weren’t out smoking drugs behind the bleachers and instead of grilling them with 20 questions about where they were, who they were with, and what they were doing, just ask “hi honey, how was your day?”)  
    4. Don’t rush to answer questions (e.g., if they ask where babies come from, turn the question back on them to see if they can figure it out…obviously if they start spinning an explanation about a man’s rib bone being removed and cloned into a baby, interject with some fact) 
    5. Encourage children to use sources outside the home (e.g., if you really don’t want to explain sperm and eggs and intercourse to your kid, encourage them to ask their gym teacher… or probably better yet, your friendly, local sexual health educator) 
    6. Don’t take away hope (this is one of those tips I was offended by having to be told. When your kid says “I want to be an astronaut,” say “awesome!” instead of “you need to be good at math for that, sweety. How about aiming for something more realistic.” –see what I mean? Who the hell would say that to their kid?) 

    The fifth skill deals with giving praise. I’m a heavy praiser. My baby sticks her foot in her mouth and I’m all like “good motor skills, honey!” The authors value an appropriate amount of praise as a way to correct behaviour. For example, if your kid is always forgetting their lunch when they go to school, instead of nagging and berating, try praising them for remembering things. “Johnny, I’m so pleased with how you remembered to bring your lunch container home.” This is supposed to encourage them to try harder to please you in the future.

    The other thing with praise is to describe the Praise-worthy thing your child is doing rather than just saying “great job!” or “beautiful painting!” It is apparently more genuine and constructive to say things like “I really like how you used contrasting colours to make the painting really dramatic.” I have a baby, though, so my examples will probably be more like, “good job getting the food somewhat close to your mouth!” 

    The sixth skill is a tricky one for me because it’s so engrained in me as a product of my socialization. It deals with not putting your kid in a box, or assigning them to personality roles. For example, when my baby wouldn’t take the bottle, I assigned to her the role of “stubborn.” But she’s a baby… She’s not a stubborn personality – her personality hasn’t even developed yet. And the really sneaky thing about assigning roles to your kids is that negative roles are used way more often than positive. We’re more likely to say “she’s a really whiney kid” than “she’s a really generous kid,” I think because humans are hard wired to gripe and complain to each other as a mechanism of social bonding. We don’t feel comfortable tooting our own horn about how great our parenting skills must have been to make this perfect child. But especially when talking to your children, be conscious of pointing out the positive roles they take on, like generous, patient, kind, etc., and try to avoid labeling with words like spoiled, princess, complainer, etc. The authors believe that children will live up to the roles we see them in – it’s the curse of the self-fulfilling prophecy. 

    One thing I like about the book is that it includes comments, cautions, and anecdotes about each skill. For example, the authors address when a skill might not work so well on a moody teenager who is prone to back talking, or when humour might work but to steer clear of sarcasm. 

    Be prepared to roll your eyes, and then later, in a conversation with your kid or partner or someone else, come to the sobering realization that you are acting out the very faux pas you had rolled your eyes at. This book has a lot to offer and I recommend it to parents, and even to people who are just having trouble maintaining a healthy relationship with a fellow adult. Six steps. Anyone can do it.