Thank You Teacher Gift - Customized Pencils

We're stumbling toward the end of the school year with a calendar full of spirit days and classroom events. The thought of adding one more thing to my to-do list is daunting but I wanted to give Grady's teachers a gift from the heart. Grady's first year of school has been more positive than we could have hoped for, largely because of his teachers. Teachers are my heroes. I say that without an ounce of humour. I could not teach 22 five-year-olds and maintain my sanity. 

I realize that teachers probably accrue a lot of stuff, and my desire to give a heartfelt gift doesn't outweigh their desire to not be buried in things. I wanted to find the perfect balance of meaningful and useful. 

I used 1/8" metal hand stamps, a black ink pad, and a rubber mallet to make custom pencils for Grady's teachers and I love how they turned out. With that being said, this was not a fun craft to do with an almost-six-year-old. It requires too much dexterity and the risk-reward ratio was off. My fingers got whacked a few too many times is what I'm saying. 


We added a card with sincere messages from both of us (I may have cried a little while writing mine) and a coffee gift card. It may not be the most elaborate or fancy teacher thank you gift but it checks all my boxes. 


Do you do teacher thank you gifts at the end of the year? What do you give?

Encouraging Kids to be on Mother Nature's Team As Part of The Whole Family Happiness Project

Grady is very into "teamwork" these days. Our family is a team. It's his job to be kind and loving to Poppy and follow our family rules. His kindergarten class is a team. It's his job to follow his teachers' instructions and be nice to his classmates. When we're facing a challenge with Grady, we approach it as teamwork. With the days getting longer as summer draws closer, we're making bedtime all about teamwork. It's my responsibility to brush Grady's sugar bugs and it's Grady's job to pick out a bedtime story. It's up to us as parents to make sure Grady gets enough sleep and it's Grady's job to go to bed when we tell him it's bedtime. It's amazing how excited and accepting he becomes when we frame it in a way he understands. Teamwork makes sense to him. He wants to contribute to his team.

So when we noticed that Grady was becoming less connected to the great outdoors, choosing instead to spend most of his time inside, we decided to "team up" with Mother Nature. He's always been interested in gardening but balks at doing yard work. Instead of asking him to weed the garden beds or water the lawn (booooring), we gave him his own pots and let him choose what to plant in them to build his own little garden. It's his job to water his flowers, it's his flowers' job to grow. He's not overwhelmed by a large garden or hours of yard work, but he does need to check in on his pots every day to make sure they're doing okay. It's a small part of his day but it's becoming a habit. Soon it will be second nature.


As part of his garden, we helped him build a bee bath. Despite never being stung, Grady is terrified of bees. We've come across worms, slugs, beetles, ladybugs, and many more creepy crawlies in our gardening adventures and it doesn't faze him. Add a solitary bee to the equation? Grady is out. Gardening session over. The plants are on their own, hopefully it will rain so they get a drink of water, he's heading inside where there are no bees. Bees get a bad rap with the kindergarten crowd and we wanted to boost Grady's comfort level and view bees as a necessary part of our garden. It was shockingly easy to get him on Team Bee when we explained that without bees to pollinate our flowers, there would be no strawberries (his favourite local delicacy) and without strawberries, there can be no strawberry ice cream (the horror!). It takes ten seconds to say "don't be afraid of bees" but it only takes a few seconds more to explain why bees exist and how we can help them, and how helping them boosts our own happiness (because who can be unhappy with a bowl of strawberry ice cream in front of them? Monsters, that's who.). 


I treasure our time together in the garden. We're not distracted by screens or piles of dirty dishes or "just let me throw a load of towels in the washer." We're hanging out, digging in the dirt, talking about bugs, filling watering cans, working together to make our space beautiful. We're not experienced gardeners by any stretch of the imagination (I probably have as much gardening knowledge as Grady does) but that doesn't matter. What matters is that I feel happier and less anxious when I'm connected to Mama Earth and I want to pass that on to my children. It's my job to introduce my kids to the pleasure of planting something, tending to it, caring for it, and watching it grow. It's their job to bloom. 


This post is part of The Whole Family Happiness Project. Opinions expressed are my own. For more information, or to share your Whole Family Happiness story, visit Whole Family Happiness on Facebook.

How To Get Your Body Back

I am newly postpartum, not quite awake, standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, shush-shushing a 4-litre jug of milk and rocking it back and forth, soothingly, the same way I've been rocking a screamy baby for what feels like a week straight. Through bleary eyes, I read the headlines jumping out at me from the glossy magazine covers featuring impossibly beautiful women.

"How to Get Your Body Back!" Like I've disappeared so far into motherhood that I am no longer here. My body grew a tiny, furious human. It laboured for two days and birthed nine and a half pounds of gumption and tenacity. But now, as my belly is no longer satisfyingly rotund but instead soft and sagging, I have ceased to exist. How to Get Your Body Back. How to Erase the Parts of You We Don't Want to See. How to Look More Visually Appealing so We'll Acknowledge Your Existence. 

I'm in the shower. The temperature of the water is one degree below skin melting but still my bones feel cold. It's as though my body is so tired from lack of sleep and operating at Threat Level Eleven for so long, it lacks the ability to warm itself. Itself, not myself, because who am I and how did I end up in this vessel? I bend over to shave my legs (in some sort of bizarre act of defiance like "you can take my freedom, but you'll never take my smooth legs") and my deflated midsection droops forward. Without the pucker of my belly button, I think my middle may actually pool around my knees and the thought makes me laugh until I'm crying, laugh/sobbing mirthlessly while I scoop up handfuls of skin and attempt to mold it back in place. 

I'm introduced to a new group of parents. I'm not Hillary, I'm "Grady's mom and this is Poppy, how old is she now, is she walking yet?" I go out for an afternoon and when I'm reunited with the baby she hugs me close and I melt as I think "she really missed me!" And then she sticks her hands down my shirt while saying "num num num" as she searches for her prize. I remember to slather the baby twice a day with two different lotions to try to combat her eczema, I remember to sign permission slips and send a dollar to school for the frozen treat fundraiser and can recite the names and alter-egos of all the characters in the Marvel Universe, but I cannot remember to refill the prescription of the pill I take every day to literally keep me alive. I am reminded daily of the many different ways I've disappeared. 

I can count calories and do squats and give up sugar completely and probably, maybe, society would view me as having my body back. I could do all that if it mattered to me, I mean. I could erase the evidence that my body grew actual human beings and then delivered them into the world, full of rage and possibility. But I don't want to. My pendulous breasts and flaccid flank and hips that have been admired by more than one medical professional as "birthing hips" are my mementos, my babies my ultimate prize. To wish away the proof of how they came to be feels treacherous. 

I don't want to get my body back. At least, not in the way the glossy magazines tell me I should. I want to feel strong again. I want to feel confident and well-rested and clear-headed. I want to stop prefacing every suggestion I make with "this might be stupid but I got no sleep last night so it's the best I could come up with." I want to stop apologizing for being a disaster. I want to stop feeling like a disaster. I do not want to get my pre-baby body back. I want to get my self back.

On Ice Cream and Bras and Very Little Sleep

It is difficult, at times, to not feel like I've disappeared in motherhood. We're in the trenches of fragmented sleep, where needs outnumber the hours in the day. I am grateful for my messy, noisy life, and my messy, noisy kids, but it's a struggle to find myself amid the chaos sometimes. I used to have hobbies and interests and a full social life (and one day I will again) but right now I have motherhood. I say that with love. Frustration. Elation. Despair.

My babies are not low maintenance. Last night Penelope screamed at me, and then held her breath until her eyes rolled up into her head and her lips turned blue. Grady's independence has developed a lot since he started kindergarten but he's a sensitive kid; his emotions and big feelings require daily attention. To be clear, I'm not complaining about their bold personalities. I wouldn't change a single thing about them (that's a lie; I'd make Poppy more receptive to sleeping long stretches). But it can be a struggle on the days when both need extra attention from me. I find myself collapsing into bed, worn out from the demands of two tiny dictators, without having had a moment to just be me, Hillary, without being mommy or mamamamamamamamama. 

I'm lucky. Shawn is an attentive, engaged dad. He works hard and then comes home and builds Lego and sings songs and goes to the park. We have oodles of family support and a network of generous, supportive friends. My life is full (of love, of support, of options, of so much). And yet I feel lost sometimes. And invisible. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be. I'm not sure who I'm supposed to be. Shawn asked me what my favourite flavour of ice cream is and I answered, "vanilla?" tentatively, like a question. I can tell you what Poppy's head measurement was at her last doctor's appointment, I can tell you the names of Grady's teachers and his division number, I can tell you when both kids are due for vaccinations, dentist appointments, and new shoes, but I can't tell you what flavour of ice cream is my favourite. I used to know things, definitively, instantly. Maybe I was wrong, but that was okay. At least I had confidence in my decisions and could go from there. Now I choose the safest, easiest way out and I don't even do that with fervour or intent. Vanilla? 

I'm shopping for bras. My breasts have been through a lot and slapping on a light-support yoga bra every morning isn't doing them any favours (nor is it helpful for the non-nursing bra to be yanked down 87 times a day by a demanding Poppy). I don't need investment bras, not right now while I'm still breastfeeding and my body is changing, but I need something. It seems I have two options when it comes to nursing bras: sterile or sexy. That's it. I can be beige or buxom. And I don't want to be either. Neither feels like it fits me.

And that's the crux. Nothing feels like it fits me anymore. Or rather, I don't fit anything. This is sounding a lot more dramatic than I mean it to. I don't mean to sigh and wail at the skies that nothing is right and I'm not right and woe is me, the first mother to ever feel lost in the tumult of motherhood. It's more a realization of sorts. I need to acknowledge that this is where I'm at, and I want to be on the other side, so I need to figure out how to make that happen. I need to figure out what fits me. Maybe vanilla ice cream is my favourite. That's cool. There's nothing wrong with vanilla ice cream (except, maybe, that it's not chocolate ice cream). But I want to know that vanilla ice cream is my favourite, not just pick it because I'm exhausted and defeated. Vanilla ice cream shouldn't be a consolation prize. It should be a choice.