Experiments In Domesticity

Marriage, Motherhood & Modern Housewifery

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Moving On Up

Musicman and I have tossed around the idea of moving closer to family since I became pregnant. We definitely did not want to move while I was pregnant, as I had the most amazing midwifery care. Once Ladybug was born, moving anywhere, other than from the basement to the living room, seemed too daunting for a time.

In the last few months, our discussion about moving became more serious. With one set of parents in poor health and the other about to retire, we felt the time to make a decision was upon us. We sat down and made a list of the pros and cons, and decided that a move was in order.

Our realtor came by today and our house will be listed as of tomorrow. Sitting in our beautiful, tidy home, we both feel excited and wistful. We love our house, we have great friends here, and Edmonton has so many amenities. We are moving 600 plus kilometres, from a city of over a million inhabitants, back to our hometown of 90,000.

What tipped the scales was the idea of Ladybug being near her cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. We both had this opportunity when we were young, and we feel it is very important. We can always get another house and make new friends.

Selling a house, moving, and buying a house are stressful events for adults – imagine what it must be like for a toddler! Poor little Ladybug has been walking around the house watching me stage rooms. She points to where things used to be, makes a sound and then holds both hands up as if to say “what’s going on?”

When moving with a child, it is generally advised that you not make any other major changes to their routine. For example, don’t go from co-sleeping to a crib or toddler bed. At the new house, try to set up your child’s room first. It’s also a good idea to prepare them for the move by discussing it with them.

I expect that Ladybug will be more clingy over the next couple months and that her sleep pattern will be disturbed. She doesn’t sleep as soundly or for as long whenever change is afoot. I plan to take things slower than I would have in a pre-baby move and to give myself plenty of time to get things done.


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The Dry Season

Ladybug has been suffering from dry skin and eczema-like patches on her body. Not a huge surprise, considering I have the same issues every winter. The moisture-guzzling combination of cold weather and dry, warm forced air from the furnace leaves many of us scaly and itchy in the winter. Here are a few dry, sensitive skin tips that I have found helpful:

Around the House:
– ensure that your furnace has a humidifier and that it is working. They are not terribly difficult to replace yourself and are relatively inexpensive;
– use a portable, plug-in humidifier in your bedroom. There is some debate as to whether hot, cold or ionic is best. I went with ionic because the vapour is very fine and cool, and I thought it would be better for a baby;
– consider the type of laundry soap and fabric softener you use. The more heavily-scented, “whitening” or other tempting miracle soaps often contain harsh, skin irritating ingredients. Because Ladybug is cloth diapered, I use a laundry soda that is recommended for diapers. You should absolutely avoid fabric softener and dryer sheets if you cloth diaper because they leave a moisture repelling residue behind (on the diapers and in your dryer). I have had little static by using reusable dryer sheets. (For cloth diaper tips and tricks and some skin-friendly laundry soaps, check out the “Resources” section of the Bummis website.)

On Your Skin:
– do not bathe in really hot water. Hot water, like hot air, is drying;
– put rolled oats in a cheesecloth bag or tie them up in a washcloth for an itch-soothing soak. I found this to be a great relief when I was pregnant last winter;
– add some plant-based oil to your bath water. I like almond but plain old olive works well too;
– avoid chemically, heavily scented or otherwise “unnatural” soaps or body washes. Read the ingredients on what you plan to put on your skin. Less is more in this case. I like liquid Castile soap or Val’s Veggie Bar soap;
– after a bath or shower, massage more plant-based oil into your skin before towelling off. Coconut oil is perfect for this purpose and has the added bonus of smelling great. Do not rub your skin dry, blot it gently;
– for diaper rash, a good barrier cream is essential because it prevents the contents of your baby’s diaper from penetrating the broken skin and making the rash worse. I like Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Diaper Ointment. Look for a cream that is thick and seals the skin while repelling moisture. When the skin is not broken, I like to use an emollient, soothing cream like Weleda’s Calendula Diaper Care;
– for skin irritations, cradle cap, and minor eczema, I have had great success with DermaMed’s Baby Healing Cream. I use it on myself and on Ladybug. Musicman calls it the “magic cream”.

Finally, do not forget to drink lots of water and stay away from too much caffeine and alcohol. What you put into your body has an effect on your skin too!


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There’s a Place In France … (Part 2)

A friend who’d flown to Australia with her infant sent me off to France with her Flyebaby. Once in the air, I was glad that I had printed the instructions, as the set-up is not intuitive. It was definitely a good option for some hands-and-lap-free time en route. However, its true usefulness was to be discovered when we landed.

4. High Chair is Not Part of French Vocabulary. In the entire month we spent travelling in southern France, Ladybug sat in one high chair. The restaurant offering the chair, I think it was La Marina – though the restaurants along the Hérault in Agde all sort of blur together, advertised its availability by placing a beautifully patinated wooden affair on the quay. The siren, surely designed to beckon weary parents in search of travel respite, combined with the woman who greeted us and announced the special of the day, was all the encouragement we needed. Had I not brought the Flyebaby, I would have spent every other meal for a month with Ladybug on my lap.

Of course, the stroller might work as a meal seat for the child who does not demand to sit at the big kids’ table. Another option to which I have availed myself in a pinch is the ever useful swaddling blanket. I have used one to bind Ladybug to the chair back with great success, by wrapping it over her tummy, around the chair and tying it in back.

5. Travel Insurance is Essential When Bringing Bébé.
Once we had settled into our damp, somewhat smelly, three hundred year old rental accommodation, it became apparent that Ladybug was not only jet-lagged and unsure of her new pied à terre, she was teething and sick. To this point in her short life, she had no teeth and had never had even the slightest sniffle. Trust international travel to bring out the worst all at once!

After a week of sleepless nights and days of fording a relentless snot river, my mother insisted we find a doctor. I returned to the pharmacist who had deftly diagnosed my bad hair and recommended a product cure. He assured me that a doctor was in order, saying he could see Ladybug had an infection by looking at the puffiness under her eyes and encouraging me to at least suction the snot from her salinated nose using a modified straw that he plucked from a shelf in the rhinal section of the shop. After paying for the sucker and engaging in a round of profusely polite parting pleasantries, we were off in search of medical help.

When we arrived at the last address on the list, we were pleased to find a doctor who worked on the weekends in the off-season. We entered the building and were directed by the receptionist to climb to the next floor. No names were exchanged, no questions asked. Upon arriving upstairs, we discovered two waiting rooms for two different doctors. There was no receptionist, just people sitting quietly and patiently. I went back down to speak to the woman at the desk who told me to return upstairs and wait with no further explanation. We picked the room with less people and sat down. A few minutes later a doctor appeared in a white coat and asked for the next patient. A man stood and followed him to his office. There were no arguments or discussions about who was next or whose problem was most acute, everyone waited their turn.

When we were ushered into the doctor’s office, he indicated that we should sit on the other side of an imposing wooden desk from him. He inquired as to our particular complaint, made some notes and invited us over to the examination table. He looked in Ladybug’s ears and throat, and felt her glands, speaking only to direct me to change her positioning. When I asked a question, he held his hand up in the universally accepted “stop” position and asked me to reserve my questions for after he had given his prognosis and prescription. We returned to the desk where he wrote up four prescriptions and asked for 28 euros for his time.

Though your child may be hale and hearty, lack of sleep, change of climate and hours of breathing recirculated, disease-filled airplane air may bring on an illness. Additionally, new countries mean new germs that you and your child may not have the antibodies for. Think ahead, get travel insurance, and bring along some basic first aid supplies such as children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen (pain, fever), and children’s antihistamine (bug bites, allergies).

6. Have Fun!
The reason we travel, for the most part, is to enjoy ourselves and have new experiences. Almost every experience you throw at a small child whilst on the road will be new, try to ensure that the experiences are as enjoyable as possible by planning your activities with your child in mind.

Most toddlers, for example, will not want to spend the day at the Louvre but you may be able to squeeze in an hour or two, with snack breaks, with few protests. Most adults’ idea of personal hell is spending their precious time and hard earned coin at EuroDisney. As I mentioned earlier, there are many wonderful sights, sounds and smells to be had for free or next-to-nothing. Follow the French lead and pack a picnic lunch from the amazing variety of delicious foods available everywhere you turn, eat in a park, at the beach or along a river and take in the natural beauty of one of the world’s favourite travel destinations.

Some of my best memories are of playing in the sand and water at the Mediterranean with Ladybug or feeding the ducks along the Midi Canal our day-old bread. Slow down the pace, stop to smell the flowers and enjoy your time with your little one – having a strict agenda is bound to make for stress-filled and unhappy travel.

For older children and parents with a less restrictive budget and little planning time, there are many wonderful packaged, family-designed tours out there. For example, the American company Butterfield & Robinson offers some phenomenal, educational biking tours in France.

No matter where you go and what you decide to do, you are bound to have a lovely time in France. There is a reason that North Americans have been spending time there for centuries – go discover why for yourself!

Agde, France

Agde, France

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There’s a Place In France … (Part 1)

A friend of mine is heading to Europe for an extended visit with her twin infants and has asked for ideas of things to do while in France. Much has been written about France, travel and children. What immediately came to mind was Todd Babiak’s 2010 Learning French column from the Edmonton Journal. A serial account of family life in France simply doesn’t get much funnier, truer, and more whimsical. Alas, a quick search on the Journal’s site returns next-to-nothing. My next thought was Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon. This book represents the fruit of Gopnik’s dispatches from France to the New Yorker. Lately, there’s been an awful lot made, perhaps too much?, of Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. A personal favourite, though it has nothing to with children at all, is David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed In Flames. Any of the above will give you an introduction to the French from a North American’s perspective.

I have made many pilgrimages to France over the years, both with and sans baby, and have yet to have had a terrible time. My last visit was in September and October 2012. I travelled solo with Ladybug and made the mistake of using points. My 23 hour journey went like this: Edmonton – Heathrow – Frankfurt – Toulouse. By the time we got to the airport hotel in Toulouse, Ladybug had a meltdown the likes of which I had never seen and hope never to see again. It lasted for 2 hours and I hadn’t slept in two days. You get the picture, I’m sure. Which brings me to my first tip:

1. Know thyself and thy child. If you have never travelled with your child, have never travelled far with your child, have never crossed time zones with your child, or have never been on a plane with your child, make it easy on yourself. Book the flight with the least amount of stops. Bring an adult companion with you. Ask for a seat at the bulkhead or one with an extra seat open next to it. A perfectly rational child may become a snivelling mess when a mile high. You may become a three-headed monster when seriously sleep-deprived. The only way to know how you and your child will travel is to go travelling.

Once we got on the train to Agde the next morning, we were both slightly more composed. The train is an excellent way to travel in France and many parts of Europe. It also eliminates the need to lug around a carseat.

2. Kids are currency with French public services, if you can find the right information. Before we left, I did a fair amount of research on train travel. I purchased something called the Carte Enfant+ for 75 euros. It is available to children under 12 and is valid for one year from the start date of usage. The card entitles the child card-bearer to a free seat on the train when accompanied by an adult. It also entitles up to 4 people to accompany the child and receive a minimum of 25% off their fares and up to 50% off certain journeys. These people do not have to be related to the child and can be of any age. My parents qualified for seniors’ pricing but this card proved more economical than the seniors’ discount. Certain trains even have Espaces Familles which are like your own private room reserved for families. For more information, click here.

Children under 18 are admitted free to most national monuments and museums in France. If you are planning to visit a lot of sites there are multi-day passes available to adults that really cut costs. However, if you are there in the late spring, summer or early fall, there are many lovely outdoor opportunities that won’t cost you a cent. Walk the lavender markets in Provence, stroll along the Seine in Paris … but leave your stroller at home.

3. Be prepared to get some serious exercise. As anyone who has ever been in the metro in Paris or any train station in France will tell you, accessibility is a huge problem. Many stations have stairs, stairs everywhere and not an escalator in sight. I brought an amazing, light umbrella stroller for my mother to use with Ladybug. It was a pain in the airport, on the plane, on the train, on the cobblestones, in pubs … you get the picture. I did see French women blithely pushing their progeny is strollers whilst sucking on cigarettes, in skinny jeans and stilettos, but I found it much easier to navigate with my carrier and sensible shoes. I definitely did not see anyone anywhere with those gigantic “jogging” strollers women here are so fond of.

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Wipe Out!

I am all about cutting costs when it comes to baby products, and very interested in reducing the massive carbon footprint that accompanies every North American bundle of joy (fun facts can be found here). Most of Ladybug’s clothing, furniture, and other baby accoutrements are hand-me-downs from friends or amazing Kijiji.com finds.

I knew I would use cloth diapers long before I knew I was pregnant. Modern cloth diapers are wonderful and nothing like your mother’s massive, shapeless cotton swaths that required pins, “rubber pants”, and a PhD in Origami to hold back the relentless offerings of a well-fed newborn. Choosing a diaper today is a head spinning decision for a mother-to-be. I ended up going with the advice of a friend who, although I have mixed feelings about the PUL fabric, did not steer me wrong. I would advise waiting until your baby is born, trying a few different styles, and choosing the one that works best for you, fits your budget, fits your babe, and doesn’t hurt your conscience. Of course, there is always Elimination Communication but that is a topic for another day …

A dear friend asked me about wipes when she was expecting, and has asked me to share my set-up here. I use cotton flannel wipes that I purchased locally. They are manufactured by Gabby’s, an Ontario swim diaper company. Ambitious and crafty types can certainly make their own out of just about any natural, absorbent material (hemp, bamboo, etc.). Cut the fabric in squares (mine are about 6″ square), and serge around the outer edges.

For solution, I use a cup of water with 2 tablespoons Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap, 2 tablespoons almond oil, a few drops of tea tree oil (anti-bacterial), and a few drops of lavender oil (soothing). Mix the whole shebang in a mason jar. I put the wipes in a sealable glass container, pour the solution over them, and keep them in a handy location. I find this covers around 20 – 25 wipes, and I use them fast enough that nothing funky happens to them.

The equation above is extremely versatile: you could use a different type of carrier oil (calendula is a great, healing choice), you could change up the essential oils to your liking, you could add skin savers like aloe vera; and you could put the solution in a spray bottle, or a sports top bottle, and apply to wipes or directly to the babe’s bottom as needed (this will likely only work if you have a placid and cooperative little one).

If you are heading out on the town, do not resign yourself to wetting down the sandpaper-dressed-as-toilet-paper most public washrooms offer up. Wet a few wipes and put them in a mini wet bag, or one of those cute reusable, washable waterproof sandwich bags, and toss that in your diaper bag. Alternately, fill a travel-size bottle with solution and bring along some dry wipes. Either way, you’ve got a quick, easy, and inexpensive solution to a dirty problem.



Be Gentle With Yourself

An on-going topic of conversation with the mothers I know is how much we are (or are not) getting done. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on mothers to be, and do, it all. Some of this pressure comes from within ourselves, some is imposed through the relentless comparison we inflict upon ourselves when we look at other women’s lives, and some is external and largely beyond our control.

We all know the woman with the fat dollar career, immaculate home, amazing figure, and perfect relationship. Or we think we do … I think it is important to remember that we do not know what goes on behind the scenes. Despite media and corporate promises, you simply cannot have it all and you cannot be perfect all the time.

The relief I feel when another mother lets down her guard and admits her imperfection is a rather sad comment on the state of motherhood these days. Trolling parenting sites, I frequently read women condemning other women’s choices. No wonder it’s so scary to open up and admit we are human. Outward criticism, coupled with the insecurity many of us feel as parents, results in a doozy of a shame complex.

Over the last year, I have been amazed at just how much time and effort caring for one little human being entails. I was formerly a gal who could get a lot done in 24 hours, and had energy to spare. I am now a mama who may still be in her bathrobe at supper time, occasionally cries as she wipes avocado from her hair, and often sleepwalks to bed at 8 PM. And, that is perfectly normal, acceptable and okay. Thankfully, every day is different, and provides new and exciting challenges.

I try to remember that Ladybug will only be a baby for a fleeting and minuscule amount of time. I want to be with her as much as I can for the few years that we have together and, most importantly, to enjoy that time. For me, that means letting go of perfection, not comparing my achievements to those around me, and having a mother’s helper come in for two hours a week to spend time with Ladybug while I catch up on things that go by the wayside (bill payment, cleaning, grooming, snoozing, etc.).

I have a magnet on my fridge that contains helpful advice from the Desiderata, which I remind myself of daily: “Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. In the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.”


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Too Attached?

When out and about with Ladybug in the carrier, I am often stopped by older women who exclaim about how much is available to mothers these days and how few options they had when they were raising their little ones. As I’ve stated in previous posts, I am not a believer that “more” necessarily equals “better”.

Many of the trappings of modern motherhood seem to be designed with the “busy” or “on-the-go” mother in mind and offer little for the developing child. Such is our mindset, women are expected to be juggling a home, family, partnership, and career, and also remembering to take time for themselves. Something inevitably gets left behind.

Attachment theory is not new and there is a slew of good, evidence-based information available explaining why the bond between an infant and a loving caregiver is vital in creating healthy, well-adjusted human beings. I believe this is important to keep in mind when evaluating any new or “essential” or “mom-approved” product. Is it going to promote the attachment bond or will it allow me to get further away from my baby?

Popular thought on parenting seems to prize independence – the earlier the better – with little regard for what is appropriate for the child. Of course, we all want to raise children who are independent, productive members of society. However, infancy and toddlerhood are not the time to seek independence. Children will gradually come to autonomy when it is appropriate – they do not need to be trained or pushed to do so.

I try to remember, when I just want an hour alone, that some day in the near future I may be wishing that my baby needed me a little bit more.