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Monday, February 27, 2012

Baked with Love

Mom, how do babies pop out?
The little guy is 18 months now, and I'm talking about the tiny one who was always sleeping in the corner or creeping around undetected while the big sister and big brother were photographed doing fun and/ or mischievous things. This is a short memoir of my third mat leave (one year maternity leave from my job to care for a newborn and a 3 year old and 4 year old).

Start the day running
I never used an alarm clock for the past four years. Someone will either cry or tap on the shoulder to say, "It's morning time mommy" or "Great day for up!".  Never a dull moment, brushing my teeth or doing my makeup with copycats. I felt like I was always on high alert to deconflict someone's immediate or urgent request or scanning for choking hazards. I even remember breaking up a fight between Maggie and AJ with one free hand while breastfeeding Lincoln with the other hand. The only quiet time was when one or two of the three were napping or everyone was busy stuffing their face with snacks. And that was my time to begin dinner preps at 10 AM!

Keeping the kids occupied during a typical day was not the hard part. Even getting dressed and out the door on time was not an issue cuz we didn't have any real strict timelines other than playgroups or a daily trip to the park to burn up the morning, or an impromptu trip to Chapters or the Library. Multiple wakeups in the night from one child or another or all three; easy to recover cuz I have developed an essential survival skill to fall asleep instantly and refresh from cumulative hours of interrupted sleep. Sweeping a million times a day, folding two or three loads of laundry a day every two days, organizing toys by categories...  a piece of cake. Getting Maggie to practise piano and be happy about yet, yah getting harder (that's another story).  I think my greatest challenge was cooking lunch and dinner without grudgery. What upset me the most was seeing my efforts unappreciated or uneaten.  One time when dad came home from work late he said, "I have soccer tonight, I'm not eating" I almost imagined his head was a soccer ball. It was insane that I had to feel trapped in the kitchen while I longed to play with my kids.  Eventually I figured out a system. Enlisting the help of junior chefs!

Kids Can Cook
I let AJ measure out two scoops of rice.  Maggie's favorite tasks were to help with washing vegetables and rice.  They also took turns to set the table after I figured out how to reorganize my kitchen to make their own plates, cups and cutlery more accessible.  I did a lot of my cooking in the oven; anything that I could just throw in the oven and it would magically be completed without having to stand at the stove: fish and chips, pizza, roast, shake and bake, baked mac and cheese you name it. Steamed dim sum and buns worked well too.

Baking gingerbread men, building a gingerbread house, oatmeal raisin cookies, lemon cake, rainbow sparks cheesecake and just about every recipe in that Kids Do Baking or Kids Do Healthy Lunches Cookbook by Company's Coming.  My most clever strategy was to plant the recipe books in the series in kids bookshelf among their other board books. Lots of clever discussions on food groups and nutrition and healthy bone growth.  My daughter was obsessed with skeletons and the fact that, "If I eat more food, my skeleton will grow stronger. See, my skeleton is growing stronger and stronger!"

Creative Play
Crafts - working with scissors and glue. Painting - I needed to buy two easels and lots of paper and crayola paints. We have hard wood floors but I'm still pretty amazed that we never spilled any paints or water. Dress up time - I collected all kinds of dress up clothes in a giant tupper ware bin.

Buzz is having a Tea Party with Snow White

Paper plate craft: building four trees from four seasons.

Only if the stars were aligned and that happened probably only twice when all three kids and myself took a nap at exactly the same time. Lincoln used to take 3 to 6 naps a day, he was easy to fall asleep on his own. As for the other two, there would be a magic window of time within half hour after eating lunch when a food coma would kick in and one of Maggie or AJ would suddenly be tired enough to fall asleep upon me singing Lullaby. Usually it would be after Zaboomafu on TVO kids, just pure timing.  I also discovered that it if Maggie asked to watch an educational DVD such as "Trebellina" or "Baby Gizmo ABC 123 Canadian Geography", and if I left her to get the other brother to sleep, well she would be passed out with her blankie with classical music playing in the background. They still learned something because I put a map of Canada and they started naming provinces, their favorite being "Saskatchewan". Cute! Don't get me wrong, we don't watch TV all the time.

Alas we included Lincoln for the dress up time. His new word these days "mon-a" as in monster.
Potty Time!
I have to say there were times when I could not sit down to eat lunch because Maggie would decide she had to go poo upstairs, and AJ would run to the bathroom downstairs to do the same, leaving Lincoln screaming alone in the high chair, possibly making his own diaper mess too. And if it was a calm lunch one day, then this same scenario woud happen at dinner instead. Where is dad, well working late and he gets to eat his dinner in peace while I am bathing all three kids in the big bathtub.  Good times for a year!

Work Time!
However I always had the mindset and the expectation that I would do this only for a year.  I've been back at work for over half a year now. It's kinda nice that Maggie and Lincoln wave good bye to me and give me flying kisses, while wishing me a great day at work. I have a wonderful nanny caregiver who takes care of the kiddies and general household operations. Maggie goes to JK in the afternoon class by school bus, and Lincoln still takes two naps a day so this works out well for him. I bring AJ to Montessori school each morning and he's gone all day until Brian or I pick him up. I guess I see them from 5 to 8pm each day but I make the most of it. I am more patient and calm than I ever was. Well you just have to be.

I did not entirely have to go through mat leave alone though.  I did rack up more than $4,000 in part time babysitting fees, worth every penny for my sanity. I eventually signed up Maggie and AJ for preschool on the army base from 8 AM to 1 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while I could take some time for myself, or rather watch Lincoln and do errands with him in tow.  I had a granny in the nieghborhood come in for an hour to watch Lincoln while I had to get myself and the kids ready and off to school.  She also came to help me for two hours on most afternoons while I was teaching piano and cooking dinner. And their original nanny would come in for half a day while I napped, shopping or just hid in my cave.

One time, it was so overwhelming that I dropped them off at the army base (same place as the school) for a Thursday afternoon/ night babysitting, all three with dinner packed, and I just went home to sleep. I did leave a note for dad so he wouldn't be concerned with the house mysteriously quiet, all the kids missing and I'm asleep.

Now that Brian's work schedule is more normal, I eventually learned to share responsibilities with Brian and not just bring everything on myself. Now he has the dinner duty while I'm teaching piano, and he gives them the bath while I clean up the kitchen. We're getting better at tiger team-ing.

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