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January 6, 2010

On my newfound trekker, newfound confidence, and the mystery of defensive mothering

Oh, if I could go back seven months, what a lot of things I’d have to say to the me I was then. I would urge that shattered, messed up girl to, “Get thee to a lactation consultant” a week sooner than I actually did, and advocate better for myself and baby whilst in the hospital, and promise myself that life as we knew it was not gone, gone, gone forever more.

I would also tell myself to run out and buy a Baby Trekker. I know why we didn’t in the first place– I thought Baby Bjorn was the end in baby carriage, but that $150 was too pricey. Since then, I’ve learned that you get your money’s worth, and that Bjorn’s not where it’s at anyway. We’ve had the Trekker for about three weeks now, and I’ve used it every day (it’s snowsuit friendly!), whether to haul Harriet around the neighbourhood, or to cook dinner with her happily strapped to my back (and this has improved our quality of life more than I can ever describe).

If I could go back about six months, I’d tell myself to START PUTTING THE BABY TO BED EARLY. That she doesn’t have “a fussy period between 7:00 and bedtime”, but that she’s screaming for us to put her to bed then. Of course, I wouldn’t have believed myself then, and even once we’d figured it out, it took another six weeks to learn how to actually get it done. This, like everything, was knowledge we had to come to on our own. And most of motherhood is like that, I’ve found, and it seems to be for my friends as well, which is why all my well-meaning, hard-earned advice is really quite useless to them. But even knowing that we have it in us to do so, to figure it out, I mean, is certainly something worth pointing out.

Even more useful than my Trekker, I think, the best piece of baby equipment I’ve acquired lately is confidence. I had reservations with Naomi Stadlen’s book, but she was right about this: “If [the new mother] feels disoriented, this is not a problem requiring bookshelves of literature to put right. No, it is exactly the right state of mind for the teach-yourself process that lies ahead of her.” Though it actually was the bookshelves of literature that showed me I could go my own way, mostly due to the contradictory advice by “authorities” in each and every volume. (Oh, and I also read Dreambabies, which made it glaringly obvious that baby expertise is bunk.)

Solid food was the turning point though. I have three baby food cookbooks and they’re all reputable, and each is good in its own way, but they agree on nothing. When to start solids, what solids to start on, and when/how to introduce other foods, and on and on. It was good, actually, because I found that whenever I wanted to feed the baby something, at least one of the books would give me permission to do so. So I decided to throw all the rules out the window, and as teaching Harriet to enjoy food as much as I have the power to do so is important to me, I decided we would make up our own rules. As we’ve no history of food allergies in our families, and Harriet is healthy, we opted not to systematize her eating. We’ve fed her whatever we’ve taken a fancy to feeding her, without rhyme or reason, including blueberries, strawberries, fish, chicken, toast, cheese, beans, chickpeas, smoothies, squash, broccoli, spinach, spaghetti, and cadbury’s chocolate, and she’s devoured it all.

Okay, I lied about the chocolate. But the point is that my instincts told me that this was the best way to feed our baby, what made the most sense, and so I tried it and we’re all still alive. And it was liberating to know that the baby experts could be defied– I really had no idea that was even allowed. That as a mother, there could be something I knew about my child and our family that an entire panel of baby experts didn’t. And we can go onward from there.

What has surprised me, however, is that confidence hasn’t done much to reduce my defensive-mothering. You know, feeling the need to reassert oneself whenever someone makes different choices that you do. How not going back to work, for example, makes me feel like a knob, and moms going back to work feel threatened that I’m not, and we keep having to explain ourselves to the other, in fitful circles that take us nowhere.

It’s not just working vs. not working, of course. It’s everything, and this past while I figured it was my own lack of confidence that was making me so defensive. The best advice I’ve received lately is, “Never be too smug or too despairing, because someone else is doing better and worse than you are.” And it was good to keep in mind that any residual smugness was due to probably due to feelings of inadequacy anyway.

Anyway, it’s not just inadequacy, inferiority. Even the decisions I feel confident about prompt defensiveness when other mothers do differently, and now not because I’m unsure of myself, but because I’m so damn sure of myself that I’m baffled when you don’t see it the way I do. And there’s this line we’re meant to spout in these sorts of situations, to imply a lack of judgement. We’re meant to say, about our choices: “It’s what’s best for our family”, but that’s the most sanctimonious load of crap I’ve ever heard. Some things, yes, like me not going back to work, are best for our family, but other things, the other “choices” we’ve made: I’d prescribe them to everyone, and that not everyone is lining up for my prescriptions drives me absolutely mad.

Mom-on-mom action continues to fascinate, nonetheless. There are politics like nothing else, like nothing in the world of men, I think. It brings out the best and the worst in me, and I don’t think I’m the only one. And I doubt the action is going to be letting up anytime soon.

January 6, 2010

Avocado mishaps and literary avocados

A mishaps during Sunday’s trip to the grocery store led to me bringing home ten avocados when I really only meant to buy one, and so it’s avocado city here these days, as we seek to use them up before they get riper than ripe (read: rotten). Which is sort of easy, because we have a baby, and avocados are nature’s baby food, but even she doesn’t need that much avocado, so we’ve also been indulging in avocado milkshakes, avocado pizza, avocado scones, and my new favourite discovery– avocado bread, which might just be the best thing in the universe. I’ve adapted the recipe as per the reviewer’s comment to add a bit more sugar, and then I forget about the sugar and pretend that this is a healthy treat, because avocado is the good fat, after all.

So the point is that I’m totally obsessed with avocados, and have been thinking about bookish ones. I remembered this piece from the London Review of Books about Californian agriculture and avocado orchards: “Avocados have always been the icon of San Diego’s countryside (which produces much of the US harvest) and if the remaining growers are forced to sell out, the past will become as inaccessible as the future will be combustible.”

In terms of books, there is Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado (which I once wrote about here). The famously dirty Wetlands that had an avocado on its cover. We have a picture book called Avocado Baby by John Burningham. I wrote a poem about avocados during my Poetic April back in 2008. Googling, I found this ode to the avocado by Richard Wireck in a literary journal called r.kv.r.y. “O Avocado Avocado”, in which the author asked to be slathered, buried “in God’s sweet, gold pudding, the very butter of paradise.” And YA author called Daniel Pinkwater wrote a book called The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death. A further web search brings me to Avocado: Botany, Production and Uses, which sounds a bit boring, and Sex and the Avocado, which sounds less so, until you realize it’s written by the author of 105-Plus Guacamole Dip Recipes.

Which is nowhere near enough. What other literary avocados am I missing? Forgive me for not coming up with more on my own, but I’ve got another loaf to bake.

October 9, 2009

Clare/Lawler Thanksgiving Menu


Butternut Squash Soup
Grandma Reynolds’ tea biscuits
Roast turkey with blue potatoes and rainbow carrots
Sweet potato sausage stuffing
Steamed broccoli
Cranberry sauce
Apple Pie

August 12, 2009

August

March 3, 2009

Addendum

This occurred to me yesterday as I was making my lunch, as an addendum to the Life-Changing Books list. That I must note Beverly Clearly’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Because ever since reading it many years ago, I have been unable to crack a hardboiled egg any other way except slap against my forehead.

December 23, 2008

Dessert Trends Bistro

In the past week, I’ve eaten at Dessert Trends Bistro three times, and I think I’m going back for lunch tomorrow. This making clear that I go out for meals far too often, and that I’m a creature of habit, but I really must emphasize how good the restaurant is.

The restaurant is also around the corner from my house, which is convenient in a snowstorm (as has often been the case of late). Light and airy on even the greyest day, the first sight that greets you when you walk in the door is a feast of desserts that will blow your mind. (Pictured here are Berry Box, and Raspberry Chocolate Tarts, which are two tried tested favourites). The array of desserts making clear why one might want to come four times a week, to leave no selection untasted. I’ve never chosen a dessert that wasn’t delicious.

But the main-course selections are truly exquisite. I had lamb-shank with couscous and rapini last weekend, grilled vegetable sandwich (with wild mushroom soup on the side) when I was in for lunch, and braised short ribs with pasta when I had dinner last. Each meal really was an eye-rolling delight. Dinners come with bread and three kind of dips– white bean, hummus and jalapeno– that are quickly devoured. Service isn’t always quick, but I’m never in a hurry. That food can be this good is a treat, and consistently so is a miracle.

October 27, 2008

Last Night

Last night, after a good ten years of meaning to get around to it, I finally had dinner at Country Style Hungarian Restaurant on Bloor Street. Partly to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, of course, but also because I was hankering after an enormous plate of chicken paprikash and dumplings. Delicious. They serve schnitzel at that place that is bigger than your head. Also surprising: that we had to wait a good twenty minutes before we got a table. And we were the youngest people there, which is unusual for a downtown restaurant. It was full of the most normal middle-aged people I’d ever seen in my life– not a hipster in sight! I hope the decor continues to be never ever updated, because it was so perfect. The food was amazing, and since I want to try everything on the menu, we’ll be going back again.

November 22, 2007

Spouts

Now reading Janette Turner Hospital’s Orpheus Lost, which comes with music and intrigue and has me caught in its grip. More to come on that, and then I’m reading The Great Man by Kate Christensen. Before I start off on my non-fiction binge; I’ve got planned Beijing Confidential by Jan Wong, Villa Air Bel by Rosemary Sullivan, The Dirt on Clean by Katherine Ashenburg, and finally Guns Germs and Steel because it’s about bleeding time.

And just as I’m on about Kate Christensen, Maud Newton gives us her recipe for brussels sprouts. Naturally. (Did you know the most mortifying incident of my whole life involved brussels sprouts? And a dog. Naturally). She will be posting more recipes by writers to come. How exciting. They were celebrating the Gardiner Expressway in the paper this weekend. How refreshing, and as you might know, I concur. Guardian blogger rereading Bookers past. Costa Prize first novel shortlist includes Gifted (which I’ve read) and The Golden Age (still ahead).

October 6, 2007

Lunch

I had some marvelous lunches this week, and would like to pass on some recommendations. Dessert Trends Bistro at Harbord and Brunswick is as lovely inside as it looks from without. I had a roasted eggplant and tomato sandwich on olive bread, which came with a side salad and figs. Dessert was too much to choose from, which only means I now have to return again and again. I had a chocolate pear cake, which did not disappoint, and next time I shall go for the mango raspberry tart. And then yesterday I had lunch at Mangiacake on McCaul just south of Baldwin. As temperatures remain especially not autumnal, we sat out on the back patio, and I had a roasted vegetable sandwich, and a mediterranean salad (I do love feta). The food was amazing, service could not have been friendlier/more efficient, and we had their brownies for dessert, and everyone was particularly satisfied. Lunches are such a pleasure, and if you take yours at either of these establishments, they won’t be wasted.

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