The Missing Piece

To others it is “just a painting” hanging on my fridge. Just another piece of art by yet another child. To me it is a miracle. A victory. A reason to believe.

As a teacher, I have had no shortage of “kid art” on my fridge. For several years while my husband and I struggled to have our own child, I proudly displayed the paintings, drawings, yarn, macaroni and tinfoil masterpieces lovingly presented to me by my students and by friends’ children. I was given so many that I had to cycle through them so that each child would get to be featured in my kitchen gallery, as promised. I always followed through on my word.

I overfilled my fridge with the photos and artwork of other peoples’ children because it helped to hide the baby-shaped hole in my heart. I told myself that I was happy and blessed to have the opportunity to have so many amazing children in my life. And I was blessed. And grateful for the blessing. But I wasn’t truly happy.

I remember wondering what it would be like to have a child of our own creating art. Would I eventually be like the first grade parents, sighing when my little gaffer came home with yet another plasticine spaceship or fingerpainted rainbow? Would I take time to create art with my child or be too busy with “more important things” to ever get around to it? Would I be able to get over my desire for cleanliness and structure to allow my child to really enjoy the creative process?

More importantly–would I ever have the chance to see art created by our own child? Or would our fridge gallery always have a void, a piece missing from the collection?

The first time I proudly hung an ultrasound photo of Willow on the fridge I wept with joy to see our own child featured in “the gallery”. A few months later I was able to hang a photo of our baby girl, and I wept again. Last night I hung her first painting and… you guessed it… I wept. Body shaking, soul cleansing, full out sobs of gratitude for our miracle. The missing piece is finally up. The gallery is complete.

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Frugality: The “mother” of invention

This week I have been the “mother of invention”.

I invented a lumbar support cushion out of torn yoga pants. I could have given Obus Forme a bunch of money for what is undoubtably an amazing and well-researched product, but instead I searched in my closet for suitable material and went to town… I used elastic bands and shoelaces to tie the ends in a fancy way and used a strip of stretchy yoga pant material to create an adjustable sling to go over a chair or backrest. No sewing required! It looks half decent and works like a dream.

I have been experiencing some back issues of late and am having a hard time carrying Willow for more than a few minutes at a time. Having roofers working on our building has been a loud experience, and loud noises are on Willow’s “top ten reasons I need to be snuggled and carried” list. I could give Ergo Baby $160 for their amazing 360 carrier which evenly distributes baby’s weight to shoulders and hips and allows baby to sit in a more natural seated position instead of dangling from their crotch… OR I could combine the Hippy Chick hipseat and Baby Bjorn carrier (both free hand me downs) to create a carrier that doesn’t aggravate my back, allows for both inward and outward facing carry positions, and still allows baby to sit comfortably in a position which will not cause hip dysplasia. It looks a bit funny and involves extra steps to get on, but it works. (I also have an Ellaroo Mei Tai carrier that is a hand me down, but she enjoyed it more as a newborn and is not digging the inward facing carry these days. I am hoping to get her in the Mei Tai to wear her like a backpack when she is a bit bigger. But I digress).

Who needs brand name baby powder when one can buy a giant box of generic corn starch and put it in a salt shaker?

Why pay big bucks for expensive baby-safe, chemical-free moisturizers and massage/bath oil (or $12 a tube nipple cream for that matter) when you can just keep a bulk jar of the cheapest brand of coconut oil on your change table? It is great for cradle cap, baby acne, minor diaper rashes and dry or chafed skin… and it smells delicious!

My husband took a packed lunch to work the other day that cost 19 cents per serving to make. Vegan stew, my friends. All of the amino acids you need, along with calcium, iron, fibre, and all manner of vitamins. Filling. Delicious. Freezes and reheats well. Crock pots are awesome. I can throw things in when Willow is happiest to entertain herself in a bouncer or on a play mat without tears and we have a full meal by dinner time.

I was getting sick of the cords/cables in the living room and created a “charging station” out of the fabric-covered cardboard box that our bed sheets (a wedding gift) came in. I was not willing to pay $100 for a charging station.

We haven’t paid for cable television in years. Netflix is under ten dollars per month, for when we need a “tv fix” (although my daughter is far more fun to watch than any TV show). We switched to a VOIP unlimited phone and internet provider for about $30 per month a few years back.

Do I buy paper towels, tissues and toilet paper in bulk when they are on sale? You bet I do! Do I buy the crazy huge bulk bag of cat food that takes up half of my office space? Guilty. Do I lurk around the store at the end of the week searching for the giant bulk packs of chicken the day before they expire when they are 50% off, to separate into baggies and freeze for later? Absolutely.

My home economics teacher had us calculate how much it would cost to have a baby for the first year of its life as a grade eight take home project. She criticized my assignment because she said it was not a realistic portrayal of the costs of raising a child. I had said that I would use cloth diapers, that I would make my own baby food, that I would accept hand me downs of toys, furniture and clothing and buy second hand for anything I could not get for free. These were the days before networks such as frugal mommy, kijiji and freecycle internet communities existed, but I distinctly remember wearing hand me down clothes from our neighbour’s son, buying toys at garage sales, and shopping at the Salvation Army thrift store as a child, so I knew that it was possible to spend less.

Mrs. Fittante, if you are reading this, please know that I made good on my promise to raise a child on a limited budget, and that it is indeed possible to feed, clothe and care for an infant without spending ridiculous sums of money. I am a frugal mommy, and I would rather put money in an RESP than in the hands of retailers. I would rather put a roof over my head (quite literally) than fill my house with shiny new toys or clothing. I would rather read my daughter well loved used books than spend money on brand new ones. She doesn’t know the difference and she is certainly not suffering as a result.

As Willow outgrows clothing and other gear I get to pass things along to other mommies in my community. It’s a great system, and it will be a good lesson for her in doing more with less, and in sharing resources and being part of a network of support. 🙂

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Devaluing the Childless and Childfree

My husband and I were driving to his work the other morning and noticed a “baby en route” bumper sticker in the shape of a bottle. A pregnant woman’s version of the “baby on board” bumper sticker that will surely follow.

“Oh, I guess you should make a point of NOT hitting that car now that we know there may be a pregnant person riding in it…” I sighed.

We often laugh about this kind of thing. Do people actually think that a bumper sticker announcing that a pregnant woman is driving a car will somehow make the rest of us drive more carefully? Are there perhaps people going out of their way to murder others on the highway who suddenly change their minds when they see a quaint little “baby on board” sign hanging in the back window?

Does this mean that it is okay to drive recklessly around motorists who are NOT pregnant or parenting?

As we continued on our journey we turned to a news radio station. We heard about a road construction accident in which a worker was killed by a reckless driver. The radio announcer claimed that it was a tragedy because the man was the father of two children.

Would it not have been a tragedy if the construction worker was a single student on a work placement or a married woman without children? In other words, are we placing higher value on the lives of certain people based on their ability or choice to reproduce?

Whether or not we mean for it to be this way, our language helps to shape our cultural attitudes toward people in our society. Our language also sometimes subtly reflects cultural attitudes that are not always explicitly stated.

Was I less important of a human being when I did not have a child? I certainly hope not. One could actually argue that I was actually contributing more to our community (in measureable ways, at least) when I was not pregnant and did not have a child of my own, including working as a full time teacher and paying taxes, working on my Union executive, volunteering on various committees, being a regular part of my church community, etc. My role as a mother has changed the ways in which I can afford to spend my time. I now often rely on the support of others who do not have small children to help me. I have traded spaces. My role as a mother in our society is still very important, but I would be foolish to think that my life is somehow more valuable than a childless or childfree person’s just because I am now a parent.

There are millions of people who are silently grieving an inability to have children. There are many people who have chosen to live childfree and are facing discrimination as a result. It is often implied (intentionally or otherwise) that these people are worth less than their parenting counterparts, and I find this very upsetting.

A childless or childfree teacher has likely been instrumental in your own emotional/social health or that of someone you care about. Think about some of the amazing education workers who lovingly and freely give their time before and after school to tutor or run activities, who give up their lunch or prep time to console broken-hearted teens or junior kindergarten students who miss mommy. Think about that amazing childless or childfree godparent, aunt or uncle who gives up so much of his or her personal time and resources to be there for a child in need. Think about all of the Sunday School Teachers and Big Brothers and Big Sisters who are childless or childfree… the ones who seem to have endless energy and love to give to the children in their care. Nurses, outreach workers, therapists, ECEs, counsellors, child and youth workers… Some of the best ones I know have the time and energy to be amazing with children because they do not have a second job (parenting) waiting for them when they get home.

Thank goodness our world is made up of so many different types of people. Thank goodness we have parents and non-parents alike who are willing and able to love and nurture our children and their parents. It takes a village… and each of us in that village is important and valuable, whether or not we have children of our own.

Note: Since publishing this post a few days ago I have had a huge response from some childfree forum folks. First off, thank you so much for reading and responding to this post. I had no idea that this post would capture the interest of more than my regular 25 readers (mostly my family members and a handful of friends, with a few bonus twitter and blogger pals).

Secondly, I wanted to address a few concerns that have been expressed:

-Although not explicitly stated in this post, please know that my CF friends are valued whether or not they have any interest in my child or in the children of others. Their worth is not defined by what they can “give” me as a parent.
-I do not believe that CF adults should be expected to take on more responsibilities than parents in the workplace or in the community simply because they are not parents. This is discriminatory and unfair. I really resented it when a coworker once told me that I should be volunteering to do more evening activities because I “didn’t have kids” (as a parent, she excused herself from said activities).
-My expressions of gratitude for those CF people in my life who have positively impacted my life or my child’s life are just that: expressions of gratitude. They are not meant to degrade, offend, or otherwise upset anyone. They are not meant to imply that you are not a good person if you are not contributing in the same way, or that you should be compensating for your lack of offspring in some way. It takes ALL kinds of people to make our world a beautiful place in which to live. Perhaps you helped a friend through a tough divorce. Perhaps you’re the person others go to when they need advice, a cup of tea, a hug, or a power tool. Perhaps you care for animals or are amazing with numbers. Perhaps you make a point of smiling at the homeless guy at the subway station every morning and you secretly make his day. You don’t have to be volunteering with preemies at the hospital to make this world a better place, or to be seen as a valued part of our society. Your life is worth just as much as the nun reading to disadvantaged kids.
-For those of you who have suffered when parenting friends suddenly ditched you for other parenting friends… Boo to your “friends”!!! Real friends will want to spend time with you because they care about you, not what you are willing or able to contribute to their child. You have the right to ask them to not discuss the contents of their child’s diaper (eww), and to converse with you about other (less gross) topics unrelated to their offspring.

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