Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dear S.;

Dear S.;

I have been writing this letter in my head for almost 14 months, and it's time to put it on paper, because within the next couple of weeks you will be going to be leaving us to go live with your forever family.  You won't remember anything I tell you now, and I don't know if I will ever see you again to tell you these things.

Some day I'm sure you will ask your Mom and Dad about your birth parents, because people always wonder about that.  But, I don't know if it will ever occur to you to ask them who you lived with before you came to live with them.  I've been choosing pictures lately for your Life Book, and I've picked a few that have me in them, holding you.  I have to admit that I want you to notice me in those pictures, and ask who I am.  "Is that my real Mom?", I imagine you asking, wanting to needle your adoptive mother.  "No", she'll tell you, "that was one of your foster parents".

Foster homes are sometimes in the news in a bad way.  You hear about kids being "shuffled from foster home to foster home", and you might wonder whether that happened to you, since you won't remember it.  Even in the "good news" stories you hear about people who have fostered hundreds of children over decades, and as adults we wonder how they can be devoted.  As a child you might wonder whether they had time to love and care for them all, or whether it was a revolving door of kids, interchangeable like the shoes and backpacks that get handed down from kid to kid.

I wanted to tell you how it was with us.  My husband - we called him your Uncle Mike - and I had only been foster parents for less than a year.  You were our second placement, and you were our first baby.  They called me on a Wednesday and said "We have a infant born yesterday, and he's being discharged from the hospital tomorrow".  They told me how much you weighed - over 8 pounds - and that your Apgars were 9 and 9, which meant you seemed pretty healthy in the first few minutes after being born.  They asked "Does that sound okay?", I said "sure!" and ran around the rest of the day, excitedly telling family and friends and running out to the grocery store to buy formula and a sleeper that I knew would fit.  I picked up bottles and clothes from one friend, and another friend dropped off diapers and other stuff she knew I would need.  I was SO excited to be having a baby to hold and love and feed and take care of.

You came the next day.  Your worker brought you from the hospital.  You were wearing a yellow sleeper and hand-knitted hat, and one of those cozy things that zips over a carseat, since it was February, after all.  You were sound asleep in the carseat, a tiny bundle of brand-new person.  Your worker and I had lots to talk about, and eventually you woke up and started crying a little bit.  I picked you up and you stopped, so I kept holding you in my arms.  Before your worker left she stressed how important it was for you to attach to me, so that you could transfer that attachment to another mother later on.  I looked down at you and said "I think we were attached the minute I picked him up".  I decided that I would be your Auntie Kay, because someone else someday would be your Mom, and I didn't want to take her title.

I hope the Life Book tells the story of the next 14 months better than I could in a letter.  We took you everywhere, not just the park and the library but to parties, concerts, and restaurants.  You met the entire extended family on both sides, because you were with us for a whole calendar year and got to go to every family celebration, whether it was a summer weekend at Uncle Mike's Mom's trailer or Christmas at my parents' place.  Everybody thought you were just the cutest thing, and wanted to hold you.  We loved you just as if you were our own baby, and you didn't spend a single night away from us until you had your first overnight with your adoptive family.

My son is 15, and I do remember what it was like when he was born and he was a baby.  If I ever had doubts whether someone could love an adopted child or step-child in the same way they loved one that was biologically theirs, you cleared them away in a hurry.  You brought so much joy and life into our house. Even the cats, now, seem to kind of wander around bored when you're not here.  Fostering is incredibly difficult and we aren't likely to do it for long, so you will likely remain the one and only baby we fostered, the cute little guy whose picture will be on my piano, frozen in time, forever six months old.

If I can convince you of one thing through this little piece of writing on paper, please know that you were loved.  You were loved so much, every day, from when you were only 35 hours old.  All those days you can't remember and might worry about, you were held, cuddled, and cared for.  My son loved you and called you his "cute little baby fo-bro".  Uncle Mike might not say it out loud, but I know he loved you.  Most of all, I loved you.  I don't know how many years will have passed before you read this, but rest assured that if I am living, I love you still.

Auntie Kay

Monday, February 18, 2013

a glass of Whine @ Home

Sometimes I daydream about being a busy working mother.  Someone with a high-powered career and clicky shoes who gets to complain about how work hours conflict with childcare hours.  Someone who wears necklaces, and pants with buttons, and sometimes even skirts.  Someone who gets to attend meetings and has a desk and a computer that isn't dedicated to children's programs on youtube.
Sometimes I want to try that Working-Mom stereotype on, instead of this one.

It's February and we've been hermitting inside and I'm struggling just the teensiest bit with the choices I've made.  (though really, when he makes well over TWICE what I was making, there was no real choice about who would stay home, since I was against daycare until they're older.)
I''m just going to admit some things here, to get them off my chest and maybe see if others in the same situation feel the same..

1.  I wish I had some time away from my children every day like my husband does.  I miss having a place that I needed to be (that wasn't the place I woke up) and I miss the proactive professional feeling of being a (paltry low-level) office person.  Not that he's got it any easier, I know.  It's just a *different* boulder to push up the hill for awhile, you know?

2.  Sometimes the kids don't really want me to join in and play but they want me RIGHT THERE and some of those time I get bored out of my skull.  I'd check my mail on my smartphone but the girl would lunge @ any touchscreen that came within a 5 meter radius of her.  I'd knit, but the boy thinks yarn is candy.  I'd read, but paper is easily torn by grubby grabby get the point.

3.  I am so very tired of tidying up at least a dozen times a day to have the apartment stay exactly as horrifyingly messy as it ever was.  If I wasn't here I wouldn't see it, and it wouldn't be my job to go around picking up hello kitty accessories so the boy doesn't choke on them.

What do you miss most, SAHs?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

First Birthday

The baby at our house was born at 10:30pm on January 31, 2012, according to the hospital records I checked in our files yesterday.  If he was "my" baby I might be posting Facebook status updates right now saying things like one year ago at this time my water broke!  But I don't do that... I can't.  I was completely unaware of his existence.

Checking my calendar, I see that it was "cluster" night, so I would have gone to our monthly foster parent meeting.  It's a chance to catch up with other foster parents, hear what's up with the society, get announcements about policy changes, and often hear from a speaker.   I would probably have talked to our worker about the fact that I'd called the placement department the day before and had our name put "up on the board", as they call it.  (We got to see "the board" as part of our tour on the day we were approved as foster parents.  It's a literal whiteboard on the wall, with age ranges on the left and family names hand-written on the right.)

I had just flown back from Florida a few days before, where my husband and I had taken a relaxing two-week vacation visiting friends and family.  He wanted to take a more leisurely way home and visit with some old friends in Pennsylvania, so he was still on the road.  He would have been in a hotel that night, and I would have read a book and gone to sleep early to be up with my 15-year-old in the morning, make him a wintry breakfast, and see him off to school.

Somewhere, though, a woman I didn't know was in labour.

Fast forward to today... the big birthday bash is planned for Saturday, but it felt like today, his actual birthday, should be special too.  I had a bittersweet feeling all day glad that he's still with us, but sad for his forever family who are missing this milestone.  My husband went out and bought some gifts last night, and picked up a small piece of cake (incidentally the same special peach cake we had at our wedding, from a local German place). 

Baby was cranky today though, and wouldn't nap.  When my teen cake home from school he was in a bad mood too.  We decided that it was going to have to be an early bedtime, and the little guy would have to miss the grilled cheese supper that my son was making.  We had cake - he ate only a few crumbs - and tried to get him to open presents.  His nose kept running and I didn't want snot in all the pictures for his Life Book,  but every time I wiped his nose he cried and his eyes got redder and redder.  After we played with the toys for a bit I took him up for bed, and it wasn't until I was putting lotion on the eczema that keeps getting worse that I realized he was burning up.  I took his temperature and sure enough; between 100 and 101F.  He wasn't cranky, he's sick!  And on his birthday too.  And I didn't even notice. 

Bad auntie...  no cake for you. 

Today in Toddlerexia

The toddler keeps changing her mind about food, and I swear it's just to make me run around trying to cook all day.  She's turning into a bigger and bigger anti-food toddler stereotype.  She's been narrowing her acceptable-foods list for a while now, but lately it's gotten ridiculous.  For the last two days the only things she'll eat have been:
  • miso soup (I'm lucky we have a T&T grocery in town)
  • chicken nuggets & fries (because DUH, that's why)
  • banana/chocolate chip muffin (but not *actual* bananas, not today)
  • chocolate pudding (she's just discovered this magic, as she was sick and it was on sale)
  • pita bread with nothing on it (she's odd)
I fooled her into eating some cheese by hiding it in the pita bread, but I think she's still angry with me...though she used to love cheese with an unholy toddlerian passion. 
Lately I feel like I should just throw most foods directly into the trash - I've recently thrown out more uneaten-but-manhandled-so-I-don't-want-it cereal, oatmeal, toast, yogurt, ravioli and pasta than I care to remember. 
I'm supplementing with flintstone vitamins and milk and presenting her with a lot of food options and hoping she doesn't need any of the nutrients she's shunning right at this particular stage of development.

Do your children eat more than 5 different foods during a given week?  Is it just my crazy little girl?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A letter re: Kindergarten class sizes.

Dear Mr. Allison, Mr. Hoskins, Ms. Laskin, and Ms. Broten,

I'm writing to you today to express my concern over the current number of students in the kindergarten classrooms at Maurice Cody Junior Public School and in classrooms across the province, and to petition you on behalf of my three-year-old son and all incoming students in the full-day kindergarten program:  please amend the terrible overcrowding situation that we have seen in kindergarten classrooms this academic year.

I am a volunteer instructor with the anti-bullying program Roots of Empathy (, and as such spend an hour every week in my daughter's kindergarten classroom.  This year, the class I'm instructing is 31 children.  The program encourages students to talk about their feelings and aims to make every child feel included, but in a 30-minute class, there just isn't enough time to allow all 31 children to tell the stories that they feel important.  Physically too, there is barely enough room to seat all of the children around the big green blanket that is both an emblem for the program and a safe place for the other "teacher" (a neighbourhood baby) to sit and play while the students observe his non-verbal communication.  At 4 and 5 years old, these children are already easily distracted, and sitting so close to their classmates inevitably leads to jostling, arguing and complaining instead of learning.

The classroom I'm in is used for before and after care.  Before and after school, it falls under the guidelines of the Day Nurseries Act (, which states that the room is large enough for no more than 24 children. Why is it then, that once the bell rings, it's acceptable to add another 7 children to the room, plus two or three adults?  I know for a fact that several children have repeatedly experienced bathroom accidents during school hours because there is only one washroom in the classroom and it is frequently occupied.  Imagine how embarrassing it must be for these children - if they have a change of clothes with them, it is outside in the hallway in backpacks (no room for backpacks inside the classroom!), so they need to parade across the classroom TWICE in wet clothing before they can change.  Sirs and madams, please try to remember that children at this age can be unintentionally cruel, and the mockery that often accompanies accidents like these can colour a child's entire public school experience.

More troubling is that I have personally witnessed a 5-year-old child being unintentionally left behind in the playground at the end of the day and locked out of the school with no expectation of an adult to pick her up.  With one hundred and eighty kindergarten students milling about at the end of the school day and 12 staff members to oversee them, she was lost in the shuffle.  I found her on the sidewalk near the school, crying and utterly terrified. That incident ended well, as I was able to help her find her way back into the school and into her daycare program, but it could just as easily have ended in tragedy.

Life in a classroom of 31 kindergarten students is chaotic to say the least.  At ages 4, 5 and 6, the children are boisterous and the noise level when they are at activity is intense.  Research on temperament traits by child psychiatrists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess identified that children who are sensitive to their environment may experience problems with focus and concentration in a such situations, and with so much going on in the room, students who are easily distracted can be drawn away from their tasks and have difficulty returning to them.

I firmly believe that our teachers are making the most of this situation, but I have no doubt that the children's learning potential is also being affected. There is a disproportionate amount of time being spent on the logistics of having 30+ kids under one's care—getting them in and out of line, getting them in and out of footwear/outerwear, setting up for snack and lunch breaks, supervising the bathroom and hand washing, handling transitions between activities, etc.—rather than on the real business of learning.   Further, with larger class sizes come more students with behavioural challenges who require more than the usual amount of attention.  In a class of 20, one or two children will require extra help, and that's manageable.  When you bump the class sizes though, that number more than doubles, as children who might have borderline behavioural challenges don't get the basic attention they need and begin to act out.  All of this is time during the day that the teacher and EA are NOT spending teaching our children. 

The Canadian Education Association, The American Educational Research Association, the Journal of Educational Psychology, The American Journal of Public Health, the Scottish Council for Research In Education and many other reputable organizations have all produced documents extolling the many virtues of small class sizes, and it's an intuitively good idea:  teachers get to spend more time with each student, students are able to make better use of the resources available to them, problems (whether behavioural or academic) can be apprehended and addressed early, and the classroom is a calm place where children can learn and grow.  

I recognize that the primary motivation behind such large classes is financial, but ultimately I do not believe that the money saved is worth what we're losing.  I do not know what the solution is to this problem -  I don't have access to the financial and enrolment data that you do, and wouldn't have the expertise to use it if I did. What I DO know is that the status quo is not really serving anyone.  It's generating a cohort of students who have learned that in order to attract attention in class they need to act out, a group of teachers who are exhausted by and frustrated at not being able to give their students the education that they deserve, and a large number of parents who are disappointed and disillusioned with the system put in place to foster the development of our most precious resource.

Studies have shown that a child's academic career is defined and strongly influenced by the quality of their early education.  Please, please don't short-change my son, the other children in his cohort and those to come.  They deserve better from us.  Please consider reducing class sizes in the kindergarten program so that all of our children have the opportunity to develop to their full potential.

Thank you,

Jaimie Cowles

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The scarlet M

So I'm a Mom, I get it.  The capital M has been affixed with a makeshift paste of oatmeal, mashed banana, and squished-to-death frenchfries.  I should go cut my hair into a shoulder-length bob (Just long enough to pull into a ponytail!  All one length so you can cut it yourself!) and start drinking peppermint lattes and do whatever it is that today's mommy-cliche does.  Part of me is tempted to do just that - to really dive in and embrace the costume and habits of the subculture.  My Inner Nerd sometimes tells me that being a Mom can be like being a Goth or a Ham-radio operator: I can make it into a whole *thing* and be the Mommiest Mom I can be.  It can be fun!  Baby fandom!

But my Inner Nerd and my ovaries don't really speak the same language.  There's an integral disconnect between pretty much everything involved with the existence of my two children and....well, the whole rest of me.  My Inner Nerd is part of the unchanged core elements of my personality that I consider my Self.  My Inner Mom, so far, hasn't been granted that honour.  I've been a Mom for only 2 years or so, after all.  My nerd cred goes back to elementary school.  The Nerd part of me and the Mom part of me are trying to understand each other, and they get along, but....there's an element of distrust and an inability to really get what the other is trying to do.  They're like neighbours who have nothing in common but want to be friendly but don't want to be *too* friendly and get stuck with a 24/7 BFF.

So much of my personality is not Family-friendly.  So many of the things I think, say, and am interested in are inappropriate for children, and so inappropriate for Moms.  So much of my Self doesn't jibe with my hatchling MomSelf.  It messes with my head sometimes.  Casts me into existential crises weekly.  It's like the person that I am, that I still feel myself to be, is but a fuzzy shadow-image to strangers.  Once they see the toddler and the baby I cease to have, in their imaginations, the potential for being anything else - not an intellectual, or a weirdo, or a hipster or a neo-pagan or whatnot - I am a Mom and should be conversed with accordingly.  ("Wow, you must be pretty busy, huh?  They're so cute.")

But....I still think I'm cool!  I'm right here, under the snugli.  I'm fun and smart, but they can't see.  It's just weird.  Mommy Dysmorphic Disorder?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bad Things Chicks Do No. 1

So I have been fighting the urge to take and post a photo of the tag of my pants.  Because I can't remember when I was last this size.  Because somehow this unintentional decrease in mass has made me inexplicably...proud.  At first I thought it was just a reasonably-healthy expression of pride in my post-babies-body-accomplishments.  Then I thought it was some semi-harmless narcissism.  Then I thought I could convince myself that it's somehow fitting, in a proto-feminist body-image post, and pretend that I wasn't really hoping to get virtual pats on the back.

If these were the real reasons, even the embarassing last one, I would take that pic and it would be all jpg-y in seconds.  That shit would be ON the internetz, cluttering it up with more me me me.
But I'm not going to take a photo - hell, I'm not even going to reveal the size.  Because what drives the whole concept is the beginning of a Bad Thing Chicks Do.

BTCDs happen.  We, as a gender, can often actually fulfill some of the stereotypes applied to us, and we, as a gender, do a lot of the same things.  Some of these things are self-sabotaging and stupid, and I blame the media for tricking us into them, but I'm not going to pretend we're not the ones actually perpetrating this behaviour, keeping it alive.  BTCDs seem to involve our body image or sense of beauty too often.  I like to think I resisted engaging in a lot of common BTCDs throughout my life....until After The Baby (tm)

I've never had a perfect body.  I've had dozens and dozens of stretch marks since I was twelve - they were angry purple stripes until almost 16.  I have a big moon face with freckles and three moles and a small jackknife scar on it.  I have winged shoulder blades and a sticky-outty rib and a farm-tan on my arms that never fades to match the fishbelly whiteness of the rest of my body.  My teeth are kind of crooked and my hair looks a lot like a drunk lion's mane.

But until I got pregnant for the first time, I never once thought of myself as ugly.

It was the water-retention that really did it to me.  The weight gain was only a little beyond the 'suggested weight gain' and I was ok with that.  But when the bloating started?  I kept no photos from my baby shower because my hideous doughy balloon-face made me cry.  And after the baby, when I had that floppy extra-belly worth of fatty skin to gaze down at every time I breastfed, I started, for the first time in my longish, nihilistic and fucked up life, to hate my body - really despise it, like it was something outside my Self.  Something I could battle, or at least resent.

Hating your body for no good reason is a classic BTCD.  As an umpteenth-wave proto-feminist I fought against it from my early puberty until somewhere in my late teens when I finally came to real acceptance of my own physical form.  Then I existed in a wonderful world of 'reasonably attractive and ok with that' until the aforementioned procreation.  Something about the whole process of pregnancy just left me open for all the newly-arrived Body Image harpies in my head, the constant hormonal fluctuations made me succumb to the resultant angst over and over, until it became a habit to allow those negative thoughts through.  I don't know when exactly it was that I crossed the line between self-effacing humour comments and bitter self-hating comments, but somewhere, there, me cracking wise about my imperfections became a string of small self-destroying words.  It became ok for me to make these harsh judgments about a body that was recovering from childbirth, to feel ashamed and not good enough.  To feel that my body had been broken, scarred, ruined.

Well, it hasn't been.  I know now that I was so very skewed, so very wrong.  In fact, I went back and had *another* baby.  I gained more weight this time, even.  I had another unscheduled c-section and another long slog through post-baby-belly why-me.  I still have a flabby stomach that will not win me any prizes, that I sometimes squeeze through my fingers like bread dough as if it's a costume I might be able to take off.

But I don't hate my doughy flesh.  And I don't hate *me* for wearing it.  Because I refuse to fall prey to the BTCD, not when I've already got so much on my plate, not when I have a chance to be a good example for my daughter, not when engaging in the behaviours will actually *make* me hate myself.

I am not perfect.  I am not beautiful.  I do not look the way I do in my head.  But that really doesn't matter.  Looks are, ultimately, such a small part of what makes a person loveable, no matter what the god damned media keeps trying to tell us.  I think my looks are 10% of what makes me myself, and I've decided my looks are 20% less appealing than I want them to be.  Not a huge defecit there, my 20% chunk of my 10% section.  See?  Doesn't matter.  Follow the math.  The math won't lie.

And I'm not going to tell you what size my pants are.  but here's a picture of my smile.