Showing Up for Yourself

Kelly here, how the heck are you? It’s been twelve months but who’s counting right? Everyone! At least we all have that in common. It’s been twelve months since that cancelled trip to Mexico, twelve months since the initial school closure and twelve months since I hung up my essential oils and temporarily retired from my clinic. Twelve months ago, how could anyone have known that we would be sitting here just trying to count the silver linings? However, keeping track of those silver linings has made it possible to say that Erin and I are doing okay even though isolation with children is like having an insane parrot glued to your shoulder.

Our faces before we canceled

Way back when things were “normal”, I remember going on a partially silent writing retreat. Even though I chose this isolation, I panicked and felt like the walls of my room were pressing in. You can’t run from your body, feelings, or needs when there is no longer any other external barometer to measure how you are doing. Nothing to distract you from your response to the situation. So, what do we need to do to cope?

At the writing retreat, as odd as it sounds, it was not to write. I was suddenly so keyed up by the fact that I was alone that I knew even if it was my intention to write, it was not what my body needed. At times like this I become intensely aware of the tools I have learned like mindfulness, mantra meditation, yoga, energy work and anything physical. Anything that allows me to feel like my body is a good place to be. Erin and I have embarked on a self-care mission to do just that in these stressful and unprecedented times. We are definitely working through the stages, Fashioning Families style!

Self-Care Stage One: May as Well 

Stage one can take some time to establish, yet we over-estimate what we should be able to accomplish in a short amount of time. Erin and I took some time to figure out how we were going to collaborate in our new normal where we were functioning more a family unit than ever. It started with Erin working at home 9 to 5 and me doing the daycare.

We had to be realistic about our expectations and priorities. Our top priority was the house which now had to function as an office, kitchen, recreation area, daycare, and resting space. We went to town on identifying what we needed from our space. We put a second laundry in my apartment and we put Erin in the closet. Meaning Erin built a home office in her living room closet. Yup, that never gets old.

We needed to be careful with the food budget, that we were now contributing to along with our other house expenses. We decided on some healthy meal plans, which may have been eroded slightly by the amount of wine we consumed. I said it takes a long time! 

Self-Care Stage Two: Making You a Good Place to Be

The second stage was to do all the self-care you can do to support initial changes. Are you sleeping enough to exercise? Have you carved out a time a space where you can meditate or exercise? Do you have someone other than yourself to be accountable to such as a family member, friend, colleague or therapist? It makes a huge difference when you become aware that you have support around you, even if you are not in the same room. Erin and I both love yoga and in particular Yoga with Adriene, so we committed to doing the 30 Day Yoga Journey in January 2021. It has now become a cornerstone of self-care for us, even if we miss a day or two. Our evenings often end in Erin’s living room on our yoga mats. We have started to refer it as our little yoga class that we look forward to after a hectic day. The intention is to “show up for yourself” as Adriene wisely says. I am proud to say that I can now do plank pose and catcher squat after an intense amount of squealing and grabbing my mat for balance, while Erin laughed her ass off from her perfectly stable pose!

Self-Care Stage Three: Rocking It in Stages

Now we are getting somewhere. This stage really broken into two sections; the shit I have to do and the shit I would really rather be doing. Both are equally helpful. We went back to the drawing board and made lists of things we have accomplished. One column had things like our wills, taxes, balancing my budget, purging stuff and remembering to floss daily. The other one for me was finding an online writing community, trying to date during a pandemic, using the fire pit finally (oh s’mores food of the Gods), attempting Star Wars marathon, using the skating rink across the street and potty-training Junior. Well, that last one was a little of column A and a little of column B.

Self-Care Stage Four: Failing Utterly

We also had to make room for failure. Erin always tells me this is a learning curve. Every success is usually preceded by a failure so yay us! These were the alternate things that didn’t always support our cause, but worked in the moment. So, not potty-training Junior when he stopped pooping, drinking too much wine which we order by the case now, dating during covid, and staying up too late watching Outlander or Bridgerton. Yes they are glorious failings that we have peppered our success with as sometimes things don’t work out, and sometimes you just need what you need (i.e. Claire in a corset and Jamie in a kilt). 

That’s enough of us for now, how are you guys doing? What are the stages you have worked your way through? Fashioning Families wants to know!

Brotherly Love

The other night Ben and I were putting Junior to bed as Erin was working late. We splashed in the bath then picked out Junior’s fuzzy “per’damnies” as Ben likes to call them when he gets lazy about his pronunciation. Next we heated up the milk or rather the “moo” that Junior asked for, accompanied by the sign for “more.” Somewhere in the midst of that my heart melted when Ben said,

“Can I feed him his bottle, I want to cuddle.”

We are certainly all about the Love in our house. Erin and I knew going into this that we wanted our kids to develop and enjoy a sibling relationship but saying that is easy, waiting for it happen requires time. I think it started when Ben realized he finally had a playmate other than Erin and I. They could have their own clubs, their own games, their own secrets, even if Junior’s are still babble that sounds like “goo ba do du boo bah.” He always has an opinion.

And so we got the “moo” from the fridge and filled the bottle while Junior was wiggling on the kitchen floor saying “up, up, up”. We heated up the milk and took it to the bedroom. Ben climbed into the rocking chair and I popped Junior with his already dwindling milk onto his lap. Junior flopped back against his brother and contentedly sipped away.

That was it, that was the moment that I knew what Erin and I hoped for had occurred. The individual desire of our children to want to be with each other separate from our needs and wishes, and to have real comfort and affection for one another. They really are siblings and it is so comforting to know that no matter how life changes in the future they have developed that bond.

As a widowed mother it makes me feel so much more secure when there are other people around to support my son. I know that of course it is not just me, that I have tons of family on my and my late wife’s side that adore my son and would never let anything happen to him. However this is the everyday love, the love that wakes you up in the morning and wraps its arms around you before you have even gotten out of your per’damnies.

It is the love that is there when you have had a shit day and all you want around you are your people to talk about it, to hold you and reaffirm that they are there for you no matter what, day in and day out. It is our new-traditional, totally supportive, come what may love. I need a tissue…

Fashioning Families Launch Season Two!

Two badass moms, two ginger boys, two indifferent/insistent pets and now two seasons of our podcast Fashioning Families! I guess good things really do come in pairs. So over the last year this is how life has rolled out. Junior is walking and Ben never stops talking. They have finally realized that the other is a verifiable playmate and now the ruckus never stops.

Ben has become the CEO of the distinguished organization, KMH (Kid Monster Hunters). VP Junior suddenly has important responsibilities and paperwork, since he learned to use a crayon. Junior has also learned to take his socks and pants off every time we turn around.

Junior has also learned the meaning of gentle and our cat has learned to be graceful about being petted, even if he still disdains Junior when he crawls into the cat bed with him and rolls around. The dog is a little pissed with all the chaos even if she likes going to the park with the boys. She is is sure grateful for Ben, her walker extraordinaire!

Kelly rolls up her carpet when Junior is at the dinner table and they all expect that Junior will need a bite of everyones ice cream afterwards. Erin has transitioned to a life of carting Junior to daycare.

We have all suffered the plagues that both kids bring home. At last count, at least three bouts of cold for all, one bout of pink eye for Ben and Kelly and one Norwalk like curse for her, Junior and Ben. Now we are just waiting for the locusts.

Kelly’s hands are getting used to doing reflexology three days a week and writing her fingertips off. Erin and Kelly are both trying out intermittent fasting and would be really doing well if Kelly would just stop baking.

And now at long last Erin and Kelly have streaked through dinner times, bath times and bedtimes to get some recording time in to bring you Fashioning Families Season Two. Now you will get to hear double the laughs, double the groans, double the insanity and certainly double the love!

Check out the whole gang here!

She Drives Me Crazy!!

Kelly here and yes she did drive me crazy and no I am not talking about my steadfast friend and housemate Erin. I have been on a winding journey that felt more like I was a ping pong ball and life was the paddle that was spanking me! The task; learn to drive. My best cheerleader; Erin. And now after five damn tries I can final say I passed my G2 Drivers Test, I am officially a lesbian with a licence!

The start of this nerve wracking commute to adulthood began at Young Drivers. Actually it really started before I made the call to purchase my in class lessons, after the exhilarating realization that this was actually happening! If I had a dime for every bead of sweat I dropped over this whole ordeal I would be able to pay for a personal chauffeur, but I digress.

I have been a nervous driver since I was a teenager, I may have had an overdeveloped sense of self preservation. From the moment I failed my G Exit test I have been too afraid to get back into the drivers seat. When I moved to Toronto I figured I was in the land of public transit and would never need one. Cue the ironic overture of the single mom by chance. It was time, and with two growing boys to cart around I could not avoid it any longer.

The first time I got in the car with my sarcastic and highly amusing instructor Peter I had to pull over. I made a left turn at a busy intersection and nearly hyperventilated. Yet to my surprise, after just a few sessions I was more comfortable than I thought I would be. By the time we did mock testing with I was an A student! I loved his constant refrain when I pulled a beautiful parallel park or navigated the shenanigans of careless drivers:

“Nothing wrong with that!”

Fast forward to August 2019. Beautiful balmy morning ride with Peter to the Port Union Driver Examination Centre. I was sweating as we went to sign in. Unfortunately we were informed that most of the examiners were off “sick” and I could not be guaranteed an appointment before we had to go pick up my son from school. Strike one.

Fast forward to September 2019. Lovely fall day back at Port Union. I actually got to do the test this time! I did well but she failed me on a technicality. Erin assured and supported me like no tomorrow. Strike two.

Fast forward again to November 11, 2019 specifically. Why not rock it on the day my (driving) wife passed away? Make her proud! …. Then the icy blizzard rolled in that morning. Ben and I visited my mom so I could retake the test in Belleville (smaller town with less traffic). Too bad her winter tire appointment had been bumped. I was driving fine on the suddenly snow covered streets, until we pulled into the examination centre, or at least tried to as we slid sideways into a ditch. Tests were cancelled due to unsafe weather conditions… DUH!. Strike three.

Fast forward December 2019. Made it there! Failed. Realized I’m a great, safe driver but the pressure of test defeated me. The “she” who drives me crazy was the glinty eyed examiner who really didn’t help. Erin and my mom were both great about it, but may have had some interesting expletives to use when explaining this woman to others. Strike four.

Fast forward to February 2020. Gave myself a good talking to; I’m not here to make friends. I’m not even going to look at the examiner. I’m just here to get this damn thing done. I got the same sharp eyed examiner, nearly pooped my pants, then resolved not to let her freak me out. This time she told me “well, you passed the ministry standards” in an exasperated tone. Awww and I thought she didn’t recognize me from last time. Finally, mom and I went for a G and T. VICTORY!!!!!

I FaceTimed Erin and we had a very quiet freak out. She was on the streetcar coming back from Sick Kids Hospital as Junior had broken out into into a wicked case of hives! That evening Ben, she and Junior were all infected with something akin to the Norwalk virus. Once I got home I was the last lesbian standing and everyone had a “just in case bucket.”

And the moral of this story is…

Challenges of life will never stop. They just get more irritating and yucky the longer you have to wade through them. The thing that makes it bearable is your family. I must say I have so much love and joy in my heart for my family that sometimes I think it will burst.

Future challenges

Ben: Read a book on his own.

Junior: Learn to use even more words. Except I secretly want him to keep saying “die” when he means “bye”.

Erin: Finish editing Season Two of Fashioning Families without throwing computer through the window. Glad we have our producer Anika to help despite the fact she is a busy new mother!

Kelly: Speed dating…yipe.

Check out our special guest on Season 2!

Teamwork

When it comes to parenting Erin and I have learned there is a lot of guess-work and she is quick to say the challenges that she is now helping me puzzle through are going to be the same struggles she will have to work through with Junior. It makes me feel better that we are in this together.

She notices when I am shaking with rage and so lost in my own emotional reaction that I momentarily cannot function because Ben has been rude or thoughtless. I know when she calls because the baby has been up five times that night and she is walking into walls she is so exhausted, that she needs me to tag in.

We are a team, we are confidants and we saved each other’s bacon when we needed it most. I can honestly say God only knows what I would have done without her. I am thinking about this because Tess Kalinowski from The Toronto Star published an article on us about cohabitation and co-parenting; because we have to be strong allies when other people question our relationship from the outside and may not seen the intricacies and the intention with which we have build our unusual family; because my wedding anniversary is today and Erin knows how to hold space for my grief and my love for my lost partner.

It is a beautiful living thing that Erin and I have created that rises up to support us in our times of need. It is the continual tide pushed forward by honesty, commitment and respect. It is the container of joy that allows us to celebrate the courageous moments like when I sold my house, when Erin became a single mother, as well as the absolute silliness of enjoying time together. Just ask the melon ball that Erin launched across the table last night that landed exactly in the collar of Ben’s shirt.

I love my family. I love Ben, I love Junior and I love Erin. No matter what happens in the future, where we move, or when and if romantic partners come into our separate lives – WE are a TEAM. When I was widowed in 2012 I could not imagine having a partnership again, especially in such a unique way. So in the end this post is just about my heart, trying to understand that when something is ripped away from you, you get something back; a healing balm (or bomb) that offers you the opportunity to heal and live the life that you were meant to live.

Here is a link to the article in the Toronto Star! And Erin’s radio interview!

Time To Get a Watch!

To those who love and adore me it is no secret, I am not so good at minding the time. It was actually the bane of my late wife’s existence. I guess it doesn’t help that I didn’t have watch…until now. Then comes Christmas 2018 and Erin’s bid to try and keep Ben and I to a schedule. Erin is also a non-time-minder by her own admission, so it was an easier pill to swallow.

Erin was obliged to mind time for professional purposes, and now I don’t wonder why there is a clock in every room of her apartment…even the bathroom. To me this lends credence to the old adage “she can be taught.” Time management has changed in our co-habited house, not just because her gift to me was a Garmin watch, but also because it was her gift to Ben as well.

I have issues with my wrists so I’ve have never worn anything more than an ultra-light bracelet. Perhaps it was also my stubborn streak to avoid time minding… But now with this fancy watch that keeps me on schedule and counts my steps, time has become my friend!

As a family with Garmin watches we can participate in step challenges. With the kids watch Ben can earn “coins” towards rewards for chores on an app . Until he lost the watch and my mother and I spent three days after Christmas trying to help him find it… It eventually surfaced a few weeks later.

Erin and I designed a schedule for the mornings in 15 min increments which I can now monitor, and we have not been late this semester once!

Now I don’t have to be afraid that time has escaped me, I can just tip my wrist for an instant reminder. This allows me to relax during my daily activities. Since this little gadget is waterproof I don’t have to struggle minding the time for myself, even in the bathroom. So Erin as well as Kara was right, it was time to get a watch, and now there is someone on the other side of the pearly gates of heaven doing a happy dance! Love you babe, but don’t be so smug…lol.

Swimming With the Stars

Hi All, Kelly here,

There are benchmarks when you arrive at something and the situation suddenly feels more significant than the literal interpretation. Ever since those hours in swimming lessons Ben has become a diving, fluttering machine. So when we head down to Regent Park Community pool its a real treat. The water slide doesn’t hurt either. However this was not just any old buoyant family outing.

Erin healed up from from the cesarean business (feeling so much sympathy for that) and she wanted to take Junior swimming. It was a painful ordeal for Erin to abstain from the lake in August during our cottage trip, so she was raring to go. I was sure Junior would love it as he has a laugh and a half at bath time, creating a small tsunami in the baby tub.

At first he was not convinced about the cold air and the the loud echoing room, but as soon as he hit the water he pretty much lost his mind with excitement. As Ben dove for rings floating up and down like a wounded fish and Junior was splashing and swooshing, that is when Erin thought she recognized someone in the pool. She couldn’t place them at first until she, The Walking Dead fan, knew where she was from. Just like that we were swimming with the stars!

The beautiful actress in question was ogling Junior in his cuteness and we chatted with her while her family swam around us. Under her gaze I felt even more like a family unit. It was a peaceful feeling and everyone’s joy just accentuated that.

As Erin went to throw rings for Ben, I got Junior and we puttered around the pool, swishing his little legs in my current. Making faces and over exaggerated moves my little star fish rewarded me with the quintessential wide smile and infectious giggle. That’s when I felt it, my heart melted.

I know it was our intention to “fashion” our own family but suddenly, emotionally it felt like we actually had. I love Junior, he feels like mine just as Erin feels like Ben is hers. They are ours and being there together cemented a beautiful feeling between us. This is what our boys will know, two parent figures who love and support them, a wide community of family and friends and a home that feels…like home.

Now it’s you turn: so you tell us, we love stories at Fashioning Families. What have been your most memorable family times?

Ep 5: Self-Care

Ep 5: Self-Care is here. Erin is pregnant and finally looking like it!! Erin and Kelly, with a HUGE dose of humour, chat about self-care when dealing with physical and mental limitations. Spoiler alert, we have some graphic detail and hang on ’till the end for Kelly’s description of “the sausage.” Check it out!