Sunday, April 29, 2012

There goes my hero

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There aren't many role models out there for young women. I fear that my daughters are going to grow up aspiring to be like...Ke$ha? Suri Cruise will be all grown up by then, maybe she will be a strong role model, you know, except for that whole Scientology thing. Luckily Twilight will have blown over by then so I won't have to worry about them acting as vapid as Bella Swan. The Jane Eyre's and Elizabeth Bennett's of the world have long since been replaced by Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. Teenage girls don't seem inclined toward self sacrifice and good deeds anymore do they?

Enter Jolene Hayter.


I have had the privilege of knowing Jolene for a long time. I have been doing her hair for at least four years and in that time I have seen her grow from a sweet young girl into an articulate, well mannered young woman. She has been involved in many projects over the years, from weaving sleeping mats out of recycled grocery bags and distributing them to the homeless on East Hastings in Vancouver to performing as Cindy Lou Who in a high school production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This year I had the honor of seeing her crowned Queen Valvedette the 64th, the highest honor that can be conveyed to a teenage girl in our fair city. Though it all she has remained humble and gracious, never allowing he successes to go to her head.

Queen Valvedette the 64th, Jolene Hayter

I was pretty proud of her the day I saw her for the first time in her role as goodwill ambassador, her crown shining atop her sleek blonde updo and her sunny smile shining down on all the children gathered around her parade float. The little girls in the crowd were so excited to see a real princess in their midst and I was just as overcome. As proud as I was that day I have never been as proud of her as I was today, when she allowed me to help her cut off all those beautiful lengths of hair in support of a cause near and dear to her heart.

Jolene has a brother named Brandon. When he was only twelve years old he was badly burned by a spray paint can that unfortunately made its way into a bonfire. I heard his touching story today, along with that of burn survivor Lynda Fraser, at Hero Day, an event organized by his Jolene in support of the BC Firefighters Burn Fund. The Burn Fund helps the families of burn victims with expenses related to recovery, medical supplies and rehabilitation. It also funds a summer camp where children who are burn survivors can play and have fun with other children who have been in their shoes and are able to relate to them. I heard Brandon talk today about the way other children responded to him when he returned to school with his scars and his protective equipment, and how he felt so outside of "normal" school life. Then I heard him talk about how it felt to be among peers at a burn camp who knew what he had been through and could care less about his scars. It made me truly grateful to be able to help out in any way I could.

Jolene's Family. Her mom Ilona, brother Brandon, and  father Don

The goal of Hero Day was to show that being truly beautiful has nothing to do with the texture of your skin or how pretty your hair is...true beauty comes from within and the courage and spirit that these burn survivors show is a shining example of that beauty. There is a lesson for all of us in there. It is so easy to judge someone based on their appearance but if we take a second to listen to their story we may find ourselves looking at them in a whole new light. Jolene pledged to cut her hair off to a mere inch in order to raise funds and awareness. She thought that maybe by sacrificing her gorgeous hair and taking away some of her external beauty she could inspire others to look past the physical and appreciate the beauty within but her plan may have backfired. She looks even more beautiful now than she did before. I am so glad that there are still girls like her in this world for my daughters to look up to and I am proud to call her my hero.

My Hero
To donate to the burn fund click here:)

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

CeeCee's Montessori-ish Bedroom

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“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.” - Maria Montessori
Those words were written a long time ago by one of the world's most revolutionary children's educators, Dr. Maria Montessori. They still ring true today.

Maria Montessori - 1933
A few of her concepts jumped out at me:
  • Allow the child to be independent and learn through exploration, play and practical work (purposeful activity). 
  • Create a safe, clean, orderly AND stimulating environment for the child
  • Do not try to "teach" the toddler. Instead allow the child to absorb knowledge from the environment around them
This barely scratches the surface of Dr. Montessori's teachings but it's a good place to start. It's not like you have to do EVERY little thing by the book. To be completely honest I plan on avoiding a few of her teaching strategies.

For example, I don't believe that infants and toddlers need to eat from glass bowls and drink from actual glasses (not plastic) in order to teach them Control of Error. I prefer to teach that lesson using spillage, not breakage, as a learning tool. Spilled milk isn't going to result in a trip to the ER for stitches. Besides teaching them to eat is supposed to be messy. That's part of the fun.
Breakfast IS the most important meal of the day mommy:)

Bedtime had always been a challenge. She hated her crib...hated it. I'm pretty sure she looks at it as baby jail. I get it. She spent the first year of her life in bed with Mommy and Daddy. A crib was a regression. We converted it into a toddler bed but still, the stigma was already there. She liked being snuggled to sleep (Who doesn't?) and that just wasn't possible in a toddler bed with a sixty pound weight limit. We had to do something. I had just delivered our youngest daughter and intended to bed-share again and the thought of have four people in one bed was giving me nightmares, counterproductive when you consider bed-sharing is meant to allow you MORE rest. We contemplated putting CeeCee on a mattress directly on the floor but I wanted to research it first.

Enter my old friend, the Internet.

Somewhere along the way I came across the term Montessori Toddler Room. Several images popped up in Google, some more pretentious looking than others. Looking at these rooms I couldn't help getting excited. I would have LOVED a room like this when I was a kid. We slowly started the process of redesigning CeeCee's room using Montessori concepts.

We wanted CeeCee to be independent in her movements and choices, at least in her own room. She sleeps on a twin mattress that sits directly on the floor. She is able to climb into bed, out of bed, read in bed and jump on the bed without any interference or help from me. Her toys are neatly organized and rotated frequently.
CeeCee's Bed
The lower shelves of her bookshelf are filled with age appropriate reading materials. She even has a little chalkboard attached to the wall so she can doodle and draw without having to ask me for help. 
A few articles of clothing are kept on a lower bar in her closet so she can choose her own outfit. Her garbage can has a pedal on the floor to open it and is short enough for her to put garbage in but tall enough to prevent her taking garbage out. On the floor sits a switch that controls the lamp in her room.

The lamp is tall enough to prevent her burning herself on the bulb, the garbage can prevents her from tipping the lamp

Naturally we spent much time childproofing. By chance all of our electrical outlets are situated above our foundation walls (basement suite) so sticking her finger in a light socket isn't a big concern. Her bed is only 8 inches off the ground, not high enough to hurt herself should she roll out in the night. Furniture is anchored and/or untippable. Her door is never closed, instead a baby gate keeps her in, preventing her from roaming the house in the night but allowing us to hear her easily.

Age appropriate books at the bottom, books for when she's older up out of harms way

So far the experiment has proven successful. CeeCee loves playing in her new room and bedtimes are, for the most part, getting easier. The only downsides are that I spent more than I had intended redecorating and that it now look like the Disney Princesses threw up in my daughters room (don't judge, she loves the "pwincesses"). I don't know how Maria Montessori would feel about it, seeing as how we kinda cherry picked the ideas we liked and discarded the ones we didn't. I like to think she would approve, once her eyes adjusted to all the pink. Oh well, CeeCee loves it and that's all that matters.

After all, it's HER world.

More pictures of CeeCee's room...

Toys are neatly organized and rotated often

Books for later and a few knick knacks

Books for now

Hopscotch anyone?

CeeCee's chalkboard. Gotta love the carpet, circa 1972:)

Floor plug for the lamp. It is basically an extension cord and available in any hardware store. Close up on the hideous carpet

Changing station. Foundation walls make a great holder for my cloth wipe setup.

Double rods in closet make it easy to put clothes at her level while keeping delicate clothes out of harms way

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Sparks and Flames.

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This is Mr. Zinga and myself a few months before we had CeeCee.

We're pretty cute, eh? It's been almost seven blissful years. This is by far the longest, happiest and healthiest relationship of my life.

We have the kind of love that Nicholas Sparks writes novels about, that 80's hair metal bands sing power ballads about. He writes me sonnets and leaves them on my pillow. We have lingering bubble baths, with candles and rose petals...*facepalm...I can't do it...I can't keep typing this crap with a straight face.

We don't do hearts and flowers. We're too busy being parents.

I'm not complaining. At all. I will take flannel jammies and a cup of tea with him over chocolate covered strawberries and champagne with anyone else, hands down. It's not a lack of passion, we have a different kind of passion. It's healthier. I really have it all. A lover, a partner, a friend and a family. I never had that with any of the so called "great loves" of my life. When I think of a person being madly or head over heels in love I picture them completely losing themselves in someone else. Everything revolves around the object of their affection...Every. Damn. Thing. Their heart skips a beat every time the phone rings just in case it's..gasp...HIM. They can't concentrate on work. Their friends can't stand to talk to them because they are sick of listening to the never ending saga, the ups and downs of the relationship. More often than not it burns white hot, like a holiday sparkler, and like a sparkler it burns out all to quickly.

Sound like fun? Not to me.

Don't get me wrong, we had that, for like ten minutes at the beginning. Doesn't everyone? Nobody would ever hook up in the first place if it wasn't exciting. What was REALLY special was realizing, after that first year or so when the novelty had worn off, that I still wanted to be with him. I wasn't trying to change him and he wasn't trying to change me (well, except maybe to get me to quit smoking but I can't blame him, it IS a filthy habit). Our relationship kept growing and evolving. We moved in together, got a dog, had kids, became a family. I eat the mushrooms that he picks off his pizza. He finishes my drinks so they don't pile up around the house (to this day I have yet to finish an entire can, glass or bottle of anything). He makes me laugh...a lot. We make mistakes...a lot. We raise our kids together. Life is good. We have been together long enough to cut through the crap and get down to the serious business of building a life together.

That's my idea of fun.

It isn't always easy, I'd be lying if I said it was. We fight. We're good at it. With two kids under two we have elevated bickering to a whole new level. Besides, anyone who says they never fight with their spouse is either lying or heavily medicated. No, we work at it. Some days it's more work than others. It's always worth it though. It isn't as flashy as a sparkler. It's more like a fireplace. Sturdy, useful and it keeps us warm at night. We keep it burning and it lights our home and our lives.


photo credit

Show me a sparkler that can do all that.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Kids Got Spirit (and I don't mean the cheerleading kind)

Pin It How many of you are familiar with the term "Spirited Child"?

How many of you are familiar with the term "Terrible Twos"?

Imagine the terrible twos on speed...that is the reality of having a spirited child. By definition a spirited child is "more". More demanding, more temperamental, more emotional, more stubborn...just more everything, including loving. There is a level of intensity there that is almost frightening to watch at times. While a "normal" child might throw a two minute tantrum over having to wear socks a "spirited" child might throw a two HOUR tantrum because the seam on the sock isn't lined up properly, or there's a piece of lint in the toe, or there's a fray in the elastic...I kept hearing the same well intentioned yet infuriating comments: "It's just the terrible twos" or "Suck it up, this is what kids do".

CeeCee is a spirited child. It took a while for me to understand this. I felt like a failure as a mother. I couldn't understand why I wanted to cry every day, why my stress level was so high and why none of my friends had similar stories about their kids. What was I doing wrong? I did all my "mommy" research while I was pregnant. I took notes. I was well on track to have the happiest, most well adjusted, best behaved kid on the block.

Almost two years later I was standing in the wreckage of my living room, surveying the damage from the F5 tornado that is my daughter and wondering where I had gone wrong. Then it hit me:

Maybe nothing was wrong.

Maybe this was normal for her.

Maybe this was what every day was going to be like for the rest of my life.

I indulged in a minor bout of anxiety. Ok, maybe "minor" isn't entirely accurate. I may or may not have been found cowering in a corner, with my fingers in my ears, rocking back and forth pleading "make it stop, make it stop". When hubby came home I handed him the kids and put my prodigious Google skills to good use, researching her behavior. Somewhere along the way I was invited to a Facebook group devoted to mothers of spirited kids and everything clicked into place. I learned a few techniques for handling her frustrations that actually worked (which I will be sharing along the way) and I started to look at things a little differently. Spirited kids often turn out to be highly successful adults because the traits that make us pull our hair out in clumps when they are toddlers help them to excel later in life. Persistence, perception, passion, determination, energy and intensity are all considered positive traits in the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. If that's the case my kid is going to rule the world one day. Possibly as an evil genius with a secret lair but hey, who am I to judge.

Maybe she'll invent seamless socks?

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Readers: An Endangered Species?

Pin It Do people read anymore?

I'm not talking about Facebook statuses, I mean actual books. A couple hundred pages of imagination wedged between two covers. Used to be if you took any kind of mass transit you would see a dozen or so people with their noses shoved in a book, killing time on their daily commute. Now everyone seems too busy playing Angry Birds to cart around a book. How is a book supposed to compete with The App Store and its 500,000 distractions? Some of them are reading. Kindle and Kobo both have apps for smartphones. It still feels strange to me. I have a Kobo and I have the app on my phone but when I read on either I feel like I'm cheating on the book.

Books aren't supposed to be slim tablets with buttons and touchscreens. Books are supposed to be broken in. Worn covers with dog eared pages. Maybe even a chocolate smudge here or there. The more creases in the spine the better (that much easier to hold one handed). Books are supposed to have that almost undefinable smell (I don't know what it is...dust maybe) that is reminiscent of school libraries and used bookstores.

Some of my earliest and happiest memories involve me reading, either to myself or to my daughter. I remember being three or four and getting sent a big box of books from my mom, who was living in London at they time. These weren't baby books either, try Roald Dahl and Rudyard Kipling. I felt like I had won the lottery. Hubby was never much of a reader until he met me, it just wasn't a big part of his family growing up. Even now there are probably only a half a dozen books in his parents house. I can't imagine that. I have two giant bookshelves in my living room and both are double stacked PLUS another medium sized bookshelf in our bedroom AND a ladder bookcase in CeeCees room full of children's books I have been collecting for her. When we moved into this house last year I unpacked fifteen large boxes of books. Hubby suggested selling a bunch at our next yard sale, he might as well have suggested selling the children. I am deeply attached to all of my books. Most women want a house with a walk in closet...I want a house with a library and floor to ceiling shelves on every wall, you know, the kind that has ladders on tracks that slide from one end to the other so you can reach the top shelves easily.

Of all the things I hope CeeCee gets from me, my love of books is right up near the top. We read together all the time. When she is having one of her spirited days (which is pretty much every day), reading seems to center her and makes her temper a little more manageable. Redirecting her away from her frustration and temper seems to be the best way to handle it and there is nothing more distracting than a colorful book. Her language skills are also developing nicely which can only help. I think most of her frustration comes from not being able to express herself and also from a little boredom. Books are the cure for both of those issues. Yes, I hope she is a reader when she grows up.

Of course by then E-books, tablets and smartphones will be obsolete. I wonder how everyone will play Angry Birds then? Pin It

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Making it up as I go along.

Pin It In the words of the immortal Anne of Green Gables
 Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet? - L.M. Montgomery
This is the thought that gets me through most days. I have no idea what I'm doing, I mostly just make shit up as I go along. I suspect I'm not alone.

At least I have the Internet. Whoever said kids don't come with an instruction manual never Googled "Pregnancy and Parenting". There are roughly ten thousand websites out there, all claiming to be the leading authority on all things baby. Ok, I might be exaggerating but not by much.

My life changed forever when I peed on that plastic stick. My fate was sealed by a thin pink line. I was a mom. Gone were the lazy Sunday morning hangover breakfasts with my man. I would no longer be able to justify buying expensive shoes just because they were "cute". I was going to have to quit smoking and start investing.

I hadn't really given much thought to my future but now that I was responsible for someone else's future it was time to get serious.

First stop...the Internet. First site browsed... What To Expect When You're Expecting

Logical first choice right? After all, the book IS well known and respected.

Whoa, that website should be renamed. I think 1001 Gross Facts About Pregnancy would be more appropriate. I joined a home board (July 2010). This was it, I was joining an elite group of mommies in the know. Gestational Jedi's who would unlock the secrets of motherhood like a bunch of obstetrical Obi Wans. They were discussing serious and controversial topics such as...drum roll please...flatulence. Huh? Indigestion. WTF? One girl claimed to have felt her baby kick at 6 weeks and when skeptics pointed out that her baby was a tiny cluster of cells that didn't have feet they were told to take their negative attitudes to the Hot Topics board with the rest of the catty bitches (more on this later). These women were just as clueless as I was. Nowhere did it tell me how to be a good mom. It was clear that I was going to have to broaden my horizons if I expected to find all the answers. BabyCenter, The Bump, they were all the same. There were no answers, just more questions. Everyone had different opinions on the "right" way to raise a child. Which one was right?

In the end I did what all new moms do. I read some books, I talked to my mom, I talked to a few friends who are moms, I watched A Baby Story on TLC. We figured it out. We're not perfect but we're doing ok. We research, we weigh pros and cons of this method over that method and sometimes we make it up as we go along. We learn from our mistakes and considering how many mistakes we've made that is no small feat.

I did learn something from my time spent on these parenting websites though:
Opinions are like assholes...Everyone has one and most of them stink.

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Begin at the beginning

Pin It Where to begin?

I could open with a joke but my sense of humor is slightly askew and definitely off color...perhaps that's best saved for later, when you know me better.

No, I think it would be best to begin at the beginning...the beginning of my life as a mother to a spirited toddler and a peaceful infant.

Flashback to November 2009. It was an average Thursday night in the Zinga house. Hubby was contentedly playing video games in the living room while I flaked out in the bedroom with a good book, a good dog and a movie in the background, Gone With the Wind for perhaps the thousandth time (book AND movie in tandem, I know...I'm a weirdo).

I hadn't been feeling well and was trying to catch up on some rest. I had abandoned the book in favor of the movie and had just gotten to the scene where Scarlett tells Rhett she is expecting their second child when it hit me.

(The following is a fairly accurate transcript of what went through my head at the time)

...Naw, I can't be. He has a chronic illness. His swimmers must be fried from decades of medication. 
...Plus we always use birth control...well, pull and pray but still, that's got to count for something. 
...No, I must be imagining the symptoms. 
...My boobs probably hurt because my bra is too tight. Wait a sec, why is my bra so tight?
...I just started a new job, no way I'm pregnant, we did celebrate pretty hard when I GOT the new job though.
...How long ago was that? Five weeks? Six? See, I can't be pregnant I had my period on...when was my last period?

I raced to the bathroom, praying that I still had a test left over from that time I convinced myself I was pregnant, only to find out it was gas. There it was in the medicine cabinet, hiding innocently behind the Pepto Bismol. My nerves were flayed raw by the time I managed, with shaking hands, to remove the wrapper and pee on that ridiculous stick. Two minutes felt like an eternity as I watched my entire life flash before my eyes. I cut my eyes to the side, unable to look at the thing full on. I felt relief wash over me as I realized that there was no plus sign in the window, just one faint pink line in each window. Surely that meant I was not pregnant. I allowed myself a minute of desperate hopefulness before digging the instructions out of the box. Relief was slowly replaced by numbness as I realized I was about to become a mother.

I stumbled out into the living room to confront Hubby with the news:
   Me: "Jeff, I'm pregnant."
   Jeff: "Are you sure?" (his eyes never leave the game)
   Me: "Yes I'm sure, I just pee'd on a stick and it came up positive."
   Jeff: "Go pee on another one."

He wasn't trying to be a dick, he just wanted to be sure. I of course, being incredibly hormonal and frightened out of my wits took it to mean that he was pissed. I started envisioning my life as a single mother.  The next morning I called my doctor and he was able to get us in right away. He confirmed that we were, in fact, pregnant. I glanced over at Hubby. I saw a look of joy mingled with fear in his eyes and I knew then and there that no matter what happened we were in this together. Pin It