It Takes a Village

Today Mark and I are attending a class at Sick Kids to learn about caring for your child’s G-tube. Now, I have experience caring for patients with G-tubes, but I think it will be good to refresh my knowledge, and to attend with Mark. I’ve known about this class for a few weeks, but it just dawned on me last week that since both Mark and I would be going to the class, we would need someone to watch Penelope while we were gone.

I thought for awhile about what our options were. She will need medication and at least one feed while we are at the class, so I need someone who is comfortable with caring for a baby with an NG tube- not an easy person to find. Luckily, I have a group of friends who are pediatric nurses, and I knew that the best solution to my problem would be to ask them for help.

How hard can it be to find someone willing to watch this sweet baby?

How hard can it be to find someone willing to watch this sweet baby?

As I sat down to write that email to the group, asking if any of them would be able to watch Penelope, I felt really nervous. I was worried about what they would think of me asking for help. As if needing assistance with my special needs baby was somehow a failure on my part. I knew this was an irrational thought- this group of women are the most wonderful, kind, caring, and generous group of people you could ever wish to meet. Logically, I knew that none of them would think of me as a failure for asking for help, but that irrational fear of being judged stuck in my head. For Penelope’s sake, though, I swallowed my fear and sent out my message.

It literally took less than an hour from the time I sent the message to have someone lined up to watch Penelope (thank you, Kelly!). Everyone in the group responded to me- if they weren’t available on the day I was asking about, they volunteered to watch her another time so that Mark and I don’t have to wait another year for a date night. Even my sister, who has her hands full with four girls of her own, including a 7 week old baby, offered to come into the city to help out if I couldn’t find someone to watch her. The warmth and kindness in these responses brought tears to my eyes, and the anxiety I had felt before sending that message felt even more irrational than before.

I’ve written here before about dealing with irrational thoughts. Worrying needlessly about things is something that I have struggled with for a long time. Over the years, it has probably cost me multiple opportunities for new friendships or new experiences.  I am so grateful that this time, I didn’t give in to that anxiety about being judged.

Asking for help can make us feel vulnerable. As if somehow, it represents a failure or a bad decision. The truth is, though, that everyone needs help from time to time, and the real failure lies in not recognizing that and not asking for help when you need it. The old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child” is certainly apt here (I don’t know where we would be without the support and help we have received from family and friends), and in fact I think it should be applied more broadly- it takes a village to live life.



Charlotte got a big-girl bike for her birthday. She has been riding all around the neighbourhood, and she’s been getting really good at it. One thing she struggles with from time to time, though, is getting started on the bike. I’ve been teaching her to push forward on the pedals to get it moving, and she will lean forward, face scrunched up with concentration, and she will strain to get that bike going. Sometimes she is able to do it by herself, and other times she needs a little push.

Charlotte struggling to get that bike going

Charlotte struggling to get that bike going

I think, like Charlotte, I need a bit of a push right now. There has been a lot going on around here lately- birthdays, nursery school graduation, ballet recital to name a few. As a result, I have found myself in front of the camera, getting my picture taken with the girls instead of hiding behind it like I normally do. When I look at those photos, it becomes clear: I’m not happy with how I look, and I want to get in shape.

My weight has gone up and down over the years, and I know what I need to do now to shed these unwanted pounds. That’s the good news. I’m not overwhelmed by the task- I have done it before, and I know I can do it again. It’s not even so much a lack of motivation that’s holding me back- I want to do it, and I’m inspired to it- I’m just having trouble getting started. The main obstacle here is the logistics of me being able to get out of the house to go to a gym and work out.

Working out at a gym is what works best for me when adhering to a fitness regime. I’ve tried doing workout videos at home- not for me. I feel like a moron, bouncing around the living room by myself to some cheesy video. Plus, if I’m at home, there will be a million interruptions and I won’t be able to complete a satisfying workout. I’ve tried running in the past, and it’s worked ok, but truthfully, I hate running. It hurts my knees and it feels more like torture than fitness. I love being able to go to the gym, use the cardio machines at my own pace, and do the weight training exercises I want. After Penelope was born, I bought a 10-visit pass to a “Mom-friendly” gym. There was no daycare on site, but they had a child’s play area where I could leave the girls while I did a class. The problem with this place is really the same problem I have with working out at home- I was constantly being interrupted by Charlotte wanting a snack, a drink, to go to the bathroom, etc, or to feed Penelope, and I never felt like I got a good workout in. Once my ten visits were used up, I didn’t bother going back.

I know a lot of gyms offer child care on the premises, which would be great for Charlotte, but that won’t really work for Penelope. Most daycare places are not comfortable caring for a baby with a feeding tube, which is understandable, so that crosses that option off the list. What I really need is a way to keep Penelope at home while I go to the gym. And the best solution I can come up with is to get up around 5am, go to the gym, and be home around 6:30 to deal with the girls as they’re waking up. And now you can see why I need a little push to get going.

Honestly, the thought of getting up at 5am makes me want to vomit a little. Just, ugh- it’s SO early! But if I don’t get to the gym in the morning, then I’m probably not going to get there at all. Once the girls are up and Mark is at work, I’m pretty much out of options. Certainly there’s no waiting til Mark gets home from work to go- it’s dinner time, the worst time of day around here, and there’s no way in hell I’m heading out to the gym after dinner. So 5am seems like the most realistic plan. I just need to find a way to make my desire to get in shape overpower my desire for sleep.

I guess what I’m looking for here is someone to say, “Julie, you can do this. You need to do this, and you DESERVE to take some time for yourself to get healthy, and you DON’T need to feel guilty for doing it.”

So what do you think? I can do this, right? How do you all deal with getting motivated to face your challenges, whatever they may be? And does anyone have any other ideas for me to get in shape that don’t involve getting up at the asscrack of dawn??


On a Wednesday morning a couple of weeks ago, the day dawned sunny and warm. It promised to be a lovely spring day. I was getting Penelope ready for our appointment at Sick Kids that morning, and Charlotte was excitedly preparing for her morning at nursery school, where they would be having a teddy bear picnic. She picked out one of the new outfits she had received for her birthday, and she and Teddy were ready to go. She was scratching absently at her mosquito bites, which she had acquired the previous week on a trip up north to visit my grandmother and my aunt. She has inherited my unfortunate reaction to insect bites- ever since I was little, I get large, red, angry-looking welts from the bites, which remain swollen and itchy for weeks. And so, Charlotte headed off to school, and Penelope and I were on our way to the hospital.

Charlotte playing outside Granny's house

Charlotte playing outside Granny’s house

Penelope’s appointment was going very well, and when the doctor left for a few minutes to consult someone, I checked my phone to see if I had any messages. There were three missed calls from an unknown number, but no message was left. I shrugged it off, thinking that if it was important, the caller would have left a message. A short while later, a text message came in from my father-in-law, Rick. It said that he had Charlotte and everything was ok. I stared at the message for a minute, uncomprehending. Why did Rick have Charlotte? She was supposed to be on her teddy bear picnic. Was she hurt? What had happened? I texted Rick back, asking for details, and was infuriated when he provided them.

Charlotte had been sent home from school when one of the supervisors had seen her bug bites and decided they could be ringworm. She would not be allowed to return to school until the spots had disappeared or until we provided a doctor’s note stating that it was not ringworm.

If you look closely at her arm, you can see a couple of the spots in question

If you look closely at her arm, you can see a couple of the spots in question

I was positively enraged upon learning this. First of all, to think of my sweet girl missing out on her teddy bear picnic, when she had been so excited for it, was heartbreaking. Second of all, she had been attending school for over a week with these spots on her arms and legs; I had informed her teachers about the fact that they were bug bites on her first day back at school, and they accepted that. Why now, over a week later, are they sending her home and asking for a doctor’s note? And why was there no message left on my phone when they called to tell me she was being sent home?

Can you imagine having to tell this sweet face that she couldn't go to her teddy bear picnic?

Can you imagine having to tell this sweet face that she couldn’t go to her teddy bear picnic?

I knew the spots were not ringworm, but I also knew they weren’t going to disappear anytime soon, so I was forced to drag Charlotte and Penelope to the doctor to get that note. Now, I had already taken Penelope to a lengthy appointment that day, and the prospect of having to do it again did not entice me. I had to endure Charlotte’s questions about why she had to go to the doctor, why was she sent home from school, why couldn’t she go on the teddy bear picnic. Penelope wasn’t too happy about heading out again and voiced her displeasure by crying the entire car ride to the office. Of course, the doctor took a look at her bites, confirmed that it was not ringworm, gave us our note, and sent us on our way. And then, just to make my day a bit harder, Penelope pulled out her NG tube when we got home.

It was a lot of hassle for something that wasn’t actually a problem. And there was no make-up day for the teddy bear picnic- she missed it for no reason, and I’m still fielding questions from her about it two weeks later. Now, I understand that the school has to be careful about things like ringworm- you don’t want that spreading throughout the class. But the fact is, if they were concerned about it, they should have asked for the note the first day she attended school with the spots. That’s something I could have accepted. It makes no sense to send her home a week later. And the supervisor who requested she be sent home was not familiar with the situation, and I think that a simple conversation with me or Mark about it would have cleared things up. Is a bit of communication and a bit of common sense really too much to ask for?

With Charlotte heading into kindergarten this fall, I have a feeling this won’t be the last situation of its kind. Any advice on handling these issues with the school? What sorts of frustrating situations have you dealt with?

Behind the Scenes

There are portraits of perfection everywhere you look online today. Blogs, Facebook, Instagram, every social media site out there is littered with photos of smiling, happy families, adorable pets, and delicious meals. It makes it seem like everyone is leading such perfect lives. You don’t really know the story of that photo- how it took 43 takes to get everyone in that happy family shot to smile, or that the cute dog playing at the beach was a wet, sandy, stinky mess when the owner took him home. Those photos are nice, and I love to look at them, but they’re not always real. And I think that a dose of reality injected into all that perfection is needed. So today I am presenting a behind-the-scenes look at a photo of a happy moment with my two girls.

Literally two minutes after I posted this on Friday, Penelope pulled out her tube, and what followed was a rather hellish afternoon. That little monkey has had enough of the NG tube, and she is relentless in trying to pull it out. Last weekend, Mark and I were heading out for our first date night in a YEAR, and ten minutes before we are due to leave, she pulls out the damn tube. Luckily, my lovely friend, Alyssa, who agreed to watch Penelope for the evening (Charlotte was with her grandparents), is a nurse, and so she was unfazed by this and the two of us got the tube replaced without too much hassle. Friday, though, was another story.

Mark happened to be home with us when the tube came out, which I felt was rather good luck, as he would be able to help get it back in promptly, so she wouldn’t have to miss a feed. I got everything ready, and wrapped Penelope up and the two of us got into position to put a new tube in. The tube went in smoothly, and the guide wire came out easily, so I thought it likely that it was in the right spot, and so I taped it up. MISTAKE. To check that the tube is in the correct spot, you inject some air through the tube with a syringe, while listening with a stethoscope placed over her abdomen. If it’s in the right place, you will hear a “pop.” When I checked the placement, I couldn’t hear the pop, and there was a lot of resistance when I was trying to inject the air through the tube. This was not a good sign. She was crying a lot, so at first I hoped that perhaps I just couldn’t hear the pop over the crying. Deep down, though, I knew it wasn’t right (getting better at trusting my instincts). She eventually calmed down enough so that I could listen again, and still no pop. Unfortunately, Mark had to get back to work, and so I was on my own to try to figure it out.

I called Penelope’s nurse and left her a message explaining the situation. Now, this was the only tube I had on hand, so I needed to make it work. If I’d had another one, I could have just pulled this one out and replaced it. She called me back right away, and assessed the situation with me. I tried a few different things with her guidance to see if I could get placed correctly- pulling it out a bit and pushing it back in, retaping it, etc- all to no avail. The tube was going to have to come out.

By now, Penelope was hysterical. If you have ever changed a baby’s diaper while they are screaming at you, which they often do, you know what a nerve-wracking experience that can be. Now imagine dealing with that level of furious screaming (which had been continuous for close to an hour at this point), but instead of changing a diaper, you had to insert a feeding tube through your baby’s nose, down their esophagus, and into their stomach. This is what I was facing for the second time that day. And I was alone, except for the voice of her nurse on the end of my phone.

Since I didn’t have another tube on hand, I had to re-insert the guide wire, something I wasn’t crazy about doing, but there wasn’t exactly a viable alternative. The only way to get a fresh NG tube would have been to take her to the hospital, and potentially wait hours for the tube to be placed and X-rays to be done to confirm placement. She would have missed at least one feed if I went that route, and I would have had an extremely cranky baby on my hands. So I thought that reinserting the guide wire and trying again was worth a shot.

I got the wire sterilized and reinserted it. I wrapped Penelope up tight. I then took a deep breath, banishing all my fears and anxieties to a distant place, and using one arm to keep her head in place, I inserted the tube. It went in easily, and I checked the placement- I heard the pop loud and clear. Thank effing God.

The reason this is all so stressful to me is that there is a risk of injury to Penelope every time the tube has to be inserted. If it went into her lungs instead of her esophagus, it could cause some serious damage. And that is something that can happen easily enough. Even experienced nurses and physicians can injure a patient when inserting an NG tube, and it’s really hard to think that I could be the one to cause such an injury to my baby.

Once the tube was in properly, it took Penelope a long time to calm down. It was tough afternoon. In between trying to deal with the tube issue and trying to soothe my angry baby, I had to care for Charlotte, too. Luckily, she is a great kid, and was fairly understanding of my needing to be with Penelope (minus the meltdown when I told her she couldn’t ride her scooter down the hallway outside Penelope’s room), but I don’t want her to feel neglected. She was able to amuse herself with her colouring, and of course with Peppa Pig videos on the iPad. So it was fine, but it’s not the best way for us to spend the afternoon.

At the end of the day, we all survived. I was proud of myself for dealing with all that stress on my own. I am also proud of Penelope for figuring out how to pull out that tube- as much as it is a pain in the ass for me to replace it, it’s a milestone for her. And when I think of how that afternoon started- Charlotte being so affectionate and loving to her sister, and I take a picture to document it, and then moments later it has all fallen apart- it strikes me that is just exactly how parenting is, how life is. One moment, you are basking in happiness, and the next, you want to run away, screaming, from the situation in which you find yourself. And then you just have to grit your teeth, and get through it. Sometimes, you can even find some good stuff that went along with the bad, like this:

She is so happy when she pulls out that tube

She is so happy when she pulls out that tube

If she hadn’t pulled out that tube, I wouldn’t have seen that beautiful face. How’s that for a silver lining?

The Cake

June 1 was Charlotte’s fourth birthday. I am still a bit fuzzy on how she went from this:


to this:


in what feels like a matter of days. However, the calendar tells me that indeed she is now four years old, and so we celebrated. The first thing we did, when we realized her birthday was coming up, was book a place to have the party. Our house is small, and we felt that a facility that was not our home would best equipped to contain and entertain a rowdy group of small children. So while I did not need to worry about having our house ready to host a bunch of people, I still needed to make a birthday cake.

My mom always made me a beautifully decorated birthday cake every year as a kid, and it is a tradition I wanted to carry on for my girls. In the past, I have made Charlotte a teddy bear cake, an Elmo cake, and a butterfly cake, so I am not unfamiliar with cake decorating. This year, however, I decided to do something a bit different, and used fondant as my medium for the cake decorating instead of buttercream, which is what I always have used in the past. This is where things got tricky. I did some research on the internet, and found everything from dire warnings about working with fondant (“It’s very difficult! Make a practice cake first!” As if.) to reassurances that it’s really not that hard. I chose to believe the latter. I settled on a Peppa Pig design (Charlotte is OBSESSED with Peppa Pig- it’s a British cartoon about a pig named Peppa and her friends and family. I actually quite enjoy it, especially when Charlotte starts talking in a British accent after watching it. “Mummy, can we go post a letter?”) and then I watched a couple of YouTube tutorials on making a Peppa Pig cake. Psshh- no problem. It’ll be a breeze.

So on the Friday before her birthday, I headed out to Bulk Barn to get all the necessary supplies. In case you aren’t aware, Bulk Barn is the place to go for your cake decorating needs- they have all the tools you could ever need, they rent out cake pans in the shape of various characters, they even have pre-coloured fondant and buttercream frosting available for purchase in bulk. (Any Bulk Barn executive who is reading this: I will accept payment for this advertisement in the form of a cheque. Or candy. Actually, yeah, make it candy). Anyway, I get the cake baked, only to realize that I don’t actually have a big enough cake plate on which to decorate and store the cake. So, it’s back to Bulk Barn to buy a cake box. I finally get the cake in the box and frosted with the crumb coat (to smooth it out and help the fondant stick) and decide to finish the cake the following evening.

The next day, Charlotte’s grandparents (my dad and his wife and my in-laws) came over to celebrate, and as a result, I was not able to resume work on the cake until about 9pm. It is also worth noting that I made another trip to Bulk Barn that morning to get some more buttercream frosting to smooth out the cake a bit more. So the sun was setting, and I began working on the cake again. My initial plan was to have Peppa jumping in a muddy puddle with a blue sky/green grass background. If that worked out, I was going to add a sun, maybe some puffy white clouds and flowers. Ha! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, how naive I was!

As I opened the package of blue fondant that was supposed to cover half the cake and began to roll it out, it quickly became evident that I did not have enough. Like, not even close. And Bulk Barn was now closed, so getting more was not an option. I had to reassess my plan. I started having visions of this cake appearing on Cake Wrecks. The only form of fondant I had enough of to cover the cake was plain white. Now, I had a choice: I could either divide the white fondant and attempt to colour it blue and green so that I could stick to my initial vision or I could just have Peppa in her muddy puddle on a white background. I looked at the clock- it was approaching 10pm, and I had read many horror stories about the difficulty of colouring fondant, which is why I went the pre-coloured route in the first place- so white background it was!

Then I began the painstaking work of cutting out the shapes for the Peppa figure. I kicked myself for not buying the fondant cutting tool I had seen at Bulk Barn. (“Ridiculous!” I scoffed to myself at the time. “I have sharp knives. What difference could it make?” When will I learn not to make such sweeping generalizations about something with which I have no experience??) It was really hard to get the edges clean, even with the sharpest knife I could find. Nevertheless, I persisted.

It came time to make the muddy puddle for Peppa to jump in. Now, Bulk Barn only had brown fondant available in a giant tub, so I had decided to colour white fondant brown. This cake had taken up so much time at this point that I almost decided to forgo this step, but Mark persuaded me to give it a shot. Thirty minutes later, I had a muddy puddle. And brown-stained hands and fingernails.

Finally, after several hours of work, I had this:


Worth it.

Birthday wish

So, I’d like to apologize for not posting anything in over a week. The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy around here, and I will update on all of that (hopefully) later this week. I am discovering that writing a blog is a lot like going to the gym- once you get out of the habit, it’s hard, and a bit scary, to get back into it.

On Wednesday, I will turn 33. I am at the age now where I can never actually remember how old I am. Whenever anyone asks me my age, I have to stop and do the math. Even then, I still sometimes get it wrong. As a kid, you keep track of EXACTLY how old you are. “I’m not six, I’m six and A HALF!” Now, 32, 33, 34- it all feels the same.

Mark asked me the other day what I wanted for my birthday, and I didn’t really have an answer. I’ve had some time to think about it now, and I’ve come up with something. It’s pretty extravagant though, and I feel a bit guilty for even thinking about it. What I would like for my birthday is 24-48 hours of solitude. I know, it’s crazy! It’s too much! I can’t ask for that! But, oh God, could you imagine? 24 hours where I didn’t have to speak to anyone or do anything. 24 hours where I could sleep when I want, eat when I want, shower as long as I want without being interrupted, and use the bathroom without a little person in there with me. 24 hours without having to hear any whining or crying. 24 hours with no cooking or cleaning or diapers. This is the stuff parental fantasies are made of.

To be clear, I still want to celebrate my birthday with my family. I wouldn’t miss that for anything. Charlotte especially loves birthdays, and I can’t deny her the opportunity to blow out the candles on my cake (plus, I love cake). 

And maybe it can’t happen right now. But this is a gift idea that will be good at least until Penelope is in kindergarten. And I’m sure I’m not the only parent out there who craves this. So remember, next time you are looking for a gift idea for a parent you know, especially a parent of young children: you can never go wrong by giving the gift of alone time.