Happy birthday to my sweet, brave, happy, determined, smiley, strong, lovely, and wonderful Penelope! She has filled my life with so much joy, she has taught me so much, and I love her more than I could ever say.
I am thirty-four years old today. I used to think that getting older would be terrifying and awful, but it actually is pretty great. I feel like I’m in that sweet spot in life where I’m still young enough not to have a daily medication dispenser that is the size of a briefcase but old enough to stop caring so much about what other people think of me. Some of the things I do now that I didn’t when I was younger because I was too anxious and self-conscious include:
1. Leaving the house with my glasses on and no make-up. Which now happens pretty much every day. Ten years ago, I would have needed to be pretty ill to allow myself that freedom. Twenty years ago, even illness wouldn’t stop me from putting in my contacts and putting on my make-up. That is actually what I would do before going to the doctor to get a wicked case of strep throat assessed. Insanity!
2. Singing along to the radio with the car windows down. In my youth, I would have the music blasting, but a carefully cool and indifferent look on my face. Now, I belt out Taylor Swift and bop around in that driver’s seat happily. I’m sure the group of high school kids waiting for the bus had a good laugh at that sight, but I really don’t care. In fact, I’m happy to provide a little entertainment.
3. Speaking of the car radio, I don’t often listen to music in the car anymore. Instead, you will catch me listening to AM radio for the traffic, news, and weather reports. My teenage self would be APPALLED. I was always so annoyed when my parents switched to an AM station- um, BORING! But now, I find it so practical and informative that I just can’t resist it.
4. Ordering what I actually want to eat when out at a restaurant instead of ordering only a salad or refusing dessert because I wanted to be dainty and feminine. Fuck that! If I somehow find the time to get of the house for dinner, you better believe I’m ordering filet mignon with a slice of cheesecake for dessert.
5. Dressing for comfort instead of fashion. Ten, fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing running shoes outside of a gym. Now, I wear them on just about any occasion. I literally do not own a pair of high heels. In fact, the most uncomfortable shoes in my current rotation are the lovely new Birkenstocks I got for my birthday (thanks, Dad and Liz!) and that’s only because they haven’t completely molded to my feet yet.
6. Going to bed early. Back in my youth, I would frequently postpone sleep in favour of staying up late to watch another episode of Friends/Gilmore Girls/West Wing/Scrubs or to finish off the book I was reading. If I was planning an evening out, I may not head out of the house until 10 or 11pm. Now, my bedtime is around 9pm. In the summer, I am often in bed before the sun sets. I know that if I trade sleep for entertainment, I will wake up exhausted, grumpy, and headachey. That missed sleep is gone forever- there is no opportunity to catch up on sleep anymore. After years of the sleep deprivation that comes with little kids, I seriously fucking value my sleep. Yes, I have an early bedtime and I have no regrets.
So yeah, getting older is pretty awesome. All you twentysomethings out there, stressing about aging, just think about all you have to look forward to! I love this freedom to be truly myself. At thirty-four, I feel happy and fulfilled. I have a fantastic, loving, and supportive family. I have a job that I love. I can sing at the top of my lungs when I am in the mood to do so. My feet don’t hurt. And I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything. Thirty-four is great.
My life at 34:
I love it.
Charlotte, today you are five. I don’t know where the time has gone. It seemed like only a minute ago, you were a teeny little baby:
and now here you are:
My beautiful girl. You are so much more than simply beautiful, though. If I had to pick one word to describe you today, it would be sweet. You positively ooze kindness and love. You give me more kisses every day than I could possibly count. Sometimes, you get up from the dinner table because you just have to give Penelope hugs and kisses, and you say, “Oooh, I just love you so much, sisty! I just can’t stop loving you!!” And it makes my heart melt every time. You are just the best big sister ever. You are so patient and gentle with your little sister- you have never once shown any resentment towards your sibling who requires so much attention; attention that is diverted from you. Somehow, at your young age, you understand and accept Penelope’s needs effortlessly. You have taught me a lot about the power of unconditional love.
There is more to you than sweetness, though. You are my multi-faceted girl. You love dresses and T-ball, and combine the two with ease:
You are smart and creative. You have been teaching me all about how the caterpillar makes a chrysallis and emerges as a butterfly. You recently drew this lovely picture…of me in the shower:
You are independent and determined:
It wasn’t long ago that you had to be rescued from this bouncy castle because you couldn’t maneuver your way through it, and now you can do it with ease.
You love flowers and enjoy examining all the insects and worms you come across in the garden:
You are, quite simply, Charlotte. I am so lucky to have you as my daughter. I love you more than I could ever possibly express. Happy birthday, my darling.
In less than a month, my baby girl, Charlotte, will be FIVE years old (sob). She has been looking forward to her birthday since, well, the day after her party last year. I have endured nearly a year of “How many more sleeps til my birthday, Mommy?” Soon, that momentous day will finally be here, and as such, I have begun the party planning.
The first lesson I have learned through this process is that she is not really old enough, or perhaps just not decisive enough, to make many decisions about her party. She has told me she wants to do gymnastics, dancing, baseball, karate, soccer, playing in the snow, and music at her party. Ummm, okay- soccer it is! No thanks to her input.
And then there is the matter of her cake- she has told me she wants a butterfly, Frozen, a Peppa cake like last year, flowers, Elsa, a rainbow, and chocolate. So, right now I’m thinking it will be a chocolate-flavoured, Frozen-themed cake. How hard can that be? Okay, you can stop laughing now.
Now that she’s in school, trying to figure out the guest list has been difficult, to say the least. Many of the kids she talks about I know by first name only, and I only know a handful of the parents of the kids in her class. We did finally, agonizingly, get the list sorted out, and she and I made the invitations last night. She did surprisingly well at writing out names and only required a couple of “practice” envelopes. The next feat will be ensuring that said invitations actually get delivered to their intended recipients- a task I’m not quite sure how to handle. I love Charlotte, but there is NO WAY she will be able to deliver all the invitations to the right people on her own. I’m hoping her teacher or the EA will be able to put them in the kid’s backpacks (as if they don’t have enough to do in a day).
So that’s where things stand in the party planning process. I have to admit I have been scouring Pinterest for Frozen-themed party ideas, and the ambitious part of me says, “Sure, I can absolutely make blue-ombre Rice Krispie squares and melted Olafs and blue cake pops and white chocolate snowflakes!” And the realistic part of me can’t stop laughing long enough to form a response to that notion.
My sweet baby girl turns one today. I just can’t believe it. It has been quite the year. Somehow, it has been the longest year ever to pass by in the blink of an eye. Whenever there is an anniversary like this, I always think back to where I was and what I was doing the previous year, and if I am where I thought I would be in a year.
A year ago, I was in the recovery room after Penelope’s delivery, doing lots of skin-to-skin time with my tiny little newborn. I wish I could say that I was basking in the happy afterglow that comes after a birth, but my happiness was tinged with worry. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. I was, however, completely in love with my baby. She was sweet and cuddly right from the beginning.
When she was born, I thought about what her first birthday would be like. I imagined that I would be back at work, and would have to fit her birthday party in around my work schedule. I pictured making her birthday cake and how we would take photos of her eating it and making a huge mess. I wondered if she would be walking yet, and what words she would be saying. How would she and Charlotte be getting along? I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I was dreading our house being under siege by a toddler again- that oh-so-exhausting period when these little ones are moving around; crawling, cruising, climbing, toddling, and getting into everything; not knowing that virtually everything they want to do would kill them without interference from someone older and wiser.
And now here we are, a year later. I have extended my maternity leave and so am not back at work yet. Charlotte and I will make her a cake, though she won’t be able to eat it (it brings tears to my eyes to type that sentence). She’s not walking; she’s actually not yet sitting up on her own, and she isn’t talking at all yet either.
What is even better than I had imagined, though, is Charlotte and Penelope’s relationship. Penelope absolutely adores her big sister; everything Charlotte does is fascinating to her, and Charlotte can always bring a smile to her face. And Charlotte is wonderful with her baby sister- she is always hugging her and kissing her, and she does so gently and lovingly. When Penelope had the NG tube, Charlotte would always help me as I retaped the tube- she would distract Penelope by singing to her and stroking her head to keep her calm. Despite all the time Charlotte gets left at home when we take Penelope to her various appointments, she is never jealous or resentful. This loving sisterly relationship has gone well beyond my wildest dreams of how the two would bond.
Penelope herself is a wonderful baby. She has a bright smile that lights up the room. She loves to cuddle and to be held. She likes playing with soft, crinkly books and biting on anything plastic. Actually, it doesn’t have to be plastic- those chompers have taken bites out of my finger on more than one occasion. She is, surprisingly, quite self-regulating. Nursing her was a nightmare those first seven months, but it was because she was smart enough to limit her feeds to volumes that she could handle without choking. When she does something out of the ordinary, it is money in the bank to bet that something is going on- teething, virus, whatever. She is a creature of routine. She now sleeps through the night, which is just so amazing. I love her so much and wouldn’t trade her for anything.
So, yes, things are not at all how I thought they would be. This past year has been fraught with heartache and challenges. But there has also been a lot of joy- like the first time Penelope smiled or the first time she rolled over- and a lot of love.
And on this day, I am thinking ahead to next year, Penelope’s 2nd birthday. Will she be walking and talking by then? What difficulties lie ahead of us this year? I don’t know. No one knows. But there is one thing I know for sure; no matter what Penelope is doing, no matter what milestones she has met or missed, no matter what her capabilities are, she will be very, very loved, by a lot of people, just like she is this year. And that is more than reason enough to celebrate.
June 1 was Charlotte’s fourth birthday. I am still a bit fuzzy on how she went from 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.