Saturday, December 16, 2006


Anna Sophia attended her first poetry book launch yesterday, December 15. It was a command performance for a book that is dedicated to her, The Taste of Water, by Frank Ledwell, her grandfather. Not many eleven-week-olds can say they've had a book dedicated to them. That's some pretty quick turnaround on printing and launching.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Different Parents

I’ve always been surprised when people describe me as “calm” or “laidback.” I’ve never perceived myself as deserving either of these descriptors. I’ve always suspected I’m inexcusably bossy and uptight. I’m equally surprised when people think I’m “organized,” when in my cluttered mind, I’m constitutionally unable to set a priority. And I still remember the shock of being described as “sanguine” when I was nineteen and realized that I apparently gave off a general air of nonchalant happiness after all those years of adolescent angst when I perceived myself, and expected others to perceive me, as “moody” at best and “morose” at worst.
I still suspect those who know me best -- Stephen especially -- know that I’m frenetic, bossy, uptight, disorganized, and moody. But new parenthood is providing a whole new mirror, and I have to admit that I’m a different parent than I thought I’d be, and this is a great relief.
I started to find out early. First of all, it took such determination to be able to get pregnant and stay pregnant that I learned a motivated self-discipline I had never asked or expected of myself before. It took a very strict diet, regular exercise, and a committed yoga practice, and all these enriched my life.

Having discovered willpower, I worried I would be one of those mothers who imposed my will on a baby. All those bossy instincts that I try (unsuccessfully) to either suppress or direct towards useful activity . . .

I let go my worry about imposing my will after about sixteen hours of labour. I thought a nice, unmedicated vaginal delivery would be the best start for my baby. Anna had other ideas. She thought it would be best to be born by c-section. All of a sudden, I learned a lesson in setting priorities: get this baby born without her needing to express distress to be born the way she wants to.

I never thought I would be a mother who would bottlefeed my baby. I was determined to breastfeed, and I thought a nice steady diet of breastmilk would be the best start for my baby. Again, Anna had other ideas. Soon after she was born, I discovered reserves of calm I didn’t know I had when Anna, who couldn’t latch at all, turned purple and shaky with crying every time she caught sight of my breast. And I was able to let go my determination to pump milk for her when I realized that the infernal mechanical contraption extracted more tears than milk from me (making me more “lachrymose” than “lactating”). Anna needed a mom who was more sanguine than morose.

I was worried that as a mother, I would “go soft,” somehow, and relinquish values and desires and dreams and even my sense of identity and self. And I have definitely gone soft in some ways -- but not in the ways I expected. I’m still determined to maintain my sense of independent identity and activity, to set an example at the very least. (Thanks, Stephen, for helping support this determination.) But the joyous flipside of needing my independence is that I want the same for Anna, and so I don’t need to feel any smothering possessiveness about her. She is so amazingly her own self, her own person already. This bodes well for her independent identity and activity -- and it makes us, her parents, love and appreciate our babysitters!

There are so many ways I give in. I give in to the pleasure of cuddles and kisses and games. I have gotten so tender-hearted at the thought of suffering, anyone’s suffering, that it would be unbearable if I didn’t use it as a motivation to crank up the active compassion response.
As an oldest daughter, I am so touched every day to be experiencing what I now realize my parents must have experienced all those years ago, to feel what they must have felt for me, and I know now in a way I didn’t know before just how fortunate and blessed I am.

And perhaps we all have different parents than we, or they, might think.

Thursday, December 7, 2006


Of all the nicknames we use for Anna -- Honeypie (and other Beatles allusions), Anapestic (and other plays on words with an “an-” prefix -- Patrick suggested “anaerobic,” considering her activity level), Monkeyface (and other nicknames more usually applied to the cat), Chicken (and other of my favourite poultry-related terms of endearment), Pavlova (and other famous Anna’s, to the exclusion of tragic ones like Karenina) -- I like the “-pants” range of nicknames best: Smileypants, Crankypants, Gigglypants, Stayawakeypants, Askyourdaddypants, and, best of all, just plain Annapants.

And the distinguished award for being the first to call Anna “Anna Banana” goes to writer J.J. Steinfeld, who met her on the street on an early adventure.

Anna’s granddad had been put on notice by Grandma Carolyn to avoid the obvious banana reference. Rhymes come cheap. Free verse will never last.

He has been very accommodating and has reformed his ways. After a lifetime of never calling his own children by the names he collaborated in giving them, he now suggests not spreading around nicknames for Anna, because they might stick.

As far as bananas go, I’m aware of the grave risk of putting our baby girl in yellow and having her branded forever, but the risks of yellow must be balanced against the risks of pink. The “girls must wear pink” law of Western capitalist and consumerist despots is more severely enforced than I had even predicted.

What a relief that Anna looks best in solid purples and whites.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006


Today, Anna attended the annual memorial service for fourteen women murdered in Montreal, for local women murdered since that time, and for women around the world murdered because they were women. This service always touches me. The first memorial services for the Montreal Massacre took place in 1990, my first year at university. I remember participating in those services with a deep knowledge of what was lost with the loss of any young woman’s life.
Today, the urgency of eliminating violence feels absurdly important as I look at a baby girl and wish her for her the best possible life -- free of violence and full of choices.

Anna has attended four feminist events in the first ten weeks of her life. She has met her Member of Parliament, her Premier, and the provincial Minister Responsible for the Status of Women. Two events marked memorials of women who died by violence and efforts to prevent violence. Two events protested cuts to Canadian women’s organizations and the inexcusable gutting of the mandate for federal Status of Women programs.

I sincerely wish Anna was born at a time when women’s equality goals were already achieved (as the Harper government claims them to be). I had hoped that more of the work of achieving equality would be completed before she was born, much as I had hoped that the house would be clean and comfortable and safe. I guess we never accomplish what we set out to do during our pregnancies.

The first question we ask about babies is their sex. The first thing we do is ascribe them a gender and a set of ways of demarcating gender so we know how we’re expected to treat them: pink for girls, blue for boys. Frills for girls, plains for boys. Gentle tickles for girls, roughhouse kisses for boys.

At ten weeks old, Anna has never witnessed violence. She came close at the Public Health office, where our hearts sank to hear a two-year old boy tell his mother, “Wait for me, you idiot.” He did not say it jokingly. It was unbearable to think how he had learned so young to call his mother that or what the future holds for him and the people in his life. I hope that Anna does not have to experience his violence -- or anyone’s -- as she gets older.

At ten weeks old, Anna knows already some of the high expectations placed on girls. I shock myself with how easily, casually, automatically even I reward her for looking pretty and praise her for being “good.” I can only hope that I am as enthusiastic when she uses her voice to express her feelings and needs and that I reward her for her strength and intelligence and independent spirit. I remind myself every day to celebrate the ways she challenges me and the world, since there will be plenty to celebrate as she gets older.

At ten weeks old, Anna has met an amazing number of people who plan to love her like the dickens, and her capacity to accept their love and turn it into all kinds of goodness is incredible.

At ten weeks old, Anna has met dozens of women and men working together to eliminate violence and discrimination against women and others, and I am grateful to them all for the example they set.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Updates for Aunties & Uncles

Big "A," little "a," what begins with "a"?

Anna is a busy baby and keeps us busy, but this has been an especially challenging week, since Stephen's back has been spasming any time he tries to lift or change the baby. I've explained to anyone who will listen that patriarchy put his back out. The crib and changing table are designed about eight inches too low for a man of his stature. (See, little grasshopper -- patriarchy causes pain for men, too.)

It's just possible that I'm in withdrawal from work and am over-applying feminist analysis to people and objects closer to home. But, lucky for Anna, she was born at the same time that her federal government declared that women are fundamentally equal already, so the federal Status of Women ministry doesn't need to have women's equality in its mandate or to fund women's organizations for advocacy. Anna and I have been to one protest already and will attend another this week. It's never too early to indoctrinate the young. We will carry a banner that reads, “Stephen Harper Makes My Baby Cry.”

So, where was I before the rant?

You'll be happy to know that Anna continues to have strong opinions and a sense of justice. One nurse had forewarned us that she was trying to lead a Babies' Lib movement from the nursery of the hospital. She's a very laid-back baby -- except when she's not, and then she yells at us. It isn't frequent, but it is always justice-related. She rails against the injustice of wet diapers, hunger pangs, unacknowledged sleepiness, and bad parenting.

Bad parenting occurs when we fail to distinguish a yell demanding one thing from a yell demanding another -- if we mistake hunger for a wet diaper, for instance. Bad parenting, in her estimation, can also consist of paying less than 100% of our attention to her 100% of the time.

The sleepiness issue is a bigger problem, since she yells if she's tired but hates to miss anything interesting, and so she fights sleep with every ounce of energy she has left. Fortunately, this fighting only takes place during the day-time. She's well on her way to sleeping through the night -- she slept ten hours at a stretch last night, which I thought was a bit of a gyp since Stephen was supposed to be on night shift and I was on morning shift. He slept through while I staggered out of bed at 6:00. Not early by Anna’s granddad's standards, but I had been on night and morning shift for the two previous nights. And it's Sunday morning, for pete's sake.

You can tell when Anna's fully asleep because of her position: the Duffy sprawl, as Dad called it. Arms a-flail. Stephen now refers to Anna's arms as the "lateral stabilizers," as in the phrase, "lateral stabilizers fully deployed."

She's thriving on her all-bean diet, our little vegan baby -- she's on a soy-based formula since being unable to breastfeed. We would call her "fartface" as a nickname anyway, because we're like that, but she earns the title. She loves to eat and when she has fully satisfied her appetite gets a look on her face -- mouth agape and milk-covered, eyes half-lidded -- a bit like Homer Simpson after a beer. We call her our "sloppy little milk drunk" on these occasions. Then we put her to bed.

Her personality and tastes are emerging more and more with every day. Last time I wrote, she was able to tell us her favourite albums. Now she can tell us her favourite songs. She's still fond of Rose Cousins’s If You Were For Me album (especially "Dance If You Want To"). But her preferences led to some heartache recently, when we tried out an album of soppy baby lullabies we'd received in a book bag at the hospital. She loved it. Cheese-a-rific keyboards and all. To her credit, she cried when a bunch of children belted "Frere Jacques" out of key. But she loves the "Snuggling Song" -- "This is the snuggling song / The snug as a bug in a rug-a-ling song." Ugh-a-ling song.

Thanks to Laurie's lovely “un-shower” last week, attended by many friends and family members, we've diversified the lullaby collection a little and only have put the snuggling song in lower rotation. We’ve been overwhelmed by all the presents, good wishes, and love from family and friends.

Anna slept for a while at Laurie’s party for her, but she woke in time for cheesecake and was very charming. She still loves to play with people more than toys. She loves to look into a person's face, and she's got a killer smile. (She had to work on it. For a few days when she was five weeks old, she could only smile on one side at a time -- then finally she got both sides coordinated.) This week, she's learning to laugh, which is pretty cute. Her favourite game is tongue-sticking-out. She sticks out her tongue at you, and you are expected to stick your tongue out at her. For at least half an hour. Funny noises and raspberries optional but preferred. Diatonic and pentatonic scales and arpeggios sung while forming raspberries guaranteed to inspire the attempts to laugh.

A true Island girl, Anna was also wonderfully social during the sad occasions around her mother’s godmother's wake and funeral last week. On Wednesday, she had the happy surprise of meeting her Aunt Emily, home from northern Quebec, and she came to the wake and slept so peacefully that she was able to stay almost all afternoon. She had a babysitter during the funeral, but she came out again for the family reception that night. It was a good thing to have new life at gatherings that marked the end of a life. And though it was a very sad occasion, it was good to get together with family that doesn't gather nearly often enough.

Anna is a very contented, friendly baby. We love her, of course, but we also like her a lot and find her great fun to be around, with her strong and active little body and her curious mind. She loves to sit in her chair on the kitchen table while I cook (as long as I stick my tongue out at her often), and she scrunches her nose when I wave things under her nose for her to sniff. She loves to go for walks in her stroller or in her carrier, and she looks around intently until the rhythm of the motion lulls her to sleep. We try to take our walks in French, to give her a little taste of a second language. Turns out her mother needs a pocket dictionary, thanks to lapses in vocabulary -- what is the French word for "sidewalk," anyway?

When Anna Sophia wakes today, we'll do our regular round of Sunday visits, with Grandma Marjorie first and then today, for special, supper at Pat and Tara's to belatedly celebrate Grandma Carolyn's birthday.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

All About Anna

Dear ones living “away,” it has been a while since I gave you updates about Anna -- really, most of you don't know much about her except that she was born. Mostly, she does baby stuff -- eating, sleeping, growing, fussing, pooping, staring at walls -- but she does it all very well and very cutely. The verdict from her grandmothers is that she is perfect. It's a lot to live up to, but she's trying her best.

Anna only wakes once per night most nights, a boon to her parents who are exhausted anyway. Stephen does the late-night shift most nights, to let me recover more swiftly from my surgery. I get up early in the morning if Anna wakes early, and I let Stephen sleep in. He's still working part-time, afternoons only, and may only return to work full-time if it’s absolutely necessary.

Anna is very bright-eyed and curious. She loves to look around, enjoying contrast and colour and people's faces. She even responds more to paintings with faces in them than she does to paintings of flowers or landscapes. (Maybe this is just because the ones with faces are mostly her dad's paintings!)

So far, her favourite music is Rose Cousins' s new CD -- especially "Dance If You Want To" and other songs in 3/4 time, perfect for waltzing. She enjoyed her introduction to her uncle Danny and In-Flight Safety, too, though it was perhaps more sophisticated. The big singles made the biggest impression, since Anna is a melodically minded one-month-old. Stephen says she likes the hip-hop beats, but he's kind of kidding. She certainly seems to want to dance.

She tries very hard at everything she tries and obviously wants to have a grown-up body that will do what she tells it. She tries to move her head and stretch her legs in rhythm with songs. It does not always go well for her and sometimes results in her head bashing into one of her parents' collarbones or chins. A few times, I've caught her trying to sing. It's hilarious. She just tries out her voice on a steady pitch and makes a sound that is different from her other vocalizations. She can only change the pitch on inhalations so far.

Perhaps only a parent would call it "singing." We ascribe a lot of developmental successes to her when, really, she's happy just to stare at walls. Yesterday, she was a little closer to the wall of her crib, though, and she discovered that she could not only see it, she could also touch it and feel the texture and scratch it and make a sound. This delighted her for an hour or more.

She is often very happy to sit somewhere or lie somewhere and amuse herself. At the end of the hour, she's usually fussy for a bit, and we try to guess why. The tricky part is determining where the line is between being tired and needing to lie down and being awake long enough to be hungry again. She doesn't like to sleep during the day. She hates to miss anything. She usually stays awake either all morning or all afternoon. Evenings, she cranks unmercilessly for a couple of hours before bed, no matter how good a day she has had.

We try to take her on adventures every day; otherwise her mother is cranky at the end of the day, too. Yesterday, she had baby yoga with her mom and then her parents carted her off in her stroller to see the sights around Charlottetown. She fell asleep and we stopped for hot chocolate and to read the Globe and Mail at Mavor's (good stroller parking, close proximity to art galleries, changing tables in both the men’s and women’s washrooms, and many escape routes). Other days, the adventure is usually just a walk in the stroller. She screams blue murder at the prospect of wearing a hat (having inherited her father's and her Ledwell uncles' enormous noggin), but after that, she settles in the stroller and struggles to stay awake to look around as long as she can. She usually falls asleep by the time we get to the Tech Centre on University, lulled by the ka-thunk ka-thunk of the sidewalks on Prince Street.

Today's adventure will be a visit with Grandma Marjorie and then a visit with Grandma Carolyn and Granddad Frank. Given the end of daylight savings time, we expect this to mean she'll be awake and happy for Marjorie and awake and cranky for the Loyalist crowd.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Home at Last

Today, we brought home our new daughter, Anna Sophia. Stephen and I could not be happier or more excited. She was born, healthy and happy, on September 28. We can’t wait to get to know her.

I am recovering from the surgery required to separate the baby from me. Stephen is mostly going back and forth to the drug store. No matter how well we were cared for at the hospital, there’s no place like home.