The Mediocre Kitchen

As promised, here comes a post about how I have started converting to minimalism and intentionality in my house and life.  While the first thing that I tackled was my wardrobe, it’s the one that I’m still most dissatisfied with – I feel like I’m in a really liminal space when it comes to my wardrobe, so my closet reflects that “temporary” feelings (I am still nursing… but probably not for too much longer during the day; I’m going back to work… but not until September; it’s freezing and whythehelldoilivehereagain… but spring is *maybe* coming).  So as much as I am FAR happier with my wardrobe right now, I’m not quite ready to do more than post the occasionally glimpse on Instagram.

But my kitchen!  It’s still also a work in progress, but I had no idea going into this how much this would change my life.  Cooking and baking used to be activities that I really enjoyed, and where I was very experimental and, admittedly, quite messy.  Cooking for and feeding my toddler and baby, however, has been far less fun.  Actually, I could easily accuse it of being the main source of most of my day-to-day anxiety (tied with the Sisyphean task of laundry for a family of four).  I had a pantry that was overflowing with STUFF and a fridge and freezer loaded with food that I couldn’t make meals out of – and that usually ended up getting thrown out.  Usually, we would look in our fridge, be unable to put anything together into an actual meal, despite the amount of food we were looking at, and then we would order in (I swear that Skip the Dishes knows us by name at this point).  So I was doing groceries (and paying for them in time and money) and then STILL ordering in food.  Once in a while, my husband would get overwhelmed by the fridge situation and just throw everything out, and we would start all over again.

Part of the problem going in was that I cooked off the top of my head.  I’d decide “tonight I should make risotto!  And tiramisu!” and off I’d go to the store to buy the specific ingredients for these recipes.  I’d make them, love them, leave my kitchen a total disaster, and fill my pantry and fridge with one-off ingredients that would languish there for several years before I’d be like “um why do I have a dusty bottle of Grand Marnier in the back of my pantry?  when did I even buy Grand Marnier?  was this a gift?  which 90-year old gave us this?” before trying to pawn it off on one of my senior family members, with fingers crossed that it wasn’t them who gave it to me in the first place.  Through this, I had acquired everything from a jar of what might once have been truffles, to 4 different kinds of curry powders, to various bottles of alcohol, to bottles of condiments with labels in languages that mean I literally don’t know what’s in them.

But no more, friends!  No more!

We live in a fairly small house, and we don’t have a lot of pantry or cabinet space, so what space we have is at a premium.  That means that the first step I had to take was to completely clear out my pantry and fridge and start fresh.  The challenge, though, is that I’ve DONE that before.  I had to rethink it and be more intentional about it.  So before I decided to do a big clean out, I decided to change the way that I was thinking about cooking.  I have done meal planning before, but in the way where I’d go through cookbooks or websites and pick 5 dinners that looked yummy and then buy all of the things I’d need to make those recipes.  I don’t deny the appeal here – I am not a food utilitarian.  I love food.  No, you’re underestimating it.  I LOVE food.  I have literally planned trips around food.  I have decided on which friendships to cultivate based on food.  I have, in a concrete sense, decided that eating delicious food is more important to me than losing weight (I’m serious.  I’m a size 8 who was formerly a size 2… but I had to struggle to stay at a 2/4 by really restricting what I ate and by making myself do exercise in a way that I don’t enjoy.  Now, I am very happy and consistent at my size 8, because I let myself have pain au chocolat with my morning espresso and a chunk of camembert whenever I feel like I need it).

My new approach worked like this: before I emptied out and reorganized my pantry, I needed to figure out what actually NEEDED to be in my pantry.  What items do we use again and again?  What items do we keep that we don’t use?  THEN, I figured out how to organize those items that we really use, and I went about it slowly and deliberately, making space for those items, so that I can easily see them (and therefore am more likely to use them) and so that we know when we are out.  It’s not written in stone, and it’s still a work in progress, but certainly this has allowed me to streamline and simplify both my groceries and my cooking.

Secondly, I re-thought my meal planning.  I decided on two things: 1. I HAD to have a plan.  No more staring at the fridge and figuring out what the heck to cook.  and 2. those meals had to have some consistency to them, so that I can re-use the same ingredients and don’t have to spend as much time thinking through things week-by-week and day-by-day.  But, let me stress, I cannot do the same meal every night.  And I can’t abide by the super plain, boring food that my husband and toddler seem to like.  So it had to be exciting (to me), consistent, and easy (like 30 minutes top to bottom).  Sadly, there are more conditions that I have to honour, like that my daughter is, y’know, 2, and while I believe that she should eat what we eat because I am not going to add “short order cook” to my already packed job description, I need to take her palate into consideration.  I sometimes give her palate more credit than it deserves, and I have to learn from those experiences going forward.

From there, it took a couple of months of trial and error.  Some experiments were crazy successful, like having my daughter help me make dinner whenever it was possible, and help serve it wherever it wasn’t possible for her to help cook.  Some experiments were significantly less successful, like my curried salmon stirfry, which we thought was delicious and which my daughter thought was worse than starvation.  After the trial period (let’s be honest, my life will always be in the trial period), I was able to sort out that my typical week looks something like this:

Monday: vegetarian option (meatless monday!)

Tuesday: tacos

Wednesday: salmon or chicken

Thursday: chicken or salmon

Friday: Pizza (we go to nonna’s house on Fridays for her homemade pizza and have been doing this for a decade- bless her heart for hosting six children and their 5 grandchildren every week)

Saturday: pasta

Sunday: Wild Card (i.e. leftovers, sandwiches, or order in)

All of these meals HAVE to have a protein, a carb/starch, and veggies.  My daughter (luckily) does not shy away from any particular category, though she obviously has likes and dislikes within each one.  From within this framework, it’s actually really easy.  I like to try out a fun recipe at least once a week, but try to pick something that doesn’t require me getting a bunch of random ingredients.  We really like Italian and Asian flavours in particular, so I usually stick with those palates, with the occasional branch-out to French or Indian/Thai.  We also don’t eat a ton of red meat, as you can see.

Once I had this laid out, the rest came about a lot easier.  My grocery list is already 80% done before I even start: I know I need chicken, salmon, whatever meat I’m using for my tacos, and lean ground something for my pasta.  I always get a bunch of whatever seasonal vegetables I know I can get my daughter to eat (right now it’s a LOT of cauliflower, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips etc. because it’s winter, but in the summer, it’s more greenery and asparagus).  I need rice and potatoes (usually baby potatoes or red so I can keep the skin on and boil them quickly if I need to).  I also ALWAYS have garlic, onions, ginger, coconut milk, and the ingredients for tomato sauce.  I know a handful of solid recipes that I know my kids and husband will eat, and then I mix it up a 1-2 times per week so that I don’t get bored.  Any time I make something adventurous, it’s with the idea in my head that it MIGHT get added to the rotation, if it proves to be simple, delicious and not too expensive to add to the consistent grocery list.

After I had nailed this down and done a few weeks of work with it, I realized that I could pretty effectively organize my pantry.  I bought wood crates from Ikea, labelled them with my principal ingredients, and suddenly my pantry looks all fancy.  Now, I have saved even more time because I don’t have to really think about my grocery list and (thank you, sweet sweet progress) I use grocery delivery or pickup services.  So on Sundays, I just spend 10 minutes putting it all on my online grocery bill and it shows up at my house, or I pick it up, the next morning for the week.

So there you have it.  In a strangely ironic twist, the less I have in my pantry and fridge, and the more deliberate I am about what’s there, the easier it is for me to cook quick, healthy, and delicious meals.  I swear to you that my mealtime stress has been reduced to almost nothing because of this change.  Now my mealtime stress is related to my daughter wanting to eat her dinner sitting on the ground in the closed pantry, which she has proclaimed “the Yukon” and my internal voice whispers to me “choose your battles… one day you’ll tell this story at her wedding.”

What do you do to simplify your mealtime routine?  Is it as chaotic and stressful for you as it was for me?  I’ve sort of gotten used to the fact that things that are hard for me are often easy for other people because I am a walking ball of loosely bottled anxiety.

And, if you’re interested, my favourite cookbooks and blogs for delicious and quick meals are Half Baked Harvest (her blog and her book are just… wow) and Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks.  I also follow a few healthy mom food-bloggers on insta.  I’ll do a roundup on there for those who are interested!

 

xo

Mediocre Mom

POTTY TRAINING

So life with a toddler and a baby is, as expected, insane.  But the previous level of insanity reached a new level of crazy this weekend when we decided to potty train G.

Backtrack a second.  We actually decided to potty train her like, three months ago, but we went about it in the way that I go about everything: half-assed.  And you cannot half-ass potty training.  You must whole-ass potty training.  Ass-and-a-half, even.  Prior to Friday, G had peed on the potty ONCE successfully and it was after my mom sat with her on the potty for an hour and a half with stickers.  I had gone to Toys R Us around her second birthday and bought a potty for on the toilet, and a portable seat for when we went out.  I switched her to pull-ups, and occasionally I’d ask if she needed to go to the potty, but that was it.  I was doing basically nothing, but at the same time I was frustrated because it wasn’t working.  So I went and bought an elmo stand-alone potty.  I had sticker books, special search-and-find books and a renewed determination to… do exactly the same amount of nothing.

Four months pass.  I get no sleep.  Daycare will only support what I already have in place, but wont potty train her for me (the nerve of them, refusing to parent my child and making me do it), and the after-daycare hours are so crazy that seriously I blinked and those four months were gone.  MY plans to have her potty trained before the snow was wiped out by both my own inaction and Edmonton’s early snowfall (which has trapped me in the house like some sort of domestic version of The Revenant).

But wait!  Here comes a three day weekend!  Didn’t my mother-in-law tell me that it only takes three days to potty train a toddler if you dont let them wear pants?!  PERFECT!  So when Friday rolls around, we get G from her room and… take her pants away.  At first, she was really upset because she loves her pants (they have cats on them.  Cats.  I’m such a dog person and my kid freaking love cats.  I think it’s evidence that she’s already going to be a rebellious teenager) and then, when we slowly tried to take her pull-ups away, things got a bit hairy.  See, her pull-ups have “Mickey” (it’s totally Minnie) on them, and it was like we were torturing her by not allowing her to wear them.  After a few attempts at distraction, we put a towel on the floor and took out her favourite puzzle, and she thought making “bum marks” on the towel with her penaten-coated rear was hilarious, so we were out of the woods.

Then we hunkered down to wait it out.  Everyone has told us that potty-training is the hardest and worst part of parenting, so we were prepared for the worst.  We had coffee.  We had snacks.  We weren’t leaving until she was potty-trained.  We set a “tinkle timer” on my phone for 20 minutes.  We gave her as much water-diluted apple juice as she could drink (and holy shit can she drink a lot) When the tinkle timer went off, we went to the potty.  At first she thought this was a hilarious game, and would hang out on the potty and read her new Richard Scarry word book.

The novelty wore off quickly.

Soon the tinkle timer was a source of mini tantrums, so we turned it off.  And it happened!  She stood up, looked at me and said “the pee is coming” and we ran to the toilet and it happened!  And there was no going back: she didnt have a single accident that first day.  We patted ourselves on the back for being such exceptional parents.

Saturday.

I spent the entire day in the bathroom on Saturday.  I Swear.  She had tasted success (it tasted like watered down apple juice, I assume) and wanted more.  Now she got her big girl underwear (it has Paw Patrol characters on it so we sing the theme song constantly – or at least the one line from the theme song that I know) and she wasn’t going to risk getting Skye or Marshall “wet.”  We did have our first accident, but it was because she was so excited about her puzzle that she didn’t want to go to the bathroom, so she peed a little while working on it.  But she told me right away and we went to the potty and it was all golden.

Sunday was the real test.

On Sunday, we left the house.  We went to dance class in the morning – no accidents.  We had our first legitimate accident at a restaurant that night when she told me she had to go and I let her leave the bathroom before she had gone to the bathroom (my fault, but seriously Tony’s Pizza was calling me back to the table!)

So where are we at now?

Well, this sounds like we had an incredibly successful weekend and, honestly, I would say that’s true.  We bonded a lot, she learned to tell me when she has to go to the bathroom, and it seems like she’s really got this when we are at home.

BUT

BUT

She does not want to use the potty at daycare.  It means that she has to stop playing to go, and they are spread too thin to set a 20 minute tinkle timer, or sit with her on the potty for 40 minutes waiting for her to pee, and I get it.  But it’s undermining the process for sure.

And she does NOT have it together for naps/bedtime.  That will be a big issue going forward, and I have no idea how to approach it.  She can’t get out of her room on her own, and we don’t have the kind of monitor in her room where we can hear her all the time – we use a Nest cam, so we can open it on our phones to see her, but it’s not like we would hear her saying she needs to use the potty unless we HAPPENED to be watching when she did.  So if anyone has any ideas here, I’d love to hear them (and then probably ignore them for like 4 months before I give in and half-ass them…as I do).

And here is the biggest one: we have noticed that during this process, her attachment has gone through the roof.  It’s heartbreaking.  Beditme and daycare time have gone through a HUGE regression since Friday.  I know we just have to ride it out, but it’s awful in the meantime, and it’s going to get worse because I’m a masochist and I’m going to start sleep-training L right away here… ugh why.

AND (whiney rant coming)

GOD I ALREADY MISS DIAPERS.

I know.  I know.  Who MISSES diapers??  ME!  I DO!  Do you know what I  hate more than cleaning my toddler’s poopy butt?  Sitting on the ground in a public toilet for fourty minutes waiting for her to poop and then STILL HAVING TO WIPE HER POOPY BUTT!  She’s GONE MAD WITH POWER!  She knows that I have to run with her to the potty if she says she has to go, AND SHE’S ABUSING THE TINY MODICUM OF POWER SHE HAS BEEN GIVEN!  This kid should NEVER be allowed to hold a position of authority – it WILL corrupt her!

 

Next up: sleep training.  I know there are a lot of opinions about it out there, but I’m going to talk about my experiences and opinions in my next post.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences with potty-training and what has worked for you!

 

xo

Mediocre Mom

Remembering What’s Important

I had started on a post about good/bad baby products for today, but honestly I can’t get through it.  I am having a “down” day, which is code for a day where my depression and anxiety is causing me to struggle with personing.  I have had struggles with depression and anxiety since I was pretty young, and some periods have been worse than others.  Being a mom has, unfortunately, triggered a lot of my mental health issues because of the constant feeling of not-enoughness that pervades a mom’s day to day living.

Yesterday was a bad day.  I looked around my kitchen and couldn’t make myself do dishes.  Which, of course, triggered feelings of failure because I was being “lazy” and couldn’t do what I feel is an expected bare minimum for me when I’m home all day.  I was a miserable ball of grump when I went to a pilates class and found out that it wasn’t pilates but *GASP* *HORROR* a barre class instead (“I didn’t come here expecting to do SQUATS for heaven’s sake” she says to the clearly offended instructor) making me feel like a huge bitch.  I went to school to help with auditions where I knew I would be letting everyone down because I wouldn’t be able to help with the show the way I would have before I had kids.  I was late getting home and didn’t have dinner ready.  I was short tempered with my daughter.  I was irritated with my son (Good Lord don’t you eventually reach a point of exhaustion where you just pass out?  When the hell does that happen for a newborn??  He could seriously keep national secrets safe in the face of sleep-deprivation torture).  I ate poorly because I had no energy and then hated myself for undermining my hard work to eat well for my health and milk supply.  I grumped at my poor mother on the phone.  I felt like a failure across the board.  The voice in my head repeated it to me: all the ways that I had failed all of the people around me.  I wasn’t giving enough to my kids, to my husband, to my family, to my job… and yet I felt like I had nothing else I could give… so clearly, I’m just not ENOUGH.

Yeah.  It was a bad day.  Depression, added in to the relentless erosion of parenthood, can be a beast.

In particular, it was my daughter I felt that I was failing.  I looked at her and someone else had put her hair in a ponytail (some well-meaning daycare working) and she had on dirty clothes with her runny nose and her perpetual daycare cold and I was crushed by the feeling that I was letting her down as a parent.  And even with that knowledge, I couldn’t stay patient with her when we were eating dinner (I spent seven damn minutes grilling this steak and you “no want meat”?!).

I was in tears by bedtime.  Not because of her – she is amazing – but because of me.  She’s TWO, dammit.  She wants to play hide n seek instead of putting on her pajamas; she doesn’t understand that I can’t help open the blue playdough when both of my hands are full, and she can’t help it that she can repeat the same sentence – “mommy help with boo paydough? mommy help with boo paydough? – a thousand times without realizing that she’s going to break me.  I came in to her room for the bedtime routine secure in my knowledge that I am a BAD MOM.

And then

We are lying in her bed, reading her story (“David’s Father” by Robert Munsch right now) and I’m lying next to her, with my head propped up on my hand while daddy reads and she yells out the parts that she knows.  All of a sudden, in one of those purely spontaneous moments that only kids seem capable of, she reaches a chubby little arm out and puts it around my neck.  She pulls my head down onto her tiny chest – I can hear her heartbeat like a butterfly through her fleece puppy pajamas – and she puts her sweet little lips on top of my head and says, entirely unprovoked, “I happy mommy.”

She’s happy.

She’s HAPPY.

 

I am not enough. I never will be.  I will never be enough to deserve the love that my daughter has for me… I will never deserve the way she looks to me when she needs reassurance… the trust she feels looking at me.  That’s a form of grace, you guys.  Undeserved, needed, precious beyond belief.  It makes my not-enoughness enough.

xo

Mediocre Mom

Why I Kept Her in Daycare

When I was off with my first baby, I had to make a major decision (as so many of us do) between going back to work and staying at home with my daughter).  Despite the seeming ease of this question, for me it was an identity crisis.

I wanted so badly to be the kind of parent who LOVED being at home with her kid(s).  Seriously.  I looked at my some of my SAHM friends and saw what amazing moms they were – they somehow always had it together, even with way more kids than me.  They were always out and about; the kids were stylishly dressed and in all sorts of beautifully-photographed activities.  They seem (and perhaps it’s not the case, but I can only report it from the outside!) very content with her kids.  On social media, they post funny mom-memes and beautiful photos of their sleeping kids with captions about how even when it’s hard, they are so blessed to be at home with their kids and see them growing.

But the part of me that is far more honest with myself than I sometimes would like, I knew I was not one of those moms.  I love my daughter intensely, but I found my mat leave to be one of the hardest years of my life.  I struggled with bad post-partum depression and anxiety for several months after her birth, and sadly did not find motherhood to be something that came naturally to me.  I don’t know – maybe none of us do, but it certainly felt at the time like I was the only person who struggled with it.  I missed adult companionship.  I missed the intellectual engagement I found in my job.  Additionally, I found myself in an internal war between how much I freaking loved this little human and how very deeply frustrating I found being at home with her.  I realized during my mat leave that I was not the kind of person who fell easily into chatter with small children, and I felt a deep sense of personal shame and failure over the fact that I had to work so hard to be patient and engaged with my own child, who I knew was one of the EASIER ones out there.

This struggle was compounded by the fact that the majority of my social interactions were work-based, so being away from work not only deprived me of my sense of personal fulfillment (I have long considered my profession to be more a calling than a job), I also felt that I had lost my entire social circle  as some of my best friends, and certainly the ones I spent the most time with, were my coworkers.  When I started talking about going back to work, I had to confront the challenges I would be facing: not only regarding trying to balance my work life (which typically involves a lot of work on evenings and weekends in addition to the regular work hours), but also in regards to finding a place for G.

I would first of all have to actually deal with and be okay with the sense of failure I felt in the fact that I knew I couldn’t stay at home with my daughter without ending up resenting her.  This has nothing to do with external pressures – although let’s be real, you can’t win either way (pick work and you’re a bad mom, pick staying at home and you’re wasting your potential) – and everything to do with my frighteningly consistent desire to put my child in a box on the side of the road with a “Free To a Good Home” sign on it.  I HAD to go back to work (for both our sakes).  But what to do with her while I was there?

We were a bit gunshy about daycare, so G spent several months with her nonna before we made the move to daycare in the early spring.  I was so nervous about it.  Neither my husband nor I had been in daycare as kids: his mom had stayed at home until the kids were all in school, and my parents worked alternating shifts and had me at my oma and opa’s house whenever they couldn’t be there.  Our in-laws had made similar decisions, with our sister-in-law staying home with her kids.  We didn’t have any friends with kids, really, and most of the friends that we knew had their kids with a grandparent or were staying at home.  Many of the daycares I looked at before finding the one we went with were too depressing for me to consider.  Like they were just orange jumpsuits and homemade shivs away from being tiny kid-prisons.  One place we went had a “yard” for their “outdoor hour” that was black tarmac with a chain link fence around it.  The kids were separated by age into little quadrants of the black chain-link fenced yard.  Tarps were slung across the tops of the fence to provide the pretense of shade.  To access the yards, the kids had to line up in between two secure doors to be counted.  They literally had inmate numbers, you guys.  And this place was EXPENSIVE!  I want champagne daycare at a beer budget and I won’t settle!

not her first day at daycare (I’m not on it enough to have gotten a picture of that haha) but look how cute her backpack is!


But once she started, everything changed.  While dropoff was awful (so. sad.) because she has some serious attachment stuff goin on, I quickly saw the benefits.  G has her mom’s social skills: when she wants to make a friend, she runs over and stands an awkward distance from them and just… stares at them.  If they look at her, or acknowledge her, she runs back and hides behind my legs.  But at daycare?  She made FRIENDS.  She learned to play with other kids, and to (sort of) share (she has a little boy who pulls her around in the wagon, and I think that counts as friends).  She gets to go outside everyday.  They garden.  They swim.  They go on field trips.  They colour their faces with super-indelible-never-come-off-till-youre-dead-and-maybe-even-later colouring markers.  Wanna guess how many of those things I did with her over my mat leave?  Ok, we did one of those things.  I’m not telling you which, but let’s just don’t ever get my kid wet (if you get this joke, you both read good books and also should be my friend).

So when L was born and we had to make a decision about whether to keep her in or pull her out of daycare, we decided to keep her in.  When I don’t feel like explaining my parenting deficiencies to people, I say that we kept her in so that we didn’t lose her spot for when I go back to work next year (this is actually true – the waitlist is huge and there are no promises), but the real reason is that I am not a good mom to her when I’m with her 24/7.  I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past two years: mostly how much stronger and weaker I am than I had thought.

Daycare not only gives her more than I can, they also let me give her more than I could.  With them, she gets a close, safe group of friends.  She has formed bonds with other people and it has helped her be more independent.  She has tended a garden, released butterflies.  She gets swimming and singing lessons.  She gets EXPERIENCES.  At home, I’m too overwhelmed with L to give her those things, and even when I’m not, I find planning and executing activities like that to be too big a task for just me (kudos times a million to all of the SAHMs out there hustling to give their kids experiences and activities on the regular).  Additionally, because I feel like I have had a chance to nourish my SELF, rest and bond with my new baby, I feel like I give her the better parts of myself when she’s home: evenings are full of playdough, tickles and songs (and tantrums, potty training and dinner and bath battles… I mean seriously.  You keep your cool after your kid poops in your hand or throws dinner on the floor and I will name you a Saint), weekends I feel like I had enough energy for adventures (also, I have access to the help of my parents and husband on the weekends, which makes adventures much easier to plan and execute).

Despite my wishes to be a super mom, I’m not.  I’m Mediocre (I once said that I was a bad mom and I was harangued for it because I was “not on crack,” so  I realized that the bar is perhaps a little lower than I’d previously thought).  I get tired, frustrated, over-touched, and bored.  I lack the energy or ambition to organize the kinds of entertainment that a busy 2 year old requires occasionally as a break from smashing pans together and reading the same book four million times.  This isn’t about comparing myself to other moms, this is about what is best for my kid, and for me.  And for us, it’s daycare.

xo

Mediocre Mom
Ps: still my favourite log entry from daycare

this kid is going places.  not college; but places.