suburban siberia

transitioning from Los Angeles back to Edmonton

Category: family

life/work balance

Its April and I’ve been back to work full time for three months now. So how has it been?

The first two weeks were heartbreakingly awful. I didn’t get too much advice on how to navigate the change which led me to believe that this transition was different for everyone when they decide to go back to work. The one bit of advice I did get that I found helpful was from Levi’s aunt. She said that I will not be myself for a while and neither will Jasper. It was helpful because I had to remind myself about that statement for a while before I finally accepted it.

It was painful to be away from Jasper. I cried every day, and then called my mom often to cry some more. In fact, it’s still a difficult thing to think about so that’s my trick. I don’t think about it. I have taken to the resolve to not dwell on anything in particular now as a coping strategy. What’s that you say – I have an important meeting that I need to dress up for and my nursing bra doesn’t help boost my well endowed chest the way my original bras did, and my eyebrows haven’t been plucked in over a month – I don’t think about it – I just put on my stretchy black pants (that don’t remind me of how my body has changed post partum) and put on some earrings hoping they don’t notice my deflated breasts and generously bushy eyebrows. This is my life right now. I stopped painting my toe nails over 6 months ago and I can still see the paint chipping off. I just don’t care – well I don’t care enough to make time to deal with it. Sure, maybe one day I will care a bit more about my appearance, but I’d rather work on more pressing things (like getting Jasper to eat by himself instead of me spoon feeding him so that I can finally eat my food while it’s hot) and so my appearance is now way down on the list of priorities.  I just wear the same 4 shirts and two pairs of pants each week (that are slimed by Jasper daily) and I’m fine. Or at least my capacity to care has been drastically reduced. My priorities have completely shifted and it’s a conscious choice. Now I know why my mom doesn’t wax her mustache and can barely get dinner on the stove for 6 pm. She’s a busy lady! Props to her! I’ve spent my whole life thinking about myself and not ever did I really think about how I made her feel and how my life effects her life. And that’s what Jasper has done for me. He’s given me perspective on how to have gratitude for others in a much different way than I imagined. I love my mom and everything she has done for me – now more than ever.

I’m not spending much time with friends, or on myself, but this means I get to see Jasper every night to put him to bed and that’s the sacrifice I’m wanting to making right now. I hear it’s a short period in my life so I’m dedicated to enjoying this time for as long as it lasts. He brings me such joy.

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One year mark

Jasper is 51 weeks old. One week shy of being a one year old. I did it. And so did Jasper and so did Levi. Every time I was feeling conflicted about things I kept telling myself to give it the year and then see. And so now it’s almost time. But as I’ve mentioned before I’m ridiculously sentimental and hang on to things a bit too long. So I think I’ve been building this moment up probably too much. When I think about the year with him it feels like it has been the longest and shortest year of my life. When I think about discrete moments it is there but is also a bit foggy at the edges (probably from the lack of sleep or lost in my endless attempts to multitask). And when I think about Levi and I bringing Jasper home from the hospital it feels not that long ago. It makes me think of when other parents say that the days are long but the years are short. And then I begin to feel fear about the years passing by too quickly and then I’m back to feeling overwhelmed and emotional about how to hold on to the moment. And then I move on. It’s a cycle.

The last few months for Jasper and I have been pretty active. With traveling across the country and an artist residency that I just finished up it’s been hard to keep track of his big moments. In the beginning I wrote every little detail down. And then after he turned 6 months I let it go. If I felt like recording something I did, but if things got busy I tried not to get upset about it. Not once have I asked my mom what the first thing I ate was. Or the first babbling sound I made, or at how many days old did I first smile. I’ve seen my mom waffle on these kind of details like when exactly I first walked and I am certain I will do the same. The whole idea about recording is overwhelming to me. I’m a bit too thorough with those kind of things and once it becomes all consuming I begin to back away from it and then the job is left uncompleted. So I’ve decided to just take a photo or video if possible and just move on with my day. It’s been a lot easier for me since I decided to do that.

Jasper has two top teeth, two bottom teeth, and two more bottom ones on the way. He now says mamamammamama and sometimes mom as well as dadadadadad and dad. But wether he knows those names belong to Levi and I, I am not entirely certain but he at least says the words which feels pretty great. He signs some things like more and milk. And now he is walking. Just one week from his birthday. I was so worried that he would walk early because of how quickly he did everything else. He has been couch surfing for months and then finally near the end of November he began taking a step or two. On Christmas morning we let him try a walker that Levi’s cousin gave us and just like that he was able to easily cruise around with it. So I wasn’t sure if it really counted. But now finally he is walking unassisted. It’s pretty adorable and amazing to watch him take those steps.

There is one thing about having a child that I find strange. My relentless enthusiasm, curiosity and obsession with him. When he’s not around I look at pictures and videos of him. When talking with others I find it impossible not to bring him up. But I’m never made to feel weird about it. In fact it seems sometimes that this kind of behaviour is almost expected or encouraged. There are countless blogs, advice columns, articles and books geared towards children that it seems like an easy thing to put energy into. Of course I have found this year to be incredibly challenging and understand why there are so many resources but on the other hand I doubt that anyone would find my fanaticism with architecture or my artwork as charming. And so while I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the support with raising Jasper, it’s just something I think about sometimes.

The one thing I still haven’t been able to get on top of is my work in tandem with caring for Jasper. He goes to bed by 8 pm but I’m usually exhausted by then and have forgotten so many pressing things unless I write them down. That leaves the morning but I like to sleep as much as possible until he wakes up and then it’s cramming things in while he’s napping. Or sometimes I start work at 5 am before he gets up between 7 and 8 and then I’m out of sorts for most of the day. So I just haven’t figured it out yet. Also I’m still ridiculously late for everything. I was a late person before and now some days it’s just out of hand. I’m not trying to complain about everything but really, these are the things I am most worried about right now. I guess it’s because I am returning to work full time in February and I’m not sure how it’s all going to work. I have a bit of how this could work when I did an artist residency at the Banff Centre for five weeks in November. I had some great friends come and help take care of him during the day and a lot of evenings but I was not always the most organized with my time. My friends were amazing and I was thankful for them but I felt I just couldn’t get it together. Although perhaps I am too ambitious in what I want to get done and I’ve just got to make concessions. Maybe it’s not that my time management is bad, it’s just that I try to do too many things in that moment and that I’ve got to make some decisions on what’s really important to achieve. On top of that Jasper was always changing each day. I never know what he is going to be like that day. Honestly I feel like I’m searching for a crystal ball any time I have to anticipate what he will be like or what will happen that day. For example in Banff for two long weeks he reverted to sleeping like a newborn and screamed to be comforted and breastfed every 2 hours (and some times every hour) in the night time which was a whole kind of new hell. So sometimes it seems like I’ve really got this, but most days I feel like I’ve just started this journey and nothing is figured out. A teacher from grad school gave me advice when Jasper was first born. She said sometimes she’s a great mom, and other times she’s great at her career. But never has she been great at both at the same time and that’s just life. It sounds strange but it’s comforting to remember that every now and then.

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9.5 month mark – beginning

-Jasper is now almost one year. I didn’t post this entry because I was so full of emotion when I wrote this. But now that I’ve had some distance from it I think it’s ok –

It has been about 9 1/2 months since Jasper was born. This year has been incredibly precious and now that I am on the tail end of my maternity leave I find myself transitioning to the idea of not seeing him for hours on end every day. It is heart crushing. I am dreading it. While I am certain it will be a mix of both good and bad it is obviously inevitable.

Years ago if you asked me if I was going to have children I immediately said no. If you asked me two years ago, I would have said maybe. If you asked me a year ago I would have said possibly, but I’m not sure why. I think all of my hesitancy in having a child was mostly about giving up my dependence. A baby was something  that I thought would be permanent and Levi and I knew it would divide or take over our lives in a much more certain way – making us more reliable and responsible, something we never thought we wanted to be. I suppose what I am really trying to say is that I didn’t know it would be Jasper that I would give birth to. If I knew it would be this little button I’m not sure I would have been so afraid. He really is the best. I’m not sure what he will grow up to be like, who most he will take after. But none of those things matter to me in this moment. What matters to me most is the ability to hold him for moments at a time freezing the deep feeling of love that I have for him. Exploring every sound, shape and movement, watching him discover and repeat the discovery until it makes more sense to him. It’s like learning what the beginning of life is like and in that way it seems that no rules that I have abided by make sense any more. As he learns to make sounds I have also taken on new words into my vocabulary. My baby. My son. The longer he is in this world, the more I realize life for me has started over and for that I am increasingly thankful. This deep emotion has been giving, kind and generous. I am awestruck and when I return to work I am worried all of these things will quickly diminish. Of coarse that is likely not the case.

I have enjoyed this time. I am so glad that I still have almost three months left of it. In a few years I suspect this will all be a blur – but I bet it will be the sweetest, kindest and most generous blur in my lifetime.

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9 month mark – increments of time

-Jasper is about to turn one. I wrote a few entries but never published them. After reading them over I have decided to publish some of them. This entry is from when he was 9 months old –

Jasper is about to turn nine months old. Things have steadily become easier. Easier compared to when he was first born that is. My life is now measured in 1.5 hour increments. He wakes up for 1.5 hours, goes to sleep for 1.5 hours, is up for 1.5 hours and then sleeps for 1.5 hours. After the second nap it drifts and if I get in a third nap I consider it a win. But he also now reliably goes to sleep between 8 pm and 8 am (mixed in with one or two nursing visits to keep him going till the morning). I still don’t really get any work done until he goes to bed and I am exhausted once we get there, but because he is this little body of energy I have to spend my entire day acting as a play ground for him to crawl all over to keep him occupied. His is crawling. Not yet walking, but if you hold him up with your hands he will walk. He has been doing this since he was 7 months old. I thought for sure he would be walking by now but it’s interesting to see how much coordination it really takes. One week he masters standing and sitting unassisted and how each week he tries to stand on his own unassisted. It’s the small wonders of how hard walking actually is. I suppose I must take walking for granted. I get up so easily and transport myself where ever I like. I get why he wants to be carried everywhere and the vantage point he gets in my arms. Not only does it feel great to carry him (even though it can be tiring after a while) I’m sure he feels the benefits too. While I love seeing him interact with others it’s incredibly comforting when he only wants to be in my arms and is not satisfied until it happens. I am his world and he is mine. It might not be like this forever but I’m going to relish it until then.

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the fourth trimester

As we approach June, summer solstice is not far from my mind. The sun rose at 5:19 am this morning and will set tonight at 9:42 pm. But this time the sun’s extended duration has a different meaning to me as it revolves around my baby boy’s sleep schedule…and mine (when I get some).

Levi and I named our baby Jasper Eliott Collinge. He was born on Jan 7, 2016 (two days after his due date), at 7 lbs and 14 ounces, with a full head of hair (thank you extreme heartburn). I was incredibly apprehensive prior to his delivery, but once my contractions started the closer it came to his arrival the more prepared I became. Although 32 hours of labour would make anyone ready for delivery. When I arrived at the hospital at 7 am I was 6 cm dilated and was luckily able to take an epidural – which was the BEST thing. I was happy, calm, I took a nap and could still feel the contractions without any of the pain. I was telling jokes, the staff were amazing – including my obstetrician, I didn’t yell once at Levi and finally when it came time to push I was beyond excited to meet our little boy. Jasper was born at 1:54 pm later that day. Delivering was one of the most unique feelings I had ever experienced. I met my baby. Something I had created over a period of 9 months and finally was able to hold now that he had left my body. He was born jaundice due to our blood incompatibility so we stayed in the hospital for 3 days as he recovered. He is now 4 and half months, at 19 weeks, doing great and full of smiles (most of the time).

The first three months are a bit hazy due to the unfortunate bout of sleep depravation. Luckily I have taken a billion photos and videos so I can relive those moments but for the most part I would agree to the term the fourth trimester as I felt Jasper was still an extension of my body during that time. Where his dependence on me for survival was never felt so acutely which included my smell, my breast milk and my care for him. As he transitioned to 4 months I saw him transform more dramatically from a newborn into a baby where he is now able to more directly vocalize his emotions, can stand sturdily on his feet with the help of our hands, brings everything to his mouth and desperately tries to sit up on his own. And now that he is rolling over and squirming mightily crawling does not seem so far away at this point. The smiles and giggles is my most treasured thing. It really helps when you are changing his diaper for the 3rd time in a row in the middle of the night. You have one eye open, one foot asleep, and grogginess surging through your body. Then you hear a small giggle or glimpse a sneaky smile, and suddenly the dark clouds and the exhaustion (momentarily) melt away. As his small body develops, I feel mine erode as I share and provide life for him – but when I think about it, the contributions feel more than worth it as I experience the life cycle first hand.

Among my many apprehensions I was incredibly worried about postpartum depression. But it seems instead of the sad hormones I got the “life is amazing and I want everyone to feel as amazing as I do” hormones – which I assume people will also feel by looking at my baby, holding my baby, or listening to me describe how wonderful my baby is regardless of whether they have children or not. I try to restrain myself as best as possible from sharing photos when he is not around, but I’m not sure how much longer I can hold of on that impulse. I just keep thinking about the time I was on a flight from LA to Edmonton and a father showed me photos of his children for 30 min and I was polite about it. But in my mind, the entire time I asked myself -who cares. But here I am close to doing the same thing – the wonders of life. My obsession with him I’m pretty sure is healthy, but possibly annoying. But hey if I can’t be myself, then who else will I be.

One of the many things that surprised me was how my world opened up once he was born. There is this huge network of resources that becomes available once you have a baby. I had visions of sitting in my house alone with a crying baby, feeling trapped into domestic life while on maternity leave, but there are plenty of opportunities to leave the house, groups to join, health professionals to consult with and a multitude of family and parent friends to hang out with which never makes me feel alone or desperate for a solution to a problem. My friends without children are extremely supportive, offering what ever they can, when they can. And Levi’s and my parents are overwhelmingly helpful and full of enthusiasm for us – giving us a whole new perspective on all they have and continue to do for us. I bring Jasper to 99% of all of my meetings (as I still continue professional obligations) and everyone is overwhelmingly welcome to his presence, never indicating that they are bothered by his crying, my breastfeeding, or my extreme lateness, which is helping to build my confidence in this new adventure. It is the complete opposite of how I thought it would be. I could continue to go on and on about all of my epiphanies but instead I will share a few photos of Jasper’s first three months which I will naively assume will make you feel as happy as Levi and I do.

Preparations

It’s been a full 6 months since my last post. Things in my personal and professional life have become seemingly more serious and online comments/blogging on this site began to feel less important compared to the discussions I was having off line. Blogs are great. There are many of them out there and they can offer quick antidotes about larger narratives but from my perspective my comments this year have been deeply personal and my rule about the blog is to keep things light and to stay away from serious subject matter incase I regret sharing thoughts I ultimately cannot take back. But the thing is, the readership for this blog is not very high so it still operates as a type of personal journal. And at the same time I still have to understand that the lens I share this under is not the same lens it may be received under when read – so it’s a good exercise about expressing my thoughts.

While this blog started with the idea of studying suburban life with a Canadian mindset, as of last month I have moved away from the Terwillegar neighbourhood and now live (from what I consider) in a more community minded area called King Edward Park (close to Bonnie Doon). This neighbourhood is closer to downtown and has a longer history of development, and I think the house has a bit more charm. I lived almost two years in the Terwillegar town house and only spoke to three neighbours over the duration of our stay. I waived to some who seemed familiar but no words, handshakes or names were exchanged. While Levi always relished the privacy and convenience to me it felt like there was less ownership and accountability. Plus I never really got into the sterile environment and always saw myself as an outsider trapped in a never ending carousel of someone else’s ideal view of what urban life should look like. I will say that their trail systems for walking and biking are fantastic though -and I will miss the opportunity to cross country ski to the LRT for work. That was an unexpected delightful surprise. Hopefully I can visit the trails in the summer along with discovering the river valley two blocks from my current doorstep.

This week I am 38 weeks pregnant. Nearly nine months. Hopefully I still have 2 weeks left before the baby arrives so I can fully prepare for his arrival – we are having a boy! I have been working a lot on professional and personal projects during this pregnancy, which has been a great distraction from the uncomfortableness but it has become hard to multi task and my preparation for the baby is not where I hoped it would be.

Today was my first official day off. Although I spent the entire day at my kitchen table working from home to complete a project I was still able to fit in a nap and some laundry so it’s a slight win. Today also happens to be Winter Solstice. My second favourite day, next to Summer Solstice because this means that this day will be the shortest in the year and every day after that will get longer and longer. The sun rose at 8:48 am and set at 4:14 pm. This also means we are having a winter baby, something a bit unplanned. I’m beginning to see the up side of the timing finally, such as the fact that I will be hibernating while learning to be a new mom when it is the coldest time of the year.

Levi and I have been married for nine years and we decided we could finally take this on but I have to confess we have encountered this experience with humorous trepidation. Usually I revel in taking risks without knowing the outcome but in this case I want to know that things will turn out. There are so many people on this planet – most of whom live in poverty and neglect and it feels selfish to contribute. But contributing we are none the less. It’s not that my youth wasn’t really terrible in comparison, but I hated depending on my parents. Even when I was six I had a suitcase packed just incase I had to leave if things went in a direction I didn’t want them to go. The suitcase contained some of my favourite dresses and a stuffed animal. I tried to use it only on a few occasions but they were unsuccessful attempts. My mom was really good at convincing me to stay.

Despite my hesitations I have a overwhelming suspicion that once he comes everything will fall into place. I feel deeply lucky that I am able to experience this transformation. Originally I did not think that that this was so much of a miracle since so many women do it. I thought if it was a miracle, shouldn’t there be less occurrences of it? But I have finally begun to realized while child birth is universal for a lot of woman, each experience is deeply personal. And this little boy shifting my ribs up and pushing down on my bladder at the same time while having hiccups, as he currently is now, is something only I can feel and it’s pretty amazing. For most of my life I have dwelled on death. The fear of my parents passing on, my grandma, Levi, our extended family, friends and so on. I detest good byes and believe that in a way it represents death/ultimate endings. Perhaps that is why I like architecture so much. It always has a great beginning with the threshold entrance, but never has the same drama when you exit the building as when you enter it. I have always tried hard to preserve memories rather than allowing them to drift in and out. For some reason I am not sure why I retain these values as I see the difficulty it provides me from moving on. But in this case I have realized that I am apart of something entirely new. I am at the beginning. I have watched this beginning grow in front of my eyes and still feel it within my body. It is truly awe inspiring. I will be at the beginning of this life and it is because of my decision, not others. That is an amazing thing. So I look forward to these next two supposed weeks I have. This is a big event for Levi and I and I hope to relish it as we get older and trust that the mistakes we make are character building for this little fox I am about to bring into this world.

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These clothes are Levi’s original baby clothes! I have a few others that Levi’s kind mom passed on to us that she carefully preserved – which I hope to feature more of on this blog. The t-shirt shows Winnie the Pooh on the corner pocket and the Space Patrol onesie is perfectly styled along with my coincidentally colour coordinated belly which is also making a bit of a debut. The 80’s are back!

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Our new home at 4:46 pm on December 21, 2015