Tips to Look After Your Husband

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My mother sent me a clipping from a 1950 Home Economics book, a sort of top ten list for women on how to please your husband. In honour of Valentine’s Day, using this list as a guide, I am going to share with you my updated, 2018 version, of this same list. The tips provided to women in this 1950 guide are very serious. The ones I am suggesting, well, not so much.

Have dinner ready

1950: “Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.”

2018: On my drive home from work I think about what’s in my fridge and what I can throw together for dinner. Tonight, I wasn’t in the mood to cook, so I made pancakes. I don’t know, or care, whether or not my husband enjoyed dinner.

Prepare yourself

1950: “Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.”

2018: Our son turns 11 next month. That means I rested about, well, 11 years ago. I put on make-up when I first wake up early in the morning, and by the time we all arrive home at the end of the day I often look like a ragged mess. A stimulating conversation, on a general weekday evening, is a mix of yelling at our children, going over tasks to complete around the house and sometimes a more stimulating discussion about news and politics.

Clear away the clutter 

1950: “Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too.”

2018: Clutter is my middle name. At any given time, if anyone (never mind my husband) enters my house you will see many items scattered about – a single toddler sock, various toys, hats, coats, books, paper and dozens of other items. I may own some dust cloths. My house is usually a haven of chaos and disorder.

Prepare the children

1950: “Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and face (if they are small), comb their hair and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.”

2018: I love this one. Really? I do bathe my children regularly, but around 6:00 pm all three of them look more like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoons than little treasures. Even if I did tidy up my children, my husband wouldn’t notice.

Minimize all noise

1950: “At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, drier, dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad to see him.”

2018: When I’m home with my kids all day I’m very glad to see my husband. To hand the wild things over to him. It’s not hard to eliminate certain noises around the house, as I doubt that the washer or vacuum are in use anyway. I can guarantee that at least one child will be screaming, another one will be bothering another one and the third one won’t even notice that someone has arrived in our house.

Some don’ts

1950: “Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he’s late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day.”

2018: I build up my list of grievances as I slog through my day and my husband does too. He is rarely on time for anything, so I’m more shocked if he arrives anywhere on time than late.

Make him comfortable

1950: “Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax – unwind.”

2018: If my husband chooses to relax on a comfortable chair or in bed he had better do so with a couple of rambunctious children. He can make me a drink. His shoes better be off his feet before he steps off the mat at the front door. I don’t know what a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice is. I’m always loud.

Listen to him

1950: “You may have a few things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.”

2018: I’m texting with my husband throughout the day. Whether he’s busy or not, he will hear from me. I usually get the first word. And the last.

Make the evening his

1950: “Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to come home and relax.”

2018: I go out once in a while with my girlfriends, I have a theatre subscription with my mother and encourage my husband to go out too. As long as we coordinate our schedules, there’s no problem. And once in a while, if we are organized and find the time, we even go out together.

The goal

1950: “Try to make your home a place of peace and order, where your husband can renew himself body and spirit.”

2018: That’s why there’s yoga.

My life isn’t actually quite that hectic, but ladies, we have come a long way since this piece was published almost 70 years ago. While I believe that women are still (and may always be) responsible for the brunt of the running of the home, with most of us putting in a long hard day at work, our husbands have stepped up and share much more of the load.

I hope these 1950’s tips gave you a good chuckle. I definitely had a few giggles as I read them. Ladies, take care of your man today. And gentlemen, take care of your ladies, every day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!                                                                                                                    

I’m Glad that Children Like to Climb Trees

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My son participated in a couple of snowboard competitions this weekend. Competition is new for him, and I told him to try his best and have fun. Competitive sports can be challenging for children (adults too!), causing undue stress to achieve. Matthew took it all in stride. He pushed himself to try something new, and I think he went out there, on the race course and terrain park, and had a good time. On the drive back to our country house, after a long day of skiing and snowboarding, in the middle of other conversations, Matthew started to talk about climbing trees, and it got me thinking.

What does a snowboard competition have to do with climbing trees, you may ask? Nothing really. But then again, as I think about it, and one thought leads to the next, they have a lot in common.

As parents, we expect so much of our children. We want them to be responsible, mature and to achieve. We push them, sometimes through competitive sports, maybe a bit too hard. It occurred to me that sometimes kids just want to be kids. I don’t know at what point during our lives, maybe it’s a sudden moment or gradual change, when we grow up. What I mean by that is, when does it happen that we don’t want to climb trees anymore?

Before the big renovation and addition that our family undertook at the country house last year, there was a huge evergreen tree beside the house. It had big branches and had grown over the years in a slightly abnormal manner. it was a magnet for all children to climb. As adults, we considered the idea of climbing this strange-looking tree out of the question. How many times did my father yell at Matthew to stop climbing that tree?

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This is my mother, circa 1991, just after this famous tree was planted.
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My three children in front of the same tree, 26 years later, days before the tree was cut down to make way for the addition.

But a kid is a kid, and most kids like to climb trees. And jungle gyms, And furniture. Sometimes they climb on their parents, or poles or fences. As adults, we scorn this behaviour and sometimes look on and scream in horror. But didn’t we do this too when we were children?

I don’t ski all that fast, and when I look at the jumps in the terrain park I feel like I may have a stroke if I even attempt them. But when I was ten years old I wanted to learn how to go fast and to fly high in the air anytime I saw a jump on the ski hill. I climbed the three giant trees with my brother and sister in our front yard, usually because the adults told me not to.

I did cartwheels across my backyard and kept practicing until I could really do the splits with my legs. My brother and I played baseball and hockey in the middle of my street, and I always thought it was cool to ride my bike with no hands.

The best activity at a restaurant was taking an empty glass and filling it with various liquids and condiments within reach. Have you ever tried orange-coke-ketchup-mustard-soy sauce-salt-pepper drink? My aunt says it’s tasty!

Snowboarding at top speed, doing a 180 degree turn over a jump, and climbing trees have a lot in common. They are what kids love to do. And I love that kids, especially my kids, love to do them. I don’t know when the day will come that my son will slow down and slide through a jump on his snowboard or stare at the beauty of a tree instead of climbing it, but I hope it doesn’t happen anytime soon.

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Matthew flying down the hill at his competition this weekend

**Quick note: the airborne child you see in the feature photo at the top of the story is my nephew, Max. He really loves to fly!

There were Three in the Bed

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It has been a busy week, for me, my family and the world around me in general. As I wrote last year, when I first created this blog, life is busy. I always seem to be in motion, trying to balance the many demands in my life. Here is a place that I can think, reflect, discuss, debate, and just write. When I feel like I am so busy that I don’t have time for this blog, I remind myself that I have to make time for this new passion of mine. I feel lucky every day that I found this avenue to share my thoughts. So, share my thoughts is what I will do today. Not deep thoughts, just some musings about the sleeping habits of the people in my household and the bed hopping that happens every night.

When my first child was born, over ten years ago, I went to great pains to find the perfect crib. It had to be safe yet stylish. It had to be functional and a bit fab. The baby furniture was delivered and set up just in time for baby Matthew to arrive home from the hospital. I carefully placed my three-day-old son into his new crib, and he screamed. He hated it. My newborn knew what he liked: my bed.

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early cuddles with Daddy for Matthew

I am not going to debate the merits of co-sleeping, sleep training, cribs or beds. I just know what I know – and I know that all three of my children preferred, from the first day of their lives, through today, to cuddle up tight with me, in my bed. Whether it’s good for them (or me!) or not, is not the issue. They like my bed, or someone else’s bed. But not their own, and especially not a crib.

We tried hard to convince baby Matthew to like his crib. By eleven months old he would stand and lean on the railing and scream. I will admit that part of my brilliant child’s challenge was that he could stand but couldn’t figure out how to sit down. But I knew he wanted out.

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Even with his cousin, Matthew hated to go near his crib.

Julia was a bit smarter, and when she was fifteen months old she figured out how to climb up the crib’s railing and jump out. She was a bit of an escape artist and was pleased that she figured out how to get out of the crib and high tail it to my bed. Julia was a bed-hopper from a very young age.

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Newborn Julia quickly discovered where she wanted to sleep.
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It didn’t take long for Julia to discover Matthew’s bed
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Sharing doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping
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Julia discovered the joys of a crib at age 6, when Nessa was born.

Nessa is my strong-minded and yet also lazy and stubborn baby. I feel like she knew how to say no days after she was born. She was determined to hate her crib, the same one that her brother and sister used, from the first time she saw it. Just say the word crib near Nessa and she shakes her head no. Nessa knows what she wants: my bed.

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Nessa knew early on how much she loved a cuddle in my bed with her big sister

They all want my bed, or maybe any bed that’s not their own. Bed-hopping each night is an art in my house. Rarely do any of us wake up in the morning in the same bed we started in the night before. Every combination of people moves around and settles in beds around our house every day.

I am thankful that my children love each other and like to snuggle up together. When they refuse to go to bed it’s often easiest to put them into one bed, cuddled up close, and hope that they put each other to sleep. It usually works. They wander around the house and find other beds as the night wears on, but I think they enjoy their time together in one bed.

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These two still like to cuddle up close at night

As I write this, it’s late on Wednesday night and everyone is asleep in my house. Nessa is passed out in Matthew’s bed, which she took over as her own  (she won’t even look at her crib). Matthew is asleep in my bed, with some sporting event blaring on the TV. Julia is actually asleep in her own bed, but that won’t last long. In a few hours, they will all travel to a different location around the house. Sometimes my house is like Union Station in the middle of the night, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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This is how I found them a few months ago when they put each other to bed

My Toddler is a Menace

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She’s everywhere. And I mean everywhere. If Nessa is awake, then she is on the move. I know that toddlers are active and curious little beings. I’ve had three of them. But wow, this toddler takes the cake.

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Enjoying her mess.

Is it a third child thing to be a toddler menace? I am a middle child, so it’s easy for me to say this. My other two children were definitely active and curious toddlers. I remember when Matthew was an infant we bought all kinds of baby proofing equipment for the kitchen, bathrooms and electrical outlets. We set up a baby gate at the top of the stairs and were ready for anything.

We never used any of it.

He wasn’t interested. If I gave Matthew a couple of pots and a spoon in the kitchen, that kept him busy. If I put him in his bedroom to play, he sat with his toys and books and basically just stayed there.

Julia kicked it up a notch and was a more calculating, curious toddler. She was not a menace, but she quietly hid precious items in unfindable places and giggled in a sly way when she knew she did something wrong. She still does.

But Nessa is a menace to society. And she doesn’t even walk yet! My adorable and quite loveable third child travels around on her bum. I call it “bum walking.” It takes quite a bit of talent and strong abs to move around at the speed that she does. She was quite the lump of a baby for the longest time and wasn’t interested in moving at all. When she started to scoot around, slowly, on her bum, we were amused.

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Nothing stays on her feet for long.
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Interesting hat.
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Taking her loot for a ride in the doll stroller

Over the following months, Nessa perfected the art of bum walking, and now that she has combined that with standing and climbing, she can move around quickly and grab anything she wants.

Nessa can open cabinet doors, drawers and even zippers. If it’s within her reach or close to it, she eyes it and goes after it. She has some favourites:

  • Kitchen pantry: removes a mix of spice jars and chocolate chips one by one and scatters them on the floor
  • Kitchen utensils drawer: deftly opens it and takes out tongs, serving spoons and whisks. She particularly likes to open the oven warming drawer as well and drop her treasure in.
  • The water cooler: she figured out that if she pushes on the blue or white buttons that water comes out. Fun!
  • Diaper bag: whether it’s open or not, if she can reach it, she opens it and empties it.
  • Bookshelf: Nessa loves her books and it’s adorable to watch her “read.” It’s not as much fun when she feels the need to read every book on her shelf out all at the same time.
  • Cables: in particular iPhone cables. Nessa likes to chew on them. Yes, I know, that’s a problem.
  • Anything that belongs to her brother and sister
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Elastic bands block her way
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If the doors are open, she dives in.
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Creating one of her early masterpieces – after she dumped the crayons and a stack of paper on the floor.
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That’s how Nessa likes to sit on her little chair

The list goes on and on. It’s hard to get angry with her because she is just so cute. Oh, and she often sings to herself as she scoots around the house, looking for the next place to cause trouble. Could you get angry with this face?

Maybe Nessa is just really intelligent, way beyond her years (or months, she is only a one-year-old). Could it be that her tremendous curiosity is a sign of her need to explore the world and soak it all up before she turns two?

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Or is she just a menace? Cute and cuddly, but one little troublemaker.

I would love to hear stories about other toddler menaces. Were you one? Do you or did you have a child in this category? Am I right about the third child? Leave me a comment here, post your thoughts on Facebook or Tweet me @AliciaRichler.

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The only time she stops moving.

Skiing Takes my Stress Away

skiing

I would not consider myself an athlete. When asked if I play sports like baseball or hockey, my answer is often, “those who don’t play, watch.” I like to watch sports and love to talk about them, especially with my son. But not always. There is one sport in which I actively participate: downhill skiing.

My parents first put me on a pair of skis when I was four years old. I don’t actually remember what it felt like that first time as I was so young. It was a time before young children learned about “pizza’ and “french fries” on the ski hill. I learned the basics of snow plow and found my way down.

Our family skied at various places in Ontario and Quebec. Well-known Laurentian hills like Mont Tremblant, Mont Saint Saveur and Morin Heights gave me my first early exposure to good quality skiing conditions. I took lessons at a small place in Ontario called Devil’s Elbow, and sometimes we ventured further to places like Blue Mountain, and more recently, to Alpine Ski Club.

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First day selfie on the ski hill this season

Note that I keep using the word “we.” That’s important. Skiing was a sport my whole family did together – my parents, brother and sister too (she was on skis before she was even three!). No matter how busy we were all week, in the winter our family jumped in the car on a Saturday morning (or during a winter vacation) and headed to the ski hill. It was our break from life and a chance to spend quality time together.

Think about all the sports in which you participate or watch. How many of them can a family all do together, as one unit? Or even if a family can, do they? Skiing is one of those. I felt privileged as a child and even more so now as an adult, to be able to ski every winter weekend with my family.

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David tested out snowboarding a few years ago. A rare picture of us on the hill together
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I think we take too many selfies on the hill.
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Cousins testing out the ski hill at night, for some railing fun.

And when I say my family – I mean my parents, my siblings and their families and my husband and children too. It’s a rite of passage in our family. A baby learns to walk, then run, then ski. And the diaper is still on!

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Two-year-old Matthew gets some instruction from his Zaidy during his first season on skis
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Matthew, in blue, on skis for the first time at age 2, with his big cousins.
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Julia, age two, on skis
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We start them young. Matthew took Nessa for a mini ride when she was less than a year old
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We just had to take a selfie last winter during Nessa’s first visit to the ski hill

As any ski family will agree, getting ready to go skiing in the morning, in a house with piles of children (more on our family country home another day) can be a rather unpleasant and sometimes downright horrible experience. At the height of the season we are 16 people in the house – an even 8 adults and 8 children. The children range in age from one to fifteen. And no one cooperates. Someone is always crying or screaming or fighting with a sibling. Socks are lost. The previous day’s long under wear wasn’t washed because a child forgot to put it in the laundry. A glove was left at the ski hill the day before and a tantrum ensues.

We rush to the car, zoom to the hill and deal with the next level of craziness: get the kids out, strap their skis and snowboards to their feet and throw them on the hill. Someone is usually crying, screaming or fighting yet again. Is it all worth it?

Yes.

Once I am at the top of the mountain and look down at the sparkling white snow ahead of me all my stress disappears. I can let go. I am free. All the craziness of the week, my career and my family melt away. I let my skis take me down the hill. Yes, it is all worth it.

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The view I love. That’s Julia, my father and Matthew sliding down the hill together last year.
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There’s always a fun mix of family on the hill, like my mother, nephew and daughter.

It’s about minus 15 outside today, and I am in the city and unable to go skiing. But tomorrow, well that’s another story. It may be cold outside (okay, it is insanely freezing), but I will be out there on the ski hill doing my thing. As will my parents, siblings their kids, my kids and maybe even my husband (okay, not the baby, she will be in the daycare). And I will be skiing every weekend this winter. If you need to find me, look for me on the hill.

Nightmares from Bambi

Bambi

I was horrified as I watched the movie. I almost couldn’t look at my TV screen. It was just too terrifying. When would she die? How would he react? It was too much for me. And it was a Disney movie. A really bad, yet classic, Disney movie. Have you ever seen Bambi?

I am quite sure I saw Bambi as a child, many years ago. Clearly I didn’t remember it at all. I watched it with my kids on Sunday night, and it was awful. Maybe the problem was that I knew the plot. Or to put it another way, I knew that Bambi’s mother would be killed during the movie. But I didn’t know when.

Would she die soon after Bambi was born, the first time in the meadow, or a bit later, when they nibble on the first grass of spring? I know his mother’s death, by the gunshot of a hunter, was not the only focus of this 1942 film, but it’s all I could focus on.

Bambi’s friends, the furry bunny named Thumper and cute little skunk named Flower, are adorable, sure. The singing birds are sweet too. And oh, his love and devotion to the fawn, Faline, is admirable. But that’s meaningless.

I sat on the couch with my kids, and even they knew, from the first scene when Bambi was born, that his mother would die. We even made jokes about it.  All we could think about as we watched this classic cartoon, when will Bambi’s mother die?

When it finally happened, when Bambi safely made it back into the forest and his little voice called out over and over again, “Mother,” it got even worse. Bambi’s father suddenly appeared, scaring the poor little deer, he said, in his strong voice, “Your mother can’t be with you anymore.” So we started to yell back at the TV, “Of course not, she’s dead.”

 

I guess we all tried to deal with our feeling of utter horror as we watched the movie by using humour that was even worse.

And this is a movie for children? What? This movie is dark and kind of terrifying. What about the scene with the birds in the trees? They talk about feeling that the hunters are near. One bird urges another, who is clearly very agitated, to just stay quiet and still. But to no avail.

This very anxious bird can’t take it anymore and yells, “We better fly.” And it does. It flies into the air, then we hear a gun shot. Then a blood-soaked, dead bird drops to the ground. All in cartoon. I was traumatized. And I’m 41 years old!

 

Why do people automatically think that if it’s a cartoon then it’s a movie for children? Or at least maybe they did 75 years ago? This movie tackles some very mature and disturbing issues, most of which are way beyond anything a child should learn about in a movie. If my 7-year-old wants to learn about murder and guns, she can watch the 11:00 pm news with me.

Thank goodness Bambi has a running time of only one hour and ten minutes. Even that was too long. I’m glad it all ended in the usual happy Disney way, as Bambi mates with his love, Faline, and his babies are born. But the trauma of waiting for his mother to be killed still haunts me. Maybe next time I will just watch an episode of The Simpsons. They are a nice, normal family.

There’s Nothing Like a Bedtime Story

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Did your parents read to you at bedtime when you were a child? If you are a parent, do you or did you read to your kids at bedtime? For me, the answer is YES and YES. I believe that books, and reading in general, are an important part of an enriching life. But there is something special about reading to a child or being read to. A bedtime story is the perfect way to send us off to sleep.

I have been reading books to my three children since the day each of them were born. We started off with simple but classic board books, like Goodnight Moon, The Hungry Caterpillar or The Going to Bed Book. A baby doesn’t have much of an attention span and has a tendency to tear or chew on the book if she or he gets bored. A number of our board boards have teeth marks in them!

Once the tearing, shredding and biting phase has passed we move up to slightly longer, paper books, and we have dozens in this category all over the house. My kids’ bedrooms contain a good-sized library of classic and new children’s stories, like Madeline, The Little Red Caboose, Pinkalicious, Corduroy, and one of my all-time favourites, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day.

Corduroy, about a bear who lived in a department store and searched for his missing button, shaped how I felt about stuffed animals. He wasn’t just a stuffed bear, he became a child’s friend. My parents read this book to me at bedtime when I was a child, and I love reading Corduroy to my children.

I have also now moved into reading chapter books to my children. I have tackled some light and shorter books with my daughter that usually have a main character that is either a dog or mermaid without much of a plot, but she loves them. And she looks forward to the time we spend together, cuddled up in her bed, to read our bedtime story.

I have been reading chapter books with my son for a number of years. Our first big series was Harry Potter. With seven books and thousands of pages, it took us almost 2 years to complete the series. When we hit some exciting parts or the climax of each book we just couldn’t stop reading. I will admit that we had a few late nights when we couldn’t put the book down. The fact that I had read the books two times on my own before was irrelevant. Reading them with my son was a different and wonderful experience.

With Matthew’s love of sports, and his love of reading, we have now moved onto reading baseball biographies together. Thanks to my Uncle Bill, who gave Matthew a number of books over the summer, we are learning about some of baseball’s greatest players. And when do we read? In the evening, at bedtime.

Last night we really got into the biography of Satchel Paige, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. We have only read the first few dozen pages, but Matthew is already hooked. He is learning about Paige’s early years and the challenges a poor black child faced growing up in the U.S. South. He is asking me very poignant questions, and it thrills me that we have the time together to read and learn about this amazing man and this important part of history.

Whether it’s Goodnight Moon, Corduroy or Harry Potter, I relish every bedtime story I read to my children. It is one of the highlights of my day, and I always look forward to it. What is your favourite bedtime story? Leave me a comment here, post on Facebook or Tweet me @AliciaRichler.

Put on Your Shoes. It’s Time to Leave!

put on your shoes

Put on your shoes. Get your coat on. Stop bugging your sister. Where is your hat? No, you are not playing iPad now. You left your homework where?  I said, put on your shoes. Now. I’m not waiting any longer. I’m leaving. Get your hands off your brother. It’s time to leave.

These are the typical words out of my mouth each morning as I herd my husband and children out the front door, to the car and off to school. Getting the people I live with to listen to me in the morning could be my biggest challenge in life. It is stressful and often painful. Why don’t they listen to me? Why don’t they move?

I will admit that we do not have a great morning routine in our house. I am usually the first person to wake up and get myself ready. When I wake up I find a different person in my bed each day (okay not quite, it is always one of the four other people I live with!). That person, whether it’s my husband or the baby, does not want to wake up.

Getting my children to wake up, get dressed (forget brushing their hair, I gave up on that a while ago) and eat breakfast is a struggle. But we always get through it. I brace myself when it’s time to get ready to leave the house. Put on your shoes. I must say that a dozen times each morning.

Why does it take upwards of ten minutes to leave the house in the morning? Is it really so hard to put on your shoes? There is definitely a mix of distraction and intentional ignoring going on. Sometimes I feel like I am talking to a wall. I think the wall listens better than my husband and children.

I know that today’s post sounds a bit absurd and even rather shallow as there are far more important issues in my direct life and greater world where I should focus my attention.  But this is driving me crazy. As I write this, with my children sleeping and my house quiet, I feel compelled to yell, “put on your shoes!” Maybe if I start the process the night before we will get out of the house on time the next day?

As we head into the winter, my morning stress levels will no doubt increase. Put on your shoes will turn into put on your boots. There will be heavy coats, hats and mittens to put on (first to be found under a chair or deep in a school bag). There’s often a sidewalk to be shoveled and car to warm up. Tuesday is garbage day, which adds a whole extra layer of delay to my morning.

I am happy to listen to any suggestions about how to get my gang moving better in the morning, in particular how to get them out the door on time. Do you have slow moving people in your house? I look forward to reading your comments, posted here, on Facebook or on Twitter @AliciaRichler.

Dads in the Corner Office AND Making Dinner

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Over the past six months I have written a number of posts about how to balance the many demands of being a mother to three children and my personal career ambitions. I have come to the conclusion that women in 2017 can’t have it all. We try hard to have a work-family balance, and I personally have settled to just do my best. But what about Dads? Can the modern father have it all? Can he rise through the ranks of a corporation or spend long days and even nights working, yet still be there at home to bathe the children and read them a bedtime story?

I have not given Dads enough credit. It is not easy to be a father in 2017. Men who choose to get married, in their twenties and thirties in particular, and have children in their twenties, thirties and into their forties, are also looking for the ultimate work-family balance. These men are not the CEO of the house (sorry guys, that’s the woman!) and often don’t even think about all the small details that go into the well-oiled machine that is raising children.

But today’s father plays an active role in not only how his children are raised – the corporate world calls this the strategy – but also is actively involved in raising those children – the tactics. Dads today don’t just wake up in the morning, get ready for work and kiss the wife and children good bye as he heads out the door. He may give the children breakfast, put their lunch together for school and often is the person who brings them to school each morning.

Dads today go grocery shopping, drive the kids to karate and wash the dishes after dinner. They book play dates for their kids and change diapers. And many of them also hold down a full-time job. I believe that at work they are expected to devote all their energy and put aside the demands of their home life. While many of these great men try, they too may never achieve a much-desired true work-family balance.

My husband, David, is one of those Dads. As his colleagues will tell you, David is one of the most dedicated and skilled people to work with. He works with tremendous integrity and passion and throws himself in to every task he tackles. He is thorough and considers every minute detail.

David’s biggest challenge is time management. As a professional, he is loyal and works hard. As a Dad, he is caring and will do anything for his children. Balancing the needs and demands of work and children is often very difficult.

I believe David’s challenge is not unique. Many Dads in 2017 want the same success in their career that men have always wanted. And they are expected to give their full attention and energy to their job. But they want to also play an active role in raising their children. Many of their wives have a career, and these men are compelled to spend quality time with the children and support the duties of the household.

It’s not easy. I commend the efforts of the Dad who tries his best to reach the corner office and cook dinner for his family. Thank you to all the men out there who work hard every day and who also do their best to support their wives as they strive to reach the corner office too.

Dads
Getting the office work done then feeding the kids

Maternity Leave is not all that it’s Cracked up to be

maternity leave

I have three wonderful children who are the loves of my life. Like many women, I dreamed of being a mother for many years and consider myself lucky every day that I was blessed with such an incredible family. My third child, Nessa, my little miracle, did not come so easily, and I am thankful every day for her being in my life. I chose to take maternity leave with each of my three children, which I feel is a privilege given to Canadian women. However, while many people see maternity leave as a great benefit, it can also have damaging consequences to a woman’s job and career aspirations.

I also firmly believe that the new expanded parental leave, announced yesterday by the Federal government, will potentially cause further damage to a woman’s career.

Under the current system, a person (or couple) can take a leave from work for a total of 12 months following the birth of a baby (or start that leave up to 8 weeks before the child is born). During that period, a new parent (or parents) qualify to receive up to 50 weeks of employment insurance from the Government of Canada. I believe that comes out to up to $543 per week. Some employers top up pay for some or all of that time as well. Under the expanded leave, a total of 18 months can be taken off, but the financial benefits are not increased (just spread out thinner over a longer period of time).

I want to put the financial benefits of maternity leave aside. What I want to focus on is the job one “leaves” and what happens the next day after a woman has left the workplace to focus on her new baby. This has happened to me three times.

Each time I had a new baby I chose to go on maternity leave from a full-time job. I was at one place of employment when my first two children were born and another organization when my third child was born. As a communications professional, I worked in fast-paced demanding jobs with a lot on my plate. And I loved it. I knew that with the massive workload I had that someone else had to either take over my job or a group of people had to fill in for me while I was away. Life went on and work had to be done whether I was there or not. That’s the case for all women who go on maternity leave.

So, what happens when a woman is away from the office for just a few weeks, a few months, 12 months or now as many as 18 months? As I said, life goes on at work, people fill in and the organization creates a new normal. When my son was born in 2007, I was away for 8 months. When my daughter was born in 2010 I was away for 11 months. And the organization where I was employed went on and my colleagues worked hard and filled in for me.

After my first maternity leave I returned to my same job and went on with my day-to-day responsibilities. In fact, a few months later I even got a promotion. I worked hard and did my best to balance the demands of my job with the needs of my baby. I assumed the same thing would happen in 2011 when I returned to the same job after my second maternity leave.

But I was wrong. The organization where I worked was planning massive changes and a rebranding while I was away, and those changes were implemented weeks after I returned. I was told my job was eliminated.

I had just come off 11 months of maternity leave and had received almost 50 weeks of employment insurance benefits. I did not qualify to receive any more and thought that in Canada there was a system in place to protect young mothers who chose to take a leave from work to care for their young children. Our jobs, we were told, were protected, so that we could go away for a year and return to work. I understood that my exact job did not have to be given back to me but that a job equal to mine had to at least be available to me. It was, for a few weeks, then it was gone. Why? Because if an organization, for or not-for-profit, does a massive reorganization, it is not required to retain women on maternity leave. It is allowed to eliminate those jobs.

I was lucky that I quickly secured another job in 2011, one I loved very much. I received a number of promotions over the next few years, and by 2016, when Nessa was born, I managed a team of people and oversaw many files and projects at the company. While I did not make a final decision on how long I would be away from my job, I knew I wanted to take at least 4-5 months of maternity leave to spend time with my new baby.

When the baby was not quite 3 months old I was informed that my job had been eliminated. This time there was no company reorganization that I knew of. Various people had filled in for me, there was a new normal and they didn’t need me anymore. It didn’t matter that I was respected by my colleagues and made contributions to the organization over the previous five years. Out of sight, out of mind. So what if the Government of Canada had a maternity leave program? My employer didn’t care. My job was gone.

According to some research I found from Statistics Canada, which looked at the increasing maternity leave benefits from 1971 onwards, I read that “one aim of the 2000 amendment was to enable working parents to care for their infant longer and still allow them secure re-entry into employment” It added that “after the extension of parental benefits, all provinces and territories revised their labour codes to give full job protection of 52 weeks or more to employees taking paid or unpaid maternity or parental leave.”

Financial benefits aside, maternity leave was created, in-part, so that women could feel confident that they could walk away from a job to care for a baby knowing their job was secure and protected. But that is not the case. And the longer a woman is away from her job, potentially up to 18 months with the new expanded leave, the less security and protection she has.

If the Government of Canada is going to expand its parental leave program then it also needs to put in place strict rules that protect those parents’ jobs when they choose to take a leave to care for young children. As long as employers can eliminate a job during or soon after a maternity leave then it is not a true benefit. Canadian women need to know their careers can grow and their jobs are secure when they become new mothers and attempt the very difficult task of a balance between work and home. Until that happens, there is no such thing as a true maternity leave.