The Farm Family Grows

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Connie Clark reading her new children’s book to her great-nieces, Joy and Claire Cunningham, in the same kitchen she grew up in.

It’s next to impossible for my aunt, Connie Clark, to have a conversation with her 85-year-old mother without reminiscing about farm life on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula.  

Whether it was dragging eight kids out to a dirt field to pick stones before spring planting, another cow breaking a fence, the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through their country kitchen, or the little hands that carried splashing pails of sap through the bush during maple syrup season, the memories are nearly endless, Clark says.

“I don’t know how I did it with all eight of you kids,” her mother, Hester Cunningham, always says.

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Hester Cunningham

One day, after a long chat with her mom, Clark, an early childhood educator in Lions Head, Ont., started writing down some of those memories.

“It was a dark Saturday morning, the hydro was off, and I was still in my housecoat,” says Clark, a mother of three and grandmother of six. “I just started putting together some rhymes. Within about 20 minutes, I had written a little ditty.”

That ditty is now in the form of her first children’s book: The Farm Family Grows, with illustrations by artist Stuart Burgess.

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Printed locally by the Tobermory Press, the self-published book came off the presses just in time for Cunningham’s 85th birthday in December. Clark was also able to present the book as a gift to her seven siblings, their children and grandchildren — a family that has now grown to include 96 people.

“I was just so thrilled,” she says. “I wanted to give the book to my family before it was released publicly because it was about them, for them.”

The book turned out to be one of the most special Christmas gifts ever, bringing tears to the eyes of her siblings and joy to the faces of her many young great-nieces and nephews.

“I wanted to make it fun and light, but it still moves me when I read it to the children, because every page I turn to I feel like I could tell them a story.”

The counting book starts out with a pair in love, Hester and Tom Cunningham, who died in 2008. The rhythmic story follows the growth of their family from one to eight children, and the farming adventures they experience along the way.  

“They raised pigs and cows, and tapped maple trees. Along came Jimmy, to make a family of three,” the story reads.

Clark says one of many fond memories includes being a little girl, gathering sap out in the bush.

“I remember Dad — he was such a quiet, gentle man — he’d wink at you and get you to taste the sap. My feet were freezing and my hands were in wool mittens, it was cold but the sun was out and it was exciting,” Clark says. “I’d step into the snow and fall to my waist. I remember the smell of the old snowmobile, and as spring got closer, the ruts from the tractor driving through the mud.”

Clark says she always feels so blessed to have been raised in a rural setting, learning and growing while spending so much time outdoors. She hopes to pass on the same values to her own children and grandchildren.

Now she has the chance to share those fond memories with the next generation of kindergarten children in the classroom — the same cohort who gave her story a test run long before it went to print.

“I took it to school and used it as a counting activity,” she says. “I would read the story and pull out little Fisher-Price people every time I read the next verse and the farm family grew. The children were really involved — they loved it.”

Clark says after reading countless children’s books as part of her job, she always had ambitions of writing one herself. After getting the stamp of approval from her class, she eventually approached Burgess, who agreed to illustrate the book.

She later spoke to staff at the Tobermory Press, who helped her take the next step in making her dream a reality.

The book is now available at McKenzie’s Pharmacy in Wiarton and Peninsula Pharmacy in Lions Head. Copies are also available for order by contacting Clark at wcclark@amtelecom.net.

Not only is the story a personal one, but Clark believes it reflects an important part of rural Canada and its history — one that is slowly fading.

“I am very proud of my heritage,” she says. “We all can’t be farmers anymore and no one can make a living off a few hundred acres like my father did. It’s the true Canadian lifestyle we’re losing.”

Penned in 2012, Clark laughs the tale is already out of date.

“One by one, they expanded more and more. Now the family of 10 has reached 84!” the last page reads. Clark says that number has now reached 96 — all people who have roots in rural Ontario farm life.

“To anyone else, it’s a children’s book,” she says. “But to us, it’s a big piece of our lives.”

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The Cunningham family farm in Adamsville, Ont, where Hester and Tom raised their eight children, and where son Ron Cunningham (my dad) continues to farm with his sons today.

Thank you, Mom.

Motherhood. It’s just so huge. There is so much love around that word: mom.

And motherhood is not something you can pin down. It is every day. In every breath.

It is my life now, and I love it. It is waking up when you want to sleep longer, and cleaning, rocking, feeding and laughing. It is exhausting and wonderful.

All of this, I learned from my mom. Our home was always filled with her love and warmth. She was always attentive and encouraging. She let us make our own mistakes. She wouldn’t let me quit piano lessons. She trusted me and showed me how to care for my younger siblings.

She is the most selfless person I know.

She is so beautiful.

And I can only hope to be half the mother she is.

Thank you, Mom.

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Baby sleep, and how I can’t seem to figure it out

Silas, 6.5 months old, having too much fun to sleep!
Silas, 6.5 months old, having too much fun to sleep!

It’s really hard not to stress about baby sleep, especially as a first-time mom not getting optimal sleep yourself.

In fact, it always seems like the prime topic of conversation among my other mom friends. And I’m sure it will be for some time. I remember the chorus of parents saying “get sleep now while you can!” in the final weeks of my pregnancy. Now I know why…

Baby sleep is like a puzzle, because every baby is different. And as soon as you think you’ve got it figured out, they change.

For us, the big change came around the start of December when Silas was five months old. He was teething and drooling like crazy. He was also probably in a developmental leap, learning about cause and effect and realizing when mom was not next to him.

For background: This baby’s sleep patterns has been like a yo-yo. At first, he would only sleep at night while being held. Then he would sleep in his crib but wake up the typical three to five times a night. Then… seemingly out of nowhere, he started to sleep through the night – those magical words every parent longs to hear.

But just as quickly as it started, it stopped. At five months, just as Christmas was starting to ramp up, Silas couldn’t seem to settle for the night. He would fall asleep, but after 20 minutes to an hour, be awake again. It was very tricky to get him down to sleep again. Since we were busy through the holidays, we ended up keeping him awake till we all went to bed (in the same bed). It’s a sleeping arrangement that leaves no one with a good night’s rest.

Just as I thought we were getting back into a good pattern, we had a horrible evening two nights ago. Silas seemed genuinely afraid to fall asleep.

Now I just assume I will spend most evenings going in and out of his room 100 times, rocking him in the dark. Or, laying on the bed next to him for a few hours until I can oh-so-carefully transfer him to his crib, where he might sleep a few hours before waking, and everything starts all over again.

It can be difficult when you’re in the trenches. You try to enjoy the baby snuggles, the baby’s heaviness and peacefulness. But you also worry about helping them to sleep on their own.

Yes, there are the so-called cry-it-out methods, but we’re not ready for that. I also worry that he’s crying because he’s hungry (from not eating enough in the daytime), teething or in pain. And I have a suspicion it wouldn’t work anyway.

All I know is that everything seems to be a phase, and I hope this is one we figure out soon.

2014: The year I learned to run pregnant and as a new mom

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This year I learned so much about this body of mine. I learned to love it, respect it and use it to help my baby grow.

It’s pretty amazing, really, what we can make our bodies do, and what they’re meant to do.

At the beginning of 2014, I was about 14 weeks pregnant. I had just finished a December run streak, and we had just started to share the news with family and friends that we were expecting a baby.

I tried to keep running as that baby bump grew. With such a snowy winter, I continued with most of my runs on the treadmill, at the gym. I kept going until my hips started to hurt. By that time, I was about 28 weeks pregnant. I actually kept running longer than I expected I would.

After that, I tried to stay fit by doing spinning classes, walking and doing strength exercises.

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Throughout my pregnancy, I gained 35 pounds. I tried to find a balance between listening to my body and nourishing my baby and not giving in to every craving. I was really lucky to have a healthy pregnancy and a normal childbirth (although “normal” is actually crazy, intense, PAINful! And yes, I had an epidural!)

On June 27, 2014, our baby boy, Silas, was born. And oh, how our lives changed. He filled us with immense love, happiness and, well, fear.

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My expectations for getting back into running after hitting the traditional six-week mark flew out the window. Every moment was consumed by caring for our son. I don’t think I really understood how life-changing having a child would be until it happened. He needed me all the time. For months, his only naps were in the cozy arms of mom or dad. Nights were tough at first, then better, then challenging again. I had to learn that getting stuff done could wait. Baby was and is priority no. 1.

Unexpected challenges with breastfeeding ultimately lengthened my recovery time until Silas was about three months old. Only then did I start feeling like some semblance of my old self. Except now, it’s April, the Mama. And I love it. It feels like the person I was always meant to be.

My first post-partum run wasn’t until mid-September. At that point I still had nurses coming to change my dressing every couple of days. But I couldn’t wait to get outside.

Those first few runs and workouts were so hard. But gradually they became a little easier and I realized I wasn’t completely starting from square one again (probably thanks to my fitness during pregnancy).

In late October, I decided I wanted to sign up for the Santa Shuffle. It’s just a fun run, but I needed a goal. It turned out to be a good decision. The registration forced me to get out for three runs a week. Not only were those runs good for my sanity, but they helped me get some confidence back.

I’ve kind of let my running slip over the past couple of weeks, with the hustle bustle of the Christmas season. But yesterday I signed up for the first run of 2015: the 13K Lorneville Loop! So things are about to get real!

This year, my running all but came to a halt. But I’m picking it up again. I’m learning how to juggle motherhood and fitness, and admiring all those fit moms out there who manage to make it work.

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Hope you all can take time to acknowledge your own accomplishments of 2014 as we look forward to another year and whatever challenges and blessings it may bring.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Baby’s first trip

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Our little family has just returned after spending a few days with my family in Ontario for my sister’s beautiful wedding.

The trip marked Silas’s first time on an airplane and first time sleeping away from home. Both seemed to go off without a hitch. Aside from a few messy diapers (with messes that would not stay in the diaper), we didn’t encounter any major issues. Our little man – who is now 14 weeks old – has been a little fussy the past couple of nights but I chalk it up to him being a little overtired from the trip.

Planning a week-long excursion away from home was daunting for me, even though it was just at my parents’ place. I worried that Silas wouldn’t nap, or that he’d be up all through the night. He actually seemed to sleep better than he does at home. And he barely cried (except when he was hungry or tired). Instead, he gazed around and took in his surroundings. He seemed to love looking at all the people.

A few things I learned on the trip that may help other new mamas about to take the plunge:

  • You are not supposed to breastfeed on take-off and landing, even though it’s what doctors recommend to stop the baby’s ears from popping. Apparently it’s a safety issue (with Air Canada at least) and you’re supposed to hold your baby over your shoulder. Silas cried a bit on the descent but didn’t seem to be in pain.
  • A baby carrier for the airport and other places you are carrying multiple bags was a must. I travelled alone with Silas on the way to Ontario and needed my hands for one suitcase, the diaper bag, my purse and camera. Add a baby to the mix and, yeah, you need a baby carrier. We invested in an Ergo for the trip. I love it but he doesn’t always like feeling confined. On that way back to New Brunswick, Silas started protesting the Ergo while we were waiting to check bags. I ended up taking him out and carrying him normally, but luckily, my hubby was able to help juggle our belongings.
  • Borrow stuff. We borrowed a car seat and didn’t bother bringing a stroller. Also, there was a playpen at my mom’s that Silas slept in.
  • I tried to stick to routines but knew everything would get thrown off. We gave Silas a bath most nights, but obviously not the night of the wedding. He was usually ready for bed early but I tried to keep him up a bit so he wouldn’t be confused by the one-hour time difference. And, when we were out at my sister’s wedding, it was amazing how he just slept right through the noise.
  • Keeping calm in dicey situations is a must. Silas has couple major diaper explosions in public places, but both times, I acted quickly and managed to get things cleaned up in no time. It’s amazing what wipes can do.
  • Accept help. Since I was a bridesmaid in the wedding, I couldn’t be with my baby at all times. I’m not used to that! But when Silas was upset and my husband needed a hand, help wasn’t far away. My aunt, grandmother and sisters-in-law were great.

Travelling with a little one is not easy but it’s doable. Now travelling with two young kids, that, I can not fathom.

Our baby is here!

Our perfect little man, Silas Alfred Whittaker, arrived almost three weeks ago on June 27, 2014, weighing 8 lbs, 9 oz.

20140627_061505His arrival has been life-changing, to say the least. The past couple of weeks have been overwhelming, amazing, scary and beautiful all at once. 

As we get the hang of parenthood, this blog will be on a little hiatus, but I hope to return with some posts as I get back into the swing of working out. To be honest, that’s the furthest thing from my mind at the moment. 

I always wondered how new moms said there was barely enough time to shower. But even with lots of help from my husband and our parents, I can attest this is true. A newborn truly takes all your energy. But all we have to do is look at his precious little face to understand it’s all worthwhile. 

 

Get out and run!

It was rainy, slushy and dark. There were many reasons not to run last night. But I did anyway, and in large part because of two text messages.

One was from my mom, who was on a high after performing with my dad in a choir Christmas concert. Mom said she “lived it.”

“I guess it’s my running-type of euphoria!” mom wrote.

Around the same time, I received a text from my friend, who had just celebrated her 30th birthday the day before her baby’s first birthday.

“Loving your blog,” she wrote, adding that she’s asked for new running gear for Christmas.

So I said to myself, no excuses. It may be tougher to get one`s butt out the door when the weather isn`t great, especially when there is no race on the horizon. But I am a runner, and runners run.

So off I went….

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It wasn`t very cold. The only issue was a bit of slush on the sidewalks. I may have got a few foot soakers but my feet seemed to dry off pretty quickly. I didn`t bring my Garmin and didn`t have music. Just ran. Not a long one – about 5 km. But it felt great, and that was all I needed for a Sunday night.

So thank you Mom, Ruth and everyone who ever reminds me of how good it is to run, no matter the weather.

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The run capped off a 19 km week, plus one BodyPump class. Not bad. Now bracing for holiday excess.