A wee tribute to a few asshole mothers

I have been asked by several friends to post photos of my pregnant self. I am currently 7 months along and have the sex appeal of a giant sea lion. Most of them are non-mothers and don’t understand that’s a taboo request. There is a reason Moms stop posting photos of themselves and resort to babies only. Contrary to popular belief it is not because we think our kids are now the center of the universe; it is because we look like shit and would rather fall in a pit of spikes than be seen in public. Baby pics are merely cute diversions from the harsh truth.

Just when you thought Easter was about bunnies, I give you Easter Jabba the Hutt. I wish the cute kid on my lap balanced it out.

Just when you thought Easter was about bunnies, I give you Easter Jabba the Hutt.

My husband and I happen to make huge babies that I carry like a two tonne truck and with the grace of a donkey. My belly is enormous; but pregnancy is an equal opportunity offender for me and makes its way to my face, arms, fingers, ass and chin. I am also borderline for gestational diabetes. In simple terms, when I get pregnant, my body stops absorbing nutrients properly and tries to compensate via quantity. So, despite eating the equivalent of a mid-sized zoo and putting on 40 pounds in 7 months, I rarely feel full, have the energy of an elderly sloth and the aptitude of Sarah Palin. I need a nap after a Skype call and am tempted to submit nursery rhymes instead of reports on organized crime in Africa.

I know, I really do, that pregnancy and motherhood are miracles. Anybody privileged enough to do it should be tarred and feathered for complaining – just ask someone struggling with fertility. I am beyond blessed to be able to conceive and carry my children in good health, with first-rate medical care and a spectacularly supportive husband to boot. But in the spirit of the ‘real’ movement and 3rd trimester hormones – sometimes it sucks balls.

Moms me 1Much has been said about motherhood, including calls to buck the pressure to be perfect and learn to appreciate the scars and stretch marks as tokens of a most meaningful journey. I love my kid and kid-to-be, but that doesn’t stop me from hating my butt for falling down my legs or the fact that I recently forgot my shoes at a friend’s house and walked barefoot across a driveway of loose stones without noticing something was amiss. Nor does it make me less nervous about the compounded effects having 2 kids in 2 years will have on my body, career and life. I don’t suffer from delusions of grandeur – I was never a swimsuit model or a budding Hemingway, but it is not just my vanity that misses my body and my brain. Some of my most sincere fears involve losing myself in the shuffle or failing to balance the growing list of important things.

Adding insult to injury, this is certainly not true for everyone.  Many women love pregnancy. In fact, I happen to be surrounded by a bunch of bitches that glow in both pregnancy and motherhood. Typically, I find great strength and purpose in being to close to awesomeness. But in this case, if I didn’t love them so much I would voodoo some extra chins on their over-achieving asses.

Some proof:

My Mom, 2 months after her 4th kid. She "flew through pregnancy and had easy births". I didn't those genes.

 My Mom, 2 months after her 4th kid. She “flew through pregnancy and had easy births”. Needless to say, I didn’t get those genes.

Moms Chloe an Anaise

My sister-in-law Chloe (doctor) 4 months after having Gisele. The J-Lo look-alike on the right? Anaise, also a working Mom (EY transaction advisor, whatevs). I owe it to the women of the world to line the shores with shark bait next time these 2 go to the beach.

Moms Tuesday

Tuesday – besides the spectacular T’s & A and striking children, worked as a UN consultant and completed her MBA during pregnancy. She returned to class (and got straight As) 2 days after giving birth. I owe her a report but am writing this blog instead.

Moms Tove

Tove, the toughest and coolest person I know, back to pre-pregnancy weight and frolicking in the snow 3 months after the hardest birth I have ever heard of.

Moms Lerato

Lerato – this is definitely what I looked like as the first time mother of a 2 month old. Anyone who disagrees with me is wrong.

Trish traveling through Europe with a piece of cake 7 month old. She also produced so much milk, she didn't know what to do with it all. Hmmmph. Trish traveling through 4 European countries with a ‘piece of cake’ 7 month old. She also produced so much milk she didn’t know what to do with it all. Hmmmph

Moms carmi

Carmi’s daughter once said “Mom, your belly looks like a man’s” (ripped 6 pack). She was insulted, I’m mad jealous. And forever wearing tents to pool parties.

Moms kelly

This picture doesn’t do her justice. But 3rd place in a half marathon and carrying your 6 month old (3rd child) to the medal ceremony? Yep, that’s my BFF Kelly.

Moms Wani

Wani, believe it or not, gained almost as much weight as I did. Here she is 6 months after child #2,  in such high demand as a TV Director she works when she wants.

Moms Julia

Julia, Yale MBA and working mother of 3 kids under the age of 4, lost her own Mom at age 7 and more recently her 2 closest aunts. I love and admire her for many reasons, including her willingness to be vulnerable, ask for help and admit her fears about f*#king it all up.

In all seriousness, it is not that serious. I am sincerely grateful to be on this journey and so stupidly blessed to be surrounded by friends and mentors to share it with. I hope that all my trivial woes will melt away with a bit of time and hard work. Even more so I pray they are not replaced with something real. Regardless, I will do my best to handle what comes with wisdom and grace.

And for those looking to appease me with lies about looking good, please don’t. I have already lost my cheekbones and knees, don’t steal my sense of humour too.

A love letter to my daughter, on her 1st birthday.

My Khaya,

For many years I swore against becoming a gushing parent. I always hoped and anticipated the day I would be able to love my children fiercely, but promised to keep it in check. I was a non-parent long enough to know that newborns aren’t even cute, no poop is interesting enough to talk about and the world continues spinning whether I get a good sleep or not.  No matter how sweet your burps were, I would keep them to myself.

I was wrong.

Exactly one year ago today I got inducted into the real Illuminati: Motherhood. More powerful and far tougher than any Mafioso, we are a borderless brethren that initiates by squeezing watermelons out of lemon-sized holes. We swear by an unwritten code and stick to one another. We sell the most books, push the most product and hold the majority of the world’s men squarely by the balls. If necessary, not only will we rip them off without hesitation, we will fresh bake them cookies from scratch while doing it.

beach mom1There is nothing I can say to you that hasn’t already been said about what it means to be your Mom. In our language, when we need to articulate the strongest expression of love, we simply speak of a mother’s.  Then it is widely understood we mean the unconditional, all-consuming, head to toe, without judgement, completely intoxicating, makes up songs about poop kind.

But even if I do not have anything particularly original to say, I am saying it anyways. Because I need you to know that it is true.

On this day one year ago, I entered Motherhood as we all do – by giving birth. Like all new Moms, I was terrified.  Birth is said to be one of the most painful experiences in the world. For what it is worth, I reject that. Not only is the pain factor over-rated, but we don’t speak nearly enough about how spiritually awakening it is. So many days go by without being fully alert. We get stuck in routine and normalize a predictable set of emotions.  We yearn for days that call on fresh feelings and make time stand still. No day will ever matter more than the one we became your parents.  Your birth was challenging by all standards and we encountered several risks, but we experienced each moment fully and with pure, unadulterated emotion.  It was magical. Every ethereal moment is permanently etched into my memory. Remind me to tell you about the time I barfed all over your Dad 1 minute before you took your first breath. I’m sure you can’t wait.

lionYou have filled every one of the 365 days since with love and awe.  I have always been blessed to know what it means to love and be loved. Your G-Ma and G-Pa set a remarkable bar that has since been upheld by the rest of our family on both sides, a truly amazing global community of friends and your Dad, whose love humbles me each and every day.  Still, a new kind was born in me through you that is utterly disarming. As Jerry Maguire once said (and successfully made many women cry), you complete me.

kenton4 - CopyAs a general rule, the greatest rewards are the hardest earned. Having babies is one of the exceptions – they are born every day and people have been doing it since the beginning of time. I fight to keep perspective and remember the world continues spinning outside the walls of our little cocoon.  I do my best to stay informed and remain an individual. I try to stay connected and lend an ear to friends who date, but often feel like an alien looking in. I miss more workouts than I hit and my pants fit different than they used to. I certainly miss boozy nights and road trips with my girlfriends and long for international travel with a business suit and one rolling suitcase. But now and forever more, evenings watching you smash spaghetti into your hair while shrieking with delight are the best ones and waking up to your cuddles, no matter what time, brings the most joy.

You are surrounded with love and friendship. You were born into a remarkable community of loving and inspiring people stretched around the world. You have grannies on 3 continents, aunts and uncles on 5 and cousins all over the place. You have traveled to 12 cities in 4 countries already and slept in over 25 homes.  Friends in 2 different countries battled on your behalf to deal with pesky visa issues. We haven’t bought you any clothes or toys, yet you have boxes full.  In case you ever think that is average, it is not. You are remarkably blessed and we will remind you to be grateful regularly.

PE 17 DaddyIf you ever need to know what real love looks like, you can see it every day in your Dad’s eyes. Your father has an extraordinary capacity to love fearlessly; watching it, and him, grow with you is perhaps the greatest privilege in my life. I hope that neither of us ever take for granted how lucky we are to have such a committed Dad who loves you fiercely, is fully present and happy to play in the dirt with you.

You are a remarkable person already and we love you exactly the way you are.  We have encountered difficult times this year and have seen some truly ugly people.  You have made an otherwise dark time a most joyous one and allowed us to keep perspective.  Your laugh is the greatest sound and a gift you give so freely. I hope it always comes so easily, but am already steeling myself for the day that it doesn’t. We want you to dream the biggest dreams and let nothing stand in your way. We promise to give our very best and do everything possible to help you become your very best, whether you want to be a violinist, figure skater or spelling bee champion. I would love to protect you from any and all hurt, but know that isn’t my job. It is my job, however, to provide you with everything you need to be a brave person of integrity, that works hard and stands up for what is right.

cupboard bebeSo Khaya, on your 1st birthday, thank you for choosing me to be your Mom, setting my heart on fire and filling my days with the ridiculous, blubbering, lose your mind kind of love. Cheers to another magical year. I hope I get at least another full one before you decide I am a creep for how I stare at you or sit near you just to smell you. You are so loved.

sick baby

 crib peek

  Cha Cha 2

silly face

my hat

Trying to see the forest for the trees – my Mom

mom 60thName: Mary Ann Hartley
Age: as young as she feels
Hometown: Maple Bay by way of Vancouver, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Montreal and Toronto
Occupation: Manager, Duncan Business Improvement Society
Hobbies: Running, biking, swimming, yoga, doggies, SHLF
Nickname: G-Ma

I learned quickly that the closest people are the hardest to write about. It is impossible to de-tangle yourself from them.  Never more true than for my Mom, who happens to be here on South Africa’s sweet soil (and a big reason for the hiatus).

Yes, this really happened.

Yes, this really happened.

Truth is, I have barely ever considered who my Mom is without us. We grew up in a cyclone. Four children in less than six years would be challenging under any circumstance but we were a particularly demanding lot. Between us we played ice hockey, soccer, football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, track and field, field hockey, swimming, skiing, diving, piano, violin, flute, drums and trombone. As early as primary school, days started with us piling into the wood-paneled station at 5am for swim practice, straight to school with breakfast in the car for track, soccer at lunch, walk to piano after school, bus to gymnastics, home for dinner, homework, pillow fight and bed.

At one point, Strachan changed our answering machine to thank people for calling the Hartley Zoo –  we would hit you back when we finished swinging on vines and wrestling crocodiles. It ended with us banging our chests like baboons.

Mom was chauffeur, chef, referee, coach and the glue that (just barely) held it all together. That’s all I needed to know.

My heart stays broken for what she lost when Strachan left. A Mother's love is just different.

My heart stays broken for what she lost when Strachan left. A Mother’s love is just different.

We grew up in an idyllic Canadian suburb under the unconditional love and tireless effort of two parents. They lost their tempers and made mistakes. We heard ‘no’ often. We drove terrible cars and wore second hand clothes. We fought many fights, threw parties when they left town and shoplifted candy. I let my crush cheat off me in French class.  Wyatt had a permanently runny nose and Blythe could not pronounce r’s or l’s until she was 10 (Bwyfe Hawtwey).  Strachan ignored me in the school hallways and made us play ‘dodgeball’  -– you stand still while I throw the ball as hard as I can.  My teeth are still crooked from one of the many times he punched me and I have registered the sound a math textbook makes when smashing a second storey window and the subsequent thud when landing on the patio below, after he got a B on a test.

I still consider it the purest form of perfection I have ever experienced.



I am a Mom now and trying to negotiate the ‘balance’ that us new age Mommies strive to achieve.  Children, husband, family, friends, career, health and an awesome annual vacation while still looking good in a bikini. It is hard. As one of my friends (pregnant with her 3rd in 4 years) recently said  – “screw balance, I’m just trying to survive.”

Only now has it begun to sink in that my ‘normal’ was in fact the very deliberate vision of a highly determined person that came at many, many opportunity costs. My one Mother had one car, a full-time job and an overabundance of people pulling at her with blatant disregard that she even had other options.

Stealing oranges from an orchard while biking across Portugal because 'they have Vitamin C'

Stealing oranges while biking across Portugal ‘but they have Vitamin C!’

My Mom is a remarkable woman by all accounts. Smart, industrious and brave. She steps up to every challenge, solves complex problems for fun and has never left anything unfinished. She takes genuine interest in people, loves to help and makes time for everyone. She has a will of steel –  she started running one week after I moved out, within a year she had qualified for the Boston marathon. She has since run 2 more, countless halves (in 1:29 at age 50+), a half Ironman , 2 fondos and biked across Canada and Portugal. She gives tirelessly, is a respected member of her community and simply makes people feel good.

In a parallel life, this blog could read very differently. I have no doubt that my Mom could write a book, run a company, steer a ship or tackle global warming. I take for granted daily that she chose me instead.

If I want my own kids to have similar chances, it means being there before, during and after school. Meals on the fly. ‘Vacations’ to small towns for hockey tournaments or swim meets. Quality time during carpool, no new clothes for 20 years and finding true joy in watching others shine.

MomWhile trying to find my own motherly ‘balance’, I wonder if we would have turned out any worse if we had trimmed down on activities. I can say, with certainty, that my 4 years of violin were a sunk cost. And I’m sure the Wizard of Oz would have received the same critical acclaim without my black cat performance (yes, there were black cats in the Wizard of Oz).

But where do you draw the line? Skiing was the most time and money intensive sport of all.  Blythe’s diving required her to cross town in rush hour 5 days a week for 6 years. Those sports in turn paved the path for everything that has followed. A very reasonable parent with a little less resolve would have had us walk to piano lessons instead.

2004 Olympic bronze with Blythe and Strachan

2004 Olympic bronze with Blythe and Strachan

In its very best form, Motherhood is selfless.  In case that makes us feel oppressed or relegated to the Dark Ages or Stepford Wives – choosing someone over yourself requires the most remarkable courage. Only some of us have the strength do it. Growing up with a Mom who chose us and considered it a privilege is the greatest gift I have ever received. If I never make a million dollars but can show my own children a fraction of the same, I will pat myself on the back.

MOm champagneA couple years ago, we participated in a group visioning exercise. The task involved mapping life goals and attaching them to ‘champagne’ moments: winning moments that could be caught in a picture. About half the long-term “I have arrived” snapshots involved sitting back, watching and grandchildren. We are currently rounding the bend on 4 weeks of deliriously happy tri-generation fun –  quality time, home cooking, family adventures and a house full of baby shrieks and belly laughs. As always, I have gained much from time spent with her. In return, I can only hope she has had some of those champagne moments – she has certainly earned them.