Fall and the flu.


I used to be sublimely healthy. And like those who rarely get colds or flus, blithely smug. I would dance through November, with the odd cold but nothing that really warranted any kind of intervention. I was sympathetic to my colleagues who got sick, making them tea and doing runs for cough drops, but it was sympathy, not empathy. No flu sick days for this girl, no sir. Lots of veggies, daily multivitamins, and exercise fairly regularly…a regular textbook case of glowing, gleaming, healthy health.. (I know. I can hear someone in the back retching a little bit. Don’t worry. Comeuppance approacheth).

And then we had our first baby. And now I sit here, coughing like a ten year smoker and sounding like Burl Ives. I spent the holiday weekend sick. Kleenex is making a record profit from my nose. And not much has changed…the veggies, exercise and vitamins are a regular part of the routine. The X factor is Baby K. Or Toddler K, now, I guess.

See, here’s the thing. Babies and toddlers are superior incubators of disease…adults, generally speaking, don’t tend to put their fingers in your mouth. Or wipe their hands on your shirt. Or throw up on you (most of the time, bar stars notwithstanding). Suddenly, all of these things are your new normal. And when your little angel gets sick, it becomes practically impossible to not get it. And then they go to daycare or school or play group and they sit around in a circle with their tiny buddies in their dinosaur boots and their Winnie-the-Pooh hoodies, plotting for cookies and scheming to swap cooties to bring home to loving, well-meaning Moms and Dads everywhere.

So now I’m that colleague that I used to sympathise with but roll my eyes slightly about.

Anyone have any suggestions on how to quell the stem of child-spread disease around the house, other than the obvious? Send them my way!

In the meantime…excuse me. I’m out of Kleenex.

Things I didn’t realize about having children…


My pre-baby years were a whirlwind of living abroad, interesting vacations, university and dating. I knew that at some point I’d get married, settle down and have kids. I had an idea in my head of what that would be like, and the reality is the same in a lot of ways…but every now and then, there’s a curveball.

Things I didn’t expect:

1) You have babysitting and you’re free to go, but you have to drag yourself away

Even though you crave time away and need space with no Cheerios in anyone’s hair and no diapers to change, a part of you always wishes you were at home. I had this idea that whenever I had the opportunity, I would run like the wind. While I do go off and do my own thing, and happily, I’m always torn slightly, and that I didn’t expect.

2) Tired is now a way of life.

When my friends with kids were always exhausted, I didn’t really get it. I understood that newborns didn’t sleep, but why were my friends with toddlers constantly in a semi comatose state? I knew their little people were in bed for a full night’s sleep. What gives?Well, what I didn’t realize was how the constant juggling act can wear you down. Pre-baby, by 8 am, I had gotten up at 645, had a full cup of tea, checked my email, gotten dressed, and tidied up. Now, I’m up at 615, in order to still have that cup of tea, check my email later, and manage to get my lunch, Kate’s lunch, my breakfast, her breakfast, both of us dressed, potty time, have a discussion about whether the crocodile shoes (aka Crocs) are weather appropriate, and whether that’s worth the battle, and be in the car driving away by 745, in order to drop the baby at daycare. It often feels like a full day’s work and I haven’t gotten to work yet! And then there’s the after work commute to pick up the baby, then get home and launch straight into dinner, playtime, bath and bed…by 8pm, I’ve crammed two days into one already! A full work week of that and you’re WIPED. Even the most draconian boss in the world gives you time for a dinner break if you’re working past 6!

3) You learn a new capacity for love (cue: awwwww).

Some of why it’s so hard to leave (see item #1 above) is that you feel a genuine, biological imperative to make sure your children are happy and well. So even though they’re with their favourite relative/babysitter/etc and their dinner is ready and all kinds of wonderful adventures are planned, you still feel as if you should be there in case they scrape their knee/worry about whether Elmo is going to make it to the zoo in the book/feel scared of Curious George. And you are happier just watching them be happy. Which leads us to the next point…

4) You will do really random things to make your children happy.

I did not think that, at age 36, I would be standing at the curb at 8am on my day off anxiously awaiting the arrival of the garbageman. And yet. Background here is that Kate LOVES the garbage truck, and the garbageman, and watching the arm shoot out of the truck to pick up the can and dump it. Every Thursday, she bounces in her chair and asks if it’s time yet. So even if we don’t have to be up early, I make sure we’re both up and breakfasted just because it brings her so much delight. One of my friends used her vacation time to go to Sesame Park with her one and a half year old just to see her face light up when she saw the giant Elmo. Pre-children, she would have used that money to lounge on a beach in the Dominican.

5) Shopping for your children becomes more fun than shopping for yourself.

Wacky. But true. I think it’s because children have not become desensitized to ‘stuff’ the way that adults have. And for the most part, they do have genuine needs that must be met. I never actually NEED a new sweater, but Kate has genuinely grown out of her winter coat. So the need is actual, whereas buying things for me often feels like just making up reasons to justify spending. And the joy she gets from a new book or a new box of crayons far supersedes any delight I would get from something new or equal value.

6) Your relationship with your parents will be different.

And based on observation, it tends to be in a good way. Friends who have had terrible relationships with their parents, who swear that they won’t be allowed near their newborns, find that their mother is a totally different parent with their child. And they find themselves needing help, which may not be familiar. And it’s hard, when up at 3am with a crying newborn, not to come to the foggy, sleep deprived realization that your parents suffered through this with you, and so maybe you should cut them a little more slack as people.

7) You see your partner in a whole new light.

Again, this most often tends to be in a good way. I was prepared for having the baby to be hard, but when delivery went sideways in a major way, I was physically in the worst shape I had ever been in. And that includes the surgery where I donated my kidney. Seriously. It was brutal. I was on five medications for six weeks, and suddenly had a tiny red crying person who needed me ALL THE TIME. My husband was home for the first three weeks, and did all of the cooking, cleaning, bottlefed Kate a couple of times a day, and made sure that at least once daily, I was shoved outside to go for a five minute walk. He was the one ray of sanity. And now, as a parent, he is infinitely more patient than I (although that wasn’t actually new info), and comes at Kate from a different point of view that sometimes works better than mine. I respect these completely new strengths that didn’t reveal themselves until we were parents.

8) You will come to your own way, and find what’s genuinely best for you and your family. And the pregnancy trolls that are now baby trolls can put that in their pipes and smoke it (that was the more polite euphimism).

Added to the above mentioned physical trauma and exhaustive baby needs, I couldn’t breastfeed, and made the highly peer-pressured, physically hideous, emotionally destructive decision to pump all of her milk…six times a day, 15-20 minutes a session, EVERY DAY. I hated it. I dreaded every day, and was locked to the house because I couldn’t leave for more than two hours. On top of that, I hadn’t actually fed the child yet, so pretty much all day was consumed by pumping or feeding her. I hadn’t played with her, bathed her, put her down for a nap, or done anything else. Months later, I finally realized that actually enjoying my new daughter, and being able to take her out and spend time with her was infinitely more valuable. And at six months, the breastaurant closed its doors and our world came together again. (Statistically, BTW, 85% of French children are entirely formula fed. And they beat us on EVERY health measure. So clearly , the baby trolls who tell you that if your child requires formula, you’ll end up ruining them for life are just being jerks. Ignore them).

9) It’s a new kind of adventure, and be present for every moment.

Because there will come a day, sometime soon, when she won’t care if the garbageman is coming…and while I will value the extra sleep, I’ll desperately miss how her face lights up as I lift her to the window of the garbage truck and she says ‘Good morning!’ to the garbageman. And I think he’ll miss it too!

The hidden trap of maternity leave: tax time post baby!

Christmas hat babyDecember 22nd, 2011, we had our first daughter – she was due December 6th, and was so late that we had to issue her a chemical eviction notice and I was induced right before Christmas. While dealing with the shell shock that comes along with Planet Newborn, there is for many people a financial hit that goes along with it. I’m very lucky in that my employer tops me up to 85% of my salary for the first four months and 75% for the following eight. (Note to non Canadian readers – we have a year of paid maternity leave at 55% of our salary, to a max of $501 per week (as of March 24th, 2013), and a number of employers add to this as a ‘top up’ benefit to their employees).

Because of the way the tax brackets fell, I ended up making essentially the same amount of money I would have had I been at work, for the ten months I was off. I went back early so that my husband could take two months to be at home with the baby…good for their relationship, a break from the day-to-day for him, and a whole level of context about being at home with a baby that cannot be gotten any other way. (Although the Lone Star song ‘Mr Mom’ comes close).

I had heard of the tax implications that come with mat leave, though, and thankfully went to my HR department and filled out a new T1, which is the form you use to change your tax deductions at the source. Bear with me while I attempt to explain how the morass of Revenue Canada breaks down maternity leave payments, and why you need to pay attention! (And the obvious disclaimer is that I am neither an account nor a CRA employee, so do not take this as gospel as it is not professional advice).

The key to understanding why your cheque is taxed the way it is, is that CRA assumes that when you get a payment from your employer, every payment for the remainder of the year will be that same amount. So if you get a whopping signing bonus, for example, CRA makes the assumption that every cheque will be that high and takes off a crazily high amount of tax.

The inverse problem applies if you’re on mat leave and getting top up payments from your employer as well. CRA assumes that your sadly low EI payment is all you’re getting, so taxes it at a ridiculously low rate. It then assumes your top-up is all you’re getting, and taxes it at the same far-too-low rate. So what ends up happening is that you get two payments with practically no tax taken off, whereas if you’d gotten it in one payment, you would have been taxed at a much higher amount. Let me try this with (completely fabricated, in no way relevant to anyone’s tax situation figures). Let’s say you get $500 from EI and $500 from your top up. You might pay $50 dollars in tax on each payment. (again, numbers COMPLETELY MADE UP). But if you’d gotten a $1000 payment, you would fall into a higher tax bracket and would need to pay $200 in tax instead of $100. So imagine that concept spread over an entire year, and you can see what type of headache might result.

Long story short: cover your butt. Go to your employer and have them take extra tax off at source if you’re getting a top-up, to prevent an ugly tax hangover come the following April.

So readers, anyone else have an unexpected tax time hangover?