There’s Only One Way To Eat Kale

Life is nuanced and random. Today, I dressed up as a fairy with fluorescent green hair, I made my toddler cry before picture day by shooting saline spray up her nose, and my husband is flying home. At 11:05 a.m. exactly, I got my first manuscript rejection and that filled me with hope. Yesterday, I lifted weights in a gym; one of the weights fell off but no one was hurt. I saw a man pushing a young girl with purple hair in a grocery cart curse another man out, and when I asked him if he was okay, he said no, he wasn’t, then he told me why. I bought a denim jacket. I received a loaf of bread. Ariel screamed, “SHE NEVER LISTENS!” I looked at the kale in my grocery cart and I thought, there’s only one way to eat kale.

Taken at random, these events I’ve described on their own don’t make a whole lot of sense, but when you add story to these points of intrigue, you add dimension and layers of meaning. You add heart. Sit with me a while, gather round the fire, let me tell you what happened.

Kale seems like the most logical place to start.

Yesterday was a workday for me, meaning no kids, and it also happens to be the day I lift weights at the gym first thing. I was loathe to have to pick up groceries after the gym and cut that much into my work day, but after school Ariel had Taekwondo and I wouldn’t have the time or energy for a full grocery shop with all the girls in tow – and with Dan away – it was simpler to go after the gym. At the end of my weight class, after sixty minutes of exerting myself and conditioning every muscle group in my body and flinging that bar around, as I walked back to put my weights away the clip quit and the weight suddenly slipped off, all casual, like it wouldn’t have bashed in my face had I been doing bench presses. I took this as a sign to keep my eyes open.

From the gym, I strolled up the hill and over to grab a few supplies from Dollarama for my writer’s retreat this weekend. On my way out of Dollarama, I saw a man, yelling at another man, pushing a grocery cart. He was furious and I saw the small child in his cart with the purple hair and something in my heart pulled at me to speak to him.

“Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not!” then he went on the long diatribe that followed:

“My daughter here has been at Sick Kids for seven and a half years. Cancer. See, she’s got her bags and everything,” the girl looks up at me with sad eyes. I see she isn’t so little; she’s only made herself small. The man continues.

“That van blocked the only entrance ramp where I could get up onto the sidewalk with my daughter and when I told the guy she has cancer, he said he didn’t care!”

The man is shaking. I tell him I am sorry for his trouble and smile at his lovely daughter. He has been heard and I can see I have helped him to calm down by some small measure in listening. His breathing is returning to normal as I leave them. I wish them well.

I drive to the grocery store and shop as fast as I can. Afterwards, I arrive home and put my car into park as the girl’s piano teacher pulls in beside me with a loaf of bread her husband baked for me. The bread is a thank you for editing and making suggestions on a piece of his writing. In the scope of the universe, this act of kindness, the baking of the bread, may very well have cancelled out the wrongdoings of the man in the van who said he didn’t care about a little girl with cancer. I am overjoyed by this token of gratitude. In an email, the piano teacher’s husband wrote to thank me, “I like to pay people in bread.” He is a musician as well, a drummer, and he comes from a long line of Italian bakers. As a maker of a variety of art, he comes by his gifts honestly. The dough rose for eighteen hours before he baked it to perfection. Later, the girls and I enjoy slices of this magnificent fresh loaf as a bedtime snack. I slather on butter and strawberry jam and watch Elyse devour her slice. Kindness reverberates; there was more than enough bread leftover to find its way to my lunch plate the next day and probably the day after that, too. With kindness there is somewhere to go, and kindness means to go on.

I write all afternoon, but not on the piece I planned to work on. After an enlightening phone call with a friend, I end up working on her suggested edits to a piece I’m submitting to a magazine. I would I were a bread maker for her sake. I later text her to thank her for lighting my brain on fire. I pick the girls up from school, and while I’m making them a snack, utilizing the new groceries, I ask Ariel, eight years old, to please walk Oreo who is begging to go out. As I chop strawberries, I hear Ariel’s impatience mounting in the inflection of her voice, the rising whine. She calls to Oreo with no success. She melts down. In a pouty voice, yelling to no one in particular, she screams “SHE NEVER LISTENS!” referring to our deaf dog, which I think, makes the scenario funny. Oreo is fourteen years old and going blind and deaf. I remind Ariel she has to walk up the stairs to get her and to show some compassion.

I load the girls in the car for Ariel’s Taekwondo lesson and make the decision then and there that I have been coveting a denim jacket for long enough. I would make the drive to the outlet mall in the time between Ariel’s forty-five-minute class, buy a denim jacket with two young kids in tow, and get back in time to pick Ariel up. The mall scene could have gone down two ways. The girls could decide to cooperate, or they could make my life a living hell. Magically, they cooperate. Penelope sits contentedly barefooted in her stroller. Elyse runs through the mall shouting, “We’re at the mall! We’re at the mall!” She’s elated and joyful and when I miss the store and we have to walk through the entire massive outdoor mall and then double back, she doesn’t even mind or act tired. This is a huge win. And score, I find the perfect denim jacket.

On my way leaving the mall, I check the time. Exactly fifteen minutes to get back to Ariel at taekwondo lessons. I text my husband and tell him what I just did, “I am A-FUCKING-MAZING!” I brag of my feats, as we jokingly like to do. I miss him. It feels like he’s been gone for weeks. Subsequently, I am six minutes late picking up Ariel, but damn, my denim jacket looks good.

But we’ve gotten this far, if, you’ve gotten this far, and you might be wondering, yeah, but what about the kale?

With a full cart of groceries paid for, as I made my way out of the grocery store earlier in the day, I looked down at my bursting bins of produce and product and it was the kale that caught my eye. Innocuous enough, perhaps, but when I looked at that kale, it dawned on me that other people might notice the kale in my cart, as some have before, and they might wonder what I do with it? Raw kale is unappealing, as it’s quite bitter-tasting and coarse on its own, so you have to dress it up in some way. I’ve tried kale as a dessert, as a baked chip, sautéed and as the base of a salad, and in that moment pushing my cart, I knew the truth as it stood for me, there’s only one way to eat kale. There’s only one way to eat kale, and that is the way that my family chooses to eat it every morning, blended in a smoothie. Then I thought, well, isn’t that just an analogy for life? What one person does with kale is not the same as what another person would do, and it’s just the same with the moments and events and choices in our lives. We each make our own decisions, but there’s only one right way for you to do things, and that’s the way that you choose for yourself. How I like my kale may not be the way you like your kale, heck, you may not like kale at all! But it’s the only way for me. I liked that thought. That there are right ways for each of us. There are right ways for each of us, and room for each of our right ways. And it occurred to me, I’m going to write about that.

You’re still here? Oh okay, I’ll tell you the story of the green fairy princess. It’s me, this morning. I dress up, wearing a neon green wig and a forest green dress with green socks and green fairy wings to celebrate French culture and language in Ontario at my daughters’ school. I call myself La Fée de la Francophonie, which I like to translate as The French Fairy. The students dress in green and white and walk around the block in honour of Terry Fox, combining two events into one. The garbage man looks twice and laughs as I pass him by. A mother pushing a stroller exclaims “Look! It’s a fairy!” to her baby. When I arrive at the school, the children stare at me in disbelief. Smiles creep across their faces.

I had to give Penelope’s nose a saline spray because she’s been coughing, and I want to whisk away any bad germs before our big trip coming up in TWO WEEKS.

I walked home through the streets, dressed as a fairy, feeling full and humbled by my time with the girls at the school. I decided to check my phone and that is when I saw the subject line with the title of my book. I raced home, tore off my wig and wings and settled myself on our steps. I knew the email would be a rejection. I figured the publisher who accepts my manuscript might give me a call. But I didn’t yet know the nature of the rejection. This editor held my timid little heart in their hand. The rejection was a boon; I was bolstered by their words detailing my writing as accurate, vivid and “quite reader friendly”. They liked my book; they just didn’t have a spot for it on their roster at the moment. I was told to check back. I could not have asked for a better rejection and was filled with hope.

The story of the rejection letter is kind of like the story of the kale. There is only one right way and that is the way that you are doing it. This rejection is part of my path, and though not everyone may choose to see it that way, forward is the way I choose. For that man and his daughter and for anyone else out there who needs it: I choose hope.


The new school year’s begun and we’re off and running! We’re on our way to…hopefully somewhere good. Because that’s the question we have to ask ourselves as parents and as teachers: where do we want our students and our children to go? All of these days spent at school, all of this education, but for what? As we approach our daughter Elyse’s IEP meeting (Individual Education Plan) I’ve been giving these questions a lot of thought. What kind of learners do I want my children to become? When their days in school are said and done, what are they going to walk away with? And what will be their contributions in return?

My children’s future is theirs to discover and build. It’s not for me to say what they will become or how exactly they will get there; it is only for me as their parent to give them every opportunity and to infuse their lives with love. All that I can ask of their schools is that they give my children the same: opportunity and support. Confidence.

We’ve reached a comfortable stage in Elyse’s education. She’s in grade two and this is her fourth year in the same school. They know her and they know our family. In so many measures this is a relief. There was a soiree at the girls’ school tonight and I easily slipped in with a group of teachers standing in a circle. I poked fun at myself for doing so, for fitting in so casually among them, and one of them kindly reminded me that I am one of them, or at least I used to be. There’s muscle memory involved when it comes to teaching. Your bones don’t forget. I took a step outside of the circle, back to where I belonged, and made my way anonymously into the auditory to sit with a sea of other parents, mere mortals.

I have to remind myself not to get too comfortable or to become complacent or content with the status quo. Essentially, I need to stand guard as the mother warrior that I am. I need to stand guard for the sake of my daughter’s education – we all do. The start of a new year is the start of new opportunity and chances to grow. I need to remain in the loop, as well as be a part of the loop that envelops my daughter’s education. While I can stand in the circle, I need to remember my place in it; my duty to my daughters. Hence my participation at curriculum night.

The principal cautioned us this was not ‘interview-the-teacher night’ or a time to ask how is my child doing? The first thing I asked was how is my child doing? My school-aged girls are in the exact same class this year. A split class and a first. We’re carrying this out as a sort of experiment – siblings together! Let’s see what happens! The idea bubbled forth with enthusiasm from Ariel and Elyse at the end of last year, so I figured why not? We put in the request and were graciously accommodated. Ariel and Elyse each have their own groups of friends. I’m no longer as worried that Ariel will try to take responsibility for Elyse or vice versa. The only difference is now Ariel comes in with these short reports about Elyse and her situation in class. There are both positives and negatives to this.

Positive. “Mom, Elyse gets to pick helpers each day to help her come inside and put her stuff away and everyone in the class puts their hand up.” Hmm…Elyse should be putting her own things away, I think, but this is an excellent point of discussion to follow up on at our next meeting. Also, I’m happy to hear of the love Elyse’s classmates show her. I spoke to three different parents at the information night who told me how pleased their son and or daughter was to be in Elyse’s class. Every parent needs to hear this.

Negative. “Mom, Elyse sits at a desk by herself so that she isn’t distracted or distracting others.” Hmm…again, this one made me think. How would I feel if I were made to sit alone? Is this a choice? Are there other options? Are there adequate opportunities to work with her peers in this scenario? Because working with her peers is crucial. I don’t want recess to become the only time Elyse is truly included with her classmates – and, thankfully, I know she is fully included and plays with her friends at recess time – but the bulk of the day happens in class. Ariel’s little bits of news, which I am in no way soliciting, by the way, are giving me some points for discussion with the school. New teacher, new year. Everyone has to make sure they’re on the same page.

I think the mistake we sometimes make as parents is ASSUMING teachers will know how we would want our child to be treated, for example, as a learner. Never assume. Teachers operate busy classrooms and they’re only human. They want the best for every student, and as the parent, you can help set the tone for what that may look like. Request meetings and have conversations. Every year that goes by, I never want to look back and have regrets about what we could have done differently with the school and Elyse’s education if only I’d expressed my thoughts. Learn to listen too, advice I am constantly working on.

I want to see my girls progressing, to keep progressing, even if that means every year that I will become the broken record, playing for Elyse, singing the same song over and over, “keep those expectations high!” Oh! And I see here you’ve written the expectations out for me on a few lovely sheets of paper creating a legal document known as an IEP or PEI in French. Excellent! I’m going to spend the time to read this over carefully now, so I can not only support Elyse in her learning goals at home, but also hold the school accountable for helping her reach these goals in the classroom. I should clarify that accountability isn’t about blame, it’s about making sure supports are in place to put goals into action. Assuming that I agree with the goals in the first place, because if I don’t then NOW, at the beginning of the year, is the time to SAY SOMETHING. When we question others we do so in a light that shows a respect for the work that has been done, for ourselves and for our child.

Creating the IEP is the role of the Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT) in conjunction with the teacher in our board, and likely in your board too (although the terminology could be different). I may be a teacher, but I never discount myself as Elyse’s parent. As the parent, you know your child best. Get in the schools and work with them to advocate for your child. Are they getting the supports they need? If not, why? And what is being done about it? What can you do to help at home?

In years where I’ve been more involved at the school and maintained contact with the teacher, and I can see what is happening in my child’s classroom – not even through physically being there, but by communication with the teacher and the occasional meeting, I have felt much better about their education and the answers to the above questions regarding where this is all leading. The goals are visible, plain as day, on the pages of the IEP.

Parents often feel helpless to change what is happening at school, and admittedly, I’ve been there too. But one strategy that really helps and works is to build relationships within the school (with teachers, the principal, support staff and other parents) and to offer to help at home. Show that you are willing to practice the skills the school is working on at home. And then do it. What this means is that you are a team. With 24 to 30 students plus, teachers are going to do what they can in the classroom, but they can’t do it alone. Your child’s education is a team effort.

While each student is but a drop in the ocean, one day they will become the waves that shift the tides. While I stand by my proclamations that academics are at the foundational core of my daughters’ educations: literacy and math skills, science and art fundamentals; perhaps the greatest gift they will walk away from school with is a strong sense of self-worth and the capacity to be kind and empathetic toward others. I want academics to be the pathway that leads them there. In other words, I want my children to leave school as well-rounded, academically oriented, good citizens. It takes an inclusive community of learners and teachers and parents to do that.

While every year we’re taking small steps toward this goal, we’re also starting again from the beginning in some respects; I hold hope and watch with joy as my girls continue to learn. This is the year Elyse is going to learn to read. I can feel it. It’s coming for her, and I’m so excited. I will be sharing this goal with the school, because what good will it do to keep it to myself? And you know what? Her teacher and her school want Elyse to learn to read, too. We are going to work on this goal together.

When I ask myself where my girls are going, I envision a river moving into a glimmering sea. They’re being pulled along by the current, but we as their parents and the teachers in their lives are there beside them on life rafts, keeping their heads afloat, providing guidance and knowledge to steer them in the right direction. Where are they going exactly? The answer to the question never wavers. Toward a bright future ahead.

Sharing My Bed

We share our beds with our lovers, of course, but also with our loves.

We lay there, our bodies overlapping and draped over one another like puppies. Tucked in my bed this way, my girls by my side keeping me warm, I begrudgingly get up to start my day. I can’t shake the morning chill seeping through the windows during these late summer days. I’d prefer to crawl back in with my litter. Never mind, adventure awaits.

Fall is creeping in as our family draws nearer to our departure. Like the birds, we are setting off, migrating to warmer climates.

We leave in thirty-five days; we will be gone for forty-five days. That is one thousand and eighty hours to fly, sleep, eat, roam, swim, hike and explore new countries. The math is staggering – how quickly the trip has arrived, how soon we depart, the sheer amount of time we will be gone – just astounding to me. And yet, I have planned it all. Do big events in life sneak up this way? Like they’re just another day – because they are – but at the same time, they’re not. Not at all. You blink, and it’s the day of your wedding. You blink again, and if you forget to be in the moment, the moment has passed you by. I try to stay awake. The immediacy and inevitability of our trip is almost as perplexing as the children sleeping in my bed. There is something unbelievable in making things happen.

Who let these children in? Well I did, of course. When Dan’s away, and half of our bed is empty, there’s always a child willing to fill the space. Elyse comes in during the wee hours of the morning, around four a.m., crawls in beside me, folds herself up and falls back asleep. She literally sleeps folded in half; her head tucked peacefully onto her lap.

At some point in the morning, I notice Elyse folded in half in her signature position but facing the foot of the bed with her head tucked underneath the sheet. Next, she slides sideways, wedging her little body between me and her big sister, legs pressed into her sister’s side, head weighing into the softness of my abdomen below the sharpness of my ribs. Normally, I can’t stand being touched when I’m trying to sleep, let alone laid on, but today I don’t mind. Elyse knows how to nestle herself in well and sleep pulls at me from every angle.

Next to me lays Ariel. She’s been having a rough patch with getting to sleep after we read the first Harry Potter book and then jumped into the second. Chamber of Secrets proved to be much too scary for her, as I suspected all along it might be based on my own recollection of reading the tale for a university Children’s Literature course, but Ariel wouldn’t let on until it was too late; she pressed me to continue reading, pushing the boundaries of her own fright too far until she was past return. Predictably, the nightmares arrived.

My girls seem to hold the imagery of books in their minds the way I do: the pictures come to life and feel quite real. Once you see an image (be it in your mind or elsewhere), you can’t un-see it, and the picture in Ariel’s head of he-who-cannot-be-named is haunting her dreams. She now readily admits Harry Potter is too scary for her, but she is also convinced the night terrors are caused by sleeping on the top bunk. When asked to elaborate on her fears, she explained that the curtains in her bedroom take on a form of their own in the dark that is not unlike a man who-cannot-be-named. Logic will not prevail; emotions are strong in that one. We won’t be reading Harry Potter again any time soon, but the damage is done.

Ariel’s first solution to the nightmare problem was to switch rooms and sleep with her baby sister. Penelope’s toddler bed having recently been removed and replaced with a queen-sized mattress coincided perfectly with her plan. I was immediately dismissive of the idea – dead-set against it – but the girls cajoled and eventually I caved, and that little adventure lasted all of three days. Unsurprisingly, both children’s sleep was getting disrupted.

Back in her own bed, I was able to convince Ariel that it wasn’t the physical bed or sleep space that was giving her nightmares, i.e. her top bunk or the curtains in her room, but the ideas in her head that needed to change.

“Try thinking of the fun you had with your friends today and focus only on things that make you happy.”

She humoured me with this idea for one night, then it was back to bed rebellion.

“Please mom, let me come sleep with you.” My response was resolute – no.

I tucked three bodies into their separate beds, and eventually, after standing sentinel in the hallway for a while, two children fell fast asleep. I climbed into my own bed and laid there reading Patti Callahan’s Becoming Mrs. Lewis. I know enough not to read scary stories. I expected to hear footsteps down a ladder and shortly thereafter I did. A familiar face hiding behind cropped wavy brown hair popped up in my doorway.

“Can I just sleep here, with you, for a minute?”

“Fine,” I eventually acquiesced. “One minute.”

A minute later I sent an obedient child back to her bed; Ariel’s head hung low. She drew out each step and dragged her feet reluctantly through the carpet.

I turned back to my book. Minutes passed. The clock showed half past nine. I could hear the crinkling of sheets, the tossing and turning, the not sleeping and other tell-tale signs of anxiety. I remembered crawling into bed with my own mom on nights my dad travelled for work. Oh, alright.

“Ariel. Ariel? You can come in here.” I called to her down the hall from my bedroom.

She was down the ladder and tucked in comfy under the sheets of my bed in two seconds flat, a broad grin stretched across her face. I continued to read, and eventually heard her breathing get slow and heavy, felt the weight of her body go slack beside me. She found her peace.

It wasn’t unusual when Elyse joined us early in the morning, but I was pleasantly surprised by how seamlessly she made a spot for herself. She pleated into the space between Ariel and I like a garment in a suitcase.

And that is how I found myself in the morning with two children in my bed and feeling a bit sorry for the third one left out of the pile. Not sorry enough to go wake her up, but sorry not to have every one of my loves tucked in tight beside me. Not to worry.

That is how I found myself ready for the day and dreaming of adventures to come, so soon, with all of my girls, our whole family by my side.

While waking up with two daughters in my bed is certainly not the norm, it was oddly comforting homey scene in juxtaposition to the foreign-ness of the sleeping arrangements to come. Unbelievably so, this trip is happening.

Parenting to the Bone

You know the expressions “weary to the bone” or “bone-tired”? At a particularly low moment, standing in my kitchen, listening to my kids fighting, I thought to myself, parenting can be like that. What I mean is: as the parent, you are stretched to your limit, past your limit; every personal boundary has been breached and you are sucked dry by your children and their incessant needs. I’m labelling these moments of utter exhaustion as bone parenting as that was the term that floating into my mind, standing in the kitchen, on the brink of experiencing such a moment.

Have you read the illustrated children’s book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? My kids loved that book for a long time, and it was read to them over and over. Filling a bucket boils down to acts of kindness and love. Bone parenting is the opposite of filling someone’s bucket. Bone parenting is the well gone dry. In our home, bone parenting occurs most frequently in the absence of one parent.

Maybe your home-life scenario looks like mine, and you have a spouse who travels frequently for work. Your moment of depletion arrives mid-week, when you’re alone, but not at 11 p.m. when the first child cries out in the night, or at 1:30 a.m. when the dog barks to be let out after the thunderstorm passes that kept everyone awake; those aren’t the moments that break you. That’s just regular life. Parenting at its purest. Expecting the unexpected. No, the bone parenting moment happens the next morning after the 4 a.m. something-happened-but-you-can’t-remember-what, and the 5:15 a.m. wake-up of the first and subsequently the second and third child, and nobody is going back to bed after the late bedtime, and now it’s quarter to six in the morning and you just want to soak in those last fifteen minutes before you really should get up. But those moments are ruined. Stolen. There’s a child creeping around and you’re worried someone’s going to pee on the floor. Now all the children are in your bed, your peaceful haven no more, and you’re wide awake. Your morning ritual is five solitary minutes to quickly check your phone. Weather. Email. Socials. Quick check. This habitual wake-up routine means so much to you. Such a simple thing. Taken. Two children are quarreling next to you. On top of you. This does not bode well for the start of a day.

You’re up! Because you have to be and because you’re the only one. The three children mope around, groggy and cantankerous. The big one’s been sleeping with the little one and that should never happen. Sleep schedules have been disturbed; the least of which being yours.

Then breakfast isn’t on the table quick enough, and not that shirt! And, No! I don’t want to brush my hair! I don’t have to go potty! And whine, whine, whine. A tussle in the family room over a blanket at 6:30 a.m. – good heavens! You’re waiting for one of them to drop a bucket back in the well, but they just keep emptying and emptying until you’re bone-dry.

But this day, it’s as if, at the moment I’ve been emptied out, my children have an internal radar for detecting my need for a reprieve; they understand intuitively that I cannot run on empty. That I will die of thirst. Mom’s getting low. Sure, sometimes they’ll push me further, to the point that I erupt (my issue, not theirs), but not today. Today, all three children are finally, somehow, magically dressed. Elyse is brushing out her hair and eating her bagel. Penelope is wearing her pull-up and sitting on the couch reading books. Ariel takes the dog out for a walk down the street like I asked her to. The well begins to refill and I can breathe again. I can have compassion for my tired little munchkins. I can finish making their breakfasts and lunches and packing their bags. I can make sure they have every little thing they need, including hugs, and then, somehow, we can manage to arrive at school ten minutes early.

Bone parenting moments aren’t really about what your kids are doing – be it smashing each other over the head with hockey sticks or doing a potty squat in the corner on the carpet in their room (or worse, your room) – it’s how you as the parent are feeling on the inside and how you choose to react – or not – in these trying situations.

Here are my survival strategies for when the going gets tough and I’m an inch away from parenting to the bone. Here’s how to fill up when water levels drop:

Crank the Tunes. Generally, if I’m feeling a bit blah with the kids, it’s because our house is too quiet. A travelling spouse means a lack of adult conversation if you’re home most of the day like I am. I like to fill the empty banter space with music. Kids and adults alike love music. People love music. Dan and I have moulded our kids’ musical tastes which range from Hip Hoppy Flow Rider to Top 40 Beyoncé, to musical soundtracks like Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis, The Lion King and Momma Mia. I put on music I want to listen to and blast it, which often puts all of us in a better mood. Water levels rise.

Get Silly. Listening to music can lead to silliness, but so can good ol’ plain silliness. Tag. A protruding tongue. Being silly with my kids helps to keep the mood light, even when I’m feeling overwhelmed by tasks. For example, yesterday before dinner, I was running through my house showing my kids how to do a hurdle before a tumbling line. I was doing poorly-executed split jumps and lifting my kids high up in the air and dropping their little noggins down close to the floor. They loved it.

Get In Touch. Getting physical and being playful with young children is essential to their wellbeing. Rough housing. Hugs, kisses, snuggles. We all need to be held. Some of the worst freak-outs I’ve experienced have been diffused with a simple hug. Without having to say a word, just being there with open arms. Even a gentle pat on the leg, when timed correctly, can console or even put a child to sleep. Our inclination as adults is to solve problems by talking them out and sometimes that works and is necessary, but as a mom, I swear by hugging. Hugs lower adult stress, too.

Get out for a run. If you have the luxury of a gym membership with child care or a treadmill in your home – use it! If the kids are in daycare or school, even better. The single greatest thing I do for my own mental health is to get out for a run. Running fills my bucket every time. Don’t have those options? Exchange babysitting with a neighbour. Then get out there and find your peace, swim in it. Running is the equivalent of my mind plunging into a lake. Refreshing and invigorating. If this is all crazy talk to you, strut your stuff outdoors instead and take in some fresh air.

Embrace the suck. Losing a parenting partner temporarily is going to hurt, but even more so if you think it is. Whaaat? See what I did there? Our expectations greatly impact our behaviour (there’ve been studies). I’ve been working on loosening my expectations of myself and what I can reasonably accomplish while Dan’s away and striving to be gentler on myself, especially when I’m having a bone parenting moment where all I want to do is scream. Maybe flee. Maybe scream while fleeing. Yep, that sounds about right.

If all else fails, Freak Out! This is a weird one, because it’s very much a cathartic-in-the-moment release, and I really wouldn’t recommend it as a habit, but sometimes you just need to freak out a little bit and show your kids that yes, you too are human. I’m not talking about ripping off doors and going ape shit, I’m talking about letting out a little shout of frustration and then explaining to your kids how you’re feeling and why you’re freaking out. If your kids are pissing you off, they deserve to know! How else are they going to change their behaviour if you don’t explain how it makes you feel? Tone and delivery matter here. Caution: if you overuse this strategy, it will completely lose its effect.

If you get really desperate, you can always throw the kids in the car and go for a drive to your favourite café with a drive-thru, or make a quick phone call to your favourite take-out place and get it delivered. We’ll call it food therapy. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Treat yourself.

Whatever your coping mechanisms as a parent, remember that at some point your absent spouse is coming back…they are coming back, aren’t they? And that if you look for it, your kids will probably do something cute that might just put a little splash back in that bucket. Messages of gratitude from the absence spouse certainly help. One such text came in from Dan saying how much he appreciates the work I do for our family in looking after our children while he’s away, ending with a note of high praise, “You’re the best.”

“You’re the best, too!” I texted back. “Now come home and take care of me.”