The Trip of a Lifetime

IMG_5236The way I see it, marriage and family are two sides of a scale and sometimes the kids trump over the marriage but it’s foolish not to restore the balance. As much as sharing milestones and spending time with my children is the bedrock of our family, I don’t believe in moving my marriage down the priority list. Not all trips are meant to be enjoyed as a family.

Our tenth anniversary trip was such a trip.

Corsica is a French island, rich in political history, south of mainland France and west of the Italian peninsula where the land offers everything from rugged mountainous terrain to sweeping vistas, breathtaking coastlines and crystalline beaches. Located at the southern tip (on a clear day Sardinia beckons) is the most spectacular place I’ve ever visited.

Domaine de Murtoli is a family estate. Since the 16th century sheep and cows graze the land and in 1994 the current heir married his love for his ancestral land and his passion for the environment with his talent for creating beautiful spaces.  Murtoli as it’s known today was born. A series of villas reconstructed as much as possible from the original centuries-old building materials coupled with modern-day luxury are the jewel of this working estate where agriculture still prevails.

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We spent a week in our villa, a tiny sheepfold, nestled away from everyone and everything. Our daily trips to the market brought about the finest in local ingredients, and foraging at Murtoli’s garden was as picturesque as bountiful. Our days started with a basket of fresh pastries delivered each morning and then we’d spend the rest of the time hiking the impressive land dotted with cork trees and fields of lavender or lounging on a 5-kilometer stretch of isolated beach where a restaurant served the best of local cuisine. When we felt up for it, we’d venture off the estate and explore the neighbouring villages and even spent one glorious afternoon at our proprietor’s family vineyard.  Most memorable  are the dinners that were prepared over hours, and several bottles of French champagne.

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The highlight of the trip was the evening spent listening to a small orchestra play classical music on the beach, illuminated by 5,000 candles. Just the memory alone is enough to give me goose bumps.

We came away restored and with a great appreciation for a landscape and culture that previously we knew nothing about.

To see more pictures from our trip-of-a-decade be sure to follow 4Mothers on Instagram.

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The Pitfalls of Living With a Love Polyglot

heart-700141_640Despite winning the French fluency award in the eighth grade, growing up with a bilingual father and being married to someone who speaks three languages, I am what one would call a monolinguist.

I am no fun at parties. I raise my glass with a meek “Cheers!”

I don’t even know the dirty words, the cuss words, in any other language.

Nope.  I am decidedly a unilinguist.  And even that’s questionable considering the number of times in a day when I find myself at a loss for words, desperately searching for the perfect adjective and settling for a sub-par alternative.

However it seems when it comes to love and speaking the 5 Love Languages, I am a regular polyglot (I had to look that up)!

Either that or I am painfully insecure.

Words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of services and physical touch: I speak these eloquently, without accent or hesitation, no stumbling or incorrect conjugations.

I have friends that can start a sentence in Italian and complete it in a flourish of French.  While I don’t know le from les, I know that my three boys and husband each have their own love language that is as different from each other as their thumbprints.

I transition from one love language to another with the ease and fluency of a professional translator.  This innate ability is not startling to me; it’s matter-of-fact.  It’s as natural as speaking Russian – if I were in fact, Russian.

My kids and husband benefit from my understanding the 5 Love Languages.  But there is a challenge in living with a love polyglot like myself: knowing on any given day what is being spoken when you walk through the front door.

“I was thinking of you today when I walked by the patisserie.” He says handing me my favourite, a bag of still warm pain au chocolate.

“It’s Thursday!  Thursday’s garbage day!  Do I have to do everything around here!?”

Poor guy.

The artwork is available at YourOwnWords on etsy.

Guest Blogger, Kelly Quinn: The Marriage Plot

Earlier this week, I finished reading Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time.  When Elizabeth tells her family of her engagement to Mr. Darcy, her sister Jane and her father are incredulous: both are adamant that she must marry only for love, and both take some convincing to accept that this is, indeed, what she is doing. Increasingly, I’ve been wondering what Austen is doing here. Is she, on the one hand, emphasizing the extent to which Elizabeth and Darcy have transformed, completely privately, and how much they are now set apart from the other characters as a unit? Or is she planting seeds of doubt: can this really work? Should we, with Jane and Mr. Bennet, be skeptical?  Despite all the fanlit sequels, we’ll never really know: the door on that marriage is firmly shut in our face at the end of the novel.

Now, though, it seems that how we conduct our marriages is public business, the newest piece of cannon fodder in the Mommy Wars, joining whether and how much we work outside the home, how our babies are born and fed, where they sleep and how we get them to sleep, and just about everything else about parenthood for women to use against each other. (Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I haven’t seen any fathers weighing in on this topic.)

It feels so artificial, though. In real-life, my friends run the gamut in this as in everything else, and no one’s feathers seem to be particularly ruffled by anyone else’s lifestyle. I have one friend whose in-laws have the children from supper-time Friday until noon on Saturday every single week, and she and her husband travel without the children several times a year.  And I have other friends who, whether by inclination or by necessity (lack of funds, lack of local family to help with babysitting), have rarely been out without the children, let alone away overnight.  And then there are all the in-betweeners. Most of them seem happy; statistics suggest that some of them won’t last; and my entirely uninformed guess is that no outsider can predict which marriages will founder based solely on the number of date nights. I just keep my fingers crossed for us all that we have each figured out what our marriage needs to keep the flame going.

Marriage is after all built on highly individual choices: we’re all fine with the fact that we can’t imagine being married to some of our friends’ spouses, so shouldn’t it stand to reason that we can’t imagine living their marriages either?  It’s the denial of individuality that tends to irk me in debates like this. In the on-line world, if not in the real-life world, there often seems to be an element of judgement in the responses to Rancic and her ilk, both in those defending her and those attacking her. Some commentators seem to take the stance that there is only one right way to negotiate the rich, complex, intertwined emotional relationships that constitute every family.  And they also seem to assume that there are easy ways to read and interpret the choices that people make: to suggest that those who value solo outings are the only ones who nurture their marriages, that those who stay close to home are the only ones who are passionately devoted to their children.

This week, my Facebook feed has gone all pink-and-red with profile pictures changed to support same-sex marriage, in reference to the US Supreme Court’s deliberations on the topic.  It is in that spirit of diversity that I look at the “marriage vs. babies” debate and shrug:  chaçun à son gout.

Avoiding Splitsville

beach-193786_640First place?  Second place?  Do rankings even exist within families?  Is putting your marriage first over your children the same as saying that you love one child more than another?

Not necessarily.

Children are takers by nature and mine are no exception.  From the minute that I wake up, my day as a stay-at-home mom to three boys under 7 is a whirlwind.  It is a constant juggle of schedules, mediating of feelings, coaching of behaviour and supporting of being.  There are the meals, the homework, the bathing, the messes, the laundry (oh, the never ending laundry).  The responsibility after baby is born hits like the wave of a tsunami, forever altering the landscape in its wake, even years later.

But like the proverbial saying goes, you reap what you sow.

And that is why many of my own activities, interests and at the risk of sounding a tad dramatic, dreams, have taken a backseat while I parent my boys.  It’s a thankless job but one that I whole-heartedly signed-up for and most days enjoy.

In my mind marriages follow the same equation as parenting: work in equals enjoyment out.   Make no mistake, marriage is work and after baby makes her arrival marriage can feel like backbreaking drudgery . . . or maybe that was just my marriage.

In our “reality-based” society we tend to glorify the wedding but pay little attention to the years following the “say yes” moment.  But I guess watching people argue over the minutia that defines a marriage would make for boring television.

Like Guiliana Rancic, I believe that a strong marriage is the foundation for a strong family.  The definition of strong varies from family to family.  I once knew a woman who firmly believed that her place was with her children and for seven years she was only away from her children a handful of times for more than a few hours.  Her children were never far from her physical reach, even over-night as they slept in the family bed.

When I asked her about when she gets alone time with her husband she shook her head and said that they were making a short term investment in their family and that there would be time again for the two of the them.

It worked for their family.

That type of arrangement would have me on the one-way train to Crazy Town with a stop in Splits-ville.

I am selfish like that.  It’s impossible for me to silence my needs.  Like a petulant child, my inner-self sulks and broods when too much time has passed before I can indulge in me time.

Let me be clear.  I am not talking about a 3 weeklong hike in the Himalayas to find myself (although that does sound appealing).  I am talking about the need to read a chapter of a book without interruption, get a haircut without springing up from the chair with sopping wet hair to pick-up a child from school, eat a meal sitting at the table without wiping up spilled milk.

Putting my marriage “first” helps me to keep perspective of who I am as a woman and that directly affects my mothering.

When I am out with my husband, just the two of us, I feel like a woman.  I ditch the yoga pants and the sensible shoes and I feel good.  I laugh more.  I am spontaneous.  I am fun.  I am not just the Chief of the Manner Police.

Why not just reconnect with myself without entwining my husband into this process?  Wouldn’t it be just as easy to do with girlfriends?  Or truly solo?

It wouldn’t be the same.

This man knows me better than I know myself.  He’s supported me on my journey and knows every curve and loop of the road that I have travelled.  He can help me tune into the best part of myself and hold a mirror up for me to see the not-so-pretty parts, and he loves me just the same.

By spending time alone together, I find him again too.  Those subtle irritations give away and it’s like we have stepped into a time machine and reversed ten years.  Without the pressures of the boys and work, we are both our truer selves.  I am not such a bitch and he’s more present.

That’s when the magic happens.  We laugh, we talk, we listen, we dream, we plan.

We return home better people, better parents, better partners.

Marriage or Baby? Which comes first?

imgresGuiliana Ranic, television personality, made headlines recently, not for her red-carpet interviews but for this quote that appeared in US Weekly:

“We’re husband and wife, but we’re also best friends, and it’s funny because a lot of people, when they have kids, they put the baby first, and the marriage second,” says the 37-year-old breast-cancer survivor. “That works for some people. For us, I find, we put our marriage first and our child second, because the best thing we can do for him is have a strong marriage.”

No sooner had the words been uttered, the Internet exploded with bloggers, writers, celebrities and members of the glitterati weighing in with their opinion on the matter.  Critics blasted Rancic calling the new mom everything from selfish to egotistical, but she did garner her fair share of supporters.

The conversation prompted Rancic to release this statement a few days following the controversy acknowledging the ensuing discussion as a “good thing”.

4Mothers welcomes Kelly Quinn, guest blogger and mother of two, to join the discussion of marriage and baby.  Which comes first?  Is it partner versus baby or just another example of being pulled in all directions?

As always, we welcome you to join in and let us know your opinion on this one.  We look forward to hearing from you!

image: http://www.etsy.com

A Weekend Away

023It’s one thing to hear abstract statistics about how many marriages end in divorce.  Statistics include everybody, and lord knows what everybody is doing.  But it’s quite another to watch your friends, the normal people you’ve known for a long time, the ones who have stable relationships and tend to make good choices, go down.

My husband and I have been together long enough to have borne witness to this a few times, most recently over this past holiday.  When people ask me whether I did anything special for New Year’s, I can say yes.  I left the house and my husband close to 11pm, to drive across the city to make sure a friend who wasn’t answering the phone was hanging in there after receiving some particularly distressing news about her marriage, which had already burst into flame in a spectacular way a few weeks earlier.

This kind of thing invariably makes me appreciate my spouse a little more, the relative insignificance of our complaints.  Our friend’s trouble didn’t lead us to take a weekend away just for ourselves – we had planned to do it anyway – but it did form part of the background as we firmed up our plans to go.

We decided to go to a unique bed and breakfast, an urban homestead which practices some truly sustainable living practices that we find inspiring and would like to learn from.  It was just an hour and a half away, and we were gone just over 24 hours in total, but we had to pull out the stops for childcare, with my mother, my sister, and my in-laws all pitching in.  I did the planning and the packing and the shipping of children while my husband was at work (I picked him up there) and I confess that by the time we were starting our trip, I was tired.

But of course it was worth it.  Even the drive offered wide expanses of time to talk, uninterrupted.  The accommodation was simple and lovely, the hostess warm and informative, and we soaked up the tour she gave of her house and farm.  It was an unusually mild winter weekend, so my husband and  walked long into the night, and more during the day, taking in new surroundings, eating meals that were, again, uninterrupted.  We made some exciting plans.  It felt good.

Yet still I find myself thinking about my friend, the one whose marriage wouldn’t have been fortified by any number of weekend jaunts.  I know she will find her way through the mess.  But she’s no statistic, and until she comes out on the other end of this, I’m sending her whatever wishes of comfort and strength that I can.

Proposals Gone Right

Will you marry me?

Such a simple phrase, so easy to say yes to, and so impossible to understand the implications of when acceptance will entail.  Valentine’s Day is just about upon us, and to mark the day, 4Mothers will be talking about proposals gone right.  For the record, we four are all (still, currently) married, so we may end up talking about our own proposal stories, but then again, proposals come in all shapes and sizes, so who knows?

Do you like the celebrations?  I know many people get annoyed at the forced and commercial nature of the day, but I always remember my university roommate who defended Valentine’s Day by saying, “of course we don’t need a special day to remember our loves because we can celebrate them all the other days of the year, except that we don’t”.

So, before we talk about proposals, we’d like to be among the first to wish you a good day tomorrow, complete with a virtual box of chocolates.  Happy Valentine’s Day, readers.  We are so glad you come here.

(A Different Kind of) Bed Talk


It’s the end of the day, the long day, and I’m getting into bed at last.  My feet slip into the sheets, one of my favourite things ever.

But something’s wrong.  More specifically, something’s wet.

I pull up my legs, and then the bedsheet.  “It’s all wet,” I say.

“What?” asks my husband.

“The sheet,” I say.  “It’s all wet.”

“No it’s not,” says my husband, without seeing or touching the sheet.  Defensively hopeful.

“Yes, it is,” I say.  I hold the big wet area to my nose.  “It’s our older child.  He peed here last night,” I inform.  Then I offer the sheet to husband’s nose.

He whiffs.  “That’s not him,” husband says.  His voice grows a little louder.  “That was the cat,” he adds disgustedly.

I disagree.  “That’s not the cat.  Cat pee is strong and unbearable.  Smell again.”

Husband complies, then says nothing. I smell the sheet again too.  A pause lifts into the air.

It’s me who suggests:  “This is kind of a depressing conversation, isn’t it?”