Posts by Carmen

by Carmen

In high school I felt envious of the kids who knew exactly what they’d do after graduation and beyond.  Schools and majors had been chosen, summer internships mulled over.  Personally, I had no clue about my future and really would have loved for someone to hand me a map of my life, so that I could stop with all the angsty shit that kept me up at night.

Fast forward 18 years and I want to go back and tell my young self to chill already.  The truth is that life rarely goes as planned, and what you feel strongly about right now, could completely change 5 years from now.

Case in point:  In my early 20s I was adamant that I’d never have kids – and here I am raising 3.  They’re here not because they were “accidents” but because one day, years later, my thinking changed.  All the things that made a “no kids” life sound appealing, no longer mattered.  In my case I grew, matured, and re-evaluated and found myself in a completely different head space than I expected to.

Some other things my young self would be surprised about:

  • Being home with your kids while they’re little isn’t the horrible, soul-sucking misery you imagined it to be.  You should go back and apologize to the stay-at-home moms in your old neighbourhood for the scornful, mean things you thought about them.
  • Art does matter, and you should dedicate your life to creating it because it’s what makes you happy.  Stop feeling like you can’t follow your dream simply because it doesn’t come with a benefits package and retirement plan.
  • Originality is important.  Stop trying to blend in.  Life gets a lot more fun when that light bulb comes on.
How about you?  Have you stayed true to the course you set in your younger years?  Or have you veered and deflected in ways you never would have imagined?

by Carmen Farrell

My son Quinn came to me a few months ago in distress because he’d heard one of our neighbours refer to me as a hippie. He was pissed. How dare this guy call his mom something so horrible. Quinn thought it meant something derogatory, and in all likelihood, this neighbor did say it in a dissonant fashion (this neighbour and I are definitely not BFFs).  So I had to educate my kid on what a hippie was, and tell him exactly why I felt totally cool with my douchebag neighbor referring to me as one.

I was born in 1975, so I missed the whole peace-love-hippie-scene of the sixties – but I think I would have fit right in.  I don’t wear tie-dye, or flowers in my hair or do hits of LSD, but I do have strong counter-cultural leanings.  I have a shit load of grey hair, don’t dye it, and don’t plan to.   In today’s beauty-obsessed world, that’s a totally subversive act.  I also work hard at feeding my kids as little processed food as possible, I made an educated choice not to vaccinate, and feel strongly that homeschooling is better for my kids than a traditional schooling environment. I’ve gone against the grain quite a bit, and I’ve enjoyed every button-pushing minute of it.  And the neighbours…well, they notice.

One example that I used when explaining to my kid the ways in which we are different from the neighbours is how few bottles and tubes we have in the bathroom.  For a couple of years now I’ve gotten a big kick out of making my own “beauty” products. Not just because I’m crafty and making shit brings out my inner kid, but because I feel like I’m sticking it to the big corporations that make us believe that all that shit is necessary. I’m pretty sick of being marketed to…especially by the beauty industry.  Not only does my bathroom not need 87 different skin products, but soaps, shampoos, lotions and the like are loaded with unpronounceable crap proven to cause cancer in laboratory tests (go here to see where your products rank on the safety scale).  I can’t knowingly put that stuff on my kids’ bodies. So, I make my own all natural stuff.  Things like deodorant and toothpaste are easily made with a few ingredients and my own hands.  Baking soda and water is often used in lieu of shampoo, coconut oil becomes a skin mosturizer, and instead of Polysporin on boo-boos, we use a homemade calendula salve.   And it all works beautifully.

For any of you curious folks out there with “hippie” tendencies, here’s the deodorant recipe I use (care of Crunchy Betty):

  • 1-1/2 tbsp grated beeswax
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp shea butter
  • 4 tsp clay (bentonite or other – for the batch in the photo above I used french green clay)
  • 20-25 drops essential oil (I use tea tree oil but feel free to experiment and make yours smell whatever way you like best)
  • empty deodorant container

Melt the beeswax and coconut oil on very low heat, whisking often. Once melted, add in the shea butter, whisk a few times, then remove from the heat and continue melting. After that’s melted and you have a liquid, sprinkle in the clay and continue to whisk well until everything is combined. Drop in the essential oil while continuing to whisk. Place the pan into a cool water bath, and leave for 5 minutes or until it just begins to set up. Spoon the mixture into your deodorant container and place it in the freezer for 20-30 minutes (or until completely hard). If, for some reason, it starts to get too soft on a hot day, just put it back in the freezer for a while.

Keep in mind that nothing works as well as the aluminum filled best-sellers from the drug store, but this stuff works pretty darned well.  Anyhow, I really like the musky smell of my own pits (hubby’s too!).   On days that I have nowhere to go you’ll find my pits deo-free and me occasionally lifting my arm to get a whiff.  I dig it, and would take that scent over artificial lilacs any day.

Now you.  I bet there’s at least one thing you do that would make your neighbours shake their heads in confusion.  Spill it, okay?

I really wracked my brain to come up with a topic for today’s post.  It shouldn’t have been this hard.  I work.  I wear many different hats, and spend my days doing a variety of jobs.  There were any number of topics I could have touched on.  But what I kept coming back to when thinking about the various types of “work” that I do, was that I’m constantly working on myself and striving to be the best version of me – the real version of me.

Here’s the history:  I was born to parents for whom conformity was king.  They were immigrants who came to Canada in search of a prosperous life.  For them, appearances were everything, and as their first born child, everything I did (or wore, or said) reflected on them.  I grew up with very high expectations of how I was to present myself, what career I was supposed to choose and what sort of lifestyle I was to have.  For a kid like me, who was extremely creative and highly sensitive, this environment was totally soul sucking.  I went through the motions, always pretending, hiding my true feelings, desires, and beliefs.

Adulthood has presented some great opportunities for growth.  My twenties were all about figuring out what mattered to me and what I wanted out of life.  There was marriage, then babies.  Dabbling in a variety of creative endeavours to figure out what I was good at and what made me crazy-happy.  There were some ups and a hell of a lot of downs.  Great learning experiences.  Things that I’m proud of, and things that I said and did to myself and to others that I’m not so proud of.  Typical growing pains stuff.  All worthwhile.  Now, at 36, I know who I am, what I stand for, and what matters most to me.  All is finally well in my head, right?

Wait.  Why is it still so hard to be my true self in front of other people?    It’s nuts.  On one hand, I’m this chick who could give a fuck what other people think of her.   On the other, I’m still the little girl so used to pretending.   The little girl wins out more often that I care to admit – and I want it to stop.   I want my friendships to go deeper, I want my kids to have a role model for being unabashedly yourself, I want to be free of my mental constraints.  Most importantly, I want to die satisfied that I gave being “the real Carmen” an honest shot.  Right now I’m at the point where I don’t have a fucking clue how to go about it – besides just diving right in and being truthful about where I’m coming from and what I struggle with.

Putting this out there on the interwebs is a huge step for me, but my goal is to be radically authentic and that takes guts.  It means saying the shit that scares me to death.  Writing this post is actually giving me heart palpitations.  In my head the voice is screaming, “Don’t let them see your weaknesses!”  It’s how I survived for years, and that mechanism is still triggered on a daily basis.

So, lovely readers, this is what I’ve been “working” on  lately.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Have you found a way to be 100% yourself, without question?  Or do you struggle like I do?

When I was a kid there were quite a few years where my mom worked a day job and then cleaned a bank at night.  On a few occasions I tagged along with her and  loved the covert feeling of being in a place that was meant for daytime, after dark.  It was a place that in the daytime was all bustle and business, but after dark I was able to fill the stifling silence with a blaring radio, scribble on as many deposit slips as I wanted and explore the surface of safe door with my fingertips.  My fascination for empty public places even brought on dreams of being “accidentally” locked inside my school or the shopping mall overnight.  This is where my mind wandered when it came to night time.  For some reason I thought people just disappeared.

In these days of mothering little ones, my evenings out are few and far between.  When I do venture out into the world after dark I’m always surprised at how many people are about.  I don’t mean on a Friday or Saturday night.  That’s a given.  But on a Monday?  In my deluded mind I thought that since I was lounging in pajamas watching bad TV, so was everyone else.

When it comes to work, there are all sorts of jobs that need to be done after hours once the people have “disappeared”. On this particular night, my camera and I headed out into the neighbourhood at 9pm.   Certainly not a time when the streets are completely quiet (3am and I are not friends), but late enough that the city is winding down.  I loved catching a glimpse of who’s still on the clock at that hour.  I wonder how many of them thrive on the late nights and how many of them wish they were home tucking in their kids.  In my case, I couldn’t wait to get back to my hubby and my couch, feeling truly grateful that being out at that hour was totally optional for me.

One of my biggest pet peeves in the morning is having to smell people’s morning breath.  We’re a lovey dovey bunch so we’re up close and personal – in each other’s laps, slobbery kisses being exchanged – you get the picture.  But it seems that the older they get, the worse the morning breath is.  It’s really a shame.  I remember well the sweet, milky scent of their babyhood and how I wished they would always smell that pure first thing in the morning.  Reality check:  even the 2.5 year old has joined the realm of making mama’s eyes tear up (and not in a good way).

This morning I asked them all to brush their teeth before leaving the house.  A while later I asked if everyone had done as I’d asked.  They all responded with an enthusiastic yes.  My next request was for them to let me smell their breath.  I knew what the results would be.  It was a total set up.  I had my camera ready and this is what I captured.  2 out of 3 knew the gig was up.  The youngest is still too innocent to get it.  He hadn’t brushed either, but couldn’t wait to give me a whiff.

My ideal morning would include:

  • a head of hair that does not make me look like a rabid werewolf
  • a toddler that does not forcibly shove both hands into my bra for a fondle (I swear, boobs are their crack)
  • kids who keep their voices down until I’m fully awake (like, completely off…preferably)
  • breakfast that makes itself

But for now I have this:

  • a hubster who pours my coffee and hugs me nice-nice before leaving for work
  • Netflix to entertain the kids for a bit while I check e-mail and caffeinate
  • bobby pins to hold my hair back so that I look semi-human
  • a big kid who, on occasion, takes the lead and makes eggs for the whole crew

What’s on your simple wish list this morning?

In the past few weeks, I’ve spent quite a bit of time paying attention to our mornings:  what we do, how we feel, and (most importantly!) what’s worth photographing.  I’ve noticed that some mornings get off to a smashing start and others seem to limp along on the wrong foot.

Truthfully, some days are just harder than others.  I may be more tired than usual.  My emotions may be closer to the surface.  Perhaps I’m quicker to raise my voice to get my point across.  I try really hard to match the ideal that I hold in my head of a patient mom, supportive partner, kick-ass friend or on-the-ball business owner.  Other days I don’t try very hard at all because for one reason or many reasons, I don’t have it in me to give.  On the days that I fall short I can be hard on myself.  In the past I’d lie awake in bed feeling like an ass or blubber in Scott’s ear about all the ways I’d fucked up that day.

As I get older I’m realizing that beating myself up feels shitty, and guess what?  I don’t like feeling shitty.  Better yet, I don’t deserve to feel shitty.  So today I take solace in the fact that each morning means a fresh start, and a new day to give being Carmen the Awesome another shot.

Being a mom took me by surprise.  Not the actual becoming a mom part – I had many months to prepare for that – but the actual day to day “being a mom” grind.  I knew there’d be diapers to change, boo boos to kiss and stories to read at bedtime.   That’s the sort of stuff that everyone expects.  One thing I wasn’t prepared for though, was the number of times I’d have to remind my kids of basic stuff.    Who knew you’d have to repeat yourself so much?  Don’t wipe your snot on the couch (seriously, if I invite you over, don’t sit on my couch).  Wash your hands after going to the pisser.  Cutting your brother’s hair behind my back is not cool.  That sort of stuff.  I still watch my 9 year old like a hawk when he’s crossing the street because he doesn’t always remember to look – and I’ve been trying to hammer that one into him since he was a toddler!  You see?   Whether it’s about health and safety or just common courtesy, some things take a ridiculous amount of time to finally sink in.

Lately, their underwear etiquette has been making me crazy.    I grew up in a household with very traditional gender roles.  My mom was expected to wait on and pick up after my father.  Their arrangement did 2 things for me:  firstly, it made me throw up in my mouth pretty regularly and secondly, it made me realize what I wanted in a relationship.  Things worked out great!  Scott is my partner not only in life, but also in housework.  Score!   Fast forward many years and these absent-minded boys of mine regularly leave their dirty goods lying wherever they happened to be when they got dressed for the day.  And of course it automatically gets my back up.  I don’t want to pick up anyone’s dirty underwear but my own.  They know this.  They know this because I remind them regularly.  When I holler “Hello?  Underwear!”, they know they’ve fucked up.  They come quickly, grab their skivvies and rush off to the laundry room mumbling, “oops…sorry, mama”.  They’re sweet.  They fix it.  But shouldn’t this be automatic by now?  I’ve only reminded them 600 times.

I know that my kids aren’t the only ones who need gentle (and sometimes loud, obnoxious) reminders about the same things, over and over.  What’s one thing you constantly have to remind your kids to do?  Come on, show me that my kids aren’t just trying to break my spirit (or completely ruin my couch).