Should you have a baby shower the second (or third) time around?

Syndicated on BlogHer.com

This week, the gossip rags are lauding us with details of the magical, whimsical baby shower Christina Aguilera and her fiancé have just thrown, vagina cake and all.

Again? Hasn’t she already had a kid? Hasn’t she already had baby showers? My guess is that even if she isn't recycling, that baby’s nursery is already completely stocked with ironically-sloganed organic cotton onesies, receiving blankets woven from the hair of mermaids, and gold-plated soothers.

Why on earth does Christina Aguilera – or anybody, for that matter – need to have a baby shower after the first kid?

I was given two baby showers when I was pregnant with my first daughter. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law hosted a lovely afternoon for my husband’s side of the family, and my work friends threw me a book-themed shower in Toronto. Jews don’t throw each other baby showers, so I didn’t have one for my side of the family, and that was fine. Two showers were great; we came away well-stocked on items both big and small; practical and twee. We were well prepared for our daughter’s arrival, at least in material terms.

Less than two years later, I was pregnant again. And although I hadn’t known the gender of my first child until she was born, this time I knew I was expecting another girl. Clothes that my first daughter had outgrown had been saved and were now transferred back into drawers, awaiting the new baby. Blankets were laundered, books re-shelved, seats, swings and mats that I had received the first time around were dusted off and made ready for use again.

Besides a stroller for two, there was really nothing additional that I needed to accommodate this new baby. So when a friend suggested she host another baby shower for me, I balked.

How greedy did she think I was? How greedy had we all become? I had already been shown the tremendous generosity of friends and loved ones, and thanks to that earlier generosity, my baby stores were still quite nicely supplied. Why on earth would I ask people for more? What could I possibly still need?

In the end, my friends and a I enjoyed a very modest “going away” lunch before my mat-leave, at which several people did in fact bring me a gift for the new baby. It was very nice and very appreciated, but in no way was it requested or expected.

People magazine devotes reams of paper to celebrity baby showers, whether the star’s first, or fifth, child. The excess, the greed, the spectacle, is mind-boggling. And it sells magazines. 

But even closer to earth, a shower for every child seems to have become the norm.

Is it because so many of these new kids seem to also come with new dads, and with showers no longer relegated to the realm of women, these newly-created families reset the counter and feel entitled to a fresh start, with fresh gifts and fresh onesies that some other guy’s hands haven’t held?

Or is it that I’m just completely cynical, and baby showers are meant simply to be an expression of love for an unborn child; an opportunity for friends and loved ones to gather and support the growing family?

As if.

Have you ever been invited to a baby shower and asked not to bring a gift? Because I’m invited to baby showers where cards directing me straight to registries are included in the invitation. The only time I have ever been invited to a baby shower and asked not to bring a gift was when the parents simply requested money. Classy.

And if you are invited to a baby shower for a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) child, what do you do about the other kid(s)? Here kid, take this to the table full of stuff for your unborn sibling, who will continue to upstage you until he learns how to whine and you learn how to get your own snacks – oh, and by the way, I got nothing for you. Move along, try not to cry in the crab dip.

So what I mean is, an invitation to a shower for a subsequent child practically demands a gift for all those older, less special kids you already bought gifts for at their showers.

Sometimes, it's a simple case of a new group of friends throwing a mother a shower for a second kid because they weren't around for the first kid. I get that, and that's fine, because chances are, nobody at the second shower will have been to the first. So maybe the point is not, one shower per mother, but, one shower per guest. Pretty please.

Because it’s all too much.

And it’s all become completely accepted, and, it seems, acceptable. We expect when we are expecting, whether it’s our first and we’re too dumb and excited to realize that our babies don’t need Uggs, they need bibs, or it’s our third and we’re just tired of seeing the same sleepers cycle through the wash, day after day.

Somehow, having a baby makes us think we are deserving of stuff; that our procreation should be constantly funded by our friends, that the words, We’re pregnant! is somehow synonymous with, Bring gifts! And though I do get great joy from hearing the former, I’m getting quite fatigued with the latter. So I’ve embraced two more words that do also accompany the seemingly endless cycle of baby showers we feel no shame in endlessly throwing:

Regrets only.



How to not be dominated by men at a conference full of women

Hush, hush; keep it down now ...

Last spring, I attended a two-day conference put on by the Ministry of Education for members of Parent Involvement Committees, of which I am my board’s chair. Who are the school volunteers? Mainly women. Who attended the conference? Mainly women. Who had to interrupt every session with pithy observations, colour commentary and stupid one-liners? Always a man. Every time. When, exasperated after probably the fifth time this happened in a single session, I leaned over to the woman next to me and whispered, “It’s always a man; they can’t shut up.” She looked at me in horror. Later, she ran up to me in the hallway, and with a conspiratorial edge in her voice, said, “I started noticing it. It’s always a man. Every session.”

It’s always a man. Every session.

Which, of course, it isn’t. It isn’t always a man, and it isn’t every session. But it feels like it is.

The conferences that I attend are populated mainly by women. Social media, education, writing: these seem to be the areas where women gather to play and learn. That’s not to say that there are no men in attendance, but one has only to look as far as the lineups for the washroom in between sessions to know that the numbers skew heavily towards the female of the species.

The conferences I attend, the women-dominated conferences, have all served me well. For the most part, the atmosphere is supportive and friendly; the content interesting and informative; the interactions with other people respectful and considerate.

And yet …

And yet, time and time again, there are always men at these conferences that cannot seem to let an opportunity to dominate a conversation, interrupt a speaker or patronize a woman, pass them by.

Am I generalizing? Yes. But has it happened at every single conference I have ever attended? Yes.

This past weekend, I attended the Social Capital conference in Ottawa. It was my first time attending, and I had a wonderful day. The morning keynote speaker, Trefor Munn-Venn delivered what I think is possibly the best opening line in the history of opening lines, and for much of the day, my conference experience remained buoyed by the early momentum. My own session, on transitioning to professional writing on-line, went very well, and was thankfully early in the day so I could then relax and attend other sessions free of preoccupying thoughts.

And then a male speaker dismissed the entire group present with a flick of the wrist and a declaration that, “Oh right, you’re all mommybloggers.”

And then the roundtable session I was moderating, on The Art of the Pitch (intended for writers as a breakout from my earlier presentation), was completely hijacked by a male attendant, who neither wrote, nor pitched to magazines.

I was criticized heavily for all aspects regarding my approach to pitching, and the session turned into a lecture on selling PR campaigns the right way.

Here’s the thing: I enjoy debate. I enjoy a critical discussion about the state of the (my) industry. I enjoy a dissenting viewpoint clearly stated.

But what I – what we – got, was total domination. And how did I react? At first, with all the diplomacy I could muster. And then, after that failed, with silence.

I was silenced. The other people around the table were silenced.

After the session, I apologized to several of the people who had attended for wasting their time. Mercifully, the obviousness with which we had been hijacked was clear, and my efforts in trying to shut it down, acknowledged. As one attendant later put it, it was like meeting the human embodiment of “manspaining.”

But the feeling that I had failed the group, myself, and women in general by not having the tools to deflect the onslaught of patronization, has left me feeling defeated. I am no shrinking violet, but this was not my house. In order to remain respectful to the group, my hosts, and yes, even to the person dominating the discussion, I suppressed the urge to yell, shut the – well, I’m sure you can imagine what I would have liked to have yelled – and tried to focus on being professional.

But being silenced isn’t being professional. And suggesting that all men at all conferences should be silenced isn’t fair. There must be some middle ground.

There must be a way for men not to be domineering at a conference full of women, and women not to be victimized by the domineering men.

Because a conference, a microcosm of a larger professional world, is not the place to be quiet, or quieted. But words should always be measured for their effect on others. There is a way to share important messages without risking that their weight drown out others. Voices, after all, do carry.



Family Fun in the Heart of Ontario: Kelso Conservation Area

© Karen Green 2014

As far as I’m concerned, there is little reason to leave Canada in the summer. Unless constricted by schedules (or feted with opportunity), staying close to home in the beautiful, brief, hot summer months is the payoff for dealing with the long, brutally cold, depressing winters. Forget Florida in July. I want the shady forests and cool lakes of Ontario.

With this in mind, we recently hit the road on a sunny Saturday morning, en route to Kelso Conservation Area in Milton for a weekend of adventure, nature, and perhaps even a reprieve from the heat wave that had been blanketing Southern Ontario.

Kelso (better known as Glen Eden during ski season) was once a busy lime quarry, but is now a tidy gem of green space less than 90 minutes from the GTA. As an expat Torontonian, I’m sad that I hadn’t known about Kelso prior to moving away, as it really is the perfect family escape from the city.

On tap for us was a day of canoeing, swimming and exploring, followed by a night of camping and a second day devoted to hiking the stunning Niagara Escarpment. The only thing we were concerned about was whether we had remembered the Frisbee. We tried not to think about the ominous dark clouds gathering above us.

The park is very heavily used as a day spot for picnics, parties and reunions, so our wait in line to drive into the park was immediately tempered by the happy energy inside the grounds. Kids and families everywhere, the nearby highway was completely drowned out by laughter, music and the sounds of people having fun. Summer sounds. The amazing thing was, as soon as we launched the canoe from the boat dock, all of that melted away.

© Karen Green 2014

The lake, though small, was serene, calm, and pretty. We had a humourous debate over whether or not I was actually capable of steering the canoe, having jumped into the back position, which, it turns out, I was not. Then, as we rowed in circles for a few minutes, my big, floppy beach hat flew off my head, which for some reason greatly alarmed my six-year-old. Thanks to my inability to steer the ship, we watched it slowly, slowly sink into the depths of the lake before we could manage to get to it. Thank you to the people on shore who were pointing at my sinking hat and yelling for our attention as I rowed us in circles away from my chapeau.
© Karen Green 2014

 Once we figured out the whole steering thing, our canoe ride was bucolic. Although, not for my six-year-old, who had no faith in our ability to keep her out of the water after what happened to the hat, and cried the entire time. But this is no fault of the lake’s.

Eventually we headed back to shore, Chris and I high-fiving over our awesome sea-faring abilities. Six declared she was never getting into a boat with us again. I’ll remind her of that if we ever think of taking another Disney cruise.

We spent the afternoon on the sandy beach, making castles, swimming and snacking. At least, that’s what the kids did. I indulged in my favourite public activity, people-watching. Fascinating. Everybody was having a great time. There was a family self-defense lesson taking place in the shallow water, which I admit I at first mistook for a group baptism, and there were a lot of pregnant women in bathing suits that were cuter than the one I was wearing. Maternity fashion has come a long way.
© Karen Green 2014

Once the kids were waterlogged, we headed back to our campsite to make dinner. Although we usually camp in more remote places, I have to say, it felt special to be camping at Kelso. Removed from the day use area, we felt almost like insiders, like those other suckers had to leave, but we got to stay. One great thing about camping at Kelso is that it might not be remote, but it certainly is flat, even terrain. No bumps or rocks to have to deal with when sleeping in a tent = win.

Unfortunately, the ominous clouds would not back off, and we had to cut our trip short due to the rain. It would be an understatement to say that we were disappointed to miss out on our Sunday escarpment hike. We’ve decided to have a do-over in September, to hopefully take advantage of a beautiful crisp fall day and perhaps even see some of the autumn colours.

Conservation Halton
Despite the rain, we had an excellent time at Kelso, and felt like we got to take advantage of many of the park’s natural gifts. Plus it’s always exciting to sleep in a tent, and we made s’mores, so another win.

By the way, my six-year-old has a new favourite game to play in the pool – she throws in these little sinking squid toys they have and then moves through the pool in slow motion towards it. The name of the game? Mommy’s Sinking Hat.


Many thanks to The Hamilton Halton Brant Regional Tourism Association  for extending this complimentary trip to our family. Opinions are my own. Many of Halton's parks and conservation areas are currently offering two-for-one admission - plan your trip today! 



Poem: Promised Land

Please do not decide for me
The reasons that I struggle
Do not look once and then declare
The roles that I may juggle.

Do not walk down a path with me
Or think that I will follow
The road that I must lead is mine
Just like the words I swallow.

Do not think that when I look up
I only see the sky
When in fact I feel the breath
Of all those who pass by.

Do not believe my blood breeds hate
My ancestry fuels wars
Those are not the eyes through which I see -
Perhaps, my friend, they're yours.



There Is No Muse

*Cross-posted on the Social Capital Conference blog.

You know what they call a freelance writer who waits for inspiration to hit before they put words down on paper?


The truth about writing for a living is that, in order to make a living, you actually have to write: on demand, on a schedule, whether you feel like it or not. Being a freelance writer is not a romantic, or noble, or often, even a very creative profession. But it is a job, and like most other jobs, you gain success when you can handle its demands with professional acumen regardless of any outside influences, including the desire – or lack thereof – to do the job in the first place.

Inspiration is great when it arrives ahead of a fast-approaching deadline, but writing for a living is often like creating a cauldron full of stone soup – sometimes you start out with nothing, but if you do your job right, you could end up with something substantial.

I spent a year as an op-ed columnist for TheLoop.ca, and in that time, learned the true art of stone-soup writing. Tasked often with writing about subject matter I had just been introduced to yet had to spin into something worthy of a reader’s attention on a very short timeline, the only muse I could possibly rely on was a strong cup of coffee and the hope that runny noses had cleared in time to send both of my kids to school for the day. Sure, I had practiced this kind of writing during my previous decade as a creative copywriter at a record company, but the pressure to write compelling, shareable and SEO-attuned pieces is huge these days. Not only did I have to write engaging and intelligent articles – on demand, about new and sometimes odd subjects – but I had to ensure that each piece met the performance expectations of my editor as well. In my previous life, I may have been required to write great liner notes, but I wasn’t responsible for guaranteeing their consumption. Writing professionally online comes with layers of expectations, and you really can’t blame a muse for not wanting the gig.

So you’re on your own.

In the end, the only way to write is to get to it – hands on keyboard, seat in chair. And the thing to remember is, hey, you’re good at this, right? It’s your job, yes, but it’s also your gift. As a professional writer, you can turn words into ideas, ideas into compelling, totally shareable and CEO-compliant articles, even when you don’t feel like it. The other thing to remember is that, like the cauldron of soup that began with one measly stone, words beget words, ideas beget ideas, until the page is full and the deadline is met.

And hey, that stone soup can often turn out to be pretty darn tasty.

 #socapOttawa is happening on July 26, and I'll be presenting a session called Beyond the Blog: Tips for Transitioning to Professional Writing Online, as well as a roundtable on creating great content even when you don't feel like it. Get your tickets!