Sunday Brunch with Anne Celila, Mama of Two

I met Anne at the alternative elementary school I attended for eight formative years. She was my teacher, though I never called her that. At Wondertree all 'teachers' are Learning Consultants and if someone asks you to call them by their last name, you ask them to call you by yours – even if you're seven years old.

Anne was a wonderful mentor. She was ever-kind, generous, compassionate, and exuded warmth with a twinkle in her eye. I remember long walks through the woods by the school and her loving tolerance of the special needs boy who demanded most of her attention. She also had two soft-spoken teenage daughters, one of whom has recently had her first child. I reconnected with Anne through facebook just around the time I was pregnant with Sweet Baby James. I knew she was someone whose story, especially now that I could relate to her as an adult and a mother, I needed to hear.

I always saw Anne as a 'natural' or 'born' mother. As she says herself, early-years parenting was a breeze for her. I've never really heard anyone say this before. We have this assumption that parenting is tough and watch out your kids will take over your life; it's easy to forget that it doesn't have to be that way. To me, Anne is a beautiful example of surrendering to the journey: embracing motherhood as a teaching and her children as her teachers. In sharing her voice here, and in her current work as a 'Village Granny' in small-town British Columbia, she continues to be a Learning Consultant extraordinaire.

– Svea Boyda-Vikander

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How old were you when you first started having kids?
In some ways I've always had children.  I was 6 when my youngest sibling was born and there are a lot of pictures of the 4 children in my family (I was the oldest) with me holding my little brother.  I began babysitting as soon as I could and always wanted a family.  I was 30 when my first daughter was born, and my other daughter was born 19 months later.  "My girls" K&K are 31 and 29 now, in the fall of 2011.  I would have loved to have a larger family, but my husband only wanted two.

What was your household like during your kids' younger years?
From when K&K were born until they were 9 and 10 years old, we homeschooled. I tried to have other children around as much as possible.  It was challenging to be doing this in the suburbs - hardly anyone around us was home during the day and the culture of the community was pretty traditional.  I gotta confess that often felt like it was me alone with K&K…   My husband was supportive of all this, but wasn't really a "little kid" dad and was away during virtually all of their weekday waking hours. While my heart was definitely in my parenting and being with my children during their young years, my spirit got battered a lot. 
I was an educated left-leaning hippie earth mother who was more informed than many about pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, and educational choices.  I had a bachelor's degree which I never used after moving to Canada.  Before marriage, I worked in offices, retail and direct sales (Tupperware).  I did extensive volunteer work with Planned Parenthood and in fact, have spent most of my working life as a volunteer. 
So.  When my daughters were pre-schoolers, I was involved (a few hours a week at most) in a local home birth support group and later, in the home schooling support group.  Later, when the youngest was 5, I became an active (10-15 hours per week) member of my chanting and meditation group and served in many capacities within this organization, both locally and nationally.
When K&K and I finally were ready (they were 9 and 10 years old) for more traditional schooling, we found a very alternative system that revolved around empowering the children to be in charge of their own learning, facilitated by "learning consultants". During this time, I re-entered the paid work force working at different retail jobs and eventually within the "school" system of my daughters as a learning consultant.

Have you since become a single parent?
I finally divorced when my daughters were 15 and 17 years old.  But I'd emotionally been isolated and alone for most of their lives.

What are your best memories from raising children?
(1) Birthday parties with lots and lots of children and parents around (community).

(2) Watching talents crystallize in my daughters -
  • SEWING from playing with paper dolls (at 5&6) to making paper doll clothes 2 or 3 years later, to sewing or crocheting clothing and household items these days
  • COOKING from sandbox cooking at 4&5 to making "5 Cup Peanut Butter balls" at 6&7, to making a surprise birthday cake for me when they were 9 and 10, to master-level cooking (older daughter)
  • SINGING off key with me at 3&4 to taking voice lessons and learning a couple of instruments beginning at 6&7, to hearing their beautiful and intricate harmonies today
  • BUSINESS SKILLS from writing stories and newspapers and making their own library system at ages 6&7, to informally developing system analysis and behind-the-scenes assistant skills (younger daughter) and being a co-business owner specializing in the financial management (older daughter).

(3) Another best memory is figuring out how to manage 3 preschool aged children (I was doing part time childcare for another young girl).  I still laugh when I remember how I figured out where I could walk with three very different little girls who wanted to walk in different directions while I wanted to enable them to do so safely.  (we walked down the back alley) 

(4) I also recall fondly co-breast feeding my second daughter and my friend's little girl who was the same age… as one or the other of us had a husband & wife night out.

If you could summarize your parenting philosophy into one word, phrase, or sentence, what would that be?
My operating philosophy is probably best summarized as Laissez-faire.  Laissez-faire and TRUST.   As much as possible, watch and enjoy.  Our children - even the very youngest ones - know so much more about what they need and want than we do.  As much as possible, support their wisdom.

What do you wish you had known before you had your first child?
Mostly, I would like to go back and tell my younger self,

"Anne, you can't do it alone.  You can't.  It takes a Village.  And you need time off or else your work, your self-image, and your ability to be the person you want to will suffer.  Get the help you need.  And be gentle on yourself for any "mistakes" you feel you made.

What is the absolute worst advice anyone has given you about parenting?
"Let her cry" when my older daughter was 6 months old, was waking me up 6 times at night and I was so sleep deprived I was at the end of my rope.   What I'd tell my younger self today?  (1) Give up the idea of sleeping with your husband for a while and sleep with your daugher… if you feel you can't reconsider co-sleeping in a family bed. (2) Give up the idea that you don't need help, and look for a La Leche League meeting.  Do it!

And the best advice?
Well just about anything I read in Mothering Magazine was advice worth taking.  I really didn't know anyone doing parenting in the gentle style I was.  I'm sure they were there, I just didn't know them.
What are your relationships with your kids like now?
My daughters are loving, generous young women who don’t seek out my advice (who does? these days in our society?).  They do let me tell my stories though, we spend quit a bit of time together…  My older daughter just became a mother herself a few months ago.  She watches what I do with her son, and she shows me her own style and competencies… we do this without speaking about it.  My younger daughter lives in another town, and she calls me several times a week and we visit back and forth when we can…
What is your relationship with their father like now?
My former husband, their dad, and I have been separated and then divorced for more than a decade.  We get together when we're in the same town for family events.  We sometimes do things together, we have a good relationship.  We acknowledge that we're still each other's longest friends and we know more about each other than most anyone else knows about us.  We have our children and grandson in common, some strong shared interests and we have similar intellectual, political, educational, and ideological beliefs.  We respect each other.

What were your births like, and were you happy with the care you received?
The childbirths of my two daughters happened in 1980 and 1982. 

The one in 1980 was a planned home birth attended by two midwives and a couple of other people. It was a great experience, although I'd say it fell short of my "spiritual midwifery ala Ina May Gaskin" dream.  My husband is not a very spiritual person, my main midwife was a compassionate, trained professional, and my dream remained a private one… 

Active labor was about 10 hours long and I was well-attended.  I remember it pretty clearly 30 years later with the help of pictures and some notes I made.  I had a second-stage complication: a retained placenta and I was transported to hospital for it's manual extraction (very sharply painful but only seconds long.  I stayed overnight and came home the next morning.  I loved my pregnancy, I was fully present for the birth process, and was immediately in love with my daughter at first sight…  My husband cut her umbilical cord, we followed the Laboyer birth process to a great extent, even having a memorable Laboyer bath for my baby, where, her dad said she was doing the backstroke.  I was still waiting for my placenta to come out and couldn't watch.   She was 9 lbs 10 oz.

The early motherhood period was a breeze for me.  Really and truly.  I loved the breast feeding, the diaper changes… everything. 

My second childbirth was virtually painless and very quick - maybe 4 hours in total.  A breeze.  My daughter was born in the car on the way to the hospital (we'd planned a hospital birth due to the second-stage complication of #1).  She was 9 lbs big.  We went home a couple of hours after the placental came out nicely all by itself and in one piece.    

I was happy with the care I received during both births - it was the kind of care that allowed me and my husband to be the decision makers. Supportive.

Can you share with us some of your tricks and tips about staying sane as a new mother?
 Well, as I mentioned, I was a bit isolated and it was definitely a sanity-challenging period.  I had no car access and didn't choose to bus around with small ones.  Here's what I'd do.  I knew about 5 women who were staying home with their little ones.  I called a different one every day and ask, "teething yet?" or "how's the colic?" or whatever I knew was going on with them and their children.  I just wanted to talk to an adult who was experiencing similar things.  It worked for me!  Oh and (this was before home computers) I read Parenting Magazine.  The magazine was cheap - i.e. I could afford it, the articles were only one page long (I could read them between "crises") and they covered topics that were interesting to me (although not in any depth that would have deeply satisfied, but I didn't have time for depth anyway.)

If I could give my younger self some advice, I'd say, "give up on the idea that you don't do buses.  Take the kids and go somewhere on a field trip every day or two.  Get outside and do SOMEthing --- ANYTHING."

How did having kids affect your relationship? 
Our challenge was this: we didn't have good communication skills.  Our one and only technique was to talk until it felt done.  This was compromised with the time demands of children, and never really resolved.   
What kind of sleeping arrangements did you have?
My first choice was family bed.  My husband was a chronically poor sleeper and so I compromised.  My newborn was in a little bassinet by my bedside for a short while.  It became clear that that was still to hard for him, so she moved into a <painful to say this> crib in an adjacent room.  I believe this was my worst parenting choice.

What mistakes did you make as the mother of small children? What did you learn?
Well these are mentioned in a number of other places in this interview, but I'll summarize some of them here.
  1. Not sleeping with my daughter.
  2. Thinking I could do it all.  Baby-parenting was possibly easier for me than it was for other mothers, but it still is an incredibly demanding job and I really needed help. 
  3. Not taking care of my own personal and relationship needs.  My priorities were
    1. Kids - always. 
    2. Self - maybe a walk sometimes. 
    3. Relationship - How do I do this even if I had time?

In terms of what I learned... I am still figuring out the answer to this one.

Were you able to and interested in breastfeeding? At what ages did you wean?
Yes for both daughters.  They seemed to wean themselves at about one year.  (I got pregnant with my second  when the first one was 10 months old.)  Here is where La Leche League could have helped me.  I would have loved to feed them longer.

How did you feel about your changing body as a pregnant woman/new mother?
I absolutely loved being a hugely pregnant woman…

It's fascinating to me that you're collecting Elder Wisdom, Svea.  First of all, I had virtually no elder wisdom to go by.  My mom died about a month after my first daughter was born, but she wasn't someone who was involved in my life anyway, and certainly my extended family (German Catholic - stand on your own two feet and don't complain about anything) were not forthcoming either.  Plus, I lived 3000 miles from the nearest relative. 

So part of me is very sad not to have experienced any of this wisdom sharing when I was younger.

On the other hand, I'm very conscious of the idea from First Nations community in my area of Elder Wisdom, and I'm very aware that I DO have some life experience that is valuable.  I'm so touched to have been asked these questions and to have been given time to reflect on them.

Love to all of us who love our children…
 – Anne

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