On Mothers, Marketing, Motives and Messaging: An essay on infant feeding

Author’s note: This post was originally published on my personal facebook wall on March 13h, 2012.  I am sharing it at the request of several people who are interested in pursuing discussions on the business perspective of the infant feeding including the marketing of formula and breastfeeding advocacy.  It has been (heavily) edited to protect some personal and private information, as well as to correct some spelling/grammar mistakes and streamline the content as much as possible. 

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WARNING: THIS POST IS INCREDIBLY LONG (EVEN BY MY STANDARDS) AND MAY REQUIRE YOU TO POUR YOURSELF AN EXTRA GLASS OF WINE (OR SIX) BEFORE READING…

I’ve got a few disclaimers to make before I post anything. This is a hot button topic, and my choices on breastfeeding are not up for debate. Neither are anyone else’s. I will be heavily moderating this post and will delete any comment that I find offensive or unnecessarily antagonistic, cause I’m a dictator like that.

1) I am still breastfeeding my 21-month-old son.  This was not my plan, nor was it my desire, but it is my reality.  We have been working on weaning S, slowly and respectfully of his needs and ability to understand. It has already been a six-month process, and I expect it to take until at least his second birthday.   He nurses rarely now, and mostly for comfort.   S has never had any formula, and he did not eat solids until he was eight months. This was a decision my husband and I reached based after reading extensive research on all sides of the coin, and we made the decisions that works for us as parents.

2) I am a formula-fed child.  I am surrounded by formula-fed children, and see no evidence of poor parenting in them.  That said, I do not believe that formula is the equivalent to breast milk- but I have rarely (if ever) heard anyone make that statement.

3) I genuinely feel awful for women who wanted to breastfeed but didn’t because of whatever reason.  I also feel awful for women who struggled with breastfeeding and were so worried about the social implications of supplementing that they did not do it. I am one of those women.  I do believe that breastfeeding my baby enhanced our bond. I do also believe that I allowed myself to become pressured into decisions that may not always have been in the interest of my best physical health, or the best physical and emotional health of my family.

4) I am not a “breastfeeding nazi”. I am not an activist, a lactivist, an intactivist, a “hippy”, a “crunchy mom” or any other label you want to assign me. I am simply a mom, and the feeding of my child is the only interest I have in the breastfeeding movement.  I have no financial benefit from my opinions or views on breastfeeding, formula, or breastfeeding supplementation and related products. 

5) I am also business-owner and a professional business consultant.  I do agree that the decision of how to feed your child is a personal one. It is your child, your body and your choice.  BUT I also believe that there is a greater discussion that needs to be had on the role of government, organizations, the media and marketing.  Like any other social phenomenon, our actions impact the world around us. We should not make our decisions based on this fact- but we should recognize this fact nonetheless.

Breastfeeding, for most women, is a “heart” issue.  I would like to compel us to have a “brain” discussion on this topic. I think that, as we move more and more towards social marketing, the discussions revolving around corporate ethics become all the more important.

Let me start by saying: I do not believe that corporations have ethics. Corporations are not people. Despite being run by people, they do not have “feelings” or an internal conscience. In fact, I believe that many corporations layer their internal management so heavily that it squishes out any individual sense of ethics, because no one person is effectually in charge of seeing the entire big picture.

I also do not believe that corporations should be bound by social ethics. I believe that corporations have one basic reason for existence: to make money for their shareholders.  That is their role; that is what they do.  If they also happen to do good in the world, then wonderful. But doing ‘good’ is not their first and foremost responsibility, nor should it be.  Businesses need to make money, or else they cease to exist.

There are many times when making money and doing good can actually be compatible, either because doing good reduces their costs (think reducing the amount of shopping bags used by making customers pay for them), by increasing their public favour/visibility and thereby increasing their direct or indirect sales (as is the case with the “healthy fast food” movement).  It is extraordinarily rare for a business to take a financial hit, either in public opinion or in actual sales, in favour of doing the “right” thing unless they are mandated to do so by the law or some other regulating authority.

Now, when I say that corporations should not be bound by ethics, let me be clear: I do not believe that corporations should use a moral compass to make their decisions. This does not mean that I believe in an entirely free market.  Rather, I believe that governments, regulating bodies and- ultimately- the public must be the forces that regulate the behaviours of corporations.  These should represent the mores of the greater portion of society, thereby dictating the terms by which a business will survive or fail.

Now, as we know, there is a significant issue with public information right now. Be it from GMO-pushing corporations, or the producers of breastmilk substitutes, there is an unequivocal disparity between the truth and public perception. People jump onto a bandwagon because they are not thinking critically about the marketing and media that surround them.    What we are left with is a huge crisis between “fakes and facts”, not only in the infant feeding industry but in business as a whole.

That being said, it is not and will never be up to businesses to make sure that you have your facts straight.  They present information in order to persuade you to purchase from them, and it is up to you to discern what is relevant, superfluous, or misleading.  We, the consumers, must take accountability for our consumption.  The exceptions to this rule are clear: businesses are not allowed to break the law and if they do, they must suffer the legal consequences.

So if you are asking if the “Stop Kony 2012″ social media campaign violated my personal ethical and moral standards, my answer would be yes (for more on that, read this post, at http://www.kikkiplanet.com that explains it much better than I ever could).  If you asked me if “Stop Kony” should be allowed to use the campaign video, my answer would be yes, as long as they stay within the parameters of the law. If you also asked me what you should do about stopping “Stop Kony”, I would respond: do you homework, don’t believe everything you read, and don’t buy products you don’t believe in. If you feel that their actions should be be banned, advocate to have the laws tightened.  And, if you feel comfortable with sharing your opinion to help others learn more, then do so- but be accurate, be kind, and be prepared for the fall out.  

Should you replace the word “Kony” with the words “Formula Companies”, my answers would be the same.

I loved how the kikkiplanet.com blog post handled the Kony issue.  It presented the facts (with an abundance of references), highlighted an opinion and called on others to learn more and make up their own minds. This is persuasive arguing at its very finest.  If the facts are on your side, you can make a strong case.  Now, I admit that with “Stop Kony”- despite it being a huge business with a ton of money- doesn’t come close to the funding that formula companies have. The larger the company, the harder it is to make a convincing case…and yet, it happens all the time.  We are watching as huge businesses are forced to make significant changes to their products and their marketing in the face of social realities.  One need only consider how far McDonald’s has come (arguably not far enough, but still) in offering apples to children instead of French fries. And still, parents choose French fries. It’s unhealthy, empty-calorie food that does nothing but bad…and they know it. But still they buy it. This is not because they aren’t informed. It is because they are making the choice of comfort, convenience, taste, etc. over the choice for health. We all make these choices regularly, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Now, every so often a business lies. A lot. And this needs intervention.  Take for example the cigarette companies.  Do you think they advertise how unhealthy their product is because they care about our health? Nope- they lost a major court case, and now are legally obligated to. Our legal system has declared that they must suffer this price for the damages they cause to our overall health.  And, though the numbers are declining steadily, people still smoke.  They know it’s not healthy.  They don’t care, or at least they are unwilling to take on the change required to stop. And this is ultimately their right.

Formula, as a product, is not as ideal for babies and mothers as is the natural feeding process involved in breastfeeding. This much has been scientifically established. And yet women still use formula, for a variety of reasons.  Are there other options? Let me state this clearly: At this time, the Government of Canada does NOT endorse any other options of feeding your newborn. Breastmilk and Formula are the two that society and our government have deemed acceptable and healthy.  In the case of milk sharing, Health Canada still recommends only using milk from legally regulated milk banks, which are few and far between.  Should this be the case? In my opinion, no. I believe that milk sharing and homemade formulas can and should become equally accessible substitutes given the time and resources.  But until this is the case, you have two options if you are following the current guidelines, which most parents do.

Now, let’s look at some hard business realities. Products succeed because they are desired by the people. Formula was invented to respond to a very real, very important need; children were dying as a result of poor nutrition and poisoning from early breastmilk substitutes such as “dry nursing” and evaporated milk. Wet nursing was not readily available to all mothers, and in many cases was very expensive. As women began to work outside of the home, and our society moved from agrarian to industrial, formula became a proverbial beckon in a world that had traditionally imprisoned women in the home.  Like contraception, it provided women an alternative to the lives that they had been living.  This is why the “choice” argument is so powerful.  Whether we like it or not, formula historically provided a “choice” where options were once incredibly limited. Sadly, this also turned into a “breastfeeding is bad and/or inferior” scenario, where women were actively encouraged by medical professionals to choose formula from birth.

The second reality is that some women can not breastfeed for physical reasons. Others can’t for psychological reasons. Others don’t because they simply don’t want to. And, legally speaking, all of those are equally valid reasons not to breastfeed your child. While I do understand the implications, both economic and social, for why we want to encourage breastfeeding, the fact of the matter is that women do not have to breastfeed. Choosing formula is their right, and an overwhelmingly large proportion of mothers choose to exercise this right at some point during their child’s life.

Formula manufacturers produce products that women want to buy.  They market these products in order to encourage women to buy their specific brand as opposed to their competitor’s. That is the primary purpose of marketing.

I think that the major issue with marketing, in this context and in all contexts, is that it has become so pervasive that people no longer evaluate the information that they are being presented. They no longer ask themselves: what are the motives behind what I am being presented? Who is presenting the information? What is the subtext and what is not being said?

We have forgotten that we, the consumers, are ultimately accountable for our decision making and that we have a responsibility to carefully evaluate what we are being presented with.  Far too many people rely on what is being marketed to them, without investigating further on their own.

This is a double-edged sword, particularly in the infant feeding industry as there are motives on either side.  Just as the the formula manufacturers stand to gain from selling their products, many companies and individuals stand to gain financially from increasing the breastfeeding success rates.  Both are marketing to mothers. Both have self-interest. And both employ marketing tactics, highlighting only the points that are relevant to these interests.

This is not to say that all breastfeeding advocates stand to gain, or that their information is incorrect.  But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that there is not money to be made on both sides.

Now, not all advocates are self-interested. Not all of us stand to gain.  But we must navigate very carefully the economically and politically charged waters created by the business of infant feeding in general.

When it comes to breastfeeding advocacy, I’m not going to comment much on approach. Frankly there are as many approaches as there are people. I will say that groups that appear extremist seldom accomplish much beyond polarizing the already divided public and swaying public opinion away from their original goals. I think the breastfeeding “movement” falls victim to this, getting labeled by the crazy behaviours of a smaller subsection of our population.  This makes us feel sad and defeated, and we react from that emotional place as opposed to regrouping and considering more carefully our efforts.

Likewise, formula-feeding advocates who find themselves on the other side of the debate, feel persecuted by the more extremist movement and, in an effort to self-protect and to defend themselves, respond from an emotionally charged place to advocacy efforts that they perceive as being an attack on their choices.

For this reason, organizations like the World Health Organization draft codes which they hope that the world will comply to.  But unless those codes are unheld by the governing parties at home, why would a business actively do something that will cause it to lose money? Again, a corporation’s primary objective is to generate money, not to create a better world. Is this what we wish businesses would do? I’m not sure that’s even a relevant question. It is what they do.

As it stands, the WHO recommendations on infant feeding are voluntary, and abiding them is not a requirement of any Canadian business.

Should it be? THAT is the relevant question and where we need to start focusing our attention.

Some breastfeeding businesses have started out as WHO code compliant and found it impossible to live up to the standards.  They give up, and join the pack.  The standards, as they stand are simply not possible to maintain given our current economic and political climate.  The only way for them to become possible would be to have government intervention either through law (as was the case with the cigarette companies) or through subsidized advocacy and education programs (as was the case with the health movement).

So where does that leave the breastfeeding movement, which is so committed to promoting breastfeeding rights, to holding formula manufacturers accountable for their product quality, and to furthering honesty and education about healthy infant feeding?

Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.  This is most true of the breastfeeding debate, which has been circling the same basic discussions for three decades. Everywhere you look, you inadvertently stumble onto some form of the “breast vs. bottle” fight, and every time you do it ends the same way: no one’s opinion is changed, and everyone is mad.

In my honest opinion, the social advocacy efforts have not only not moved us forward; they have propelled us backwards. That is not to say that there hasn’t been movement towards more socialized and accepted breastfeeding norms- we already know that there has been a significant increase in both the amount of women who start breastfeeding and those that breastfeeding exclusively until the Canadian-recommended age of six months.  But, I would argue that these trends do not reflect the growing advocacy movement, but rather the increased knowledge that we are gaining from the research communities about breastmilk, breastfeeding and early childhood (particularly in terms of neurological development).

When it comes to breastfeeding advocacy, our “public relations image” needs some serious work.

Ultimately, the flaw of almost every advocacy campaign lies in poor messaging and incorrectly targeted audiences.  At this time, the breastfeeding advocacy movement has focused its attention on educating the public about the flaws of formula and the inherent corruption within the formula manufacturing industry in hopes that this will deter buyers.  While this isn’t wrong, it is problematic.

Firstly, many of the more vocal advocates are self-researched and self-appointed which lead to them not being perceived as authority figures, and therefor diminishing their advocate credibility.  It’s not that their information is wrong, it’s that it is information being shared by second or third hand parties, many of whom are limited in their knowledge, experience, credentials and training. Whether it is fair or not, we live in a world where formal education and formal credentials matter.

The most influential voices in the breastfeeding movements are professionals in the field: doctors, nurses, certified Lactation Consultants, etc. However, they are not the ones making the most “noise”, particularly online. Unfortunately, the most visible are the extremist fringe groups who engage in tactics that taint the entire message. These extremist are almost always self-proclaimed experts, many having their own agendas to forward as well as potential financial gain. These “experts” are every bit as dangerous to new and vulnerable mothers as any strategically marketed formula campaign could ever be.

Just as there can be a problem with the messenger, there is a problem with the mediums and audience being chosen. In business, as quoted by great Canadian scholar Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message”.

In using social media sites, like blogs, Twitter or Facebook, the audience being targeted is generally one that has drawn itself to the topic. They are choosing to read on parenting topics because they are very likely already parents. As such, the odds are strong that they have already decided where they stand on the infant feeding issue.

While, trying to convert a mom who formula fed her children twenty years ago is possible, ultimately it shouldn’t be the primary target as she is unlikely to be formula feeding in the future.  Quite frankly, the vast majority of women are formula-feeding by six-weeks into their parenting journey, thereby making existing mother’s the wrong targets all together.

So who is the ideal audience? Unquestionably the mother-to-be (not necessarily just the “pregnant” but she who may one day choose to become so) and those she interacts with.

We need to think much bigger than reaching the mother beside us.  We need to start thinking about reaching the mother who has yet to reach puberty.  And yes, a big part of this lies in normalizing the act of breastfeeding itself. However, until we can get our own government policies caught up, we will have a very hard time convincing society as a whole.

What we need are our professionals, be they doctors, nurses, IBCLCs, or researchers, engaging in dialogue and actively working to ensure that the most accurate and up to date information is providing the framework for our social and health policies.  Only through these concerted efforts will we be able to actually and tangibly make changes to our current practices.

The answer here must lie in focusing our efforts towards our elected officials and advocacy groups, to empower them to orchestrate the kind of large scale education campaigns required to make immense social change happen quickly.

These are also the same people who are empowered to create the laws and regulations that would control the marketing tactics of infant feeding businesses, thereby ensuring that the public is receiving fair, accurate and up-to-date information about breastfeeding, formula and other forms of supplementations.

Increased public awareness and marketing restrictions on manufacturers.

Two birds. One stone.

So is there still a place for smaller scale advocacy? Of course there is, but it must be complimented by a more global, high-level approach.

We must be aware of the potential negative impact extremism can have on our movement. We must add to our credibility  by sharing medical and scientific (re: first-hand peer reviewed and reliable sources) for information and by encouraging active discussion of the facts, not of people and their decisions.

We must encourage those around us who do choose to breastfeed, and show love, compassion and understanding to mothers and women everywhere regardless of their feeding choices.

We must remember that the right to choose what happens to our bodies is one of the most valuable gifts we can pass on to our children.

We must continue to proudly live our values and our choices, and approach others who have different values with kindness and empathy.

In the words of Ghandi, we must “be the change we want to see in the world”.

Sometimes, simply being kind to someone who is in pain is the most courageous thing you can do.

Regardless, it almost invariably gets better results.

For more on this topic, check out these two blogs by Natasha at Natural Urban Mamas:

Not evil, just marketing 101

Passion and Compassion 

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ignitestrategicsolutions:

Today was one of those days where the bad guys seemed to be everywhere. It makes me sad, but I know deep down inside that cheaters never prosper.

Originally posted on ignitestrategicsolutions:

If you don’t have integrity, you have nothing. You can’t buy it. You can have all the money in the world, but if you are not a moral and ethical person, you really have nothing. – H. Kravis


I’ve always been a sucker for a good villain.

From the very first time I watched Die Hard, and encountered a great man named Hans Gruber (played expertly by Alan Rickman, who is unquestionably one of the best actors of all time), a little part of me has always been drawn to the suave, arrogant, and ultimately doomed bad guy. More than once, I have been moved to tears by the death of a great villain and have had to remind myself that they aren’t actually the hero of the story.

To be honest, I’m not sure what it is I love so much about villains. I do generally tend to admire…

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And this is why I hate blogging…

If you are here to see the post about “mommy wars”, I’ve trashed it.

I believed in everything that I said, but once again have found that blogging just isn’t worth it. I have this journal to write about my life. I write for me and for those who are interested and care about me.  I did not write it to get into a blog war, be called a “whore” (or some of the even worse names that I’ve been called tonight) or be told that I must not get laid enough which is why I have an opinion that differs from others.

So there you have it.  Like water off a duck’s back. I thank those who shared constructive feedback, whether you agreed with me or not. :) For all others, have a great night.

Zita

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Strategic Planning: Not just for businesses anymore!

Well, it’s 2012! I’ve had my two weeks off, got my “rest” (if you can call Christmas-time restful) and am ready to face a new year full of exciting challenges.

There’s a lot on the agenda for this year.  Family, friends, weddings, babies, business, hobbies…it’s going to be a busy one!  I have a very distinct vision for what I want this year, and am committed to taking the steps that I need to get there.

Just like in your work, keeping on top of your personal goals is absolutely critical to self development.  It is important for you to know where you are heading, why you are going there and how you plan on getting there!

Since these are the basic questions that are answered by a strategic plan, I thought it might be fun to apply the process to my own personal life. So I sat down and spent an afternoon reflecting. I started by identifying my Mission and Vision for the year, as well as the guiding values that I want to bring to my every day living.  Next, I completed a SWOT analysis of my PERSONAL strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  Based on these, I identified three Key Strategic Priorities, areas that I feel require a significant amount of attention. Finally, I established the goals which would help me achieve these priorities.

Looks like I have my work cut out for me this year! What are your goals/resolutions?

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Mission: To live with intention, integrity and illumination; to be inspired by the beauty of life that surrounds me and to share this inspiration with everyone that I encounter; to be a force of positivity, growth, and passion.

 

Vision: This year is about living my values and putting my needs and the needs of my family first.

 

Guiding Values: Appreciation, Awareness, Awe, Benevolence, Commitment, Compassion, Courage, Empathy, Generosity, Gratitude, Humility, Integrity, Open-mindedness, Passion, Practicality, Pragmatism, Reason, Sincerity, Thankfulness, Thoughtfulness, Trustworthiness, Truthfulness, Understanding, VIsion, Wisdom, Wonder, Zeal

 

Priority #1: Healthy Body

 

Goals

  • To be dligient about my Weight Watchers plan, logging my food and points as well as my exercise every day.
  • To complete at least 45 minutes of exercise per day, a minimum of 5 days per week.
  • To eat “out” no more than 3 times per week (including both fast food and dine-in restaurants)
  • To increase my daily intake of fruits, vegetables and water, and to take my daily multivitamins.
  • To journal my exercise and eating habits daily
  • To acheive my goal weight of 170 lbs by December 31, 2012

 

Priority #2: Healthy Mind

Goals:

  • To create a daily routine for work that better balances meetings, preparation time, and office time in order to better establish a work/life balance.
  • To end all daily “work” at 6pm, unless an evening meeting is otherwise unavoidable (ie: SWEFM Board meetings, etc.)
  • To limit my working hours to 50 per week.
  • To turn off my blackberry at 10pm every night and not turn it back on until 6am.
  • To read at least one novel and one non-fiction book per month

 

Priority #3: Healthy Soul

 

Goals:

  • To bring a positive and constructive attitude to my life, focusing on the many blessings I have been granted
  • To live with intention, be it in my marriage, my parenting, my friendships, or my work; to make decisions that are grounded by intuition and faith and supported by knowledge, reason and practicality.
  • To remember that my needs and those of my family must always come first
  • In times of stress or contention, to ask myself how each of my actions reflects my values and my vision for the future before taking action
  • To create a section in my daily journal for “soul” and to write what lessons I learned from the day
  • To actively participate in my faith, attending service at least 3 out of 4 weeks a month, and to attend confession at least once per month.
  • To ensure that I have at least 3 social activities per week with people whose beliefs, values and philosophies align with mine.

 

 

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A year in my life: 2011

My yearly tradition: A silly online quiz that sums up my year. I can’t believe that I’ve been doing these since 2005!

To sum 2011 in a nutshell: This was the year where all the pieces fell into place.  Jason and I really settled into our new roles as parents, I returned to work by launching my business and taking on new challenges such as operating a farmers market. Jason spent some time connecting with Samuel as a stay at home dad before starting his career in financial management. Samuel is a busy, busy  climbing, running, tumbling, laughing, teasing, hugging, loving machine. He is amazing

I solidified some friendships, sadly neglected others, met tons of new people, got exposed to many different views and ways of life, and truly got a sense of who I am from a values and belief standpoint.

For better of for worse, it was one of the most eventful years of my life, with the highest ups and some of the lowest downs.  What 2011 brought to us in experiences, it definitely lacked in balance- and I look forward to making that a huge priority in 2012.

1) What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before? 
Started a business.

2) Did you keep your New Years resolutions, and will you make more for next year? 
 Yes, and no.  My resolution was to get healthier, which I definitely did.  I lost fourty pounds and was really rock-starring my work out regime.   However, an injury in the summer stunted me and I definitely fell off track.  Now it’s time to pick myself back up and get back to my hitting my goals.

3) Did someone close to you give birth? 
No one particularly close to me gave birth, but I did meet MANY new moms, several of whom I have gotten particularly close to as the year progressed.  That being said, seven (YES, SEVEN!) of my close friends are pregnant as we close of 2011- which is downright amazing!



4) Did anyone close to you die? 
While she wasn’t close to me in geography and despite not knowing her well, the passing of my grandmother’s friend Rita marked me this year.  She was someone I had known all my life and it was truly sad.  I was also very sad for a friend of mine who lost her mother.



5) What countries did you visit? 
 We didn’t leave Canada, but I did make it out to Ottawa twice to visit my family.  Sadly, I didn’t make it to Vancouver…but that is high on the agenda for 2012.

6) What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011? 
As I said earlier, this year was FULL of excitement, but definitely lacked balance.  It is only in December that our family is settling into a “groove” with our new schedules and responsibilities.  2012 will be a year where I focus on prioritizing, downsizing my commitments, and reevaluating my relationships to make sure that I am treating those closest to me with the respect they deserve.

7) What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory?  More so than any other, I expect that December 21st will now occupy a very dear place in my heart., for several reasons. Also, September 10th, when we celebrated my brother Andre’s 40th birthday with his family out in Gatineau.

8) What was your biggest achievement of the year? 
Building a successful business would definitely rank up there.  Making the difficult choice to walk away from one goal (of buying into a franchise chain that I had been working on) in order to be consistent with my beliefs and values was also a first for me.  I was glad to know that when push came to shove, my family is unquestionably my first priority.

9) What was your biggest failure? 
I am not sure anything could really qualify as “failure”, but I did struggle a lot with adjusting my worldview to better align with my new parenting, marital and personal philosophies.  Jason and I have grown as people through parenthood and adopted practices that conflict with the beliefs of some of our friends and families. I spent a LOT of time defending these practices and beliefs in 2011.  My goal for 2012 is to stop defending myself. My beliefs and opinions are not on trial, and I simply can’t control how others react to them.  I anticipate some friendships ending because of these choices, but must believe in my heart that those who respect us as people will also respect the choices that we are making as parents and as a couple. I have faith in our friendships.

10) Did you suffer illness or injury? I got the chickenpox.  That sucked. Seriously, it was NO FUN.  I am also fighting my ongoing battle with infertility (now referred to as secondary infertility because we already have one (beautiful) child).  But it’s a very different battle this time round, and I am truthfully much more at peace with knowing that I simply can’t control my body beyond living as healthy a life as I can. This is the best that I can do for myself and for my family.



11) What was the best thing you bought? Can’t tell you yet…it’s a Christmas gift for my brother and his wife to be.

12) Whose behavior merited celebration? There are so many that I could choose from, but I am going to single out one special person.   My “bestie” Erie truly came into her own this year, from a professional and personal level.  I am beyond proud to call her my friend and my life is sunnier place for having her in it.

13) Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? While I can’t highlight anyone in particular, I did find that this year was marked by a genuine lack of empathy and compassion in several political movements.  When we care more about being “right” or forwarding our “cause” then we do about the people we claim to be lobbying for, everyone loses.  There were several times where I found myself wrapped up in this type of behaviour as well, and that is simply not consistent with who I am and who I want to be.  So, the honest answer is that often I was most appalled by my own behaviour.

14) Where did most of your money go? Christmas and Ottawa trips.

15) What did you get really, really, really excited about?  My brother’s engagement (Dec 21, 2011)

 16) What song will always remind you of 2011?  Walking In A Winter Wonderland

17)Compared to this time last year, are you:

  •  Happier or hardened? I still think this question is poorly worded. I don’t know if you can get much “happier” than I am, but I do think that I am also a little more hardened and a little more jaded.  I think that parenting does that to you…maybe it’s the sleep deprivation.
  • Thinner or fatter? Thinner, but not as much as I should have been.  I really wish that I hadn’t completely given up when I injured my knee, but I’m getting myself back on track and feeling good about that.  Health is a lifelong journey, not a one year, all or nothing deal.
  • Richer or poorer? On any other week, I’d say richer. But I seriously spent a fortune on Christmas, and I don’t regret it one bit.

18) What do you wish you’d done more of?  Picked my battles more carefully. And scrapbooked. I’m so desperately behind.



19) What do you wish you’d done less of?  Okay, so this question is the important one.

I definitely allowed myself to feel insecure by other people’s opinion/judgments far, far too often.  This wasn’t done by one “group” in particular- I think the “mainstream” people are every bit as guilty as the “advocates”, “crunchy”, “political”, etc. groups are. Parenting is a battlefield, and everyone seems to have a judgment (cleverly disguised as an opinion) on everything you do.

To be honest, I don’t care what you think about our decision to breastfeed, our belief in cosleeping and opposition to “crying it out”, use of gentle discipline or our opposition to spanking, our choice to cloth diape, or any other “crunchy” behaviour.

I ALSO don’t care how you feel about our decision to vaccinate, to integrate Sammie into maintstream, group play settings, to buy him plastic toys or non-organic food and to feed him McDonald’s fries.

I am proud of the way that I am raising my son, and of the values that I bring to parenthood and early childhood education.  These speak a lot about me as a human being, and if you can’t respect my choices than you probably don’t respect me all that much either.  Either way, one thing is for sure- you can expect me to be a less “defensive” about these things because anyone who makes me feel like an inferior parent will quickly find that our friendship will become non-existent. If you don’t want to be judged for your decisions, stop judging mine. End of story.

20) How did you spend Christmas? We have a ridiculously busy Christmas ahead of us, which is why I am doing this early this year.  Christmas will be spent with friends and family: the 24th I am hosting Christmas dinner, followed by singing at midnight mass, followed by Reveillon and gift opening.  The next morning, I am hosting Christmas brunch and then jetting off to Stettler for Christmas with the Lockharts.  It’s going to be a crazy week!

21) Did you fall in love in 2011? I fall in love more and more with my husband every day.

22) Any one-night stands? Ha. Nope.

23) What was your favorite TV program? There will never be a show like Lost. But I did enjoy House and Dexter a lot, along with my stupid reality tv stuff. J

24) Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? I don’t hate anyone. It takes too much energy…but occasionally I have to remind myself of this fact.

25) What was the best book you read? The Philosophical Baby by Allison Gopnik (http://www.alisongopnik.com/ThePhilosophicalBaby.htm) and Raising Your Spirted Child by Mary Sheedy Kucinka (http://www.amazon.ca/Raising-Your-Spirited-Child-Perceptive/dp/0060923288) These are two must reads for any parent.



26) What was your greatest musical discovery? Caillou. God my kid loves that CD.

27) What did you want and get? A year of happiness and joy. I really am a very blessed person.

28) What did you want and not get? Nothing that will matter ten years from now.

29) Favorite film of this year? Tough call- I really loved the last installment of Harry Potter. Black Swan was beautiful.  Breakind Dawn was sinfully awful. All in all, it was a good year for film. J

30) What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 30 on April 21st and had an amazing birthday. The theme was “Hot/Cold” and we went to the WEM Waterpark, followed by a bbq at our place.  Jason had tons of theme foods (like Turkey Hot Dogs with stuffing and cranberry sauce: surprisingly tasty!)

31) What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?  Less “battles”- there was a lot of tension in my world, on numerous fronts and most simply weren’t worth the energy.

32)How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011? “Business Careless”

33)What kept you sane? My husband, my child, my family, my friends, and my faith.

34) Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? This wasn’t really a year that I spent any attention on celebrities/public figures.

35) What political issue stirred you the most? Too many. Way too many.

36) Who do you miss? My friends and family who are far away.

37) Who was the best new person you met? Wow, I can’t even begin to answer this question. I met SO MANY amazing people this year! I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it.  In fact, I might need to dedicate an entire post just to this question.

38) Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011:  I think Dr. Seuss sums this one well:

“It’s a troublesome world. All the people who’re in it are troubled with troubles almost every minute. You ought to be thankful, a whole heaping lot,for the places and people you’re lucky you’re not.”

A close second was this verse, also from Dr. Seuss:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

 

39) Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: Thank you, Billy Joel, for always having exactly the right words. These lyrics are from I Go To Extremes, one of my very favourite songs.

Call me a joker, call me a fool

Right at this moment I’m totally cool

Clear as a crystal, sharp as a knife

I feel like I’m in the prime of my life

Sometimes it feels like I’m going too fast

I don’t know how long this feeling will last

Maybe it’s only tonight

Darling I don’t know why I got to extremes

Too high or too low there ain’t no in-betweens

And if I stand or I fall

It’s all or nothing at all

Darling I don’t know why I got to extremes

(…)

Out of the darkness, into the light

Leaving the scene of the crime

Either I’m wrong or I’m perfectly right every time

Sometimes I lie awake, night after night

Coming apart at the seams

Eager to please, ready to fight

Why do I go to extremes?

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Facing the Music and Stepping Back INTO my Comfort Zone…

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved to sing.  And this girl- well, she was really damn good at it. So good, in fact, that she won awards, traveled the country, and performed in front of crowds of tens of thousands of people.  From the age of six, she had dreamt of one day becoming a full-time professional opera singer. 

Since most dreams only come true with a lot of hard work, she practiced hard, went to a top notch university, studied hard under brilliant (and world re-knowned) instructors, and seemed to be on the fast track to a brilliant career.

Then, one day, her world came crumbling down.

She found out that she was sick. And not a little bit sick. A lot sick. Sick enough that her training- and with it, her dreams of “stardom”- had to come to an immediate halt while she underwent treatments. Singing takes a LOT of energy, and sadly cancer sucks all the energy you have right out of you.

Now, this girl got very lucky. She survived her illness.  She underwent treatments while she went to school in a new field, went on to have a wonderful career in business management. She met her husband, gave birth to a miracle baby and lives a quiet, peaceful life that she loves immensely.

She has no regrets. She harbours no resentment.

But sometimes, just sometimes, she wonders what could have been.

We’ve all been there, in the “Could’a. Would’a. Should’a Zone”.

Now, in case you haven’t figured this out yet, the girl in the story is me. Sometimes emotional stories are easier to tell if you can distance yourself a little from the subject.

It’s a happy story, despite its unexpected ending. But sometimes it is also a bit of a bitter-sweet story.  Sometimes, just sometimes, I will hear a strand of being music and picture myself singing it, with a live orchestra and full costume.

In these moments, I remember how my heart came alive with music, how it pushed me to reach new heights that I had never believed we’re attainable. And in these moments, a soft, nostalgic song plays on my heartstrings, and I ask myself how I came to be so far away from all my child-hood dreams.

I still sing at church, which brings me great joy. And I love to play the piano, especially with Sammie on my lap.  Music is still a huge part of my life.  But I admit that I have been scared to fully open my heart up to it again.  Music evokes so much raw emotion in me; it brings out a whole side of my personality that I had “chosen” to walk away from when I walked away from my career.

This “choice” has been bothering me of late. I call it a “choice” because I am finally coming to grips with the fact that- despite my illness- I did in fact CHOOSE to walk away.  Granted, it wasn’t a choice at first.  I really couldn’t train when I was doing treatments. I was constantly dehydrated, nauseous and exhausted. But, I’ve been done my treatments for over five years now (wow…) and the reality is that I chose to pursue different dreams, goals and paths.

I really hate admitting that. It’s a lot easier for me to say that I had to quit than it is to say that I chose not to go back, especially when everyone in the world expected you to be something that you aren’t.  It’s much easier to have an excuse.

But I’ve decided that it is time for me to face the proverbial music and start being honest with myself about it, as well as honest with my desire to change it. I need to have music as a large part of my life, and I need to share my love of it with others.

I know that I don’t want to be a professional singer again.  It is a lifestyle that I always struggled with, and frankly isn’t always realistic with a family. I love my business and I love my home. I have no real desire to be back on a performer’s schedule and be away all the time.

BUT…I have often considered going back to teaching music, especially to very young children.  I loved being an instructor, and there is nothing I love more than watching children’s passion, imagination and souls come alive to the sound of music (cue Julie Andrews…).  I have missed this part of my life for the past six years and have decided that it is time to make a comeback, so to speak, and to reconnect with the part of my heart that I’ve been ignoring for such a long time.

SO…

I am extremely excited to announce that I am officially the new Music program instructor for Gymboree Edmonton South.

I will begin teaching courses in January, on a part time basis (Wednesday mornings and Thursday evenings).  Gymboree offers courses for preschool-aged children of all levels, as well as family courses oriented towards multiple children. The program is deeply rooted in a “play” based philosophy and supported by sound early childhood development research, which makes my educator heart happy.  (Learn more about the Music program here: Gymboree’s Music Program.)

The team at Edmonton South, which is headed by owner-operator (and dear friend) Dawn Angus, is simply fantastic and I can’t wait to be an ongoing part of it. I hope that those of you with young children will consider coming out and trying one of our complimentary classes to see if the Gymboree program is the right fit for you and your kids.

I can’t wait to join the Gymboree family and help spread the love of play and music to children across my community.

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This Candy Shop Is Closed

Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t want plastered on a billboard with your face on it. 

Erin Bury, Community Manager at Sprouter, erinbury.com

I’ve been absent from my blog for a while. Actually, I’ve been avoiding social media in general lately.

This hasn’t been for lack of time; mostly it was because I really needed a break from all things “social media”.  For some reason, the past few months seem to have been a particularly stressful time in my little online-community, and social media had become a haven for negativity rather than the positive and helpful tool that it really should be.

So I took some of my own advice: “Sometimes you need to step back to get a clearer view of the big picture.”

I refocused my energy on doing productive, high quality work, being an engaged and present parent to my toddler and wife to my husband, and siphoning any leftover energy into positive mediums like friendship and cleaning.

(Also, I focused on getting healthy since November and December have been super duper “sickly” in our house.)

I admit that I did do a lot of writing.  Some of it, I will post to the blog.  Some of it will likely stay hidden away, for my eyes (and heart) only.

The major problem is that a blog (and the internet in general) is just so “out there” for the world to see. And that is really hard for me to get used to.

As a former sociology geek, I am fascinated by social media and how it has become pervasive in our society.  But the INTJ in me is extremely weary of it.

While there are some things I am comfortable talking about quite openly, I am- for the most part- an intensely private person.  I have no problem sharing opinions and thoughts on a variety of topics, but I definitely keep my feelings and emotions very guarded.

Over the past few months, I have watched as a variety of topics that peak my interest (breastfeeding, municipal/federal/provincial/world politics, parenting, business, etc.) have exploded in near catastrophic amounts of online-drama, some of which I was directly involved in and some of which I was a casual bystander for.

This has been both fascinating and disconcerting to me. As a seasoned debater, I often asked myself: How is it that this discussion got so personal?  Why are people unable to simply have intellectual discussions in which they agree to disagree and move on? Have we, as a society, actually completely lost the ability to engage in rational debate? If I disagree publicly with a friend on a controversial topic, am I directly calling into question my friendship or devaluing their opinion?  And if so, why even bother engaging in social media at all, if you aren’t allowed to have an opinion of your own without being crucified for it?

It seemed for a while that I could do nothing “right”. If I posted something funny, it was misinterpreted as an attack. If i sent out support to one friend, another friend felt offended.  If I discussed my opposition to the Edmonton Arena or the Occupy movement, I was automatically questioning the intelligence and reasoning behind those who supported it. Honestly, it all became too much.

I’ve never really been a fan of unnecessary drama.

So I took a step (leap) away and spent some time doing more observing than posting, more reflecting than engaging.

And what I’ve concluded is that, as wonderful as it often is, the Internet has created a world in which conflicting world-views collide with the force of a supernova. As boundaries have shifted, and cultures have become integrated with each other, the “bubbles” of the past are no longer, and many of us are feeling lost in a world that is so big and so different from what we understand that we struggle just to make sense of it.

Where- once upon a time, less than 20 years ago)- people mostly kept to their own socio-political group with similar financial, social, political and educational affiliations, we now have a mish-mash of all of the above.

Now, let me be clear: This is a wonderful thing!

It forces us to really acknowledge the diversity in the world, to learn to cope with it, and broaden our own world-view beyond what we have “always known”.

However, it is also often a messy process.

In our zeal to share ideas, we often forget that those engaging with us on online forums do not necessarily share our experiences, points of view, cultural background and opinions.

We assume that- for the most part- everyone we are speaking with is engaging in a topic from a similar standpoint: be it academic, intellectual, personal, emotional, nostalgic, etc.

We struggle with showing both empathy and compassion because we are simply unable to put ourselves in the mindset of someone whose experience is so far from our own.

Let’s face it- while a criminologist, a psychologist, a prison guard, a defense lawyer, and a rape victim are sure to create an interesting discussion surrounding the realities of prison sentencing for sex offenders, they are unlikely to be approaching the discussion from similar viewpoints.  A criminologist would likely focus on the extenuating factors leading to sex crime, while the psychologist is more likely to discuss the mind-frame of both victim and offender.  A prison guard, who works with offenders every day, will certainly present a different angle than a criminal defense lawyer, and none of these will come close to approaching the topic as personally or as emotionally as the rape victim would.

Does this mean that this group would be incapable of having a dialogue, or that they shouldn’t try to engage each other at all?

Of course not.

But it does mean that this group would likely not be able to reach any sort of consensus on the topic and could, in fact, neglect to consider the different world-views and experiences that form each individual’s opinion.

So, in short, we shouldn’t be surprised when the rape victim and prison guard demand longer sentencing for sex offenders, while the criminologist advocates that jail is not “the answer”.   And we shouldn’t be surprised when feelings and emotions come into play. Not everyone approaches every topic from an academic, medical, or intellectual stance.

As I’ve been reflecting on this topic, one burning question always creeps into my mind:

If this kind of drama is the price I have to pay, do I really want to be blogger at all?

I love to write. I really do. And I love to engage in debate. But I absolutely can’t handle high school drama and have no time in my life for second guessing every word I write in order to cross-reference every person that it might offend.  I’m fatigued with the “social media paranoia” that has everyone convinced that every single tweet is a veiled attack on them, or that every post is a passive aggressive way of publicly humiliating someone.

Here’s the deal: I am not a passive aggressive person.  In fact, I’m often downright confrontational.  If I have a problem with you, the odds are I’m not afraid to say it, in person, eye to eye.  I don’t need a passive aggressive tweet to make myself feel better about myself, nor do I need social media to fight my battles for me.

For the same reason I would never run for public office, I don’t think I can ever be a true “blogger”: I just don’t want that many people knowing that much information about me, and I don’t want to subject myself to the personal attacks that accompany it.

The best bloggers (in my opinion) are the ones who can bring a “real person” feel to their writing.  They are those who aren’t afraid of going personal and being exposed and vulnerable.  They are also those who are able to handle the heat and pressure of public scrutiny and do not overly-personalize every comment made to them.  They understand that being a public figure, whether you’re Brad Pitt or a political commentator, comes with a price tag.

I am not one of those people.

While I’m not overly prone to over personalizing things, I’m also not great at letting things go, and have a tendency to beat a dead horse if I think I’m justified in doing so.

So I found myself left with two choices:

  1. Close down the blog.
  2. Try to be something I’m not.

Frankly, both options suck.

I’m not very good at faking who I am. If I was, I probably wouldn’t find myself in so many messes. And I don’t want to shut down my blog, as I do think that it is a great way to connect and share information with others. As a business specialist, I can’t imagine ignoring such a huge opportunity to reach out to my target audience.

So what’s a business girl to do?

I’ve finally decided that there is a third option. I’m going to go back to doing what I wanted to do in the first place: use this space as a way to share articles, thoughts and opinions on matters that relate to my business. This might make me a mediocre blogger, but it will make me a happier person and, honestly, that’s all I care about.

Does this mean that you won’t ever see another post about my family, or the vacation that we took?

Not necessarily.

But don’t expect me throw up pictures of my pets and tell you all about my menstrual cramps either.

This blog is my space, to be used as I please and I choose it to be about my passion for business.

For those who want to read, I welcome you.

For those who want to engage in intellectual debate, bring it on.

For those who hate my ideas, let me know- I’d love to hear your comments and feedback, as long as they are presented in a mature and respectful manner. Hearing other perspectives helps us grow as people.

But…for those who want to inundate my life with drama, you’ll have to go find it elsewhere. This candy shop is closed.

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