Monthly Archives: November 2014

Even Kids Can Remember

I did not make this, and neither did my children. I found it on google, but if you're crafty, you can find it here!

I did not make this, and neither did my children. I found it by googling, but if you’re crafty, you can find it here!

Remembrance Day is a tricky one for the preschool/primary set, isn’t it? As parents, we think we should probably tell them about it, so we give a simple explanation, and then they are full of questions. About war, and death, and freedom, and poppy-covered graves. I’m pleased that my kids are full of questions, and usually I don’t have trouble telling them the truth, but in the case of Remembrance Day, I find the answers to be rather complicated.

Here are some of the reasons why:

– In Canada it always feels like we are so far from the fight, and that our freedom as a nation hasn’t really even been directly threatened.

– War is a terrible thing, involving lots and lots of death and pain and evil. It is difficult to convey the importance and significance of its existence, both in the past and in the present, without either minimizing it or scaring the heck out of my (thankfully) sheltered and safe kids.

– Kids have difficulty understanding nuance, and (possibly thanks to the majority of kids’ TV shows and books they enjoy) mine really want everything to be “good guys versus bad guys.” It can be intimating to explain that war, and PEOPLE, are a lot more complex than that.

– We tell them that violence is not the answer when they clock their sister on the head with a Barbie doll, but here we are, dedicating a whole day to those who were themselves required to be violent. This has the potential to be confusing, and as a parent it can seem like avoiding the whole topic is the easiest option.

But despite the fact that their questions are complicated, I think they are still absolutely worth asking, and I’ll keep trying my best to answer them for my kids. Because here’s what else I know:

– There are, right now, Canadian soldiers who are fighting for the freedom and safety of strangers, far from home. This may not have the same simplicity as “fighting for our freedom,” but isn’t it amazing and commendable? Even more so? What an example of selflessness and sacrifice for my kids to hear about and learn from.

– War is a terrible, awful thing. If we do not face it, learn about it, and talk about it to our children, they will not know the lengths to which they must go to avoid it when they are the leaders of our world and the shapers of our policies. There is a thin tightrope we parents must walk between telling the truth and scaring our kids, but we have to do our best. Parenting is hard, folks, but if we can do the late-night feedings and the potty training and the endless school permission slips, surely we can do this too.

– They want it to be “good guys versus bad guys” but it isn’t. I’m just going to tell them that. Life is complicated. War might be mostly “complex people versus complex people,” but there are some people who do evil things, and it is important to try to stop them.

– Violence isn’t the answer, and Remembrance Day may be a good opportunity to talk about how important it is to avoid. We take a day to commemorate those who have suffered because of violence, and the fact that they did so for the sake of others.

My little Canadians don't even know what they're remembering today.

My little Canadians don’t even know what they’re remembering today.

So it might be tricky to deal with Remembrance Day with our little kids, but we don’t need to ignore it. Take your day off and spend time together as a family, or watch a lot of Dora and wish they were in school, like I’m planning to do. However, I might actually encourage a moment of silence at 11:11am, in which only the babies are allowed to make noise. Then maybe I’ll even consider dragging my husband over to sing our country’s national anthem with us. I know that in my house, it’s time my kids learned that this is song is good to sing and to remember, and not just when we win another curling medal in the winter Olympics. We can sing it together, and be thankful for the Canadians who came before us, and who wear our flag as they fight and work on our behalf today.

God keep our land, glorious and free,
Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Indeed.

Getting Played

For my very first solo post on this blog, I discussed the game Twister and how purchasing it is, in my humble opinion, a very poor decision for parents to make. As I have been reflecting recently, however, there are actually no games that are really a good idea for one, as an adult, to play with one’s under-five child. I have a six-year-old who is almost seven, and playing games with him, just the two of us, is a dream. He likes to stick to the rules and play the game exactly as it is, and therefore it has a beginning and a climax and a denouement and, even more importantly, an ENDING. When I play games with just my six-year-old and me, these games are enjoyable and straightforward, and then they come to a delightful end, and then I feel less guilty because I have actually played a game with him instead of just putting on movies for him all day and thus we spent some quality time together, and therefore I can feel that I am a fantastic mother.

However. Games with my four-year-old are very different, very different indeed. And when I play a game with the both of them, somehow the four-year-old brings the whole game down to her level. This means that I am all of a sudden being CLIMBED on during Crazy Eights instead of being able to sit still, dignity intact, holding my cards with one hand and drinking my rapidly cooling coffee with the other.

This picture serves to illustrate 2 things: 1) The difference between the older and the younger of my children when we are playing a game together (or in this case, doing a puzzle). 2) A wonderful solution to the problem: just add a patient, loving, Aunt-mazing Auntie and Uncle-mazing Uncle to the mix!

This picture serves to illustrate two things:
1) The difference between the older and the younger of my children when playing a game (or in this case, doing a puzzle).
2) A wonderful solution to the problem: just add a patient, loving, Aunt-mazing Auntie and Wonderfuncle Uncle to the mix! They ENJOY playing with your children!

Also, when my children and I play together, the games have the tendency to morph in ways that (apparently) make them more interesting and appealing to the children. For example, Crazy Eights quickly becomes “Bear Crazy Eights,” which includes the rule that when a person puts down an eight, they have the power not only to transform the suit, but also to transform the person of their choice into a bear, who is then required to eat one player (who then misses a turn), hit another player with an imaginary log (that person also misses a turn, as you might imagine), and offer another player an imaginary tray of “free samples.” That player has received the highest honour a bear can bestow, and is thus not required to miss their turn. Do you follow? Of course you don’t. Me neither. This set of “rules” is just a way to illicit chaos in an ordinarily calm game, and make mommy miss not only several turns, but also the TV show that she was hoping to watch, her sanity, and any warmth that ever existed in her coffee, because she is busy being clubbed with imaginary logs. This is what every, EVERY game becomes, when both of the kids are involved.

Go fish has become, “No, I wanted to get the pair of seahorses, because the seahorses are pink and they are a girl and I am a girrllll!!!!!” Tears, comforting, game postponed indefinitely, facepalm.

Monopoly has become, “No, this is my house that I live in because my baby lives in this house and this house is pink and I like pink because I am a girrrllllll!!!!!!!” Tears, comforting, game postponed indefinitely, facepalm.

And, of course, Sorry has become a game of NOT accepting apologies.

However, all games considered, these games are still preferable to my four-year-old’s favourite games, because there is at least the possibility of some kind of ending happening, eventually. The alternative of course, which anyone who has ever done “free play” with a small child will know all too well, is playing a “game” that the child has made up (or, more accurately, is making up on the spot). These games, of course, are complete nonsense and a trap and designed to halt the passage of time so that bedtime never comes, and you are just caught in a horrible vortex in which you are “Fraggula,” the baby, and your child is “Harumtena,” your mommy, and you live in a house together where the tea parties never end, and what Harumtena says goes, so you’d best drink your bottle and eat your cookie and just shut up about it.*

Sometimes the instructions for these types of games are a tiny bit confusing. “Mommy, I throw Spot on the ground, and you have to get him, but you can’t get him when I say: ‘Mommy, can you please pick up Spot?’ And you can only get him with your feet. But if you do get Spot, you get 60 points, but you can only get him when the game is over.”

Like I said, it’s a trap. And at this point it’s probably best if you give your child your iPhone and go hide in the nearest closet. Because in the “game” of playing games with your under-five-year-old child, trust me, you will never, ever, win.

********

 

*I am quite serious that THESE are the kinds of names my children come up with. Remember Greenis? Of course you do.

Five hundred Facebook likes! We have a winner …

If you follow us on Facebook, or if you read this post, you know that we promised a gift certificate of $30 to the cool online site, SavvyMamas.ca, when we reached 500 likes. Well, yesterday that happened! This evening we did the draw (using an online randomizer) and the winner is … wait for it … Sharon Vanderkodde! Congrats! We’ll contact you in a Facebook message about how to receive your prize.

So what’s next, you ask? Well, when we get to 1000 likes, we want to do something fun to celebrate! We will take a movie of whatever we decide to do, and post that movie on the blog. So what are we even doing? Well, that’s up to you! Go to our Facebook page and make suggestions! So far, all we have up there is “skydive naked,” and we’re DEFINITELY not going to do that, so we’re hoping you give us more ideas!

Phenomen … not

When you have more than one child, there is a strange phenomenon that can be summarized with this question: “Why is it suddenly so much easier when one of them isn’t here?” Basically, when you had one child, it was quite a lot of work, and your family had a certain dynamic. Going to the grocery store alone, for example, felt like a mini vacation because it was so much more difficult to go with your climbing, whining, grabbing, hungry child. Then you had two kids, your family adjusted, and life was, again, quite a lot of work. Going to the grocery store with only one kid, then, was the vacation. When you have two, a few hours with only one feels easy as pie, in a way it never did when you only had one. When you have three, having only two with you is suddenly no problem. I’ve often wondered how long this lasts. Do the Duggars feel this way? (“Why is it so quiet around here today? Oh right. Jedediah’s on a playdate. There are only 18 of them.”)

Let me take a moment to be clear, here: I do not think parenting was easy when I had “only” one or two children and this is the reason I kept having more. We’ve been operating at maximum capacity since our first child was born, but somehow we keep managing to adjust. (Mostly it comes down to accepting more help, tolerating more chaos, and having a messier house, but these are topics for another time.)

Since having our fourth, my husband and I often take advantage of this phenomenon with the “divide and conquer” strategy. This means that we never do any errand alone because it’s not fair to leave our spouse home in chaos if it can be avoided. This is a useful strategy, even if it does mean neither of us ever has time alone. Like, ever.*

My mistake lately has been to attempt to do things that should only be done with no kids because I suddenly think it will be easy with “only” two. This is what happened when I took R (at not quite 2) and baby N, a newborn at the time, to the library. As I sat on the tiny couch in the kids’ section, nursing the baby, R was supposed to be compliantly playing with the toys and looking carefully at the books. Instead, she decided to run away, of course. She ran straight into the men’s room. Of course. There I sat, pitifully calling out to her, “R! Come back! No, don’t go in there!” with no result whatsoever. I eventually had to walk over to the men’s room, bouncing my crying newborn, and call in to her from the door. I could see R, and she could see me from the middle of the bathroom where she stood, and then she laughed and proceeded to lie down on the floor. I used my serious voice, she used her adorable giggle—it was a stalemate. The bathroom seemed to be empty so I finally decided to just step in and grab her. I apologized to cialis for sale online the bathroom in general as I did so, just as a precaution. “No problem!” said a deep voice from one of the stalls.

In a remarkably similar event to the library incident, R also ran away from me on the ferry a few days ago. Here she is under a row of seats, feeling badly about what she's putting me through.

In a remarkably similar event to the library incident, R also ran away from me on the ferry a few days ago. Here she is under a row of seats, feeling badly about what she’s putting me through.

To sum up, it’s a lesson I’ve needed to learn over and over: having two kids with you may be easier than having four kids with you, but two kids? It’s not no kids.

 

* Unless you count his drive to work, which I do.

Crosswalk Teenagers; A Lesson in Snap Judgements

I was driving my kids home from school pick up today when I approached a crosswalk and saw a teenage girl waiting at the side of the road. She was standing quite far away from the curb, so it would have been easy to miss her or to think she was waiting for something else, but she was glancing back and forth, so I stopped. As soon as I did, she ran quickly across the road without glancing up, with her shoulders hunched and her head down, as if she were trying to go as quickly as she could. It seemed like she was taking up as little space as possible so I (and the cars behind me) would not be inconvenienced. She was timid, and I worried about her overall confidence in life. It’s tough for a teenage girl to feel secure, and valuable, and worth stopping for.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of this poem I heard (by Lily Myers), about the girl who notices in her family the tendency of her mother and herself to be shrinking, taking up as little space as possible, while her father and brother conversely expand to fill space. I thought about the crosswalk girl and said to her (in my mind, of course, because I had driven away), “Come on, girl! You are WORTH making me stop! You have as many rights as anyone else. Hold your head up high and stride home from school with confidence.” And I continued driving, proud of myself for my wise and empathetic insight.

Then I suddenly remembered another time, months ago, when I had to wait at the exact same crosswalk. That time, I hadn’t been on my way home with plenty of time, I was on my way TO something, and I was running late, as usual. Also, I had a baby with me who started to cry every time the car stopped. That time, it was two teenage girls walking together across the street. They had earphones in, and they were walking s.l.o.w.l.y. Just shuffling along, listening to their music, not making eye contact with the people in the cars that they must have known were waiting. And I, of course, thought about how ALL teenagers think the world revolves around them ALL the time, and cannot see the problems of other people if those problems do not directly affect them. I thought, “Come ON, girls! You do not OWN THE WORLD. Some of us are in a hurry!” When they had finally gotten across, I sped off without another thought of them. Until today.

As I reflected on those two situations and, more significantly, my separate reactions to them, it occurred to me that I was definitely the problem. Maybe the girl today was simply in a hurry while the ones on the previous occasion were not. Maybe snap judgments are rarely accurate and never helpful and I should be giving people the benefit of the doubt, even when I don’t even talk to them because I am busy driving away. If I expect to be kind and open when I meet people for the first time, maybe I should practice doing so all the time, even in my own car and my own head, when the person receiving my judgment will never know what I thought of her.

It’s definitely hard enough to be a teenager without someone jumping to conclusions about your character because of how quickly you cross the road. But really, it’s hard enough to be human without having snap judgments made about you.

So I’m done. No more snap judgments! Until someone else annoys me, of course.

IMG_2340

This is me as a teenager. Looking back, I wonder how many people were quietly judging me that day, thanks to my shorts/sock combo, and my proximity to my mom.

Knock, knock

“Tell a joke, mommy,” S said, as she and I lounged in the backyard one sunny afternoon. “Uh …” I said, because nobody has asked me to tell them a joke in a long time. All of a sudden I had the same anxiety I had in high school when one of the “cool kids” introduced me to someone and said, “She’s really funny. Say something funny, Juliana.” Gulp.

My kids are naturally gifted when it comes to spontaneous, physical comedy bits. They get this from their father.

My kids are naturally gifted when it comes to spontaneous, physical comedy bits. They get this from their father.

I blame S’s sudden interest in jokes on a joke book that her brother A took out from the school library (for two weeks in a row, unfortunately). For those two weeks I was hearing the same TERRIBLE jokes over and over and over again. (A: “What did the frog order from the fast food restaurant, Mommy?” Me: “I don’t know, what?” A: “A side of flies and a diet croak!” Me: “Ha … ha … huunngh” (curls into fetal position).

So now S wants a joke. I scour the dustiest part of my brain, the “childhood jokes” part …

“Um … Knock, knock!”
“… and then what?” She says.
“No, no … You have to say, ‘Who’s there?’”
“Who’s there.”
“Banana”
“Why?”
“No, now you say, ‘Banana Who?’”
“Who?”
“No, you say, ‘Banana, who?’”
“Banana who?”
“Knock, Knock.”
“Knock Knock?”
“No, you say, “Who’s there,” remember?”
“Oh. Who’s there?”
“Banana.”
“Oh! It’s a banana!”
“No, you say, ‘Banana who?'”
“Who!”
“No, Banana who?”
“Oh, Banana who?”
“Knock knock?”
“It’s a cialis5mg-online banana! I know that!”
“But you still say, ‘Who’s there?'”
“Oh, who’s there?”
“Banana.”
“Banana!”
“No … ‘banana who?'”
“Banana who!”
“Knock knock”
“Who?”
“You say, who’s there?”
“It’s a banana?”
“You have to say, ‘who’s there?'”
“Who’s there?”
“Orange.”
“What?”
“Now you say, ‘Orange who?'”
“Orange who?”
“… Orange you glad I didn’t say Banana!?”

And so, as unceremoniously and awkwardly as it began, my sad little joke came to a bitter end. But instead of the laughter I was expecting she gave me a blank look followed by a sad smile and a sympathetic chuckle, as if to say, “Oh, mother … that was terrible.”

What I should have said was, “A side of flies and a diet croak,” because in my house—in the 3-6 age demographic, at least—that punchline kills.

When you are sick and surrounded by kids

So, I guess I must have overdone it on Halloween night, while I was tromping around our chilly, muddy neighbourhood herding a small Frankenstein and Spider-Man from house to house, because I woke up very early the next morning feeling like a panini that had been run over by a truck. The truck because I felt sick and achy and awful, and the panini because I woke up wedged between my husband and our four-year-old daughter, who has recently taken to sneaking into our bed at night. And so, seeking to un-wedge myself and perhaps have at least one more hour of comfortable sleep, I scooped up her leggy body into my achy arms, shlumped her to her bed, came back, collapsed into my own bed, and was immediately asleep. Two hours later I woke up again, only to realize that swimming and ballet and all of the Saturday morning kid-tivities began in 45 minutes. Feeling like I was a pile of dusty, pain-filled bricks, I lurched my way downstairs in my pajamas to get them dressed and breakfasted while my husband quickly got dressed. I was really just lugging my sick body around, compelling it to do things with the sheer force of my willpower while it protested with constant aches and pains.

And here’s the thing about the kids: sweet lil’ darlings that they may be, they really have no concept of how to behave when their parent is ill or in pain. To them, we are just like servant robots with no pain receptors who are made entirely of silicon, and are therefore bouncy and fun to lean against with hard elbows, or to butt against like a couple of baby goats ramming themselves vigorously against their mother goat’s legs while she chews her cud and looks very unimpressed.

And I tried to explain the fact that I was sick to my little ones: “Mommy’s not feeling well, guys, so please, could you just, could you please, just, hold still while I brush your hair into this ridiculously tight ballet-standard bun! Please just … put your pants on and keep them on … Because mommy is sick, I don’t feel like, I just, I can’t put them on over and over and … we’re going to be late for ballet and swimming guys, so… please … just … Please?”

A pitiful creature was I, to be sure.

And then, like a beam of glorious light, my husband arrived to help and I could just TELL him how awful I was feeling, and he told me to stay home while HE took the kids to their kid-tivities, and I just felt like, yes, that is the BEST idea. And then I got three lovely hours to myself in a quiet house, doubled over in pain and taking pills and drinking water and hanging in there. And I felt like, yes! I can do this! If I stay here in this one position, holding my stomach in this hand and my head in this hand, I can get through this day in victory! I can DO it! And then I heard the doorknob jiggle and the tiny boots kicking the door and I knew that it was all over.

Because with kids, it is not possible to be sick, really. They will be in the closest proximity to you that they can, because they LOVE you and want to help and take care of you, but their “care” feels like knives, especially when they start arguing with each other right beside you about who gets to give you your water and who gets to give you your medicine, and they are shouting and jostling you until you kind of feel like being dead would be much easier, so no more water or medicine is necessary, please and thank you.

No, you will never be sick again in the way that you were sick before you had children. Somehow however, magically, from inside yourself, you will pull some measure of strength that will allow you to continue to feel genuinely terrible while hosting a tea party for “Greenis,” your child’s unfortunately named pet frog. You will either save your barfing for when the kids are in bed, or you will be prepared to barf in a bucket between pages of “Green Eggs and Ham,” and those green eggs and ham will look so gross that it will make you want to barf YET AGAIN, so you will, but then you will manage a thoughtful discussion with your child about whether “Sam I Am” will ever convince that guy to eat those green eggs and ham, and why a fox or a box or a mouse or a house might somehow change his mind.

So I want to congratulate us, parents, on how we make it work in the midst of our delirium. Truth be told, in these moments, we are parenting like champs. Because we are champs if we are sick and yet still managing to parent in the only way we can, such as flat on our backs on the couch while the kids clamber all over our aching bodies, and use their outside voices to tell us about all of the things that they are thinking. We are doing it. There is no relief—this, my friends, is what the front lines of parenting look like, and the bodies are piling up—on top of us.

This is what my children look like when they are comforting one of their parents - this particular lucky parent happens to be dad.

This is what my children look like when they are “comforting” one of their parents – this particular lucky parent happens to be Dad.

I obviously have no helpful advice here, save one very important thing that I find helps me when I am in that very situation. At the worst moments of your sick-parenting—when one of your kids has peed on the couch and the other one is pulling desperately on your arm because she NEEDS you to see what she has created with the Tinker Toys in another room because apparently, this time, it will just BLOW YOUR MIND—just glance into the corner of the room, and picture a very sympathetic and understanding adult standing there and noticing your struggling. Make eye contact with that imaginary adult, and note their very empathetic gaze, and draw real strength from that pretend gaze. Perhaps, if you look a little closer, you can see that they are giving you a very enthusiastic solidarity pound it, because they GET IT. And in that moment, you really just need someone to get it. You just need to have a little moment with that imaginary person who will give you all of the non-judgemental understanding that you crave for your poor, sick self. You poor, sick, precious baby.

Drink it in, my friends—you will need all the pretend empathy you can get for the next 24 to 48 hours, or however long this illness wants to ravage your body. Drink it all in. And then go drink in some Gatorade. Because that will probably help, too.

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