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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Surprising Things I’ve Learned About Parenting

November 19, 2013 5 comments

I had preconceived notions about motherhood before I joined the cult.

I thought that newborn babies slept all the time. I imagined I’d set our round kitchen table for three balanced meals a day, but not much else would change. I believed my children would flock to me for advice, and once they were comfortably seated at my feet, I would begin my teaching moment. I thought my children would be exactly like me, just smaller and with better hair.

I remember thinking these thoughts, and now gently ask myself, self: were you on crack?

If motherhood is anything; good, bad, ugly, wonderful, transcendent, frustrating, confusing, beautiful (it is all of these, and frequently within the space of fifteen minutes), it is mostly full of surprises; reality has tossed my crazy ideas right on my perpetual ponytail.

Too late, I learned that newborns rarely sleep (except when you want them to be awake). Our place mats still have price tags attached. My life bears no resemblance to its former self, back when I mattered. The more advice I offer my kids, the less they want to hear. And my children are as different from each other as they are from me. But with better hair.

So, preconceived notions cast aside and thrown in the garbage alongside an astounding amount of candy wrappers, everyday I learn new things about motherhood that surprise me. Shock the hell out of me, in fact. A short list of recent surprises:

  • I didn’t realize I would be the butt of all jokes in our house, and that the only thing that unites my children is their collective laughter at me. Apparently, and without even trying to be, I’m hilarious. Forget surviving middle school relatively unscathed – if I can survive my daughters scorn, I can survive anything.
  • We spend more time discussing my teenaged daughter’s social life than socializing.
  • No matter how many groceries I buy, my kids can’t find anything to eat in our house.

I’m not exactly that all-knowing role model I expected to be. Surprise. But, and sorry to overuse the word, another surprise. Mostly, it is my children who teach me. I knew (or hoped) it would happen in time, but I’m astounded by how fast it’s happened. Here’s a short list of things I’ve learned recently, courtesy of my daughters:

  • The eldest educates me about important things like eye primer (did you know there was such a thing? She owns five.) and the vast difference between my mascara and the BEST mascara. Needless to say, I’m not meeting her expectations.
  • My twelve-year old patiently explains the rules of hockey to me. Every week. (Penalty! No mom, they’re allowed to do that.) She doesn’t play the sport, but grasped an understanding of the game – even an appreciation for the fighting – that I have failed to achieve in my lifetime. (Still, those refs are blind.)
  • My nine-year old signs me up for Instagram, and then explains the apps I should download and the filters I should use for an optimal experience. Her fingers fly across my iPhone like butterflies around a flame, and I’m like but wha – whoa – hey – where – wait a – how did you get there? Kids these days.

And then the more profound surprises, of course.

I knew I would need patience, but the frequency with which I meet its limits is astonishing.

I knew my children would need me, but didn’t realize how much it is actually I who needs them.

I knew I would watch my children grow, and by definition, overcome obstacles, but didn’t think about the pain and restraint involved in watching them struggle.

I knew I would love my children, but the depths of which I love them, still, is shocking.

Motherhood hasn’t been a smooth ride – on the contrary, it’s filled with potholes, sharp curves, and the occasional road block. And no driver’s test required, amazingly. It’s not a one-way street, and frankly, I’m not always in the driver’s seat.

But oh, the places you can go.

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10 Signs That I Need to Get A Job

September 16, 2013 3 comments

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This is not to say I don’t work. I work alright. I work day and night, weekends and holidays, with no pay cheque in sight. A bit like slave labour, but legal. It’s called Raising Children. Not to be left behind in these texting times, we even have acronyms, SAHM, SAHF, SAHP, or CEO when the mood strikes.

Lots of people have opinions about this job; but I’m not going there. Let’s just say I’m hanging them up – whatever they may be. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. Six years to be precise. But you know how the universe sometimes speaks to you? Well, now it’s screaming. Louder than the two-year old next door, which I didn’t think possible. It’s yelling at me by way of signs.

Here are one or ten signs that I need to get a job, depending on your attention span.

1. Garbage day has become freakishly important in my calendar, now ranking somewhere between Christmas and Labour Day. I know, it’s not a holiday, but it’s even better because it involves purging. And two men show up right at my door to help me do this – when else does this happen? Never, that’s when. (Note: those garbage bins are filled with stuff I’m sick of picking up. Bye bye.)

2. I’ve installed a water cooler in our house, and I find myself hanging around it, asking what my weekend plans are.

3. There is a glare on our television during the daytime that drives me insane when I’m trying to watch Orange is the New Black. While folding laundry, naturally.

4. I’m not done my bitching and complaining, not even close, but I’ve run out of people who will listen. Time for new material.

5. I used to have six hours of peace and quiet. Now I field about twenty texts from my children between 9 and 3. Mostly about their social calendars, which only serves to rub salt in my wounds that I have none by comparison. I was fun once.

6. Homicidal thoughts can’t be healthy. Purely mariticidal, I hasten to add.

7. Delivering their forgotten lunches and homework to school ignites me with rage that they have no respect for the work I do and the sacrifices I’ve made.

8. Complaints about my cooking fill me with rage that they have no respect for the work I do and the sacrifices I’ve made.

9. I’m developing anger issues.

10. The fact that I’m at number ten and haven’t even mentioned shoes yet, speaks volumes. Hello, mama needs a new pair of shoes? And then when I do indulge, that conversation. You know, the one where he says “Where are you going to where those? It’s not like you work.” Then I lose it. See number 6. Now you know the definition of mariticide.

I can’t find fulfillment at the bottom of a wine bottle. Trust me, I’ve tried. Time for plan A.

In your opinion, what is the absolute worst thing about being a stay at home parent? We’re venting here, so keep it negative.

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Father’s Day Reflection

June 13, 2013 16 comments

Dad at work

It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen my Dad, so Father’s Day can be difficult. All those ads for barbecues and razors fill me with sadness because I’m not part of the marketing frenzy this holiday presents. Instead, Father’s Day is simply a time to reflect, a time to remember my Dad and who he was and what he meant to me.

It was cancer, an explanation used too often, but there it is. He died the day before Father’s Day, when the lilacs were in full bloom and the the dichotomy of that has never left me, lilacs being my favorite flower. He’d had cancer and a heart attack before, so it was somewhat of a shock to my naive twenty-two year old self that this happened, that he could actually die.

He was a character, my father.

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At times he drove me crazy, as parents are likely to do. There were moments when I wished he were different from who he was. Perspective is a funny thing, because looking back, it’s these same differences that made him wonderful.

Ah, there’s the rub, that’s what he would say.

He wasn’t perfect, but as a parent myself, I have a better appreciation for him now, knowing what the constant pressure of raising a family feels like.

And I only have three children. He had nine. It puts his fatherhood into its own category, right alongside the crazy category, but I’m thankful my parents persisted, being the ninth. Sacrifice was not fleeting, it was a way of life when you have nine children. I could not have done it.

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But he was indefatigable. He thrived in the chaos of our family, he was our wise and fearless leader, larger than life and full of stories. When he laughed, he threw his head back and it could be heard for miles around. The man loved to laugh.

Looking back, he seemed to be involved with anything that came his way – the church, the cancer society, the Kinsmen, whatever that is. On top of supporting us, he made time for positions on boards and volunteered heartily – yet frequently when I was walking home in the pouring rain, his car would appear and the door would fling open. He drove around until he found me.

He appeared in unlikely places at unlikelier times, and when no one else was thinking of me, he thought of me.

I once read that when you lose someone you love, it’s like a crater landing in the middle of your life that is never again filled; you simply learn how to navigate around it. And so it is. I miss him, but I’ve learned to live life without him, as you do. The world keeps turning. Last week I was in a used book store in Washington and I took a picture of a set of books he would have appreciated, maybe I would have given them to him for Father’s Day. In that moment, I felt the hole of his absence. Grief does that, creeps up on you, and you feel the loss and the shock, all over again.

He’s gone but not forgotten. I have his blue eyes and skinny ankles. His impatience and stubbornness, his passion for words, his love of sports. I see myself reflected in him, both his good traits and his bad.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was mine.

Happy Father’s Day to all dads, and especially to the fathers who are still with us in spirit, wherever we go.

Dad and I

When Everything They Warn You About Is True

January 24, 2013 6 comments

Breakfast Club

Just wait until they’re teenagers, people would tell me, as I struggled up a flight of stairs with a double stroller and a Baby Bjorn strapped to my chest, at least obscuring my leaky boobs if hurting my lower back. I was too exhausted to reply with a clever quip, but my deadpan stare surely said shut the fuck up.

Without saying they were right, because clearly they were spiteful, I acknowledge there is a certain truth to their words: parenting becomes more difficult, in different ways, when children are older.

The hard labour of diapers and car seats and stalking pediatricians is replaced with a constant doubt: am I doing the right thing?

I used to consult baby books, and whether it was Dr. Spock or What to Expect During the Toddler Years, there was a plethora of information, all with clear answers. But teething issues morph into texting issues, how much is too much? being the new hot topic.

Part of the problem is the world has changed. Technology has made the world I grew up in unrecognizable, and I grapple with new decisions, that have serious repercussions. When I wondered if my daughter should have a cell phone, I worried on both sides; whether she would spend too much time texting, and conversely that she would be left out of the conversation if she didn’t. Same thing with Facebook, Skype, Instagram, etc. I attended a lecture about the dangers of teenagers and social media, the message being use caution and hope for the best.

Okie-dokie, that was helpful. Two hours I won’t get back.

Then there are the age-old problems that I’m facing for the first time as a parent. Reports of drinking, rumours of drugs, whispers of sex; none of which are in our lives yet but are hovering on theĀ  horizon, far too soon. I want my daughter to have fun and enjoy her youth, and yet I quell a desire to lock her in her room every weekend.

With high school came makeup. One morning I noticed a hint of mascara, the next day it was a full-on smoky eye. The first day it was okay, fun! I even thought; the next day I made her take it off. The short shorts. The high heels. The cropped/backless/lace tops. No. No. No. Every morning she wakes, it seems she is a full inch taller and wanting to wear more makeup and less clothing.

As I deliberate the line between right and wrong, there is the attitude to deal with. What to do when your daughter talks to you like you are an imbecile? What is the appropriate comeback to shut up? Timeouts have had their time in the sun; I try to take away her computer, but then she can’t do her homework. Instead I take away her phone, but of course she simply uses her computer to talk to her friends. I try different measures, in the same way I continually try different brands of running shoes: I hope they will fix my injuries, but know they likely won’t.

These are just a few of the issues. Everyday there are more; more limits to set and more boundaries to create, which almost inevitably lead to lengthy discussions and the slamming of doors (sometimes hers, sometimes mine).

Attitude comes with the teenage territory, and the ground that we now tread on is full of potential landmines. I couldn’t see them back when I was pushing that double stroller, but to be fair I couldn’t see to the end of the day in that sleep-deprived state. As my friend explained to me the other day, all she wants to do is what’s best for her daughter. Something simple in theory, much harder in practice.

That could be what those seemingly spiteful people meant to say, all those years ago.

Greener Pastures

July 13, 2012 1 comment

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I’ve emerged from the inside of many cardboard boxes in time to catch our plane to Nova Scotia, to reunite with my sprawling family and kick back in a cottage on the beach. I’m two plane rides away from summer.

One final thought on the moving process: I’m hoping it’s like labour, where you quickly forget the pain you went through to arrive at the prize. We are a lighter, streamlined version of our former selves. We now call a smaller house with a pretty Japanese garden home, in a hood filled with children and dog walkers. In three days I was more intimately acquainted with our neighbours than in three years at our other house, and children are knocking at our door all day long, wanting to play with my kids.

My back breaking work is paying off. Now it’s time to eat lobster and drink beer with my favorite people in the world – those remaining boxes can wait.

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(Ella has discovered Instagram)

In the Stillness We Remember

June 7, 2012 11 comments

If you stare straight at the sun, it burns your eyes. And so it is when you lose someone you love.

It’s been a year now. There is a yawning crater where once there was an incredible person, and it’s difficult to navigate. John was a unique blend; he had the wisdom of a village elder coupled with the energy and enthusiasm of a puppy. He was a shooting star in the Milky Way, someone we gazed at in wonder. His friend said God needed John to liven things up in heaven, and that seems to be the only explanation that makes any sense.

If I ruminate over those last moments together, or the injustice of it, or just the fact that he is gone, it scorches my heart and torches my mind. Reality blinds me as though I’m gazing, unblinkingly, into the sun. Life becomes a game: do what you can without thinking about it.

It’s easier for me. I’m thousands of miles away and have three kids to distract me. Much harder for his wife and children, and for our mother.

But still, I have trouble living in a world without my brother, who was no less a superhero to me than Superman himself. Some days are more successful than others. The minutia of life keeps me away from my thoughts, and I skate along the surface of life, doing what needs to be done. Occasions are trickier. When his two children graduated from university last month, I’d guess their focus was more on the one person missing in the audience, than the occasion at hand.

Times like these, waves of memories are too strong to be swept aside. The thin ice that I skate on gives way to shockingly cold water.

The thing about grief is that it doesn’t abate in a clean, linear line, once the empties have been cleared from the funeral reception. It’s more like the tide; it stems and flows and visits you relentlessly. It is a common misnomer that time heals all wounds. Time doesn’t heal anything. Grief hovers beneath the surface of your life, it’s just a matter of how good you become at masking it.

Of course, I don’t want to forget. I will never forget. Who could forget? His smile. His energy. His wit. His intelligence. His light. His magnetism. He was one in a million. He was one in a lifetime. No, I will not ever forget. If grief means remembering, then so be it. I will learn to shield my eyes when I stare at the sun.

And still, I know. John is in the whisper of the wind, the whitecaps on the lake, and in the beautiful blooms in his garden. He’s absent from this physical world, but lives on in our hearts. Someone of his magnitude, who made an indelible mark on so many lives, can never be gone. He’s everywhere.

It Takes a Village, but the Village has Changed

May 28, 2012 11 comments

Like my daughter’s village, when things get stressful we link arms, and hope for the best.

Most of us don’t live with extended family in our homes like our ancestors of yesterday. Our houses or apartments aren’t bursting with in-laws and grandparents, uncles and aunts are not on the other side of the thin wall. Chaotic family dinners are not a nightly occurrence, but reserved for Thanksgiving and special birthdays.

Although we don’t have to listen to our mother-in-law drone on about her gravy everyday, she isn’t around to make chocolate chip cookies, either. Or to hold our infant when our two-year old falls off the swing. Or to babysit for that far too occasional date-night.

I live on the opposite coast of Canada from my family, and my in-laws are an hour’s drive away. Raising three children, there have been times when I could have used that village, but it wasn’t physically there. The miles were gaping, and I was my own island.

At first, it was lonely. Used to the buzz of an office filled with co-workers, I missed adult interaction. But slowly and steadily, I met other mothers with infants, and we bonded over chitchat of breastfeeding and stain removal. My mom friends advised me where to find the best highchairs and how to soothe my baby to sleep. They taught me how to use sign language before my child could speak, advised which laundry detergent to try when skin rashes arose.

My mom friends walked me through first playdates, and took my toddler to swimming lessons when I had another baby to care for. When I miscarried, they brought dinners and muffins while I sat on the sofa and cried. Sometimes, the only time I would speak with an adult during daylight hours was at the doorstep of my daughters playdates, where we would discuss drop off and pick up times, and then discuss life. Those five minutes made a big difference in my day.

My mom friends have morphed and changed overtime, as children move schools and choose other best friends and different activities. Now, my children are in school and involved in sports. Since it’s hard to be in three places at the same time, my mom friends arrange carpools and cheer on my kids when I can’t be there. They tell me who is doing what on the playground according to the rumour mill. They are the eyes that are watching one of my kids when my own eyes are across town watching another. They have my back.

It still takes a village to raise a child, and my village consists of my husband, myself, and my mom friends. By this point in time, of course, my mom friends have become, simply, my friends. We get together for hikes, family dinners, and sit side by side at assemblies (and soon, graduation). We volunteer in rain, snow, sleet and, less frequently, sunshine. We huddle together and shudder at the thought of high school and the teenage years. We have been known to party.

It’s not always easy being a parent, but my friends make my life both easier, and so much richer. My village doesn’t live underneath one roof, but rather is scattered in different pockets along the North Shore, an extended Block Watch from days past. When my own two arms are not enough to hold what needs holding, I have others outstretched behind me, catching what falls through the cracks. And luckily for me, my village loves to dance.

Here’s to my village; I couldn’t do this without you.