Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Mother’

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.

IMG_1917

Consistently Inconsistent

March 27, 2012 6 comments

If I were to pluck a parenting book off a shelf, I’d wager there’s something between those pages about the importance of consistency. As in, you should react roughly the same way in similar situations. As in, the same rules should roughly apply for each member of the family. Roughly, right?

It sounds simple on paper, yet is astoundingly difficult in practice. When it comes to parenting, the only thing I am consistent about is being inconsistent.

I ruminated on this when I woke up clinging to the edge of our king size mattress, as my seven year-old lay stretched out like a snow angel in the middle of the bed, and my husband clung to the opposite side. We had been militant about not bringing our first and second children into our bed, lest it become a habit. Yet our third child lands between our sheets on a nightly basis, and we barely bat an eye. (We were right about one thing: it is habit forming.)

We barely recognize ourselves, and hardly know how we got here. Are we simply too tired of resisting? Are we susceptible to her status as our baby? Or have we simply relaxed our views on co-sleeping? Probably a little of each.

When my oldest child was two, I enrolled her in swimming lessons, gymnastics, preschool, and skating lessons. For the skating lessons, I recall dressing her like she was about to summit Everest, and then watched her crawl – CRAWL – around the ice with a marker in her hand, colouring on the ice, for twenty minutes. The dressing up and dressing down took longer than the lesson itself. It was ridiculous in so many ways,  but to be fair it was as much about me getting out of the house than about her learning double axels.

In comparison, my third child has recently taken her first set of swimming and skating lessons at the tender age of seven, and only because she begged me. The reasons for this one are more obvious: I’ve learned that until a certain age, these activities are useless, and I’m already too busy driving my other children around.

These are just the tips on my parenting iceberg. There are so many other examples – I can’t recall one time I have punished kids number two and three beyond telling them not to do something. Yet my first child has had so many time-outs it rivaled her time-ins. We have reels of videos of our oldest saying her ABC’s before she was two, but I had to give my second child a crash course on them the day before she started kindergarten.

With each child I’ve birthed, my parenting persona has done a triple toe loop. My over-bearing grip loosened with my second child, and then relaxed almost completely with my third. I’m inclined to blame it on my laziness, but I see it happening in families around me as well: generally speaking, parents chill more with each passing baby.

I once read a book about how your birth order affects your personality, suitably titled Birth Order and You (there was no chapter about being the ninth child, however, so no clues into my own quirks and oddities – judging by my own parenting, it’s amazing I was even named.) Otherwise, it was strangely accurate in its depictions of oldest, middle, youngest, and only children – I recognized a few of my siblings, and lots of my friends, in its characterizations. It’s fair to assume these personality traits are borne from the expectations and treatment by their main influences, their parents.

So I’m part of a predictable trend that creates headstrong firstborns, peacekeeping middle children, and smart but spoiled youngest children. (As my baby hogs my pillow, I detect a slight smile on her slumbering lips, and although my shoulder is killing me, I don’t dare change positions in the event that I wake her.) At least there is comfort in numbers.

Do you fit the birth order stereotypes? And if you’re a parent, have you unwittingly changed your tactics as your herd has grown?

Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Motherhood

March 12, 2012 4 comments

It’s such a normal, predictable equation: go to university, start your career, get married, have a baby. In my hurry to be a grown up, I went “check, check, check, CHECK GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY WHAT HAVE I DONE?”

I was unprepared for the permanence of motherhood. I vividly recall my teachers droning on about how difficult university would be. “No one will write this on the board for you in university,” they grumbled as they fed their chalk into the holder that never held. In university, professors warned us about how trying life was in the real world. “If you’re late, you’re fired,” they reminded me over their round spectacles when I breezed into Poli Sci 101 fashionably late. As for marriage, it was easy to see that had its trials – normal, everyday encounters with couples, and sitcoms like The Jeffersons,  prepared me for a union that is difficult at the best of times – As George said about his marriage to Weezy, We tied the knot forty years ago, and I been swinging from it ever since.

Which brings me to motherhood. I would have liked a few more “Heads up! Be careful what you wish for!” warnings, but once the bun is in the oven, it’s a little late for those. I eagerly digested “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” only to throw it over my shoulder when I spied “The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy” on a bookshelf. It was like reading Cosmo after a owning a yearly subscription to Family Circle. Vicki Iovine prepared me for pregnancy, but no one prepared me for motherhood. (Incidentally, Vicki has split up with her husband, so I’m guessing “The Girlfriends Guide to Divorce” is on its way.)

This topic is on my mind these days, since my twelve year old daughter’s loftiest goal in life is motherhood. I’m sure this is a passing phase, but nevertheless I am arming myself with an arsenal of reasons why becoming a mother – while it’s the highest calling and all that crap – is actually something one should put it off until they can’t any longer. I’m not going to stand idly by and let my child think it is all baby powder and toothless grins – because there is a lot of shit to add to this equation, both figuratively and literally.

1. Your body will never be the same.

After housing a person for a gestation period, delivering a rugby-ball sized person from where the sun don’t shine, and allowing them to both pacify themselves and feed themselves by sucking on your breast, perhaps this is obvious. But my old college roommate said it best when she exclaimed “What happened to your boobs?” a year after the birth of my second child. My once perky chest had shrunk in size (What? It only stands to reason they should grow…) and could now belong to a circus act demonstrating how far one’s skin can stretch. It’s a party trick I have yet to pull out in public.

2. You didn’t know the meaning of patience (or worry, or fear. or anger.) Until you’re a parent.

I thought I was an easy going person until I had a child. A little spilled red wine didn’t bother me in the least. But watching my (once sweet) two-year old play wheelies with my newborn’s stroller while she is strapped into it sent me into a rage so quickly it was like emotional whiplash. If my reactions could somehow be measured, they would look like an altitude watch after a day of downhill skiing: several peaks of joy, followed quickly by plummets of despair, with confusion, panic, fear and anger thrown in on the way down. No wonder I’m exhausted by the end of each day.

4. Forget about vacations for eighteen years.

Whereas you once woke up and wondered how to spend another leisurely day in paradise, vacationing quickly becomes more work than life with children. By the time you’ve force fed them, applied their armor of suntan lotion, blown up their floaties, and wrestled their hats on their heads, it’s time for lunch and a break from the sun. Then the whole process starts over again. That bestseller in your beach bag is purely for show.

5. Even though you keep your receipt, the store will not take them back.

When I dream of things strangling me, I wake up gasping for air to find one of my children’s limbs – arm, leg, whatever – thrown across my neck. Even in my own bed, there is no such thing as self-time. As I type this, my kid is at my elbow because her DS is plugged in to my computer. Being a parent means you might never be alone again. I’m not condoning those mothers who hit the road, never to be heard from again, but there are moments when I understand what they were thinking when they stepped on the accelerator.

Babies are adorable until you spend an overnight flight sitting beside one with an earache, and life can bring plenty of earaches. That’s all I’m saying.

Reach for the Stars, Not A Diaper Genie

January 26, 2012 15 comments

My daughter is nesting.

She spends every spare moment surfing Bed, Bath and Beyond for new bed linens. She scours paint colour wheels for a new shade to compliment her walls. She’s chosen new light fixtures. I am finding scraps of paper doodled with lists of baby names.

I’m terrified. You’re twelve, I tell her. Go play outside.

Of course, attempts to intervene are rebuffed, and only intensify her longings for domesticity.

We discuss career paths, but she is only dreaming of motherhood. Inwardly, I’m aghast. Outwardly, I gently encourage her that motherhood will be there for her, but she should first go to university, explore the world, have some fun. What could be more fun than being a mother, she asks.

I bite my tongue.

There was a time in my life that I could have related with this maternal instinct of hers, but it was twelve years ago, when she was in utero. It lasted about a week. I’ve moved on. Her instinct, though, is more stubbornly rooted, despite the absence (thank God) of potential suitors.

When I was her age, I vividly remember doodling career options, not baby names. Dreaming of travel, not diaper bags. A pied-a-terre in New York, not a house in suburbia. Notwithstanding I ended up with the diaper bag and house in suburbia, but let it be known I never intended for this to happen. I certainly never dreamed about it.

It’s just a phase, my friends tell me. But I detect a look of horror in their eyes.

Every ounce of me wants to stage an intervention, but instead I keep my mouth shut, knowing when she picks up my disapproval she will run with it. It would be easier to deal with pink hair. Pierced eyebrows. Friendship drama. Boy trouble. I hadn’t counted on dreams of domesticity.

Out of the Mouths of Tweens

October 4, 2011 5 comments

The good things about kids is they tell me when I have pancake batter on my behind, or food stuck in my teeth.

The bad thing is they tend to tell me these things at inopportune moments, like when I’m talking to someone famous or one of those annoyingly perfect mothers. Okay, so I rarely meet famous people, but I do talk to other vitally important people from time to time who make me nervous, such as our mail woman and the school principal.

The other bad news, for me, is the list of things that they need to point out is growing exponentially longer by the day.

It used to be all diaper/bottle related stuff, then for a time embarrassing clothing gaffe’s like wearing my pants backwards and my shirts inside out. But lately it’s become more sliding-into-old-age related, like grey roots and wrinkles.

In the beginning of motherhood, in those blissful days before they could talk, they pointed out my shortfalls by pointing and laughing. Now it has progressed to eye rolls and comments like these:

“Mom, did you spill white paint in your hair?” means it’s time to buy one of those hair dying kits that promises to cover even the stubbornest of greys.

“Look at all of those wrinkles on your face – you look so old!” means it’s time… Well, there is nothing I can do about this since I’m averse to needles generally, so it just means I’m getting older (but wiser, I hasten to add.)

“Can you please not talk to me in public when you’re wearing that!” means it might be time to lose the tie-dye, and so on.

(Just when I was becoming confident in my own skin, and those voices, inner and otherwise, calling me a loser or dweeb have finally faded, along come come my own children to knock me down a notch or ten. Funny that.)

I’m not very observant, so it is helpful in a way. In fact, it’s making me step up my game, especially to spare myself the embarrassment when they point out my flaws in public, as they clearly enjoy doing.

Now I’m scrutinizing myself a bit more carefully each morning, in an effort to beat them at this perverse game. But I’m horrified and a bit perplexed by the things I’m finding.

For example this morning, when I tried to brush a wayward eyelash off my chin, I found it was actually attached, and therefore a chin lash. Others might refer to it as a whisker. After my shock, I found I had new sympathy for the way those little pigs taunt the big bad wolf. Apparently, I’m growing a beard on my chinny chin chin.

The bright side of this situation (as unbelievable as it is that there is a bright side) is that I discovered this myself, in the privacy of my own rear view mirror, before they alerted the neighbourhood.

Whether to pluck it or bleach it is up in the air, but one thing is for sure: I will deal with it before they get home from school.

Mothering in Volumes

May 7, 2011 11 comments

How does one say Happy Mother’s Day to a mother who went so far beyond the typical realm of motherhood that she had NINE children?

Here we all are - Mom is feeding me in the background

As the last of the litter and the runt in the pack, I stood to gain a lot from her incredible patience and selfless work.

Constantly in motion, she went about her business and endured the craziness of our household without any frustration. As a mother of only three children, I’m not sure how she accomplished this feat. The noise level alone would be worthy of earplugs.

If she wasn’t in the kitchen she was doing laundry or vacuuming or washing floors. And consider, if you will, having six children under the age of eight, and no such thing as disposable diapers? No dishwasher? No microwave?

With part of the gang at my sister's First Communion

The funny thing is, my siblings and I wonder at her work ethic, but she just shrugs it off, saying it was nothing next to what her mother did. She comes from yet another incredibly strong woman, with thick skin.

My mother was one of fourteen children. She grew up in a small village in Newfoundland, in a small three bedroom house: one bedroom for her parents, one for the girls and one for the boys. They slept on mattresses made of horsehair, three or four to a bed, and long before luxuries like indoor plumbing. I imagine it to be like the fishing village version of Little House on the Prairie. There was a one room school house and lots of chores for everyone. Surviving the frigid North Atlantic winters that lasted into July was a task in itself.

When my mother was thirteen, she was enlisted to help her aunt in Nova Scotia, whose husband had died in the war. The distance between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, in those days, was not easily traveled. This essentially meant leaving behind all that she knew, to help someone she had never met.

Despite how hard this must have been, Mom talks fondly about her Aunt Mary. Childless, she treated my mother like her own, and sent her to nursing school in Halifax when she finished high school. While in training she met my dad, and after graduating got married.

Folklore has it that on the eve of her graduation ball, my mother swung from the chandelier at the Lord Nelson hotel in Halifax, fulfilling a dare she had made to her classmates for years. She was a bit wild and full of fun, that woman.

After a couple of years, my oldest brother was born, and the other eight children followed at regular intervals. Her nursing career was interrupted while she surreptitiously cared for her own ward at home.

I think about this and I’m impressed all over again. Kate Plus Eight has nothing on my mother, who unquestionably just did it all, without giving any of it a second thought.

When I was eleven or twelve my mom went back to work full time as a nurse, and worked her way up to being head nurse, where again her patience and hard work were put to the test. Talk about a life of servitude.

My father died of cancer in 1993, a devastating blow for all of us, and somehow my mom has persevered and continues to inspire us all. For her eightieth birthday seven of us nine children, plus her brother and his wife, celebrated by going on a Caribbean cruise together. We packed a lifetime of fun into those seven days, our motto was rock it till we dock it. And that we did.

Rocking it till we docked it

Happy Mother’s Day, mom, you continue to be our beacon, our guiding light, our inspiration. You are an amazing person and a woman to be reckoned with. But we’re still not sure how you did it.