It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Rules and Risk-taking

sandals“OW! Mary, my foot is hurting me!”

Some kids are just so damned cute when they cry! Emily’s already large brown eyes become enormous, glimmering with tears, the little pink lip protrudes endearingly, and perfect round tears roll in glittering lines down the perfect roundness of her peachy-cream cheeks. No red blotches, no scroodged-up face, no snot, no red-rimmed eyes. Just 100% adorable pathos. And she’s earned a bit of pathos. I’d wondered this morning if her sandals weren’t just a smidge too small… That’s one big blister she’s got on her heel.

I put a bandaid on it.

“Do you want to put your sandals back on, sweetie, or would you prefer to walk home barefoot?”

“Barefoot, please.”

Simon is appalled.

Simon (a previous daycare client, now six) is with us this week, filling the week gap between the end of school and the beginning of his summer camp. Simon, sweet, earnest Simon, comes from a risk-phobic family, where Rules of Safety are many and strictly enforced. (Too bad rules about Eating Your Vegetables and Getting Sufficient Sleep are not equally rigorously enforced. In fact, it would be a far better use of parental energy, says I, if they tossed about 70% of the Safety Rules and applied that diligence to the nutrition and sleep fronts. Snark, snark, snark.)

Simon, as I said, is appalled.

“She can’t go BAREFOOT!!!” We are threatening to trangress a Rule of Safety!!! “When we’re outside, we wear shoes.” In fact, Simon’s mother provides shoes for use in the house. Toddlers do not wear shoes in Mary’s house. Thunder-footed six-year-olds most definitely do not wear shoes. They wear slippers, or they wear bare feet. Shoes are LOUD, and we all know how Mary feels about LOUD. Simon has been barefoot this week, but only in the house.

“Why, Simon? What might happen if she goes barefoot?” My tone is mild. I’m curious as to his thoughts on the matter, and I’m pushing an agenda here. Let’s evaluate the risk, shall we?

“A car might run over her toes!”

He looks mildly offended at my shout of laughter. I try not to snort as I explain.

“Simon, honey. If a car were to run over her toes, I don’t think those little sandals would be any help at all.”

“But she can’t go BAREFOOT!!!”

“Why not? Let’s think about this. What might happen if she goes barefoot?”

“She might step on a rock!”

“Yes, she might. She might stub her toe, too.”

“Or a spider might bite her!”

“I think that’s less likely, but okay, maybe. Now. What will happen if she wears her sandals?”

“A spider won’t bite her!!!” He thinks he’s got me there.

“A spider could still bite her on the leg. But Simon, think about Emily’s blister. What will happen if she wears her sandals?”

“Her blister will hurt her?”

“YES! My blister will hurt and get bigger and hurt me MORE!” Emily, who is getting nervous about the direction this conversation is taking, wants him to be Perfectly Clear on this point.

“So what do you think, Simon? If she goes barefoot, she MIGHT step on a rock, or stub her toe, or even, maybe, get bitten by a spider. But if she wears her sandals, she WILL get a big, sore blister, even worse than she has already.”

Emily whimpers. I whisper words of reassurance in her ear.

“Now, Simon. If you had to choose between MAYBE stepping on a rock, and FOR SURE getting a giant blister, which would you choose?”

Simon’s answer is slow and reluctant. “I wouldn’t want a bliiiiiister.”

“No, I bet you wouldn’t. Neither does Emily. That’s why she’s not going to wear her sandals any more.”

Emily sighs with relief.

“But Emily? You gots to be VERY CAREFUL where you put your feet! You can’t step on any rocks or sticks or spiders!”

Emily, a sensible girl, gives him The Look. “Simon, I am not a big silly. I am not going to step on rocks in my bare feet.”

And she didn’t.

Has Simon learned anything about evaluating risks, or has he learned only that Mary is a wild and reckless woman? I’m not sure, but we’ll be optimistic, we shall, and call it One Strike for Freedom for Simon.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Emily, health and safety | , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Persistence pays off

goulash“Would you like some goulash?” Anna tips the ‘pot’ (aka cowboy hat) which she has been stirring with a ‘spoon’ (aka rhythm stick) so that Timmy can see the ‘goulash’ (aka wooden puzzle pieces). Timmy loks up from the puzzle he’s completing, peeks into the pot and makes his decision.

“No, thank you.”

“Would you like some goulash?”

“No, thank you.”

“Would you like some goulash?”

“No, thank you.”

She’s hearing him just fine. Nor is there any misunderstanding. He’s answering cheerfully and very clearly, each and every time. But he is also giving the Wrong Answer. Anna tries yet again.

“Would you like some goulash?”

“No, thank you.”

Repetition is not working.

“Okay, I’ll make you some goulash!!!”

Because, come hell or high water, this boy is going to get some GOULASH, dammit! Timmy’s head come up from his puzzle yet again.

“Oh, you’re going to make me some goulash?”

“Yes!”

“O-KAY!!”

Toddlers are just plain weird.

June 26, 2009 Posted by | Anna, Timmy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Love is affirmation

loveheartsWhen you’re up to your neck in the immediate, unceasing, second-by-second demands that is parenting a young child, you tend to think this is as tough as it gets. You tend to think this defines parenting.

You’d be wrong, of course. On both counts.

Parenting teens and young adults is far less second-by-second, true. You don’t need to worry about their bathroom habits (apart from getting your younger adolescent male into one), they can wipe their own noses, they can dress their own selves, they can read their own stories.

If you’ve done your job well during toddler years, you’ll have minimal temper tantrums and other toddler-esque behaviour so common to the adolescent stereotype.

But as you reach the point in parenting where you can be apart from your baby for hours (even days) at a stretch, where they can get themselves to their playdates hang with friends, where they can even cook a meal, you reach the age of Really Big Parenting Issues.

And I’m not talking about kids who skip school, won’t do homework, and fail courses. I’m not talking about backtalk (again with the ‘do your work in toddlerhood and you’ll see a whole lot less of this in adolescence’), weird hair, piercings, emotional storms, rowdy parties and skanky ‘fashion’. Though, lord only knows, all that is draining enough on the poor weary parent, and puts your long-ago angst about ‘he won’t eat his peas’ and ‘she won’t nap’ in perspective. But even then?

That’s all small potato stuff.

I’m talking about pregnancy scares. Teens with friends who commit suicide, or teens who consider it themselves. Drug use. Running away from home. Estrangement.

Serious stuff.

And, while we’ve been blessed with (and have worked hard for) children who have done very little of the Big Stuff, we do have eight kids between us. We’ve suffered a decent amount of anxiety, pain, tears, sleepless nights, betrayal… Not as much as some, but more than you’d choose. If you were given the choice.

Which is why, when my husband received two beautiful Father’s Day missives from two of my children — one a very sweet card with a meaningful hand-written note, the other a long amazing letter of healing and love — we both cried. These are not his bio-children, but mine. He’s a mere step-parent, and those of you in blended families know just how very, very, very difficult it is to be a step.

Way harder than being a bio-parent, I believe. This is a man who is in their lives not through any choice of theirs, but of mine. Though it’s been more peace than pain, more laughter than anguish, it has not always been easy, not by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all hurt each other. I’ve felt the wrenching pain of divided loyalties, and I know my kids have, too. And, while as a parent you know that you’ll love that child no matter what, you’re not always so sure of the child’s feelings. Particularly if you’re a step-parent.

Once in a while you receive affirmation as a parent. Sometimes it comes from family. Sometimes it comes from random strangers. Sometimes it’s something the child does inadvertantly.

And rarely, oh, so precious it is, the child goes out of their way to open themselves, to be vulnerable, to let you know how much they love and appreciate you.

It’s a gift. And I am grateful.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone.

June 25, 2009 Posted by | my kids | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Who’s on top?

“Daycare interferes with the parent-child bond.”
“If a child is spending nine hours a day with someone else, that will affect their relationship with the parent.”

There are those who believe these statements.

Now, I was a SAHM, a homeschooling SAHM, for years. If a family decides they want a parent home with their children, if a parent decides that’s what he/she wants to do? I’m totally onside. I loved, loved, loved being a SAHM. It was, without doubt, the time in my life when (awful marriage aside), I was happiest and most fulfilled.

(Another aside: I don’t believe ‘parenting is the hardest job in the world’. I think it’s one of the most important, and certainly not without its challenges. But not the hardest.)

And, for many years while I was a SAHM, I would also have ascribed to those beliefs. How could I possibly give up so many of the hours I spent with my child each week and not have it impact negatively on my relationship with my child? It only made rational sense.

Thing is, love isn’t always rational.

I am fond of my wee charges, and they of me. We toss around the L-word freely. There are hourly hugs and kisses and snuggles. There are shared smiles and pats on heads and unexpected gifts. There’s a lot of love in my household, and it’s wonderful.

However, in the grand heirarchy of relationships, I come a solid second to mom and dad, and everybody knows that. Heck, I’m probably well down, after grandparents, aunts, uncles, and maybe even certain neighbours and family friends.

Which is why I’m not surprised when, now and then, I’m compared to mom or dad … and found lacking. Sometimes, we know, they’re totally trying to scam me. But sometimes it’s quite sincere. And mostly, since they’re supposed to love mom and dad best and it’s totally no skin off my nose, I agree with them. Or, if it’s a matter of discipline, I simply remind them that I’m not mom or dad, and it’s okay to do things differently.

Usually, it’s an occasional, passing thing. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had a child who did it chronically.

Until Timmy.

For the last few weeks, every single day, that boy has been delighted to inform me of the multitude of ways in which mummy does it better, stronger, faster, smarter, nicer… than me. I like Timmy. I like his mother. But this? Is getting old.

We are walking through the park. We see the small floating dock that juts out into the river, perfect for sitting on and dangling your feet, just about the right side to step into a canoe. It’s a nice dock. A friendly dock.

dock
Don’t know who that woman is…

“Mary?” Timmy looks up at me. “Can we go out on the dock?”

“No, sweetie. I can’t safely take four children out there.” (Well, I could if they were all three- and four-year-olds, but not with a four, two almost-twos, and a one-and-a-bit. I’d give it 12 seconds before someone was in the river.)

“MAMA takes me out onto the dock!” He’s not angry. He’s just informing me of the wonderfulness of MAMA, and particular, MAMA’s superior parenting prowess. As he did already today, about half a dozen times. As he has done, many times per day, for weeks.

“Yes, I’m sure she does. How many children am I looking after today, Tims?”

He does a careful count of himself and the three others. “Seven.”

“And how many children does mama have to take care of?”

He looks around himself, considering. “Me! One!”

“Exactly.”

We proceed along the path. Point made, I feel better.

“CAN we go on the dock, Mary? MAMA takes me.”

See? Parents have nothing to fear! Nothing!

June 23, 2009 Posted by | controversy, daycare, parents, Timmy | , , | 9 Comments

Lyrical? Or…

Four little children thunder trip around my livingroom, arms a-flapping.

“I’m a butterfly!” Anna floats by. Thunderously. Loudest butterfly I’ve ever seen, but there you have it. Imagination conquers all.

“I’m a dragon!” Emily zips past, closely followed by,

“Boo-die! Boo-die!” a small, elephantine Birdie, aka Noah, closely followed by a mute but equally thunderful flying critter, Tyler. And where is Timmy?

Here he is!

“Horsie-bat! I’m a horsie-bat!”

Which could be a cute and quirky way of expressing ‘pegasus’, something he’s seen in a book somewhere, for which he doesn’t have the word. Creative, indeed. Lyrical, even.

(No, he hasn’t been reading this book. nor about the horse-shoe bat. I asked his mother.)

Or he could mean just exactly what he said: “Horsie-bat.”

Which is kinda weird, you know?

And knowing Timmy, I’m leaning to that interpretation.

June 17, 2009 Posted by | the things they say!, Timmy | , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m just so productive, some days

It takes about 20 minutes of pre-kid preparation to get ready for a trip: water bottles filled, snacks prepared, various necessities gathered. It takes about 20 minutes of direct kid-work to get the lot of them out the front door: slippers off, shoes and hats on; sunscreen applied, if not done by parent; diapers changed, potty visited.

Then we all file out the door and sit on the porch while Mary packs the stroller, first with the snacks, toys, and etc., and then with the little ones. Then the big ones leave the porch and hang on to their assigned spots. That takes maybe five minutes, so total trip prep time is roughly 45 minutes.

And then…. we’re off!!

lacecurtainUnless, of course, Mary has forgotten her cell phone.

Then we get as far as the Cranky “Keep-your-pets-and-kids-off-my-husband’s-perfect-lawn” Lady’s house before we have to turn around.

Go back to Mary’s. Set BOTH locks on the stroller, bring the three big kids up to sit on the top porch, so Mary can bomb in, leaving the door latched open and hollering out the door to the kids,

“I’M JUST GRABBING MY CELL PHONE! YOU JUST SIT STILL, I’LL BE OUT IN TWO SECONDS!!”, and hollering this repeatedly, the entire 26 seconds I’m in the house, so even the most casual of passers-by can see that

“THESE KIDS ARE BEING SUPERVISED!! THEY HAVE NOT BEEN LEFT UNATTENDED ON THE STREET!!!”

And meantime, the dog, who I’ve opted to leave crated at home this time, is barking a deranged mixture of “THANK GOD YOU’RE BACK!!!, CAN I COME OUT NOW????” and “WHAT?!?! YOU’RE LEAVING AGAIN???” Her, I ignore. I hope the neighbours can do likewise.

And THEN… we’re off!!

Unless Mary has forgotten her camera, and how can she take the pictures that the parents so love to receive without her camera? Her camera, which she has forgotten every day for a week, so that there are parents going into Cute Withdrawal and starting to wonder if Mary is really worth those Big Bucks they pay her? (Kidding. But still. Value for money!)

And Mary makes the realization when she is, once more, directly in front of Cranky Keep-those-kids-and-pets”, etc., Lady’s immaculate lawn. And once again, we turn around and head back, and lock the stroller (twice) and set the big kids on the top step and latch the door open so that I can be heard bellowing from inside the house “JUST SIT THERE FOR A SECOND WHILE I QUICK GRAB MY CAMERA! DON’T YOU MOVE! I’M JUST COMING OUT WITH MY CAMERA!!”

Just in case, you know, there are any judgemental folk with nothing better to do than do someone else’s job for them in their own mind. And do it BETTER, of course. Because you never know where those people might be lurking.

And the dog is doing her deranged barking thing again, times TWO.

And THEN (finally, I hope!)… we’re off!!!!

Were it not for the fact that, right in front of you-know-who’s Perfect Lawn, Tyler has the mother of all loaded sneezes and manages to coat his chin and the back of the headrest of the seat in front of him in… yeah, bleah. And of course, Mary then discovers that the modest purse pack of tissue she’s packing is NOT up to the job.

Sigh.

For a while there this morning, it looked like the children’s outing was going to be repeated trips between Cranky Lady’s Perfect Lawn and my front porch, designed to do nothing more than drive Cranky Lady (I’m sure I saw the lace sheers twitching), and the dog, mental.

And me.

But! After round trip number three, we managed to get our shit together keep our snot contained get off my damned street!

And it only took seventy-three minutes…

June 16, 2009 Posted by | daycare, outings, the dark side | , , , | 6 Comments

Saved by the Tag

Just when I’m starting to feel all guilty because I JUST DON’T HAVE TIME to blog today, Coley Moley tags me for the world’s easiest meme.

Phew.

Six things that make me happy.

1. My kids. My big almost-grown-up biokids, I mean, not the daycare tots… Of course they all do make me happy, but my kids are, well, mine.

2. Friends

3. Books

4. Summer days lounging on my porch. Summer evenings lounging with the neighbours on someone else’s porch.

5. Sunshine. I get depressed when I don’t get enough. When I go for a walk in the sunshine, it’s like taking a pill to lift my spirits. Every time.

6. My husband. Who just came home — just this very minute! — with a present for me. Which I can’t tell you about on a family blog. Heh. Which probably brings us to thing number 7, but I think I have to go now…

There you go. Six Things That Make Me Happy. Who else would like to try? Leave a comment with a link below!

June 10, 2009 Posted by | memes and quizzes | 5 Comments

Better parenting through Inertia

“Mary, Noah is running in the house!”

“I see that Emily.” I scoop Noah as he pounds by me. “But you know what? Today is such a rainy day, we won’t be going outside.”

We won’t. Not if the current level of inundation continues. The rain provides a humming, drumming white noise, makes a greyish sheen in the air, slooshes off my porch roof not in rivulets but in sheets. Pouring, it is.

“If we stay inside all day, we’ll need to have a good, long, noisy, running-around playtime.” I’m informing her, but I’m also bracing myself. It’s cute as all get-out, when they go all rowdy, but lordy, it is LOUD. (“Pitter-patter of little feet”, my ar… eye.)

ZZZ3Emily’s face goes still. She’s not quite buying into what I’m saying. I’m not sure why.
.

“We can play Sleeping Bunnies. We’ll do butterflies, too.” Emily loves being a butterfly.

ZZZ3She stares at me, waiting.

“…and Popcorn,”

ZZZ3Blink.

“…and Smelly Skunk.”

ZZZ3This kid has impassive down cold. Made of stone, she is, and whatever it is she’s after, I’m not delivering. One last try.

“Or would you rather make an obstacle course?”

ZZZ3Geez. Now she’s not even blinking, and me, I’m tapped out. No more ideas.
.
.

Okay, then. Two can play at this game. I stare at her. Expectant. Waiting.

Blink.
Blink.
Blink.

And… Emily’s face regains animation. Her lips part. “Or maybe we could do a craft!

Of course! The Emiliphant never forgets. Rainy days are Craft Days. Rowdy play is all well and good, but gluesticks and glitter are the pinnacle of Good Times.

And all I had to do to solve that little mystery was stop being so damned helpful.

June 9, 2009 Posted by | crafts, Emily, individuality, parenting | 6 Comments

Knowing when to say ‘when’

me-timeI’d been dragging for a while. You know how it is: things take work, nothing is really interesting, everything — even things that normally make you grin — is work, or at least not particularly funny. You wake up knowing that you’ll get through the day all right, you’ll do what needs to be done, buuuuut… bleah.

Just, bleah.

I have a few tried-and-true responses to this, and they all circle around getting time alone.

It was my Wonderful Husband who put me on to this. After years of being a single parent (both with and without a husband), a home-schooling mother of three, and a devoted little hausfrau, I really didn’t think about alone-time much. I suppose I got it in the evenings when my kids were in bed (because at MaryP’s house, kids are in bed by 7:30 well into grade school!), but really, it had been years since I’d given myself time for myself. Years.

When Wonderful Husband came into my life, we had a blissful honeymoon period of probably a couple of years, both before and after he moved in. And then I started to wilt. Go a bit flat. Laugh a bit less. Snark a bit more. But mostly, just be tired. Uninterested in things. Bleah.

And he said, “You need to get out on your own.”

And I RESISTED the idea! But he persisted and I, tired and not up to much pushing back, agreed. Oh okay, then. I’ll try it, but I didn’t see how getting out and expending energy would help me when I was lacking energy… (Sometimes I can be stupid that way.)

Saturdays were to be mine. I could leave in the morning — morning person that I am, I was generally gone by nine — and get back whenever I felt like it. If I wasn’t going to be home by dinner, I could just give him a call.

I was dubious. He pretty much had to shove me out the door that first Saturday. “And don’t come back for AT LEAST four hours!”

Off I went, with no clear plan in my mind. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to walk downtown along the canal. The sun was shining, the water was sparkling. There were other people, and little kids, and the occasional dog. Birds were twittering, flowers blossoming…

And within ten minutes — TEN MINUTES! — I was grinning. At nothing in particular. I was just happy. In twenty minutes, I had the bounce back in my step.

And in 30 minutes, I knew I had the Best Man in the World.

I returned home six hours later, refreshed and ready for the rest of the weekend… the rest of the week. Those Saturday morning outings became my lifeline. They kept the whole rest of my week on an even kilter. They were my balance-point. Sometimes I’d arrange to have a coffee or a beer with a friend while I was out; most often, I’d just luxuriate in being On.My.Own. No one needing me, not having to accommodate anyone, just following my own nose and doing whatever the hell I felt like.

As my kids grew older and less demanding, as his kids did likewise, our routines changed. I didn’t need that regular an injection of alone-time. Thus, it’s been a while since I’ve had the routine Saturday outing. I might not be needing that six, eight, ten-hour stretch every single week, though, but I still need some.

But it’s such an easy thing to let slip, isn’t it?

And when I started feeling the drag, I knew the time had come. So last Friday, with one child away with her parents and two home sick, I decided I would call in sick for Friday. Saturday was not going to be enough, I knew. I needed one day to myself, entirely to myself. And this was the time to do it.

The two remaining children both have family in the city who are positively eager to see their grandchild/nephew/niece for a day here and there. (Sometimes these kids don’t come to me because Grampa or Auntie So-and-so wanted a day with them.) So I could do this with minimal guilt.

So I did. Now, I will call in “sick” like this maybe twice a year. Maybe. Probably twice in 18 months, more like. Usually when I do it, I sort of dread making the phone calls, and feel guilt when I hang up.

Friday? Friday I felt nothing but sweet relief. I was giving myself a day. A day totally to myself. And even as I contemplated it, I felt the energy surge. A day to MYSELF!

And, oh, how I used that day. I cleaned, I organized. Sounds dreary, I know, but it’s not. When the mood is upon me, I looove these tasks, and I fly through them, leaving sparkling surfaces and uncluttered rooms in my path. It’s wonderful. I sent emails to friends who probably were starting to worry that I had died and forgotten to tell them. My latest book and I shared a nice long bubblebath. I plotted out next week’s menu, with lots of new recipes I’m all gung-ho to try. I gave myself a pedicure.

No, I didn’t leave the house. Couldn’t, really. I was sick, remember, and most of my clients live locally…

But that didn’t matter. I totally luxuriated in the perfect mix of industry and pampering, in having rooms and room of quiet, in not tripping over small bodies at every doorway. And at the end of the day, my husband was greeted by a totally refreshed woman as I sipped wine on the porch.

And the energy continues! I painted the porch on Saturday. I put in a new border of bricks to our front garden and dropped a few more perennials and a bunch of annuals in there on Sunday.

And today? Today the tots and I will go to the park, we’ll chase bubbles, we’ll draw with chalk, we’ll eat and chat and squabble and hug and snooze and play…

And I will love every minute of it.

Ahhhh…

June 8, 2009 Posted by | daycare, the dark side | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dustballs, beware!

I am sick!

(No, not really. Just officially. Shhhh…)

The husband leaves for work. His eyes scan the unnaturally quiet home, and widen in faux concern.

“What are you going to DO all day at home, all by yourself with no one to talk to? Want me to round up some small children to keep you company?”

He’s so funny.

In all honesty, I’m in the mood for housework, and experience has taught me that when that iron is hot, I’d best strike like crazy. SO MUCH gets done!!

So, with no tots here, and nothing more exciting than dustball-wrangling happening at Mary’s house, perhaps you’d like to pop over to Mid-Century Modern Moms and find out what Important Life Lessons the son is learning, a month into independent living.

June 5, 2009 Posted by | health and safety, Mid-Century Modern Moms, my kids | , , | Leave a comment

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