Avoiding Splitsville

beach-193786_640First place?  Second place?  Do rankings even exist within families?  Is putting your marriage first over your children the same as saying that you love one child more than another?

Not necessarily.

Children are takers by nature and mine are no exception.  From the minute that I wake up, my day as a stay-at-home mom to three boys under 7 is a whirlwind.  It is a constant juggle of schedules, mediating of feelings, coaching of behaviour and supporting of being.  There are the meals, the homework, the bathing, the messes, the laundry (oh, the never ending laundry).  The responsibility after baby is born hits like the wave of a tsunami, forever altering the landscape in its wake, even years later.

But like the proverbial saying goes, you reap what you sow.

And that is why many of my own activities, interests and at the risk of sounding a tad dramatic, dreams, have taken a backseat while I parent my boys.  It’s a thankless job but one that I whole-heartedly signed-up for and most days enjoy.

In my mind marriages follow the same equation as parenting: work in equals enjoyment out.   Make no mistake, marriage is work and after baby makes her arrival marriage can feel like backbreaking drudgery . . . or maybe that was just my marriage.

In our “reality-based” society we tend to glorify the wedding but pay little attention to the years following the “say yes” moment.  But I guess watching people argue over the minutia that defines a marriage would make for boring television.

Like Guiliana Rancic, I believe that a strong marriage is the foundation for a strong family.  The definition of strong varies from family to family.  I once knew a woman who firmly believed that her place was with her children and for seven years she was only away from her children a handful of times for more than a few hours.  Her children were never far from her physical reach, even over-night as they slept in the family bed.

When I asked her about when she gets alone time with her husband she shook her head and said that they were making a short term investment in their family and that there would be time again for the two of the them.

It worked for their family.

That type of arrangement would have me on the one-way train to Crazy Town with a stop in Splits-ville.

I am selfish like that.  It’s impossible for me to silence my needs.  Like a petulant child, my inner-self sulks and broods when too much time has passed before I can indulge in me time.

Let me be clear.  I am not talking about a 3 weeklong hike in the Himalayas to find myself (although that does sound appealing).  I am talking about the need to read a chapter of a book without interruption, get a haircut without springing up from the chair with sopping wet hair to pick-up a child from school, eat a meal sitting at the table without wiping up spilled milk.

Putting my marriage “first” helps me to keep perspective of who I am as a woman and that directly affects my mothering.

When I am out with my husband, just the two of us, I feel like a woman.  I ditch the yoga pants and the sensible shoes and I feel good.  I laugh more.  I am spontaneous.  I am fun.  I am not just the Chief of the Manner Police.

Why not just reconnect with myself without entwining my husband into this process?  Wouldn’t it be just as easy to do with girlfriends?  Or truly solo?

It wouldn’t be the same.

This man knows me better than I know myself.  He’s supported me on my journey and knows every curve and loop of the road that I have travelled.  He can help me tune into the best part of myself and hold a mirror up for me to see the not-so-pretty parts, and he loves me just the same.

By spending time alone together, I find him again too.  Those subtle irritations give away and it’s like we have stepped into a time machine and reversed ten years.  Without the pressures of the boys and work, we are both our truer selves.  I am not such a bitch and he’s more present.

That’s when the magic happens.  We laugh, we talk, we listen, we dream, we plan.

We return home better people, better parents, better partners.

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Truths We’re Told

I’m not sure I can add much to what Nathalie and Beth-Anne have already so eloquently said on this topic.   I will let the other mothers’ writing stand on its own, but I share the sentiment already expressed that entitlement is an unattractive quality, in both children and adults.

I want my boys to grow up to be modest, unassuming, deservedly proud of what they accomplish, without any inflated sense of self-worth, confident but not cocky, and above all, I want them to be grateful for the opportunities they’ve had, and to show that gratitude appropriately. And because I was raised to show appropriate gratitude, I have to give the credit to those people whose words helped shape me, and whose values I want to pass along to my own children:

From my grandfather: “Don’t show off who you are.” In other words, be modest. Don’t make a spectacle of yourself. You gain nothing from it. (Clearly, my grandfather could not have anticipated You Tube, but I digress…)

From my mom’s cousin: “When you’re famous, don’t forget who you come from”, an admonition that also took the form of, “Don’t think we’ll be afraid to knock you down a peg if you get too high and mighty”. I may not be famous, but when I’ve caught myself thinking too highly of myself, these words come back to me.

From my Dad: “You’ve got to make luck to be lucky”. What people think of as “luck” is really the pay-off of hard work.

From my Mom: “You can do anything you set your mind to! Well….except ballet. Honestly Marcelle, you’re not going to be a prima ballerina. You’re too tall and your feet don’t arch.  You don’t have to like it, but it’s the way it is. You DO need to practice your violin ….” Not everyone can do everything. Find what you CAN do, and do it the best you can.

Is there a home-grown truth about how to be that you carry with you? I often wonder which of my frequent platitudes will stay with my own children long after I’m no longer there to utter them.  Whatever it is, I hope they take it to heart.

May I have some more, please?

Here’s one of the things that has always worried me about having two boys: that one day, I might have to get a second job to keep us all in groceries. It happens to all of them, doesn’t it? One day they start eating, and a week later they’ve grown a foot taller, and they just keep eating constantly until they’re 25 and hopefully by then they’re buying their own food or at least bringing home dinner every now again but in the meantime you’ve wasted away because you continue to buy one pork chop too few, and you’re not going to deprive your growing boys, are you?

Tonight, they plowed through two packages of Italian sausage, an entire head of broccoli, and two servings each of these potatoes. Usually, we only make one package of sausage, and there are always left over broccoli bits or potatoes. It makes me wonder whether we’ve been starving them all these years. They’ve never been huge eaters — grazers, more likely — but have they been eating only half a sausage each all this time out of politeness? Has the sudden abundance of food made them reckless? I’m not sure what’s going on.

(Photo courtesty of Flickr Creative Commons/stu_spivack)

I do know this: the shoes we bought Sebastian at the beginning of January are already too small — and we had sized up a half-size larger than he’d been wearing so that he’d have room to grow. Daniel’s pants are all too short. They can’t keep their eyes open past 8:30. It might be too soon for a declaration, but I sense a trend: my bird-like grazers are on a growth spurt and appear to have turned into fully fledged eaters.  Send help. And more broccoli.

 

We’re Game

Traveling with your children this week? With the extra week off of school after New Year’s Day his holiday, undoubtedly some of you are packing your bags for (hopefully) warmer climes.

But, how to entertain them on long car and plane trips? Thank Jobs for Iphones and Ipads.

Yes, I know. We survived family vacations with nothing but a deck of cards, travel bingo and those magic mystery ink books. But really, wouldn’t you have preferred to play Fruit Ninja when you were stuck in the backseat of the station wagon?

Here are some of my family’s favourite Ipad game apps. These are in frequent use in our house, even when we’re not on the road.

image copyright itunes.com CarcassoneIdentical to the popular board game of the same name, play is   deceptively simple: build a medieval territory and garner the greatest number of “followers” by linking to other players’ roads, cloisters and and cities while preventing your opponents from doing the same.  Simple to learn, and quick to play. You can also play against others online.

Ipad Chess (Mastersoft Chess version): there are numerous chess apps available for the Ipad, but we like this one for its clean graphics and smooth play.

Scribblenauts Remix: You may already be familiar with Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS, but this game is even more fun to play on the larger Ipad screen. Maxwell, the game’s main character, needs to collect “starites” to complete each level.  You can use the objects on screen to achieve his goal, or you can summon random objects to help him. Type in a noun, add the required adjectives (my favourite so far, courtesy of Sebastian, has been “Big yellow knight shoes”) and see what happens. Educational (you have to spell the words correctly!) and imaginative, this game is fun even for grown-ups.

Of course, Angry Birds can eat up an afternoon, too. Not that I recommend that.

For younger kids, try out these apps:

AniMatch:  Littles will enjoy trying to match the animal faces. They can match animal sounds, too!

Pictureka!: Kind of like Where’s Waldo and I Spy, but with cooler graphics.  Note that the most recent version appears to be a bit buggy.

Helicopter Taxi:  Uses your Ipad camera to simulate a ride in a toy helicopter.Fly around the room and pick up more passengers as you go.

All of these apps work on your Iphone as well.

What are your favourite Ipad/Iphone apps? Any you think we should know about? Be sure to leave a comment.

A Spoon Full of Sugar

Mary Poppins was one of my favourite movies when I was a child.  My mother had taped it onto a VHS cassette from the tv and I would watch it over and over, rewinding all of the commercials using the clunky remote that was tethered to the VCR with a chewed up black cord.

I watched it so many times that I knew which commercial was the final one in the 3 minute line-up and could release the fast forward button and cease the whirring of the tape with such finesse it begs the question why I wasn’t any good with Nintendo games.

When my older boys reached 3 and 4 years old, I showed them my beloved Mary Poppins –  the high-tech DVD, commercial-free version – and I eagerly anticipated the end of the movie so we could break out in a Von Trapp-esque rendition of A Spoon Full of Sugar.

Admittedly, the boys’ reaction to the movie was a little lackluster.  They didn’t really understand how Mary had all of this magic power and the tuppence lady sort of scared them.

However, when Mirvish announced that the Broadway show, Mary Poppins was coming to Toronto, I immediately ordered tickets.

I love live theatre and sit in awe of the talent that goes into producing such spectacles.

Everything from the detailed costumes to the eye-catching sets and the lighting was phenomenal.  Not to mention that the actors performed each high-energy musical number with such gusto is was nearly impossible to keep from tapping my toes.

The play deviates somewhat from the original story.   The transformation of Mr. Banks and the push for good-old fashion family values is even more lauded than the original movie but works nonetheless.

Of course, Mary Poppins lived up to every expectation that I had.  Her quick wit, and dazzling personality were just as I remembered.

But perhaps the best part of the performance was when Mary opened her black umbrella, clutched her carpetbag in one hand and flew up to the balcony an arm’s length from the boys.  The look on their faces was well worth the price of the ticket.

They were finally enchanted by Mary’s magic.

If you’re wanting to see Mary Poppins in Toronto, you’d better do so soon!  Mary Poppins leaves town January 8, 2012.  If you live in the U.S.A., Australia or Mexico City be sure to check the official website for when Mary will be visiting your city.

Do you like the image?  It’s available as a sticker or a t-shirt at www.redbubble.com.  Check them out -lots of great gift ideas.

 

Clone Love

With two boys in the house under the age of ten, it is rare that a day goes by without the words “Star” and “Wars” being said by one or the both of them.  So it’s probably because I am so deeply immersed in all things Star Wars that I find these pictures so clever and charming.  Star Wars fans will appreciate these carefully-composed photos by photographer Kristina Alexanderson. Alexanderson, a Swedish amateur photographer, has been taking so-called “family photos” of a Star Wars action figure Stormtrooper, and his Lego family in various familiar and sometimes tender poses every day since the beginning of 2011 as part of her CClones 365 project. What’s so remarkable about them is how well Alexanderson has captured the intimacy between parent and child with a couple of pieces of articulated plastic. Have a look:

A Trooper in the air

Is it rebel-missile's or is it ordinary summer weather?

Hiking on the bike

All images by Kristina Alexanderson. For more of her photos, check out her blog (in Swedish) and her Flickr photostream.

Some Things I Know, and One Thing I Don’t

After almost nine years of parenting, I’ve learned a few things.

I know that no matter what I do, I’ll have to put the toilet seat down at least once a day.

I know that my eldest gets miserable when he’s hungry, and my youngest gets LOUD.

I know the difference between Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh, and Chaotic, even if I don’t understand all the rules.

I’ve come to understand that sometimes hugs do make things better, and sometimes, they don’t.

But what I don’t understand, what makes no sense to me, what I’ve wracked my brain trying to comprehend, is why my boys are incapable of getting up for school in the morning before 7:15 a.m without being totally miserable about it.

Despite putting into place morning routines to make a parenting expert weep with joy, our mornings often start with having to physically rouse our sound-asleep (and grumpy!) children from slumber. The rest of the morning should be easy: all they have to do is put on their clothes (already laid out), eat breakfast (already made), brush their teeth (there’s only so much I can do, here) and go. Somehow, this takes an hour, and through all of it, I repeat variations on a running monologue that usually starts at a normal tone of voice and then just keeps getting louder and louder:

“Good morning my boys!”

[Crickets. Snoring.  Sound of leaves changing colour.]

BOYS! You’re-going-to-be-late-we-have-to-leave-in-ten-minutes-no-you-can’t-play-your-DS-where-are-your-socks-last-person-upstairs-turn-off-the-light-do-you-have-your-snack-NO-I-don’t-know-where-your-library-book-is-WASN’T IT YOUR JOB TO FIND THAT LAST NIGHT?-brush-your-teeth-please-go-back-upstairs-and-turn-off-the-light-we’re-leaving-in-two-minutes-please-put-on-your-shoes-please-put-on-your-shoes-please-put-on-your-shoes-please -grab-your-back-pack-back-pack-please-PUT DOWN THAT LIGHTSABER!-put-on-your-shoes-already!

Have I mentioned that I’m not a morning person, either? That I understand that my children are just like me and so I’m both sympathetic and completely unimpressed by their weekday inertia?

Yet.

On weekends, they rise at 6:30 a.m., chipper and cheerful. Without using an alarm. Without our help.

But not, I might add, without waking us up.

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was a conspiracy.

Photo by Evil Saltine/Creative Commons

Help! What to do with these kids!?

Stuck on what to do with the kids?  Are the summer days feeling long?  Searching for the perfect activity to do with the family this weekend?

Melanie On The Go to the rescue!

I stumbled across this great website, where Melanie, a mom of two, reviews hot-spots for kiddies in the greater Toronto area.  She gives a complete over view of parks, splash pads, amusement parks and farms complete with pros and cons, which makes planning a whole lot easier.

Melanie’s site is perfect for families with little ones but for kids who have outgrown wading pools and kindergym, check out these websites that I look to for a little inspiration:

www.toronto4kids.com

www.littlepaper.com

www.savvymom.com

 

Click on About Town and Things to Do With a Boy (on the Categories menu) for some other suggestions from the 4mothers.

How about you?  What are some of your go-to websites?  If you live outside of the GTA share the wealth and let us know where to go, someone might be visiting your town!

photo credit: http://www.livingmymoment.com

No Summer Boredom, Just the Regular Kind

Summer boredom hasn’t really hit our house of young children yet, mostly because our summer doesn’t look that much different from the rest of the year.  The main change is that my older son (5) isn’t going to afternoon JK anymore (2.5 hours).  I considered enrolling my younger son (3) in part-time preschool but he wasn’t taken with it, so that got postponed.  My husband and I are still working part-time and taking care of the kids mostly ourselves, with the shift that I’ve just started my maternity leave (no child yet ) so I’m home a lot more.

So no summer boredom, just the regular kind, from time to time.  Without a name (currently, gratefully), but evident when a restless child lolls about on a couch and whinnies.

Sometimes, at times like these, I reflect upon the limited structured activities we provide for our kids.  My older son has soccer once a week; my younger son music classes.  No camps – not yet – just playdates.  We intentionally keep structured activities low to encourage initiative and creative play, and because that’s the rhythm that fits better with our lives.

I know that the world outside the home can be filled with excitement and adventure, and of course this must be explored in time.  But I also think that home can be a special place for centering oneself and a source of fulfillment too.  Our children are welcomed and participate in our everyday lives, as well as their parents’ interests.  So my husband gives them squash lessons (he’s a coaching pro), takes the kids swimming and biking almost everyday, and they do the gardening and yardwork together.  With me it’s cooking and baking, crafting, and reading.

Our kids also know very well the routines of laundry, dishes, and broom and dustpan.  They are thoroughly acquainted with the grocery, hardward, and bike repair shop.  My older son pumps gas for the car.

I read Nathalie’s post on boredom earlier this week and it gave me pause.  I remember being painfully idle and lonely during my childhood summers – there was no money, no caregiver, and no inkling about kid activities to pass the summertime.  I can totally relate to Nathalie’s desire to keep her kids eons away from that reality.

I hope my husband and I are doing that, albeit through a different route.   There is some money; we, the caregivers, and are around most of the time; and whatever mistakes we are making, we do have honest inklings about spending time together and making fun for ourselves.

I suppose that as much as I don’t want to under-stimulate my children, neither do I want to become their entertainer or their entertainment manager.  I hope that while they enjoy capital A activities, they will also, after some restless minutes lolling about on the couch on a slow day, meander into the garden and poke at leaves and bugs and notice how a green tomato tastes different from a red one.  I feel pleasure when, after playing for ages in a kiddie pool I set out for them in the backyard, my kids wander onto the back porch with spray bottles and spontaneously start washing the windows of our house.  It’s about balance, I suppose, and our scales all tip at a different point.  But for me, when the squeals and laughter of the water play – which I loved and recorded – are done, I find the quiet focus and engagement in my small window washers equally rich.

What lazy days of summer?

I long for those lazy days of summer.  Reading books under a tree, strolling for ice cream, meeting friends for patio dinners.  Those are the summer days of yesteryear.  My days of summer are not anything but.  It’s been three weeks of summer and we’ve:

–       Planted cucumbers and tomatoes, a planter of begonias and a bed of gerbras

–       Had four cottage weekends complete with boating at the crack of dawn, fireworks late into the evening and a baby who refuses to sleep in his temporary crib

–       Attended (the kids, not me- I can only wish) a week of day camp

–       Visited two libraries, Santa’s Village, numerous parks/playgrounds and friends, farmer’s markets, and story tellers

–       Made waves in swimming pools and splash pads

–       Effectively wasted enough water with the sprinkler and hose-play to remedy the African drought

–       Seen Cars 2, the movie (read about THAT experience here)

–        Had two very nasty poo-explosions courtesy of the baby (who must have been feeling left out of all of the activity) which resulted in MAJOR clean-up and emergency baths all around

–       Had one lamp smashed to smithereens

–       Made one trip to the ER for a staple to the head, my son’s, not mine (can you imagine!?!)

–       Tried three neighbourhood restaurants for lunches (what was I thinking?)

–       Applied Benedryl to a swollen ankle rendered useless thanks to a Muskoka mosquito (*Mr. Mosquito, next time please aim for the lips.)

It’s important to note that while most things on that list sound summery and like a lot of fun, you must imagine doing each with three boys who must have been circus carnies in their previous lives.  Gong!

Of course, playing Activities Director has added to my already heaping amount of daily responsibilities (and laundry).

Boredom, if you are looking for someone to assault this summer, please, please pick me.

photo credits: http://www.timstvshowcase.com and http://www.sharetv.org