Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

The bus, the girl, and me

I caught myself feeling a sharp pang of jealousy yesterday – at a young woman getting off of a bus.

She was alone. Intent on her errand, her destination. Independently. No children to bring along to the store with her, none to drop off at daycare before work, no enormous shopping cart filled with diapers and milk to maneuver through the snow to her car, and especially, especially, no whining, crying, or interruptions. She had earphones in her ears, a small fashionable purse on her shoulder, and a purpose in her stride as she stepped off the bus, head up. She wasn’t looking for and counting heads, holding mittened hands, or speaking a constant stream of instructions, reminders and chastisement. She was quiet. Calm. Happy. She was on her way to somewhere, or someone. Alone.

I told myself that she might be off to do a dull and underpaid shift at a dead-end job, with an empty apartment the only thing waiting at the end of it, wishing for all the world for the lovely family and home and life that I have.

It didn’t help. I was overwhelmingly, shockingly, endlessly jealous. Oh, to have a day to myself! To be able to pop in to a store, to meander, to browse! Oh, to not have a baby on my back, or a diaper bag on my shoulder, or a pattering of questions and lecturing on nuclear bombs and jetpacks to tune out! Oh, to read world politics, and think about them, and then discuss them! Oh, to feel like I have any expertise, or just plain interests, of my own!

Oh, to not have to cook dinner again.

Oh, to not be constantly aware of the clock, measuring the next naptime, the next load of laundry, the defrosting chicken, the school day.

Oh, to miss my family. To have a break, and to be happy to come back to them.

Oh, to not be jealous of a random stranger getting off a bus at the local Walmart.

And then, my daughter does something irresistibly cute. Babbling, making friends of strangers at the coffee shop, crawling to my outstretched arms. And I feel so guilty for wanting to miss even a single moment of this fleeting time.

And yet, then we’re taking beloved stuffed animals away from my son in a bid to improve increasingly disruptive behavior at school, and Dearest and I spend a daily hour tearing our hair out wondering what is wrong with our son, with us, with the school system. Wondering if there’s anything at all we can do to help our impulsive, inattentive, expressive, bright little boy who seems to only be getting harder with time. Never knowing what, or when, the next battle will be.

Oh, to not have to come home to crying, or to have crying come home to me.

To just get on a bus. And off again, somewhere else. Nowhere special. Alone. For an afternoon. With dinner warm and waiting, unmade by me, happy children, an unstressed spouse, a clean house without a single laundry basket in the livingroom. Oh, to just look out the window. And dream.

I pushed the stroller on, past the bus, through the snow, towards home. I stroked my daughter’s darling, sleeping head, shrugged my shoulders and stretched my legs, and decided on chicken parmesean for dinner.


On becoming an artist

I’ve not been writing much.

This has pained me.

The desire is there, and oh so many sentences in my head, or scribbled in my notebook, or saved in draft posts. But I have so many half-finished blog posts now, that I’ve just about stopped trying.

Hibou is the Great And Powerful Unpredictable Napper. Great in that she naps – her brother barely did at all. Powerful in that any length of nap results in a bright, cheery baby that is ready to go, go, go! But the naps range from fifteen minutes to three hours, and there just isn’t any telling which it will be, or if there will be one at all. As with so many other parents of young children, my routine revolves almost exclusively around creating the perfect conditions for sleep.

And so, not so much with the finished blog posts.

When Bonhomme was little (in so much as he was ever little, The Baby Giant), it was painting that got stifled. The style of painting that I do, while fast and furious, requires no interruptions for an hour or two. I work in wet on wet, with fast-drying acrylics. At least, I used to. And with babies, or children of any age, an interruption-free period of time is a myth, a memory. A joke. Painting was the only artistic outlet I had developed at that time, and having it jarringly, suddenly, taken completely away was a shock I have yet to get over. My depression at the time was due to a great many factors, but losing my art was both a significant contributor, as well as resulting in the loss of a key tool for managing my condition. when I lost my art, I lost my sense of self.

It took me years to redefine myself.

There was a moment, a lightning bolt of awareness, in which I realized myself as a mother. I was in a bookstore, with Bonhomme toddling about, and I asked to see some books about the moon – since that was one of his first words, and a very special bond we shared (since we looked for the moon together whenever we were out and about, no matter the time of day). The store staff showed me some very predictable books, many of which we already had, but then a couple of unexpected ones were put in the pile. And Bonhomme promptly chose the very first book that he ever chose for himself, about a boy, and a star, and no moons at all. And I realized that this was what made me a mother. Listening. Being curious. Advocating. Creating the opportunity for children to make their own choices. And going with the flow once those choices – theirs, not mine – are made.

I had such a hard time becoming that mother. The pregnancy had been grueling, with many of my physical choices taken away from me, and far too many weeks on bedrest. The delivery ended up being the farthest thing from what I had wanted, and the many months of recovery from the various emergency procedures limited my body, and mind, even more. And then my inability to feed my son from my body was just crushing to me – it took me months to realize that mothering is more than just breasts, and quite frankly, I’m still not completely over it.

But slowly, I did define what the term mother meant for me. And, with time, I also redefined what being an artist meant to me. I branched out. I tried new things. I’ve always been crafty, with beading and knitting and such, but it never felt like what painting felt like – a sense of awe and wonder that I could create such pure and unique beauty. I wanted that back. Writing began to fill that void. With words, I realized that I could come close. I could create something powerful, something that resonates with others, something important. And even more importantly, it helped with my mood and anxiety too. I changed my need to paint, to a need to be creative, a little bit every day, in any way at all that was available to me. And more and more, that meant writing.

And then, Bonhomme growing older and making more space in my life for art (but not uninterrupted easel time – no), I decided to try my hand at quilting. First, I bought a book. Then, I bought some cotton. Then, I went on Kijiji and found myself a used sewing machine. Then, with the leftover equipment from when I used to paint silk scarves (pre-motherhood), I stretched out the cotton on my old frames with some elastics and safety pins, and splashed some silk-painting paint on. Oh, the glorious feel of the brushstrokes! I ironed, and washed, and ironed that painted cotton, and made my first terrifying cuts. And then, I swore, and swore, and swore at my used sewing machine. And sat myself down with a needle and thread and sewed by hand. Nothing was going to stop me. I was going to make a quilt, by golly, by gee, fifteen stolen minutes at a time.

But the lure of the paintbrush called. And I painted more cotton. And then I got the kids to paint some cotton. And then I bought some fabric paints. And fabric markers. And fabric pastels. And fabric paint spray bottles. And the kids were painting and drawing on and colouring that fabric far more than I was, and I realized that that was even more glorious than holding the brush myself. I wasn’t just making art – I was making artists.

Christmas came along, and with it, a new sewing machine. And I started to turn those piles of painted cotton pieces into things. Stuffed toys. Pillows. Wall hangings. Quilts. I still haven’t finished my first quilt, the one I started just for me. It is at the bottom of the Unfinished Objects Chest. For now. I will get back to it someday, and finish it, and glory in it once it’s done and keeping me warm. But until then, I glory in the quilts I have finished – for Bonhomme, for my cousins’ babies, for Hibou, for my nieces. And I’m excited about the quilts I’m finishing, for all the kids who helped make them with me.

It turns out that sewing is something I can do interrupted. Whether I get five minutes, or three hours, whether I’m sitting in front of the sewing machine or in front of the TV, whether I’m painting or ironing or cutting or sketching – it all counts. And it’s all awesome.

And so, while I haven’t been writing, I have been sewing. Fabric baby books. Baby quilts. Baby teethers, and toys, and gifts. And I have been painting – not at the easel, no, but it’s just that my canvas has changed.

Today, I wear a very special charm bracelet almost every day. On it is a star. It reminds me of the day I realized I was a mom, when my first child was about a year old. It reminds me that it is what we do that matters. It reminds me to keep exploring, to keep trying, to never give up just because something old doesn’t work anymore. Being able to paint isn’t what makes me an artist. Choosing to create, no matter the circumstances, does.

Writing may get stifled. Painting may. Or the ability to breastfeed, or to walk. But I, I do not. I do not get stifled.

And if I am very, very lucky, I will help raise some unstifled children, who, if I am luckier still, will take this very hard-earned epiphany entirely for granted.

Fifteen-plus years after selling my first painting, now that I’m not making paintings anymore, I’ve finally become an artist.

The Sound of Strength

Hibou is screaming in my ear, an incessant fire alarm of a noise reaching its fingers down my throat and twisting my guts around my heart. She is crying because she wants to be asleep but isn’t. So easily overtired and overstimulated, she can’t figure out how to stay asleep once I’ve finally managed to get her there. Just like her brother, who was the king of the half-hour nap.

Desperate to maintain equilibrium, if not my sanity, I can feel myself deadening to her screams, mechanically patting her back and rocking, disassociating. All my old, ugly resentment against Dearest rises, threatening, whipping me into a frenzy. All I can think of is how he isn’t rescuing me from this screaming maddening noise. I can’t reconcile that with the bottles he is sterilizing, the laundry he is doing, the formula he is making, the other child he is putting to sleep, the lunches he is packing, the clothes he is folding. I am holding the screaming child because I am the one less likely to want to fling her across the room, and I hate my husband for it. For the fact that he can’t take it, for the fact that I can. It makes no sense, but there is no sense in this howling tornado of a room, there is only an exhausted baby, four walls, a closed door, and me.

Many hours later, I am sitting in the doorless livingroom in the slanting, slatted sun, a blessedly quiet sleeping baby sprawled on my chest. The resentment is sleeping too, banished, a hard-won fight.

It isn’t my newborn that I need my stamina for – it’s this other battle, against my own shapeshifting demons. I must come out the other side with children, marriage, and self intact. Failure is not an option. And so, I sit, in silence, and soak up the sun, recharging for the long night ahead, the long months and years of my own private war.

They say that courage is not the absence of fear, but forgeing ahead despite the presence of it. I knew this when we decided to try to have another child, and I know this now, when she is here. Let me not forget.

Watching and Waiting

I’ve cleaned the bathroom, packed bags for the hospital, cleaned the car seat and figured out how to thread the darn straps through, finished a jigsaw puzzle, baked cookies, caught up on my e-mails, got my son dressed, fed and off to school, defrosted chicken for dinner, brought down baby clothes that are too big for now, brought up toilet paper and paper towels and baby wipes, found the baby bath, refilled the hand soap dispenser, checked the mailbox, made breakfast, snack, tea, lunch, put clothes away… and missed a doctor’s appointment that I swore was at two, but was alas at one.

Why is it that I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done?

Is this what maternity leave will feel like – my hands and body busy in one place, my brain left somewhere in another room? Constant activity but no sense of accomplishment? What on earth does one accomplish moreso than growing a baby? You would think that I could at least acknowledge my success in that.

I am not living in the moment. I am living outside of the moment. In some foggy, Baby Brain land, where time never runs on schedule and I speak in a foreign tongue.

Baby will arrive next week. I am ready – and not. Same as Baby, I imagine. We will have to learn each other, outside-in, instead of inside-out. I will once again not believe that I could have created such a creature, carried, borne, birthed. My world, and my body, will continue to become increasingly strange, before eventually settling into something vaguely familiar.

The music of a snowstorm seeps in through the window, car tires slushing, shushing along. This could be the last storm of the season, winter too waiting for the arrival of something new. Perhaps this sound will forever mean hope to me, now. A melting, messy, quiet-loud, soothing hope, one that grows with each trickling hour.

Come, Baby, into this waiting space. It is waiting for you.

An everything boy

A large, glistening, naked boy fresh from the bath runs up to me, gives me a sideways lean, and whispers to my belly:
I love you Baby.”
And runs, dripping, away.
I stand there, rotund, bemused, slightly shocked.
This was the first time Bonhomme has said such a thing. Everyone keeps asking me whether he’s excited to become a big brother, and I am forced to tell them that after all these months, I’m still not sure. He seems worried, or uninterested, mostly. Until tonight.
“What kind of brother are you going to be, do you think?” I ask him, after stories.
“An everything brother,” he replies, smiling a small, shy smile.
An everything brother.
Sounds just about right.

The Time-Space Continuum

There will come a time, they say, when my child will not want to talk to me incessantly.
“Momma, I’ve got an S T 15 4 hundred telescope!”
A time of ignoring, of being out, of closed room doors and worrying about how he’s doing.
“Look, Momma, I’m at 128 steps on my foot thermometer!”
“Your pedometer, Darling.”
“Yah, my footomometer! 136!”
I will wonder what to do with my spare time. And my spare space. And my spare quiet. They say.
“Momma, how much points do I have now in the game? Do I have more than you? How much more than you do I have now, Mummy?”
Someday, I will not be touched at random times and in random places. My body will no longer be public property, nor my sleeve a place for unclean faces to cuddle.
“Momma, for your birthday, I’m going to buy you something special. Something of your very own, that you will really like. It starts with a T. But you’ll never guess! It’ll be a 15 5 hundred, at least! A tuh, tuh, tuh T!”
I will sleep more than one night in a row uninterrupted. People will knock on the bathroom door, and then go away when they discover that someone is on the other side. I will blow-dry my hair from start to finish with nary a shouted conversation during.
“Look Momma, I unlocked the bathroom door with my own thumbnail! Oh, clever me!”
Dinnertime will include conversations, not negotiations. Even, should I dare to dream so brazenly, with only one person speaking at a time.
“1288! One two eighty-eight steps from breakfast to this lightpost!”
There will come, they say, a time when I will miss this. I will. Whether it will be as much as I miss that fantastical time now, oh, I don’t know.
“Momma, did you know? Did you know that chocolate is moo-licious? Did you know that sand is really little tiny rocks? Did you know that one of the constellations is a hunter, with a bow? Did you know that? And, when I become an inventor, I’m going to invent a car that can fly, and runs on air, and never gets dented. And I’m going to biuld you a robot that will cook you dinner. And, did you
know, that, that, that rocketships can shoot missiles? And that ped is like the French word for foot, but it’s actually another language. And, I’m at, I’m at. Hold on, let me check. I’m at 14 hundred steps! 14 hundred! 14 hundred steps to daycare!”
For now, I cherish my solo walk to work, filtering in only the noises of traffic, of birds, of feet crunching. My chatter-free fifteen minutes. I soak in the sun warming my legs, the freedom to walk at my own pace. I am grateful, every single time during elevator chit-chat, when I don’t need to reply.
Someday, silence will stretch. It won’t be measured, allotted, stolen. I will remember all of this fondly.
I will delight, at a further someday, at charming moments just like these, which will come in defined doses, at reasonable hours of the day. When children will not feel like an endless bombardment, when there will be rest in between the waves.
There will come a time.

A discipline

I spend my time reprimanding, these days.
Lecturing, setting limits, cajoling, ordering, counting down, laying down the law.
It is the Age of Chastisement.
Even my consoling is tainted with lessons and consequences.
There is very little laughter left,
our lighthearted moments islands amidst rough seas.
Things are easier in so many ways, physically, logistically.
Bonhomme gets dressed by himself – although generally not without drama.
He gets up, finds a snack, turns on the TV, and plays, blessing us with much appreciated extra sleep on weekend mornings.
He opens his own car door and does up his own seat belt, he helps to carry in groceries.
He begs to help with laundry and window washing.
But so much is fraught with his temper, his dawdling, his pushing of every boundary.
Tantrums when he doesn’t win at a game.
Twenty minutes to brush his teeth.
Every tiny bobo a scream, a wail, a scene.
Endless negotiations regarding vegetables and books and shoes and videogames.
Fury and frustration and bitterness and resentment as he explores his full range of emotions, only molding himself to his world when it refuses to mold to him.
I find myself thinking often of my mother these days, having had three of us by the time I’d had one. Raising my eldest sister most of all, a lifelong manic depressive.
What must it have been like?
I remember only too well how volatile it was, to be around my sister, simply being in her orbit. But to be the focus of all that intensity?
My mother survived it, as all mothers do, mothering one day at a time, waiting it out.
I count my blessings every day, every minute, that I have a healthy child, albeit an intense one also. But, a balanced intensity, helped along by ongoing forgeing and tempering.
A loud child, yes, who lives every aspect of life at high volume.
I, who learned to find peace in solitude at an early age, cringe often.
And shush, explain, console, encourage, correct, direct, and repeat.
Stand firm.
And wait.

Thunderstorm pudding

Outside, it was storming.
A summer storm like I’d not seen before,
the darkness of night descended upon the usually-bright afternoon.
Getting home soaking wet from daycare pick-up brought the storm inside,
threatening and thundering.
Tantrums, go-to-your-rooms,
clashes and crashes.
Dinner took too long.
The fish was a disaster.
The red chard was perfect, although not exactly appreciated by young palettes.
We filled up on tender beans and tiny potatoes instead.
I had the audacity to win at our boardgame after dinner,
sending one sore loser to the penalty box.
In retaliation, he proceeded to cover the floor of his room with toys.
This resulted in room-cleaning being added to the usual bed-getting-ready routine.
Amidst the storming, I made bread pudding.
Bubbling along to the decibels,
settling in burbles and sighs during book-reading.
Once boy-bedtime was finally achieved,
never had a stale baguette, forlorn victim of half-eaten Saturday lunch, looked so glorious.
Just like the day,
this concoction of bread, milk, rhubarb, raspberries and sundry was warm, wet, sticky.
Both bitter and sweet.
Crusty around the edges.
Earthy and spicy and unexpectedly smooth at times.
Melt-in-your-mouth goodness,
with the occasional jarring crunch,
a blanket warming my inside, complete with crumbs.
Smelling like home,
tasting like love.

Handle With Care

It was one of those days with Bonhomme.
Outlandish, garish, larger than life.
When he wasn’t whining, he was shrieking. When he wasn’t squirming, he was climbing. When he wasn’t complaining, he was arguing.
He was beside himself.
And yet, at times, he was soulfully sorry (if not quite penitent). An hour after eating a cookie when he wasn’t supposed to, he wrote me an apology note, artfully stuck to the bathroom mirror. “Bonhomme Sorry Grace”, it said, in three vertical columns. (He generally calls me Mommy, but apparently, this won’t do for formal correspondence.)
This has been happening more and more lately, with extreme behaviour followed by abject apologies. It’s as if he’s discovering that he’s unable to control his outbursts, that he’s becoming aware that he can’t help himself. The profoundness of his sadness, of his disappointment in himself, is shattering.
When he was one, he was busy. When he was two, he was precocious. When he was three, he was dramatic. At four, he’s been spirited. Now, almost five, I’m running out of excuses.
His teacher, at our most recent parent-teacher interview, alluded to the possibility of ADHD. Dearest was aghast. I was not.
Bonhomme is impulsive, has difficulty sustaining attention, bounces off the walls, can’t sit still, interrupts, requires every ounce of available attention from anyone and everyone in a room, and is very vocally passionate.
He has always been what you might call a “challenging” child.
He has his strengths. He abounds in them. Curious, creative, persistent, articulate, persuasive, caring, decisive, he will be a fascinating adult.
But he has to get from here to there.
And honestly, I can’t tell when it’s not one of those days with Bonhomme anymore.
Once in a very rare while, we have a good day, and I recognize, cherish it as such.
I have made it this far simply waiting for one stage to pass, for him to grow out of one hurdle and into another. But now, I feel the need to face the distinct possibility that it isn’t just ages and stages. It isn’t necessarily just because he’s two, or three, or four. This sensitive, passionate, willful creature will likely always require delicate handling.
ADHD, if that does turn out to be his (our) lot, is a developmental delay disorder. It basically means that certain characteristics come more slowly for some. There isn’t a parent in this world who doesn’t understand about differential development, so, I’m not all that concerned about the possibility. We got game, parenting-wise – we can take this ball and run with it, analyze the heck out of it, throw every tool in the book at it. The real concern with ADHD is the difficulty interacting with other kids, and the long-term harm that can come from that. Regardless, he’s too young to be tested, poked and prodded, diagnosed. For now, we keep on doing what we’re doing, with a few tweaks here and there to cut down on screen time, focus more on nutrition and sleep and physical activity, start working on attention-span exercises. The goal is to have him be able to handle the longer sitting and concentration required in first grade, a year and a half from now.
Small comfort to a tired parent, but then, what parent isn’t tired?
I’ve started measuring my days with Bonhomme not in how many times he loses it, but in how many times I don’t.
And I’m doing pretty good. Not great, and certainly not all the time, but pretty good.
Raising Bonhomme reminds me that patience is a practice.
A caring one.

In Tune

This morning, I experienced perfection.
That feeling of floating awareness, of being in the self, but not of the self, that moment of “Yes!”.
I get it during a good yoga pose, while painting, when finding the right puzzle piece, near the end of a decent workout.
Today, it happened while singing the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah. Five hundred voices and an organ with pipes two stories high. We’d been practicing for two hours; the most wondrous way to spend a Saturday morning. It’d been going okay, with missed notes and tricky passages and certain pieces I’d never sung before. My lungs were tired, having coughed every few bars. My bronchitis, as usual, always has the worst timing. But, I was there.
We were wrapping up, and the conductor wanted to end with a bang. The organ starts, and the song is unmistakable; like Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, it’s built into my bloodstream, beating in time with my pulse. And then, the voices. All of us at once, a wave crashing ashore. Yes.
I floated home, to unpacked grocery bags and hungry children, with a choir singing inside my head.
Bonhomme was a basketcase. He’d stayed up too late last night, gotten up too early this morning, was fighting my cold. It’s a good thing the friends we had over were our best friends, and had already seen all his worst behaviour before, because he brought it all out for a full-day display. But I, floating already, could withstand it, bend with it, give him the patience he needed. “In trying times, keep trying,” I read on a church billboard recently. I smiled at it at the time. I thanked it today.
At bedtime, hiccupping and sniffling and pouting and snuggling, I whispered to Bonhomme:
“Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow will be better.”
“No it won’t, Momma! I always have hard days! I always just cry!”
“No, Darling, you don’t always. Sometimes you have hard moments, and today you had an awful lot of them. You’re a sensitive person, like me, and that’s never easy. But you’re also creative, and clever, and lots of fun, and you just need to learn why you’re feeling yucky sometimes, so that you can know that at those times, you have to be extra kind and patient with yourself. So today, you were tired. Your body hadn’t had enough sleep, and you felt everything more intensely because of that. So that made everything harder – you bumped into things more often, it hurt more when you did, you had a shorter temper and couldn’t negotiate and share and play nicely with Sunshine and Rainbow. Everything was the end of the world all day long. It was a hard day.”
“Yahhhhhh…!” More tears.
“Yes it was. But, tomorrow is a new day. It can’t possibly be as bad as today was. Tomorrow will be better. When I have hard days – because, you know, I have days too when I feel like crying all day, and I’m grumpy, and my body hurts all over, and I lose my temper.”
“You do?”
“Sure I do! And I bet you notice when I’m grumpy.”
“But I try to be patient with myself on those days. I remind myself that I am having a hard day that day, and that tomorrow will be better. I make that into a promise for myself – I do myself that favour. So, I’d like you to do yourself, and me, that favour too. Say it with me. Tomorrow will be better.”
Mumble. Snuggle. Sigh.
“Say it with me, Love. Tomorrow will be better.”
Silence beside me. Handel’s Messiah in my head.
I whisper in his ear: “I love you on your bad days too, you know. I love you when you’re good, and I love you when you’re grumpy. I love you today, and I’ll love you tomorrow, no matter what tomorrow’s like. Now try making that promise – tomorrow will be better.”
“Tomorrow will be better,” he whispers.
“Tomorrow will be better,” I whisper back.