Archive for the ‘children’ Tag

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.


The Wet Literalist

“If you like chocolate ice cream, jump in the pool!”
I can hear the lifeguard’s enthusiastic voice shouting over the other half-dozen swimming classes, in the stuffy din of the public pool. I look up from my sudoku to see three classmates happily splashing into the water, and Bonhomme standing steadfastedly on the side.
The three little fishes bellyflop their way onto the ledge and out of the pool, standing dripping on the side in a line, ready to jump in again.
“If you like strawberry ice cream, jump in the pool!”
Three big yummy splashes. One determined boy still standing tall.
“If you like vanilla cake all covered in icing and rainbow sprinkles, JUMP in the pool!”
Still standing.
“If you like warm flaky apple pie, jump IN the POOL!”
The lifeguard’s voice is getting shriller. And louder. Still, three big splashes and one intent, standing, boy. She goes over to the side to chat.
“What’s the matter Bonhomme, don’t you like dessert?”
“I do! I love dessert! You just haven’t asked whether anyone likes strawberry whipped cream cake! Or lemon meringue pie! If you’d said chocolate-mint-grasshopper gelato, I would so totally jump in. Oh yeah, I love gelato. Mmmm. And hazelnut-chocolate butter cream cake, I’d eat that. Yeah, and my mom’s blueberry-strawberry pie, or her sweet potato pie, or Toblerone chocolate, or a KitKat. Or really, any kind of dark chocolate, especially the mint kind. But definitely strawberry whipped cake, that’s my favorite. Yah. Can you call that, so I can jump in with everybody, please? Strawberry whipped cream cake, that’s what it’s called. Or vanilla cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream on top, you could say that too. Can we have that?”
She stands there, up to her waist in water, and listens patiently to the entire explanation. The other three kids stand dripping, looking around, watching all the other classes splashing about, bouncing on their toes and waiting for the next dessert to get called so that they can jump in the water. Any kind of cookie would do for them. Rice Krispies squares. Candy. But, not my son. He’s not going to be taken in on subversively learning swimming skills and gaining comfort in the water, no. He’s looking for specifics. He won’t compromise his Foodie principles, not even in swimming class.
“If you like strawberry vanilla cake with whipped cream icing, JUMP IN THE POOL!”
Four happy, enthusiastic, large wet splashes.
One relieved lifeguard.
And one slightly embarrassed, mostly bemused, very resigned mom.

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.

Hope springs eternal

The pieces of me are slowly drifting back together. Not quite, like my hip chafing in its socket, but a closer fit than I’ve had in over a year.

I feel whole. Jumbled, perhaps, with some grinding and grating and shifting, but whole. Strongly myself.

Bonhomme was in Iqaluit with our family, these past couple of weeks, leaving Dearest and I to rediscover ourselves as new parents again, just us and the baby. We still feel a touch guilty for enjoying it quite so much, this vacation from our son. But it made me realize how with Bonhomme gone, a very large part of me was missing. Only once he was back home did I feel complete, secure in the world again.

This is what our children do to us. They enter our lives squalling, their vibrations shaking us apart at the seams, and then rebuild us, redesign us until we barely recognize our own new shapes. Filled with their noise, their needs, we lump around until it all settles into some sort of recognizable new structure, now needing to be loved and squeezed and lived in by tenants other than just ourselves.

I never knew myself until I knew my children.

The days are brighter now, the sun warmer on my comfortably worn skin. I delight in this fresh growing season, the spring green surprising me each day. Now every spring will be shared. Completely.

The return of words

There’s poetry in my head again, and the hum of a lullaby looping.
The sun peeks out at me through these snowy days, flirting, whispering “soon, soon“.
Melancholy shifts over me, a loose cloak, never quite settling, never quite lifting. But the hum, incessant, pulls me along to its rhythm. Relentlessly warm and comforting.
Hibou eats, and sleeps, and peers at me in wonder. I do the same. She finds peace in my heartbeat, I in her breath. We orbit each other, learning, and relearnng, this dance.
I rediscover the sound of quiet. The shape of the middle of the night. The hope of a newly opened blind, calling out to the day to begin, inviting light.
The poetry comes in fragments, still, single phrases flitting briefly by. But I hear their passing, I feel their wings brush my cheek.

My cup runneth over

Bonhomme is a big brother: enter Hibou.

She is a delight. And other than his eyes and shoulders, she is nothing at all like her brother.

She sleeps. She eats. She settles. None of which Bonhomme did. Now, he did have the monopoly on movie star looks, I’ll give him that. Not that Hibou doesn’t hold her own, but to me, it is her demeanor that is stunning.

I finally understand how people can have siblings that are close in age, by choice. “Every baby’s different,” they kept telling me. I just thought they were lying, or forgetting, or conspiring. And even if they weren’t, what if they were wrong? Based on my experience with Bonhomme, I knew I needed my stamina and fortitude well renewed. What a wonder to have all that worry be unnecessary.

I’m sure there are many new and unexpected challenges ahead. But even today, in the midst of hormones doing their tectonic post-birth shift, Hibou gives me hope and gratitude overflowing.

We’re not out of the woods yet, I know – there’s a ways to go recovery-wise, and while there are moments of bliss, there are moments of a whole lot of other things too. But this child is a miracle through and through, no matter how long or hard the road has been to get here, or from here it wends.

Bienvenue, Hibou.

Big Thoughts

“Mommy, are you proud of me for taking my own shower this morning?”
“Love, I am so proud that I barely even have words. I’m amazed. I’m astounded. Let me smell that sweet hair again.”
He giggles as I sniff his neck, confirming that he did, in fact, actually take his shower, with soap.
“And, I got dressed by myself, and made my own breakfast before you even woke up!”
I will most certainly qualify a half-eaten bowl of soggy shreddies as adequately nutritious on this auspicious morning.
“And look at how pleasant this morning has been, with no rushing, and no nagging and no yelling. And you got to watch TV for a while too!”
“Yup! I’m big now.”
“Yes, getting ready for the day all by yourself is a very grown-up thing to do. I’m very, very proud of you.”
“You know why?”
“Why, Love?”
“Cause you have to be able to take your own shower when you go to M.I.T.!”
“Well, yes, that’s very helpful. Definitely an asset.”
“Yup! That’s what I am! An asset!”
And humming, future world-changing (and hygienic) scientist and I, hand in hand, go.

The Outer Critic

“I like Daddy’s singing better.”
A moment of silence, as we cuddle in the bed.
This is due, I know, to the fact that Daddy sings The Penguin Song, and The Turtle Song, and The Penguin And Turtle Song, wherein Bonhomme’s stuffed turtle and various penguin family members bob and weave and tickle and sing along to the ever-changing storyline.
And due to the fact that Mommy sings lullabies. In French. And hums classics like Ode To Joy and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. And is often too tired, after 14 hours with Bonhomme, to make more shit up.
And so, Daddy scores.
There go thirty years of choral training, lost to the popular vote of the five-year-old demographic.

Stormy Weather

A hoarse whisper, a nudge, a shake.
“Momma! I think Kitty’s under my bed!”
It’s not quite 6 o’clock yet, the window dark, my brain numb.
Louder, more insistent.
“The storm’s banging things around outside,” mumbles Dearest, helpfully. He rolls back over and starts to snore.
“Momma, I heard her! Come see, come see!”
Kitty’s been dead now for a year and a half.
I untangle myself from the rucked-up sheets, product of a restless night thanks to the baby tucked inside my belly, and stumble, three-quarters asleep, to Bonhomme’s room.
Every light from the kitchen to his bed is on.
He leads me, hopping excitedly from foot to foot, as the wind rushes wildly outside.
I sit on the bed, rubbing the sleep away.
Bonhomme lies wriggling on his belly, flashlight aimed under the bed, and peers.
“There’s got to be a cat around here somewhere,” he mutters.
“Honey, Sweetheart – get up off the floor.”
“Maybe behind that box,” he mumbles, twisting.
“What, Momma?”
“There’s a big storm outside this morning. Can you hear it?”
The thick, insulated doors are rattling, the plate rack is knocking, the neighbour’s dog is barking. The branches are rubbing, creaking, groaning. A ball rolls around the patio, incessantly bumping.
“You hear those strange sounds outside your window?”
“Well, there’s a big storm. A really big one. A hurricane.”
“Sometimes, Love, storms can be so big that they reach really far, and blow all sorts of things around. This one’s come all the way from the ocean.”
Hurricane Sandy, stretching its long, grasping fingers, has reached here, Ottawa, Ontario. Even our inland city, nestled in its valley, as far within the North American North East as it is feasibly possible to be and still be defined as such, isn’t immune.
“Yup. And those are the strange sounds you’re hearing, Love. The wind is really powerful today. Honey, it’s not Kitty. Kitty’s not here. She’s been gone for a long, long time. She’s not hiding under your bed.”
He wraps his impossibly long arms around me, and nestles his face in my neck.
“I know, Honey. I miss her too,” I whisper.
He nods, sniffling.
“I want a cat.”
“I know. Me too.”
“Can we get one? A new cat?”
“Mommy and Daddy have been talking about it. We think maybe, yes. In the spring, after Baby’s arrived.”
“For your birthday?”
“Maybe for your birthday, Love.”
“Maybe for your birthday?” he looks up at me, hopefully, knowing full well that my birthday comes a month sooner than his.
“We can talk about it.”
And he’s off, hopping again, twirling about the room before dashing off to the livingroom to whatever pretending awaits him there.
I sit on his bed awhile longer, bemused, my heart a tangled knot, listening to the restless tail end of night.
Later, walking back from the school bus drop-off, the sky winks strange glints of light as the dark clouds race by.
Geese struggle through the sky, barely lifting, hurtling hopelessly out of formation.
A lawn maintenance crew races to attack piles of leaves, their early morning shift scheduled, the weather, not.
My balance lurches, unsteady as I am these days with my belly-centric walk.
The fey, Southern wind, unseasonably warm, wraps itself around everything.
Some storms are not easily diminished by time or distance.
Valleys, soft comforting arms, aren’t always shelter enough.
Some storms reach, touch, tangle us all.

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.