Archive for the ‘parenting’ 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.

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Miles still to go

So, we went to Toronto for the weekend.

Partly to celebrate our umpteenth anniversary, partly to practice traveling with a baby again (prior to our upcoming trip to Iqaluit for Christmas, where pharmacies and Tim Hortons’ are not just around the corner), and partly to get Bonhomme up the CN Tower.

We’ve come back aged.

How is it that our 6-and-a-half-year-old was at least 3 times harder than our 8-month-old? With the baby, we had disrupted naps to contend with, strange hotel sounds at night, a playpen that barely got slept in, hunting for solid foods that she could eat, hours stuck in a car seat, poopy bums, soaked bibs and constant overstimulation. And yet, she was easy. Our angel child. Happy to go with the flow, smiling at every stranger she met, ready for anything. With the big kid, everything was a battle. He’d argue over whether or not he needed to blow his nose.

Bonhomme couldn’t, and can’t, listen to a single instruction or thoughtfully worded request without questioning it, complaining about it, redefining it, arguing about it, whining about it, interrupting AND then either forgetting or ignoring to actually do it. Like going potty before leaving the hotel room. Washing his hands after going potty. Washing his face after getting half his meal all over it. Putting his socks on. Picking up his towel. Not letting go of the stroller. Not getting into an elevator without a parent. Holding hands on unfamiliar streets. Telling us he had to go potty when we were in the car BEFORE it became an emergency. Using his quiet voice in restaurants. When playing in the pool, he had to dictate, and then control every aspect of his complicated little game – plain old tag would never do. Everything was to be discussed, denied, explained, described, by Bonhomme. Out. Loud.

Stopping to get a small snack to tide us over until dinnertime was a scene. Tossing a ball about was a disaster. Waiting for ANYTHING was torture.

With Hibou, everything is simple. With Bonhomme, nothing is.

I am becoming resigned to simply waiting until age 6 is over. Maximizing our son’s time spent with other people, activities outside of home, away from we parents – since we have somehow, mysteriously, become The Enemy. Nasty, boring, endlessly repetitive Enforcers Of Doom.

This morning, chatting with Grampa about his weekend, Bonhomme excitedly described how the wind almost pushed him over at the almost top of the CN Tower, and then gleefully explained that he hadn’t gone higher to do the Edge Walk harnessed like a rock climber hundreds of meters above the ground because his dad was too scared.

Was it worth it? Will he remember the whining, and the yelling, and the crying? Or playing with gravity at the Science Center? The nagging, or the endless watersliding at the hotel? Will he remember the dozens of train tracks and the skyscrapers, or just that his little sister chewed on his stuffed penguin?

As I puzzle over why I feel not just exhausted and disappointed, but saddened by our adventurous weekend, I realize that it’s that my daughter makes me feel so competent, and my son makes me feel so incompetent, and I fear that it will always be so.

We’ve proven that we can travel with a baby just fine. It’s the big kids you have to watch out for – and each other, when your kids have eaten, and eaten, and eaten away at you. When we are not our best selves as parents, we are most definitely not our best selves as spouses.

This is why we celebrate anniversaries (although preferably without the children along). Not to acknowledge where we are, but to acknowledge where we’ve come from. Years and years of living life together.

We’ll remember the whining. And the cost. And the traffic, and the emergency potty breaks, and the poor sleep. But I’ll also remember my first cup of hot, strong coffee at the breakfast buffet, and the sight of Hibou bonelessly passed out on the bed as we pack later that morning, and both Dearest and I nauseated as both kids sprawled on their stomachs looking down through the glass floor of the CN Tower. This is certainly one anniversary we won’t forget. One more reason to toast “We did it!”.

Today, the morning after the anniversary trip, home, sitting in a cozy chair sipping tea and listening to CBC Radio while the rest of my family is either napping, at school or at work, I can appreciate this. I can appreciate the years that have come and gone, and the years that await. Like Hibou, who cooed in delight in rediscovering HER toys, and HER high chair, and HER change table and kitchen floor and crib, I too can most appreciate the presence of familiarity, of home, from its absence. Memories are always better when you’re not in the midst of making them.

I’m left with a small bit of hard-earned wisdom from this grueling weekend: when going on a road trip, like it or not, the whining comes with you.

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.

The Now

Driving, I catch myself staring at the utter perfection of a clump of wildflowers growing in unrestrained abundance by the roadside.

Sleepless, I find myself thinking of the photos I haven’t printed, the thankyou cards I haven’t written, the quilts I haven’t finished and the ones I haven’t started. I gaze at Bonhomme’s sleepy toothless vampire grin, two insomniacs in the kitchen. My freckles make a constellation across his perfect face. He is the most beautiful art I have ever made.

Last night I watched Hibou fuss herself to sleep in the baby swing, wondering whether I was doing her irreparable harm by not swinging her to sleep in my own deadened arms.

I can’t seem to escape the moment. Now is the only time accessible to me, screaming, whining, tired now. Where everything is immediate, bright, loud and close. And also warm, and soft, and smelling of freshly washed baby hair.

As lovely as those wildflowers are, I could use some distance. Some perspective. When paying attention to the road is something I do, not something I have to work at.

Until then, I will keep reminding myself to enjoy the now. Someday, sleep will be effortless again, the moments will slip past unheeded.

A week later, picking strawberries with Bonhomme, I relive my own childhood while creating his. The taste of a freshly picked strawberry in my mouth is sunshine, dirt, and my mother. This, and so many others, is a moment too precious to miss.

That afternoon, I turn that sunshine into strawberry pie, and marvel at the utter perfection of my messy, noisy, crowded, upside-down and abundant life. My life is a clump of tangled wildflowers, and I stare, and smell, and devour it.

Wordless

I don’t have a lot of words these days. Not for lack of trying. But my stories and poetry come in colours and sounds and textures now, and only half-formed, at that. I am adrift in sensations.

But there are lilacs on my table, and painted fabric in my basement. A half-embroidered the-shirt for Hibou next to my chair, and Bonhomme’s wet soccer ball on a pile of muddy shoes. There are two unfinished quilts on my couch, and four more in my sewing chest, and a sleeping baby on my lap. My home is full of dreams.

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.

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.
Soon.

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 Inevitable Fall From Grace

The darkness has come again, and I am lost in it,
out of tune,
unstrung.
Uninvited tears flood as I struggle to ask a friend to take Bonhomme for the afternoon.
“She’s not fit to be a mother.”
“Look at her, falling apart.”
“What’s she crying about? Because someone else needs to mother her son for her? Because she has to ask? Because she has the gall to?”
“Not fit.”
These are the whispers of my heart music, discordant, insistent, endless.
I cry without reason, without warning, without relief.
I beg.
Make it go away.
Let this period of my life be over.
Please make this song end, let me move on.
There is no rhyme or rhythm, just this pathetic, soaked-pillow begging.
Alone.
Lost.
I am too lost to look up,
to look up from my bed,
from my feet.
I stare at them, deadened, and watch my feet take one stumbling step, and then another.
I have no idea where they are going –
I have only the bleak knowledge that they must go.
This is the only answer my prayers get:
no matter the music,
time still marches on.