We can focus on what’s wrong in our life,
or we can focus on what’s right.
Is there anything in your life that you wish you could just hold on to forever? Moments you wish you could stash away in a little bottle and open it whenever you needed a reminder of the truly important things? A magic elixir that would bring a smile to your face if you opened it?
Here is my current list:
Everything at this stage: the smell, the smiles, the giggles, the way he wakes up staring into my eyes and it’s like he remembers how safe and cozy he is and falls back asleep, the soft and squishy skin, the pudgy hands, the baby’s breath, the leaps and bounds he makes in learning everyday as infants miraculously do, the way he is sleeps snuggled in his wrap close to my body, the little spot of skin where his neck meets his upper back (“the sausages”), and his little blocks of feet. Yummy, yummo, yummilicious.
Have a great weekend!
The latest philosophical discussion during dinner:
#3 staring at her glass of water intently: “Mama? Why is water called water? And…why are beans ‘beans’? …And what about boxes? Why ‘boxes’?”
After experiencing one too many category-5 tantrums from #4 today, my mind was mush. With each tantrum, it feels like a part of my brain that is in charge of patience, empathy, and pure logic is slowly disintegrating.
Me with a sigh and a look of forlorn: “I don’t know. No idea. I got nothing. Nada.”
I see her disappointed look and I add: “Well….maybe someone a long time ago decided to name everything and they came up with names for everything.”
#2 adds: “Yeah! Like before we were born. A really really long time ago, before there were words, so the first people had to name everything. Maybe when we were stars. Because we were stars before you know. We are made of stars.”
#3: “What? Like a superstar?” (She gets up from the dinner table and does a pose as if to have a microphone in her hand while the other hand is up in the air waving to an imaginary audience.) “Or a star from the sky star?” (She quickly changes poses to a mid-jumping jack star pose.)
#2: “A sky star.”
#3: “Awwwww. I’d rather been a superstar.”
Me: “You probably were.”
Two weekends ago:
Me to the kids: “So tomorrow we are going to a secret wedding. No one knows about it and I’m not going to say anymore on the subject.”
#1: “Who’s getting married? Wait…is it you and Dad?”
Me: “God, no. Once is enough. I’m not telling.”
All: “Pleeease! Give us a clue!”
Me: “Ok, it’s going to be a man and a woman getting married.”
#1: “That’s a given! Or not. It could have been two men or two women. Right.”
Me thinking: “I love raising my kids in the city.”
Me: “I’m not going to tell you because I was sworn to secrecy. You’ll see tomorrow.”
The next day…
We get to the church and it’s completely empty. The kids are even more confused. Ever-Patient and I feel both overdressed. I tell him that as the matron of honour I should look presentable and take a break from my current uniform of jogging pants and T-Shirt. The kids are wearing their holiday outfits because we are on a spending freeze and I hardly think that new clothes are pre-requisites for attending a secret wedding (though #3 disagrees). The couple arrives and we get the party started…
The happy couple is my mother and step-father getting married in a Catholic Church. Long story and frankly, it’s a story that is not mine to tell. I can say that it was a secret because my mother wanted to avoid hoopla and all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds every event in our large extended family.
Here’s a pic with the kids (still confused), Ever-Patient, and my brothers attending the nuptials. My brother is the best man and I am the matron of honour, I guess…though technically, we’re just witnesses which I prefer to matron-of-honour since it sounds like I am a 60 year old woman wearing a large hat.
After the “you may kiss the bride” part which sealed the deal (and grossed out all the attendees), we took a family pic with the priest who insisted that Ever-Patient include the WHOLE crucifix in the background of the photo, which confused the kids even more…
Then we went for brunch and never spoke of the secret wedding again.
This March Break I slammed on the brakes. We braked for the break.
My new favourite book to read to the kids (and of course, act out) is “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” said the Sloth by Jane Goodall and Eric Carle.
Here is what the back cover says:
Why are we always in such a hurry? Rush. Rush. Rush. We scurry from here and there. We play computer games and then – quick! click! – we watch TV. We eat fast food. Everyone tells us to make it snappy! Hurry up! Time is flying! Step on it! There’s so little time just to be with friends, to watch a sunset or gaze at a star-filled sky. Ah, what we could learn – even if just a little – from the gentle sloth who slowly, slowly, slowly crawls along a branch of a tree, eats a little, sleeps a lot, and lives in peace. – Eric Carle
This past week I made a conscious effort to break from planning, programming, adhering to a schedule. We winged most days and those were probably the most gloriously free and delightful ones.
I took my cues from the kids. For example, one day we planned to go for a long neighbourhood walk one morning. As the kids were getting ready, I was waiting for them while playing with the baby on my bed. I started to wonder what was taking them so long and took a peek into the middle bedroom. I was careful to not be seen by them because an appearance by mom always interrupts their imaginative play…as if reality has spoiled their fantastical world. I decided to let them play together as long as possible rather than rush them to get ready so we can go for our relaxing walk. After an hour, they came into my room and said, “We’re ready to go!” During that hour, I was able to watch #5 discover his feet and roll back and forth and read a book. A short time ago, I would have looked out the window and lamented that we were wasting a beautiful day by staying inside. This time I let the day unfold naturally and both the kids and I were better for it. During our walk, we had no destination. At first the kids balked at this no-destination, aimless-walking idea. As we kept walking, they began to create their own purpose for the walk. #2 was on a hunt for “special” rocks to add to her already burgeoning collection and #3 brought along her magical walking stick and was determined to do her best not to walk on the sidewalk, trying to find ledges to climb and balance on or “mini-sidewalks” beside the sidewalk. #4, still recovering from a nasty cough, was content to sit in the wagon and direct her sisters to pick up items for her along the way.
#1 had slept over at her cousin’s house for two nights and was meeting us at a lunch with my grandfather and other family members – the lone planned event of the week. We ended up spending time at my mom’s house after with all the kids – my own, my cousins, my brothers – going to the park together for 5 hours. My mother and aunts took turns with the baby while I read my book. The kids came back and were eager to tell me stores about their adventures – who pushed who on the swings, my brother teaching #1 how to skateboard, playing a number of unstructured games, kicking around the soccer ball, and playing basketball. Free play together, ages 2 to 19. We ended up going out for dinner with more family joining us at an empty Chinese restaurant. Three tables full of eating, laughing, catching up. I could hear everyone at the “kids table” say, “Who touched the shrimp or the lobster?” They all know #2 has severe allergies to nuts and shellfish so they were exercising caution with what utensils to use for dishes she was going to eat from. I took a moment to just sit back and watch and listen. I looked over at the “adults table” and listened to them laughing and watched my grandfather grinning from ear to ear. I looked over at my kids at their table and watched how the big kids were caring for the little ones. I listened at my table, “the bigger kids’ table,” as we talked about growing older, job prospects, and the food and I remembered how we all played in the park for hours on end only to eat dinner together at the kids’ table 20 years ago.
Ever-patient rarely works in the evening but this past Wednesday he had to work. I decided to take the 4 kids (#1 was in Guelph cheering on her cousin in a soccer tournament) to the ROM because it was free for an hour that evening. We rode the subway which in and of itself is always an adventure for the kids. We ended up getting into the museum for free a half an hour earlier. There were less people and the kids were able to run around and spend time in some of their favourite spots. #2 loves the precious gem and mineral collection especially the meterorites. #3 loves the dinosaurs. #5 was asleep in the wrap and #4 (not feeling 100% but good enough to sit in a stroller) was happy to dig in the sand in the mock archaeological dig in the kids’ area. Ever-Patient eventually met up with us and we ventured into the bat cave all together and enjoyed an evening stroll in the mild weather after the museum closed down.
On Friday, my father decided to take the kids out for the day and for a sleepover. Ever-patient and I found ourselves with a free day. We decided to buy an all-day pass for the public transit and go wherever the day would take us. It was a strange yet wonderful sensation to not have a known destination or agenda for the day. We walked, we ate, we talked, we traveled, and we walked some more. And the baby slept or faced forward in the wrap and looked around. Without having to hurry to Point A, I was able to notice obscure shops, observe interesting people, and overhear absurd conversations that made me laugh out loud.
This year March Break meant something else to me. It wasn’t going to be about planning a vacation, planning camps, or planning things “to do” with the kids to keep them occupied. It was a break from rushing to the next thing, a break from schedules, a break from living in the future tense. It was exactly what the kids needed and it happened to be cost-effective. They spent time with family at sleepovers and engaged in impromptu outdoor activities. Whenever the kids were playing together inside or outside, I read books instead of stressing over household chores or checking email (I think I checked it once this week). It seemed that time came to a stand-still for the first time in a long time.
I write in my journal and the kids often mimic me. The other day I overheard #3 say the following as she pretended to write in a pretend book: “Dear Diarrhea, today was a good day.” We laugh, she smiles and keeps going. I love how the kids remind me that life doesn’t have to be so serious all the time and the slower you go, the more you realize it.
(I hardly took pictures this week preferring to just enjoy the moment..sometimes bringing the camera out seems like an intrusion and inevitable interferes with the kids’ natural reactions.)
Ok. Maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic.
But books do save my sanity.
The kids and I go to the library every week and we borrow 10-12 books of their choosing. Some books capture their attention more than others but we read them all. (Although we have 3 copies of “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown, #4 still insists on reading at the library and borrowing it.)
Before #3 goes to school in the afternoon, while lunch is in the oven, we read. #5 normally nurses or sleeps while #3 and #4 sit next to me and hand me book after book. After school, while dad is prepping dinner, the same thing happens but now #2 has also joined my little audience. It’s become a routine. Library books in the day and their own books at bedtime.
How have books saved my sanity? Reading to my children calms them down and allows me a few minutes to sit and be present with them. Books inspire creative endeavours. For example, just recently we have been reading Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems. We’ve read this book dozens of times in the last year but it’s amazing how another read-through can spark an idea in the kids. #2 decided she wanted to make a little book that mimicked the illustration style in the book. The cartoon illustrations in the book are placed on top of black and white photos of backdrops in New York City. She’s currently mapping out her story and what type of photos she’d like to take for her backgrounds. Then she wants to draw her characters on paper and glue them onto the photos. This has kept her busy for the last few days. #3 wants to dramatize the story and has already cast the entire family into various roles (#4 is thrilled with her part as the teacher, though she is taking some artistic license with the character – she thinks she can boss her sisters around throughout the entire story when in fact she just has to mediate a conflict).
#1 and #2 love reading now. I’ve never pressured them into learning how to read because I’ve seen how forcing a child to sound out a word when they’re not ready just leads to frustration and tears (and I’m not talking about the child!). The result: they never want to try it again. I now leave books all over the house at various reading levels and I have found that the kids pick them up without any prompting from me. I don’t believe that there is a magical age children should be reading and writing by. I take my cues from them. When #2 was home last year, #3 wanted to master recognizing her numbers and letters just by copying her sister. #2 was obsessed with this book. She loved how letters were used to create images and objects and how different typefaces changed the shape of a letter. Each time she didn’t recognize a letter, I would “sound” the letter out for her and she would create a little picture only using that letter. #3 would become interested and would start identifying letters even in script form. We would construct bumblebees out of ‘B’ and ‘b’ and fairies out of ‘F’ and ‘f.’ On their own, they began to associate the letters and their respective sounds. We also have this large poster in our house with which the kids love to sing their ABCs.
Books are great jumping off points for conversations and introductions to new perspectives, ideas, and experiences. I read at least 3 books at a time. There is one on my bedside table, one on the coffee table, and one in the basement. I pick them up whenever I have a few minutes and read as much as I can. Being at home, I would often find that conversations with my husband started sounding the same when he asked me about my day: all about the kids. I missed learning new things and just having an opinion about something. In winter especially I tend to forget there is a world out there with other people in it. (I am currently reading this book, this book, and this book.) Passion for reading is infectious. The kids see me read and follow suit…even if it’s them grabbing any book and “reading” through making up the story and mimicking how I read.
Lately, they’ve been reading a lot to each other. For example, last night Ever-Patient went out to play volleyball. I was exhausted and fell asleep on the couch with #5. I woke up in a panic not knowing how long I had dozed off for and was uneasy because the house was just a little too quiet. I went upstairs to find the kids all cuddled in #3’s bed while #1 was reading books to the rest of them. It was beautiful. I watched for awhile and left them before they could see or hear me.
I crept back downstairs and curled up on the couch and started reading a book.
#2 has become notorious for asking difficult questions. She is observant, analytical, curious, insightful, and extremely thoughtful. As she continues to hone her reading skills, she has discovered new worlds and her zest for learning has expanded exponentially.
Whenever she reads to me, she often pauses to absorb the information she has just read. For example, yesterday she was reading a book about sharks and I was listening to her. She stopped after she read a section on “cartilage.” She paused and I knew what she was going to ask. “Mom, what’s cartilage?” Being sleep-deprived is never a good quality to have during these question-and-answer periods. The only frame of reference I had with respect to the subject on cartilage was getting my ears pierced. When I was a teenager, I wanted to get that top portion of my ear pierced and was afraid of the ensuing pain. I was reassured that it was only “cartilage” by some friends, therefore the pain would be minimal. I realized the source of my fear wasn’t the pain I was going to receive from the act of piercing but from my mother on discovering the piercing so I never went through with it. I showed #2 the example of cartilage by tugging on her ear and she noted that it wasn’t as hard as bone and she was satisfied. As usual, I braced myself for tougher questions. She started to read about the importance of fins and the tail of a shark. Apparently, they are integral to the shark keeping balanced and for steering. She paused again. “What happens when they sleep? Do they drown? And how do they breathe?” The only answer I had at this point: “They breathe through those slits on the side of their head.” She replied, “I know that Mom, but how???” I thought to myself: “Here we go.” I told her that we would research the answers to her questions but she was already reading the next page and preparing more questions. “Sharks eat sea lions. What are those?” I said, “They’re like seals.” I think?? She fires back, “What’s the difference?” I shrug my shoulders and add it to our list of research.
All this in only the first 15 minutes she had been home from school.
#2 has a passion for the solar system, celestial bodies, and space in general. She has a large astronomy book filled with big words that she loves to peruse. She loves the pictures but now has started to try to read it. I don’t discourage the kids by saying a book is too hard nor do I praise them. I just leave them be. I remember how thrilled she was when she read her first big word in that book. She yelled, “Asteroid! Its says asteroid!!!” When she first started to learn about the Earth and the universe, she could not stop thinking about it. She would ask us to go on websites, take out books from the library, and even just stay on our porch and observe the shape of the moon (“It’s a half moon tonight, Mom.”) One day, in the bath with her sisters, she was quiet and I could almost hear the wheels turning in her head. I asked, “What are you thinking about?” She said, “Stars.” Then she followed up with a couple of whoppers, “What are stars made of? What is the universe made of? What are we made of? Are we made of the same things as stars?” Amazing. I marveled how she made these connections in her mind. All I could do was nod my head and defer the discussion because her sisters’ fingers were shriveled up like raisins already. And of course she asked, “Why do they shrivel up?”
I came across this poster that reminded me of our conversation which I want to buy for her birthday:
Poster from My Little Underground
Yesterday evening, after Ever-Patient left for volleyball with #1, I cuddled on the couch with the 4. #3, #4, and #5 all fell asleep and I asked #2 if she wanted to watch a bit of TV with me before bed. She snuggled up next to me and we ended up flipping to Oprah who was interviewing Colin Firth and Tom Ford about their new movie, “A Single Man.” I watched #2 watching. Her forehead wrinkled as she tried to understand the subject matter. She heard a phrase that espoused the significance of the “present moment.” She asked, “What’s ‘the present moment’?” I answered, “Right now. This very instant we’re talking and your siblings are asleep. Yesterday or even 5 minutes ago is called the past and tomorrow or even 5 minutes from now is the future. Can we change what happened in the past?” She paused and said, “No.” And I asked her, “Can we guess what’s going to happen tomorrow?” She paused and said “No.” And I told her a saying that a friend had told me, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow’s a mystery. Today’s a gift and that’s why they call it the Present.” She still looked unsure but whenever she encounters new ideas, she talks it out to try and grasp the concept. She began, “So…when you get a gift, you don’t know what is inside…is that like the Present? Because you don’t know what can happen the next moment? So each moment is like a gift waiting to be opened? Just like how we’re talking and I’m learning something new?”
I started to well up and feel a lump in my throat. It had only taken me almost 30 years to figure out this secret to happiness that my 6.5 year old had deduced in a matter of minutes. I reaffirmed her discovery and we sit in quiet. I watch her and am grateful of the lessons her and her siblings teach me every day. Children are more intuitive and more than capable of handling philosophical conversations than we give them credit for. The key is not to dismiss or ignore a potential discussion that if encouraged, could lead them (and you) to gaining an insight into the truth about things and about human nature.
I hope to put the following Walt Whitman poem up in our house:
This is what you shall do:
love the earth and sun, and animals,
despise riches, give alms to every one that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence towards the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men;
go freely with the powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and mothers,
of families: read these leaves in the open air every season
of every year of your life:
re-examine all you have been told at school or church,
or in any books, and
dismiss whatever insults your soul.
Thank you for our question-and-answer periods. I envy your tenacity and thoughtfulness. You truly are more of a teacher than I am. I hope your questions never stop.)
We kicked off our family year of “ADVENTURE” with our month of vegetarianism for the month of February. Tonight we ate at a restaurant to celebrate our accomplishment. We ate meat for the first time in 28 days and had an informal post-mortem meeting. The kids’ chests swelled with pride as they talked about their vegetarian experience and what they learned. In the end, we all decided that we would remain omnivores but reduce our overall intake of meat by half and continue to eat a large portion of veggies, lentils, and beans. (As an aside, we did save money on food after we tallied the grocery bills.)
I was in the art store the other day buying felt for the kids’ valentine’s day craft when #2 wanted to purchase other items. I told her that we didn’t have enough money right now and she said, “Just go to the bank.” I started reciting my little lecture about money including the “money doesn’t grow on trees” rant. Instantly I knew what our next family challenge would be.
This month we are exploring MONEY: teaching the kids the value of money, introducing financial tools like budgeting, defining purchasing power, investigating the importance of bartering versus using money, discussing the good/bad value judgments of the concept of money, and balancing want versus need when you have a finite amount of money.
The big challenge we have set for our family is to limit our spending this month to $100. This doesn’t include groceries or our fixed expenses including mortgage, cable, phone, utilities, insurance. The $100 includes toiletries, gas, school expenses, gifts, restaurant bills, and any other incidentals. (We are not counting tonight’s meal.) Part of this will be including the children on our expenditure planning and giving them an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. For example, #3 is invited to a birthday party this weekend and as a family, we need to decide if we are going to purchase a gift or try to come up with an inexpensive way to create a gift for her friend.
A lot of the activities this month will incorporate the use of math and logic. For example. at the grocery store, there are plenty of ways to challenge the kids. If we give you $5.00, how many apples can we afford if they are $1.79/lb? Which is the better deal: $9.99 for 355 ml of contact lens solution or $18.99 for 2 bottles with 355 ml of solution in each? These are questions the older one can try to figure out while the little ones can simply try to look at the prices of products and compare which one is the cheaper choice or even just indicate what the price is and practice number identification. The kids can keep the receipts and tally up our expenses for the month. We also plan to play games like Monopoly and research the purchasing power of other currencies in relation standard of living in different countries.
At the end of the day, it is about opening up a dialogue with our children. We want to make sure that the kids have a healthy view of money with no emotion attached to it. Money in and of itself is neither good or bad. It is a necessary means for exchange in our society. However, too often people have the perception that money can solve any problem or the lack of it is used as an excuse for being in a difficult situation.
Ideally, I would hope this ongoing education about money will prevent the kids from falling into that perilous mindset of instant gratification and at least become aware of the truly important things in life that money can’t buy.