Monthly Archives: May 2010

10 questions i’ve asked myself this week.

  1. What are my kids’ obsession with putting their feet in the baby’s mouth?
  2. Is it too much to ask all household members to put away their own stuff?
  3. How am I feeling? (At this moment, in this life, generally, physically, mentally…?)
  4. What else can I do to  slow down time?
  5. Does this parenting thing ever get easier?
  6. Did I make the right decision today?  (My child was disappointed today.  She was disappointed in an outcome and in herself.  She failed at something probably for the first time.  She didn’t want to go to school.  I sent her anyway after she cried in my arms for about half an hour breaking my heart into a million pieces over and over again.  I told her that I wouldn’t be sending her to school if I knew she wasn’t strong enough and if she didn’t have the great group of friends that she had to support her.)
  7. Did I connect with each child this week by looking into their eyes and affirming that they matter, that they are important and are enough simply because they exist?
  8. How much less can I live with?
  9. Have I taken care of myself this week?
  10. Dear God, when will #4 be toilet-trained?

Have a great weekend.

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hello again.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve started to write several posts only to be interrupted by a sick child, a sibling brawl, a mommy-time request, and general life obligations.

So let me try this again.

For the month of April, I managed to declutter and purge the closets and the upstairs bathroom.  So heading into May, I decided to keep with the theme of decluttering and simplifying our life…

the "one bowl" challenge.

I read this and this and created”The One Bowl” Challenge in our house.  Each person in our house can only use one bowl, one spoon, one fork, and one cup (plus a knife for the adults).  I locked up the dish cabinet so no one would be tempted to grab another place setting if they hadn’t washed their bowls.  I was beginning to notice that we were running the dishwasher daily and with our busy schedules, if the clean dishes in the dishwasher weren’t emptied, there would be a huge pile up of dirty dishes.  I also noticed how the kids would grab a cup, fill it with water, drink, and put the cup in the dishwasher.  Now multiply that by 4 kids and add in bowls and containers for snacks and I become a bus-boy of sorts.  I am aware of the possibility that we could be using more water than if we just ran the dishwasher – this will eventually be confirmed by a higher (or lower) water bill at the end of the month.

It’s been almost 2 weeks of having only one bowl and here are some observations:

  • The kids have taken ownership of their bowls, almost as though they were their own personal pets.  They wash them with care and are just short of personalizing them with stickers.
  • Life is simpler.  Without 10,000 pieces of dishware and flatware to put away almost every day, dish washing has become an individual affair (with the exception of #4 and #5 who need a little help).  There is no whining over who isn’t helping with the emptying-of-the-dishwasher chore.  If you don’t clean your bowl, you don’t eat.
  • Life is easier for me.  There is never a mountain of dishes anymore for me to do.  There is never a time where there are no clean forks (or spoons, or plates…)
  • The only person who has had trouble sticking to this is Ever-Patient.  (I have since had to tie up the handles to the dish cabinet to prevent him from grabbing yet another bowl.  He is also unable to cook with one pot or pan.  Apparently, this is tough to do.  Obviously, I have no expertise in this area so  I’ve let this one go.)
  • Washing my own bowl has truly become a lesson in mindfulness and purpose.

I have extended this “one bowl” idea to their shoes, jackets, and bags as well.  One pair of shoes should only be left in the front hallway and one jacket each should be left on the coat hooks.  Though with our family of 7, our front hall still looks as though we are hosting a large gathering of people.

So far the kids are fully on board with all my crazy challenges and adventures this year and it definitely shakes things up at home by opening discussion.  We’ve discussed why we are using only one bowl, the issue of accumulating ‘stuff,’ and things we can live without versus things we think we need.  The kids are learning different things on different levels:  #1 is learning that more does not equal better; #2 and #3 are learning responsibility and are thoroughly enjoying washing dishes; #4 loves eating out of her princess bowl at every meal – which has been her request before this challenge ever since she inherited the bowl from her big sister.  Ever-Patient has learned that he needs to be more prepared and wash his bowl right after he uses it.  I’ve learned that a clean, sparkling bowl gives me such an unexpected joy.

***

How was your Mother’s Day?

Traditionally, my mother’s days have been spent entirely or partially in solitude – reading a book, sleeping, doing something creative.  This year was very different.  I really really wanted to spend the day with the kids and Ever-Patient.  He had made it clear that he could take them out and let me sleep in or let me stay curled up in bed and read a book.  I told him I’d play it by ear and see how I felt when I woke up.

Lately, I’ve been going to bed early with the kids and waking up at the crack of dawn.  I’m a night-owl normally and love reading or writing late into the night but this wasn’t working out so well now that #5 is teething and up again throughout the night.  Without a good 6 or 7 hours of sleep, I am a little less patient and a little less there.  And when you are in charge of the daily rearing of young children, the future of the world as we know it essentially, lack of sleep over a long period of time spells disaster for everyone involved.

I woke up at about 6:00am on Mother’s Day and tried my best to go back to sleep.  And with everyone asleep still, I felt like I was cheating myself by being awake.  I kept telling myself, “This is the perfect time to be in a deep sleep, damn it!  Go to sleep!”  But of course, the harder I tried to sleep, the more awake I became.  Sandwiched between two sleeping children, I couldn’t even reach for my book to read with the light breaking between the thin sliver of my drapes because any slight movement would make them stir.  Ever-Patient was kicked out of bed again, relegated to the couch downstairs or to the bunk bed – I wasn’t sure.

So I waited.  I waited to hear the creak of the bunk bed and the sound of little feet jumping off the ladder (#2) or feet skipping to my room and a loud whisper of “Mom, are you awake?” (#3) or elephant-like stomps heading to the bathroom (#1).  I waited to hear tiny grunts and whimpers (#5) and I waited to feel a little hand rub my arm and whisper “You need your glasses?” as if to signal it was time to wake up (#4).  Just like the early morning animal calls heard on the African savannah, these are the sounds of my natural habitat.  As sun rays flood their room, as if on cue, one by one they begin their morning ritual which lead to slipping back into bed with me.

But not on this particular morning.  I hear the sounds but no one enters my room.  Instead I hear whispers, tousled paper, and many feet moving about.  Ah yes, it’s Mother’s Day.  I can hear the older 3 debating whether or not they should come into my room.  They elect the soft-spoken one to open the door and check if it’s safe to enter.  #2 pops her head in and I wave them all in.  #4 is still groggy and gives her sisters the dirtiest of looks for all the commotion and buries her head in her pillow.  #5 wakes up grinning as usual.  And like the three wise men, #1, #2 and #3 present the gifts:

my loot....they know me so well.

A simple bag.  Simple Flowers. A simple necklace.  Chocolate (not shown).  A set of pastel crayons. Several handmade items including some handwritten love notes from #2 that said the following:

“I love you because you are nise to me.”

“I love you because you hug me evreday.”

“I love how you gress evereday.” ( I think she meant ‘dress.’)

I can see out of the corner of my eye Ever-Patient holding his breath as I open the box with the bag in it.  Clearly he has chosen it and is worried.  Only when I grin and express that it’s exactly what I need and want does he breathe a sigh of relief.  He does not have to return the bag in defeat at the estrogen and know-it-all saleswomen-filled boutique he bought it from.

So after the multitude of hugs, kisses, and large displays of gratitude, I wanted to just be with them on mother’s day.  Crazy huh?  We headed for an early breakfast here and totally beat the rush thankfully.  Then after breakfast, I wanted to show them how much I appreciated their appreciation (and their best behaviour at breakfast) so we went here.  By the time we left, it was only 10am so we headed home for more family time.  We met my mom, my stepfather and my brothers for a swanky late lunch here where the kids were more impressed with the washrooms than the food.

An early bedtime complete with a dozen bedtime stories and time for me to read for myself capped off a rather perfectly ordinary mother’s day….oh, except for #3’s gift to me which she insisted I wear all day:

Nothing says "mom" like an oversized ring with a plastic heary jewel and bright pink lips.

(And the kids ended up staying home on Monday…Why? Just because.)

on motherhood.

According to the dictionary, the definition of “mother” is:

moth·er

–noun

1. a female parent.
2. ( often initial capital letter ) one’s female parent.
3. a mother-in-law, stepmother, or adoptive mother.
4. a term of address for a female parent or a woman having or regarded as having the status, function, or authority of a female parent.
5. a term of familiar address for an old or elderly woman.
7. a woman exercising control, influence, or authority like that of a mother: to be a mother to someone.
8. the qualities characteristic of a mother, as maternal affection: It is the mother in her showing itself.
9.  something or someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else; origin or source.
10. (in disc recording) a mold from which stampers are made.

After reading the above entry, it struck me how narrow the definition seems and I thought about how I defined motherhood for myself.  At what point does motherhood begin?  At conception?  When you first realize you are pregnant?  When you feel the baby’s first kick? When you make the intention to adopt and do all the necessary research on adoption?  When you nurture younger siblings/family members in the absence of parents? When you hold your child for the first time?  At what point did I officially cross the “motherhood” threshold?  Was there a single act or event that signified my initiation into this exclusive club?
I remember not fully accepting or acknowledging myself as a ‘mom’ until #1 was well into her first week home.  It was in the middle of the night and I was asleep.  She woke up and began to cry.  I remember being in a dream-state waiting for someone else to tend to her.  When she cried a little harder, I woke up and realized that someone was ‘me’ and I was her mother.  Being pregnant, giving birth, breastfeeding – I was just going through the motions.  But when she needed me and only me, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I am her mother.
Though parts of my role as ‘mother’ were instinctive – taking care of physical needs – there were still many other facets of the role I needed to clarify along the way.  I needed to differentiate society’s and my own expectations of what it meant to be a mother.  I was struggling with my changing identity – I was an unmarried young mother, working part-time, and trying to finish my university degree in my spare time.  My life could no longer be filled with frivolous experiences, making decisions on a whim.  My new baby’s life and that of my own were intricately intertwined and every choice I made affected her as well.  I would not throw caution to the wind and jump without looking.  I became obsessed with building a solid foundation for her.  I probably asked myself a thousand times a day, “What is best for her?”
I felt guilty feeling selfish and wanting time for myself.  I felt guilty leaving her in the crib for just a few minutes longer because I was overcome with impatience and exhaustion.  I felt guilty for not being able to give her more.  I felt guilty for leaving her to go to work/school.  I felt guilty she didn’t have a room to call her own.  I felt guilty for all my shortcomings.  I felt guilty when I needed help.  I felt guilty for struggling.  I felt guilty for being overwhelmed.  I felt guilty for not being super-mom.
While in university, I took a course on motherhood.  I figured it would be an easy course since I was a mother and really, what else did I need to learn?  I was living in it. I read this and it broadened my perspective. The experiences and struggles described in the book resonated somewhere deep inside of me.  I wept for all of the mothers in history who had their roles defined by patriarchal institutions and I finally accepted that the contradictory emotions that surface when you become a mother are natural and universal.  In time, I figured out that “what’s best for her” is doing “what’s best for me.”  I stopped modeling myself after some fictional June Cleaver-meets-Claire Huxtable character.  I stopped feeling guilty.  I stopped comparing and trusted myself.
More often than not, people marvel at how calm I am when I am with my 5 kids.  My secret:  I have learned to own and create a concept of motherhood that works for me.  I have also managed to maintain my identity outside of the role of mother and wife (although this takes constant effort).  I enjoy my kids, not because they are extensions of my husband and myself, but because they are individuals I truly enjoy being around.  I have embraced the good, the bad, the messy.  I have chosen to be a mother on my own terms as opposed to trying to align myself with some abstract notion of motherhood.
To all the mothers, whether it be biological/adoptive/spiritual/symbolic, whether you are in the trenches changing diapers and breastfeeding or your children are teenagers or grown adults, here is my own definition of what we do and who we are (which I’m sure is still too narrow):
We nourish children(literally and figuratively).  We button, zip-up, and unbutton and unzip.  We give baths (sometimes more than one child at a time, more than once a day).  We change diapers and soiled clothes.  We kiss boo-boos.  We carry the tissues and the snacks.  We are a 24-hour hotline for immediate advice and consolation.  We bake for bake sales and volunteer for trips.  We read stories and listen when they read back.  We remind.  We remind.  We remind.  We are on call 24-7.  We hug and kiss on demand.  We are puked and pooped on.  We clean up the puke and poop.  We tuck in and reassure that tomorrow will be a better day.  We hold their little (and big) hands when they need it.  We are chauffeurs and maids and short-order cooks.  We shop with them for the perfect prom dress.  We wipe noses and wipe tears.  We take photographs and are never in them.  We are their biggest fans.  We play hide ‘n’ seek, I Spy, hopscotch, Ring-Around-The-Rosy, and Patty-Cake.  We read the same book a million times with the same enthusiasm and energy as if it was the first time.  We have sleepless nights when they don’t call home.  We push the swings and pull the wagon.  We carry them when they can’t go on.  We lift them up to reach.  We wonder if they know that the nagging and worrying is how we show them we care.  We buckle, strap,  velcro, and tie.  We tickle.  We answer a thousand questions a day and answer even if they are asking all at once.  We are light sleepers.  We love so much it hurts.  We give money with no strings.  We cook (and deliver) a much-needed home-cooked meal.  We want better for them.  We worry far too much.  We give them the last piece of dessert.  We listen even though we want to scream.  We drop off the forgotten lunch.  We organize schedules, plan birthday parties and playdates.  We don’t expect a ticker-tape parade or public recognition for what we do although an occasional “thank you” would be nice.  We cry more than they do when they get hurt.  We defend them like true mama-bears. We always laugh at the same “knock knock” joke.  We teach compassion, empathy, and to always leave the house with a ponytail and lip balm.  We try our best even when it’s never good enough.  We do last-minute laundry for the one clothing item they need to wear the next day.  We look them in the eyes and tell them we love them.
We will always be there.
Happy Mother’s Day

(Do me a favour and not only wish your mom a happy mother’s day but tell her you love her and thank her for everything.)