My girl takes after me. I like to write my ideas down. I have to write my ideas down, more precisely. It’s my version of “thinking out loud,” and I recommend it to my older children when they are having trouble with anything: mean siblings, unfair situations, anger management, you name it.
Yesterday, I took my own advice. The big kids are at overnight camp, and the little kids are at a dance camp during the mornings, just for this week; and I have no projects on the go. I’ve completed the triathlon, and the related Chatelaine.com blog. I am waiting for line edits on The Juliet Stories. I seem unwilling to commit to a new character and a new story, just yet. I am at the crux of something. Restless. Curious. So I spent the morning talking to myself in terrible printing (barely legible, even to me) inside the pages of a handy notebook.
Did anything come of it? But of course! If not exactly peace of mind, then peace of purpose.
My mother has a phrase she uses often: She likes to “stay open to the possibilities.” And while there’s plenty to recommend the idea, I’ve decided that rather than staying open to the possibilities, I prefer to pursue, invite, and seek out possibilities–and when the time is right, to choose and to commit, which is kind of the opposite of staying open to more and more and more. Commitment means closing off possibilities–at least, some of them. But it also means believing in the possibilities before you and available to you, and not forever hoping that something better may be waiting around the corner. It’s kind of like getting married. When I commit, I like to get it right. That comes with a certain amount (okay, a giant unreasonable amount) of agonizing and analyzing.
But I’m seeing that commitment can be lighter than that, too. I have before me a flexible year. Certain elements are inflexible: my youngest is still a preschooler for whom I am the primary caregiver. But depending on my income generation, there are childcare options to supplement my responsibilities. And I am at home. I can juggle. I’m not tied to the structured hours of a 9-5 job.
One thing became very clear during yesterday’s brainstorming: I am finding more satisfaction from expanding my working life–my public life, essentially. To connect, to be engaged with the world–it’s what I want.
Something clear to me at this exact moment, as my littlest leans his face onto my leg and says, “I’m bored!” is that I’m not a great mother when I’m typing on the computer or trying to think. The balance … is so imperfect.
Awhile back, I wrote a post about “Conscious Discipline.” At the time, I copied a list of ten parenting principles onto a piece of green paper, which is still hanging in our kitchen. I think the list is terrific, and continue to refer to it from time to time.
Most recently, number eight jumped out at me: “Become the person you want your children to be.” I love that line.
I’m becoming a fairly fit adult, and someone who takes great pleasure in running, biking, yoga, swimming, etc. And my kids know how I feel about it. I talk about it as relaxing, or as an outlet for difficult emotions, and a way to make life, generally, happier. The kids have now been to three races and they’ve seen how happy running makes me feel. One might say, job well done, Mom. You’re becoming the person you want your children to be.
Last week, Albus brought home a piece of paper from school, which he grabbed and tried to hide as soon as he saw me heading to check his backpack. What on earth? I thought. Is it a note from his teacher that he doesn’t want me to see? Is he in some kind of trouble? When he sheepishly showed me the piece of paper, it had information about the school’s Running Club. “You’re going to make me sign up,” he said, despondently. Of course, I said I wouldn’t force him to do it, but wouldn’t it be lovely, blah blah blah? And he said, no. He doesn’t want to waste his recess time on running club. AppleApple was equally disinterested. I was mildly disappointed.
But when my eye caught number 8 on my “Conscious Discipline” poster, I just had to laugh. Here I am modeling away, and my kids are, so far, oblivious to the hints; at least to the most obvious and particular of the hints. I do think it’s a good thing to become the person you want your children to be. But hopefully you’re doing it as much for yourself as for them. They will have to make their own choices along the way, and there is only so much a parent can/should push for. It’s just not a one-to-one ratio: do this, and receive that result. Life, and parenting, is much less predictable.
They’re going to break out of my mold, and be themselves, be the individuals they already are. Maybe the more subtle messages will get across; that’s what I hope. The messages about focus, working hard, and enjoying what you do. May it be so.
In other news, please read my latest blog on Chatelaine.com. It’s about learning to swim last summer, with an unexpected teacher.
“I’m your mama, not your slave. My job is to take care of you.”
“Well, you’re not taking care of me!”
“I read you stories and make you food. That’s taking care of you.”
“That is not! Doing what I say is taking care of me!”
Temper. Blaming. Complaining. Comparing. Name-calling. Stubbornness. Picking on. I’ve just been lying here, post-early-morning-exercise-nap, thinking about the negative behavior that can sometimes be observed in my children … and it occurred to me: wow, I’m guilty of much of that same behavior, only in more subtle, grownup ways.
Example. Blaming. I have a habit of saying, “Someone must have done such and such.” Someone forgot to close the front door. Someone’s made a mess of the bathroom. Someone must have put the scissors in the wrong drawer. What I’m saying is: hey, I didn’t do this and therefore one of you lot must have! Hardly a productive response to any situation, and not so very different from one child saying to another, “You lost my [insert precious possession here]! I know it was you! It was here when I left and now it’s gone!”
The opposite of blaming is taking responsibility. As I tell the child, owner of said precious possession, “If it’s very precious to you, you need to keep it in a special place, and not on the counter.” And if I don’t like that someone’s made a mess of the bathroom, I need to instill a greater sense of ownership and responsibility in my children for keeping the house tidy, rather than grumbling while cleaning it up all by myself.
(If someone can tell me how to do that–how to instill a sense of responsibility in my children–please let me know).
I’d like to think I don’t call names. But I do say things like “that was a dumb thing to do.” Which is next-door to name-calling, and even if it’s true (which let’s face it, in some situations it just might be), if dumb isn’t a word I want kids to use, why am I using it?
I won’t go through the whole list, calling out each of my less-than-worthy-role-modeling. Instead, I’m thinking about the alternatives.
Okay. Blaming. Taking responsibility.
Temper. Finding other expressions for emotional distress or disturbance. Apologizing as immediately as possible after the fact is helpful, too. Nobody’s perfect.
Complaining. Thinking of ways to change the situation causing the complaint, or at the very least to change my response to the complaint. There is always something that can be done.
Comparing. Celebrate and consider each family member as an individual.
The opposite of name-calling? Uh. Don’t do it, I guess. (Though there are some situations in which name-calling and poking fun can be positives and can reinforce relationships, and in fact are markers of a trusting and close relationship).
Picking on. I don’t believe that I do this. But I do see it happening in my family: two siblings subtly teaming up to bait another sibling. Not pleasant. And we call it out and separate them, but haven’t found a better way of curbing it. Maybe maturity will do the trick. I remember my brother and I picking on our younger brother (who we just knew was our mother’s “favourite,” and who was so darn cute and better behaved than us). And we’re all good friends now.
Check it off the want-to-do list:
We have hosted one friend sleepover (with the boys waking at approximately 5:30am to play wii in the basement, only to be foiled by semi-outraged, semi-amused mother who was leaving for spin class).
We have gone for walks in springlike weather, and visited our little neighbourhood park.
We have gone to the movies. Okay, so we were too late to get tickets for the one we wanted to see (Tangled), and thus ended up seeing the only other option (Yogi Bear), but it was friendly, corny, and funny enough to keep everyone happy, and the big kids were sent to the long concession line, by themselves, with cash, and returned with change and one treat for everyone, even mama (a Coffee Crisp–good choice, Albus).
We’ve had a family fun night (drawing, dancing), and a family movie night (School of Rock–who knew? It was the perfect movie for our sometimes ambivalent budding musicians).
We’ve had friends over for lunch, and vice versa, and everyone’s had a playdate or two sprinkled into the mix.
And now it is Friday. I fear the coming of the end of March Break, if only for the list of have-to-dos. We have to pick up all these toys, for example, the ones that have migrated around the house, along with blankets, pillows, art supplies, fort-building materials, and orphaned odds and ends of mind-boggling proportions. We have to memorize the times tables (well, one of us does, and if the rest of us come along for the rote-ride, all the better). There is much baking to be done (granola, pitas, bread). And there is the sense of: have we done enough with this magical week of freedom?
That question seems front and centre in the nine-year-old mind (almost ten). I’ve been sensing the pre-adolescent emergence this week; more than sensing it, seeing it, witnessing it, being slightly horrified by it. I keep working to emphasize the good, and call out the bad. I’m trying to figure out the balance between expectations and acceptance. If the grumpy nine-year-old has to howl about going for a walk in the beautiful spring breezes, because it doesn’t involve any direct pay-off for him that he can recognize, but then agrees to go for the walk, and comes along, and has a generally good time and is generally pleasant, should I get upset because the good was preceded by the bad?
I’m seeing the edge of mood swings. The precipice of myopia. The unlovely view of a sense of entitlement. I want to figure out a way to say, hey, I get it, but I expect more. You’re allowed to make mistakes, and lots of them–we all are–but you have to apologize, too. It’s natural and normal to want, to crave, to long for, but when you don’t get what you want, it’s good for the soul to look around and be glad for what you have.
Ugh. Are these just parenting cliches? Cliches generally? Well, they’re what I’ve got. If I find something more effective, I’ve let you know.
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