Kevin is crafting the kids’ Halloween costumes. Praise be, ’cause crafty, I isn’t, and the man has talent. We now have an eerie likeness to the real Spongebob Squarepants grinning at us from our dining-room table. “Paint the rest of me!” he’s chirping. “Don’t forget my pants!”
On Thursday, it was just me and the two little ones home all day, and though we had several appointments to go to, we also had time to play “storytime.” I did not set the chairs up like this: it was Fooey’s doing.
This afternoon, the neighbours might have been forgiven for thinking our children were doing violence to each other in the backyard. The shrieks, the screams, the ongoing mayhem. And people are worried about the noise a few backyard chickens might make. Just try living next to us. You’d be begging for chickens. Let the photo evidence show that, in fact, fun was being had, if at ear-splitting volume. The three biggest were playing some sort of sandwich game on the motorcycle swing, while CJ hung around and gave me panic attacks every time he stepped too close.
Here’s what’s happening in our yard this morning. Add in the sounds of the children yelling over the chipper, and you get the full picture.
Below, our Monday evening activity. Also better than television. Add in a popsicle and a scrounged-up frozen chocolate chip cookie or two, and Kevin’s soccer-playing night looks a whole lot more fun for this Mama.
Alright, I’ll admit it, we’ve been bored. What am I doing wrong here? We have the scheduled activities, the swim lessons that eat up the better part of the morning, with bike riding and snacks included. And this afternoon we have the playdates to coincide with naptime. We have the free play, open permission to upturn chairs and couch cushions, to layer blankets, to strew about toys. We have library books. We have siblings. We have bread baking mornings and cookie baking afternoons. We have an enviable backyard. We have day trips planned and accomplished. And yet, and yet … We have back-talking, complaints about the service and the food, we have biting and kicking and general restless rolling about, we have nagging and ignoring and tears. I wonder how homeschoolers manage this. In theory, I’m all for a bit of necessary boredom. In theory, it should push us toward creative solutions; and sometimes does nudge the children toward playing together, and making up their own games; but just as often, in practice, boredom seems to breed conflict. It’s like, with nothing better to occupy the human mind, inventing some trouble is a satisfying interim solution. I see this played out in miniature all day long, and frankly, it grows a little tiresome. Can’t we all just get along? I ask. And am treated to, at best, blank stares, and at worst, piercing moans of misery, wails of “it’s not fair.”
On a separate but not unrelated note, in reflecting on our recent family “holiday,” I’d like to use my friend Marnie’s rather brilliant phrase: such adventures shouldn’t so much be called family holidays, as family “experiences.” Yup. That about sums it up. “Holiday” is a word overloaded with expectations, none of which are remotely fulfillable with four children in tow. (Relaxing, rejuvenating, restful … uh, no, no, and no). “Experience” on the other hand … now that’s the truth! And it’s not a bad thing, either, the family experience, especially when it’s not trying to be something it’s not. Our recent family experience was all the things you might expect it to be: busy, rife with detours, noisy, active, mosquito-bitten, containing mysterious ailments, brief respites, good food, necessary disciplinary tactics, all in all a touch of the arduous and a touch more of ardour. Good times.
I’ve been writing this whilst overseeing two playdates, ear to the naptime baby monitor, bread baking in the oven, and my interruptions have included: tossing snacks at hungry children, sandbox mediation, and a young man in construction garb at the front door to inform me our water will be shut off for the better part of tomorrow and Friday.
Too too late, but feel like recording a few of today’s really lovely moments. I was home alone with the kids, which is an odd way to spend a Saturday, and the day proceeded like all the days of this summer holiday will, if I’m a blessed and fortunate woman.
The backyard was where we spent all morning. Hammocks. I brought out a mid-morning snack of lemonade and popcorn, ran inside for something else, and when I came back out again, CJ had climbed himself into one of the lawn chairs with his sippy cup. At one point, three of the kids loaded themselves into the wagon and Apple-Apple pulled them around to their “house” (where I was the grandma, Fooey informed me). After lunch, CJ went down for his nap and I introduced the concept of The Siesta (they weren’t keen unless it involved “screen time,” a term I don’t recall ever using myself). Thanks for the siesta idea, Janis; this is going into my summer routine. I dozed and the kids played games, not of the video variety (“you’re the meanest mommy ever”): Bananagrams, Jr. Boggle, Rush Hour, Snakes and Ladders. Siesta hour ended with a book on the couch (a grownup book with no pictures); the sight of Mama prone and absorbed filled everyone with resentment, so on impulse I began reading it out to them. I’m reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, which is brilliant, dreamy, dense, complex, elliptical, with occasional terse dialogue, ie. not what one would imagine holding a child’s interest … but it did. All three gathered around in almost absolute silence to hear these quite astonishing words read aloud. The book was even better consumed in this way (though I don’t plan to torment Kevin by practicing this regularly before bedtime).
Quickly, before CJ woke, we made pizza dough, though I wasn’t as patient as I should have been with Fooey’s interminable stirring. I know other parents are better at this; I could be better, should be better. Lordy. I just wanted the darn dough stirred. Apple-Apple kneaded. She’s got a career as a baker (a baker, farmer, teacher, mother, dancer, writer, artist, I believe the current plan is). Beautiful dough, like silk. We left it to rise and headed out to the little park where we actually lay in the grass for awhile and made pictures out of clouds. Every cloud was a pirate device or weapon in Albus’s eyes. I will not let this trouble me. Nor was I troubled by the body part jokes that wended their way throughout our day. SIGH. When do these topics stop being so Highlarious? What was that? Never?? Darn, ’cause I seem to have outgrown them.
After supper, CJ discovered his own ears. He loves other people’s facial features and is thrilled to have them pointed out on himself, but this is the first he understood that he has two ears. Two of them! He pulled the tops out and perpendicular to his head, and with a huge grin of pure delighted discovery he ran through the obstacle course that is our living-room floor, ears in hands, to show his Daddy, home from work.
A brilliant moment in a solid, good day.
Dinner conversation (with Fooey). “Oops! Don’t worry, Mommy, you can clean it up, and then you can go and get me some more.” “Sigh. I am not your personal slave and servant.” “Well, I need a servant.”
After-dinner conversation: “Can we go outside to play?” Uh, yes. Yes!
And on another topic altogether, file this under things I never imagined doing: pulling out a tooth, not my own. In the dark. Whilst the child in question remained in her bunk bed. “Mommy, this tooth hurts too much to sleep.” “Well, what I can do to help?” “Can you pull it out? Please?” Small moment of silence. “Mommy, that’s the wrong tooth. That one isn’t even loose.”
For the record, the one that was extracted successfully, after much arrghing and some gore, was the one that had started out loose. Loose-ish, in my opinion. But I think she wanted it out mostly so she could try drinking with a straw through the gigantic hole at the bottom of her mouth.