Category: Mothering

Why Are There No Women Who …

A recurring issue that’s been troubling me, lately: my children have begun asking why there are no women who … fill in the blank. Why are there no women who play hockey (in the NHL, in the playoffs, which are on every evening at our house). Why are there no women who coach kids’ soccer (thankfully, we found some women coaches to counteract that observation; but it’s still mostly true. It’s mostly dads out there on the field). I’m trying to think of another example of “no women who …” but can’t offhand. Anyway, it’s a good question. It reminds me that we aren’t, exactly, who we claim to be, as a society. Our relentless message is that girls can do anything, be anything, choose anything; and while it’s essentially true, there’s no counter-conversation about why so many girls/women don’t, and what, if anything, we should do about it.

If girls (and boys) can do anything, why, for example, are little girls supposed to wear pink and like fairies and princesses, and little boys supposed to wear dull colours and make truck noises and wrestle? Why are these gender differences so strongly endorsed, to the point of making little boys who once liked flowers and pink refuse to wear them lest they get teased for being different, and little girls, who once could care less what they wore, feel they must pay attention lest they get shunned for being different?
And, yet, there are some very real differences. For example, as AppleApple has observed, most women are not as physically strong as most men.

(In our family, we have one boy who makes very loud weaponry sound effects and who never took interest in any doll ever given to him; one girl who chooses her brother’s hand-me-downs over her own girlie options, most days, and who doesn’t like “princessy games”; one girl who would wear ruffled pink in perpetuity and who likes looking at pictures of fairies; and one boy whose favourite colour is pink, who pushes a stroller and gently tucks his doll in, and who likes to growl and pretend to be a crocodile attacking his older siblings. How much have they chosen for themselves, and how much has been chosen for them?).
Yes, a girl can grow up to be anything she wants to be. It shocks my children to imagine that this were ever otherwise; yet for most of human history, a girl could not grow up to be anything she wanted to be. Now, she really can. I do believe that. But just because she can, doesn’t mean she will. And the evidence does not match up with the story the kids are being told. They see it. It makes them wonder. Why are there so few women in any snapshot of world leaders? I am excited for this summer’s World Cup, but also realize, looking through my daughters’ eyes: there will be no women playing. And there is nothing comparable to point them toward. Thank heavens, they were able to see themselves reflected in our Olympians.
I haven’t done anything to change the balance, either. I had a good job before I started having children. Then I stayed home with them. That was nine years ago. I have benefitted from the unquestionable luxury of being a women who chooses to stay home with her children, supported financially by a willing and able husband. I don’t feel regret or guilt about my decision, and we’ve always looked at ourselves as a partnership, and continue to work toward an ideal balance of childcare and work, and domestic duties and pursuit of outside interests; but out of strict financial necessity, his work trumps mine. It has to. Would I have it any other way? Well, this is what I wanted to do. I got to choose, and I’m glad for it. It was a privilege to take this path. Many people would like to, and cannot, for a variety of reasons.

:::
But, man, sometimes I would just like to go off to work in the morning, and leave someone else in charge. Someone else to do the daily laundry. Think up and prepare the daily meals. Schedule the appointments, contain the domestic minutiae.
Someone else could walk to school with an eager four-year-old and a fractious and contrary two-year-old who insists, simultaneously, on not riding in the stroller and not walking beside it. So we’re standing halfway up the hill, on a busy street, engaging in a mental tug-of-war … “Come on, honey. Keep walking. Or I’ll have to strap you into the stroller. Come on, sweetheart. We’re going to be late. We’re already late. This is driving me crazy. The kids will be waiting. I don’t want to have to strap you in. You need to walk, or else I’ll have to …” And on and on and on, inching, lurching forward, sometimes at full tilt, then coming again to a standstill, till finally the inevitable happens and we are so late that he must be strapped in (screaming hysterically) and I am running–and still arrive late. “Why were you late?” “I’m sorry. Do you remember that we have swimming after school today?” “I won’t go. I hate swimming.” “We have to go.” “But I won’t. I just won’t. I hate everything.” “Would you like a banana muffin? We baked them this morning.” [Translation: two-year-old howled for more chocolate chips while four-year-old and her friend mixed and poured batter all over the counter this morning]. Eldest daughter emerges, at last, very late. She’s holding a gigantic car constructed of recyclables: of all the days to bring home this project. “I don’t think you can carry that all the way to swimming, do you? Can you store it on your desk and bring it home tomorrow? Do you want a muffin?” She chooses to carry it. We’re late. We walk fast. She falls far behind. “I’m still not going swimming,” says the eight-year-old. “Okay, if you really don’t want to, you can wait for us in the stands, but unfortunately, I do have to go in with your little brother.” Silence. “Another muffin?” “I guess I’ll have to go then.” Two-year-old attempting stroller escape, thwarted by intrepid four-year-old, balancing precariously, with arms and legs akimbo to block all exit routes. More howls. More, “Maybe you could put that car in your backpack and rebuild it later?” More, “I hate this. This is stupid.” Finally, our destination. Eldest daughter races off to the bathrooms. We wait. We’re late. She’s back. We enter a changeroom. We’ve forgotten a hair elastic. Eldest daughter races to stroller to find one. We wait. Still late. She’s back. Two-year-old now naked. “Do you have to pee?” Yup, and he’s considering the floor. “Please, please, please don’t pee on me,” someone else could mutter while racing for the bathroom clutching naked two-year-old. On the way, observe the mother with two older children who has driven here instead of walking, talking quietly to her offspring, guiding them toward the pool with preternatural calm. Return with successfully toileted two-year-old to changeroom where own offspring are fighting over who should sit where. “I might have to start cursing,” someone else could say. “What does that mean?” “Nothing. I’ll tell you later. When we aren’t stuck in a public changeroom with holes at the top of the walls, and the judgement of strangers to guide us otherwise.” We emerge, eventually, store items in locker, trip over one another, why is everyone always standing exactly blocking the direct route to anything? Finally. Pool.
This is only half of the tale.
Now, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone else do that instead? Wouldn’t it? Or, maybe not. It is good material, after all.
:::
It’s what I do.
And this afternoon, someone else (our babysitter) is walking to school on my behalf … in the rain, no less. I almost want to stop her before she heads out the door and say, go on home, I’ll do it, don’t worry. It’s my job.

Monday

Had three minutes of perfection this afternoon: the kids were all playing (mostly outside), the laundry was off the line and folded, the soup was simmering on the stove, and I picked up the front section of today’s paper and read for a few minutes on the back porch. Three minutes. Not bad.
:::
After supper, the kids styled each others’ hair. I especially enjoyed CJ’s wings, as frothed-up by AppleApple (he, in turn, brushed her hair so that it covered her face), and my heart was touched by Albus fussing with Fooey’s hair: “It looks better when it goes like this,” [fuss, fuss, fuss]. “Don’t worry,” I told Fooey, who said she didn’t like how it scratched her cheeks, “hairdressers always like styling your hair all crazy, and then you can just go home and stick it back behind your ears like usual.” “Okay, I’m home now!”
:::
CJ is just at such a stage. It’s so emphatic. There’s no mistaking it. He has certain postures, this slump of the shoulders he does when his feelings are hurt, which might just turn into a whirling blithering rage as he stamps across the floor, growling and whacking anything in his way. I enforced a time-out today for throwing. In the midst of his tantrums, he likes to grab any object handy and fling it. Let’s see whether we can break him of that. On the potty front, we’re having some luck with new training pants (thank you, kind lenders of new training pants!). He doesn’t like being wet. The disposable pull-ups are worse than useless since they actually hold more than a cloth diaper. But the training pants don’t hold much. “I want to pee on the pot,” he declared all day, usually arriving to tell me this after the fact; but I appreciated the sentiment. I’m feeling no sense of urgency, and continue to feel encouraged by his progress. He’s getting it, just at his own pace. This morning, his friend of the almost-identical-age was over, and the two of them had a blast in the backyard. They both found hockey sticks and soccer balls and set about playing “Hockeyball!” As they called it. “Hockeyball!” I kicked a soccer ball around, too, and every time I hoofed it into the net (which felt pretty awesome, I must say; stress release? that feeling of being a kid again?), CJ’s friend would throw his hands into the air and shout: “Yay! We win!”
:::
It was a day of full-on mothering and calm. I can only manage these days because I know there’s more going on later in the week (ie. some hours to work and to be alone); but because Monday is a unique day in a week of busyness and a variety, it’s somehow easier to let myself relax and enjoy the calm, quiet, mothering-ness of it, without wishing I were doing something else, or feeling too bored. All I have to do is make supper, hang laundry, and hang out with small children (oh, and a few other chores along the way). So I get to do things like … kick a soccer ball, meet Kevin and co. for a business lunch, walk to the pick up the kids from school, let CJ walk all the home, read the newspaper for three minutes in the sunshine, play guitar to the boys before bed, sing Fooey a lullaby while stroking her cheek and sensing her drift into sleep …
Just another Monday. Praise be.

Notes from Quarantine

When the two eldest kids were small, and we only had two kids, I remember complaining vociferously whenever our routine was thrown out of whack–by illness, unexpected travel, or unusual weekend obligations. Somewhere between then and now, I gradually came to realize that there was no “normal.” Or, more precisely, that the unexpected was normal. Something always arises. Often these are good surprises and changes, and arrive on a small scale, and it is easy to roll with the waves. Surfing on the unexpected. Have an extra friend over to play. Get invited for a cup of tea at someone’s house. Go to a concert at the kids’ school.

But then there is illness. It comes in waves, too. And there’s no disruption quite like it. I find it tolerable, even calm and pleasant, when it is brief and clearly not harmful to the child and he or she sleeps a great deal more and the day goes on mostly as expected, but indoors. A day or two of this kind of quarantine is okay. I have some hermit-like tendencies that don’t mind the excuse to huddle away from the light, on occasion.
But beyond a day or two, and enforced quarantine begins to feel like imprisonment. We’ve been at this latest flu for nine full days. Of course, we managed to sneak away on a road trip (only one child throwing up en-route) for three days during the early course of this bout, but just when it looked like we’d be in the clear, the little one on the mend and everyone else pink with health, oh no, we woke on that first night home to a dreaded sound in the night: a child throwing up. It may not be the worst sound a parent gets to hear, but it’s right up there for producing those electrical night-time shocks of pure horror. Actually, I exaggerate. If it’s just once or twice in the night, I find myself capable of dealing with it with calm. But the child went on and on, every fifteen to twenty minutes, her body rejecting every sip of water. We ran out of sheets and moved on to towels. I did three loads of laundry before 8 o’clock in the morning. And, then, of course, it spread like wildfire. I even had the pleasure of experiencing it myself, though poor precious Fooey was the worst off. I have never seen a stomach bug like this before, and hope never ever to see it again. It’s a miracle that this morning she arose with a spark in her eye again, having spent four days of her life being unable to eat or drink without her body severely punishing her for trying. It is heart-rending to see your four-year-old clearly despairing, even depressed. She was too sick and miserable to watch TV. That’s saying something.
But we all have experienced that sense of despair and misery this week, and it’s not just due to the illness. It’s due to the distance between us and our normal, our routines, our safety-net of activities and human contact and outdoors and alone time that we’ve so carefully constructed for ourselves. It’s taken practice to build a flexible and adaptive framework of routine that allows both me and Kevin time to go out and exercise and work and be creative. So I’m going to take a minute here to remember good health and look forward to it again. And I’m going to take an additional minute to remember that throughout the world there exist so many other disruptions to routine, much more profound than the stomach flu, from natural disasters to war, to the private violences and silences that go on in lives around us that we may not even know about or guess at.
So there’s disruption and there’s disruption.
This reflection almost makes me grateful for the stomach flu. But that’s likely because we’re coming out of it. I can sense a return to “normal” on the horizon. And I’m grateful we have such a happy routine to return to.
:::
Today: AppleApple went to school. She never looked very sick, but was content playing at home with those well enough to play, so I didn’t fight it. She was excited to be back at school today. CJ also went to preschool, screaming bloody murder in a fit of tantruming rage because (this is just a guess) I didn’t let him put his own shirt on this morning. We were in a hurry. Have you seen a two-year-old trying to dress himself? Oh, and I’ve created a potty training monster. Now he refuses to wear diapers, but gets a kick out of peeing on the floor. The semi-compromise we’ve currently arrived at is pants: he wears pants, gets them slightly wet, decides he doesn’t like the feeling, and agrees to sit on the potty. We go through a lot of pants, but he has a lot, being the recipient of three sets of hand-me-downs, plus a few new ones of his own. I’m thinking of writing a ParentDish column on how one feels like an expert only when one’s child is not at the stage one is having expert-like feelings about. In the midst of it, one feels like a complete incompetent utterly stumped by the whimsies of human behavior.

Why?

Had a long conversation yesterday morning with Albus. He wanted to talk about two things: one, when can we get a Wii and why don’t we have one when everyone else does? and two, why can’t he have a friend birthday party with presents?
Well.
On one, at least there are still a few friends in the neighbourhood whom I could point to as being similarly Wii-less. But that’s not really the point. The point is that we don’t choose to do things just because our friends are doing it too. And the reason we haven’t gotten a Wii yet (though we may, eventually) is because Kevin and I prefer to encourage creative, active, cooperative play–and we see our children playing in these ways when they are given the freedom and time to do so. The best moments in my life, right now, are watching my children playing together–all four of them. In this play, they learn how to solve problems, how to compromise, and how to find ways to include everyone. It doesn’t always run smoothly, and there are plenty of moments which cannot be romanticized. I don’t think a Wii would ruin this. But I also don’t think it would enhance it. What I explained to Albus was that if/when we decide as a family to get a Wii, it will only be after we’ve come to an agreement about how often it should be played, and when, and under what circumstances (ie. special rules for holidays? after school? once a week? weekends only?). It would become like the television is for us, and the DVD player: something we have, but choose not to use without considering others activities first.
Did Albus hear what I was saying? Debatable. “So I can get one for my birthday?” “No, I don’t think so.” “So I can get one for Christmas?” “I don’t know.” “When can I get one? Could I get a DS instead?”
Onto question two … Albus is already planning his birthday party (which won’t be till May, on his birthday). “Could my friends bring presents this time?” “No, we don’t do friend parties with presents.” “But why? I would get so many toys!”
Since we started hosting friend parties for the kids’ birthdays (around age six), we chose to request no gifts. Cards welcome. We got a few phone calls from baffled parents who really really really wanted to bring a gift, but everyone has so far respected the request; the way I see it, the gift is the presence of friends. We also don’t hand out giant loot bags afterward, but like to send every kid home with something they’ve made at the party, or a related but inexpensive prop used at the party: ie. one year I found pretty little china tea cups and saucers at a thrift shop for a tea party; another year, Kevin designed and made personalized t-shirts that all the kids wore to a “bike rally.” Nothing fancy. The birthday child gets to the choose the party theme, what to eat, who to invite, what the cake should look like, etc. It’s a fair bit of work for us, and held in the child’s honour, and adding ten gifts into the mix never made sense to Kevin and me. Like over-salting the soup. We also always host a family party for the birthday child, to which aunts and uncles and grandparents are invited–and gifts are brought. They don’t need to mine their friends for extra treasure. There are already gifts in abundance.
Does this sound like an odd, puritanical rule? I appreciate that giving gifts is something that many people want to do.
But we’re trying to live a less wasteful life, less packaging, less of what we don’t really need.
And we live in a country that is enormously privileged and we sometimes forget that and want more and more and more, without recognizing how much we already have. (I’ve observed this phenomenon at other moments with the kids: If I put out a big buffet of a snack, everyone goes greedy, grabbing and hoarding, even though there’s more than enough. If I put out a small and simple snack, the greed disappears.)
By the end of the conversation (which wasn’t the lecture that appears above; sorry to be so dull today), Albus seemed reconciled to the basic principles of doing with a bit less. Somewhat reconciled might be more accurate.
This is just the beginning, right? Of my children testing our family’s principles and choices against what their friends are doing? I recently wrote a review of Craig and Marc Keilburger’s The World Needs Your Kid, and highlighted from the book ten suggestions for encouraging compassion in one’s children. Number two was to know and identify your own beliefs, as parents. It felt in the conversation with Albus that I did know, and I was grateful. But I also want to remain open and flexible to their changing needs, so that kids don’t feel like their living in a totalitarian regime, but in a living and growing ecosystem.
Which is why we might get the Wii, eventually. Maybe this Christmas. Maybe. We’re still thinking about it.

Where Ideal Meets Real


So. I have a plan to hold a family meeting. But we have two separate topics to discuss.
First, I want to talk to the kids about the humanitarian crisis happening in Haiti right now, and I want to ask them for ideas about what our family could do to help out. And I want to broaden that out to talk about ways we could help in our own community more often.
(I’ve also requested an interview for my ParentDish column with Craig Kielburger, who is a young Canadian man I greatly admire–his parents, too! The mandate of his foundation Free the Children is to help North American children to help other children around the world–in essence, educating our children, helping them to make the connection between their own actions and the effect these can have on other children’s lives. I’m really excited about talking to him.)
That’s topic number one.
Topic number two might sound a little out there, but I’m thinking of having a family meeting about creating a family mission statement (and I must confess, we NEVER have family meetings, and I’m not entirely sure what this will look like in practical terms–sitting around the dining-room table with pieces of paper and pencils? Will we make it more than five minutes before chaos erupts??). Now, a mission statement sounds almost too serious, but what I’m hoping to accomplish is that we can all agree on some basic guiding principles for our household.
This is what I’ve jotted on my piece of paper: In our family … everyone is respected. In our family … it’s okay to feel mad or sad, but we express our feelings appropriately. In our family .. we ask for help when we need it. We help each other. We help others, too.
These are my ideas. How to bring everyone’s ideas into it? We’ll see. This is yet a pipe dream. My motivation for doing it, however, comes from a rather dark place, and that is the anger we’ve been seeing our older children express, recently, and our inability to help them find ways to express this anger appropriately (or to interpret it). I want to stress that I don’t think anger is a bad emotion. It’s human. But destroying your baby brother’s duplo project in a fit of rage isn’t a good way of expressing that emotion. So far, Kevin and I are not getting far with our attempts to step in and help the children find another way. Time-outs work, sort of, at least for removing the child from the situation. But anger tends to be an emotion that is actually pointing toward or masking more complex emotions. Ever felt angry about a situation, only to gradually recognize that your anger was saving you from experiencing a much more frightening emotion like fear or grief? Sometimes anger can give us a feeling of power in a situation in which, if we stopped to think about, we’d realize we feel awfully terribly vulnerable.
Stop me now, I’m rambling.
And it’s time to get ready for swim lessons.
Above, my youngest, sharing a quiet moment on the couch. And I caught it before it devolved!

Solo Outings



And by solo, I mean one parent with four children. Pictured above is last night’s highly successful outing, wherein I silently basked in my children’s fine behavior. I didn’t put much thought into the outing, which was probably a good thing, because too much thinking and I might have thought better of it. We brainstormed places to go for supper, and agreed on a Thai restaurant within walking distance, as we had no vehicle at our disposal (Kevin is away for a few days; and this is what happens when you decide to be a one-vehicle family). Every kid chose a small entertainment item, I threw the diaper bag into the small stroller, and we headed merrily on our way. Since we arrived before 5pm on a Friday evening, we had the place to ourselves, and food arrived quickly (we are familiar with the menu and had made our meal choices beforehand). CJ is the real wild-card, but everyone was equally hungry, and we ate and talked and CJ pointed out animals in the artwork, including making loud dragon noises for the Chinese dragon (“why is a Chinese dragon at a Thai restaurant?” the older kids wondered). The photo above pictures him choking on a piece of Albus’s chicken. Awesome camera-work, Perfect Mom! Yes, he survived. We stopped at mains (no ice cream), and left the restaurant while everyone was still in happy spirits. I was one proud mama, and even got to hear an elderly woman who’d just arrived with her friends observe in an admiring voice: “Look at that woman, out all on her own with four children!”
:::
Then, today happened. I was tired. CJ woke four times last night, and though he agreed each time to go back to sleep without nursing, nevertheless that was four times I was up, giving him a hug and a kiss (“kiss, kiss,” he requested each time) and tucking him back in. Thankfully, we all slept in till 7:30. Then we hurried through breakfast, starting a crockpot supper, and organizing to go to a previously arranged dr’s appointment for Apple-Apple. By bus. Since we have no vehicle, as mentioned. You know, I just didn’t feel up to the task. Everyone else seemed grumpy, too, and didn’t appreciate being rushed on a Saturday morning. I tried phoning Kevin for commiseration, which resulted in a farcical game of phone tag. And did not help. There was a small meltdown. Mine. But. We made it to the bus stop, climbed aboard, stroller and all, made it to the dr’s office, all in good time. It was an up-and-down morning, I guess, now that I reflect on it. I was proud of the kids on the first bus ride, and in the dr’s office. We then headed to the Children’s Museum, and I was proud of them there, too. Mostly. But there were some definite rotten mothering moments. Such as when I texted Kevin while letting CJ glue and marker himself unattended at a craft station. And lunch was hairy. Though perhaps it was just exuberant and I’m being too hard on myself (and them). Lunch was followed by an entertaining session in the bathroom with CJ and a poopy diaper, while I left the other children unattended in the main room. I could hear Albus shouting directions all the way to the bathroom. When we finally emerged, CJ ran for the play area, climbed onto a wooden box and promptly fell off. I picked him up, howling, only to realize that my other children were being watched with some disapproval by parents in the snack-area. My unattended exuberent offspring were standing on top of another tall wooden box building a stool out of giant blocks of squishy Lego in order to climb up and make their CN-tower-sized structure even bigger. And then they crashed it down.
We could have gone home then, but we didn’t. We stayed till Santa arrived, whereupon AppleApple kept asking, in a loud voice, “Why would anyone want to sit on an old man’s lap who is wearing a fake beard and pretending to be Santa Claus?”
And then we left.

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