Last week, I enjoyed mornings on my own in a quiet house. It couldn’t last. The big kids were at overnight camp and the little kids were at a dance camp, and I knew it would be the only week in July that would provide me with that kind of alone time. I enjoyed having time to blog regularly and to think and plan out loud.
Alone time is a luxury to which I’ve grown accustomed, thanks to the coming-together of a variety of factors: kids in full-time school and part-time nursery school; babysitting; grant money.
Some of which evaporate during the summer months.
So, I could tear my hair out with frustration (and I may), or I could embrace the off-time as best as possible, and go with the flow. I’m trying to do the latter. It is Tuesday of the first week that I’m trying to do this. Let’s say it’s going well, but I haven’t really been tested.
Yesterday, with three out of four children around all day (AppleApple is going to a horse day-camp this week), we ran some fairly leisurely errands: library, grocery store, dr’s appointment. CJ rode his balance bike around town; Fooey begged to ride in the stroller (mostly, I made her walk); Albus was surprisingly compliant in our company. I didn’t have the energy to make supper before heading out for my swim lessons, so I whipped up a fresh tomato/zucchini/cilantro/onion/lemon salad, and left Kevin with instructions to top pitas with the salad and some cheese, grill them, and call it “pizza.” I think it worked. Hurray for fresh, simple summer suppers.
I’m tending to exercise more in the evening than the early morning. Early mornings work when there is time to nap, and there isn’t; I don’t want to be zombie-like with everyone around.
This morning, we are having difficulty reaching consensus. I would like to go swimming. Albus agrees. Fooey and CJ are resistant to the idea. CJ is developing a quick temper that he applies as leverage. Fooey has a lot of rules and regulations, of her own devising, to which she expects everyone to adhere. Albus tends toward severe boredom when left to his own devices. And I miss my alone time.
These activities have made the short-list for today: swimming; back yard splashing; gardening; walking uptown to buy seeds, sticker books, and to visit the pharmacy for advice on what appears to be seasonal allergies (Albus); having a friend over (Albus); clearing out the playroom/office to paint it (probably too massive a project to survive the fantasy stage); cutting CJ’s hair (couldn’t bring myself to do so yesterday); cleaning out drawers and cupboards and hidden areas of the house that get ignored all year long.
I also have as a goal to preserve a vegetable or fruit every week: we’ll call it Preservation By Theme. Last week the theme was strawberries. This week … well, what’s in season? Suggestions?
This is my girl. This is where she plays, most of the time, and she plays like it’s right where she belongs. I was, frankly, kind of petrified of having my kid play in net, but as the season has progressed, I’ve come to have confidence in her. It makes standing on the sidelines so much easier. She’s not going to be perfect on every play, but she’s going to be tough and engaged and focused. And aggressive. She jumps on the ball, no matter how many feet are coming at her. She’s learning how to kick it out solidly (practice with her goalie uncle on Canada Day weekend helped).
Today, her team made it to the semi-finals of a tournament. They played against the other Waterloo team in a match that was equal and well-fought. It went to penalty kicks. This is her, right before she stopped the first kick. I stood behind the camera as a way to control my emotions: pride, really. It was all pride. But my girl’s team did not win. They ran along the sidelines at the end, for the ritual high-fives from all the parents, looking heart-broken. My girl was at the front, positively bereft.
But she’s recovering. Heart-broken is good, in a way. It means she cares a lot about how she plays, and wants to play better. It’s good if it doesn’t defeat a person. And I don’t think it’s going to defeat her. I tell you what makes me most proud: it’s seeing her play her heart out, no matter the final tally. It’s seeing her work hard and never give up. That’s the best gift a parent could ask for. So, so proud, that was all I could tell her when it was over.
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.
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