Did I ever tell you (confess might be the more appropriate word) that we got our children a wii for Christmas? Yes, despite my determined rhetorical stance against electronic gadgetry, screentime, and giving in to the whims of trend, after much consideration and discussion, Kevin and I decided to get a “family gaming system.” Even just typing out those last three words makes me sigh. Kevin was the more enthusiastic of the giving parents, but I did indeed agree. What swung my vote was the fact that the children were already exposed to screens in a variety of forms. They watched movies, and played games on online sites like Poptropica and TVOkids. Albus played a computer game on Saturday mornings with the others gathered around the tiny screen to watch. We had limits in place on these other uses of the screen, so we figured we could treat the wii in the same way.
And it’s been … fine. Actually, in some ways–not to endorse family gaming systems–it’s proven to be a place of bonding between siblings.
Here’s what’s happening right now: Albus is playing a game with CJ that is easy enough for CJ to play, too. They are active and bouncing and laughing and taking water breaks. I’m not saying this bonding couldn’t happen in many other ways, because it can and it does. But this is okay, too. Okay. Guess that’s as enthusiastic as I can get in my acceptance of the family gaming system.
Compromise. Even I can do it.
This week our eldest children played their first “real” soccer games ever. They have played a number of games at “soccer in the park,” which is in its fifth year (!!)–but this was the first time either child had played on a field with a referee and a team uniform and parents in lawn chairs watching and shouting, and a coach who wasn’t also Dad. We all went to AppleApple’s first game. I packed a picnic. It was sunny and not too cold and we laid out a blanket and set up beside the field. But it wasn’t much fun. The children who were not playing were mostly misbehaving. While twirling around a goalpost, CJ whacked his head with a resonant whump that could be heard across the field. Tears. More tears from Fooey who was afflicted with general unhappiness at not being the centre of attention. Ditto Albus, whose first game wasn’t till the following night. He did not take well to seeing his parents focused on his sister, and the first thing he said when she came off the field at the end of the game (flushed and delighted), was: “Did you win?” (He knew her team had lost; he keeps careful and accurate score of all games).
It was a grim parenting moment: What are we doing wrong? Why are our children unkind to each other? Onward. He was bored. And sibling rivalry happens.
We actually had a good talk about the subject the following day, when he refused to show AppleApple how to play a song on the piano that he and I had worked out by ear (K’Naan’s Wavin’ Flag, which everyone in our house sings and hums at random points during the day). He wouldn’t show her how to play it because it was his secret. After some mean words, he was sent to his room, and I followed a minute or two later. I explained that I could show AppleApple how to play the song too, and that it was really K’Naan’s song, and he had been very generous with it, and had shared it with many other musicians and artists. And I said that bullies were often (though not always) people who were insecure about their own abilities, or feeling envious and jealous, and who tried to make other people feel small so that they could feel big. I said that it’s a sign of self-confidence when we’re willing to share what we know with other people–like K’Naan. I didn’t end up showing AppleApple how to play the song (by the time I came downstairs, she’d moved on to something else). But yesterday morning, Kevin and I were in the kitchen and we paused and looked at each other: we could hear Albus in the living-room, helping AppleApple figure out how to play Wavin’ Flag.
At AppleApple’s game I discovered that I’m the kind of mother who shouts things from the sidelines. Nothing bad. But I was quite amazed, as if standing apart from myself, watching this woman excitedly cheer on her daughter, “Go, go, go! Good job! Try again!” Etc. I really couldn’t help myself. It’s likely a good thing I was distracted by misbehaving children most of the time. At the end of her very first game, Kevin ran out on the field and gave her a huge hug. I felt the same way: so very proud.
The next night, only Kevin was able to go along for Albus’s first game. His games don’t start till 7:15; not to mention that it was pouring rain and about 3 degrees Celcius. No kidding. I got a before picture, imagining a dramatic and sodden after picture, but by the time I saw him, he had shed his soaked uniform: the after picture was taken in a warm bath, and he’s drinking a cup of hot chocolate. And he’s beaming. He had a blast, though does seem at a disadvantage for never having played on a “real” team before. When Albus had to throw the ball in, and hesitated and hesitated, not sure when he was allowed to, Kevin heard other parents (on Albus’s team) muttering amongst themselves, and he wanted to say, “It’s his first game!” It’s not exactly painful to watch our children struggle, but it is genuinely painful to see them judged … by other adults … in a game that’s supposed to be fun for the kids … (Kevin also saw a few parents yelling at their own kids at the end of the game).
The good news is that Albus had a wonderful time, win or lose.
For AppleApple’s second game, yesterday, Kevin took her alone, with a packed supper for afterward, and I fed the other kids at home before we walked up to the Eco-Fair event at their school (most popular area at the Eco-Fair was, hands-down, the juice and cookie table; CJ had to be physically restrained from going for fourths).
Meanwhile, back at the field, AppleApple played goalie for the entire game, and was, according to her dad, quite amazing and fearless. (She’s never played goalie in her life). By the end of the game, the parents were all cheering her by name. The game ended in a tie. But Kevin said it was gut-wrenching to watch.
Honestly, I’m not sure either of us are cut out for the sidelines. But we’ll do anything for our kids.
The experiment of soccer almost every night is already taking a toll, as Kevin and I pass each other and wave hello and goodbye, and we’ve yet to figure out a way to enjoy supper together as a family (which is an important part of our everyday routine); but I’m glad the kids are getting a chance to do something just for them, which is hard to pull off in a family with four kids. May it continue to be fun.
(And here’s hoping each child shines in his or her own way, and enjoys his or her own pursuits, without comparison. Comparing siblings is nothing more than toxic parenting. I’m trying to make sure the kids don’t label each other and measure against each other, either, difficult as that can be. I don’t mean we don’t recognize differences, just try hard not to say: why can’t you be like … or so-and-so always … etc.).
Note to self: Never announce that one is mending. One will instantly be swatted back to germworld by the Powers that be. (What are these Powers? Dare I ask?) Mending, say you? Hacking and coughing, say we. Oh, and for good measure, let’s send that stomach flu spiralling through the rest of the family, shall we?
Some pictures from our week …
Fooey and CJ home with me on Monday, posing for a sibling portrait.
Also on Monday, a day of reading and puzzling together: CJ posing with the first puzzle he ever put together–for real! he stopped and held still in this position, thumb tucked into palm, till the shutter clicked! (I helped with the puzzle; but he did a lot–a lot more than I realized that he possibly could).
Yesterday, all four children were at home, giving us a prelude of what’s to come on next week’s March Break. They spent all afternoon organizing themselves to play school (ironic, huh). I peeked into the living-room at various points to discover: a beautiful craft being made that turned pencils into flowers; four children at four “desks” working in math books (apparently we have a lot of these, usually neglected, on our colouring book shelf); four children arriving at the counter for “nutrition break” (a chocolate bunny split into four equalish pieces that we bought from a child selling them door-to-door for his school; I do not want my own children to have to do that, ever); and four children putting on rain boots and sweaters to run outside and play in the slush for recess. And I recorded none of it. The best I can come up with is this out-take photo from my portrait project, which shows yesterday’s post-school littered living-room, and the self-adorned CJ.
[Note: The portrait project can be found by scanning down the right-hand side of the page, but be warned, it’s all about me. 365 days of self-portraiture. What’s the worst that could happen? No, Powers, I’m not asking. Really. That was just a joke.]
And, finally, today … two brothers watching a movie together in the basement. My boys! The younger of the two has just fallen asleep for a rare afternoon nap. So rare, I thought they were extinct. I should go grab a photo of it while I still have the chance, before it flies into the deepest darkest forest known to humankind. (That feels like I’ve written a riddle, the answer to which is: the past).
I woke up feeling unpleasant. So did Fooey. She felt even more unpleasant than I did. I won’t get graphic on you, but let’s just say it was messy. And she was feeling so unpleasant that she just leaned over the side of her bed. CJ almost suffered a moment of sympathetic upheaval himself, but AppleApple was able to coax him away from the scene of carnage. I seem to be on the tolerable side of unpleasant as long as I don’t eat. I can stand and cope and do laundry (very important, under the circumstances, especially since Kevin is working in Toronto for the day.)
Photo number one depicts the three eldest children (yes, Fooey, too!) embarking on the walk to school, yesterday, without adult supervision. Well, to the walking school bus, which is only a couple of blocks uphill. At the family meeting, we’d decided that for the purposes of crossing the street, she would walk in the middle and each of the older kids would hold one of her hands. The after-school report was pretty good, though they had difficulty crossing “the hard street,” the one with the four-way stop and cars hurrying to commute to work. Apparently there were conflicting instructions from the drivers at the four-way stop. One woman waved them on, and another “old woman” waved to them not to cross, because she wanted to go. She went. The kids wisely waited. I was proud of how they handled it, making the best decision for themselves.
Photo number two depicts us this morning. Yes, I’m strangling Albus. Mostly in jest. He is a natural ham in photos and strives to hog the limelight. A gentle restraint was in order. I love the chaos. I love my family. We had ourselves a bit of fun.
The two oldest are quietly playing Lego together, after taking charge of lunch. With a bit of nauseated-Mama assistance, and some decent teamwork, they made tuna melts in the toaster oven. AppleApple sliced the bread and cheese, Albus worked the broiler. A friend has offered to bring supper, and I won’t turn her down. Even AppleApple, who had experienced a mild frisson over being in charge of the food prep today, thought it was a happy development: “Or we would probably be eating peanut butter and jam sandwiches for supper.”
If all goes as planned, the two eldest will be heading out soon with hockey sticks for a game of street hockey around the corner. I’m glad this gorgeous spring-like weather won’t go unappreciated.
That’s what I shout at the two big kids as they head off for school on their own. There’s a kind of yah, whatever response to that phrase, but I know that they hear me, and that they do … look after each other. The time they spend together belongs only to them, and though they don’t know it yet, it’s going to matter forever. I love my own siblings. It’s a unique bond. In childhood the love and pride for each other is torn by primitive and primal feelings of jealousy and competition, and then, if we’re lucky, we grow up and out of that into a closeness that comes from having shared the same experiences, the same family, the same parental quirks. A lot of the same story. And who knows what troubles they will need to help each other through.
So I keep saying it: “Look after each other!”
Hey, yesterday CJ peed on the potty. He really really did, and of his own initiative. I think it freaked him out just a little bit, but he was proud. We called Kevin so CJ could tell him himself. But he’s a long way from potty training proper … as we discovered last night during a post-bath, pre-pajama spell of random spot-peeing, which seemed always to take him by great surprise. Somehow, those important bodily signals are not translating yet. Nevertheless, I’m super-proud of him.
On the siblings. One of the things I love about my children is that they take genuine joy and pride in CJ’s accomplishments (and, occasionally, in each other’s). But there’s something about that littlest that brings out the best in everyone. He can be a lot of extra work and trouble–but they all try to include him. Yesterday, Albus hurt CJ’s feelings, and was immediately filled with genuine remorse. “I’m sorry!” Big hug. “You can come and play with us, wittle bittle.” Or some baby-talk name along those lines. I’m a big baby-talker, so naturally the kids do it too. CJ has a funny thing he says often now: “Hey, ding-dong!” He also brought home the cutest craft from nursery school last week–a tiny owl, which he appears to have named “Bubbles,” and whose home is under the bathroom sink. That’s where CJ is right now–not under the bathroom sink; I mean at nursery school. I should be yoga-ing, or revelling, or even just napping. Nope. Typing. Okay, that works too. But oh the time goes by so fast.
Family meeting last night was not super-exciting, but we did it. And it worked, mostly. The two youngest family members were too tired, as were the parents, but AppleApple kept things flowing. She ended by introducing a motion to have us choose special colours of clothing to wear on family meeting days (inspired by school spirit days, I think). We settled on “blue, black, red, white,” with the combination being at the discretion of the clothes wearer. She wrote it on the calendar so we won’t forget next Thursday. The other important items on the agenda: Kevin suggested using a reusable container to fetch our gelato in. And everyone agreed to keep trying to resolve conflicts using the two rules: everyone has to talk, and no yelling. AppleApple requested more parent involvement, specifically helping both parties figure out what they should say. Albus and Fooey had a genuine conflict that was genuinely resolved by compromise while the three of us were on our way home from the children’s museum on Sunday. I stopped the car and parked till they worked it out. It took some time. But it was revelatory for me too, to help them get to the root of their conflict, together. Like a lot of conflicts, each saw the problem differently. Fooey wanted to lean her head over so she could see the dials on the front dash. Albus felt that she was in his personal space. She didn’t understand the concept of personal space. So it took a lot of work. And I’m not sure either was super-happy with the solution (essentially, both had to compromise–Fooey had to lean less, and Albus had to give up a bit of personal space). But I didn’t start the car again till I was sure the fighting was over. (I should add that though that was a success story, we’ve had far more half-finished, unresolved, problematic attempts at conflict resolution all week … so I don’t want to paint an idealized portrait here).
Look after each other!