What is it about school?

Heading off into the world…

There was one moment when I just wanted to grab her hand and pull her back to me.

Unfortunately, that would be quite embarrassing to have the entire busload of kids laughing at the mom who couldn’t let go, so I backed off and moved back up the driveway so she could get on without a desperate mother clinging to her little hand.

What is it about school? Friends have told me and told me, “Oh, once they start school time just starts to fly, and they just move further and further away from you all the time.”

Good God, there is something really sad about that, until you realize in many ways they are just moving further and further away from you from the moment they are born, from the minute they eat their first solid food, the second they take their first steps. Is that sad or is that joyous? I feel a bit of both. It is the ultimate in bittersweet, really. I rejoice in every first in my babies’ lives, and yet I feel a twinge of sadness. Last week I finally hauled all of the baby gear and sweet wee clothes out of every closet and from beneath every bed and got rid of all of it. Other babies are using it all now. This was due in no small part to the fact my youngest child was about to start kindergarten and is clearly far from being a baby anymore. But it still hurt.

It is a letting go like nothing else I have experienced in my life. I am no longer a parent to babies, or toddlers, or even pre-schoolers. I am out of that club. I can offer wise words as someone who has been there, but a new parent would probably think to themselves, “Oh, she is not HERE where I am, so she does not KNOW.”

So here I am with two schoolgirls. I am the lunch maker, the form-signer, the one who tries every afternoon, like a dentist trying to pull teeth, to extract some meagre nugget of information from our children about their day at school. After years of spending most hours of the day with her, it is hard, really hard, to be relegated to this seemingly secondary role. Yikes, could I be taking it personally? Yes, other than sleep time, a teacher now spends more hours a day with my child than I do. Who knew that could be so tough to swallow? Even when the teacher is wonderful and caring, it still burns.

When our kindergartener comes home from school, she is exhausted and exuberant and bursting with all the new experiences. I try to see it all through her eyes, all the glittering freshness of being out in the world on your own for the first time. Every thing we take for granted, it’s pretty darn thrilling to her, bus rides, lunch kits, recess, a whole class full of other children who she just knows will be her best friends.

I smile and I enjoy the moments when she bursts out with some little story about her day. I look into her eyes and I see the baby that she was just a short while ago, the way she used to look at me when she was tiny and her parents were the centre of the universe. And I see that we are still her centre. Her universe just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Friends

 When I was a kid, I was not popular. I might have been a bit odd, eccentric perhaps and maybe annoyingly brainy. You know those kids. Anyhow, I struggled. I had a wonderful friend who stayed next door with her grandparents for the summer, and we spent every day together, blissfully running restaurants, hotels and doll daycares, or just running wild in the woods and fields. I also had a best friend who was a grade ahead of me, so while we spent many nights having sleepovers and playing with her far-more-exciting Barbie gear, we didn’t get to play together at school.

As I got a bit older and arrived at high school, it was a glorious realization for me that there were other kids who were just a little off the grid of sunshiney perky high school student council cheerleader athlete types. (not that there is anything wrong with those types, I just would never be mistaken for one.) The smartest thing I ever did was join the band, where I found a loyal troupe of people that stuck together in the face of all that high school perkiness.

Still, I would never be the popular kid and there were times even as an adult that I was a bit at a loss in how to make friends. So imagine my surprise at this point in my life when I find myself with many friends, people who I can turn to, talk to, drink cold wine with, who care enough about us to check in regularly, who offer to watch our daughters, who feed us.

There are so many levels of friendship. There are those who have been with us since childhood, who we have watched grow up and turn into the amazing adults they are today. There are others who went through the awkward years of high school with me, or the slightly drunken days of university. They know our whole histories.

When we first became parents, we turned inward, our world shrinking to the size of our own house and that tiny person who had come to rule it. When I suffered from postpartum depression, I withdrew to the point where I could not reach out to anyone for help. It was a lonely time, one that today prompts me to ask new mothers who I barely know if they are doing alright, if they are getting out of the house enough.

 Now I have a group of friends who have been with me during the past six years of growing children. We all had young children, we all needed to get out for a glass of wine and some adult conversation. In some ways I feel like I grew up with these women. I grew into the parent I am today, and I counted on them to make me feel that whatever I was going through or what odd phase my children were dragging us into was just normal. When I was suffering from another bout of depression, I would drag myself out to our book club meetings and actually find myself laughing for the first time in weeks.

 I have learned that to make friends, you have to open yourself up to it, be prepared to make the first move, and to reach out to people when you need help. Too often women are fooled into thinking that everyone around them is doing a better job of parenting than they are. We get intimidated by images of perfect moms who make organic baby food and never yell at their offspring. But if you look more closely, you might see a look in her eye that is just a little bit wild, a little bit unhinged by lack of sleep or depression or just the puke-stained stress of parenting young children. Those are the ones you want to invite for coffee or the always-neutral ground of book club, because they might be just the ones who need a friend the most.

More and more (and less) Part 2

Once I get going on the “simplify” theme, it is hard to stop. Especially when the simplifying actually saves me money.

Oh, if you are just joining me now on the “saving money and simplifying stuff” theme, you might want to read this post first.

Something we are quite passionate about now is growing at least some of our own food. It is cheaper, it tastes better, and it is so ridiculously easy to do that almost everyone can do it. Literally, we prep the soil with a bit of compost and cow poop, plant it and basically ignore it until it is time to start snacking on snow peas and strawberries. Sometimes when I need a little time to myself, a bit of stress relief, I do some weeding. Well worth the few bucks we spend on seeds and new garden gloves every spring.

Last year’s bounty…

At some point in my married life I seem to have morphed into a bit of a do-it-yourselfer. Not something one would ever have suspected of me had they known me earlier in my life. That being said, it is strangely satisfying and much, much cheaper to do many things yourself than to hire an expert. We ripped off and rebuilt a deck last year. I am quite sure it would have cost double had we hired someone, and on the bright side it is still standing and attached to the house so we must have done something right.

Junior carpenter apprentice

Back on the topic of stuff, we have tried since our girls were born to be sensible when it comes to belongings. As soon as children come on the scene, the sheer volume of things seems to grow exponentially just to fill their basic needs. Babies come out of the womb with pretty minimal baggage, but it doesn’t take long for them to take over the house with all of their goods. Now that our little ones are not quite so little, we have tried to pass things on as much as possible, but we still have closets stuffed full of outgrown clothes and toys and cute boots that they wore twice. There are books and toys in almost every room no matter how hard we try to limit the spread. We try to be fairly restricted in toy and book purchases, but there is no stopping Santa and grandparents.

One thing we do to cut back on both clutter and cost is use the library. It helps that I am there all the time, but even if I weren’t we would still get most of our entertainment there. We easily take out 25 kids’ picture and chapter books a week, as well as adult books, the latest magazines, music CDs (gone are the days of only classical music at the library) and movies and television shows on DVD. So it is all free and when we are done with it we return it. One sweep through the house and at least 30 things a week are cleared out. To make room for new! Even when we are on holidays we get a library card where we are staying and pick up a supply of trashy magazines, kids’ books on CD for the car, whatever. It is also a great free rainy-day activity when you are camping to go hang out at the library for a couple of hours.

At our house we have done a lot of the classic “save money and energy” things like change lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, wash everything except ourselves in cold water, seal around the windows to stop heat loss. We even had a home energy audit done on our century house a few years ago when there were still government rebates for energy-saving renovations. It has made a difference, but we still dream of putting in solar hot water and getting rid of oil-powered heat forever. That is not yet in the cards for us, so we continue to find ways to save in other departments.

As I learn more about our finances, I have found that it annoys me more and more that I spend so much on banking fees every month. Now that we have combined finances, the two of us mostly use one account for everything, to get paid into and to pay everything out of. Funny how there seems to be a lot more “coming out” than “going in.” Anyhow, we have increased our banking plan several times, only to find that we still go over the maximum allowed transactions every month, which means paying a monthly fee AND also paying sixty cents for every extra transaction. To get unlimited transactions would cost $14 a month. Yep, it’s ridiculous. Paying $14 a month to a bank that is making billions in profits every year from OUR money.

Well, they may only be making a few dollars off my money personally, but you know what I mean. Anyhow, I decided to check out the online banks, and ING was offering me $50 to open an account with them. That got my attention. They offered ME $50 if I deposited $100 in a new account. And they don’t have any transaction fees for regular things like paying bills. None. So just for signing up, I got $50 and I saved $14 to $16 a month on bank fees. Huh. Almost $200 a year. Now I don’t usually promote brands, but I am so annoyed with the regular banks that I am willing to brag a little about this. And if other people are referred to ING by me, we EACH get a $25 bonus. I am willing to suffer the humiliation of doing their marketing for them, so here is the link:

https://content.ingdirect.ca/swfs/en/widget_160_400.swf

Ah yes, did I mention we don’t buy booze anymore? Of all the cost-cutting measures, that seems the harshest. I suppose in the olden days we would have just fired up the still out back to make some home brew. Just a wee glass of icy cold wine on a summer’s eve is truly a luxury, but hey, we do what we must to get off the merry-go-round of debt. And someday, we will get there.

More and more and more, Part 1

Do you ever feel like your stuff is just going to gang up on you and squish the living daylights out of you? Or is that just me?

TOO MUCH STUFF

There seems to be an out-of-control need for stuff in our world, and it gets tougher every year to resist the pull of all that bigger, better, more expensive stuff. I was reading The Wealthy Barber Returns (I know, it is hard to  believe) and one of author David Chilton’s short chapters talked about how we in this time in history seem to have greater need for stuff than ever before, are never satisfied with what we DO have, and are constantly seeking new ways to get the stuff, even if it means (and it always means) going into debt. Bigger television, newer car, trendy clothes, a new cellphone every flipping year (WHAT is up with that??!),  music, video games,  home reno materials, more and more toys for all ages. The list goes on forever. And I am just as guilty as anyone, craving an iPad for the simple reason that it just looks cool.

All that being said, times are tight around here and we have experienced a complete shift in our thinking as a result. And you know what? I feel more happy and less stressed than I have in years. You know why? One simple reason. In the past, every time we spent money on things like those listed above, or on trips, weekends away, dinners out, knickknacks from Winners, whatever, I knew somewhere deep inside that we did not need them, AND we could not afford them. That creates a lot of stress. I am, of course, Queen of Denial, and we’re talking about a girl who once many unwise years ago took cash advances out on her Canadian Tire credit card to pay her rent. Ahem. So I could spend with the best of the spenders, and I did have that whole “I deserve it” mentality.

Times have changed, and with only one person in the family fully-employed at the moment, times HAD to change. And we have embraced it. In the process, we are not only getting by, but have paid off credit card debt and are continuing to save for our children’s education and our emergency fund. So, how do we do that? Well, let me share a few ways. I know there are lots of frugal living blogs out there, but if even one of our ideas helps someone save some cash, I would be happy.

We cut costs to the bone. As soon as we knew we were down to one job for the household, we wrote down all of our monthly expenses so that we would know just what we needed to continue. Then we started cutting, to make sure our lower income would still cover everything. I am an avid couponer, and I follow some great blogs like Mrs. January, Bargain Moose and Smart Canucks. These blogs tell me where to find the best coupons, how to find freebies and more. When I see my grocery bill come back showing me I saved 9 per cent (or even 33 per cent) by using coupons, I know it is worth it. That is our money and we are keeping it.

I also got rid of my credit card that charged a higher interest rate plus a monthly fee. Why should I pay for a service I can get from another company for free? I switched to a card that has no fee and I pay it off at the end of every month. Simple, right? But I have never ever done that before. Next I called the company which shall remain nameless but is pretty much the only provider of phone and internet service here. I had seen an ad on their website offering new customers a rate for phone and internet that was $35 less than what we were paying. I called and asked for that rate. The first person said no. I spoke to someone else, and was told again the rate was for new customers only. So I told him to cut my service, then I would just open up a new account the next day and be a new customer. Needless to say, I got the better rate, and he threw in the ultra high speed internet as well. We don’t make long-distance calls on the phone anymore, but do it online with Skype or the Google phone service.

Again, I say, why should we pay for something that another company will give us for free?

I have written before about our frugal Christmas, and we have continued to keep gift-giving to some pretty strict rules, which include a smaller budget and more handmade and upcycled gifts. I am also going to confess to a little driveway-surfing. I don’t know what the proper term is, but it happens when people just put unwanted items at the end of their driveways and other people come along and pick them up. One man’s junk is another woman’s treasure and all that. The girls and I were driving home from a visit last fall and saw this at the end of someone’s driveway, beside their trash bags. 

Can you believe it?? It’s a beautiful dollhouse. The girls love it.

Just yesterday we were saying that we needed a little school desk for homework. I was driving home later that same day and guess what I saw? A fab retro school desk, made of sturdy chrome and some kind of indestructible melamine-like stuff, just sitting on the side of the road. I screeched to a stop, backed up, snagged it and took it home. It is PERFECT. And free.

Twenty years ago I would have cringed at the very idea of taking someone else’s cast-offs, but now I know better. With everyone buying new things constantly, “cast-offs” are often as good as new. Times change, and so do I.

There are SO many ways to change your mindset on spending and saving, and no one way works for everyone. Next time, I will share a few more ways we are trying to make a difference, while also teaching our daughters about sensible consumption. Stay tuned!

What are some of the things you do to save money and cut corners? I would love to know.

Sunshine and blue skies

off into the world

Okay, it actually is not sunshine and blue skies outside my window this morning, but it will be later today, I think. Lots of things flitting through my mind this week, which is only appropriate for a blog called “the mind does wander.” I’ve got a list going in my head at all times of things to accomplish, goals to wish and strive for, little tasks to tackle, and of course Big Goals that keep getting added to every list in hopes that one day they will be achieved. (Write novel. Pay off debt. Get up earlier. Have date nights every week. Or at least every six months.)

This week’s goals include celebrating our “baby’s” fifth birthday, and I am feeling a little weird about that. It seems to launch us into a whole different realm of parenting. We go from being parents of very young children, preschoolers even, to being parents of school-age children. Since kindergarten is a full-time affair here, that is huge. It means both of our girls will be gone off to school in September, leaving at 8 a.m. and back home at 3:40 p.m. It means I am no longer in the baby-toddler-preschooler-mom’s club. So how do I feel about that?

I am feeling a bit ambiguous, to be sure. It means letting go of all that is wrapped up in that pre-school period, including my role as a part-time worker and full-time parent. Of course parenthood is always full-time, but the time I have spent at home with the girls the majority of days is pretty much over, and this brings with it a sense of sadness. Already I have moved into the role of more work and less time at home, as Dan has been more the full-time parent this year. I feel that this summer is the end of a certain period in our lives that will never come again in quite the same way, but I suppose that can be true of every moment in our lives.

With that in mind, I am focusing on truly being present in every moment this summer, on looking ahead to the future and what it holds but also just soaking in the joy that is right now. Here are a few things on my wish list for the coming months:

1. Grow more of our own food. Gardening is earlier this year than it has been in years, so we are making the best of that. The greens in the cold frame are cropping very nicely and we are all enjoying the freshness every day. Ava and I actually got most of the garden planted the other day, including my first attempt at growing tomatoes from seed. So far, so good, and I already have visions of the gorgeous tomato sauce made with our own roma tomatoes and red island garlic.

2. Get out camping more. Now that we have resolved that a camping trailer is not in the cards this year, we will enjoy our lovely new tent instead. Destinations? Wish list includes Cape Breton, Fundy National Park, Graves Island, and as always, the Annapolis Valley. The girls’ legs are longer this year which means we can do more hiking trails without having to resort to carrying tired (and heavy) little ones.

3. Spend as much time outdoors as possible. We all love geocaching, so that is definitely on the summer bucket list. It is such a great family-friendly activity that seems to work for all ages. It gets us outside, discovering many gorgeous spots off the beaten track, and the girls always feel like they are on a treasure hunt. Plus, with many hundreds of caches in every province, we can do it anywhere and everywhere we have our GPS.

4. Take holidays. Forget about work completely and absolutely. Sometimes I think we feel somewhere deep inside (or maybe not so deep) that our workplace will fall apart without us, that chaos will ensue  the minute we leave, and that all sorts of crapola will build up there to haunt us when we return to work. It may be disconcerting to admit, but even without you everything just continues on just fine. There are lots of competent people holding things together just as well as me.

5. Hang out. Be a kid. Go to playgrounds every week. Eat ice cream.

6. Take better care of our bodies. We all have bikes now, so I really want to get out biking the trails as a family. I was never a physically active kid (sports??? Ewwwwwww!) but I want to provide the example of being active to my girls. I am even attempting to take up running, and in some sick and twisted way I like it. Of course I am only running about five minutes, then walking, then running. But still, the only thing that could have motivated me to run in the past was if some horrible purple monster were chasing me. And that never happened, thankfully.

7. Have fun.

8. Be loving.

9. Read lots of fluffy books.

Happy Birthday, baby!

How to be quiet

The sea can be quiet.

Silence is an interesting thing. It can speak volumes, like when someone is glowering silent disapproval all over someone else’s third spilled glass of milk that day. Or, if you wake up early enough in the morning, before everyone else is up and chatting, silence can just be gloriously, miraculously restful.

I am not good at quiet. In my work, I chat non-stop, which is kind of funny considering I work in a library. It is a one-person branch in a small community, though, and people don’t come there to study in silence. They come to chitchat about the weather and their children and most of all, books. I love that, because getting paid to talk about books is just about the closest thing to heaven I can imagine from a professional perspective.

Still, I do crave silence sometimes, and with two little girls in the house silence is not an everyday (or every week) occurrence. We seem to get louder all the time, raising our voices to be heard over the din of raucous giggling, yelling, singing, crying masses. Okay, it is not masses, it is only two but sometimes they feel like more.

So this past week when I was hit with a whopping case of flu, complete with silence-inducing laryngitis, it got me thinking about ways to be quiet. I suppose that is the easiest way to shut me up, to strike me with laryngitis. So everything I said has had to be whispered, while at the same time the sore throat meant I was extremely frugal with what I had to say at all. If it was not important, I just saved my breath. I waited for people to come to me, rather than trying to yell over the din.

Hmmmmmm. I might have something there.

Could this be a new way of communicating effectively? Because frankly, I am tired of raising my voice.

Anyhow, the other side of the coin is that it was just nice to feel like I didn’t HAVE to talk. I could sit silently. We are, in these days of extreme connectivity, apt to fill silences as quickly as they arise, when really some empty spaces would be good for all of us. Being quiet means you can hear the wind blow, or the birds sing, or the soft breathing of a sleeping child across the hall. It also means you can be completely present in that moment, rather than clicking away on your smartphone or cranking up your earbuds.

Last fall, as part of a mindfulness-based stress management course, I had to take part in a one-day silent retreat. That meant for the full day, there was no talking, no eye contact with the other participants, just silence. Let’s just say right up front that I have never, ever in my life been silent for an entire day, and I was intimidated. Even while eating lunch at a table with others, no talk, no eye contact. We spent the day doing relaxation exercises, meditating, yoga, writing in a journal, or just sitting in a peaceful spot staring at the sea. There was a little boathouse down by the water with a hanging swing chair, and I remember sitting there, idly swinging and thinking “I want to do this every week.”

Which leads me to try to find ways of being silent in my everyday life and in the life of my family. Getting up early seems to be the best way for me, while staying up later seems to work best for Dan. Carving out even a half-hour of time to be alone and quiet makes such a difference to my day. Sometimes I do some yoga or stretches. Other days I make a cup of tea and just sit down at my little desk with a notebook. Some mornings I sit and watch the birds outside the window. It sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is, but it is amazing what a difference it makes. Last year I had just been finding that stress was hijacking my day right from the second I became conscious in the morning. The moment I heard a child wake up, I would leap out of bed with my mind already on overdrive, thinking of all the things I had to do, my heart rate already pounding and that cranky feeling already well-established for the day. THAT is not healthy.

We are trying to help our children find a little quiet as well, which is not easy. But the most simple way to do it is to allow a bit of time at the end of the day for them to read in bed on their own. Just giving them that silent 20 minutes to sit in bed alone with a book helps them unwind and quiet their minds enough to really relax for sleep. Of course Ava can’t read yet but we encourage her to just look at books, which she loves to do. What is really important is that our children learn ways to quiet themselves.

We are always saying “Take a deep breath.” This is a catchall phrase that is sometimes an attempt to divert someone from a tantrum or from smacking their sibling across the head with a Groovy Girl. But it is also a way of diffusing a kid who is getting so wound up that her eyes are actually unfocused and her heart is pounding. It is healthy for children to learn ways to self-soothe, and just taking five deep breaths with the eyes closed is a simple technique they can use anywhere. Heck, it’s a simple technique we should all use.

Needless to say, going on silent retreat is not an option for everyone, and laryngitis isn’t an easily-acquirable solution either, but a little quiet time is good for everyone in the family. It helps us to ground ourselves in the world, to just “be” without constantly having to “do.” That is a huge challenge especially for busy parents, but if we can provide that example to our children it will also help them to handle stress and busy-ness with greater calm.

So take a deep breath. And for heaven’s sake, be QUIET.

 

 

To have no limits

Flying

Children can do absolutely anything. They can be ballerinas and space scientists, at the same time. They can excel at any sport, any style of dance, any subject at school. They can turn cartwheels and create mind-bending art and win any competition in the world in any skill. They are superheroes.

It is forever amazing to us grownups that our girls seem to see no barriers to success, no restrictions on what they can achieve, and no one who can do more than they can. OH, how I wish that invincible confidence could last forever! Already I see a difference in our older child, as the pressures of school and classmates start to take a toll on invincibility.

JUMP!

I admit, sometimes that confidence is frustrating, like when I suggest they take swimming lessons and Kat informs me, “I don’t need to, Mummy, I already know how to swim.” Which, of course, she doesn’t REALLY but she does paddle and dunk very nicely. I remind myself that you really have to respect that attitude of complete and total belief in yourself and your own abilities. Like today, for example. The girls watched a bit of the world championship figure skating, which they were really loving. During a break, they ran upstairs, put on figure skating “costumes”, came down and started recreating the skaters’ routines on the kitchen floor, sliding around in their socks. Kat’s reenactment of the medal-winning woman’s sit-spin was especially moving. This is fairly typical for us…we watch a dance show, the girls recreate it. They hear a Taylor Swift song, and become rock star girls, dressed in what they think rock star girls wear. Usually jeans and a sparkly shirt. Or they read a fairy tale and become the heroine.

Little Red Riding Hood in genie pants

We have often said that our older daughter hurtles through life at full-speed, fearing nothing and slowing for no one. I admire that so much. I don’t recall being that way even as a child, and certainly it is not my style now. I sometimes wish I could borrow just a bit of her fearlessness. As I get older I have learned to care less about what others might think of me, but through my teens, 20s and early 30s I cared, OH, I cared. When I think of the time wasted in dwelling on others’ perceptions of me, it is frankly exhausting.

So what can we do  to keep that spirit of fearlessness alive in our girls? None of us can control what other people say or do or see, so we can only work on our own family unit. Here are a few things we are trying.

1. Explore different sports and activities to discover strengths and find what they love to do.

It’s not about competition for us. It is about having strong bodies that do amazing things, and having healthy outlets for all that energy. Neither Dan nor I were ever sporty (if there is such a thing as anti-sporty, I was that) in the least, but we try to encourage the girls by being active as a family. I believe that having a strong, healthy body that dances and cartwheels and plays soccer will go a long way to boosting confidence as they get older.

2. Don’t get hung up on the “Oh, you look so pretty/you are a princess today/what a nice frilly outfit you have on” kind of feedback.

We try to focus on ability, and love and respect for each other, and what makes them unique. The girls have selected their own wardrobes since they were old enough to talk, and it is so fun to see what they come up with. There are times when they may look a little bit eccentric, but those are just the times when my heart surges with love for their little individualist souls. Let your freak flag fly!! (Sorry, but I always was a bit of a geek.)

3. Talk to them like people, not just kids.

I think, and I hope, that even with all the whining that goes on at times (“You NEVERRRRRR let me do what I want!”) our children feel respected and valued as members of our family, and just as important people in the world. If they ask me a question, like “Mummy, did I have any clothes on when I came out of your belly? And how DID I get out of there?” then I answer as honestly and sincerely as I can without over-sharing. Since they were babies, we’ve used the mantra “they’re just little people.” Little people with their own specific agendas and opinions.

4. Let them get bored.

The most amazing play comes out of being bored. We limit television to a couple of hours a week, which leaves lots of time for other stuff. Television has its place for sure, but it is mostly an imagination-killer. Who needs to come up with a new game to play when you can pretend to be Dora, or a Disney Princess, or Strawberry Shortcake? I would much rather have them make up a game out of whatever household materials they can scrounge up and what’s in the dress-up trunk. There are no limits in a child’s imagination, but sometimes we place limits on them inadvertently by what kinds of toys we buy or what entertainment we provide. That’s not preachy, I hope. Not meant that way.

Anyhow, this is all to say that children have no limits. What a beautiful quality that is, to believe that all things are possible. If we as adults could learn a little of that, or remember when once we felt that way, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing?

All things are possible.

I’m working on it

Image

Be present. Live in the moment. Choose your battles. Take a deep breath. Take another even deeper breath.

Do you ever have those days when you have to repeat those words to yourself over and over again, yet you still can’t stop yourself from being impatient with someone? Usually someone who is a member of your beloved family? Often someone who is very cute and dear and knows just which buttons to push just to see how you might react? You know what I mean. We all have those moments. I think, when my children are grown and don’t really need me that much, I will forget those times. Already I find that irritation is washed away at the end of every day when I see my daughter’s silky little still-pudgy cheek resting on her hand as she sleeps, or when I see my elder daughter’s giant feet sticking out from under the covers, looking so vulnerable and strangely incongruous with the fourteen stuffed animals she is clutching to her chest with both arms.

On the weekend I was reading a really good blog called Making this home, and the title of the post was “Today will have no regrets.” It got me thinking about my own days, and how I can ensure that I have no regrets. Of course that would mean that I would resist losing my cool over the fact that a meal never goes by without someone taking one look at what healthy choice we have lovingly prepared and saying a very loud and definitive “Bleh” with the oh-so-effective “talk to the hand” motion.

Or it could also mean I would just not regret losing my cool, I suppose. That is hard, however, especially if losing my cool involved me slamming my hand down on the table and shrieking “Oh YEAH???!! Well, DON’T eat it then!!” I know, which one is the more childish in this scenario, right?

We make charts all the time that have as the ultimate goal the creation of well-mannered, helpful, respectful children who do not pick their noses with their toes (that actually happened at tonight’s supper) and who really hustle their buns to do chores like water the plants and make beds. So perhaps the time has come for the creation of the adult mindfulness/no-regrets chart. In the meantime, I will just think about what might go on such a worthy document.

Last week my four-year-old and I clipped some branches from the forsythia bush in our yard. We brought them in and put them in water to try to force the blooms, just as we have done with crabapple, apple and plum branches. Nothing seemed to be happening with the forsythia, though. I have walked by those branches many times in the past few days, and honestly have stopped noticing them. For some reason today my gaze fell on them, and I saw that tiny green leaves are coming out, with the gold blooms just starting. I called Ava to check on them. She dropped what she was doing and ran through the house pell-mell. She was so excited, she started shouting “Mama, Mama, they’re bwooming, the branches are bwooming, look look!” She was ecstatic. I want to be that way, too.

I vow to seek joy in the little things of my day. Yes, I am busier than usual at the moment, and it is tempting to just go blindly, to get through, to go through the motions. But I will stop and sit in the twilight after the girls are in bed, with no sound but the companionable breathing of my husband in the other chair and the turn of pages from upstairs as the girls read. And in the morning I will get up earlier, make my tea and watch the sun rise, and think of how good it all is.

Give me strength

Early morning, Horsefly Lake

Serenity, where are you?

It is a good thing I just got home from my refresher class on mindfulness-based stress management. Strangely enough, one of the topics of discussion was the potential role of mindfulness education in the school system. My Grade one child tells me when I get home that we should not send her snacks and lunch in the containers we always use, because a couple of girls have been teasing her about them, telling her they are “baby containers.” One of these girls is also apparently telling all the other kids she doesn’t like to “shut up.”

Oh my GOODNESS. Holy crap, even.

Alright, they are baby containers, in that we have had them since the girls were babies and we still use them. But the real issue for me is how to teach my children to withstand these kinds of petty but hurtful exchanges. There are times when I am completely at a loss. I think I am hyper-aware, for as a child I was relentlessly teased and bullied, both on the bus and in school. I remember with perfect clarity that feeling of being completely helpless, profoundly alone and at the mercy of those taunting kids, never knowing what to say or how to fight back. It really does have a lifelong impact.

It makes my face feel hot just thinking about other kids being mean to my child. I find myself wondering why there always have to be children who  pick on other kids to make themselves feel powerful. I suppose school is in some ways just a microcosm of the world. Now that one of our children is in school, I am always on the lookout for signs that anything is amiss. I do find that negative attitudes sometimes seem to breed on the schoolyard, and a few nay-saying apples can spoil the whole bunch. More than anything I want to teach the girls skills that will help them keep a positive attitude, be brave and resilient in the face of teasing, never bully and to help those who are being bullied.

I know, it’s a tall order for four- and six-year-olds. My expectations are HUGE.

Seriously, though, mindfulness and the power of positive thinking are life skills that I myself am studying and working on constantly, and we are trying to impart some these ideas to the girls. We all know negative thoughts and words just create more negative thoughts, and any of us who have struggled with depression know all too well where that road leads. As more children are diagnosed (or not diagnosed) with mental health issues, I think the time has come for parents and schools to take a new look at how mindfulness and empathy affect how a child grows and develops.

The wonderful “Roots of Empathy” program is a perfect example of something that really works. From their website  I pulled this description:

Started in 1996, Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. At the heart of the program are a neighbourhood infant and parent who engage students in their classroom.  Over the school year, a trained Roots of Empathy Instructor guides the children as they observe the relationship between baby and parent, understanding the baby’s intentions and emotions. Through this model of experiential learning, the baby is the “Teacher” and a catalyst, helping children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.

Empathy is something that doesn’t always come naturally, and it can be tough to teach. Kids are pretty much “all about me” and that is developmentally appropriate up to a certain point, or so the books say. I am thinking that children who learn to empathize are less likely to hurt or tease others. Teaching children social and emotional competence begins at home, of course, but if that kind of assistance is lacking, the school could at least give students a chance to learn those vital life skills. A little classroom time spent on mindfulness exercises, basic meditation to teach children to quiet their minds, simple yoga to help get the wiggles out, all of these could fit. Better for them to learn skills that will help their mental health and concentration than to spend their off-time playing video games.

So how did I respond to Kat’s baby container complaints? Well, I suggested she tell those girls that SHE is being environmentally responsible, bringing a litterless lunch with reusable containers, and everyone should be doing the same. I will be interested to see if she uses that comeback. In the meantime, I am off to do some deep calming breaths.

Speaking of babies…

Day one of life

My friends are having their first baby. Perhaps if I were just a wee bit younger, friends having babies would be a common occurrence, but with the age of 40 looming large this year it is not at all.

I find myself thinking of advice I could offer, gear we can loan, dear outfits that our babies wore and now can be buttoned onto little round baby limbs once more. I don’t often feel like an expert on many things, but baby-building and delivering were things I did fairly well.

I just read this post on parenting very young children, and I suddenly became aware that I am one of those people who feels the urge to tell new moms I see in the grocery store to “enjoy this time, because it goes by so quickly.” And possibly the new mom might want to throw a pack of raw chicken at me because she has not slept in days, her nipples are killing her and her husband pretends he doesn’t know how to change diapers, and frankly it is damn hard to enjoy the moment right now, thank you very much.

So I keep my counsel, and wait patiently for my friend to ask for any advice she might need, and to let me know if they want any of our recycled baby goods, and if she would like me to make some casseroles to put in the freezer for after babe comes along.

But what I want to tell her is this.

“It might seem very hard to enjoy this time, for so many reasons. There are SO many things to do. Everything is new, and life will never be the same for you again. These last days of being pregnant are possibly a bit uncomfortable, but they are golden. Right now you are just YOU. Of course there is another person inside you waiting to come out but for now she is pretty easy to care for, being inside and all. When she comes out to meet you two, suddenly the world shifts and kind of blows apart and comes back together in a whole new stunning way. Then it is never really about YOU again, but is about her and every thing she does.

Babykat

It is scary, and it’s okay to be scared. It’s huge. But as we all know, women have been giving birth for countless centuries now and somehow your body knows what it has to do. Somehow you do it. All sense of privacy and dignity is forgotten, and that is just fine.

The day you leave the hospital and take that little person home with you can be profoundly terrifying, because your house is still the same house but suddenly there is a new presence, one that depends on you for survival and I don’t think there has ever been anything more intimidating than that in my entire life.

Babies make a lot of weird noises when they sleep, so don’t be surprised if you are both awake a lot, listening and wondering if all is well. God, who KNEW a little baby could make such a snorting racket while sleeping?? You might check her breathing every ten minutes or so for the next six months.

Sometimes it gets to be too much, and then you need to get some help. You can call me if you need to. Sometimes you get depressed, or angry, or the anxiety chokes you until you can’t leave the house. This happens more often than people think. If it does, just know that it will get better, and you will be able to see clearly, and feel joy in your baby’s smile again.

Your relationship as a couple will never be the same again. It can be even better, but it takes a LOT more work.

Once you are a mom, you can sometimes forget about all the other things that you are, but eventually it starts to come back to you. Some things never come back and that is okay, too.

Being a parent can make you a better, stronger, more humble person. You need to slow down, just sit and look at your baby, gaze into her eyes and let her gaze back. The laundry will wait. Just be.

I am not forgetting the hard parts, my friend. I remember all the difficult bits quite clearly, but they all fall away when you feel what it is to be so loved, and to love so much in return. And this is what I want for you.”

Baby on the beach