It was for mostly selfish reasons that, when I heard that schools would be closed for an extra two weeks after March break, part of my heart – through the worry – was full of joy. It wasn’t the joy of knowing that the closures are the right thing to do, even though that’s true. It was the joy of a borderline introvert with an extrovert job. It was the prospect of a situation I could happily envision, even before “social distancing” became part of the public lexicon.
Honestly, hanging out at home with my family is one of my favourite things to do, period. There has been no moment at which I’ve said to myself, “What are we going to DO with ourselves?” All four of us are well-suited to the current state of affairs. On a normal weekend day, if we don’t have plans, we tend to be quite contented.
The hard part on those lazy days – under normal circumstances – has sometimes been the Fear Of Missing Out, or the sense that I’m not giving my kids all the expected social stimuli that a good parent should, or that we’re shirking some kind of obligation. There’s a feeling that society thinks we should be out and about. Right now, I feel a sense of relief that social distancing is my obligation right now. DON’T BE OUT AND ABOUT. Everything is cancelled anyway. Zero FOMO!
All this being said… We’re a week in, and even for us, it’s not paradise. By now, the message has hit home that we don’t get to fill our time with play dates, and E and AB are bummed about that. (I have my social side too – I love visiting with friends and am sad that we won’t get to do that.) The kids are also absolutely off their routines, which makes all of us a little grumpy and aimless. We’ll be starting up a schedule tomorrow to get some structure back into our lives.
But what I notice is how many small things I can do, that I normally do rarely or not at all – both with the kids and without – because I am constantly saying “I don’t have time right now.” At the moment, I do! So I can bake with AB because we have time for her exacting slowness. We can play Streaking Kittens whenever the mood strikes, as opposed to saying “Maybe on the weekend…” I can mend or untangle or find those things I’d normally leave for the elusive “later.” There is no place we’re trying to get to on time. Nothing is pressing. (Other than hand washing.) It’s such a weird feeling – disorienting but also soothing. We spend SO MUCH TIME getting ready, rushing off, doing what’s immediately urgent, and having barely enough time to finish things.
There has never been a better opportunity to leaninto those at-home activities that I love. Such as:
making lots of lists 😉
getting all my current marking done (okay, I don’t love this one, but it’s satisfying)
cleaning things deeply in a way one so rarely has time for (ditto)
actually getting out the messy crafts that we so often don’t do because it’s almost dinnertime or whatever
taking family walks and hikes
unpacking and organizing the contents of the boxes in our office which have never been dealt with since the Great Plumbing Repair of 2019 – this is already almost done!!
wearing my comfy pants ALL THE TIME
reminding myself how to sprout some sprouts
playing piano and ukulele
engaging in some specific artistic endeavours I have been putting off for literally years
doing a whole jigsaw puzzle – maybe two!!
I once started a blog post that, for whatever reason, was never finished or published. It was called “Happiness is a Jigsaw Puzzle.” When I stumbled upon the file, at first I thought I’d meant that happiness is like a kind of puzzle with lots of little bits that you have to fit into each other… but it was actually nothing that profound.
What I meant was, it’s a blissful luxury – to me – to have enough time to sit and just contemplate colour and shape. To piece together, very slowly, a big picture with lots of interesting details. To listen to music and just enjoy the mini-hits of dopamine when a piece finds home. It is a calming, comforting activity for me. But there have been years that go by where I don’t do any jigsaw puzzles, because there simply is not enough time – always a To Do list too long. The pleasure goes out of puzzles when there’s guilt involved. And when things are pressing, there’s always guilt. So… enter social distancing! The perfect excuse for puzzle-working!
(I did this one in about 3-4 hours, over the course of two days. It was a fun one! Charles Wysocki never disappoints.)
Of course to some people, sitting and working a jigsaw puzzle would be agony. I know this whole social distancing phenomenon is really hard for the true extroverts. I feel for those people – I know what it’s like to need a recharge that’s hard to get. And I’m claustrophobic, so I can imagine that being alone a lot would feel like the emotional equivalent of claustrophobia. The loneliness plus anxiety is a rough combination. Thankfully, it’s been heartwarming to see the extroverted survival guidance happening on our local Caremongering page.
As we all know, over the course of this week, the news has gotten more and more grim. I feel sure that it’s going to get much worse before it gets better. So here we are, at home, holding onto the personal status quo.
I have so many reasons to be grateful right now.
There are so many different ways to stay in touch without touching!
Sean had this week off, so there was lots of family time.
My parents are relatively healthy and live in the woods.
One set of parents-in-law are back from Florida early.
My other father-in-law is no longer in hospital (which he recently was, recovering from a broken femur and then an infection).
The various levels of government here have been prompt in taking measures to flatten the curve while (we hope) we still can.
Sean and I are not yet having to go on EI.
My kids are mostly really good at entertaining themselves – read-to-self is a favourite activity.
They are both old enough (and have the attention span, mostly) to play strategic board games.
I genuinely enjoy their company (when they’re not screeching at each other or me, or whining, or repeating strange sounds or random words over and over…).
We have a good yard to play in, and a safe neighbourhood to walk in.
The weather is warming up, slowly but surely (?) – and it’s finally technically spring!
My home has wonderful woodburning fireplace (since you know winter will keep sticking its head back in, like “you’re SURE you don’t need any more of this?”).
My city has so many people reaching out to help those in need.
In our community, it really feels like everyone is sincerely trying their best to distance themselves properly.
I’m grateful that we can still get groceries and mail and various other things – and grateful to the cashiers, bank tellers, postal workers, delivery people, garbage collectors, etc. etc. etc. who are doing their jobs as usual under these crazy circumstances.
I’m also really, really grateful to all hospital/medical staff who work at ground zero and are not able to distance themselves. The worst of this, which looms ominously, is going to be theirs to deal with. They will save lives as usual, in spite of what must be astronomical stress.
I am especially, fervently grateful that this particular disease doesn’t seem to be dangerous to healthy children, and also that my children are not immunocompromised. My heart goes out to those parents who have children who are, and/or who are themselves, immunocompromised; they must be feeling enormous anxiety. I can only imagine how it must have been during widespread outbreaks of measles or whooping cough, diseases that killed children in large numbers… The fear would be overwhelming, engulfing, inescapable.
Basically, I am feeling thankful for all the things that resemble normalcy. Besides jigsaw puzzles, there have been quite a few games – Sean and I alone have played three games of Trivial Pursuit and seven games of Cribbage (of which I lost seven I won’t say how many). We’ve watched several movies, including The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Frozen II, and live-action Beauty and the Beast. The kids are finally learning to experiment on the piano. We had a virtual family date with friends yesterday, and today we had an impromptu socially-distant sidewalk-chalking session on our street with Skye’s family. The other day, Sean got AB on the walkie-talkie and taught her some lingo. (We used the pegasus names AB gave us as our call signs and she got right into it: “Phoenixtail, this is Moonwing. What’s your twenty?” and “Ten-four, Midnightfrost, over.”)
I hope you are all managing so far, lovelies. What an extraordinary thing, to know that no matter who is reading this, and wherever you are, you are part of this with us. We send you love.
Did you know that my daughter has been married for almost two months? She’s a romantic, but she needs no extravagant proposal. In fact, she doesn’t even need a groom.
Back at the end of the summer, she drew the above picture on our white board, with great attention to details like rings and gloves and such. She told us that she would be marrying a boy she likes from her school (Lorenzo – he couldn’t’ve had a more romantic name if she’d made him up). She added “Wedding Today” on a Sunday at the end of summer, and got dressed up fancy.
She was really happy and excited. She did ask at one point, “Could we go pick up Lorenzo?” but I’ve never seen this kid, much less met his parents/gotten his number/found out his address. Fortunately, she didn’t seem that perturbed that he wouldn’t be there for the wedding. There wasn’t even really a ceremony (which would only have served to make the groom’s absence more noticeable – who needs it?). She liked wearing her sparkly shoes and Tinkerbell dress and feeling special for the day. She was celebrated and congratulated heartily by all who were present.
Ah, the glory of it all.
Soon afterward, she began work on her first book. It wastes no time with preamble (or writing word order, at least on the first page).
“One day two lonely people crashed in the night. It was love at first sight.” And the rest is history (and more legible).
[It seems worth mentioning that both my kids write on much more mature themes than I did as a child. As you may know, my masterwork Rainy Day Cindy had no romance in it whatsoever (although there were some decent present-giving moments). Nor did it have the kinds of heisty hijinks E likes to write about (superheroes with animal sidekicks fighting evil scientists – more on that later). Mini-Di just followed Gilbert Blythe’s advice and wrote what she knew. More or less.]
I’m pretty sure that this manuscript is not done. I, for one, have many questions and will need some more instalments. I feel like Lorenzo’s behaviour in this book could take a dark turn, as it seems a little stalker-y; but then, maybe he’s just showing perseverance to be rewarded. In the meantime, I’m pretty proud of my kid’s word choices and indomitable spelling.
Recently, I had the chance to catch up with an old friend whose family was expecting their third child: a daughter, after two sons. [Actually, I started this post more than a month ago, and as it happens, said daughter was born TODAY, early this morning! So read on, in honour of wee baby EC’s birth day.] This friend is from a two-son, no-daughter family himself. He said, “I should pick your brain sometime about how to raise a girl. I’ll have no idea what I’m doing.”
I’d like to say that I have all the answers, since a) I am a daughter and b) I have a daughter I’ve managed to get to age 5 relatively unscathed.
Always wipe front to back
Don’t over-clean and irritate those girl parts
Keep a close eye on her interactions with her big brothers, because it’s easy for big brothers to abuse their power without realizing it.
Annnnd… that’s about the only straightforward advice I have. As soon as you’re past the diaper stage – and sometimes while you’re still in it – other things that differentiate raising a girl from raising a boy get sticky and complicated.
Once upon a time, I was a girl. (Still am, in some ways.) I was always happy and proud to be one, and never wished I were a boy – girls are the best! I was fortunate to have many strong, wise, smart female role models in my life, including my mom, my aunts, and my grandmothers. Also, I grew up between two sisters (with a brother as well), and my best friends were all girls (past about age 5).
Now I’m a grown-up woman, and I still wouldn’t trade that for anything. There are lots of awesome and basically magical things about being a female human. That being said, I have come to understand a lot more about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the status of womanhood today, and the breadth of the progress we have yet to make. I’ve thought and read and discussed a lot about what feminism means to me now, as a mother and as a teacher. Often, the process makes me mad, and always, it makes me feel fiercely protective of my little girl.
Obviously, girls, like all children, are individuals. The main things you can justifiably say about “Girls” as a group are not about their personalities, hobbies, habits, or tendencies. They are about the ways society sees and treats them. In my career I have taught literally hundreds of girls between the ages of three and eighteen, observing and getting to know them in many different contexts.
Here are a few thoughts that I hope will be helpful – or they may just confuse things worse than ever. But I think they’re important.
Pretty is as pretty does
The wish to be physically appealing is extremely powerful. I believe that this is partly instinctive, but mightily reinforced by the media. Society teaches girls and women that making themselves pretty should be their top priority.
Not too long ago, it was our duty to be pretty for men. Nowadays, it’s ostensibly for “us” – the company line is that it’s empowering to feel beautiful. Frankly, this is often true. Most women I know do feel most confident when they know they look good. I’m sure most men are the same.
Where the empowerment argument falls down is that the standards for women are flat-out ridiculous. As in, the consumer engine is all up in our appearances, down to Every. Single. Detail. Not just the quality of our hair and the state of our toenails, but everything in between, including the consistency of our breasts and the look of our vulvas. (And when I mention hair, I mean ALL the hair, in EVERY place.) There is no part of the external female anatomy that is exempt from society’s opinion.
And the expectation is perfection, literally. Women’s products are designed to minimize or conceal “imperfections” – or even “correct” them, as though every unique quirk of our bodies is a MISTAKE. I feel the outrageousness of this as I write it, but sadly, it’s no exaggeration. Society’s collective sense of entitlement to judge female people on and by their looks is inescapable and crushing. The engine never stops, because there are people making obscene amounts of money off of women feeling bad about themselves.
Tiny girls are able to love themselves and their appearances naturally and abundantly. Sean was worried at one point because AB loves to admire herself in the mirror, strike cool poses and so on – is she too focused on her looks? Will she grow up vain?
But this time of a little girl being able to enjoy her reflection without self-judgment and criticism is fleeting. Due to the above phenomenon, a girl’s self-esteem is often extremely fragile. I was already worrying about whether my body was good enough by the time I was nine (ballet class did not help in that regard, even though I adored ballet) and I fretted about my crooked teeth as soon as I got them, which was even earlier. Every insecurity a girl can have is promptly and thoroughly validated by the media. I watch my daughter enjoying her beauty, and it squeezes my heart. I know all too well the self-consciousness that creeps in, so soon, on young girls.
So here’s a quandary: do I tell my daughter she’s beautiful to reinforce her confidence, or treat appearance as unimportant so that she will focus on her character and skills? (The internet is all over both sides of this argument, BTW. It’s no help.) Personally, I try to do both. I tell her she’s beautiful often, because I can’t pretend that Beauty isn’t an issue. She IS beautiful, and she will need this knowledge-ammo to fight off the counter-messages. Plus… we all know it feels good to hear that. (She tells me I’m beautiful too, with sincerity and delight, usually when I wear a skirt or something pink – or any outfit she chose for me.)
[Here is a wonderful blog post about a mom who learned, for her daughters’ sake, to agree with them that she was beautiful. This had a big impact on me when I first read it, back when my own daughter was baby. Since then, I try very hard not to be self-critical in front of my kids. And in general (though that’s harder).]
We also talk about her character on a regular basis, discussing almost every day what makes a good friend, how much we learn from hard work, what courage looks like, and other traits we want to foster. I only use the word ugly when we’re talking about certain behaviours (which could be another whole post). I want her to know deep down, as she grows, that in real life, inner beauty is the greatest determining factor of overall beauty.
Nurturing is for everybody
Society may have been telling girls that we want to play with dolls for generations, but it’s not out of the blue. The nurturing tendency among girls is not solely a learned thing. As my daughter already knows, girls are born with all their eggs already in place in their bodies (in fact, AB seems quite proud of this). It makes sense that certain instincts come with them. Even in families trying hard to avoid gender-norming their kids, you often have tiny toddler girls pretending to be mamas (and tiny toddler boys who freak out with excitement around construction equipment). Many’s the kindergarten girl I’ve seen taking a random object – like a block or a chalkboard eraser – and mothering it.
I guess it’s not surprising that so many of the vocations dominated by women – child care, education, nursing, veterinary medicine, home health care, social work, not to mention parenting – are those in which the nurturing instincts are an asset. I am proud of the skills and accomplishments of these women, as well as those of the women who pioneer in male-dominated fields, who deal with chauvinism every day in order to pound their boots on that glass ceiling.
At some point, my daughter will have to contend with all this. Particularly divisive are the many perceptions that complicate a woman’s choice to mother – or not. “Parenting isn’t real work”… “Working mothers can’t fully succeed in their careers”… “A woman isn’t a real woman until she’s a mother” … and many more, often in conflict with each other. For now, though, I encourage my daughter to nurture (as well as to build things, play with trucks, and so on) – and I encourage the caring tendency in my son, too. We all need comfort and care, at every age. The world needs more nurturing, always, from everyone.
Pink is STUPID… Or AWESOME
I looooved pink when I was little girl. Then, around age 12, I went off it and didn’t start to enjoy it again until I was an adult. That’s partly because I came of age in the 90s – grunge and pink didn’t mix well – but partly because I saw it as a dumb, girly colour. Which is awful. I hate that I internalized that message for so long. Pink is fun. It’s happy.
It might also be a little bit of a trap. When my daughter was born, I didn’t want her to feel like she had to choose pink as the be-all and end-all of everything. But of course, people love to buy cute pink clothes for girl babies (and they areadorable). Although I dressed her in all the colours, as soon as she began choosing for herself, she overwhelmingly chose pink. These days, purple and turquoise (thanks, Frozen) are also really popular, and she loves multicoloured things… But nothing can sway her love of pink.
The part that makes a protective parent mad is when you go to the toy section of a department store and find your totally-pink aisle and your zero-pink aisle. As though there’s no middle ground, for anyone. Really?? In the 21st century?
Here’s a question I can’t answer: is it good that they’ve started making “girl” Lego? Because it seems like you shouldn’t have to – Lego is for everyone (with strong and able fingers). But then… I’ll be honest. I probably would have done lots more fine-motor play-building if I’d had more colours and shapes to work with. When we gave AB a Lego set with all sorts of colours (including pink and purple and turquoise) and lots of random wheels and windows and funny parts, BOTH kids got really excited and built like crazy. More variety = MORE FUN.
[On the topic of pink, dolls, and many other very pertinent things, I highly recommend “Cinderella Ate My Daughter“, by Peggy Orenstein, to be read by EVERYONE with girls in their lives.]
No means No. Except when it doesn’t.
Girls start out quite knowledgeable about their physical boundaries. Society blurs that line for them, however, from a very young age. There are a million insidious messages about how a woman should be, permeating a girl’s psyche as she grows. We should be kind, gracious, altruistic, polite, agreeable, generous, accepting, and friendly. All great qualities – I aspire to them myself, and encourage them in all the children I know. The problem arises when they are so ingrained, to the exclusion of other qualities, that they affect a girl’s protection of her boundaries.
Even in 2018, there are potent forces telling girls and women to avoid being confrontational, defensive, or inconvenient. I see ALL THE TIME our tendency to sacrifice ourselves and enable other people – sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad. On the one hand, you have the professions I mentioned earlier in which women care and give every day in extraordinary ways. On the other hand, you have millions of women becoming recipients of unwanted sexual attention, language, and/or contact, from men who exploit that politeness, friendliness, acceptance, and the desire not to make a fuss or be a pain. And please don’t misunderstand: I do not blame the women. This stems from the burden of centuries of misogyny.
[Here is an excellent article about sex from a woman’s perspective that I honestly believe every woman who’s ever been sexually active, no matter how good her sex life may be, can relate to on some level. And here is a post I wrote when AB was a toddler about managing the complexities of the physical relationship between her and my son.]
My Hubbibi and I have had many earnest conversations about the word NO, especially regarding our kids. I know that sometimes no doesn’t really mean no… Sometimes kids screech and giggle “no” during a physical game when they actually enjoy it and want to continue. BUT. I don’t think it’s up to me or anyone else to decide which Nos are real and which aren’t. Not even if parents (for example) traditionally have that leeway. Some words MUST mean what they say. I always tell students: “When someone says stop, you must stop.”
If “Stop” and “No” are open for interpretation, how does a person make herself clear? If people feel entitled to construe another person’s “No” however they like, then you have… well, you have the status quo. You have #metoo, in its millions.
Don’t even get me started on the folks who object to the new Ontario Sex Ed curriculum that finally takes on consent. Keep kids in the dark about sexual health and of course they will be blindsided.
The Herbivore’s Dilemma
To take the above idea even further, girls learn young that the dangers they face can be grave indeed. Consensus says that girls aren’t safe by themselves. Young boys are in a similar category – all children have to be careful of “stranger danger” – but as we get older, the understanding deepens for women. It is an extraordinarily strong (and trained) woman who is physically able to overpower your average adult male. In the Survival Game of reality, female humans are the Herbivores – for their whole lives. Depressingly, this is a biological and statistical truth. We are the prey. We are always aware of it. It is part of our everyday existence to avoid situations that leave us vulnerable to predators.
In my mind, this is the most deep-seated reason why so many women had a profound emotional response to Wonder Woman. We vicariously walked with her right into danger, and just dealt with it like a BOSS. The idea of being unafraid, of knowing you can protect yourself and your people… That’s the dream. it’s huge.
I wish it were unnecessary, but I will be teaching my daughter everything I know about personal protection. [Here is a pretty good article that covers many of the things I learned in a personal protection workshop I took a few years ago. We also learned how to put up our “fence” – guarding hands – and say loudly and aggressively, “Back off!” and if that doesn’t work, “Back the f*ck off!!!” Haven’t shared that with AB yet, but apparently it can help a lot.]
Contradictions, Hypocrisy, and Injustice
Last year at OELC iArts, it was my privilege to have an in-depth discussion with our group of Dance Majors, based on the question “What bugs you about the way society treats girls?” These junior high students know what’s up. They are angered by the impossible standards of beauty, and the way that all forms of media prey on their insecurities.
Even more, the double standards in their daily lives are infuriating. Boys get away with all kinds of things that girls can’t. Boys can, for example, wear basically whatever they want. Girls are not allowed to violate the dress code – it’s distracting (to boys) – always the girl’s fault… but short shorts are IN. It’s impossible to be fashionable and adhere to the dress code. Girls reported being made to wear random lost-and-found shirts to cover up visible bra straps – but god forbid they should propose removing the bra to solve the problem. Already, in Grade 7, the sexualization of EVERYTHING involving girls is rampant.
There’s a lot of unfairness. And a lot of pain. The unspoken expectations, the things that are just easier for boys, the things boys – and men – feel entitled to say and do around and to girls, the things that society says girls need to care about, the things it won’t let them do…. It’s a LOT.
Furthermore, the mixed messages start right away, and never stop. Girls can do anything boys can… but in reality, they are not treated the same. Girls should do everything in their power to be pretty, but they should not care or even really be aware of it. Women should own their sexuality, but not TOO much. Women should act more like men when they lead, but if they do they’ll be called cold and heartless – and people will still feel entitled to comment on their appearance.
As a family with two living children, a boy and a girl, things are sticky sometimes. Double-standards and mixed messages have to be dealt with, often on the fly as they come up. I try to be as honest as I can about how things are, within age-appropriate limits. We discuss how people grow up with different ideas about how to treat others, and then we think together about what we believe is right. My kids are already pretty thoughtful and astute people in many ways, and have some wise things to say. They know that we will never shut down their questions or invalidate their frustrations – and that we will love them no matter what. We hope that’s enough.
Dilovely, didn’t you say “Scary But Hopeful”?
Okay, right. I acknowledge that this started out as parenting advice and became a feminist Di-atribe. (And I almost apologized for it, then backspaced. Because raising a daughter to live fully in this world = FEMINISM. No apologies.)
Yes, my understanding of, and frustration with, the status quo for women has grown with every year that goes by. It seems like, in this day and age, in a country like Canada, we should be over the silliness. Over the stupid beauty standards, the antiquated attitudes, and the misogyny so deeply embedded that some people don’t even see it. At times, it feels like we haven’t come nearly as far as we should, given the work that has gone into dismantling the patriarchy. Sometimes it even feels like we’re regressing.
However! I am also very grateful to raise my family in this place and time. Here and now, I do feel safe most of the time, and my daughter does too. Girls attend school – at all levels – in numbers that couldn’t have been imagined a century ago. We explicitly teach about consent. The pay gap is a household topic of conversation. The Prime Minister’s latest budget focused heavily on improving the lives of women. The Cabinet has gender parity. Awesome female heroes are more and more visible in movies and TV shows – and in real life too.
[If you need inspiration, news, resources, book lists, blog posts, or anything else to learn about girls or help girls learn about themselves, please mine the riches of A Mighty Girl. It is an absolute treasure trove and will make you feel better about the world.]
I’m grateful for the campaigns that mainstream companies are working on, because although they’re not without difficulties, they are highly visible and they do seep into the public consciousness. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has done some good work, bringing up issues mothers and daughters need to consider. And the original #likeagirl video made by Always consistently makes me cry.
Particularly the moment where a smiling teenage girl acknowledges she doesn’t have to accept “run like a girl” for its connotations. She says, “I would run like… myself,” putting both hands over her heart. She does know her worth, but the world tries hard to rob her of this. The woman asks her gently, “Would you like a chance to re-do it?”
Yes. Girls would like a chance to reclaim their self-compassion and take loving custody of their own value as people, please. YES.
This can happen. The world is shifting. There may be a sexual predator slash nincompoop currently terrorizing the White House, but I’ll say this for him: he (unintentionally) rallied millions of women to take louder, stronger ownership of their feminist ideals. This is helping to put feminism where it should be: as the mainstream, default position for ALL non-misogynist humans. The #metoo movement has swelled past its banks on the power of women knowing they can’t let others just get away with shit anymore. Complacency is not an option.
I am also comforted by the knowledge that we have sisterhood to draw upon. We can bring our daughters into the fold as women who know the profound power of our bodies, hearts, and minds. We understand the strength of unity. The variants of our tenderness are blessings, sources of energy and healing. We know that daughters and mothers and sisters, joined with our allies, are already in the process of uplifting this chaotic jumble called humanity and making it better.
And there are lots of fantastic fathers out there, raising daughters with their own hearts and minds open to who those girls will become.
I am sincere when I say that I feel real optimism for our girls. It is truly exciting to be part of this new wave. We are in it together, all the daughters and all the sons, feeling the thrill of a changing, learning, evolving humanity.
In my last post, you may remember that I have made it my mission to be calm in the mornings with my kids. I’d like to tell you proudly that I made it through the week with exemplary calm! But I didn’t. Not quite.
I think it comes down to a sleep problem – one I don’t know how to solve.
There exist those families whose kids go to bed and conk out right away. (My sister-in-law’s son actually ASKS to go to bed when he’s tired. WHAT.) Similarly, there exist those families whose kids pop out of bed super-early on their own and are ready to go.
Not our family. I know that’s a blessing in many ways. My kids don’t get grumpy or whiny at bedtime – instead, they tend to be at their most hilarious (to each other) in that post-dinner period. And they usually sleep in like champs while on vacation. Natural night owls, it seems.
The night-owl thing is tricky, though. Trust me, we do all the things. We have a consistent bedtime routine. We do settling-down activities like reading, all in the same order. We dim the lights beforehand. We use the kid-safe calming essential oils. We give the hugs and kisses and love. They just… take forever to fall asleep. Especially E. We’ve tried all kinds of bedtimes for him in the hopes that we’d find the perfect one, but he still seems to spend ages awake most of the time. His brain apparently revs high when he’s in bed. I have to remind him to close his eyes and whisper inside his head instead of out loud.
But this fact makes school mornings hard, especially now that their morning bell is fifteen minutes earlier than it was last year.
Please know I’m no morning star myself. (Hence that failed snooze-button resolution.) Once I’m out of bed, I start by opening the blinds in the kids’ room (which doesn’t help at this veil-of-darkness time of year) or putting the small lamp on. Then I’ll cue up some music or a meditation right by E’s head where it will (I hope) gently awaken him.
AB usually wakes up at this point, and betakes herself to my bed for our non-negotiable snuggle. [It has taken us a long time to get this part right. There have been countless times – and they still feel perilously probable – that she has begun the day with a sweet li’l temper tantrum because I happened to be in the bathroom when she came to my bed, or it took me too long to find E’s music, or I said the wrong word to her, or whatever other tiny random glitch she decides is insufferable that day.] She proceeds, almost always, to fall right back to sleep whilst somehow taking up almost all of my bed space.
So then there’s more waking up. E has been known in the past to wake up gently, as intended, but for the past month or so, the auditory stimulation hasn’t worked. I go in, talk to him, scratch his back, literally pick out his clothes for him and put them on his bunk so it’s easier for him… For AB I also scratch her back, kiss her cheek, carry her to the bathroom…
Ach. Written out like this, all the tender enablement is a bit nauseating. I can understand if at this point you’re like, Just rip their covers off already!! Or maybe just sneak headphones onto their ears and blast Van Halen without warning.
This kindly moderation would all be worth it if they then got up, sunny-faced, and put their clothes on with something resembling promptness. Instead, this is the part where they sit there like tiny stoned college kids: AB will open a drawer and just stare into it. E will sit there indefinitely with his shirt off and his splendid bedhead belying his torpor.
In the old days of 2017, this would be the point where I would start to get agitated and my voice would begin to sound stressed. For E, the second he detects annoyance in my voice, he feels entitled to go, “OHKAYEEEE!!” like I screamed at him. Which does nothing to lessen my annoyance, obvs. By the time we would get downstairs, I’d be fully frustrated, so when the kids would start to bicker at the breakfast bar I’d just be like “NO WE ARE NOT DOING THIS.” And when breakfast was done and the slo-mo would start all over for getting backpacks and snow gear on… Blahhh. You can imagine the tears, the stomping, etc.
The kicker is, I know that when I get mad, I escalate the kids. I’m the adult. I should be able to fix this. Reflecting on the whole situation over the holidays, I said to myself, This is why I’m part-time. I am voluntarily making less money so that I have time to do things like take my children to school. If we’re late, so what? We’re late. It’s fine. Worth it to have a calm morning.
And it TOTALLY IS. The first four mornings of last week, I would say, just once, “Okay. Well, I need you to get those clothes on if you’d like to be on time.” And if I saw our window of punctuality closing, I’d just be like, “We’ll be a little late, okay?” And if I kept calm, the kids kept calm, in almost every case. This is in spite of it being the first week back after winter break, and the kids being overall quite tired. We were late twice out of four days, but whatevs!
Honestly, the rest of my life was better for it. I was calmer with my students, so they were calmer with me, and I had more energy after school to be nice to my family. I enjoyed them all way more.
Sadly, on Friday my calm ran out. Tiredness of kids + not a great sleep on my part + not a great time of the month for me + the voice in the back of my head saying We’ve been late twice already this week = I started to sound like my bad old self. So E started to sound like his bad old self. Suddenly AB was getting tearful about something too. How quickly it all unravels. It wasn’t disastrous… I was just thoroughly disappointed in myself. And sure enough, we were late again.
We’ve had a nice weekend. Our Friday night was Gryffindor Night, which was awesome and I’ll tell you about that later. We have also cleaned house – all of us – and played lots of Exploding Kittens as a family this weekend, which feels very apropos in terms of the kinds of tempers we have and the abruptness with which they detonate, AND is very fun as a silly game we can all play and not stress about losing.
So tomorrow morning, Paragon of Calm will make a comeback. Now with even more panache.
Off to a cold, cold start in which I have not gotten enough fresh air because I did’t want my skin to fall off… But as of Saturday night, thanks to some quality time spent with my sis and a friend and many little jars and baggies, my spice drawer is looking unusually spiffy. And milder temps started TODAY… We all got through our first day back with a minimum of trauma… So on balance, 2018 is looking good.
1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?
Me, Sean: Adult Adventure Week at Wilderness Tours on the Ottawa River! Not as risqué as it sounds… or maybe it is! If you consider whitewater risqué. (Two days of rafting, one day of cycling, and one day of sea kayaking… ’twas amazing. That we were still alive at the end.)
E: Saw whale poop at the Royal Ontario Museum, rode on an elephant at the African Lion Safari.
AB: Saw the longest worm in the world at the ROM, rode on a pony at the Safari.
2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions?
Me: I did not manage to stop using the snooze button. I did, however, use my massage benefits several times, and it was awesome. (It’s been several months now since my last appointment, and my neck is wondering sadly what happened.) Also, I did Bullet Journal like a BOSS (more on that later).
Sean: Yes, lost 20 pounds and still going! Lots of reading (not sure if it was MORE)… and shall be rebroadcasting the screen time resolution in 2018.
E: I did get my green belt!
A: I do go to a creative dance class!
3. What is your resolution this year?
Me: Be a paragon of calm in the mornings. Or at least some reasonable example of calm. I can do this. I know it makes a huge difference to the kids when I manage it – and this morning I did! (The kids were late to school, but… Worth It.)
Sean: Reach goal weight, live life more in the present (and less on the internet).
E: Get better marks than in Grade 2.
A: Get a horse. It can live in our yard, or maybe on the patio.
4. Did anyone important to you die?
A dear family friend and former member of our Friends’ Meeting. Also Malcolm Young, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Adam West, Chuck Berry, Bill Paxton, and especially Gord Downie.
5. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?
Me: A family planner/calendar – and we have it! It’s going to solve everything.
Sean: Really good health.
E: More time making pizza in Roblox world.
A: A horse like Spirit!
6. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Me: Teaching at OELC Intermediate Arts twice in one season; persisting through all four rounds of my first sweat lodge; cycling 35 km in one day – and not getting off to walk ONCE.
Sean: Losing 20 pounds – and sticking to my new eating lifestyle!
E: Getting into the Black Belt Club at Tae Kwon Do.
A: Learning all of “Bonjour l’hiver” at school.
7. What was your biggest failure?
Me, Sean: You could say that we’ve finally unpacked… but we still haven’t put most of our art up on the walls.
E: I failed to go back to Tae Kwon Do this fall, because the studio is not offering classes anymore. 🙁
A: I failed to get to school with any seconds to spare, basically every day. Sometimes this was because my socks were failing to sit perfectly on my feet, or my pants were failing to come to exactly the right position at my ankles.
8. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Me (E, A): The two-month cough seems to be finally winding down, knock wood.
Sean: The Diabetus, Type 2. But it’s okay, I’m in the process of kicking its ass.
E: The usual grievous injuries about five times a day.
A: I slipped off the rock into the water at Camp and got bleeding cuts (but I was very brave).
9. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Me, Sean: Trump; extremists/racists/misogynists/mass shooters; Harvey Weinstein et al.
E: Mummy and Daddy, when they make me do chores.
A: Mummy and Daddy, when they don’t do my bidding.
10. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Me: TransCanada putting an end to the Energy East pipeline, attendees at the Women’s March in Washington.
Sean: Those who spoke up in the #metoo movement; Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.
E: Mine, when I committed my TKD Forms to muscle memory.
A: Mine, for the mornings that I woke up as Sweet Daughter (not Screechy Savage Daughter. Those mornings don’t bear writing about).
11. What did you get really excited about?
Me: My new Grade 1-6 Dance/Music teaching job! (Yes, I still do Core French. I will probably do Core French for eternity. It’s fun too.)
Sean: Rafting trip!
E: Going back to North Carolina!
A: Being a vampire for Halloween! I JUST LOVE HALLOWEEN! (Picture this last said with a plastic-fang-induced lisp, skipping along dark evening sidewalks, with fake blood dripping from a joyful smile.)
12. What events from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why:
Me, Sean: Solar eclipse, apocalyptic flooding of so many places.
E, A: The burning of the outhouse at Camp.
All: Getting to know and love Uncle Dave on his visit from up north.
13. What political issue stirred you the most?
Me: Canada 150 controversy, Rohingya refugees. National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
Sean: Alabama’s special election, Jagmeet Singh becoming the first Sikh federal party leader.
E, A: The elimination of screen time on school nights.
14. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Me: PARAGON OF CALM.
E, A: That thing I’m doing when you tell me it’s bedtime.
15. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Me: Procrastinating on going to bed.
Sean: Making excuses.
A: Putting my clothes away.
16. What do you regret?
Me: Not getting regular massages for the last decade.
Sean: All the wasted hours on the internet.
E: Every mistake I every make with a pen. Deeply, excruciatingly.
A: When I’m mean to Mummy and Daddy. But then I forget and do it again.
17. What decision are you glad you made?
Me: To accept the Music/Dance job at my school. SO. MUCH. FUN.
Sean: To go off the recommended ketogenic diet, and to read and follow The Starch Solution by John McDougall.
E: I hardly ever get to decide anything. I just wish I were a grownup so I could do whatever I wanted!!
A: Changing my mind at the last minute to be a vampire for Halloween instead of ANY OTHER THING.
18. How did you spend Christmas?
All: With people we love, all kinds of family. So very fortunate. (Sean even shared our two weeks off due to shutdown! Very exciting.)
19. What song will always remind you of 2017?
Me:Scars to Your Beautiful by Alessia Cara, Believer by Imagine Dragons, We Are Giants by Take That, The Greatest by Sia, Asa by Bry Webb.
Sean, E, A: The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota by Weird Al. (Not a new song, I know. Sean played it for the kids one time and they quickly became obsessed.)
20. What was your favorite TV program?
Me: North & South, Downton Abbey, The Blacklist, Ripper Street, The Crown.
Sean: Stranger Things, Mindhunter, The Crown.
E: I’m not really into TV. I like to race sea-doos, build block homes, and make pizzas on my screen time.
21. What was the best book you read?
Me, Sean: All The Light We Cannot See. Hands down.
E: All my series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dog Man, and Captain Underpants.
A: I loved having Beverly Cleary read to me (Ramona books and Emily’s Runaway Imagination).
22. What was your favorite film of this year?
Me: Coco. And Spiderman Homecoming a close second.
Sean: Thor Ragnarok, Spiderman Homecoming.
E: Lego Batman.
23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Me: 39, had delicious dinner made by my sisters, hung out with friends and family. And got to go on the 40th Birthday Rafting Trip even though I’m too young!
Sean: 40, stayed home from work to take care of my sick daughter. And the rafting thing (five months later)!
E: 8, had my friends over to my house, played some crazy games with my friends at the park.
A: 5, had my first party with school friends, got our faces painted, and dipped ALL THE THINGS in hummus – even the popcorn.
24. What new thing would you like to try in 2018?
Me: PARAGON OF CALM. (If I say it enough times, it will surely come true.)
Sean: Four new songs on my guitar.
E: Proper swimming lessons. (Not completely new, but haven’t had them since toddlerhood.)
A: Proper swimming lessons. We both start on Wednesday!
25. Whom did you miss?
26. Who was the best new person you met?
All: Our awesome new child care person and her family.
Me: The whole Summer iArts crew.
E, A: Uncle Dave!
27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016:
Me: Don’t underestimate the difference a seemingly small gesture (or the lack of one) can make to a person going through a rough time.
Sean: Make sure you’re well-hydrated on a long, unaccustomed bike ride. Also, don’t feel guilty if you shun social media.
E: I don’t actually have to freak out about EVERY SINGLE chore I’m asked to do. Just sometimes, to keep ’em on their toes.
A: My friend Isabelle got diabetes. She got them in Florida, where there are lots of diabetes. Also, my dad got his diabetes from eating HP sauce.*
28. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Throw a little love till the world stops hurting… Keep on, keep on, keep on truckin’…
This is last year’s song lyric, but I think it still applies. And if you are looking back and going, YIKES, 2017, weren’t you supposed to be better than 2016? then go read this list. It helps.
*AB schooled us once at the dinner table when we were talking about diabetes. We said there was no Type 3, and she said “Yes there is! The kind you get when you’re pregnant!” *jawdrop* [Of course!!] The HP sauce thing is because Sean avoided it while on keto, due to sugar content. Those associations get made so firmly, based on so little.
You know how everything old is new again? How marketers realized that all the kids of the 80s are having their own kids and will pay good money for things that make them go Aw man, I used to have one of those!!
Well, I didn’t, as it happens, have any of these particular items, although I wished I did. (And I think they’re from much earlier than the 80s, given the age of some of the Archie comics we had at home that contained this very ad.)
AB was given a Sea Monkey aquarium, along with a little sachet of eggs, some water purifier, and some powdery sea monkey food, for her birthday. It was just like this one, except blue. (Notice that the sea monkey family portrait has not changed.)
Both kids were pretty excited. We followed all the instructions to the letter, and sure enough, a few days after we’d put the eggs in, there were super-tiny creatures propelling themselves around the aquarium! So cute! They did not have head-crown-thingies that we could discern, and they were nowhere near as nonchalant as the ones in the ad, but still… Cool stuff!!
The big problem was that the instructions don’t go past the first feeding. You’re supposed to wait five days after you put the eggs in there before you feed them, and the instructions make it clear that if you overfeed them THEY WILL SUFFOCATE. But does that mean you feed them every five days subsequently? Or does the schedule change? I turned to the internet for advice, and determined that we should wait at least a few days between feedings. We did our best.
I don’t know what went wrong. Within a week or so, there were only a couple of moving sea monkeys we could find… and then, only one. And then… a still, still tank. There were pathetic moments like when the kids stirred them (like you’re supposed to) and said, “Look, they’re moving around!” or when there was absolutely no movement and she figured, “Let’s just feed them anyway in case they’re only sleeping.”
We were sad that they were dead. Eventually, AB reached the Acceptance stage. This is what she wrote, in tribute.
[That’s pronounced “Sea Monkey-zuh” like when you REALLY want someone to know that it’s plural.]
It was right around Halloween, hence the gravestone savvy. (Actually, there was a rough draft of this picture that had “RCR” on the gravestone – she couldn’t remember what it was supposed to say, and that was her best guess.)
This reads (in the intended order): “To Sea Monkeys. I love you. You died and I did a surprise.”
This picture itself is the “spris”. Surely the sea monkeys are somewhere in the heavenly ether, smiling at their happy likeness.
On a lighter note, you can see that AB has finally reached that stage where she wants to write stuff and isn’t afraid to spell words any which way. Which is AWESOME; I adore this stage. It’s like seeing them learn to talk all over again.
P.S.: I meant to add this to the birthday post, but it segues nicely from sea monkeys. Ever since last spring, AB has been obsessed with the monkey bars. We are lucky at the school because they have lots of bars to climb on at different heights – the kind of structures that have been removed from most playgrounds for some reason. AB does all kinds of tricks on a set of parallel bars and I can just see her little muscles working hard.
And when she crosses the ladder-style monkey bars, which she finally learned to do near the end of JK, her determination is palpable. Her eyes get all steely with focus. And her hands, which are still sweet li’l five-year-old hands with dimply knuckles, have gotten all callused on the palms, as if she were moonlighting as a construction worker. It’s pretty awesome altogether.
Hi, bébé. I still call you that, now that you’re a five-year-old, even though you’re practically a teenager in many ways. As all mamas know: once your baby, always your baby. Happy belated birthday post!
You turned five… two-and-a-half weeks ago already. We’ve had five separate celebrations – two were on your birthday itself, and one was even on Fall Fair day. So it’s been pretty exciting! We gave you your first Lego set that’s all yours (though you’ve generously let your brother play too) and the other day you said, “I’m obsessed with this stuff!” Other gifts reflected the other things you’re into: animals, especially horses; art; books; and of course princesses and fairies endure.
To be honest, life with you was rather difficult right around your birthday. (Not that I was intentionally late in writing this! But circumstances conspire.) You got sick for a couple of days right after your birthday, and it took a while to get back to sleeping properly. You were quite a grumpy bear for a number of days.
With you, when I say grumpy bear, I mean screechy, kicky, yelly, and imperious, and impossible – sometimes from the instant you awaken. It’s hard to like you at those times. And super-duper hard to get you out the door in the morning.
But then, as has been true since you were an infant, you also have your easily-lovable side – the one that’s so cute it hurts. And despite certain adolescent tendencies, you’re still little in so many ways. You still insist on a snuggle every morning (which I accept if you aren’t Grumpy Self) and you still nestle your hand on my neck because that’s your favourite. You whisper “I love you, Mummy,” and I melt every time. Your wardrobe choices are usually full of clashing colours and patterns – there’s no combo you won’t wear, and with total confidence to boot. You are still innocent enough to accept and own your dazzling childhood beauty. You are still awesome at pretending. Still unfettered by inhibitions when moved to dance. Still inclined to sing – sometimes inspirational ballads you make up, sometimes the same misheard lyric over and over, and sometimes words we don’t recognize at all. You still believe in all the things a little kid should.
This past summer, you learned to ride your two-wheeler without training wheels. With the practice on your balance bike, combined with watching your brother magically learn a year earlier, and of course your natural mettle, you just did it. You and your bike looked so tiny, yet there you were, pedalling away. We are so proud.
When I try to picture your future self, I feel sure you’ll be a strong, opinionated woman who speaks her mind. You are already perfecting the eloquent, self-righteous shout-rant that’s very convincing during an argument even though it’s usually baloney: “Well, YOU should have known that I need TIME to put my CLOTHES on!!!” I doubt that many of your peers would try to best you in a verbal wrangle.
You also have compassion that runs deep. (Just this morning, you cried real tears over a story I told about having my favourite brand-new jacket stolen during a high school band trip. Golly, I’d never have told it if I’d known it would make you truly sad.) Your daddy and I are learning not to talk within your earshot about the news that’s so awful all the time – aftermath of superstorms, racial violence, sexual predators, the threat of nuclear war, and so on – because you are listening, and your heart already breaks. You do not need to be beaten down by these things before you get a chance to use your strength and spirit for good – and for yourself too.
Sometimes I wonder whether you’ll be able to shoulder the burden of your sympathy – especially along with the fierceness that will probably compel you to act on it. It can be rough being a passionate person who hurts for others, and who feels injustice keenly. It can also be rough being a strong girl or woman who knows her worth and finds it contrary to what the world reflects. I’ve recently been realizing that I don’t have the confidence I wish I had that life is getting better for women and girls.
So here’s my plan. I will teach you everything I know about valuing yourself, asserting yourself, defending yourself, knowing yourself, taking care of yourself, and being your best self. In the meantime, I will value you, be assertive for and with you, defend you, know you as best I can, take care of you, and see your best self as clearly as my Mama-eyes can see.
I already know you love yourself. One of your regular sayings (during happy moods) is, “I love you, and I love Daddy, and I love my brother, and I love myself, and I love everyone in the whole world even if I don’t know them!” Your all-encompassing love is precious, real, powerful. We promise we will also wrap you all-over-really-tight in layers and layers of love, to make that feeling last as long as possible.
Yay, it’s spring! Somehow, I’m even more excited about it this year than usual. I’m glad there’s been plenty of rain, like there’s supposed to be. I’m glad there’s been nice sweater-weather – some years it seems we go straight from winter to summer.
A few weeks ago, I had a dream weekend (for the likes of me). I got to perform with my dance sisters at two different events, and train at two workshops with the amazing Audra Simmons. On Sunday, I had an afternoon date with my Hubbibi in which we had a great meal uninterrupted and then wandered around together conversing uninterrupted in the beautiful spring weather. To top it all off, we went to my parents’ to pick up our children, and I had the chance to go out to the marsh and surround myself with this sound:
It just makes me happy.
And now, the flowers are here! Which makes me even gladder. It seems the flowers are just as affecting for AB. We both got in a tizzy about the sweet, fragrant violets when they popped up.
And we were thrilled about these little irises.
AB was so taken with them, she decided on the spot that she would change her name to Iris. Thenceforth, her name would be Iris Olivia P. (Olivia P. is her best friend’s name). Her own actual name was third in line. That evening, I tried to remember to call her Iris a few times. Luckily, this kind of pretending is usually short-lived. She practiced writing her new name a bunch, but hasn’t made us use it.
A week later, I got a note from her JK teacher asking if there was real significance to the name Iris, since AB had been insisting it was actually her name. She had reportedly gotten upset in line at spring picture day because the silly photographers were outrageously USING HER OLD NAME. The poor supply teacher who was with the class that day didn’t know what to do.
Yesterday when I picked AB up at the end of the day, her teacher looked a little unsure and said, “I hope you’ll find this funny…” and handed me the school photo proofs.
I didn’t just laugh, I practically guffawed. Sean did the same when he saw them. Now THAT is a picture of a girl who is pleased with herself. We may actually order some, for the first time.
Our darling children also insisted on a sibling picture, even though we hadn’t requested one. Doesn’t it look like they love each other?
Here’s one more picture, from today, because I was so excited. It’s the wee cherry tree we planted last year. We didn’t know whether to expect anything but leaves… but yippee! Cherry blossoms!
Recently, my kids got all excited about creating signage. E was the instigator in this, so these – the six most important things to keep in mind at the border – are his handiwork. They can be found on the shared bedroom door.
So watch yourselves, folks. There are no border checkpoints, but I’m sure Big Brother is watching.
Minnie could never have guessed that being lost at sea would result in a very special connection with a misunderstood sea “monster”. After all, he’s really just a creature looking for love, like you and me (but more scaly).
Sometimes, if an orphaned mini counting-bear comes along at the right point in a mama Bakugan-dragon’s life, she will take the cub and raise it as her own. This mother is seen grooming her cub as if he were her own Baku-spawn.
The green aliens came to Earth for a reason. It really is just a darn lovable place. Makes you want to give it a big smooch. (Canada especially.)