Happy Spring?

Hi lovelies,

It’s spring! Ha ha. Here in our city, we’ve had over 20 cm of snow this week. A few nights ago, we had a cozy wood fire in our fireplace (it’s finally drawing properly!), which was great but distinctly un-springy. ‘Twas the weather Christmas forgot to have. And then today… it was just muck falling from the sky.

Since the official start of spring, it has been weird around here. The weather is only part of it; poor E also got sick over Easter weekend with what I think was probably the flu – but it knocked him out for the better part of six days, which is very unusual for him. He slept so much that I barely saw him, and hardly ate a thing. He’s normally a pale kid, but he became positively ghostly.

This past season has been brutal for sickness, at least in our area. Teachers and students have been absent in what I’m sure are record numbers, and not just with the usual colds and stomach bugs. Lots of strep throat and pneumonia.

Between the maladies and the weather, I get a rather apocalyptic feeling. As if someday, the further-evolved survivors of our species will look back on this time period and shake their heads, intoning sorrowfully, “Hardly any of them saw it coming… They tried to warn the others, but nobody would listen…”

I know, I’m a ball of sunshine. Presumptuously morose for someone who hasn’t written anything worth posting in more than a month.

tiny pig
This should do it.

Okay. Let’s lighten it up with some gratitude. Inspired by my friend H who is blogging happiness this year.

I’m currently grateful for:

  • E being back to normal, finally;
  • the school board-wide shutdown (due to ice!) on the first day E was sick so I could stay home with him;
  • my sisters and parents who have all helped so much where child care is concerned, especially in recent months;
  • my cat remembering (again) where he’s supposed to do his business;
  • having thoroughly cleaned and organized the basement rec room over the March break – it’s now so much easier to tidy up and SO much more fun to play in;
  • our “new” house slowly but surely becoming easier to live in as we organize, donate, and (re)arrange;
  • the springy weather we have had so far – because there were (once upon a time) some beautiful days that keep a body going even when the polar vortex follows;
  • gradually developing more productive habits – Sean and I are finally using our charts! Kind of… well, we are getting there;
  • getting ready for a family reunion in less than two weeks!!
  • AB bringing up the topic of gratitude at the dinner table the other night, asking if we could “play that game” where we tell each other what we “love about”;
  • my dear friend Skye who always notices when I’m not blogging and gently kicks my butt because she knows (better than I do, apparently) that it’s important.

So. You haven’t read the last of me. Thanks, as always, for reading. xoxo

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Failure and Gratitude and Christmas Spirit

Hey, lovely Di-hards. And hi, li’l blog. I’ve missed you all.

It’s hard to believe that not only has half of November come and gone since I last wrote, but Christmas has too. There are many who would tell me not to beat myself up about absolutely crashing and burning in the middle of NaBloPoMo, and while I would, in essence, agree, I also count it as a failure on my part. I deliberately set my expectations on the low side, and still didn’t meet them.

Since then, many blog posts have been pondered – and some started – and none finished. Damn inertia, and damn the unexplainable standards I set for myself, and the guilt I always feel on my own behalf.

I’m hoping it’s the stage of life that I’m at. Since having kids, I have handily and necessarily learned how to let certain things fall by the wayside, but now I think I may be a little TOO good at it. I have always had real trouble quitting  or even backing away from things, as a kid and as a young adult, and in my soul I’m still not comfortable with it.

I also don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t feel gratitude during the latter half of November. I thought about it every day, and wanted to tell you about it.

Of course, looking back at November, and even much of December, I can see that there were obstructive factors (read: excuses). They tended to be of a distinctly non-festive, non-literary, laundry-intensive, medical-but-humdrum nature that made me say, “I could blog about this… but who wants to read about the minutiae of cleaning up cat diarrhea or accidentally spraying clarithromycin across the room or doing kid-puke laundry at 1 a.m.?”

I was also acutely aware, as Christmas got closer, of how all those problems, while tiring and time-consuming, were small potatoes. I couldn’t help thinking, very often, of the Neville-Lake family and the Bott family, each of whom lost three children in tragic accidents this fall, here in Canada. Awful as it is to imagine the pain of these families, it makes a parent grateful even for the tantrums and the nighttime wakeups and unending messes – things that, as Sean put it, those parents would give anything to have back.

And, of course, there are the refugees. On December 23rd, I was reading about people working tirelessly to gather desperate Syrians from the seas off the edge of Greece, to make them warm and feed them something. Tears rolled down my face as I read. I felt grateful, not just for my extremely safe and easy life, but also for the amazing work of humans who care about other humans.

I also felt enormously grateful to live in a country that has opened its doors, where folks are excited to be welcoming these people who so urgently need our hospitality. We Canadians, freed from the oppressively bad attitude of our former government, are remembering our long-held tradition of making sure there’s room at the inn for people fleeing persecution. Remembering what real kindness looks like. That is downright Christmasy.

Now, Christmas is past, and the southern U.S. is being battered with scary, deadly weather, and Ontario is bracing for our own storms. I’m so thankful that the Southerners I love are safe and well right now.

It should be mentioned, of course, that in spite of the odds, we have spent happy, fun time during the Christmas season with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins from each of our family branches, as well as many good friends – and, miraculously, none of us was hacking up a lung/crying with earache/vomiting during ANY of those times! (And once again, props and gratitude to my own teacher immunities for helping me stave off icky things, over and over.)

And finally, many thanks to Auntie Emi, who ensured me this block of time to write today by making sure my children were occupied. xoxoxo. I had been feeling sad when thinking of my blog, like it’s an old friend I just don’t see or really know anymore… And now I feel better.

Love to all of you and your beloved people this season.

christmas-refugees-germany
(Photo credit: Ina Fassbender/Reuters)

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 19: Questions excellentes

Today at school, we talked a little bit about Paris. I showed my Grade 4s and 5s that little boy and his dad – not just because the vocabulary (très, méchant, gentil, fleurs, maison, etc.) is right on point, but because when they see a child, they instinctively relate.

Two days a week, I have a group of only nine Grade 4s for the last period of the day. Often, it’s my favourite group. Grade 4s in Core French class are well-known to be the most excited about it (the novelty is alive), and although this group has a couple of very busy boys, they are also usually sweet and enthusiastic.

When I occasionally put aside the speaking of French in class, it’s usually in order to hear what they have to say about the social issue at hand; usually these moments arise from the French songs we listen to, but today it was the news. Frankly, I was very impressed by their questions and insights, and how most of them really listened and responded to each other. For a lot of it, I was simply listening.

Where did the terrorists come from? What made them so angry? If the parents teach their kids to be angry and to want to kill people, where did they get it? What is the violence for? Is it for fun? Or does someone make them do it?

We talked about racism and prejudices and wrongdoing on different sides, and the cyclical nature of violence. It may sound heavy for Grade 4, but they knew all the worst parts already, and obviously wanted to talk about it.

One of my favourite parts was one little guy, the most overt keener in the group, not quite nine years old yet, who is never afraid to call the other kids on it when they’re being immature. When a couple of kids began to get silly, he said to them, “You’re making a joke out of something that’s really serious. How would you like it if a terrorist came to your home and killed you? That’s what happens to people.” He is such a sharp little guy, with astonishing perspective on things. Makes me wish I could know and teach him when he’s seventeen or twenty-one and really taking on the world.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 18: Funk & Flowers

I haven’t been sleeping well, so today was one of those tired, foggy, grumpy days where it’s an effort to muster the teaching energy. Still, so many things to be thankful for.

Today I’m grateful for:

  • Having both my sisters, if just for a few minutes, together with me for coffee this morning.
  • Noticing that E really does seem to be calming down in many ways – his reactions to things, and his overall stress level – when I compare this year to last year.
  • AB being happy to go to her babysitter – what a relief after the drama in September.
  • The students that made me laugh out loud today – even on tired days, there’s always at least one or two who are good for a real chuckle.
  • Our super-nice new vet, who’s helping us figure out why our cat Nico wants to do his business in random places instead of the cat box… (I’m pretty damn sick of cleaning cat scat these days.) I was most impressed when the doc cleaned Nico’s turds off the floor himself without batting an eye, complimenting Nico on their “high quality.” LOL.
  • Having a set of brand-new, non-sport bras that actually fit me, for the first time in seven years. (I know that seems random, but ladies – you know it can make a difference to your day when the girls are properly supported.)
  • Dinner with my l’l family. (I’m grateful for this every single time it happens.)
  • A mostly-smooth bedtime. (Ditto.)
  • This. (Thanks, Mary.) Sorry, I couldn’t access the subtitled version… But all you really need is “les fleurs… C’est pour combattre les pistolets,” and that little boy’s smile at the end. 
  • And while we’re feeling warm and fuzzy, this. (Thanks, Ben!) I’m so glad there are people in the world who apparently have time to painstakingly choose clips that synch so beautifully with the funk.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 12: Teachers

I am what they call a “planning teacher,” which means I am always teaching the students from other people’s homerooms, when their regular classroom teacher is doing his or her planning. At the moment, I work with four different groups of students in Grades 4 to 6.

This job means that I get a unique perspective, and work closely with several different teachers at a time, who inevitably have different styles. I’ve learned a lot from my co-teachers over the years.

Today I’m feeling grateful for them. For all the teachers I’ve worked with who are hardworking, innovative, caring, and constantly learning – and believe me, that is the vast majority of them in my experience (no matter what the fabrications written by “journalists” at the National Post might say).

It is a privilege to be able to work with people who inspire me every day. I am always looking for ways to improve my teaching, because that is what the professionals around me are doing, and they are doing it no matter how tough things get.

And they do get tough. This is for a whole other blog post, but suffice it to say that, even in just the decade I’ve been a teacher, I’ve noticed a difference in the level of difficulty – not so much in the curriculum (although that is a factor), but in the needs of the kids. On the whole, at least at our school, we are teaching kids who have shorter attention spans, higher levels of anxiety, weaker coping skills, more learning disabilities, and lower capacities for self-regulation. Managing behaviour has become a primary focus of teachers across the board, and Educational Assistants are widely overworked.

It does bother us to see this, and to have so much of our time and stamina used for the explicit teaching of appropriate behaviour when we’d so much rather be teaching our subject matter. Sometimes it drives us bananas. Sometimes I resent spending so much emotional energy and patience on other people’s children, leaving me less for my own children. Sometimes I am discouraged because, no matter now good I am at my subject or the act of teaching, the disciplinarian role does not come naturally to me and requires inordinate effort – and what’s the point in that?

But then I look around, I see the strength and talent of my colleagues, and it makes me want to try harder. I see their classrooms, full of neat ideas. I hear their stories of how they’ve dealt with the hard situations and kept at it. When things aren’t going well, I see them create new strategies, overhaul lessons and units, research best practices, pick each other’s brains, brainstorm new angles, and muster their determination to get results.

I also see them constantly doing things to improve school life for the kids. Assemblies (like yesterday’s), clubs, teams, field trips, special projects, enrichment activities, and on and on.

Yes, they also vent their frustrations, behind closed doors. (If we didn’t do this, we’d all implode.) But even in the midst of conversations about the most difficult students to teach, there is caring and compassion and actual love. That’s what drives the practice. We are all very aware that the more a child drives you crazy, the more likely it is that s/he’s got a story that would break your heart.

I’m grateful every day, but especially on the really hard days, for the many teachers who have motivated and uplifted me with their amazing work since I came into this profession. Makes me wish I could go back in time and be a student in their classes.

And since we’re on the subject, please take a look at this article about one of my extraordinary colleagues, who is being awarded for her teaching – and I can say in all honesty, nobody deserves it more. She simply rocks the classroom.

And while we’re at it, here is one more article about another wonderful teacher I’ve had the privilege to work with. Again, honour thoroughly deserved.

Teachers: love you.

Teachers_Make_Education_work2

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 11: Thought, Empathy, Peace

IMG_2818
This is what I’m wearing this year. Just to be clear.

Today I’ve been grateful for the teachers who put together our school’s Remembrance Day assembly. They made the effort to be thoughtful, to include the past and the present, to respect without glorifying, and to make peace the focus.

I’m grateful for the students who obviously have pondered the discussions that happen on Remembrance Day, who have already started to be critical thinkers and develop their wisdom.

I’m grateful for the Grade 6 boy who was tearful at the end of the assembly today (as many of us were), not only for being open about emotion but also for giving his classmates the chance to be compassionate.

I’m grateful for the feeling of community that always brings us in close on November 11th.

I’m very grateful for moments of silence, and that silence is our answer for how to show reverence – and that even the little kids, in a brimming gymnasium, seem to feel it.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 10: Walking

Today, I’m grateful for the ability and opportunities to walk.

This morning was one of those mornings I’m not proud of, as a parent.

I woke up at the normal time. AB, as has become her custom, came into my bed right around the same time, and we had a really nice little snuggle.

When I began rousing the kids to get ready, though, they were reluctant and dawdling. They have been better this year than last at knowing that we have to use our limited time wisely in the mornings (or Mummy gets stressed out and uses a not-so-nice voice), and we were doing okay… until poor AB slipped on the stairs in a fresh puddle of cat pee. And when I say puddle, I mean a full-on bladder-fed lake, gracing a three-stair expanse, that got her pjs AND the clothes she’d picked to wear, as well as E’s socks, all wet and gross.

Our boy-cat Nico was the culprit, but it’s not his fault (he’s under the weather). It was nobody’s fault. But spending ten minutes cleaning up and disinfecting the stairs meant that when AB got her usual stubborn face on re: wardrobe choices, Mummy started using the not-so-nice voice. And after that tipping point, AB started digging in her heels about every step of getting ready, and E got all upset about Mummy’s tone of voice, and my irritation could do nothing but build up.

Those are the times I wish I could flip a switch and make myself be calm, and not react, and just find the gracious way to move things along… but I haven’t been doing as awesomely at that as I hoped I would be, especially during a week where I have not been having good sleep-luck.

Our friend and neighbour was just passing our house with her daughter as we tumbled out the door – she could tell right away that it was one of those mornings.

But once we were walking, we all calmed down. The air was brisk and bracing, and we trooped through fallen leaves and got our blood pumping, and it just felt good, in spite of everything.

It helps that we were walking to school, and not to the bus stop as we always have in the past. Being one minute late for the school bell barely even counts as late; being one minute late for the bus means you have to rearrange your morning.

And walking is just good for what ails you. It’s something humans were built to do well and often. For me, in the mornings, it lends perspective. It helps me to remember – all the things going “wrong” in the mornings are minor blips – and it’s the literal change of pace that allows me to snap out of the loop of impatience.

I apologized to my kids for being sharp with them, and we had good proper hugs and kisses as I bid them goodbye at school. I’m also very very grateful for the forgiveness of my kids.

And now, because I get another chance every day, I will try again to remember:

be-the-calm-sunset

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An Ode To My Old House, Now That We Have Parted – #NaBloPoMo, Day 8-9

{I’m cheating and calling this blog post two days’ worth (because who’s gonna stop me?): Day 8, I’m grateful for my new house… and Day 9, I’m grateful for my old house.}

Dear Old House,

I know we are done forever. I know you are now spending your time with other people, taking care of them and making a new life with them, and that is as it should be.

But I shall never forget you. Your quirks and flaws and beauties are embedded in my heart. I sound like a sentimental fool, and I am one. I haven’t often displaced myself, so it’s an emotional trial every time.

Our New House is lovely. It is also rather swanky, by our standards, with hardwood floors, butcher-block counters, and Tiffany-style light fixtures. We are already settling into our routines, and feeling mostly happy-homey together. We are looking forward to building real fires in the fireplace. We will finally be able to have friends over and feed them in a gracious dining space. The children will run endlessly around the circuit that is our main floor.

But I will always think of you with a pang.

New House has a shady patio out front, with wicker chairs and space to play… but I still miss your front stoop, burning hot on summer afternoons, where we sat and ate popsicles.

New House has chic window draperies long enough to pool on the floor, which is apparently de rigueur… But they actually drive me a bit bonkers. I just know there will be dust bunnies cuddling in their silky folds.

New House has an expansive wooden deck out back that already hosted many contented summer meals this past season… but it cannot replace your fragrant fruit trees. Especially the apple tree, planted when our first baby was born, that finally bore edible apples just as we left.

New Basement has spotless beige berber carpeting (or at least it was spotless before some little people I live with christened it with neon green Silly Putty). Your 70s-bordello basement carpeting was never our style, and yet a part of me loved it – the personality and history of it.

New Kitchen has one of the best things: a sexy stainless-steel dishwasher named Bosch, who has made our lives a lot easier (because a clean kitchen helps everything). But I’ll tell you a secret: he has a latch issue and needs quite a bit of support in order to finish. As in, we have to prop a toolbox on a step stool and bolster him closed. So there you go.

I love our New Floors, and I enjoy obsessing over potential area rugs, though it all makes me realize more than ever that your wall-to-wall carpeting concealed all manner of crap in its fibres. And yet… sometimes I miss that carpeting like you wouldn’t believe. Its warmth on chilly toes, its softness on a bumped knee, and especially its cozy sound-muffling qualities.

Most of all, I miss your core-deep familiarity. You are where we put down our roots, literally and figuratively. We had wonderful times together. And that’s just hard to detach from.

At this time of year, when suddenly it gets dark too early, and virus season looms large and ugly, and we are still dealing with the pesky, seemingly impenetrable last level of unpacking, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and blue. Sometimes I think of you, and just yearn for that familiarity. We do feel like this is home now, but the kids still talk about you wistfully sometimes, and you still have a gravitational pull for me.

The other day, AB and I actually stopped by your address – partly to pick up a mis-mailed package, but also to see you. Driving the route to Old Street was so weird… my inner gravity got so confused.

Your front door is still bright blue. Your flowering quince still sits by the walk, all prickly. But the new owners have cut down the crabapple tree out front; they have also left dozens of cigarette butts decorating the mulched flowerbeds on either side of the porch. (Seriously? People still do that?)

And when a friendly young woman opened the door for us, we saw that you were not really you. You now have grey laminate floors, and all the glimpsable walls were white – and I know absolutely that your flamboyant basement carpet is long gone. You didn’t look like home at all.

In a way, it’s comforting. You only looked like our home when we were with you. That is as it should be. Thanks for the memories, Old House.

IMG_0527
That crabapple tree was old and tired, but still put on a show in the spring.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 7: Sixty Percent

Here’s a Saturday post, sneakily written on Sunday and backdated to Saturday. Heh.

This gratitudinous moment is for my part-time status at work, something I’m actually actively thankful for every day. I work 60% of a full-time contract at my school, which means I have two full days, two half-days, and one day off per week. I am able to walk E to school, four days out of five.

I am in awe of moms who go back to work full-time after their maternity leaves and seem to manage just fine. I don’t know how they do it. It takes levels of organizational and emotional strength that exceed mine, that’s for sure.

On my day off, AB and I get to hang around the house. We walk E to school, and then we often walk over to the grocery store. A lot of the day usually involves housework, especially since the move, because I feel the need to check as many things off the To-Do list as possible any time I’m at home.

But I also remind myself that I took this time, not just for my own sanity, but for the quality time with her. When she knows it’s “Mama Day,” she is always jubilant, throwing her arms around my neck and squeezing and saying, “I love you, Mama!”

This week, my day off fell on a Friday, and I felt like the luckiest person in the world, sitting snuggled with my yummy little three-year-old on a sunny couch, reading stories. (Especially since the night before was Mammoth Meltdown night. We needed to get our groove back.) Sometimes we run errands, sometimes we play with her stuffies or tea set or dress-up clothes, sometimes I just listen to her singing while she plays, or “reading” books to herself.

I know it’s these simple times I will later look back on as beautiful beyond description, shaking my head to remember she was so little and precious and fascinating. Whatever my schedule ends up being later on, I will always be grateful for this extra time, at this moment in our lives.

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 6: Antibiotics

first-aid-hi

Today’s official gratitude is for antibiotics, and for the medical system we benefit from.

Last week, E’s foot was hurting. Not such a rare thing. Then after he persisted complaining, we looked at it, and it had a puffy red patch. It was clearly hurting him to press on it, and he was starting to limp a bit.

By the time we made it to the doctor’s office the next afternoon, the red patch was much bigger and poor little E was definitely walking funny. The doc diagnosed him with cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the inner layers of skin. We don’t know how he got it, but we do know you don’t mess around with it. In rare cases, it can spread deeper and become necrotizing fasciitis. Ack.

So E just finished a week of antibiotics. This is after a round of similar meds a few weeks ago for a bit of pneumonia – one for which he had to take clarithromycin, which I have to say is the most disgusting, gritty, vilely bitter substance we’d ever tasted, even with the “mint flavouring.” E was an absolute trouper about it… and then when he found out his new medicine for the cellulitis was the pink fruit-ish flavoured one, he was overjoyed.

Anyway. I know antibiotics are controversial, and that they have side effects, and that we are possibly headed for a situation in which the infections that stopped killing us so much when antibiotics came along will go back to killing us again. That won’t be good.

But I can’t deny that when I hear my child coughing in the night and it sounds awful, or when I saw how suddenly that red spot had spread… I’m just really glad I don’t live in that time before antibiotics, when presumably a mom would just have to make poultices or tea or whatever, and hope for the best. When parents would hear that coughing and know that it might very likely be the death of that child.

I’m also really grateful to live in a country with socialized medicine. When these conditions cropped up, we didn’t have to think, Can we afford to take him to the doctor again? We didn’t have to wait until things got desperate, just hoping and hoping he would get better on his own. It is invaluable to have the choice to be proactive or pre-emptive about a health problem, without having to budget for it. (Thank you, Tommy Douglas, Lester B. Pearson, et al.)

Plus, we really like both our family doctor and the nurse practitioner at the clinic. They are great, wonderful with the kids, and all about preventive medicine and healthy lifestyle. Grateful for that, too.

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