Thursday, 16 August 2018

It's the little things

Full disclosure: I adore my kids, but they drive me crazy. They're going through a phase right now where they can't be in the same room together for more than 30 seconds without fighting about something, and they are both strong-willed, stubborn personalities. My younger one actually told me the other day that she wishes she could "move out and find another family so she wouldn't have to have a sister."


But here's the thing: for every moment I want to tear my hair out, there's another moment that makes up for it.

Last night, I did a "non-parenting" sort of thing. Even though we all had to get up the next morning for our whirlwind routine of camp and work, drop-offs and pick-ups, I let my older child (who's 8 now) stay up late and come outside with me, into the backyard.

We lit citronella candles and lay down side by side on a pool inflatable (pretty comfy, actually). Sometimes we talked about nothing in particular - just the random minutiae of our days. Other times, we listened to the noises of the night: cicadas singing, frogs sighing, wind rustling the leaves of the trees. We watched the stars come out slowly, one by one, and my daughter was so excited to find the North Star first.

We cuddled, and watched, and listened, and inhaled the sweet lemon scent of the candles along with the pure night air.

It was a small thing. A handful of minutes; nothing particularly momentous or memorable. But it was lovely. And, for that moment, it was enough.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Raising Grateful Kids

Let me start by saying this: I adore my kids, but I'm not a PTA queen, whip-up-a-gluten-free meal, Super Mom type. I don't understand Pokemon, and yes, I get bored of watching Paw Patrol for the 500th time. So it's not like I'm expecting a medal or a ticker-tape parade for making lunches, kissing boo-boos and finding missing stuffed animals.

But is it too much to ask for a little gratitude?

My kids are still relatively small, so perhaps my expectations are too high. But it's starting to worry me: what they perceive as "normal".

It's the little things. When I buy them clothes and instead of, "Thanks, Mom!", I get "But I don't like that colour."

When they talk about going on a cruise with the same casualness as going to the grocery store.

When they immediately expect to be able to participate in any activity they wish - from dancing, to art class, to skiing, to whatever else their little hearts desire.

I feel like our generation of parents has raised the parenting bar - as our parents did with us - and that dynamic is particularly obvious in my middle-class, suburban sphere. These are the sorts of kids who eat peanut-free organic food; who routinely go on ski trips and luxury vacations; who participate in so many after-school (and weekend) activities, it makes everyone's head spin. 

And sometimes, it's all a bit much. For example, my six-year-old is in competitive dance, and we recently got the list of makeup she "needs" for her competitions: $200 worth of Mac products! My makeup isn't worth that much, and I wear it every day.

Of course, I want to give my kids every advantage I can (and can afford). But I really don't want to wind up with spoiled or entitled kids.

So how do I walk the line between letting them enjoy the childish freedom of not having to worry about money and making sure they know how lucky they are to have the advantages they do? How can I get them to say "Thank you - I love it!" for the green sweater, even if they really wanted a pink one? 

And here's the real challenge: how do I teach them to appreciate what they have - when, as an adult, I sometimes don't do that myself?

That's the nut I haven't been able to crack. But once I figure it out, I'll be tremendously grateful.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Solving the Puzzle

Every time I read Dr. Seuss's All the Places You'll Go to my kids, I get this sneaking suspicion that it's actually written for the parents. Particularly when you get to the part: “So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act."

Except I think Dr. Seuss got it wrong. I don't think it's a balancing act at all - because there's no possible way you could balance everything you need to balance without dropping something or falling down. 

The way I see it, life is more like a crazy hard jigsaw puzzle. It has thousands and thousands of pieces in all sorts of shapes and colours, and the pieces are all different sizes. 

But what makes it really challenging is that, on any given day, one of the pieces is suddenly way bigger than the others. And you have to take the whole thing apart and start all over again so you can find a way to make all of the other pieces fit around that one.

I work at a job that, while interesting and motivating, can be quite demanding at times. I have some great opportunities for professional success - but only if I work hard and show my commitment. My husband's been travelling for work more than usual. I commute two hours a day. My two young kids go to two different schools. There are activities and dentist appointments and school lunches and homework, sibling fights and illnesses and day-to-day chores. And so on, and so on....

Sometimes the "kid" piece of the puzzle is bigger - if they're sick or struggling with something.
Often, the "work" piece is bigger these days.

Rarely is the "friend" piece bigger.

And the spouse piece? Truthfully, most of the time, it's like that corner piece of sky or put it into place and then pretty much forget about it. And I know that's not a good thing.

I don't mean to complain or to say my life is easier or harder than anyone else's. It's just LIFE. But it bothers me that I turned 40 this year, and I still haven't figured out how to put all of the pieces together properly.

And here's my secret worry. Sometimes I try to look past the pieces to see the overall picture I'm trying to create, and I wonder, "Is it the one I really want?"

I think I've discovered a new genre: "Kids' books as self help for adults". Although clearly, Dr. Seuss doesn't have the right answers for me. Maybe I'll give Robert Munsch a try.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Path Not Taken

This past June, I turned 40. I wasn't terribly fixated on the number itself - I know some forty-year-olds who act like like they're 80 and some seniors who'd give a twenty-five-year-old a run for her money - but of course I wanted to mark the occasion. 

So I went to France with two girlfriends. We flew into Paris and spent a couple of days - then we rented a car and drove into the countryside to visit some of the wine regions. For 10 days, we rammed around France, drinking wine, shopping, eating amazing food and seeing the sights. And did I mention drinking wine? It was an amazing trip, and I had a blast.

I don't know if I'm the only one who does this...but yeah, sometimes, I wonder what my life would be like if I were on my own. No kids, no husband; just the freedom to go anywhere and do anything. 

My somewhat romanticized vision has me adventurously travelling across the globe to all sorts of exotic locations (Brazil! New Zealand! Africa!) - which I am somehow funding without having to work for a living. So I'm willing to concede that, perhaps, the reality wouldn't exactly match what I'm imagining.

But whether you really want to or not, turning 40 is one of those times where you can't help but take stock of your life and think, Am I where I want to be? Have I done the things I set out to do by this point in my life? What's missing?

It's easy to fixate on the things you didn't do - the paths you didn't take. It took me a loooong time to decide I was really ready to settle down and have kids, and sometimes, I feel like I've taken the "safe and boring" track. I didn't do a placement abroad after I got my teaching English as a second language certification. I haven't been to Thailand or New Zealand. Instead, I moved back to the suburbs, where I grew up, and I schlep into Toronto to work every day.

So I went away on my girls' trip to France. For 10 days, I didn't have to worry about rushing home from work, or putting anyone to bed, or breaking up fights, or getting anyone a snack (actually, scratch that last part - even grownups need snacks). I had no responsibilities. And it was awesome. 

But then I came back home, and my little girls ran to meet me, jumping on me and crying, "Mommy! Mommy!" as though I was a celebrity, and I was unbelievably glad to see them. And I realized, whatever trade-offs I've made, they're totally worth it. Just for the sheer joy in their voices, the sound of their laughter, the feel of their little arms cuddled tight around my neck. 

Sometimes, you need a little distance to see more clearly.

Forget the path not taken...I'm still on a path. And if it's something I really want - one way or another - I'll get there. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Parenting on a Best-effort Basis

So I'm scrolling through my email the other day, and I see a parenting newsletter I subscribe to, with the headline, "Kids are addicted to devicesand it's our fault".

It probably says something about my parenting style that my first reaction wasn't, "Oh, I must immediately read this article to see what I need to do to remedy this terrible situation I've inadvertently created!" Instead, it was, "Greeeaaat...another crappy thing for which parents need to take the blame."

The story was about a study that has found kids model their parents' behaviour (well, duh), including how they behave with mobile devices. So when we're constantly checking our cell phones, we're teaching our kids bad habits about concentration and mindfulness. Ultimately, we're creating an environment that allows our children to become "addicted" to screen time.

I get it, I really do. But, as a mother, I'm getting a little tired of being blamed. It's our fault if we don't breastfeed our kids, because we're not giving them the "best start" in lifebut it's equally our fault if we "expose" ourselves by breastfeeding in public. It's our fault for not always buying organic produce (even if our kid is going through a blueberry phase and a single pint of organic blueberries will set you back $8!). For going back to work instead of staying home to raise the kids—or for staying home and not living up to our full potential by going back to work. For not spending enough time with our children. For spending enough time with them, but not enough quality time. And now, for handing over the iPad so the grownups can have a peaceful dinner out.

Like parents everywhere, I make mistakes, I'm not doing everything perfectly, and I'm not always the parent I want to be. But I'm doing my best. 

I remembered the $2 donation for a gift for the teacher who's going on mat leave, I remembered Crazy Hair Day at my younger daughter's daycare, I remembered to pack my older daughter's lunch - but I forgot to have her read her home reader tonight.

I'm doing my best.

I'm going to the daycare Mother's Day party tomorrow and hosting a Mother's Day brunch on Sundayeven though I hate Mother's Day because it only reminds me of the fact that I don't have one anymore.

I'm doing my best.

I have to check my phone in the evenings and answer work emails sometimes—because I commute two hours to work each day, and that's the trade-off for leaving at a reasonable hour. And yes: sometimes that's not the real reason I'm on my phone. Sometimes I just want to play Candy Crush.

What do we tell our kids when they have a recital or a hockey game? "Don't worry; just do your best." So let's give ourselves the same advice.