Sturm und Mom

The Storm & Stress (& Joy) of Motherhood

Archive for the month “October, 2011”

Happy Birthday Baby 7,000,000,000!

Happy Birthday baby 7,000,000,000!  We’re so glad to meet you.

The best stuff I’ve read about the world population so far was at Spiked online and the Population Research Institute.  I love the way the PRI sums up it up:

People are our greatest resource. Extraordinarily gifted people have helped to enrich civilization and lengthen life spans. But the fact is, everyone, rich or poor, is a unique creation with something priceless to offer to the rest of us.

Baby Seven Billion, boy or girl, red or yellow, black or white, is not a liability, but an asset. Not a curse, but a blessing. For all of us.

Welcome to the world! It’s great to have you here.

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What a kid can teach you about gratitude

“This is the best day ever.” Tall girl sighed.

I was taken aback sitting across from her.  “Why?” I asked.

“Because I got a root beer.”

That stopped me in my tracks.  There was no way I was putting this particular day in my top 10.  It had started with me rushing to make a 9:30 doctor’s appointment with a specialist at the Hospital.  In tow, a 10, 4, 2 and 1/2 year old.  The Tall Girl had to get a suspiciously growing mole examined.  Sitting on the exam table she suddenly asked: “Mom, what does cancer feel like?”  I guess my husband and I weren’t as circumspect as we thought.

Later, one of the doctors came in and took a look.  “Any family history of the big ‘C'”?  Again, I’m hoping that my girl is distracted by the little monkeys climbing over everything.  Final Verdict — the weird bump growing on her head would have to be removed or “shaved.” Oh, and she would have to be left alone, since I would be out in the waiting area supervising the little kids.

By the time I had shepparded by brave little girl, her bickering preschool sibs, and the world’s largest stroller to the Hospital cafeteria, I had had more than enough of that particular Thursday. My soda-rationed eldest wanted a root beer, and lo and behold, they had a whole shelf of chilled bottles in the cooler case. Life for her was good.

And why shouldn’t it be good, I asked myself? The mole started itching, so we caught that it was changing, even though it was hidden under a mound of hair. The doctors were kind and efficient. The procedure apparently didn’t hurt, and the medical staff told Tall Girl that she was braver than some 30 year olds. The doctor assured me that whatever was there had been completely removed, and so my girl was out of danger. No one had a melt down or blow out diaper. Root beer was in stock and the right temperature. So, who was I to complain?

I realized then, that I was upset not at what had happened, but at the fact that it wasn’t what I wanted to have happen. It was a question of control. I had decided at some point, that if things weren’t my way, then I should be miserable. It’s like that old saying, “Bitterness is drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” I was mad that I had to be there, that my daughter might have a problem, that I was inconvenienced. Instead, my child looked at the fact that everything was okay, and she got a treat to boot.

It’s pretty hard as a Mom to undo this “the way it’s supposed to be” mindset. Really, it is actually needed for the job. We are constantly called to set the standards for our kids behaviour, our household cleanliness, and our family’s lifestyle. We are the ones in control, and we are judged on how well we can act on our vision. Most kids would not make it out the door to school in the morning, without Mom insisting that her idea of promptness be adhered to. Could you imagine Birthday Parties, family vacations, or even Christmas morning, without some of well, let’s just call it what it is, motherly bossiness? It’s often up to us.

That’s why it was nice to be reminded to let go. I can’t control everything, and that’s okay. Life is often sweeter in the unexpected and unwanted moments — when the kids ignored the craft and want to play tag, when supper is delayed and you all hang out in the kitchen waiting for the turkey to cook, or when you decide to forgive the tantrums and still stop for ice cream. Like the time when Tall Girl got a bunch of hand me downs and was so grateful.

“They’re the best because they are 4 years old, so no one else has them. No one will come to school dressed like me.”

I was about argue that actually, new clothes are better, but then I stopped myself. Here, my little girl was teaching me again, what I had forgotten.

Sometimes the sweetest thing is what life gives you right now.

The Incredible Shrinking Parent

I wanted to bring home a copy of Maclean’s magazine from the checkout, but couldn’t. The headline above the masthead read “Should you let your kids have sex at home?”. Since my kids have been told by their teachers to “start reading the news,” I thought I should at least provide some news they could read.

But, I also left it untouched because I am tired reading about, hearing about, and seeing this new breed of Mom and Dad — the Incredible Shrinking Parent. I already know what the whole tone of the article will be: Mom and Dad would love if their kids just didn’t “do it,” but since we can stop them, well, let’s just make it safe. Could you imagine if you had that attitude to your spouse? “Oh, it would be nice if he wouldn’t cheat, but since he is, it’s better he does it close to home. That way I can call him if I need someone to kill a spider.”

Parenting shouldn’t become one long defeat, an unending triage of your life to kids’ bad behavior.

Update – Hey I saved myself $4!

The mother of an 18-year-old daughter in Toronto expresses the conflict many parents voice. “There’s this leftover ‘boomer-ish’ residue of how hypocritical it would be to make such strict rules. But I was born in the ’50s and there’s part of me that thinks I don’t want to be ‘so Dutch’ about this.” She’s adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach: “I avert my gaze,” she says. Her daughter’s boyfriend is allowed to stay over on the guest mattress or guest couch. “That’s where he sleeps, as far as I know,” she says. “I have no official knowledge that anything happened.” She knows she has little control, and if her daughter is “going to do it, she’s going to do it.”

The Heroism of Everyday

(T)he great poems of heaven and hell have been written, and the great poem of earth remains to be written

– Wallace Stevens, 1879-1955

When I was a kid, George Bailey was a hero. Every Christmas, I would look forward to watching the movie It’s a Wonderful Life on TV, the 1946 classic by Frank Capra. The story revolves around an everyday fellow in crisis, who is given the opportunity to see what the world would have been like if he had never been born. That movie (and Black Magic Chocolates) were probably the highlights of the season for me. Why? George saved a boy’s life, George built houses, George saved the family business, George stood up to Mr. Potter, George was a good father, George helps an angel gets his wings, etc. His hometown without him is a den of sin and despair. I loved the idea that the famous and powerful, whom we all worship, are in fact harming the world, while the guy in the back of the room that no one notices, is saving it. If I could only be like George Bailey, I thought.

Somewhere along the way though, I started to question my hero worship. I mean, George was for all intents and purposes, a loser. He missed out on college and his honeymoon, he was the propertior of a failing business that had to bailed out by crumpled up dollar bills from all his buddies, his house was falling apart and full of screaming kids. His dream was to see the world and become an architect. Instead he got travel posters and a paper-pushing desk job. Was this all propaganda? Feel good hokum?  More pap churned out for the masses to keep them in line?  “Oh sure, little guy, you matter so much! If you weren’t here to turn on the lights, how could you admire your betters? If you didn’t keep having children, who would pay our taxes and fight our wars?  Consider yourself lucky — do you know how stressful it is to have something different and exciting happen every single day? The stress and responsibility of being successful?”

Now as a grown-up, I feel like these two Georges – the winner and loser – sometimes wage a battle in my soul. The life of a mother of small children can seem an uber-exercise in self-mortification. Don’t get me wrong — I totally get my vocation. But sometimes, what with a toilet-training two year old, a pouty, attention-hungry four year old, a baby up all night, school age kids with all their assorted crises, part of me yells, “You’ve been duped! You’re a chump to be doing all this work. When will it ever be your turn?” The time to pursue the dreams that my adolescent self thought it should pursue — wealth, fame, infamy — is slowly slipping away, even if I were to try to chase them. But what surprises me most about this life is how hard the little things are. It requires amazing amount of effort and self-control not to snap, scream, to act patient, to explain, to discipline instead of ignore, to forgive again and again. Heather King writes about this force of will in her new book Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Therese of Lisieux. She describes how “Therese trained herself, literally breaking into a sweat from the effort,” to keep from turning around and glaring at an annoying Sister during prayers.

Try that the next time someone jumps the line at the bank, or cuts you off as you try to merge onto the freeway, or insinuates you aren’t working hard enough! Begin to ponder the years of discipline, prayer, and the turning of the will toward God required for such a ‘tiny’ taming of the instincts.

Rather than being the life of a weakling, of a bumbler, or the unambitious, the everyday grind with its constant self-denial and sacrifice, is actually a work of unnoticed heroism.

This article by Michael Kirke from MercatorNet, really spoke to me. It summarizes the work of Professor John Paul Wauck on the role of the everyday in Christian literature. Professor Wauck asks where is this heroism of everyday life portrayed in literature?

“How might one, then, in practice,” he asks, “convey the heroism of ordinary Christian life? To appreciate the difficulty, consider, for example, the following point from The Way by Saint Josemaría Escrivá, the champion of sanctity in ordinary life:

‘We were reading – you and I – the heroically ordinary life of that man of God. And we saw him struggle whole months and years (what an ‘accounting’ he kept in his particular examination of conscience!) one day at breakfast he would win, the next day he’d lose…. “I didn’t take butter… I did take butter!” he would jot down. May we too – you and I – live our…. ‘drama’ of the butter.’ ”

Kirke ponders Wauck’s question, whether it is even possible to capture the struggle of everyday life in literature.  Kirke too feels that this epic struggle requires more attention.  For it is, quite plainly, in the boring everyday that our souls are lost or saved.  Most people don’t wake up and declare “Today’s the day for Mortal Sin!”  It’s the constant little choices, the turning of the will either toward or away from God, that determines the fate of our eternal life.  To paraphrase Peter Kreeft, we need stories of heroic virtue.  The virtue required to tend small children, provide for your family, return rudeness with kindness, and persevere when no one seems to notice or care.

So is George Bailey off the hook?  Overall yes, but not in the most important way. The movie sums up with “No one’s a failure who has friends,”  which does seem to be the sort of feel-good twist of a Hollywood movie.  The real drama is a lot harder to accept:  He who chooses failure in the World’s eyes for the sake of Truth, is a hero.  I hopefully await someone to take up this challenge in his or her art.

Let the children go

My eldest is bummed out.  And I don’t blame her.  Now that she is ten, we told her that she could go Trick-or-Treating in our uber-safe, well-lit, child-friendly neighbourhood with a group of her friends.  She was so excited.   At school she asked all her friends if they could go.  They all live nearby.  They were all responsible, good kids.  But no….not even with a parent tagging along.

This really makes me sad.

Most kids I see are so cloistered, you’d think they were in an invisible compound.  I sometimes think those few terrible, evil child-snatchers have committed the additional crime of convincing parents that they need to steal their children’s freedoms to keep them safe.  But what is the cost of their safety?  So many kids are never without an adult supervising them.  They go from car to school, to car, to after-school activity, to dinner, to after-dinner activity, to bed, day after day after day.  They never get a chance to try out the skills they need to be successful adults for themselves.

If anything I think this is making our kids un-safer.  Case in point:  I sent my older girls to the convenience store down the road to buy some kind of treat.  I gave the 8 year old at $20 bill.  Back they came, and all I can say is thank God for honest store clerks.  “Did you have enough money?”  I asked.

“Yeah, but she kept giving me money back.  I tried to shove it toward her, but she just kept pushing it back.”  Yep you guessed it — it was the change.

Just stop and consider if by over-protecting our kids from a few, rare bad things, we are actually exposing them to a lot more common bad things in the future.  Those who work with young people today complain constantly:  they lack initiative, they require incessant direction and praise, they are stunningly self-entitled.  Young people are so narcissistic that psychiatrists are considering it the new “normal,” and contemplating not treating it anymore.  But if every activity you were involved in ended with a trophy, if adults mediated and supervised most of your personal relationships, and if you were protected from the world of hard-knocks way too long, how would you be any different?

If allowing my tween to walk with a group on a well-lit sidewalk, surrounded by other kids and adults, in a safe neighbourhood where nearly everyone is home and answering their door, makes me a Bad Mother, then so be it.  Childhood is not a prison sentence.

Cute stuff kids do, that adults can’t get away with

I was having a rotten day and the kids knew it. My six year old decided to cheer me up.

“Mommy, I made you a picture book.” She handed me a series of drawings stapled together. The title?

I am Special. Yep, this super cute booklet which made me feel a whole lot better (really!) was all about how special SHE was. I started thinking: What if an adult did that?

“I’m so sorry your mother died. Here. I thought a photo book of myself might cheer you up. Look – on the last page I made a collage of all my trophies and achievements!”

So on that note, I started brainstorming things that kids do that are so damn cute, but wouldn’t wash as an adult.

– Repeatedly misrepresent your age.

– Draw a picture of a Princess that looks like it’s actually a goose.

– Invite strangers to your birthday party.

– Refer to yourself as “a big boy.”

– Tell your mother that don’t want to marry her anymore.

– Watch the same 10 episodes of your favourite TV show over and over and over, again.

– Apply lip gloss to your eye lids and brows.

– Pair flip flops with a dress shirt and cords.

– Take food into the bathroom.

– Believe that “chicken” the food and “chicken” the animal, are two totally different things.

– Insist that inanimate objects be served the same breakfast as you.

– Wear a hat 3 sizes too small.

– Plan on having your wedding catered by McDonald’s.

– Ask everyone at the table if you can try their food and drink.

– Ask someone “if they were alive back then.”

– “Do you want to see a picture of me as a baby?”

– Want to take medicine because you enjoy the taste.

– Repeat the joke you just heard from the person beside you, because it got a laugh.

– Put on a puppet show with Popsicle sticks.

Now that I list it out, childhood seems like the Diplomatic Immunity of weird behavior. Enjoy it while it lasts, kids. Your underwear on head days are numbered.

Why we aren’t buying a bigger house

With six kids, people are always asking if we live in a big house.  Sometimes those people are ourselves.  And the answer is: no, it’s 1800 square feet, three-bedroom plus a basement.  Where we live, this house in on the larger size of “average.”  Back in the 1990’s, this would have been considered a “move-up” home. That was back in the day when it was acceptable to build with vinyl flooring and laminate countertops.  Now, new 1200 sq.ft. duplexes have granite and a soaker tub in the basement bathroom.  So, as you can imagine, we’ve been feeling the pressure to sell and trade up to some larger real estate.  But to continue our trend bucking lifestyle, we aren’t moving.  And here’s why…

1) “Afford” when a bank says it, means something different then when we say it

It’s taken us a while to realize that when the bank says you can “afford” the payments, they mean that you have liquid capital to cover the principal and interest.  When we ask “Can we afford it?”, we mean will the purchase fit comfortably fit into our lifestyle, and leave us with enough money left over to do something else, like cover an emergency or go on vacation.  In the bank’s mind, we can “afford” to spend $350 a month on chocolate truffles.  While this is technically true, I don’t know if our kids would get a checkmark for a “Rainbow Lunch” with 4 different colours of foil wrapper.

2) Houses should go back to just being a place to live

As this article from David P. Goldman shows, we middle class folks can’t count on our houses funding our retirements anymore.  I’m suspecting they also won’t be doing a great job beating inflation or funding our kids’ inheritance, either.  Once upon a time, my great-grandfather (along with everyone else he knew,) cut wood and hammered nails, and built his own house.  It was exactly enough house to keep his family warm, fed and sheltered.  It was not a grand homage to how well he did at his career, or an existential statement on his personal design aesthetic.  It was a house.  Period.  I propose we all give that attitude a try.

3) We would like to buy our grandchildren Christmas presents

I once heard someone say, that it’s harder to be old and poor, than young and poor.  If our kids have even small families of 3 kids each, we should expect 18 grandkids.  If they decide to have big families, we could have 36 grandkids or even more.  And we would really like to give them all presents at Christmas and birthdays.  If we stay crammed in our three-kids-per-bedroom situation now, we won’t have a mortgage in 12 years.   In 12 years, incidentally, we will only have 4 kids age 18 or under.  However, if we trade these payments for a mortgage that extends out 25 years, we will still be paying off space that no one is inhabiting for an extra 13 years.  I think older generations realized this and avoided debt, allowing them to enjoy their golden years with a sizeable nest egg.

4) Does this really sync with our values?

I’m in no way saying that large house owners are bad people or lacking in virtue.  Some of the best people I know live in some pretty swanky digs.  But is that path the one God has laid out for our family to walk?  We have a big family.  Our resources are split between more people.  This requires that we all make sacrifices to get along.  Personally, I struggle with materialism big time.  My first impulse for any problem is to hit the Supercentre, and purchase a solution.  But sometimes the solution is just make do.  Do we really need the room, or are we trying to impress people with what we own?  Can this house be made workable, can we use some better organizing solutions, get rid of a bunch of junk, or build a bedroom in the basement?  If our heart is where our treasure is, should we be putting all our treasure into a note to the Bank?  Shouldn’t we be trusting in God to provide for our needs, rather than scheming on how we can get more?

5) This house is just fine — if we stop looking at other houses

Our current house has one of the largest kitchens I’ve seen in a suburban house, it’s new so we don’t need to replace the roof for years, it’s about 150 feet from our school and a playground, it’s on a major bus route, we’re walking distance from our Church and a new Recreation Centre, it’s bright and sunny, and we already have a fence and garage.  BUT — It is on a busy street, doesn’t have front driveway and it only has three bedrooms.  “Moral arithimetic” would seem to prove that we should stay, no contest.  But in grass-is-always-greener fashion, we keep looking at other houses on the Internet.  And becoming disatisfied with the one we have.  I spent my twenties and early thirties watching decorating and home renovation shows.  It’s time to grow up and accept reality.   Cultivating house envy may be a fun pastime, but as a way of life it sucks.  A house should be clean, functional and pleasant to be in.  Anything else is gravy and most likely the domain of those who don’t have little kids.

So yes, the bunk beds and selves of shoes stay (I draw the line at family closets.)  Looks like we’re staying put. But at least now I know what I’m asking for Christmas: built-ins.

Ultimate Multi-Tasker

I was getting ready this morning and I noticed that the kids had absconded with the potty-seat-converts-to-a-step-stool from the bathroom for their game.  The four year old and her 2 year old brother were playing that they were driving from place to place.

“Come on honey,” she said.  “Get into the poop-mobile and let’s get going!”

Mommyisms that drive me nuts

I had to spend 25 minutes in line at the fabric store to buy $6.50 stretchy lace.  Since that put me in such a positive mood, I thought I would regale you all with a list of Mommyisms That Drive Me Nuts.

The “Always Win” Mom

This gal come in two types: nice and nasty.  The nasty version has been played out in every female centred suburban drama since they invented television. Enough has been said about them.  But those nice ones.  Let’s just say, if  you went to her house to get support after learning you may have some terrible illness, by the time you left, you will have spent the last 90 minutes helping her with her kid’s bad attitude problem.  And feel good about it.  No matter what problem, theirs’ will be worse, and no matter what achievement, their kids will be better.  And you just can help but still like them.

The “Duck and Cover, Here Comes Mother” Mom

With her humongous handbag hanging from her forearm, the take out coffee in one hand, and her car key in the other, this lady’s kids can’t get anywhere near enough to hold one of those acrylic square tip fingernails.  Instead, he or she plays a game of bob and weave away from all the elbows and purses that keep being swung around.  If all the women around you are constantly wincing and making that “sheeee!!!” sound, it’s time to get a shoulder strap.

The “My Kid’s Suri Cruise” Mom

Yeah, well, no, she’s not.  And what makes people wince when they see it in OK! Magazine, is even worse right in front of you in real life.  There is nothing quite as uncomfortable as the fake smile on the Kindergarten teacher’s face when your kid holds up her shoes and cries “Look!  I have high heels just like you!”

The “Spends Hours Making a Historically Accurate Chiton and Decorating it with Sequins for their Kid’s Halloween Costume” Mom

Okay, that’s me.  Sometimes I really annoy myself.

The “Talks to Herself Like She Has Kids Around When She Doesn’t” Mom

Okay, that’s me again.  But it’s really hard to stop talking in a constant monologue after 10 years.  I’ve made a lot of friends though.  All by accident, but still. They didn’t know I wasn’t talking to them when they answered back.

The “Can I Suggest Something” Mom

Why would you think that a stressed out, frazzled, over worked woman dealing with an out-of-control offspring would want your parenting tips?  Do you think that by humiliating her in public, this will somehow improve her mood?  Why not capture this all on your cell phone, and then you can meet up later for some one on one coaching?  By the way, are you kids really that good all the time?  If you want to help out a mom with a bad kid, pretend you can’t see or hear them.  I’m sure they will return the favour one day.

Well, I’m feeling better now.  Thank goodness.  I’ll save “Cursed by her Fertility” Mom and “Can He Play You Something on the Trumpet?” Mom for after the next time I need notions.

 

I now have proof I love my kids

Why?  Because I remained exceptionally calm when my 6 year old came up to me this morning and said:

“Okay Mom.  You have a test.  When does Sparks start?”

“6 o’clock.”

“Good!  Now don’t you ever be late again.”

And she walked away…

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