Tag Archives: parenting

Fireworks


I’m feeling a little misty-eyed lately over my ratbag children. It’s the season of fireworks and where I’m living we’ve already had four nights of them, and another one tonight. It’s Natal Day weekend in Nova Scotia, an event celebrated with even more enthusiasm than Canada Day. This surprised me the first year I was here, but I’m getting used to it, dropping my central Canada snobbery.

But tonight I wandered across the street to the harbour, and was immediately swamped with kids all waving those hugely expensive light wand things (these ones use hearing aid batteries so will cause even more damage and expense as time goes on, but they were WAY COOL. Especially when rapidly swung around.) And it brought me back to all the times we’d driven to see fireworks with our kids, all the different places we’d seen fireworks at together, and well, it made me a bit nostalgic….

 

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This girl is nowhere near cold enough

The fireworks in Ottawa, in winter, on Spark Street. Freezing cold, as Ottawa is. The display for children was held in the dark evening so the little ones could a. get to bed early and b. not be run over in the later melee. Some of the fireworks didn’t explode immediately, and the kids, as one wave, raced towards the snow hill where they were placed. The parents, shouting “NOOOOOOOOOOO(N)” leaped after the kids and fortunately, no one was exploded. I nearly lost my sight though as little knee biters were all waving sparklers at the fullest extent of their arms…my eye height…

 

Then there were the fireworks when we lived in Kansas, on the Leavenworth Army Base.12502224-12502224 Those fireworks went on and on and on and ON. It was astonishing. HOURS passed. In between, there were bands and flag parades and a whole bunch of patriotic stuff we simply don’t do up here. I remember trying to make things sound exciting for the kids, who were actually bored at the lengthy display.

 

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Photo credit: Matthew Guy

The next year we were in Annapolis Royal, a tiny but very serious town (has a huge entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia, bigger than Toronto’s). We raced down to see the fireworks that had been funded through cans on store counters, a quarter at a time. They were over in five minutes if that – we almost missed them. I was expecting a holler of protest from the kids – they were still little and had seen the equivalent of the Canadian Armed Forces budget blown up the year before, but there wasn’t anything. My middle son, a thoughtful bloke, said, “It’s actually better this way, mommy – this way you can appreciate every single one!” The other two agreed. I think it helped that we had fallen in love with our new town.

 

But at every fireworks display, except the Annapolis Royal one, there was the dragging the kids early so we’d get good seats, the long traffic laden drive home, the calls for expensive light things. My ex and I used to argue about them – I thought we may as well get them, to make it more of an occasion; he ground his teeth at the expense.

It gladdened my heart to see how easy it was for most people to get down to the harbour to watch them here. It reinforced my feelings that living in the Maritimes is the equivalent of living in heaven, even including the fog as it rolled in, Clouds for angels to sit on…

I’ve been feeling a bit mawkish over the kids lately, too, as I am writing/editing/beating to death a young adult novel that has kids in their pre-teens in it. So I’ve been casting back for memories, language, relative surliness.

It WAS a surly time, filled with negotiations that rivaled the G-20 over even the desire to go for a walk. Sometimes the argument wasn’t worth it and I gave up and threw my hands in the air wildly. But most of the time, at that age, the kids were still up for an adventure.

It didn’t have to be a big adventure, either. It could be a simple walk down an old train track, or as complicated as a train drive to Montreal. They didn’t all like the same things. Or the same things as me. We all whined at times. But I was blessed to have curious children, and I am grateful, and I know that they will be alright.

Why? Because I sat through all those fireworks displays with them, and they found something different about each one and enjoyed them all.

It made me wish they were all here with me tonight, though we’d probably have watched the show from a patio, with beers in our hands. The two youngest would have spent the time arguing over some point in philosophy. They would both be right. And I’d, as always, be listening, my heart bursting with delight as the fireworks burst overhead.

Serpent’s teeth and the brilliance of Shakespeare


db-0100I hated reading Shakespeare as I grew up. The language seemed difficult, the concepts dry and old. I was, of course, ignorant. And a philistine. Now I know better, and am continually gobsmacked by what Shakespeare was able to contain in his works.

I wonder who I was when I was younger – so sure of myself, so sure I knew things, terrified of being caught out yet pushing my way through, singing “Whistle a Happy Tune” and “You’ll never walk alone” to keep my chin up – but as an old friend said, it WAS up. Though I knew nothing, and inside I knew I knew nothing. I knew enough to fake it til I made it, just about. So I did.

I blame my mother. She told us we were special, and though we never really believed it, we carried it around. My adopted aunt once gave me a book which had a marvelous poem in it about “Mary-Alice”, who had great potential, and because she was so afraid of losing that potential, she kept it hidden under her bed in a very secure box and got it out now and again to look at it but never showed it to anyone.

That poem has haunted my entire life. Thanks, Aunt Shirlianne. (Love her so much, and there’s no reason she should have expected that that poem would have such an effect on me). Between my mother assuring me I was meant to do great things and my aunt inflicting overly wise poetry on me, I was and probably still am, a mess. I figure I still have to contribute – have to have an effect on the world, have to use my potential before it vanishes like Mary-Alice’s.

potential

It’s encouraging in one way, terrifying in another. Here I am, gently losing my mind with the cognitive effects of MS, and I am flogging myself to write, to agitate, to exercise, to model healthy behaviour, blah blah blah. Add in a generous dose of Roman Catholic guilt and it’s almost unbearable in here. Wine helps. And chocolate.

Sad thing is, I seem to have visited it upon my kids, this same sense of “you have great gifts and you’d better use them to better the world or else”. It’s a lot of pressure, and I didn’t mean to make their lives the same living ratrace mentally that I spin upon, but I did.

So now they have secret lives, and are afraid to tell me their plans and are snarky at me so they don’t have to feel that I am judging them.

Which, of course, I am NOT. Funny thing about parenting. That unconditional love thing is the code.You get it through the umbilical cord, I think. So I don’t care what they do, though of course I would be sad if they got arrested or hurt somebody or sat about being unhappy and unfulfilled. But then I think they wouldn’t like that, either, so I assume we are on the same page, sort of. Maybe.

I have to guess, though, because, like those ungrateful children in Shakespeare, two out of my three wonderful offspring speak rarely to me. It hurts me, yes it does. I’m sure they have reasons to avoid me, and it’s pretty much due me as I recall I kind avoided my mother for a spell, and still argue with her though she is 24 years gone. I guess I also passed on the serpent’s tooth.

In a way, it’s good – I raised my kids to be independent, questioning individuals, and so they are. Just wish a bit that they’d be a little less questioning of me, sometimes.

Ah well, at least when we DO talk, they are interesting, witty, intelligent, and worth the wait. Perhaps you can’t have that without the tooth…

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When love goes awry…


“And you know what? To protect my kids, I’d lie, too. I’d lie on a stack of Bibles.”

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/02/11/130211fa_fact_keefe#ixzz2K2jZqwHp

This story is about a woman who murdered all of her colleagues, supposedly over tenure at a university. And about the “accident” years earlier, where she shot her brother, killing him.

It’s a fascinating story, terrifying in its implications, sad in the lack of help for someone who could surely have used it. And worrying for the children of such a set of parents.

But the quote I selected above is the scariest of all. What’s happened here?

Back in the time of responsibility, parents were the ones who took their children to the shopkeeper and made them return what they had stolen. I remember once having done something mean to a friend and my mother MADE me go and apologize. I had to walk the mile there and back, squirming in embarrassment, upset that I had to take the blame for what had been a joint girlfriend attack. But I never bullied again. (Well, until I got into management, and then it was only incompetence that drove me).

My parents made me wear my decisions, and I think I’m better for it.

Now, I’ve covered for my kids at times, but I would never cover for such a thing. Even when they were in school and their teachers would call me to wail about how my kids weren’t doing this or that assignment, I’d tell them – so FAIL them! I’m cool with that, I said. They have to learn consequences. The teachers never did, saying that the final result on the assignment was too good for them to be able to fail them. Unacceptable. How was I supposed to hold the kids accountable when their teachers wouldn’t?

In the real world, when you f*** up, you pay. You get a ticket, you lose your job, you go broke or bankrupt, you lose a friend or a lover. I find it appalling that now people seem to think that it is totally inappropriate to subject kids to consequences, leaving them unprepared to deal with life.

ImageAnd with a flexible sense of the truth.

I adore my kids. I’d walk over burning coals to support them, even the ungrateful one who still won’t speak to me. (Well, maybe not that one. I’m fed up.) But I wouldn’t lie for them.

I know they have their faults, as do I. But I expect to be held accountable for my faults, as they should.

Would I lie if they were threatened with a jail sentence, if they committed a crime? My heart would break, but I wouldn’t. We live as a part of society, and as parts of society, we’re expected to play at least close to the rules.

I hope never to have to deal with this, and my heart goes out to any parent who has to try to understand a monstrous child. I know I blame myself for my kids’ every fault already, so I can imagine how they must feel. But surely, lying for your kid, letting them off the hook, allowing them to turn into more horrific and self-centred creatures isn’t love.

Mental Health Days


Before I went back to work, when I was spending my days playing with my kids and doing seemingly endless piles of laundry and arbitrating fights and driving people all over the place, every once and awhile, I’d see that we were getting stressed to the max with school and other commitments. So I’d give us all a mental health day. I’d call the schools, tell them that the kids were sick, and we’d all lounge around in our pyjamas all day and watch Disney movies and eat popcorn and just be messy all day.
It was lovely, especially in the depths of winter when it was too much trouble to get dressed for the weather some days. It’d be -40 or something and the thought of wrapping all of us in the required 10 layers was too much.
Or we’d all be tired and grumpy and a holiday day was a welcome respite for all of us.
I loved those days. Mind you, I loved excuses to play hooky with the kids anytime.

My novel

I still like the playing hooky days, but they are creeping to an end. I have a novel to brush up for June 1st. It needs its hair done, some primping, a lot of education about tenses and structure and plot and characterizations and all that.
What I really want to do is tell it to play hooky with me, to just sit around with it and talk to it and have fun and share secrets. A lot of my writing happens this way.
Every once an awhile, though, I need to tell it to get tidied up and presentable. Like my kids, my novel isn’t all that keen to take to work. It likes being messy.
One of my sons used to live in a pile of his precious items. We argued over it, and I finally told him he needed to tidy it up one day a week so I could vacuum and such and thus prevent bug infestation. He grudgingly agreed. He’d tidy it all up, I’d whip the vacuum through, and within five minutes, it’d be all layered again, looking just the same as before, but less dusty.
It worked for us. He felt more comfortable in the clutter.
Maybe I can tell my novel this – tidy up now, just til June 1st, and then we can play-write again, wallow around in our mental pyjamas, vegetate. I don’t think it’s buying it, though. I think it knows now is the time to grow up.
No more mental health days, not for the moment.
Dang.
On the good side, I can dress in my writer clothes, which are designed to prevent me from being seen in public. Comfy, messy, unattractive. All good.
Time to get to work.
Now, I just need a little Queen to inspire me…

Mothers and daughters and mothers and daughters on and on and on


ImageSo here comes another Mother’s Day, and with it the maelstrom of feelings that are associated with this Hallmarky “holiday”. I have a hate-hate relationship with Mother’s Day. When I was a kid, it was a day when I would try to connect with my mother, unsuccessfully. I always did something minimal for Mother’s Day – as an unemployed poor person for most of my mother-daughter relationship, I resorted to “Spritual Bouquets” (home made cards offering prayers for the person) or something equally forgettable. I don’t remember Mother’s Day particularly well. I suppose we went out to eat. Or something. It all seemed rather bleah.

And then I became a Mother. And after nights and nights of solo parenting while my ex was working or deployed or otherwise occupado, he never did a thing for me for Mother’s Day. “You’re not my mother,” he’d say. Yeah, true. But I’d organize the kids to do something for him for Father’s Day or do something special. Instead I reminded him to call HIS mother. It hurt, a lot. I wanted praise for a job well done, or at least a recognition that my mothering of the kids made life easier for him to father them. But maybe it didn’t. Mothers days passed. I didn’t really care.

Then my mother, ever the competitive one, superseded my father’s glorious passing on Christmas Eve to die on Mother’s Day. It was a blatant attempt to win in the sympathy contest. It worked. So Mother’s Day became even more rife.

I used to be proud of my parenting. I stayed at home for a few years (we were lucky enough to do this), and I thought I’d done a good job. In amongst the child rearing, while my mum was still around, I fought her influence on me. We were never close, and this I regret. As I’ve said elsewhere, Karma sucks, and now the pride I took in parenting is shadowed by the ongoing break existing between my daughter and I.  It’s still deep and dark and murky and I can’t see a way past it. I dread coming to the realization that I may never see her again. And that this may be what she wants. Yowza.

I sense my mother had her difficulties with her mother, too. She was one of the youngest of a large clan and her mother was ferocious. I imagine little foolishness was tolerated. My mum moved away from her mother and stayed away. We saw her mother now and again, but I didn’t get the feeling that they were bosom buddies or anything. Our family never said they loved each other – I’m sure my mother’s family would have thought that was just a terribly odd thing to say.

Maybe that’s the way daughters and mothers exist, but I am not sure about that. Today I saw a mother and daughter out for lunch together, laughing and enjoying being together, and my heart broke – for the lost opportunities with my mum, now long gone, for the years passing away from my daughter.

This Mother’s Day is also my daughter’s birthday. Plus it will be about 5 years since we’ve talked. Have I mentioned my hate-hate relationship with the day? So this Mother’s Day, I get to relive my mother and my daughter, my cold and now lost marriage, and all that crap. I suspect I’ll have to hit the beach and throw some rocks.

On the good side, I have two lovely sons. Thank god. And a friend who knows how important it is to get some positive stroking on this sharp, painful day. I love them all dearly.

So, all the rest of you – go talk to your mothers. Yeah, they’re insufferably boring and intrude into your life and say things that hurt and mess with your head. They probably wear horrible clothes and are shockingly clued out. But trust me, even if you think you hate them, you’re gonna miss them when they’re gone. See them while you can.

Miss you, mum. Hope you are somewhere beautiful. Love you.

Big brown…


Big brown bear, blue bull, beautiful baboon, blowing bubbles biking backwards…

(The Berenstain’s B Book)

Jan Berenstain is no more – she passed away today. I don’t know of any author who had more of an influence on my kids when wee little. We used to say all the words to the B Book when we drove in the car – it kept the kids amused as they waited for the louder sound effects.

My middle child loved the Berenstain books more than anything else. I think the somewhat heavy moralizing tone appealed to his budding guilt complex. He learned to “read” them, memorizing the entire books well before actually learning to read.  He asked for the newest ones whenever we went to a bookstore, saved them in his bookshelves in the only ordered part of his bedroom, asked for them at every bedtime story time.

I never quite got it. In the stories, the mother was always wise, the father always bumbling, the kids always learning some moral tale or another. It all seemed a little heavy to me, like the Duchess’ chin on Alice’s shoulder in “Through the Looking Glass”.

But he wanted them, and so we read. And read. And read. The covers wore off.

Eventually my son learned to read on his own, for real, and started exploring other worlds. The other kids moved on, too, and the books eventually went to goodwill for someone else to enjoy.

Except for that B Book.

That one is permanently in my brain circuitry.

“… and that’s what broke baby bird’s balloon.”

Cheers, Jan – I just know you have a circle of children sitting around you where you are, rapt and enchanted.

Praising the dog


Chutney, thinking about crimes

Way back in being-a-parent-to-three young kids land, I went to a lot of parenting classes. We won’t say what it was about those three young kids that led me to parenting classes, but let it suffice that there were at least two occasions where I put them out of the car on the side of the road and threatened to drive off without them.

Eventually I got around to teaching parenting classes, having concluded that walking through the fires of hell gave me the street cred to do so. My son helped by acting up before every class so that I’d have a fresh story to lead off the session with, god love him. It was fun. I got lots of support.

But the overall message that came through, strong and clear, was that you NEVER said “Good boy” to your son if he did something good – you were to praise the action and not the person, blame the action as if it came from somewhere else. Not, “that was bad, setting fire to your sister’s hamster”, but “Setting fire to a hamster is bad.” The argument was that a person was neither good nor bad, but their actions could be.

I’m not sure about that.

In any case, this is the only explanation for my response to my dog this morning when I told him to sit and wait while I took off his leash and he actually did.

I told him, “Chutney, that was GOOD LISTENING!”

I often find myself offering this sort of comment to the dog, who of course hears “blah blah blah GOOD blah blah blah blah”. And he’s a poodle, with a fairly large vocabulary, including car, beach, bow-wow (his camp), bath, dinner, bedtime and treat. He doesn’t care about the words around good or bad. He just wants to know if I’m cross or happy and if there is going to be a tasty treat involved.

Probably like my kids, when I come right down to it.

Positive self-messaging helps! Who’d have thought that?


Okay, it’s November 21 and I am way behind in my Nanowrimo word count and I have yet to meet my goal of finishing my novel and etc, so I have a lot of work to do. Of course, being a writer, this leads to crashes of depression about my choice to pursue this course, about writing as a general focus, about the overall better suitability of me as a door stop.

So I turn on my computer and as I waste time wandering through my email, I find the reference to this study, which recommends treatment for depression that includes mainly reviewing past experiences and instead of focusing on them as they happened, working out how you might have made things different. For some reason this seems to have a better effect than just laying about relaxing (which I have practised quite regularly) or digging for reasons behind the source of anxiety (check) in dealing with depression.

So it’s a bit like what I used to tell my kids about nightmares. Go back to sleep, I’d tell them, but this time, how would you beat the monster? Then, once they’d figured that out, they could go to sleep and sleep unthreatened by that monster.


In depression’s case, I guess it helps to say to yourself (or myself, in this case), Well, if you wrote 200 words a day even, you’d be way ahead of where you are now and feeling better. Or if you’d actually stuck to organizing your novel into Scrivener instead of being distracted by contests and shiny objects, you’d be good to go.

I’m not sure this is helping. Maybe there’s a special process to go through. Right now, I just sound like my mother…”if only you’d applied yourself…”

Sigh.

Here’s the study:

Training in ‘Concrete Thinking’ Can Be Self-Help Treatment for Depression, Study Suggests

Excerpt:

The CNT (concrete thinking therapy) involved the participants undertaking a daily exercise in which they focused on a recent event that they had found mildly to moderately upsetting. They did this initially with a therapist and then alone using an audio CD that provided guided instructions. They worked through standardised steps and a series of exercises to focus on the specific details of that event and to identify how they might have influenced the outcome.

CNT significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, on average reducing symptoms from severe depression to mild depression during the first two months and maintaining this effect over the following three and six months. On average, those individuals who simply continued with their usual treatment remained severely depressed.

Although concreteness training and relaxation training both significantly reduced depression and anxiety, only concreteness training reduced the negative thinking typically found in depression. Moreover, for those participants who practised it enough to ensure it became a habit, CNT reduced symptoms of depression more than relaxation training.

Messages of fear


I’ve been watching the growth and development of my daughter from afar, of necessity because she still avoids me for some unknown reason. At one point, when we were still talking, she told me that “all my messages were ones of fear”.  This always struck me as unfair. I have always walked openly into the jaws of the dragon, I thought – following my ex hither and yon, heading to Canada for school when I was a kid, travelling single, changing careers, trying new things, bravely handling all that life threw at me.

But in a way, she was right.  I have always lived my life in fear of other’s opinion of me. I am a quintessential “people pleaser”, given to smiling instead of taking offence, tolerating things I don’t like instead of making a scene, choosing the safe roads as vs hitchhiking through the backwoods of life. It’s served me well in some ways, less well in others. And when I take a stand and people start disliking me because of it (a firm stand means some people will take against you), I often retreat into beige, letting the colours slip from myself and not be bold with the reds and oranges. I joke about myself, making it seem that I didn’t really mean what I said, letting my power slip away. And, when I feel I have to make a stand and can’t change, I don’t know how to do it smoothly. People don’t expect it of me and so they are totally thrown off, take offence, are hurt.

So as I skulk along, picking up the messages about my daughter’s life, hearing what she is doing, I know that if I hadn’t been afraid back then, my life would have been so much more like hers, or my sons’, as versus the very conservative life I did live (though I hasten to add I was considered the “bad” kid by a lot of my family). I find myself chuckling at how very alike we are, she and I, despite our separation. Despite being far away, I feel closer to her than ever before.

I can’t help but feel proud – of all of my kids. They are themselves. Loudly. It hasn’t been easy – they’ve been individuals with strong opinions since they arrived.  Perhaps there are parts of each of them that aren’t quite perfect for prime time – but that is their strength showing. And why SHOULD they be ready for “prime time” anyway? They should be who they are, as long as they remain willing to learn from the world, and open to other’s experiences.

I’m a  bit jealous of my kids’ bravado – their willingness to really throw themselves into life, each in their own way. I’ve always held one foot on safe ground when I dip my foot into the sea of experience. Maybe it is time to copy my kids for a change, and jump right in.

Don’t do what you want. Do what you don’t want. Do what you’re trained not to want. Do the things that scare you the most.Chuck PalahniukInvisible Monsters, 1999
US writer (1962 – )

“She’s her mother, but I birthed her…”


One day, while sitting in a greasy spoon somewhere, I was treated to this shouted explanation of a child’s presence.  The child in question sat between two huge-bosomed women in tight T-shirts.  Their greasy dirty-blonde hair matched their greasy skin.  The child, a smallish, grey-coloured girl, looked unsurprised by this comment. It took me a while to work it out in my  head, and ever since then, when I introduce my children, I have to restrain myself from saying, “well, I birthed ’em”…

There’s more truth in what the women said than it initially appears, for all of we mothers. We give birth to these marvellous creatures and we help them through their first steps and before the blink of an eye, they are out in the wide world, and from then on, we share them with other mothers and fathers.  These friends and stand-in mothers and teachers and bosses and others all take a part in raising these things we’ve birthed, for good or ill.  Luckily, it’s often for good. Mothers like me, who are quickly tired, enjoy sharing their kids with others to help parent. Not that I had much chance to do that, mind you – my kids’ dad was away a lot, and the kids viewed most babysitters as the enemy and a puzzle to be solved – as in “how can we ensure they NEVER want to babysit us again?” I foolishly let them read Calvin and Hobbes, and they used this information to tie up one babysitter because she smoked. SHE didn’t come back. So I didn’t get to share them much.

The influence of others grows as the children grow and as we gently let the tethers out. I used to visualize a virtual umbilical cord between me and my kids – I could sense how they were through vibrations in that virtual cord.  I even had the dog on it. The cord is too stretched now for easy contact – they’ve broken off entirely, and instead I am treated to the occasional invitation into their lives and, rarely, the real treat of them asking my opinion. I like this phase. They are grown up, independent, and I like the relationship we have with each other, for the most part. It only gets irritating when they advise me.  I haven’t quite become senile yet, and think that maybe I can still manage my life. No doubt they think they can manage theirs.  So we’ve made a pact not to tell each other what to do.  Mostly, we abide by it.

They are still a big part of my brain and heart, though. I think of them daily, I send them my love, I hope their new families of friends and advisors are good to them.

Twenty five years ago today, on another Friday the 13th, I started this parental journey with my dear daughter Chris. She’s off tree-planting or something wild today, but she’s also here, in my heart. I’m sending her my love, eternal and unchanging, though she probably won’t accept it. But maybe if I send a happy birthday hum down that so-stretched virtual chord, she’ll know I wish her well. Happy Birthday, dearest daughter. Love you.