Friends Now (Ode to an Older Brother)
You are eight and five. You are friends now.
Yesterday I listened from the kitchen as you said,
“Here, Ada. You be this guy!”
And you lost yourselves together in imagination; the round couch your castle, the pile of stuffed animals your cohorts.
From the very beginning you were fascinated by this little sister. She was enamoured with you.
She sat in the baby chair in her fuzzy pink Cookie Monster sleeper,
her blue eyes concentrated on you,
When she cried it upset you and you begged me for “a two-arm hug, momma,”
Not understanding that you had to share me.
You started playing together, sort of,
When she was about 12 months old.
She trotted along behind you, fascinated by you, frustrated when she couldn’t keep up with your manic pace.
Your painstakingly built Lego pirate ship smashed to the ground by a curious two-year-old was the next step; your face crumbled as you screamed “THAT BABY wrecked it again!” And again.
But you wanted to be with her. You didn’t want to sit alone in your room where the toys were protected and quiet.
Now she is five. You are eight.
“Wait for me, Benny!” she calls, racing behind you on her rainbow bike, determined to keep up. Only she is allowed to call you Benny.
You have raging fights when things aren’t fair.
There is hitting and yelling, whining and alone time.
But you love each other.
She wraps her tiny arms around your neck and squeezes, pulling you in tightly.
“My Benny,” she says. You smile and gruffly answer,
“I love you too, Ada.”
Soon she will follow you to your school.
She will be just down the hall, peeking into your classroom door on her way to the library.
The fears and loneliness she had at preschool will be dampened because
You are there.
Weekly Photo Challenge: Half-Light (Meeting of Trees)
My family and I went exploring during spring break last week and ended up at an ethereal place on Vancouver Island called Fairy Lake. These three trees captured me; I couldn’t look away from them. A well-loved painter and poet around here is Emily Carr. These trees made me think of her.
Look at the earth crowded with growth, new and old bursting from their strong roots hidden in the silent, live ground, each seed according to its own kind…each one knowing what to do, each one demanding its own rights on the earth. So artist, you too from the depths of your soul…let your roots creep forth, gaining strength. (Emily Carr)
Not Bigger Yet
My daughter loves the Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer. Little Critter is easy for her to identify with; he forgets his boots, leaves the tap running, and “accidentally” eats the whole bag of cookies. One of my 4-year-old daughter’s current favorite books is When I Get Bigger. In it, Little Critter lists the things he will do when he is older. Things like: pour milk into his own cereal, walk to the corner store alone, make a phone call by himself and camp out in the backyard.
At the end of the book, Little Critter concludes that “Mom and Dad say…I’m not bigger yet.”
Sometimes it’s hard to know when my children are ready for new things. Is my seven-year old son ready for guitar lessons? Is he ready to go on a sleepover? Is my four-year old ready to play at a friend’s house without me? Will she be ready for full-day kindergarten next fall? We’ve all got these questions. Sometimes our kids need a little push to try new things. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to push and when to give our kids more time to grow up.
My daughter loves dancing. When she’s in the mood to dance she disappears up the stairs and into her room. I hear a few thumps and bumps, and drawers opening and closing. When she comes out, she wears a hand-me-down, frayed yellow tutu, too-small, pink teddy bear slippers and a purple shirt. She switches on my dusty old CD player and Frozen’s Let it Go blares into our living room. She tilts her head to the right, closes her sparkly blue eyes, twirls, jumps and spins, and gets lost in the music and her imagination.
Like a typical momma with a little girl, when my daughter turned three and a half, I thought “She loves to dance so I must sign her up for dance classes!” We convinced two of her best buddies to sign up for Tiny Tutus and Tights at the local rec centre.
The first day she was excited; the yellow tutu and teddy bear slippers were ready. When we got there the moms were told to wait in the hall while the little girls hesitantly followed the teacher into the studio. That seemed okay with my daughter, on the first day.
The second day it was a completely different story. My daughter refused to enter the room of three-year olds in tights. I tried every trick in the book: encouragement, getting her to hold her friend’s hand, even bribery with the promise of ice cream later, but under no circumstance would she enter that room without me. The tears came, then the loud cries. She clung to me. There was no way she was going to dance class without me. The teacher suggested “tough love” (that I should walk away and leave her) but my gut said it wasn’t quite time for that. I wasn’t invited to come into the room and watch.
Out in the hallway my daughter buried her grape-shampoo-scented hair into my chest. Her tiny hands grasped my neck and hung on for dear life. “Let’s <sob> go <sob> get hot chocolate mommy.”
So we did. We walked, hand in hand out of the rec centre. Maybe if I had pushed a little harder I could’ve convinced her to try it the next week. I don’t think so.
Three and a half is a time for twirling in the living room in teddy bear slippers. Maybe four will be a better time for leaving momma in the hall.
She’s not bigger yet and that’s okay with me.
The Lucky Pie: A Christmas Tradition
My grandma was a doctor’s daughter, one of seven children from a big brick house in a tiny Canadian prairie town. When we were kids my brother and I cross-country skied across the frozen barley field from our farm to hers. As we neared her yard, we saw her silhouetted through the picture window in the living room. She dropped everything to come and watch for us. Sometimes she even did a little dance and my grandpa chuckled from his brown armchair in the corner. When we walked in that door, we were all that mattered.
When my grandma was a little girl in the 1920s, her family got the Eaton’s catalogue in the mail. One year her own grandma, “Namma”, ordered a box called a Lucky Pie from the catalogue. Little did she know she would set in motion a Christmas tradition that has spanned almost 90 years in our family.
(A Lucky Pie is a big wrapped box with ribbons sticking out of the top. Each ribbon connects to a small wrapped gift inside, one for each person attending Christmas dinner. Each person’s name is on a card taped to the end of their ribbon. There is often an extra ribbon or two, just in case an unexpected guest shows up.)
When I was a little girl, everyone gathered in a tight circle around the Lucky Pie and grasped a ribbon, right before dinner was served. All eyes turned to my grandma and when we were quiet she started the chant: “One for the money. Two for the show. Three to get ready and go man go!” We pulled with all our might, excited to see what treasure was at the end of our ribbon. Sometimes the ribbons would all get tangled up and we’d laugh and laugh as we sorted it all out.
The presents were little toys or knick-knacks my grandma had collected all year and stowed away in her hall closet; mini-flashlights, Nestle rosebud chocolates, tiny Swiss army knives or brightly coloured nail polish. My uncle Andrew always told us we could swap gifts with each other if we didn’t like what we had received. You can imagine the chaos that created between my brother, my cousins and I.
Last year was the first year that both my children were old enough to participate in the Lucky Pie. As their tiny hands held the name tags, I swear I could smell the Yardley lavender soap my grandma always used. I yearn for just one more hug from her but she has been gone for more than four years now.
Some days I’d love to still be that little girl with braids in my hair, cocooned in the safety of my grandma’s house. But it’s my turn now to carry on our traditions. When I think of her example it helps me suck just a little more patience out of a trying day with my own children; to give another hug instead of an admonition.
Whenever we left her house, my grandma would stuff the pockets of our puffy winter jackets with Christmas oranges, never letting us leave empty-handed. She taught me what it means to love unfailingly.
*This post was first published last Christmas at Momma Be Thy Name.
Leave The Kids Out of It
I checked the news when I woke up this morning and this headline blared out:
141 die, mostly children, in Peshwar school attack
As we in North America go about our Christmas preparations, worrying about presents and parking spots, Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshwar, Pakistan.
According to Pakistani military spokesman, Asim Bajwa, it was “an assault that seemed designed purely to terrorize the children rather than take anyone hostage to further the militant group’s aims. Their sole purpose, it seems, was to kill those innocent kids. That’s what they did.”
Two years ago, almost to the day, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, waving semi-automatic weapons and shooting 20 children dead.
Two completely unrelated incidents, yet both targeting the most vulnerable and precious of a community.
When I was a little kid, a part of me looked forward to being an adult. A real idealist, I naively assumed that once everyone grew up physically, they would grow up mentally and emotionally too. I thought that once people were in their 20s, or at least in their 30s, they would act like grown-ups: throw out their selfishness and put others first.
Maturity and kindness have nothing to do with age. Today on the news, I see grown men raging around with machine guns throwing tantrums and killing children. Yesterday I saw my 6-year-old son showing true bravery and kindness by standing between his little friend and a bully, taking hits so his friend wouldn’t get hurt.
As a mother, I ache for the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and grandparents in Pakistan whose lives are shattered by the loss of so many children.
As a mother, I say leave the kids out of it. Get your battles out of the schools and off the playgrounds.
As a believer, at this time of year, I say, Come O Come Emmanuel.
Goodbye, Peanut Allergy
We took a new Lego set with us: a race car that drove onto a truck and trailer. My purse had a jar of peanut butter and three Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups tucked inside. We were at the allergist’s office to do a Peanut Challenge test.
At 20 months old, we took our son for allergy testing, expecting to find a mild milk allergy. Instead we were sent home with epipens, fear and an anaphylactic peanut allergy.
I had food allergies as a kid too. I remember the mean girls at the Girl Guides picnic who laughed at my special hot dogs when I was seven. I can still taste the homemade marshmallows my grandma made in an 8×8 pan so my brother and I wouldn’t feel left out at the campfire. Luckily, I outgrew my allergies by twelve. Peanut allergies are different. “Only one in five children outgrow a peanut allergy” the allergist said. “It’s pretty likely he will have this forever.”
For four years we carried epipens everywhere. I checked food labels obsessively and talked to the manager and held my breath at restaurants. We never had to use the epipen. But the fear was always there.
I was the helicopter mother that I used to scoff at.
Birthday parties were tricky. I would call ahead. “My son has a severe peanut allergy. Where are you getting the cake from? No, he can’t eat it if it says ‘may contain peanuts’. No, he can’t eat Dairy Queen ice cream cakes. That’s okay. I’ll bring something else for him.”
I grew nervous as Kindergarten approached. We scheduled an allergist appointment with the hope that things had changed. I held my breath as they did the scratch tests on his arm. Pollen- Negative. Milk- Negative. Cats- Positive. Dogs- Positive. Penicillin- Positive. Peanuts- Positive. Sigh.
“Don’t lose hope!” said the kind intern. “Wait and see what the blood tests say.”
School started and things were okay. A letter came home to parents declaring the class Peanut–Free. My son’s epipen tucked right into the front pocket of his Buzz Lightyear backpack, just a few feet away from where he ate his snacks and lunch. The teacher was trained in what to do. My son was a pro by then and knew the rules: Never try anyone’s snack. Always ask a grown-up to read labels. Don’t trust other kids.
There was a bright red star beside my son’s name on the Kindergarten table; a reminder to the caretaker to clean that area extra well each night.
One afternoon my phone rang and the school’s name flashed in capital letters on my call display. I held my breath as I answered. “Everything’s okay!” the secretary said quickly. “Your son just had a bee sting and needed to hear your voice.” Exhale. Disaster averted.
The blood tests came and went and showed one glaring difference from the scratch test: Peanuts- Negative.
The allergist said that “80% of children who get a negative blood test have outgrown their allergy. Come in again and we will do a peanut challenge.”
So, there we were. My son, me, a jar of peanut butter and a new Lego set.
My hands shook as I opened up the jar. For years I had been protecting my son from the very thing I was about to give him.
The doctor started with a smear of peanut butter on a scratch on his arm. Wait 15 minutes. Build the Lego guys. No reaction.
Then, a tiny taste on the tip of a wooden tongue depressor. Wait fifteen very long minutes. Watch child very carefully. Ask him every five minutes if he feels okay. Build the little race car from the set. No reaction!
This same drill went on three more times and each time my son licked a little more peanut butter off the stick. Each time I held my breath and my heart raced as I watched him. For hives. For sniffles. For coughs. For anything out of the ordinary. Each time the timer beeped we’d meet the doctor in the little room for a quick check and more peanut butter.
The doctor looked excited after the third or fourth dose. “Statistics say that most people who make it past the third dose won’t have a reaction.” I allowed myself to get a tiny bit excited. My boy was excited too. The implications of no peanut allergy raced through my mind.
I was fairly calm with the little bits on the stick but started freaking out when the doctor handed my son a big glob of it on a soda cracker. “Eat it up!” said the doc. “Really?” I asked. The doctor nodded and my son was delighted. He loved the taste and smacked his lips happily. That wait was a very long fifteen minutes. The whole cab of the Lego semi-truck was built. I’m not sure I breathed.
The timer beeped and we headed in for the final challenge: two crackers loaded up with peanut butter and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup thrown in for good measure. “Really?” I asked again. “Are you sure?” The allergist nodded and the timer was set, this time for 30 minutes. If he made it to the end with no symptoms we were home free.
I watched my son obsessively, texted my husband and posted updates on Facebook. My son finished building the trailer for the Lego truck. The timer dinged. We were done.
“That’s it!” said the allergist. “His allergy is gone.” Four simple words that changed my son’s life.
The next day before school I tucked his epipen into his backpack, just in case. Old habits are hard to break. I’m not sure how long I’ll leave it there. He doesn’t mind. This is new territory for him too. He happily scratched the red star off his desk and announced to the kindergarten children that his allergy was gone. They hugged him and cheered with true kindergarten camaraderie.
As we list off all the foods he can finally try (Peanut Butter Marshmallow Squares! Thai food! Vietnamese!) and imagine the birthday parties, barbeques, summer camps and restaurants he can attend without fear, we are thankful.
- Your Kid’s Peanut Allergy is an Inconvenience (blogher.com)
Dear Dad of a Toddler and a Newborn
Dear Dad of a toddler and a newborn,
Congratulations on the birth of your second child! Your life has just changed immensely. I’m sure you assumed that a second child would be no big deal. You’ve already done this, right? Sure, there will be some sleepless nights but you’re a pro now, aren’t you?
When my husband and I were expecting our second child, someone told me that the first child is hardest on the mom but the second child is hardest on the dad. Even if dad is a fabulous supporter, the first baby is mom’s 24 hour responsibility. Especially if she is breastfeeding, mom is the one who is up for hours and hours in the night and mom is (typically) the one responsible for more of the first baby’s care.
When the second baby is born, dad must step up to the plate. Mom is very busy with the newborn so when dad is home, he’s on toddler duty. I’m lucky to have a stellar husband who quickly upped his game when our daughter came along. I have friends who weren’t so lucky.
So dad, here’s a simple true or false quiz to enlighten you on your new role:
True or False: It’s Saturday afternoon and the baby is sleeping so you can take a nap. FALSE. There is still a rambunctious toddler in the house who doesn’t nap and needs entertaining, feeding, wiping and horsey rides.
True or False: You get home from work and decide to put your feet up and check the scores. FALSE. Now that there are two children and your wife is probably breastfeeding, she has hardly sat down all day and she got three hours of sleep last night. Download some recipe apps on your iPhone or dial-up Dominos…you are on dinner duty!
True or False: You come in from a busy Sunday out with the family and head to your man cave for a little time to recharge. FALSE. Your wife has been out all day too and has a hungry baby and a hungry toddler in her arms. Someone needs to make supper and someone needs to change and watch the kiddies. Take your pick. Choose kid-duty once in a while because cooking dinner is the easy job. The man cave must wait.
True or False: It’s finally bedtime and both kids are tucked in. Surely now it’s time for you to relax for a few hours with Netflix or a game on your laptop. FALSE. Sure, it’s worth a try. Get settled in for some much-needed R&R. But don’t forget that your partner needs some too. Earn huge brownie points by being the first to jump up when the cry comes through the baby monitor. Jump fast because now that there’s two kids, the baby will wake the toddler. And then the toddler will wake the baby.
True or False: You made a huge mistake having a second child. FALSE. Don’t worry, your life won’t feel this crazy forever. Things will lighten up in two years or so when your children start playing together. But for now, roll up your sleeves and cuddle those babies. You won’t regret it and your wife will love you even more.
Things people say when my toddler is screaming
Having just survived the terrible twos for a second time, I’ve had plenty of advice from random strangers about how to raise my toddlers. Don’t get me wrong, there have also been many kind people in the grocery store line-up who have sent an encouraging smile my way mid-tantrum. I’ve learned to develop a thick skin for the people who take it upon themselves to give me their “helpful” unsolicited advice. I polled my Facebook friends to see if they had similar experiences.
Here are some of the best (worst) things my friends and I have heard mid-tantrum:
- “My children didn’t do that. I had a 2-year-old AND newborn twins.”
- “My grandchildren don’t do that. And there’s four of them. And my daughter home schools them.”
- “Wow! He’s really upset!”
- “You should really be more consistent. That would nip this in the bud.”
- “Can I give him a piece of candy?”
- “Keep your cool.”
- “Get that kid to shut the hell up!”
- “She has a very loud scream.”
- “What a shame. He’s so cute.”
- “You are horrible parents for not buying your kid that toy.”
- “Oh my heavens!” (said with a patronizing, disgusted look)
- A friend’s toddler was screaming near a hotel elevator. A woman thought my friend and her husband were abducting their own child. My friends had to scream and get help from strangers to restrain the (elderly) woman who was convinced they were kidnappers!
So what would be helpful for a parent who’s dealing with a screaming child in public? How about:
*An empathetic smile
*”That is a tough age.”
*”Can I help carry your groceries?”
One by one we can support other parents and drown out the dreaded, unhelpful grocery store comments!
Leave your best “things people say when my toddler is screaming” in the comments below. Soldier on, mommas.
For the days when you want to quit
“I don’t really like my three-year old.”
“Sometimes I hate my child and then I feel terrible for thinking that.”
Both of these comments were whispered to me by friends. I admit I’ve thought similar things during my not-so-shiny moments of parenting.
I usually refrain from posting whiny, complaining-type posts and tend to focus on the sweet things my kids do. I complain a lot about sleep but try not to be that bitter mother whose kids bring more grief than joy.
But some days just suck.
The other night my husband kept texting, “leaving any minute” “be home soon” “just waiting for the bus” and it was almost 7:00 before he got home. I’m not sure if I was tired, the kids were tired or if it was a full moon, but by the time he walked in I was ready to walk out.
I get to the end of my rope regularly. Life with young children jumps from amazing and awe-inspiring one moment to out-of-control and exasperating the next. I have an up and down personality and my highest highs are followed by crashes of the lowest lows, all within one rotation of the minute hand on the clock.
The other day my children were playing together on the top bunk in my son’s room. They cuddled on the pillows with their stuffed animals and blankets, both giggling and squirming around like Labrador puppies. My son made his little sister laugh hysterically and she tickled him under his chin and teased him back; a real sibling love fest. I smiled and felt all warm inside and proud of the beautiful healthy kids I was raising. All was well.
Seconds later I turned away to brush my teeth and the whole scenario cratered. Laughs turned to screams. Giggles turned to cries. Snuggles turned to grabs and pushes. Toys flew across the room. My heart raced and blood boiled as I jumped to separate the two before someone fell off the bunk. Both kids were crying. It was the end of the world, in preschooler land. It was one of those moments when I just wanted to quit.
Growing up, if I didn’t like something, I quit. I quit competitive swimming, gymnastics, ringette, art classes and who knows what else after a few years each because I wasn’t a star at them. My world was very black and white. Do the enjoyable and easy things that I could excel at. Avoid the difficult things. That philosophy was fine when there was just me to worry about. It even worked with my husband in the picture, for the most part.
The months (and years) after becoming a mother were the hardest of my life so far. I’m not really sure how I made it through those years of terrible sleep deprivation. My fierce love for my newborn son (and then three years later, my daughter) taught me that just because something is really, really hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. The wondrous little children that were created and carried and loved and rocked and fed, sometimes with my tears blending in with theirs, are mine to keep.
It’s okay to want to quit. Anyone who tells you parenthood is blissful perfection is a liar. It doesn’t mean you love your children any less. Parenting babies and young children is like riding a ferris wheel that never stops. There’s no smiling man at the bottom to push a button if you want to get off to catch your breath.
Embrace the high highs and perfect moments, fleeting as they may be. Breathe them in and take lots of pictures. Cuddle up to your son’s snuggly warm cheeks. Trace your daughter’s dimples with your finger and hold her tiny feet in your hands. Freeze the perfect moments in your memory so you can bring them back to your mind during the times when everyone is screaming, you are trudging through a dreary day and your ferris wheel is scraping the bottom again.
The next time you have a day when you want to quit, take a deep breath and hold on. The rough times will pass and the view really will turn back to beautiful.
*A version of this post was published on Scary Mommy on July 23, 2014.