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.
“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.
Our local pool has $3 swimming for families on Saturday afternoon. Yesterday was a dreary day, too cool for the park, so we headed to the pool with every other family from our neighbourhood. I love family swim time. I also hate it with a vengeance. Why, you ask?
- The hair on the changing room floor. It was beyond disgusting. That floor hadn’t been cleaned since last Tuesday. It was a land mine of hair. I gave up trying to find clean patches to step on and resigned myself to coming home with some deadly disease plastered to the bottom of my feet. On the flip side, I love that my bathroom floor looks pristine and practically magazine-worthy in comparison.
- The shivering, whining waiting to get into a family change room. About eight tiny change rooms lined up down a long, narrow, floor-hair infested hallway. We waited and waited for a door to open up so we could change into our suits. It reminded me of a game-show where you don’t know which door is going to open next. We were competing for an open door with ten other families so every time a door opened, the mothers nervously glanced at each other, evaluating which family had been waiting the longest for a room. I was flabbergasted when a door finally opened and out came mom, dad, little girl, other little girl, little boy…they just kept coming, like people climbing out of a Volkswagen beetle in the commercial. Just when I thought it was safe to enter, grandma came out too. That group took “family change room” seriously I guess. On the bright side, the change room made the bathroom in our 1966 home seem huge in comparison. I won’t complain anymore when our whole family is clamouring in there together in the mornings.
- The screaming. Release one hundred kids from the confines of home and school and chaos ensues. Children were shouting, splashing and thrashing around. A week’s worth of forced-quietness at school or daycare was unleashed in two hours of madness. Dads weren’t dads anymore; they were hungry sharks. Moms let go of the rules and leaned back into the water to breathe, if only for a moment. The look on my own children’s faces was pure joy. I’ll put up with the shrieking and yelling any day to see my two in such bliss. They were so worn out when we got home that the bickering and picking and poking at each other disappeared, for a few hours at least.
- The pee in the baby pool. Baby pools scare me. Does anyone else remember the signs at hotel pools in the 80s that said, “This is our OOL. Notice there is no P in it?” Great idea except babies can’t read. Both my children bee-lined for the baby pool, even though I tried to convince them otherwise. My two-year-old daughter decided that she was very, very thirsty. She defiantly scooped up that pee-water and drank it by the handful. Every time I asked her to stop she gave me an evil grin and lapped up even more. But really, aren’t I always trying to get my children to drink more water? Gag.
- The post-swim sleep. As a parent of young ones, life is all about sleep. Our days and activities are planned around naps and bedtime with one goal in mind: getting our children to sleep as much as possible. After our wild weekend swim, both children slept. My son, typically ready to rise and shine at 5:00, slept in until practically noon. That’s what 6:15 feels like when you are used to 5:00. I thought my daughter must have been in a coma, as we didn’t hear a peep from her until after 7:00.
We’ll be there next weekend so I hope to see you too. First I need to make a quick stop at Target for a family pack of flip-flops. 😉
Late at night when the house is still enough to hear the whirring of the refrigerator and the buzz of the odd car on the road beyond the high trees, there is a stirring. The groaning of a mattress spring, the creak of small feet on hardwood and the click of a door are hardly noticeable to anyone unfortunate enough to be awake in the late, late hours of the night.
The hasty thump thump of small steps on the carpeted hallway flee the horrendous monsters under the bed; monsters now locked in the bedroom with no one to frighten.
The door pushes open and a small shadowy pyjama-clad figure bursts in quietly. He is stealthy. His heart is racing. He is holding his breath. The monsters have lost their power with his arrival. He is safe.
He creeps up on the Big Bed, his stuffed doggie clutched in his right hand. He climbs up to the special pillow in the middle. Momma on one side, Daddy on the other, he slides his feet down into the comforting warmth of his safe place. His small hand reaches over to rest on my cheek and his doggie tucks under his chin. He exhales and shuts his eyes, asleep in seconds.
We followed all the rules when he was a baby. “Train him to sleep in his crib, in his own room” the book said. “Don’t let him get used to sleeping with you” the expert warned. He slept like a darn by himself and loved his own bed dearly, until he turned three and the monsters of his vivid imagination took over. The bedtime wails of his newborn sister didn’t help.
Now he is five and a half and eyebrows rise when I mention our little visitor who enters in the darkest hours of the night. A few years of parenting under my belt and I don’t care what others think. He is young and he is afraid. He is my boy and I am his momma.
I’m sure our nighttime ninja will be gone as swiftly as he came, older and stronger and independent. I won’t miss the odd kick in my side, arm flung across my ear and 5:30 wake ups. I know I’ll miss the running steps in the hall and the quiet, grateful hand on my cheek.
I’ve been at home with you since you were born, over five and a half years. The longest I’ve been apart from you is three hours for a few mornings a week of preschool and the odd shopping trip, movie night or weekend away. I’ve never had the opportunity to miss you on a daily basis.
There were many days when it was rare for you to be more than an arm’s length away from me. We were together a lot.
When your little sister was tucked in for her afternoon nap, we built Lego. You soaked up the time alone with me. We had two overloaded drawers of Lego and two hours of quiet; our silence punctuated only by, “Can you find Batman’s head?” and “I need help getting these pieces apart!” and “Don’t look! I’m not finished yet!” Sometimes I’d doze off on your bed while you built. You didn’t mind. My presence was what you wanted.
You are in kindergarten now. I think you are doing okay. I hope so. I try not to worry that you might be playing alone at recess. I pray.
Now when your sister naps you aren’t here. I have a glorious two hours of time to myself, time I’ve been looking forward to for months. It’s a treat, but I do miss you.
Our Lego time is on the weekends or in the evenings now. It’s far more meaningful.
Our laughter together is louder and mine more genuine when you announce “I tooted Momma!” or some other silly thing.
I listen to you more carefully when you chatter away happily about school because I haven’t been listening to you all day long.
I don’t mind when you charge into the house after school like a runaway train, your backpack, bike helmet and Superman lunch bag flying around the living room. The mess is the only one you’ve made all day.
I see you, really see you, when you look at me. I’m more curious about how you feel because I haven’t been there all day to hear what makes you sad or excited or angry.
I’m more willing to answer your endless “why?” questions because I haven’t had a steady stream of them like I used to.
When we sing our off-key bedtime duets to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and The Rainbow Song I think our voices mixing together may just be a little preview of what heaven sounds like.
When I wake up in the night and you’ve snuck into the middle of the big bed, with your little breaths and your hair that smells like sunshine, your arm flung on my back, I think about how lucky we are to have a snuggly nighttime visitor for a little while longer.
You give me loud, smacking kisses on my cheek. You hug me tighter and neither of us lets go as fast as we used to.
This kindergarten thing is not so bad. It’s exactly what we needed. I love you.
(An earlier version of this post was published on The Purple Fig.)
I still remember that hazy, summer Prairie smell that you don’t know unless you’ve lived it; a mix of gravel-road dust, ripening barley and canola, lush poplar leaves and the sun baking everything together.
Our farm was a kid’s paradise. My mom and dad planted each little stick of a tree before I was born. By the time I was a little girl there were row upon row of willows and spruce joined by vast expanses of soft grass.
The summer I was six we built a deck on the back of our house. The builder left a space open to crawl underneath, the best hiding spot ever for a couple of kids on summer break. The lush grass was our carpet and we shimmied ourselves under the fresh boards to play, our dog Rosie following us in to see what all the fuss was about. We’d look for dropped nails in the grass, triumphantly holding up the ones that could be saved for fixing our tree forts. Usually a cat would wander under the deck too, sliding up and cuddling in, grateful for the company down at her own level.
My Barbie pyjamas and my brother’s Star Wars ones had permanent grass stains melded into the knees that summer.
As the shadows got longer and bedtime approached we’d blend into the yard and not create too much of a fuss so my mom would “forget” we were still awake. Sneaking into the garden to crack open fresh pea pods and graze through the raspberry bushes was the perfect bedtime snack. That summer and the ones around it are the ones I remember as cementing my relationship with my brother. We fought like the wild kittens that hid in the wood pile but we were usually buddies when no one was watching.
My daughter is barely two but I can already see an us-against-the-world attitude forming between my children. “Come on, little baby sister! Let’s run in the sprinkler!” or “Where’d my big bruver go?” The sibling rivalry is here too…the fights, the screaming and yelling over the same toy. The pulling and pushing and hurting that are all a part of it; practice sessions for the school playground when I’m not there to jump in and rescue.
It’s a whole new perspective, being the parent and not the kid; the one enforcing the rules instead of the one pushing against them. The haziness of summer blurs the line a little between parent and child. The sprinklers are on and faces are sticky with ice cream as the warm sun drifts down and the clock ticks past bedtime.
I don’t know which summer moments will stick in my children’s memories. I’m blessed to watch their own stories unfold, as mine did years ago under the deck in the soft grass.
“I love you, Mommy.”
Tiny, silky-smooth arms grasp my neck, pulling me closer so we are cheek to cheek.
The early morning sun splashing on our faces as the coffee gurgles and steams and milk pours into an orange plastic sippy cup.
This deepening, mother-daughter love that
overwhelms and calms
amazes and exhausts
This love is two years new.
I forgot my camera today.
I watched two sets of chubby little-kid hands thrust out to get stamped by the lady at the petting zoo admission desk.
I stretched back into the cool grass beside my daughter and marvelled at four nests full of squabbling herons.
I forgot my camera today.
I heard my son’s giggles as he flung broken fish crackers and Baby Mum-Mums into the beaks of greedy ducks because we forgot the duck food.
I played hide and seek behind majestic trees, laughing because my little boy had his bright red hat on the whole time and was so easy to find.
I forgot my camera today.
I saw my daughter’s delight as she brushed old goats, pet baby mice and laughed at squirming piglets.
I smiled as my son argued with another five-year old; both trying to be captain of the playground ship.
I forgot my camera today.
I laughed and laughed when my tiny daughter repeated “doggie poop! doggie poop!” over and over.
I watched my two babies crouch together beside a pond, my son reaching into the murky waters to pass his sister a feather.
My boy and my girl and their two little backs, little arms, side by side, best buds in this fleeting moment.
I forgot my camera today.
- A Murder Of Crows. (flyingonemptythoughts.wordpress.com)
- Weekly photo challenge : fleeting (timetobeinspired.ca)
- Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting (thepanamaadventure.com)
- Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting (momentsinyourlife.wordpress.com)
- Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Fleeting (woollymuses.wordpress.com)
- Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting (livonne.com.au)
My grandpa Harry was the kind of guy who would say hi to the kids before the adults and then drop right down on the floor to give us bear rides. He had a drum set in the basement we could bang on. He could instantly become “Igor” and scare us silly until we collapsed with giggles. Once I caught him red-handed sneaking around and stealing my Easter chocolate out of a drawer in my room. He sent us mixed tapes at Christmas time with his voice recorded over the carols, wishing us Merry Christmas from Eastern Canada.
Every since I can remember, his name for me was Beautiful One. He had six children of his own and lots of grandchildren so it was special to have a nickname. When I’d walk in his front door he’d embrace me with his Marks and Spencer sweater-clad arms in a big bear hug and announce “It’s the beautiful one!” When I called on the phone he always asked “Is that my beautiful one?”
One March break I flew out alone to visit my grandparents. I was in that awkward phase of life…about 13 years old, with a too-tight spiral perm (it was 1990) and not very comfortable in my skin. As I came through the doors at the airport, my grandpa and grandma rushed towards me and I heard it again, “It’s the beautiful one!” Sweet healing balm to the ears of a girl who hadn’t yet been noticed by the cute boys.
I was delighted when my son came along five years ago and my grandpa was here to know him. At 80+ years, my grandpa was down on the floor playing cars and outside giving my son rides in the golf cart.
When my little guy was three I became pregnant and we moved closer to my grandparents. It thrilled me that my second child would likely get to know his or her great-grandfather too. I secretly thought that if he was a boy we would name him Harry. My grandpa was the kind of guy that deserves a namesake.
He never met my daughter. He died when I was 36 weeks pregnant. We hauled my 3-year-old son to the graveside and the memorial service to say goodbye. As we sang Jesus Loves Me and ate goldfish crackers my daughter kicked and danced along in utero, not knowing the importance of the day.
When she was born a month later she was a bright spot in our family. My grandpa would swoon over her if he were here to see her in all of her almost-two-year-old glory. I can just imagine the goofy look he’d have on his face as he chased her around wearing his worn, brown, polka-dotted house coat.
Last week, a few days before the second anniversary of my grandpa’s death and right around Mother’s day, I came out of the bathroom, fresh from the shower. I had a ratty old T-shirt on and a blue towel wrapped around my wet hair, turban style. My daughter was waiting for me in my bedroom. She giggled when she looked up and saw the towel on my head. She ran in for a hug and I picked her up and sat her down on my bed.
She reached up to touch the towel, got very quiet and then the words came out of her mouth quietly and reverently: “Beautiful one, Mommy. Beautiful one.” My grandpa’s familiar, love-drenched words echoing through my tiny daughter’s brand-new voice.
The people who really, really love us don’t just ignore our scars, wrinkles, bad hair or whatever it is about ourselves we scrutinize in the mirror.
They don’t even see them. They are too busy loving us.
Guess what my daughter’s new nickname is? Beautiful one.
I will say it to her over and over, when she’s little and when she’s grown, if she’s thin or if she’s chubby, when she’s cute and when she’s in that awkward phase.