Wednesday, January 21, 2015

the promise

I'm beginning to recognize the possibility that there is no such thing as balance when you are a working mother of four; at least, I haven't found the happy, blissful balance that I imagine I might find if I just work hard enough at finding it. The balance I imagine other working mothers must have found by now. 

Before Christmas, I thought I might actually have a heart attack from the daily grind: waking four children up in the early morning winter darkness, cajoling through their whining and reluctance to leave the warm cocoons of their beds. Feeding and dressing, brushing and gathering (a lot of this time was also spent searching: for car keys, for that missing mitten, for an extra neck-warmer when the temperature dips into dangerous cold). Each day I vowed to be more organized the next to prevent this extra stress.

Mostly, I spent a lot of time yelling. Not just raising my voice, but deep, painful-throat yelling. Scary yelling that left everyone rattled, including me.  In those moments of frustrated, impotent rage, I could hardly see the tears in my five-year-old's eyes, or the way my older children would kind of shut down and shut me out.

Frantically, I tried to get everyone to listen, to get out the door on time, to cooperate and just do what needed to be done so that mommy wasn't late for work. I put the blame and responsibility on three children (my husband would be gone with the toddler by the time this "routine" took place). I'd panic as I drove down the laneway and noticed the ponies hadn't been fed. In frustrated tears I'd climb over frozen-shut gates and clamber over stalls to fetch the hay in my pretty teacher clothes. I'd moan and vent aloud to my kids about how the stress was making me crazy, complain aloud about how daddy doesn't know how hard it is to get out of the house with three kids, and beg them to try harder tomorrow.

It doesn't take long for this kind of dynamic to take a toll on everyone. Five minutes into our journey to school, I'd be wracked by suffocating regret and guilt, and would begin my sincere apologies to my beloved children. It truly felt as if I had lost my self, that I'd been possessed. I hated the feeling that this was my destiny, that my children wouldn't even remember that there was a time when I used to stay home full time, creating crafts and baking with them. I feared that their memory of their childhood would consist of a frazzled, stressed out mother who always yelled.

Bless their resilient hearts, they always forgave me. But I could feel our relationship being chipped away, one word at a time, and could see their trust in me slipping away in the rearview mirror.

Once the Christmas holidays rolled around, I finally found time to gather my wits and perspective. I began to make some promises to myself. 

I vowed to stop yelling. I just decided to stop. 

It is so easy to become a victim, to blame our behaviours on our circumstances: I'm just so tired/busy/stressed/spread too thin. 

But there will always be a million excuses for our poor behaviour, and every time we do it, we model it for our children. And we'd never let them get away with those same behaviours, would we?

I'm happy to say that so far, I've kept my promise. I still raise my voice now and then, but have stopped the crazy rages. I have learned to deep-breathe through my nose when I feel that bubble of stress rising inside me. I've even added some play to our morning routine: I pick two upbeat songs and tell the children that their goal is to dance while dressing in snowsuits, and to be ready before the songs are over. I communicate clearly when I start to feel stressed.

It's working! Everyone seems less stressed, because I am less stressed. I'm not less busy, but I'm learning to cope in positive ways that help my children cope as well. And always, I'm learning to put my relationship with my children first. I know they are learning better ways to cope with stress as they see me working to repair what I broke.

In the meantime, I'm booking a counselling appointment to help me sort out my feelings on this whole working-mother thing. Deep down, I dream of being at home and keeping the fire going, tending to our animals, knitting, and being a home-maker. But I'm learning to let go of my feelings of anger that that is NOT my reality at this moment, and learning to find peace in the life I have (busy though it is).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Now She Is Two

Dear, dear Norah,

Today you are two!

You are my little dawn-treader. I hear you up at four in the morning, and I nudge your dad so he can try yet again to comfort you back to sleep. I know deep down that I will soon find my way to your side. I never can resist it when you say, "Mama...nuuussss!" This morning when I snuggled in with you, I marvelled at your size. I remember when your entire length could curl up against my ribs, and now your feet nudge my thighs as you drink. You have your fill then say, "Mmm...miwt". You still think nursing is the best. Sometimes I wish you'd voluntarily wean so that I could get more than six hours of sleep a night, but mostly I'm so grateful to still have this quiet time with you.

You toss and fuss until I surrender, and we descend the stairs by the light of the moon. You look like a hairy beast. We cuddle up on the kitchen couch with a pile of your favourite books. You happily flip pages while I put on the coffee. When it's time to get the big kids up, you climb the stairs with all your strength and energy. You call them by name, climb on their heads, and somehow they are never cross. You have delighted them since you were born and the romance has never faded.

This morning we took a bath together before everyone else got up. I remembered the night of your birth, how I returned from an acupuncture session and had a candlelit bath. I ate two bowls of this chili, and before I could believe it, realised I was in full on labour. Your arrival was swift and thankfully there were extra women on hand to guide your birth into this world. This morning, you poured water on my head, said, "I need dat bup", and yelled while I washed your hair. You washed your own tummy and squiggled your fingers in your belly button. I just watched you and loved you with all my heart.

You were born the youngest in a family of four, born into the clamour and mess, yelling and chasing that is part of every large family. You just fit right in, yelling and chasing to keep up with the older ones. You are definitely two, loudly demanding "Mine!" and stamping your feet to let us know you are displeased. You are adamant about "no biaper" and sometimes make it to the potty in time. You put "b" in front of most words: sheep=beep, lips=bips, cup=bup, and hilariously, soup=boop. 

We love you so very much. We are so thankful you're here. Tonight we'll celebrate with spaghetti, cupcakes, and a few little gifts. We might put up our Christmas tree, too. We know you're going to love the lights, sparkles, and excitement that surround us at this season.

You were and still are the best Christmas gift I ever received.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Advent Adventure

If you've been a follower of this blog for a few years, you'll know about our little Advent exchange. By "our" I'm including some dear friends: the dynamic duo behind Twig and Toadstool, the Wabi Sabi Wanderer, and the lovely blogger behind Embracing the Now. For years now, we have rallied our pre-Christmas energy, assembled our supplies, and spent our free moments lovingly hand-crafting little items to share with one another. It is a tradition that I can see continuing into the far future, and I dream of a day when we will gather to put together baskets for our grandchildren, perhaps inviting our own grown children to add their handmades to the gathering.

This year, we welcomed two new members to our little group, so instead of creating 5x5 handmade items, we each created three different crafts, times seven. We filled in the little gaps with storebought items (such as candy, beeswax candles, etc.) and pulled together a basket with 25 goodies for our children to open each day during Advent.

As much as we are delighted by the creations of our friends, it is the gathering itself that ignites that first spark of excitement for the coming Christmas season. We arrive at the always-festive home of Maureen, and baskets, tissue paper, string, scissors, snacks, and coffee are scattered across the table. 

We do a little show and tell, then begin wrapping each item. Words aren't sufficient to describe the delight and awe with which each item is greeted, and the warmth that arises from knowing that human hands, those of people who actually know my children, created these little gifts. This gathering of kindred spirits is a quiet pause before the busyness of Christmas is upon us. We prepare our hearts, breathe deeply in the presence of dear friends, and set our hands to the task of wrapping.

I remember the years past, when my tousle-headed children descended to open one little gift each day, and how I said the words, "Maureen/Erin/Shanti/the WSW made that just for you!" Now we'll add the names Gwen and Anya to the list of  women who love my children enough to spend their free time creating beautiful gifts for them.

Each year as we unpack our decorations, we remember Christmases past, and celebrate how we now have a tree full of ornaments that were made by hand, by women they know. My children feel the love.

And so do I, so deeply.

Monday, November 10, 2014

at our kitchen table

It's a place to gather. 

We create here: masses of paintings and drawings, grocery lists and to-do lists, meal plans and blog posts, storyboards and comics. 

We read here. A recent topic for parental reflection is whether or not it is bad manners to read while eating. The older kids are completely enamoured of the Amulet series of graphic novels, and dinner times have never been so quiet. One of my favourite things is reading while I eat, but I've gotten out of the habit because I don't want to be a bad role model. My husband thinks it's bad manners, but I'm into reassessing this judgment as our children become independent readers. The kids put Amulet into his hands and guess what? I caught him reading at the table. 

We also eat here. We gather in the morning; the children eat while I circulate, brushing hair, delivering vitamins, urging them to put down their books and focus on eating. While they brush their teeth and get their shoes on, I sit for a moment to eat a quick breakfast. The toddler sees this as an invitation, and climbs on my lap to nurse. I love this connection before we part for the day.

At the end of the busy day we reunite and connect around the table, each of us sharing a happy or hilarious highlight from our day. As the days grow shorter we light candles and enjoy the warmth, noise, and nourishment of gathering together after a day apart. It sounds idyllic and I don't wish to shatter your visions of my perfect family, but there is also quite a bit of arguing, nagging, and bad tempers. We are human after all.

On the days that we're home, we sit here for tea in the afternoons. Margot was sick with a stomach bug (she asked me, "How big is the bug, mommy?") last week and I spent a day at home with her. Our favourite tea, harvested locally by our friends at the Algonquin Tea Company, kept her hydrated, and it helped that I served it in a pretty mug that was a gift from a faraway friend. 

Sometimes I feel like the safest place in the world is right here at this kitchen table, its scars, spills, paint splotches, and smooth spots telling a story of our life as a family. When I get ready for work upstairs and hear my children's voices rising and falling in conversation and laughter, I know I am blessed. When we sit at it at the end of the day I am reassured that we are all home and safe, together and well-fed.

The kitchen table just might be my very favourite piece of furniture.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Woodland Gnome: A Tutorial

You will need:
 2 5/16" wooden peg doll
bulky yarn, in red (I used Patons Classic Wool Roving)
9 mm knitting needles
white raw wool (or roving)
a felting needle
a tapestry needle for weaving in ends

Gnome's Suit

CO 10 stitches. 

Work 6 rows in stockinette stitch. Break off end, leaving a long tail. 

Using a tapestry needle and starting at the opposite end, thread this long tail through the live stitches. 

Slip peg doll up into the loop you've created, then tighten the stitches around the doll's neck.

Stitch up seam at the back and weave in loose ends.


Needle felt a small amount of white roving or raw wool into a beard shape. Slipping your felting needle in sideways, lightly attach this beard to the top of the gnome's suit.


CO 10 stitches.

Rows 1-3 Knit in stockinette stitch. 
Row 4 (wrong side): *P1, P2tog* Repeat to last stitch; P1.
Row 5: K all stitches
Row 6: *P2tog* Repeat to last stitch; P1.
Rows7-10: Knit remaining 2 stitches as i-cord.

Slip yarn through remaining stitches and weave in loose end.
Take a piece of roving and twist it into trim for the hat. Needle felt this twist around hat brim.
Needle felt a small ball of roving to the top of the hat as a pompom!
Tuck ends of roving inside hat, and sew up back seam.

To attach the hat, I needle felted the sides of the beard to the edge of the hat. I also gave a few jabs of the felting needle to the back of the hat where it meets the top of the coat. You could secure the hat to the peg doll with hot glue if it will be involved in active play!
This little guy was so quick to make, I'll be adding some of his brothers to our annual Advent exchange!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jumping In, Keeping Up

My sister sent me an email last week, telling me that she didn't mean to pressure me but that she really misses my blog. When I spoke to her later I expressed the difficulty in starting up after a long break. Where should I begin? Should I do a long update kind of post? 

Her advice to me was to just jump in.

So here I am, again. Our life has resumed a brand new rhythm, and if things don't always feel balanced, at least we are all adapting to the new steps. In September we all started back to school, and for the first time in years both my husband and I are working full time at the same time. This has made for some pretty huge changes for us. 

First of all, it means that our littlest one has started attending a home-preschool. We were all very anxious about how she'd handle this transition, but she has amazed everyone with her joy and ability to adapt to change. She LOVES her caregiver, and happily dons her little backpack every morning. She LOVES getting in the van with her older siblings, and kisses her parents good bye at the door then wanders off to play in the beautiful, Waldorf-inspired space her caregiver has created. She is always happy, is fed lovingly-prepared, whole foods, and gets rocked to sleep for her nap each day. 

Two parents working also means that we actually have a bit of money to keep up with our bills. After years of struggling through each month and getting behind (and the stress that comes with that kind of life), we're breathing a little easier and almost managing to (gasp, really?) put a bit aside for a rainy day. It's a very good feeling.

In the midst of such busyness, there is still the stress of getting four children (and two adults) out the door by seven every morning. We yell more than we like, and are still working on organizing ourselves so that mornings are as serene as we dream they could be. 

There is the mad scramble of keeping up with all those things that still need doing, even though the house is empty all day. Laundry and homework, meal planning and grocery shopping, sweeping and music practice (Violet and Jude have started fiddle lessons) and play rehearsals (Jude is a Lost Boy in a local production of Peter Pan). 

There doesn't seem to be much time left at the end of the day for parents to have leisure time. I spin and knit and embroider very sporadically, as the opportunity arises. My husband plays hockey once a week, and we both perform here and there although it's increasingly not worth the time. 

There is wood to get in, fallen barn doors to repair, animals to be tended to, manure to be shoveled, and a roof to be repaired. The fine days of fall are dwindling in number, and we are well aware that the window of opportunity is beginning its slide closed.

I miss writing. I still take lots of pictures of my kids and our lives. Maybe I can commit a bit of time each week to sharing a bit of our lives here in this space that used to feel like a place where I lived. 

Thank you for checking in, and please say hello in the comments to say that you did! I've missed you, too.

PS I almost forgot to mention that I blog at to record the adventures in learning that take place in my Kindergarten classroom!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

shepherdess dreams

The heart wants what it wants.
~Emily Dickinson

I suppose it could be deemed a sort of insanity, to respond with glee to a feed bag of stinky, greasy, dirty sheep fleece left at the farm gate. To take that fleece and spread it out under the trees to remove the worst parts of it, and to give that process a name as pretty as "skirting" might lead the physician to nod in concern.

To take that still-filthy sheet of animal fibre and put it in your bathtub, the one your children bathe in...well. That would just about confirm the diagnosis.

My children joined in the process of cleaning a raw fleece, rejoicing when it started to look whitish after about the fourth bath. My daughter found one miraculously snowy fluff, about the size of a cotton ball, that was free of vegetable matter (or VM), and pressed it lovingly to her heart.

After leaning over the tub of scalding water and not agitating the wool (while trying to carefully pick out bits of every piece of flora that grows locally: milkweed seeds, grass seeds, straw, spruce needles, and so on), I finally surrendered to the VM, as prolific as constellations in the night sky.

As the fleece dried in the sun, many of those flecks fell through onto the table, then even more sifted down as I carded it on my ancient drum carder. In the spinning, my lap was covered with tiny bits of straw. By the final plying of two strands together, I had to just accept and love the bits that were left; they were twisted in tightly enough to stay. 

The creamy white of this East Friesian's fleece came to life in a simple improvised hat pattern (loosely based on the Dustland Hat). I made it as a gift for the shepherdess who left that smelly bag at my farm gate. I picture her wearing it out to the barn next Spring, on one of those nights when her ewes are lambing, a simple hand-made reward for all her dedication and care.

I may be crazy, but I'm now avidly following this blog (after reading this beautiful and inspiring book), and just got Paula Simmons' Raising Sheep the Modern Way through inter- library loan. It might not be enough to knit clothing from fleece to finished piece. 

It's funny to think that a century ago, most small farms had a few sheep to provide clothing for their families, and now it seems like the maddest notion ever, to add a few fleece-bearers to our little homestead. But I've got a breeder lined up for when I take that leap and trust that the moment will feel right when it is. 

I will someday be a shepherdess too, wearing a barn-hat I made from fleece to finished piece.