Thursday, May 31, 2012

around the corner

It is a remarkable feeling when you start to see your children as separate from yourself. They venture further from you, and you notice that your lap is suddenly empty more often than full. You can take a book to the beach and read two pages without interruptions. Your children find their snacks and water bottles on their own, dry themselves off, and keep each other entertained. Three years ago, in the depths of raising a newborn, a toddler, and a preschooler, I couldn't imagine what was just around the corner: this

This freedom.

It's more than just freedom. It's the realisation that your children have a relationship with each other that will grow beyond the years that you have them with you. My girls have finally passed the at-each-others'-throats phase (for the most part) and I marvel when I hear them playing and giggling together, or cracking each other up while driving in the van.
Now I can picture them having the relationship I'd hoped for when I knew I'd have a second baby girl. 

This is the moment I've been waiting for, in many ways. Is it tinged with regret, or longing for that time when they needed me so much more? Maybe sometimes. But just a bit. I know that next summer will be different again as we get back into carting-baby-to-the-beach mode. I suspect that this time I'll have the breathing space to embrace it and really KNOW that this is the last time. I picture this new little one learning to run, if only to keep up with those older siblings who by then will have this whole sibling thing figured out.

I was mourning the fact that I won't be able to stay home with this babe as long as I did with his/her siblings when a friend reminded me that this baby will have a different kind of childhood: one with three big sibling-friends to pull him/her along by the hand into the adventures this life has to offer.

And that feels so right.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Laughing in the Face of Danger

I remember when Jude was about a year old, I went to visit a dear friend and her firstborn, who was 3 at the time. We took our little boys to the local park, and I set Jude down in the sand that surrounded the play structure. I stayed close by as he pulled himself up the ladder that led to the slide. My friend was astounded at my son's courageous approach to this new challenge, and at my relaxed stance...I didn't have my hands on him, and I didn't call out warnings to be careful, hold on tight, etcetera. Her little one was more cautious, and she was a lot more anxious about the possible dangers lurking in the play park. I wondered what came first...the cautious child, or the anxious parent.

Jude has always leaned towards the adventurous. He climbed everything, and split his lip so many times on his newly-grown front teeth that I grew accustomed to the sight of blood on my breast as I nursed his tears away. Once he climbed over the railing of our front porch, and I caught him just as he tumbled over. He's always been drawn to sharp things, sword-fighting with butter knives, wanting to help cut up veggies for dinner, and so on. He is fascinated by fire, and has little fear when it comes to being near it.

Amazingly, Jude has never (touch wood!) been in the hospital for stitches or broken bones. I realised early on that there was no talking him out of his natural inclinations towards dangerous stuff, and knew that the best way to prevent him from injuring himself was to teach him to climb safely, use a knife carefully, treat fire respectfully, and gauge how comfortable he was with a situation before diving in.

Recently, we watched "The Black Stallion". There's a prolonged scene where the little boy is stranded on an island with the horse, with only his clothes and a pocket knife. Jude was fascinated. Violet asked a million questions throughout the movie, but the only thing Jude wanted to know was: could HE have a pocket knife?

We found our old "garden knife", which we use for cutting marshmallow-roasting sticks, twine, etc. when working outside. I taught him to cut away from himself, to carry it point-down, and to make sure it was sharp. He wanted to know if he could try throwing it at something. We established some rules (no throwing when other people are around, no throwing at the ground near your feet). He actually managed to thwack it into the smokehouse door on the first throw. Each time he broke a rule, we put the knife away until the next day, amidst many tears and promises. This is one of those times when I can't be flexible...he either learns to do it safely, or doesn't do it at all.

I was so pleased to stumble across this great video about Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids confirmed what I've always known intuitively. I've had my share of judgmental looks and snide comments (when my kids do get hurt), but have held firm to the belief that I want my children to be able to assess danger and to approach the world as a big, cool place to explore rather than as a scary, dangerous place full of sharp edges. Yes, they're going to get hurt, and I don't expect my no-broken-bones record to hold forever. With guidance, good judgment, common sense, and loving supervision, I expect they'll learn more from "danger" than from constant cautions to "be careful".

And yes, we do let our kids drive the car down the driveway, on our laps, of course. Jude is learning to use the accelerator and brake pedals, and can shift gears on the van (with me operating the clutch)! Is this just a country thing? 

Go ahead, weigh in...what amount of "danger" are you comfortable with? What kinds of risks do you think are healthy for children? What dangerous things do you remember doing as a child? What did you learn from those experiences? Would you trade them for a bubble-wrapped childhood? Do tell!

PS Upon re-reading this post, I am reminded of Jude's approach to water. He did not like it at all, and it wasn't until the summer that he turned four that he showed any interest in wading or swimming. We didn't push him, trusting that he'd come around in his own good time. Remember that trusting in your child's comfort level is of the utmost importance (how many of you have heard of kids that were thrown into pools to help them conquer their fear of water?). Your child may not be into knives and fire. And that's okay! I have two fearless children, and one who is cautious. Nature or nurture indeed...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Reality and Rainbows

Finding out that you're about to have another child forces you to re-evaluate a lot of aspects of your life. In the first week after getting the news, we looked at other houses because we feared we wouldn't be able to afford this place. We talked to a financial advisor who assured us that yes, we could stay in our home, and helped us create a budget. 

We've signed our will (finally) and are looking into getting some more solid life insurance in place (finally).

We're letting go of lots of stuff we've been holding on to in preparation for another set of clothes and toys that will inevitably arrive with the baby.

It's all good. We feel like we're being dragged into adulthood, finally, and it's not as bad as we thought! Let's just say, this news has given us a good dose of reality.

May is always super-busy in our house, with end-of-school-year events and obligations (Kindergarten "graduation", school trips, recitals, report cards, and so on). We also celebrate two birthdays within ten days of each other. Phew. To say I feel a bit burnt out by the end of the month would be understating it a bit. Add to it all the deep exhaustion of early pregnancy, and I can barely drag myself out of bed in the morning.

 Every dose of reality should be tempered by the magical, the fanciful, the just plain beautiful. My Violet wanted a rainbow party for her fifth birthday, and it felt like the perfect opportunity to add some fun and colour into what has been a crazy month. This year I decided to keep things simple, following the inspiration of a friend who has five children. Frozen mini pizzas, tortilla chips and salsa, paper plates, and very low-organization...perfect!

I always make homemade cake or cupcakes because of Jude's gluten and dairy intolerances, and like to serve fruit in lieu of sugary treats. So, rainbow wands and rainbow cupcakes were on the to-do list this morning.
Homemade buttercream icing, store-bought coloured icing, and mini-marshmallows for clouds...sweet!

Ten little kids in rainbow-coloured clothes chasing chickens and manhandling kittens, running around on a sunny day, five pretty candles on colourful cupcakes, and one happy little girl...just the dose of the magical we were craving. We are reminded to continue seeking out the beautiful, and to keep squinching our eyes shut and making wishes with all the optimism our happy hearts can summon.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I Am Mom Enough (And So Are YOU)

Homestead Girl welcomes this guest  post written by her sister, Julie Keon.

With Mother’s Day just celebrated this past Sunday and the ridiculous TIME Magazine cover that was revealed last week, I felt compelled to write about mothers and what they do and do not need. The Time magazine cover, which featured a slender, blonde mother standing while nursing her three-year old who is also standing (on a chair no less) and headlined with “Are you mom enough?” insinuated that women who practice extended breastfeeding were better than the mother who did not practice extended breastfeed or who did not breastfeed at all.

I would not claim to be an expert on mothering. I have only one child and that child is nowhere even close to being like most people’s children. My mothering journey has been far from typical and so this does not qualify me as an expert on mothering. I have just under fifteen years of experience working with expectant and new mothers, though, which has given me a peek inside those vulnerable moments of motherhood like pregnancy, labour and birth and those early days and weeks at home. I have been privileged to be with a new mother who is raw and vulnerable, struggling to breastfeed and navigate this new role of Mother.

I have also been witness to what has been called “the mommy wars” where some mothers essentially bully other mothers who are doing things that that they might find offensive. It seems you cannot win in our society when it comes to mothering. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Take breastfeeding: If you attempt to breastfeed and then decide to stop for whatever reason (and there are many), you will be on the defensive anytime you are in a group of mothers and someone asks, “Are you breastfeeding?” You may feel a need to explain to other mothers why you are not breastfeeding as if to soothe the mother rage that you might sense. You see, there is a belief out there, usually perpetuated by those who have successfully breastfed their babies, that if you are not breastfeeding or have stopped breastfeeding then you have not tried hard enough, you have not asked for help or have not asked enough “experts” for help or you are just lazy, uneducated and uninformed. Perhaps, this is true some of the time and some of the time, if anyone cared to ask, you might find the non-breastfeeding mother to be grieving over the loss of the breastfeeding experience. On the other hand, the Time magazine cover sure brought out people’s reactions to extended breastfeeding. I read things on Facebook like: “That is disgusting” /“That is not natural” /“Who does that?” The unfortunate thing about the TIME magazine cover is that it accomplished what it had set out to do. It grabbed people’s attention and it sold a lot of magazines. The sad part is that in doing so, it made a mockery of the choices some families make like tending to their babies needs as opposed to ‘letting them cry it out,’ breastfeeding beyond the one to two year recommendations and parenting in a more natural way.

When I see the amount of energy expended on criticizing others' choices, I wonder what could happen if that energy was used to support rather than condemn, understand rather than assume and reach out rather than turn our backs. Having spent so much time with couples that are just beginning this journey of parenting, one thing I certainly know is that we are all trying to do our best. We all come to this experience with our own baggage, our own beliefs about child rearing and our own preferences and comfort zones. It is my job as an educator to provide information that is backed by research and to assist couples non-judgmentally in making the choices that are right for their family. A lot of the time, people base decisions on misinformation and inaccuracies. Sometimes an open discussion, where both parties feel safe and listened to, can lead to informed choices being made. ‘Informed’ being the key word.

New mothers are exhausted enough without having to argue the reasons why they have chosen to mother their child in any particular way. If the choices they make for their family do not reflect the choices you have made for your family, letting them know your disapproval is never helpful.  We all must tend to our own judgements and biases and make an effort to genuinely accept the choices of others. Being a mother is hard enough as it is without having to always be on guard. Next time you feel compelled to make blanket judgements on other mothers, stop for a moment and remind yourself that she, like you, is doing the very best that she can. And then invite her over for tea.

Julie Keon writes a weekly column for the Whitewater Cobden Sun in the Ottawa valley, Ontario. This column was published in the week of May 14th 2012. Julie writes about mothering a child with special needs on her “ What IWould Tell You” blog.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dusting Off

It's a funny thing, to take a small break from this space. When I come back, it's like peeking into a room that has been closed up for a while. Things are a bit dusty, but the joy of the familiar floods back as I wander around, lovingly exploring what was once part of my daily life.

I'm in a resting phase right now. I've set aside my knitting basket and the many projects I always have on the go. I've turned off the computer. I've been reading "young adult" novels, and sleeping lots. I've been reading lots of story books to my little ones, and snuggling up on the couch to watch movies I've seen a million times. To say my children are enjoying this time with me would be understating it. I'm summoning the energy to get through my days at work, and drawing so much joy from growing seeds with my little Kindergarten students.

I'm learning to be patient with this early-pregnancy exhaustion, and am breathing in surrender to this unexpected life event. I'm overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of this man I married, as he happily makes grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner (again) while I rest in bed. I'm considering ways to stay healthy, both physically and mentally, and wondering how to best serve myself and my young family at this time.

I've been composing "Dear John" letters in my mind, or more accurately, "Dear Facebook", "Dear Twitter", and "Dear Pinterest" letters. Turning the computer off has freed up hours of time in a week, and although I can't say I'm using that time to do mind-bogglingly wonderful things, I'm using them to do everyday things: staying on top of Mount Washmore (the washing and sorting of clothing for a family of five), wandering aimlessly outside with my rubber-booted kids, lying down in an afternoon sunbeam to pet the cat, and saying "yes".

While many things have been gained through my use of the Internet, I am beginning to suspect that just as much has been lost. Thankfully, I know these "lost things" are not irretrievable. Today I can colour until my children say we're done (instead of slipping away as soon as possible). Tomorrow I can write a letter to a friend, and mail it with a stamp, anticipating her surprise when she finds a brightly-coloured envelope in her mailbox. This week I can sit and drink tea while just looking out the window, or pull a few weeds, or set aside my impossible to-do list to just rest and be in this beautiful life of mine.

I'll pop in now and then; I'm thinking that my journey into the second trimester may bring with it renewed energy and a willingness to spend my time "connected". For now, I'm truly connecting with those that matter most: the real, physical people that populate my days. I'll share my "Dear John" letters one of these days. I'm having fun writing them.

Go take a big breath of apple-blossoms, find a frog, listen to the birds singing, compare the shades of green around you. Encourage your little ones to find a stick as long as their foot, a rock as long as their thumb, a plant as tall as they are. Breathe it all in.