Have you ever seen a wringer on an old-fashioned washing machine? Two rubber rollers, placed closely together, that when cranked by hand would pull the wet laundry through and wring the water out it?
I feel like I've been through one.
Could it be the fact that the -30 Celsius temperatures we had last week forced teachers and parents to keep their children inside for five days straight? Or the full moon we had last night? Whatever the reason, our kids drove us crazy all weekend.
I feel like we're doing things as "right" as we can. We limit refined foods, spend time playing with our children every day, read lots, limit screen time, have consistent bedtime routines, and take the time to talk with them about the parenting path we've chosen. We encourage creativity and lots of time spent outside, go on outings, and have close bonds with our extended families. When the baby naps, as much as possible I do crafts or play games or read to them (even though I'd like to be scurrying around tidying up or just resting myself).
Having a larger-than-average family means that you're constantly juggling the needs of children at various stages of development. One is growing a tooth as another is losing her first. Another wants to play with someone at all times, while another wants time alone. There is a need to constantly assess who needs what most at any given time, and no parenting book provides a one-size-fits-all prescription. Children are as unique as any adult, even when born of the same parents and raised in the same environment. A lot of the time, it feels pretty hit and miss. I'm beginning to suspect that "good parenting" is a mix of experience, preparation, and luck. The learning curve is steep, and this past weekend, it felt insurmountable.
Phew. Harmony feels as arbitrary as chaos these days. Some days are really peaceful. Some days are not. Whether the dynamics change according to who is here (most days it's just me, on weekends my husband is here, too, and often my mother is here during the week), the phase of the moon, the weather, or how much sleep everyone got last night, I'm exhausted with the guessing and troubleshooting and the trying.
Jude wants more independence and control over his life. For him, this means more screen time and making decisions about how he spends his day. We can adapt to that. The older girls fight, bicker, and argue from the moment they wake up. This is more complicated to figure out...the older is competitive, the younger is clingy and needy these days. Oh, and the infant...well, her needs always come first, I'm afraid!
My big girls in a rare getting-along moment.
Oh my goodness.
Just in case everyone out there thinks my life is perfect, I just wanted to be clear here. Most of the time I don't have a clue what I'm doing. I run partly on gut feelings, partly on what my own parents did, and partly on what I've read about parenting. Throw in my husband's own (often differing) approaches and philosophies, and we've got a mixed bag of tricks and techniques. We're learning to present a united front even when we disagree, and we're learning to lean a bit more towards each other (I think he's too strict, he thinks I'm not strict enough) to meet in the middle.
It's hard not to feel that, in spite of your very real and determined efforts, you're still going to screw your kids up somehow.
In the meantime, I've treated everyone homeopathically for: clinginess/neediness, sibling rivalry/competitiveness, and shock/fear. We remind ourselves that everyone is still feeling their way around this new family-of-six-ness, and that they're testing the boundaries of these new spread-a-little-thin parents. I try to give each child one-on-one time, lots of cuddles and kisses, and my undivided attention at some point each day. It still doesn't seem to be enough.
The vision I have of our family, our children, and of ourselves as parents doesn't quite match up to the reality at the moment. But we just keep working towards what we envision, bumping along in our imperfect way, keeping the faith that even the most wrung out, limp, wrinkled thing can dry (in the right kind of breeze) into something beautiful.
I cut my girls loose with acrylic craft paint, some images cut out from back issues of "O" magazine, some glue, watercolours, and permanent pens. We talked about their choices, what drew them to certain images, and explored how their images looked on different- colored backgrounds. They proudly signed their work, then ran off to play.
Art without attachments to what they're creating. Art with no plan and no pressure to make it look like something. Art for its own sake. Art matters.
The word "snap" has such charming connotations...as in ginger snap and snapdragon.
When you apply it to weather, it's a cold snap, which is perhaps less charming.
We are in the midst of one...this morning the thermometer read -31 degrees Celsius when my husband went outside to see if his car would start. It's a time for many layers, for scarves pulled up to just below the eyes, for two pairs of socks and cuddling up under wool hats and cozy quilts. Those of us who don't have to go to school or work opt to stay home in this weather, and Norah has figured out how to scooch her way over to my side during the night.
The three year old, however, has her own style and chooses summer dresses with knitted tights, when the drafts across the floor would chase even the sturdiest of us under cover.
The beauty of a cold snap, however, is the sunlight that often comes with it. Deep bands of bright warmth that spill across the kitchen floor, making it the first choice of play areas. This girl has a knack for playing, creating stories and dialogues that evolve throughout the day. Yesterday, her tractor and ponies got all the attention and moved from floor to table to playdough quicksand as naturally as that sun worked its way across the sky.
In the depths of what can be a long, gray time this clear light, 'though not quite a harbinger of Spring (yet), brings with it hope and the promise of lengthening days and more sunny play.
There are times when I feel certain that the well is empty, that the spring has gone dry, that the conduit is blocked somehow. I am convinced that there will never be water again, that this drought will continue until my unfulfilled life comes to an end. And every day I thirst for it, wanting to have faith but not really believing that there will be relief. My dishwasher has been broken for half a year. It stopped draining, and I didn't get around to calling the repairman until this week. When he explored its underbelly, he found a tiny piece of plastic in the drain. It was about half the size of a dime, but because of the way it was shaped and the way it was wedged into the drain, it flipped like a valve when the water tried to rush past it, and blocked the flow. Removed now, the dishwasher is ready to go. For the past few nights, I've felt that the little piece of plastic wedged into my creative spring has been loosened, unwedged, unstuck. My sleeping mind swirls with colour, texture, and more ideas than I can even remember in the morning. I've started writing as much as I can recall in the morning, creating lists and drawings and doodles and scribbles; I cannot contain the flood. It is a mystery, where the waters of creativity go at times, and just as great a mystery when they return, sparkling and rushing into empty spaces to drench my spirit. I am so grateful for them at this time, and vow to appreciate them and use them wisely until that unnamed time when they will recede again for awhile. I will try to remember this, that this water will always return to me, to soak me in its blessed coolness.
When I try to sneak off to a far corner of the house to nap, I am awakened by every peep my baby makes even when she is safely ensconced in the loving arms of her nanny, dad, aunt, or grandma. Every stir during the night jolts my exhausted brain as if it's made of glass. My breasts feel completely wrung out sometimes, and still she wants more. My body aches from lugging around her ten-pound weight, and yet I rarely put her down in a seat or swing. If I lay her down, it is to give her space to ride her invisible bicycle and to engage her into her new favourite thing, smiling.
I watch my little girls learn to attachment parent. Violet loves her butternut squash baby, and carefully cradles its bottom and little "head" as she wears it in a sling. I think she loves its weight and shape. Margot's baby is breastfed; this brings a tear of joy to my eye, to see my one bottle-fed babe lift her shirt to her dolly.
A weird little flu flew through our house over the past week, manifesting itself in different ways: barfing in Violet, sore tummy in Jude and Margot, and in 36 hours of aches, sweats, headaches, nausea, and chills for each parent. During my stint, I slept the whole time, waking only to nurse this gorgeous wee girl who spent the rest of the time with her sweet daddy.
When I finally emerged from my sickbed, I took a bath with this little one to wash the dust of illness from my skin. The pure bliss of letting her tiny self float in the water, gently supporting her shoulders, washing her hair, nursing her, and dribbling warm water over her body healed the rest of me.
It's a grueling gig, this attachment parenting thing. But I wouldn't have it any other way.
There are so many things that seem to be in short supply these days:
But as the days pass and the baby gets older, I'm starting to discover more:
hugs and attention to go around
These are the days I hang onto. I'm learning that usually it's enough to play tea party with my three year old, even if it's just for 15 minutes. A game of cards with my five year old takes only a bit of time, but it's usually enough. I want to find more to give my seven-year-old, who is at school five days a week so misses his time with me.
Mostly, I am learning that whatever I can give today will just have to be enough, even if it's back-to-back movies, pajamas all day, popcorn for lunch, and playing instead of laundry. Even if I only knit one round of my new hat, it's enough for now. And I discover that my life is full of more than enough wonder and beauty, in the midst of diaper changes and homework and dance practice and flu bugs and trying to fit a bit of sleep in here and there.
I have a quiet moment, alone, perhaps the first since Norah was born. She is sleeping and I expect Robin to pull in to the lane way any moment with the rest of the gang, home from an overnight stay with Nanny and Papa. I quickly tidied the kids' rooms, sorted through their drawers and cleaned out the stuff they've outgrown, threw some laundry in the washer, threw some wood in the furnace, washed the dishes, and tidied up the kitchen table. Then I sat down with my journal. I love to write about my aspirations for the coming year on January 1st every year, but didn't manage it this year. I like to look back at last year's resolutions. Usually, I giggle at the fact that last year's were the same as this year's, and muse over the knowledge that perhaps I'm already as "me" as I can get. My weight doesn't change, nor do my exercise habits, eating habits, or strengths. Last year, I wrote that I would seek true connection, especially with myself. Other goals for 2012 included:
saying know when I was tired, and sometimes letting others down to honour my body's need for rest
connecting with my children; to pay closer attention to their needs and stages of development
to simplify our diet
to order/buy food in bulk
to allow my tastes to evolve so that I don't feel the need to include meat/dairy/gluten in meals
to bravely try things that intimidate me like growing my own food and building a root cellar
to value our money more, to spend it wisely on needs rather than wants
to connect with my husband and to improve my skills of expressing needs, listening compassionately, and sharing myself
clean, simple home
clean, simple food
And yesterday, with perhaps the first quiet moment we shared together since Norah's birth, Robin and I lay on our bed together, just talking in the winter sun that drenched us, taking time to admire the baby we created together, and to share our dreams for our future.
The above list about summed it all up. Each day, we get a little bit closer to living our lives more creatively, more courageously, and more simply. It takes time and it's so easy to get swept up in the cycle of get up-get ready for work/school-get home-eat-clean up-make lunches-bedtime routine-sleep and repeat.
We dream things that seem impossible or irrational: homeschooling our children and not feeling so tied to the money we owe for our home/cars/schooling/other debts. It seems insurmountable, to get from the life you're living to the life you dream of.
But what is it to be human, if not to continue striving to be better, to live better, and especially, to love better? I liked a quote I saw on Facebook the other day: "Today is the first page of a 365 page book"...
So, I'm three pages in now, and always, always hopeful that this year will bring about some of the beautiful change I'm dreaming of.
These days, I've packed away my knitting, save for one sweater I've started for Violet. I have the optimistic spirit to believe that stitch by stitch, I'll finish it in time for it to still fit her. These days, I am looking around at the chaos of a home that a mere three weeks ago was in careful, near-obsessive order in preparation for a birth. I'm calculating how to eke out minutes here and there to tidy the top of the piano, put away the Christmas decorations, and clean the bathtub. These days, the everyday things keep happening: Violet is debating whether or not to cut her hair, Margot had a fever and a sore tummy, and Jude lost a tooth. In the busyness of our lives these days, I was pleased to know that the Tooth Fairy still had time to leave a tiny note under his pillow with the money she traded for his tiny baby tooth. These days, I'm astounded at how Norah is growing out of her newborn sleepers, how her arms are beginning to show the lines where her baby-rolls will soon appear, how she can lift her head off the table when she's lying on her tummy, how I can summon patience and joy every moment that she keeps me awake at night. These days, the world has shrunk down to the joyous sphere of my family. I steal a moment here and there to cuddle each child, to do something they like even if I'd rather take a nap or a bath, to sit through a movie I've seen a hundred times if they ask me to. With a fourth child comes the wisdom of knowing, truly, that the dirt in the entranceway will wait, that the laundry can be done tomorrow, that no one else cares about the dishes in the sink. These days, there's a whole lot of this going on:
And even more of this:
These days, I am so very blessed and grateful for the snow that keeps us home, for the wet snowsuits hung by the woodstove, for the remains of Christmas treats that fill in the gaps between easy meals, for the energy and patience of my husband during the evening's fussy periods, for the patience and sweetness of my three older children who feel that they never have enough time with me because of this nursling that takes up so much of my time.
2013 looks fine to me...the last 3 weeks of 2012 brought so very many blessings that there is nothing more I could ask for but for it all to continue so beautifully.
Abundant joy and a plethora of blessings to YOU in 2013!