Friday, June 30, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Camping Edition

Linking up with Kelly again!

 
ONE:
We are camping, so quick Quick Takes while husband is out boating and fishing with three (above photo) and I only have one. He's blowing bubbles and getting excited to chase them around. Earlier he was happy throwing rocks into a puddle. Toddler adventures really make you think about the pure goodness of simple things.

TWO:

We are at this conference this weekend with a bunch of other families. This is my 18th year packing up with my family to come to it (I started as a young teen, I'm only 31) 

I was laughing at my teenage self as I was packing most of the things and food for 5 other people, thinking about the stress I used to feel planning my clothing (just my clothing!) so shout out to my Mom and Dad for getting us here and making sure we were fed and sheltered. 

THREE: 
 

He's just so darn cute.

FOUR: 

My husband definitely deserves a lot of the credit for making this all work. He wanted me to drive his boat up, but after a long day proceeding a night where I had a terrible sleep, I told him his boat (not to mention me and the kids!) would probably end up in a ditch with how I was feeling. So he tied the canoe to our mini-van and nobly sacrificed his sailing dreams for me. Wouldn't you know, it's a gorgeous and windy day for it too. 

FIVE: 

Post-partum body (x4 kids and poor maintenance) victory! I fit into a size smaller pants than a couple months ago! I've really only worn stretchy jeans or leggings for the past couple months. Because those are comfy, I really just didn't try on my old jeans, till I was packing clothes for camping and thought, "Hmmmmm, maybe those fit, but do I chance the misery when it turns out they don't?"
I am glad decided to swallow my fear and go for it. 

SIX:

God is just great and hilarious and is probably chuckling at me right now:
Joseph and I married 8.5 years ago, and for that time, his copy of St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life has been a book I've kept my eye on. This year, the boys keep unknowingly knocking it off the shelf, or relocating it to the couch and every time I think "I should really get around to reading that."
After being encouraged by our parish priest to take on 10-15 minutes for spiritual reading, I cracked it open and .... wait for it .... 

I found that in 1923, Pope Pius XI "solemnly designated St. Francis de Sales, heavenly patron of Catholic writers and journalists."
And who is discerning what role to play on this front?! 
It's like God saying to me "What on earth have you been waiting for?!"

SEVEN:

On that note, I'm making a concerted effort to put down technology and books and other distractions and be present to my family... who happen to be back from canoeing. 

Have a great weekend! 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Boy hilarity and rays of hope

Joining Kelly and the quick takers again this week with the happenings around here.

ONE: 
Alberta's gorgeous flower in my backyard. 
True summer (the one with no school drop-offs and pickups) is approaching and we are basking in the fun of popsicles and sprinkler running and gardening. 
Part of me can't wait till my eldest is home all day so that we can deprogram him from the social norms of school life and get our fun-loving, dreamy, hilarious big boy back. 
I know it's cynical of me to look at it that way, but when kids the same age get together, they're so full of insecurity and the desire to impress the others that they are just not their authentic selves. I love my guys when they're free to just be themselves and have silly sayings and ideas and maybe actually enjoy playing with someone younger (or older) than they are. 

TWO:
Brothers who slide together...
 When you have two toddlers, the hilarity abounds:

Me: "Zachary, why did you take off his (Martin's) socks?"
Zachary: "So I can lick his feet."

Of course.

THREE:
These three <3 td="">
The study of boyhood is of course one of my daily tasks. They are each different in their personality and phases, but there is still something in them that will likely continue to puzzle me to the end of my days. The older two are 7 and 5, and sometimes say the most profound things. Since we're raising them in the richness of Catholicism, they're in the process of getting to know where they are in God's eyes. They're so genuine in their prayers: 

"Please help all the people who don't have mothers and fathers and grandparents to take care of them."'
"Thank you for air! Because we can breathe and live."
"Please send lots of bats to eat mosquitoes on our camping trip, thank you."
"We pray for our Mom, that she can have help to stop saying bad words." 
"And God, please bless our baby brother Martin. Help him to talk so we can understand what he wants."
"Please tell Mom and Dad to buy me a skateboard. Amen"
"I pray for all the people in the whole world who don't have good suppers like this, because hot dogs are the best."

Last week we took part in a beautiful procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi. While we were kneeling in the church to pray at its close, Carter whispered loudly "Mom, we beat Jesus here." Kind of not the point, my son... but I had to laugh.
Later I had a somewhat serious chat with them about reverence only to find out that they had run ahead of our priest and altar servers to get away from the smell of incense coming from the thuribles. 
These are the people who laugh at flatulence and will stand in the smell of burnt hair at cattle brandings. 

Boys.

FOUR:
This article about mothers who regret having children kind of irked me this week.  The New York Post is not what I'd call a highly discerning publication, so it's not surprising. Personally I've had a lot of offhanded anti-children comments slung at me as I go about life with my four guys and find this blatant rhetoric against the child truly ugly.  The sad thing to me is that this little article is not the first of its kind. Every few months since 2010 (and likely before, but I became someone with stake in the game in 2010) I've noticed some sort of news piece about how children ruin our lives. It comes down to selfishness really. 
The irony of that is that there are also all sorts of people who want children so badly that they're willing to go through rounds of hormones and drugs and literally torture themselves to have just one baby. There are people who are willing to buy babies. There are people who think that they have a "right" to have their own flesh and blood baby. 
Then there are people who are having babies and not properly caring for them. 
This is the world we live in.  Lord have Mercy.

FIVE:

A dash of hope!

That last take was horribly depressing. Also horribly depressing was last week when my son was having a tantrum in the grocery store, a lady who appeared to be in her mid-50s said to me, "That's why I only had one." 
I couldn't stop myself from saying, "Thanks for your insight. That is so helpful at the moment."
Then I felt awful for the rest of the day about the tantrum, the comment and my uncharitable response. 

Ok, but here's the hope:

I took my 2 little guys to Starbucks to pass an hour between kindergarten drop-off and the year-end school liturgy. 
We went in and sat at a table where I fed them overpriced popcorn and delicious oat bars while drinking a flat white. We had a conversation about how popcorn is so yummy and how fun it is to sit at cafes and drink coffee. Martin had a stick with him and was banging it on different surfaces, saying "Ah!" at different sounds.
Beside us was a lone middle-aged lady with a tablet. She glanced our way, and immediately I thought that we might be annoying her with our chatter and banging and my constant need to remind Zachary about inside voices. 
She got up to leave about 5 minutes after we sat down, but before she left, she turned around.
"Oh, here it comes," I thought to myself.
"You have beautiful boys." She said, placing a hand on my shoulder.
"Thank you!" I said, smiling, and since I have one of those faces that shows all my emotions, I'm sure I looked slightly taken aback.
"You're doing a wonderful job. Have a great day," she said, as she walked away.

Day. Made. Hope. Restored.

Z and Me. Martin is banging on a chair with a stick and therefore not in the photo.

SIX:

I'm currently sitting at a gorgeous patio table that Joseph and I touched up with some paint on my deck. We've done so much to this little home of ours to make it beautiful and livable and I'm just so thankful for him and all his hard work. 
Meanwhile, inside the house are nicks in the fairly new paint and scratches in the hardwood and dents in the drywall. We just can't seem to keep this house perfect everywhere.
But as I was lying on the playroom carpet under a pile of two toddlers this morning, tickling them and enjoying their laughter, I realized that the nicks and scratches are going to happen if we let our kids live here. There's going to be wrestling and hotwheels flying and Lego creations on window sills for such a short time, and eventually, all the holes will be patched and the paint perfected, and the floors won't be sticky, and I'll be able to write two sentences without hearing "Moooommmm!". And I'll be a little bit nostalgic for these little imperfections and smudges, won't I?

SEVEN:

After a hectic week, with another one coming up, I tend to need to unwind and relax and do something purely frivolous. Well guess what, writing down these little musings was it. I feel ready to take on the rest of Saturday, and maybe make some lunch for the non-verbal toddler who keeps biting me. If you've made it this far, thanks for reading all my little thoughts. I hope you have an excellent week!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Props to teachers, toddler shenanigans, thoughts on body image.

Joining Kelly for 7QT! Check it out!

ONE:

Half my babies are through Kindergarten and I was a blubbering mess about it. The cute Kindergarten graduation ceremony did not help my emotional state. I'm both happy and sad. Where did the time go?
Patrick went last year, and Carter this year. Their 20-month age difference made that kind of tricky. I held Patrick back a year longer than the technical eligibility, and Carter was just over the age of eligibility. It was really interesting to see how they did individually with the same teacher and the same kindergarten program. Given their different temperaments and strengths, I hesitate to compare them, but I come out definitely on the side of later-start rather than early start with some of the things I saw.  I don't think Patrick could have handled the demands of Grade 1 last year, that's for sure.
This brings me to my appreciation for their teachers (who will hear all this from me personally) but wow, somehow they get these kids through the year in one piece. We've been really blessed with teachers who have impacted our kids in a positive way, truly invested in seeing them improve and flourish.

TWO:

We've been biking to school in the beautiful weather.  My two oldest are on two-wheelers, and my two youngest are in a bike trailer behind me. So almost every day I strap 70 lbs of child into a 25 lb. trailer and pull that 95 lbs behind me as I keep up with my other two guys and constantly remind them about traffic and bike safety.  My heart-rate is definitely up by the time we reach school, I'll tell you that much! It feels good to build that movement into the day!

THREE:

As I've worked to get healthy post-fourth-pregnancy, I've come to renewed awareness of the pervasiveness of body-worship in our culture.  The obsession with "getting that body" is infuriating me just a little. Why? Because I don't think playing on people's insecurities about how they look is really encouraging true health and wellness. If you've got a "perfect" body, but you're constantly obsessing about what's in your smoothie, what caloric value your burger is, and people's perception of you, that's not health - that's a problem.  Let me just say, I've never been so secure with my body than I am now.  Looking at me, that might surprise the majority of people.  I am overweight. I have a belly. If you follow my insta-stories, you might've caught me ranting about how I get asked a lot if I'm pregnant (BTW, I don't think you should ever ask anybody that. There are lots of reasons why women don't have flat bellies, and pregnancy is only one of them).

I'm just done with the headache of obsession with certain diets, exercise programs and anything that is based on shame. In this body, I've been fat and I've been thin and I've been in-between, but most importantly, I've been me the entire time. I looked in the mirror one day last week, and I grabbed a large chunk of my belly fat - and I felt... nothing. I felt like the skin and fat that I held in my hand were just there ON my body, but that they were not actually part of my identity as a human being. Maybe in a year, with a good food and lots of movement, and regulation of my thyroid, that part of me will look a lot different. It will feel good not to be asked if I'm pregnant when I'm not - OR maybe I'll feel healthy enough that we'll actually BE pregnant, and I can say "Yes" and let people congratulate me. But who knows what could happen? I could die tomorrow. I could die next week! I just don't want to waste any more time being ashamed of my size or shape, or my enjoyment of certain foods. Discipline for my own well-being is certainly key. Moderation for obvious reasons is necessary. I'm not saying that the pursuit of mediocrity or stasis is at all what I'm desiring, but shame is not the way I need set and achieve goals.

FOUR:



Right now my four guys have popsicles (not in the picture, those are cookies) and are sitting outside enjoying the gorgeous day in our lovely back yard. They'll be such a sticky mess, but my plan is eat dinner outside too, then turn the sprinkler on them, strip them down at the door, and get them ready for bed.  This is the glory of summer!

FIVE:

Rejoicing. My toddler is old enough to be entertained for a short time by his brothers. I thought I'd never ever be here, sitting at my kitchen table, able to type five whole takes with nary an interruption with everyone awake. Until now, I've always had a toddler or a baby and kids not old enough to handle said toddler or baby for more than one minute. And this particular toddler... well, lets just say that before him, I never really had toddlers. I had kids who left me ill-equipped me for the kind of curiosity and sheer determination that this one has. We didn't have doors on our cupboards for all three of the older brothers, so you can forget child safety locks. I just put stuff back and said no. All it took was one or two times of scary "don't-take-shit-out-of-the-drawers" mommy, and those three were done! They did not test me any further on this front. This guy however, must attempt to empty at least one bottom drawer or cupboard per day. It's like it's fun to watch mom re-stack and sort all the plastic containers twice a week. I used to scoff at people who used child locks, because "all it takes is telling them no a couple times."  Lets just go back and slap that version of myself.  She's sorry. She didn't have real toddlers.

SIX:

It's Father's Day weekend, and this year the kids, because of school, are actually aware and excited about doing something to honour their Dad. It's super adorable, because they have actual gifts they made at school that they want to give him on Sunday morning. I told them that the best gift they could give Dad was a day of listening and enjoying each other as a family.  I was just informed however, that since that's impossible, "he'll probably be happy with a picture of us in a monster truck." That's 5-year-old logic for you.

SEVEN:


This little face and three others have come demanding food. It's exactly 5 p.m. and the bellies are evidently rumbling, so that's my cue! 

Have a lovely weekend, and spoil those Fathers!




Saturday, June 3, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Convocation, education and silly indoor girl moments.

Joining Kelly and the other Quick takers once again.

ONE:

 

This is my "freshly convocated" younger (by 8 years) sister! 
I am just so incredibly proud of this woman! She's earned a BA in Music, which she has enjoyed working at, through a lot of tough courses, and hours of practicing and honing her skills.
My sister is a talented pianist. But her very essence is creativity and adding beauty to the world wherever she goes. She is also an incredibly deep, critical thinker* Since she could speak, I have marvelled at the way that she makes sense of the world. 
Nobody I know is as disciplined in making themselves better with each coming day. She is very much like my our late father in that regard, as well as in her quiet constancy, her enjoyment of beauty, and the way that she leaves you feeling unconditionally loved if you're one of the few who gets to know her well. 
Our Dad would be glowing with pride at all her achievements, and ecstatic that she pursued her passion for music, which they shared.

*An actual critical thinker, by definition (see next take).

TWO:

That said, while we were waiting for my sister to walk the stage, I had a lot of time to contemplate the value of education. 
One of the speeches touched on how their university education has taught the graduates critical thinking. I let my own thoughts spin off from this statement (as one does): "Can a university education really teach critical thinking?"
The thing I've observed is that what many people think is critical thinking is actually regurgitation and application of specific ideas they were taught at university (or read in books or online).
Frustratingly, it seems not many people pause to really analyze the world around them and truly think critically about anything. 
It takes more than just dissemination of ideas to inspire a person to do the work of critical thinking. I certainly had teachers in university who worked hard to make us question, but when it comes down to it, it's up to us to do the dirty work. 
It's a matter of letting the possibility that you could be wrong into your life and doing the work to find the answers. Does anyone actually do that? Do I? 
I'll leave it at that. 

THREE:

Lighter thoughts!
On the way to my in-laws last night, my eldest  took out his rosary that he made at school and began praying it on his own with his little guide. Now maybe this happens frequently with other 7-year-old boys - I don't really know!  But I was a bit surprised, given that we have never prayed more than a decade as a family, and certainly never on road trips with 4 boys under 7. It has not been widely discussed other times either given the loud protests on previous rosary occasions.
Our parish priest had been to the class to bless the kids' rosaries, and had told them that he liked to pray the rosary while driving. 
My husband and I looked at each other and back at our son, before joining his rosary.
"What kind of blessing did father put on those rosaries?!" I whispered,
"I don't know, but we should ask him for more of that!" said Joseph.

FOUR:

My boys like to take my phone and take selfies and other photos. This is some of their handiwork.

 
Silly guy. I love his face! 

 

I love the way kids write when they first learn how.

FIVE:

Biblical games:

Me: "Carter, why are our mini-hockey sticks all broken on the ends?"
Carter: "It was Zachary. He was using them as a donkey's jawbone."

SIX:

There's still those times where I'm not ready to be a grown-up:

In the spirit of having 4 boys and wanting to be less of an "indoor girl" as my husband affectionately calls me, I decided to try to spend more time outside. So here I was, outside, watering and weeding our little gardens (which I actually like, but I've been away from it while caring for babies) when I inadvertently angered a wasp. At least I think it was angry. I kept stepping away, and it kept coming back. 
"Wasp!" I whispered to my boys, who hate the prospect of being stung, and they ran away to the back yard. 
Then that silly wasp landed on my baby (well, 18-month-old).
"I guess I have to be the adult here," I thought. So I swatted it off him, picked up my baby and we ran inside to be laughed at by my big strong Joseph, who flicks wasps dead without batting an eyelash. 

SEVEN:

It's 6:39 a.m. on a Saturday. I got up at 6 to finish these Takes. Not because I'm so dedicated to blogging, but because curling up in a blanket for some alone-time on my in-laws couch was a great gift that I couldn't pass up. Plus, it's peaceful here with no city noise - just the tweeting of birds outside the windows.
We are about to enjoy a day of fun on the farm (and maybe I'll earn some outdoor credibility with my boys). Nobody is awake yet though, so I'm daring to crack open a book and bask in the quiet.

Have the loveliest of weekends! 



Monday, May 22, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Crazy me and husband love

Joining the Quick takers at Kelly's again, better late than never, right? 

ONE:

Huge breakfasts! May be a solution to the morning snack-begging.
This morning was the first morning EVER where I didn't prepare or get asked for a snack by my boys. No, they weren't gone away... They'd just had a massive breakfast. My eldest (age 7) ate 7 pancakes and a larger-than-normal mound of scrambled eggs. The other three ate a fair amount more than their usual too. And viola, no snack-whining! I'm going to give this a good three day test, but as mom of four boys, I'm increasingly concerned with the amount of time I already spend in my kitchen making sure their growing bodies are nourished.  My time at the grocery store is bound to increase, and I'll eventually have to buy entire animals with which to fill my freezer.  The feeding of what will feel like an army is nigh!

TWO:

Laughing at myself:
"Mom, have you ever noticed that whenever you look in the mirror, you make a funny face?" my eldest said to me one day as I was putting on make-up.
"I don't do that, do I?" I said, mildly embarrassed.
For the next couple days though, I took notice. The conclusion? I am delighted to find that somewhere inside me lurks my inner 5-year-old, and every time I look in a mirror, I either raise my eyebrows, stick out my tongue, wrinkle my nose, or open-mouth grin. I've done it for so long (25 years) that is has become a quirky habit.
I've been told I have a very expressive face, so maybe this has something to do with it!

THREE:

I wrote a post about washing my floor this week. It's funny how we grow up a little with the years, even as adults: I once "got it all together," so to speak. I was about to have my third child, and I was so overwhelmed by the thought of having more children than arms that I thought "I have to take control of my life!" Of course, what I really did was take control of some of the things in my life, like having a clean home. I purged things, I minimized kid's clothing, toys and books. I made a cleaning schedule and stuck to it and started meal planning. Then that third child was born and was a fantastic little baby who mostly just let me keep a great routine of having the house company-ready and the illusion that I was the best mom and housewife around. But life only gets busier, even if like me, you take on a little as possible, you still manage to find yourself lost. But I found myself down on my knees washing the floor the other day, and wrote what I wrote.

FOUR:



On Mother's Day, I had a proud mom moment as I watched my eldest help his Dad, Grandfather and Uncle and Aunt brand some calves at my in-law's farm.  He was a little scared at first and really only held a rope with his Dad, but eventually got down on the ground holding the skinny little calf legs. It's a right of passage in a way.  It puts a bit of an ache in my heart that our kids are not having these agricultural experiences on a daily basis as my husband did. I grew up in town, but was not unfamiliar with farm life. There's just something so poignant about the connection of farmers with the land and animals. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, but I do know that I value it more having gotten to know my husband Joseph, and how it has shaped him.

FIVE:

It's 2 days later (I started this Friday) and I'm sitting in Starbucks free of all children and finally finishing this. 
I just need to share how absolutely loved by Joseph I feel right now. I've had a rough couple weeks "momming" with busy schedules and appointments and difficult situations with each boy, and he's completely come through in giving me space and extra care. Yesterday (Sunday) I was just wiped out in the afternoon so he just let me nap into the evening, fed the kids, tiled part of our backsplash AND made me a delicious dinner (beef tenderloin and stuffed roasted peppers). 
Then today he's sailing with the 4 boys and I'm having coffee with Jane Austen! 

 


 

Feeling like my love tank is full to the brim!

SIX: 

Just the three older boys having a grand old time on the ROOF! (Don't worry, it's not a regular thing, and Joseph was up there with them putting in venting for our kitchen range)

These guys love to follow Joseph around as he fixes and improves this house. They'll acquire so many great skills (I hope).

Aw. Poor Martin below, missing out on the fun.

 

SEVEN:

Just a little superhero, down for the count.

 


Have a great week!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Washing The Floor

 

Today I washed my floor.

An ordinary task, one might think. It's certainly something that falls into the "needs to be done" category rather than the "things I really look forward to doing" category.

But readers, my floor has been sticky for two weeks. Abominably sticky. I think it might be from when my youngest was eating out of the sugar bowl. My feet have made a "shwick, shwick" sound as I walk around, which is the sound of my womanly pride oozing out of my body. Beware leaving sugar in reach of the hands of small children.  As a mom of four such children, I feel like that was a rookie move...

But back to my floor.  This floor that I had washed with a mop twice in two weeks but still could not get the sticky to leave.

I posted a long while ago about striving for perfection - about not listening to the tendency of our world to cut us slack as moms and tell us that you don't have to even try because kids make things difficult, and if things are difficult, they're not worth it. I still believe the difficulties my kids present me with are worth surmounting, but maybe I'm a little softer on myself - in a good way - than I was then.

I wrote about my disdain for this sign that says "Good Moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens and happy kids."

And there I was in 2015, writing that post from some high horse. I had 3 kids then, and I hadn't yet imagined or even fathomed that my fourth child would be more curious and prone to mischief at a younger age than any of the others.  I had no children who had homework, or a school run each day. I hadn't imagined yet that I would be where I was this afternoon, down on my hands and knees with a microfibre cloth and all the power of essential oil and vinegar, cleaning my kitchen and dining room floor (for a third time in 2 weeks) inch by inch. 

I loathed that sign in 2015. Certainly the point of it is that children and their upbringing are far more important than the floor or the oven, or the thousand little tasks that you could be doing if you weren't reading a story, or building a Lego car. But I couldn't, at that point think outside my own image of perfection, which under no circumstances, included a dirty floor.

Experience is the best teacher though, isn't it? 

Something inside my 2015 self took that sign as a challenge: "I will be better than that mom" whoever she was. 

Little did I know. 

So, dear reader, I officially apologize if you're actually that mom a lot of the time.  Sorry for judging you and your sticky floor. Eventually I became that mom I thought I was so far above. For two long weeks, as I "shwick-shwicked" around my kitchen, even after a wash, my 2015 self died a little. All the images of perfection I had morphed into something still reaching for perfection, but realizing that I'll never get there by myself. And you know what? It feels better to have her gone.

Why? Because maybe there's some version of perfection that is on their knees, scrubbing a two-week old mess. Maybe that's okay. Maybe there's bigger things going on than trying to be perfect in the material world. 

And maybe, just maybe, a sticky floor is an excuse to get on my knees and gain some perspective.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Boys and The Question of Fighting in Play

 

"All boy," is how I hear my sons often described.
They wrestle, get really dirty and often run around shouting. They're noisy and rough. They're superheroes one minute, and ninjas the next. They grunt, eat a ton, delight in flatulence... and they're all under 7!

As a woman, I don't understand them most of the time. I have no idea why someone would want to fart in his brother's cereal. I don't understand their fascination with guns, swords, ninjas and ways to fight. I can't fathom their uncanny ability to imitate various motor and gun sounds, or the reasons for over half of the things they need to do. But as I've come to terms with the many sides of my sons, who still cry and snuggle and do really sweet things for their mom, I've noticed a disturbing pattern:

Parents are knocking the fight out of boys.
"Don't fight."
"No wrestling. Someone might get hurt."
"Stop shooting."
"What are you doing? That's not a sword. Stop using that as a sword!"
"It doesn't matter if he took your toy, you don't hurt him."

Sound familiar? I'm fairly certain these or similar words have crossed my lips daily. Things do get a little out of hand. I don't allow my boys to hurt others. However a few experiences have raised red flags for me.

Over a year ago, a mother of three boys got together with me, a mother of four boys, thinking we would enjoy one another's company and that our boys could play. It was a lovely few playdates at various parks, before something changed:
My son picked up a stick and used it as a sword, and her son did the same. This new friend was rather alarmed and went to stop the swordplay. I inventively said that the boys, instead of fighting one another, could make believe a dragon was attacking and fight it with their swords. My friend seemed satisfied, but looked on worriedly, explaining that, "I really don't like violent games. I'm just not up for aggression in my house."
"But, don't a lot of little boys make believe with weapons?" I asked,
"Sure, but a lot of little boys end up aggressive and angry men. I don't want that for my sons. We don't need to express ourselves with violence."
"Well, I get that," I said, "but I don't think all uses of weapons are necessarily violent. What about hunting? Or protecting innocent people, like the police do?"
"Well, that's different. I just think it easier not to go down that road."
She  eventually confiscated the stick her son was now using as a rifle, and told the boys to play something different. I didn't press the issue, but the playdate was our last one. After this occurrence, this lady decided she wouldn't slot us in for playtime anymore, despite my repeated attempts.

One day I was visiting with family members in one of their back yards. A well-meaning mother of one turned around saying, "Whoa. Uh... I don't know if that's okay."
I turned to see my two oldest sons, a tangle of limbs, rolling around on soft grass. Their faces showed concentration and laughter, not anger or malice.
"They're okay," one of my relatives, a brother himself, assured her.

I should have relaxed at that moment. My sons were okay. Both got up eventually, moving on to other things, but the feeling I had at the moment stayed with me. This other mama had no idea what was normal play for my sons. Play for boys often involves fighting and conflict. At least with my sons, their obsession with heroism, valour and protecting the weak is far-reaching. Their physical need for contact and action seems so innate and powerful, that I can't help but think it goes far beyond nurture.

Fighting and conflict are generally labeled as bad. Parents don't want their children to argue with one another, to fight over toys or books or even who gets what spot at the dinner table. It's annoying, time consuming and often, many of us think, utterly pointless. We just want our kids at school and at home to behave nicely and harmoniously with other people, like we must do as adults. Sometimes it doesn't occur to us that it is because we fought with our siblings or other children that we recognize the feelings and reactions we have, and are able to control them as adults. Children learn with a combination of action and guidance. A little bit of listening to trusted mentors, and a lot of trial and error. Fighting, though annoying, can be a healthy part of development.

But play - play is an entirely different thing. Of course I want my sons to be polite. I don't want them to be bullies. I do want to guide their play in such a way that they know their limits, but still enjoy pretending, imagining and emulating the heroes they adore.

"I'm protecting the ship," said my three-year-old when I asked him why he was throwing all of the plush footballs into the yard, "these are cannonballs."

"I'm Luke Skywalker and he's Darth Vader. He's tryin' to kill me, but I'm really strong," said a matter-of-fact six-year-old.

"Don't call me Zachary. Call me Batman! I am fighting bad guys and throwin' batarangs at dem."

"Mom! We built spears with Dad! Now we can be Roman Soldiers!" said an excited five-year-old, carrying his prized new toy.

Around here, often one of these weapons gets confiscated. One simply can't hit a brother or friend out of rage with a plastic light saber and get away with it in our house.  There is much protest, lamenting and gnashing of teeth when this happens, but hurting out of spite or anger is not tolerated by my husband and I. Accidental grazes where both parties are willing to apologize and forgive are treated a little more lightly. Regularly though, our 7- and 5-year-olds accidentally hurt one another and instantly apologize, knowing that their game can continue.

I don't love this part, I'll be honest with you. In the enforcement and direction of weapon-play, sometimes I threaten to confiscate everything and throw it in the garbage. Sometimes my womanly heart is tired of the batarangs and nunchucks and ninja kicks and wrestling and I plead with them, "Can you just play with play-doh or colour? Can you build Lego? How about soccer? Hockey? Play chef and make me a fantastic dinner? (They do these things too, but primarily, their fun is heroes and play-fighting) And it occurs to me that if I just simply banned any sort of weapons or fighting of any kind maybe my life would be more peaceful and a heck of a lot simpler.

I know some mothers and fathers who have done just that, who don't allow fighting or conflict of any time to permeate the walls of their home. The rhetoric here is often that of my friend above, that aggressive behavior is always wrong and leads to unhealthy, angry men. If this is you, we are just not going to agree on this point - that weapons and play fighting, with guidance, can actually help form character. Through play, I've seen my young sons learn lessons about defending the helpless, responsibility, courage, endurance, compassion and even death. Forming early the reasons why one might fight, or why one might use a weapon in a young boy is important and necessary.

What happens when someone who is innocent is being hurt by another person? What happens when a grave injustice is being done and nobody is doing anything about it. This is where we want our children to defend the innocent and stand up for what is right. This is the why. There are real battles being fought by real people, and someday, though some of us hope not, those people might be our sons.

Daily, wars are being fought to protect the innocent. The police cruise our streets waiting for the next call: to a domestic dispute, a robbery, a school shooting - all situations where they may be required to fire their weapon. They are our first line of defense, and we never hesitate to call them heroes.

We want to live in a world where it is not necessary for these men and women to take up arms, but we don't. We simply don't. We live in a world where it has become increasingly necessary for them to do so. So now we are tasked with raising children who will stand up for the innocent, protect the weak and help create peace. We hope they do not need to use weapons to do so. But to teach them that all fighting in any case is wicked, and to teach them that weapons are evil, and to knock the fight out of them - does that rob them, and us, of opportunity not only for boyhood pleasure, but for important lessons? Afterall, is it not the people behind the weapons, and not the weapons themselves that do harm?