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? 


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!


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!


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.


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.


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!


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.



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?