Posts tagged children

The Class of 2013

I am the proud parent of a graduating member of the class of 2013. I will try to refrain from cynicism hereafter, but it must be said that this sentence used to mean something. In my case, it means that my son finished preschool yesterday. He, along with 9 other children now hold that illustrious title of Preschool Graduate. In all fairness, he is the only one of our three children to complete preschool, so I suppose that is noteworthy.

I do not intend to spend my time pointing out our collective fascination with graduations, graduation speeches, commitments to excellence and world change, and of course grad outfits. Actually, I did want to focus on the outifts, come to think of it.

As it were, this year I had two graduates. Yes, I am the lucky mother of a kindergarten graduate as well. Oh, and a grade 3 graduate. It’s practically like being a Triple Crown winner, folks. But I digress. Having had a child graduate from kindergarten in the past, I am familiar with the conventions: put them in a dress shirt, comb their hair, and pray that they are wearing proper footwear by the time they march into the gym to the music of Pomp and Circumstance. (Teddy’s JK Christmas concert had him wearing his winter boots with his dress pants, and Sammy looked like a homeless man for his SK graduation with the tongue of his right shoe hanging out over his toes. This is what happens when 5-year-olds are responsible for their own footwear at school.)

Since Caleb is our first child to attend preschool, however, it perpetually slips my mind that those two days a week he spends colouring and playing under the watchful eye of several patient women qualify as “school.” And so I show up for his Christmas concert on a Wednesday morning by myself, not having thought to invite proud grandparents, godparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours, and the family doctor. I miss picture day (although in my defense, we were in Europe at the time) and forget about his “special helper” days.

One would think that I’d have figured it out by June that preschool is a bigger deal than I think it is, but yesterday’s  graduation bore witness to my utter incompetency as a preschool mother yet again. Just when I was patting myself on the back for having remembered all of his recent “special helper days,” the graduation confirmed that the “Preschool Mother of the Year Award” would have to go to someone else. Perhaps to the woman pinning a pink bow in her princess’s long, silky hair. At least she remembered to comb her kids’ hair for graduation.

In my defense, the event was called an “end of the year celebration and BBQ,” which, to me, means lawn chairs, meat from the grill, and possibly a bouncy castle. I saw no problem, therefore, with teaching a piano class from 4 – 5, and leaving my husband with the instructions to have the children ready so that we could leave as soon as I was done. The veggie tray was already waiting to go, so nothing could go wrong.

We showed up at the school and I quickly realized that a veggie tray was not the only thing I was supposed to bring. Properly attired children would have been a good idea. While little girls were wearing their new spring dresses with matching purple bows in their hair, our Caleb was still wearing his two-day-old camouflage shorts and army green sleeveless T-shirt. With giant Freezie stains down the front.

Believe it or not, his personal appearance was the least offensive of our three boys. Teddy wore his trusty faded camouflage shirt (the one he had donned on picture-retake day) and his hair was still matted down with sweat from his bike ride home from school. Sammy’s T-shirt and shorts were about as random a pairing as Coca Cola and Belgian waffles, and his legs bore the telltale dirt streaks from having played in the sandbox and then watering the plants. Suffice it to say that our children’s appearance presented a stark contrast to all the cleavage and high heels in the room.

I probably should have been more specific in my instructions to my husband than, “have the children ready”. In all fairness to him, he was interested in only one thing when he got home from having spent 8 hours in a hot, sticky factory on a hot sticky day: a shower for himself. So as it were, Oliver and I were presentable, while our children look like the progeny of dead-beat crack addicts.

At this point a married couple has two options: harangue one another for incompetence, or laugh about the situation. We opted for the second. Oliver joked that it would be a great idea to gather all the children in the room for a group photo, and then assign everyone the task of finding the Trefz children – similar to “Where’s Waldo.” We laughed at the women who had gone to the effort of coordinating their outifts with their perfect little daughter’s, and took solace in the fact that we will never see most of these people again anyways.

As one would expect, our boys were blissfully unaware of being under-dressed, and were more concerned about the lack of a bouncy castle. The food served as moderate consolation, but everyone was happy to return home without too many tearful good-byes or sentimental reflections on the passing of an era.

For those of you considering preschool for your child, take it from me that it is a bigger deal than you think it is. You’ve been warned.

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C’est L’amour – a year later

Once every ten years or so I change my mind about something. Most people with my personality will tell you that it is not easy to admit that your views on something may not have been sufficiently explored, and must therefore be subjected to scrutiny. Valentine’s Day is one such issue for me. Those of you who remember last year’s post are no doubt intrigued that I would even suggest a change of heart.It all began with my resolve to be more prepared this year. Because I have always found the tradition of handing out Valentines at school utterly useless, I would wage silent protest by not participating until February 13, when it became clear that my children would be the only ones not professing their undying love for their 19 classmates the following day. So on February 13 at 4:30pm I would yield to the will of the masses, and by 4:45 I’d be standing in Shopper’s Drug Mart with the other parents who had dragged their butts on the issue until the 11th hour, so to speak. (See last year’s post for a more detailed presentation of the repercussions of this type of approach on the home front.)

To avoid the stress and frustration therefore, I vowed that this year would be different. So casting aside my principles about the utter wastefulness of the purchase, preparation and distribution of Valentine’s Day cards, I headed to Shopper’s on February 3 of this year – a personal record in preparedness.

I should mention that the thought had been planted quite firmly by our second son, Sammy, (hereafter referred to as Romeo to better reflect his character) who began preparing Valentines for the entire family on February 1st. When we turned over a new page on the calendar he saw hearts, and immediately felt it incumbent upon himself to prepare for this most worthwhile of celebrations. By the end of the day every family member had a construction paper heart taped to the wall beside their bed with a heartfelt message of his affections. Obviously, someone around here actually cares about Valentine’s Day this year.

Contrary to the common perception, I am not a troll on matters of the heart, particularly not where my children are concerned. If it means this much to Romeo, I will surely do my part to help him celebrate. If I learned anything from last year, however, it is to carefully examine the cards before purchase. Do not purchase anything that has the fine print “some assembly required” if you do not wish to spend the evening of the 13th furiously assembling cards. The cards I found this year are really quite simple (no folding, no stickers, no pop-up construction, no GPS tracking device) and, I think, quite profound in the message they convey. Nothing says “I love you” like a googly-eyed Lion with the caption, “You’re Wild!” (The argument could be made by the astute parent that these cards may not be appropriate for young children, but I’m claiming naiveté in my defence.)It is hard to over-state the profundity of these cards.

The children are excited to hand out Valentines this year, I must admit. I suppose there could be worse things to celebrate. So while I do not ordinarily go on about mushy stuff on these pages, it is only fitting that I close with a small tribute to my stalwart husband who has, in the past year, selflessly taken on a lion’s share of the responsibility at home, now that I have a real-life job. I do not know too many men who do laundry, groceries and vacuuming in addition to working full-time and keeping everything from faucets to hinges to piano pedals working properly. So here’s to you, Babe: Happy 13th Valentine’s Day!

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Picture Day

This is a school picture of me at age 7. Every time I looked at this picture over the years I asked myself the same question: Did the photographer not notice the hair? Could she not have at least drawn my attention to the fact that I looked like I’d just had an encounter with a bear? Check out the dress, folks. Obviously I was prepared for picture day. The hair was the result of recess, and I would have appreciated the opportunity to set it right before it was captured in all its disheveled glory for posterity.

I know how painful a bad school picture can be, especially to the perfectionist control freak. It was with great shock and horror, therefore, that it dawned on me in the middle of the morning while shopping for shirts for our oldest son in Once Upon A Child, that today was Picture Re-take Day, that merciful accommodation of school photographers for those children who a) forgot about Picture Day, b) were absent, c) were cross-eyed in the picture or d) were caught on film picking their nose.

I racked my brain trying to remember what Teddy looked like when I sent him off this morning. I remembered an epic bed-head. I desperately tried to bring to mind what he was wearing, but it just wouldn’t come. Experience has taught me that he gives about as much thought to his clothing as he does to girls, so this could be a disastrous picture. (Note: this is not my kid, but you get the idea)

Thankfully I had four really nice shirts in my hand, so I quickly paid for my purchases, grabbed our youngest son and ran out of the store on my mission to save Teddy’s grade 3 picture. As I raced across town (for yes, I was on the other end of the city) I hoped against hope that his class had not yet been called down to the gym. “At an average of 3 kids per class needing re-takes,” I reasoned, “if they start at Junior Kindergarten, what is the chance that the Grade 3s have not yet been called down by 10:15?” Clearly the odds were stacked against us.

The thought occurred to me that we should have just gone with the original picture. It wasn’t so bad, really, just severe. He was looking at the camera as if to say, “our landfills are filling up, folks, and I don’t see you doing anything about it.” (He is the official garbage sorter of their class – by his own choice. Today he “gets to” stay in at recess to remove the recyclables from the trash and put them in their correct receptacles. Where does he get this stuff?) Still, the severe picture in a nice shirt would have been better than the bed-head and who-knows-what ghastly T-shirt and track pant combo.

I roared into the parking lot, grabbed two sweaters and my now sleeping 36 lb three-year-old and made my way into the school. (By the way, 36 pounds of dead-weight is a lot heavier when you’re in a hurry than when you can take your sweet time). I got to the office, which was empty. I checked in the Principal’s office, which was also empty. The Caretaker is next, a former classmate from high school. “Luke,” I said. “I’ve got a problem. I forgot about Re-take Day, I haven’t brushed Teddy’s hair since the original Picture Day, and his outfit is probably a disaster. Can you help me?”

At this point the music teacher came by, who offered to get Teddy out of class. As she was off getting Teddy, the Secretary came back from the photocopy room and I filled her in on the reason for my visit. Together we figured out that one grade 3 class was already in the gym, but not his. I breathed a sigh of relief. And then they came around the corner: the music teacher and my sweet, smiling boy dressed in a faded grey camouflage T-shirt, poppy-red track pants, and a bed-head that hadn’t settled in the course of the morning. In that moment I knew we had avoided a painful school picture for the next perfectionist control freak in our family.

Together we used water from the fountain to try to tame the unruly hair, and I requested the photographer to crop the bright red pants out of the picture. “Teddy,” I informed my now smartly-dressed son with only mildly unruly hair, “you just pose with your arms crossed and the photographer will take off your pants.” As soon as the words came out I realized that the true meaning had been lost, and the caretaker, secretary, music teacher, and another waiting mother were all in stitches at my slip of the tongue.

Truth be told, of course, we all know that this was about me, the Mom. We Moms care about these things. It’s the reason we show up at school with hairspray and a comb on picture day just to ensure that our offspring will look good in the picture that will grace our mantle for the coming year. We pay attention to the details in our kids’ lives. If we didn’t, who would remember the little things, like bringing cupcakes for the Halloween party or 20 little Candy-grams for all their little friends on Valentines Day?

Actually, I’m not that detail person. I’m quite the opposite. So while other moms made Zombie eye-balls using Oreo Cookie crumbs and cream cheese for their classroom party, I remembered that morning about the party and sent along a bag of chips for one (from Daddy’s secret stash) and a package of store-bought chocolate chip cookies for the other. “Better than nothing,” I assured myself. “I’m doing my part to keep up with the other Moms.”

Apparently not. On the day after Halloween when I picked up our third son from pre-school, I marveled at his large paper bag filled with candy. Upon closer inspection I realized that Caleb was apparently the only child who had not brought little Halloween treat baggies for all his “friends”. Every Mother with a child in that school had assembled little treat baggies for all the other children, stuffing them with erasers, pencils, play dough and sweets, tying them up with a ribbon and name tag, and finally somehow distributing them to all the other children in the class. My only comfort is that some of the bags were anonymous, so they can just assume that one of those was from their “good friend” Caleb.

I have to say though, that the pay-off this morning was the actual picture. The photographer allowed me to stand beside her, and I watched as she tilted his head and adjusted his arms to make the picture just right. His smile wouldn’t really come, so I just reminded him that the photographer was going to take off his pants. Beautiful.

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Parenting 201

Ladies and Gentlemen, I freely admit that today’s post is a rant – pure and simple. If you don’t like that sort of thing, don’t read on. I need to decompress, and since I pay the rent here (figuratively speaking) I will vent as I see fit. If you have ever seen misbehaving children in public and your inner Super-nanny has reared her bold head, you will know what I’m talking about.

Today was Teddy & Sammy’s first soccer practice in a league that we are new to this year. I was feeling relaxed about this new season of soccer, since we now have two children playing and only one to entertain on the sidelines, and we had found a nice shady spot in which to sit and watch. I almost said to Oliver, “I think I could get used to this,” as I sank into our camping chairs, but now I’m glad I didn’t. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’ll make it through the season without suffering a stroke due to high blood pressure.

It all started out innocently enough, as most first encounters among children do. Teddy and Sammy practice simultaneously on adjacent fields, so we were able to watch both at the same time. In Sammy’s SK/grade 1 group there were 9 children; seven boys and two girls. Eight of those children were under the guidance of a coach. The ninth (a girl) had a handy-dandy personal assistant (PA) who looked to be either a much older brother/cousin, or family friend. It soon became evident that she required this personal assistant because she could not receive instruction from the coach. True, she couldn’t receive instruction from the PA either, but perhaps he needed community service hours in order to graduate, and this was his project. One never knows.

Before someone chimes in here and says, “now don’t be so hasty… this child may be suffering from ADHD or something similar,” I will a.) attempt not to roll my eyes and b.) suggest that even parents of children with ADHD would be well advised to follow through on the consequences they promise their children for bad behaviour. In such a case, intentional parenting would be all the more critical. While I don’t doubt that there’s something in our label-happy modern-day Psychology manuals to diagnose this girl, she was obviously very smart and a great puppeteer, seeing as all the adults in her life danced like marionettes as she pulled the strings.

After I had watched this young lady prance around the field in blatant disregard for her PA’s pleas to please join the rest of the group “or else she’ll miss out on the fun!” for 15 minutes, I leaned over to my mild-mannered husband and warned him that I may not be able to sit out the hour without intervening in this situation with some measured words for the princess in pink shin pads. I felt real pity for the young man who was assigned to her, because he obviously had no idea how to claim his rightful place as the authority figure in the situation. He would probably thank some stranger for doing him the favour of giving his young charge a realistic idea of her place in the hierarchy of society.

As I sat there planning out the best approach to stop the insanity of the situation (for she was now running off the field during dribbling practice, and sitting in the net into which her teammates were kicking soccer balls – still pretending that her ears were stuffed with cotton) a female assistant coach walked onto the field, ostensibly to help the first coach run his practice. She obviously knew the girl, and I was curious to see how she would handle the situation. It quickly became clear that she had just as little sway over the girl’s choices, and would merely call for her to “come on and join us!” without ever actually doing anything about the fact that she was now walking the perimeter of the field while the other children were quietly sitting in a team huddle. I looked over to my mild-mannered husband, who now sat deeply in his chair with his hat over his eyes. He couldn’t watch, he said. I was coping by squeezing his hand to release some of my inner tension. I found myself wishing for my stress ball. When Oliver’s hand could take no more, I began firmly massaging Caleb’s shoulders, who happened to be standing in front of me.

At about the same time that I heard this young lady call the coach “Mom,” I also observed that there was a similar situation brewing on our other son’s field right next door, except that this boy was sitting in the grass about 10 feet from the sidelines, waiting for someone to come and cajole him to “join in the fun!” When Sammy’s coach called to the young man in the grass to go and join his teammates, and the young lady’s PA ran over to try his luck with the boy, it was clear that these two children shared the same parentage. It should have tipped me off right away that they were born to the same set of parents because the boy was named after a State on the West Coast, and his sister was named after the Native American tribe that lived there. Cute.

Throughout the practice, Mom would either ignore her children’s misbehaviour (having obviously bought into the psycho-babble that if you ignore your children’s bad behaviour it’ll go away on its own) or she would threaten to leave early. At the respective ages of 6 and 8, this sister and brother team knew full well that the chance of Mom actually following through on her ultimatum was about as great as the chance of a meteor hurtling from space and leaving a giant crater at centre field. They live this way. These behaviours do not suddenly creep up once kids hit school. A 15-month-old baby is already checking to see whether “No” actually means “No,” and whether the promised consequences will come immediately or once Mom has finished counting to 3.

Please understand that I am no perfect parent. The pages of this blog are filled to overflowing with tales of my children’s misbehaviours and my failures as a parent. Since becoming a parent I have become much more gracious of other parents who struggle with tough-to-manage children. I have been there, am living there, and will most likely continue to live there. I understand that there are tough nuts out there, and many of them are under the age of 10. But folks, could we at least all agree to follow through on the promises we make to our children? And to do it in short order? For the sake of their future school teachers, piano teachers, soccer coaches, and parole officers, could we please place a higher priority on letting our children know that when we say “No” that really means “No?” And could we please all agree to just go ahead and let the promised consequence rain down as soon as the children step out of line again after we’ve told them not to (once)? A child doesn’t need three warnings any more than the guy caught drinking and driving does. Although I am not a police officer, I know enough about that line of work to know that no self-respecting police officer will threaten 5 times and then count to 3 before actually slapping the cuffs on a guy. It’s ludicrous in policing, and it’s just as ridiculous and ineffective in the world of parenting.

Yes there are children who are more difficult to parent than others. But as I am learning with my own kids, those are the kids who need the solid boundaries most desperately. When we discussed the soccer practice afterwards, both boys told of their respective Disruptors without any prodding from us. Both commented on how annoying they had been to the rest of the team. And when I asked them whether they thought the Disruptive Duo had had fun, they had to admit that no, they probably hadn’t. It’s not a lot of fun sulking on the sidelines, or not being involved in the practice with your team, simply because you need to wage war with the parent that hasn’t enforced clear boundaries. It was a great moment for us to explain to the kids that we are teaching them obedience because we want them to be happy, not because we want to rob them of their joie de vivre.

No, our children are not perfect; nor is our parenting. But by God’s grace our boys are respectful and obedient to those in authority, and there’s something to be said for that.

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Room for one more

I used to have a theory that women who couldn’t convince their husbands to have any more children would get a family pet instead. You know how it is: a couple has two or three kids, and when the youngest becomes a preschooler, all of a sudden a pet arrives on the scene. The cause and effect relationship seems obvious: someone wanted another kid, and someone else had tapped out with the last one.

I’m here to tell you that cause and effect relationships don’t always speak for themselves. The more likely scenario is that by the time the youngest child becomes a preschooler, the oldest is old enough to beg for a pet. For an entire year. And while stuffed animals may delay the inevitable for a while, the day is coming when your children will wear you down and you will find yourself the proud owner of a pet – preferably a furry one.

  As anyone who has followed my blog for any period of time knows, our children have a fascination with animals and animal behaviour. For Teddy, the sweetest memory of the summer of 2011 will probably always be his three mini toads that he smuggled back to the city from the cottage. Letting them back into the wild will probably always be one of his most bitter childhood memories.

Teddy’s first pets: mini-toads in a water bottle cap

Although the toads are long gone, they had the lasting effect of awakening in him a desire for a real pet.

 Here’s the thing: I’ve never been a “pet person,” certainly not a “cat person”, and probably could have lived out my days happily without a pet of any description. But when a charming young lady begs you to take an adorable kitten that you know full well would put your sweet young boys in raptures, your heart is bound to soften, no matter how hard it previously was. And so it was, that after having Lucy at our house for a late-night test drive after the children were in bed, we agreed to take the plunge.

 

Two nights later, our friend brought Lucy and her few earthly possessions to her new formerly pet-free home, and with some parting instructions and many tears left this playful, alien creature with us. Lucy spent the night in her carrier, and we looked forward to the next day when our children would get the surprise of their young lives.

 

The next morning Sammy went downstairs to get his stuffed horse, and walked right past the carrier. On his way back upstairs, this new accessory caught his eye and he curiously peered inside.

“TEDDY!” he called loudly. “You gotta come see this! There’s something really cute downstairs!”

Teddy came bounding down the stairs, saw the kitten, and asked incredulously, “is this really our pet? Is she staying with us? Forever?” That last question is a tricky one. It really addresses one of the main concerns I’ve always had with getting a pet for children: that animal represents a heartache waiting to happen when “forever” ends in tragedy.

The seasoned pet owner’s obvious response to that line of reasoning is, of course, that you’re failing to take into account all the joy that preceeds the sorrow, and that the value of this joy exceeds the duration of the sorrow. Even I must concede that they are right. Lucy is quite a character, and our children are very much taken with her. Let’s put it this way: if they treated each other with the love and affection they reserve for their feline sister, our family would be the 3-D version of a Tricia Romance painting. Lucy is hugged, kissed, squeezed, carried, given good-night hugs, told she is loved, fed, and followed around the house. That cat has somehow managed to secure her little band of groupies by doing absolutely nothing. And if the individual members of her following didn’t fight over who got the chance to pet her next, it would be heaven.

For me, the real joy of owning a cat comes when she noiselessly slinks onto the couch where I am reading a book after the children are in bed, and promptly falls asleep on my lap, making no demands of my time. She’s like a low-maintenance kid: she’s fun-loving and curious, does funny things like chase her tail or jump into the paper recycling can, but is already potty-trained, cleans herself, sleeps through the night (not technically speaking, but I don’t notice her in the laundry room), can be left home alone, and eats from a bowl that does not even need to be washed every day. Whoever thinks this type of pet is a lot of work has never had a baby. We’ll see whether my enthusiasm lasts beyond the first visit to the vet.

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A blast from the past: On the Brighter Side of Puke

In honour of another round of vomitting in our house, I have re-posted a short piece that I had removed from my blog way back when it became “creationcarekids.” Some of you may have read it. To others it will be new. Either way, enjoy, for it is still as true today as it was when I first composed it.

            I’ll admit that today’s topic might not be for those with a weak constitution. But Parents, listen up. I personally do not enjoy these dastardly revolts of the gastro-intestinal system any more than the next person, but I’ve decided to find the silver lining around the dark cloud of virally-induced vomiting and diarrhea.

  1. A puking family member requires little to no food. This is a benefit when you consider that it costs at least $500 a month to feed a family of 5. That’s a savings of $3/day per person. The longer the puking lasts, the more savings will be realized.
  2. It’s a well-known fact that a recovering stomach requires chicken soup made from scratch. In most families, each member will get a turn hosting (and subsequently expelling) the gastro-intestinal viruses, but this is no problem when you’ve made soup from an entire chicken in your giant stainless steel canner. Best to get all the puking over with while the soup’s still good.
  3. There’s nothing like vomiting and diarrhea to get you to change the bed and wash your linens. Some of us aren’t as on top of changing the bedding as we’d like to be, so a good puke-soaking will straighten that right out.
  4. Your bathroom is never as clean as when there is vomiting and diarrhea going through the family. These messes are powerful motivators to clean up good and proper.
  5. You’ll probably notice a marked decline in energy levels in your house when one or more children feel nauseous. Take this time to sit down and make a phone call, because once that kid feels better, that may not happen again during waking hours.

I think I’ve adequately illustrated how vomiting and diarrhea are actually blessings in disguise. The key to survival is to brew up a big pot of coffee to get you through the next day on little to no sleep, and you will almost wish for the flu at your house. Well, I’ve got no plans today. Play-date, anyone?

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A Quiver full of Blessings

When I consider all the evenings Oliver and I have fallen into bed, utterly exhausted by our three boys and their antics, yesterday seems even more surreal. While on most evenings I find myself praying, “God just give us the strength for this next half hour of showers and tooth brushing,” yesterday I found myself thanking God for the three amazing gifts that never cease to surprise us.

After a lovely day of gardening and playing outside, we had just finished supper when a landscaper friend came by the house to give us some advice on our outdoor plans. We left the boys to play inside so that we could both be part of the consultation. Every now and then I would check on the boys, just to make sure that there wasn’t any trouble. After all, in my experience, war will break out between those three within about 2 minutes of being left to their own devices. Though I didn’t actually see them, their quiet voices assured me that there was no reason to worry. “They’re probably just looking at books,” I thought. Still, strange…

As we were wrapping up the consult with the landscaper on the front porch, we spied the kids inside, jumping around in the living room, obviously trying to get our attention. Seeing that they were all happy and smiling, I simply smiled, nodded, and returned my attention to our friend. All of a sudden it dawned on me that Teddy was wearing PJs. Come to think of it, so was Sammy. Upon closer inspection, even Caleb was in PJs, which surprised us, since Caleb does not dress himself yet. “Too bad they don’t know it’s shower day,” I commented to the two Dads standing on the porch. “They’ll just have to take everything off again.”

At that point I noticed, however, that the boys’ hair looked wet. “Teddy,” I asked our 7-year-old through the window glass, “Did you shower?”

“Yup!” he exclaimed, obviously tickled pink that I was slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

“Did you shower everyone?

“Yup!” he said again, a giant smile on his face. “We even brushed our teeth!”

I couldn’t resist re-introducing our trophy children to our family friend, who was as shocked as Oli and I were.

As we were preparing to begin the story time ritual a little while later, Caleb suddenly entered the room saying, “I yat a poop!” Since Caleb still prefers the diaper to the potty for this particular bodily function, I assumed he was stating a fact that was in the past tense. I quickly ushered him into the bathroom, where it turned out that his pants were clean and he was eager to sit on his little red pot.

From his vantage point watching the exciting drama unfold in the doorway, Teddy was quick to tell me that he had already put Caleb on the potty before his shower. (Trust me folks, this kind of thing happens all the time when you have trophy children.) Apparently Caleb was having a great potty-day, because his subsequent potty-success sealed the deal on an incredible day.

We read stories snuggled on the couch in front of a warm fire, and finished off the time with some acappella singing. When we got to Peter Lutkin’s The Lord Bless You and Keep You – which I have been singing to all three at bedtime since they were nursing babes – I decided to take the two older boys to sing in Caleb’s room, who was still awake in his crib. As we stood in the darkness by his crib singing the familiar strains of this beautiful hymn of blessing, Caleb joined his little voice to our dissonant chorus. Although we don’t yet have harmonizing voices, that day we had harmony in the home. It was there in the darkness that I mentally bottled the moment; a small preserve for the next time they’re at each other’s throats and I’m losing my mind. For all the trouble they are, children are indeed a blessing.

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C’est L’amour – the Fall-Out of Valentines Day

Buster Brown Valentine postcard by Richard Fel...

Image via Wikipedia

The only thing more frustrating than wasting err… spending precious time on February 13 making your child’s Valentines for his classmates, is finding every single Valentine still in his backpack when he comes home from school on February 14.

I didn’t realize how much pent-up frustration I still held from the previous night’s mad dash to finish something I do not believe in to begin with, but let’s just say Valentines Day at our house became a little less sweet beginning at 3:30 in the afternoon when everyone arrived home. “Sammy, what’s this?!?!?” I asked, both surprised and annoyed.

“Oh, I forgot.” He answered.

Nice try, my boy. There is no way he could have forgotten when I spent the night before urging him on toward the goal of at least writing his name on all of the cards, by painting a mental picture of how he would get to be the mailman the next day and distribute all his little letters in the kids’ mailboxes.

On the morning of February 14 I led him to his backpack, showed him the bag full of Valentines, and again enthused about how today was going to be a great day where he would get to hand out all of his Valentines just like the other kids.

You may ask why all this enthusiasm is necessary. I’ve already learned that our Sammy’s middle name is Apathy when it comes to things like this. The canned goods I sent in all came back home in his backpack. “I forgot.” His library book collected about 25,000,000 Air Miles riding back and forth in his backpack before he finally returned it. And now, we have over 60 Valentines in the house: Teddy’s received Valentines, Sammy’s received Valentines, and Sammy’s undistributed ones. I know you’re all laughing at the poetic justice of it all.

I should have known something was amiss when he was unwilling to go into school yesterday. He quietly confided in me that he didn’t want to hand out his Valentines. A shy boy, he probably feared having to go out on a limb and personally wish everyone a happy Valentines Day along with his little offering. I explained that he only needed to put them in the kids’ mailboxes when everyone else was doing the same thing.

Knowing that he is sometimes blissfully unaware of what’s going on around him because he has his head stuck in a fantasy world involving paper fish and possibly fire-breathing dragons, I figured he probably doesn’t really get what’s supposed to happen with those Valentines. So we went in together and I talked to his teacher, explaining that he was nervous for some reason and might need a bit of help handing out his Valentines. His teacher, an exuberant woman who does not have an introverted bone in her body, simply exclaimed, “Oh, he’ll be fine. It’s you who looks nervous.” Little did she know that I had a vested interest in those blasted things, am fully aware of my son’s track record in these types of things, and had just picked up our two-year-old off the ground after he had gone down a wet slide wearing only cotton pants.

My guess is, that while all the other children were happily putting their mothers’ carefully prepared Valentines into all their friends’ mailboxes, our son was either eating a cupcake (blissfully unaware) or playing with the dinosaurs in a corner (also blissfully unaware).

Maybe we should have just used the undistributed Valentines as fire-starters this morning and saved ourselves the hassle. Although, living with the guilt of having transgressed the 11th commandment would be too much for me to bear.

 

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Parenting 101

I’ve decided that my New Years resolution this year is to figure out my kid. I’m a little slow on the draw, I know, seeing as he’s seven years old, but this boy really should have come with an instruction manual.

When Teddy was first born I was a freshly minted PSYC 1F90 graduate. That’s right, I had a full 8 months of introductory psychology under my belt folks, and I knew how to raise a child. I come from a long line of people who see the world in black and white, and so I foresaw no problems in the child-rearing department. According to my upbringing, you brought a child in line early and he stayed there until he moved out. According to my psychology textbook, you rewarded a child for good behaviour and discouraged bad behaviour by frowning, and you could save yourself the hassle of punishment altogether. I was confident that by combining these two silver bullets I would be large and in charge of the most well-behaved, well-adjusted children on the block.

Since then we’ve moved to a new block, so maybe that’s the problem. Whatever it is, I am as large and in charge of my well-adjusted children as Italy’s Prime Ministers have been of their feisty fellow parliamentarians. What I didn’t take into account when we welcomed the child that would make us the perfect parents, was that God has a never-ending arsenal of tricks up his sleeve in order to keep us dependent on Him for things, including parenting wisdom.

I should make it clear that there are many things parents can do to influence their children’s behaviour. I am a firm believer that consistent expectations and follow-through are extremely effective when raising a well-behaved child. My struggles are not with any of those things. It’s those behaviours that I cannot control with discipline that have had me on my knees on a daily basis. Here are a few examples:

  • A 3-year-old who will not say “I’m sorry” or “Thank You” even though you have pulled out every available weapon in your parenting arsenal, including taking away the Christmas present he won’t say thank you for. This particular battle lasted over 24 hours.
  • That same 3-year-old who consistently refuses to pose for family pictures for no apparent reason, even under threat. This battle has lasted for years.
  • A 4-year-old who will not allow the dentist to look into his mouth, no matter what fun tactics the dental assistant employs.
  • That same 4-year-old who shuns the singing of “Happy Birthday” as though it violates some non-negotiables of his personal credo.
  • A 5-year-old with persistent, relentless fears of objects that should not induce fears: exercise equipment in the corner, a shower head, a lamp. Trust me, we tried all the advice, including prayer!
  • A 6-year-old who cannot focus on a simple task like brushing his teeth without being reminded at least 4 times and possibly even punished for good measure.
  • A 7-year-old who spends his days whipping his brothers into an active frenzy by consistently leading them in activities like tag, playing ball, jumping, tackling, drumming, tickling, dancing, and anything else that makes noise or creates havoc.

 There was a time when I would have had solutions to these problems, but that was before I met our precious first-born. I also would not have believed that a child as young as age 2 could be a leader of men, or that a 4-year-old could spend a full 20-minute car ride counting to 1,000. I would have freaked out had you told me that my 5-year-old would remove the bread that he thought was done baking out of the oven, loaf by loaf, so that “Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t have to do it.” I would have been delighted to hear that my 6-year-old would take the initiative to clear out the dishwasher and start breakfast, and that he would answer the phone more competently than most 14-year-olds. I would have looked forward to a tidy basement, bedrooms (all of them), bathroom, and living room, courtesy of a sudden bright idea that told my 7-year-old to motivate his brothers to “surprise Mommy” with this special treat. I would have been extremely proud to hear of his helpfulness in the classroom, or that he sticks up for other kids when they are being bullied on the playground. And when someone tells me that my son is “gifted” and may deal with certain “overexcitables” and “sensory processing” issues (is hyper-sensitive to different stimuli, leading to heightened emotional responses and distractibility), I would be initially surprised, but not really.

If nothing else, our daily parenting struggles with a child who just does not fit the mould have made me far more gracious about other people’s struggles with their kids. I realize that not every problem goes away as a result of positive reinforcement or even consistent discipline. I see parents with kids who have chosen the wrong path, and instead of attempting to lay blame for the things they neglected or were guilty of, I allow for the fact that I do not know their child and am in no position to judge. God has made our little people extremely complex, and who am I to try to simplify things?

On second thought, maybe I should tweak my resolution. Maybe figuring out my kid is an exercise in futility. Maybe a dose of patience and a lot more prayer will be the silver bullets that make 2012 a better parenting year than the previous seven!

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The War is Over

Bugs Bunny Rides Again

Image via Wikipedia

It has been one month since our family’s television fast began, and it’s time to take stock of our time spent disconnected.

I can’t say that we’ve gotten used to being completely without television, although I’d love to say that it has no draw on our family after being without it for one month. The truth is that there are times when I’d like to sit down with Oliver after the children are in bed to watch an episode of The Office. There are times I’d like to allow the children to watch a story they delight in, because I remember how I cherished those times with my brother when we were growing up. I have very fond memories of watching Mr. Dress-Up on a weekday morning or Bugs Bunny after church on Sundays with Dad.

Still, our television fast has been worthwhile. For one thing, we’ve been forced to come up with alternate activities during unstructured time. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, it required some effort on my part to plan activities for the children to do when they would normally have watched television before. As a result of exercising our collective creative muscle, our home is decorated with home-made paper snowflakes dangling in front of our picture window, and many of our presents are wrapped in recycled newsprint dressed up with paint stencils and potato stamps. We have handed out and enjoyed large amounts of home-made goodies, baked and decorated with the children’s help. We’ve made more music together, played more Lego together, and read more books together.

Oliver and I have also been challenged to find different things to do on those evenings when we’d rather have sat down and watched TV. We’ve spent many hours sitting in front of the fire, sometimes sipping a glass of wine and chatting about life. Our marriage has certainly benefited from the “forced” communication. Although we have spent many evenings apart, involved in our respective commitments and friendships, we have found more uninterrupted time to communicate in meaningful ways.

I cannot say that there have been any fundamental changes in our children’s behaviour as a result of not watching television or playing computer games. This is to be expected, however, since television only comprised a very small part of their daily routine to begin with. The one difference I can see is that they have become better at playing together peacefully, but that can be attributed to a change in the way Daddy and I deal with their bickering (for details on how we have begun dealing with sibling rivalry, see Cock Fights in the Chicken Coop).

The pre-Christmas season has passed seemingly more slowly than in previous years, and I feel that we have allowed our hearts to be prepared to celebrate the Saviour’s birth in the coming days. As with all fasts, we are looking forward to being able to return to “regularly scheduled programming,” as it were, but with the understanding that discernment still needs to be our plumb line as we expose ourselves and our children to media again.

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