Posts tagged family

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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This is not farewell

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

I recently spent an evening listening to a 90-year-old woman talk. If you’ve never listened to a 90-year-old person talk about his or her life, you really should. Our conversation gave me a lot to think about.

Aunt Susie told me about her life; about her decision to marry a widower with 13-month-old twins instead of pursuing her own dreams, about raising 8 children while working in a nursing home to make ends meet, all the while taking care of a child who was in and out of the hospital. She told me of the pain of losing that son at the age of 18 after 13 years of illness. “I still miss that boy,” she would say. She has buried two husbands. She has housed and nurtured foreign students, been the live-in companion to the developmentally challenged, and adopted the 30 descendants of her deceased sister, in addition to her own large extended family.

Now in her 90’s, she starts her day by praying for each family member by name. There are over 200 people on her list, so this takes a while. People will approach her with personal needs and she prays for them. She calls one friend on a daily basis to pray with her over the phone. Aunt Susie has no idea how her friend’s problem can be solved, but this doesn’t stop her from praying for her. She’s confident that God knows the answer.

She journals. She writes down the minutiae of life: the phone calls she made, what she had for breakfast, which appointment she had at 10:00am. It keeps her mind sharp. I wonder what she would think if I told her that people are doing this on something called the internet for the whole world to see. She would probably think me insane.

She also journals about sermons she’s heard. Helps the teaching to sink in, she says. One would think that someone who spends that kind of time praying and reading her Bible would have no use for the sermons of people 30 to 50 years her junior, but she does.

And finally, Aunt Susie makes cards. Personalized birthday cards for the people in her life, complete with dried flowers arranged on the front and a verse or poem chosen just for them. Sometimes she makes up to six cards a day. She probably uses more stamps in a month than I have in the entire last decade.

Aunt Susie spends her time serving, praying, and counting her blessings. She is blissfully unaware of reality TV, which movies are now playing, what Lady Gaga tweeted about today, or who has posted new photos on facebook. She never has to check her e-mail, pay a cell phone bill, or install a firewall on her computer. What matters in her life are relationships with people and her Lord. That’s it. And I envy her for it.

Having said that, I already hear the rebuttals: “She’s 90 and living in a retirement home where all her needs are met. You’re 32, caring for a young family, networking with people, paying a mortgage, saving for retirement and your kids’ education, and trying to keep your ear to the ground so as not to appear totally stupid in a conversation.”

I get that. And still I envy the simplicity of her life. I envy the peace that emanates from her well-organized mind. I envy the discipline she has developed in her formative years and maintained in her later years. I envy the quiet of her inner being, the attitude of rest in her manner. Her contentment with her situation. The total absence of striving after meaningless things. I cannot help but compare her simple life to the social networking noise, the frenzied pace of technology, the worship of the environment, and the pressure to do it all because you are Woman!

So for this reason (and because it’s gardening season) I have decided to take a hiatus from blogging and unnecessary use of technology. This does not mean I will not return to this place to write down my thoughts in the future. This blog will still exist. But I have decided not to care about how many people follow my blog, or whether they care about what I care about. I have decided that, for now, I’d rather invest my time in training my children and being with my family than writing about it. I’d rather be in my garden than sitting in front of my computer writing about it. I have decided to invest my precious time in the relationships that are right in front of my nose instead of bowing to the pressure to “follow other blogs so that someone will follow yours.” This is the reason I left the juvenile medium known as Twitter, why I can’t be bothered to post statuses on facebook, and why I leave the computer off on evenings and weekends. As far as I’m concerned, this metal box full of chips and wires gobbles up too much time that could be spent doing other useful things – like riding my bike to visit a friend.

To be clear, I am not bringing my laptop to the curb. I rely on it for everything from banking to e-mail communication to running my piano teaching business. With the change of season, however, I am once again putting it in its proper place of servitude, and elevating relationships and real-world, tangible, sensory-stimulating things and activities to their rightful place of importance in my life.

The very first blog post I ever wrote began like this: Technology and I have come to a tenuous agreement: though I hate it and it hates me, neither of us are going away, and so here we are, coexisting in a space called Debbiesblog. (Now creationcarekids) As any shrink will tell you, a relationship where both parties are seeking their own advantage is doomed to failure, and so it is when I attempt to coexist with technology. My dear readers, do not let this temporary separation distress you, however. This is not good-bye, but merely see you later…

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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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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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The War is On (Part 2)

It has been a full week now since our family last turned on the television, and I’m happy to report that we are still whole and sane and thriving. Amazingly enough, our children have not protested anywhere near as much as I thought they would. I used to hear, “Can-I-watch-a-show?” several times a day whenever they were too lazy to come up with anything creative to do. (Other requests included “Can-I-have-a-snack?”, “Can-I-go-on-TVOkids? and “Can-we-go-somewhere?” All of these phrases can be translated to mean, “I am bored. Entertain me.”) In fact, 2-year-old Caleb had started to say it when we were driving in the van coming home from somewhere. Except coming from him it sounded more like this: “Ca-A-watchasha? NO!” (Yes, he would add his own emphatic “No” based on the general answer the children would receive to their oft-repeated mantra.)

I can say with certainty, however, that our Television Fast would not be so successful were we as parents not intentional about planning other things for our kids to do or just being available to them during the times when they would normally watch television. There have been several times where I have been tempted to turn on the television for them so that I can get something done. It requires effort on my part to come up with an activity and then supervising that activity.

This is not to say, however, that our life is now centered around doing stuff with our kids and that everything else is being neglected. I think there are two reasons for this:

1. Our children are inwardly more at peace without all the media input and can occupy themselves happily. Yesterday while Oliver and I sat on the couch, Caleb was busy playing with PlayDough at the table, Sammy was immersed in decorating Christmas cookies on his own, and Teddy was working hard at creaming some butter and sugar for Spritz Cookie dough in the kitchen. Sometimes all it takes is giving them a start on something and they run with it.

2. Because Oliver and I are also not watching television in the evenings, we are getting all sorts of things done, even if it’s just sitting and having a long-overdue conversation and investing in our marriage. Most of our Christmas presents are bought and wrapped already. Oliver spent last night practicing piano for his involvement on Christmas Eve, and I finally sat down to read a book without interruptions.

While I bake or craft with the kids, Oliver has become more intentional about passing on his love of music to the kids. His most recent project has been to build a South American drum called a Cajon (which, by the way, has an amazing array of sounds considering it looks like a wooden dehumidifier). I don’t know of any child that can sit still when they hear a good beat, and our children are no different. A few nights ago he brought the drum upstairs, cranked the tunes on the stereo, and began accompanying the Transylvanian Orchestra on his drum, much to the delight of the children. Before that, we actually had a jam session in my music studio downstairs. While I played the piano, he played the Cajon, and those children that wanted to participate picked one of our percussion instruments and played along. When they were done they went and played with the train track Oliver had set up previously, and we could continue with our jam session. It was the first real one since the children came along, and it was sweet. We ended off with the most rocking version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” our children had ever heard. I felt like a teenager again. Wicked.

Last week we baked and decorated Christmas cookies. This week will include more baking and perhaps some Christmas colouring for the grandparents. Maybe next week we’ll be putting together cookie plates for the neighbours and then deliver them. That’ll be fun.

 

 

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The War is On (Part 1)

 
Christmas lights on Aleksanterinkatu.
Image via Wikipedia

Ah, Christmas. Time for much food, much drink and way too much stuff. It’s no wonder January is a major downer given that the fuel that has fed the fires of the “Christmas Spirit” has run out. It’s a hangover, really. For this reason many people spend the pre-Christmas time wracking their brains for something new and exciting that will make the holiday “more meaningful this year.”

I’m one of those people. I love the decadence of Christmas; the real-butter baking, the regal decorations, the festive meals, the pretty dresses, the majestic music of the season (this does not include Marshmellow World or Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.) Christmas is the one time of year when my heart is moved to worship at surprising times when an actual Christmas song floats over the airwaves of a radio station that ordinarily plays hollow and meaningless drivel. Dark neighbourhoods suddenly seem more inviting as people dress up their homes with lights and bows. And yet each year I spend time thinking about concrete ways to allow the truth of my Saviour’s coming to earth penetrate deeper and bring about actual change that will last past December 31st.

Years ago I researched different Christmas traditions for a stage play I was writing and came across an interesting custom from the Coptic tradition. In this tradition people fast during the advent season as they prepare for our Saviour’s birth. So this year our family is doing a fast of sorts: a television fast.

It happened more by chance than by plan. Those of you familiar with my writing know of my aversion to all things media, especially where my children are concerned. It just so happened that the latest development in the saga (chronicled in my last post) happened during November, so Oliver and I decided to pull the plug on the children’s consumption of media during advent. To make things fair, we felt that we needed to lead by example (though the children don’t ever see us watching television during waking hours anyway). And so here we are, putting away the remote for a few weeks as we prepare our hearts for Christmas.

baking sugar cookies

This means, of course, that Mommy and Daddy need to be more intentional about planning things for their children to do. This week we have been baking Christmas cookies, which is a real hit. Nobody complains about wanting to watch TV given this alternative. Since the project has several steps and we’re doing this after school, we’ve had several days of fun. I had forgotten how fun it was to bake and decorate cookies, although that could be because in recent years the children were less of a help and more of a nuisance when baking. This year it’s great fun. Tonight we’re thinking of putting up the tree.

We will make an exception for family movie nights featuring classics like Rudolph and the Little Drummer Boy. Perhaps Oli and I will even take in a Christmas classic after the kids are in bed one night. But as a general rule we have decided to devote the advent time to things that families would have done generations ago to prepare for the season. There is so much to do to get ready for Christmas, and this year it won’t all be up to Mom.

Horsey and DouglasThe television has been off since Monday and we’ve already seen signs of the boys’ imaginations returning. On Wednesday morning Teddy and Sammy walked out of their rooms with their stuffies, Dougles (a dog) and Horsey (a horse).

“Only seven more days until Douglas’ birthday,” Teddy announced. It’s written on the calendar folks: November 30. Teddy has already asked whether we can have a party complete with a cake. I’m thinking of humouring him. It will be the first time I’ve thrown a party for a stuffed animal, but it is another idea to substitute TV time.

At this point Sammy chimed in to tell me about Horsey’s birthday. “Horsey’s birthday isn’t for a long time,” he said.

“Yeah,” Teddy added. “It’s still a long, long time away. It’s in a whole year.” Apparently the horse’s birthday was on November 10th. How could I have missed it? I’m sure Douglas won’t mind sharing a slice of cake with Horsey.

“Before he turns 1, Douglas has to have his eyes checked,” Teddy informed me next. “He’s still a puppy so his eyes are just opening. He has to have them checked to make sure they’re opening properly.” He went on to tell me that the one thing Douglas didn’t like in his life was when Teddy massaged him on the tummy (which was accompanied by a demonstration) and that if he wasn’t careful Douglas would attack him as a result.

“And the other day,” Sammy added, always needing to be a part of the conversation, “Horsey was going for a walk and tripped off a stump and bonked herself in the eye.” Sammy went on to scratch Douglas behind his ears, just like a real pet.

While I am loving the return to imagination, I’m a little concerned about the subject matter. I can handle a stuffed dog on my couch, but what happens when the children ask for a real one? If we end up with a real dog because we insisted on the children using their imaginations instead of watching television I just may have to bend my principles in the future.

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The Prodigal Returns

He found him while mowing the lawn. When Oliver told me that he had found toad #3 in the grass, I immediately feared the worst. When you’re a ground-dwelling animal so small that you can have a picnic on a postage stamp, and you’re found by a person mowing the lawn, this usually means that you’re either squished or shredded, depending on the path of the mower. Evidently though, my husband has the eyes of a hawk, because he carefully returned our prodigal little amphibian runaway back to his terrarium-dwelling brethren, much to the delight of the family.

What is not so delightful – disturbing, in fact – is that our wandering friend is now almost twice the size of the other boys on the team. While we have been diligent about feeding the little buggers, it is apparent that we cannot keep up with the demand of these bug-eating machines. I am now a woman on a mission: let the poor frogs go so they can fatten up before they have to hibernate for the winter. The problem is convincing their “owner” of that.

For the first day Teddy was in denial: no, the vagrant frog had always been the fattest, he insisted, and the others weren’t that much smaller anyway. By pure chance, the toads all assembled for a little frog huddle as I broached the subject of their release from captivity this morning. Seeing them next to eachother it became clear even to Teddy that yes, the Prodigal is definitely fatter and bigger, and the others need to be released as well.

As we were talking about an exit strategy for the frogs yesterday, Daddy suggested making one of our clay “stepping stones” (an upside-down flower pot-saucer) available as a toad house. It’s crawling with living things on the underside, has a convenient toad-sized hole on top, keeps the tenants safe and warm, and will hopefully keep our much-loved toads “at home” and eating insects in our vegetable patch.

At the outset of this experiment in pet care I was sure we would all learn something. And so it is that our family has learned the following things about toads:

  1. Pets need food. Toads need more than we thought.
  2. Toads eat only live food, and it’s really cool to watch. I must say, though, that I have trouble with the spiders. Seeing wiggly spider legs protruding from hungry toad lips is disturbing. Seeing a toad spit out an unpalatable spider is even worse.
  3. Toads hibernate
  4. Toads need to be fat to hibernate.
  5. Wild animals should be free to be just that: wild.

 Hopefully our toads will like their new toad house and make themselves at home in our vegetable garden. I hope they have a restful winter sleep burrowed snugly under the soil of our lettuce patch. And I do hope they stay off the grass. Oliver’s eyes may not always be so keen.

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