Category Archives: Deep(er) Stuff

My Selfish Mother

Revelations can occur when you least expect it. It wasn’t until I was well into my own motherhood experience that I realized that while we were growing up, my mom was selfish. 

We often have a perception of mothers sacrificing their own happiness and joy for the sake of their children. Moms who give up everything in an effort to create a magical childhood for their offspring.

Not my mom.

She loved us, of that I have no doubt. But was she selfish? Absolutely.

Can you believe that if we left a project until the last minute, she wouldn’t stay up late to help us? And she refused to write us a note excusing us from turning in the assignment late. Something about “owning up to our choices” and “facing consequences.”

My mom also refused to buy us name-brand clothes so we could be like everyone else. She actually made us wait for birthdays and Christmas to get the leg warmers and oversized Roots sweatshirts we coveted. Or we had save up our own money, sometimes even sharing a new item between us sisters. Outrageous.

Sometimes my mom would be on the phone for an hour or more with a friend who was going through a crisis and she wouldn’t even pause to acknowledge our pleas for M&Ms. She took that long extension cord and tucked herself into our back hallway for privacy. If we dared start a fight or vie for her attention unnecessarily she would stomp her foot three times and give us the stink-eye. Or mutter something in Dutch which was a sign we would catch it when she finally hung up. Her own children simply ignored. Unreal.

As we got older we had to get jobs. It wasn’t even up for debate. And when we turned sixteen, we had to take Driver’s Education at our own expense if we wanted to be able to drive one of the family cars. Sure, they paid for gas and car insurance, but that $300 to get licensed really dipped into my McDonald’s lunch habit. Yes, she bought us essentials, but I had to pay for my own fast-food. The nerve.

Not convinced yet? Just wait. If we forgot something at home, my mom wouldn’t jump in the car and deliver it to us. She claimed her time was valuable and that she had work to do. She couldn’t just drop everything on a whim. “I guess you won’t forget next time, will you?”

Highschool math was a challenge for me, but did my mom bail me out? Get me a tutor? Talk to the teacher about going easier on me? No. After bringing home a 35% on a test, I had to make a plan for improvement. Me. Independently. This included going to the teacher for extra help on my own. She just flat-out refused to rescue me.

My mom made it abundantly clear that her relationship with my father trumped her relationship with us. She repeatedly told us that “before any of you came along, it was the two of us. And it will be the two of us long after you leave. I love you, but not at the expense of our marriage.” Those two never let us play one against the other. They were such a team we knew better than to try. The worst.

If we were interested in a sport or extra-curricular that required a Sunday commitment, she said “no”. She was unwilling to sacrifice our day of rest and made us focus on family, friends, and our faith. We had to spend time with each other playing games, visiting, and relaxing. Often we were scheduled to volunteer at church and had to serve others. She was all about living out our faith and giving back.

Giving to others, living above the line, integrity, a strong work ethic. Having a selfish mother shapes who you become. I learned a lot from my selfish mom, including to…

Clean up my own messes.

Do for others.

Value relationships.

Fix mistakes.

Be responsible.

Own my decisions and their possible consequences.

Budget. And stick to it.

Prioritize my marriage.

Focus on what really matters.

Put God first.

Be a selfish mom.

I am grateful for my selfish mom. My mom who did not let motherhood define her, but instead used it to shape four children who are grateful for her example. I hope one day my boys complain about what a selfish mom I was.

Thanks, Mom.

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Sparkly Mittens

“My hands are cold,” my young friend informed me. This little student had not dressed for the cold snap we were experiencing and her hands were raw and stiff from the freezing temperatures. The mittens she had been wearing were thin and soaked through from playing in the snow.

After double-checking for spare mittens in her backpack and the bin in the hall where extras are stored, we headed to my stash. Friends had kindly donated new hats and mittens for our school community. There was one pair of mittens left after winter had depleted my supplies.

“Well, look at that!” I told her, “purple mittens that are just your size and they even match your boots. Will you wear these if I give them to you?” She quietly nodded and her eyes lit up.

“I don’t have sparkly mitts,” she told me. She watched as I unhooked the pair and then began to snip off the tags. “Why are you doing that? Why do they have those?” she asked.

“These are brand new so I need to take the tags off from the store.”

Again, those big brown eyes looked up at me and she said with surprise, “Why would you have mittens for me?”

Why do we have mittens? For the same reasons we have extra snow pants, boots, shoes, jackets, and underwear. We have them because we know that life is not always easy or fair or simple. Finances are tight, families are stressed, jobs are hard to find. Sometimes grown-ups are dealing with their own messes and challenges. They are trying their best, but even the small things in life are too much some days.

Why do we have mittens? The same reasons we have a snack program to make sure hungry kids are fed and ready to learn. Because you should not need to worry about having enough food, enough warm clothes, or boots that do not leak. You are kids.

She is too little to understand the impact her question had on me or the many layers my answer contained.

“I have mittens because I care about my kindergarten friends,” I told her. And with that she shrugged and toddled back outside to play. Ready to be carefree again and play with her classmates. And eat snow, of course, because after all, she’s just a kid. That’s what kids should do.

Why do we have mittens? Because you matter, little friend. Everyone matters. 

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Hello? Can You Hear Me?

“Screens are done. Devices off. Dinner is ready,” I call into the abyss that is our living room. “Hello? HELLO? GUESS I WILL JUST EAT THIS DELICIOUS MEAL ALL BY MYSELF.”

Nothing. Not even a flinch.

“Please make sure you put your shoes in the laundry room,” I remind an audience of zero. Because there the shoes sit – in the front foyer, ready to greet any guests who drop by.

Every parent feels like their messages often fall on deaf ears, right? I’m not alone in feeling unheard and invisible, am I?

Occasionally I like to make sure that I am not a ghostly phantom that cannot be heard rather than the mom my children choose to ignore. So I test their hearing. There are several methods I like to employ:

1. Turn on any Youtube video.

2. Call my mother.

3. Open a candy wrapper.

4. Begin a conversation with my husband.

5. Use even slightly salty language.

“We’re having a movie night? Can I have a snack? What are you watching? Why are you spelling out your words?” What a relief, their hearing is just fine.

I get it kids, parents are boring. We are always giving you advice, life lessons, and reminders to clean up your junk. Why bother turning off Netflix if you can ignore your mom and get a few extra minutes? Makes sense. I did it, too. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t drive me crazy, though.

Acknowledge that you heard me, kids. Respond. Throw an “okay” or “be right there” my way. I’d even settle for a grunt or a head nod. Or better yet, how about you just do what I ask the first time? Wouldn’t it be fun to just put your school things away instead of waiting for angry mom to arrive on the scene? It would be, trust me.

Alas, human children are not really wired that way. They have other ways of letting parents know that despite their blank stares and frozen positions on the couch, they do hear what we say. Sometimes we just have to wait for it. It’s hard to be patient and easy to give up or get frustrated. I feel that way a lot. And then that magical moment arrives. It can take on a variety of forms and often happens when we least expect it.

Recently I took three of our four boys to the movies. They were particularly chatty during the drive and I have learned to be still and let van conversations flow. They are some of the most profound conversations we’ve had. I think the topic came up after a chat about some light up shoes they had seen, I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but the discussion went something like this:

Son #1: Some kids think there are Boy colours and Girl colours, but that’s just not true.

Son #2: Right? It’s so dumb to say that flowers and stuff are for girls, anybody can like what they like.

Son #1: Yeah, I like to colour with pink lots.

Son #3: It’s true, but sometimes commercials actually say, “and these ones for girls.”

Son #1: But you can buy whatever colour you want. Remember when I liked Hello Kitty so much? Some people say it’s for girls, but I liked it. I don’t anymore, but I really, really did when I was three.

Son #2: Sometimes kids at school say that pink is for girls. I don’t agree. I mean, I don’t really like pink, but that’s not because I’m a boy, I just like other colours more.

For the past ten years of raising four boys, we have tried very hard to dispel boy/girl stereotypes, particularly when it comes to toy selection and colour choices. We haven’t forced an agenda on the boys, but rather we hope we’ve coached them that they can like what they like. There is no such thing as a gender-specific colour. If they want to wear nail polish, I’ll gladly grab my vast collection and paint them any colour or pattern they wish. You’re into Hello Kitty and Transformers? Fine with me.

I quietly cheered the boys on as they discussed the ridiculous notion that we need to separate colours into categories. Yes, they have been listening.

Kids listen. They do. They might roll their eyes or seem to tune us out (they probably do tune us out). But they listen. They watch how we behave, they see how we treat others, and they do listen. We might not see immediate responses or evidence, but if we are willing to be patient, to be still, we will see it. Our messages do reach them.

But seriously now, screen time is over. 

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Please pick up your socks. Pick them up. PICK THEM UP.


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Work. Marriage. Kids. Housekeeping. Friends.

So many things demand our time and attention. Struggling to maintain a balance is not new or unique, but it is a challenge. I used to think that this particular challenge would get easier when we were out of the baby stage. Then when we were out of the toilet-training stage. Maybe when they are all in school. But no. Struggling for balance doesn’t go away, it just changes as life moves along.

If I focus more on housekeeping, I enjoy the feeling of being organized. It gives me a sense of calm and peace when the kitchen counter is cleared and I can walk across the floor without collecting crumbs on the bottoms of my feet. But when I let that task take over my time I can slide into the nagging zone and transform into the “THIS-IS-NOT-A-DAYCARE-JUST-PICK-UP-YOUR-STUFF-WHY-ARE-THERE-COCOA-PUFFS-IN-MY-UKULELE” ranting mom.

That is not balance.

The weekend rolls around and this time I decide to say “yes” to the invitations to have breakfast with a friend followed by a walk with a neighbour and then an at-home date night with my husband. But giving the social side of me the priority leaves me feeling guilty for neglecting the kids and the housework. And out comes the scary cleaning-machine-mom.

Still not balance.

When the week has been long and filled with work, stomach flu, and extra errands to run, I just want to curl up in my pajamas and forget all responsibilities. So when Friday night finally arrives, I decide to give myself a break. We shove aside the Legos and Hot Wheels and eat take-out pizza in the living room. It’s a fun and relaxed family night.

And it’s exactly what we need. What I need.

I’m not going to find the perfect balance. I think it’s an unattainable goal. It’s a worthy goal, and for our own mental health and peace of mind, we need to strive for some balance. But a truly balanced life? I don’t think so. And I’m learning that’s okay.

We will always be pulled in multiple directions. Crises will arise, friends will need support, people get sick. Sometimes plain old daily life is too much. So instead of feeling guilty for not finding the right balance, I’m learning to pause.

When the state of the kitchen makes me want to scream, I can pause and pull out something easy for dinner, giving me time to get ahead on something else. When a child is sick, I can pause my work goal for the week and just accept that sleep isn’t really going to happen, but cuddles will. When I have to back out of a commitment because now I’m sick, I can put aside feelings of culpability, pause, and take friends up on their offers to help.

Pause and breathe and let go. It’s working.

The payoff is less guilt, less stress, and more joy, more laughter. And insight. Pausing let me spend time with one of my favourite little people who shared this gem as we enjoyed a hot chocolate together.

“Jesus and Yoda are alike because they’re both very wise and humble and sometimes confusing.”

The house might not be as tidy as I’d like. I might not have a homemade dinner on the table every night. I still feel overwhelmed sometimes and lean into the cranky-zone, but it’s worth it to give up on finding the perfect balance and allowing myself to pause.

 


Christmas Chipmunk

It was Christmas 1983 and I was ready. No doubt my wishlist was long and detailed, but I’ve long forgotten what I requested. Except for one particular item.

I’d probably given up any hope of getting a Cabbage Patch Doll, or it might have been that E.T. and Star Wars didn’t hold my interest, perhaps I already had enough Smurf paraphernalia, but for some reason what I really wanted that year was Alvin. Of the chipmunk fame.

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Many details of that time are fuzzy, but I remember giving my list to my dad and outlining specifically what I meant by “Chipmunk”.

“A stuffed one. You know, the singing ones. There’s Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. I’ll take any, but I’d really like Alvin. The one with the red shirt.”

He nodded and reassured me that we were on the same page, “Alvin. From the show. Got it,” and left to do some shopping (no illusions of Santa in my childhood).

Christmas arrived and I excitedly squeezed a very soft package with my name on it. Janice was written in his familiar printing. No need to sign it, I knew who it was from.

My turn finally arrived and I tore into that package, confident Alvin was waiting for me. Yes! Got my chipmunk!

Oh, I got my chipmunk alright. Meet my Alvin.

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I had asked for a chipmunk and a chipmunk is what I got. I have to give eight-year-old me credit, I grinned and hugged it and gave my dad a big hug. He was so happy. He had no idea that this was not the chipmunk I had had in mind.

He was so happy.

Maybe on some level 1983-me knew the lengths he would have gone to to find a stuffed chipmunk. A stuffed chipmunk. Think about it: a realistic-looking chipmunk plushy toy. Alvin the Chipmunk could be found in any major chain store, but a chipmunk stuffy? That took a lot of effort.

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Chipmunk stuffy complete with plush nut and bushy tail.

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Chipmunk plushy complete with hat, t-shirt, and shoes.

It was not what I had asked for, but I got what I needed. Despite running a business, having a sick child, and raising four kids, my dad made time to get my Christmas present. It was perfect.

Despite all the stress and worry and anxiety he had, I mattered.

This is one of my favourite Christmas stories: that time I asked for Alvin, but instead got the gift of sacrifice, love, and the importance of being gracious and grateful.

He’d gotten me exactly what I had asked for. And I was so happy.


Let Me See Your Hands

“Let me see your hands,” she said as she held out her own to me. As she cradled my twelve-year-old hands in hers, my cousin went on to tell me how they looked like my grandmother’s. She gently stroked my fingers and described how kind and gentle my grandma was, how she spoke with her hands flying, the quiet presence she maintained in a loud and rowdy clan.

Grandma was the matriarch of a family of eleven. She had her share of losses and heartbreak, but anytime someone shares a memory of her, it is always one of admiration and fondness.

Hands.

I’ve been thinking about hands a lot lately. As I clip our boys’ fingernails, I see how much they’re changing. When I type out a new post my own hands catch my eye and I notice the freckle on my left ring finger and how it is slowly fading as I age.

Holding my mom’s hands during church and examining her rings, her fingernails, all the spots and imperfections. She hated her the age spots, but I carefully traced them and memorized the uniqueness that was hers. I can close my eyes now and picture how her hands looked and felt to five-year-old me.

Hands.

Adolescent me spent Tuesday nights watching “Growing Pains” and “Who’s The Boss” while carefully painting my fingernails. I took meticulous care of each one. Filing, buffing, and pushing back cuticles. These were my glory years – before the endless handwashing, dishwashing, laundry, and scrubbing that came with adulthood. I believe my last manicure was just before our wedding. My nail maintenance is mostly done at stoplights these days. My hands reflect who I am.

You have your grandma’s hands.

Tell me I have tiny fingers. Say that they look like little sausages. Tease me for being a hand-talker. That’s okay. I have my grandma’s hands and I will always be proud of that.

Hands are for helping.

Lend a hand, please.

Did you wash your hands? With soap? Let me see.

Hold my hand, it’s a busy street.

Recently I held my hands up to my oldest’s and noted that mine are not much bigger. Those tiny fingers that curled around my pinkie as I cuddled my newborn are now becoming little man hands. Soon he will have outgrown me.photo-2

So I will quietly slip my hand into his and hope he holds it, just a little longer. Because I’m not quite ready to let go. I want him to memorize my hands, trace my emerging age spots, know who I am.

Let me see your hands.


It’s Just Preschool

Preschool graduations. I admit, I have always thought they were a bit ridiculous.

It’s just preschool. They are starting out their school lives. How can one graduate when one is just beginning?

They come in children sizes, but should they?

They come in children sizes, but should they?

It’s just preschool. Why do we need to have ceremonies for this? Not everything has to be a big deal.

It is just preschool. They basically played all year.

What was the curriculum? Painting, gluing, singing, counting.

They just learned to share, listen, take turns, develop fine motor skills.

They only learned how to make friends, keep friends, speak clearly, open their own snacks. Print their name. Be away from mom and dad.

Why are we celebrating this past year? It’s just preschool after all.

Just preschool, where their teachers invested in their young lives as they ate their playdoh cookies. It was one or two mornings per week where they were stretched to try new things and think outside of their own experiences. Sitting at the carpet taught them mutual respect and how to follow a new routine. Planting bean seeds in paper towels and baggies fostered wonder and a sense of nurturing.

Maybe graduations aren’t necessary, but big things happen throughout our lives and they need to be marked. I think we’ve gotten carried away with graduations in particular (preschool, kindergarten, grade six, grade 8, grade 12, need I go on?) but reflecting on a year of growth and learning? That matters.

Pausing to say good-bye to a season of education or a milestone of life, let’s keep doing that. Minus the formal wear.

Even if it’s just preschool.

(Thank you, teachers of all grade levels. What you do matters and we are grateful).