Tag Archives: parenting

Tension and Turntables

It was a typical Saturday in that the boys were oscillating between playing nicely and pushing each others’ buttons. In an attempt to keep the peace and remove a certain younger brother from the mix, I retrieved our old record player from the basement.

Sometimes I think I need a life coach, or at the very least a Jiminy Cricket-type friend who will caution me when I’m about to make a huge parenting mistake. Someone who will whisper, “Really, do you not remember the last time you got that out and how many times they played ‘Snoopy Versus the Red Baron’?”

But I digress.

Old favourites from my childhood were dusted off and played. If you haven’t heard “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” on high speed (but just the chorus) you haven’t lived.

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In general I would be described as a laid-back mom. I don’t tend to micro-manage and the general chaos that is our family life does not phase me (except for tapping, that’s the worst). However, I seem to have strong feelings about playing records. I was unaware of this side of me. What follows is a sample of phrases I uttered while my old LPs were spinning, unedited.

Gentle.

Please pick a speed.

Stop flipping between the speeds.

How about we let the whole song play right to the end?

Gentle.

Leave the volume at one setting.

No jumping, it’ll scratch the record.

Put the record back in the sleeve.

The sleeve, the box-thing it came in.

GENTLE.

Just let the song play the whole way.

That record made it through my entire childhood, it better make it through this afternoon.

GEN.TLE.

Stop jumping.

Hey! I have an idea – just let the song play through.

Pick a speed and commit.

We can’t repair it if it breaks, stop fiddling with the switches.

JUST. PICK. A. SPEED.

We don’t put Lego figures on the turntable, I don’t care if it looks cool.

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Here’s the part where I say something profound about how I changed my perspective and savoured the sweet moments of them having fun together. How Psalty the singing songbook isn’t creepy in hindsight and the boys delighted in my ability to recount all the lyrics to Muppet Movie soundtrack.

Nope.

They had fun, the record player still works, and no albums were damaged.

Okay, okay, it did bring back good memories for me. It conjured up images of the old blue velour couch from my childhood home where just yesterday I was curled up listening to The Three Little Pigs on my portable player. Or cozy winter nights spent indoors while another album dropped onto the turntable (our hi-fi was quite fancy and held up to five records in the queue). Rifling through the large selection of LPs in our family collection – Burrell Ives, Bobby Vinton, Rick Springfield, Tom Jones, and of course Kids Praise.

Sunday afternoons spent playing games, napping, or reading. The house buzzing with the sound of friends and family visiting. The smell of coffee brewing.

You can’t hang on to everything, but we should hang on to some things. Today I’m grateful for vinyl, varying speeds and all. It’s okay, Jiminy, I’ve got this.

 

 


Poke-a-what now?

“Mommy, see this card I got. It’s an EX.”

“My skirnigorf has evolved!”

“I thought that was a good trade, but then I realized that mine had way more energy than the other one so I didn’t.”

Hold on – cards can have energy? They evolve? Tell me more no wait, that’s okay.

Pokemon.

I’ve tried. For years I have tried. I think I am a reasonably intelligent woman. I can hold my own in a conversation and can even watch movies with subtitles. But Pokemon is something beyond my comprehension.

And that, dear readers, is a problem because not only do I have four offspring who are all into Pokemon cards, our house is the trading hub for such activities. On any given day there could be up to nine or ten kids congregated on our front porch actively discussing and negotiating with these playing cards. They stroll over with their binders full of plastic sleeves housing these colourful and shiny bits of paper and huddle on the cold concrete for an hour or more. They only stop to pee or hydrate. And I teach in an elementary school so basically 75% of my waking hours have some element of Pokemon in it. I want to be an engaged mom and neighbour, but I’m struggling.

In an effort to be an invested parent and a teacher with a working knowledge of this craze, recently I agreed to let my son show me his Pokemon collection. It took a long time. A really, really long time.

What follows is a photo essay of sorts chronicling the longest 45 minutes of my life.

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I am watching you and trying really hard to follow along, honest.

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Those are a lot of cards

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I mean, when did you get so many? WHO IS FUNDING THIS CARD-BUYING FIASCO? 

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HOW many pages?

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No, I’m listening. Really. I am. Something about energy and wait, I’ll be right back, your brother needs me to move the van.

Do I want to see your Pokemon? Depends. Will you be serving snacks?

 


How to Feed a Family of Six and Not Lose Your Mind

People often ask me how we manage to feed our four boys and not break the bank or lose our sanity. For real. They ask me (like I actually know what I’m doing).

“You must meal plan really well.”

“Have you had to take out a second mortgage?”

“Your grocery bills must be astronomical!”

The answers are yes, no, and not really.

Yes, we meal plan. No second mortgage or job (yet). And the bills are high, but not ridiculous.

What’s our secret? There are a few things. We have a large chest freezer that we use faithfully. This allows us to buy in bulk when things go on sale. A few dollars on chicken fingers can add up to big savings when bought in large quantities rather than week-to-week. We also buy pasta, sauce, crackers, cookies, and other staples and pantry-type items in bulk when the deals are found. And anyone who knows us is well-aware that we have an entire section of our fridge designated solely to cheese. WE STOCK UP, SON.

When it comes to planning, we do it, but nothing too complicated. I was going to just share my most recent plan with a friend or two, but since others have expressed an interest, I’m sharing it here. This type of post is new for me, so be gentle.

First step: I make a list of well-liked meals based on past experience. This time I loosely broke it down into categories to ensure I had a balance.

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I really like paper and pencil. I mean, REALLY like them.

Second step: I slot five meals into weeks for the month. I don’t worry about selecting seven because sometimes we eat out/order in and often weekends we play by ear.

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It’s not that I CAN’T use technology. It’s that there’s something satisfying about using a freshly sharpened pencil. Trust me.

Third (this is a new step): I take an inventory of the staple items we have on hand and then make a list of general grocery items we need as well as things for specific meals. The number beside some items refers to the week we are planning to use that ingredient. That way we can wait until it goes on sale and also stock up.

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As the week begins, we tentatively decide which nights we are having each meal and which one of us is cooking it. Creating this in pencil allows us to adapt as the week or month requires.

I’m no hero. Life gets busy. Sometimes I double up a recipe and freeze one for a tough week or an evening when we have a sitter. And sometimes I accept that the thought of making a meal will break my spirit and we just heat something up. It’s important to go easy on yourself, too.

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*disclaimer: Vegetables are implied. I do not plan that part in advance since Bearded Husband  makes bi-weekly trips to the Farmers’ Market (or is it Farmer’s Market?)and stocks up on produce. We eat them, but we eat what’s in season or on sale.

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GRAPES FOR EVERYONE

Interested in reading more about our budget-friendly shopping? Here you go.


Everything Has a Home

“Cleanliness is next to godliness” – ancient proverb

“Out of clutter, find simplicity” – Albert Einstein

“Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions” – Barbara Hemphill


Oh, yes. I agree – clutter is the worst. Once upon a time I was organized. Everything had a place. What a sweet, sweet time that was. Counters were clear, laundry was folded and put away, recycling was taken out, and if something wasn’t needed then off to donation box it went. The floors were clear and end tables held only lamps and maybe a coffee cup (okay, definitely a coffee cup).

Glorious days, my friends. Glorious, tidy, streamlined days.

Then we had kids and our house became inhabited by these little people and all their little people things. But I was determined to keep our home clutter-free. We bought storage containers and decorative baskets. There was a Car Basket and a Book Basket and a shelf for puzzles. For a little while this worked, but eventually the grown-ups were outnumbered and the children were expected to take on some of the cleaning responsibility, and things changed.

“Clean” became “clean-ish”. Tidy meant that stuff wasn’t laying around on the main floor, but only a brave soul would venture into other regions of the house. And closing the basement door was all that was necessary for it to be deemed “put-away”.

Standards were lowered. But not forever and not completely. The anti-clutter side of me comes out every now and then. The family knows it’s coming when I start saying things like, “this is not preschool!” and “EVERYTHING HAS A HOME PUT THINGS IN THEIR HOME”. This generally results in me being offered some “quiet time” and Bearded Husband quietly ushers the children from the home amidst whispers of “she’ll be fine, everything will be okay, just get in the van boys.”

That’s when the magic happens.

Jackets are hung up on their hooks. Bedding is folded and placed on the correct shelves. Receipts are thrown out and library books are gathered for return. The craft area gets purged and all the art supplies fit in their decorative bins. When the house is tidied, I feel calm and smiley. It’s a great feeling.

And then the family returns and this happens.

(These photograph have in no way been altered or staged)

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EVERYTHING HAS A HOME

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PUT THE THINGS IN THEIR HOME

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One day I will miss the clutter and chaos that a house full of kids brings, it’s true. But I wouldn’t mind being able to close a closet door all the way. Just once.

 


My Five Rules for Summertime

Lemonade, biking, camping, swimming, walking to the store for slushies, eating M&Ms while hiding from your children in the closet – these are all classic summertime pastimes. And summer is an ideal time to reconnect with your family and spend time with friends. I’ve found it’s always good to lay down a few ground rules at the beginning of the season just to avoid unnecessary complications and to maintain realistic expectations.

And so, I present to you, My Five Rules for Summertime

    1. Parents are only going to “lookit” a limited number of times. Listen, we love to see your developing skills and yes, that cannonball off the diving board was great. It was just as great at the other 17 cannonballs you did leading up to it.
    2. No wet hands in the chip bag. Actually, no wet hands in or near any of the communal food. That goes for sand, too. So no wet or sandy or sandy-wet hands in food, okay? I think this rule also applies for all seasons, not just summer.
    3. Close.
      The.
      Door.
      All the doors, all the time. Just close them.
    4. Applying sunblock is not the same as being dipped in battery acid. Please stop acting like it is.
    5. Go ahead and ask for a snack/drink/screentime but for the love of Moses, just ask once. You might think that persistence will pay off, but no. It only makes your parents want to cry. Also, you come across a little unhinged. Or maybe that’s me. I don’t know because you won’t stop asking for all the things.

But seriously, CLOSE THE DOOR.

Happy Summer Everyone!

 

 

 

 


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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The Talk

“Well, that’s called a scrotum and the marble-y things are actually called testicles,” I explained to one of our four sons as my husband walked by the room, gave me a thumbs up and whispered, “You’re doing a great job.”

Wait, wait, wait. How did this happen? When our fourth son was born and I officially became a “Mom of Boys”, I anticipated some things that would come with that title: wet toilet seats, potty talk, unending food preparation, burps, farts, potty talk, so much potty talk.

Years ago I knew there would some potentially uncomfortable conversations to be had, and I was mentally prepared for some chats or questions. At some point I’d fill them in on the pertinent information regarding females, but I did not anticipate that I would be the sole one giving “the talk”. And I especially did not anticipate giving it to all four sons.

I’m not saying my husband bribed them to wait to ask the really big questions until his baseball tournament last summer, but I’m not not saying it either. Or perhaps he really undersold himself and has been dropping hints for years that Mom should be the one to address all things bodily function-related? Come to think of it, I also took the lead on toilet training all four boys, including the various peeing options. I even taught the youngest how to pee against a tree. How did this happen?

Lots of moms take this role all the time and I know I am fully capable of addressing questions and explaining how babies are made. But I did not expect to do this when my husband was in the next room. Listening in. And deciding not to chime in. Oh, and here’s another interesting tidbit, as a grade five teacher he covers this in the health curriculum every year. So. Not what I expected, indeed.

How does one go about teaching the facts of life to four offspring varying in ages from four to ten? Divide and conquer. And it helps to have a book at the ready.

A prepared and organized parent would have already purchased a book for that fateful day. Alas, we took a spur-the-moment field trip to the library. The sex-ed gods showed favour on this frazzled mom and an ideal book was found. IMG_2163

That evening I told the older boys that they could read through it and then I would check in to clarify or answer any questions. This went surprisingly smooth and I fielded their inquiries like a seasoned pro. “Well, he’s not actually making a tent, sometimes, when a boy wakes up in the morning…”

The challenge came when chatting with a younger son. I was very clear that the  information he learned was for him and not his friends or classmates. “Their parents get to decide when they learn about this. You don’t decide for them.” He nodded sagely. “And this is a topic we discuss within our family, not when friends come over, got it?” Again, he nodded in agreement.

By that point I felt comfortable covering the basics. Third time was the charm – I only had to answer a few questions with “we can talk about that later” and an occasional shrug.

“Why would you even want to do that? And with your clothes off?” 

“What kind of jock strap do girls wear?”

“Wait, we came out of where?”

Educating children about puberty and sex doesn’t end in one conversation. I knew the topic would be discussed many times. The next day I heard some whispers of “ball sack” and “so hairy” and “freckles” (pretty sure they meant nipples, but I wasn’t wading back into that so soon).

I was congratulating myself on my ability to think quickly and handle that milestone effectively (and on my own). I was so preoccupied with my success that at first I thought nothing of it when I found my two youngest boys sitting together on the couch when I returned from outside. Upon closer examination I discovered the older one had taken the lead in explaining changing bodies to his younger brother, with our new book as his guide.

“Girls don’t actually have a penis, they have an angina” he was describing with barely-suppressed glee as his baby brother looked at him with a mixture of fascination and disbelief.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I said in shock, “We went over this. That message was just for you, remember?

He replied, “I know. What’s the problem? He is family.”