Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Today's Snippet

D: I will be Jesus. A: I will be da Mother! G: I will be the Were-Rabbit! A: He’s not in the Jesus book! G: No, he’s in Wallace and Gromit. D,A: Okay.

Out and About

Guess where I am??? I'm downtown! At a coffee shop! With my laptop!! At 11:00 in the morning! I feel so free and sophisticated. Look at me being a city woman. Woo-eee. Stop rolling your eyes. From time to time it's nice to step into a different world. And no snickering in the back row. It's the sign of a healthy psyche to take pleasure in small things. So there. How do I come to be downtown on a Wednesday morning? Because Haley is in the city for the summer! Haley is twenty, and with years and years of daycare experience, having pretty much grown up in one. Who better to hire for a half-day a week? (Yes, the parents all know. Lesson learned.) So Haley shows up at 9:00, and Mary leaves at 9:00:27. Not quite. I do show her where the snacks are (all nicely prepared), what's on the menu for lunch, and pass on any other info. that might be pertinent. THEN I leave. At 9:01:32. It's not so much that I have anywhere to go, though I do intend to use these mornings for doctors and optometrists and bankers and other such mundanities. (New word. Like it? It's yours!) Mostly I am just enjoying the free- free- free- freedom!!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

No! Not THAT!

It's been raining. Have I mentioned that before? A lot. Today, the children entertain themselves by pulling the cushions off the loveseats. No allowed, of course. I approach, intending to instruct them to put them back, when I see the debris underneath. Okay then, since the cushions are off anyway, I pull the handheld vacuum from behind one couch. Seasoned professional that I am, I do a bit of predirecting. "Okay, you guys. I want you all to sit on the floor, right there." I don't turn to my task until everyone is settled. Well, everyone but baby Nigel, who is not in the age that causes my concern. Besides, he won't stay sitting unless I'm watching him, and I won't be able to do that, so no sense in giving the boy an impossible direction and set myself up to be disobeyed. "Now, I'm going to make a big noise with this thing," (I am. This thing is LOUD.) "and I don't want anyone shouting, understand?" I don't know what it is with loud noises and small children, but run a vacuum in a room of three-year-olds, and almost certainly bedlam will ensue. They shriek, they giggle, they jump, they bounce, they clutch at each other and a frenzy of delighted hysteria. The noise isn't really the problem: the problem is that my back will be to most of them, and in the racing about and screaming, someone is almost certain to get trampled. Best to take protective measures. Everyone settled, I turn the thing on. The motor whines into its roar, loud and high. I really do hate it. So, it seems, does Baby Nigel. I turn the thing on, he SCREAMS. Well, I assume he's screaming. Not that I can hear him over that damned vacuum, but the signs are there: the mouth wide, the skin reddening steadily. Oh, and the talons of terror imbedded in my thigh. So, kindly caregiver that I am, I give him a cuddle and then put him in the high chair in the next room so I can finish. It takes two minutes, then I snuggle poor baby Nigel while the others put the couch back together. All is well. For about three minutes, then baby Nigel is SCREAMING again. I can see him. He's in no danger, no blood, no gore, no toenails being ripped off. Why the shrieks? The others are pulling the couch cushions off again! Poor wee Nigel, he knows what will happen next. He's screaming proactively. Baby Nigel, my very own Early Warning System.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Conundrum for You

Here's the situation: Child A has created a tunnel of the blocks. Child B attempts to push a block through said tunnel. The tunnel collapses. Child A rebuilds the tunnel. Child B attempts to push a block through said tunnel. The tunnel collapses. Child A rebuilds the tunnel. Child B attempts to -- Child A objects. Child B persists. Mary intervenes. Child B attempts to reassure Child A and Mary: "It's okay. It was just a accident." Mary: You tried to push that block through before. What happened? Child B: It fell down. But it was a accident. Mary: And if you try to push that block through again, what will probably happen? Child B: It will fall down, prolly. But that's okay, because it was just a accident. So here's the question, ladies and gentlemen: If you've done it before, and you'll do it again, and the results will probably be the same every time, but you don't INTEND that result - it is deliberate, or an accident?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Gentle Answer Turning Away Wrath

Everyone knows Mr. Rogers. Slow-spoken and gentle, Fred Rogers began his career with the CBC in 1963. Yes, we in Canada found him first! In 1967, he was aired by PBS in Philadelphia. Fred Rogers died of cancer in 2003, but his show lives on, making Mr. Roger's Neighbourhood, the longest-running show in PBS history. His appeal was ever in his gentle kindness, and his passionate concern for the health and development of young children. This weekend, my husband found another bit of cultural history involving Fred Rogers on a blog he reads. Check out Mr. Rogers Goes to Washington, in which even a hostile, cranky senator is won over by Mr. Rogers' sincerity, love for children, and kindness. It starts slow - this is Fred Rogers, after all! - but it's worth waiting till the last section, where Mr. Rogers makes a brilliantly subtle anti-war statement that ends with a rendition of his classic "What Do You Do With the Mad that you Feel?". Brilliant.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Harry Potter got there First...

...but it appears that an invisibility cloak might not be too far in the future! Sir John Pendry published an article in yesterday's edition of Science, describing his team's research. Just as a pencil placed in a streambed only causes the water to flow smoothly around it, he says, an object ensheathed in special "metamaterials" could cause light to flow smoothly, hiding whatever it is from view. Science or magic? I'd say, "Yes".

Friday, May 26, 2006

Raising the Bar

We go for a walk. (Long-time readers, bear with me, as I explain the set-up.) The smallest, least trustworthy ones ride in the stroller; the middlers hang on to either side, and the big, trustworthy kids get to let go. If they’re very good, they get to “run ahead” on the sidewalk. Now, even though he's four now, Arthur has never been allowed to run ahead. He’s too distractable, too impulsive, and, when he’s involved in an activity - leaping out in front of a truck, say - he doesn’t respond when he’s spoken to. So, no running ahead for Arthur. Until today. At four, it’s time I raised the bar on him a bit. It may be easier for me to have him hanging on to the stroller, but he needs to learn to be a bit more independent. I’m going to have to - take a deep, brace-myself breath - going to have to give the child enough independence to develop some Common Sense. (Stop snickering. It’s not kind. Oh, that’s me...) I confess my hopes are not too, too high. But a caregiver’s got to do what a caregiver’s got to do... We are on a very quiet street leading down to the river. Almost, but not quite, a dead end. I see about one car a week on this stretch, which is just about the right level of risk for this endeavour. “All right, Arthur. You and Darcy may walk ahead, if you stay close together.” Arthur’s eyes widen in surprise. “I can let go?” Darcy’s hazel eyes are no less wide. “Yes, you may, as long as you stay close to Darcy. You must walk close to Darcy, and when Darcy stops, you stop, all right?” This to assure that the boy will stop when instructed. If he doesn’t hear me, Darcy will stop. Solid, reliable Darcy can be his bodyguard. Best to have as many layers of protection for Arthur as possible. Arthur evidently feels that “staying close” means holding hands. He clasps Darcy’s hand in his. The two boys trot ahead of me. Do you know how heart-stoppingly cute tots holding hands are? I walk down the street with a perma-grin, watching their little stocky bodies, dimpled elbows, chubby hands joined. Heart-stopping, I tell you. Heart-stopping for me, bruise-inducing for poor Darcy. Within half a dozen paces, Darcy is fending off elbows, dodging feet, having his arm wrenched repeatedly by the uncoordinated and oblivious Arthur. Uncoordinated, but with a death grip on Darcy’s hand. Darcy can dodge, but he can’t escape. “Arthur,” I call. They are only a few paces ahead of me, so I don’t need to shout. “Arthur, please let go of Darcy's hand and just walk close to him.” There is no response. Darcy tries to pull his hand free, but it’s just not happening. I raise my voice. Not a shout, but the penetrating tones of an actor projecting to the back row. “Ar-thur.” Pause a beat for the name to sink into the consciousness. “Arthur, please let go of Darcy's hand and just walk close to him.” No response. If the boy doesn’t loosen his grip soon, Darcy is going to start gnawing at his own wrist, I can see it in his eyes. “Arthur!” Now it’s a snap. “What did I just say to you?” This penetrates. He looks up. He knows he’s in trouble, he wants to cooperate, but “what did I say”?? What did she say? Did she say something? Is this some kind of trick question? Darcy leans in and bumps the boy with his shoulder. This seems to jolt Arthur’s memory into gear. He starts to speak. “Please let go...” Arthur starts, then pauses. Darcy bumps him again. Their heads brush. Arthur starts again. “...of Darcy's hand, and just...” More jostling, More head-to-head. “...walk close to him.” Arthur looks up at me, beaming. He did it! With a little help from his friend. “That’s right, Arthur. Thank you for helping him, Darcy.” Arthur’s smile is wide and content, happy to have successfully met the challenge. I smile back at him. There is a small pause of expectation. Darcy and I wait. Arthur continues to beam. From Darcy's mouth to Arthur's ear and out his mouth, the brain was left out of the loop entirely. "Please let go of Darcy's hand," I say, detaching Arthur with a bit of a jerk, "and just walk close to him." Darcy's poor hand is mottled pink and white from all the squashing. I don't know. Is increasing this child's independence a good thing? Never mind Arthur's safety, is the world safe from Arthur? Somehow I fear there's just not enough body armour out there.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

If the Elastic Doesn't do the Trick, we Can Put this Roof on his Head So he Can Know What God looks Like

George and Darcy peer over the baby gate at the top of the basement stairs. Given its location, it is a custom-made, high, solid, thick slab of wood with heavy-duty hinges and a substantial bolt. We're taking no chances on a tumble down those rail-less stairs to the concrete floor below. Probably because it's such forbidden territory, the basement fascinates with mystery and horror. George and Darcy discuss. Random boy (aka Arthur) "converses", too. It would be too generous to say that he "joined" the conversation, but perhaps we can say he "inputted" into the conversation. (We could say that, though the English major in me recoils from it. Still, the word conveys the reality (surreality?) of the conversation reasonably well...) G: There’s an inky, stinky monster in the basement. A: Let’s go build a house with the blocks. D: A monster? G: Yes, and we have to kill it. A: A house with a door and a window and a roof. D: How do you kill a monster? A: Put a roof on top. G: With this (elastic), but he’s not dead yet. A: A tower in the corner. G: Oh, he's dead now. D: Is he sad? Is he sad because he’s dead? G: No, he’s not sad because now he knows what God looks like. A: I winned! G: No, I winned! D: No, we all winned! G,A: YEAH!!!

The End

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Smart Kids

Many moons ago, when my eldest was fifteen months old... At which time the child had a vocabulary of 125 words. I know, because I Wrote Them Down. Each and every one. I still have the list, somewhere. This child, who had one hundred and twenty-five words in her spoken vocabulary, also had a sense of humour. "Haley? Haley, say 'mummy'." Young and earnest mother that I was, I loved to hear this word in particular. Haley knew it. Her little face would crinkle in delight, and she would say, "Dada!" "No, lovie. Say 'mumma'. You can do it, say 'mumma'." It's a game, we both know it, and I'm playing along. Big grin. Mummy gets the game! Haley's in control. Chortle. "Dada!" "You little magoo! Mumma! I know you can say it!" "DADA! DADADADADADA!!!!" Gales of baby laughter. I pretend despair. "Oh, all right. I give up." I walk into the next room, and, as I knew it would, from round the corner comes her little voice: "Mumma!" Gigglegigglegigglegigglegiggle

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Another Reason to Love Darcy - the boy can cut to the chase

George and Darcy are sitting side by side on the couch, reading. Arthur bounds into the room. "You gotta be joking, George! You gotta be joking!" he proclaims. George looks up at him briefly, then returns to his book. "You gotta be joking, George! George, you gotta be joking!" This time, George doesn't even bother looking. His equanimity is impressive. Undaunted by the lack of response, Arthur merely tries harder. Moves in a little closer, leans towards George. Speaks a little louder (who knew it was possible?). "YOU GOTTA BE JOKING, GEORGE! YOU GOTTA BE JOKING!" This time it's Darcy who looks up. "Arthur. Why do you keep saying that, 'You gotta be joking', all the time?" He's not angry, he just wants to know. "I dunno." "Well then, stop it. We're trying to read here." Arthur toddles off.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Why I Love My Job, Reason # 493

Today is a holiday here. (Victoria Day, aka "Firecracker Day" or "the May long weekend", in honour of birthday of the stern and tubby queen by that name. Victoria. Her name was Victoria, not Firecracker or May.) So, no kids for me today (except the five stepkids, but I'm not in charge of THEM, haha!), but I can't neglect my loyal readers in their masses (snort), so here's something fun: A recipe for a laugh-a-minute walk to the coffee shop on the corner? Put the seventeen-month-old in the umbrella stroller. Put the two-year-olds on each side, holding on. (Being outriggers, I call it.) Let the three- and the four-year-old walk ahead. Tell the "big kids" that they can "run ahead" to the next telephone pole, except that they have to "be a... butterfly!" Off they go, flapping. Touch the pole. Then "a fire truck!" Off they go, sirens a-wailing. Touch the pole. "A bee" - they buzz. They bounce, they giggle, they flap and wail and buzz. Oh, the cuteness! On the way back, on the last two very quiet blocks, the two-year-olds join them, and then, because I have to ratchet up the cute factor to unbearable levels, I have them be midget monsters, and dainty dragons, and teeny tigers, and they ROAR their way from pole to pole, mighty talons extended at the end of dimpled wrists. Oooooh, the cuteness!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Too Tired to Blog...

So off we go to brainless Blogthings...

Your Italian Name Is...
Majella Giordano
I love her hair!
Your Brain is 60% Female, 40% Male
Your brain is a healthy mix of male and female You are both sensitive and savvy Rational and reasonable, you tend to keep level headed But you also tend to wear your heart on your sleeve

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Spanking at MIM's

If you want even more of Mary, you can check me out here. MIM invited me to weigh in as a guest expert on dealing with toddlers without spanking. Anyway, if you're interested, go check it out!

Houston, we have a Problem

The boys are inspecting the chimney. They had been getting themselves some books, but they got distracted. "No, we can't, or Mary will be mad." George seems to be worrying a lot recently about making me mad. As far as I can tell, I haven't done any serious amounts of frothing at the mouth these days, but it's a frequent theme in his conversations. I think it's more about the four-year-old who has figured out Rules than about ranting Mary. "She won't be mad. If we don't move them, how will Santa get down?" The fact that it's mid-May doesn't seem to in any way dissuade Darcy from the urgency of his task. "But this is where the books go! If we move them, how will we find them again?" I like the way this boy thinks. Is it true some children are just born neat? (I need explain. Ours is, as I have said oft before, a small house. No space may go to waste, the neatly closed-off fireplace in the living room being no exception to this rule. Because it is, in essence, a painted box set into the wall, it is used to store the daycare books. Board books in the basket on the left, paper books in a pile on the right. So yes, there are books in my fireplace.) "When Santa comes down the chimney, he will hurt himself on all those books." "No, it's okay. Santa wears elbow and knee pads." "He does?" "Uh-huh. My daddy told me. Because chimneys are scratchy inside there because of all the bricks." This satisfies. The boys return to their literary pursuits.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I'd Probably Make a Good Living as a Translator

...even without a second language. Zach calls to me from the living room, as I am rinsing the lunch dishes. What with the two rooms between us, the noise of the water in the sink, and the chatter of the other children, and given that at two his diction isn't all it could and will be, I hear something like this: "Mia...mrvigkdl...airp'ane... dkeibgymmble...dkeoppoel...yivvingwomb... mgirlbele...gone." To which I response, "Did Mia take your airplane out of the livingroom?" "Yeah." One word in ten is all you need, I'm telling you!

Meet Timmy

I have a new little guy starting in the fall, and his mother and I are weaning him in by sending him for a couple of hours two days a week. He's a sweet little guy with big bright blue eyes and a beaming smile. I can't show you any of that, but I CAN show you his other dominant feature:

Hey, everyone, meet Timmy, aka "Handles".

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hedging His Bets

Arthur holds up his drawing, a mass of bright scribbles, criss-crossed and brilliant. "Wow. Look at all those colours, Arthur!" "Yes. Does it look like a rainbow?" "Is that what it's supposed to be?" "If it looks like one, I think maybe yes."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Gentlemen Don't

A small boy stands in front of me, gazing up earnestly, fingers working the corduroy of his pants. "Mary? Mary, there's a--" I interrupt. "Let go of your penis. Women don't like it when men fondle their penises when they talk to them." Here at Mary's house, it's just one Important Life Lesson after another.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

An Embarrassment of Riches, Even MORE!

Haley, my eldest, has her own blog. Here's my Mother's Day Post from Haley! My youngest, Emma, made me a picture "for your blogg, mummy", but my computer can't open the attachment! Boo!, and Jerry salvaged it for me! Yay! (Thank you, Jerry!) (I find the spelling mistake endearing...) I have such great kids. :-)

Surprise Post!

Some while ago I suggested to my children that it would be fun if they were to write something for me that I could post on Mother's Day. No pressure, no guilt. No, really. None! In fact, there was so little that I totally forgot I'd suggested it. The children are with their dad right now, so they're not around to jolt my memory. Then, in my inbox a few minutes ago, I find the following from my 17-year-old son - the child who displays his relation to me not so much our dark brown eyes and firm jawline, but by our shared Memory Deficit Disorder. Hey, he remembered! (And I didn't!) Yay, Adam!!

Ok, so for mother’s day I was supposed to write something about Mum, who you all know as Mary P. Well, I’ve done the typical, incredibly well-organized high school student thing when given a writing assignment, which is to promptly leave it for later, forget about it, misfile it, find it, lose it again, spill a mysterious beverage on it, and then remember it the day before. Now, by that reckoning, I’m sort of a little ahead. Sort of. See, when I started writing this, technically it was two days before. But now three minutes have passed, and that’s no longer the case. I would go to bed and write this tomorrow, but tomorrow’s a busy day, what with errands to run and a wedding to go to, so now’s really the only time. [Yes, this is indeed exactly how he talks! I'm smiling as I read, hearing his voice in my head.] Well, that basically boils down to an excuse as to why my grammar and spelling may be iffy. Oh, midnight writing. Would that I could see less of you, and yet sometimes it is indeed unavoidable... Now then. Mother’s day. Things I remember about Mum. Let me see, I should probably start with a more serious story, so I figured this one would work. It’s about the first (and only) time I ever stole anything, such as it was. Here’s the scene. Little Adam is three or four (I don’t really remember the age, it’s just the memory that stands out). Now, at that age, I was expected to come along for grocery shopping, which I didn’t particularly enjoy, a fact which I always made well known. In retrospect, it was probably pretty annoying. Sorry Mum! [Nah. He grumbled quietly, but didn't whine or fuss or drag his feet. He just just evidently bored. Can't blame him - so was I.] Anyways, we were taking longer than usual, and Adam was getting tired and hungry. The store wasn’t the right place to sleep, so I decided to solve one of the two problems, which I figured would be easy, since I was in a whole BUILDING full of food! Now, I knew that I shouldn’t really be eating anything there until we’d paid for it, but I figured a few candies here and a couple green beans there wouldn’t go amiss. Things were going fine until we got to the beans, when Mum noticed what I was doing. Uh-oh. I was chastised, and even though Mum never raised her voice, I remember how I felt, and I felt bad. I don’t remember whether I was told to admit my sins to one of the people who worked at the Loblaws or if I decided on my honest own, but either way I ended up telling what I’d done, apologizing profusely, and crying the whole time. The guy said it was ok, and passed me back to Mum, but I felt so bad afterwards that I’ve never even felt the slightest incentive to steal anything, or even ever put any amount of serious thought into it again. Funny how the little things count, isn’t it? [He thinks it's a "little thing". I'm thinking you parental types might see it differently. Nice to know an event at three can have a permanent positive effect, isn't it?] Well, that was serious. Now for a less serious one. I don’t really remember this story, but I’ve heard it enough and with enough emotion that I’m mildly surprised that I lived through it. Mum was sitting on the couch, reading, and Adam was one or two years old, standing on the other end. [He was 16 months, and had been walking for only a month.]Adam decided to walk to Mum, which turned out to be harder than he thought it would be on cushions, which move under your feet. He promptly lost his balance, and little arms and hands flailed frantically as he fell forwards, trying to stop himself. He succeeded in stopping himself, but he did so by ramming two little fingers up Mum’s nose. Hard. Eye-wateringly, burning, sneezing hard. Those little fingers didn’t just go in, they went all the way back. I’m never really sure what to do when this story comes up, except maybe to grin ruefully and say “oops”. Not really much else I can do, I suppose… ‘bout that. Hey, I tell this story because it's hysterical. You're supposed to laugh - and you do. Good man. I think the moral of these anecdotes is that Adam is the fine young man he is today because of the Love of a Good Woman - me. Right, Adam? Or maybe it's that Adam lived to tell these tales only because his mother loves him very, very much. :-) Happy Mother's Day to me!

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day, all you maternals out there. That is my blog for today. This woman is taking the day off!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mother's Day Craftiness

An older group, a more complicated craft, ably assisted by Haley. First we melted the soap chunks in the microwave. NOT TOO HOT!! Oops. Bubbles throughout the first batch... Then we carrrrrefulllly pour the melted soap into the molds. ("We" are four-year-old George of the steady hands.) Just a thin layer, then let it cool enough to form a thickish skin. Oops. A little on the cloth, but it will wash out! Next we very carefully place the plastic butterfly stickers onto the first layer. Carefully. Carefully! CAREful-- Oops. Some of the butterflies rest gracefully on the layer. Others have plunged recklessly to the very bottom, and will no doubt protrude from the surface after the first use. Here, Haley's hands wrestle with those of young Zach, who is of the plunge-to-the-bottom school of butterfly placement.

The finished product! Not too bad, huh? All set to go home.
Throughout this process, Haley and I made sure that the word "soap" never, ever crossed our lips. It was "a craft". "Here's let's put a butterfly in your craft." "Shall we take the craft out of the mold now?" "Oh, haven't you made a lovely craft?" Smart George knows what's in his pretty parcel, but he's also too smart to tell by accident. The others have all gone home not having a clue just exactly what it was they just made. I know what I'm doing here. Mommies come to the door and are given the wrapped package by a very proud child. "Oh, did you make something for mommy?" the mommies beam at their wee ones, who each, without fail, said, "Yes, I made you A CRAFT!" Ha! I am so smart.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Say What?

It's a rainy day, so the boys have returned to the endless hockey game. Today they are replaying the previous night's game. "I'll be the Buffalo Saviours, and you can be the Senators," George directs. "It's not 'Saviours', it's Say-Beers!" Darcy corrects. I think Darcy is closer to the mark.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Feel Guilty in the Morning

One of my all-time favourite comic strips is For Better or For Worse, which I have been reading since before my eldest was born, way back in 1985! I love it so well I have the strip Bloglined. I love Lynn Johnston's sense of humour, I love her drawings, I love the way she has let everybody age naturally. When I started reading, Ellie, the main character, was a young mother. Now she's a grandmother. The characters in this panel are her son Michael and his wife, Deanna. This one, published yesterday, seemed so apropos for this website, I just had to post it: Do you think there's anyone out there who hasn't ever had this moment, one way or another?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Big Questions Begin

Between the ages of four and seven, children go through a phase where they are very much interested in "the big questions". Life, death, and the afterlife are of consistent fascination. If the family is part of a faith community, parents will be delighted at the child's receptivity to the concepts of the faith. George, who turned four earlier this year, is bang on schedule, the Big Question for the day being "How did the Earth begin?" This drawing is a story in two panels, had George the sophistication to draw panels! Both pictures are the same figure, you see. The figure on the left is a happy monster, Then... But why don't we let George tell it? "This [figure on the left] is a monster, and the top of the monster fell off and turned into the earth. When he became the earth, he [referencing figure on the right] was sad, because he didn't have any leg or neck." That's the entire story, but you know, I think given the correct exegetical approach, it could yield riches! Don't you just love the way their little minds work??

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

She has her Mother's Sense of Humour

Arthur is bopping himself repeatedly in the head with an empty plastic bottle. "Hey, Emma, listen!" Bop! Bop! Bop! "Where's that hollow sound coming from?" She grins wickedly. "Well, I don't know, Arthur. I suppose it could be coming from that empty bottle, because I don't think there's anything else empty around here..."

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Musings on Motherhood

This is my contribution to the Blog Collaboration organized by Kara. In my several drafts of this, I was aiming for light and funny with a message. However, in each and every attempt, what appeared was an essay, so, with my deadline looming and "light and funny" nowhere in sight, I bowed to the inevitable. Hereafter follows some of my musings on motherhood - hope you enjoy them! My job, for the last ten or more years, has been mothering other people's children. I am a mother, noun, and I mother, verb, professionally. Being as how I mother both inside and outside of my personal motherhood, and have "co-mothered" dozens of children with very different women, each with their own style, I've done a fair bit of musing on the notion of 'mother'. What makes a mother? The most obvious answer is "your child", but that scarcely satisfies. Too simplistic! "Anyone can have a child" we say, dismissively, though that statement in itself is too simplistic: As anyone who's ever struggled with infertility knows, this is simply not true. Regardless of how a child enters your life, though, it is not simply the mere fact of the child that makes a parent. That's too passive, too facile; it misses the layers of interaction and angst, emotions and bonding of the relationship. When asked what I do for a living, I sometimes describe myself as "a back-up mom". It's as good a description as any, I think. Part teacher, part nurse, part psychologist, part coach, part cheerleader, part maid - that's all me in my job. It is also, of course, any mother. Note that the description is not substitute mom. The difference may not be immediately apparent, but it's critical, I think. The child's mom is always the mom, whether she's with the child, sleeping in a room down the hall, or in an office across town. I do not replace mom, I supplement her. (Like vitamins!) Sometimes the mothers worry about this, worry about being replaced, about being less than central to their tot's life, but it is needless. Yes, I am attached to your child, and your child is attached to me - this is what we want, for your peace of mind and the child's emotional health - but I am never going to replace the mom. Your child knows the difference: there is only one Mommy. So what does make a mother? The possibilities are many: childbirth, adoption, instinct, an effort of will, a decision, a pivotal event or crisis, a dawning awareness, a gradual morphing. We adults can - and do! - muse on the nature and definition of this most significant relationship. The child doesn't muse. Whatever it is that makes a mom, the child knows. I have never seen any indication that the child's relationship with me detracts, impedes, or even impinges upon his/her relationship with Mom. I nourish, I comfort, I challenge, I teach, I soothe. I blow raspberries on fat tummies and push little bottoms in swings. I declare "I just love you to bits!" while raining kisses on peach-soft cheeks, and yet still they know. "This is the 'not-mom' who loves me." Before the child is born, when we consider becoming a parent, our focus is on our own desires, our intentions, our hopes. The child is the focus of all these things, and yet oddly peripheral to them at the same time. Because we are not yet parents, the reality of the child, its distinction from us, its existence as a person in its own right, has not yet hit home with us. In many ways, we only learn this gradually, as the child is born, grows, matures and establishes him/herself over the years. In the very early stages, it is easy to see the child as a passive recipient of all it experiences. And yet... It is not long into its life that the child knows its parents. A child is born with the capacity for relationship, and the first relationships formed are with mother and father. The child knows mommy as distinct from all the millions of not-mommies. Whatever process you as a woman need to become your child's mother, your child needs no such process. From the moment of his/her dawning conscious awareness, "mom" is you, and no other. You and your child, together, are complicit in creating you as 'mother'. Perhaps what makes you a mother is, after all, your child.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Blame it on My Youth: Why I am Memory-Challenged

I'm eating breakfast. Cold toast doesn't go down well. You ever notice that? The butter doesn't melt in, the bread is hard, though not hard enough to go "crunch" when it's bitten. You don't "crunch" into cold toast, you grind your teeth through it, tearing the bit unwilling from the rest of the slice. Because the butter is just sitting on top, anything you try to lay on top of the slice will slide and likely fall off its well-greased surface with every bite. Ick. It's not easy to swallow, either, because, what with gnawing at that piece of fat-smeared cardboard for the five minutes it takes to masticate, you have no saliva left. I like my toast hot. I know this, because I've had it that way before. I remember having hot toast. I remember it fondly: the crunch when you bite, the uprising melted butter, it salty goodness, the way it slipped down so smoothly. Yummm. I think the last time I had hot toast was in December 6, 1985, the day before my eldest child was born. A hot slice of toast and a hot cup of tea. *sigh* (What? Why are you looking at me like that? A woman has a right to her fantasies!!) All right, I admit it: I do get the hot tea part. Thank goodness for microwaves. Just not with the toast. Hot tea and hot toast, at the SAME TIME?? What do you think I am, a miracle-worker?? Darcy was scrambling over the baby gate earlier, chanting "climb-climb, climb-climb" as he did so. Now I have that antique Sunday School song (because I am approaching my antique-hood, after all), "Climb, Climb up Sunshine Mountain" running through my head. You know it?

"Climb, climb up Sunshine Mountain, Heavenly breezes blow. Climb, climb up Sundshine Mountain, Faces all aglow. Turn, turn from sin and doubting, Look to God on high. Climb, climb up Sunshine Mountain, You and I."
I have not thought of this song for well over 30 years, I'm sure, and for good reason. What on earth is "Sunshine Mountain"? I don't know now; I surely didn't know when I sang it as a six-year-old. It has a nice enough tune, just boucy enough to get stuck in one's head and to please a musically-inclined six-year-old, but what does it mean? Diddly, that's what it means. Nothing but sentiment. No wonder I have no memory any more. In the innocent recklessness of childhood, I assumed it to be bottomless, and so filled it, willy-nilly with meaningless childhood detritus. Bits of song, skipping rhymes, childhood lore (remember "snake spit"?), all stuff of which I am completely unaware until, prompted by some random event, it leaps to the forefront of my mind. Thus, I can remember "Sunshine Mountain", but I cannot remember my toast before it's stone cold. What a foolish child I was.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


We have a weird cat. Which statement, I know, is a redundancy. If you have a cat, it is weird. Cats are weird. The weirdness of our cat, well, one of his weirdnesses, focusses on the bathroom. Ever since we moved to this house, two years ago, the cat is completely fixated on the sink in the bathroom. Whenever anyone heads to the bathroom, the cat races ahead and leaps into the sink. What you're to do, see, is turn the water on a trickle so he can drink from the stream. Front paws in the sink, rear paws on the rim, head under the tap so that the trickle runs over his head, he laps the water from the rim of the drain. It does not matter how many times a day he does this, he is always ready to do it again. If the tap is still trickling from the last time he drank, he'll still do this. (Because, though beautiful, he's brainless. He's a cat.) He did not do this in our last home. His water bowl, washed and refilled daily, was perfectly sufficient. That, or puddles outside. Because he's fastidious that way. This quirk has not been a huge problem. I do get tired of peeing with a cat's butt in my face, but I can - and do! - just shut him out. This quirk has not been a huge problem, that is, until about six or seven weeks ago. Darcy, after a year of happy and uneventful toilet usage, is suddenly having pee accidents all over the place. Once a day, sometimes twice. I don't understand. He says he has to pee, he heads up to the toilet. He's going just as often as ever. Does he have a bladder infection, perhaps? Nothing so dire. Darcy has suddenly decided he's afraid of the cat. Has the cat ever bitten or scratched him? He says not. But now, whenever the cat precedes him to the bathroom, poor Darcy stands, frozen in undecided anxiety in the hallway. Eventually he would give up, intending, I suppose, to try again later. Did he TELL me about this? Noooo... This is one of the downsides to his quiet, unassuming sweetness. Poor baby. But it's a problem for me, because I can't be leaving the other children downstairs alone to trot up the stairs with Darcy as often as he'll want to pee. The real problem is baby Nigel. I take him with me when I go, but I don't want to have to lug him up the stairs umpteen times a day each and every time Darcy has to go as well. And I can't keep the damned cat out of the bathroom. He's fast, and he's obsessed. What to do? I mull it over for a day or two, then have an inspiration. George has no trouble going to the toilet! George isn't afraid of the cat! Let George go with him! They are the same age, they have roughly the same bladder capacity. George can be big, brave, and capable, and Darcy can learn that there's nothing to fear. I'm so brilliant. "I have to pee, George," Darcy will announce, and the two little boys tromp up the stairs together for a communal pee. Or George will declare "I'm going up to have a pee. You want to come, Darcy?" It's kind of sweet, really, all this toddler solidarity. For a month, this works like a charm. No accidents, and Darcy will surely regain his former fearlessness from George's good example. Brilliant, I tell you! This week, George started having pee accidents. Guess why? That toddler solidarity drew in the wrong kid! Now George is afraid of the cat.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

It's Not What You Think!!

George stands in front of the loveseat. His back is to the room, the cushion of the couch at his hip level. There is no toy on the couch in front of him, nothing that I can see to keep him where he is, and yet he's intently focussed on his task, which seems to be... ...thrusting his pelvis repeatedly and rhythmically against the cushion. Hmmm. Now, I'm an adult, with adult perceptions and sensibilities. I am also just not one to get all squeamish about this stuff. He is an innocent four-year-old boy. It may not be what it looks like. However. I have seen innocent four-month-old boys playing gleefully with their apparatus. Innocence doesn't prevent you from enjoying the feeling: innocence only means the child is completely unaware of the significance of the feeling. Innocence means, frankly, that a small boy will blissfully masturbate anywhere. "Hey, George, what'cha doing?" Tone of voice very casual. Just checking in, and if he is doing what I think he's doing, I'm really curious as to what his answer will be. "I'm trying" - grunt, shove - "to push" - grunt - "the cushion" - gasp - "back onto the couch." Because he's right, you know, the cushion is jutting out an extra few inches further than it should. All right then. Have at it, George.


Mia arrived late today. Mia has arrived late every day this week, but today was the latest ever - 9:30. Dad dropped her off in a flurry of apologies and explanations. She's had a cold, and it's making her sleep late, you see. Today she slept past 8:00. "Luckily," he says, "I have an extraordinarily flexible employer." I am so professional. I laughed only after he was gone...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I'm a Collaborator!

I've been invited by Kara at Cape Buffalo to take part in a blog Collaboration for Mother's Day, in which I will muse profoundly on the concept of mothers, specific, and motherhood, general. Or maybe I'll post more on boogers and barf. I haven't decided which approach to take. But still, I'm in! The post will be up by the end of the week.


So they gave notice. They said some nice things about the care I've provided over the past two years, which was nice. Well, no, it was only fair, but I know not everyone would put it in if they were annoyed with me, as I suspect these two are. I only suspect, though, since so far we're all being very polite and professional about it. Dad was also unaware that, by withdrawing from the contract within the first 12 weeks, he has forfeited the deposit. You know, I think the contract was a total waste of paper for these two: if you're going to give notice, you'd think you'd read the section on "Giving Notice"... Sigh... The letter also said, "This was an extremely difficult decision, but we were left with little choice. Work is work." "Left with little choice" sounds just a bit like a whine or an accusation, or both. Me, I'd like to know what other choices they tried, in less than two weeks, to resolve the problem. Given that they've already found new care (!), I suspect they've been on a hunt ever since they received the contract, but signed on so they'd be sure of the space. I'd like to know, but I won't ask, because it would likely just cause hard feelings. And "work is work"? What does that mean? I was sorely tempted to reply with "and family is family", but I resisted. Let's just get through the next two months with as little fuss and furor as possible. In the end, I'm pleased with their decision. I will miss little Miss Mia, for sure. I hope she loves her new caregiver! I will not miss the aggravation of her parents' tardiness, day after day. Problems with the parents, no problem with the child: when there are problems in my job, this is generally the way she goes!

Monday, May 01, 2006

This WASN'T a surprise, people

Hmmm... Mia started full-time almost two weeks ago, and already there is trouble. Mia's parents have decided, less than two full weeks into the new contract, that they are having trouble managing my closing time, revised a year ago. They want to know if they can pick her up fifteen minutes later, my old closing time. I am unwilling. Will they pull Mia from my care? It's possible. I'm exasperated, because I carefully made a point of reminding them of the new closing time when we discussed the new contract, several weeks ago. I then sent the contract home with them, so that they could read it carefully. When mom asked on Friday about the possibility of a later pick-up, I reminded her that I'd pointed the time change out well in advance. "It was in the contract, and I made sure you'd seen it. If you had a problem with it, I expected you to tell me then, before you signed the contract." "Well, yes," says mom, "but we didn't know it was going to be a problem." Hello? They were both already working. They had a gramma at home caring for Mia much of the time then, a gramma who was staying with them and gave them lots of nice flexibility. Surely they had opportunity over those two months with gramma to figure out when they could get home of an evening. I further think that after not quite two weeks of care, they haven't really tried to make this new time work. It seems that getting me to change is their first choice of solution. I'd like them to try other things first. Mom and I had the conversation Friday evening. At that point, though I expressed reluctance, I said, "Let me think on it." Today Mia's home, no reason given, and I'm wondering: are they looking for alternate care? I moved my closing time back 15 minutes a full year ago, but because Mia came so intermittently, I allowed this family to stick to the old time. Even though he knew he was coming later than everyone else, dad would still arrive at the very last second before late fees kicked in. I'd look out my front window and see his big truck parked out there, him on the cell or the Blackberry. This man works at his desk, he works in his car, he works from home. Since he's working on the way home, anyway, I can't imagine that leaving his desk fifteen minutes earlier will make any real difference to his day. Besides, I've already cut them a year's slack. I will do so no more. If this means they walk, so be it. And maybe my next family won't push, push, push the pick-up time to the very last second. That would be nice!