parenting

Firsts

Remember this, your little boy. Riding down your block, bright red shirt, 23 in big white letters against the green grass and apple blossoms. Training wheels still banging against the sidewalk. The moment you got to spend with him, before he zoomed off ahead of you to get to his brother and the house he will remember growing up in.

Press it into your brain, like a flower in a heavy book, set to fall out at some moment. Reminding you of the sweetness of the bloom so long after it would have been otherwise forgotten. Remember that all the things he did had firsts, and this was one of them.

Five

This boy is going to wake up 5 today.

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And so will this one.

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Technically, they were born mid-morning, but only for a minute will I have a 4 year old and a 5 year old and then 4 will be a memory. A fellow twin mom lamented how there is no time to think about it when it’s over; no going back when your second child reaches that age. No reflection. I never felt that more than this year, where I was just trying to keep pace with the relentless nature of four. Until this year, their needs were always fairly easily met; exhausting, but simple. An endless run of snacks, meals, drinks, diapers, and desperately seeking any form of socialization.

Then four comes and all that goes out the flipping window. Suddenly I am knee deep in shark puppets.

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Hiding treasure boxes.

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Conceptualizing dreams.

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Having birthday parties for angry birds

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And in between swimming, soccer, preschool, piano, snowboarding, dance parties, camping, and the library, there is the more mundane aspects of life. As we make beds, we are answering how babies are made, what happens when we die, and every question that can be made out of all permutations of words in the English language.

Doesn't this look like it ended calmly? It didn't. SOMEONE'S BUTT GOT BITTEN AND IT WASN'T SOMEONE I KNOW.

Doesn’t this look like it ended calmly? It didn’t. SOMEONE’S BUTT GOT BITTEN AND IT WASN’T SOMEONE I KNOW.

Suddenly, this year, I had to think about what would happen if a shark ate a turtle, or ate a people, or ate another shark, or ate a dead sperm whale, or if the shark died, or if people ate a shark, or what things eat in the abyssal zone. If I stopped to think too hard, if I had the time, it would seem to me that life is SO unfair, that things get eaten and die. But my four year olds, now five year olds, take this all in stride. Life is what it is, and it is their job to figure out what that it is.

We help them navigate daycare politics, but more often than not, I find myself just listening in on their conversations; clues to the things that are important to them. What I hear is secrets and jokes that they have with their friends; the first things that I won’t understand. I see a decade into the future; a world entirely their own. I know we’re on our way to that.

Life is big and complicated, and it’s impossible to keep up with little brains that never stop. Looking back at how much they’ve grown this year, it makes me also realize how much I haven’t; I am constantly trying to apply the same expectations and methods to boys who have clearly outpaced us. I’ve had a lot of failures this year, tripping over myself and my words, and letting my own feelings get in the way of being a good parent. Hopefully, all they see is that I tried really hard, tried to be present with them. But now, more than ever, I feel behind them. Constantly trying to catch up to something I’ll never grasp again.

Every year, on their birthday, our mayday tree blooms. For a few days before and after, our front yard has erupted in white. I like to imagine it is just for them, even though the tree long preceded their birth and mayday trees have been blooming for time immemorial. I tell them that it’s their birthday present, and we  stop to look at the flowers and the little ecosystem of bugs they host. This year, the mayday is a little late. Like everything this year. I hope it’s enough for you, sweet boys. I hope you don’t notice how far behind you the world is; just keep powering ahead and we’ll all catch up. Or maybe I’ll just stop for a bit to watch you blaze ahead; I don’t want to miss the streak you leave trying in vain to keep up.

What this photo mostly told me is that I need a new macro lens for my camera. My birthday is also happening, family.

Maydays just about to go. What this photo mostly told me is that I need a new macro lens for my camera. My birthday is also happening, family.

Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday. Your old mom loves you more than you know.

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The unicorn and his many “smile!” faces this year.. things that are important to remember.

Also, thank you to Brother Jon for the shout out. If you don’t read his blog, you really should. The internet needs more gentle, kind people like him. On the plus side, he’s also funny and goodlooking. And SMART. He even understands what engineers want sometimes.

Hungry, Hungry, Hippo Marbles and Unraveling

I found a Hungry, Hungry Hippos marble in my garbeurator recently.* It’s been months since we had a marble sighting, but I know that there is at least 17 more to be found around our house. It is a true statement that 74%** of North American households with children has a Hungry, Hungry, Hippos set, and every single one of them promptly loses 18 out of the 20 marbles. If you can still place more than two Hungry, Hungry, Hippo marbles, you are supervising your kids too much. Let them go: it is the beginning of an unraveling that you can’t fight any more than time itself, or the magical allure of an Oreo cookie.

There were days, early on,  when I put all the puzzle pieces back together at the end of the evening and kept floor mats down, and gates secured. Those were the days where the boys just loved the feel of objects, and were constantly trying to understand the physical laws of the world they were born into. What tastes good, how things stack, that things exist even when you can’t see them. But the scale is small; it exactly fits the capacity of their imagination. It is easily tidied in a few minutes, life can be ordered.

Somewhere along the way they have learned to navigate the world around them enough that the mundane turns fantastical. Your children’s play takes on a life of its own as imagination makes every surface is a cliff, every object something completely other than it appears to be, and every game rule is just a starting point for another thousand completely contradictory and complicated ones.

They pick up skills. Their little fingers and brains learn to navigate finer and finer things and before you know it, it’s no longer building the Duplo wall; you are being told how many legs are on the Lego Hobbit Spider they got for their fourth birthday. Moments later they smash that spider into smithereens and start building it anew into something completely different. They are fitting themselves in and out of costumes, shedding their identities every few minutes. They try to understand the mystery of families and how they come together and what they want for themselves, while loving their own so fiercely the mere mention we’re not all together makes them cry. Except one day you will look outside and you will find your son, fully dressed in winter gear that you didn’t wrestle him into, gleefully flinging himself into a snowbank completely of his own accord.  He’s never been outside alone before, but there he is, with you watching through the glass.

But it’s not just them that change. Who was that woman who kept all the puzzles ordered in Ziplocs and religiously swapped out age appropriate toys? I barely recognize her anymore. Now I’ve lost count at 14 stuffed angry birds and I am mildly concerned they’re breeding in the walls at the alarming rate they appear all over the house. I no longer look below adult eye level in order to ignore the stickers all over the closet door, and I am only asked to arbitrate in serious matters such as a brother suggesting that he would like to change his middle name to Corndog. I have someone peeking over my shoulder when I cook or work, and I gladly invite them in to my world too; this duller one they will inherit. There is crayon on my walls, and unadulterated joy in my heart that we have arrived at this place. Because while it is hard to rein Luke Skywalker’s and puppy dogs’ attentions back to practical matters, it is witness to them come into being.

It is apart from you. Without noticing, at some point you feel yourself relaxed in a room alone while they are happily brandishing swords in another. This is life, as it is. Their worlds will grow ever bigger and expand outwards from yours, with secrets and jokes and opinions that represent them, entirely. And that is the point of all of this; not to make them in any image, but to provide a world sufficiently large to find their way in it.

Notes:

*I wanted to take a picture of the marble, but I promptly lost it again. It will turn up.

**74% is a completely made up statistic, but I bet it’s not far off. Any takers? Actually, you know what, I don’t need a gambling problem.

Happy Father’s Day, RollerDad

I have certain traits that I don’t have to think very hard to figure out where they came from. In many ways, I am my dad in female form.This is not surprising; until my tumultuous teenage years I was my dad’s shadow. I would watch him carving ducks in his wood shop, happy to go retrieve the dead mallard from the freezer when asked. I was reasonably competent with power tools for all of my overachieving art projects. He would let me sit on his lap and drive the big blue GMC around the prairies when I was merely 8 years old (or maybe it was the red Dodge by then?). We went for family bike rides in the prairies and hikes into the coulees and we would stop along the way to check everything out.  Our annual family vacations were just roaming with only a final destination in mind; stopping along the way to see anything that interested us. Saturdays were for mowing my grandma’s lawn, and Sundays were for going; anywhere and everywhere. Even in our small prairie town, I grew up as cultured as we could manage because my dad challenged me to try new foods and see new things wherever we went. And oh my god, we had to watch so much PBS.

Because of him I had a free childhood, and I learned to explore. This is probably the best gift that I have from my dad, although my power washer was a close second.

About a year ago my dad sent me copies of slides from the 70′s that he had scanned and I laughed and laughed when I realized how much of my dad I have become.

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My Dad, sometime in the late 70′s

Me in 2011

Me in 2011

That fierce, get’er done, explore everything, be afraid of nothing, kind of guy that he is. And I love that he now passes this on to my kids, and reminds me to do the same even when I want to wrap them up in bubble wrap. I think he would have been a natural raising boys, but I think I did my best despite being a girl.

A family that drinks together has a very expensive wedding. Paid for by my dad.

A family that drinks together has a very expensive wedding. Paid for by my dad.

Now, life is not without it’s challenges being raised by your exact personality match, but I am very glad now to have a dad that will bravely go approach a beehive with a screwdriver at midnight after I have wussed out and gotten stung three times already. In his shirtsleeves. Thanks for taking one for the team, Dad.

Happy Father’s Day.

Back from the time warp

HERE I AM! Rocking you like a hurricane. Or maybe more caressing your face like a gentle breeze. I don’t even know anymore. I have a lot happening right now all the time. It’s all good stuff, but it’s so much stuff that I don’t have time for other stuff. Like blogging stuff. I have missed you all though, I swear.

When I started work two months ago I was all manicured, pedicured, spa’ed out, well rested and excited.

The only record I have of myself where I don't look tired.

Proof! I felt awake once!

Now I have been through training and trial by fire. Adding to that is field season, in that being a biology type person who works on industrial type things, spring and summer are the time when all the critters have to stand up and be counted. I am terrible at that sort of thing, so my job is to do paper work while the more talented among us are out enjoying the sunshine. That suits me just fine; I get to go pick up my kids at 5:15 every day and they’re happy to see me. It makes my life.

May is also stupid with birthdays in my family, along with Mother’s Day, inlaws visiting for two weeks. And me insanely deciding that we have to put our house on the market RIGHT NOW the day our inlaws arrived, and despite no evidence that we are going to be able to get our house in show condition without an intervention from that hoarders show.

Did I mention I am in a beekeeping workshop? Yeah. So there’s that too. Although I hate the snow, I am glad at least that our late spring delayed the bees for a couple of weeks this year so I could catch my breath a bit. My hive from last year gave me a lot of grief and I am just going to do a separate post on that for the bee lovers among us.

I have a beekeeping helper this year

I have a beekeeping helper this year

Did I also mention that I am taking a running workshop? I AM GOING TO LOVE RUNNING, GODDAMMIT. Or I am at least going to do it. Because since kids, I can endure basically anything for any amount of time.

This may have been more than I was up for, but in typical rollergiraffe fashion, I careened right into it. As a result, all of that pampering and pedicuring wore off quickly. This is a recent photo:

Smoking relaxes me

Smoking relaxes me

My kids are totally validating my daycare provider’s assumption that I was really shitty at parenting. When they started daycare they were hot messes and we were limping in every day barely alive. In the last two months they have learned to dress themselves, mastered potty training, learned all the continents and many countries, learned to write their names, done art projects that I can’t even do, grown grass, and learned a whole second language. I worked for TWO YEARS on that potty training thing. So, basically feeling pretty amazing about my daycare picking skills, you guys.

But they’re FOUR! My babies are four, and of all the things I have been through this month, that is the most exciting and fun. They’re so cool right now. I love every day that they come home with something new.

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Fourth birthday at the amusement park

One of these kids is a bit dramatic. I'll let you figure out which.

One of these kids is a bit dramatic. I’ll let you figure out which.

Anyway, I make no promises about blogging right now, but do know that I do my best to keep up with y’all’s prodigious blogging pace. So tell me, how are YOU?

On being at home with the kids

My time at home with my babies is over. Four years ago, almost to the day, I was heavily pregnant with twins and left my job with only a vague idea of what was to come. I had notions of heading back to work as soon as my maternity leave was over. I was all “I am woman, hear me roar” about it and there was no way I was going to give up a career I had worked so hard for.

That didn’t happen. A different kind of feminine notion took hold in the minute between the first and second of my sons was born. In an instant, holding them both in my arms for the first time, I grew up, got wise, and became the fierce mama I am.

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This. This is when it happened.

Being a stay at home mom has been an experiment in extremes, punctuated by life events that were completely out of control and all the expected things that kids bring, but double the intensity. The highs are higher and the lows are lower with two, and we have ridden that rollercoaster 1398 days now.

My boys are wild, loud, beasts who will take over the world some day with sheer force of abandon. My Unicorn has imagination beyond compare and an incredible depth of kindness. My Engineer has an aptitude and precociousness for figuring out how the world works and he does it with wit. These are things I already know about them, and I know in my heart who they will be long before they get there. And so I don’t worry for that; I know that they will be themselves, and if they’re lucky, be happy at that.

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The Engineer and The Unicorn

And tonight, tonight it hit me with the force of a speeding railway, after they were snuggled into bed, after all the dishes were done, and the wine drunk, the relaxing over. Tonight, as I went to check on them before I turned to bed myself, I realized that tomorrow we will wake up and be a different kind of family. I will be a different kind of mom.

I know that the fact that I had a choice to stay home and now go back to work was a great luxury, so I won’t dwell on it. But I will grieve a little for this shift in my universe; this separation that I never wanted. I will still do all the mom things that moms do everywhere every day. I will still be there in the morning and at night and every minute that I am able. They will still need so much from me.

And oh my god, I am grateful, so profoundly grateful that I had nearly four years to spend with my little folk and grateful that I found it in me to do it, because I was so afraid that I didn’t. I am grateful for the things that they have given me; the patience, the knowledge that time passes whether it’s good or bad, and how to find joy in those small moments even when the day has been hard.

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Like this. This was hard. OMG I HAVE CLEANED UP SO MUCH SHIT IN THE LAST FOUR YEARS.

So tomorrow I send them off into this world a little bit in a way I am not prepared for yet. I will have to approach it the same way I approached becoming a mom; vague notions and blind faith that it will all work out alright. And it will, because I am armed now with the knowledge that as long as those two little goofballs are in this world with me, everything is ok.

Snowy Sunday Misadventures

It looks like this outside this morning.

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Stop focusing on the fact that my Christmas lights are still up and look at all that stupid snow.

That is some major bullshit. To some of you southerners this might appear like the end of times, but up here in Canadaland we just call this “March”. It’s Sunday so people will still go to church if they’re really dedicated, but less people will go shopping and we shall collectively roll our eyes and generally endure.

So anyway, that’s happening today. I may have over-imbibed a bit with the neighbors last night and my kids have the sniffles so I was really looking forward to a movie day. Maybe some baking. If things got wild, I’d make popcorn. You know, really earth shattering type stuff. But nothing that would require me to put my winter jacket on because I am totally done with that fucking thing. I am really serious about that.

You can imagine how delighted I was to wake up to the following conversation:

Engineer: Mommy, get the gray thing out of my mouth.

Mommy: (launching self out of bed) WHAT? What grey thing? What did you eat?

Engineer: The grey thing. From playgroup.

Mommy: (stabbing at eyes to make eyes work before remembering to put on my glasses) WHERE DID YOU GET IT?

Engineer: (Points at desk)

I surveyed my desk. Grey things include: paperclips, staples, tacks, money, BATTERIES. No grey things that seemed like a good idea to eat. Maybe I am not being imaginative enough, but I can’t think of any grey things that seem like a good idea to eat. (Google says buckwheat noodles. I’ll give them that.)

Mommy: (In shrill, shrieking voice) Where is the grey thing?

Engineer: In my tummy.

And so in a flurry of coats and hats and boots and car seats, we found ourselves at the Children’s Hospital before breakfast. Not to cast aspersions on our local Children’s Hospital, because they are wonderful people who have given us excellent care over the years, but they were NOT AS PANICKED AS I WANTED THEM TO BE. In fact, they barely registered any alarm at all. They directed us to the waiting room where we sat next to the poster full of “Actual Items Swallowed by Children”. The actual items were glued to the poster and included things like buttons, pennies, small toys, a safety pin, magnets a KNITTING NEEDLE. Not one of those little crochet hooks, either; this needle could have been a bonafide weapon.  I am not shitting you. This informative poster did nothing to make me feel better.

There was virtually no waiting time because not many children were committed to self harm on a Sunday morning, so it was us and a few pukers. The Engineer informed the doctor that a grey thing was in his tummy and he wanted a picture of it, so off we went to x-ray. By the time we got to the x-ray, I was kind of didn’t know what to wish for. I kind of suspected that this could all be a lie, and here I was calling his bluff by shooting him with radiation. I had only a couple of seconds to ponder the risks of either proposition though, and decided on the balance it was better to find out what he ate.

The Engineer was a superstar about it and laid as still as he has ever laid for five seconds at a time. And we learned just a few minutes later that the kid was completely full of crap. Literally and figuratively. But no dangerously sharp, life threatening metal objects that were going to poison him and shred his insides, as I had naturally assumed.

Then we braved the blowing snow and crappy roads home. I am sure that the worst part for the Engineer was the twenty minute lecture, borne out of complete gratitude that he was totally fine and this was just a misadventure. Now we can get started on doing absolutely nothing today.

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Resume regular programming. MORE OF THIS TODAY, CHILDREN.

 

Weekly photo challenge: Illumination

I confess, I am not a very diligent WordPresser when it comes to things like the Daily Post. In fact, I think this is the first time I have actually read it, but right now it fits because the days are getting longer and I feel lighter.

I also confess that I just got back from a Disney Cruise and Disney World. I think you all know me well enough to know that I am a bit too jaded for these kinds of things, but I was drawn in by promises of legendary service and the prospect of sun in the middle of a bleak winter. And it paid off in that way; I had to do very little thinking. I got vitamin D from all the sun. I got to sit and watch the ocean go by and ponder the acidification from all the carbon dioxide we were emitting. Ok, so anxiety doesn’t make trips relaxing.

But my sons; to them this trip was all light. Disney did its magic and filled their heads with stories and characters and fantastical sights.

This is my little unicorn, rocking out in a family night club on the ship in his Buzz Lightyear pyjamas. The music was blaring and he had the dance floor mostly to himself. To him all the lights were light sabers and the pounding music a soundtrack to his own personal Star Wars movie.

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I don’t have a picture of my other son watching fireworks for the first time. We were finishing dinner when the fireworks started and the waiter let us sneak out the back door so we could watch the show. My little unicorn sat up on Daddy’s shoulders, while I held the engineer on my lap. His face filled with wonder watching the sky explode to music. That look, watching his face light up filled a need I didn’t even realize that I had. It undid a little bit of weariness in me. I don’t need a photo of that; I’ll carry that light around with me for some time to come.

Red Letter Verses from the 3 Year Old Bible

And they* will get popcorn from the store for Mommy and Daddy and The Unicorn and The Engineer**. And grandma and grandpa and all our friends. And other grandma and grandpa. And crabs and lobsters. And Batman and Spiderman and the Increbabel Hulk and the Hulk and Capan Merica and Batman and Robin. And Miss Sharon and Capan Merica. And lobsters! And My Big Big Big Big Big Big Big Big Friend***, and (unintelligible string of names, presumably people the Unicorn and Engineer met or saw on TV). And grandma. And the Hulk. But mostly Spiderman.

*assuming this is some form of deity that goes grocery shopping. I pray to this god myself.

**not their real names. I am not that terribly cruel.

***pretty sure the original bible had links in it too. I don’t know, someone else did my catechism homework for me.