family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting

Day 572: She’s so High

We went to our homeschool meetup in the park this afternoon (K, who still feels ill, stayed home.) R was so reluctant to go that she extracted a promise from me to bring along a board game and play it with her; N took along his Pokémon cards; E was very excited to see her friends again.

I was actually kind of looking forward to playing a game with R, but as soon as we got to the park she ran off to see what the other kids were doing (hunting for crickets or grasshoppers, apparently.) She abandoned me! I had to actually sit down and talk to other adults.

(Kidding. My mantra, which you’ve probably heard before, is “You’re the kid, and your job is to play with other kids; I’m the mom, and my job is to talk with other parents.”)

As I conversed with a new member of the group, another parent came to me. “The girls really want you to see how far they’ve climbed,” she said, and led me over to a tall pine tree.

“Hi Eema!” I heard, and looked up into the branches. R was sitting in the tree, but where was E?

“I’m up here, Eema! And I want to climb higher!” E called down.

She clambered up to the top of the tree—effortlessly, it seemed—while I tried to figure out when I could politely excuse myself. Not because I wasn’t proud of her, or because I really needed to get back to my conversation, but because every fibre of my being wanted to yell, “Great! Now please come down!”

It’s a reaction that’s at odds with everything I believe in: I want my kids’ childhood to involve hanging out in the trees. Truly, very few things make me happier than seeing kids get muddy, dirty, and scratched up while enjoying nature and playing with dangerous things like pointy sticks; but when it comes to things that have the potential for real danger, like hiking near deep crevasses and climbing a cliff with no harness, I can’t watch. What I really want is for the kids to do the thing and then tell me all about it and show me pictures… after I know they’re okay.

I don’t need the anxiety, and they don’t need my fears to cloud their own judgment of their abilities. So I generally tell them how awesome what they’re doing is, and then politely remove myself from the immediate area… except when I stay and watch because “I might need to describe this to the ER doctors later.”

Keepin' it real · Kids · lists · parenting · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 561: I wanted to say…

We were at the supermarket checkout packing up our groceries. I was showing the kids how to bag items so that nothing gets squashed (“Guys, if you stack all the plastic clamshells from largest to smallest, you have a stack that won’t fall over and nothing will open accidentally.”) Suddenly, I heard a man’s voice behind us:

“Hey, guys? Just remember that you’re not the only people in the world, okay? Other people need to check out, too.”

When none of us even acknowledged his statement, he upped the ante: “Yeah, and that was the NICE WAY TO SAY IT!!!”

Here are the things I didn’t say to him (in no particular order):

  • “WHAAAAA?!?”
  • “Neither are you.” (the only people in the world, that is)
  • “Oh! Your Majesty! I’m so sorry—I would never want to obstruct the royal procession! Please forgive your humble subjects!”
  • “(gasp!) You mean…” I’d look around furtively, then whisper, “there are others?
  • “Oh, go love yourself.” (à la Justin Bieber)
  • “I’m trying to teach my children to be patient, and you’re setting a really bad example right now.”
  • “There are other people in the world, but no other checkout lines you could have used? How peculiar.”
  • “OMG, you sound just like my grade ten math teacher! Yeah…he was a jerk too.”
  • “I just upped my meds, so up yours.”

And my personal favourite:

  • “Damn! You distracted me and I did this bag all wrong! Now I’ll have to unpack it and start all over again!”

What did I say instead? Nothing at all. I kept my cool, ignored him, and went on with my day.

Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · parenting

Day 558: Shul is Sweet

Today was Simchat Torah. I decided last week that we would cancel school for the day and go to synagogue in the morning. In other words, the kids knew, although apparently the warning wasn’t enough to ward off the whining.

“I don’t wanna go. Why do I have to?”

“Can I take a book?”

“Do I really have to go?”

Sometimes I wonder: do they really have to go? What are they getting out of it if they bring a book from home and read it while sitting and standing as required?

My best guess—and hope—is that they’re getting exposure. They’re feeling comfortable in the space; they’re hearing the words and traditional melodies of the prayers; they’re vaguely aware of the structure of the service. In other words, they’re getting comfortable with being in synagogue.

Today, in addition to getting comfortable in shul, they also got candy. So much candy.

I responded to the whining with, “You know, I’m so excited that this dress has pockets. Now I can hold Skittles in it to snack on at shul!”

They ran for their shoes.

I felt guilty for bribing them with sweets for about one minute before reminding myself that there’s a long Jewish tradition of this very thing: putting honey on a child’s first Hebrew book is the one that gets a lot of press, but also the occasional elderly congregant who kept candy on them just to give to kids at shul (“Don’t take candy from strangers,” I tell my kids, “unless they’re familiar people from shul and I’m there with you.”)

So there I was, standing for the prayers and dancing with the Torah with one or more children digging through my pockets for stray Skittles. At the end of the service—surprise!—someone handed out full-sized Dairy Milk bars, saying something about it being a South African tradition to give out chocolate to celebrate a Bar or Bat Mitzvah (one of the Torah readers today was a woman—South African, of course—celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of her Bat Mitzvah.) The kids went home happy.

On the walk home we ran into a friend who said, “Come to the dinosaur park at 2:30. There’s going to be a magic show and a parade with the Torah.” Three out of four of my kids are too old and too cool for that sort of thing, but E was enthusiastic; so we went.

There were two magic shows, as a matter of fact: the first one at the dinosaur park, followed by a Torah parade and candy for the children (E got a ring pop, which is her favourite,) and then a walk together all the way to a second park where a different magician gave a show, followed by a Torah parade and—yup, you guessed it—candy for the children. This time it was a treat bag containing chips, lollipops, and some kind of fruit leather.

To E’s credit, she didn’t rub it in her siblings’ faces when we got home with her bag of loot. She did say, “You guys missed a great show and I got a whole bag of candy!”. Then she proceeded to share everything in her bag.

As usual, I’m conflicted about all this candy. On the one hand the kids (and E in particular) have a positive (dare I say “sweet”?) association with shul; on the other hand, nobody needs this much candy… I’d better get Mr. December help me dispose of the rest, right? It’s for their own good, after all.

Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · parenting · Renovation · whine and cheese

Day 557: Who needs it? I do.

I never understood the point of huge “master suites” in otherwise normal houses. Toronto real estate is expensive; why would you waste so much of it on a sitting area when you already have a living room and a family room, and maybe a rec room? Mr. December agreed with me, so when we designed our house we made our bedroom big enough for a king-size bed and some bedside tables. When she suggested that it was too small, our architect was outvoted.

For the most part, I’ve been happy with our decision: the bedroom does what we need it to do, our bathroom is the right size for the way we use it, and we’ve got plenty of storage in our closet. Sometimes, though, I start to wish I’d designed a whole big suite just for the two of us.

I didn’t feel the need for so much private space when the kids were little (probably because they went to bed long before us and I had time and space to myself anywhere I wanted it.) These days, however, there’s always someone awake until I go to bed, and the same kids who mostly ignore me during the day always need to talk to me after bedtime.

Mr. December just came out of someone’s room and asked if we could maybe go to sleep earlier tonight. Instead of a very reasonable, “Sure, I’m just finishing up my blog post,” I unleashed my exasperation on him: “Oh my God, seriously, can everybody just stop talking to me for, like, five minutes so I can finish a sentence?!?!?”

It’s becoming very clear that I need an office with a door. Or a giant suite to which I can retreat at nine p.m. after proclaiming that I’m done for the night. Until then I’ll be right here, practicing my relaxation techniques so my cortisol level doesn’t spike every time I hear someone talking to me after bedtime.

Homeschool · Kids · parenting

Day 553: New Students

I firmly believe that little to no good comes of power struggles. If the parent wins, then the child is still resentful; if the child wins, the parent’s (often reasonable) goal doesn’t get met. I’d much rather work with the kids than against them, no matter how I personally feel about their position.

Whenever we ask E to do something learning-related there’s a greater than 50/50 chance she’ll refuse. Sometimes she resists by standing her ground—literally—and stamping her feet; sometimes she cries; sometimes she acts silly and starts doing things like hanging upside down from the hammock. Today, hoping to avoid the usual standoff, I tried something new:

“E, do your stuffies know how to read? I don’t really know much about whether they went to school.” I asked casually.

“Bubbles can read,” she mused, “and the others know a little but they’re not very good.”

“Do you think they’d like to learn?” I inquired. “We could teach them. Why don’t you ask them if they’d like to join the Grade One class for reading today?”

“GOOD IDEA!” She enthused, and ran off to set up the “classroom.”

For someone who’s not usually interested in playing pretend, I certainly had fun teaching a class full of stuffed animals. E was really more of a teaching assistant than a student today—she helped the stuffies raise their hands, come to the board, and give the answers. We covered an entire (relatively long) lesson of All About Reading, including the lumberjack game where you have to chop words into two separate syllables; we had no complaining and zero goofing off.

That’s not to say there weren’t some elaborate pretend scenarios: Hearts wouldn’t come up to the board without Softie, her twin. Summer was a bit too shy to speak, so she authorized Bubbles to answer for her. By and large, though, all of my plush students sat quietly at their desks until it was their turn to answer.

E “helping” her plush classmates learn to read.

E is a smart kid: she knows that it’s her, and not the animals, reading the words and answering questions. But still, she’s far more engaged when her stuffies join the class. It worked so well, I think I’ll be inviting Bubbles, Hearts, Softie, Tundra, Snow, and Summer to join our class permanently.

Kids · parenting · waxing philosophical · what's cookin'

Day 552: I’m Obsolete.

It’s been said that as parents, our job is to bring about our own obsolescence. In other words, we need to raise our kids so that they no longer need constant support and guidance from us. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than three weeks, you already know that I heartily agree with this statement. Why, then, am I slightly miffed that I’m becoming obsolete more quickly than I expected?

I always assumed that I’d become obsolete (as a parent) because my children had learned to take care of themselves. It never occurred to me that they’d begin to take care of each other so well as to make me feel superfluous; and yet, that day has come.

I made muffins with E tonight. After sliding the pan into the oven, I turned to E and told her to go take a bath. She went; I stayed in the kitchen to finish cleaning up.

Fast forward twenty minutes: R walked into the kitchen and said (in that uber-mature way she has,) “I taught E how to bathe herself. She didn’t know how, but I think it’s time she knew how to do it. Today I showed her how, so next time she takes a bath I’ll be there. Not to do it for her, but so she can ask me for help if she still needs it.”

Wow. Okay. I high-fived R and said, “That’s some serious initiative you’ve taken. Good on you.”

Freshly washed, with hair braided, dressed in clean pyjamas, E walked into the kitchen to check on the status of our muffins.

“Wow,” I said to R. “Did you braid E’s hair, too?”

She nodded. “Yup! I told her she has to sleep with her hair braided from now on so it doesn’t get all tangled at night. Either that or she should just cut it so it’s easier to keep untangled.”

(Readers, I have told E the very same thing on many occasions. Never has she nodded and agreed the way she did with R.)

After our muffin break, I nudged E and said, “Go brush your teeth, and I’ll come and tuck you in.”

“Actually,” she said, “R is going to read me a story and tuck me in.”

R looked straight at me and said, “I’m replacing you.”

“Really?” I exclaimed, wide-eyed, “Are you going to organize all her doctor and dentist appointments? Go to her speech therapy sessions and help her practice? Make sure she has clothes and shoes that fit her?”

“Um… no.” R said. “But all of the other mom stuff, yeah.”

I’m not sure how to feel about this. Is R jumping into what social workers would call a “parentified role” because she thinks I’m doing a crappy job? I’m mature enough to know that not everything is about me, but how can I not wonder if it’s about me?

You’ve likely heard someone say, “In big families, the older kids raise the younger ones.” Usually this is said in a highly critical tone, as though it’s terrible for the parents to foist that responsibility on their children. Is it really a bad thing, though? Is it bad for kids to care for others around them? To understand that all humans take a role in raising the tribe’s young? How exactly is R harmed by being allowed to voluntarily take care of her younger sister—who would much rather take hygiene advice from her sister than from her parents, don’t you know?

When R announced herself as my replacement tonight, I saw learning and growth in action. She obviously understands, for example, the steps required to teach someone a skill (first, explain while you demonstrate, then be present but step back and let the learner try on their own.) She took pride in her ability to take care of E; E enjoyed being the focus of her big sister’s attention; and their bond got incrementally stronger from the encounter. I think it’s safe for me to silence my inner judgy voice that accuses me of abdicating responsibility, and instead pat myself on the back for raising a kid who is a leader, willing to step up and help wherever she sees a need.

diet recovery · Jewy goodness · parenting

Day 544: Yom Kippur

I’ve been reading Honey From the Rock, which is essentially an introduction to Jewish Mysticism, ever since my screen-free Rosh Hashana ten days ago. The very first section touched on my absolute favourite biblical analogy: the wilderness after the Exodus from slavery.

The story goes like this: after being freed from bondage in Egypt, the Children of Israel wandered the desert. They complained a lot. A LOT. They wanted to return to Egypt, where they had meat and onions to eat instead of manna all the time (they seem to have had a pretty short memory when it came to the brutally hard labour and the killing of their babies.) They were pretty insecure when it came to God, too—and as soon as Moses was absent for a bit longer than expected, they went back to the idolatry they’d become familiar with in Egypt. They couldn’t conceive of a God with no physical representation. As a consequence, nobody who had been alive during the Exodus was allowed to enter the Promised Land. They were all fated to die in the desert.

This resonates with me on so many levels. I feel like I’m in a wilderness of sorts these days, having escaped from the oppression of diet culture. Like the Israelites, I’m not really sure what to do now. I’m so confused about what to eat, when to eat, how to eat, how to live without constantly thinking about my weight and appearance. I don’t know what a life outside of diet culture looks or feels like. I often feel like it would be easier and simpler to return to diet culture, where at least I know what I’m supposed to be doing.

It might actually be easier for me to just go back to the endless cycle of dieting; it’s scary out here in the wilderness, where anything can happen. It’s wide open and full of possibility, but let’s face it—not all possibilities are good ones. More importantly, I don’t want my children to grow up surrounded on all sides by diet culture. I might die (not now, eventually) still wandering this wilderness without a clue, but my children will have a chance at a life that I can’t even imagine, where their bodies are valued for how they feel and what they can do instead of for how small they can become. To paraphrase Max Planck, body acceptance will progress one funeral at a time.

Going into the Yom Kippur fast tonight, I’ll be reflecting on how I intend to strengthen my resolve, stay the course, and explore this wilderness in which I find myself.

To everyone who is observing Yom Kippur (in whatever way you observe: not everyone can or should fast) I wish a Gmar Chatimah Tovah—may we all be written and sealed in the Book of Life this year.

blogging · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · whine and cheese

Day 542: #NotAllBedtimes

Some parents love bedtime: “It’s such a cozy, quiet time of day,” they gush. “We read stories and sing songs and snuggle.” Sounds nice, but that description doesn’t really capture what bedtime is like in our house. Right at the point where I’m finally craving some alone time, the kids—egged on by Mr. December—engage in all kinds of shenanigans.

As I type this, N is talking endlessly about his new Pokémon cards. It’s an assault on my ears and brain and I can’t focus on writing my blog post. “STOP TALKING AND GO TO SLEEP!” I call up the stairs.

Oh, look: here comes Mr. December, staggering out of the kids’ rooms with his shirt untucked and his hair disheveled. He looks pitiful, but I have zero pity for him.

Five minutes ago I got a FaceTime call from him. When I answered, R’s face filled the screen for a moment… and then suddenly morphed into a cow face, an octopus, and back to a cow. She giggled uncontrollably but said nothing intelligible. Then I saw another call come in, this time from R’s phone.

“Please stop,” I said, tapping decline on the new call.

She didn’t stop. She rang again. I declined. She rang, I declined. Ring. Decline. Ring. Decline. Ring. Decline. Ri—slide to power off. I hung up on her. The entire time Mr. December could be heard in the background, alternately laughing and protesting while the kids jumped all over him.

This is what passes for bedtime in our house. I hate it—which is why I generally opt out. My rules for bedtime are as follows:

  1. I don’t tuck you in unless you’ve changed into clean clothes (or pyjamas) and brushed your teeth properly.
  2. I’m happy to hug and snuggle, but do NOT try to grab at me when I finally tell you it’s time to sleep. Grabbing hurts.
  3. You get one tuck in. That’s it, just one. I am not going to tuck you in repeatedly if you keep popping out of bed.

In contrast, Mr. December’s rules of bedtime seem to be:

  1. Have lots of rowdy fun so that the kids get worn out and exhausted.
  2. Someone must pretend to be at least three different kinds of barnyard animal.
  3. If the kids aren’t laughing hysterically, he’s doing it wrong

I used to resent having to be the Bad Cop who stomps into the room and orders everyone to sleep right now… I mean it… DON’T MAKE ME COME IN THERE. But now I just resent the fact that bedtime takes forty minutes, leaving me with very little grownup time at the end of the day. Believe it or not, I do need time to decompress after a full day of parenting.

“Is it really 9:40?” Mr. December asked twenty minutes ago. “That bedtime took way too long!”

“NO KIDDING!” I tried to deadpan. It came out more like a yell than anything else, though.

“You seem upset,” he said mildly as he jogged down the stairs to his office.

I hate bedtime.

Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting

Day 534: The youngest child and bedtime

It’s a cliché already: the child who is crying, “I don’t wanna go to bed! I’m not even tired!” while crying and yawning at the same time. E has been that child numerous times in the last few weeks and every single time she’s fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. Still, she resists.

I kind of get it: she’s the youngest of four siblings, all of whom are between three-and-a-half and seven years older than she is. Their bedtime is appropriate for their ages, not for hers. Still, this house is buzzing with activity well past 7:30 every evening; of course she’d be afraid of missing out on something if she went to bed early.

The other day I found myself thinking fondly of how K, when she was E’s age, went to bed at 7 p.m. on school nights. Looking back, it’s kind of unbelievable—she went to bed at seven and we got to have three hours of grownups-only time? For real? But yes, it’s true. N and R, being four and three years old at the time, went to bed right alongside her. Those were the days.

When I tried to tell E this bit of historical trivia, she gaped at me for a moment and then laughed. “But that’s SO EARLY!” she giggled, “nobody goes to bed that early!”

Every night I look at her and think, tonight I have to put her to bed early. She needs an earlier bedtime. Poor kid, she probably doesn’t get enough sleep. And most nights I fail to do it. Bad parenting? Probably, although from what I’ve heard this issue isn’t unusual with the youngest child in a big family. She’ll catch up on sleep when she’s a teenager… Unless she’s like K, who wakes up nice and early. I have no idea how she does it.

I, on the other hand, am most definitely tired enough to go to bed at E’s bedtime. Then I get my second wind and have to convince myself that yes, bed is definitely where I need to be at 10 p.m. I’ve yet to make it to bed by 10 since the summer began, but maybe now that the sun is setting earlier I’ll be able to convince my inner six-year-old that she really is tired.

diet recovery · parenting

Day 521: Control

I have issues with the word “control.” I mean, yes, I’ve called myself a control freak, but there are definitely some things for which “control” is inappropriate at best and damaging at worst.

A century and a half ago, men would talk about controlling their wives.

Plenty of people complain about parents who “can’t control their kids.”

And—of course—we talk about control when it comes to food. As in, “I have no self-control, I just ate that whole bag of chips.”

I heard someone say that very recently, and I winced. I feel that just as when parents try to control their children, if you’re trying to control your eating you’re fighting a losing battle.

And yet it’s so pervasive in our culture, the fear of losing control of our food and our body size, the obsession with controlling portions, especially of “bad” or “unhealthy” foods.

As I started my diet recovery efforts, I spent a lot of time thinking about how a natural process such as hunger and eating had become so unnatural for me, to the point where I felt paralyzed about what I “should” eat, and incompetent at judging my own hunger and satiety levels. Shouldn’t it be as simple as, “Eat when you’re hungry”?

There seems to be some scientific consensus that food restriction leads to overeating. If that’s true, this is a problem we’ve created for ourselves. If you’ve been told your whole life that you can only have two cookies because that’s a serving, and you like cookies, anytime you’re given unfettered access to cookies you’ll eat as many as you possibly can—after all, this chance doesn’t come around often. On the other hand, if something is constantly available to you and has a neutral moral value (i.e. it’s not good or bad, it just is,) you’re unlikely to overeat it… after a period of adjustment, of course.

I find it fascinating that we seem to understand this concept as it relates to alcoholic beverages—first-year university students who’ve never been allowed to drink often drink themselves sick, while those whose parents allowed a beer or wine now and then don’t get drunk as often or as badly—but we don’t seem to connect it to our relationship with food; when we eat too much we then double down on “control”, which then makes us overeat whenever we get the chance, which makes us lament our lack of control… and so on.

I can already see a difference in my own habits. There’s ice cream in my freezer all the time now—something that hasn’t been true for me since I left university—and I used to eat it every single night, but now I’m starting to not bother because I don’t feel like it. Last night we took E out to dinner and then to Baskin-Robbins for dessert; in the past I would have gotten ice cream anyway because it was a rare treat, but last night I was already full from dinner and didn’t really want anything else, so I didn’t have any.

I’m not trying to say that not having ice cream is virtuous—I don’t think we should attach moral value to food—but to observe that my eating patterns are already shifting. It seems that the less I control my eating, the less my eating controls me.