Camping it up · Kids · parenting

Day 854: Staying at Camp

We’ve responded to camp, telling them that R can stay for however much longer she wants.

(“Can she stay until October?” Mr. December joked. Not funny.)

This means that R and K will be at camp together (when K isn’t out on a canoe trip.) It also means that anything R needs for the rest of camp can go up in the bus with K on Monday. Looks like I’m going shopping for snacks—likely Ramen and granola bars (kosher, of course.)

I’ll have to reschedule R’s appointments with the optometrist, orthodontist, and dentist. No big deal. She’ll be missing a visit to our family friends’ cottage and a visit from my brother and his family. She’ll probably be unhappy about the latter, but I guess a five-day family visit can’t compare with an extra two (or more) weeks at camp—especially when my brother will be back again towards the end of the summer.

We’ve had only two kids for the last three weeks, and now we’re just trading N for K but keeping the numbers steady. Having just two kids is so easy! And for those of you with two children who are feeling overwhelmed, I have a brilliant idea: I’ll lend you two of mine for two weeks. I guarantee you’ll feel the difference when they finally leave!

Sigh… I miss R already.

Notes to self:

  1. I went on a 10-minute bike ride today. Was able to actually pedal with my left leg for a bit. Accidentally put myself into a higher gear and didn’t notice until I’d gone several hundred metres.
  2. No kayaking today—my arms and shoulders were sore from the past two days, so I took today off. Back on the water tomorrow, though.
  3. I remembered to order the Hebrew workbooks we’ll be using this school year. I was unable to buy them anywhere in Israel, so I’ve once again ordered them from Boston.

education · parenting

Day 848: Learning from Literature

It’s easy to be dismissive of our children’s interests when those interests are on a screen—TV shows, video games, YouTube videos—but maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. We don’t always know what they’re getting out of it.

I’m reflecting on this, having watched and read a lot of Outlander. On the surface it’s historical science fiction (what with the time-travel and all) with a lot of sex and violence in the mix. When we read side-by-side in bed every evening, I consider the contrast between my novel and Mr. December’s nonfiction books about education and parenting, and it’s easy to feel like maybe I should be reading something to improve myself, rather than just for entertainment.

It’s not just entertainment, though. Have you heard my constellation theory of education? In brief, the idea is that learning doesn’t always have to be sequential or thematic; every single piece of learning is like one star in the sky. As you add more of them, you’ll see connections all over the place; the more stars the better, even if they appear at first to be unimportant or unrelated to the rest.

Tonight, at Mum and Dad’s house, I discovered a small paperback book called Songs of Scotland. I thumbed through it, humming the melodies quietly and reading the lyrics. I’ve looked through the book before, but this time I noticed all the references to “Charlie” and realized they were songs about “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Even the Skye Boat Song—which I’d always assumed was a love song for some reason—turns out to be about Charles Stuart escaping Scotland after the battle of Culloden.

(Mr. December—ever the fact-checker—looked up the rebellion online and confirmed some of the details I’d gleaned from my reading.)

What’s my point? Well, I’ve clearly learned something from Outlander, and after re-encountering songs I’ve known for decades, I’ve been able to put them into a historical and cultural context. I think that’s pretty good for a series of highly entertaining novels.

Now, if only I can remember this next time my kids start to binge-watch something on Netflix.

education · gardening · Kids · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 816: Weeds or Wildflowers?

Yesterday morning we came home to a jungle.

K mowed the lawn right before we left home for our trip. We knew the grass would get long, but we were shocked to see the waist- and chest-high plants that were dominating the front yard.

“It rained a lot,” my mum explained. She, my dad, and my in-laws are all fans of keeping the front yard neat and tidy. None of them appreciated Mr. December’s quip that this was our way of making homes in our neighbourhood more affordable.

Fearing that the neighbours would call bylaw enforcement on us, I biked out to Canadian Tire yesterday to get a new battery for our lawn mower (the old battery died before we left, and that last mowing was done with a lawnmower borrowed from the couple across the street.) This morning I told K it was time to mow; but first, I went out to pick some flowers I didn’t know we had. Now I have four flower arrangements brightening up my windowsill.

Four ceramic cups filled with wildflowers

As I snipped blossoms off their stalks, I reflected on how we wouldn’t have seen these flowers at all if we’d mowed our lawn like we’re “supposed to.” It occurred to me that these flowers are a bit like some kids:

  • They’re obviously not like the grass around them; they stand out from the crowd and don’t conform to our expectation of what a front lawn should look like.
  • When treated the same way as the surrounding lawn, they end up looking stunted and broken.
  • If we give them time to grow in their own way (instead of insisting they behave like grass) they thrive, flourish, and flower.

It’s so hard, when your child isn’t neurotypical, not to wish they could just be “normal.” Society is bent on making them fit in and behave like everyone else; but often these expectations only leave neurodiverse kids feeling like there’s something wrong with them that they need to fix. The very behaviours that make up part of who they are have been deemed unacceptable and unwanted.

But something magical happens if we stand back and observe. If we stop trying to make kids behave and learn and play like everyone else, if we give them time, our children astonish us. If we let them grow their way, they thrive. They put out flowers. They’re beautiful. They’re not weeds anymore—they never were, really—they’re wildflowers.

A weed can’t become a blade of grass no matter how often we mow it. A neurodiverse child can’t become neurotypical no matter what therapy or consequences we apply. But if we let them grow, unfettered, they will flower; and the world will be more beautiful for it.

Darn Tootin' · Kids · Montessori · parenting

Day 775: I want her back.

Remember last year, when we bought E her first flute? She played it constantly; every free moment, she’d run back into the library (also our music room) to play another little song. Whenever someone came over, she would haul her music stand out to the living room and play one song after another. She was so proud of herself. And I was so proud, but mostly in awe of how happy and excited she was about playing her instrument.

Pic of a 7-year-old with long hair playing a small black flute. The flute has a fuzzy toque on its head end.

That was last spring. As we approached the new school year I decided to find her a teacher, and I did: a wonderful teacher who specializes in flute lessons for very young children. She was amazing—she was cheerful, engaging, and she even sent little “flute mail” packages to E a couple of times, once with a variety of straws and blow toys, the other time a little toque for her flute with instructions for how to make another one.

I thought E would blossom and flourish with this new teacher’s help, but the opposite began to happen. E would refuse to practice between lessons; then she began to object vocally to even having lessons. Her teacher tried to engage E with new games and fun videos of giant flutes. Nothing worked. E stopped playing her flute in her spare time, and she refused to engage in her lessons. Her love of playing music wilted before our eyes.

Congratulations, I told myself sarcastically, you’ve managed to kill her passion for the flute. Well done.

I had the best of intentions when I hired our flute teacher: I wanted E to keep on playing and to gain skills and confidence. Our culture tells us that to learn an instrument, we must have a teacher—so I found one. But would E really not have continued to develop her musicianship if left to her own (joyful) devices?

That question is moot, since she certainly hasn’t developed or improved her musicianship since she started lessons in September. If anything, she’s taken a step backwards, swapping eagerness for resistance.

I’m reminded of the time we moved our kids from the Montessori school we all loved because I wanted my kids to be learning more Hebrew than Montessori could provide. Within a few months, N had gone from the child who burst out of his classroom yelling, “Today was AMAZING!” to the kid who would answer my question about his school day with three words: “It was bad.” We killed his love of school. I’m still not sure whether it has recovered.

Since that disastrous decision, we’ve established that it’s a very bad idea to take a kid out of a learning situation where they’re happy and enthusiastic, in order to satisfy our own concerns about content and rigour. And yet, I did it again with E and her flute.

So I’m cancelling flute lessons. We might start them again one day, when E is ready and willing. Until then I’ll back off, provide songbooks and support, and hope like crazy that my excited little flautist comes back.

Keepin' it real · Kids · Montessori · parenting

Day 774: “Let your sister work.”

We baked goodies for the Ve’ahavta Street Outreach van again yesterday. R immediately took charge of making the blondies; E begged to help her.

After ten minutes of E begging and R saying “no!” I had to intervene. R grudgingly handed E the measuring cup and spoon, and asked her to fill the cup with brown sugar and pack it down tightly.

The moment E started spooning it out, there was a scattering of brown sugar all over the floor.

“E!” R scolded, “What a mess! This is why I didn’t want you to help me!”

“Hold on there,” I said. “You weren’t always able to do things neatly either. She’s still learning. We’ll clean it up. There’s plenty more sugar where that came from. You have to give her a chance to do it, or she won’t become as skilled as you are.”

“But it’s killing me!” R moaned dramatically. “Watching her do it like that is killing me!

“Yep, welcome to the past twelve years of my life,” I said. “Now sit on your hands, zip your lips, and let your sister work, just like I used to do with you guys.”

“Were we this messy?” R asked.

I shook my head. “Worse.”

It’s hard watching them at times, isn’t it? We could do it so much faster and neater than they can; but, as I told R, they have to learn sometime, mess or no mess. Cooking isn’t the only skill they’ve got to learn this way, either. Settling arguments with friends; decorating their own rooms; making phone calls; navigating the neighbourhood. These things can get so, so messy—but we still can’t do it for them. Once we’ve taught them what we can, we have to sit on our hands, zip our lips, and be ready to help when it’s cleanup time.

family fun · Just the two of us · parenting

Day 772: Business Trip

Mr. December left this afternoon for his first business trip since COVID started.

(It really is just since COVID started. When he flew home from San Jose the last time, there were already known cases in California. A few days after he landed we went into lockdown.)

“I’ll miss you so much,” I whispered in his ear.

He looked at me oddly. “I’m only leaving for three days,” he pointed out. Which is all well and good, but when you’ve been together for the last seven hundred and seventy-two days, a three-day trip sounds like an awfully long time.

“I just like having you around,” I told him. After that I couldn’t tell him anything, because the kids had all piled on top of him and it quickly morphed from a group hug to a mosh pit.

Mr. December being hugged by three children. Their legs are braced as if they're trying to push him over.

I know it felt like my recent post about Bridgerton as a jumping-off point was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I’m actually finding myself pausing the film to address the topics that come up. Tonight we discussed why homemade abortifacient concoctions were (and are) a very, very bad idea. We talked a bit about the history of abortion laws and the positive impact of safe abortion options. We also looked up feminine hygiene practices in the Regency period.

“So what you’re saying,” K said slowly, “is that they basically wore diapers. OK.”

What I’m saying to you, dear readers, is that I think I’ve managed to instil an appreciation for the advancements in medicine, science, and menstrual products that we enjoy today. Not bad for a non-school evening in front of the TV.

birthing babies · Kids · parenting

Day 762: Baby! (not mine.)

“I’m just holding it for a friend” is right up there with “The cheque is in the mail” (am I dating myself with that last one? Does anybody write cheques anymore?) when it comes to excuses. And yet, I still say it all the time—when it’s true, of course.

Yesterday and today I spent a lot of time holding something for a friend. A very cute something, in fact: a baby.

Our friend visited with her new-ish (2 month old) baby yesterday. She’s deep in the ‘overwhelmed’ stage of new parenthood, those days when nobody’s sleeping and everybody is either crying or wanting to cry. Yesterday I told her to come over and let us hold the baby so she could have a bit of a break and eat food she didn’t have to prepare.

Watching my kids with a baby was really fun. K took to baby-holding like a duck to water—she seemed to have a magic touch, as the baby calmed down whenever K held her. R tried to hold the baby but was rewarded with crying (I have no idea why); E sang to the baby and otherwise just sat and watched her in fascination. Everyone had so much fun that they begged me to invite our friends back today.

Shortly after they arrived, the baby had a nice, long stretch of quiet alert time. E took advantage of the opportunity to read her “Scrambled Eggs Super” by Dr. Seuss. Wide-eyed, the baby gazed at the page while E read out loud. It was a lovely moment.

But as with all baby moments, it was fleeting. Today’s visit also involved a lot of rocking, bouncing, swaying, singing, walking… all the things we try to do to help a baby chill out. I love babies and I’m not easily upset by their crying, so I thoroughly enjoyed every part of today; but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely exhausted.

Still, sitting in a hammock with a sleeping baby in my arms was very sweet. It’s making me look forward to a future with grandchildren in it: babies I can snuggle and soothe and then give back at the end of the day so I can get a full night’s sleep.

Babies are fun, but I’m glad I’m done.

birthing babies · community · Keepin' it real · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 739: You Need a Village

A close friend and I were reminiscing yesterday.

“Remember when [husband] was traveling for business and you brought the kids to my house and we fed and bathed them together? That was awesome,” I said. And it really was: it’s more fun parenting in a tribe than alone.

I don’t think I’ve ever parented alone. We had our parents, of course, but we also had friends who had babies right around when we did. In that first year when everyone was home on maternity leave, there were plenty of music classes and park meet-ups. Socially I had plenty of peers. On a broader scale, our synagogue chesed (kindness) committee organized meals for new parents, so we had no need to cook in that first couple of weeks. When R was born, a friend came over later that day with a whole festive meal—challah, meat, kugel, veggies, dessert—because that night was the beginning of Sukkot.

In other words, Mr. December and I were probably the farthest possible thing from alone when our kids were babies.

I remembered all this because of my close friends whose baby was born six weeks ago tomorrow. “We’re really feeling the lack of a village,” they told me. COVID is part of the equation, certainly, but even without COVID, these friends do lack a village. My village was large from the get-go, with my close-knit extended family (all those aunties that aren’t technically my aunts, remember) and our synagogue community plus all our friends. But if you’re not blessed with an existing village—say, if you and your spouse don’t have siblings nearby, if your university friends are scattered across the continent, if you’re not part of any community groups—what are you to do?

Well, as I often say: ask for the help you need. Worldschooling families do this all the time, by planning their destinations according to other families’ availability: someone gets on FaceBook and posts, “We want to travel to [insert name of place here] in June, who else is going to be there?” and many messages later, they’ve got a group of families committed to the same destination at the same time. To the friends without a village, I suggested posting in a neighbourhood group for a walking buddy who also has a very young baby. Who knows—my friend might even luck out and become walking buddies with another mom who can introduce them to all the parents with babies in the neighbourhood. It starts with an ask.

There are ready-made communities, too, and it’s well worth seeing whether there’s one that’s right for you. It might be a religious community; there could be a local parent-and-child drop-in centre (maybe not during COVID); in some places, the local public health unit runs groups for new parents to ask questions and get support. Once you’ve found a group, become an active participant: show up, help other parents lift their strollers up the steps, start conversations, offer someone the toys your baby just grew out of. As in every part of life, you’ll generally get out of it as much as you’ve put in.

The point is, having a local “village” of friends, family, and acquaintances is crucial in order to parent your kids (or just handle life) without burning out. One can’t do it alone; humans were never meant to. So ask for what you need, tap all your networks, seek a ready-made group. It’s well worth the effort to build and nurture the village you want to have—it will nurture you (and your kids) in return.

birthing babies · parenting · The COVID files

Day 703: Expertise

Good friends of mine just had a baby. I love babies. They’re probably my favourite age to parent, and definitely where my most competent parenting lies—too bad that’s all in the past for me.

Anyhow, I offered my expertise, should they want it. Two days ago E and I hopped on a video call with them to demonstrate how to carry the baby in a ring sling (the only sling we still have is a child-sized one, so I used E and her baby doll as models.) This morning I got a message asking if I had time to help them a bit more, because they still didn’t quite have the hang of it. I offered to come over (they live four blocks away) and demonstrate for them.

Their house may be only four blocks from mine, but driving over there (my first choice, given my recent fatigue) is an agony because their neighbourhood is a warren of one-way streets (designed to deter through-traffic.) It was sunny and six degrees out (six! above zero! so warm!), so I figured I’d walk over there. How bad could it be? It’s just four blocks.

The walk over there was fine. I arrived, masked up, scrubbed my hands, changed my shirt, and spent a while sharing all the babywearing tips I could think of. I also got to cuddle a teeny-weeny baby, which is so therapeutic.

Mired as I am in the depths of homeschooling a teenager, two tweens, and a seven-year-old—an experience which often leaves me feeling unsure of my approach—I really enjoyed feeling competent at parenting, even if it was just for demonstration purposes. I suppose once I’ve guided all of my kids through teenagehood I might feel that I’m somewhat expert at parenting older kids too. For now, it’s nice to be reminded of what it feels like to know what I’m doing.

The walk home was all slightly uphill, and after the first block my legs were tired already (after a month of being sick at home I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.) When I got home I staggered to my hammock chair with a Kobo and a water bottle and didn’t leave it for an hour. Now it’s almost 9:00 p.m. and my head feels like it’s stuffed full of cotton, my legs feel heavy and achy, and I’m not even sure if what I’m typing makes any sense. But in case there was any doubt, helping my friends with their newborn was worth it. I regret nothing.

Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · what's cookin'

Day 696: No Excuses

After three weeks of mostly half-assed mealtimes, I decided it was time to actually cook dinner.

Okay. What actually happened was that I had moved some chicken breasts from the freezer to the fridge, to defrost. Today I realized that if I didn’t cook it, it would probably start to go bad; so I was already committed to cooking the chicken. If not for that small detail, I would have been tempted to order a heart-shaped pizza (because it’s Valentine’s Day, apparently) and be done with it.

One thing I knew: I was not going to make the entire meal while the kids played Roblox for an hour. So I wrote a list of assigned dinner tasks on our chalkboard and waited for them to discover it.

Pretty soon everyone knew what their job was. N wasn’t happy about his, though. He doesn’t eat bell peppers, so he refuses to touch them. Too bad his job was “slice peppers.”

“What happens if I don’t do it?” He whined.

I find it jarring, but N is often very transactional in relationships. Like, “I’ll do this for you because you did this for me,” rather than, “I’ll do this for you because we’re a family and we help each other.” It doesn’t seem to matter what we model or expect; he seems hardwired to optimize absolutely everything. Hence the question. He truly needs to know the cost and benefit of doing what I ask. It drives me nuts.

“If you don’t,” I said, “you will be generating a lot of ill will with your family. Everyone will be annoyed that you’re the only one not helping.”

He cocked his head to the side and thought about it for a minute, then nodded and headed to the kitchen. But there was still the issue of having to touch the peppers. He tried to get out of the job, but I looked him in the eye and said, “If you have a problem with a task that you’re expected to do, you need to figure out a solution. Your aversion to vegetables doesn’t excuse you from food prep.”

N (11-year-old boy with messy hair) at the kitchen counter, holding a bell pepper steady with a pair of tongs while cutting it with a chef knife.

In the end, he used tongs to hold the peppers in place while cutting them into strips. The strips were covered in seeds, so he had to rinse them using the tongs and a colander. It looked awkward and took way more time than using his hands, but that was his problem, not mine. Point is, he got the job done. He didn’t shirk.

How many more times before not-shirking becomes his default?