journeys, birthdays, gratitude

CinderCollageFinal

The next Postcard From Cuba comes tomorrow; today, my eldest son turns 14; today, it is 14 years since I was first called mother by the world.

14 years since I learned how to love.

14 years on this journey, my little love…

…little boy with a man’s voice, a man’s shoulders—already taller than me, and he’s only just started growing…

Happiest of birthdays, son.

CinderCollageFinal

*

In the photographs I take of my children, while I’m documenting their journey, our journey, I often take this angle, have you noticed:

JourneyStripGrunge

This is very, very important.

Walk on, my son.

Every step you take is your journey, not mine.

Every step I take is mine, not yours.

*

A few days before my son turned 14, I turned 42. Compared to 14, 42 is insignificant—it’s just a number. But, of course, if you are a Douglas Adams’ fan, you know 42 is the answer. I can’t wait…

Flora: “Congratulations, Mom, you’re one year closer to death.”

Jane: “Thank you, babe. I cannot wait.”

Not true, of course—I say that to tease. But this, this is true: I cannot wait for the next year, for the next decade. Do you remember, it wasn’t raining but it felt like it should have been, and you were so unhappy, and he was dying, and you said that thing you sometimes say about us getting older and closer to the end and I shook my head, “Fuck no, me, I’m just getting started.”

That’s tied into that motherhood thing, 14 years of.

You sent me so many birthday wishes.

I sent you gratitude:

BirthdayThankYou

*

You know, do you not, that everything I write is a love letter to my children? To you? On the days when I am feeling particularly human, the world?

Today’s love letter, though, is just for my son.

Happiest of birthdays, you incredible human.

xoxo

“Jane”

*

So you know the spiel that follows & if you’re reading and you haven’t yet  put a PayPal click where your heart is, it was just my birthday last week, d’ya wanna buy me a birthday coffee?

Trio on benches at laundry park3

The best things in life and on the Internet are free, but content creators need to pay for groceries with money. If you enjoy the Postcards project, please express your delight and support by making a donation via PayPal:

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

You: “But how much should I give?”

Jane: “I get $1 each time a sell a traditionally published book, so my bar’s set really low, love. Want to buy me a cup of coffee? That’s $4.75 if you’ll spring for a mocha or latte. Bottle of wine? My palate’s unsophisticated: $19.95 will more than cover it.”

If you’d like to make a contribution but have PayPal issues, email me at nothingbythebook@ gmail.com and we’ll work something out.

Or, ya know. Just hang out with us and enjoy. That be cool too.

xoxo

“Jane”

NothingByTheBook.com / Tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram NothingByTheBook

*

#postcardsfromcuba catch up

I was in Cuba before Obama. And I want to tell you all about it… in pictures… in words… through sound:

PfC: introduction

So, I introduce the project, and then…
…I shower you with pictures:

PfC: I haven’t found a post office yet… (image)
PfC: what are you looking at? (image)
PfC: Acuario Nacional de Cuba (image)
PfC: zombie Fiat (image)
PfC: sharp edges & powerlines (image)

Then (drum roll, please) release the first listening postcard:

PfC: blame it on Hemingway (post + photographs + podcast)

It’s not really about Hemingway, but you know, #hemingway is a good hashtag.

Next I show you:

PfC: the ugliest building in Havana (image)

& then I teach you some

PfC: Cuban math (post + photographs + podcast) & I also pick up / get picked up by a 25 year old Cuban boy. Seriously. Check it out, and then check out

PfC: this is also Havana (image)

& find out why I’m going to hell:

PfC: Necropolis (images + riffs)

after which you can watch how the entire country of Cuba is trying to prevent me from buying eggs:

PfC: egg hunt (post + photographs + podcast)

then try to figure out what this photo’s all about:

PfC: the view from here (image)

& then pray for me. Just pray:

PfC: we will survive (post + photographs + podcast)

Thank you. Now come with me to a beach. No, not that kind of the beach. The kind of beach that isn’t kept pristine for tourists:

PfC: but you’re not going to make us swim there, are you? (image)

& now you’ve got to meet Jack Gilbert, and understand what having children (in Cuba, anywhere) really means:

PfC: and she asks, is being childless good for a poet (post + photographs + podcast)

Now, have a look at a haunted house:

PfC: haunted house (image)

& then cringe as I explain to Flora the relationship between poverty and crime:

PfC: but is it safe? (post + photographs + podcast)

Then meditate on this photo

PfC: through bent bars (image)

& listen to me try to buy matches:

PfC: matches (post + totally unrelated photographs + podcast)

then take on a hustler:

PfC: get out of my dreams get into my car & pay me 2.5X the going rate pls (images + riff)

& then fall in love:

PfC: Lazaro’s farm (post + photographs + podcast)

and then decompress with:

PfC: a splash of orange, three versions (images)

Now get ready to get all political and cultural with:

PfC: flora, fauna + waiting (post+ images + podcast)

then look at pretty things:

PfC: behind closed eyelids (images)

& take a ride…

PfC: on the bus (short podcast + post + images)

to explore a castle: PfC: castillo means castle (slideshow + postcard images)

& look at some boats.

And how you’re caught up.

Until next tomorrow.

A conversation, a reading assignment, a writing exercise, and a re-run #10

A conversation:

Jane: I don’t understand. I don’t understand how two people who love each other as much as I know you two do can fight so much!

Flora: Oh, Mom. Don’t worry. We’re just like Sadie and Carter. (Sadie and Carter Kane, from The Kane Chronicles.)

Cinder: Yeah, we fight all the time…

Flora: … but we cooperate when it matters.

Cinder: Yeah, we’d totally work together to save the world. Right, Flora?

Flora: Right… Ouch! Why’d you punch me?

Cinder: The world is not in peril right now.

June 15, 2012

A reading assignment that will change your life:

On Kindness by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 7.08.45 PM

Preview the book’s insights on BrainPickings: How kindness became our guilty pleasure.

 

A writing exercise (that is also a secret discipline tool) to do instead of breaking up the latest fight between your kids:

Script the next fight between your kids. Then have them act it out. Present the play to your partner when s/he gets home.

Variant: the next time your kids are fighting, whip out your notebook or laptop and start transcribing

 

An explanation:

This is the tenth week of my 12-week unplugged AWOL (don’t tell my clients… um or too many of my friends 😉 ). No phones, no wifi… also, no winter! I’m going to be documenting things old school via journals and postcards (if you want a postcard from… well, that place where I’m hiding… email your snail mail address to nothingbythebook@gmail.com).

The blog’s on auto-pilot with a conversation from the archives, a reading recommendation, a writing assignment (cause I can’t nag any of you in person), and unsolicited advice… er, that is, a re-run post of the kind I don’t write very often anymore.

Enjoy.

 

A re-run:

The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant

First published July 30, 2013

It’s 2 a.m. The telephone rings. It’s dark and I’m groggy as I race through the house for the telephone. I don’t get there in a time and I’m in a brief moment of panic as I crouch beside it and wait for it to ring again. My Flora’s sleeping out of the house this night and this phone call can only be about her.

The phone rings again; I pick up; the panic subsides. Yes, it’s Flora. Sleep over fail. She woke up in a strange place, a strange bed and is frightened. Wants to come home.

Sean runs over to get her—and we’re both briefly grateful about the place we live, where sleepovers take place a couple of doors down instead of across the city—and a short two minutes later, she’s in my arms, face pressed against my chest. She’s whispering “the whole story”: how it was so fun, and they had a great time, and she had no trouble at all falling asleep, and then she woke up, and it was dark and strange and she didn’t want to stay…

I listen and then shush her, tell her to go back to sleep. She presses tight against me. Now that she feels perfectly safe and secure, she also feels embarrassed that she bailed. I reassure her in a sleepy voice… and shush her again. “Now sleep, Flora, sleep.”

She presses against me. On the other side of me, Ender flips over, rolls. But doesn’t wake. It’s doesn’t happen very often these days that I find myself squished between two little bodies and I take a sleepy minute to savour the moment.

And I think about how much parenting takes place in these dark hours—when, really, we’re at our worst. Exhausted. Unconscious. Still on duty, but too tired to perform.

None of that ends when the baby (toddler, preschooler, kindergartener!) “sleeps through the night.” Our Cinder actually reached that milestone relatively quickly—sometime around two years. And so what? A few weeks of blissfully uninterrupted sleep followed. Then came the night terrors. When the first wave of those subsided, he got out of diapers—and had to get up to pee in the night. Six times a night, it seemed (probably just once or twice). Then Flora arrived and being awake for Cinder became irrelevant because I was waking up for Flora. When she nightweaned, she started waking up at 3 a.m., raring to go for the day. When she’d sleep late (aka, until 5 a.m.), Cinder would have night terrors. Inevitably, on the nights both kids slept soundly, the dog would have diarrhea… Or, naturally, I would have insomnia.

As I’m cataloging the different stages of post-child sleep deprivation, Flora presses her closer against me. “I’m going to roll over; you can hug my back,” I whisper. “Can’t I roll over with you?” she whimpers. “No, stay there—Ender’s on the other side.” I readjust, so does she. “I like your soft side better,” she sighs. Her head is between my shoulder blades. But her breathing is winding down—sleep is almost there.

“Mom?”

“Sleep, Flora.”

“Does Monday come after Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, Flora.”

“Is tomorrow Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, baby.”

“And then Monday?”

“Mmmm.”

“Good. I have plans on Monday.”

And she’s asleep. Ender does another flip. But doesn’t wake up. I send a prayer to Morpheus—or should I be petitioning Ra?–that neither of them wakes up with the sunrise. It’ll probably be a four pot, not four cup, coffee day, tomorrow, I think as I feel my breathing reach the sleep rhythm. And I’m out.

I don’t  belittle or dismiss sleep deprivation. It’s tough. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. And each family needs to find its own unique solution to ensuring all members—especially the primary caretaker—gets enough sleep. But “sleeping through the night”? That’s irrelevant. Because kids keep on needing their parents at night, long after they wean. Sometimes just for a minute, for a quick squeeze and reassurance. Sometimes for longer. But if not exactly forever—for a long, long time.

Ender wakes up that morning, by the way, at 5:30 a.m. I curse Morpheus and tell off Ra. Then we tiptoe downstairs. I make coffee. Pull the electronic babysitter—aka Backyardiggans on Netflix—onto duty. Cuddle the Ender. Write most of this post.

Flora streaks downstairs at 7 a.m. “Hi, Mom, I’m going to Meghan’s!” she calls. “Hug? Kiss?” I holler. She backtracks. Hug. Kiss. And for Ender. And for Maggie the runt terrier. And she’s off.

I look at Ender. Hug. Kiss. Soon, I’ll roll off the couch and make the second pot of coffee. By the third pot, I’ll be ready to face the day.

Pot number four, I decide to save for the inevitable afternoon crash.

Koala sleeping on a tree top

 (N.B. For those concerned about my caffeine intake, I should clarify they’re pretty small coffee pots. It was a purchasing mistake. We thought the small press would make us drink less coffee. Nope. It just makes coffee drinking a more labour-intensive process. Live and learn. On the plus side, the cafe is always fresh.)

Roadkill

nbtb-roadkill

I.

The car in front of us hits a jaywalking squirrel and as I swerve to not roll over the destroyed, twitching little body, Flora bursts into tears.

“Can we stop, can we save it?”

There is nothing to save; it is too dangerous to stop. I shake my head. She weeps all the way to the library. I reach out and hold her hand and let tears well up in my eyes.

(The mother I was two years ago, would have told her to control herself, to get a grip, to stop.)

II.

It’s 8:30 p.m., and the sun is low even here, and so the lake beach is deserted and the lake water, never warm, freezing cold. Flora and I are swimming through it, to the floating dock. There was a dead fish floating there earlier that she really, really wanted to examine… I promised we’d come back when all the other children—who were so grossed out by her zoologist’s desire to see what the fish was, how it died, where its wounds were they screeched and screamed and called for their parents—were gone.

The children are gone, and so is the fish.

Flora, disappointed, lets tears come. Then lets them dry up. We swim through the cold water, back to the shore.

(That’s the mother I want to be: the kind who goes back to the beach at sunset and swims through ice cold water to look for a dead fish with my child. Write that on my tombstone.)

III.

I can’t remember why they start planning my funeral, exactly—Flora and Cinder, I mean. I think it’s because we’re talking about the suicides of various famous people, and of course that naturally segues to burials and funeral rites and wakes, and I say how I really don’t want to have a funeral, but I realize it’s not about me—I’ll be dead, what do I care—it’s about the other people. And Flora, party planner extra-ordinaire, says,

“We’ll make it a big, big party! Who do you want to invite?”

“I don’t fucking care; I’ll be dead. All the people who want to come: all the people who love me.”

“We should invite all the people who hate you too; they’ll be really happy to dance at your funeral. Do you keep a list of those?”

I don’t. But apparently, I should, for my funeral.

Cinder prepares the song list. He’s going to lead with “Highway to Hell.” Follow up with “Staying Alive.”

Flora adds “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” (“Especially if you’re murdered,” she says. WTF? I think.) Also, the Barenaked Ladies’ “Big Bang Theory Theme Song.” She pauses. “We end with Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church.’ It’ll be kind of ironic, get it?”

I suggest the “Macarena” instead. They don’t get it.

(The human I want to be doesn’t want to be afraid of dying. And I don’t think, if I lead the full life I want to lead, I will be. Will I? So hard to know what will be. Hard enough to be aware, appreciative of what is.)

IV.

Ender’s favourite bedtime book right now is I’m A Seed, written by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by  Judith Moffatt.

“How many books are you going to read me tonight, Mama?”

he asks. I consult the level of exhaustion in my body.

“Four.”

I say.

He asks me to read I’m A Seed four times.

I raise my eyebrows. Feel “No” and rebellion rising in my chest, and then pause. What is the difference between reading the one book I’ve already read him dozens of times four times tonight… and reading four books I’ve already read him dozens of times?”

I read:

“I’m a seed!”

“Me too!”

Four times. Treat it as meditation.

(That’s the mother-human I always aspire to be; too often fail. Today, I achieve. Kiss his sweaty head as he falls asleep. Realize I’ve forgotten to brush his teeth. Fuck.)

V.

“Mom? Are you still thinking about the dead squirrel?”

No. Not even a little bit. But that’s not what she wants to hear.

“Mmmm. You?”

“Yes.”

I hold her tight.

nbtb-roadkill

xoxo

“Jane”

“The child weaned from mother’s milk…”

photo (14)

I.

“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round
in another form. The child weaned from mother’s milk
now drinks wine and honey mixed.”

Rumi

Rumi’s translator, Coleman Barks, calls the poem that begins with these lines “Unmarked Boxes.” It resonates.

II.

Confession: I’ve just read my first parenting book in near a decade (see The Day I Stopped Reading Parenting Books): Anthony Wolf’s I’d Listen to My Parents If Only They’d Shut Up: What To Say And What Not To Say When Parenting Teens.

This is not, incidentally, a book review, but if it was, it would say, “It has good parts. It has bad parts. Read with a critical filter, take what’s useful, discard the rest.”

III.

I have a teenager now. I am still as much in love with him as I was with the newborn who woke me up every two hours. I will be more frustrated with him than I was with the toddler who pummeled everyone in sight… but that’s fine. That’s part of the package (It doesn’t get easier). My love for him has redefined how I understand, feel, experience love. Myself. The universe. I love him, unconditionally, and I will love him, unconditionally, until my experience of the universe ends.

Here’s something most parents don’t want to hear: he doesn’t love me unconditionally. No child loves a parent unconditionally. Meditate on that.

IV.

Whenever you tell me you love me. I think about what you might possibly feel for me, and what I think I feel for you, and compare it against what I feel for this child, for his siblings, and… if that is love, this is not.

You: Semantics. Always, with the fucking semantics.

Me: Words are important.

You: “What language does so spectacularly is lie, that silver-tongued projector of illusions.” That’s Coleman Barks, so you know it’s true.

Me: Fucking poets. Always telling the truth with their lies.

V.

That Rumi poem, the next line, it goes,

“God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box…”

(I was going to be a petty atheist and replace the first words with an ellipsis. But, I didn’t.)

I’m not sure about the metaphor. Is my son an unmarked box? Am I? Mostly, I am very literal—and there are still three unmarked boxes of loss in the space where I create.

VI.

I make my nocturnal teenager crepes and carry them up to his bedroom two hours short of his preferred waking time of noon.

Cinder: Best! Mother! Ever!

Jane: I know. Now wake up and get your sibs out of the house so I can work!

xoxo

“Jane”

photo (14)

P.S. Rumi, same poem: “I don’t want to make anyone fearful / Hear what’s behind what I say.”

“Boys only want love if it’s torture…”

nbtb-boys only want love if its torture

nbtb-boys only want love if its torture

I.

Snapshot: Flora and I are careening down Deerfoot, singing along to Taylor Swift’s Blank Space.

Now, you might infer from this that I like—the singer. Or the song.

Truth: I couldn’t care less. I live under a pop culture rock. I don’t think I could pick out Taylor Swift from a line up. And, thoroughly unmusical that I am, I can’t tell you whether the song’s good or bad. It just exists.

Fact: Flora, 10, LOVES it.

Truth: I LOVE her enjoyment of it. It thrills me.

I think: She loves that I love her loving it, and she’s thrilled that I’m singing along with her.

Truth: We love doing this silly loud thing TOGETHER.

Bonus: When we scream…

“Boys only want love if it’s torture
Don’t say I didn’t, I didn’t warn ya”

…the boy children in the back seat make puking-and-dying-noises.

Everyone’s happy. Win-win all around.

II.

Ender’s six-year-old friend Stella is staring with disapproval at Cinder, who’s standing on the kitchen table, in order to reach something way up on the wall.

Stella: Jane? I think you need to come up with some rules for your kids. Like, they shouldn’t stand on the table, and…

I actually have some rules. Such as… You must wear pants at the table—after the horrible penis-in-hot-soup incident—and no vermin at the table after the traumatic “I lost a mealworm… I think it’s in Daddy’s salad” incident.

And also: Do not make fun of things your siblings love. You don’t need to love Barney (gods know I don’t), because you’re a cool 12 year old, that’s fine. But don’t ruin your little brother’s enjoyment. Don’t mock it. Don’t dis it.

Say, “It’s not my thing.” “I don’t really enjoy that.” “Not to my taste.”

Not: “It’s stupid.” “It’s lame.” “I hate it.”

There are so many things my kids love to do that I really, really don’t enjoy.

Playing video games (any).

Watching iCarly.

Playing Munchkin.

Eating Jelly beans.

“Mom, will you play Battleship with me?”

“You know, sweetie, I don’t really enjoy that game. Could we play something else instead?”

But sometimes:

“Yes, I would love to watch iCarly with you. Tell me, who’s your favourite character? Why? Really? Why do you think she acts like that?”

(Just to be sure I’m not misrepresenting myself: Most of the time it’s—“I’d rather not.” But it’s never, “Why would you waste your time watching that stupid show?”)

(yes, sometimes… I really, really want to say that. But I don’t.)

III.

Flora: Are you watching Pride and Prejudice again?

Jane: No. Downton Abbey. It’s like Pride and Prejudice, except without the hot guy.

(Sorry. Dan Stevens can’t hold a candle to Colin Firth.)

Flora: Is it boring—I mean slow—like Pride and Prejudice? I mean, are there any murders and things in it?

Jane: Well… there’s deaths… but yeah, it’s pretty slow. I don’t think you’d like it right now.

Flora: Well, maybe when I get older I’ll like boring, I mean slow, stuff too and I’ll watch it with you.

Jane: I look forward to that.

Flora: Me too.

IV.

Jane: Boys only want love if it’s torture

Flora: Don’t say I didn’t, I didn’t warn ya

Cinder: Mooooooooom! Aaaaareeeee you trying to kill us?

Jane: No. Just torture you a little.

Cinder: It’s working! It’s working!

(It’s not necessarily that he hates the song. It might be that I’m a really bad singer. But you know. He won’t say THAT either.)

xoxo

“Jane”

 PS Want to sing along with us? Do:

Some parts of this gig just really suck…

NBTB-Some parts suck

It’s 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and I’m making pancakes for Ender. Because I love him. Even though he got me up at 4:47 a.m.

And somewhere out there in cyberspace is an old crone—er, I mean post-menopausal matriarch—actually, I very specifically mean my Aunt Augusta, and maybe yours too?—who’s tutting at my complaint about my bleary eyes and fuzzy head and saying,

“Treasure EVERY second. One day you will miss those precious moments.”

Well, Aunt Augusta. I now have a teenager whom I can’t rouse out of bed before noon.

And it’s THE BEST THING EVER.

Sure, there are lots of precious moments from Cinder’s earlier and earliest years that I miss acutely and will treasure forever.

Experiencing his wakefulness in a state of comatose-ness at 5 a.m.? Not so much.

Not at all, actually.

Changing diapers, wiping bums? Not one little bit.

I didn’t enjoy, cherish and relish every moment.

And neither will you. (And neither did you, Aunt Augusta, you goddamn hypocrite; your memories are rewritten and you LIE).

And that’s totally ok.

I cherish him. Them.

In sickness and in health. In joy and in “OMFG-are-you-trying-to-drive-me-into-a-madhouse” moments. (Well, not in those moments. But shortly thereafter.)

But some moments, many of them occurring before sunrise, in washrooms, or at meltdown hour just blow goats. And that’s ok. You don’t have to cherish them. You just have to get through them.

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-Some parts suck

P.S. This post brought to you by purveyors of fine coffee beans everywhere.

Solitude and the creative mother

Sometimes, trapped inside my head...

NBTB-Inside My Head

(That, btw, is a brilliant title for a book, and one of you should write it. Me? No, I’ve got another passion I’m chasing right now. Go on, it’s a gift. Just dedicate it to me, and we’ll be square.)

I.

I’m careening down Bow Trail, engaged in a complicated kid-care-drop-off (morning at a friend’s while I work; afternoon at my mom’s while I run errands). Transitions suck, and the kinder are unimpressed.

“Why can’t I go to the stores with you?” Flora whines. “You’re going to all my favourite places.” True. I’m hitting a book store (books!), and London Drugs (shiny things!), and Winners (more shiny things!). And Flora could, theoretically, go with me. She’s near-10. She won’t “slow” me down with a tantrum, a toilet-training regression, a refusal to leave the toy aisle. I can accomplish everything I need to with her in tow in about the same amount of time… And she’s smart enough to know this. She knows why I don’t want to take Ender. But surely—she could go?

No.

“Why not?” she whines-pleads.

And I sigh, and I look at her, and decide this is not a moment for evasion.

“Because, beloved, we are about to go on a family vacation, and this is my last chance to be alone for 12 days, and if I don’t take it, I will go insane. I might go insane anyway.”

She looks at me with giant, giant eyes. And ponders.

I worry I’ve hurt her, because, in this culture, when you say “I want to be alone,” most people (husbands, friends, lovers) hear “I don’t want to be with you”—and what will a child hear? But this is a very special child. This is a child who also needs to be alone, a lot. And she’s lucky enough to have a mother who has that same need and recognizes it… and goes to considerable lengths to ensure that, in a family of five crammed into a <1000 square foot house, Flora gets as much solitude as she needs.

I will do this for her during the holiday too, and for her brother. Of my three children, two need swaths of time away from other humans—including each other. The third, alas, does not. So—I take him, away from them. They get what they need. Me? No matter how self-aware I try to be, my solitude is the first thing I give up.

But. I have a Flora.

“Oh, Mom,” she sighs. “Listen. Every day, when we’re on the beach, and then we decide it’s time to go to the pool—you just stay on the beach for 15, 20 minutes. An hour, maybe, even? By yourself. OK? And then come join us.”

Oh, my love. My little insightful fairy.

(Is it enough, 15, 20 minutes? No. Not even close. But it’s better than zero minutes, right?)

II.

I need to be alone to think. To be able to think, really think, I need to NOT pay attention to the needs, the very existence of others. I need to be alone for drafts to drift into their proper form in my head. For things to settle. Not for long. Not for months or weeks—I’d get lonely, so lonely. But, you know. A couple of hours? A day, here or there? A 5-minute runaway, a 15-minute moment to be separate. An evening, a night.

A weekend.

And when I don’t get it, yes, I go a little mad.

Sometimes, I confuse this need with the need for adult company: I think I’m feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by little people, and that I need the company and stimulation of big people. And I call you, and we go out, and I stare at you resentfully. I love you, but you’re not what I need right now. Right now, I need to walk the beach, the hill, the riverbank all by myself. I have a thought to think, an idea to chase, tumult to experience. Demons to taunt.

When I fill my “alone” quota sufficiently… then I love and need and want people.

When it’s wrested away from me, when I don’t get it? I hate you all.

Sorry.

III.

As Ender, who has spent part of the night squished up against me, entwined, whispering stories into my ear, begins the day in my lap, squished up against me, entwined, whispering stories into my ear, I suddenly have a blinding flash of insight as to why he’s been so much more challenging for me to parent. You’d think, really, the third—you’d have it down, right? You’d have enough tips and tricks, strategies and distractions, to dial it in at least some of the time? I mean, sure, every kid is different, but there’s enough “the same” that the third time around should not be the most difficult…

I have thought, often, that it’s me. I am different now: he has had the bad fortune to still be small-and-demanding at a time when I am demanding-of-and-for-myself, and so his need for me to be his 24/7 and my need to be me and write and do all the things I really NEED to do clash more than Cinder and Flora’s needs ever clashed with mine.

Some of that is true. I need more now. But also, this child, this third child of mine? He’s the first one of my threesome who doesn’t need great swaths of solitude. He needs people. A person. He needs an audience, a companion. His alone fixes are very short—and he needs to check in with others while he engages in them. As a result: he never gives me respite. He never gives me enough time alone… that I recharge sufficiently that I want to be with him, focused, happy, unresentful.

I stare at him and at myself in shock as I realize this. Because no wonder neither one of us ever feels we’re getting enough! He never gets enough mom. I never get enough solitude. With his siblings, breaks and respite occurred pretty naturally. They’d become immersed in their thing… I could float away, be alone while nominally present with them. Ender does not let me do this, ever. He grabs my hand, my face. Forces my attention into him…

IV.

The solution, of course, is obvious. It’s not that he needs ME. He needs people while I need solitude. And so, yes. I “outsource” this child more than I did/do the others. But I also need to work with him, to teach him something that his siblings just learned and shared with me intuitively.

I need to teach him that “I want to be alone” does not mean “I don’t want to be with you.” It doesn’t mean, “I don’t love you, I don’t want you.”

It just means… “I want to be alone. I need to be alone. I need to be just with me, right now. And then, when I have enough of that, I will come be with you.”

It’ll happen. (And what a gift to his future friends and lovers that will be, if he learns that now…)

I get to do my morning #meditationforwriters unmolested most mornings now. In fact, the other day, that’s how he got me out of bed at 5 a.m.

“Mom! It’s time to do your morning pages!”

Kee-rist. Be careful what you ask for.

xoxo

“Jane”

The Three Stages of Parenting Philosophy

photo (39)

It goes something like this:

STAGE 1: I must do everything right!

No, you don’t understand. Don’t tell me to loosen up, chill out. I. Have. To. Do. EVERYTHING-PERFECTLY. It’s up to me, and if I make the wrong choice—if I choose the wrong formula, breastfeed too little/for too long, make the wrong sleeping arrangement, choose the wrong bath product, introduce bananas before avocados, and fail to choose the right educational toys-and-stimulations, I will ruin my child’s entire life, raise a psychopath, a future prison inmate unable to form meaningful, nurturing relationships with people, and, and…

What? I am not over-reacting. This matters. It’s EVERYTHING. Parenting is how we change the world, and that’s what I’m doing right now, so get out of my way or I will bludgeon you with my organic-cotton, fair-trade woven diaper bag.

STAGE 2: Fuck it. Nothing I do matters.

Alternate title: No matter what I do… they just become themselves!

No, that’s not despair. No, really, not despair. Some exhaustion talking, yes, but mostly, it’s recognition that all those early choices, cross-roads decisions over which I agonized so much… they don’t matter. I can’t remember who weaned when and how, and neither can they. I’m pretty sure I screwed up toilet training completely two out of three times—and yet, there they are, not fouling their pants (well, one out of two, cough, cough). The kid who wasn’t allowed any sugar and whose teeth I brushed pathologically got cavities; the kid who had three post-tooth brushing snacks a night got none. The kid I read to for six hours a day and kept screen-free until age 8 didn’t read until age 11—and books are not the way he chooses to get either his information or his entertainment. The kid raised with iPad on demand (“Would you please, please just watch SOMETHING so I can sleep?”) cares not for shows or video games at all. Guns or dolls, gender-compliant or gender-defiant toys and clothing… none of it matters.

They’re their own people and they become who they’re supposed to be—independent or uber-attached, shy or social, creative or analytical, kinda crazy, way-too-sane… I was the vessel that brought them here, and that’s all.

So, fine. Nothing I do matters.

It’s kind of liberating, really. I can’t take credit for the good—but I can’t be blamed for the bad either, right?

And then…

STAGE 3: OMFG, my power to screw up these children’s lives, beyond all help and hope, is unlimited—HELP!

Alternate title: Everything I do matters, Redux Cubed.

This is the terrifying stage I’m in right now. I am aware, acutely, painfully, how you, I—everyone I love (or dread) is a product of the home and family they were raised in. I see this with a clarity that I’ve only had once before, briefly in my teens—do you remember? That horrific black and white, unforgiving vision teenagers turn on their parents, teachers, the world? It’s back. And it’s extra-awful, because now, it’s also turned on myself, my peers.

Nature? It’s still a thing, for sure. My children thrust the power of nature in my face rudely, daily, hourly. But nature… it’s just raw material. Nurture or crush, develop or destroy, temper or indulge: I see the stamp of that on scarred-scared adult-children-who-are-now-parents all around me, in me, in you, and OMFG, parenting is everything and I cannot, cannot screw this up.

I really hope there’s a Stage 4, and it’s… what? Forgiveness, maybe? Something like that. But I can’t know what’s ahead; only what’s in my—your, our—past.

And everything we experienced up to this point, good or bad? It matters, so much. How we were raised matters. How we raise our children is everything. It’s how we change the world…

In the meantime: I look at these little people I have stewardship of and the little people—bigger now, how they grow, eh?—you have stewardship of, and I’m terrified.

Because everything I do matters—everything you do matters—everything we do shapes and affects them in some way… and I’m so very, very flawed.

You?

xoxo

“Jane”

photo (39)

“My children are my best friends.” “Really? What the hell’s wrong with you?”

NBTB-Best Friends

“My children are my best friends,” she says to me. And looks at me, intently, for approval.

I don’t know what to say. I’m horrified.

Actually, I do know what I want to say:

“Really? Jesus. What the hell’s wrong with you?”

But that’s not going to help her, at all, or build—preserve—our fledgling relationship. So:

“Really?” I say. “Hmmm. Mine are not. Not. At. All.”

And as she processes that with this preconception she has of me as an attachment parenting-homeschooling-fully-immersed-in-motherhood-24/7-and-loving-it guru (Ha! She does not know—I run awayI resentI live so very firmly in reality and not theory), I try to figure out how to give her the context. How to explain.

Here’s the thing, my little one, maybe I’ll say. (Little one, because in that moment, looking to me for approval and guidance, she wrecks the dynamic of our nascent relationship, and we are not friends, we cannot be, we are not equals, and that’s the thing about friends, is it not?) Here’s the thing, my little one, I love my children. Madly, unconditionally. I love spending time with them. I have rewritten almost all the spoken and unspoken rules of life, career, marriage to be their primary caregiver.

But they are not everything. They are not enough. And they should not be everything—enough—to any sentient adult.

(Forgive the use of “should.” You know I try not to tell you what to do. But in this case, little one, you should have adult friends and not burden your children with being everything to you. Burden. That’s the word… Let’s talk about it some more in a couple of paragraphs, but first, another “b” word…)

The thing about children—oh, dare I tell you this? OK, here goes—when they are little, little, peeing-pooping-eating-burping messes—the thing about that stage, that amazing-exhausting stage that takes so much out of you and in which you give so much to them, and in which they are utterly and completely your world—it is so… boring. I mean… Christ. Changing diapers? Necessary, yes. Exciting? No. Reading Margaret Wiseman Brown’s The Big Red Barn for the eleventh time that hour—a wonderful, sharing experience with your little one. No doubt. Intellectually stimulating for you?

For me, not so much. Not at all. And playing cars on the floor with your motor-skill-finding toddler? Fun for the first 10 minutes. After that… the excitement pales. Just a little…

There are whole swaths of parenthood, of the work you do as mother-father, that are mind-numbingly boring. That’s ok; it’s just the way it is—life is not supposed to be a Disneyland theme ride. We find fulfillment and joy in doing the boring for them: we find joy in their joy as they… discover gravity.

And we get exhausted and exasperated, too: how many stones do you need to throw into the goddamn river before we move on? Oh. Infinity. Right… and we learn to love some of those experiences, because we love them and see the world through their eyes. And we learn to use some of that time for ourselves (book in pocket, game on phone, an opportunity to text with an also-trapped-at-a-different-playground-why-didn’t-we-coordinate-this friend).

And we find things to do together that excite us both on some level (for me and mine, it’s always been water. Pools, lakes, rivers, puddles).

But… so much of what little kids do and want to do and need to do is… boring.

(It’s not for you? Really? I don’t, honestly, believe you. But if it really is—if every last aspect fascinates you—good on you. Open a daycare, preschool, playplace. But also—get yourself some adult friends, pronto. Because, boring is only the secondary “B” word. Remember the first one? It’s burden.)

My children are older now. The 12-year-old and I sometimes read the same books and watch the same movies and Netflix shows. He explains mind-blowing scientific developments to me (most of the time, I don’t understand them). We argue about the theories about the past and the future of universe. Being with him, talking with him is definitely not boring.

The near-10-year is reaching the beginning of that ever-so-challenging age for girls; the metamorphosis begins, and most bedtimes, she will crawl into bed beside me, and alternate between being a child and being a budding woman in the space of a sentence.

She asks me the most difficult questions. She stretches my capacity to think-reason-love to the utmost. “What is truth?” “Why don’t you believe in God?” “When would I be old enough to date a boy five years older than me?” “How do people know if they’re straight or gay?” “Why do people do drugs, and have you ever?” “What would you do if you had a friend who…” Never, ever boring.

Listen, little one, this is the most important thing: I am there for her. I listen. I do my best to answer… or to point her to another question. To reassure (I’m terrible at that, frankly), to support (getting better at that).

But she is not there for me. She cannot be there for me. I am her mother, and it is her right to burden me with whatever she needs to unload, share, explore, question.

She is my daughter, she is my child, she is my little one—and it is my responsibility to NOT dump my dark on her.

Not hers to carry. She is… little. And she is my daughter. Not my friend. My responsibility. Not my equal.

So. All this, I want to say. Can I? Will I? I chicken out:

“You know what? I’ll write you a post instead. And we can talk about it, argue about it, take it to pieces. You can tell me about the dark from which your arguments come from: why it is that you feel you want to be their best friend. Why are you putting them in the awful position of being yours? Do you resist making connections with equals, adults? What’s the story you tell yourself around that? Why are you, from our first encounter, making yourself smaller than me, and looking for my approval? Why do you want to give me that power? Who the hell am I that you should defer to me?

“I’ll make you angry, and you’ll respond, and call me on my tactics. And demand I tell you where my dark comes from. Why my connections with adults are what they are… what drives me, what scares, why and where I connect and why I run—and how that fits with how I define myself as a mother-person-writer-other. And maybe I’ll tell you so much, you will tell me, ‘OMG-Jane, I think you need a therapist.’ And maybe, I will say, ‘Probably more than one. ‘”

You can do that with a friend.

xoxo

“Jane“

NBTB-Best Friends

Summer Rerun: They tell you, “It gets easier.” They lie

NBTB They tell you it gets easier

NBTB They tell you it gets easier

So there she is, stumbling down the block—walking circles around the playground—sleepwalking through the mall. The mewling baby inside a sling—a car seat—stroller. Glassy eyes, cause she hasn’t slept more than 45 minutes—no wait, two days ago, she got three hours in a row, score!—in four months. Wearing ratty pants—because they fit. And her husband’s sweater—because all her tops have been puked on and laundry, she was going to do laundry yesterday, but then the baby had a fever and…

“Holy deja vu. I know I’ve read this before. What’s up?”

“So observant, you are. This post was originally published on May 28, 2013, and briefly broke the Internets. Or at least my website. Nothing By The Book is taking a page from old school un-social media and doing a re-run summer, while I spend the hot days getting a tan, running through sprinkles, selling one book, writing another, reading two dozen more, neglecting my garden, falling in love, jumping off cliffs—you know. Everything but blogging. But, you get reruns of my favourite stuff, so everyone wins. Likely keeping up with Instagram—NothingByTheBook—will you? Or Twitter—  or/and .”

So there she is. The new mom, the first-time mom, and she’s so exhausted and she so clearly needs—what? A hug, help, empathy, reassurance. And you—you’re a good person, and so you want to give it to her. So there you go. Run up to her. Smile. And you want to say, you’re going to say:

“It gets easier.”

Don’t. Just fucking don’t. Because, fast-forward two years, three, and there she is. Running down the block. Maybe another baby in sling. Toddler in stroller or running away. And maybe she’s getting more sleep—but maybe not. Maybe the toddler has night terrors, and wakes up screaming for hours on end in the night. Or maybe, even if Morpheus has been kind to her and the children sleep—she doesn’t sleep nearly was much as she should, because when they sleep, that’s the only time she can be free. To… think. To read. To be… alone.

The toddler makes a break for it and tries to run into the street, and she nabs him, just in time, and pulls him back, and starts explaining how streets are dangerous and he must hold Mommy’s hand, but he really, really, really wants to be on the other side, and he’s two, so self-will is emerging with a vengeance and soon he’s screaming and tantruming, and you, you can see she’s on the edge, about to lose it, because maybe this is the seventh time today—this hour—she’s had to deal with this, and you want to help. You want to give her a hug, help, empathy, reassurance. And you want, you’re going to run over to her and you’re going to say:

“It gets easier.”

Don’t. Don’t. Because a year later, there she is, with her three-and-a-half year-old. Before they left the house this morning, he put her iPhone in the toilet, cut his dad’s headphone cord into shreds, and threw $30 worth of grass-fed beef off the balcony in the compost pile. And now, his pants around his ankles, he’s chasing a flock of pigeons, penis in hand, yelling, “I’m going to pee on you, pigeons!” at the top of his lungs. And she’s trying to decide—should she catch him? Or should she take advantage of the fact that he’s distracted for five minutes, so she can change the new baby’s diaper? Because she hasn’t had a chance to even check it for the last five hours… And I swear on any of the gods that you may or may not believe in, if, at that moment, you come up to her, and you say—because you’re an empathetic, loving person who wants to help—if you come to her at that moment and say,

“It gets easier.”

she’s going to rip that diaper off the baby and throw it in your face. Followed by the tepid remains of her coffee (you’re lucky that she hasn’t had a hot, scalding hot, deliciously hot cup of coffee in three and a half years). And then she’s going to sob. And she’s going to say…

“When? When the fuck does it get easier? Because I’ve been waiting for it to get easier for two three five six years.”

I’m sitting in the middle of my living room—11 years into motherhood—and I’m in a brief picture-perfect postcard (Instagram for those of you born post-1995) moment. I’m stretched out on the couch, coffee cup beside me, laptop on my lap—and, for a few minutes at least, I’m chilling. Three feet away from me, my 11 year-old is building worlds in Minecraft, and Skyping with a friend. My eight-year-old is running with a pack of her friends just outside—I hear their voices, hers most distinct among them to my ears, through the balcony. Tucked under my arm is the three-and-a-half year old, taking a break from wrecking havoc and destruction on the world to play a game on the iPad.

I’m messaging with a friend a few years behind me on the parenting path. And she asks me, and I can hear the tears in her words even though she’s typing them (people who think texting lacks nuance do not text enough; she is weeping through the keyboard),

“When does it get easier? People keep on saying, ‘It gets easier.’ When? When?”

So, I wonder, is she ready to hear this? Is she ready to hear: It doesn’t get easier. All the people who say this? They’re all liars, every last one.

But I won’t say that. First, because I do not wish to make her despair. Second, because it’s not true. It does get easier. It really does. But when people say it, what you, first-time mother, hear it is not ‘It gets easier,” but this:

“Things will get back to the way they were before, soon.”

And that, my lovely friend, will never happen. Things will never be the way they were before. Never. Things have changed forever. Things will never get back to “normal”—as you defined normal when you were single—when you were childless. Never.

And so I tell her this, and again I hear tears in-between the words she types to me.

And now I have to deconstruct the lie to her. I have to explain. That they don’t mean to lie. It really does get easier—sort of. The stuff that’s killing you now—be it the lack of sleep, the aching nipples, the endless diapers-laundry-is-she-sick-is-he-teething or be it the toddler tantrums, potty training regressions, “She won’t leave the house!” “Getting him in and out of the car seat is hell”–all of that, it will get easier—and, in fact, end. They all wean. Toilet train. Stop drawing on walls (unless they live in this house). But see, then, other stuff happens that’s really hard too. Ferocious FiveSensitive Seven. Bullies on the playground—social issues with friends and ‘frenemies.’ Broken hearts. Explosive anger at things and issues much, much bigger than all those daily rubs that cause toddlers angst.

“It gets easier”: yeah, I suppose it does, because you figure it out, and adapt, and get coping strategies. But every time you “master” a phase—they change. Grow. Face new challenges. And you’ve got to change, grow and adapt with them. If only you could do so ahead of them…

But you can’t. And so, you see, “it gets easier” … it’s a lie.

And it’s the most destructive lie, the most life-damaging myth you can buy into. See, because if you keep on waiting for things to get easier—if you put living, changing, adapting, figuring out how to dance this dance, walk this path as it is now, with all of its bumps and rubs—if you put all that on hold until it gets easier…

Well. You’ll be fucked. Totally. And completely.

So. My dearest. It doesn’t get easier. It changes. You get better. You grow. Learn. And that little squealer—that awesome toddler—that slightly evil three-year-old—he grows. Learns. Changes. It gets better. When you learn and change and grow and all that—it all gets better.

But. Easier? No.

So. There she is. Frazzled. Exhausted. So fucking tired. And she sees you coming, and you have empathy poring out of your pores. And you want to help her. Offer her empathy. Support.

What are you going to tell her?

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. Here’s the original post, with its bazillion comments.

 

space-that-is-me-my-heart-mind-made-into-place

NBTB-space-that-is-me

I.

You come into my house, and I am twirling, spiraling, dancing: half-delirious with joy and excitement. There are things I want to show you, share with you… Are you ready? I take your hand and dance with you through the hallway—walls, floors, baseboards!* —and into the place-space I really want to show you, the space most precious to me, my space.

I stand at its threshold, and beam. Spread my arms open and spin around: it’s tiny, but it’s mine, all mine, and it’s real-rebuilt-unspoilt. As I spin, I point to my little desk, and the couch-I-can-lounge-on-or-invite-friends-to-crash-on, and the rug no-child-or-dog-has-peed-on-yet, and the old, dusty Tiffany lamp Sean got me for a birthday way back when, and the little shelf of beloved-books that are there, within hand’s reach of me when I sit on the couch, and the window through which speckles of sunlight-and-outdoor-fairy-dust come in, and…

Mine, all mine, precious to me, and I am so happy, so happy to share it with you. Because I love you.

And you…

You look around, at this space-that-is-me, that is my heart-mind-made-into-place, and you say…

“Sort of a sloppy paint job, eh? I can see the spots you missed on the ceiling.”

And you say…

“Is that an Ikea sofa bed? I can’t stand Ikea furniture. And that colour… grey? What were you thinking?”

And you say…

“That Mexican blanket is so frayed and worn. Plus–taaacky! You should just throw it out.”

And you say…

“That secretary desk just doesn’t belong there at all.”

And you say…

“Why did you put a white rug there? You know it’s only going to get filthy, and you know you’ll never clean it.”

And you say…

“Is that the picture that was in your bedroom before? I’ve never liked it.”

You are in this space-that-is-me, my heart-mind-made-into-place, and you are violating me with every word.

I collapse into my grey—cheap, unfashionable, whatever, MINE, and it does what I need it to do—Ikea couch, wrap the frayed blanket (I LOVE IT) around me and turn away from you (I HATE YOU right now) and look at my shelf of beloved-books-that-always-make-me-happy and I reach out for one of them.

And you say…

“Jesus, are you still obsessed with Jane Austen? I don’t get how you can re-read those books over and over and over again. They’re so boring. Can’t you find something more interesting, more productive to do with your time?”

And our relationship is over. You never get to come into space-that-is-me, my-heart-mind ever again.

II.

You’ve never done this to me. You would never do this to me. As you read the story above—you were appalled, were you not? You thought, I know you did—what sort of terrible, terrible person would ever do that to a friend?

And yet… the average well-meaning, loving parent… does something like this… ALL THE TIME… to children.

ALL THE TIME.

III.

You come into their world, their moment, their space, their joy—and there they are, twirling, spiraling, dancing: half-delirious with joy and excitement. There are things they want to show you, share with you… Are you ready? They want to show you/tell you about their space-place-passion-joy, and it doesn’t matter what it is: an arrangement of sticks, a new graphic novel, a Youtube video that’s touched off something inside them, this cool thing they’ve built in Minecraft, a new Barbie doll outfit, what Sophia said at the playground. The way they’ve stacked their cars, rearranged their stuffies. Reorganized your kitchen cupboards.

It is a thing that is precious to them, and they are so happy, so happy to share it with you. Because they love you.

And you…

You look at what they are baring to you, and you say…

“What a mess!”

And you say…

“Did you spend the whole day watching Youtube videos again?”

And you say…

“I don’t get why you keep on reading crap like this.”

And you say…

“What a waste of time.”

And you say…

“Can’t you ever put your things away?”

And you say…

“I don’t understand why you hang out with her.”

And you say…

“Can’t you find something more interesting, more productive to do with your time?”

You are violating them with your every word.

And your relationship is over.

It won’t die the first time you do this. No. It will take a while.

But eventually… you will never get to come into space-that-is-them, their-heart-mind-space ever again.

IV.

Children give their heart-mind-space-place-come-within-me-be-inside-me-and-see-what-I-love… so freely. Don’t take it for granted.

Don’t wreck it.

Honour it.

You wouldn’t tell me—would you? —all those terrible things? (And if you would, baby—therapy. Now. Today; don’t wait for tomorrow.) You wouldn’t, of course you wouldn’t. Because you know you would violate me. With every word. And our relationship would be over, and my space-place-heart-mind closed to you forever.

Don’t do it to your children.

This soapbox moment brought to you by my own need for eternal vigilance over the tendency to treat our children worse than we would treat friends or strangers.

xoxo

“Jane”

NBTB-space-that-is-me

*If you’re new here, you might need to know… there was this flood: unLessons from the flood: we are amazing and After the flood: Running on empty, and why “are things back to normal” is not the right question. And now, 10.5 months later, I have my space back (well, almost, almost, any day now…), and am reimagining it. And it is quite, quite wonderful.

And when I get a cheap grey IKEA couch in there, and my frayed Mexican blanket, and a rug no-child-or-dog-has-peed-on-yet, and my most-beloved-books… it will be even better. And when I invite you into it, invite you in because I love you–you will look at it through MY eyes before you say anything. Because… you love me. And want to understand how I feel about this space-that-is-me, understand me–not hear yourself talk.

Of course you will.

Now. Go do the same thing when your child invites you in…

WILD THING: 7 ways to “attachment parent” the older child

This is for you. You know who you are. Originally published as “Five is hard, or can you attachment parent the older child?” xoxo

Wild Thing 7 ways to AP the older child.jpg

***

It happens to the most attached parents among us. We’ve breastfed, co-slept, and slung our babes happily. It was easy—or, it became easy, once we got into the groove and shook off Aunt Augusta’s disapproving glare. We saw our children grown and flourish, loved, connected, happy. But then, at some point, the demons of self-doubt return. Our child goes through a phase we see as difficult and challenging. Almost inevitably, this happens when we’re not at our best—pregnant, tired, stressed. And we wonder—is it possible to attachment parent the older child?

Five seems to be the milestone when these demons attack most ferociously. Makes sense: it’s such a milestone age in our culture. The preschooler becomes a kindergartener. The stroller’s abandoned; the first loose teeth come. The search for self becomes super-pronounced, and our five-year-old is frighteningly selfish. (I write about that aspect of five in Ferocious Five.)

It hit one of my friends very hard when her eldest daughter turned five. She asked our playgroup community for help, and she framed her struggles under this big question: “Is it possible the attachment parent the older child? This five year-old who’s driving me utterly, completely crazy every moment of every single day? Is it time to bring out the conventional discipline–punishment–toolbox?”

This was my response to my friend. I had seen Cinder through five pretty successfully. Not yet Flora. Bear that in mind as you read (also bear in mind that I had a very specific audience-of-one in mind for this piece. And I do again…). Check out Ferocious Five for the lessons Flora taught me.

(2008). Five is hard. But so is two, three, four, six, sixteen–all in their different ways. Part of the trouble is that our children move onward and forward through the different ages and stages, while we, their imperfect parents, have just figured out how to cope with the preceding one.

Is it possible to attachment parent the older child? Possible, necessary, critical. And here is where the difference between AP “things we do”–co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing–and the AP “things we are” plays large. We don’t carry our five year olds, the majority of us don’t breastfeed them any more, we’re not necessarily co-sleeping with them. The “do” stuff is gone.

The “be” stuff is all that remains.

And how do we “be” with the older children? I think this is one of the points at which our paths can diverge quite dramatically. And I don’t know that there is one *right* answer. For what it is worth, based on my sample of one five-year-old shepherded through some challenging stuff to date, these are the principles that helped us:

1. Make their world larger.

At five, Cinder’s world got larger. We’re homeschooling, so the massive change that is five day a week kindergarten wasn’t part of it–but think of what a huge change that is for the average five-year-old, and how hard it must be sort out, everything so new. Still, even minus kindergarten, it was so clear to us that a five-year-old was very different from a four-year-old. And absolutely, we butted heads because while he had moved on, I was still mothering a four-year-old.

A huge breakthrough for me was to make his world larger–ride his bike on (safe!) streets, cross the street on his own, go into stores on his own, play a bigger role in everything. I can’t quite remember all the different changes we did, but they’re pretty much irrelevant–they wouldn’t necessarily work for your child. Talk with her. What would she like to do now that she couldn’t (or wasn’t interested) in doing a year or six months ago?

2. The only person whose behaviour I can control is myself.

The other thing I always come back when we run into “downs”: the only person whose behaviour I can control is myself. And if I am unhappy with how my child is acting, the first step is not to look for a way to change my child, but to look at myself, within myself, and ask myself what can I do to change how I am reacting and communicating with my children? What am I doing–reflexively, thoughtlessly–that I can change. Start with me. When I’m okay, when I’m balanced, when I’m grounded–well, very often, the problem goes away, because it was in me in the first place. My children mirror me.

And, if the problem really is in the other–if it is all my Cinder being crazy or my Flora being whiney–when I’m taking care of myself, reflecting on my behaviour, and acting from a place within me that’s grounded, well, then I can cope and talk and help them sort through whatever craziness they are going through at the time without losing it.

3. Re-connect, re-attach.

I strongly, strongly believe that any punishment–be it a time out, a withdrawal of privileges, or the most innocuous manufactured consequence–does not help these situations but serves to drive a tiny, but ever growing, wedge between the attached parent and child. The absolutely best thing I’ve ever read about discipline was in Gordon Neufeld’s Hold On To Your Kids–absolutely aimed at parents of older children, through to teens. We’ve talked about this before, you and I, but this is the essence of what I take away from Neufeld’s chapter on “Discipline that Does Not Divide”: “Is [whatever action you were going to take] going to further your connection to your child? Or is it going to estrange you?”

So what do I do when I kind of want to throttle Cinder? I work at re-connecting. I call them re-attachment days. Have a bath together. Wrestle (I’m not advising it for pregnant mamas). Go for coffee (for me) and cookie (for him) at Heartland Cafe, just the two of us (see Ice Cream Discipline). Really focus on him and try to enjoy him. So often, that’s what he’s asking for by being obnoxious–really focused attention from me.

Now if I could only ensure I always give it to him so that we wouldn’t go through the head-butting phase in the first place!

4. Remind myself of what I want to say and how I want to act.

What do I do in the moment? That’s way harder in practice, no question. When I’m really frazzled, I leave notes to myself in conspicuous places with “when Cinder does x–do not say/do this–say/do this instead.” (Fridge and front door best places. Also, bathroom door. See Surviving 3.5 and 5.5–a cheat sheet.) And I tell my children what they are–“Those are reminders to me of how I want to treat you and talk to you, even when what you are doing makes me very, very angry.”

5. Sing.

Sometimes, I sing, “I want to holler really loud, but I’m trying really hard not to, someone help me figure something else to do, I think I’m going to stand on my head to distract myself…” (This works really, really well with two and three year olds too, by the way.)

6. Forgive. Move on.

Sometimes, I don’t catch myself in time and do all the things I don’t want to do: yell, threaten (if there is an “if” and a “then” in a sentence, it’s almost always a threat)… and then I apologize, try to rewind, move forward.

7. Put it all in perspective.

And always, always, I remind myself that 1) the worst behaviours usually occur just before huge developmental/emotional milestones, changes and breakthroughs, 2) my child is acting in the best way he knows at this moment, and if that way is not acceptable to me, I need to help him find another one, and 3) I love the little bugger more than life or the universe, no matter how obnoxious he is. (This is a good exercise too: after a hard, hard day, sit down and make a list of all the things you love about your little one. From the shadow her eyelash make on her cheeks when she sleeps to the way she kisses you goodnight… everything you can think of.)

And, finally, if I want my children to treat me–and others–with respect, I must treat them with respect. No matter how angry or tired I am.

Lots of love and support,

“Jane”

2014. Gods, that’s long-winded and self-important and painfully sincere. But then, I was so. Still. There’s this: “If I want my children to treat me–and others–with respect, I must treat them with respect.” I don’t know that I needed to write 1400 more words, do you? Is it easy to do that when I’m exhausted, empty? Fuck, no. But then, most worthwhile things are hard, at least some of the time…

 

“I just want my kids to be happy!” Really? I don’t. Here’s why…

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Flora is bent over her loom, all concentration. Fingers sore, forehead creased. Snap! Something goes wrong—it’s all undone, all that work for nothing! She sobs in frustration. Starts again. Forehead creased. So focused. Happy? No, not so much.

Cinder is building worlds in Minecraft. He’s changing—hacking—a map or mod. Nothing’s going right. And finally, when it does—the Internet crashes. Then his computer freezes. “Fuck!” he screams. Restarts the router, the computer. Runs around the block a few times. Returns to his project. “This sucks! I’m so angry and frustrated!” he tells me as he sits back down at the desk. Swears some more as he waits for his applications to boot up.

Ender is trying to make a perfect “O.” No, he’s building a car ramp. Wait, he’s fiddling with his brother’s Lego. Now he’s reorganizing the kitchen pantry. “Mom? Is there anything I can cut?” I give him the tray of mushrooms, an aging cucumber, a cutting board, a knife. He massacres the vegetables. Focused. Determined. Happy? I don’t know… certainly not when he nicks his finger, bleeds, and needs a bandaid…

I’m bent over my laptop, salty water leaking out the corners of my eyes. I’ve just finished and sent out another assiduously, arduously tailored pitch and in the time I’ve been working on it, four new rejections pop into my in-box. Four. One of them back so quickly I know the recipient didn’t even bother reading the covering email, never mind the requested 50-page pitch package. I am deflated, battered, rejected, exhausted, angry, discouraged, oh, and in tears. Happy? Ha! I want to curl up into the fetal position on the filthy floor of the public washroom of the cafe in which I’m working* and wail at the universe.

I splash water at my face, wail to a friend via text, accept comfort and almost believe it, eat a chocolate croissant. Get back to work. Happy? No. But… moving on. In pursuit.

In pursuit, but not of happiness. I think the “just do what makes you happy,” “I just want my kids to be happy,” “Surely I deserve to be happy!” way of thinking—this cult of happiness North Americans pursue and sell to the rest of the world via their movies, ads and products—contributes to the First World epidemics of depression, entitlement, overconsumption, constant dissatisfaction. If we are taught—inculcated—with the idea that we are supposed to be happy and in pursuit of happiness—if not at always, at least most of the time, we are doomed to be disappointed and dissatisfied—if not always, at least most of the time.

I don’t want my kids to be doomed, disappointed or constantly dissatisfied.

And so, I don’t want them to “just be happy.”

Because happiness is a mood. A transient mood at that. A symptom, a byproduct, a reflection. A feeling.

It is not a goal, an achievement.

Now, beloved, listen to this: I’m not at all depressive or negative. I feel bliss frequently, and when I don’t experience it for a while, I will chase hits of dopamine as often, with as much abandon, maybe more, as you do. I think it’s wonderful to feel happy. And I absolutely want my children to feel happy, often, frequently, sustainably.

But I don’t “just want them to be happy.”

I want them to be… fulfilled. To know how to get full. And how to fill others. I want them to be purposeful, to have purpose, and live lives of meaning. I want them to be resilient. And grateful. To contribute, build, create, change. Help. Love. Be loved.

I want them to pursue difficult things. To glow with success and satisfaction when they succeed—to cry and mourn and to learn and find a way to move forward when they fail. I want them to know how to think… how to persevere… and you know, also, how to give up. Because that’s a skill too, and sometimes, you’ve got to stop beating your head against the wall, step away, and look around for a rope ladder with which to climb over that wall… or maybe a sledgehammer with which to demolish it…

I want them to be… human. Alive. Fully alive, aware. And that means: they will be sad. So sad. Angry. Thwarted. Frustrated. Discouraged. Disappointed. Battered. Rejected. Full of suffering, angst.

And then, later, or even at the same time, they will be in the flow, productive, thrilled, ecstatic, stoked, oh-so-happy.

But in the pursuit of something other, grander, more important, more meaningful, bigger than “just being happy.”

Flora walks out of her martial arts class head held high, but on the brink of tears, and they come when she’s safe in the car. “I think I did well,” she gets out between sobs. “I don’t think I screwed anything up. But, oh, I’m so upset! So anxious and unhappy right now!” When she gets her new belt… she will be ecstatic, walking in air. So-happy.

Cinder calls me to come see what he’s build. It’s taken hours. It’s beautifully complex. He’s spent. But so satisfied. He barely remembers how much swearing he was thrusting at the computer screen earlier in the day.

Ender crawls into my lap in tears. He wants to see his cousin, he wants to go to Legoland, he wants to have Ikea meatballs for lunch, he is so-so-unhappy, life is terrible, awful, he is exhausted. I read him books; he falls asleep. I am exhausted too. Happy? In this moment? No. But… fulfilled. Determined. Purposeful. Conscious. Aware.

I kiss his forehead, cheek as I tuck him in. Feel a shot of bliss and happiness. Enjoy it for a moment… then traipse down to the laptop. Stare at my cracked-spiderweb screen. Take a deep breath. Start writing. Seek flow, creation, accomplishment…

Happy? No.

Better.

xoxo

“Jane”

I just want my kids to be happy-not.jpg

*Cafes, my office away from home. Because a) flood and b) reconstruction and c) the secret to working at home with kids is to run away from them.

Looking for me? I’ve revamped the for-stalkers-and-bloggers-and-no-I’m-a-real-sane-fan! section: Find “Jane”

Next week on Nothing By The Book: The return of Cinder and Ender penis stories, Flora’s interpretative dance of the new math, and Jane’s surrender to existential angst (also possibly in interpretative dance).

This week in my real life: My real self wrote this column The CEO has a uterus: no, wait, the problem is that he doesn’t. It’s sort of going to change the world and you should check it out.

On yelling, authenticity, aspiration and the usefulness of judgemental relatives-and-strangers

LanternsPin

Jane: Cinder! I mean Flora! Ender! Gah—child-I’m-mad-at, come here!

Flora: Which one? We were all being kind of buttsacks.

Jane: Wah! All of you! Just come here, line up, and I’m going to yell at each of you in turn. Or maybe all together…

Cinder: I did not do anything! Not really!

Jane: But I guarantee you will do something yell-worthy soon. Get over here. Now here’s what we’re going to do. I am going to deliver an all purpose yelling-lecture session now. Then, whenever you’re buttsacks the rest of the day, I can just go, “Waah! Remember what I said this morning?” And we can move on without more lecturing-yelling.

Flora: I don’t think that’s going to work.

Cinder: You’re really weird.

Ender: Maybe I’ll be really good the rest of the day.

Flora: Probably not.

Cinder: Definitely not.

Ender: You! Suck!

Cinder: You’re! A! Buttsack!

Flora: I think this is why Mom wanted to yell at us. Ok, we’re ready, Mom. Go.

So here’s the thing, friends. I don’t really yell at the kids that much. More than I’d like to… less than Aunt Augusta—you know Aunt Augusta, you’ve got one too*—thinks I ought to. But sometimes, I yell.

Sometimes, they really need to be yelled at, and I really need to yell.

Sometimes, “You! Are! Driving! Me! Insane!” is better—more real—more authentic—less damaging—than taking a deep breath, gritting my teeth, and muttering, “Never mind.”

Actually—gritting my teeth and muttering “Never mind”—when, in truth, I really, really, REALLY DO MIND—is never the better thing to do, the healthy thing to do.

Do this. Think of something that makes you extremely angry. Whatever it is. Clubbing baby seals or keying cars or taking the chicken carcass out of the garbage and trying to flush it down the toilet…** Now, sigh, shrug, and say, “Never mind.” You liar. Of course you mind. Feel yourself tightening up and going mad as a result? Acknowledge that you mind. And then move on.

Cinder: Mom? Mom! You did that spacing out thing again! We’re waiting for the yelling!

Jane: Oh. Right. The moment’s kind of passed. I’m no longer in a yelling mood. Just try not to be buttsacks*** to each other.

Cinder: You know that’s probably not going to happen.

Jane: I know. Try. Most of life is aspirational.

And as Flora explains to her brothers what aspirational means, I decide that today may be an ice-cream discipline kind of day. And also, a good day to NOT clean the kitchen and NOT do laundry and NOT try to squeeze in a couple of hours of research on that project—the deadline’s too far away to be urgent, kitchens just get dirty again, and everyone still has socks. Instead, it’s a good day to text a friend or two and take our collective brood to roam some urban park or other. Climb a hill. Break some ice floes. Get soaking wet and dirty in melting puddles. And then do THAT laundry. Or not.

Most of life is aspirational.

xoxo

“Jane”

LanternsPin

* You don’t know Aunt Augusta? Are you sure? She’s my all-purpose metaphor for every relative-aquaintance-friend-of-the-family-well-meaning-stranger-at-the-bus-stop-nosy-neighbour who has an opinion about how I live my life/raise my children and misses no opportunity to tell me I’m doing it wrong. Ah, Aunt Augusta. The pain and angst you caused me when I was a brand-new, vulnerable mother… The amusement and opportunity for passive-aggressive and just-out-right-aggressive barbs you give me now… I won’t say I love you, darling, because you’re bitchy, abrasive, judgemental, intolerant, invasive and well, kinda nasty. But I’m glad you exist, because you’ve become this amazing barometer for me. If I ever do anything of which you wholeheartedly approved—man, I’ll have fucked up but majorly. So please, darling. Criticize away. I’m too permissive, messy, insufficiently-hovering-spoiling-my-children-too-much? Awesome. Thank you. I was worried I was too-cranky-angry-controlling-snappy these days, but clearly, I’m still doing ok.

**I caught up with him before Part II was fully in effect.

***It’s also a metaphor. Cinder’s creation. I’ve stopped fighting it and now fully embrace its use as a term of… endearment. That’s what it is. Endearment.

##

My kids are quitters. Wanna make something out of it?

My children quit activities they don’t like. Just like that. Guitar? Martial arts? Gymnastics? Music? Art? Naked hang-gliding?* They don’t like it, they don’t want to go, they quit. No fuss. We move on to something else. Or nothing.

I don’t say, “But I paid for it, so you have to finish it.” (Although I suggest—“We have six classes left. Can you give it a couple classes more before you really make up your mind?” And sometimes they say yes. And sometimes they say, “No, I know I hate this. I don’t need to go any more to find out.”)

I don’t say, “But you wanted to!” Because, seriously, when a five-year-old asks for—insert activity of choice here—she really doesn’t really understand what it entails, what it means. It sounded like fun, cool. But now she’s doing it. And it blows goats.

I don’t say, above all, “In this family, we finish what we started!” Because—I don’t finish unreadable books. I walk out of bad movies. I don’t finish that $40 entree at the fancy restaurant when it tastes foul.

You’re getting edgy, I can see. You’re going to say… but none of those are important things.

You know what? Neither is art class at four. Ballet at seven. Most if not all of the extra-curricular activities children are put in—at younger and younger ages—are thoroughly, completely unimportant and irrelevant. Or, to be less negative: they are as important and relevant as my enjoyment of a book, a movie, a meal. They are supposed to be pleasure. Fun. If they are—awesome. The child will want to go.

And when they’re not… why do you feel compelled to make them go?

I’m going to up the stakes a bit. Listen to this: I quit jobs that make me miserable. I stop working for clients who don’t respect or deserve my time. I withdraw my time and passion from causes that drain me. I don’t invest in relationships that don’t fill me.

If it’s making me miserable and I can let it go—I do. I quit. I walk. I stop.

And here’s the thing, beloved. I am incredibly successful. Obscenely self-disciplined. Really, despite the chaos I let you enjoy here, extremely organized. I get things done.

Important things.

Define important as you will…

I want my children to learn to value—their time. I want them to pursue their passions, talents, and skills. I don’t want them to confuse time wasters and schedule fillers with.. essentials. Because the older you get, the more you grow into adulthood, the more time wasters and schedule fillers are thrust at you by people who never learned the difference.

So. Take away this from my ramblings today. If your son** tells you he wants to quit violin-soccer-Mad Science-biathalon, ask—“Are you sure?” Ask, sure, “Why?” Listen to the answer. And let him quit without worrying that you’re failing to teach him a lesson.***

You’re teaching him this:

Your mother listens to you.

And this:

Your time is valuable. I honour where you choose to give it, even now.

And then, beloved… think about where you choose to give your time. And whether you are valuing it. Your time, talent, passion is precious. That thing you’re doing that’s sucking you dry, exhausting you, making you ill with anxiety? Is it important? Is it essential? Is the goal to which it leads worth it?

If it is—by all means, suck it up. Persevere. Get to the top, over the finish line.

If it falls in the category of Drama Start for Preschoolers? Quit.

Permission granted.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some things I want to finish…

xoxo

“Jane”

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Photo: Hard at play, hard at work.

*I put that in there to make sure you were reading, not skimming.

**It’s usually my son. 🙂

***Really listen to the answer. There’s always a subtext. Find it.

How we teach children to lie, without realizing it #attachmentparenting

Yes. It is we, the parents, who teach them to lie. And this is how:

Kids Wall 2

Caption: “I didn’t do it!”

Jane: Ender? Did you poop your pants?

Ender: Yes.

Jane: Oh, Jeezus, Ender, how could you? I just asked you if you needed to go 10 minutes ago. Fucking hell, and now I have to change your poopy bum, and it is so disgusting, yuck…

What happens next time?

Jane: Ender? Did you make a poop?

Ender: No.

Jane: Of course you did! Why are you lying to me?

We ask a question. We get the truthful answer. We don’t like what we hear. We freak. We repeat this cycle. The result: we teach the child to lie.

And it’s so simple. Do this instead:

 Jane: Ender? Did you poop your pants?

Ender: Yes.

Jane: Let’s go clean your bum. Tell mama next time as soon as you feel you need to go, ok?

Better yet, don’t ask questions to which you know the answer, right? Ya’ know he pooped. Ya’ can smell it. Just say this:

 Jane: Let’s go clean your bum, dude, and then we can go back to playing.

I chose the toilet training example because it’s almost invariably the topic of a new parent’s first “My child has started to lie! What do I do?” And we just don’t realize that we’ve been coaching them to lie to us by how we react to the truth.

Children—all people—lie to protect themselves. They lie because they learn that their parents—others around them—do not actually want to hear the truth. They lie because we teach them to.

You do not “teach” a child to be truthful by talking about how important it is to tell the truth.

Instead, you teach them to lie by not accepting the truth when they tell it to you. So. If you want the truth? Don’t teach them to lie. Foster an environment and a relationship, in which saying “I pooped my pants,” “I broke the lamp,” “I lost my mittens,” “I don’t like this supper” is okay and doesn’t lead to a parental shit storm.

Cinder: Mom! I think I broke the X-box! Help!

Music to my ears.

Flora: I’m sorry, Mom, but I just don’t like this soup.

Awesome.

Ender: Mama: I pooped my pants!

That’s what I want to hear.

English: A soapbox at Occupy Boston

This soap box moment was originally brought to you on November 25, 2012 because  I very much needed  a reminder not to  teach my children to lie. I was reminded of it when I found myself in a fascinating conversation this week in which I found myself arguing that spouses-lovers spend their entire relationships teaching their spouses-lovers to lie–ever more intricately–and then are outraged when those lies are suddenly uncovered… I might tell you about it sometime. If you bribe me with chocolate, wine and Facebook shares. Wink.

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. I get a massive ego stroke this week at Tao of Poop, as Rachel celebrates her daughter’s bedhead and references that infamous The AP Hair Style: I don’t brush my children’s hair. It’s a massive philosophical thing. Really post. And I’ve got to point you to the awesome Katia’s edgy pop culture take on body image, Ladies Meet Your New Body Image Protection Squad: J-Law, Britney and Miranda at MamaPop.com (Katia usually blogs at I Am The Milk; pay her a visit there).

P.P.S. While I’m sending you places, here’s a new-to-me blog, Not that you asked but… that I think I might like. So you might like. I’m sending you to a body image (sort of) post. For a reason, which will be revealed later, and has nothing to do with teaching lovers or children to lie.

P.P.P.S. I knew what he was doing to that wall. It’s family-centred living. OK, now, for real, Jane out.

Don’t fight with the four-year-old. Just don’t.

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It goes like this:

Jane: For Keeee-rrriiiissst’s sake, what is wrong with you guys? Do. Not. Fight. With. The. Four. Year. Old!

But do they understand? No.

Flora: Is it too much to ask to not have him pull my hair?

Sean: Is it too much to ask to not have him screech in the car?

Cinder: Is it too much to want my testicles to be intact?

So I try to explain. Of course it’s not too much to ask to have him not pull your hair. It’s a perfectly reasonable request. But how about you just move your head like so, so it’s not within grasp of his crazy little fingers? He’s restrained in the car seat. There’s only so far he can reach. Just… move more to the right.

Flora: But I want to rest my head on the car seat!

Jane: Then he will pull your hair.

Flora: Because he’s evil?

Jane: Because he’s four…

I re-coach Sean through this, again. Yes, it sucks when he screeches in the car. But he’s at this awesome phase that the more of a reaction he gets from you, the more he will do it. Ask him to stop, once… if it doesn’t work, zone out. Don’t pay attention. The more you ask, the more—and with more glee—he will do it. That’s the phase. It should be over in four-to-six months.

Sean: But it’s driving me crazy!

Jane: But you will never, ever win that kind of argument with a four-year-old.

Sean: But you hate it too! I saw you—when we stopped at that red light, you clicked open the door and your hand was on the door handle. I know what you were thinking!

True. I almost leapt out of the car and walked the remaining 4 km home. And there was a blizzard happening, and I was NOT wearing sensible shoes. But it wasn’t just the screeching. It was the combination of screeching-and-counter-screeching… because, see, it always takes two.

Which brings me to…

Cinder: I can’t wait to see how you justify Ender’s incessant assault on my privates.

Jane: Cinder, you do everything to provoke him but tape a “kick me” sign to your groin.

Cinder: A “kick me” sign on my groin? Now there’s an idea…

Jane: I have absolutely no pity or sympathy for you. And I’m becoming resigned to the idea that you will never give me grandchildren. Thank Zeus I have two other children who may continue the genetic line…

I own this: the four-year-old is… exhausting. He is such an amazing combination of exuberance, glee, joy—and utter chaos, destruction, self-centredness and irrationality—that… well, exhausting. There’s no other way to describe it. Chaos personified, joy personified. Love personified, too, but energy draining more often than energy-giving. The mantra that gets me through his most intense moments is pretty simple:

It takes two to fight.

So I don’t.*

Ender: I’m going to pee in my potty, and then I’m going to put it on my head and dance, dance, dance!

Jane: I’m going to start the bath running, then.

And look for the mop.

Caveat: I don’t always succeed. Of course not. Them four-year-olds are wily creatures. And sometimes, they crave the conflict as much as I crave peace. They—or the Ender, at least—will work tirelessly and methodically to elicit a scream. To arouse the Evil-Mommy-Within. To evoke The-Voice-of-Cthulu.

Cinder: Jeezus, Mom, what the hell was that?

Jane: Um… sorry. That was the crazy, I’ve lost all control voice.

Cinder: Wow. Did you ever yell at me like that?

Jane: I can honestly say, No. But, you know, I don’t think it’s that you were any less annoying. I think I had more patience.

Flora: Mom? I don’t think the crazy voice worked. Ender just ran out the front door.

Jane: But it’s -10! And he’s naked!

Flora: He’s also holding a pair of garden shears in one hand and a drywall saw in the other.

Send chocolate. Wine. And the business cards of some good therapists.

xoxo,
Jane

P.S. I still want to know what your totem animal is. I’ll collect all the answers in this Friday’s post. The things you will learn about yourselves and your friends… Hashtag #whatsyourtotemanimal if you’re tweeting the answer or respond in comments below the original post, It’s a game: what’s your totem animal? And what’s mine? Email me at nothingbythebook@gmail.com if you want to play but keep it all undercover.

P.P.S. I want to ensure none of you construe the above post as parenting advice. To that end, I direct you to Rachel of Tao of Poop’s recent post, Can’t you just stop the parenting advice?

P.P.P.S. For the bloggers in the crowd: last week, my Twitter feed introduced me to Shane Prather, from Whispering Sweetly and her Bloggers Coast to Coast map. It’s a fun idea: you list your blog with her and can use the resulting interactive map as a way to meet local bloggers. Have a peek:

*I will also own that my conflict-avoidance powers are legendary. For better or worse.

Why insomniacs, obsessives, the mildly neurotic and the otherwise troubled and imperfect make better parents

It’s 2:13 a.m. and I am very, very awake, listening to shadows, watching noises (it’s 2.13 a.m. in the morning—that’s when one listens to shadows, you know), and alternating between looking my demons straight in their frightening faces or hiding from them behind empty “life is good” mantras.

Tip-tap-tip-tap. A tiny little body hurtles into the bed, crawls in beside me.

“I can’t sleep, Mama!” the four-year-old lies, and, as he curls up against my body, falls back into deep, deep sleep. I inhale the smell, essence of him. He becomes my non-empty mantra…

Tip-tap-tip-tap. Flop. A not-so-tiny body clambers into bed between her Daddy and me.

“Mom? I had a horrible, horrible nightmare.”

I hold her. She whispers the dream, already fading, into my ear. Closes her eyes. Minutes pass. Maybe hours.

“Mommy? I can’t sleep.”

I tell her to try a little more, a little harder, a little longer—but before long, we both give up on sleep and the bed, and tip-tap-tip-tap downstairs. I wrap her in blankets and put on a show for her. Get her a bowl of cereal.

“You’re the best mom in the world,” she says, and that disarms one of the demons that was keeping me awake. I could probably sleep now. But—I look at the clock—it’s now 5 a.m., and I often write really well at precisely 5 a.m. …

I’ve often had erratic sleep patterns, both in hard times of high stress and in glorious times of high creativity and excitement, and I know that my own knowledge and acceptance that sometimes—often—an uninterrupted eight hours of sleep just wasn’t going to happen—helped me be a better night-time parent. When my littles woke me up at night—and woke me again and again—I was able to take it much more in stride, I think, than an adult who hasn’t known insomnia. An adult for whom the pre-child norm was a solid uninterrupted eight. Who hasn’t been NOT able to sleep, no matter how physically exhausted—no matter how much she really, really wanted to.

It’s always easier to accept what we’ve experienced ourselves—to understand what we’ve also lived. Especially… if we accept that part of ourselves. If we don’t resent it, fight it, hate it.

Sometimes, I can’t sleep.

Sometimes, I get angry. Irrational. Bat-shit crazy, really.

Sometimes, I don’t want to be with people. Not even the people I love. Not even, my most beloved, you.

Sometimes—I don’t want to eat. I know it’s delicious and you worked really hard to make that meal… but I’m just not hungry. Not at all. Or just not for that.

Sometimes, I don’t want to do the fun thing you planned for me to do. I just want to curl up on the couch with my book. (Or blog ;P)

Sometimes, I procrastinate. And procrastinate. And don’t do that thing that I really ought to do before I do anything else…

Sometimes, I’m moody and unsettled.

Sometimes, I’m completely obsessed with this one utterly unimportant, irrelevant thing, and you can’t distract me from it no matter what you do…

Sometimes—oftentimes—my kids, my mate, other people I love, have exactly those same feelings, needs.

Knowing, accepting—not resenting, not hating—those parts of me makes it easier to accept, to love those parts of them.

Being utterly, completely imperfect makes me a better parent. A better friend.

How about you?

xoxo

“Jane”

photo (17)

P.S. What? I’m versatile. Sometimes, I’m utterly sweet and sappy. Sometimes, I’m an elitist bitch with a tongue like a guillotine. Imperfect. Deal with it. Love me as I am or screw off.

P.P.S. Recent posts in a similar vein from my tribe: Stephanie Sprenger pens a lovely Letter to my daughter who is just like me and Kristi Campbell wishes she was a more perfect mom.

P.P.P.S. If you’re a YYC or AB floodster and you’ve been sent here to read THAT post, and you’re a little confused about what the hell is up with THIS post, you are at the right blog. You’re looking for this: After the flood: Running on empty and why “So, are things back to normal?” is not the right question.

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Sometimes a wrench really is a metaphor. Not for what you’d think, of course…

R&Maggie

R&Maggie

Cinder: Mom? Can I go outside with a wrench? One of those really, really big ones? Or a crowbar?

Good to know: He knows where they are. He could just grab one. He’s asking to be told, ‘No.’

Jane: No.

Cinder: How about if I promise not to wield it as a weapon?

Jane: Um… No.

Cinder: Moooom! I promise, absolutely promise I will not bludgeon the girls with it.

Jane: No.

Cinder: Mooooom….

Jane: If you tell me I never let you do anything, I just might bludgeon you with it.

Cinder: Fine. Will you bake cookies?

Jane: Um… how about we bike over to Safeway and buy a box of Peak Freens?

Cinder: Deal.

What I’ve learned over the last 11 years of listening to Cinder: It’s really, really hard to say, “Mom, I’m feeling really left out of the game Flora and her friends are playing.” Much easier to say/do something that annoys the girls and requires an active Mother-intervention. Like chasing them with a wrench.

Always listen for the subtext. Even when you–like me–are inclined to take what is said as what is meant. Always. Subtext.

xoxo,

“Jane”

From my newsfeed this am: My son wears dresses, get over it, by the brilliant Matt Duron.

From my archives: My sons don’t wear dresses anymore–or should I say right now, but they did; to wit: The return of the Princess dress.

Post of the week from my reader: Act Your Age? on the Tao of Poop. “Playdough has similar soothing properties to a glass of wine or Prozac,” she writes. And then just gets better.

What defines you as a parent?

It’s beautiful, hot and sultry, a day that belongs to the peak of summer and not early fall, and my children are running wild at a playground, shouting, laughing. Occasionally crashing and crying. And suddenly, Flora runs up to me, shaking with laughter, and:

Flora: Mom, mom, mom, mom, listen! I have a story, such a good story for your blog! O… what’s his name on the blog again?

Jane: Ender.

Flora: Yeah, yeah, yeah—Ender was just playing with that cute little girl, do you see her?

I look. Smile. Nod. Ender and another three-year-old are across the playground, solemnly engaged in filling each other’s shirts and pants with gravel.

Flora: Yeah, yeah, yeah, so she was playing there, and he filled a bucket with gravel and dumped it on her head. And she burst into tears.

I don’t like where this story is going. I will edit it considerably in the telling, I think.

Flora: And O… Ender said, “Don’t cry, don’t cry, I love you. Here, you do it now!” And look, they’re just dumping gravel all over each other all happy and everything. And the best part is, he’s not dumping gravel on me!

And I kiss Flora, and glance around for Ender’s playmate’s mother, to ensure that she’s one of those-type-of-mothers, and not these-types-of-mothers, but before I find her, I hear a voice out of the corner of my left ear:

Beautiful stranger: Excuse me… this is going to sound really weird, but are you Nothing By The Book?

Now, if you’re a fellow blogger about to go into swoons of envy, let me assure you that a) this hardly ever happens to me and b) I may live in a million-plus town, but the out-on-the-fringe-sub-culture community here is teeny-weeny and this isn’t as epic an event as it might seem to you—and not nearly as ego-gratifying to me as you might think. Or so I maintain, and I am the writer and teller of the story. Speaking of, back to the tale:

Jane: More or less.

Beautiful stranger: Are those your children?

And her eyes, and mine, go to Cinder—hanging upside down from a tree—Flora—dancing ‘round and ‘round and ‘round and whispering to herself—and Ender… filling his playmate’s shoes with gravel and then dumping it on her head.

I fight the urge to disclaim my relationship to Ender.

Jane: Yeah.

And suddenly, I know what she’s going to say before she says. Oh, yes, I know it and I brace myself for it, and she says:

Beautiful stranger: They look so clean!

And I swallow my laughter, and look at Cinder’s wild hair, freshly (self) washed and (self) brushed this morning, and Flora’s 12 tiny braids (“I want 24 mom, pleeeeeeeze!” “Not today, babe, that will take me at least an hour. Raincheck?”), and even Ender’s gravel-filled head looks pretty presentable, and I can’t help it, I say:

Jane: They’ve never had lice either.

But as I say it, I regret it, immediately, because it’s borderline-mean, isn’t it? I’m assuming she’s read The AP Hair Style: I don’t brush my children’s hair. It’s a massive philosophical thing, really and had one-of-those reactions to it, and she’s assuming…

Actually, you know what? I’m not going to assume what she’s assuming. Or even that she’s assuming.

I look at her thoughtfully. Introduce my real self. Ask her name. And which of the children are hers.

There’s a toddler, going up and down, up and down the slide. And a brand-new baby, sleeping in half-a-double-stroller.

And I feel, immediately, such a wave of affection and empathy for her, because she’s in one of those toughest, most draining phases, isn’t she? Toddler, baby. Erratic sleep patterns. Everything in life a constant adjustment, struggle. Never enough time. Barely a sense of self… Maybe still waiting for things to get easier… (Oh, beloved, do you still believe that lie?)

And then, a wave of fear and horror, almost repulsion, because she looks at me with anxiety and eagerness and eyes and a heart so full of questions and I clam up, dam up, because she’s looking for a guru and I fucking hate that.

And you think, you hypocrite, then why do you blog about parenting and children and child-rearing un-philosophies, and I answer—I’m a writer. Try to stop me from writing. Try. But this by-product, it’s, truly, truly hard to deal with.

I’m so busy clamming, damming I miss the question, and I ask her to repeat it. And laugh, as I look at her hairless baby, and not much more hair-endowed toddler, because she essentially asks me whether, if she believes that good grooming—brushed and cut hair, matched clothes, all of that—if she believes those things are important, does that mean she’s not an attachment parent?

She’s still on that hair post you see, and I briefly regret using the “AP” tag in it, because its meaning to me is historical and laden with more than 11-years of relationships and reinterpretations, and she’s brand new to the journey, and in the most vulnerable stage of it, and…

… and fucking hell, she’s looking at me with “enlighten me” eyes again, and I need to fix that, right now.

Without being mean.

I cast my eyes over Cinder-way, and send him a psychic message that now would be a really great time for him to… whack another child. Swear. Throw an age-inappropriate temper tantrum. Steal his sister’s hat and run off with it…

Instead, the brat retrieves a small child’s lost ball. Picks up a stray coffee cup and tosses it into the garbage. Strikes up a polite conversation with gravel-girl’s mother.

They never do what you want them to, do they?

Sigh.

Flora, at this age and stage, will be absolutely no help at all—she is perfect behaviour incarnate right now, however briefly—and while Ender’s could usually be counted to behave as a normal, and not aspirational-ideal child, he is currently too busy making gravel-angels with his future fourth wife (he has a list) to perform.

Fine.

Up to me.

And words.

I know what she’s really asking. It’s not about hair-brushing, anymore than my original post was. It’s about the big stuff: principles, philosophies, self-definitions. What she’s really asking me is this very simple, but very big question:

What is it that I do that defines me as a parent?

And what I want to tell her, very clearly, loudly, powerfully, is this:

Why would you ever let an Internet stranger define who you are or are not as a parent? As a person?

Except that’s not helpful, because I know the answer to it: it’s because she’s searching and self-defining, and how she’s defining and creating her story is in opposition to how her mother defined herself, and it’s different from how she’s seen her next-door neighbour do it and so different from her sister-in-law, and she’s uncertain, and it’s so hard… And so, as she’s searching, she’s also, sub-consciously, always searching for approval, from anyone, anything…

Even a mouthy Internet stranger. Even one whose position on hair-brushing kind of appalled her…

My mind’s scripting a long, complicated answer to what it is that really defines me—her—any of us—as a parent, and how it’s the same thing that defines as people and how being is more important than doing even though the doing is what people see—and I have this huge tangent developing about how bottle-nursing with love is better than breastfeeding with resentment and how Ender was never, ever “baby-worn” because I was so broken when he was born and how no matter how often I fail at any of my lofty aspirational parenting goals, no matter how often I fail to do what I want to do, what I know is right, none of that changes what I am, as a parent, as a person, because…

… I meet her eyes again. And she’s so tired. And so anxious. And she’s standing next to me, with no sense of who I am but some knowledge of what I do and too full of what I write. And she’s on such an early, fragile stage of her journey. And she so desperately wants approval. Re-assurance.

And I so don’t want to be a guru. On a pedestal.

But you know what? Fuck it. This moment isn’t about me. It’s about her.

“You,” I say, “are a really, really fucking amazing mother. I see it in how you look at your kids. It’s flowing out of every part of you. You are a great, great mother. All the things you do, or don’t do, that get labeled as—whatever, attachment parenting, permissive, authoritarian, helicopter—insert label of choice here—all those things that you do or don’t do? They barely matter. It doesn’t matter what you do, someone out there will criticize it, take you apart for it. But what you are—this amazing woman who loves, loves, loves and cares so much for them? That’s who you are, what you are—what defines you as a parent. Don’t let anyone ever belittle that, make you doubt that.”

The baby stirs and starts to fuss, and she goes to feed it. And while the little is latching on, the toddler stumbles and gets a bleeding nose and starts to cry. And she tends to one and to the other, and they’re both crying, because she’s pulled in two directions, and she’s already exhausted. And she pulls it together, and does what needs to be done… and they’re in the stroller, homeward-bound, where she has so much more, so much more to do.

An amazing mother.

An amazing woman.

Who should never, ever need the approval of Internet strangers. Or, god forbid, that of Aunt Augusta.

But when she does—when she comes to you, vulnerable and tired and aching for affirmation—give it.

How you treat her defines you as a person. As a parent.

Leaving soapbox—now.

xoxo,

“Jane”

P.S. Beautiful stranger: you know where to find me. Coffee, and a “thunk” off my pedestal are in order. If we meet with kids, I promise to yell at them at least twice, and if we meet in the afternoon, I can almost guarantee an Ender-meltdown.

P.P.S. And what happened in the blogosphere this week? I haven’t a clue. Super self-involved this week. Oh, what a week. Month. Summer. But, on the day we were celebrating #yycpride in Calgary, I connected with Seven Little Mexicans on Twitter, and I think you should check out their super cool blog “because funny things happen when two girls try to make a baby.” New to Twitter, they are, so give them a follow at @7littleMexicans.