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.


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 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?



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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.


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


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.



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?


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.


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.



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.

The AP Hair Style: I don’t brush my children’s hair. It’s a massive philosophical thing. Really

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When my kids were teeny-weeny—but already hairy—my friends and I used to joke that you could always identify the attachment-parented kids at playgrounds and playgrounds by the “AP Hair Style.” That is—unbrushed. Unkempt. Wild.

Now, ya’ might think that’s a granola-hippy-natural kind of thing.

It’s not.

And you might think—goddamn lazy attachment parents, not with it enough to perform the simple task of running a comb through their kids hair in the morning.

Screw you.

Or you might think—if you’re a self-identified AP mama, perhaps—that it’s because… well, it’s not important. And there are more important things. Sleep. Play. Breastfeeding. Perusing the fair-trade-all-wooden-no-plastic toy catalogue. (I’m not making fun of you. OK, I am, a little. But–I’ve had that catalogue too. Chill.)

Nope. It’s actually really important. The not brushing even more so than the brushing.


I didn’t brush—don’t brush—my children’s hair when they did not want me to brush their hair—because it’s their hair.

Hold on.

I’m going to shout it.


Part of their bodies.

I do not assault it, when they are unwilling, with a hair brush, any more than I would assault, do violence, on any other part of their bodies.


Their own.

Under their own dominion—not mine.

Their wild, messy hair? Part of the lesson that they’re learning that no one—not me, not nice Mr. Jones down the street, not that creepy dude in the park, and not their first, over-eager boyfriend—has a right to do anything to their bodies that they don’t want them to do.

This is a lesson our children need to learn, repeatedly, while they are close enough to us that they will learn it, hear it.

But we don’t teach it with words. We don’t teach it with scary lectures or with fear.

We teach with how we treat their bodies. From their nose to their toes, and all the parts in-between.

And their hair.

Think about that next time you wield a hair brush.



COMMENTS FOR THIS POST ARE NOW TURNED OFF, so we can all have a peaceful weekend. And for those of you continuing the debate on other fora:  a not-so-gentle reminder that name calling is not debating. Criticize the idea. I want you to. No name calling or being nasty to other commentators though, ok? Not cool.

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Other People’s Awesome

For all the parents on the verge of *that* conversation with your daughters (and sons), here is a brilliant Dear Daughter, I hope you have awesome sex piece from the Good Men Project.

For the bloggers in the crowd having social media anxiety and overdose: Joel Comm’s I am leaving social media.

For the bloggers in the crowd who want an easier way to share my stuff and to have me share your stuff, come join me on Triberr, at Ain’t Nothing But a Blog Thing Tribe or, if you’re a homeschooling blogger, at Undogmatic Unschoolers.

My neglected (by me) blogging sisters have been turning out all sorts of awesome these last few weeks. Jean at MamaSchmama wrote a beautiful I can make it home  piece into which she sneaked some lovely introductions to some of her favourite (and mine—she is clearly a woman of immaculate taste) bloggers. Kristi at Finding Ninee wrote what I think is a love letter to her son titled Forgotten Loves  that will a) make you cry and b) make you hug that squirmy love in your live extra-extra-hard—and Rachel at Tao of Poop was clearly on the same page with I Used to Love.

And while I’m tugging at your heart-strings, let me turn you over for a few minutes to Jen at My Skewed View, who delivers a birth story so poignant I’m tearing up as I remember it, and I read it more than a week ago: Eight Years Ago Today.

Jessica at School of Smock wrote a great piece about why pregnancy books now piss her off  and Stephanie at Mommy Is for Real reminded us all why we never eat out anymore. With our children anyway.

And Sarah at Sadder But Wiser Girl was also full of advice last week. She tells you to always check your underwear (and then some… you might need to change your underwear after reading Sarah. Just a word of warning). Jenn at Something Clever 2.0 also made me pee this week. So maybe read this post before changing your underwear…

Deb at Urban Moo Cow made me really, really, REALLY happy I don’t have a toddler anymore. Can I admit that? I can. I’m good with that. I don’t want any more babies, either. EVER.

But I’m super-super-super happy that Stephanie at Where Crazy Meets Exhaustion is glowing. Really. (Note to my most beloved: Vasectomy. Now. No more babies. Ever. But that’s a topic for another post, perhaps…)

Last thing: new friends. I’m getting to know these people this week:

Dysfunction Junction

and you should come play with me.


P.S. Where the hell is your like button? I turned it off. Cause if you really liked it, I want you to tell me. And I don’t really need to ego stroke from the other. xoxo J.

Between the carrot (cake) and the fork 2

The stream from the water gun catches me under my skirt and I holler. And then the little bum shoots again. “Cinder!” I yell, tossing my own empty water gun far, far away from me. “Look, no weapon! I’m out!” He blasts me again.

“Dude! Remember that carrot cake we’re planning to get when we go to Eau Claire? There are two distinct futures ahead of you. One of them involves eating a delicious carrot cake. The other has me poking you in the bohunkus with a fork. Which one are you going to choose?”

My friend Neela, skirting the edges of the water gun fight, laughs. “That’s an interesting parenting technique,” she says, half-serious. “You should blog about it.”

“And call it what, how to disguise threats, punishments and rewards with words?” I ask. I’m soaking wet. Cinder’s backed off; he’s chasing Flora and her friend Jenny now. They’re still fully armed and firing back.

Neela gives my flippant statement serious thought. “Words are powerful,” she says. “Syntax, semantics, all that matters. I’d never say, ‘If you get into your pajamas, girls, I’ll get you ice cream.’ But I do say…” she thinks for a moment… “Oh, ‘Girls in pajamas who report to the kitchen will get ice cream.’” She laughs. “Because, you know, ice cream before bed is a routine snack in my house.” (I leave it up to you to determine if she’s joking or not… or if it matters.)

Neela and I round up the combatants and take them to Eau Claire. The moms get coffee; the kids sweets. Cinder gets carrot cake, not a fork in the bohunkus. Flora gets a lecture about gratitude, and Neela and I talk about … gratitude, entitlement, and the too-easy-too-cross line between coercive discipline and … what? we’re not quite sure what to call it. Words, words, words. But as Neela said before, and says again, words are important.

Cinder’s running around, stealing Jenny’s shoes in order to lure her off the blanket where she’s chatting with Flora and get her to chase him. Then he plays Frisbee with Ender. Then returns to “annoying the girls.” Later, he’ll tell me, “Well, the trip wasn’t a total loss. I got to annoy the girls.” “D’you have to do that?” I’ll sigh. “It’s sort of my job,” he’ll retort.

And my job, as Cinder’s mother, is to… well, to make sure that the “annoying the girls” doesn’t cross a certain line. To encourage peace and harmony when possible, and to minimize the bloodshed (usually metaphorical) and help negotiate truces and separations when necessary.

And to muddle along that path the best way I can, on any given day, in any given moment. And yeah, sometimes it means waving the carrot (cake).

(You know I’d never really poke him in the bohunkus with a fork, right? He knows I’d never do it. I’m pretty sure he knows… hold on. “Cinder? Do you think I’d ever poke you in the butt with a fork?” Pause. “Probably not. Um… Well, you might.” “Really? You think I’d…” “I think if I poked you first, you might.” “But you’re not gonna, right?” “Well…” Fuck. Not exactly the reassurance I was looking for…)

The muddling continues.

English: Carrot cake Deutsch: Rüeblitorte, Kar...

For “Neela.” Based on events of August 1, 2012. First published August 3, 2012, Nothing By The Book.

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

Sleeping Ender in Wagon

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.


“Sleep, Flora.”

“Does Monday come after Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, Flora.”

“Is tomorrow Sunday?”

“Yes. Sleep, baby.”

“And then Monday?”


“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 coffee is always fresh.)

First published The 2 a.m. phone call: why sleeping through the night is irrelevant, June 10, 2012, Nothing By The Book

Mine, but not mine: recognizing that our children do not belong to us


Feverish, sickish, so-tired, the three-year-old falls asleep on the couch, one hand down my shirt, the other in my hair. I wait until his breathing is deep, deep, deep, and then I carry him up to stairs to bed. Cheek-to-cheek… I breathe him in, I smell him, feel him—love him so intensely, so madly, always, and in particular in this moment, and I whisper to him as I hold him, “Mine, mine, I’m so happy you’re mine…”

Except… of course, he’s not. Do you know this of your children? That they’re not yours? I think it’s one of the hardest unlessons most of us never learn…

I talk about “my Cinder,” “my Flora,” “my Ender”–all the time. And my partner, he is always “my Sean,” especially when I really love him. And I talk about “my mother,” “my brother,” “my friend.” I’m not about to stop using the possessive. Of course not. I love my Flora to pieces. I  call my love “my Sean” when I want to underscore our connection. But…

They’re “mine” in the sense that a relationship binds us, a precious relationship.

But they’re not “mine” in the sense that… I own them. Control them. Shape them.

Do you know this about your children? That you don’t own them? That you don’t, in fact, create them? If you have teeny, teeny children, you might not know this yet. You may still be devouring parenting books and philosophies. You may be in love with Dr. Sears’ attachment parenting philosophies because you think that doing the AP things will make your children a particular way… You may think that they are yours.

But they’re not.

They’re their own.

Those of us blessed with a strong-willed, challenging child as our first-born learn this unlesson very very quickly. Mine to create, shape, control? Ha. By the time Cinder was 15 months old, I knew this was not the case. Flora, more accommodating and eager to please, may kept me deluded longer. But she too is of me—but not mine. Her own. Completely her own.

Ender, I knew was his own before he came out of my belly.

It’s so hard to realize this because… well, they come of us. And for birthing mothers, out of us. For all parents, adoptive, foster, birth: we are so responsible for them. For keeping them alive. We create their environment—their opportunities—and their obstacles and challenges. We make their lives… easier or more difficult. And we love them, gods, we love them so desperately.

But they’re not ours.

Their own.

Ender sleeps. I watch over him while his fever burns, comes down. Love him. Accept that while I am ever-so responsible for him… he’s not mine. But his own. I don’t own him. He is my trust. My responsibility. In my care.

But ultimately, he belongs–to himself. To the world. Not to me.

Terrifying. But also… freeing. Don’t you think?

Like this? Then check Mommy, for Real’s Mommy’s Law. Shorthand summary: if parenthood was a job, it would have “control freaks need not apply” in the wanted ad.

And thank you to Katia at I Am The Milk for the kind words about NBTB’s They Tell You It Gets Easier. They Lie post, as well as Camilla and Louise at The Best of Two Sisters for referencing “Please don’t give my daughter an eating disorder. But you will. You will” in their Are we harming our girls? post earlier this week. NBTB’s eating disorder post is also flagged by the thoughtful Thalia Kehoe Rowden at Sacraparental, in (Hopefully Not) passing on body hatred–thank you, all, for continuing the fight to save our daughters.

Oh. Of course, you want to know how did my writing retreat go? Ever so well. Stay tuned.

Photo: Feverish Ender asleep in our cargo bike.

They tell you “It gets easier.” They lie

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…

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 in this house). But see, then, other stuff happens that’s really hard too. Ferocious Five. Sensitive 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?

Hey, all, wow, thanks for all the sharing and massive Internet love. Bad day for my RSS feed link to break — this is it: RSS Feed — and even though there are a bazillion comments, I am reading and responding to every single one. Thank you so much, beautiful people. You can also email me privately at Or find me on Twitter @nothingbtbook. You know the drill.  xoxo “Jane”

Two great things from my weekend in-box, from the #FTSF blog hop, that fit in beautifully with the theme of today’s post:

Kristi Campbell’s post on  I blog because of you, I blog because of us, and

Katia’s post on I Am The Milk: Closest to Me

Flora Space Art

“I Give The World To You,” by Flora (May 2013)

I blog because… #FTSF

I blog because moments like this need to be immortalized:

Cinder: Mom, I just shot Ender in the balls. Now, under normal circumstances, you’d probably be mad at me. But as he was peeing off the balcony at the time, you should just say, ‘Good job.’ Full story here.

I blog because the world needs more Cinder and Ender penis stories. I mean, is there such a thing as enough? OK, maybe. But just one more

I blog because I think attachment parenting is an amazing, amazing thing… but I want AP moms to know that this is perfectly normal:

I make no resolutions to yell less. Or discipline more. I will lose my temper, and I will yell, and there will be days when, as I survey the destruction wrought by the whirlwind in the kitchen while I absented myself from his side for five minutes, I seriously ponder just how wrong it would be to put him in the dog’s kennel. Just, you know, for a little while. And there will be days—and weeks—when I’ll be counting the hours until bedtime from 11:15 a.m. And days when, as soon as Sean comes home, I will hand over the entire parenting business to him, and lock myself in the bathroom with a bottle—um, glass, I meant to type glass, glass—of wine. (From Embracing Chaos: unParenting unResolutions)

I blog because I want Flora—and other Sensitive Seven and Emotional Eight girls out there, and their mothers—to know how loved she is (they are). And how amazing. And also, how exhausting. I want her to look back at these moments, these days, when she’s a mother. I don’t want her to put me on an unachievable mothering pedestal. I want her to see I struggled. I want her to know it was hard. 

But, worth it, Mom? Was it worth it?

Fuck, yeah.

I blog because I had a toddler who beat the crap out of other children—and his parents—and he’s grown up to be the most amazing, caring, sensitive, responsible pre-teen… and I want you—you, exhausted, petrified mom of a mini-Caveman—I want you to know that you’re not raising a psychopath. It’s a stage. It’ll pass. You’ll survive.

And maybe, I blog because I don’t want to wait until I’m dead and famous before the world reads my diaries. (While the odds are excellent that I will indeed be dead one day, that famous thing? Not so much. And let’s face it, boys and girls, be you Susan Sontag, Jane Austen or Anne Frank, if you write something down, you’re secretly or not-so secretly writing for a reader. If you really wanted to keep it secret—you wouldn’t write it down. You know it’s true.)

I blog because I want to. And so I do. Reason enough.


This post is part of the Finish The Sentence Blog Hop, co-hosted  by, inter alia, Janine Huldie of Confessions of A Mommyaholic, Stephanie Sprenger of Mommy, for Real and Kristie Campbell of Finding Ninee. The sentence—obviously–is I blog because. More answers here…

Finish the Sentence Friday

Why do you blog? And for beautiful, usually silent majority of non-bloggers in the audience—why don’t you? Tell me.


Marzena 1 - jpeg-1

P.S. This week, on Undogmatic Unschoolers, I quote John Holt (again, I know, what can I say, he rocks) and take you on a little walk through my house as I confess that there is, indeed, a secret reason as to why I’m so chill about my late reader.

P.P.S. Meanwhile, my professional alter-ego is dreaming the future landscape of Calgary for Avenue magazine, prognosticating on the future of Husky Energy under Asim Ghosh, and trying to convince people that greener oil is the key to Keystone XL at Canadian Business.

Sometimes it goes like this…

Don't worry, you'll always be my friend...

Sometimes, it goes like this:

Ender: I don’t want to help build it. I want to sit here and you build it all by yourself.

Sean: I don’t want to build it all by myself.

Ender: Why? Because you’re ugly?

And the adult can’t decide whether to throttle the child–“Don’t! Remember, we love him! We made him! He’ll grow out of this!”–or to cry.

And sometimes it goes like:

Flora: Mom? Do you want me to make you an egg?

Jane: No. I’m not hungry. I’m just going to sit here and be cranky and miserable. And resentful. And just generally pissed off at the world.

Flora: That’s it. I’m making you an egg. You so need some protein.

… and the adult wonders who the heck is the adult here?

And then it goes like this:

Flora: There you go. Don’t you feel better just looking at it?

Jane: Oh, my sweetness. Yes, I do.

Flora: I always feel better when you make me something delicious to eat when I’m feeling cranky.

… and the adult decides she’s clearly doing something right at least some of the time. Not all of the time, mind you. But, you know, enough of the time.

Q: What’s with the goat picture?

A: I don’t know. My brain hurts. I’m analyzing deal trend data, drinking too much coffee, and practicing excuses for all the deadlines I’m planning to break next week. Goats. Cute. Like Ender. Plus they lay eggs. No, wait, they don’t. Um… look! Shiny thing!

Photo: Don’t worry, you’ll always be my friend… (Photo credit: 2-Dog-Farm)

Q: And what colour is your hair now?

A: Wouldn’t you like to know…

Have a great week everyone. Me, I’ll be breaking deadlines. And a few hearts on Bay Street. Apologies in advance.


Emotional Eight

I’m sitting on the couch with Flora curled up in my lap, her tear-stained face crushed against my chest. I’m not sure what she’s crying about—she does not want to tell me. I’m not sure she remembers what she is crying about, now. But this much I’ve learned from by Emotional Eight—as I watched her struggle from Inarticulate One to Tormented Two to Traumatic Three, Fragile Four to Ferocious Five, Struggling Six to Sensitive Seven—all she needs from me now is quiet acceptance. All she needs is for me to hold her. All she needs is for me to shut the fuck up.

It’s hard, it’s so hard. To not say anything, you know? To not press. To not find out. To not offer a solution. To not—repress. To not say, “It doesn’t matter.” “Why on earth are you crying about that?” “Get a grip, get some perspective.” So hard.

I hold my Emotional Eight a little tighter.

“I’m calming down,” she whispers.

“Good,” I whisper back.

“I’m so sad,” she says.

“It’s all right,” I say. And that’s so hard for me too. To give her permission to be sad, to feel, to suffer. I rarely grant myself that permission. Flora’s the child of mine who I feel I fail, if not quite constantly, than certainly more often than her brothers—and it’s because she feels, she feels so fully and so acutely, and she’s been cursed with a mother who has severe intimacy issues.

(You, reader-who-knows-me-only-from-my-writing, I see you scoffing. You’ve perhaps told me that you read me because I’m so naked, raw, honest? Lies, all lies. I am a competent writer. That means I control the narrative. You see only what I want you to see. And, you, reader-who-knows-me-in-real-life, that glimmer, glimpse of what’s behind the curtain? I meant for you to see it. I’m that manipulative—and that skilled.)

Flora is my opposite: so open, so vulnerable, so transparent. It terrifies me, because oh-god, will she suffer. Suffers. And every time she is torn open, every time she feels too much—I need to combat my desire to arm her, repress her, wall her off, turn her into me.

Because, you know, she is such a gift. It is people like her—not people like me—who will save the world. So I hold her. Say nothing. And later, when she is calmer and the immediacy of the wound recedes into the past, discuss coping strategies that may protect her—help her react and process—but not wreck the power, depth and fullness of feeling that make her who she is.

I so suck at this.

So thoroughly.

But. I try. I keep on trying. And when I know I’m absolutely failing… I call in her Dad.

(Do you want to deconstruct with me what I’ve done here? How I’ve played you? I dare you. Do it.)

Crying emoticon

unLessons from the Posse

Biking in Waterton Lakes National Park

Photo from the newspaper "Nogales Herald&...

As we come around the corner, the crowds scatter, jump, recoil. First one–two–three–flying like the wind, silver scooters carrying them along like lightening, legs pumping–and then four–five–bent lower over the handle bars, legs pumping even faster to keep up with the vanguard–and you think they’re all through, but no, here comes six, working harder than everyone else because he has to keep up. And me, at the end, with number seven in the bike. Calling out, “High traffic area! Everyone keep to the right!” But they don’t hear me, of course; of course, they don’t, because there is only speed, wind, the path, and the posse.

I love the posse. Three are mine, four are borrowed for the day. Four people have the temerity to ask, as we zoom by, “Oh-my-god-are-they-all-yours?” and sometimes, I would punish them with The Look, but today I am happy, so I just smile. One-half of one couple is so appalled by the procession that is us that the beautiful young woman turns to her husband-boyfriend and says, loudly, fully intending me to hear, “And this, honey, is why we always use condoms.” I’d give her The Look, but then I catch the husband-boyfriend’s look, and it is one of such joy-envy-lust that instead of giving her The Look, I give him The Grin, and we have a very quick, secret psychic conversation:

Him: Seven, eh? Six boys? Man. My own fucking hockey team.

Me: Imagine the soccer games you would have.

Him: Basketball. Camping!

Me: You’d just sit in the chair, and they’d set up the tent.

Him: The littlest one would bring me beer.

Me: You’d build them the best treehouse ever, right?

Him: Oh, fuck, yeah. Would I ever. So… um… you wanna have more kids?

Me: No, I’m done. Sorry.

Him: Okay then. Well, have a good day

Me: Good luck with her, eh?

Him: Yeah… not sure this is going to work out.

We move on. Along the river. Over this bridge. That one. I don’t even attempt to tell them to stick with me–they are a posse, The Posse, and The Posse don’t wait for no Mom. But I am wise in the ways of The Posse, so I don’t ask. I command. “Meet me at the Dragonfly!” I yell to their backs. “Go ahead–and wait for me at the crossing! We all cross together!” It doesn’t matter how fast I go–they go faster. It’s all about being alone, really. I can read the fantasy, in the three eldest anyway. As far as they are concerned, they are alone.

We stop. Regroup. Do a headcount.

Me: Fuck. Five. Who’s missing?

They: The twins.

Me: Your mom’s going to kill me. Where are they?

They: Who knows?

Me: Dudes! No man left behind! Find them!

Phew. Just fixing their helmets by some bushes. Onward. But now I have given them a new war cry. They push off:

No man left behind!

Flora scoots beside me. “Did they leave me behind because I’m not a man?” she whines. “They didn’t leave you behind,” I point out. “You came to visit with me.”

Up ahead on the path: wipeout!

Me: Blood?

Him: I’m okay.

You don’t show weakness in The Posse.

The Posse fractures. Its members fight. When we stop at a playground and they play a mad game of tag with rules so complicated it makes my head spin, my eldest gets his nose out of joint. The twins think they’re picked on. Flora feels left out. Mostly, I stay out of it. Sometimes, I nudge towards a solution. But mostly–I let them be The Posse. I’m there to make sure there is no real injustice … but they know most of the rules of engagement. They are learning how to work things out. This is not Lord of the Flies.

My final test as Mom-wise-in-the-ways-of-The-Posse comes when we hit an ice rink. The ice is melting, sloppy. But still slippery. I see the desire in their eyes. The two eldest look and do a risk analysis. Then decide to try to break their bones on the nearby playground instead. The littles dump the scooters and go to slip and slide on their feet. But he-who-will-test-me comes up to me and says,

“Can we scooter on that?”

It’s a test. Any mother in her right mind would say no, and he knows this. And I know that he knows this. We look at each other, take each other’s measure. And I say,

“I can’t fit seven kids in my car if we have to go to the Children’s Hospital… Look, keep your helmet on, and no whining or crying at all unless there’s massive amounts of blood, and you’ve lost more than two teeth.”

He looks at me. Mildly appalled. His mom would have said no, outright, his eyes tell me, and I’m clearly irresponsible. Criminally so. But I’ve just given him permission. Really. If he doesn’t go on the ice, I’ll know it’s because he’s afraid. Of blood. Losing teeth. He’ll lose face.

He puts the scooter on the ice. Scoots.

“It’s not slippery enough to be fun,” he tells me. Drops it. And goes off to join The Posse.

We pass another couple on the last block home. This time, I have a quick, secret psychic conversation with the girl:

Her: Is it hard?

Me: Fuck, yeah. But so worth it.

When The Possee’s split up, and four-sevenths goes home with Fishtank Mom, they are all exhausted. And not-a-little tired of each other. But next time–next time, they’ll gel together again. Feel the wind, the speed. Be the pack. Fight, fracture, learn. Is it hard? Fuck, yeah. But so worth it.

Photo from the newspaper “Nogales Herald” dated July 20, 1922 showing an American posse after capturing the Mexican bandits Manuel Martinez and Placidio Silvas (middle of back row) who killed or wounded five people at or around Ruby, Arizona in 1921 and 1922. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And a thank you to the fabulous Tatu from Wonderland By Tatu for including Nothing By The Book in the shininess of the Sunshine Award. As you may have noticed, I truly suck at passing these on adequately. Not out of any better-than-thouness, truly, just out of… what shall we call it… laziness.Pure laziness. But thank you muchly, Tatu, you made me all smiley and sunny on a hard day. Here’s the link to the last one of these that I’ve paid back “properly,” which includes some irrelevant facts about myself and some of my favourite bloggers.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

English: Paleontologist Matt Smith at work, Jo...

Flora turned 8 last week, and she’s seriously rethinking her career plans. It’s adorable. I am celebrating her life angst (Flora: “But can one be a veterinarian AND a paleontologist AND a museum curator AND an artist? AND maybe a horse-trainer?” Jane: “Yes. Possibly not all at the same time, but you know, life is long.”) by revisiting a conversation from the summer of 2008. Flora was 3.5 and Cinder just over 6, and they already had career plans they were happy to discuss with one of their aunties.

Auntie: So, Flora, what are you doing to be when you grow up?
Flora: I’m going to be a paleontologist, and dig up dinosaur bones.
A: Wow… well, you certainly live in the right area for that.
(We’re in Calgary, a stone’s throw away from Drumheller and the fossil rich badlands)
Flora: Yes, but I’m going to be a paleontologist in Patagonia.
A: Patagonia?

Patagonia. It’s where all the dino-digging action was in 2008.

Cinder enters the conversation: I already have a job. I do it every day, whenever I feel like it, for as long as I like.
A: Cool. What is it?
(Me–really curious. And really no idea as to what the answer would be?)
Cinder: Blowing up things.
A: Blowing up things? Cinder, you’re scaring me.
Cinder: Oh, nothing too dangerous. Mostly just baking soda and vinegar, you know. It’s so much fun, and I can do it over and over again, and try to make different kinds of explosions. And sometimes I add other stuff to it.
A: Maybe you’ll be a demolition man when you grow up.
Cinder: What’s a demolition man?
A: Someone who blows up stuff–like old buildings.
Cinder: Or blasts tunnels through mountains, or to make highways?
A: Yeah…

— conversation steers back to pinecones and what-not for a while, takes a side-detour to helicopter-flying–he has helicopters on his pajamas and she suggests perhaps that could be his job, but he’s not interested, although Flora pipes in that being an airplane pilot would be a pretty good job, and flying a plane, as well as riding a horse, are good skills for a paleontologist to have “because you never know.” After a prolonged interval, Cinder returns to the topic of his job.

Cinder: I also like setting fires.
A: What?
Cinder: Pretty safely, you know. My friend and I, we use magnifying glasses sometimes to use the power of the sun to burn things and make smoke. It’s pretty cool.
A: Cinder, you’re really scaring me. Blowing up things, setting fires…
Cinder: Oh, I like to do other experiments, where things don’t blow up, too. But sometimes I accidentally make noxious fumes.
A: So what are you going to be when you grow up?
Cinder: Oh, just me. And keep on doing stuff. [pause] But I’ll probably be taller.

And can I possibly add anything to that?

Photo: Paleontologist Matt Smith at work, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (NPS Photo;  Wikipedia)

More like this: Be the Fossil on

And  big thank you to MomTimes4 for nominating me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award on her blog yesterday. I will pass on the love properly later in the week, but xoxoxo to a lovely lady in the meantime.

Embracing Chaos


or, unParenting unResolutions

“Mama? Big mama? Wake up, big mama. I love you so very very very much.”

This is how Ender sets up the mood for the day—ensuring that no matter what he flushes down the toilet or smashes into pieces with the meat mallet (“How the hell did he find it again? I hid it on top of the fridge!” “Judging by barstool beside the counter, and the stack of boxes on the counter, you don’t want to know.” “Oh, Kee-rist. How has this child not broken any bones yet?”), my first and most brilliant memory of the day is tickling butterfly kisses and expressions of love ultimate from the beloved beast who will spend the day terrorizing the house, the family, and if we let him outside, the neighbourhood.

He is who he is; he is three. He’s careening towards three-and-a-half (see Surviving 3.5 and 5.5: A cheat sheet for an exposition and some almost practical tips and tricks), and three-and-a-half for the boys I birth is the age of chaos. So as I prepare to say goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013, I know that chaos and the Ender crazy will dominate much of the year.

And I make no resolutions to yell less. Or discipline more. I will lose my temper, and I will yell, and there will be days when, as I survey the destruction wrought by the whirlwind in the kitchen while I absented myself from his side for five minutes, I seriously ponder just how wrong it would be to put him in the dog’s kennel. Just, you know, for a little while. And there will be days—and weeks—when I’ll be counting the hours until bedtime from 11:15 a.m. And days when, as soon as Sean comes home, I will hand over the entire parenting business to him, and lock myself in the bathroom with a bottle—um, glass, I meant to type glass—of wine.

That’s part of the ride; part of the package. I’ve written elsewhere on that the ultimate secret behind parenting is; its close twin is this: every age and stage, every journey has tough stretches, challenging stretches. And they’re all necessary, and most of them are unavoidable, and happiness and peace lie in knowing that they just are. And not seeking perfection, from myself as mother, or from the child.

He’s so lucky, my Ender, my third. His eldest brother broke me in, thoroughly, and no sooner did I start to boast that I had “cracked the Cinder code,” Flora arrived, teaching me that I had learned absolutely nothing about the uniqueness that is her (bar that nursing every hour, every 15 minutes, or, what’s that word, constantly, is kind of normal) from my first years with the Cinder. By the time Ender arrived, all I knew, for sure, was this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

As far as everything else goes? As he grows, I will learn him slowly, piece by piece, unique need by unique need. Sometimes well, sometimes badly. Sometimes I’ll fail him—and sometimes, I will do right by him even though in the moment he thinks I’m failing him completely. And maybe, at the end of it all, when he’s 30, 40, with his own children—in therapy—maybe he’ll despise me, blame me, reject me. I don’t know. All I know for sure, is this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

More like this: Sunshine of Our Lives, or, How Toddlers Survive.

Blog Hop Report: I spent some of the weekend blog hopping at the TGIF Blog Hop hosted by You Know it Happens At Your House Too. What a fascinating variety of blogs, people and approaches to life, the universe and blogging.

I’d like to introduce you, if you do not know them already, to three mama-bloggers (but so much more) with attitude:

Jenn at Something Clever 2.0  (Twitter: @JennSmthngClvr)

Teri Biebel at Snarkfest (Twitter: @snarkfestblog)

Mollie Mills at A Mother Life (Twitter: @amotherlife)

And something completely different, a woman who took my breath away with her authenticity and boldness of voice from the first line of the first post I read of hers: Jupiter, “Eco-Redneck,Breeder,Stitch-Witch,Knittiot Savant & Whoreticulturist Extraordinaire” at crazy dumbsaint of the mind. I’m not going to attempt to explain her. If whoreticulturist is not a word that turns you off, the word sapiosexual turns you on, have a visit and get to know her. Otherwise, maybe not. Safe she is not.

Happy reading, happy blogging, happy living, and I will see in 2013. My year of chaos. Your year of… what?



P.S. And if you’re having a slow New Year’s Eve at home with your kids and computer, check out Dani Ryan’s The Best of 2012 Blog Hop at Cloudy With a Chance of Wine.

Keeping them close, letting them roam: what to do when children start to push geo-boundaries

Latino Children Play Swing

Each year as they’ve grown out of the sling-and-stroller phase, and particularly after hitting age five, my children have moved to enlarge their physical world. Their physical boundaries.

In a word, they’ve started to roam. Further and further away from my watchful, paranoid eyes.

And letting them do this has… sometimes been easy and natural, an obvious evolution. And sometimes, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I believe that if our relationships with our children are anchored in co-respect and co-trust, and that if a core practice of our parenting is listening to our children and being attuned to their needs, wants, challenges and all that as they grown—and, by extension, by talking to our children about our needs, wants, challenges and concerns and expecting them to listen to us with as much care and attention as we listen to them—then this is an easier field to navigate.

Easier. But not easy.

Cinder and Flora are in the process of expanding the scope of their ranges quite a bit this summer (2009)—not just in terms of the “territory” of the neighbourhood that they feel comfortable in roaming, but in the sorts of things they want to do, the people they want to spend time with.

An example of something easy: Cinder rides his bike in loops around the Common area, and we’re all cool with that, no major discussions of any sort necessary. (Last year, he wasn’t interested in doing that, and if he had, I would have had palpitations!)

An example of something harder: he’s also wandering off the Common and onto the wild hill that abuts it—and his little sister wants to be in tow. That’s pushing a boundary that I’m not comfortable with. I’m not sure if I’d be okay if it was just the seven year old wandering off—the five year old definitely cannot, so neither may. And so we talk about it, and find compromises and solutions:

I’ll sit at the playground bench and watch them—or be within ear shot of them.

Or, they go with a group of kids that includes at least one or two much older kids with a brain and a credit of trust with me…

Or, I put away the computer, the laundry and the supper preparations, and go with them, perhaps hand in hand, perhaps some distance away.

The mid-way point between constant hovering / the type of over-protectiveness that essentially impedes the experience of life and the full development of independent personality and hands-off parenting that borders on (or is) neglect is a type of indirect or unobtrusive oversight. I don’t feel comfortable in letting my children walk the four city blocks to the nearest off-Common playground–because they would be walking a totally empty street, with no one walking down it, no one peeking out a window, no one to hear or see anything if they got hurt or spooked.

But, I feel comfortable having them play on the Common for hours on end, because at any given time, there is a parent, older sibling or cranky octogenerian either passing by, peeking out a window, hanging out on the balcony—and always within the distance of a holler away!

We live in a very community-minded, “we live here because we want to live in a real community” kind of place, and I know that affects my thinking and practices in this area hugely. Would I leave my children alone and unsupervised in a suburban six-foot fenced backyard? I dunno… probably less likely to feel comfortable doing that than letting them roam the unfenced, abutting on a public bike path, Common area.

Another factor that affects my level of comfort with how far they roam is that I know the parents of the children my children are hanging out with. In some cases, the parents are close friends and I trust their children almost as fully as I trust my own. In other cases, I may not know the parents that well—or particularly like them or their parenting!—but I still have a community relationship with them that ensures that 1) if I speak to their children about their behaviour—or their responsibility towards the other children in the community—they will listen to me, at least in the moment and 2) if I have a larger concern, I have an existing relationship with the parents so it’s quite easy to raise the concern with them and with other parents and to address it as a community. Ditto if my children are not behaving responsibility: there are adults around who will call them on it—and who will appraise me of the situation.

What’s your level of comfort? How do you deal with your children’s boundaries? How do you keep them close… and how far do you let them roam… and what factors are critical in determining that for you?

Adapted from May 19, 2009, Unschooling Canada

How focused attention, freely given, changes everything

I found this fun post I wrote when Ender was eight months old when I was struggling to explain the difference between offering attention freely versus diffused attention. I don’t achieve this very well, because this was when my brain was still leaking out through my nipples. But, there’s a valuable insight in there of what freely offered, fully focused attention is… and a hands-on demonstration of the sort of diffused attention our children and our lives usually get:

Crawling Baby Earthenware Olmec Culture 1200-9...

June 21, 2010. My eight month old–who’s just discovered crawling!–is giving me a hands-on demonstration of just unbabyproofed our house is, so of course I deal with this by sitting down for a moment and writing…

I find there’s a huge difference between offering attention freely, with full focus on the child, and giving diffuse or temporary attention. Most of the time, diffuse attention is great: the kids are there, doing their thing, the adults are there, doing their thing, the two intersect for a while, go their own way… but at some point–at different points of the day, at different points of life stages–children (and spouses! and friends! and grandparents, gosh-darn-it, them needy grandparents!) really crave focused, concentrated attention, and if it’s freely offered–given before it’s asked for–all the better.

My beautiful Flora, 5.6 going on 117, had [writing interrupted to change poopy bum, notice bum had washed the kitchen floor and himself with dog’s water dish, clean up water―hey, now I don’t have to mop the kitchen floor until the next mishap! what was I blathering on about before?] has been going through a rough couple of weeks. Sensitive always, she was uber-sensitive. People looked at her sideways and she burst into tears. [Crap forgot to put a new diaper on and the baby is now playing in his pee, hold on, break to wipe up pee] She was essentially waking up teetering on the edge of a breakdown. [oh, hell, the baby is trying to climb up the stairs… no, he’s backed off ]

Apart from being 5.5, a few disruptive things happening in her life, including chaos from the above mentioned 8 month old [gah, he’s back on the stairs…. ok safe], her best friends’ being sick and away, and her mother not well and not all there. There were so many things that I couldn’t do anything about… but I could do this:

I started sitting down and playing pets and Heart dolls with her. For what seemed like hours–but on the day on which I clocked it (because I’m that sort of anal retentive person), added up to a mere 45 minutes. It made all the difference. It gave her an anchor that was missing before.

OK, he’s determined to climb those stairs today I am done…


2012. I’m so glad I found and re-read this post now, because I needed a reminder that beautiful, sensitive Flora needs this freely offered, focused attention so much more than either of her brothers right now. Ender’s fully satisfied to be destroying the house somewhere in my wake; Cinder grabs a quick cuddle and a book reading when he needs to recharge (although I do see him shifting more and more into needing more one-on-one Dad time). Flora needs one-on-one Mama time a lot. She asks for Girls’ Days Out. Girls’ Movie Nights. “Just a Girls’ Hour Out, Mom?”

This is really hard to do when you have three kids. There are only so many nights, only so many days. But I need to make a concentrated effort to give Flora this time, this focused attention, because it anchors her. Fills her up. In Flora’s ideal world, she and I would have a weekly night out. I would love to give this to her―and one day, one day soon, I will. Maybe we’ll take an art class together. Or Spanish. Right now, I can’t give her that weekly night or that schedule. But I can do this:

Flora! I’m going to the library. Ender’s sleeping and Cinder’s going to stay with Daddy. Want to come?

I do this all the time now. Take her with me when I go to my physio training. We have 30 minutes in the car there and 30 minutes back to talk; she has 30 minutes of brother-free chill time while I go through my torture session. Ask her if she wants to run pick up milk from the market with me. Run to the drug store. She almost always says yes.

Now, these opportunities don’t arise, frankly, that often. I have three kids. I work, as does their dad. Most of the time, I’m taking all three of them to the library and the grocery store. But when the opportunities arise―when Cinder wants to stay and home and play Minecraft, when Ender is sleeping, when both boys are engaged with Daddy, when the stars align―I grab my Flora and we run.

I also try to grab her at home when the boys are occupied, and I notice that she’s lost. And I sit with her while she organizes her pets. Or takes me through her art. Or just tells me silly things, important things, weird things. When she wanders into the kitchen when I’m massacring vegetables, I know that she might be looking for a snack―or Mommy-time. I pull her into chopping or stirring with me. And listen.

I don’t do this, let me be clear, very well or naturally. My attention most of the time is diffused―between all three kids, the freakin’ dog who won’t stop peeing in the basement, the house-that-ever-teeters-on-the-edge-of-descending-into-utter-pigdom, the latest three writing projects that are all due yesterday, the committee meeting, the really interesting discussion happening on my Facebook, and the less-interesting professional one I’ve got going on LinkedIn.

But I try. And I know when I’ve done it well or consistently, because I have a much happier, more anchored Flora.

Photos (Crawling Baby Earthenware Olmec Culture 1200-900 BCE Mexico) by  mharrsch and (FLORA) by adafruit

When kids exclude

English: Agraulis vanillae butterfly.

I am the mother of two social butterflies super-concerned with the sentiments and feelings of others and of one child with limited EQ and social awareness. Over the last few years, I’ve seen both Cinder and Flora (if you’ve been reading Nothing By The Book, you know which is which) in social situations with other children where either one or the other—or both of them—have been excluded from a game by other children—or have done the excluding themselves, either actively or by aligning with the actively excluding party.

 (As a writer, I need to pause here and apologize for that last sentence. Horrid. I hope none of my editors ever read it. If you are an aspiring writer, take note: this is what happens when you try to talk in generalities instead of being specific. Back to the topic at hand.)

A gang of some two dozen neighbourhood children roams our Common area throughout the summer, and every summer we parents witness and try to mitigate some sort of “ditching,” “cliquing,” “I don’t want to play with Jack,” “Patti and Hayley won’t let us play with them!” drama. And every year, on one of my homeschooling or parenting lists, someone brings up the question of “What to do when other children won’t play with mine” or “What to do when my children exclude others.

After years of struggling with this, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s way easier to articulate an over-arching philosophy/principle for this than to react rationally and consistently to specific situations… especially if, in those situations, it’s one or the other of YOUR kids who appears to be unkind and un-inclusive… Frankly, it’s much easier if they’re the victim of such a thing. Then you can get all righteously indignant! When they’re the ones saying “I don’t want to play with you,” it’s a whole different set of reactions, isn’t it?

English: A 1-litre bottle of Hendrick's Gin wi...

Here’s where my thinking on this idea is right now: I don’t always feel like “playing” with all of my friends. You know? If I invite Emma over for coffee, and she shows up with Laura—or Laura invites herself—and I had my heart set on a tete-a-tete… I won’t be happy. By extension, if Laura and Emma planned a thing, I’m not entitled to crash it/join it just cause I happen to hear about it or see them departing. When we do a Mom’s Night In (or Out), we don’t want a husband to crash it. It’s not a parents/couples night. Ditto when my partner and his buddies go to the shooting range—it’s a testosterone, crazy thing close friends are doing together, and no one’s wife, girlfriend, child – or acquaintance outside that close circle—is welcome, invited or wanted.

(To my know-me-in-real-life readers who are having a hard time picturing Sean holding a gun: He’s ever gone to the shooting range once. But it was the best example I could think of. A wife or casual acquaintance could get away with crashing a movie night or bowling, right? Maybe? Back to the point:)

"Hit The Bull's Eye^ These Are Volunteers...

So if we as adults can set those limits on our sociability—hopefully politely, kindly and respectfully, at least most of the time—surely reasonable for our children to do the same? The difference, I think, is that we need to help our children learn how to articulate those limits and preferences in an… appropriate? considerate? way… and also, to help them figure out how to respond to having those preference communicated to them by others without getting angry, pissy and defensive.

(In fairness to children, we’ve all encountered adults who still suck at both respecting/hearing such messages and communicating them, and sulk if they’re not invited to this or that event, or, worse, use invitation/uninvitation as a social weapon. Especially in this social media world.)

The summer of 2009 was the first that Cinder and Flora started choosing to spend a chunk of their playtime apart from each other, with other friends—often, but not always of the same gender—and it’s required some new learning on my part. When my older boy is building Lego with a friend, and my girl is feeling left out—and tempted to wreck their game because she can’t figure out how to be part of it?—the onus is on me, not to get THEM to include her, but to get ME off my ass and engage HER in something else. And when she and her friends are spinning tales about unicorns at tea parties, and my boy, thinking it’s a stupid game, wants to chuck missiles at them, same thing—I’ve got to gather him up, read a book, set up a science experiment, watch him do stuff on the chin up bar, etc.

The Pigeon and The Unicorn

This is a hard issue. If you have insight to share, I’d love to hear it. I’m really at a point here were I think there can be no hard and fast rule here. Sometimes, the “you can’t play with us” is meant to be nasty and hurtful and then we react in a very different way than when its intent is more benign. Sometimes the child—or the adult—hears “you can’t play with us” when it wasn’t said or intended. Sometimes, the parent hears or sees something the children aren’t aware of—or the children are reacting to an undercurrent the parent doesn’t see.

And sometimes, a quick, “Let’s think of a way that we can tweak the game so that everyone can play” is all that’s needed.

First two photos, uncredited, from Wikipedia; last photo (The Pigeon and The Unicorn by gordon2208)

 Note. The original draft of this post was written on August 23, 2009, in context of a discussion on Unschooling Canada. I’ve modified considerably here… but even with the revisions, as I re-read it, I’m thinking of filing it under “least helpful post ever.” But that’s the nature of the issue, I think. No easy answers. Unless you’ve got one? Do you?

How we teach children to lie

Cover of "True Lies"

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

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 “don’t teach” them to lie by accepting the truth when they tell it to you. By fostering 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.


Ender: Mama: I pooped my pants!

That’s what I want to hear.

English: A soapbox at Occupy Boston

This soap box moment brought to you by the fact that I very much need  a reminder not to  teach my children to lie.

Digression: the antidote to Black Friday madness: Get Less Today.

Promotion: I’m playing at the More than Mommies Mixer again this Friday:

because last Friday, it introduced me to two of my now-favourite bloggers, Cloudy With a Chance of Wine and Janine’s Confessions of a Mommyaholic, and I wonder where it will take me today…

The mixer blog roll is here, and Fishtank Mom, you should come play too.

If you’re visiting from the MTMM, please feel free to link up below (in the comments) to a specific post you’d think I’d enjoy. And… happy Friday hopping.

Surviving 3.5 and 5.5: a cheat sheet

Illustration for Cheating Français : Illustrat...

In the spirit of the Orange Rhino “No Yelling” Challenge:

If you’ve been reading me for a while—and if you know me in real life—then you know I’m usually this “pee in the driveway if you want” kind of parent. Just a leetle on this side of permissive, you could say. But I hope you’ve also noticed that Saint Jane also, ya’ know, loses it with her children—yells, gets irritated, frustrated, wants to run away…

And, to date, never more so than at three-and-a-half and five-and-a-half. Cinder and Flora, at both of those ages, drove me to the very edge of sanity and made me mine for immense reservoirs of patience within myself I didn’t know I had. And despite those, I still yelled and snapped. But without them, I would have snapped ever so much more…

As Ender, who has been simultaneously my easiest baby and my most frustrating child (paradoxes are what makes life interesting, right?), starts the path towards three-and-a-half, I thought I should remind myself of a few strategies that saw me through it the first two times. The cheat sheet strategy was an absolute lifesaver with Cinder—and as I dug it up out of old journals, I wish I had put it into action when Flora was struggling through Sensitive Seven… I think I might still, because I suspect Sensitive Seven might become Extra-Sensitive Eight—and I hope it sees me through Ender’s crazy 3.5 with some sanity intact. Without further ado, here it is.

The premise is this: a certain level of crazy on the kids’ part is normal at this stage. I can’t control it. What I can control is my own behaviour and my own reactions. To that end:

I made a three column cheat sheet that looked like this:

1. When Cinder says/does…[thing that drives me crazy]

2. DO NOT SAY [in small print my knee-jerk, channeling the worst of my angry-inner-voice response]

3. SAY or DO THIS [desired response in big letters]

and taped it to the fridge, because somehow, most of the unstellar performance on my part occurred in the kitchen. Upon reflection, I should have had another copy by the front door, because that would be conflict spot number two.

With Ender, I might put this sheet up in the bathroom as well. And maybe have another one in the car…


1. When Ender yanks Flora’s hair / tries to destroy her art work

2. DO NOT SAY Stop it you little monster!

3. DO SAY: Ow, that hurts! AND Take Ender away and redirect him to something.

Because most of the time we all know WHAT we WANT to say or do, right? The problem is remembering that ideal in the frustration of the moment.

Related life hack: It also helps me at times like this to remind myself of my long-term parenting and living goals are and how most daily irritants don’t really impact them. Writing them down somewhere on the cheat sheet might be helpful—I might try that this time ‘round. You know, something like, “What’s really important to me is a peaceful, respectful house. Not a clean house.” Or “I want my children to be confident, strong willed-adults. That means I do not get instant obedience now.”

And… persevere, with a smile when possible.

Unrelated life hack: It’s not even that I’m an introvert; some days, I’m an outright misantrope. Here’s a an interesting post on Finding Balance as an Introverted Parent, by Vanessa Pruitt, from Natural Family Today. Now, I’m not a great fan of looking for balance myself (I prefer to seek harmony), but although Pruitt uses the “B” word, she writes about useful strategies.