Why you need to get off your shy introverted ass and start building your tribe right now―and how to do it

My favourite friends in cyber-space are all mildly (or not so mildly) anti-social introverts. Not that different from my most beloved in-real-life friends. “I don’t think we set out to be misanthropes,” one told me a little while ago. “It’s just that there are so many idiots out there.” “It’s not that I hate most people,” another told me, without a hint of defensiveness, and really, without that much wine consumption in evidence. “I just don’t have enough time or energy to deal with their stupid shit.”

“Jesus,” my beloved partner said, listening in on the latter conversation. “Are you ever lucky you found each other. And also kind of amazing. How did you ever manage to become friends, actually? I mean, the first time you met, did you just glower at each other across the room in mutual hatred?”

Oh, lover, I’m so glad you asked. Not mutual hatred, exactly, but… see, the story of our introverted, mildly dysfunctional “come over for a playdate, but don’t expect me to talk to you the whole time you’re here, okay, cause I’m not really into that” friendship is actually a story of how you successfully build community.

Its central thesis is, really, that you don’t need to love thy neighbour to build community. To have a tribe. The gods know I don’t, and the tribe I have, baby―each of you should covet.

But I’m telling the story all wrong. Backwards. I think the story starts in 2002, when my son was born while all of my university-era friends were either childless, single or both. Plus,  most of them were no longer living in the city I moved back to. You can tell where that plot line is going? New mother. Alone. Alienated. Whatever will she do?

She’s going to build a tribe. And I did. So, skip ahead with me 11 years, to YYC’s epic flood, and meet them.

I’d introduce you to each personally, but as you can see, there are fucking hundreds of them, and, honestly, I don’t even know most of their names. See that woman, over there, with a baby strapped to her back, pulling another kid and a cooler in a wagon? She came to save me on a Wednesday night when I was having a total breakdown and couldn’t cope with the idea of cleaning one more thing, putting one more thing away―making one more decision. And then offered me her house as a sanctuary to stay in for the upcoming few days, if things were getting too crowded at my parents house, where we were evacuated.

I had never met her before. Ever.

She showed up that Wednesday, because another woman texted her to let her know I needed help, now. I had never met that woman until Monday.

I met a dozen, more, of them for the first time that Monday, when they answered my call for help for my physical community, my beloved Sunnyhill. They came―to wield crowbars, shovels, buckets, wheelbarrows. To watch children. To pick up filthy, barely-salvageable clothes to wash. To bring food. To drop off their husbands:

“He’s a carpenter. He’ll be great at deconstruction. And make sure you call us when you’re ready to rebuild.”

“He’s got lots of experience in flood restoration. Use him!”

“He’s really annoying, but very strong.” (Ha, ha, ha. No, really, she really did say that. But why-ever would you immediately think I was talking about you?)

“He’s coming with our generator, pumps, fans, and pick-up truck. What else do you need?”

They came to do the hundred things that needed to be done. Later, when things calmed down, I saw on on-line fora how they were berating themselves that they didn’t do more, feeling guilty that they didn’t do enough. Jesus Christ. They fed us, watched our kids, cleaned our clothes, supplied us with pretty much everything we needed, from labour to bleach, de-moulder, and, at one point, two Bobcats (score!). The ones who couldn’t come or “do” kept the lines of communication flowing, monitoring Facebook, Twitter, texts and e-mail. I’d shout out on-line “We needed razor-blade scrapers, because that goddamn lino is not coming out!” and someone would arrive wielding one. Ditto face masks, work gloves, shovels, bleach, bleach, bleach, shop vacs, fans―everything and anything.

More? They totally and completely saved us. What more could they have done?

They even brought red wine and chocolate. (And beer. Copious amounts of beer.)

Here’s the first important take-away: I get how each individual might think she could have done more, but, see, as a community―they did everything that needed to be done. They saved us, all 41 of our flooded homes in Sunnyhill. (And then, they went on into other neighbourhoods…)

Here’s the second important take-away: this is WHY you need to get off your shy introverted ass and start building your tribe right now. Not because I’m predicting an epic natural disaster in your future.

But life throws tough times your way all the time. New baby. Sick child. Dying parent. Paralyzing illness. Job loss. Partner loss. Immense life complications. Emotional, physical pain. Getting through any of it, all of it, alone is impossible.

Your tribe gets you through it.

And you, my cynical cyber-friend, I see you rolling your eyes, and I see you want to say, “Fuck, chick, I have friends, you have friends, friends got our backs, I know this, what snake oil do you think you’re selling?”

This snake oil, friend: a tribe is not your friends. Friends are friends, and I know you’ve got them. A tribe―a community―is the people who are going to come help you when you need them even if they hate your fucking guts some―all―of the rest of the time.

No, really. Stay with me here, because this is what you need to know, to understand, to find your tribe and to build it. See, my beloved lonely heart, if you’ve been on the parenting or life journey for a while and you feel you’re walking it alone most of the time, you’re looking for the wrong thing. You say you’re looking for a tribe, community, connection.

But you’re probably looking for perfection. Unconditional, frictionless support. Perfect understanding. “A perfect fit.”

Not such thing, baby. Community―any real community has warts:

It’s full of assholes, bitches, mean girls and parasites. People who piss you off. People who take advantage of “the system,” whatever it is. People you dislike, and who dislike you right back. Community is messy: full of fights and hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Community is really, really―REALLY―hard work.

That’s your third take-away, baby: warts. Messy. Hard. A pain in the ass sometimes. Being part of a community is NOT being part of a circle of people just like you. (I’m not sure, but I think that might actually be the definition of a cult.)

Community includes people you don’t like. And also people you’ve never met, or will only meet in times of their great need―or yours.

Back to the end of the story: so these hero women ripping out drywall, insulation, floors and stairs in Sunnyhill, feeding us and our volunteers, running errands, and otherwise saving us? They were connected, in the main, by the attachment parenting community in Calgary. Which―to jump back to the beginning of my story―I found when, as a new mother, I was looking for other mothers, connections.

I think, back then, much like you, my lonely heart friend, I may have been looking for perfection. Because it took me a long, long time―years―to build the connections that, a few weeks ago, saved my home and my neighbourhood.

But here’s your fourth take away: building a tribe, community takes time. Years. You’re not going to find it the first day you stumble into a playground. The first time you share a meal. The first time you meet a group of other new parents at a zoo or park get-together. (Although, the first time you rip out a flooded-and-rotting-about-to-collapse-upon-your-heads shed together, you might well be buds for life.)

Building community takes years.

Especially if you’re the same sort of misanthrope with severe intimacy issues as I am.

Ready for the fifth one? You’ll love it, beloved introvert. The current main forum for the attachment parenting mamas in YYC has more than 600 members. That, beloved, is my definition of hell. Too crowded. Too many strangers. Too many fragile egos, too many unknowns for someone with my vaguely anti-social tendencies. I wasn’t even on the forum when these women decided to save Sunnyhill’s collective ass.

My connection to it was historic―and I was connected to people who were still active, who were connected to others, who were connected to others, who were connected to others, including three or four other families in Sunnyhill who at one time or another were active members of the community, who were connected to others, who were connected to…

See?

Community isn’t my bond to 600 people. Community is the entire collection of bonds. You know all those cliches: “United we stand!” “Strong together!”

Yeah. Cliches are cliches because they’re usually true.

That’s your fifth take-away: Community is the entire collection of bonds among the individuals who are part of it. Who touch it. And so you see, to build your tribe―you don’t need 600 or 60 BFFs. You invest and foster the handful of relationships that really feed you. You benefit, ultimately, from all the others―indirectly most of the time, very directly, come something like an epic flood. And you do contribute to all the others as well, indirectly most of the time, directly when they need you.

Well, unless you’re a total parasite.

But then, community supports some parasites too.

So if you’re still with me, lonely heart, I suspect you are currently in the grip of this thought:

“Woman, if that’s your cynical view of community, why the hell did all those people come to help you? Cause you sure don’t sound like Princess Community Sunshine.”

I’m not. And you should take heart: self-avowed misanthrope here. With severe intimacy issues, did I mention that? (Ask my next door neighbour sometime how long it took me to connect with her.) And I have a tribe everyone should covet. So if I got this amazing thing going for me―you can do it too.

And, this is so important: my “cynical” view of community is why I have community. Multiple, overlapping communities. See, because I don’t expect perfection―in fact, because I know community is a warty, messy, hard pain in the ass―I don’t run from it crying when my feelings get hurt, when people tick me off.

And, most important of all: they didn’t come to help me. See? They didn’t come because they loved me. They came because this is what a tribe does. What a community does: whatever needs to be done. It saves your ass when it has to. Not because it loves you, or owes you, personally. But because―it is something bigger than you and your handful of personal relationships.

So, beloved. If you’re on your life or parenting journey and you don’t have this tribe―you don’t have a community that you know is going to save you when disaster, depression, life strikes―get off your lazy introverted ass and start building it right now. You’ve got to. Alone, you will not make it.

And as you build, remember this:

A community is that group around you that does what needs to be done. That’s its definition. Nothing more. Nothing less.

You  need one. Don’t think you’re self-sufficient. Or that your nuclear family–or your extended family–is enough. It’s not.

Community is messy. Annoying. Full of assholes, bitches, mean girls and parasites. It’s worth it anyway.

Building community takes time. Years. Which is why you need to start NOW.

Finally: Community is the entire collection of bonds among the individuals who are part of it. It doesn’t mean having 6000, 600, 60 best friends. It doesn’t mean loving everyone within it.

It really just means recognizing that you are part of something greater, more important than yourself, your house, your nuclear family. And being part of it… in a way that works for you.

IMG_0443

P.S. I chose to highlight the attachment parenting community of Calgary in this story both because of the sheer amount of physical and social labour its members committed to saving Sunnyhill and also for, frankly, story-telling effectiveness (writers manipulate. It’s what we’re paid to do. Keep that in mind every time you read an allegedly “objective” newspaper or magazine article). But there were multiple tribes saving Sunnyhill’s collective bohunkus as well as its individual homes. We were a community saved by a community of communities if you like. Among those of my own tribes that came to help us was the one I forged while at a university student paper―my former colleagues there came with spouses, friends, and members of their own other tribes. My entire extended family–my parents, brother and his wife, sister-in-law and her partner, my in-laws near and far… I tend to take their contribution to the disaster for granted, because, you know–family. That’s what they do. They save your ass, no questions asked. And my professional tribe too, editors I’ve both pleased and frustrated, interview subjects I’ve flattered and skewered, readers who’ve in the past sent me fan letters… and hate letters, too. I add this PS both to honour and thank them, and also, to reassure you with this: it is possible, that as you go along on the parenting journey, you don’t really connect with other people as parents. That you’ll never find a playgroup that results in meaningful connections.

“Fuck, Jane, this is how you reassure me? What’s wrong with you?”
“Shut up and let me get to the point, will you?”

That doesn’t mean you give up on community. Find it elsewhere: in your professional life. In the arts community, or another passion. In politics (um… well, maybe). It’s out there. And it starts with one relationship.

Go. Build.

Just remember―it’s messy.

“This is brilliant!”
“Oh, thank you. Then you might really like this: After the Flood: Sunnyhill Clean Up Day 8. And you’ve read the epic flood story already, right? No? It’s here: unLessons from the Flood: We are Amazing.

That hitting thing…

Kids Wall 2

Toddlers hit. Not all toddlers. But a lot of toddlers. Like, almost all toddlers, at least some of the time. And some of them—not a few, either, a lot—go through phases when they hit all the time. Attachment parented toddlers hit. Breastfed toddlers hit. Bottle-fed toddlers hit. Babyworn toddlers hit. Toddlers of parents who never raise their voices hit. Really. It’s not just your little guy.

When my first little guy when through this hitting phase, I felt incredibly isolated. Alone. And judged up the wazoo. Here’s our story.

From Life’s Archives. “That Hitting Thing,” March 8, 2006. Cinder’s not quite four; Flora’s one and change.

2006. It happened today, in the playroom, and my head is still whirring. “Flora!” Cinder yells. “You wrecked my tower. That bothers me! Bothers me! I am so angry I want to hit you! But I don’t want to hit you! Grrr!” I poke my head in from the hallway. Cinder is standing closing and opening his fists and breathing. He sees me looking, looks at me. “I didn’t hit Flora,” he announces. “But I’m not proud of you!” he yells at her. She gurgles and hands him a Lego block. They start building the tower together.

I’ve been waiting for this day for… what, two years? Two years to the day, I think. And I know today isn’t the cure. It’s not the turn around, the end. He will hit his little sister again, probably later today. He will push her, pinch her. But he’s working through it—we’re muddling through it, he’s “getting” it. And the fact that this huge emotional break through—this discovery by himself that just because he wants to hit he doesn’t have to hit—has come on the heels of eight nights of peeing the bed puts all sorts of things into perspective for me. Makes me feel not quite so resentful as I wash the sheets and covers for the ninth day in a row…

I’ve been delaying posting this “hitting thing” exposition until I felt I could clearly articulate where we were, why, and how we got there. I don’t think that’s going to happen in the next few weeks or even months. But based on some conversations I’ve had with other mothers of closely spaced siblings—particularly when the older is a boy!—I think this is a story that must be told, in all of its messiness.

Continue reading

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.

xoxo

Jane
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.

Of the apocalypse, euphemisms and (un)potty training, 2

I.

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.

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders ...

II.

Cinder: Mom! I taught Ender a new word!

Jane: Oh, dear God. Do I want to hear this?

Cinder: Ender! What do you say?

Ender: Butt sack! Butt sack!

Jane: Butt sack?

Cinder: It’s a euphemism. Do you want to know for what?

Jane: No.

III.

Jane: Ender, beloved, the potty is right there. Why did you pee on the floor? Again?

Ender: I hate potty. I never pee in potty again.

Jane: Why?

Ender: Potty evil.

Jane: Cinder!

Cinder: What? Why are you assuming I told him the potty was evil?

Silence.

Cinder: Well, it’s not like he was using it much anyway.

IV.

Flora: Moooom! Maggie’s drinking pee!

Jane: What? Oh… no, that’s okay, that’s water.

Flora: You… gave… Maggie… water… in… Ender’s POTTY?

Jane: Well… it’s not like he’s using it these days.

(first published June 15, 2012)

+++

Blogosphere Love Payback Moment: I still haven’t properly reciprocated to the funny Momtimes4 for the Very Inspirational Blogger Award,  and now the ridiculously awesome and hilarious Jenn from Something Clever 2.0 has passed on The Liebster to me. Thank you, lovelies–it’s always nice to know you’re not just throwing words into the ether, right? And I’ll dot the T’s and cross the I’s–wait, that doesn’t sound right–of the pay-forward when I can do so with some focus and concentration. In the meantime: thank you much. And keep on laughing. Because it’s cheaper than drugs or therapy…

Click-a-lot: Novembers of the Past Retrospective & A Slightly Self-Indulgent Blogosphere Group Hug

November

First, an invitation to take a walk through my fake archive:

One year ago in November (2011): Just in time for Christmas-mania, a reminder of what the 5 best toys of all time are, via Geek Dad. Before Ender: or what the psychic said (one of my most naked moments). Being Ender. Ender says Rock. Of Daddies and Grandpas. Art of War: The Lego Contest. Get Less Today!

Two years ago in November (2010): Baby Seductor.

Three years ago in November (2009): Of Brains and Cartilage. He’s a Keeper.

Photo (November) by Cape Cod Cyclists

Second, a thank you to my blogging friends Tatu at Wonderland by Tatu and Little Poppits (who’s real name or preferred handle I haven’t ferreted out yet) from Little Poppits for very sweetly passing the Beautiful Blogger Award on to me. I should also offer a belated thank you to Taurus Mom Tells The Truth and Oliva at The Slama Family Project for trying to pass the Tell Me About Yourself Award and the  One Lovely Blog Award to me in the very first day of the blog (my archive is all fake. OK, not fake–all the stories are REAL–written in other fora, but I launched the blog with a ready-made archive. Because I’m that kind of overachiever.)

A short interlude for the Beautiful Blogger Award Rules:

The idea behind the Beautiful Blogger Award is to recognize some of the bloggers we follow for their hard work and inspiration.

1. Copy the Beautiful Blogger Award logo and place it in your post.
 (Done. And what a technical achievement on my part.)

2. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
 (Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I know there’s a tendency to dismiss these things as an incestuous mutual love fest. But you know what? Moms need that. And Tatu and Little Poppets’ nominations came at a really tough week in my life, and were so appreciated.

3. Tell 7 things about yourself.
 (Coming just below)

4. Nominate 7 other bloggers for their own Beautiful Blogger Award, and comment on their blogs to let them know. (And that’s going to be a toughie… only seven, eh? I’ve only been digging around the blogosphere for a very short while, but I’m gathering a beautiful tribe around me.)

Seven things about me you probably don’t need to know…

1. My children can get me to do pretty much anything they want if they make Bambi eyes at me. Damn you, Calvin & Hobbes. I’m a permissive parent. And I’m ok with that.

2. I once interviewed former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney wearing a snot-covered skirt and no underwear. Because, during the “We don’t want you to go! Why do you have to go?” taxi ride to the airport, the toddler snotted all over my skirt and the pre-schooler took my change of clothes, undies and all, out of my carry-all. Fortunately, they did not abscond with the recorder. (If you’re Canadian and you care about the context for this story, it’s here in full. It’s kind of funny if you’re into Canadian politics. And writer-self-de-construction.)

3. If I ever make good on my threat to freecycle everything I own and travel the continent in an RV, I’m taking my Vitamix with me.

4. When I grow up, I want to be Rex Stout. Except for the beard. And the streak of misogyny. What I really mean is, I want to create a character as compelling as Archie Goodwin. Sometimes, late at night, I fantasize that I’m the woman who finally snared Archie Goodwin. We get married and yes, move into the brownstone. Nero Wolfe hates me… but over time, grudgingly comes to respect me. Until I start having babies…

5. My favourite Jane Austen hero is Henry Crawford. I would so reform him. But I worry I might be too tall for him… He’s barely five eight. I’m just five nine… but I have a thing for footwear of a certain type. Um, moving…

6. My house is only clean when I’m depressed and frustrated. When I’m happy and engaged in my work and my life—and when the children are at their most creative and engaged—the floor is crunchy, the walls are splattered with paint, the stove is spattered with deliciousness, the kitchen table is covered with art scraps, papers, science experiments and cookie crumbs, and the entry way is over-crowded with wet and muddy shoes.

So yes, if you ever come into my house and it’s sparking, the appropriate response is, “Honey, what’s wrong?”

7. There are exactly 98,437 reasons I love my husband, and the three beautiful children we made together are right up there, but most important of all is the fact that whenever he goes grocery shopping, he comes home with chocolate and whipped cream for me. That’s love, baby.

Seven Beautiful Bloggers

So because the award came from WonderlandbyTatu and LittlePoppits, they’ve each named a few of the people I’d be inclined to put on the list right away (Keeping It Real, MomTimes4, Best of Two Sisters, Motherhood Is An Art and Roll Over and Play Dad among them), but the purpose of the game is to spread the love, right? So, please let me introduce you to:

1. Fish Tank Mom. Marie’s my real-life soulmate and partner in crime, unschooling mom to four boys who offers me her unconditional love, support and wisdom no matter what I do. She’ll do the same for you through her posts.

2. Book Of Alice. She doesn’t know it yet, but blogger and writer extraordinaire Christine is raising my Ender’s future wife. I’m waiting until I know her a little better before I start the marriage negotiations.

3. Cloudy With a Chance of Wine. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think WonderlandbyTatu and LittlePoppits are absolutely, unquestionably beautiful bloggers. Cloudy’s more of a kick-your-ass with an uber-sexy-boot blogger–which I think is the most beautiful of all. Someone else, I just saw, beat me to nominating her for something, but tough titties. This woman almost cast as a hooker in a Chinese soap opera. I need to give this award to her.

4. Wonder Farm. Patricia Zaballos is a former teacher, current writer, and all-around amazing human being who writes on alternative (or creative? or just awesome) approaches to education–one of my first cyber connections, and one of my most intellectually rewarding ones. And she’s just written a very exciting book! Check out her beautiful body of writing.

5. Confessions of a Mommyholic. Janine is also swimming in awards right now, so I will immediately exempt her (as I do all of you) from any compulsion to continue the madness and pass yet another one one, but I need to introduce her to those of you who don’t know her. She’s nothing like me. Her blog is nothing like mine. I adore her. I think it’s because she’s so thoroughly genuine… and I value and envy that quality.

6. World School Adventures. Amy and her family are living my dream. They’re currently in Thailand. I try to enjoy and not covet their adventures. Mostly, I fail. Mostly, I covet. And you will too.

7. An Untidy Life.  A brand-spanking new blogger. Mom to three funky boys, and one of the most fascinating people I know in real life has just started blogging about her family’s learning adventures, and I’m so thrilled. Connect with her. It will be a worthwhile experience.

And that is that. With the authority vested in me, I absolve all nominees from feeling like that need to perpetuate the award unless they really want to and will enjoy the process.

Come back to Nothing By The Book on Monday for an arrogant exposition on freely given attention.

xoxo

Jane

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…

So…

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.

 

 

What children mean when they say “I’m bored”

English: A bored person

I feel like I ought to apologize for a string of didactic posts. Just remember as you read–I’m no expert. I’m a mom thinking out loud… this is my point of view. What’s yours?

“What do I say when my children say ‘I’m bored?’”
or
“Help! They keep on saying they’re bored! In this house? With all this stuff?”

Is this something you hear a lot? I’ve recently unearthed an exchange on this topic that had been a life-changer for me and I was lucky enough to encounter it just as my kids were starting to talk. So it means that I hardly ever hear “I’m bored.” It doesn’t mean they don’t say it, though… Paradox? Not really. Read on.

It’s a pretty simple reframing, really. When you hear “I’m bored,” do not treat it not as a synonym for “entertain me!” or “find me something to do.” Instead, think of it as a child’s attempt to communicate to the obtuse parent in simple words the child hopes the parent will understand a very complex feeling.

The conventional advice on “I’m bored” tends to be to present the child with a list of tasks, ranging from fun (“Do you want to go swimming?”) to unpleasant (“You’re bored? Here’s a list of household chores to do. Which one are you doing first?”). People who dispense the latter form of advice swear by it, saying that if they do it for a while, they never hear “I’m bored” again. Of course they don’t. They’ve “trained” the child not to say it. But the feelings that prompt that statement probably remain, and the child is left to cope with them on her own, for better or for worse, and generally, in those tender years, for the worse.

Remember how I said I don’t hear “I’m bored,” even though they say it? That’s because when I hear “I’m bored” I run the little translator, and instead I hear:

“I’m out of sorts, I have these weird, unsettled feelings, I’m not happy, but I don’t know why, I can’t settle down to anything, Help!”

When I hear this, instead of “I’m bored,” I realize it requires a totally different response.

There are other code phrases my children―and perhaps yours―may use instead of “I’m bored.” In our house, it’s often “I don’t know what to do,” or “I’m lonely” (in a house full of people, with a backyard generally full of kids!) and the like.

My response to all of these phrases is generally some variation on detaching myself from whatever I’m working on and attaching myself to them―focusing on them fully. I might ask them to come sit with me, have a cuddle, talk nonsense for a while, and see if I can help them figure out what’s going on. Often, I don’t need to do much figuring: they just need a bit of that reconnect time to ground and move on.

I resist the urge to become a calendar coordinator and offer them ideas for things they could do. That is not what they are asking for.

Sometimes, they can’t settle no matter how much cuddling or listening I give, and they can’t sort or articulate what’s going on. That’s when I do become an activities coordinator, but an autocratic one. I don’t offer a list of choices. I unilaterally implement a change of scenery. “Let’s go for ice cream.” “Let’s go check out the garden.” Or, two birds with one stone: “Help me get supper going, and then we’ll read.” Or, “Let’s go to Banff,” if I’m feeling extra adventurous and able to do a whole day trip! And we go.

Try it the next time you hear “I’m bored.” Activate that little translator, and hear:

“I’m out of sorts, I have these weird, unsettled feelings, I’m not happy, but I don’t know why, I can’t settle down to anything, Help!”

And watch your response change.

Octobers of the past retrospective

Pumpkins, photographed in Canada.

Ender turned three this month, and when I started this blog in the Spring of 2012, I created a “fake” archive going back to October 2009–the point of his arrival. (I had to start somewhere, right? And where better than with a birth story?) So as October wraps up, I’m looking back at the highlights from three Octobers past:

Three years ago in October:

Any Way They Have to Come, October 21, 2009
The Last Three Minutes, October 15, 2009

Two years ago in October:

Why Ender’s Ender, October 14, 2010

One year ago in October:

Cinder and Flora Become Hellenic Pagans, October 25, 2011
Emergency Pig’s Ear, October 21, 2011
Don’t you know skin falls off? October 5, 2011

…and sending out belated Canadian Thanksgiving “thank you’s” to the universe for Ender, Flora, Cinder–Sean–and my entire, ridiculously privileged life.

Quote this: A Mother’s Prayer

I don’t pray… and I don’t really like reposting sappy “picture” quotes, but sometimes, one pops into an in-box or a feed at a time that you really, really need to hear it, and so it was with this one:

Oh give me patience when wee hands

Tug at me with their small demands.

Especially when I’m sitting at the computer desperately trying to meet yet another deadline… give me patience with those wee hands…

And give me gentle and smiling eyes.

Keep my lips from hasty replies.

I don’t want to ask for too much here: gentle and smiling eyes would be bonus, but let’s just focus on what comes out of the lips. Words are important. Words are important…

And let not weariness, confusion or noise

Obscure my vision of life’s fleeting joys.

Life’s full of weariness, confusion and noise. So be it. But yeah, let me keep half-an-eyelid and a quarter of an ear on the joy behind the noise and the weariness. Always.

So when, in years to come my house is still–

No bitter memories its room may fill.

If this were my poem, I’d end it differently. Because it’s not about what it will be like in the future, is it? It’s about how we want it to be now. And I want to be patient now, and talking-not-yelling now, and focused on joy now because… well, I’m living now. And this is my life now.

Via my friend Liz’s Facebook feed via Ask Dr. Sears via Mothering Magazine. Author unknown.

MOST POPULAR POSTS

SeriousWhen toddlers attack (surviving “That Hitting Things”) • Searching for strategies for Sensitive Seven • Five is hard: can you attachment parent an older child • It’s not about balance: Creating your family’s harmony • 10 habits for a happy home from the house of chaos and permissiveness • The ultimate secret behind parenting: it’s evolution, baby

A Quiet Moment

Photo (A Quiet Moment) by Glen Johannes Photography

FunnyFloor peas • The rarest song of all • Sarcasm, lawn darts, and toilets  • What humanitarian really means  • The sacrifices mothers make for their children (Warning: grossness factor uber-high)  • It’s all about presentation  • Anatomy talk, now and forever  • Want to hear all the swear words I know?  • Of the apocalypse, euphemisms and (un)potty training  • Mom? Have you noticed I’ve stopped…  • Poisonous Volvo

Why I blog

I.

Cinder, upon returning inside from a nerve gun fight:

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.’

II.

Meanwhile, apparently unharmed by the attempted nerf castration, Ender is hiding from me under the kitchen table.

You can’t see me.”

Sure I can. You’re right there.”

You can’t see me because I’m not wearing any pants.”

And that, in a nutshell, is why I blog.

Couch Full of Nerf Guns

Photo (Couch Full of Nerf Guns) by animakitty

MOST POPULAR POSTS

Serious: When toddlers attack (surviving “That Hitting Things”) • Searching for strategies for Sensitive Seven • Five is hard: can you attachment parent an older child • It’s not about balance: Creating your family’s harmony • 10 habits for a happy home from the house of chaos and permissiveness • The ultimate secret behind parenting: it’s evolution, baby

Funny: Floor peas • The rarest song of all • Sarcasm, lawn darts, and toilets  • What humanitarian really means  • The sacrifices mothers make for their children (Warning: grossness factor uber-high)  • It’s all about presentation  • Anatomy talk, now and forever  • Want to hear all the swear words I know?  • Of the apocalypse, euphemisms and (un)potty training  • Mom? Have you noticed I’ve stopped…  • Poisonous Volvo

“How to help 10-year-old boy with existential angst”

That’s the top search landing people on Nothing By The Book this week, but I’m not sure that you’re all finding the post that you’re seeking for. I think it’s this one: A love letter to the boy who’ll set the world on fire. I also think How I got deprogrammed and learned to love video games might contain some insight for some mothers of 10-year-old boys trying to understand what is going on inside their game-controller wielding sons.

I’m processing a bigger exposition on the changes my own 10–almost 10.5–year-old is going through, because it’s massive. The biggest one since five/five-and-a-half (I wrote about it here, Five is Hard: can you attachment parent the older child), and just as part of the solution at five was to make his world bigger, that certainly seems to be part of the key now.

But, that later. For now, I hope the love letter and the video game piece help you–spark off some ideas for what your little man is going through and how you can support him.

Jane

Game controller

MOST POPULAR POSTS

Serious: When toddlers attack (surviving “That Hitting Things”) • Searching for strategies for Sensitive Seven • Five is hard: can you attachment parent an older child • It’s not about balance: Creating your family’s harmony • 10 habits for a happy home from the house of chaos and permissiveness • The ultimate secret behind parenting: it’s evolution, baby

Funny: Floor peas • The rarest song of all • Sarcasm, lawn darts, and toilets  • What humanitarian really means  • The sacrifices mothers make for their children (Warning: grossness factor uber-high)  • It’s all about presentation  • Anatomy talk, now and forever  • Want to hear all the swear words I know?  • Of the apocalypse, euphemisms and (un)potty training  • Mom? Have you noticed I’ve stopped…  • Poisonous Volvo

Nature wins again

Party, party, I going to a party! My first party! I love parties!”

That is Ender, dancing in the bathroom while I try to de-grossify him. Four weeks short of his third birthday, he’s just been invited to his first official “tea” party. Flora’s friend Moxie is putting it on; Flora’s already there, and Ender can’t wait to go.

I’m struck, yet again, how different each of my children is from the others–the girl from the boys, the boys from each other. At age three, Cinder would never by his own choice go to anything that looked like a party of a crowd. I remember his analysis of his third–and for a long time, his last–birthday party:

It was ok. It would have been better if all those people hadn’t come.”

Cinder made his first friend when he was… 7. (And, oh, man, what a relief that was to me! Look! He does want to play with others!) He’s still very selective about who he spends time with. He’s got three close friends, and no room in his life or needs for more. Flora is “lonely” if she’s spent the day playing with just three friends. She just started a new music class–seven little girls, all new to her. She’s thrilled. “I wonder which of them I will like best, and which ones I will become good friends with?” she muses at the end of the first day. “Junie is really, really pretty. And Billie Joe is a little shy, but I think she’s really sweet.” In the same situation, Cinder would be … if not petrified, then immensely uncomfortable.

Ender is more on Flora’s end of the social spectrum. Everyone he meets is a friend. A new baby is crawling around at the back of our Tang Soo Do gym. Ender crawls with him. Tickles his tummy. (Thinks about pushing him over–fortunately, I catch that in time.) The baby’s not there next time:

Where my friend? I miss my friend!”

We walk home in the dark from the firepit, and a bike whizzes by. “Who that?” Ender asks. I’m not sure, I didn’t really see. But he saw enough to identify the person:

That my friend Mingo! He play ball and trampoline with me! I love him!”

“Was that Mingo, Cinder?” I ask my eldest. He looks at me. Shrugs. “Dunno. Some guy on a bike.” Mingo, incidentally, is closer in age to Cinder and more Cinder’s playmate than Ender’s. But, but–them two boys, they relate to the world in such different ways.

It’s at moments like this, when the contrast between these two boys–or all three of my children–is so pronounced, that I almost give up on investing anything in nurture. You know? Nature just seems to trump everything. Cinder is Cinder; Ender is Ender; Flora is Flora; and there’s nothing I can do to affect their essential nature.

Except, of course, that nature needs nurture. If nature is the raw material, the unalterable building block, nurture is the sculptor. Nature is the inclination and the impulse; nurture the habit and inner–first outer–“discipline.”* Nature makes Cinder an ever-moving ball of energy; nurture’s given him the tools to channel that energy. Nature’s given Flora the universe’s most tender heart; it will be nurture that will help her find ways to protect it when she must.

(I’m afraid to pontificate on what Nature’s determined for Ender. Let’s leave that one be for now, shall we?)

Party, party, party!”

Ender hollers. “Let’s go!”

I don’t have to come, right?”

Cinder checks in. Nope. Not this time. And off we go.

The Agile Gene, by Matt Ridley (book cover)

If Nature versus Nurture is an argument that keeps on popping up in your head, you might enjoy Matt Ridley’s The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture (originally published as Nature via Nurture). It’s an interesting read–and here’s a video of a Ridley lecture at Princeton if you just want a sample, and here’s Matt Ridley’s blog.

From Ask Moxie: Free But Not Cheap

A very interesting post about motherhood as job versus relationship, Free but Not Cheap, at Ask Moxie. Moxie’s post in a nut-shell:

If we think it’s a job, then nothing makes sense about it. How is it possible that it’s so important but also so undervalued? How is it possible to be a good mother if you’re with your kids 24/7 but also be a good mother if you leave them to go work for a good part of the day? How can we take such satisfaction from being with our kids but be so bored by all the stuff we have to do for our kids?

But motherhood makes sense when you realize that it’s a relationship. Loving and nurturing your child is the relationship you have with your child. That’s why when you have a bad day as an adult, you still want your mom (if you have a good relationship with your mom) even though she isn’t making your meals, changing your clothes for you, driving you to work, or doing any of the stuff moms of kids do.

(Italics mine.)

My sister-in-law and I were talking yesterday, as our little Neanderthals threw rocks at each other at the playground, about the cost of childcare and the paradox that this thing we say is the most important thing in the world–raising children, creating the new generation of citizens etc. etc.–is hands-down the worst paid job in our society… and at the same time, “too expensive”–with a price tag that makes even high-earning people gag. We pay people more to clean our houses than to watch over our children.

What message does that send to any parent contemplating pausing career-building or bread-winning in favour of being the primary caregiver for their own children?

That thought threatens to take me into a digression, and I need to “be with” my children, as well as “do stuff for” ’em, so I’ll just end with this: Motherhood. A relationship. A state of being. Not a job.

Motherhood.

The obvious correlation between crying over spilt coffee and potty training

Sean: Ender! Why did you spill Mama’s coffee?

Ender: I not spill coffee. I pour coffee out.

Sean: The question stands: Why? Why? Why?

Ender: I have to pee.

Sean: Of course. Let’s go.

Ender: No. I pee in coffee cup. That’s why I pour coffee out.

it's potty time!

Sunshine of our lives, or, how toddlers survive

Sunshine, morning, so slow, so lazy… do we get out of bed or not? I guess we should. I tousle the toddler’s head.

Jane: Ready to get out of bed, little Ender?

Ender: Ready. Not ready. Ready. OK. Let’s go, Big Mama.

And we roll out, slowly, and fat sweaty hands wrap around my neck, and we gallop down the hallway. Everyone else is up already. I poke my head into the Lego/Computer Room/Sean’s office, where Cinder is already hard at work… er, play.

Jane: Good morning, little love.

Ender: Good morning, little love.

Cinder: Yo, Ender, how are you doing this morning?

Ender: Me happy, little love. But me need to pee.

And we gallop down the hallway the last two feet to the bathroom. Make it. Relief. We poke our heads in through another door. See the Sean.

Jane: Good morning…

Ender: Good morning, our big love.

And kisses and tousles and sunshine. And Ender is ready for a day of action and destruction. There are things to shove down sink drains and toys to put in toilets, there are pictures to scribble on and books to tear up, there are milk jugs in the fridge that need to be poured onto the floor, pots to bang and rearrange, boxes to squash, a dog to terrorize, a fish tank that desperately needs a bar of soap added to it, a sister’s hair to pull, a brother’s Lego creations to destroy, food to smear on walls and throw on the floor, bathwater to drink and pour down the stairs… Oh, it’s a full, full day for an Ender and he lives each minute as fully as possible, and at day’s end, everyone exhausted to bed goes, exhausted by the pace of life set by the Ender.

And Ender falls asleep, exhausted too and so happy and so fulfilled, and already, I can tell from the cast of his eyes and lips as they close, planning the next day’s mischief. And so we all fall asleep too, so we can keep pace with him.

We yell at him, you know. Snap. Complain. Sometimes, run away and hide (even me). But, boy oh boy, we love him. And when he wakes up the next morning, sunshine of our lives, we forget all the “I want to throttle Ender!” moments and just drown in his sunshiney love.

Ender: Good morning, Big Love Mama.

Jane: Good morning, love of my life.

Ender: No. I not love of your life.

Jane: No? What are you then?

Ender: I littlest love in the house.

Jane: Good morning, littlest love in the house.

Ender: Let’s go play. Outside?

Jane: Let’s pee and have breakfast first.

Ender: Let’s pee. Then me put something in toilet. Maybe Lego. Maybe car. Maybe… pee! Hee hee hee hee.

And the day begins anew.

Sun

The sacrifices mothers make for their children

Cinder: Mom? There’s something really gross that you probably don’t want to hear that I really want to tell you.

Jane: These are the sacrifice we mothers make for our children.

Cinder: Does that mean I can tell you?

Jane: Yes. Shoot.

Cinder: You’re kind of weird.

Jane (under her breath): People in glass houses… (outloud) That’s what you wanted to tell me?

Cinder: No. You distracted me.

Jane: Shoot. Gross me out.

Cinder: OK, here goes. First, you have to start with throw-up. You know? Vomit? Puke?

Jane: Uh-ha…

Cinder: Then you need a hollow poop.

Jane: A hollow poop?

Cinder: Yes, to put the vomit into. What’s the matter? Are you going to throw up?

Jane: No, I’m just… trying NOT to visualize a hollow poop. Go on.

Cinder: OK, so you put the throw-up in the hollow poop, and then you cover it all with mucus. Like, nose mucus and snot, that kind of thing.

Jane: Ugh.

Cinder: And then you need a container. Like a yoghurt container, or, you know, that French Vanilla ice cream container we have? That would be perfect.

Jane: You need a container…

Cinder: Yeah. To put the mucus-covered poop ball into.

Jane: Of course.

Cinder: And then… ok, this is the gross part…

Jane: The gross part is just coming now?

Cinder: Yeah. Ok, so where was I? Throw-up–in hollow poop–mucus–in a container. Yeah?

Jane: Yeah…

Cinder: OK, and then you pee on it. And then you cover it up, and leave it for a year.

Jane: Yeah?

Cinder: Yeah. So, anyway, if I did all that, do you think after a year, it would sprout Life?

Pause. This, you all of course know, is a parenting test. Is there an answer to this question with which a) I do not squash his scientific enthusiasm and penchant for asking bizarre questions but yet b) do not end up with an ice cream container containing vomit, shit, snot and urine stored somewhere in our house for 365 days. Can she do it, ladies and gentlemen, can she do it?

Jane: It would stink to high heaven. Would you keep it in your bedroom?

Cinder: That’s it! Cinder’s patented stink bombs! We’re going to be rich!

Jane: Dude! Where are you going?

Cinder: To eat the ice cream.

Oh, hell.

Flourless chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream

Cinder: But I probably won’t do the experiment.

Oh, good. Oh, wait. Did I just get played?

Between the carrot (cake) and the fork

The stream from the watergun 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.

Quote this: Peggy O’Mara on “inner voice”

The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.

– Peggy O’Mara

via Facebook (what else) from The Silver Pen

My children’s inner voice has been short-tempered and prone to lectures lately. Just so you know.

Your Inner Voice is Wrong

Your Inner Voice is Wrong (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

“I am not feeding my baby sister playdough” and other acts of sibling love

Cinder, Flora and Ender’s cousin Matthew turns two this week, and in another four or so months, he will be a proud big brother to his own little sister. Flora is thrilled. But if she had a clear recollection of her own first months in the womb, she’d probably be afraid for the new babe’s life.

Don’t get me wrong, Cinder loved Flora. Loved her. To death. Or so we occasionally feared. Fortunately, she was tougher than she looked.

Happy Birthday Matthew! And, to your ecstatic parents, stories from our life seven years ago. July 13, 2005–Cinder is just over three, and Flora six or seven months. Remember–she survived. That’s the important part.

I. “I am not feeding Flora playdough”

Cinder: Mommy? Can Flora eat playdough?

Jane: No, no she can’t.

Silence.

Jane: Cinder… what are you doing with that playdough?

Cinder: Don’t worry, mama, I won’t let her eat it. I’m just stuffing it up her nose.

II. Potty tongue

Jane: Okay, baby, go pee and then hop in the tub.

Cinder: Pee in the potty?

Jane: Of course. Where else would you pee?

Cinder: I want to pee on Flora’s tongue!

III. It’s all about redirection

Cinder: Mama, tell Flora not to pull my hair!

Jane: Flora, Flora, pulling hair hurts, don’t pull Cinder’s hair.

Cinder: Mama, tell Flora she can tickle my bum instead.

IV. Sleep positions

Cinder: Mama… I can’t get comfortable… Can I sleep on Flora’s head today?

Two kittens

V. Daddy’s Little Helper

This is your reward for making it to the end… and proof that Cinder’s early years weren’t all about tormenting Flora. He tormented Daddy too…

Sean: Cinder, what are doing?

Cinder: I’m hammering a hole in the wall you painted. Do you want to help me, Daddy?

I’m  in the wilds of Manitoba, and generally unplugged. I’ve got one more post auto-scheduled for your enjoyment, but I won’t be able to respond to comments until July 15th.

Saying yes

Say Yes, a post by Catherine Arveseth from The Power of Moms, arrived in my in-box earlier this week via my good friend Crystal. As we prepared for our trip to the wilds of ‘Toba, it was a timely reminder for me… “Yes, you can take the waterguns.” “Yes, we’ll throw the scooters in.” “Yes, we’ll buy those Peak Freens cookies for the road.”

I dream of getting into the car with one suitcase. And sometimes, I get to, and sometimes, they have to leave their markers, stuffies, balls (“Ender, seriously? Three balls? Baby, one soccer ball in the car. One.” “Two?” “One.” “Two?” Damn you, Bambi eyes) and what-not behind. And I know that from that bag of toys, one will be played with. So be it. “Yes.”

We default to “No” so easily. Because we’re tried. Because we don’t want to go up (or down) the stairs one more time. Because we don’t want to clean up the mess. I like to think our house is a “yes if possible” environment, but… we all default to “No,” sometimes, often for a not very good reason.

From Arveseth’s post:

“Yes is air” writes Ann Voskamp. “In the rarefied oxygen of that one word, ‘yes!’, the dreams breathe deep and the body exhales joy. I embrace [the] mess and try to be done with the slow suffocation of ‘perhaps’ and ‘we’ll see’ and ‘maybe’ — the biding of time till the visions wither limp — and every day I try to remember that control smothers and fear asphyxiates.”

I’d add two points to this.

First, there are so many moments and days in a child’s–a person’s life–when the No is inevitable. When you as a parent have to say no, because the request is not feasible–dangerous–impossible. Or when the world says No, because, well, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles in 2012. Or when you’re doubled over the toilet vomiting and there isn’t an ounce of strength left in you to say “Yes” to anything… anything.

Second, when “No” is not the default mode, when it’s pulled out only when really necessary–it has way more power. It means… “No.” Rather than, “No, but if you whine and complain and argue enough I might change my mind. Or, “No. No. No… why are you doing it anyway?”

So. I’m writing this just before our trip–you’re reading this while I’m already on it. My task for myself: to be conscious of “Yes.” To default there. To really think hard before I say “No.”

I’ll report back on how it went when we come back. Including on how soccer balls I was conned into putting into the van…

A football (or soccer ball) icon.