This is not about the village

When I had my first child, I knew everything. And not only did I know everything, but I wanted everything. I don’t mean I wanted a fancy stroller or a fabulous diaper bag. I mean I wanted my child to have the best, fiercest love from a mother making only the best, fiercest decisions.

And in my zealousness as a new mother, I equated every decision I made for my child as the only and best decision to make. I was not a new mother plagued by indecision and doubt; my intent to do right by my baby was so righteous, so fervent, that I convinced myself that the way I was raising my baby was the only, best way to raise a baby. Any baby. My baby, your baby, that baby I saw crying in a stroller and wondered how on earth her negligent mother could leave her crying in a stroller like that when babies needed to be held, comforted, loved.

Everything I did was the best way to do it – the right way to do it. And you know what? It absolutely was. For my child.
And then I had another child who was very different from my first, and I had no choice but to adjust how I mothered her. I started to realize that there could not possibly be only one way to raise a child well. In fact, I broke my own inaugural rule of best motherhood by having a c-section. I had to have drugs and surgery and I did not get to bring my baby straight to my chest to hold her until the chord stopped pulsing. Was I failing my child?

In fact, I could look back even earlier in the course of mothering this second child, and tick off all the things on the perfect mother checklist that I was already doing wrong for both of my kids.
Spend quiet moments gently caressing my pregnant belly, murmuring words of love to my unborn child? As if. I had a toddler to run after, and a dying father to tend to.
Prepare myself for tandem breastfeeding, intending to not force my firstborn to stop simply because a sibling was on the way? Right. See above. I gave myself a much needed 4-month break from breastfeeding before I started again with a newborn.

Even before my second born had arrived, I had, by my own standards and expectations, failed both of my children.

My circumstances could not change. So guess what did?

My kids are both happy, healthy, loved and well-adjusted.

I made the best decisions – for my kids. And I have learned, in nearly a decade of being a mother, that you probably did too.

And the decisions that I continue to make as a mother continue to hopefully be the best ones for my children.

But if they aren’t, I don’t need you to tell me.

You may not like the decisions I make about my children’s education, and I may not like the decisions you make about your child’s lunch. Awesome.

I may think your kid is spoiled, and you may think my kids are coddled. Fine by me.

You may think that I trust in an unproven science, and I may think that you believe in rainbows and fairytales. Good stuff.

Here is the new contract I enter into as a mother with that blessed tiny amount of experience and perspective:

I will leave you to raise your children, and you may leave me to raise mine.

This is not about the village. This is about what happens inside a home in the village when the doors are shut and real work must be done.

This is about understanding that if other parents do not make the choices I have, it does not diminish the great job that either one of us are doing.

This is about understanding that different does not equal wrong, and that there is more than one way to raise a baby.

This is about appreciating the unbelievable privilege I have to raise my kids in so safe and secure an environment that I can actually make these choices. Perhaps taking this privilege for granted is what first made me think that it was my right to comment on the choices you make as well.

I think my kids are amazing. Not perfect, but amazing. Because of, or despite, the choices I have made.

I bet your kids are as well.

So if you want to know what I think, what I would counsel, what my thoughts are, or what my perspective is, go ahead and ask. Otherwise, there are plenty of other, much more interesting things, for us to talk about.

When the doors to our homes are opened and we step into the village square, there are lots of aspects of the childrearing we should share.

Our righteous indignation over the choices somebody else makes, is not one of them.



Second Born

Simpler days, when coats fit well and all was good.

We are at a standoff, my youngest daughter and I, its players each dependent upon weather and weariness and which will simply give out first. It is a battle of wills, but also of pragmatism, each of us locked into our idea of the way it has to be, and neither inclined to change our minds. We are quite exhausted by now, quite wrung out, but not worn out – and therein lies the crux of the problem.

She doesn’t want to wear the coat.

Bright snowy white with starbursts of colour; a cheerfully-lined interior the hue of ripe watermelon flesh, and a hood that extends into a crescendo of cuteness – a bent peak and a small pom, that, when worn jauntily atop a small head, gives the acute appearance of pixie-ness.

My older daughter wore this coat lovingly for two years, bursting from the doors of the classroom in all her gnomish glory, into the snowy, windy, wet schoolgrounds, cozy and warm, month after month. She smiled sweetly at the exclamations her coat invited; let all manner of gloved hand pat the snowy pom resting atop her bent-hooded head; enjoyed thoroughly the originality of her ensemble, a rainbow above the dismal backdrop of the long, long winter.

My younger daughter, soon to turn six, does not want to be a rainbow among the clouds. She wants nothing to do with gnomes or pixies or peaked caps and watermelon hues. She does not want to walk through the schoolyard a burst of confetti in the gray morning light when surely there is nothing yet to celebrate at such an ungodly hour, having been rousted from her cozy lair beneath the blankets on the couch.

She doesn’t want to wear the coat that her older sister loved and wore for two years. She hates the coat, won’t wear it. The coat, unlike my patience, is not yet worn out.

I am not unsympathetic to her point of view. As the second born herself, my child’s mother remembers the injustice of a wardrobe comprised 70% of hand-me-downs; recalls the sting of knowing that whatever suited her sister will one day land in her drawer, whether it suits the future wearer or not. She remembers that it is not always fair to be relegated a carbon copy of an older sister a year or two later; version two receiving goods now faded but not enough for the bin; worn but not enough to be freed from the small humiliation of being clothed and shod nearly entirely in seconds.

But to explain to my small child that this is not punitive; that the measure is one of practicality and good housekeeping and fiscal responsibility, is no balm to her chaffed countenance. She does not understand – or, more accurately, does not care – that the coat is still good, and that good coats cost money; too much money to cast away because of something as fleeting and immaterial as personal style.
Unless … it is not the style that my daughter objects to, but the shackling of her personality to that of her elder sibling’s.

Perhaps my daughter, not yet six, is already so cognitively aware of her position in the family and the dynamics adherent to birth order that she simply will not allow us to cast her into a predetermined role, that of baby, yes, but also, in a purely existential way, of shadow. Perhaps she is asserting her strength of character and refusal to be second to anyone or any thing, from the womb to the closet to her position later in life, assuring us that she will lead, that she will not accept the seconds that life may offer – that she will fight against the oppression of the hand-me-down, allowing her parents to move into their golden years secure in the knowledge that their children – both of them – will always be strong, be independent, fight for the top, regardless of the predestined arrangement from whence they came. Perhaps her parents are raising the next generation of Emma Goldmans and Simone de Beauvoirs and Tina Feys. Perhaps her mother must begin to see this act of refusal as the revolution it is, lead by a diminutive trailblazer with tousled hair and a steely resolve. Her mother’s heart swells.

Her mother's heart deflates. No. It is a simple act of assertion. She hates the coat and refuses to put it on.

Is it because you feel like your needs as an individual are not being met, her mother asks?

No. The coat is ugly.

Is it because you would rather march through the untested wilds of the dark, unknown forest than trot happily along a path that others have used and proved unchallenging, her mother asks?

No. The coat is yucky and she won’t wear it. 

And so we stand, my daughter and me, unable to budge from this battle being waged on all psychological fronts. She, believing her mother to be mean and unwielding, and me, understanding finally that I am dealing with a child more fashionista despot than disadvantaged revolutionary.

But my bright-eyed, tow-headed, clever, stubborn child can not yet anticipate that I have, in my quiver, the only arrow I need as it is guaranteed to sail blithely onto its mark, and soon.

Winter is coming, and there is no other coat. Even she of the icy will cannot melt the ice that appears soon on the window sash.

The temperature is dropping, and soon this argument will be dropped as well, and  tucked away, by me into a scrapbook of memories to be brought out of the cupboard later in life, over a cup of coffee and punctuated by laughter and admiration. She of course, will store this battle first in the suitcase of bitterness and injustice that each child fills until they are about 22 years old, at which time the resentments dry up and turn to dust and we breathe them back in as wisdom and understanding and maybe just a little bit of guilt that means she’ll bring the good biscuits when she comes to join me for that coffee.

Because my dear, it’s good to learn that in Canada, in November, whether you are the first, the second, the fourth or the tenth; whether the coat is ugly or beautiful, new or old, one you love or one you hate, eventually, it’s going to be put on, zipped up, worn out.

(Mother) nature always wins.



Grade Three

I try to remember grade three. I try to remember exactly how I felt and what I was thinking, but I can’t. I can remember sensory details if I really think about it, and not all at once. In an exercise that takes at least a week, certain things come back to me. The smooth texture of my desk’s surface, and the pencil shavings scattered along the desk’s inside ledge, hiding under the 30cm yellow ruler that hadn’t yet been snapped in half.

I can remember the heavy cotton of the grey jumper I wore on the first day, the bright orange of my Garfield lunch box, and the potential for greatness in a new pair of blue Velcro sneakers, Velcro also being new and full of potential for greatness.

What I would like to recall is how quickly my heart must have been beating as I boarded a school bus for the first time, to be taken away from all that was familiar and true for me. What I would like to recall is the impression I had of my new classmates, each and every one of us having boarded a bus to be taken away from all that was familiar, and dropped off at a new school in a new area where our very presence was an affront to those that had only to walk to class each day.

The reason I have been trying to remember all of these things is simple: my older daughter has just started grade three, and I want her to be ok.

She does not board a bus to a new school, nor is she an unwanted interloper among the locals, but she has started grade three in a split three-four, and this has necessitated a move, one year early, from the primary area to the intermediate area, where the grade fours reside.

For my daughter, this is a windfall. She believes she has won the jackpot – the purse being literal and figurative entrance to a world she had previously been barred access to. She gets to traverse the territory still off-limits to most of her peers, and though access remains open to the primary stomping grounds, she rarely goes back.

And she gets a locker, like all intermediate and senior students. She gets a locker that we have already tricked out with a mirror and a white board and some magnets, so she can hang pictures of kittens and One Direction.

Her excitement is thrilling and comforting and I try hard to concentrate on the fact that my daughter is happy and clever and independent, and try not to concentrate on the fact that my daughter is entering the school through the big kid doors and has a locker and is independent.

So I try to force recollections of myself in grade three to come back into focus; try to conjure the level of courage versus the level of trepidation, try to gauge how long it took for me to be ok at age eight in a new situation. This is a laughable exercise but to attempt it is my right as her mother.

As if I could unlock the secret to understanding my daughter’s needs. As if they ever matched my own.
What I do remember of my own experience is that I entered the doors of the school by myself. And though my desire is to turn the corner of the building and watch her glide safely in, I have to allow my daughter to do the same. When she tells me that it took her four tries to get the new lock on her new locker open, I supportively nod and tell her she’ll get the hang of it. When she tells me that she has left the primary playground, and her old pals behind, preferring the bigger space and bigger kids in the intermediate are, I ignore the churning in my stomach and ask her what kinds of games she plays in this brave new world that I’m not sure she’s ready for.

And she grins, wide smile full of baby teeth not yet lost, and says that what they like to play best is Barnyard Kittens, and the knots in my stomach unfurl, at least for now.  



In with the new

I love this time of year in my adopted hometown. The fields stretch out over the acres like golden, rippling oceans; the fruit hangs heavy on the trees, begging me to turn my kitchen into an oasis of sweet and sticky baked goods, and the evenings, still dominated by the insects’ songs, are just cool enough to feel the need to wrap yourself up in a cozy sweater.

There is still romance in the rural life for me, and this, our third autumn here, is proving to be just as restorative, invigorating and salubrious as our first.

A new school year has begun, and for the first time ever, I will be at home while both of my kids are in school. For my kids, this means long days away and the need for routine, security and some decompression once they come home. I feel blessed and privileged to be able to offer them that.  

For me, this new schedule means entire days unstructured but dedicated to writing, days I can spend doing exactly what I’ve dreamed of doing for many years.

The realization of our entire move to the cornfield is coming to fruition, and much like the children waiting for the bell to ring on the first day of school, I am tingling with anticipation, excitement and a certain amount of anxiety. While the last two years, with my youngest daughter home, gave me a huge sense of purpose, not to mention structure, we knew that time was temporary. We knew that eventually, my little one would be going to school full-time and that once again, life would change drastically.

And now that time is here, and we are all adjusting. My older daughter is just about to enter the tween years, and grasps at any opportunity to prove her independence. Reluctantly, but with great pride, I move out of her way so she can reach, unimpeded.

My younger daughter walks the school halls daily now, thriving but, I can see, contending with the desire to be a ‘big girl,’ versus the desire to still lay down for an afternoon nap.

And my husband is adjusting to having me dedicate all of my time now to the ‘work’ part of being a work-at-home mum, the quiet of our separate focus replacing the summer’s boisterous noise in our shared spaces. We startle each other when we meet in the kitchen, but enjoy the moment or two of uninterrupted conversation as we sip our coffee that I now get to drink while it is still hot.

And like the kids now off to school, the excitement of newness will soon dissolve into a flurry of due dates and responsibilities; of small stresses and large ideas; of chances taken and chances missed, and of potential for disappointment tempered by potential for tremendous joy.

I’ll watch as the leaves change and float to the cool ground, but I won’t lament the summer’s end or the growing of children no longer mine during the day. I’ll take my cue from the kids in the schoolyard, and we’ll pile the leaves as high as we can. We’ll hold hands, and we’ll let the leaves muffle our shrieks of joy as we jump right in.



Oh Monday, You're So Funny

4:29am – The birds are singing. THE BIRDS ARE FUCKING SINGING. AT 4:29AM. Get up, close window, curse birds.

4:30am – Can still hear the stupid birds. Get up; turn fan in bathroom on to drown out birds.

4:45am – Still awake. Fan in bathroom is annoying and loud. Curse fan.

4:55am – Can hear birds. And fan. Curse husband for sleeping away peacefully.

5:10am – Curse sunrise.

5:?am – Finally fall back asleep under a blanket of curses and exhaustion.

6:30am – Hear a kid wake up and get out of bed. WHY ARE YOU UP SO EARLY, KID?

Luckily, kid is of the age that waking up early does nothing to impede my right need desire to sleep longer, so besides a momentary all-caps rant in my head, I go back to sleep.

7:09am – Kid is whisper-shouting in my face. “Mom. Mom! Wake up! The cat barfed on the couch.”

I decide this is only an unfortunate extension of the not-so-great dream I had been having about being kicked out of bookclub and ending up on a train to Dutton, and turn over.

Kid is back in my face. More whisper-shouting. “MOM! The cat barfed on the couch.”

In my head, I snarl all sorts of rage-y, my alarm doesn’t go off for 20 minutes, why do I even have a fucking cat-type of things, and force myself out of bed. “Ok,” I say, trying to suppress the rage, “let’s go see.”

7:10am – Kid is wrong. Cat has not barfed on the couch. Cat has barfed on the couch, the throw cushion and the rug underneath the couch. More rage.

7:11am – Throw the cat in the sunroom and close all the doors. Curse husband for leaving bulimic cat with too much food. Curse child for not shooing cat off couch pre-barf. Curse cat for existing.

7:15am – Cushions are rid of the more disgusting cat-barf detritus, but stain remains. Haul out steamer. Add water, plug in. Forget to put cap back on water reservoir, spill water out of steamer onto my feet. Curse steamer. Curse wet feet.

7:30am – Cushions, pillows and rug have been steamed. Back up to unplug steamer, trip over kid sitting on floor because couch has cat barf on it. Stumble, right myself. Kid barely notices because AppleJack is about to be eaten by a timber wolf. Curse all the ponies.

7:35am – Make coffee. Hear that alarm is still going off in bedroom. Check on husband, who is still asleep with head under pillow, ignoring alarm. Gently and with love, shout at him to GET UP.

7:37am – Check on coffee. WTF? Realize that coffee will taste better if I put actual coffee grinds in the filter. Start again. Curse coffee, immediately take it back and hope I have not offended coffee gods. Assure each grind that I love and need it.

7:40am – Gently and with love shout at husband again TO GET OUT OF BED, OHMYGOD GET UP ALREADY.

7:45am – Grab school bags from closet, get lunches I make in advance every night from fridge. Remember that I did not make lunches the night before because I was too busy tired lazy. Curse school.

7:55am – Lunches are made. Hope the kids enjoy their cherry tomatoes, turkey pepperettes and plain melba toast.

8:00am – Feel bad about lunches. Throw in a chunk of cucumber and some chocolate chips.

8:20am – Lunches are packed, sunscreen is applied, hair is braided, breakfast is eaten and coffee is brewing (again). Husband appears. Husband asks why cushions are sunning themselves on the back patio. He is told about the cat barf. Husband clearly has a death wish, so says, “What did you do about it?” Husband backs away as I gently and with love answer, “What did YOU do about it?” Husband smiles his most charming smile and says, “I slept. You are the best wife in the universe.” Husband knows his shit.

8:30am – Kids are off to school, coffee is brewed (again), house is quiet. Wait – not so quiet. What am I hearing? Oh shit! I know that sound! Where is it coming from? It’s in the sunroom. I run towards the unmistakable sound of cat hork. “NO! NO!” I scream, waving my arms, “GET OFF THE CHAIR! GET OFF THE CHAIR!”

8:31am – Too late.