Tag Archives: lessons my challenging children taught me

Seventy-Eight — Analysis

This morning, Harriet wrote a poem about her desire to be an old man on the beach. I can’t express how lovely an idea this is, how appealing it is to me. Is it because I am a woman, so I don’t want to become an old *woman*, but becoming an old man would somehow legitimize my ageing process? OR! Is it because I want to sit on the beach and drink coffee. Yes, probably.

I haven’t been to the beach in over a month. It’s been incredibly steamy hot for three days and I’ve been inside with Eli while he battles the nastiest mouth blisters ever. Ohhhhh he is sad. So so so sad. I wish I could be sad for him.

The thing about kids is there’s always something about them that just bugs you. And at first you think: well, that’s natural, it would bug anybody. And then several third parties say, wow, really? That bugs you? So you analyze. And then you realize that it’s JUST YOU. Why is it just you? Because it’s YOUR KID. You have a similar-personality conflict.

Eli is a pessimist. I am a pessimist. If we spend all day together and he can’t talk or eat because of the mouth blisters so he is hungry and in pain and I am just bored and restless and wondering when/if/maybe? he will ever go to school this week/month?/year, we realize how pessimistic the other is. And there is not room for two giant pessimists in the house.

SA and I have worked this out. He is ONLY allowed to be pessimistic if I am SURE AND CERTAIN that I am feeling positive. He is pessimistic maybe 20% of the time and I am 70% of the time (there is 10% floating pessimistic time that anyone can use) so he defers to me, as it should be in a quality partnership. Eli has no such understanding. As my tiny clone, he wants the 70%. It is hilarious when he’s out in the world and talks to people but it is not hilarious when he is on the couch and whimpering for three hours.

Wait! I am not horrible. I do feel bad for him. I have given him four hundred drinkable yogurts, a food I don’t actually believe in, in the past three days. All he has eaten is drinkable yogurt, regular yogurt, and ice cream. His tongue is the colour of clouds. I have hugged and kissed and patted and sympathized. Seriously.

But he believes he will always feel like this. He doesn’t believe he will feel better. Even this morning, when he smiled at me (I hadn’t seen a smile since Sunday) and I said, “oh you must be feeling better” he said, “no.”

What do you need, I ask.
Murfle murfle, he says.
Fine, here you go.

Arlo gets on with it. He is in pain, he takes medicine, he moves on. He might complain a little bit, and you are happy to hear his complaints because JAYSUS that’s a big blister on your tongue. Eli, he’s an old man, bitter about that cheque that he was supposed to get that never arrived and dammit they owe him. Yes, we’re back to the old man. Eli complains and complains and complains some more. He refuses to open his mouth for three days because it *might* hurt. Sure, it might. Or it might not. And if you open your mouth and it doesn’t hurt, you will get to EAT something.

Complain complain complain.

Wait. What am I doing?


Well. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Sixty-Nine — Next

Further to yesterday’s post about my state of decrepitude, I have sketched out a plan of action.

1. Eat all the pineapple. Body wisdom.

2. No more alcohol. Last night I did not have my customary evening glass of wine because I still felt nauseated and worn out. This morning I woke up feeling not only not-nauseated but very much like a merry ray of sunshine. Could the merry ray of sunshine be related to the lack of wine? Well, they do rhyme. Only one way to find out.

If I’m going to stop drinking alcohol I will need to do it entirely. I recently implemented weekday limits of one glass of wine because if I have two glasses it will sometimes lead to three and three is too many for a weeknight. But even with the one glass maximum last week I was feeling crummy in the morning. I don’t want to feel crummy.

My relationship with alcohol is not an addiction, but it is a habit. And breaking a habit is hard. *fidgets* It’s helpful to replace with another habit, like pineapple consumption! Or going for walks. Or yoga, or cheese popcorn, or writing your feelings down in your internet diary. Hi!

3. Maybe limited coffee too? This morning, after waking up feeling great, I had some coffee and the nausea came back. Seems a clear message, though a deeply sad one because I love coffee and when I don’t drink it I get headaches. But on the other hand, nausea. The headaches will pass and the nausea does not appear to be passing.

No booze, no coffee. You guys, in the words of that Wonderpet duck, THIS IS SEWIOUS!


We have a solid bedtime routine at our house. We have messed up in many, many ways but not bedtime.

At 7 pm we go upstairs. (yes there are exceptions) Sometimes bath, sometimes shower, then toothbrushing, pyjamas, a story each, and goodnight. Door is shut between 7:30 and 7:45. On weeknights I’m in the habit of handing this duty over to SA, since he gets home from work between 6 and 6:30 and doesn’t get nearly as much quality time with the children as I. (Lightbulb: maybe that’s why the bedtime routine is so great, because I’m not responsible for it? Moving on.) I will occasionally help out if bedtime is going sideways with wrestling, shouting, butt-smacking, etc. but generally I stay out of the way downstairs reading or breathing deeply or washing dishes or whatever.

Even though I don’t help out with bedtime, I feel like I should stay home until bedtime is done, like I could help at any minute! If needed! I am available! But last night we needed milk. Bah, I thought. I’m not needed. I’m going now because then I’ll be back sooner. The kids were hyped up, bopping around the bathroom, washing their feet with their toothbrushes, that sort of thing. “Buh bye!” I said cheerfully and went to Safeway.

When I got back, SA said, “After you left, they settled right down. It’s like they only act up when you’re around!” Well.

Tonight I had planned to walk up to the library after they were in bed and then because SA wanted to go out later I decided to go before. Once again, I put my shoes on and left the house before they were in bed and when I returned forty-five minutes later, SA just looked at me and said, “You need to do this every night. Because seriously they are SO MUCH BETTER when you’re out.”


I guess I don’t blame them. If I was my kids and had just spent twelve hours with me, I would want me to get out of the house too. Or something like that. Maybe they want me to get out of their space as badly as I want them to go to bed. Think of that.

Two old habits for one new is a good start.

Sixty-Three — Method & Madness

Aaaaand the sunny days just keeeeep on coming here on the West Coast. /radioDJvoice. I heard a radio commercial this morning for a certain online travel agency, the thrust of which commercial was: “We’ve got great specials on getaways! Get the summer you deserve!” Hey did you by any chance make your ad somewhere outside of BC? Or do you think people want to go to tornado country on vacation? Because here, it’s been the most amazing summer ever and why the hell should I pay to go somewhere else? I pay enough to live here!

Ba—-dump. I’m here all month. The veal is nasty but try the linguine.

Skippadeedoodah! Summertime!

Skippadeedoodah! Summertime!

Today we went to the beach. Arlo can now do somersaults under the water. Eli practised floating. It was a good time. Then we left and because it is Thursday, we needed to get some groceries on our way home. Milk, apples, bananas, something for dinner. I saw a Thrifty Foods by the side of the road and stopped in.

The parking lot was underground (yay!) but also had all the outflow (?) from the building’s air conditioning blowing into it (boo) so it was hot like a furnace. We walked up the stairs and found the bank machine and then the grocery store.

The kids claimed not to be hungry or thirsty, and yet they acted like horrible brats the whole time I was shopping. Just horrible. The horrible that only their minder is annoyed by; nothing anyone else would have noticed. They bickered and punched each other while I picked out apples. They tattled on each other in horrible whiny voices while I debated buns or loaf. I asked them nicely to cut it out. They looked at me seriously like they’d heard me and then proceeded to keep horribleing it up.

Not the look I'm going for, son.

Not the look I’m going for, son.

If the groceries had been unnecessary, I would have left them right there and marched the kids back down to the hot car in the hotter parking lot but I really needed that pineapple and that hummus. Not to mention the milk & apples that make up 2/4 of the kids’ Food We Eat and Enjoy list. SO I SOLDIERED ON. I spoke sternly to them, which netted me more “oh yes, of course Mother, so sorry” looks. Surprisingly! they continued to be bratty.

I decided to ignore them, which worked for Arlo, who whispered to Eli, “Cut it out, now she’s mad,” (so stern voice = amused but no voice = mad? Good to know!) and they stopped for a minute but then resumed and by the time I got to the checkout I was ignoring them so hard it was like they were someone else’s children. Who them? The ones in green? Oh yeah, they’re mine I guess.

In SA's old glasses, your five year old can look like a hipster/old man!

In SA’s old glasses, your five year old can look like a hipster/old man!

The checkout girl was in her early 20s. Behind me and my Horribles in her line was a woman with two younger children, one of whom was wailing because he had to stop sucking the lid of the orange juice bottle long enough for the check out girl to scan it and now that aisle has been renamed The Birth Control Aisle.

When we got home and I had put the groceries away, I engaged the children in some role-playing.



“Imagine you had to do something you didn’t want to do,” I said to Arlo. “Imagine you had to take SPANISH lessons and you didn’t want to.”

“But I WOULD–”

“IMAGINE,” I snarled.

“Ok?” he said.

“And you didn’t want to go but you went anyway because I said you had to and then, while you were sitting in the class, trying to learn Spanish, I sat behind you with my mouth right at your ear, like this…” I got up and stood by his ear to demonstrate. He flinched.

“And then when the teacher talked,” I said, “I started talking, saying ‘hey have you learned any Spanish yet? Did you hear what she said? Are there tacos in this class? HAHAHAHAH I HATE TACOS BUT OH WELL I WILL EAT SOME do you know any Spanish yet? One time I learned Spanish and it was hard. Is this hard? Are you having fun? WELL ARE YOU?'”

Arlo had his hands over his ears at this point.

I walked back to my chair at the table.

“So,” I said, “do you think it would HARDER or EASIER to learn Spanish if I was there behind you talking and being annoying?”

“Harder,” he said.

“And that,” I said, “is what it’s like going grocery shopping with you two.”


“I don’t want to take you shopping, I know you don’t like it, but you like to eat, right?”


“If you like to eat, you have to buy groceries.”


Who me? Yes. I like to eat quite a bit.

Who me? Yes. I like to eat quite a bit.

I foster no illusions that it will change the way they behave the next time I take them grocery shopping. But it was SUPER FUN for me and made me feel better, and that’s nearly as good.

And can I just mention, sadly, that I don’t miss their babyhoods at all but I do miss being able to strap them the hell down in a cart or stroller so I can look at the ingredients list in peace. Amen. And cheers.

From the craft beer festival we went to in June.

From the craft beer festival we went to in June.

Forty-Eight — Brothers Bear Arms

One of the books I’m reading is Quiet: The Power of Introverts. It’s a “speed read” so I only have a week to read it. Can I do it? Well, will everyone leave me alone, please? THANK YOU.


My children love me so much. They want to sit on me and tickle me and, inexplicably, dangle from my neck. “Please don’t dangle from my neck,” I say, “I am happy to hug you, but — arghhhh.” Why? Why do you want to destroy me? I FEED YOU.

Eli has been going through a phase, I think he is almost done it now, where every sentence starts with “Mommy?”

There is a sock in my drawer! And I have other socks. And Mommy?
I don’t mind if my socks match or don’t match, it’s OK with me because who cares! Right? And Mommy?
I’m hungry. Mommy?
I’m going to get a snack now.

Are you super irritated just reading that? Are you?

Are you?

Well? Are you?


After the first I don’t know how many weeks I realized I didn’t have to answer every Mommy? because he would just keep talking. He just needed the two second beat — it could be silent, filled with my voice, or filled with raspberry jam.

Perhaps that’s why he’s moving out of the phase. I gritted my teeth and ignored the impulse to answer him.

I think if my kids could pee on me to mark their territory, they would. That’s what summer vacation is like. A constant dodging of metaphorical, territorial peeing.

“You had her all year!” Arlo says with his actions, not his words, “NOW SHE’S MINE.”

So it goes. Siblings.

We are arguing about gravel! It is a productive discussion!

We are arguing about gravel! It is a productive discussion!

(Not every day. Some days — some moments within some days, even — are not like that.)

This morning, for example, they got up and were horrible to each other for the first hour and my heart sank because the days are sort of long when it’s hot and sunny and everyone is horrible. But then they went outside and raced some snails and that took, like, forty-five minutes, and by the end of it, they’d forgotten to be horrible.

Eli described Arlo as “his mean brother” at the park when they were playing a game with the park attendant girl, but that’s par for the course. During a discussion about the meaning of “trust” last night we determined that Arlo could trust Eli to save his life but not to lend him a nickel. I guess that’s pretty good for age 5 and 7. I hope so.




Reality has set in. The first half-day of summer vacation, it rained. The second we went to run errands. The three-day weekend involved two adults. Today, it was just me and two kids.

I had no plan for today. I thought about making a plan and then I thought, no, I will WING IT because people do, all the time, and nothing bad happens. Wrong! People do, all the time, and they suffer for it. Make no mistake. Learn from mine.

6:00 The kids are up.

6:30 I am up.

7:00 SA leaves for work.

8:00 The kids have finished breakfast and TV time and they go outside to sell rocks, a task which involves paper and pens and making signs and deciding on price points.

8:30 No customers. Sadness fills the land. They decide to make bookmarks instead. I try to help them make nice straight bookmarks but they are all about the speed. Eli scribbles madly on a bookmark. I am unjustly irritated by this. “What is that?” I ask. “It’s SPACE,” he says. Fine.

9:00 No customers. Sadness fills the land. They come inside and paint each others’ faces with face paint and then decide they will paint peoples’ faces instead of sell rocks.

The same problem occurs, namely that there are no customers. It is Tuesday. People are at work, on holiday, or our lovely retiree neighbours J & B, who have bought their share of rocks already and are no way in hell going to get their faces painted.

9:45 I offer to take the kids to the park. They decline, insisting they will wait for face paint customers.

I feel good about this, I guess, because they are self-amusing, so I can tidy the kitchen and read things and do laundry and not talk to anyone but I also feel out of sorts because we go out in the mornings, it’s what we do, and I feel like I can’t commit to anything unless the proper protocols have been observed which is why, in a nutshell, I cannot WING IT. There are protocols. If I start something, I will be interrupt–

10:00 We need a snack! (see?)

They eat a snack and then go back outside to wait for face paint customers.

10:30 I ask them when they might want to go out and get some apples. We are all out of apples. I have given up on the park but I will not relent on the apples. Eli says in 30 minutes. I take a shower.

11:00 Arlo decides he wants to go out after all! and spend some of his birthday money on a toy. He proposes Toys R Us. I counter-propose Superstore, since I can get apples there. We agree.

11:30 – 12:30 Superstore. I walk past the fitting room in the clothing section and hear two children fighting and their mother say “That is IT there are NO MORE CHANCES,” and I almost go over and knock on her door to tell her it will probably all be OK but I have to stop my children from hitting each other with clothes hangers.

Arlo buys a small gun that shoots darts. Eli brings $2 of his money to spend and while I appreciate that my children are careful shoppers seriously oh my god just buy something I am going to die here listening to Peter Cetera and other peoples’ children fighting in the fitting room. Eli buys two bottles of scented bubbles and is very happy with them so that’s a relief. No bubbles buyer’s remorse.

I buy apples.

3:00 We make an afternoon trip to the park across the street. We are so lucky to have a park across the street. If the park was further away I would *really* be annoyed that Arlo just sits there next to me the whole time we are there while Eli runs around playing, and then whines and complains when I say it is time to go. “I was having fun,” he insists. “It didn’t seem like it to me,” I insist back. “Next time just ask me,” he says. Oh you bet I will.

6:00 Dinner: barbecued chicken, couscous salad with broccoli. SA comes home and takes the kids over to the community centre for Arlo’s first karate class. At first I plan to go too and then I think better of it. If I’m going to survive this summer, I need to take whatever scraps of solitude I can.

(Don’t worry, tomorrow I have a plan.)


I was reading NurtureShock last week, approximately six years behind everyone else, and something stuck out for me. The concept of praise.

I am a praiser and a praisee. I don’t think I’m a praise junkie exactly but there are things I do more for the praise and recognition than for the joy of them. (What kinds of things? Um, I can’t think of any offhand, but I’m sure there’s something.)

The research says –I am too lazy to cite here– that when we praise for ability instead of effort, what we get is children who only feel successful as long as they are praised, or until their ability ceases to exist. If we praise for effort, we get children who want to make an effort because the reward is the same; whatever that effort’s reward would have been anyway.

So “you’re so smart” is not as effective as “I like how you tried the question over and over until you found the answer.”

It makes sense. Even as an adult, what can you say to a compliment like “You’re so tall! I wish I was tall!” Yep. Tall. I had nothing to do with it.

Yesterday I opened up this comment page and found I had been comment-bombed by Allison. Allison, who is witty and compassionate and a true blue internet friend that I hope to meet someday. She went back and read something like fourteen posts and left comments on them, many of which had no previous comments at all, and it was this warm blanket of happiness around my shoulders when I saw it. “Oh someone is reading,” I thought, “someone IS reading. Someone is CARING. Someone likes what I say.”

Now, I said I would write 100 blog posts in 100 days and I missed one day I think so far but I never said I would stop if no one commented. I love comments, we all love comments, but I find it hard to find the time to comment on all the blogs I used to read / still read. I get it. It’s part of the give and take of blogging; we write for ourselves and others and we read to connect with those others and some days there just isn’t time to write and read and comment and make dinner.

As I work on effectively praising my children so they don’t give up when faced with algebra someday, I’m trying to also be more conscious of how I talk to myself, and how I rally my internal support system. without waiting for someone to tell me I’m great, they like me, they approve.

So: no comments! I want to keep going without your support!

(Just kidding. But no pressure. Not that you were feeling any, probably. It’s the end of June and we’re all tired. I know.)

(As you were)

(Happy Wednesday)


There are those days when your face feels like an avalanche. Bright smiles and happy eyes (smizing!) start the day and then, several hours later, you find yourself recounting the afternoon’s events to your partner and feeling rather like you might be taking down every tree and sweet meadow flower in your path. SNOW IS COMING DOWN ON YOU MOTHERFUCKERS.

“This morning,” I said to Saint Aardvark, “this morning they were great. They put on their rubber boots and raincoats and got their umbrellas and went out at 8 am to walk around the courtyard. I heard them, counting snails and marvelling at how green the trees were in the rain.”

Saint Aardvark smiled and nodded.

“It was so lovely, I was crafting sentimental blog posts in my head,” I added. “But now? Those posts are gone. My head is a pile of dead leaves, the posts are COMPOST. The WORMS are eating them.”

“Great things come from dead things,” said Saint Aardvark.

Onward, Friday; Fun Day, rain, last day of preschool, and all.

Twenty-One Gun Salute

For those about to rock: we salute you.
For those about to sleep: we salute you, too.

For those whose children are dotted with red marker –but don’t worry, guys, it’s washable, (except I can smell that it’s smelly felts and smelly felts aren’t washable)– we salute you.
For those whose heads are foggy with lack of sleep and clouds of despair: we salute you.
For those who’ve had to work every day but weekends and the occasional holiday since their children were born, meaning they only get the evening and weekend and holiday behavior, meaning they get the grumpy/tired/hungry/sick children end of the stick: we salute you.
For those who still plan holidays, who still come home on evenings and weekends, who do the job, regardless: we salute you.

For those with hobbies: we salute you.
For those who pay down mortgages: we salute you.
For those who take a deep breath, apologize, and crack a joke: we salute you.
For those who hope for the best: we salute you.

For those who stick around, even when they don’t want to, ESPECIALLY when they don’t want to: we salute you.
For those who write it down: we salute you.
For those who try to teach instead of judge: we salute you.
For those who know how to do the heimlich maneuver: we salute you.
For those who know how to dance like a hip hop video: we salute you.
For those who can cook for other people: we salute you.
For those who know that laundry needs doing, always: we salute you.

For those who sing out loud and squint their eyes and play air guitar: we salute you.
For those who belch the alphabet: we salute you.
For those who smile at strangers: we salute you.
For those who know how to end blog posts: we salute you.

Seven — And Counting

It became clear to me when I looked over the past few days’ posts that I can’t count properly or use consistent spelling (numerals or words? PICK ONE) and should be shut out of the Internet entirely. Post 4 was titled with a 3. Post 6 was titled with a 7. This post, which is number 7, is titled Seven. Onward!


From age six to seven, Arlo has seemed mentally scatterbrained, like a squirrel chasing many different sorts of nut. He’s been pulled in many simultaneous directions; to anger, hysteria, meanness, sweetness. Sometimes all in an hour. In this way, six has not been very different from four or five, as ages go.

In the last month, though, I’ve noticed a change. He is focused now, but not on anything I can see. He seems perpetually like he’s coming down with a cold; unsmiling, staring off into space. I have been asking him if he’s OK, if everything is all right, apparently too much because he’s got a new habit of prefacing his statements with “everything is fine…”

Don’t panic. MOM.

There is a series of books about child development, year by year, by Drs. Ames and Ilg of the Gesell Institute. Each book has its own compelling title, like “Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy,” and contains plenty of comforting statements like “three year olds are the devil…they just are…don’t sweat it” (not an actual quotation) or “the average four year old wants to karate chop the universe six times per hour” (ditto).

I love these books so. I recommend them to people all the time. I read Your Two Year Old, Three Year Old, Four Year old and Five Year Old but recently realized that I skipped Six and now am approaching Seven, the title of which is “Your Seven-Year-Old: Life in a Minor Key.”

All I needed to see was the title and this:

“Your Seven-Year-Old is devoted to the delightful but often anxious and withdrawn child of Seven. Although any seven-year-old will have moments of exuberance, security, and happiness, in general this is an age of introspection. As it begins, parents and teachers may welcome the quiet after the tussles and tangles of Six. But once the child of Seven starts to withdraw it’s almost as though he doesn’t know where or when to stop.”

and I got it, bing, like a small, sharp rock to the forehead. It’s not that Arlo feels physically out of sorts, it’s that his emotional sands are shifting.

We went for a walk through the neighbourhood today, just the two of us, hand in hand, not talking about much. I developed a habit of talking a lot to my children when they were babies because it’s good for them (and they were my only company for a while) — and now I have to learn to shut up. I have no problem doing this with adults, letting there be silences and spaces in the conversation, but it’s hard to do with my kids. I want to know so much about them. I used to be their only theatre. The original TV.

I need to work on it, to let those spaces in the conversation go, let them expand like lungs full of breath. I’m trying. Be cool. Everything is fine.


Today Arlo had a friend come over after school, a nice kid that comes over a lot. First they all played outside because it was sunny, then they were inside, then outside again. And through it all: BICKERING. YELLING. CRYING. Someone’s feelings were hurt and then it was PAYBACK TIME and then the PAYBACK made the other kid’s feelings hurt and it was not at all manageable by them (sometimes it is!) so I had to keep stepping in. At first I was good.

“Sounds like you’re having some trouble,” I said calmly. I like to channel Clippy in these situations. How would CLIPPY phrase this, if god forbid he could talk. “Is there something I can help with?”
“Maybe it would help if you sat over there for a few minutes until you feel better.”

After continuous repetitions of this, there was a turning point. I went around the corner from good to slightly bad.

“You guys are too loud. TOO LOUD. Too loud. Stop it or you have to come inside.”
“I don’t care. I already warned you. I can hear you from inside the house and that’s too loud.”

After a while, the friend went home and it was just me and my kids again and we came inside to find it was 5:22 — the time of day when I make dinner and they watch some TV or have computer time.

“Are you going to be using your computer?” Arlo asked very politely. Sometimes if I am cooking something complicated (at the moment I am sauteeing onions, so can use my computer at the same time) (and drink a beer), I let them have computer time on my laptop.

“Yes,”I said. “I am.”

He sighed. He huffed.

“Why do you ALWAYS use your computer,” he said.

“Because it’s mine,” I answered. I looked down at the sidewalk and saw that the berries and leaves they had picked and scattered, which I had asked them first not to do and then to clean up, were still scattered all over the sidewalk.

“But why can’t you use it other times?” he said, “Like when Eli is at school?”

Oh! You mean the 2.5 hours, three times a week that I spend either cleaning, shopping or occasionally running? Sometimes all THREE? F WORD YOU, KID.

I did not say that. I took a deep breath and had a 50s housewife moment.

“I make your food,” I said, “I wash your clothes. I BUY your clothes. I clean up after you, I harass you to clean up after yourself, I read you stories, I take you places, I entertain and discipline your friends, I explain things to you all day long, I buy groceries, I plan meals, I wash dishes, I take down garbage, I remember the crackers your friend likes and buy them if I know he is coming over, I give you treats, I let you watch TV even when you’re nasty to me and it’s MY COMPUTER SO I GET TO USE IT WHENEVER I WANT.”

I could have gone all the way back to pushing him out of my vaginal canal but I might save that one for a rainy day. There’s bound to be a rainy day.