Good morning, beautiful

When grieving the end of a marriage people tell you that the evenings will be the hardest part, but that’s not true. Not for me, anyway.

When you’re a parent, mornings rage in like thunderstorms, startling you from sleep and smashing you over the head with needs, wants, demands and expectations. Mornings are noisy and frantic. Despite how prepared you feel the night before, each morning brings with it its own new catastrophe. Someone lost something. Someone forgot a spirit day. Someone finished the last of the favourite cereal. All of the favorite lunchbox treats are gone. There are seeds in the bread.

At the end of my marriage I expected to feel at lose ends in the evenings. But, as is often the case in life, reality serves up unexpected hurt, and for me (even a year later) that hurt comes in the morning.

Let’s just make it to bedtime without killing each other

Since becoming a parent, the evenings have always been my goal posts. Children are fed and bathed. Whatever happened that day, good or bad, is behind you and the next day brings a fresh new blank page. The little arguments we had have been resolved – or they haven’t – but either way those children are safe and softly snoring, and even if you didn’t earn a gold star for the day, you at least get a checkmark. You may not have exceeded expectations, but dammit, you met them.

Evenings have a charm and a lightness. The quiet of evenings has a peaceful quality to it. The sofa is softer because you know that you can sit for more than a moment. The tea tastes better because you know you’ll be able to drink it while it’s still hot. TV is funnier and more entertaining, complete with sex and swearwords.

I expected that the evenings would be the hardest because of the dark, but it’s the bright light of morning that takes my breath away.

The sound of silence

Every other week I languish in the mornings. I lay in bed and listen to the silence for a moment and I find no pleasure in it. I yearn for the chaos that I always thought I hated and now crave.

I’ve never not had a human to wake up to – whether it was a partner rolling toward me with a stretch and a groan, or a child with his knees shooting daggers into my back. I’ve also always had a morning soundtrack: A television, an argument, cupboards and drawers opening and closing, and of course the sound of that epic morning pee and subsequent (if I’m lucky) flush.

So often these days, I wake up to silence, and now (thanks to the pandemic), I shuffle into work in silence. I don’t greet the neighbour as I get into my car because working from home I have nowhere to go.

Hey. How you doin’?

But not so long ago I rolled over in bed, grabbed my phone and spotted a text that had been sent five minutes earlier, which read simply: “Good morning!”

That was all. That was it.

The “good morning!” asked for nothing. What it gave, however, was a reminder that just because it sounds as if I’m alone, I’m not.

It reminded me that I’m not the only one living so quietly these days, and that this pandemic solitude can be breached through intentional and thoughtful connection.

In other words, good mornings are now on the menu. When you receive a “good morning” from me, here’s what it means:

I care about you. I’m thinking about you. I am happy because I know you. I am grateful that you are in my life. It is a privilege to be your friend, your mom, your lover, your daughter, or your colleague.

And what I realized also is that good mornings don’t have to be quite so explicit. Maybe they’re just a funny meme, or a news story that you read that relates to a conversation you just had. Maybe a “good morning” is just a gif, a joke you heard, or maybe it’s an in depth retelling of a super weird dream.

That’s all. And that’s so much.  

I can’t always hear the folks who love me, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. 

So, good morning, beautiful.

The mother of all guilt trips: Being happy being alone

This time tomorrow I’ll miss them.

Tonight, though, feels like a breakthrough; tonight feels like I’ve given myself permission to stop feeling guilty for a moment and breathe one big, deep soul replenishing breath.

Growing weary in a pandemic

Tonight they are at their dads. It’s been a long, busy week. There were bike rides and home reading battles. There were concurrent work deadlines and big conversations. There were so many dishes and there was, for some reason, an inordinate amount of dog vomit.

The weather was spectacular and every moment spent inside in front of a computer screen felt like punishment. Crystal clear blue skies and glorious wind lifted the flags in the schoolyard next door and cast shadows across the pooch often sleeping at my feet. I spent most of the week inside looking out; pandemic numbers have been steady but hospitalizations are at an all time high. The media assures us that we’re all doing everything wrong and that there is no guarantee of a reprieve this summer. I endeavour to always be kind and calm, but this week’s mandated kindness and calmness has come at a psychological cost. 

Blessed silence

Tonight, though, there’s no one watching and modeling my behaviour, and I can finally switch off. Tonight, instead of having to lay down the law at the dinner table demanding they eat and threatening some form of punishment, I ordered sushi and ate it slowly and quietly without background noises of YouTube or some weird anime.

Tonight the house is clean — there are no stray socks on the floor or toothbrush smears on the bathroom mirror— and it smells good in here. I lit scented candles knowing that I won’t have to stop my kids from blowing them out or dunking their fingertips into the wax and then peeling their waxy fingers all over the clean countertops.

Tonight I had a bath at 7 p.m., during which time I applied a face mask, read a little bit, and sipped a glass of wine. I ended my bath when I felt like it instead of when someone banged on the door announcing that they had to poo.

How can I be both a wonderful, loving, and attentive mother, and also a woman who craves space, time, and quiet freedom?

Tonight I am recharging and I am trying not to feel guilty about it. My children are growing up so quickly that it takes my breath away. When I stare at photos of them from a year ago, two years ago, or four, I catch my breath and sometimes sob. How can I be both a wonderful, loving, and attentive mother, and also a woman who craves space, time, and quiet freedom? 

Tomorrow morning I’ll miss them. I’ll miss the energy they wake up with, I’ll miss their laughter, and their odd pronouncements. I’ll miss making them pancakes, and I might even miss the sound of their weird cartoons, interrupted only by cries of pain as they wrestle each other for the remote.

Tonight, though, feels different; it feels as though I’m honouring myself. In giving myself permission to enjoy this solitude and shed the guilt associated with it, tonight feels like a gift.

Building a fantasy quarantine team

I’ve been thinking about my massage therapist a lot these days.

I wonder how he’s doing, and how he’s keeping busy, and I’ll be honest, I’m a little envious of his wife who had the forethought to marry an RMT. Was he an RMT when they met, or did she direct him toward his career path? Either way, I consider her an absolute genius.

I did not pick my partner based on the skills he could bring to a pandemic. I mean, his sense of humour has been a blessing, and he is wicked good at making Excel spreadsheets, but he is not an RMT, or a chiropractor. Neither of us are particularly good teachers, either, as it turns out.

Who makes the team?spreadsheet

Determining my fantasy quarantine team has taken up quite a bit of my imagination over the past several weeks as I itemize specific skills and discount others. Until recently I didn’t realize how handy it would be to be socially isolated with a hair stylist, or an esthetician.

And I would trade all the Excel spreadsheets in the world in order to add a fitness trainer and a nutrition coach to my roster, as all this self-isolated snacking is getting decidedly out of hand.

I also wouldn’t mind adding a bartender and a barista to my team, either.

There is room on my team for a pet groomer. I was eyeing up my husband’s electric moustache trimmer recently and noted that it was the PERFECT size for trimming the fluff around my doodle’s backside, but after a few moments of reflection I opted against it (because I’m a good person, and that would be a mean thing to do).

Mostly, though, I just miss my massage therapist. Being socially isolated with someone of his talents would be wicked handy. My home office is not ergonomic, and this momma has a neck kink like nobody’s business.

Open to trades

What do I have to trade? I’ve got a couple of budding comedians and fashion critics on the block. One of them can tell you just about everything you will ever need to know about Pokemon, and can also relate any aspect of your life to a Garfield comic. The other one will regale you with ego-boosting observations like: “What are you even wearing? Your shirt is super wrinkled and looks weird, but your hair is the worst part.” When he’s not offering up unsolicited comments on your attire, he will just jump out at you with a surprise high kick, or tackle you into a mid-afternoon wrestle-hug, which is another reason I’m on the lookout for an RMT.

Who is on your fantasy quarantine team?

Hey teacher, how about you pick the teams?

In honour of Pink Shirt Day how about we do something completely radical?

For one single day let’s cancel gym class, unilaterally — in every city, everywhere.

Or, maybe we could do something slightly less dramatic. Maybe we could implement a few minor changes. For starters, how about we end the time-honoured tradition of forcing children to line up while their peers select them for a team; a process that inevitably ends up with one child being the last selected, over and over again until he or she can finally opt out of gym as an elective in Grade 11.

Because really, what is this selection process if not socially acceptable bullying? Sure, it was how things worked in the 1980s when I was in elementary school, but that was before we wore pink shirts and used cute acronyms to describe ideal behaviour.

The fact is kids want to win. And while they may wish to be “Safe, Outstanding, Accountable, and Respectful (SOAR),” when you throw them into the Hunger Games Arena (or gymnasium) and tell them to pick their dodgeball team, they’re going to do the exact same thing we did when we were 10 and pick the kids who can throw hard and run fast. And the rest of the kids are going to stand in an ever-shrinking line with their cheeks burning just waiting for this humiliation to end.

I’ve written before about being a parent to child of many skills and talents, most of which are cerebral rather than physical. I adore my thoughtful, artistic son, the one who happily climbs trees and folds paper airplanes; the one who, if given a choice between a visit to the dentist and a stint on a soccer team, would choose his teeth every time.

But he must participate in gym, and generally he’s fine with it, though he cares little about whether he wins or loses. On this day, however, he cared. On this day he came home from school and told me of a day that “started off great, and then got worse.”

It was Tuesday. Gym day. His class was to play dodgeball, and two children were selected to choose teams.

“I was chosen first, which never happens,” he said, making me sigh.

But then his team started doing poorly, and another boy on his team took the loss seriously.

“He told me that I was the reason we were losing. And then I heard him tell his friend that he couldn’t believe I had been chosen first out of all the kids in the class. AND HE KNEW I COULD HEAR HIM!”

“What did you do,” I asked him.

“I turned to them and said, ‘hey, guys, I’m RIGHT HERE!’ And then they turned to me and said, ‘whatever.'”

What I heard from the story was that my son had been chosen first, and that another child was jealous. My son was steamed, and addressed it in the moment. The moment passed, they went back to class, and completed their day, but not without my son learning a harsh new lesson.

I’m not concerned about this child of mine. He is smart enough and has enough great friends that it doesn’t matter if he plays soccer or hockey, if he’s on the winning team or the losing team, or if gets picked first or picked last. Each day he comes home to a place where he is safe, he is loved, and if he ever feels like he can’t fight his own battles, he knows his home team will spring into action.

But I am concerned about gym class, especially for the kids who might not bounce back so easily. I bet if you did some research you’d discover school-aged bullying happens in a few key venues: The playground, online, and in gym class. We can’t cancel the internet, though it’d be nice to kill the comment section for a day. The kids need fresh air, so we can’t cancel recess. And as much as I personally would have liked to kibosh gym class to avoid the torture that was volleyball, I understand that kids need this, too.

However, in the 30-plus years since I was in elementary school, plenty has changed. Our kids are learning in entirely new ways and using new technologies. Cursive writing is dead, and report cards don’t even have grades anymore. Yet by all accounts gym class has stayed the same. Sure, physical activity is necessary. Sure, dodgeball may end up teaching more relevant skills than, say algebra, so I get we can’t cancel it. But in honour of Pink Shirt Day, maybe the bright lights among us can do something to make gym class slightly less cruel.

Maybe today on Pink Shirt Day the teacher can pick the teams.

 

 

 

 

A bottomless pit of parenting guilt

If you asked my kids what they did this summer (as I’m sure their teachers did today), they’d respond with the classic, “nothing,” and further elucidate that it was “fine.”

But let me tell you, their summer has been amazing. Stupendous. Chock full of memories galore.

Funny thing, though, just as we all begin flossing two days before our semi-annual dentist visit, I busted out the home reading books and sight words four days before the start of school.

And I groaned, and mentally chastised myself for letting the book-learning slip. My littlest child, for whom reading has never come easy, struggled through words that had stars behind them when he left his classroom on that final day in June. He grew frustrated and annoyed with my choice of books, and flatly refused to sit still, insisting that he’d read with me, “tomorrow” (which coincides with the day that my diet always starts).

What have my kids done this summer?

They’ve gone swimming more times that I can count. They’ve sailed down water slides, and turned over rocks looking for crabs. They’ve scooped up fistfuls of sand in a quest for clams, and took turns announcing theirs as the biggest, or most beautiful.

They’ve trapped jellyfish in travel mugs just to watch them pulse, and named them before setting them free. They strapped on lifejackets and paddled out into the surf in a kayak, one of them spotting a family of otters along the beach.

They’ve visited with grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles and cousins and even a great grandpa who refused to turn up his hearing aid so he couldn’t hear about great adventures, but warned us loudly (as he always does) to visit more, because he won’t last much longer.

They stayed up way past their bedtimes, and rode bikes and scooters in the neighbourhood with friends. They’ve bobbed around on lakes, and learned how to do backflips into pools. They’ve gone camping; they’ve eaten in restaurants and around fires.

I’ve ensured that they’ve experienced summer, its sunsets, its weird bugs and its skinned knees. They still smell of sunscreen even after they’ve bathed, or maybe they just smell of sunshine?

They’ve been healthy. There have been zero trips to the doctor, or late nights with big bowls. There have been no fevers, coughs, or stuffed noses.

But as the new school dawns I have so much guilt — not for the things we did do, but for the things we didn’t.

When our routine went out the window, so did the homework. Teachers ask us every year to keep up the great work, and to practice over the summer, but we didn’t, and that’s on me.

As is the case with so much of parenting, it’s easier to dwell on the activities that you didn’t do than it is to congratulate yourself for all of the things that you did. Contriving such amazing experiences requires boatloads of effort, and quite a bit of cash. Nightly reading and flossing is cheap by comparison.

But what does dental hygiene have to do with literacy? Guilt.

The guilt kicked in during a visit to the dentist last week where several cavities were detected. It was in this moment of handwringing that I began tallying up all the other ways I’ve failed my sweet children. Flossing. Reading. Probably not enough vegetables. They went to Sunday school with their grandma twice though, so that had to count for something.

How did I let this happen? Was it too many campfire marshmallows, and not enough gargling around the fire? Probably.

While looking into my child’s mouth the dentist saw the thing I didn’t do well enough, not the 999 incredible things I did. When my children head back to school this week, their teachers will sigh and see where I cut corners. They may even imagine my nightly refrain: “That’s OK. You’re tired. We’ll read tomorrow.”

And the guilt makes my tummy hurt.

So, here’s to the start of the new school year, the start of a routine that includes fewer campfires and jellyfish, and more vowels and fractions. Let’s give a cheer to those food groups we’ll welcome back into our lives again, and for the oral health that will once again take centre stage.

Mind you, if you were to ask my children what they did this summer, and they answered, “brush, floss, and practice sight words,” I’d probably get a failing grade also.

There’s no climbing out of this bottomless pit of parenting guilt.

The great sleepover debate

I said no.

I say no often to my children without giving it much thought, but this seemed like a big no; there was a harshness to it. Saying it hurt a little because I could feel he wanted it so badly, and he’s such a great kid, and he’s almost 10, and I was probably being over protective.

“No. You can’t go to the sleepover birthday at the local ski hill. I don’t know this boy. I’ve never met him or his parents. It’s an hour away on a snowy road. No.”

Sleepovers are a rite of passage, and I remember my first attempt vividly.

I was about six, and I was to sleep over at my best friend Tami’s house. I’d visited countless times before, and our parents were friends.

There was a build up of excitement; I could barely eat as butterflies parked in my belly.

Finally, Friday night arrived and it was amazing until the lights went out, at which time I sobbed and begged Tami’s mom to take me home. She did.

A few weeks later, I tried it out again and made it through the night. I graduated to other sleepovers — sleepovers that found me giggling on my grandma’s balcony with my cousin Becky, or up watching Labyrinth over and over, pausing only to make prank calls to the boys from school.

(Keep in mind, this was before call display.)

Sleepovers were great. Sleepovers are great. I want my kids to have sleepovers and to host sleepovers, but I’ve been fielding invitations from parents since my oldest was about five, and I say no far more often than I say yes, because I’m torn between wanting my kids to have amazing experiences with their buddies, and wanting to make safe choices for them.

I’ve had to develop rules, which include:

  • If I don’t know the child, or the parent, the answer is no. You’d be surprised how many sleepover requests come to my house from children, and parents of children, who are complete strangers. I couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup, I have no idea who the parent is, what they look like, how many children or dogs live in the house, what they do for a living, or whether they have gang ties.
  • If a parent decides at the last moment that the pizza/movie birthday party is now a sleepover, the answer is also no. No. No. No. First of all, WHO LIVES LIKE THIS? Making the decision to extend a nine-year-old’s birthday party into the next day — on a whim — seems insane to me. I can’t work like that. I like plans, and I like having them in advance so I can give my extremely anxious brain enough time to freak out.
  • If there have been multiple playdates, and I’ve gotten to know the kid and the parents and have successfully creeped them on social media, then yes, yes, a thousand times, YES!

When my kid visits your house I want to know that he feels comfortable enough to tell you if he’s scared. If he feels sick. If he’s hungry or thirsty. And I want your kid to feel that way with me before he spends the night.

We’re told to provide our children with the tools they need to engage with the world. We talk to them about stranger danger, and about bullying, and about participating cautiously in cyberspace.

But we’re also told that most child predators are not strangers, and that they’re the next-door neighbour, the basement tenant, the babysitter, the uncle.

As a kid I didn’t notice when I graduated from midnight My Little Pony marathons to sobbing over Heathers and making prank calls in the basement. When my parents said no, which was often, I thought it was just because they were jerks.

Turns out they weren’t jerks. And I’m not a jerk, either. My kids will do sleepovers. But let’s not rush it. Let’s get to know each other a bit, see how they play together for a few hours before they spend the night. How about you invite me in for a coffee while they play so that I don’t have to resort to the social media creep?

That’s a lie. I’ll creep you anyway. I’ve already creeped you. But it’s only because I care.

Call me, maybe?

It usually starts with heavy breathing, but if you wait long enough, you’ll be rewarded by a few tremulous and stuttered words.

By eight years of age, children should be able to facilitate their own playdates. To do so, however, requires endless amounts of coaxing, encouragement and lessons on that old-fashioned machine called the telephone.

Our family is still in possession of what telecommunication companies call a land line. Regular callers on this line include: My mother-in-law, the Canada Revenue Agency telling me that I owe back taxes, people from India who want to help me disable a very bad computer virus, and Diane from Big Brothers Big Sisters, letting me know there will be a truck in my neighbourhood next week.

And now there is a new batch of callers to the land line — heavy-breathing eight year old boys.

Teaching children how to talk on the phone isn’t as simple as you might expect. Kids learn by example, and they don’t see many examples of people talking on the phone anymore. I communicate with one of my best friends multiple times each day, and yet I haven’t heard her voice in over a year.

That makes my heart hurt a little.

My children will never know the frustration of sharing a single, harvest gold, rotary dial telephone with a cord that doesn’t quite make it down the hall to the bedroom.

They won’t understand the agony of having their older brother answer the phone, hold the receiver two inches from his mouth, and shout, “DANNA, THERE’S A BOY ON THE PHONE FOR YOU, I THINK HE LIKES YOU! IS HE YOUR BOOOOOOYYYYYYFRIEND?”

They’ll never experience having their older sister answer the phone shortly after 8 p.m. only to say: “Sorry, Danna can’t come to the phone right now. It’s almost her bedtime. Oh, and will you please tell all of your other friends to not call so late? You will? That’s great. She needs her beauty sleep. Grade nine is so tough.”

It’s for these and other character-building reasons that we’ve opted to hold on to our landline and finally teach our children how it works.

Any good lesson starts with a plan, so together, my child and I come up with a suitable script. We decide to write down our address so that after he’s asked his friend to come over, he can explain where “over” actually is.

That settled, he begins the mission and dials, which takes several tries. Careful, though, because when the number is officially dialed, the child will immediately begin speaking.

“Wait until someone picks up, bud.”

But people never pick up these days and he’s caught off guard by voicemail. He panics,  hangs up, and lobs the phone onto the couch as if it bit him.

“YOU DIDN’T TELL ME WHAT TO SAY,” he shouts, accusingly.

“Just say your name, who you’re calling to speak with, and your phone number,” you explain, all while mentally kicking yourself for not simply texting his friend’s mom like you’ve done every other time.

And so he dials again. And waits. And when the beep sounds he reads his script perfectly, except instead of his phone number, he recites his address. He realizes what he’s done at the last second, hangs up, and throws himself and the phone onto the couch in melodramatic agony.

“UGH! This is so HARD!”

This kid perseveres, though, and you’ve got to give him credit. He gets back up, grabs the phone, dials like a boss, waits, states his name, phone number and reason for calling. And it’s perfect. He did it. He raises his hand, drops the mic (phone), you grab it on a bounce and give him a high five.

In a few minutes, you reap your reward. The phone rings. And there it is, the beautiful sound of heavy breathing.

Just wait for it, and be patient. This is beautiful. They’re figuring it out.

“… Hi… this is Billy, can I speak to …”

Thumbs down for 100th Day

I don’t want to freak you out or anything, but 100th Day is tomorrow. If you’ve got a child in elementary school in my neighbourhood and you don’t know about this, or you did know but forgot, or the notice is still in your child’s locker, or you neglected to check the teacher’s blog for the past week, you may as well just put on a pot of coffee. You’ve got plans tonight.

For those who don’t have school-aged children, 100th Day marks (you guessed it) the 100th day of the school year. If you’re thinking, “hey, that’s weird, we didn’t celebrate that when I was a kid,” you’d be right. But then, we also rode bikes without helmets, so now that we know better, we do better.

And what’s better than celebrating the 100th day of school?

I’ll tell you what’s better. Sleep. And that’s something you won’t be getting tonight because tomorrow is 100th Day, and your five year old is expected to participate in the 100th Day fashion show, wearing his unique 100th Day shirt.

Let me just get in on the record that 100th Day is terrible, and was probably devised by a grouchy teacher who just can’t stomach the idea of letting us weary mothers curl up with a cup of tea on a Tuesday night and watch Netflix.

After all, it’s been almost a full week since Valentine’s Day, so we’re probably bored by now, and just rubbing our hands together in anticipation of the next fake holiday.

So, while the rest of the world (dad) is sleeping, you’ll enter motherhood’s Octagon (Pinterest) to come up with an amazing idea for a thrilling 100th Day shirt, despite knowing that your five year old will refuse to wear it anyway.

The goal of the 100th Day shirt is to glue or paint 100 things to it. But trust me, the teacher’s not counting, so if you give up at 60 your child will still pass kindergarten.

And remember, this is supposed to be a learning experience for your child, so it’s important he or she do the bulk of the work.

Ha! This would be possible if we were celebrating Eighth Day, but as delightful as my five year old is, he is not going to glue 100 things to a t-shirt.

You know what my five year old can do 100 times?

He can lose his gloves.

He can say my name 100 times in rapid succession. He does this best when I’m on the phone. With the doctor.

He can come up with 100 reasons why he shouldn’t have to eat his dinner, and he can easily think of another 100 reasons he shouldn’t have to go to sleep.

But glue 100 things to a shirt? Not in the realm of possibility.

So this shirt’s on me, but luckily this isn’t my first rodeo. I have an older child, and we’ve been through this 100th Day bullshit before.

I’ve learned not to glue edibles onto a five-year-olds clothing. Ever. There will be no Goldfish Crackers, or shiny Skittles rainbow. There will be no giant cup of cocoa with 100 marshmallows glued to the top.

Gluing edibles to a five year old and sending him to school is like painting him with honey and introducing him to a bear.

Let’s be honest, if, in a moment of weakness, a colleague walked up to me with a Skittles-covered shirt, I’d pounce. I wouldn’t be proud of myself, I’d apologize, but I’d eat them, glue and all.

A good planner would have collected 100 bottle caps (or 60, as previously mentioned) or the same number of corks. Thankfully, I accidentally mixed up the dates, and thought 100s Day was last week, so I’m a full week ahead of schedule.

As a result, my son will arrive at school tomorrow with 100 fingers painted on his shirt, thumbs down.