Back to School

It has been a long time since I went to work or school full-time.

In February of 2005 I was working full-time. Then, six weeks ahead of schedule, my daughter was born. Thanks to generous Canadian maternity leave, I didn’t return to work for a full year after her birth. When I did return, I was fortunate to be able to negotiate a part-time schedule, where I went into the office three days a week and did some work from home the other two weekdays.

When my son was born in 2008 I went on another year-long maternity leave. Nine months into that I received notice that my job was being eliminated. I decided to shift gears and started working from home. I landed one small freelance job and then another. Eventually I was working 20 hours a week from my family room.

I was lucky. I was able to spend time with my children while they were small. I spent time in their classrooms, volunteered on field trips, and explored what I really wanted to do with my life. I know that not everyone has this freedom.

back to schoolNow, things are changing. Tomorrow my kids start back at school. They are now in grade five and grade two. The day after tomorrow my kids start before and after school care. And five days after that, I have my first day of school as a student teacher. I will spend the next 12 months studying full-time, doing practicum work in classrooms, and earning my teaching license. It will be the first time in more than a decade that I have done anything full-time.

This is a good time for me to do this. My children are in school all day themselves. They are well settled in their routines. I am ready for the next thing. But still, I’m nervous. It feels like a big change.

There are seasons in every life. I am entering a new season in mine. I feel just as scared as I did more than 20 years ago when I graduated from high school and first started university. The stakes feel so much higher. The demands on my life are already much greater. And I have two little people watching me. I want to set a good example. I want to build a good life for them and for me. I want to show them that you’re never too old. That learning never stops. That you can set a goal and make it happen.

I also want to do well for myself. I have always been an overachiever.

I know things will work out. If I just take things one day at a time, one task at a time, I will get through this. My kids will get through this too. I will figure out my part, and they will figure out their parts, and when all is said and done I will be a teacher. Hopefully I will find a job, eventually, and we will go on vacation at Spring Break. And I will have the privilege of working with children every day. If I keep my eyes on the prize, it all sounds good.

But still, it’s a big change. I feel it. I can’t think about it too much, but I feel it.

So, deep breath. Here I go. Wish me luck.

The Tween and the Death of the Landline

My daughter Hannah is 10 and a half years old. In a week and a half she will be starting grade five. And the fact that no one has a home phone anymore (including us) is killing her social life.

landline tweens home phone cell phoneWhen I was 10 I had a number of friends in my neighbourhood. I also had their phone numbers, for the family phones that sat attached to the walls in their kitchens or living rooms. If we wanted to get together to play we could call each other and find out if we were free. I remember asking my mom if I could go to my friend’s, or have my friend over. Sometimes the answer was yes, and other times it was no, but we could make plans for later. It made summer vacations, when we were bored and missing each other, much more palatable.

We got rid of our home phone about four or five years ago. Both my husband and I had cell phones, and it just made sense to cut what had become an unnecessary expense. By the time we got rid of the landline we mostly only got telemarketing calls on it, anyway. A lot of other people have made the same call and gotten rid of their landlines. According to an article from this past February more than half of children and adults under the age of 45 (i.e. – my family) live in a house without a landline, and the number is only growing.

Here’s the problem, though: I don’t want to let my daughter use my cell phone as her phone. My iPhone feels much more personal to me than my home phone ever did. I’m not okay with Hannah using my phone to call her friends. I’m not okay with getting phone calls from her friends on it. And I’m definitely not leaving it with her when we’re in different places. And most of Hannah’s friends’ parents? As far as I can tell they have the same deal.

Hannah does have her own phone – my husband gave her his old iPhone, but it doesn’t have a SIM card. It’s essentially an iPod that could be a phone but isn’t. She can use FaceTime and iMessage, which means that she has a way of connecting with other iPhone users, including me and my husband and her grandparents. However, many of her friends don’t have iPhones, or don’t have any kind of phone at all. And many of her friends also don’t have landlines, or email addresses that they check regularly. So Hannah’s “phone” is essentially useless and she has no other good way to get in touch with her friends in the neighbourhood. As a result she sees her friends less than I saw my friends when I was her age.

In a few years, once these kids are 12 or 13 or 14, I’m guessing they’ll all have cell phones of their own and be more than able to connect with each other. In the meantime, though, the onus remains on us as parents to manage their social calendars. Since the kids can’t get in touch with each other the parents have to text and email to set up play dates or arrange to meet up somewhere. By giving up the landline we’ve become responsible for keeping our kids entertained for a few more years, until they all have texting apps of their own.

It’s not all bad, staying connected to our kids. And I certainly wouldn’t want my 10 year old to be glued to a texting app. There’s plenty of time for that later. For now, though, I’m realizing how a decision you make for one reason can reverberate in unexpected ways in other areas of your life. So if you have a six year old and you’re considering whether or not to keep your home phone, you might want to hold off on your decision for a few years yet.

Poem of the Month: Ode to a Tween

poem of the month tween(Let’s just ignore the fact that it’s been, er, several months since I shared a poem of the month, shall we? Good.)

Recently I re-embraced my adolescent love of writing poetry. Many of them are written just for me, but I have written enough that are not as personal and I’d like to share some of them. And so, a blog series is born. These aren’t necessarily my deepest poems, but I do enjoy each of them.

And now, here is this month’s poem, inspired by my daughter who earned her yellow belt in tae kwon do yesterday.

Ode to a Tween

Her hair has gotten much longer lately
I noticed it yesterday as she brushed it
She is independent and private now
Her fashion sense is not half bad
Her sentimentality has reached an all
Time high because she senses that
Her childhood is drawing to a close
I sense it too filled with ambivalence

I can’t believe I haven’t broken her
But she survived my awkward first-time
Parenting, overly earnest and tentative
Here we are and she insists I am the
Best ever – does she protest too much?
I think maybe she senses my flaws and
Is reassuring herself and delaying the
Inevitable realization: I am imperfect

I want her to know my imperfection
So she knows she’s not alone when life
Sucks so hard the fight goes out of her
We all struggle and that struggle does
Not make us weak or unworthy
Every day we get up and show up we have
Won and that is the thing I admire
Most: she always, always shows up

From her early arrival heralded by her
Strong lungs to first steps to her
Own prolific writing she lives life
Whole-heartedly even when she is
Afraid always offering the best of
Herself without a second thought
This girl-child, this old soul, this
10-year-old with long honey hair

Not That Mom Anymore

Everyone tells you that kids grow quickly. Too quickly. Blink your eyes and they’re different people. What they don’t tell you is how you change right along with them, and how quickly you forget everything that came before.

I don’t mean that you literally forget everything your kids have done up until this point. That obviously isn’t true. But you do forget, mostly, all the little day-to-day realities of life with younger children. Even things that seemed to be life-and-death, and you were tremendously worried about, fade from your mind as they’re replaced with all new life-and-death, tremendous worries. Worries about birth are replaced with worries about breastfeeding. Worries about breastfeeding are replaced with worries about sleep. Worries about sleep are replaced with worries about food. And on and on and on … until (I imagine) the day you die.

I was going to write until the day your kids leave your house, but my guess is that the worries don’t end even then.

I remember this feeling of deja vu when my second child, Jacob, was a baby. He would enter a new stage and I would remember going through it before. Sometimes I would remember exactly how I handled it, sometimes I wouldn’t. Sometimes the solutions that worked for my daughter worked for my son, sometimes they didn’t. And once again, as soon as one problem was solved or outgrown a new one arose to take its place.

kids playgroundNow my kids are ten and almost seven. They go to school. They swim. They get themselves out of bed in the morning. They even get their own snacks. They still require adult supervision, of course, but I’ve become much more relaxed over time. They are no longer a threat to their own health and safety. If they’re both home and the house is quiet for a moment I don’t panic, I enjoy it, knowing that the peace will end soon.

Sometimes I have flashes of life as it used to be. I hang out with the mother of a two-year-old and we have to constantly move to keep the toddler in our sights. Our conversations are interrupted mid-thought as she sprints off to rescue her little one from imminent danger. At our house she asks if it’s okay to put the diaper in the kitchen garbage. Setting up a time to get together 1:00pm doesn’t work because it’s nap time.

I also have moments where I realize I act clueless around moms of younger kids. Like I offer whole grapes to an 18-month-old. Or markers to a two-year-old. Or I wear white pants to a playdate. Or really, I own white pants at all. I’m no longer in the habit of keeping my mind on high alert for disaster. And I have forgotten a lot of the little pieces of information that used to be at the top of my mind. The rules for keeping small children happy and alive.

I’m just not the same mom I used to be. That doesn’t mean I’m worse. It also doesn’t mean I’m better. It just means I’m different. I’m worried about nurturing a tween girl’s emotional well-being and helping a school-age boy learn to swim and ride a two-wheeler. I’m concerned about questions like at what age you let a boy use a men’s washroom by himself when you’re out in public, whether a two-piece bathing suit is appropriate for a 10-year-old, and how to balance my kids’ needs with mine as I head back to school full time.

Life has changed, and I didn’t even really notice it happening. It just … did.

For a while I was sad to move out of the stage of parenting babies and toddlers. I thought I wanted a third child. I know that if that had happened, I would love and cherish that baby. Now, though? I’m kind of glad it didn’t. I like being the mom of the “big kids” on the playground. I like having a little more freedom to finish my conversation with a friend. And I love not having to wake up when my kids decide it’s time to wake up.

The mom I am right now is a good mom to be.

kids and mom

Podcast: Mothers and Memoirs with Melissa Cistaro

podcast melissa cistaro memoir pieces of my motherPodcasting was my most favourite thing for a time, and now I’m thrilled to be slowly getting back into it. The opportunity to chat with interesting people about interesting things is amazing – I highly recommend it. Today I’m excited to share another conversation with an interesting person. Melissa Cistaro is the author of Pieces of my Mother, a memoir that was released in the US on May 5, 2015 and seems to be gearing up for official release in Canada on May 15, 2015.

Melissa’s mother left the family home when Melissa was very young. The memoir covers her experiences growing up without her mother in the house, and her experiences being present when her mother was dying. In her mother’s final days Melissa found a box of “Letters Never Sent” that shine a lens on the past and the present. I got my hands on an advance copy of the book and I found it readable and engaging. Whether or not you share her experiences, Melissa’s memoir will resonate with you in some way. As we all recover from Mother’s Day, this is an interesting take on a different side of motherhood.

podcast melissa cistaro memoir pieces of my  mother bookDuring our conversation Melissa and I talked about writing, publishing, motherhood and a whole lot more. Whether you are a mother or you have a mother (which is pretty much all of us, right?) there is something in this book and conversation for you. Sit back, relax, and take a listen. And stop by www.melissacistaro.com to find out more about Melissa, or pick up a copy of her book pretty much anywhere books are sold. Enjoy!

If you enjoyed my conversation with Melissa Cistaro, or you’d like to hear more of my interviews, check out the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes. As an extra bonus, if you subscribe you won’t miss a minute of my future broadcasts. And if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Dabbling in Extra-Curricular Activities

I am good at starting things. In fact, I love starting things. I have always been what you would call a joiner. When I’m in class now I’m always the first person to raise my hand. I volunteer. I say yes often.

I am also good at keeping things going. Once I’ve said yes to something, I stick with it. My 24th dating anniversary with my husband is coming up in less than a month. On that fateful day in 1991 when we became a couple I was a few days shy of my 15th birthday. We have never broken up. I would have driven my old Honda Civic for another 15 years if it hadn’t been totalled.

What I am not good at is endings. I hate endings. I rarely quit things, even when I probably should. In my ideal world, everything would more or less stay the same forever. I like predictability. I do not like upheaval. I am willing to trade novelty for security.

fencing 10-year-oldAs a parent my natural inclination would be to pick an activity for each of my kids and have them stick with it. Unfortunately, my children have other ideas. My ten-year-old daughter has tried ballet, Irish dancing, tap dancing, musical theatre, art classes, gymnastics, fencing, soccer and carpentry. She also does swimming, which is non-negotiable, because it’s a necessary life skill. My six-year-old son has tried music, basketball, soccer and baseball. So far, nothing has stuck. They enjoy their activities, but when they’re over they want to try something new.

When I was writing for VancouverMom.ca I had a badminton lesson with Olympian Anna Rice. I also had the opportunity to interview her for an article. She shared how she had started playing badminton as an eight-year-old. My own daughter was eight at the time and of course I started imagining that my Hannah would discover a sport she loved so much it took her to the Olympics. So far, no luck.

On the upside, the fact that my kids are dabblers makes my life easier. They have fun, and we have free time because we’re not driving hither and yon for training sessions and tournaments. Our weekends are our own. I don’t have any fears that they’re missing out on childhood because they’re spending so much time on one particular activity. Balance is good, or so they say.

On the other hand, I would like my children to give everything they try a fair shake. I would also like for them to find something they’re really passionate about. So we don’t let them quit activities they’ve signed up for. I’ve found that sometimes an activity that they despised on lesson three suddenly becomes fun for them on lesson six. Persistence pays off, and even if you’re not destined for soccer or badminton glory, you can still learn a lot by giving them a go.

And so, I vacillate between wanting to give my children the freedom to explore, and wanting them to find something they truly excel at. I struggle with my own desire for them to never, ever quit, and work to identify when to push them to go on and when to cut our losses. I don’t think there is any sure-fire recipe for success. I wish there were, though. Sometimes having to figure things out for myself at every single step of this parenting journey wears a little thin. You know?

Picky Eater

It’s been a while since I opened Use Your Words by Kate Hopper, which is unfortunate because it really is full of great ideas. Today’s post was inspired by one of the writing exercises in that book.

The other day my six-year-old announced that he was a vegetarian. Actually, though, that’s not exactly right. We were doing his home reading, and the story he brought home from school featured a bunch of animals going fishing. His response? “Fishing isn’t nice. Fishing kills living creatures.” I asked him if he was becoming a vegetarian and he replied, “No, mom, I’m a scientist. Scientists know that all animals are alive, and we shouldn’t hurt them because that’s not taking good care of the earth.”

Flash back to my son the baby. One of his first solid foods was pureed beef, which he loved. Because I am a hippie mama it was pureed grass-fed, free range, hormone-and-antibiotic-and-chemical-free, purchased straight from the rancher at the farmers’ market. While my son no longer eats with the full-bodied gusto of a six-month-old discovering a whole new world of tastes and textures, meat is still one of his favourite foods. And given how picky he’s become about what he puts in his mouth, I’m not sure what his diet would look like without it. I’m guessing it would be comprised almost entirely of nachos (without any vegetables) and breakfast cereal, with, perhaps, the occasional serving of fries thrown in for good measure.

I’m sure this is all my fault, of course. If I’d fed him like a French child, he would eat anything. If I’d offered him nothing but beans and rice and vegetables until he ate them all eagerly he wouldn’t turn his nose up at them today. If I’d offered him the right foods, in the right quantities, in the right order, there’s no way he’d refuse to even taste something because it “looked weird”. After all, I’m his mother. It’s my job to establish good eating habits.

baby eating food
Before it all went wrong

I remember reading an old copy of Penelope Leach’s Your Baby and Child that a co-worker gave me when my daughter was born. The book actually claimed that babies who weren’t started on the right purees at four months of age would become “problem eaters”. I didn’t start my son on solids until he was almost six months, and then it wasn’t purees but mashed banana. I should have anticipated that he would turn into the world’s choosiest vegetarian by the time he was in first grade. It was all there right in front of me 10 years ago, but I ignored the warning.

I also heard, back in my new parent days, that if a child refused a food the first time it probably meant they were just getting used to the taste. So you should offer it again. And again. And again. Until, eventually, that child would learn to love the food in question. I tried this with my daughter, who turned her nose up at avocado. She refused it once. She refused it twice. She refused it five times. She refused it 27 times. And today, with her tenth birthday rapidly approaching, she adores sushi but uses her chopsticks to remove all the avocado before eating it. Clearly, the 112th time would have been the charm, but my persistence faltered and with my son I decided to actually respect his decisions about what he did and didn’t like. I know, I know, I was so very, very wrong.

Of course, there really aren’t any hard-and-fast rules for what foods to introduce and when to introduce them. Different cultures have different practices, and still, somehow, all adults grow up to think that food is pretty good and they should eat it. Not everyone likes the same foods, but I’m living proof that you can turn up your nose at corn on the cob or sweet potatoes and still live a full and happy life. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any 40 year olds out there that are still subsisting on milk because their mothers didn’t give them pureed green beans at exactly the right time. Or at all. And speaking of pureed green beans, I’m living proof that you can live a full and happy life without ever touching those, either.

As for my son, we talked more about his food choices. He’s decided that for now, he’s avoiding fish, but he’ll eat other meat because it’s “already dead”. My guess is that this choice is mostly about what foods he actually likes. He’s six, so that fact that he enjoys meatballs and passes over salmon isn’t exactly shocking. I’m not going to insist on logical consistency from a kid who is still learning to tie his shoes. And later on, if he sticks to his decision not to eat meat and decides to go completely vegetarian, or vegan, or what-have-you, I will support him as best I can.

For now, though, I’m really glad that my picky eater will consume the foods I’ve come to depend on to keep dinnertime running smoothly. Because I didn’t have the foresight to shove pureed green beans down his throat until he liked them.

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