The Bedtime Boon

‘Love despises bedtime.  For him, it’s an ordeal that must be accomplished in order to achieve the goal of parental freedom.  And I’ve got to admit, until recently I felt the same way.  At bedtime everyone is either whiny, oversensitive, and combative (due to the fact that they are sorely in need of sleep); completely hyper and crazy (in an if-I-don’t-keep-moving-I’ll-fall-asleep-on-my-feet kind of way); or unimaginably slow and full of excuses.  It’s enough to make any sane parent pull out their hair.

Somehow this year, that’s changed.  No, not the kids.  They’re still running like maniacs or bursting into tears while dragging their feet at every possible occasion.  But I’ve realized that nearly all the craziness comes to an abrupt halt the moment we’re alone in their bedroom.

As every parent with more than one child knows, there’s simply never enough of you to go around.  It seems that the kids are almost constantly vying for my attention, talking over one another, asking me to play a game or do a craft or watch a trick or….  Mommy is a hot commodity. Continue reading

the road less travelled

My husband’s grandparents’ cottage is about four hours from our home, in a lake-laden region home to only a sparse crop of locals—mostly farmers, it seems—when it is not overrun with vacationers in the summer months. While the main roads in the area are paved, some of my favorite local travels have been on the dirt roads. The cottage itself is on a dirt road, a single lane tunneling through a hilly woods, one which always makes me imagine what it must’ve been like to be one of the early settlers in the region. Other local dirt roads hold equal gems: long-abandoned farmhouses hiding in overgrown fields, tidy cottages situated at the end of tree-lined dirt driveways, squat ranch homes with a half-dozen haphazard additions surrounded by the flotsam of life. I always watch inspect the homes with interest, wondering what sort of person has made their life on this quiet path. I collect and peruse real estate catalogues, dreaming of owning a hidden parcel of land in solitude.

Then reality strikes, and I realize that such a dream would, besides making it virtually impossible for my husband to find a job, remove me from the nearness of my parents, eliminate our connection to the few friends we’ve found, and separate us from the opportunities afforded by a populated locale—scads of parks to visit, kids’ classes available through multiple nearby park districts and oodles of local businesses, multitudes of different library branches, a variety of concerts and plays, and community events galore. I would love the solitude, but I would miss the civilization.

In some ways, I feel like I’ve already made the move to solitude decades ago, living in civilization but not gaining the full benefit of it. My mom has told me that nearly everyone feels at least a little lonely and set-apart, but since we are each unique, we can never truly feel understood. Somehow I feel more set-apart than I believe most people do (though I guess I’ll never know). Some of it I’ve brought on myself (like being too lazy to hook up my TV), some of it is situational (like not having enough in the budget for much entertainment), and some of it is hereditary (like being utterly unathletic).

Oftentimes, the road less traveled is a beautiful one, full of scenery others are missing. Sometimes, however, you begin to tire of being alone on the road. You think that there are many lovely well-traveled roads, and you wonder if you really ought to consider taking fewer scenic routes.

we all need somebody to lean on

Kids sharing an apple

Even apples are better when shared.

Last weekend, we had a little fair in town.  Since we’ve read a few books about people going to the fair (and because ‘Love has a weakness for elephant ears), we took the kids.  We strolled around, people-watching.  After we’d walked through the whole thing, Peatie asked, “Daddy, can I go down that big slide?”  We explained that it cost money to do anything at the fair, but we agreed that we would buy him tickets to the slide as long as he understood that once he handed over his tickets, he HAD to slide down.  Goobie decided she wanted to slide, too, so ‘Love bought the tickets ($4 worth!) and walked the kids up the loooong staircase.  He admitted later that as soon as they were situated on their felt sacks, he wished them luck and gave them a quick shove before they could change their minds.

Recounting this adventure the following day, Peatie confided, “I was feeling a little bit scared, Mommy, but Goobie was there with me, so then I thought that I really didn’t have to feel scared anymore.”  That struck me as pretty glorious insight from a three-year-old: so much of life is more bearable (fun, even) with a friend.  I hope that my children can continue to be there for each other as they grow older, and I pray that they find others to surround them, too, as they age—friends, spouses, neighbors…a whole community of people to do life with them.  Life is lived much better in community.

creating community

Being a mother has led me to believe that folks of yore really knew what they were doing.  They lived in large houses with extended family or clustered their dwellings ‘round the farm.  They lived in little villages and cooked in the front yard while their children chased the chickens.  They did life together.  Granny sat in the corner rocking the baby and shooing toddlers away from the fire while the younger women shared the burden of cooking and cleaning.

My brief years of teaching served as another model of this.  My happiest moments as a teacher were those in a classroom with an aide, another adult to share a knowing glance during the moments of classroom chaos or after a particularly hilarious revelation from an eight-year-old.  The year I spent in a small school with a schedule that virtually eliminated my contact with other teachers was the one that drained me to the point of no return—I got pregnant and quit.  (There, I solved that isolation problem!)

As I observe those around me, it seems like the prime source of community and togetherness remains the family.  I am fortunate enough to live near my parents—though my siblings scattered to the corners of the country—and I sincerely believe that I am a better mother because of the time I am able to spend with my mother, sharing life and the joys and trials of little ones with another adult.  Life was not meant to be lived in solitude.  It seems that as our families disperse across the nation and around the world, we increasingly lose our sense of community as the first and most natural relationships we have grow strained by distance.

Neighborhood

“Don Mills homes” by SimonP on Wikimedia Commons.

When I was young, the neighborhood was another little community.  On my cozy block of fourteen modest homes (seven per side), six of them had children.  During my formative years, there were eighteen kids wandering the neighborhood, organizing bike parades and neighborhood Olympics, playing baseball at the school diamond, and running from one house to another.  All of our moms were at home at least part-time.  They had coffee together, left us kids under someone else’s charge while they ran errands, and hollered out the window if they saw someone misbehaving.  An additional four homes on our block had grandparent-types in them; we kids mowed their lawns, had snacks in their kitchens, and received their reprimands if they thought we were playing too roughly.  Community like that is hard to find in our era of attached garages, privacy fences, and too-many-commitments.

Many people discover a community of faith, forming relationships with fellow parishioners.  When I was young, families invited one another over for Sunday dinner after the service and met for church-based Bible studies or kids’ clubs.  My husband and I changed churches a while ago.  One of many reasons was our lack of connections in our old church; everyone was related to everyone else, so they huddled in family clusters.  Our new church, though it has many good qualities, seems to schedule all family events in the evenings—after my little ones are in bed.  (Are mine the only kids who are in bed BY seven?)

I want my kids to have more to their lives than their grandparents and a few folks they see on Sundays.  I want them to have a community—or several communities.  While I haven’t determined how to improve our connections at church, I have made more of an effort, lately, to get to know the neighbors, and I’ve joined a MOMS Club for additional connections.  I’ve not been at it long enough to see if it will work for me, though I’m rather pessimistic.  (Pessimism probably doesn’t help, but I’ve been a bit of an odd-man-out my whole life, so I’d hate to get my hopes up.  Who else gets excited about dictionaries, hasn’t gone to a movie in nearly two years, likes to sew but stinks at baking, and has no money to spend on weekly trips to bounce houses?)  I’ll certainly do my part, but if I succeed, it will be a miracle.

How do you “do community”?

the tattle tales

If there’s one thing I learned over the summer with the seemingly interminable visits of my siblings and their offspring, it’s that kids LOVE to tattle.

My kids, being young, are still fairly honest.  My son will march into a room and announce with distress, “Mommy, I was jumping in the crib and it BROKE!”  If I ask my daughter, “Goobie, did you color on the door?” she will sweetly answer, “Yes.”

The older kids seem to be a bit wilier.  When I went to investigate the abovementioned crib incident, my 6- and 4.5-year-old nieces gleefully proclaimed, “He was jumping in the crib!  WE weren’t doing it, just him.  See, here’s where it broke.  And I think he took my drawing, too, because I can’t find it.”  Peatie endured my lecture and his subsequent removal from Grandma’s house looking dismayed and chagrined; I found out later that Goober quietly told Grandma, “My cousin was jumping in the crib, too; the cousin in the blue shirt.”

There’s a lot that bothers me about this and the several similar incidents I witnessed.  First off, my nieces lied about their involvement in the crib-breaking event.  Second, any child who’s present for such sustained rule-breaking (that crib did not break in one bounce) is, in my book, equally guilty unless they were taking significant steps to deter the others.  Third, it thoroughly irks me when children try to make life worse for others, in this case by magnifying the situation and attempting to add additional blame and infractions.  There are several blog posts imbedded in this paragraph, but today my focus is on the last issue.

So why do kids tattle?  At times, tattling can be a reaction to distress.  Small children’s lives are governed by the rules of their environment.  These rules (if consistent) provide a sense of security; little ones know what is allowed and not allowed, so they are able to function comfortably.  If someone breaks a rule, this rocks a little person’s world; they want an adult to firmly bolt that world back down by reinforcing the rules.

But at some point, tattling loses that sort of benevolent glow.  At some point, tattling seems to be about the balance of power: getting the authority figure to frown upon a playmate and, in turn, gaining a holier-than-thou glow for oneself.

Because I wish to heartily discourage the second form of tattling, I also gently discourage the former.  When one of my kids rushes to me with a tale of what the other has done, I listen solemnly and affirm their distress at the broken rule.  I then ask, “Did you remind __ what our family rule is?”  And send them off to speak to their sibling.  Within a few moments, I will check in to make sure all is well and provide any necessary correction—but I want my correction to be disconnected from the tattle.  I want my kids’ first resource to be their own words and actions, not, “I’ll tell Mom!”

Lately I’ve been on a parenting book kick.  One of the common parenting-book themes I’ve noticed is the idea that parents should encourage (and help) their children to solve problems themselves, without needing to enlist the help of a parent.  Over and over, I’ve been told that this is an excellent way to foster good sibling relationships and to equip children to better deal with other difficult relational situations later in life.

I like the idea of encouraging my children to solve conflict independently.  This doesn’t mean that I’ll turn away a child who’s being chased by a sibling with a hammer; it means that I will mediate for them, protecting them as a parent while also coaching them to find words to describe their problem and ways to compromise.  Hopefully this will prevent future teachers from needing to assign my children their own personal “Tattle Notebook” and bosses from, well, from firing them in exasperation.

What’s your take on tattling?

thicker than water: the summer of insanity update

I have survived more than half of my Summer of Insanity.  I’m exhausted—but yet, I’m also exhilarated.  My schedule has been blown to bits, my routine is nil, my free time is miniscule, my sleep is pathetically lacking.  But I have reconnected with my siblings, I have been re-introduced to nieces and a nephew whose recollection of me one year later was vague at best, and, the crown of it all, I have watched my kids connect with their aunts and uncles and cousins.

Holding hands

I’ve taken hundreds of photos to capture memories of our time together.

Is there something special about being related?  All of my siblings are separated by at least 10 hours of driving, so our kids see each other once each year.  All of our kids tend to be shy, hanging onto our knees at playdates.  And yet from the moment they met, the cousins fell into playing happily together unlike their play with anyone else.  All three moms commented on it.

This play has been good for my kids.  Around here, I’ve not managed to find them playmates who are a good fit.  The kids in the two families I’ve connected with most regularly seem to have a different style of play or different interests than my kids; playdates usually consist of their kids growling and chasing my terrified children or my kids huddling in a corner playing with trains while their “friend” hollers desperately that they are playing wrong or that they really ought to be interested in playing something else.  I’d seen glimpses of hope when my oldest made a magical connection with another child at a park, but I wasn’t sure how to nurture or recreate that spark.

With their cousins, it has happened.  Over and over again, they have gleefully run off to make messes together, to imagine together.  Little Goober tells me stories about her “other sisters”—her girl cousins—and Peatie asks daily if his cousins are at Grandma’s house to play with him.  This brings me great joy, but it also breaks my heart.

It is already drawing to a close.  Goobie’s “other sisters” have gone home.  The remaining two cousins will be in town for two weeks, gone for one, then back for just a few final days.  And that will be the end of it until next summer, when we’ll have just one week together.  How I wish that they lived closer, or that I at least could find a family with whom we could create some sort of surrogate connection.  Lucky are those who have such close relationships in close proximity.