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Friday, December 31, 2010

Play dates

I open the door in my pink fuzzy bathrobe, pulling it tight around me in preparation of the cold air. The girl runs up behind me, too excited about seeing her friend to wait much longer. I open the door and we exchange greetings. A child enters and mother leaves. The play date begins.

I wander around in my bathrobe until the husband arrives home from getting groceries with the boy. Now there are three kids running through the house. I am happy to sneak upstairs and take my time getting dressed.

The day passes in chunks of time. Playing. Eating. Watching a video. Playing. Braving the cold. Eating. Saying goodbye. Hours and hours that pass like minutes.

Each activity is fully embraced. The playing is enthusiastic. The movie is considered hilarious. The homemade sushi for snack time is devoured. Everything is loved. Except for the goodbyes.

*
The mother and I sit in the kitchen at the square brown table. We can't see the kids from here but we can hear them. The sounds are happy, so we stay where we are. I have to laugh. How can the sounds not be happy when three kids wearing swim suits are jumping off the couch into a swimming pool outlined with with masking tape on the hardwood floor.

I make tea. We talk. The kids come running to us whenever they want snacks. The boy eats his piece of homemade cake brought by our guests. After I wipe off the smear of whipping cream on his left cheek he hurries back to his sister and her friend.

*
We are late but they are still glad to see us. Everyone is glad to be there, except for the boy who cries on and off about being tired. Maybe you should sleep later then 4:30am I tell him. He ignores me.

We wander the museum, stopping when something interests us. The kids play and the mom and I have the broken conversation that comes with supervising four little kids in a public place. Enough is said though. Enough to understand.

The kids are older and taller then when I last saw them. That is the funny thing about time. It makes my kids older and taller too.

*

Here's to friends in 2011. The girl's. The boy's. Mine.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Atalanta

The first few strains of the music make me stop what I am doing. A smile creeps over my face. I have to dance.

The girl sees me down the hallway and she rushes to me, her arms outstretched. We clasp hands and start to twirl. The boy sees us and runs to join in. We skip around in a circle, our legs flailing wider and wider as we go.

We listen to each song and story as it comes, sometimes singing along, sometimes dancing. I think about all the times I used to listen to the CD when the girl was a baby. She was too little to understand. I really played it for me. 

The girl stands as close as she can to the CD player, maybe hoping that this way she won't miss anything. Finally she walks to the next room. But my favorite story comes on. I move closer to hear better. I don't want to miss anything.

Atalanta's father wants her to get married. She doesn't want to. He doesn't understand. She tells him she will run a race and agrees to marry the winner; she only agrees because she knows she will win. She trains and trains. But so does another young man. A man who only wants the chance to talk to Atalanta. To have the chance to know her better.

The day of the race comes and Atalanta is in the lead as she nears the finish line. Until the young man, John, pulls along side her. The cross the finish line together. The race is a tie.

Still. Atalanta's father the King offers John her hand in marriage. John doesn't take it. He says he could never marry someone who doesn't wish to marry him. Instead they spend the afternoon together talking before going their separate ways, each off to explore the world. Maybe they will meet again. Maybe they won't.

I feel the tears start to come as I listen to the children's story. Tears for all the girls and women that have been married off by their fathers and brothers. Tears for the freedom I have had to choose my own life. Tears for the girl I have just danced with.

May she always believe that she is Atalanta.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Miss. You.

Miss. You he says, laying his head against my shoulder. He has to lean far to his right from where he sits in the dinning room chair but he does it anyway.

He says it all the time now. When I come home from being out. When I walk into the kitchen in the mornings. When I have been gone from his sight, if only for a minute.

He doesn't just say it to me. He says it when we arrive home and find that Grandma is out for groceries. He says it as he waits for his aunt and uncle to arrive from out of town. He says it when the husband is at work. He tells the girl as soon as she arrives home from school.

He misses everyone. He misses all of us. I imagine he would like us all clustered together on the couch. He would go from one to another giving us hugs and kisses. He would lay his head against our shoulders. Miss. You he would say.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The day

I lay in bed, my eyes closed, waiting. I thought I was waiting for sleep to overtake me but I think I was really waiting for her. How else can I explain why I was wide awake at 1:45 am on Christmas morning. But I was.

Click. Slam. Thump, thump, thump.

Did you hear that? I asked the husband. Yes he said. We both jumped out of bed and followed the girl down the stairs.

At the bottom step I heard her call out Grandma! Grandma! but instead of running to where Grandma was sleeping on the sofa bed she ran in circles around the hallway and living room wall. It was on one of her laps  that she bumped into me.

What are you doing? I asked her. Come back to bed.

I can't find Grandma she cried.

It was just a bad dream I reassured her. Grandma is just sleeping. Everything is fine.

We tucked her back in bed and waited for her to settle. Instead she hacked loudly and coughed repeatedly. The boy's rustling in his bed made us decide to try something different. So I took the girl to bed with me.

It seems to be a holiday tradition now, spending the late hours of Christmas Eve together. I kept thinking about last year as the girl tossed and turned and tried to convince me it really was time to go downstairs. She didn't even care about the presents waiting under the tree. She was just ready to be awake.

By quarter to four I gave up trying and sent her back to her bed. She fell asleep instantly. The husband and I slept too; until the boy woke at for the day 4:30 am. Followed by his sister fifteen minutes later.

I despaired about the day when it was already 5am and I had been up most of the night. If it hadn't been for Grandma distracting them with their stocking for a few more hours while the husband and I slept, I would have been short on Christmas cheer.

*

It was close to 7:30am by the time the household was all awake. I was determined to push through my exhaustion. Luckily it was easy to get swept up in the kids' excitement. They had to show me each of the items they had earlier pulled from their stockings. The girl had to help me look through mine.

Playing back in the sunroom, the kids had yet to see the piles of presents under the Christmas tree tucked into the corner of the living room. Once we turned on the lights they rushed in and exclaimed about everything they saw. The girl was momentarily distracted by the huge dollhouse the husband and I had bought her. I wanted to have her love it. To know that she loved it. I think she does. There was just too many presents for her to stop for any one.

The girl kept us moving. She handed out the presents, helped slow people open them faster and quickly moved us onto the next. She had to cajole her brother into opening the stack of presents growing beside him. He was too engrossed with the car tracks he had been given, the very first present he opened, to care about anything else.

The gifts under the tree this year were all very thoughtful. The girl loved her ballet slippers from Nana. I was thrilled with my bread box. The boy stopped playing with his cars long enough to race up and down the hallway throwing his small Winnipeg Blue Bombers football. It was a very successful Christmas morning.

*
I felt myself flag briefly while both the kids napped. We had had to strong arm the girl into spending some "quiet time" in our bed, but finally she gave into the tiredness that was overtaking her. I contemplated lying in bed with her, knowing that this time we would both be sleeping, but there was too much to do. Too much I wanted to do.

I made lemon pudding. I cooked cranberry sauce. I helped the husband prepare and organize and prep the rest of the food for the dinner. I chatted with my sister. I talked to my mother-in-law. I felt myself float through the middle of the day on a cloud of contentment. Being glad to have so many of my family with me on this day. Happy to see everyone so happy.

*
With our guests due to arrive soon I hurried to finish getting ready. I put on a dress. I applied makeup. I wore new jewelry I had unwrapped just that morning. I was ready to celebrate.

Our friends were lovely. The kids all played well together. The food was good, especially the vinarterta. I had a flashback to Boxing Day gatherings in the past when we would join my Grandma's family for dinner, the kids eating in front of the tv and the adults in the other room. As I turned on a video for the four kids snuggled in two chairs I finally understood the value of the age separation. The adults were able to talk as the kids giggled and yelled from the back of the house.

I had to ask my friend Do you let your kids leave the table once they are done? Are you ok with them not eating everything on their plate? Can they watch a video? We have had company before where the differences in our parenting suddenly became apparent in the dining room and made for an awkward meal. Her easy attitude to everything made the evening go smoothly and made me resolve to have them for dinner again soon.

*
The kids were ready for bed, the boy wearing both his and his sister's new pajamas, and I said goodnight. I ate some more vinaterta and then headed to bed myself. Tired but pleased. Certain in my knowledge that I had my best Christmas yet.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas gift

I give to you my love.

You won't find it at the bottom of your stocking.
It's not wrapped up under the tree.
It's nothing you can open.
I hope it is something that you can see.

It is here in my hugs.
You can feel it in my kiss.
It's the way I look at you.
It is how much you are missed.

When I say "no more cookies".
"Stop and just sit down".
"Don't push. Don't hit".
Yes, even then, the love is all around.

I hope you like your presents.
I hope you like your toys.
I hope you know I love you.
I love you, girl and boy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Go. Stop.

Go. Stop. Go. Stop.

I have come to see my life as a series of moments. Some over in the blink of an eye. Some stretched out like salt water taffy, pulled apart piece by piece until all the little bits are shoved quickly into a mouth and slowly savoured.

Go. Stop. Go. Stop.

The holidays are almost here and the pace of life has changed. No school. Many preparations. The days feel longer. The days are fuller.

Go. Stop. Go. Stop.

I find myself thinking about all the moments that have come before. Last Christmas. The Christmas morning I found out I was pregnant with the boy. My first Christmas as a mom. All the Christmases of my childhood that seem to blend together into one. Like a technicolored dream.

Go. Stop. Go. Stop.

They rush past me. Around the table, past the tree and into the hallway. I find myself wondering where they are going. Running so fast through their their childhood; pulling me along behind them. Sometimes I try to keep up. Sometimes I am dragged kicking and screaming.

Go. Stop. Go. Stop.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

4:32pm

This is when I start to watch the clock. I will glance over every few minutes, hoping that a time warp has occurred and it is now 5pm. That any minute the husband will be walking through the door.

My bag of tricks is empty. We have painted. Cut with scissors. Visited the park. Read books. Baked cookies. Run around in circles. We have done everything and anything for the last nine hours.

I feel myself getting twitchy. The same way I feel when I wake too early and I am waiting for my cup of coffee to brew. I know I just need to get through these next few seconds, minutes.

But I am done.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Four ways to eat a cupcake

Place a chocolate cupcake topped with two inches of vanilla icing on a plate and carefully cut it in four. Make sure all the pieces are the same size.Watch what happens.

Someone will put all the icing in his mouth in one big bite and then cry more, more. When told there is no more icing, he will eat half of the cupcake before running off to play. After five minutes he'll return to eat the rest.

Someone will spend ten minutes licking the icing as if it was an ice cream cone. Lick, lick. The sides of the icing will be eaten first until a tall tower seems to grow out of the centre. Then the cupcake will be slowly and carefully eaten.

Someone will use a fork to break off pieces of the cupcake to eat bite by bite. He will reach his long arms across the table to spear sections of his cupcake instead of moving the plate in front of him.

Someone will close her eyes as she takes the first mouthful of chocolate goodness. Each bite will have an even distribution of cupcake and icing. Each bite will be savoured.

Everyone will wish more more.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tree

We bought the tree from the grocery store. I pushed the kids home in the stroller while the husband walked ahead of us, the big tree leaning against his back as he dragged in along. The boy was asleep by the time we reached our house so I lay him on the mat in the hallway while I took off his snowsuit and then tucked him in bed. The girl started asking to decorate the tree before it was even in the house.

The boy decided that he didn't want to sleep longer then ten minutes so he joined us in wresting the tree into its stand. The girl remained focused on decorating the tree. We said that it would need to defrost and fill out first. Then we surrendered and opened the box of ornaments.

I sat on the couch fiddling with the star lights to hang in our window while the kids decorated the tree. Ornaments were clustered on the bottom left of the tree; two or three ornament hung on each branch. They were so pleased with themselves. So happy.

I remembered that I should take a picture. I grabbed the video camera from on top of the fridge and leaned into the living room from the hallway. I watched the kids through the screen as they helped each other slip the hooks of the ornaments onto the branches.

The tree looks beautiful. Every time I see it I smile. Even when I am cranky about the mess, the kids not listening, the coats flung everywhere. the demands barked at me. The tree makes me smile.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Presents from the girl

I stepped onto the bus to call to the girl and hurry her along. The bus was ten minutes late and there were lots of stops after us. She bounded towards me and all I noticed was the brightly wrapped packages in her arms. Which she started to unwrap as she walked down the steps.

Look what I bought she said of the wrapped presents. There is one for my brother, and one for you, and one for dad.

Let's go inside I said, waving to where the boy sat in the front window watching us. Wait until we get inside to open them!

The girl complied only because she was distracted with telling me all about buying the gifts in the school gym. We had sent her with a handful of quarters zipped into a plastic bag this morning to shop in the parent run store. Gently-used donated items were up for sale to all the kids, with volunteers on hand to wrap them with paper and bows.

The girl started to pull the first present from a gift bag as soon as I opened the front door. This is for him she said of her brother. How about we let him open it then I suggested. Too late. Instead she handed it to him just as he came around the corner. It's a fluffy bunny she said. He grabbed the bunny and gave it a hug.

How about we take off your snowsuit and sit on the couch? I suggested. The girl stopped long enough to take off her coat and then started to open the second present. This is for you she told me. It's a Dora umbrella! For you to use when it is raining. It will be good in the rain.

Wow! I say as I take the bright pink child's umbrella covered in images of Dora and Boots from the girl. I love it.

And I got dad a book about wood. Because he really likes wood. Do you think he will like it?

Yes I said, certain that the husband has never ever read a book about wood. Never mind made anything with wood. It was very thoughtful. He will love it.

The girl chattered on about all the presents. She hugged the bunny. She opened up the umbrella to illustrate its usefulness. The excitement was high, which meant that the only possible ending to the scene was tears. They came when the girl twirled around with the umbrella and poked her brother in the eye.

I held him on my lap and cuddled him while he cried. Would you like to say thank you? the girl asked me politely. Of course I said.

Thank you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Test

I called him from the pay phone. Ignoring the handful of people waiting at the nearby bus stop I sobbed into the phone.

The midwife said the baby is breech. I have a week until my next appointment to try to flip the baby on my own. If not we have to go to the hospital where they will try to move the baby and that will hurt and it might not happen. And then if that doesn't work I will have to have a C-section.

The words poured out through my gasps and tears. All I could think about was how the birth I wanted was suddenly on the verge of disappearing. Poof. Gone.

He was quiet for a moment. I thought he was processing all I had said. But something felt wrong.

How was the doctor? I asked.

Instead of joining me at the midwife's, an appointment he rarely missed, the husband had had a medical appointment of his own. After weeks of waiting he had been to see a retinal specialist. We were both hoping for answers to the question about what was happening to his eye.

One day a blurry spot had appeared. Not in the middle of his eye, not huge, but close enough to the centre and big enough that the husband's vision was affected. He had gone that day to see our family doctor. She told him to go immediately to the Emergency, worried that his retina was detaching.

It didn't. Nothing happened right away. An ophthalmologist at the hospital looked at it. An appointment with a specialist was made. We waited.

Standing in the phone booth on a hot July day, my feet swollen, my eight-month pregnant belly huge and my face streaked with tears I listened to the husband tell me that he had macular degeneration. He was thirty-three.

The doctor really didn't go into details. He was told that they would monitor his eye. That he should call if there were changes to his other eye. He was told he would need a series of shots to try to improve or slow the damage. The doctor neglected to mention that the injections would be in the eye itself until he advanced on the husband with a large needle.

All of a sudden the baby being breech was less important. Even as I tried naturopathy and Chinese medicine to encourage the stubborn baby to flip, my real concern was that the husband wouldn’t see this child. I began to worry that his sight would disappear instantly. That he would wake up tomorrow and it would be gone. That one more blurry spot would be the end of the eye.

We've since learnt that it doesn't happen like that. His eye continues to deteriorate, as does the second eye that has also been diagnosed with macular degeneration, but the decline in his vision is gradual. The shots will help for a while and so the doctor will decide that he can stop treatment. Then months later the husband will begin to swear while he eats his lunch at the kitchen table on a Saturday afternoon and even though I ask, part of me already knows what is wrong. An appointment is made with the doctor and treatment starts again.

Bit by bit his eye sight weakens. But advances in drugs and treatment continue and maybe something can be done before he loses his sight completely. Five years later and he still isn't blind. He saw the girl be born. And her brother. That is something.

That is something I thought as I pushed the double stroller home over snow banks on a cold Tuesday afternoon. The girl had just been for her first eye exam. She is often skittish in new situations and with new people, but I was more nervous than her. With the boy on my lap I sat tensely while she read out the numbers projected on the wall across the room. Only when I started to hear the very goods from the optometrist did I begin to exhale.

She has twenty-twenty vision the doctor said. I grinned. There is no sign of myopia (high myopia can contribute to macular degeneration) she told me. I could have cried with joy.

I didn't. I bundled the kids back into their snowsuits while they licked at the caramels pilfered from the candy dish in the eyeglass store. I managed to get us out the door and started towards home. As I walked I felt giddy with relief. I was sure I would never care as much about her doing well on a test as I did with this one. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Go!

Mommy no go! he says to me when I bring up the idea of a babysitter coming to play with him and his sister. He doesn't like the idea of me going out and leaving him with someone he doesn't know. Or maybe me leaving at all. But we have finally found two amazing babysitters, sisters, and we plan to take advantage of them.

I know I say, trying to think of something that will make him agree to me going out without him. What if your aunt and uncle have some special playtime with you when they come for Christmas and mommy and daddy goes out. He stares at me for a second as if he is seriously considering it. Then he replies, his voice firm and authoritative. Mommy no go.

What about I say trying to infuse my voice with as much excitement as possible. What about your aunt and uncle take you to the diner for a special lunch when they are here for Christmas! That would be fun.

I watch the possibilities flicker across his face. He asks if his sister could come. I say yes. He mentions that he would eat macaroni and cheese. I tell him that sounds like a good idea.

His voice firm and authoritative he issues his decree. Mommy go.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Two sided

There are two sides to everything. I have to remind myself of that sometimes. When she is whiny and clingy. When he is crying and pushing. Then I forget the other side.

She is sweet and loving. He is caring and kind. They play together so nicely. They are only four and two.

And me? I am cranky and frustrated. I am attentive and encouraging. I am also old enough to remember that there are two sides to everyone.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Poetry

She was sitting at the table eating her peas. I made up a poem, struggling to rhyme as I went along. She liked it and stopped calling everything bad, bad mom bad grocery list bad writing, long enough to listen.

She asked for more when I stopped but I said I was all out of poems. So she started to make up her own.

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
She had so many children she didn't know what to do

We smiled at her poem, and so encouraged, she continued on.

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
Because she didn't know what to do
She started to eat her children!

The last line was said gleefully. For a moment there was silence and then the husband and I broke into laughter. I looked at him accusingly as if to say gee, I wonder where she would get an idea like that from. He shrugged as if to say what? okay fine all my stories involve baking the main characters in pies. so what?

We just looked at each other and then her. And kept listening to her poetry.

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
She had so many children that she baked them in a pie!
Ha ha

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A long afternoon

The afternoon was going to be long.

The boy fell asleep on the walk home from the girl's school after a busy morning spent "volunteering". I wondered how much help I was actually being to the teacher as I chased after the boy and tried to get him to play quietly while the kindergarten kids sat in a circle on the carpet drawing letters on chalkboard tablets. I managed to set out the snacks, clean up the snacks and use the hot glue gun to stick bits of coniferous trees to the hibernation dens being made out of tissue boxes.

I definitely got more out of the morning then the teacher got out of me.

I saw the girl in her classroom, met her classmates and watched her interact with her teacher. I put faces to the names and images to the things she talks about at home. I left feeling confident that she loves her school.

I also left exhausted. Shortly after we arrived at school the boy came to me crying. Tired he said. So am I, I wanted to say, so am I. He was lucky enough to fall asleep on the way home in the stroller. As I carried his snowsuit clad body into the house, laying him down in the hallway to remove his outerwear before carrying him upstairs to bed, I wished I could crawl under the warm covers with him.

Instead it was cooking with the girl, reading stories and listening to audio books. The boy woke from his early nap shortly after noon and then the second part of the day began.

We had snacks. Read more books. The kids had a picnic in the living room. The girl decided she didn't like the cranberries she begged me to let her eat and spat them out onto the kitchen table. Then I heated them up with water and sugar and she devoured eight crackers topped with the warm red sauce.

In the middle of the afternoon I sat on my bed watching the kids run back and forth down the hallway wearing long pieces of fabric pulled from the cupboard and tied like capes around their necks. It made me forget my tiredness, the long afternoon I was only halfway through. All I could do was stop and laugh.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Interruption

She fell asleep. I was putting her brother down for his nap and she fell asleep reading books in my bed. When I opened the door to my room to get her I saw her head peaking out from under the blue comforter, her eyes closed. She looked so sweet lying there. I left her sleeping, figuring that she probably needed it after listening to her brother cough all night.

An hour and a half later and they were still both asleep. I expected the boy to wake any minute. I decided to wake the girl first.

I crawled under the covers next to her in bed and called her name. She kept sleeping. I rubbed her back. She came sleeping. I stroked her hair. She kept sleeping. I was on the verge of giving up.

She startled suddenly and lifted her head off the pillow, looking me directly in the eye.

What are you doing? she demanded of me, accusation and disgust flickering over her face.

I stifled a giggle and responded You were sleeping. I'm waking you up.

No I wasn't she informed me. I was just trying to sleep.

With that she turned away from me, lay down and fell back asleep. I listened to her breathing as it quickly deepened. I closed the door quietly on my way out of the room.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Makeover

Two days later and I still pause when I walk past a mirror. Is that really me?

It is. My long brown hair is gone, replaced with a short red headed bob. I have bangs that skim the top of my eyebrows. I look noting like the me I was. I love it.

My friend won a makeover at a salon and invited me along. I was tentative at first. I would keep my hair long. I liked it long. Long hair is easy to care for. All you have to do is put it in a ponytail.

I had been growing my hair out for years now. Every so often, and by that I mean once a year, I would get it trimmed. By Monday it fell past my shoulders and stopped short of the middle of my back. If I cut it I would have enough to donate. So when my friend decided to be brave, to embrace change, to go for it, I did too.

In a bright white room we sat side by side in black chairs. Facing the mirror I watched the tattooed arms of my new favorite stylist as he poised his scissors near the top of a my loose braid. In unison our long hair was cut. With two quick snips the braid lay in his hand. As the remaining hair swung freely around my face I immediately wondered why I hadn't done it sooner. I hadn't realize how much the length of my hair was weighing me down until it was gone.

Sitting in the chair while my hair was smeared with thick white paste I stared out the window. I watched a school bus stop across the street and wondered if that was the girl's bus, finishing its rounds after dropping her off home to her dad and brother. Sitting under the dryer, smelling the faint scent of bleach, I wondered what they were doing. I wondered what they would say when they saw me.

The new cut slowly took shape beneath the scissors of the stylist. I squinted in the hopes that the blurry figure in the mirror in front of me would become clear, but without my glasses it was hopeless. So I waited while the hair went from wet to dry.

Finally my glasses were on and I could see myself. It didn't look at all like me.

*

I was dropped off just as the kids and the husband arrived home. Despite the darkness of the hour, they all exclaimed over my hair. Both kids recognized me and neither cried about the change. You look like Little Red Riding Hood! exclaimed the girl. She meant that as a compliment and so I said thank you.

The next day the girl continued to comment on my hair. The boy ignored it. The husband paid me compliments. I loved it. I still do.

I have decided that every now and again, it's time for something new. And the best way to embrace change is with a friend by your side.

*

Our makeover was filmed by the salon, so all you have to do to see the transformation is go here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brotherly love

A brief moment of quiet among a day full of standoffs and tears, yelling and fights, finds us sitting on the couch reading books. I would happily read book after book if it would maintain the calm equilibrium we have miraculously achieved.

The boy says something to the girl. She says something back. Then she leans over to where he is sitting on my lap and gives him a big hug. I love you she says for the millionth time that day.

The boy looks at the girl. I love you he says. 

It is the first time he has ever said that. I am happy he choose to say it to her.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Compliance

Neither of my children are particularly compliant.

The girl likes to verify that I really mean what I say before she complies. Repeatedly.

Can I watch another video?

No.

Just one more video!

No.

How about I watch one more video?

No.

Only one more?

No.

I have a great idea. How about one more video!

No.

It will be the last video.

No.

I'm going to watch one more!

No.

Can I watch just one more?

No.

I think I should watch one more.

No.

Even as I long to gouge out my ears with blunt, broken crayons, I still admire her perseverance.

The boy prefers to ignore me.

We aren't going to have any treats.

There aren't any treats in that cupboard.

Please put the chair back at the table.

Please get down off the chair.

Get down off the chair.

Don't climb on the counter. There aren't any treats in the cupboard.

I told you there aren't any in the cupboard. Let go of the doors.

Please get off the chair or I am going to lift you down.

Don't push me.

When ignoring me doesn't get him what he wants he does the only thing left. Watching him stand in the middle of the hallway crying with all his might, I can't help but admire his sense of conviction. If not his compliance.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Waking

His body is warm. His hair is tousled. He reaches his arms up to me and I lift him up. He rests his head on my shoulder and wraps his legs around my waist. I wrap my arms around him.

I sit down on the couch and pull a wool blanket around the boy. He leans into me. We cuddle while we watch his sister watching a video.

He starts to cry. What's wrong? I ask him. Papa he says. You want daddy? I ask. Yes.

I put the phone on speaker and the boy mumbles and nods his head as the husband's voice fills the room. Nothing is really said, but it's enough.

We say goodbye.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bosom buddies

The myth of the best friend was planted early with me. The one true friend. The only one you will need.

I lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of a certain red haired young lady. Anne. With an "e". She may not have had a family, she may have had to convince an initially reluctant family to be hers, but Anne of Green Gables always had her Diana. Always together, fighting off the mean girls. Always forgiven, even when drunk off of raspberry cordial. It didn't matter what happened, they always came back to each other. Bosom buddies.

I had to learn that it isn't easy to find a friend like that. One friend who will be everything to you. I kept looking, thinking that my Diana was just across the next field or in the next classroom.

Finally I had to learn that no one person can be everything to you. I stopped looking for her. And then I became a better and more thankful friend to the ones I already had.

*

I don't want to be your friend anymore I hear her yell, one of the teachables she has brought home from kindergarten. Her friend starts to cry and runs away, devastated that my girl is going to stop being her friend. I pause for a moment before making my way across the park to where the girl stands on the play structure. I think about all the things I want to tell her.

It's hard to find good friends I would say. Don't throw this one away so easily.

It isn't true I would say. Don't think that someone else will quickly take her place.

Be careful what you say I would say. Don't start saying things you don't mean to your friends. They will believe you and then you can never take them back.

When I finally reach her I speak to her in my stern voice. I tell her that it isn't nice to say I don't want to be your friend anymore. I remind her that she made her friend cry. I ask her how she thinks her friend feels. I ask her how she would feel.

*

He laughs as he tries to gets the story out, standing with our friend in the kitchen.

The girls were playing he starts. And your daughter he looks at our friend, yelled at the girl. "You aren't my friend anymore!"

She gets that from daycare... our friend begins to explains.

Oh no I groaned. What did she do?

She yelled right back. "You can't stop being my friend!"

*

She might not find her one true friend. No Diana, no bosom buddy. But I take great delight in knowing she recognizes a good friend when she sees one. And that she won't let her go.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The bus

Paper flowers
Pink and blue
Clutched tightly in their mittened hands

We sit at the back of the bus
He faces forward towards his dad
She kneels and watches out the back window

The bus was crowded when we got on
I was cold from playing in the snow
They were full from the cookies and treats at the craft sale
Mommy feed me he said to me
Perfect in his pronunciation

She headed straight for the back
Past the crowed seats
Climbing up and squeezing a young woman into the corner

She starts to take off her boots
Her socks
What are you doing? I ask
My socks are bothering me she says
It's hard when socks slip down says the young woman
I nod and hurry to get her dressed as the bus heads towards our stop

The door opens and we hustle the kids down the aisle
I pick up the boy
The husband grabs the girl's hand
I left the door open for you calls the drive from the front
Thank you I say as we step onto the sidewalk
And begin our walk home

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bundled

The snow whipped through the air before falling softly to the ground. The kids and I watched it out the window. They begged to go out and play in the first snow of the season.

We dug their new snowsuits out of the upstairs cupboard. I convinced them to take off their pajamas and put on clothes before pulling on their snow pants. They agreed. Eventually.

Half an hour later we stepped out the door. Two children bundled in snow pants, snow jackets, hats, mitts and boots tottered out onto the porch and down the stairs. They exclaimed their love for the cold and the white fluff settling on their shoulders.

We dropped off a loaf of homemade bread to our neighbours and then made our way to the mailbox around the corner. Half way there the boy yelled at me to pick him up. Steps from the mailbox the kids cried as the wind tore down the street and through us. The letters were dropped quickly into the mailbox and we headed home, complaints being uttered by everyone four and under.

At the corner of our street the girl changed her mind. She wanted to go play in the empty tennis court. We ran back and forth across the snow covered court and watched our foot prints appear like magic. We tramped out letters and numbers and shapes.

We headed home to the promise of hot chocolate.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Onion rings

The husband stood beside the stove, poised over the cutting board to chop up the ginger that would be tossed into the hot oil sizzling in the pan. He was on the precipice of dinner, and I pulled him back.

Can we order in? I asked, finally telling him about the late afternoon that made the loveliness of the rest of the day disappear in a haze of tears. The boy cried for fifteen minutes before the teenager who was coming to play with the kids showed up at the door. Mommy no go he sobbed as he clutched my chest, fingers entwined in my shirt just in case I tried to set him down. I thought I should prepare them that I planned to sneak out to run a few errands. My mistake. When the teen showed up the boy became hysterical. Lacking the energy to deal with a crying child and a sixteen year old boy unsure of how to deal with a crying child, I sent the teenager home. My boy cried for another 15 minutes while he sat on my lap, my free arm around the girl's shoulders.

The boy would likely be disapointed to know that all his hysterics did was convince me of the importance of leaving him with a babysitter every once in awhile. Now I just need to find someone capable of listening to Mommy no go on repeat while watching tears stream down his angelic face. I am hoeful that I already have a lead.

Dinner was the perfect antidote to the afternoon. The four of us sat happily around the table eating our take-out veggie burgers and sides from the joint down the street.  The girl ate all her pickle. Both kids drank all the chocolate milkshake we poured into their child sized cups.

That's an onion ring I told the girl when she picked up the foreign looking circle of fried goodness. An onion ring? she asked. Is there onion in it? Yes I told her. Did you know that when I was a little girl I would go and get onion rings and root beer in a frosted cup after dance class on Saturdays? On Saturdays? she wanted to know. Not on Sundays. No, I answered, not on Sundays.

The girl twirled the onion ring on her finger. Around and around. She took a bite and then spat it out onto the table. I watched as she freed the onion piece from the batter, licked it and then surreptitiously dropped it to the floor. Biting into the batter she finally raised her head. Mmm, onions rings are good she said to me. Thank you for this amazing dinner.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Howl

He sits in the middle of the hallway and cries. Big tears that seems to be endless. The front door has just shut behind his dad and sister on their way to the school bus drop off. He wants to go too.

I sit him on my lap and hold him tight. Dad asked you if you wanted to go and you said no I told him. Next time if you want to go you have to say yes. Then you'll be ready in time. That makes him cry even harder.

I start to cry too. Loud, exaggerated howling sobs that echo his. He stops for a moment to look at me. Then he laughs. He laughs as I continue to wail, a smile on my face. I am determined to outdo him.

We are quiet for a few minutes, sitting together under a warm blanket. Then he remembers the injustice of it all and his cries start again. So do mine.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Elsewhere

I am very excited to have one of my blog posts syndicated at BlogHer. The post Once upon a time can be read on the BlogHer site, as can many other fabulous posts by women bloggers. 

Her and I

We arrive late. With the last of the stragglers we scurry to find a seat. I try up near the front on the right but there is no room, so I herd her around to the other side of the stage. There I squeeze us into two seats on the floor. She has to arch her head to see the performers at the front of the room. She doesn't seem to mind.

She watches the actors as they move about and dance and sing. Every so often she turns to me, her nose scrunched up and smiles her happy grin.

She decides she wants to be closer and so she walks over the legs of other parents and around those seated on the floor until she is at the front of the room where dozens of kids sit cross legged watching the show. She finds a spot and sits at the back. She turns to wave at me. I wave back.

Every so often she stands up to get a better view of the actors lying on the ground. She doesn't want to miss anything. I wait until she checks that I am watching her and then motion to her to sit back down. She does.

When the show ends I drag her over to say hi to some friends, but she has no interest in that. She has no interest in the crafts or activities on offer for kids in the lobby. None at all. The show is over and now she is ready for the next adventure.

*

It's a long walk and I am cold by the time we arrive. I welcome the warmth of the building as we enter through the front door. I would be happy to stand there and soak it all in but the girl is already off, and I follow after her.

She weaves around people and tables piled high with crafts. I remind her to look with her eyes and not to touch. I think she hears me but she doesn't acknowledge my words. She keeps going until she sees the table of cookies being sold by some kids. That stops her.

I promise her a cookie after we have eaten. This is my favorite craft show of the season, in part because of the large quantity of free vegetarian food on offer. We load up our plates and head back to the room with the tables covered in plastic tablecloths. The girl tries a bit of everything but it is too spicy for her liking. While I savor it all, she eats three dill pickles. And then her cookie.

When we are done eating we wander the narrow aisles between the tables. She wants to touch everything. The little Santas. The porcelain plates. The vintage rings. I want to stop and look but she moves fast. She skirts from table to table until she has seen them all.

We play outside on the giant playstructure that she doesn't want to leave until our friends arrive. I manage to convince her to head back in. I watch the girl and her friend climb and play and amuse themselves while my friend shops. They play together so nicely. Only once do I have to step in and ask them to resolve their fight. Does it really matter whether or not one can talk while they are sleeping? Apparently it does.

We all walk home together.  I push the two girls in my double stroller and listen to them chatter. My friend walks beside me pushing an empty stroller.

*

A day with just her and I. Long overdue. Worth the wait.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Splat

Paintbrush in hand I stood in front of the small blank canvas hanging on the wall. It looked like it was waiting there for me.

I bent down to the tray of paint sitting on the white bench and dipped my brush into one of the four colours I had selected. Black, I thought, I'll start with black. My brush was twirled in the thick paint until I was satisfied and then I lifted it out with a perfectly big gob of paint dangling from the end. I took a step back. I raised my arm until the paintbrush was level with my head. I flicked my arm and watched the paint fly through the air and hit the canvas. Splat.

I did it again. And again. I dipped my brush in and out of the paints until they started to blend and create new colours I could fling against the bright canvas now hanging in front of me. Black. Pink. White. Blue. Lines and dots of colour mingling together in a random fashion.

The large rectangular canvas on the floor was there for all of us to work on. Using brushes in both hands, syringes full of watered down paint and small balloons we popped in our hands we stood above it and created. Layers upon layers of paint were laid down. All the colours you could imagine. I couldn't walk away.

The hard part of abstract expressionism is knowing when you are done said Emaly. I didn't want to ever be done. Despite the spontaneous nature of the painting, I longed to order it. All I could think when I looked at it was It needs more blue over there to balance off the the pink. And that corner needs something more. Maybe some orange. And some larger blobs of paint at the bottom would be good. And. And...

I could have stood there all night. Adding more paint. Making small changes. Adding and making and changing. Until the abstractness of it all had been rendered orderly in my mind.

*

Thanks to Emaly for hosting myself and some other Ottawa bloggers for a night of splatter painting. I think I need to do that again. Maybe every day. But not at my house. It's a little messy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hands

I grab their hands as we leave the park. His left hand in my right. Her right hand in my left. I squeeze them tight as we cross the street.

His hand is cold. His fingers feel like little icicles despite the seasonally warm November day. It's just like my hand whenever I am outside for more then five minutes. Gloves were offered but of course he wouldn't wear them.

Her hand is warm. I am started by the heat radiating from it. She is a portable furnace, that girl, happy to run through the park in only a t-shirt while I huddle in my coat. My own hand begins to warm just from holding hers.

On the sidewalk they both let go and run ahead of me. Suddenly empty handed, I follow behind them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Once upon a time

We used to look like them. Be like them. Leaving the dark theatre they hold hands and chat about the movie. I watch as his arm goes around her waist and he pulls her close. Following them down the wide spiral staircase I wonder what they will do now. Stop at a cafe where they will linger for hours over coffee, sometimes reading and sometimes talking? Head for an early dinner at their favourite restaurant? Maybe even go their separate ways, pressing tight against each other for a long lingering kiss before making plans to see each other again soon.

We used to be like that. Once upon a time.

*

I woke up tired on Sunday. My body was tired, but my spirit was tired too. Tired of everything. The constant going and moving and never stopping. The constant demands and pleas and negotiations. Tired of all of it. The constantness of motherhood.

I want to lie in bed all day. I want to sit on the couch reading a book. I want to curl up in a chair and watch tv without worrying that it is past my bedtime and if I don't go to sleep right now I will have to function tomorrow on less then five hours of sleep. I want to be selfish. I want my life to be about me.

I have these days every once in a while. They sneak up on me out of nowhere and flatten me under their weight of longing. I try to fight them off. Tell myself to keep going, try harder, get through it. But the problem isn't my unhappiness with the life I have, it's that I suddenly and momentarily miss my old life. The life that was just about me.

*

The husband tells me to go. To go out and be alone. To take the time on this Sunday to regain my inner equilibrium. Or at least to try.

I pause and consider rejecting his offer. As much as I want it, and I do want it, guilt seeps into my thoughts before I can utter a yes. Because as much as I am tired, so is he. Because as much as I want time by myself, time away, so does he.

Okay I say and leave him to an afternoon with the kids. I sit alone in a dark room full of strangers immersing myself in the make believe lives of imaginary people. I laugh out loud. I eat too much popcorn. I ignore the world around me and focus only on the moving pictures projected high above my head. I do nothing but be.

*

I look at them and I see us the way we were. We would to go to weekend matinees. We would spend afternoons in coffee shops reading and talking. We would go for dinner in restaurants with table cloths. We would stand kissing on the street corner for all the world to see.

We used to be like that. I tell myself we will again. When the kids are older. When family comes to visit. When we find a babysitter. There will come a time when it won’t be one or the other. When the person walking out the door won’t have to ignore the guilt as they wave goodbye. When the one staying home won’t smile and wish it was their turn instead.

*

Once upon a time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Blow

Mommy blow he says holding up a quarter piece of his grilled cheese sandwich. He asks me as if the power of my breath alone can cool the hot slices of bread and melted cheese that I just removed from the fry pan. As if my exhale is more powerful then time.

But he doesn't want to wait. He wants me.

So I blow.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lunchtime

I decided to make tomato soup again for lunch. The kids wanted to help. Of course.

We all sat around the kitchen table. The boy put the onion skins in the compost bowl and the girl put the cut red onion pieces in her bowl. Until her finger started to sting and her eyes watered. Then she sat with her finger in a cup of water while she complained at length that I wouldn't let her add the onions to the pot on the stove. The boy put his finger in a cup of water in solidarity.

The soup cooked on the stove while the kids helped me make homemade fries. I cut the potatoes and they put them in their bowls. There was much stirring. With whisks.

Abandoning their posts as sou-chefs, the kids sat on the couch in the sunroom reading books while I blended the soup and poured it out into three bowls to cool.  Two ladles full of soup for the kids. Three for me.

The girl ate half of the soup in her bowl. He brother sat beside her gobbling the warm fries. Slow down I said to him. Finish one before you eat another. Recognizing the wisdom of my words the boy bent over his plate and pushed three half-crewed fries out of his mouth with a flick of his tongue. Then he picked up a fresh fry, dragged it through the puddle of ketchup on his plate and jammed it into his mouth.

I scrapped the half soup/ half crouton mixture from the boy's bowl into my own. I added the girl's lukewarm leftovers and stirred it all together. The girl sat across from me writing out TOMATO on her magnetic drawing tablet. Through the open doorway I caught a glimpse of a naked meowing boy crawling down the hallway towards the kitchen.

Returning to the dining room the boy meowed pitifully at his sister from under the table until she reached down and fed him a fry. Satisfied, he meowed in thanks and continued on his way.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hallway

I wake at the same time every morning. Shortly before the boy, but still too early for the hour to be considered decent. I lie in bed staring at the dark room, trying to decide what to do. Weighing my options. Contemplating if it is worth it. Figuring out how badly I need to pee.

The bathroom is down the hall, past the room where the girl and boy sleep. Close and yet much too far away. At this hour the boy, always a light sleeper, is easily awoken. All it takes is some poorly chosen footsteps on the wooden floor boards of this old house and his day has begun. And so has ours.

Most mornings I can't resist. I pull the covers off my warm body and cringe at the cool air that surrounds me once I stand. I rub my eyes and struggle to become alert. I brace myself, cross my fingers and say a little prayer as I start down the hall.

There is a secret, discovered through trial and error, but I will share it with you. Like a rock climber scaling the craggy cliffs high above a torrental sea, you must cling to the railing for dear life. On your tip toes,  place each foot snuglly against the railing, lowering it slowly.  Brace your body weight on the top of the railing, distributing the weight evenly between the wodden banister and the floor. Stretch your legs as wide as possible in order to minimize the number of steps you take. Remain alert on your return journey because any cockiness can result in morning cries on the otherside on the door.

And always, always brace yourself, cross your fingers and say a little prayer.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Smile

You tell me to smile and I twitch up the corners of my mouth. Not a lot, just enough. The dimple on my left cheek is barely dented. My lips are tightly pursed. Caught from the wrong angle it looks like a smirk. This is my smile.

It is a smile that folds inward onto itself and me. It is a smile that protects me from anyone watching. From engaging. And sometimes, from really feeling.

It is a reluctant smile. The one I give when I am asked or expected to smile. The one you will see when I am tired or when I reply I'm fine in answer to your question.

The smile is mine from the six years I spent hiding my braces as a teenager. When nothing seemed worth being happy about anyway. When a smile seemed like cheap currency to buy me freedom from further inspection. It served me well. I kept it.

I never thought about my smile. It just was. In moments of pure joy my smile would expand naturally until it stretched across my entire face. My lips would part slightly and a glimpse of my teeth would be visible. Then, just as suddenly, my mouth would close and my smile would return to normal. Back to a smile that didn't give away too much of me.

I am learning a new smile. I have to remember to use it. I practice it when I am told. For this smile I bare my teeth like a mare at market. All three of my dimples become concave. My mouth is wide. It feels completely unnatural to the unused muscles around my mouth, but I do it.

I like this new smile.

Thank you to Anna from Anna Epp Photography and Beach Mama for this beautiful photo. I love it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Boy

Me boy he says. Yes I reply, you are a boy. Old he tells me. Yes, you are an old boy I nod.

Which toothbrush would you like? I ask him
Boy toothbrush he says
Would you like this red spoon? I ask him.
Boy spoon he says.
Should we read this book? I ask him.
Boy book he says.
Do you want to eat an apple? I ask him.
Boy apple he says.

Whah he says, pretending to rub at his eyes. Are you crying? I ask him. Baby whah he informs me. Are you a baby? I question him as I pull him onto my lap. Me boy he corrects me. Yes, you are a boy I agree with him. But you are still my baby I think to myself.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Friends

She holds the phone close against her ear even though I pressed the speaker button before I handed it to her. She climbs onto the couch next to me and stares intently at the wall as she speaks. What are you doing? she asks her friend on the other end of the line.

A high pitched voice answers back We are playing big sister, little sister.

That's crazy! giggles my girl. Who are you playing with?

We are says her friend.

Who is the big sister? the girl wants to know.

My mom! her friend squeals and I'm the little sister.

The girl giggles again, overcome with the silliness of it all. The silliness of her friend's game. The silliness of hearing her friend's voice float out of the telephone and fill up the space around us.

There was a happiness to the girl's face in that moment. It reflected the openness and excitement she felt in sharing with her friend. It looked so different from the sullen girl that sat by herself on a park bench hours later. I want to be alone she growled at her friend until her friend went off crying. Alone again, the girl lay down on the bench and looked up at the sky.

I don't want to be her friend the girl told me when I chastised her for pushing. That's not a nice thing to say I told her, feeling uncertain about the parenting territory I found myself venturing into. How would you feel if she said she didn't want to be your friend anymore?

She shrugged and looked away. I looked away too.

Later when I carried her on my hip crying and screaming out of the park because she had pushed her friend for a third time, her brother crying and screaming from his seat in the stroller because he didn't want to leave the park, I thought about friendship. The complicated intricacies of sharing toys and snacks. The new relationships and language of the school playground. The tears and heart ache that come from the friends we love the most.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Searching for Bliss

It feels strange to sit for hours on end doing nothing but learning. My brain quickly overloads and I need to pour myself another coffee, maybe just one more, to make it through. People talk, I listen. People talk, I type. I think back to my school days when I would drag a pen across my notebook paper trying to write as fast as the teacher was talking. Now I type my thoughts and press send, watching as they disappear into the invisible world of Twitter. Never forgetting the hashtag.

BlissDom Canada was my second social media conference. I liked it more and less then BlogHer'10. I liked that it was small. I had a chance to meet and connect with more people then I did last August. I liked that the Canadian perspective was always present. I liked that I found myself thinking and thinking about where I am and what I want to do next.

It would be hard to top BlogHer'10. I was full of excitement and giddy to be at my first conference. I was inspired by many of the writing sessions. I was in New York City. Nothing can top New York City.

They both challenged me. I can tell that they will both change me. Already BlogHer'10 has lead me in some new directions. I have started a writing group with other local bloggers. I am exploring fiction writing. I have a better understanding of who I am as a blogger.

I learnt a lot at BlissDom. It exceeded most of my expectations and I am so glad that I went. I would need another three days away just to process all I heard. But what I wanted most from BlissDom I didn't quite get. I wanted to the answer to my question "what next?". Where do I go now? I wanted to know how to brand myself and Capital Mom. I wanted to be told how.

Maybe no one can tell me that. Maybe there is no answer. No easy one anyway. Maybe all I can do is keep stumbling along, grabbing my moments to think and write here at night when the kids are sleeping or in the afternoon when the boy has a nap. Keep trying to draw all the pieces together in my mind and figure out where I go from here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween candy

Stepping off the school bus she locked onto my gaze and the first words out of her mouth were Can I have my candy? She marched into the house, dropping her coat and backpack as she walked, until she stood in the middle of the hallway. Not even waiting for me to close the door or take off my own coat she asked Can I have my candy? Considering that she had been denied the candy at breakfast she probably thought she had demonstrated outstanding patience by waiting until 10:41 am.

Yes I said. You can have your candy and handed over the lollipop, or Popsicle as she had been calling it, that I had confiscated from her that morning. I really didn't think that it would be a good idea to send her off to kindergarten hopped up on sugar. Much better that she be hopped up on sugar around me. Right?

I have no problem with sugar. I quite like sugar myself. I have even gotten over the habit of automatically halving the sugar called for in every recipe. It was a throwback to my childhood and it drove the husband crazy. If you are going to use sugar then use the sugar he would say. So now I use the sugar.

What I like is sugar in moderation. I was never a chocolate lover until I got pregnant so I could make my bag of Halloween candy last until Christmas. It always felt like a personal victory if I still had a few pieces hanging around by the New Year. By then I would have gotten some Christmas candy and my challenge became making that last until Easter.

While I may not have focused on the eating of the candy as a child, I was highly focused on collecting the candy. I liked to plan my trick-or-treat routes to optimize my candy acquisition and minimize the number of dark houses and one sided streets. Halloween is serious business. A quick treat-or-treat with a few Halloween apples thrown in to break up the rhythm and before you know it the pillow case is being dragged from house to house.

Walking the cold, dark streets last night I thought of that younger me as I watched the husband sprint to keep up with the girl and her two friends. The girl was quick like a flash as she climbed the stairs in her Snow White costume handed down from my cousins, a large tear where the skirt and bodice met attesting to the sacrifices that must be made in the name of candy. Up to the front door and down again she went as she tried to keep up with the others and they tried to keep up with her.

From half a block away I watched her and her posse cross the street to start back down the other side. I held the boy's pink mitted hand in mine, stopping to ask him if he would like to trick-or-treat at this house. Sometimes he said yes, sometimes no. Eventually I picked up my tired grey mouse and carried him in my arms, pulling the wagon he refused to sit in behind me.

Back home the boy's bag was full and the girl's was fuller. With the lateness of the hour and their collective tiredness, neither protested too much when they were only allowed one treat before bed. The girl's request to sleep with her bag of candy was refused, me imagining her waking in the middle of the night to sort through it looking for suckers, and only after the bags were tucked away in a spot deemed secure enough did the kids both head up to bed.

As she ages the girl will come to understand the wisdom of sleeping with her hard earned bag of candy. Shortly after both kids were asleep I sat on the couch picking through the bags and sorting them into keep and giveaway piles. Some for them, some for me. I mean, some for them, some for the husband to take to work. I did leave the kids a bit of everything in equal numbers. This morning I found myself wishing I had left them even less.

When not having to deal with the girl's constant question of Can I have my candy?, I had to listen to her asking when she can have another one. The lollipop I handed her in the front hallway was quickly devoured, as was the chocolate bar the boy chose. When I asked him where his candy was he opened his mouth to show me the entire bar he had fit in his mouth and was happily chewing on.

I said No more. I was going to be firm. Then the girl found a lollipop on the floor. Before I noticed she was hiding under a blanket on the couch clutching the lollipop tightly in her grip. I decided I couldn't face the physical fight needed to free it from her grasp. She said she wouldn't eat it but every so often I would hear rustling sounds. When I saw she was carefully peeling back one corner to lick it, I caved and told her she could have it after she ate her lunch. She was pleased. After she ate it she started asking for more.

Bringing candy into the house is complicated, especially when neither of the kids are used to it. The boy isn't as interested, but I am pretty sure the girl would sit happily on the floor and work her way through her entire bag. And I would live in fear of a repeat of last year the entire time.

Halloween treats do have their usefulness. By mid-afternoon I was desperate to lie down and close my eyes. I grabbed two small bags of chips on the way up the stairs and sent the kids to eat them in the playroom. I crawled underneath the covers in my warm bed and spent a blissful two minutes doing nothing but listening to the loud crunching sounds from down the hallway. Eyes closed, I said a quick Halloween thank you as I heard their feet come pounding towards me and then any other thoughts were lost as I tried to defend myself against the onslaught of little bodies climbing on top of mine.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Return

Squatting down in front of my open purse I rifle through the papers and business cards and the rest of the jumbled mess that I carry with me everywhere I go, looking for my keys. The wooden porch boards around me are already littered with books and my laptop. I pick up the purse and shake it, listening for that familiar jingle jingle sound but I already know that as much as I look I won't find them. My keys are somewhere on the other side of the locked door.

I consider lugging my suitcase and two bags down to the corner coffee shop, but the light rain stops me. Instead I decide to stay here. How long can they be? I wonder even as I admit to myself that they aren't expecting me. Turning away from the street to gather up my scattered belongings, I catch a glimpse of a grey rain coat out of the corner of my eye. I straighten and run down the steps just as the double stroller turns into our walk way.

Hi! I yell excitedly. The husband starts. The girl whips open the stroller cover and climbs out before her dad has even stopped walking. Launching herself at me from the edge of the stroller, I catch her in my arms and twirl her onto the third step of the stairs. I lift the surprised boy out from the depths of the stroller and hug him before placing him at the top of the stairs. I smile at them both. Then the girl demands to know what I have brought her and we herd them inside the house before the entire contents of my luggage are dumped out in search of whatever it is she considers to be a good present.

Sitting on the couch later, I marvel that the children that had seemed so small and young only hours ago have grown exponentially in front of my eyes. The growth in size and abilities seems to be directly correlated to the amount of noise they have made non stop since my return home. I remind myself that they are just excited to see me and that once the novelty of my return wears off they will settle down. And then I remind myself that these are my children and so no, they won't.

I find myself longing for a little bit more of what I had these last few days. Not the learning or the awesome swag or even the great friends. I find myself thinking about the queen sized bed that I sorely neglected by only using it for sleep. I tell myself that the next time I go away I will lie in the bed for hours, doing nothing but staring at the ceiling and listening to the silence.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

If a blog falls in a forest?

This is a live blogging transcript from the Blissdom Canada session If a blog falls in the forest? How to get your blog to make a sound

Annie @PHDinParenting
Heather Greenwood Davis @greenwooddavis
Aidan Morgan @palinode

Amy Urquhart @heartstohome
Emma Waverman @emmawaverman

Annie: Will share the secrets of blogging. It is a s simple as this: like encountering a mountain lion in forest, there is no guarantee. We can give you tips. Advantage with blogging you can try things out. It is okay to fail.

Will go through the anatomy of the blog post. Titles, comments, etc.

Titles. Should I be clever or literal? People want to be cleaver, don't know if it will work with SEO. Different titles will work with different situations. She gives examples of her posts about co-sleeping. How to title it depends on what you are trying to do. First post about co-sleeping used title in response to news. First time people found her blog other then her sister because Annie used same words as news. It was top 4 search on Google.

Also wanted a longer-term post, not news specif search so wrote more general, short title. Did key word research first with Google trends. Her post now top ranked for co-sleeping safety. Above Dr. Sears. Because of words in title, not necessarily content in post.

Post with numbers was great for Twitter. A post got a lot of traffic because numbers caught people's attention.

Body of post, If you are a gifted writer, just go and write. If you struggle with writing, keep it under 500 words. It will force you to stay on point, keep people interested. Structure it and use subtitles. Annie's posts are long. She used subtitles and structure. Helps keep people engaged. For SEO use key words in first paragraph and bold them.

A picture tells a thousand words. Didn't use pictures at first. Annie now tries to add pictures to every post. Make sit more visually appealing. She shares posts to Facebook and it grabs pictures. She loves to grab pictures from Flicker.

Internet loves lists. Two top posts are lists. Highest ranked posts, people share. Other post may be better written but people love lists.

Different styles for posts, storytellers (non-fiction and fiction), prose or poetry. Sometimes telling a story to tell a story, sometimes to get a point across. Advocates will blog to get a point across (Annie's blog). Artists use video, writing, drawing. There are comedians (ex the Bloggess). Informative posts are presenting info on a topics, lists of links or sharing other posts.

Regardless of style, you want to make people think. Annie loves to go away and think about a post. Making people think generates discussions.

Tags or categories. Categories are lists of main things you write about. People can search topics. Tags are keywords are individual posts. LinkWithin is a fun plug in that shows users related posts that they might be interested in on similar topics.

If you want comments on your blog, don't just hope they come. Invite people to comment. Ask a question or their experience. People love to share their own experiences. Ask for advice on something. This is going to get comments from own community. Annie also likes to respond to comments in post. Comment in on what they said. If it is someone new you want to engage them, invite them into community. Comment on other people's blogs. Seek out new blogs and leave comments. When Annie started she left comments on other people's blogs. the more real your comment the more people will engage.

Thread your comments. Annie won't comment if she can't engage an earlier comment, she doesn't want to be lost later in the comments. Have the conversation keep going.

Don't poke the trolls. Sometimes it is fun. Annie will sometimes poke the trolls. If she doesn't reply other readers will, so Annie will comment but not engage.

Q: would you delete the comment
A: No. I would leave it but not engage it. Never know who comment is from.
Emma: a professional troll will repost if you take comment down. They will come back
Aidan: A troll said he will never come back to post again. I deleted comment and asked if he was still there and he came back. Kept doing it!

Annie: I like to track IP address of trolls. :)

Trackbacks are links from someone else's blog to your site. They are great. Annie likes to link to other people's stuff too. Try to link to her readers to build community. Sometimes blog will catch trackback, but also use alters or other tools. Radian6 is $500 a month so use it professionally.

Some people put them after comments, some before. Some people don't approve trackbacks because they are linkbait, the post against you but you are giving it prominence.

For SEO - write good stuff. Write often. Scott (@unmarketing) said only write when you are passionate, but you may want to write more if you are only passionate 2 a year.
Use words that people search for at beginning on post.

Sharing the love. Get words out once you have a blog. People won't read it if you don't tell them. RSS readers will know, but they might not get around to reading it. Annie reads most stuff from Twitter. Use Facebook because lots of people on Facebook hat not on Twitter. Link to older posts on Facebook for new followers. Use Digg, Stuble and Reddit to share your content and others. Have a share button. Use blog carnivals to get blog out based on interest, they write post about same topic.

Don't spam others that have written posts on same topic or @ people on Twitter with lots of followers. Don't steal other people's contents - take a snippet and link back, but don't take a whole post. Don't be a jerk. Be civil. Be authentic and transparent. Be yourself. Have fun!

That is the presentation. Now panel discussion around content.

Q: What is your best post? Lots of different ways of defining best post.
Heather : I like post What matters most. Got a call from child's school and worried something terrible had happened. Everything was fine but in that moment realized I would drop everything to go. Wrote it for me. A moment of realizing what was important to me. Posts like that get tremendous reaction.
Aidan: Different criteria. Know which post is most popular because Dooce linked to it. Wife called me because of stats. My 10 am stats were at 10,000 already. Post was about direct mail that said for 57 cents you can feed an old Jew. Wrote about it because I thought it was bazaar. People start coming and telling me how evil I am. I wasn't nasty in post, I just thought it was strange. Most popular but not best post. My favorite post was Insulting the Elements. Insulted all elements in period table. It took awhile. Hard to find characteristics about all elements. in doing this post, realized it was what I wanted to do with blog: tell stories in unorthodox way.
Amy: Post that most spoke to readers was a satire of Martha Stuart. Had magazine on coffee table and on cover Martha looked like a picture of me on couch in pjs. Post was satire on Martha magazine cover. Made up own magazine. Struck a note with people. Other post was called Breast was Best about switching son to formula. Proud of post because she was afraid to publish it but she did.
Emma: Best not always most popular. Top number posts are about sex or mom against mom. Some favorite posts don't get comments. One post was about how hard it is for kids to understand difference between reality and fiction. Bets posts are often written about you. Most popular post is We are a Naked Family.
Annie: 10 reasons we don't do cry it out most popular post. Best posts are ones about feelings, moms, passion. They are the ones that just flow out.

Annie: Want to talk about where people get ideas for posts.
Emma: I am a content whore. 260 posts in last year. (laughs) Don't remember them all. Get my ideas Best ideas are looking around universe, avoiding momesphere because someone else will already have written it better. I find topics, editors send me stuff.
Amy: I get ideas from comments readers have left. Jumping off point for another post. Get posts from photographs, the story around photo.
Aidan: I get my ideas from direct mail. Also blog professionally at MamaPop.com. With deadlines, trending topics on Twitter give good ideas. Hard work is finding something interesting to say about topic. Ideas come and find me and don't leave me alone.
Heather: Ideas from all other the place. Kids. Questions about how to deal with something.
Annie: A post asking for questions was a great way to generate ideas. A series about quotes from books or other posts and write around that.

Q: How much personal info to share?
Annie: I use different names for the kids, do use their pictures. Don't want it to be really easy for people to find us. Different names for professional and personal blogging.
Heather: Have been writing family travel for awhile, son is in Toronto Star today. Did backs of heads, kept them out there, but getting more comfortable with it. Don't blog personal things about relationship with husband. Do do photos.
Emma: Do use pseudonyms. Son is 11. A lot of mommy bloggers stop blogging about kids once they hit 10 or so because it is there stories not mine.
Annie: Protecting them from what might happen in future
Amy: Decided to assume everyone is reading me. With new URL used real name and it was a conscious choice. I am accountable for my words. Know what what I say is acceptable to people in my life. Do post photos of son, real name. There is potential to use image as way for parents to teach children about responsible online presence. If you start process with images in responsible way, maybe kids can pick up on that.

Q: Any experience with something in personal life move over to professional life.
Annie: Experience of an ex-client following her on Twitter. DMed her once she figured they were on same page and now great friends.
Amy: Have had supervisor come across blog. Would rather know that people are reading it by having them leave comments.
Annie: One person had a picture of her wearing nothing but a quaker box, and maybe she didn't get jobs because of it but the job she had knew about it and they were fine with it.
Aidan: No matter how much personal info you share on blog, someone will call you a monster one day. You will have arrived.
Heather: Be aware of protecting the rest of your family too, not just kids.

Annie: What do you need to consider about blogging professionally vs personally? With a client she is more cautious writing for someone else.
Emma: My distinctive voice is my strength. Don't have a personally blog, let it all out on msl blog. Sometimes I can't mention other companies. Keep in mind who you are writing for. Sometimes I don't have juice left over for guest post.
Aidan: For professional blog you are sometimes asked because the person like your personal blog. Ironing out voice for a professional blog is a mistake. They wanted me talking about them (client). What they want is your voice, your unique style. Look carefully at writing in professional blog (links work, editing. I got all links wrong and client not happy.
Annie: Can be hard if you don't get to edit professional posts.
Aidan: Check the post after it is published. Check links.

Q: Video.
Aidan: Don't know anything about video but I do it. Writing blogs can be hard but reading blogs can be hard. My reader is full. Sometimes I don't want to read, I want to look at images, video. The cheaper and easier it becomes, the easier it is to make and consume video. I do video for MamaPop.com. I started doing it because no one was doing it. Became biweekly. When I started I was terrible but it was practice. Can use a flip. Most cameras have good video. Don't be afraid to use own face. We all have interesting and beautiful faces, even the AV guy in the back.

Annie: My only word of caution is that not everyone has broadband high speed Internet in Canada. There is huge demand. Video this morning I would watching, Nummies Bras video.
Aidan: Not everyone has access. Still on ground floor of content. In 10 years see increase in video.
Heather: Don't do video now, will use it on trip. Would prefer not too. There is a reason I did print and not tv.

Q: Any post you wish you have never written?
Emma: I don't think so. Every day there is something I want to say. Sometimes I wish I had been more or less judgemental.
Amy: If feeling uncertain about a post I leave it in draft and then come back to it. No posts, but maybe some tweets. But you would have to dig to find those tweets. Stick it in draft and come back.
Aidan: One post I regretted. I made fun of a name, like nails on chalkboard. Kyle. Wrote about it. And 3rd comment was "Not funny, Kyle". Felt like it wasn't funny.
Heather: No regrets, but once I wrote about son Kyle (laughing) I don't hit publish until I am really certain.
Annie: No posts, but parts of post. Those bits where the comments focus on that. I wish I could take them off.

End of panel. Questions open to floor.

Q: Do any of you have secret blog?
Emma: I can't keep secrets.
Aidan: I have a blog that no one reads.
Annie: Someone told me I should. Have thought about a secret password protected blog for input of community that isn't open to public.
Heather: Will have a password protected blog for trip so kids can post too.
Amy: I don't but maybe it is something worth pursuing. I can do that with a pen and paper.
Aidan: Don't count on a secret blog staying secret.

Q: How do you think Twitter had impacted blogging
Annie: Twitter is essential to my blog. On day absent from Twitter, my traffic is way down. Not because I'm not linking, people see your presence and more likely to go visit your blog. Twitter is essential to community.
Emma: Friend said blogging is dead. Without twitter you don't know what is out there. If you want to blog you need to be on Twitter.
Amy: it is a vital tool to maintaining community. I don't link to myself, because can seem spamming. New posts will be tweeted once.
Aidan: Twitter a valuable tool. Have to tweet professional blog. Hurt personally blog because I can get joke out right away. Don't want to rewrite it on blog.
Annie: I have written posts to explain tweets.
Heather: I love Twitter. I wouldn't have started blogging if not for Twitter.

Aidan: Question for Heather. You have a recent blog. What made you decide to start blogging when you wonder how relevant they are.
Heather: My blog designed around trip. I hope people are interested in this too. I wanted to share with others.

Annie: Forgot question. Why did you decide to blog?
Aidan: Boredom in my job. Stated a blog after reading others. Use it to keep writing.

Q: How to get people to comment on blog and not Twitter.
Annie: Do you ask questions on posts?
Amy: Keep leaving comments on other people's blogs and then make it easy to leave a comment. It can take time to build relationships.

Q: Did anyone had issues with families and friends about your blogging?
Annie: Don't write about family or friends unless I have permission. I don't share stories of others. Maybe sure other person ok with that. Have asked permission to share stories of friends.
Emma: I take poetic licence. I sometimes change relationships. Your family has to know that when you write a personal blog your family become characters. My husband has become with that.
Amy: Could vent about certain people, but I don't do that online. Not willing to take that risk. I assume family reads my blog so I don't tell those stories.
Heather: Husband is but of joke on blog today, but if he is in post he gets to read it and veto it. Same with parents. Once wrote post my mother was horrified with, so she gets to read about it.
Aidan: As far as the Internet is concerned my wife and I are just characters on each other's blogs. Relationship is based on making fun of each other. When writing personal blog you are a storyteller first, you can make a little but up and still tell the truth.
Annie: Don't ever say anything online you wouldn't say in person with your mother standing next to you.

Question about growing professional blog.
Annie: Don't ask bloggers to write for your blog for free. Bloggers starting to get upset being asked to write for free. Talk to people and engage them in conversation.

Emma: If you are starting a blog Twitter is your best friend. Personalise who you are and people will come to you.
Heather: Write in print media and have gotten lots of stories from Twitter.
Annie: Have to wrap things up. Thank you.

Thank you to the speakers. Any errors are mine.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Whispers

She presses her mouth against my ear and speaks in what she thinks is a whisper. She says something, anything, about what she wants or what she doesn't like. I feel her breath trickle into me. It makes me shudder and I laugh.

He wants a turn too. He leans towards my ear and mumbles nonsense. Abababba, he whispers even though he is perfectly capable of speaking words I will understand. But whispering is something special and so he creates his words from nothing. All so he can breathe them into my ear.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Back of the bus

When the bus pulls up in front of our house the boy and I are there waiting. We have spent the last few minutes jumping and twirling and looking for the bus. Until there it is.

The bus stops and the door opens while I scan the faces staring back at me. I finally spot her through the window standing on the seat in the very last row. The bus door stays open but she doesn't move. She is wedged in the corner by her two friends and they are slow to let her out. They are too busy yelling hello to me.

I yell hello back and wave and wave at all the kids as they wave at me. When the girl appears her coat is zipped open and she is clutching her mitts in one hand. She takes her time walking down the stairs and away from the bus, stopping only to say goodbye.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday

I stood in the kitchen of a friend's house cutting vegetables and wondering when it was that I became the adult. She ran around the house, weaving in and out between the grownup legs. I remember when that was me.

In the middle of the music and the singing our eyes locked. She smiled at me, with her mouth, with her eyes. She shone her joy out from the centre of her heart and I felt it across the room. She turned away to resume her dancing and left the smile on my face.

Before dinner I sat on the couch, a sick boy cuddled in my arms. He moved aside the top of my shirt so he could lay his fevered head against my skin. I wrapped him tighter in the blanket and pulled the girl in closer beside me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Travel companions

I left the gas station convenience store clutching a small bag of chips, a bag of pretzels and a root beer. Heading back to the car I started to feel optimistic. This was sure to make me feel better.

I climbed back into the front seat and we drove off. I felt guilty about the last stop knowing it was late and we were all eager to finish our long drive. The two in the back seat closed their eyes and rested quietly while the car weaved around the trucks driving with us on the highway.

It had been her idea to try the chips. At our second stop, she suggested I eat whatever caught my eye. It's what your body wants she said. So I stood morosely along the snack aisles, peeking out from under the hood of my sweatshirt that was pulled low over my head. Nervous to try anything, but still desperately hungry.

Finally, I selected a bag of Old Dutch potato chips, like any loyal ex-Winnipegger should. Settled back in the front seat I opened the bag cautiously. Soon I was licking the salt off each chip and devouring them quickly. When I found myself eyeing her bottle of pop sitting in the front seat cup holder near me I knew another stop was necessary. All in the name of me not throwing up in the car, of course.

The mistake I made was eating as soon as we started driving away from the hotel. My body was exhausted after a busy day and little sleep the night before. Even the make-up I had done at the conference, while making me almost unrecognizable to myself, could not hide my blood shot eyes. My body didn't like being so tired. It didn't like the food. It didn't like the turning and starting and stopping as we made our way slowly out of Toronto.

We had to make our first stop at a coffee shop just outside the city so I could try to relieve the car sickness somewhere other then the nice, clean car. It was a blessing and curse when I was unsuccessful. I threw up enough when I was pregnant with the boy that I am reluctant and bitter about ever having to do it again.

When the nausea overtook me I felt a sudden rush of sympathy for the girl. I opened my car window and snuggled into her pillow, willing myself not to throw up. I resolved to bring the girl's chewable Gravol with me on my next car trip.

Most of all I resolved to always travel with such kind, understand and caring travel companions. Thanks.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lego man

Grr says the Lego man from where he lies on the dirty kitchen counter beside the sink. Or that is what I imagine he would say if he could talk. The scowl on his face suggests he was ripped from the middle of a tense encounter, maybe with some cowboys or vikings, and tossed onto the counter in passing. His brows are furrowed. His frown is barely visible from underneath his large moustache. He is cranky.

I know just how he feels.

I spent over an hour this morning cleaning the main floor while the girl was at school and the boy amused himself. And by that I mean he stayed one step ahead of me by creating new messes for me to clean up. I tidied, I organized, I vacuumed. My house is almost clean. I am sure it looks like yours at its messiest.

I can't keep up. Most of the time I don't bother. Some days I just can't face being Sisyphus one more minute longer. So I let the stickers stay stuck to the floor. The walls aren't wiped free of crayon. The toys aren't picked up. The laundry isn't put away. The table isn't wiped clean.

My boulder stays at the bottom on the hill. And I sit on top of it going Grr just like the Lego man.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ranch hand

She sat on the pony's back with both hands gripping the horn at the front of the saddle and a grin plastered on her face as she was lead around the muddy track. She wasn't afraid. She was eager for her turn and each time she dismounted she went straight back to the end of the line. Four times she was lead around the track by a teenager that was as patient as the girl was excited.

A purple riding helmet perched on the top of her head, a touch too small. The red rain boots I had bought that morning at a consignment sale and pulled from the trunk once I realized that the mud would easily win the battle against her white running shoes, matched her red ruffled long sleeve shirt perfectly. Her blue jeans completed the ranch hand look.

She looks like she should be in National Velvet a mom said to me. She did. She looked comfortable and at ease riding on the ponies. Suddenly I had visions of weekends spent with her in the stables or watching her ride horses across great open fields.

Then I was too busy trying to make sure she didn't step on one of the tiny piglets running frantically around the barn stall when six 4 and 5 year old invaded or hovering nearby as she clutched a small and delicate kitten to her chest, to think any more about horses. I did think about how nice it was to have an afternoon together, even if we were surrounded by the rest of the birthday party. I thought about how glad I was that she hadn't been car sick on the way to the party. I crossed my fingers that she would make it home still looking like a ranch hand.