You can now find Capital Mom at www.capitalmom.ca

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Happy

I was kindly tagged by Noble Savage for the Shiny Happy Things meme. While there are lots of things that make me happy, here are two that never fail to cheer me up no matter how grumpy I am.

1. Dancing Queen by ABBA. It always makes me smile. And sway. And sing. And feel, not seventeen, but nineteen again.

2. Marimekko. I dare you to look at one of their bright, bold poppy patterns and not feel your heart skip a beat. I love those poppies so much I dragged the husband all over Helsinki looking for the Marimekko outlet store. And when I found it I not only smiled, I squealed.

What makes you happy?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Marriage

It is hard to find,
sometimes,
our love.
Dirty dishes,
dirty diapers,
dirty kids.
We are pulled
tugged
in different directions.
I try to grab your hand in passing.
I am always happy when you
grab it back.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Talking to me

Whether I tell you or not, my day had been both good and bad.
That is life.
That is parenting.
Catch me in one moment and I will moan about my day.
Catch me in another and I will extol the virtues of my life.
Whatever I tell you has happened anyway.
I just need to share.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Restaurant food

The tomato sauce bubbled on the stove. The kids had both napped and were about as happy as they get. The husband was home early. All was well.

Let's go for a walk I said. Okay said the husband.

We started getting the kids dressed. Snowsuits. Boots. Hats.

I thought about the tomato sauce now cooling in the pot. Suddenly, I felt adventurous.

Let's go out to a restaurant I said. What? exclaimed the husband.

Neither of us could remember the last time we had eaten in a restaurant with the kids. All four of us. It had been that long.

Someone told me once that I seemed frazzled during those first few months after the boy was born. I was. I think I am still slightly frazzled. When I am tired everything frazzles me, especially new situations.

The husband agreed to dinner at a restaurant. I waffled. I agreed. He waffled. We went.

We walked two blocks to a Mexican restaurant we have eaten at before. Prior to having kids we found the food bland and pedestrian; not challenging enough for our sophisticated palliates. It is now my new favorite restaurant. The food was fast, the server was great with the kids and the tortilla chips deposited on our table soon after we arrived kept everyone happy and occupied.

During dinner the boy sat in a highchair munching everything that was put before him and swaying away to the music. He played with the straw in his glass. He watched the people.

The girl sat on her booster seat and systematically proceeded to inhale three-quarters of the nacho platter. She did not talk or make eye contact except to ask for more. She picked chip after chip off her plate, sometimes eating the olives off it first, and ate.

The husband and I talked. We ate slowly and tasted our food. It bordered on relaxing.

I don't know if I can attribute it to the large quantity of restaurant food she ate, but the girl slept beautifully last night. She went to sleep easily and stayed asleep for eleven hours. The last time she slept that well was when the husband picked up sushi on his way home from work one night last week. She ate more than I did that night and slept like a log.

Maybe the good night's sleep was actually due to the new alarm clock the husband picked up for her yesterday. A red alarm clock with blinking red numbers that she can see in the dark. We talked and talked with her about that clock and how she could get up once the clock said six. She did.

Maybe the girl's sleep doesn't correspond to the consumption of restaurant food. But can we pretend it does and then I can stop cooking?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hangout

I stop in almost everyday after I drop the girl off at school. The boy sleeps in the stroller as I drink my latte and eat my muffin. I watch the cars pass by out the large front window. I chat with the staff that I now know by name. I sit and think. I enjoy a few moments to myself.

Monday, February 22, 2010

One day

One day I would like to stop thinking/ talking/ obsessing about sleep. I would also like my kids to sleep.

The boy is getting up a couple of times a night. Fine, he is teething. I can dredge up some compassion for him. Teething hurts.

The girl has suddenly decided that she no longer wants to sleep in her bed. Actually, I think it corresponds to the husband's decision to stop lying with her while she falls asleep. Oh, if only we had known. I would have frogmarched him into her room and duct taped him to her bed if it would have prevented the last few nights.

She wakes screaming. She wants us. She wants to come to our bed.

The girl has never asked for this before. We don't know what to do. We are tired and want to sleep. We say no. Hysterical crying. Hearts are hardened and breaking points are reached. We say no and no.

And then I take her to bed with me. I realized I needed to sleep more than I needed to fight with her.

Tonight the husband was going to lie with her but she told him to leave. Did I hear right, I thought. Wow, she is just going to put herself to sleep. The husband walked into the hallway and a moment later she opened her door. We were all surprised. What are you doing? he asked. Mama said I could sleep in her bed she replied.

I spent the next five minutes explaining that I meant she could come to our bedroom in the middle of the night, not now, and that she had to fall asleep in her bed. Another of the many examples where what I say and she hears are totally different.

She finally fell asleep with me lying beside her. I have no idea what will happen tonight. I am assuming that she will wake up at some point in the night and climb into our bed, but really I am prepared to be surprised. She could decide that she would like to sleep in the washing machine instead.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Some

The word I use to describe my life right now is some. Sometimes, some days, somehow.

Sometimes I am the mother I want to be. Sometimes I'm not. Sometimes my patience is endless. Sometimes I am full of frustration. Sometimes I can't imagine doing anything else other than being at home with these kids. Sometimes I can't wait to go back to work. Sometimes I am overwhelmed. Sometimes I amaze myself.

Some days we bake and make craft and go to the park. Some days I turn on the TV. Some days I make healthy lunches and snacks. Some days I hand over granola bars and cookies. Some days a broken sleep makes me miserable and angry with everyone. Some days I need no sleep at all. Some days I can overlook the fact that I asked one of the kids six times to pick up the banana they dropped on the floor and it is still there. Sometimes that banana is my breaking point.

Somehow we all keep going. Somehow we wake up everyday and do it all again.

Always I love them.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Exhale

When he walks through the door I exhale.
I exhale the breath I didn't even know I was holding.
My body relaxes.
I pause.
I stop.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The three of us

She is exhausted. She was waking at 5am every day earlier this week. She has since replaced that with midnight parties she keeps inviting me too. Her days are full of meltdowns and standoffs. Mine too.

*

He is not himself. He wants to be held all the time. He lies face down on the floor hollering whenever he is frustrated. He whines and yells and cries. I cry too.

*

I am empty. Each day this week has drained me a little bit more until I stand here today devoid of patience and understanding. Tolerance and compassion. Humour and perspective. Hope.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ballroom

She saw the balls through the window. She asked me what it was and I told her. I want to go she said. I grabbed a shopping cart and we headed inside.

We walked over and I measured her. Tall enough. Then she got scared. I don't want to go she said. We walked away.

We made it to the light fixtures before she asked to go back. I didn't want to turn around only to have her change her mind so I said after we look at mattresses.

Can we go to the balls?

After we look at the beds.

Can we go to the balls?

After we pay.

Can we go to the balls?

After we go pee.

We went back. I said hello to the attendant and the girl walked right in. She took off her coat and her boots and she didn't even say goodbye to me. She headed straight for the ball room. I saw a look of joy and awe on her face before she descended into their depths.

I waited around, expecting her to call for me or want me. I was still waiting when her grandma arrived with a boy fresh from a nap in his car seat. Where is she? grandma asked. In there I said pointing to the ballroom. Where? I don't see her?

We both looked carefully. I scanned the balls and couldn't find her anywhere. I looked at the craft area and the tv room. No girl.

Two hands peaked out. She was holding them just above the balls, the rest of her body submerged. Her face appeared. She seemed to float.

What were you doing? I asked her later. I was a snowman, she said, and I melted.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Parking lot

The boy feel asleep on the car ride home from a play date. I knew he wouldn't transfer from the car to his crib so we kept driving. From one end of the city to the other. We got bagels with cream cheese from a drive-through for the girl and I. We drove some more. We bought three small orders of french fries for us and the mother-in-law from a fast-food drive-through. We sat in the parked car and ate them all. The boy woke up crying. We drove home.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Things I love

The husband.

The girl.

The boy.

Cupcakes.

Today I managed to combine all four of these things. The girl and I made cupcakes (and a little cake with the leftovers). We all ate some. Well, except the boy who was lying sick on the husband's chest. Since it is Valentine's Day I have generously decided to overlook the fact that I decreed no more sickness in our house and move on. Ahem.

In case you would like to make some Valentine cupcakes too, here is my recipe.

1. Buy a box of cake mix and be thankful that this will eliminate at least three steps from the recipe and about half a cup of flour from the counter.

2. Open the cake mix and watch your child pour it into the large mixing bowl. Watch her stir it for two minutes.

3. Crack three eggs in a small dish and try to frantically whisk them before your child takes the bowl away from you to dump the eggs into the flour mixture.

4. Clean egg off the counter.

5. Measure and hand over 3/4 cup of milk to your child. Stand back while she pours it into a bowl.

6. Repeat #5 with 1/2 cup of vegetable oil.

7. Let your child stir everything together.

8. Distract her by encouraging her to wash her hands. Stir everything together.

9. Give your child an ice cream scoop and ask her to split the batter between three bowls. Look away.

10. Hand over red, blue and green food colouring to your child. Go to the other side of the room so as not to see exactly how many drops of each she puts in each bowl.

11. Let her stir each of the bowls of batter to mix in the food colouring.

12. Stir each of the bowls of batter to mix in the food colouring.

13. Have your child pour the three batters into a cupcake pan using an ice cream scoop.

14. Pour the rest of the leftover batter into a round cake tin (apparently the recipe should make 24 cupcakes but that really does seem impossible).

15. Cook for 20 minutes. Not 30 minutes like you misread on the box.

16. Let cool for as long as you can before finally giving in to a small whiny voice and digging a still hot cupcake out of the pan.

17. Try not to laugh when your child walks back into the living room from a furtive visit to the kitchen and drops to all fours on the floor in what can only be described as some kind of move learnt in paramilitary training and hides behind a bookcase when asked what were you doing in the kitchen?

18. Laugh anyway.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Shift work

I heard the sound of the gate being opened and footsteps going down the stairs. I rolled over under the covers and peaked at the window. It was still dark.

I listened for any other sounds of activity. I didn't hear the girl's voice. I didn't hear the boy's yells. Nothing.

Concerned, I opened the door and glanced down the hallway to see that the girl's door was still closed. The boy's was wide open. A stop in the bathroom on the way downstairs revealed that it was 4:15 am. Too early.

In the sun room the boy sat in the red chair, pointing at the television screen. The husband slumped on the couch beside him.

What happened last night? I asked.

He was up at twelve, replied the husband, and then he was really hard to get back to sleep. Eventually I lay him in the crib and he rustled around for about an hour. I lay down on the mattress in his room.

Go back to bed, I told the husband. I'll try to get him back to sleep.

I took the boy back upstairs to his room while the husband shuffled off to the comfort of our bed. I tried all my tricks but the boy clung steadfast to his resolve that it was now morning and he was no longer tired. As we lay beside in each on the mattress on the floor, our heads beside each other on the pillows, I heard the girl calling to her dad from the hallway.

I'm in here, I said, in your brother's room. Still, she called. I opened the door and saw her standing at the top of the open stairs. I ushered her into the boy's room and tried to coax everyone back to sleep. I was the only one who thought it was still nighttime. Five am.

Downstairs we trooped. I fed them snacks and let them watch videos, firm in my new found conviction that you can watch as much video as you want before 6am and no parental guilt can be invoked. They sat and stood and climbed all over me as I worked to stay awake.

She sat on my outstretched legs watching a video. He sat on my lap facing me. Back to back. I watched the clock.

The husband emerged shortly before 7am. We briefed each other and I headed back to bed.

Shift change.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My girl?

Last week I had a parent-teacher interview at the girl's preschool. I sat with the two teachers in the office trying to keep the boy occupied while still listening to them say some very kind things about the girl. There is nothing like non-family members saying nice words about your child to make you think that you may actually be doing a good job as a parent.

The teachers went through a list of milestones for her age and let me know that she was meeting them all. I knew she liked to paint, could cut with scissors and loves to read with the teachers but some of the things they said surprised me.

She gets dressed in her outside clothes by herself.

What? This was definitely news to me. Mornings are usually a stressful scramble as the husband and I try to get both kids in their snowsuits, boots and winter accessories without one of the four of us crying. To find out that all this time she could have been getting herself ready, well, let's just say changes were quickly made to the morning routine. Now the girl gets herself dressed from head to toe every morning. Sometimes she even does it without complaining.

She can write most of her name.

Really? I knew she knew most of her letters. I had seen her write some letters, like M and W. I didn't know that she was trying to write her name. One of the teachers said that the girl wrote about half of it for her one day. This motivated me to sit down and work on it with the girl. And then she wrote it. Again and again.

She play just as well independently as she does with others.

Who? My girl? In some way this was the greatest surprise of all. The girl always wants me to play with her. To be with her. To be near her. I was starting to wonder if she was actually able to play by herself. Apparently she is. Just not when I am within fifty feet of her.

The parent-teacher interview was a very informative fifteen minutes. I may have to schedule another one of those soon. By then the girl could be changing base metals into gold and I wouldn't even know it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Songs

If you ask the boy if he wants to sing he replies with baa baa. Then we sing the rest together.

Baa baa black sheep is one my favorite nursery rhymes. It makes me think of the rolling hills of the English countryside and barns full of sheep waiting to be sheared. I can picture a large manor house on the grounds and down the road a small thatched stone cottage where a widow lives with her child.

I sang it to the girl when I was pregnant with her. It was one of the few songs whose words I could remember. I kept singing it after she was born. It is the first song that always comes to mind when I am looking to sing something to the boy.

I love that he sings it back.

*
The fall after the boy was born I took the kids to a local playgroup three times a week. Near the end of the playgroup, right before the cars where brought out, we would all sit on the floor for circle time. The girl liked all the songs. One of her favorites was I'm a little teapot because of the actions. The other, and my favorite, was Row, row, row your boat.

For this song all the kids moved into the circle and faced their parents. We would hold hands and pull each other back and forth.

It wasn't long before the girl passed me over in favor of rowing with her brother. I would hold him in my arms, propping him up and supporting him while she rowed with him. He was only a few months old but she was thrilled to be journeying down the stream with him.

*

Today at playgroup the boy sat in my lap while we sang Itsy bitsy spider. The little spider and then a great big spider both climbed up the water spout while all the parents preformed the actions. I like this song, but all I could think about was the lyrics I had learnt when the girl and I attended a yoga class together:

The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout
to ask the Universe what life was all about.
The stars in the sky said life is great,
so the itsy bitsy spider went home to meditate.

This version makes me smile. Especially when the girl sings it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sounds

Crunch go my boots as I trudge home from school with the kids.

Shreeck go my snow pants as the legs rub against each other.

Zoom go the cars as they quickly pass me by.

Whoosh goes the wind as I bury my face deeper into my scarf.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Letters

The handmade Valentine cards are covered with stamps and stickers and glued on hearts. With one open in front of her the girl drags the purple marker up and down across the paper. She asks me to help her with the first letter, even though she knows that one the best. She pauses at the fifth letter and we glance at the yellow construction paper letters taped to the wall spelling out her name.

Once. Twice. Three times. Four times.

Over and over she write the letters of her name while I watch in amazement. As she finishes, each card is tucked inside a legal sized envelop to be mailed to a loved one.

Six letters. A big step.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Visitor

We are not a restaurant.
We are not a hotel.
I understand if you want to come and visit, but please visit.
Don't just sit reading the New Yorker or surfing the Internet.
Spend time with the kids.
Read to the kids.
Both of the kids.
I wonder sometimes if I imagine it.
I don't think I do.
You pay the girl a little attention but it is the boy you play with.
You read him books and call him buddy.
Is it that he is a boy?
Is it that he is younger and therefore somehow easier to relate to.
Because he is growing up.
And my patience is wearing thin.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fruit salad

He is snuggled next to me on the couch eating fruit salad from a cup. I turn away from him for a moment to check on the girl. She is standing inches from the computer screen watching a video. I debate asking her to move back and sit in her chair. I don't.

He has spilled his fruit salad. Juice runs onto the couch cover, pieces of fruit scattered around him. I lean over to pick up the pieces and he yells at me. Are you going to pick them up yourself? I ask him. Yeah, he says before bending over and biting into a small bit of peach. He smiles at me.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The living room

The room was a mess. Toys scattered across the floor, cereal ground into the carpet and the contents of the art trolley everywhere but in the trolley. It was a man-made tornado. Or in this case, a tornado made by two small, under aged siblings.

I surveyed the mess. Then I started moving furniture.

I picked up the larger items off the floor and vacuumed only the exact area I would be moving furniture to. I started with the bookcase, dragging it beside the window. Then I picked up an end of one of the couches and pulled it to the opposite wall. Intrigued, the girl curled up on the sofa and surveyed the new view.

I surveyed the view too. I tried to picture the changes I was making in my head. The living room was going to become the dining room and the dining room was going to become the living room. It was the biggest physical change I could think of making, but in the end I decided I didn't like it.

Instead, I moved the furniture back the way it had been four years ago. Back before the coffee table took up permanent residence in the basement. Back before the primary coloured mats covered our hardwood floor in an attempt to protect both it and the babies. Back before everything was pushed back to the walls to create the largest play area possible.

I am in love with the change. The room is still a mess despite my vacuuming and tidying, but my brain is satisfied with the new look. It feels new and right now new is what I need.

Best of all it occupied myself and the kids for a few hours on a cold afternoon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Anger

These last few days have been hard. The husband said they have been the hardest in a long time. Both of us are struggling.

The boy has decided to give up napping, despite my encouragement. He will fall asleep but wakes whenever you attempt to put him down. He has also decided that he would much rather spend the nights screaming than sleeping. Last night was the worst. Even though the husband and I took turns lying with him, he still preferred to yell. Nothing we did made any difference.

Maybe he is teething? His top two eyeteeth have come through and the bottom two are still waiting to break through. Maybe it is developmental? Maybe he hates his crib?

In my darker moments I am convinced the boy is trying to see exactly where my breaking point is. I imagine him calculating how far he can push me before I collapse on the floor in a fetal position. Yes, I know he is seventeen months old. That is just how my mind works.

I did cry this morning. Walking away from the museum I pushed the boy in his stroller and sobbed. We had left our friends sitting inside after I realized that the boy had no plans to end his bout of hysterical crying. I bundled him back into his snowsuit and left, apologising to our friends and the museum staff for the ear shattering sounds they had been subjected to. My bra still undone from when I had tried nursing him.

More than anything else I have been feeling angry these last few days. Angry that I don't know what is wrong with the boy. Angry that nothing I do seems to comfort him. Angry that I feel overwhelmed and helpless. Angry that I am angry.

I wrote the following on Monday. I wrote it for me. I wrote it to help myself work through what I was feeling and what had happened. I wrote it to remember.

In case some of you have been here or felt this, I am posting it for you.

*

I try not to yell at the kids. I don't like to raise my voice because then I feel like I lose credibility with the girl when I tell her not to yell. Today I did something that felt worse to me then yelling. I screamed.

I went to put the boy down for his nap at the regular time. I should have factored in the short ten minute nap he had in the stroller on the walk home from school because he resisted that nap with all he had. I should have just stopped and reassessed but I was too single minded. I should have....I should have.

At first I thought the napping routine was going great. We were snuggling and he was nursing. Then I heard a slam. I steeled myself for the sound of the girl heading down the hallway to our room. Since she has figured out how to turn the doorknobs she has started wandering the halls instead of quietly reading books in her room. I don't mind as long as she doesn't disrupt the boy by opening his door or yelling at me from outside his room, which is what she choose to do today.
I had some stern words for the girl through the door and back she went to her room. Slam went the door. Eventually she was quiet and I guessed that she was asleep. But not her brother.

I tried everything. I was frustrated. I put him in his crib and I left. He cried.

I went back. I tried again. He finally feel asleep and I lay him in the crib. As soon as his body hit the mattress he woke crying. Again, I left. I had to walk away.

I listened to him cry while I perched on my bed. I felt guilty. But at that moment, it was better for everyone for him to be crying by himself then for me to be with him. I was that angry with him. Angry enough that I didn't trust myself.

Eventually, I went back. I tried to get him to lie down in his crib but he kept standing up and reaching up to me. It was the tears that got to me. My anger abated for a moment and I picked him up. I sat down in the chair with him, prepared to rock him but not nurse him. Nursing was what he wanted.

No, I said over his cries.

I can't. Please, I can't.

I'm just too broken, I whispered.

No! I was holding him and he was crying and I felt done.

I can't, I screamed. Loud enough to startle him. Loud enough to startle me.

He quieted. His crying turned to sobs and sniffles. I rocked him until he feel asleep.

I sat with him for awhile before I gently lay him down. He woke up immediately. Crying just as hard as before.

I gave up. I felt so much anger with him for not sleeping when he was obviously tired. I was even angrier with myself for losing control. For behaving in a way I didn't think I ever would. It was just for a moment, but that moment held an intensity I have never felt before.

I picked up the boy and took him to the girl's room. I woke her up and we all headed downstairs to somehow fill the hours until the husband got home.

All I tried to do was not to yell.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Kindergarten

The girl starts kindergarten in September. While still months away, I have already spent months thinking about what school to send her to. Today a decision was made. She is registered.

I had always assumed that we would send her to the French immersion school five minutes from our house. I liked the idea of a neighbourhood school she could walk to. Then the girl started preschool and I learnt more about the alternative school housed in the same building as her preschool. All of a sudden a choice had to be made.

I thought a lot about the two schools. I talked to a lot of parents with kids at both schools and parents that were planning to send their kids to one of the schools. I reflected on my own elementary school experience.

My final assessment came down to what the schools each offer and what we are looking for in a school.

There are three things I want the kids to get out of elementary school:

1. A love of learning: The girl already has a love of learning. She loves to look at books. She is interested in her letters. She wants to learn. I would like her to be in school environment where learning is enjoyable and it is presented as something fun. I don't want school at this age to be about memorization and rules. A love of learning is something that will carry these kids through the rest of their lives.

2. A sense of belonging to a community: Eventually, our kids will be spending almost as much time at school as they will with us. I would like those hours to be spent somewhere that fosters a sense of community among its students. I want them to learn that the world is full of different people and every day is an opportunity to learn how to live together. I want the school environment to make them feel a part of larger family outside of our nuclear one.

3. Confidence and self-esteem: The husband and I will do our best to teach our kids to value themselves, but we need to know that they will be learning in an environment with the same values. Peers become so important to kids. I want to know that they are in a school where bullying is not accepted in the classroom and where kids are taught respect for themselves and others.

It was really the conversations with the other parents that solidified the decision for me. Parents of kids at the alternative school all said they chose it because of the approach to learning and the positive environment. These are things I want for my kids. The parents with kids at the French immersion all said they chose it because it was French immersion. I heard some good things about some teachers, but I also heard some things about other teachers that made me uncomfortable. With mixed reviews, we had to decide if the language of instruction was more important than the overall school environment. We decided it wasn't.

I am surprised by our decision in the end. I had always thought the kids would go to French immersion, partly because I had myself. But as the time to choose drew closer I found myself reflecting back on my own experience and wondering if it had been the best choice.

I had trouble learning to read and write. I never read on my own until grade four. I struggled to read out loud in class all the way into high school. I always had marks taken off in class essays and papers for spelling and grammar mistakes (ah, the days before computers). The teachers at my school told my mom that if I just read more I would learn to spell. I just needed to study more. I just need to practice more. It was just me. I don't ever remember being told I was stupid, but I sure felt it.

I would have had these difficulties if I was going to school in English, but it was more challenging going to school in French. It meant that I struggled to read and write in two languages, feeling like I never mastered either. Today, working in both languages, I still struggle.

I know my kids aren't me. They will have there own learning challenges and strengths. If I can, though, I would like to spare them from some of the same difficulties I had. I would like them to have the chance to build a foundation in one language before layering on another. They will still learn French. It will just be part of their day, not all of it.

I think we made the right decision for us. It feels good. I am excited for her. I can't wait to see what happens next.