A Photo Essay of Spring

As a parent, I have snapped thousands of photos of my children, mostly for the sake of superficially capturing memories of the things we did – we came, we saw, we did this. But sometimes, it goes deeper than that. Sometimes, a photo becomes more than just a reminder that you were there and did this, instead, it captures the emotions of the moment, and you find yourself truly able to feel and live the experience with the subject.

I love to write, and yet, sometimes words fail to adequately express the emotion of a moment.  How to begin to describe a child’s face, when the expression thereupon is one of sheer joy and excitement and freedom? What words does one use to accurately paint the image in one’s mind of the exhilaration a child experiences when jumping into a puddle?

And so, I am going to let the pictures do the talking; I will let them tell you the story of a boy and a girl outside on a warm, sunny, April afternoon.

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Weekly Link Up: Mom Self Care

This week’s topic, brought to you by Sweeping Up Joy, touches on something that I think would apply to almost all mothers on the planet, though the answers would vary from culture to culture, person to person. This topic definitely caused me to reflect. This summer our daughter was accepted into an Autism Rehab program, and during one of our initial meetings, I was more or less lectured on the importance of taking care of me.

I know they were right – I do not want to sound like a martyr, but I am aware that I have a lot on my plate. I’m a stay at home, homeschooling mother, who also works from home as a columnist/freelancer, and I have two children with varying special needs, one of whom also has medical needs that keeps us on the go. I know taking care of me is important. But, like many other mothers out there, “me” tends to come third, or fourth, or tenth on the list of priorities and to-do’s. However, it is something that I have been trying to work on. I am very aware that a less-stressed-out “me”, makes for a better wife and mother.

1.  What is your mom beverage of choice?

Oh I feel so boring… my beverage of choice is good ol’ water. I rarely drink anything else. In the fall and winter months I will often have a tea in the morning, which I do really enjoy, but for me tea isn’t about the taste or quenching my thirst, but rather the experience. There is something soothing about listening to the kettle boil, about the feel of the warm mug in my hand, even feeling the rolling steam, and smelling the aroma wafting through the air. Having tea is truly a peaceful, sensory experience. But when it comes to my consistent day to day drink of choice, it’s a nice tall glass of water!

2.  What do you do to relax?

I love to read, so at the end of every night I curl up on the couch and read. I also love to take a nice long shower – you know the type, the ones that are so long you drain the hot water tank. Horrible for the environment, yes, but good for my mental state! Thankfully for Planet Earth, it is a rare occasion I have time for such a shower. My husband and I also enjoy watching tv and movies together, so we cuddle on the couch and watch our favorite shows together in the evening.

I also admittedly use the computer for R&R breaks throughout the day – though if I am to be honest with myself, this causes me as much stress as relaxation, because I find while browsing Facebook or a good homeschooling support group may give me a temporary break, I also tend to lose track of time easily. So, inevitably I’ll suddenly realize that my 15 minute break has turned into an hour or so, and that I am now behind in what I want to get done. I tried using a timer, but it turns out, I’m also really good at hitting the snooze button and saying, “Just 5 more minutes.”

3.  When was the last time you got away with girlfriends or alone (and the grocery store does NOT count)?

Well, I get to say, “HA!” The therapist at my daughter’s rehab team said that going to the grocery store alone does count! So on that note, it was last Friday night! Granted, she also followed that up with, “As long as that’s not your only source of alone time.”

Admittedly, I love going to the grocery store alone in the evenings, it actually is a treat for me. I can take my time without feeling like I need to rush on to the next thing. I can browse products at my leisure without having to execute hostile negotiations on why we are not buying that cereal that is full of marshmallows and food coloring. And let’s face it – evening grocery store trips are really something of a social event – because you always run into someone you know, typically another Mom who is doing exactly what you’re doing – escaping under the guise of feeding her family, so you stand around in the aisle catching up.

But, for the sake of complying with the question, other than the grocery store, I honestly can’t tell you the last time I got out alone. I think it was back in the early summer, maybe even back in the spring when I went out for coffee with a friend.

I admit, for three seasons of the year, I don’t get out much by myself outside of the grocery store. It’s something I plan to work on this year, and I just recently joined a women’s book club hosted by a long-time friend of mine, and fellow homeschooler. We will meet once and month and will be going through the book The Life-Giving Home. I admit, I didn’t join for the book, as much as for the chance to get out regularly with women.

Now, in the winter, I do better at getting out. I am an avid skiier – I started when I was just 3 years old (no, I am not going to tell you how many years I’ve been skiing, other than to say it is measured in decades). Thankfully we live just 15 minutes from a small ski hill that offers $5 lift tickets on Wednesday nights in the winter! So, as much as possible, I do try to go skiing Wednesday nights. But even then, between winter storms, winter ills and other commitments, this probably only happens once or twice a month. I do have my fingers crossed for a better ski season this year!

See you next week!

 

 

 

Weekly Link Up: Chores

The dirty c-word: chores. (One of) the banes of all mothers’ existence. Most of us hate doing them, and yet we hate the result when we don’t do them. We all approach them in different ways – some have rigid schedules, some just do them whenever. Some are good at getting them done, and others struggle.

So, let’s talk about chores, for this week’s Link Up!

 

1. What chore should you be doing now instead of answering this question?

Dusting, and cleaning my front entry. Oh yeah, and hanging that wet load of laundry that is sitting in my washer, out on the clothesline.

2. Do your kids have chores? If yes, what’s your chore system?

Yes! Now, here’s the irony – neither my husband or I were required to do chores growing up. Picking up toys once in awhile was about the extent of our duties.  While as children we certainly appreciated this lack of responsibility, as adults, my husband and I both saw the fallacy of such an approach. We knew that our children would be helping around the home. We also expect them to help without any pay or reward, because we did not want to teach them to only help out when they are going to get something for it. Instead, we’d rather teach our children to help out, because that’s what Christians should do – help each other, without any expectation of reward or compensation.

This is not to say that we don’t reward them sometimes, we do. But it is random and infrequent, which makes it all the more meaningful to them. Also, sometimes, we will give them the option of doing a special job for money.

Now there are lots of lists on the internet of age-appropriate chores. I really like this one here, from Focus on the Family. However, we honestly never followed a suggested list. We just knew what we were working on in the home that day, and found a way to include our children, from day one. We started getting intentional however about having the children help around age 3.

For the sake of not writing an entire novel on the evolution of chores in our household, I’ll tell you how it looks in our home today, for our children ages 6 & 9.

We now have a weekly chore routine. We do the same chore each week, Monday through Saturday. Outside of necessary dishes, we do not do any work/choring on Sundays. I keep track of our chores on a master schedule that I printed and laminated, and keep on our fridge. This provides me a complete overview of our week, that includes our daily routine/schedule, our meal planning for the day, as well as our chores for the day.

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It’s not fancy, but it is functional. I do not have a separate chore chart or system for the children, I just tell them what our chores are for the day first thing in the morning. They have gotten very used to the routine and know what to expect. We all work together to complete the tasks.

Example: “Clean Kitchen” We all get a cleaning rag. While my son (9) wipes down the cupboards, my daughter (6) wipes down all the appliances, while I wipe down the backsplash and counters. Then they work together to unload/reload the dishwasher, while I do a quick clean n’ toss in the fridge (wiping down the shelves, tossing old items). For “Clean Bathroom”, my son wipes down the bathtub, while my daughter wipes down the counters, while I clean the toilet.  I save my “deep cleaning” for Saturday, which I typically do myself. These are more in depth chores like rearranging/cleaning out the cupboards and pantry, cleaning out the attic/basement etc…  We use all natural cleaning products in our household, mostly for the health benefits, however, also so I do not have to worry about my children being exposed to chemicals while they help out.

I’ll add a quick note on laundry – laundry is washed and dried almost daily in our house, however, it just goes into a (large) basket until Tuesday and Thursday, when the children and I sort it and put it away. As for dishes, we deal with dishes immediately after each meal.

3. If someone gifted you a housekeeping service, would you use it?

Honestly, this answer changes depending on the season. Our busiest season for appointments for our daughter tends to be fall (did you see my appointment schedule for this week in the photo?!) and spring. During those seasons, I would bawl my eyes out in gratitude if someone were to give us a cleaning service. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wished for a house cleaner. There is nothing more exhausting then to spend your day traveling, sitting in hospitals, dealing with doctors, only to return home at the end of the day mentally drained in a way that you can’t begin to understand unless you’ve had a sick child, and have to face a counter full of dishes, dusting, laundry, a dirty toilet etc…

However, in the down times, I do not tend to feel the desire for a house cleaner as much, because I am better able to keep on top of things. So, during those seasons, I would rather see someone else in need receive the help.

And now I’m off to hang out some laundry. ‘Till next week!

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A Simple Picture

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Typically when you look at a story, be it in a newspaper, a magazine or online, the first thing that catches your eye is the photo. If it’s engaging we will slowly look, examine the photo, mentally storing it in our mind. However, if it’s dull, we might just give it a mere glance. I wonder what your reaction was when you saw the photo that was attached to this blog post? Was it so obscure and unusual that it drew you in and made you curious? Or was it so uninteresting that you just skipped over it and started reading? My guess is the latter.

The picture is pretty unassuming – nothing all that interesting in content, no intriguing composition, poor exposure and no artistic editing. Just a “snap” of two rocks and a dandelion. But to me, the one who took it, it represents my son’s heart.

The picture shows a peace offering given to me by my son. I really don’t know how it all started, which I guess is probably true of most conflicts between children and siblings and/or parents. Something happened, I intervened in a way which my son obviously thought was stupid, and I was then rewarded with sulking and the bad attitude of an almost nine year old. Now, since this happened during lesson time, this sulking turned into uncooperative behavior. Like most foolish parents when their child is in a snit, I did try to reason with him. But since my son’s reasoning skills had seemingly flown the coop (as all children’s do during a snit) that didn’t work very well.

I then followed the traditional path of doling out a punishment, “That’s fine. You’ve just lost your xBox time for three days.” Well, we all know how well that went over, and of course it really only worsened the already poor attitude which I was trying to change. My own frustration was starting to get my temper simmering a bit. He sat there glaring at me, I sat there glaring at him. In an effort to take a second to cool myself, I looked out the window: I saw the blue sky, the green trees and grass, the stream glistening in the sun, the garden… to which I immediately remembered, “Oh yes, I need to start picking those rocks today.” And then suddenly pure, unadulterated parental evil genius struck!

I looked at my son, and said, “Okay. You obviously need some time to calm down, so why don’t you go put on your rain boots and head outside and enjoy the sun?” He looked at me for a second, still glaring, and then jumped up and ran for the door. As he opened the door to head outside, I dropped the bomb: “While you are outside enjoying the sun, you will pick the rocks out of the garden. You will continue picking the rocks until you feel that you can return to this house with a good attitude.” He mumbled something which I’m sure it’s best I didn’t hear, slammed the door and headed outside.

Knowing my son’s dislike of manual labor, I knew it wouldn’t take very long for a change of heart. I watched through the kitchen window as he stomped out into the garden, his face blacker than a thundercloud. A snail could have picked rocks faster than he did. But he did pick them, and he did eventually pick up the pace. And I could slowly see the change of attitude come over him. That built in curiosity that all boys have started getting the better of him, and he started examining the rocks he was picking. He picked a little faster, anxious to find some gems. I knew it wouldn’t be long now, and I turned away from the window, carrying on with my daughter’s lessons.

A few minutes later there was a knock at the back door. There stood my freckle-faced son holding out his hands which held two rocks and a dandelion. “Look what I found for you Mommy!” He showed me the first rock, a piece of shale, “I found this for you. Look, it looks like the Rocky Mountains, and you love mountains!” He then showed me the second rock, a sparkly white one, half covered in dirt, “I chose this one for you because it sparkles and it looks pretty, like you.” And then finally, the dandelion, “I know you love flowers. I’m sorry Mommy.”

Words can’t express the love that you feel for your child at a simple moment like that.  I knew that the rock would eventually break, the dandelion would die, and probably some day the memory would fade. So, I took a picture. A simple, unassuming picture that means so much.

What Children Need

When you are a parent, you are filled with things you want to do for your child. Some of those are simple, inconsequential things like being able to buy them toys every now and then or perhaps buy your daughter that pretty dress in the catalogue. Some of the things you want to do for them are things that leave them with cherished memories – like teaching them how to ride a bike, or taking them on summer vacations. Then there’s the bigger things that you wish to do as a parent – things like keep them safe from harm, prevent them from getting hurt, being able to take away all their fears. The things that as parents we will inevitably fail to be able to do at some point, try as we might.

As a parent, there is not much worse than seeing your child in pain from, or scared of something, that you do not have the ability to fix. We have had our fair share of those experiences in our daughter’s lifetime. Thankfully for the most part, those times are in the past, and she is a healthy girl today. You would think that after all we have been through with her – dealing with her two heart defects, the months of heart failure and feeding tubes, all the needles and medications and appointments of her first year, that anything else would be a cake walk. But it just doesn’t seem to work that way.

And so tonight I found myself sitting here, trying to write a column while my heart and mind were wandering elsewhere. For tomorrow our daughter will be admitted to the hospital away from home for a procedure aimed at hopefully easing her chronic constipation. She will not be put under, there will be no surgery. She’ll merely have an NG tube inserted into her nose that will feed medication directly into her bowel, which will hopefully help clean her out, so that her bowels can start to heal. It’s really pretty simple compared to other things that we have faced, and compared to what many other families have to face.

And yet – it’s not simple to her. She is five and she is scared. She whimpered at bedtime that she didn’t want to go to the hospital and “get a tube in my nose.” She doesn’t want to have to be away from her home, her toys, her cat or her brother or her daddy. She is afraid it’s going to hurt – and I, knowing that it is indeed going to hurt, have to try and come up with a veiled truth. I refuse to lie to her about this, and yet, I don’t want to say anything that will cause her further anxiety. So I try to dance around it telling her that it might hurt, but that in the end she is going to feel much, much better. She has been living with stomach pain for so long, and she is tired of it. She wants more than anything for her “tummy pains” to go away. So this is what I choose to focus on.

But all the reassuring words and all the snuggles, or even the promise of feeling better, can’t take away her fear, and that as a parent is hard, no matter what you may have faced with your child. Or no matter what others are facing with their child. No parent wants to see their child suffer in pain, or be afraid, period. It is one of the hardest parts of being a parent that nothing can ever truly prepare you for.

And so all we can do is love them and hold them, and let them tell you about their fears. Children need to be allowed to talk about their fears, to express them; I’ve learned that it is often their way of coping, of dealing with them. It not our job to tell them they have nothing to be afraid of, but rather, to listen, and then reassure them that no matter what happens, we will always be by their side to support them. For in the end, that is all we can do, and while it may leave us feeling helpless at times, it is what they need from us the very most.

Innocence Lost

Now, I’m going to preface this by saying I am far from a prude. I enjoy a raunchy joke every now and then, just like many others. I’ve read books that probably bordered on being Harlequin romances. And I certainly don’t cover my eyes at love scenes in a movie. But here’s the thing – I’m an adult, and those are my own personal, private choices. They are not things that I expose my children to, because that would be inappropriate.

Unfortunately today, the idea of inappropriateness seems to be fading from society, especially when it comes to sex. Let’s face it, our culture is over-sexed, plain and simple. Somewhere along the way we have been injected with a huge dose of testosterone and it seems we just can’t get enough.

Sexual imagery is everywhere, surrounding us, but what’s more, our children. Our eyes are bombarded every time we turn on the television – it seems that almost every commercial uses scantily clad women, sexual imagery or humor. To say nothing of the fact that movies like 50 Shades of Grey end up grossing over half a billion dollar in the box office. Or that sexual innuendos are finding their way into children’s movies.

Our ears are subjected to it every time we turn on the radio and hear what is in my opinion, pure filth, from the likes of Nicki Minaj and Robin Thicke. It’s one thing for an adult to buy their cd and listen to it in the privacy of their home, but that songs like that are being played on the radio for our children to listen to in any public place, still blows my husband and I away.

Not to anyone’s surprise, sexuality is even there in print, too. In the United States, the Common Core reading list recommends an extremely sexually graphic book  for their sixteen and seventeen year old students to read. The book which gives vivid descriptions of topics such as rape and pedophilia,  would make 50 Shades of Grey look like nothing more than a tender love story.

It appears that nothing is safe from sexualization in today’s world. We took the children to the circus today – a small circus put on by a great group, who do phenomenal work with children. I have never had any qualms about supporting them. And yet, even there, in what you would think would be the least likely of places, our randy culture crept in. Granted, I am aware that acrobats need to wear tight-fitting costumes, that’s  a common-sense safety issue. However, what was not necessary was for that outfit to be, for all intents and purposes, a bra and panties. And let me tell you right now, I have seen underwear from Victoria’s Secret that offered more backside coverage than some of these outfits. When the acrobats were doing spread-eagles on their ropes in front of my 7 year old boy’s eyes, I was praying that there would not be a wardrobe malfunction, lest he get a lesson on female anatomy.

Breasts were obviously best at the circus. As one of the ladies bounced her ample cleavage around, dancing like she was in a night club, shaking her chest for all to see, I looked down to see my not-even five year old daughter trying to mimic her very actions. My husband and I were both a bit shocked to see the outfit that they had their child performer in – a young girl of no more than ten or eleven, was wearing tight booty shorts and  a handkerchief top that barely covered her chest, and that was it. Her full belly and back were bare for all of us to see. Is childhood innocence no longer considered sacred? Are there no longer any lines between what is appropriate for children and for adults?

Today’s North American culture is not an easy one to be trying to raise children in. How am I supposed to teach my son to see a woman’s body as something special, something private and to be respected, when he’s growing up being bombarded by images of nearly naked women at every turn? Like it’s no more special or out of the ordinary than sliced bread?  How on earth am I supposed to teach my daughter to value her body, and what’s more, to demand that other boys and men respect it – when she’s growing up being taught by media that flaunting it and using her body to get what she wants, is not only acceptable, but the norm? How am I supposed to teach sexual modesty in a world that increasingly scorns the idea?

These are the questions that many of us parents today are struggling with. Often, parents like myself who are concerned about such things are told,  “Well just screen what they read/watch/listen to”, but the problem is that you can’t screen everything. When you can’t even go to a mall or doctor’s office without hearing songs on the radio about sex, or derogatory terms about women, when schools are suggesting their students  read books about rape and pedophilia, and when you can’t even go to a family circus without having to hope private body parts don’t pop out of a skimpy costume… the answer isn’t, “Screen it.” Because the problem is, we shouldn’t have to.

The Power of Independence

Our son is less than three months from turning eight. He is reaching that age where he is really leaving the “little boy” stage behind and moving towards that stage of being an older child, desiring independence and freedom. My attempts to help him are often met with, “I can do it, Mommy!” Though more and more frequently “Mommy” is being dropped for “Mom”.

It happens to all children – they grow up and become more independent, and deep down I know this is a good thing. One of my goals for both of our children is that we will raise them to be confident and independent – not afraid of hard work, and not relying on others to do for them, what they themselves are capable of doing. I can see this goal of mine being shaped slowly month by month, year by year, right before my eyes. It comes with a somewhat bittersweet feeling that is of course pride, but also that tug of the heart that comes with knowing that your child needs you a little bit less with each passing year.

We have noticed a large increase in our son’s confidence and independence this past year, but especially within the last few months. He often turns down my offers of getting his breakfast, drinks or snacks, instead desiring to do it himself. Granted, sometimes it’s because he wants to choose a snack of chips and chocolate instead of my healthier alternative! But, overall, it’s just because he can, and wants, to do it himself.

Not only does he want to do things for himself, but I find he is taking on more responsibility within the home as well. He is doing more chores, with a more willing attitude. And he increasingly wants to help others. For example, a few weeks ago I took our son for one final day of snowboarding this season. It happened to be my birthday as well. We had lunch at the cafeteria and as we waited in line for our food, he suddenly directed me, “Mom, go find us a seat. I’ll bring the food over. It’s your surprise for your birthday!” I admit that visions of our lunch being splattered across the floor flashed through my mind. But I was so touched at the offer that I complied, and not only did he handle the tray filled with food like a champion, but he went to the cashier and paid for the meal all by himself (with a gift card I had given him to use).

When we are driving home from running errands, our son will often ask me to stop the car as soon as the house is in view and let him walk the rest of the way – he likes the feeling of walking home by himself. To his still-seven year old mind, it’s a huge adventure walking down the street by himself. I know that the day will soon come when he starts taking off on his bike for solo adventures, much as I did as a child. And I know I will feel like most parents do – anxious for his safe return, wondering did I make the right decision, allowing him to go alone? But I will let him go.

Despite the fact that general crime and child-related crime rates (including abductions) are the lowest they have been since the 1970s, we are living in an age of fear-based parenting. While I certainly don’t believe in the “helicopter parenting” attitude that seems to be the norm today, the flip side of that is, sometimes I am left wondering, “What do people think? Do they think I’m a bad mother just because I let him walk two blocks by himself?” When I was his age I walked to and from school, or friend’s houses, by myself all the time – and they were all several blocks away. When I grew up, crime rates were statistically higher, but children had far more freedom.

Our son is getting to that age where he is no longer comfortable going into the woman’s washroom with me. As a parent, I feel I need to respect that. And so, while I admit I wait outside the door – I have started letting him go to the men’s room alone. Yet, just a few weeks ago at our local McDonald’s, I had a complete stranger question my decision. I was flabbergasted as this person asked me, “Well what if someone is in there and hurts him?” I had no answer.

As parents, we wish that we could protect our children from everything, that we could raise our children in a certain world, but we can’t. And this isn’t anything new – every generation of parents before us have faced cultural/social turmoil and uncertainty. Every generation of parents have felt fear for the world their children are growing up in. However, we seem to be the most fearful generation of them all, despite some of the lowest statistical rates of risk. I blame it largely on the media – thanks to the huge prevalence of television, radio and social media in our lives today, we are bombarded daily by parenting horror stories in a way that our predecessors never were. These stories only increase our feelings of fear.

I find this fearful mentality only hinders children – we hold them back from doing what they are truly ready and capable of doing, because of our own anxieties, or sometimes even from the fear of judgement from others. Children then pick up on this fear, and become more afraid to do things on their own. This leads to feelings of incapability and dependence.  Studies have long shown that children learn best through doing – and while those studies were mostly conducted in the context of school academics, I think that philosophy applies to life experiences as well. The best way to teach children independence and responsibility is through giving them the freedom to try.

In so doing we will both gain two very valuable things – confidence and pride, as we realize their ability.