Ripley’s Aquarium and What Came After

065The newest big attraction in Toronto was introduced several months ago:  we finally have our own aquarium.  Ripley’s Aquarium has gotten good reviews, in spite of tickets that are quite pricey.  With an aunt and nephew visiting from out of town, and three kids keen to go, and my own lifelong wonder of the creatures of the deep, we went.

There were the requisite sharks, stingrays, schools of beautiful and sometimes astonishing fish, a petting station (horseshoe crabs), and a particularly ethereal selection of jellyfish.  There  were also less requisite attractions, like play apparatus designated for children in bright colours, like tunnels and slides.

And it was very crowded.  I think the aquarium was good, but my attention was so focused on not losing a child that I couldn’t entirely take it in.  I imagine the kids could only absorb so much too.  I found myself fantasizing about being able to return and actually see the exhibits, rather than peer at them.

Generally I don’t love going to busy venues, so when I make these treks I tend to feel accomplished – like Something Happened – and I hope the children enjoy them.  It’s summer, and my kids are not heavily scheduled, and I do like finding interesting opportunities for us to experience and learn together.  It was too busy at the aquarium to really learn as much as we could about what we were seeing, but it was worthwhile exposure, and There’s nothing like a white seahorse creature that looks like a bunch of leaves to feed curiosity.  It was successful overall.

And yet I doubt the aquarium, its glamour notwithstanding, encapsulated the primary learning opportunities that arose that day.  These likely took place at the much more prosaic Chinese restaurant we dined at afterwards, where my son turned the lazy Susan quickly, and it knocked over a tall pot of tea towards me. I fell off my seat trying to get away but failed, and now have second degree burns over much of my left thigh.

I suppose there’s a science lesson in there somewhere.  The kids saw how I treated (or tried to treat) the injury and know I didn’t sleep well because the burn continued through the night.  (At 3am, I asked my husband whether the ibuprofen and Tylenol tablets I was taking together we’re still good because they weren’t doing much.  “It’s Tylenol, not morphine,” he replied.)  My kids can see the scarring and my reaction when they touch my leg, and I suspect we all have a new respect for heat.

But it’s when I realize that a boy feels blameworthy for the injury that the learning recedes and the knowing comes forward. It’s then when, in spite of the dishes and the blog post and the new project deadlines waiting for me, I clear a space.  In the dark, I stay with my baby and whisper to reassure, and then just to talk, and we wait for sleep to come.

Sharks, rays, tea, burns.  Learning, knowing.  Full, full days.

Kids and Fishing

2011_09 - various 032I’ve long been a convert to the idea that children (and adults) thrive with regular opportunities to explore and interact with the natural world, and more or less nodded my way through The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv when I read it several years ago.  Reading Louv’s arguments felt less like a revelation than a discovery of the unconscious familiar, as if he were putting into words a series of unformed ideas that already existed in my head.

The one exception to this familiarity was Louv’s section on hunting and fishing, which did feel new and prompted thoughts I didn’t have before.  It’s been a good while since I read this, but what I most remember is that Louv makes some arguments – a bit tentatively, if I recall – in favour of hunting and fishing.  He suggests that it’s an important means by which many people still interact with nature in a world of declining exposure, and that this demographic can support environmental conservation through advocating for the preservation of hunting and fishing grounds.

I find myself thinking about this often, because my husband loves to fish, and he is sharing that love with our children.  Louv doesn’t hunt, but he does fish, and he recommends catch and release.  I’m actually much more comfortable with my family’s fishing expeditions if they are catching fish for food (and while we don’t hunt, I feel the same way about hunting).  We eat fish, and assuming that applicable fishing regulations and quotas are followed, catching our food feels like a connected and responsible way of eating, much more so that buying fish from the grocery store (which we also do).

But sometimes my husband takes my kids out fishing for fun.  They never keep fish for mounting or display, but they will pursue catch and release fishing.  As someone who doesn’t want to harm animals unnecessarily, I struggle with this.  Catch and release is not without harm – some fish that are released will nevertheless die from injuries sustained when they were caught.

I’ve talked to my husband about this.  He is not defensive about it, possibly out of respect for my feelings, but also because he is comfortable with how and why he fishes.  When we are outdoors (at the cottage, at a seaside vacation, at the lakefront down the road), he wants to interact with his environment.  In particular, he loves water.  He knows that catch and release is imperfect, but it mitigates the consequences of sport fishing.  As for food, he loves and appreciates eating a fresh catch.

It’s also become an important way of connecting with the kids, and a love shared with their grandfather – we often have inter-generation fishing.  It’s also been a huge opportunity for learning and exploration outdoors.  Both of my older boys could independently wield a fishing rod by the age of 5; no doubt my youngest one will too unless he masters it even earlier as youngest children will often do.  My 8 year old got a fly fishing rod for his birthday and caught his first fish with it last week.  The kids know about fishing equipment and technique, types of fish, preferred fishing habitat, which lures attract which fish, and whatever else they talk about on their expeditions which can last hours upon hours.

I can’t tell you what else they talk about on their expeditions because I don’t go.  Routinely I am invited, they always want me to come, and routinely I don’t go because I don’t enjoy it.  But Louv has helped me have some equilibrium with my husband’s and children’s love of fishing:  within the confines of fishing not for sustenance, they are fishing responsibly and inhabiting their natural surroundings more fully than they otherwise would, which probably translates into a visceral rather than just intellectual desire to protect the environment.

This isn’t the only way to create powerful bonds with our surroundings, and it’s not the only way we do it.  We pick berries at the cottage too, and kayak, and swim, and find snakes.  We bike at home, go to parks and ravines, and participate in the PINE project, an amazing Toronto organization that fosters deep connection between individuals and communities to their natural environment.  We garden.

As with so many things, maybe the best thing to do is remember that there are many roads to Rome, and few are without potholes.  I went out for dinner last night, and by coincidence a friend mentioned that she just finished reading The Last Child in the Woods, after which she resolved to get her 8 year old daughter outside more.  The goal was to get to the park by bike, which her daughter is still a bit afraid to ride.  The first day they tried this, they ended up at Legoland.

But they are trying again today.  And maybe they’ll end up at Canada’s Wonderland.   Or maybe, at this very moment, they are riding on the boardwalk at just the right speed, with the breeze blowing in their hair, already planning their next adventure outside.

 

Learning in the Garden

095One aspect of summer that has grown in importance and scale over the years is our garden.  My husband started it on his own, trying to tame the very elaborate and overgrown garden that was our backyard.  It was pretty but impractical or worse:  not only was there nowhere to walk or play, but enormous rosebushes threatened our babies with thorny tendrils (talons?) at every turn.

And… I wanted to grow food.

So we worked at it.  I joined my husband’s efforts, and we have slowly, incrementally, created a fairly decent garden out of a small and partly shaded space of perhaps 500 square feet.  It looks like we’ve done it ourselves – there’s no landscape designer’s touch here – but it’s a living, producing garden where there wasn’t one before.

And… our kids are learning about growing food.

It’s true that they’re not always involved in every step.  At the end of February, for instance, when I planted my seeds in the basement, I did not invite the kids.  Normally I love doing hands-on activities with the kids, but I know (some of) my limits, and putting a 7, 5 and 2 year old together with soil, water, and lots of seed packet (and tiny seeds!)  in a subterranean room was beyond what I could gracefully do.

With confessionals such as this out of the way though, it’s still completely possible to share lots of gardening love with children, and I do.  They’ve watch seeds emerge under the warmth of the basement grow lights, and see the seedlings planted into the backyard and into pots.  They ask about things that grow, learn what seeds look like, and try planting new ones they’ve found.  They become curious.

They helped me build raised beds, which we tried for the first time this year.   When the soil was poured in from the local garden centre, they helped me carry it into the wheelbarrow and fill those beds (which, by the way, hold a deceptive lot of soil).  I assigned one bed to each of the older boys, who decided  what to plant there.  We witness how their arrangements are panning out.  We are all watching, for the first time, how dramatically larger and stronger the plants in the raised beds are than the ones in the regular garden beds.  I’m trying to show them which of the tomato branches we should be pruning, with the understanding that my knowledge is incomplete and growing like theirs.

And bless them, they eat the food.  The lettuces, the kale, the cucumbers have been in for awhile now.  Raspberries are prized and I often decline the little bursts of sun sweetness to give my babes just a bit more.  Snap and snow peas are, well, snapped up, but they won’t be able to eat all the beans which are just starting to come in so I’ll get some of those.  The radishes are all pulled, but they know we can sow again.  The chard and possibly the beets have failed – we’ll see if the roots are doing better than the green tops.  They know to give the herbs more time.  The mushroom logs have been ravaged by the raccoons, and they know this is my biggest disappointment of the summer.  The ground is littered with the leaves of our potatoes, which we trust are growing peacefully below.  They sometimes bend to eat the plantain sprouting wild where the grass once was, and wonder why I am not making soup from the wood sorrel.  They cook with me.

The garden comes at a cost, as does everything else we choose to do – it occupies the space something else could have used.  Our yard is really not a yard anymore, but a garden.  My children have no open green space to play (although there is a little paved garage space for ball).

But I hope that there is something for them in this garden all the same, and I hope it is there during their everyday wanderings among the plants, or when my son says he’s going to the garden to have some space to himself.  It is so important to me that they are engaged in their food for the benefit of their health and for the environment, but I also hope there is a simple pleasure in it.   It’s the pleasure of being outside, of watching things grow wherever we find ourselves, and knowing we can nurture and help that growth along.  The concept of fruition isn’t theoretical in the garden:  the children can see and feel and taste it.  The garden also offers lessons in patience, observation, and failure.  Sometimes a seed is planted, takes a long time to grow, grows and dies, or doesn’t sprout at all – there’s no re-set button then, only next spring.  Sometimes our seeds grow well, just as experience and attention suggested they would.  And sometimes seeds reach skyward beyond our imaginings.

My sons’ school is wonderful in its strong ecological ethic, and the children learn about gardens there.  But in Canada, the heart of the growing season falls during summer holidays (when, once upon a time, children were needed to help parents in their fields and gardens), so working in the garden and watching it unfold is special to summer learning at home.

And if ever there was inspiration to garden with children (or anyone) in the city, this is it:  Ron Finley’s Ted Talk about guerilla gardening in South Central Los Angeles:

 

Just Being Together 101

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I’ve been looking forward to spending the summer with the boys for months.  The expanses of time, free from the tyranny of the school schedule and scene, the swaths of space to swim through… summer symbolized all of this and enticingly so.  We have some lessons and activities lined up, the cottage, playdates, park dates, outings like Legoland, but there’s also a lot of room for us to be and explore together.  I love this for myself, but I feel like it’s nice for the boys too – good, grounding connection – it’s important for all of us.

Except.  It hasn’t really been like that.  Well, we’re having some good days now, but there have been some serious rough patches along the way.  For starters, my two older boys, 8 and almost 6, are kind of tearing each other to pieces.  The other day, I watched from the kitchen as my older son kungfu kicked my middle son with moves that looked like something out of a clandestine video of police abuse or a violent video game – in other words, depressingly real – as was seeing my middle son predictably drop to the ground doubled over.

In addition to the physical aggression are the little snubs, the unkind words or intentions, the bickering.  Why are they like this to each other?  There just seems to be so much energy going into these casual woundings.  We can come home from a full day out and about, and so soon after our attentions come back to each other, the irritation begins.

Inevitably, I am trying to sort out why.  Here are the reasons I’ve thought up so far.

1.  We are in transition.  School and after-school activities present a high level of stimulation, and our summer days less so.  We are adjusting to a new pace, and the new pace together, since during school my boys are not together as much.

2.  We need to develop new rhythms.  Whatever else school may or may not do, it provides a very clear structure to our days and weeks.  Life is more fluid now, maybe this will be less rocky with more routine.

3.  I need to be more present.  I’ve been working on a new project and we’re making space for it.  I still spend lots of time caring for the children and doing things with them, but I’ve been more distracted than usual when I’m with them.  This is a fairly significant shift, as I really prize being present with the children and in my life in general.  I’m optimistic that I’m already swinging out of this mental blurriness, and bringing back my attention to the moment.

4.  I have no earthly idea.  Really, sometimes when the arguing is so tenacious and the desire to clash so strong, I don’t have a clue why.  Maybe it has to do with testosterone.  Maybe I’ve raised them wrong from day one.  Maybe this is what’s necessary to make them the strong, sensitive, self-directed men I audaciously pray they will one day be.  I do not know.

For the first time, I feel like the strength of my presence is not really enough to keep them at bay.  I suppose it’s just a matter of time before this happens in one way or another and it’s only natural for children (people?) to push limits, but still, feeling pushed around isn’t much fun.

This dynamic peaked the other night.  Interestingly, the boys weren’t actually fighting with each other at the moment I became exasperated, but the bathroom had been trashed after bath and they were completely ignoring me while getting wilder and wilder.  I had had it.  I didn’t even really lose it, but I had reached a limit and everyone knew it.  I couldn’t be with them anymore and said as much, telling them to get to bed by themselves.  No stories before sleep, which truthfully hurts me at least as much as them; I cherish it as our sacred time and I almost never erode that.  They tried to apologize but I was too annoyed to hear it at first.  I relented (ie, felt miserable ) enough to hug them both before bed, but was still upset.

The boys said before going to bed that they would have a surprise for me in the morning, but when I woke up (awfully early) to banging in the kitchen the next day, I had forgotten what the boys said and  couldn’t account for all the noise downstairs.  Two boys were soon by the bed and then leading me down the stairs to this:

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The requisite explanation: it’s breakfast.  They mixed my uber-healthy chia cereal into yogurt for five minutes (it needs to soak and soften), then added some honey and vanilla.  they halved and sectioned the grapefruit, something they until then claimed they were incapable of doing for themselves.  (I offered them some, and was impressed when they stoically refused, even though they love grapefruit and this was our last one.)  Adorning the food are two watercolours from the day before (as is the image of the wild wolf that introduces this post), along with two paper airplanes.

All was forgiven of course, and long before the breakfast was made, although it was an awfully nice way to start the day/rest of summer.  I was very glad the boys sought to make amends, and more glad to see them do it together.  I have no illusions that the squabbles of everyday are a thing of the past, but it’s good to know that in a pinch, my kids can pull together to make a solid team.

So I suppose there’s nothing left for me to do but do the same.  If a good part of the summer of 2014 is comprised of just figuring out how to be together, then so be it.  I have the feeling that, flawed though we all are, still we are, more or less, doing our best.  I try to remember that as we face the day which, as we all know, ought to start with a good breakfast.

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4Mothers, 4 Years

hourglassFour years ago, where were you?  What were you, and how were you?  I asked myself these questions as 4Mothers closed the loop on its fourth year.  As whenever I engage this process, I am dumbfounded at the answers.

Four years ago, I had two children, not three.  They were 4 and 2 years old (so young! when I look back at their photos).  I was working as a lawyer, and my husband had quit his job to take care of our boys.  He was also playing around with part-time work options, and gearing up for a third major hip surgery in as many years.  We had just embarked on a mammoth (for us) investment decision.  We still had a beloved pussycat.  Our oldest son hadn’t started school yet.  Neither of us was 40.  Did I mention that I had two children, not three?

Four years ago, I decided to take a writing course about creating memoirs from the experiences of motherhood.  I met a group of women there and heard some remarkable writing and did some of my own.  Some of us decided to write a blog and get together, for the pleasure of writing company.

Four years later, we still do this.  We are no less busy that we were when we met; au contraire, mes amis, we have added two children to the already full bushel of boys.  Our lives are so blessedly full, but we make time for this.  We may not meet as often as we like, but we meet, and something in that regular rhythm, kind of like the daily-ness of this blog for me, is a comforting touchstone.

Four years.  What have they brought to you?

Arguing Over Housework In Own Special Way (plus an amazing giveaway from Seventh Generation!)

7th gen 2

(We’re hosting a fantastic Seventh Generation Giveaway this week – details at the end of this post!)

Do my husband and I are quarrel about the housework?  Bitterly, I’m afraid.  But not for the reasons suggested Stephen Marche or Jessica Gross.

Some gender stereotypes are well embedded into our matrimony.  My husband snickered (at the implied uselessness) of knitting when I started a few years ago.  I gave him a piece of my mind for it but will steadfastly refuse to take out the garbage if he is within a half mile radius.

But when it comes to housework, the workings of gender don’t illuminate much.  The tidier of the two of us, my husband does quite a bit of straightening up, and accuses me of damaging his psyche when I leave my detritus everywhere.  But I am the more organized spouse: I can bulldoze the surface of the counter into a drawer or Rubbermaid bin too, but how will we ever find anything again?  Then again, he doesn’t have nearly as much stuff to keep track of, and wouldn’t let it into the house in the first place.  But I want to do and make things in the house and this requires materials, plus what about all the things that are brought in for the sake of the children?  And round and round we go…

My husband advocates passionately for a tidy home, but he never devolves into gender stereotypes that implicate me (woman, currently SAHM) as the one who is responsible for creating it.  He fully acknowledges all that I do in the home, at work, in the community, with the children, and applauds it completely.  No one could do it all, he says, and I have so many important callings to tend to.  What he proposes, over and over again, is that we hire a cleaner.

And – possibly distinguishing me from all other women this side of the equator – I refuse.

Before I continue, let me say that early in my marriage, with much prompting from said husband, I tried this with no fewer than three women.  Coming home from work after they’d been in my house never gave me the rush of joy other women (and men?) purport to have – it just felt odd that someone had been there in my absence.  The place looked better, but it wasn’t actually better, at least not to me because I always felt what we needed most was more organization and not just cleaning.

The road of hired cleaning help also followed a familiar route.  The cleaning was done reasonably well at first, and then not so much. I never addressed the problem; I just eventually let the cleaners go.  This may appear spineless, but I simply could not tell these women, older than me and at least as hard-working and all of us sharing immigrant backgrounds and experiences, I just could not bring myself to point out the unwashed sink or the unvacuumed floor.  Not because I didn’t respect their professional pride or see them as whole people who could receive criticism, or more pointedly, fully comprehend their need for ongoing paid work.  It’s just that at some core level, I felt that I should be responsible for my own messes, so I could never assert with conviction that someone else do a better job of cleaning them up.

It should not surprise you that I almost never air this wildly unpopular view, but then 4Mothers chose cleaning as this month’s At Issue and just like that I’m backed against a wall that needs a good wipe down.

It should also not surprise you that I drive my husband bonkers.  Over time, our disagreements over the state of the house have subsided, mostly because we don’t want to argue about it anymore – so he tries to be more flexible, and I try not to leave mayhem in my wake.  Occasionally he’ll leave a pamphlet from cleaning companies in the middle of the stairway.  Then I try, sometimes successfully, to muster up some sympathy for him as I put it in the recycling bin.

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You could WIN!

This week, 4Mothers will discuss gender and housework and how things look to us.  We love it when you join in, whether to offer your own perspective or to simply say that you enjoyed a read.  Don’t be shy; drop us a line.  Leave a comment on one or more posts this week and you could WIN a home detox kit from Seventh Generation valued at $50!  (Canadian residents only)

My Car: The Backseat Boys and Me

Our family bought two cars within six months last year. Hubby got a sweet sky blue hybrid (he has some significant commuting); I got a 2004 Corolla. It’s okay: you may find it hard to believe, but I opted for this.  I wanted something as little as we could manage because of ecological and financial reasons, because I wouldn’t be driving long distances, because I didn’t want to make driving more tempting than it already is, and because we can get away with it now. When my boys become long-legged creatures like their dad, we’ll re-assess.

But the main point is that the car is small, and not especially convenient for a family with three kids.  Though I prefer it this way, I offer this preface to contextualize the state of the car.  Without further ado, and in notable contrast to the good-looking/clean vehicles that I knew Nathalie and Beth-Anne would present on this blog without any consideration for me, here we go.

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This is the foot area of the passenger seat.  Frequently, the seat itself looks similar because it carries a passenger about 5% of the time and I need the space for storage.  I thought about cleaning up some of the garbage for this photo shoot and then thought whatever.

On closer examination… the paper bag contains food and paper garbage that perpetually manifests in the car.  The grey bag contains an extra pair of shoes for my 2 year old (and there is another unphotographed pair wedged under the seat).   The white shoebox contains music for the car.  The baggie contains craft supplies for a preschool project that my son refused to do.  The yellow bits are a mapbook and a school folder containing important unread papers.  The blue plastic cup came home from a friend’s house because holding it was the only way my son would leave.  The Scotties box is our house’s prized box of tissues – I try to avoid paper products and we mostly use handkerchiefs – but I keep tissues at home for guests or as a treat to myself.  This one made it to the car a couple of months ago when my nose would not stop running and hasn’t emerged since.  The teaspoon was salvaged from the schoolyard.

002This is what sits behind the glove compartment that fell off when we tried to open it after a particularly cold winter day.  (The glove compartment now sits in the car trunk, which I forgot to photograph.)

004Love this feature of the car – the tape deck.  Tapes!  It’s so much fun to find kids’ tapes at rummage sales – they’re necessarily older and kitschy and I even found a reading of Caps for Sale.  Since you can’t even buy a freezie for a dime or a quarter anymore, they are basically cost-free fun for the kids.  Oh, and the cassette under the player (next to the harmonica and hand salve – best place to moisturize your hands is at stoplights) was made by my brother for me 20 years ago and probably features Billy Joel.

017The carseats.  Bane of early motherhood.

018The only ding in the car, created by me.  I carefully brought back a big stack of wooden boards home from Home Depot to make raised garden beds.  Then I not carefully took one off the top of the car in the garage, and it fell on the car.

020The bike rack my husband used to take my messed up bike to the repair shop, to facilitate leaving this precious dreadful car in the garage more often.

022The garage door opener/closer – the best feature of the car by a long shot for my two year old.  Also the rearview mirror, perhaps the best feature of the car for me, because I get to see my backseat boy brood with it.

 

 

Hosting My Son’s Horrid Birthday Party

balloon burstI just hosted my oldest son’s 8th birthday party this weekend.  It was terrible.

Until now, we’ve opted for fairly simple birthday parties at home (once at the park) without formal entertainment, and an emphasis on children who are friends just quality spending time together.  These don’t end up being all that simple in the end, because we handmake decorations, food, cake, loot bags, and a pinata.  But you get the idea – we try to produce the party more than purchase it.

This year, my son opted for a small party.  At first I thought this would make things easier, but it didn’t:  suddenly it was really important that each invitee attend.  Working around the schedules of several kids was complicated, and the only available day was Saturday, when my husband works and would miss the first half the party (and all of its preparation).    

Attendance got more complicated when I realized that I’d invited everyone over for Sunday May 31, which will exist in 2015 but not 2014.  This confused one parent, and after much conversation, I was grateful that at least he could come for the last hour, along with two cousins we’d never met. 

May and June are so busy for parents and children everywhere, and I was on the haggard side going into the party.  But I got into it with the kids, and apart from a few stressy moments, we were quite ready when our guests arrived.

It started soon after.  The only boy who didn’t go to my son’s school was straggling behind the others, would he have a good time?  My middle son who was sleeping through the party – was he sick?  I started to fret.

Then I was making a dairy-free pizza from scratch for one child with a food sensitivity when his mother told me the grated dairy-free cheese I was using (bought specially at the natural food store after carefully reading every dairy-free label in the store) doesn’t melt.  I pointed to the bubble on the front of the package that says “Melts and Stretches Like Real Cheese” and said that’s why I chose it.  I got a shake of the head.  

We ate.  Some kids were fine, but others weren’t.  Demands – not requests – for food and drinks, including ones we didn’t have.  I had four kinds of juice, which was received by one child with:  I want blue Gatorade!  Another shouted he wanted grape Gatorade.  When I said I didn’t have Gatorade, they started chanting, at the top of their lungs, for Gatorade.  Not knowing what to do, next to a mom not saying anything to her son about his chanting (is it just me?), I left the room.

There was so. much. noise.  Nothing productive or contextual, just random shouting around the table, the pack joining in, for no other reason than to be loud.  It was like a premonition of a bad frosh week.  When I was serving the cake, my son screamed next to me out of nowhere.  I was completely rattled.  Who was he?

I called my husband over and over again:  Where are you on the road?  You’re not going to detour are you, please come straight home.  I need help.  And he did finally arrive and help, and he is way better at kid fun than I am.  But even he couldn’t turn down the noise or re-channel the energy. 

The party couldn’t end soon enough.  When one mom picked up her kids, she looked around and said, “I admire you for hosting the birthday party at home”.  I thought of her son’s party a week before – an hour in a party room for pizza and cake, followed by a movie at the theatre, the end.  I rarely feel this, but here it was plain as day:  envy.

The moment the door shut behind the last child, I beelined for the couch.  I would lie there in and out of sleep until my husband would kick me upstairs so he could clean the kitchen (and I would continue to sleep until morning).  Before I lost consciousness, my birthday boy walked over.

“How did you like the party?”  he asked.

“It was pretty wild,” I replied.

“Yeah.  Next year I want something more calm.  A lot calmer.”

I regarded my son.  I didn’t know whether he meant what he was saying or was mirroring what he knew I felt.  It didn’t really matter:  he was back.  He got on the couch and spread his body alongside mine. 

My five year old put on a record of Robert Munsch reading his stories.  All three boys arranged themselves on or next to me, at my head, middle and feet, and listened in silence.  I remember thinking that they looked three scoops in a boy sundae, and I’d be the banana encasing them at the base.  And then I fell asleep.

 

Reading Relief in Motherhood

Reading through the essays in The M Word (edited by Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This)offered rare glimpses into the lives of many women imprinted in very different ways by motherhood.  Honesty seeps through them, along with incisive depictions of pains, prejudices, and (less frequently) the pleasures of motherhood.  There is layer upon layer here – no fluff – and the pages just keep turning.

My closest friends tend to be thinkers, and I’m lucky enough to have been part of some raw and real conversations about motherhood, so the intimacy of the stories presented in The M Word almost felt familiar.  Many of the mothers I know very well have deeply textured feelings about being moms, the kind that don’t fit into neat categories.  I have had my share of these, particularly but not exclusively related to the massive transition (inadequately) called my first pregnancy and birth.  Being a wordy type, I’ve written my way through some of this and it helped.

But it surprised me to find upon reading this collection of essays that my strongest feeling was one of relief.  Relief that I no longer have such a tangled relationship with motherhood, and that I don’t feel the need to unpack or write about it quite as much anymore.  Relief that I get to read and benefit from the offerings of other women’s stories without sharing the author’s experience, perspective, or ambivalence.  Relief that I’m having an easier time with being a mother now.

In difficult spaces of mothering (or anything really), reading your experience in words can be nothing short of a godsend.  But reading The M Word carried different benefits for me.  It let me into many worlds of experience and observation while reminding me of the burdens I’m not currently carrying.  On both counts, I am so glad I read it.

 

The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood

Nathalie, Beth-Anne, and I treated our minds and hearts last month when we attended the launch of The M Word:  Conversations About Motherhood at beautiful Ben McNally Books in Toronto.  Kerry Clare, editor of the collection of 25 essays and author of Pickle Me This, introduced the book, after which several if its contributors read excerpts of their pieces.

I think it’s fair to say that we were captivated.  The essays span a wide spectrum of motherhood experience, including the reality of being defined by motherhood whether or not one is actually a mother.   They were textured and raw in and of themselves, but being read aloud by their authors only infused the words with more richness than they already possessed.

We’ve all read The M Word, and this week we want to write about it.  And we have outdone ourselves, if I do say so myself, in scoring Kerry Clare to write with us on Friday to close the week.  There is so much packed into this book, and we are thrilled to  have the curator of its stories share some of her thoughts with us at 4Mothers.

Please tune in – we are in for a great week!