Unmet Needs

483px-Poligraf_PoligrafovichWe are considering getting a dog.  Shoot me now?

It was not long ago (last week, actually) that I thought that I just could not face the unmet needs of another living creature.  Then my three little living creatures went away without me for a while, and the space that opened in my day and in my mind began to welcome the idea of a dog.

(I would much, much rather have a cat.  I like their independence, their aloofness.  I like that they don’t need picking up after.  But we have allergies in this house that will not permit feline company.)

For so long I felt swamped by the needs of my children, but I have begun to look up and look about me.  I can do more.  I can take on more.  I don’t feel in constant need of rescue, and, in fact, I feel perfectly able to help others.  A tip of balance has taken place, putting me up above the morass of maternal obligation, giving me a wider view.  I could welcome a dog.  I could do it.

And then a little voice inside me says, “It’s a trap!  The kids are nearly all at school full time.  This is your time.  Do not take on the burden of another young thing.”

When does the balance tip between feeling burdened by the dependence of a loved one and so enriched by it that you forget the obligation?

We are close, very close, but it will not happen soon.  My eldest son, 12, just returned from a winter camping and dog sledding trip and is all enamoured of dogs.  He came upstairs the other night, after dinner and hockey practice and showering and doing homework, with a speech ready to persuade us of his ability to take care of a dog and of all the merits of having a family pet.

“Hold on,” I said.  “Before you begin this speech in earnest, have you taken out the garbage?”

“No.”

“And have you, by any chance, emptied the dishwasher?”

“Good point.  I will be right back.”

I believe his speech will take some fine tuning.  I did not say, “no.”  Instead, we gave him a research project to find out the best options for breeds, adoption, etc.

In the mean time, my husband and I bring up the topic occasionally, and weigh the pros and cons.  Looking, looking for that balance, that moment when things will tip us into the realm of canine love and dependence.

Citizenship

Carrie Snyder, at Obscure Canlit Mama, has a tradition of choosing a word of the year at the beginning of each year.  It is a word that serves as a theme, or an inspiration, a goal or a summation.  Last year’s word, for example, was “stretch,” and here is what she had to say about it in retrospect:

Every word that occurs to me seems to whisper its shadow, its opposite, which I do find sometimes happens with words of the year — one ends up exploring the dark side of, say, stretch, my word for the past year. At times I cursed the choice, feeling stretched way beyond comfort (twisted ankle, head injury) or stretched too thin. But then I reminded myself to stretch, literally, and that felt good. And I did stretch, grabbing onto goals that once seemed out of reach. I wonder how that’s changed me. That’s what I’ve been wondering about most as I think about a new word: how have I changed, and how do I want to change? What do I fear and why? What do I want to give and why? What do I hope to accomplish and why? (The “and why” seems as important as the “what,” even if the answer is very simple, like it was with last year’s word. In order to keep running long distances, I need to stretch, I reasoned. Seemed practical at the time. Still does, I suppose.)

I have found myself thinking about this tradition of hers and her meditation on it quite a bit in these new weeks of the new year.

I love words, and to choose one, just one, seems impossible at best.  But there is something about the exercise that I can’t resist, and I keep circling back to the word “citizen.”  Of my many and diverse goals, one thing that I want for myself and for my children is for us all to be good citizens.

fluThe idea really came home to me while I was kicking myself for letting the winter get so far on without us all having had our flu shots.  I am not avoiding it, or dreading it, nor do I think it’s not necessary.  I just haven’t made the time for us all to go and get our shots.  And while I was berating myself for this neglect, and telling myself how good I will feel once it is off of my to do list, I realized that what makes me feel so good about getting flu shots is that it makes me feel like a good citizen.  I am protecting not just myself and my family, but contributing to community health.   Every year, I get a sense of satisfaction not just from having crossed it off the list of things to do, not just from having eliminated a task, but more from having contributed to something.

My definition of citizenship, then, means mostly that we think beyond ourselves and our own needs and think about the bigger picture.  It means finding out how we as individuals can maximize our positive impact on our community.  It means finding strength by thinking of others.

So “citizen” will be my word of the year this year, and it will be my goal to push out and beyond myself into something bigger.

4 Mothers 1 Blog is on Facebook!

003010 4 Mothers went to Blog Podium last weekend, and it was a blast!  There were so many informative and fun sessions, and we left feeling really inspired by the energy and creativity of the conference organizers, participants and sponsors.

(And that’s Nathalie up there winning her very own weed whacker!  So funny!)

Spending the day together reminded us how much we love what we do with this blog, and how lucky we are that our friendship has become such a rewarding creative collaboration.

One thing we realized after the conference, though, was that while there are thousands of you who read and know us, we don’t know you and you don’t know each other.  And we’d like to change that.

Which is why we are finally (finally!) on Facebook!   If you like what you’ve been reading on 4 Mothers, we’d be so grateful if you would like our facebook page and recommend us to your friends.  We are awfully late to the Facebook party, but now that we are here, we are more than ready for the fun, and hope you will join us.  Thank you!

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Facebook Memes and Me

Oh, man, I feel like I’ve just been hit by a truck.  What a week, and it wasn’t even a full one.  I’ve been waiting for this:

but, instead, it’s been more like this:

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I love it when these facebook memes capture perfectly the particular brand of hell I’m experiencing on any given day.  Biting sarcasm, irony that hits you over the head with a hammer, just a dash of mean-spiritedness: these can all be balm to a frustrated soul.  If I can laugh at myself, and even share the meme so that others know that I can laugh at myself, so much the better.

But sometimes the humour cuts too close to the bone, you know?

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I don’t know if I want to admit to being Cruella Deville, even when I feel like her.  Regressing to Cruella is not share-worthy.  No matter how many times I have, in fact, turned into Cruella, I don’t think I want to broadcast it.  This meme is clearly mocking the extremes by which we measure our mothering, but I’m far more comfortable mocking myself for being in the Mary Poppins camp than in Cruella’s.  Even in irony, we still prefer to see ourselves in the perfect rather than the fallen state.

And what’s this one supposed to mean?  That it’s always a weekend for moms?  Or that moms never get a break, even on the weekend?  There’s a little bit of truth in both interpretations, actually.  But, wait, isn’t it a bit of a first world problem to complain about not having a weekend?  I don’t want to complain, I just want to be cleverly sarcastic.  I just want uncomplicated humour!  And clearly, if a facebook meme has me puzzling about what this really all means it’s not doing its job of keeping me wryly amused for a minute until I can get back to the pressing matters of motherhood.

All of which to say, it’s great when facebook gives me the gift of uncomplicated humour that gives me a sense of solidarity with other mothers, but there are days when the joke is on me.

(All memes culled from the wonderful People I Want to Punch in the Throat.)

Mother’s Day Best of the ‘Net

Here is an interview sure to bring on tears.  Myra and her mother, who is intellectually disabled, interviewing each other for NPR’s Story Corps.  Have a hanky ready.

This is darkly hilarious: After Happily Ever After, a take on what happens to Disney Princesses after the end.  It ain’t pretty.

And this, this might make you pee your pants.  It might also give you nightmares: Creepy Things My Kid Said.

Last, but not least, check out our new media page, a list of where the 4 Mothers are published and quoted.

Enjoy!  And have a very happy Mother’s Day.

Blissful Ignorance about Ear Wax: 10 Things I Miss about Life Before Kids

10.  Run of the mill self-doubt (as opposed to the sometimes paralyzing second-guessing that can come with the parenting life.)

9.  Travelling with one piece of carry-on luggage.

8.  Not feeding people three, four, five times a day.

7.  Leaving the house without snacks.   Or battles over emptying bladders.

6.  Not thinking about other people’s bladders.

5.  Not monitoring other people’s ear wax and fingernails.

4.  Getting through an entire day week month without raising my voice.

3.  Getting through an entire week month year without hearing rap music.

2.  Getting through an entire month year lifetime without wiping another person’s bottom.

1.  Doing laundry just once a week.

Hockey Mom

photoLast night, after I had deafened him in one ear cheering my eldest son’s goal, my brother-in-law officially declared me a Hockey Mom.  (Sorry, Mike.)  Decibels alone, apparently, are sufficient to earn me the moniker.  Never mind the kilometers travelled from rink to rink, the countless hurried meals cooked and eaten on the run, or, heaven help me, the thousands of times I’ve nagged reminded the boys to hang up and air out their hockey gear immediately after each game.  I consider myself something of a fanatic on that score, actually, since the awful stench of hockey gear is a totally avoidable thing and need never, not ever, be a part of my car or home environment.  (Do you hear that, boys.  Never.)

Well, I was thrilled to discover this weekend that a dad of one of the boys’ teammates washes all his son’s hockey gear each week, and a more devoted Hockey Dad you could not hope to meet.  The padded shorts, the knee and elbow pads, the chest pads; the whole shebang.  That’s more often than I do it (monthly), and notwithstanding my brother-in-law’s deafness, this was the last hurdle I needed to overcome my sense of not quite belonging to the hockey parent crowd.  I’ve been assured by numerous (smelly-gear) people that it is just not right to launder hockey gear, and each time I crammed the gear into the washing machine I felt a combination of self-righteousness and a wee bit of hesitation that I was cementing my outsider status with each load.  No more!  My boys will wear their field-fresh-scented gear proudly, and I will embrace Hockey Mom status whole-heartedly, knowing that I’m not the only laundry fanatic in the stands.

Caine’s Arcade, The Sequel

Have you all seen the original film of Caine’s Arcade that went viral last year?

Well, last month, I saw an update on facebook.  There is now a movement underway to designate October 6th–this Saturday– a global day of play, a day of the Cardboard Challenge, when kids get their creativity revved up.  Check it out.  This kid is an inspiration.  I fell in love with this story last year, falling as it does into that wonderful category of lessons to be learned from slow living.  Leave kids alone with some simple tools, step back and let their creativity and interests take over.  This is very hard for me to do, being the meddling and perfectionist sort myself.

All summer, my middle son has been asking to build a big project from cardboard boxes, so this is it.  No more putting it off.  Now I am getting my thinking cap on to figure our how to organize a cardboard free for all in our ‘hood this weekend so that we can turn this long-put-off project into a friends event.

The School of Friendship: Guest Post by Kelly Quinn

In today’s guest post, Kelly Quinn, who lives in Ottawa with her husband and two daughters, writes as an emissary from Girl Land.

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This post is a missive from the Land of Girls, a country I know is foreign to the four mothers of 4 Mothers. I didn’t have a preference for boys or girls when I was pregnant (other than that, having had one girl, I had a slight pragmatic preference for more of the same next-time round, for ease of hand-me-downs). And I have to admit that much of my sense of the differences between boys and girls is based on stereotype and first-hand experience of a very small sample group of boys. (Chiefly: one very energetic nephew and last year, after-school babysitting of one very energetic neighbourhood boy. 4Mothers:  do all of them really move that much??)

Six years and two girls in, we have somehow managed to avoid more than a taste of princess culture, hurrah. There is rather a lot of unavoidable pink around, but either I’ve become acclimatized or it’s still within reasonable bounds, because it doesn’t bother me. But on day 5 of grade 1, my daughter came home and told me that at recess, she asked her two “best friends” to play, and they told her that they were playing a game that was for two people only. She followed them around for a little bit hoping they would include her, and finally she gave up and sat down by herself waiting for recess to be over.

I’m sure this kind of thing happens with boys too. But it’s one of those things that many people associate particularly with elementary-school girls, and one of the things that always lurked at the back of my mind as a “con” to girls—having to confront the insidious schoolyard politics of young girls. I remember very keenly my own triangular “best friend” relationship of the early grades: brief honeymoons of playing all together were inevitably interrupted by the exclusion of one or another of us. Seeing my daughter’s sad little face recounting her first experience of this was heart-breaking (all the more so because the transition to grade 1 has been intensely difficult for her—et tu, Brute?, I addressed her little friends in my head).

Because she is only 6, and because she is having such a rough time altogether, and because I am good friends with the mothers of her little friends, it did not take me long to decide to helicopter in. I know eventually she’s going to have to learn how to navigate this territory on her own, but I told myself a bit of hovering was justified when everything else about grade 1 was causing her so much angst. I talked to the moms; they talked to their daughters, and recess, at least, has improved. But when my daughter asks why I can’t keep her home and teach her myself, one of the things I tell her is that school is important not just for the academics, but for learning about relationships with other people. I knew this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier to witness.

A Big, Silly Distraction

In Suzanne Collins’s wildly popular Hunger Games books, children are chosen by lottery to serve as gladiators who fight to the death.  The Games are televised for the entertainment of the general population.  Collins models her games on ancient Rome, where gladiators fought to the death and slaves were fed to the lions.  She even names her dystopian world Panem, after the Latin word for bread, as in bread and circuses, panem et circenses.  Bread and circuses refers to the cheap trick of persuading the masses to cheer for a lion or a slave, for one gladiator or another, rather than participating in or observing or acting to change the political arenaKeep the general population fed with the most basic of food and keep their minds off of rebellion with the distractions of entertainment.

As I read through Lenore Skenazy’s blog and watched her appearances on various chat shows, I kept thinking, “Bread and circuses.”  There is so much air time to fill, so television producers and headline writers make news of the Mommy Wars.  Free Range Parenting vs. Helicopter Parenting.  Stay-at-home Mothers vs. Working Mothers.  Breast vs. Bottle.  Sleep Training vs. Attachment Parenting.  Blah, blah, blah.  In one blogger’s take on the issue, she asks, “Free range parenting versus helicopter parenting: which team are YOU on?”  Really?  We have to pick teams?  These issues are so much more complex than x vs. y, but so much easier to digest if packaged in a familiar us vs. them format.

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In one clip, Skenazy and another parent appear on Anderson Cooper to replay how Skenazy was able to help this woman who is so much of the helicopter persuasion that in public washrooms she feels it necessary to go right into the bathroom stall with her daughter.  “Doesn’t everybody?”  this mother quips, when the audience gasps.  They feed this woman to the lions, then they rescue her, undo her public shame with a public reformation of her extreme and errant ways.

Unless it’s extreme, it’s not entertainment, so we have thown up on the screen all kind of wild and wacky folk on reality shows who hoard or dumpster dive for coupons for hundreds of free sticks of deodorant, saving up against Armageddon.

What good does any of this do?  Silly distractions from the reality lived in the murky middle ground.

I respect Skenazy and her husband’s decision to let their son ride the subway alone.  I respect her desire to move away from a culture where kids are kept bubble wrapped.  I respect her initiative to create a television show that capitalizes on the buzz that her son’s subway ride generated.  But I resent the circus atmosphere of telling the stories of bubble wrapped or free range kids.

Why do mothers keep feeding each other to the lion of artificially polarized public opinion?