What My Graveyard of DIY Projects Taught Me About Parenting

Behold the graveyard of DIY projects.

There is a box of papers, colorful scissors with various edges, a hodgepodge of stickers, stamps and decals residing on a shelf in my office closet.  Last year I discarded a two-inch stack of recipes torn from magazines promising mouth-watering delicacies.  A clear, plastic, zippered pouch that contains two spools of soft, chocolatey brown yarn and a partially completed scarf resting on needles has followed us to two homes and remains under my bed.

I had never given much thought to the DIY culture until I became a mom and then I couldn’t escape it.  Personalized Valentine’s Day cards, hand-stitched Halloween costumes, laboured over meals, ornately designed snack foods, and play dates requiring more scheduling and production than a low-budget highschool musical seemed to be the norm. I mean, WTF ever happened to just knocking on someone’s door and playing with a Skip-it in the yard while eating FunDip?  And then just when I thought I had it somewhat figured out, Pinterest came along and upped the game.

I spent years on that hamster wheel trying to do it all and do it “right”, but the years have brought me three busy boys, and an acceptance that “good enough” is really good enough.  I learned to identify, appreciate and accept my limitations.

This year I did make my son’s skeleton costume for Halloween but it was the process more than the end product that proved to be “pin-worthy”.  My son and I worked together to turn my son’s vision into reality.  He learned the importance of communication and teamwork.  I learned there are no perfect skeletons but there are happy kids.

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Being honest with myself is difficult.  I used to feel that doing everything for myself was somehow a reflection of my worth as a mother.  If the Valentine’s Day cards were perfect, than somehow this meant that I was a good mother, a kind mother, a patient mother, the mother that we are all supposed to be.  Never mind that it was a grueling process with me snatching the scissors from my boy’s hand while muttering with exasperation, “I’ll do it”.  Never mind that while eating a store-bought birthday cake at little Jimmy’s party or surveying the parade of made in China Buzz Light Year costumes knocking on my door, it never once crossed my mind that these mothers were “bad” mothers, lazy mothers or not the mothers that we are all supposed to be.

I thought that people were judging but it was really me who was doing the judging.

There is a part of me that does long for DIY projects.  I am nostalgic for the lost arts that generations before were commonplace.  I am amazed when my husband fixes things around the house without consulting You Tube.  It’s his confidence that I admire as much as the skill.  Now when I find myself lost in a chosen project, it’s the sense of calm and the absence of expectations that I find as rewarding as the final project.

My experience with parenting and DIY projects is very similar.  At first I was lured by the glossy images promising picture perfection but it’s the fails: the shattered glass, the burnt dough, the botched hemline – that’s when the real learning occurs.  It’s often the most basic projects, the ones that are the least glamorous or fun, that most need mastering and bring about the greatest sense of accomplishment.

Experience a Demi Pair by ACCESS

Max and kids

By being a demi pair I got to find out what it is like to be a part of a Canadian family. I really feel like I was a big brother to my host children. I helped them with their homework, and taught my host brother how to play football. – Max, demi pair from Germany

 

Sometimes you can’t do it yourself, and a helping hand is what you need to get through the parenting day. We’ve discovered one solution: the demi pair.

I met Wendy Gillanders, Co-Founder and Director of Programs for ACCESS International English Language Centre and immediately sensed her passion for culture and language. ACCESS is a boutique English language school dedicated to providing students with opportunities to learn English and soak up Canadian culture while supported by an attentive, caring staff. Wendy, a former English teacher, developed the demi pair programme to offer a unique experience to bring families living the in the Greater Toronto Area together with young adults looking to enhance their language education.

Char & Claudia

My host family was the best! It is two years later and I am still in touch with my “Canadian” family. They are going to visit me in Spain in March. – Claudia, demi pair from Spain

Students from Germany, Spain, France, Mexico and Chile arrive in Toronto to study at English at ACCESS throughout the year. A demi pair is a part-time au pair, who goes to school in the morning and is available to help out with childcare, light housework and meal preparation in the afternoons and evenings in exchange for free room and board.

These young adults are keen to learn the language and experience the culture first-hand.  In addition to developing a relationship with their host-family, the students form friendships with each other.  This social network is an important part of the demi pair programme and only further enhances the experience for the student.

What Does a Demi Pair Do?

–       Pick up children from school, activities or camp.

–       Take children to activities.

–       Engage your children in a variety of activities such as soccer in the park, bike rides, outdoor adventure.

–       Provide an extra set of hands for bedtime routine and homework help.

–       Offer babysitting for much-needed adult date nights.

How Could a Demi Pair Enrich My Family?

–       Families are introduced to a new culture and learn about how life may be somewhere else in the world.

–       Children have the opportunity to learn and practice a foreign language.  This is especially ideal for children in extended French or immersion programs.

–       Demi Pairs often help relieve stress when it comes to pick-ups and drop-offs, making for a happier home environment.

–       Many families who have participated report they developed life-long friendships and continue to be in contact with their demi pair years later.

MariawithErin

I LOVE my host family! We are friends for life! I have already returned once to visit them and they are planning to come to Chile next year! – Pilar, demi pair from Chile, Maria (not pictured) and Erin

Inviting someone into your home to care for your children can be nerve-wracking.  ACCESS does all it can to ensure the experience is positive for both the host families and demi pairs by acting as a liaison offering regular support.  Demi pairs are all 18 years of age or older, have experience working with children, are mature and looking to gain valuable experience about Canadian culture and the English language while living in your home.  Placements range from 8 -24 weeks and can begin at any time.

To learn more about the demi pair programme visit www.aupair-canada.com or ACCESS visit their website, www.accessenglish.com.

Disclaimer: This post has been sponsored by ACCESS.

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Erik, demi pair, with his host “brothers” having fun playing hockey.

 

At Issue: Should Sugar Be Banned In Schools?

IMG_1436The war on sugar is full force. It seems impossible to turn on the news, stroll the supermarket or host a playdate without the topic of sugar rearing its head. In particular: kids’ consumption of sugar.

Recently a neighbourhood school has made a push to greatly reduce the amount of sugar permitted. Let’s face it, any time someone talks about banning, prohibiting, eliminating . . .people get feisty.

Efforts to reduce sugar in schools has been around for years, and in the case of a Georgia school, more than a decade. Proponents cite better overall health, fewer behavioural problems, and increased concentration to name just a few of the benefits. Principal of sugar-free pioneer school Browns Mill Elementary School said that within 6 months standardized test scores increased and behavioural incidents decreased. In time, students came to learn how to make good food choices and now broccoli is a favourite in the cafeteria. Advocates know that this is a huge undertaking – but they are playing the long game; quick to point out those efforts to reduce tobacco use in younger people has been successful over decades.

Nonetheless there are several opponents of the idea to limit sugar in schools, including researchers who report findings that suggest banning sugar in schools has little long term effect on a child’s overall sugar consumption and that changing attitudes in the home have a more lasting impact. In fact, Dr. John Sievenpiper says that negative messages like “don’t eat fat”, “don’t eat salt”, and “don’t eat sugar” may be doing more negative than good. He goes as far to blame the “don’t eat fat” message that was sweeping the nation in the 80s and 90s as one of the reasons for the current obesity epidemic. MaryAnn Tomovich, MS., RD agrees and believes that banning any specific food group creates a culture of fear and does nothing to ultimately educate our children. She, along with Dr. Michael Alderman, is a fan of the U diet: the basis being healthy, nutritious foods but allowing for some indulgences.

I am no health expert and my statistics grades will attest that a profession as a researcher is not in my future, but I do know parents. And I know how to quickly polarize a group of them.

So what do you think? Should schools ban all sugar? Are vending machines ok to get the heave-ho but school birthday cakes allowed? If a teacher gives out lollipops after a test or uses candies in a counting lesson, should they be reprimanded? Classroom parties: yay or nay in the presence of anything other than pretzels and veggie platters? What about fundraising? Fun Fairs? Bake sales? Is water the only acceptable beverage in the lunch bag?

Where is the line drawn and furthermore, who decides?

This week 4Mothers offers up our opinions and on Friday we’re joined by the dynamic duo Leigh and Meg of the blog Me and Meg.

As always we want to know that you think. What’s going on at your child’s school? Are you in favour of an all-out ban, gentle moderation or leaving it up to a parents to decide what is and isn’t too much sugar?

Join the conversation by leaving a comment on the blog, Facebook or Instagram.

For more reading:

(2014) Why Our Low-Fat, No-Sodium, Ban-Sugar Society May Be Making Us Fat

(2011) Banning Sugared Drinks in Schools Doesn’t Lower Student Consumption

(2011) Why Banning Foods In Schools Sends Kids the Wrong Message

(2008) 10 years later, school still sugar free and proud

 

 

Best of the Blogosphere January 2015

Baby, it’s cold out there! What better way to kill a few hours than cuddled up near the fire with the Internet? (Actually, there are many other better ways, but then that wouldn’t make for a good intro to this post.)

Here’s what has caught our attention on the blogosphere.

Nathalie

Roseanne at The Lunchbox Season also wrote a word of the year post.  Check it out.  Defining Motherhood did an interesting take and chose three words.  She has me thinking about “year”.  And Carrie, our inspiration for our week of posts on our words of the year, has chosen her word for 2015.

Children+s Fashion 1961: Toddler wearing and all-in-one playsuit and red shoes, holds a ball in both hands, while being followed by a small toy cow.OK, this is hilarious.  You’ve seen the 40 Under 40 lists, right?  Here’s the 3 Under 3 list!  Overachieving parents, listen to yourselves!!

Every year, we collect the funny things our kids say and send it out as our holiday letter.  This dad takes it one step beyond, into seriously awesome territory, by illustrating his daughter’s humorous quotations.  Check out Spaghetti Toes for some great laughs.  You can also shop his Etsy shop if you want a print of your very own.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or your special drink of choice and settle in for a great new year’s read with this blog post from Girl’s Gone Child.  It’s a lovely piece on travel, choices and taking the chance to let chance spin its magic. Thanks to Kerry Clare on twitter @kcpicklemethis for pointing me in her direction.

Also, thanks to Kerry, who should maybe add internet curator to her list of talents, I disappeared down the rabbit hole of all the great posts on The Ugly Volvo, having gotten there because of a post on all the things wrong with Goodnight Moon.  Hilarious.  So is the Knuffle Bunny post.  (I can’t link to it for some reason.  I hope you can link to it from her home page.  It’s really, really good stuff.)  She also gives really good advice written on bananas.

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Beth-Anne

Have you ever forced your kids to say “I’m sorry” and the result is a pitiful, insincere mumble?  Here’s how to teach kids the right way to apologize.  I’m loving this and have already started doing it (to the chagrin of my boys) with success.

One of the questions I am most asked by friends with 2 children is, should I go for the third?  That’s like asking me, should I tattoo my forehead?  It’s a life long commitment and it ain’t for me to say.  But I will say this . . . remember before you had your first baby and you thought that you knew everything and that life would go along swimmingly except now you’d have a baby Bjorn-ed to your body?  And then that baby came and upended your life to the point when going to the washroom alone was a massive accomplishment?  A third baby is kinda like that but times 100.  Here’s what Shannon Meyerhort from Scary Mommy has to say on the topic, and I think she nailed it.

Hear ye!  Hear ye!  A new parenting study has been released and you must read about it!

And for all of us not on a diet this month, don’t these coconut chocolate tartlets from lark & linen look sinful and oh-so-perfect while sitting on the couch, in front of the fire, surfing the Internet?

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Bedtime Stories: Glorious for all of 2 minutes . . .and then the fighting starts.

photo (54)I remember being pregnant with my first son. I was sure of a lot of things. I was sure that I would never let him sleep in my bed, bribe him to be on his best behaviour or lose my cool during a temper tantrum.

I was also steadfast in my belief that I would read to my children every night. I had visions of us curled on the bed, propped up with pillows and covered in a fluffy duvet. The boys would lull off to sleep with visions of Peter, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook as I would sneak out of the room and head downstairs, settle into my favourite chair with a cup of hot chocolate and my novel of the moment.

And since then I have eaten more than my fair share of humble pie while buying another package of Sponge Bob Band-Aids just to escape the drugstore with a few less tears.

I was pregnant with my second son when my first son turned 6 months old. I battled through first trimester exhaustion all while getting up at least once a night to feed. The bedtime ritual was simple: try to stay awake long enough to put the baby down in his crib.

My second son was a screamer. He cried all day long but really turned it on between 7 and 9 in the evening. Every night he would bawl; his face mottled and his voice hoarse. We tried everything that every book, website and expert recommended. Eventually we resorted to laying him in his crib and blasting Andrea Bocelli from a disc player. These were desperate times. As baby #2 grew hysterical, baby #1 was cranky, tired, and pulling at my leg. The bedtime ritual wasn’t so simple: bath, change, bottle and bed all with one hand, and wailing in my ear.

Eventually the crying stopped, I developed a bad case of amnesia and got pregnant for a third time, with my third son.

Baby #1 was now three years old (and still waking up in the night), Baby #2 was 2 years old (and had mercifully reserved his crying periods to other times of the day) and I would start counting down to bedtime around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, compulsively checking the time. By 7:30 the bedtime ritual began: I would push them into bed with a kiss on the cheek, only to collapse onto the couch with a sigh. I had made it through another day.

I know the benefits of reading to children. And I do. But not at bedtime. None of us do well at the end of the day. When I try to read a bedtime story everything is glorious for all of about 2 minutes and then it starts: jockeying for position closest to me, complaints over the story choice, whining over whose turn it is to choose the book, someone’s breathing on someone, someone’s touching someone, someone’s foot is fidgeting. Nerves are shot, tensions are high and the tears start.

Instead we read on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for swimming lessons to start or the doctor to call our name. I keep the novel, currently Stuart Little, in my over-sized purse (also something I was never going to do as mom) to pull out at those ordinary times transforming them into those special, unplanned moments that really make up motherhood.

At Issue: Kids, Parents and The Great Outdoors

Ruth Lera could be any mom.  She describes herself in her 2012 article “Learning To Love The Natural World” for Today’s Parent as a “hodgepodge” and says that finding a place to pat herself on the back can be difficult.

Being a parent is wrought with not-so-proud moments, so when you recognize something you’ve done well it’s nothing short of inspiring.

Lera has made connecting with nature a priority and because of that her children have developed a love for it.  A respect for it.

Author Richard Louv is worried that not enough children are making connections with nature and fears that many children are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder.  This is very concerning to the man who authored Last Child in the Woods and who believes that when childhood passes without any connection being made to nature during the formative years, the resulting deficit is a serious detriment to society’s wellbeing.

Louv has spent years researching, collecting anecdotal evidence and inspiring policy makers because he believes a connection with nature can boost mental acuity and creativity, promote health and wellness, and build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities and economies.

This week we will be discussing parenting and nature.  Catherine Ross, a mother of two and of the blog Learning is Fun will be our guest this week.

As always we welcome your comments and insights.  Join the conversation by leaving a comment or follow us and share via Facebook and Twitter!

Here are a few videos on the subject to get you inspired:

Imperfections

049Yesterday when I was at a restaurant with a friend and our collective five children, she turned to comment on how my two year old’s speech has really blossomed.  His talking also included borderline yelling, lots of demands, and utensils banging on the table – this in addition to the racket from the other kids.  “Actually,” I replied, “I just want him to stop talking.”

I don’t, of course, not really, so I should have known something was off.  I promptly fell asleep with all three kids at 8pm and waking up half an hour later realized I was plain sick, and so were two of my three boys, which was a big part of the reason why dinner wasn’t more fun.

Morning came too soon, with dripping nose and ringing head, presenting a full, uninterrupted day with toddler bearing similar symptoms.  Judge me if you must, but I asked my five year old to stay home from school to help me take care of his younger brother (they play with each other, and having two is often easier than having one).  The angel said yes.  My kindergartener said, and I quote, “I can take care of him and maybe you can take a nap.”

The nap didn’t happen, but the childcare by the child did.  My two younger boys played forts and some other things that I didn’t register.  They watched some television and ate whatever leftovers I put forward for lunch.  I floated around in a fog.

After picking up my oldest from school, the usual mayhem of late afternoon led me by the nose into a couple of parental tantrums.  I was unreasonable, I know, but I did make some efforts.  We made people sandwiches of ourselves on the bean bag.  We did pull out the woodworking that they are always asking to work on.   I cooked, as opposed to warmed up, a dinner.

Doing isn’t the same as being, so listing these efforts gives me only partial comfort; I really wasn’t great to be around.  The best part of the evening was facilitated by the house illness that had facilitated the worst bits:  my two year old asked during dinner to go to bed, and fell asleep early.  This meant more reading time for the older boys, and because my middle had fallen asleep without me noticing in the car, he was awake at his bedtime and joined my oldest and me during our homework window.

My boys flanked me on either side while we read chapter upon chapter of On the Banks of Plum Creek of the Little House series.  So far as I can tell, these books are largely a love letter by Laura Ingalls Wilder to Ma and Pa, who are a perfect combination of loving, firm, gentle, giving, and playful parents and spouses.  I think about this sometimes as I am reading to my boys, and the contrast to the imperfect combination of traits that is me.

Then again, that is a book while these are actually the days that we’re living.  I believe more than ever that perfection is the enemy of the good.  I called on my five year old to help me today because I am imperfect, I was impatient with my children because of same.  But I was also there, in the bed, holding them with stories to close the day, as I am almost all of our days.  It is not perfect, but it is good, and maybe it is good enough.

 

The Pitfalls of Living With a Love Polyglot

il_570xN.526702741_rgt8Despite winning the French fluency award in the eighth grade, growing up with a bilingual father and being married to someone who speaks three languages, I am what one would call a monolinguist.

I am no fun at parties. I raise my glass with a meek “Cheers!”

I don’t even know the dirty words, the cuss words, in any other language.

Nope.  I am decidedly a unilinguist.  And even that’s questionable considering the number of times in a day when I find myself at a loss for words, desperately searching for the perfect adjective and settling for a sub-par alternative.

However it seems when it comes to love and speaking the 5 Love Languages, I am a regular polyglot (I had to look that up)!

Either that or I am painfully insecure.

Words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of services and physical touch: I speak these eloquently, without accent or hesitation, no stumbling or incorrect conjugations.

I have friends that can start a sentence in Italian and complete it in a flourish of French.  While I don’t know le from les, I know that my three boys and husband each have their own love language that is as different from each other as their thumbprints.

I transition from one love language to another with the ease and fluency of a professional translator.  This innate ability is not startling to me; it’s matter-of-fact.  It’s as natural as speaking Russian – if I were in fact, Russian.

My kids and husband benefit from my understanding the 5 Love Languages.  But there is a challenge in living with a love polyglot like myself: knowing on any given day what is being spoken when you walk through the front door.

“I was thinking of you today when I walked by the patisserie.” He says handing me my favourite, a bag of still warm pain au chocolate.

“It’s Thursday!  Thursday’s garbage day!  Do I have to do everything around here!?”

Poor guy.

 

The artwork is available at YourOwnWords on etsy.

That’s Mrs. Manners to you!

imagesYou might as well call me Mrs. Manners – not that mine are perfect (close) but I am the self-appointed manners prefect of the family.  When did kids stop using Mrs., anyway? Like Nathalie, I am not always polite about reminding my boys to use their manners but remind them, I do.

Some (cough, cough the boys) may call it nagging but I call it “constructive guidance”.  It sounds better.

Sit up straight.  Elbows off the table.   Use your utensils.

I also excel at something that I’ve coined “verbal coaching”.  Before leaving the house, going to someone’s house, entering a store, straying more than an arm’s length from me, I like to prompt the boys:

How do we greet people?  What do you say when you arrive?  How do you shake a hand?  What do you say when you leave?  Remember to look at the person when they are speaking to you.  Use your voice, don’t mumble.  Be polite.  Say please, thank you.

Sometimes my gentle reminders are met with an eyeball roll.  I am quick to point out that’s quite rude.

It’s exhausting work being Mrs. Manners in addition to my regular gig as Super Martyr Mom but no one said raising three young boys to be kind, respectful, thoughtful men was easy.

Receiving accolades as a parent is as rare as experiencing a day free from whining.  Spoiler alert: it never happens.  Yet when report cards are sent home, no amount of A’s will make me as proud as when I read how my boys are polite, considerate and courteous.

It’s like I have been graded, and I have passed.  For now.

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Cookie: Bite-Sized Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol Mccloud have been read many times over in our home and serve as fantastic tools for teaching manners and kindness to my boys. 89d59b4cef6fd34a9e31f3533d879446

 

 

Marketing Parenting

Over-praising.

Special snowflakes.

Attachment parenting.

Ferber.

Tiger moms.

Resilience.

Parenting buzz-words are heard on the playground, read on the front pages of newspapers and discussed over lattes and text messages.  You’d best be aware of the latest trend or your child is in danger of winding up on a therapist’s couch at 28 years old unable to zip up her own coat, completely incapable of having a meaningful relationship and an absolute super-star at everything from singing acapella to sewing Christmas stockings and roasting a leg of lamb.

Really?

Keeping up with the latest parenting methodology is a little like keeping up with those Joneses.  The pendulum is in constant motion, swinging liberally from latchkey to helicopter.  We praise too much, we encourage too little.  We hold the reins too tight; we let them grow up too fast.  There is always something that we are doing wrong and there is always someone quick to point out the error of our ways.

We’re suckers for it.

Sadly parenting, like everything else from yoga to book clubs, has been expertly packaged, merchandized and publicized.  Smiling experts with more letters after their names than we can decipher, look down at us from their glossy book covers and claim to have all of the answers.

And for the most part guilt-ridden parents eat it up because no one wants to fuck-up raising their kids.  No one.

And marketers know this.

In my paltry six years of parenting, I have learned a lot, mostly that I won’t know all of the answers but I am not helpless.

In those early years, before making any decision, I would consult “the books”, and scan the Internet.  Terrified of making the wrong decision and being on the receiving end of furtive glances from the other moms in the playgroup, I would appease my anxiety with research.

And the beauty of the bookshelves brimming over with those parenting experts?  If you’re thorough enough you can always find someone to agree with you.

Danusia Lapinski, a Montreal-based parenting coach, suggests that when it comes to parenting ideology parents “have to decide if it’s right for you.  If it resonates with your values and needs.  Everyone’s different and you have to question the ideas you hear.”  (globe and mail)

There are a handful of parenting experts whom I turn to when I am seeking guidance or a helpful suggestion and these experts do echo the values and beliefs that my husband and I hold as our gold standard.

Whenever I am in doubt, I think about my sons as grown men.  I think about the character traits that I believe make up good men: persistence, worth ethic, curiosity, compassion, passion, self-control and kindness and I ask myself, am I helping or hurting their chances of growing up to be the best men that they have the potential to become?