The Home Stretch

Deciding to celebrate the summer solstice this year with a coupe of like-minded friends, five sleeps before our BIG family trip, we had a half-pack of kids and six adults enjoying one of the nicest days so far in our area. The weather wasn’t too hot, but the sun was wonderful. It cooled down as the adults began to eat and the kids were changed into jammies and persuaded to go downstairs to our rec room for a movie and popcorn night. Mr. L thought I was crazy.

“You’re wasting a whole Saturday getting ready for this.”
“Yes, but all the yard work that needs to get done before we leave is now complete. The house is relatively clean and I’m using up some of the food, wine and beer we have on hand.”

What I didn’t add was that I needed an adult only patio night before the onslaught of last week of school activities plus getting ready for our BIG trip. I knew no matter what, even with oodles of time, I wasn’t packing up our brood until at least a couple of days before and I would pull all nighters if I had to. We have traveled enough at this point that I know how I work. Better under pressure and doing things at the last-minute. I make lists in my head and on my phone to give me a guideline, but really it usually all comes together with a little coffee, little wine and a little crazy.

It was a lovely and well-deserved evening with a couple of good friends. Our kids all get along and each of ours had an age appropriate playmate. They watched two movies and we all settled back taking in the longest day of the year until the mosquitos chased us indoors. Jacob fell asleep on the couch (a first), Audrey and her friend were the night owls but all in all, a good night.

 

Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice

Sunday was a blur from the late night on Saturday. One jazz recital and piano recital later and huge thank you to a mother-in-law taking the three year-old for the day, I learned never say no to a free offer to babysit if it makes your life easier, especially with three or more. Mr. L and I were amazed how easy it was with just two kids! We both had fifteen minute naps and they did, whatever. (I think they drew pictures but nothing was destroyed and they weren’t glued to the tv.) A mini break from the chaos we generally survive in.

But it gave me some good ammunition to face Monday. D-day when I know I am in crunch time. I see other parents cringe when they ask if I’m all packed and I shrug and say, “Not really.” But little do they realize I do have a plan, a sprint to the finish line! Just today I managed to get all the teacher’s gifts (Thank you LCBO gift cards!), fit in a yoga class, daily clean-up the house, get to a kindergarten end of year celebration, write this blog piece and down a cup of coffee. Next, luggage out and hit the drug store for my items before end of day and thrown a load of laundry. (Right, that’s what I have to do, unload the laundry and make dinner.) I look towards the goal, golden beaches and time with my family. No matter how crazy the next few days get, I will try to keep that in mind and let go of the mommy guilt if my kids are eating hot dogs again and watching a tv show so I can throw carry-on items in a suitcase.

 

Audrey Kindergarten Celebration

Audrey Kindergarten Celebration

After all, if I’m going to write about living in organized chaos, I should at least live it to the fullest.

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Part of the conversation

Unsure if I am able to get to any updates for the next couple of weeks as I go into last-minute crazy times before school ends while packing for our family vacation, I cannot resist posting about one of the funniest things I have seen in a while.

After the girls’ piano lessons, the three amigos had a bit of free time while I diligently sorted the out of control mismatched sock pile. With the sunshine making it harder and harder to get the kids to bed before 8 pm, my tiredness of being on a set schedule, less homework to deal with, I am descending into summer mode.

The most tell-tale sign is that dinnertime has become much more relaxed the last couple of weeks. The kids are lucky to get a hot home-cooked meal. I am just simply, done for the school season. For example, tonight the choice on the menu is cheesy scrambled egg wraps or leftover spaghetti and meatballs. The kids choose the egg wraps.

Usually a strict 5:30 pm dinner time is being pushed later and later to 6:30 pm to coincide with Mr. L arriving home so I have some back-up as my voice has gone hoarse from telling my crew to please use their utensils, stop speaking all at once and just please, have a pleasant meal.

But I digress, deciding to attack the sock pile, I hate leaving tasks half-finished and vowed to get it done before I began the dinner dance. The kids run upstairs enjoying the free play time and right away the girls start pulling out stuffed animals from their toy chests, under their beds or whatever corner they have been hiding.

“Mom!! Guess what I found? Remember this bear?”

“Mom!! It’s Sweet Pea! I missed this one so much!!”

“That’s nice girls. You know all of that needs to be sorted and cleaned up before dinner?”

Before I know it, they are self-organizing their stuffed animals into keep, giveaway and put away in toy chest piles.

Hmmm…Maybe they were actually listening the four or five times a year I go on a rampage organizing their rooms.

Ten minutes later as they finish up a quick sorting, the joy and observation ability of the third, younger sibling shows itself. Jacob starts pulling all the stuffed toys from his overflowing toy box bringing each one downstairs.

“Mom! Look. I love her. It’s Sweet Pot.”

Five stuffed animals later, he settles upon a soft, blue bear he got as a present when he was born and has not looked at in his three years on earth.

“Mom! Look it’s Sweet Pot Pot. She is my favourite. She is very blue. She’s going to stay with me forever.”

I am going to dread going up to his room after dinner but I smile as I shoo them all downstairs to tidy up before dinner.

“She’s lovely Jacob. Sweet Pot Pot can help you tidy up your toys.”

Having three or more means accepting once one starts something, be it crazy laughter, sorting stuffed animals or eating with their hands, the other kids will follow. It also means allowing yourself to laugh as your cute three-year old boy, innocently copies his older sisters as they obsess over their hundreds of stuffed animals just so he can be part of the conversation.

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Silence is Golden

This past weekend I had the pleasure of spending one on one time with a single child in my clan. It was a tiny glimpse into another life where I had one child. And that one child was easy and quiet. The kind of kid other people rave about and who puts together puzzles in an airport instead of running up and down the aisles of seats waiting to board. It was one of those fairytale moments this mom of three imagines during the chaos that determines my life. Perhaps in that afternoon, I did have one favourite child, my middle child, Audrey. Yes, the typically emotional firecracker turned into every parent’s dream child.

It all started when Mr. L, looking at the beautiful forecast for the weekend, casually asked if we should accept an invitation to his business partner’s newly purchased lake house. A beautiful home on the shores of Lake Simcoe. But alas, Audrey had jazz class and with an upcoming recital and could not afford to miss a class. There was also a playdate scheduled for Audrey and one of her little BFF’s to make-up a long ago almost forgotten birthday party that I have been trying to plan since February.

“Let’s just go after jazz class.” Mr. L says.

“Would love to, but it took me forever to find a date and the school year is almost done. Audrey has been looking forward to it for days. I can’t cancel.” I respond shaking my head, firm in my belief it is important to teach our children the importance of keeping their commitments.

“Ask Audrey.” He says. “I bet she would rather go up to the lake house.”

“No.” I respond annoyed. “I’m not putting that on her. She shouldn’t have to decide between a friend and family. She’s six.” Then inspiration hits, “Why don’t you just go up with Elizabeth and Jacob? They have nothing planned for the day. We’ll divide and conquer.”

He likes the idea and makes plans to go.

Saturday morning arrives. I help get them ready throwing bathing suits, life jackets and pyjamas in a knapsack for him to take. Audrey and I bid them goodbye and settle into the rest of our day.

I let Audrey know I have to do a few chores and then we can go for a bike ride together. She happily agrees and before I know it, she is reading, quiet as a mouse on our couch. Silence. There is no chattering, no kids running laps around our kitchen/dining room as I try to guide them to the backyard, no requests for never-ending snacks, no clicking of keys tapping on Mr. L’s iPad or ever-present blackberry. There is only pleasant and welcome silence. I check in with her,

“Are you okay honey?”

“Yep.” She buries her head back into her book.

The morning passes and miraculously I get most of my chores done stopping to check on Audrey who reads, plays with her toys or colours only asking once what she can do and agrees to help me dust while I crank up the radio.

We head out for a bike ride, racing around the neighbourhood enjoying the sunshine together. I can’t remember the last time I spent a whole day with such a pleasant child!

Lunch passes quickly as we head to Audrey’s jazz class, stop and get groceries before heading home. Typically I avoid grocery shopping with the older kids and definitely not with all three. But with just her and I, there is no child touching every single item in the grocery story or preschooler asking over and over when is he getting a snack. She helps me find our items and I drive back home finishing up a few chores, shower and take Jake the dog for a walk before her scheduled dinner/playdate with her friend.

Audrey is so relaxed, my lovely cherub-cheeked girl falls asleep on the couch while I’m showering  This is a first for both of us. Me that I had an uninterrupted shower on a weekend and her having a nap during the day. I know she is her mother’s daughter, likes a good nap but I have only seen her actually have one when we’re on vacation and enforce mandatory afternoon rest time for the whole family.

The rest of the evening passes like a dream. Dinner out is manageable and without my attention divided between three of my own kids, I laugh and giggle as the two six-year olds try to drink their milkshakes out of curly straws. Afterwards, Audrey and her friend run around an empty indoor playground playing pirates and princesses.

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Audrey and friend

 

I realize a few things throughout this luxurious day.

One. I am in danger of having a favourite child. At least for the moment. Audrey is so easy compared to the other two chattering squirrels when she is on her own. She basks in the one on one attention and it brings out her best qualities. She doesn’t ask a million questions. She is happy to go along with whatever I am doing. She is a champion cuddle-monkey and content to sit outside in silence together having a cup of juice and a snack. She is still. I have one of those kids I dream about. I just never realized it.

Remember, this is the girl (if you’ve read past posts) that has temper tantrums, has trouble keeping her temper, is emotional and in some ways I would classify as my most challenging child. She is also the one I’ve spent a lot of time talking to, explaining about words are better than actions, helping find calm down strategies.  Do I dare and hope that my years of work with her have helped her in some way or that as some people said, age and time would help or perhaps a bit of both? It took a day on our own for me to realize how far she has come from the firecracker of unpredictable behaviour of only a year and a half ago.

Today, all of those things were non-existent. We had a pleasant day, one of those days where you realize you know parts of your child’s inner workings, but when you have three or more, you don’t get to see the breadth of their own unique little personalities until you get that one on one time. When her brother and sister are around, she feeds off their tendency towards hyperactivity and tries to keep up sometimes unable to control the roller coaster ride of emotional stimuli she is exposed.

Two. She is more like me than I imagined. Which means I know that a day off once in a while for her, where the house (her favourite environment) is quiet and still is nourishment for her soul. A day where she can nap on a couch without siblings crawling over her asking when do they get to play their iPads is as welcome to her as it is to me.

Third. To cherish this special time where her and I can simply be content in loving silence holding hands while we both look at the blue skies above enjoying the golden silence.

 

 

The Playdate Conundrum

Sisters. A unique bond is forged between sisters in a family. This bond can be different depending on the amount of years between them or how many one person has. But usually, having a sister means having someone to hang out with at family functions, share (or steal) clothes, boss around and sometimes, on those late nights watching horror films, get their opinion on life events.

I was fortunate growing up to have a sister only thirteen months younger than me. Sure, there were times when I couldn’t shake her as she followed me and my friends around or bossed her around telling her she had to play barbies my way or leave. We had our share of scratching take-down fights over something as silly as someone taking the other’s umbrella. But, we also laughed at our mother together, rolled our eyes when people asked us for the hundredth time, “Are you twins?” and played countless hours of board games on rainy afternoons. She would probably have a much different view being the younger one, but my memories of my childhood all include her in some way.

My two daughters, Elizabeth and Audrey, are two years apart. Exactly two years. But already there has been a fair share of sisterly conflict. Elizabeth was quite put out when Audrey arrived, two days after her second birthday. She barely acknowledged her presence unless a doting relative would pat her on the head and say, “Aren’t you the best big sister?”

Then little Audrey would get loving hugs and gentle head taps from her, until no one was looking and give her a not-so-gentle shove.

At the age of three and five they started sharing a room in anticipation of the arrival of their younger brother. We moved to a larger house where they each had their own room. They asked to be together again within a year and together they remain. My heart melts when they rush me out of their room so they can play a secret game of Beanie Boo fantasy land and I hear them chit chatting to each other. They still have their moments, but overall they get along fairly well.

When the girls started asking for playdates, I didn’t think about the logistics of having three kids, all relatively close in age, being together while Elizabeth invited her grade one buddy over after school.

Up until this past year, most of our playdates included friends who usually had two or more of their own kids. Crazy but it worked out as each kid found a playmate. There were a few tears and screams of “They’re not including me!” but overall it was okay.

Then both my girls hit the “social” age. Meaning, they wanted to invite a different friend over each week. As Jacob got more involved and wanted to be part of the action, it became a feat to invite one friend over, distract the other kids, get snack or dinner ready for them all and try to clean up a bit before the parent arrived to pick them up.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I grew up having a mom who preferred all the craziness of kids playing together be at her house. Appreciating that now as a parent, it made sense. You could keep an eye on your kid and who they were hanging out with. But play back then was different. We played with our cousins or friends in the neighbourhood criss crossing amongst the houses in a gang of sorts.

Nowadays, scheduled playdates are the preferred method of interaction. We don’t have a neighbourhood school, my kids are bus kids. I don’t know all the parents of the kids in the classroom. So playdates mean multiple notes or texts back and forth, permission letters from sets of parents allowing a child to ride home with my child all things that need to be coordinated and organized.

But, wanting my kids and their friends to feel welcome in our home, the girls take turns bringing friends home to play. Except, my other two children feel left out when they don’t have a friend. So I go from having to coordinate one playdate to possibly three! It makes my brain tired to think of it.

So much so that after an exhausting playdate trying to manage two friends to come home at the same time to avoid the above conundrum, I told them, enough! This is not a weekly occurrence but a once in awhile treat. We have friends in our neighbourhood, play with them. Play with each other. Please no more playdates!

A couple of months go by and they both plead, “Just one more! We owe E. a playdate back at our house and she really wants to take the bus with me.” So I relent and schedule their playdates, separately with a warning everyone must play together, nicely. And for the most part all is okay.

So, on rare free Saturday, I tentatively schedule a group BBQ/playdate. Two families. One with a little girl that Audrey loves and doesn’t see too often. Another with playmates for Elizabeth and Jacob. Mr. L looks at me.

“Are you crazy? That’s six kids in the house! What if it rains?”

I shake my head, knowing he has not learned the secret.

Family playdates. On weekends. In the summer.

More than one parent to help. Each child has an age-appropriate playmate. Catch-up with other adults. Wine or beer. Hopefully the weather holds and the kids play outside for most of the time. The perfect plan.

“Don’t worry.” I smile at him. “Piece of cake if we have one playmate per kid. We’ll do hamburgers and hot dogs to keep it easy.”

I know this conundrum will not get easier. Well, I could just say no to future playdates. But it’s just not me. I want my children and their friends to feel welcome in our home. I want to be the house “they all want to go.”

However, a small part of me does look forward to the day when they all want to play less together and do their own things. It may make the playdate conundrum a little easier.