A Moment of Distraction

Let’s face it, life is busy. Not just for me, for most people I know. Especially this time of year, just go back and read any of my annual May posts. One in particular that I seem to respost each year is From Overwhelmed Parent to Grateful Parent because it holds up over time.  When you have children, especially those families with three or more little darlings things get a little, let’s use the word, chaotic in the spring.  For fun, throw in some additional and/or unexpected life events and crazy takes on a whole new level of meaning.

Due to my continued (albeit it not intentional) lack of regular postings, let me give you a brief recap.

  • A puppy joined our household, Chip the Australian Labradoodle. He is loveable, goofy, sneaky and believes I am his bed or a cushion to sit on. It’s like having a toddler again.
  • I took on some paid writing work.  A few wonderfully complimentary small business owners decided I was a good fit as a writer for hire for their online content marketing strategies. Blogging takes a back seat when paid work comes along as well as my more creative flights of fancy via short stories and editing a manuscript take off all at the same time.
  • And the big one, THE MOVE. Because we are a little nuts, (after all who gets a puppy on labour day, right before all three kids go back to school full-time?), we have purchased a property on the other side of the province (Ontario). We decide to trade in our convenient and comfortable suburban life for a life in the country. Not too far away sit picturesque wineries and our new home is found along the shoreline of the gently lapping waters of the Bay of Quinte.
  • My eldest daughter is going for day surgery (tonsils) and will be off school, at home recovering for at least a week.
  • The kids are now ten, eight and five. If you have kids this age or have had kids this age, I do not need to write another word. You get it. If you’re kids are younger, just wait. You will soon learn the art of creative time management and juggling the demands of burgeoning little people with their own agendas.

As I swiftly change my hats faster than the Mad Hatter himself, I do try to slow down at times and enjoy moments of distraction. Right now basketball is a useful distraction for our whole family. It is huge in this part of the world and our whole family cheers when those Raptors sink another basket.

But the other thing I find helps is humour. Laughing at the absurdity of our crazy life is not unusual, but there are times when you realize you may be a little too distracted.

As a parent of three or more kids, I try not to take my kids grocery shopping with me. It is an ordeal, usually ending up with one kid trying to ride the shopping cart, another grabbing cookies and my voice in that special low growl that ensures their little hands are all affixed to the sides of the cart.  I often forget things if they are with me. So, you would think that grocery shopping would be a leisurely outing when I am on my own. Except, well see the above. Finding leisurely grocery shopping is a thing of my not so distant past. Oh sure, it will come again, but not right now. Right now it is all about survival.

So one afternoon about a week ago, I dashed into the grocery store noting (of course) that I had forgotten my list. I tried to rely on my lacklustre memory but all that came to mind were the dishes. I hate washing dishes by hand so yes, dishwasher tabs are a must. Even in my harried state, I always try to spot that special yellow or red tag that screams, “Sale! Buy me!” When I raced down the aisle, threw other random items into my cart, I spotted the  “Sale!” tag near the dishwasher tab section and grabbed an unfamiliar brand. “Oh well, it’s on sale.” I thought to myself. “It’s probably fine.”

Thinking nothing of it, I walked over to the cashier, paid and went home.

In our house, we keep our dishwasher tabs in a dark corner of the cupboard under the kitchen sink. We have to reach beyond the nearly full compost bin and grab the tabs from the bag or bucket each night.

After I arrived home, I threw the bag into the cupboard and went on my merry way.

It happened the first night. The dishes were still disgusting after the final wash cycle.

“What’s this?” Mr. L asked and held up a grungy glass.

“Hmm.not sure maybe the setting was on a quick wash. Run it again.”

We do that, over and over. The next load was a little cleaner but there were less dishes. We had spent a lot of time eating out over the weekend.

Sunday night. The dishes were supposed to be clean, after all it worked once, but they were still sort of grungy. “Maybe it’s the new dishwasher tabs, I got a new brand. Just use it and I’ll get a new one next time I’m at the store.”

I left Monday night for a mini trip to take pictures of our new rural digs and to order furniture. I arrived home Tuesday and my elder daughter, Elizabeth was unloading the dishwasher.

“Ewww.these are still dirty.” She shoved her small hands into the the large, yellow gloves not wanting to touch the clean/dirty dishes.

“Just leave the dirty ones.” I told her, tired and worn out after a very busy forty-eight hours.

Mr. L peeked at the dishes as well, and then at the unusually dirty dishwasher. “I hope it’s not the dishwasher.”

Remember, we are moving in six weeks.

Wednesday morning arrives. We tried to wash another load and this time, Audrey, the younger daughter was unloading the dishes.

“These feel gross.” She holds out a dirty knife like it was covered in something disgusting. I stood to the side, continued to cut up vegetables for their lunches, tried to organize my  day in my head, fed the dog and threw in some laundry.

“Just leave it. I’ll hand wash them.”

Later that day, when I finally got around to hand washing the dirty/clean dishes, I realized they were dirty, really dirty. The dishwasher soap in those little plastic tabs must be really bad. No wonder they were on sale. I managed to get out to the grocery store in the afternoon and picked up my regular brand. I was very happy, my regular expensive brand was on sale, score!

I got home, pulled out the not great dishwasher tabs from deep within the cupboard, and was ready to trash them when I actually stopped to read the bag.

Laundry Detergent. 99% natural ingredients. No perfumes. 

I bought laundry detergent tabs and have been using them in my dishwasher.

This my friends is the epitome of distraction and life’s wry sense of humour. Just when you pat yourself on the back on how well you are handling the chaos of life, you realize you not only bought laundry detergent instead of dishwasher detergent, but have been using it for the last six days.

Well, at least my kids will have no internal stains and the product was the most natural on the market.

Parents of three or more kids, find the humour. When life seems out of control, busy as hell just remember, at least you didn’t wash your dishes with laundry detergent today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Banana Bread Recipe

Long ago, on a hot summer afternoon in 2005, two professional young woman bantered back and forth on email trying to carve out and finish multiple conversations. One was on maternity leave, the other finding herself, working at a local arts council after leaving a stable corporate job.

Their emails were filled with affection and updates on their days, motherhood, marriage, gossip about friends and weekend plans.

Prior to the onset of civil pleasantries, a recipe for banana bread was shared. A no-fail recipe with chocolate chips. The receiver of the email (me) was spending some time honing her domestic cooking skills and asked one of the great bakers/cooks she knew, her friend L., for the recipe. Now, eleven years is a long time and I cannot remember if I had L.’s banana bread and that’s why the recipe was shared or I was just trying to fill up my empty cooking journal with something that was easy and delicious. Maybe it was because my partner, Mr. L, loves banana bread and I wanted to make something special. The reason is not very important really, what matters is that today, in February 29, 2016, that reciepe exists.

Folded neatly into a cooking reference book my grandmother made years ago to store recipe and meal ideas (perhaps hoping I would turn out to be a domestic wonder in the kitchen), the recipe comes out every so often. Still printed on the same paper, it brings a smile to my face each time I use it as I wonder if L. knows how much I reread one of our hundreds of emails to each other over the years and use this long ago shared recipe.

Just last week, I pulled the recipe out and asked myself,  “Why can’t I commit this recipe to memory?” After all, I’ve been making it for 11 years, yet, for some reason it will not stick in my brain. The banana bread produced each time has been a hit with my now three children, friends and family members. It is often requested by people who have tried it.

I realized at last, on a cold day last week, I really don’t want to memorize the recipe. If I did, that would mean I would have no need for the paper, or be able to read the email exchange written beneath. I wouldn’t smile remembering that person long ago who had just found out she was pregnant after a long year and a half of trying, had visited her friend L. and her little girl so happy for all of them and was just starting to orient herself in a new community. A woman nearing thirty who was battling tiredness, loss of appetite and the heat.

So instead, I kept it. I tried not to spill anything on it and as soon as I’m done it goes back into the special recipe binder. I have treasured this piece of paper and the person who took time out of her busy day as a new mama to send her friend a Banana Bread Email .

For those who want an easy, no-fail banana bread recipe, I give you my friend’s Banana Bread recipe. Take it from a parent of three or more kids, it is delicious and it is a keeper.

Banana Bread Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (can substitute half with applesauce in a pinch, still tastes good)

Chocolate chips – optional – quantity determined as desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9.5 inch loaf pan. (I use butter but whatever you want.) In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter in prepared loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven for 60-65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into centre of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Enjoy!

 

Where did the pumpkin seeds go?

Minutes ticked by.

“Is it Halloween yet?”

“I want to get my costume on. Now!”

“When are we carving pumpkins?”

“No kids. Chill. It’s Monday. Halloween is Thursday.”

This was the conversation that started early last week at our house. Having to downgrade this blog to a once a week posting due to my other writing committment, a preschooler who has dropped their naps and Halloween, it is only now with Jacob taking a bit of a rare nap due to the time change, that I can try to post something about our Halloween experience.

Usually in our house, pumpkins are carved the weekend before Halloween. It saves my sanity instead of trying to squeeze carving jack-o’-lantern faces during the after school rush. In our house, three kids equals three pumpkins to gut and carve. However, Mr. L and I took a rare opportunity having my in-laws babysit the Saturday before Halloween and whom agreed to stay overnight to go on a “super date night” complete with renting a hotel room in downtown Toronto and ordering room service for dinner. (And yes, for breakfast the next morning too.) A little reprieve which was so exciting that Mr. L fell fast asleep halfway into the rented movie we were watching from the king size bed. Another luxury.

Room Service Dinner at Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto, ON

Room Service Dinner at Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto

Although a little piece of personal heaven, getting back mid-afternoon on Sunday rushing through homework, dinner and all the rest, the pumpkin carving time was pushed to early in the week, after school.

I tried to plan the week carefully. Monday – piano lessons equals no time for pumpkin carving. Tuesday – free except normal homework.  So an early dinner was planned, homework for my grade two student completed so we could get right into pumpkin carving as a post-dinner activity. I even managed to paper the table pre-bus pick-ups and lug in three good-sized pumpkins to warm up. Homework went a little later as did dinner prep and the light outside was fading fast as were my three little monkeys. Gulping back a scalding cup of coffee I rolled up my sleeves, put away the spelling duotang and opened up each pumpkin letting each kid start digging. While they made their first foray into the still cold, although thankfully not freezing pumpkins I tried to capture their grossed out faces on my camera, finish dinner and help the smaller ones. Dinner was served alongside pumpkin guts and seeds plunked onto the waiting baking sheets and my crew took bites in between pulling out stringy orange goo. Mr. L walked through the door,

“Where am I supposed to eat?”

Shrugging I suggested he get changed first or risk a splatter of pumpkin juice on his nice blue suit.

Thankfully, after a meal, he got right into the last part. The carving. As each kid chose their face, I stenciled and he carved I was able to clean up from dinner and finish the final cleaning of the other waiting pumpkins. Team work at its best. Elizabeth wanted to roast the pumpkin seeds that night but I explained they had to dry.

“Can we have them Halloween?”

“Sure.”

Pumpkins complete.

Elizabeth digging into her pumpkin.

Elizabeth digging into her pumpkin.

Next came the dreaded Halloween cake.

“Mom, I want a homemade Halloween cake this year.” Said my 7.5 year old Elizabeth her hazel eyes pleading with me.

“Oh honey, you know Mommy doesn’t bake very much. Really?”

She looked so forlorn that I immediately gushed, “Of course I’ll bake you a Halloween cake.”

“From scratch?”

“Ummm..sure.”

Wednesday. Time was running out.

“You’re making the cake right?”

“Yes.”

“I want to help.”

“How about I make it before you get home from school and we’ll decorate it together?”

“Okay!”

So after gymnastics, lunch and all the rest I started the cake. Not hard. I’ve done it before. Devil’s food cake from Betty Crocker. Best mix ever. Actually got it done before bus pick up and the three cakes were cooling on the racks. I was so proud of myself when I realized. Crap. Dinner. Wednesday is also the night I have a writing class. A must-go for me. So scrambling I pulled out leftovers for another attempt at an early dinner. During homework time, I quickly made the homemade icing. Three little hands reached for the beaters and I passed them off ignoring the “you’ll spoil their dinner” mantra in my head. Their faces were amazing. I vowed then and there always to make homemade icing. After half eaten dinners, we melted marshmallows and four sets of hands reached into the warm gooey mess stretching the white goodness all over the iced cake making spider webs. Lastly, Elizabeth added the plastic spiders. Cake complete.

“Can we have a piece?”

“No. It’s for tomorrow night.” I call blowing kisses as I run out of the door. Thankfully I am only five minutes late to class.

Spiderweb Cake

Spiderweb Cake

Halloween Night. Costumes are all tucked into three knapsacks ready for costume day at their respective schools. Little treat bags, made post-class last night at 11 pm for my kindergarten daughter and her friends are ready to go. It’s pouring outside. One nudged onto a waiting bus.  Another is gratefully picked up by a neighbour as she doesn’t want her son’s costume getting too soaked before he gets into school and has offered my daughter a ride.

“Don’t forget to roast the pumpkin seeds!” Elizabeth calls as she skips out the front door.

Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Thor and Supergirl

Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Thor and Supergirl

The third is dropped off with his big hammer. Little blonde Thor in all his glory.

Halloween celebrations have started. Having all three out of the house allowed me time to finish decorating, get the dinner table ready for a planned pre-trick or treating pizza dinner with another friend and her two sons.

After school is a blur as the kids anxiously await their friends dancing around the table. Soon our friends arrive with pizza balancing pizza boxes and we commence convincing five kids (all 8 and under) to eat at least one slice while we give out popcorn and cut up veggies. Finally it is  cake time and it is a success. All of them got a huge piece, took two bites and then the doorbell rang. Our first trick or treaters of the night. That ended our dinner as five kids went flying to get their costumes back on and out the door not caring if they had coats on or it was drizzling rain. Thankfully, we got a reprieve from the rain and spent an hour and a half chasing the kids up and down our neighbourhood.

The pizza party.

The pizza party.

“Mom, where are the pumpkin seeds?” Elizabeth asked as she counted her candy warming up on our family room floor.

Shoot. Caught red-handed. They were still on the baking sheet in the oven, but not roasted. I had forgotten about them.

“Umm…how about we do it this weekend? They still have to dry.”

“Okay.” Distracted by the bucket of candy, she is easily distracted.

Halloween complete. Week complete. Thank goodness for the extra hour on Sunday night.

But then I wake up this morning. Puttering around the house, cleaning up while Jacob nicely plays with his toys. We go to get groceries. Come home and I’m opening the oven door to get some pans out. I spot them.  There they are. The pumpkin seeds, still “drying.” Damn. Thankfully Elizabeth hasn’t mentioned it yet. Maybe I can surprise her and roast them this week. A nice reminder of Halloween.

Ode to Potty Training

If you awaken upon gray Sunday morning puttering down the stairs until that first cup of coffee is ready relishing in the slower pace where the whole family can stay in their pyjamas a little while longer. If you wave a hand towards your children allowing them to watch a few morning cartoons after they gobble down a bowl of cereal leaving droplets of milk across the kitchen table and you do not rush to wipe it up. If you decide to snooze on the couch for five (okay twenty) minutes keeping one eye partially open in order to ensure your kids do not fight over the remote control. If you have your own slow routine on Sunday morning where for a few precious hours you cocoon yourself and your family inside your home then you are part of our group. The people who survived the first week of back-to-school. We are those tired souls who looked forward to Sunday morning all week. The one day where we did not have to remind our children to lace up their shoes, close their water bottles and put on a pair of tight leggings because yes, it is cool outside. There are no planned activities. Today there are no tennis lessons or swimming classes. However, with three or more children and one potty training that blissful quiet turns into a frenzy of activity in a heartbeat.

Mr. L had vacated the premises quite early for a planned bike race so it was just us, until Jacob had to deal with potty training. Yes, potty training is underway at our house. Having gone through this twice before (albeit it with girls) I was not sure what to expect when potty training a boy. I heard lots of tips and words of advice.

“They take longer.”

“Sit them backwards on the toilet so they get used to seeing that view of the toilet.”

“Just put a pull-up diaper on when battling with #2.”

“It’s easier with boys, they can go anywhere.”

“Have the Dad do it. Boys need to learn from boys.”

I did a bit of reading and a lot of listening. Then proceeded to just go with what I know. Potty training in three-ish days. Leading up to “Potty Day” we talked a lot about going potty. Jacob followed everyone into the bathroom to observe. He repeated the steps. I set up the various potty stations around the house complete with stacks of books. Put wipes, extra training underwear and pull up diapers at every potty location. The Potty Book Set complete with Henry, his little potty, DVD and book arrived a few weeks prior and I spent every day sitting Jacob in front of the television to watch Henry learn to go potty and then we would read the book. So when “Potty Day” arrived, we took his sisters to camp (this was last week of summer) and spent ten minutes saying bye-bye to diapers and being introduced to the potty. In our house, Smarties work very well as an incentive the first few weeks. I worry about weaning them off the Smarties later. I grit my teeth, told myself to look ahead to diaper free days and we commenced.

Jacob first potty day.

Jacob first potty day.

What I know from past experience:

1. You cannot make a toddler sit on a potty until they are ready.

2. Have bleach on hand for accidents.

3. #2 always takes longer than #1 for most children.

4. Celebrate the small victories.

5. Don’t get frustrated and repeat to yourself, “No more diapers. No more diapers.”

6. Do not make appointments or plans. You will be housebound for three-five days.

I had not realized, potty training with three kids at home is hard. When I trained Elizabeth, I had a part-time nanny to help and Audrey was a baby so staying homebound was much, much easier. With Audrey, I had a full-time nanny and Elizabeth was at full-day kindergarten so lots of support. This time, I am at home. Alone during the week/day. With three kids. The upside was that the girls took it upon themselves to help and applaud their little brother of course, requesting the same treat when we successfully hit the potty. They were both at camp the first crucial week. (You know that week where you decide if you are pushing your little one early and need to take a step back or progress is made and you forge ahead?) So I did get that important one on one time for a bit. I remember sitting on stools reading books with a toddler or a magazine of my own while we “waited.” It is a little trickier when you have two other kiddies running around. This time around, sometimes I sit scrolling through my iPhone and other times I tell Jacob, “just sit still, Mommy has to check on sisters. Don’t move!” praying he does not follow me.

Boys are different from girls. You have to teach them to keep a certain body part pointed down and repeat, “It is not a toy. Don’t touch!” He is excellent at the routine and never forgets to wash his hands. He also likes to help flush it all away and I have to admit, seeing a two and a half-year old boy clap and wave, “Bye-Bye Pee!” is darn cute. Being the end of summer, he is running around naked a lot or just in training underwear. The girls have gotten used to seeing his bare bum in sight.

Boys like to emulate other boys. His second day of full-day preschool last week, he stood up to go pee and now refuses to sit on the potty. So I hold his hands to steady him, got little stools so he can reach the toilet and secretly applaud my good fortune.  I have scored now that he learned how to do number one so fast lessening the number of times in a day I need to clean a potty.

Number two is taking a bit longer, and the girls are getting frustrated when on the weekend we cannot get up and leave because I know he needs thirty-ish minutes to dance around before he finally sits on the potty. I also learned last week that being a mom of three or more, you sometimes forget your last child is only two and a half meaning back-up clothes and wipes are a necessity. An impromptu park visit is cut short when we have to run home to change clothes and the girls just have to deal with that reality.

But we make progress. The girls have learned it’s best to let me spend time with Jacob so we can get on with our days. The older kids also help the younger ones which is really great. One day, I found all three of them reading in the bathroom. One on the potty. One on the toilet and one just hanging out. Our powder room on the main floor has become the communal bathroom for all sexes and ages of the kids. Thank goodness Mr. L and I are lucky enough to have our own bathroom! Also, when you ask them if they have to go. They say yes but want to try later because they are busy playing. Do not believe them. This has always resulted in an accident.

Yet, I see it in the distance. A flicker of light wherein my life will not revolve around potty times and diapers. No more cleaning training underwear in bleach or holding a little bare-bummed toddlers in front of me as I speed race towards the closest bathroom. Hearing my voice pleading with older children to be patient, he must go potty before we leave!! That flicker of light will grow and how I will celebrate.

“Bye-Bye Diapers. I am through with you!” (From The Potty Book)

A milestone – a Mom’s turn.

Milestones. We celebrate them. We reward them. We rejoice in the accomplishments of our children reaching them. The first time they sleep through the night. Potty training. Losing teeth. Riding a bike. Reading.

This past long weekend, I reached a parenting milestone. A mini getaway, just me and the kids.

Now do not misunderstand. Mr. L is always welcome and appreciated on any family adventures. Most of the time he is very present, being a hands-on modern dad. However, he is a busy guy with his own business. This past year it became apparent to me that I cannot wait for his schedule to clear on each and every family adventure we have. It is not because he does not want to come with us. It is simply he is not yet at the point in his career where he can take off on a whim for a two-day getaway. It has taken me some time to realize, admit and grudgingly accept it. It is simply our situation. My rose-coloured views one child ago of us doing absolutely everything together; not even imagining planning anything without his prescence, has been altered into a more realistic point of view.

It became apparent after a marathon and rushed planning session with Mr. L regarding day trips, camping overnighter and lots of open time to just wake up and plan our day with the simple pleasures of summer (as per his wishes) that I was left with an unsatisfied feeling. I wanted to do something else with the kids. I wanted to take them somewhere new this summer.

My childhood summer memories overflow with grainy images of camping trips, Canada’s Wonderland, my grandparent’s farm, Storybook Gardens and of course, Niagara Falls.  I also realized over the years that my mom was typically the sole parent most of the time. Or at least that is how I remember it.

Then it hit me. If I wanted to take the kids on a mini getaway, why shouldn’t I? Why did I feel as if I had to wait for Mr. L’s schedule to open up? We do not have a cottage I can simply take the kids and go to when the urge to getaway strikes. No time share in Florida. What was stopping me?

From

From helenismostoshare.blogspot.com

Fear. I realized I felt fear upon hitting that milestone of traveling with the kids on my own. Fearful and overwhelmed. Granted I have three young children, but still. Me, afraid?

I found it strange to have such a feeling since I spend most of my days with the kids ,alone, and manage (most of the time) to keep us all sane and semi-put-together.  I plan things to do around town, take them on picnics, parks and hikes. My choice to be at home is a role we both agreed that I would take on, at least in their early years.  However, that does not mean I have ultimate say in their lives. Mr. L is very much involved in the important things that have to do with our children and home. He is very much present scrambling to get home to give them baths, play a goofy game of tag and tuck them in.

Yet, fear was stopping me. Fear of being able to manage while travelling further than my parent’s house and back with them. Fear of taking that step that can sometimes make a family feel more separated when one parent is more present than another. Pondering this irrational fear it struck me that most likely lingering memories of how much my mother did on her own with me and my siblings and how un-present my father was at times due to work, may have been unknowingly feeding my fear. These memories seemed to be at the forefront of my determination and fear that our family would (and should) do everything together or else “suffer the consequences.” Yes, my parents ultimately divorced. (And yes, I am a psychology major in another lifetime.)

So, I faced my fear. I talked with Mr. L, who frankly and admittedly would not undertake any trip with the three kids on his own himself, but who said, “If you want to do it, then do it. I’m okay with it.” I am not entirely sure he understood why I felt I needed to plan this mini getaway with the kids, but he was supportive and I made my plans.

Scrambling to put together an itinerary and book hotel and tickets, a mini trip to Niagara Falls was planned.  One night with Mr. L followed by a family day at Safari Niagara. Mr. L would then head home on an evening train for work the next day and for one night and day it was just me and the kids, exploring the hotel’s pool and restaurants followed by a day checking out Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls before our drive home. Nothing huge but a milestone for this mom of three whose biggest overnight adventure alone with the kids was to the small town I grew up in where we were surrounded by grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Not really the same thing as being completely on your own.

Kids at Safari Niagara

Kids at Safari Niagara

All of it went without too much drama. We were fortunate to have beautiful weather on a long weekend. The second night on my own was a bit tricky as the girls were getting grumpy sharing a bed for the first time in our two-room suite at the Embassy Suites and Jacob decided to wake up at 2:45 am to “sleep” with mom. (Mr. L is the normal go-to person for middle of the night wake up calls which are fortunately, infrequent.) But I got through it. Thank goodness for Starbucks in the hotel lobby!

IMG_5978

The day in downtown Niagara Falls complete with Skywheel ride, Build-a-Bear, Rainforest Cafe for lunch and then Hershey Store all went off without a hitch. I was proud of my kids who for the most part, were a fun little crew to be with for a day.

IMG_5996

Mr. L missed us and I think was regretting his decision not to stay. (He actually considered it for a couple of minutes before leaving for his train. After all, we do love having him around and he does enjoy being with his family versus work.) I received a couple of random emails from him asking what we were doing and to send pictures, which I was glad to do telling the kids to smile big for daddy.

What this experience taught me, because let’s face it, moms are always learning new things about ourselves, was that I can do it. I can travel with my kids. I do not need to wait upon someone else’s schedule to do everything I want to do with the three of them. Of course, I would prefer having Mr. L with us, but sometimes, as is normal and realistic, it is not going to be possible. So, I need to be okay with this part of life and also realize, it does not take away from our family. But in fact, enriches it a little. A little separation from the daily grind of routine, bath times and rushed dinners is not a bad thing. It made me appreciate how much I enjoy having Mr. L with me on family adventures and how much he does when we are together as a family. Mr. L appreciated being at home and getting some work done in a quiet house. He missed us and was looking forward to our return, but sometimes he needs some quiet time as well.

The night we returned home, exhausted but brimming with stories, we sat down to a casual family dinner of pizza and I realized I had no reason to be fearful. I could embrace the experience as achieving a milestone, conquer a fear and look forward to our next family adventure, on my own or all together. Either way would be fine for our family.

Chucking the checklists, at least once in a while!

From sheknows.com

From sheknows.com

Checklists. A parent (or parents) of three or more kids rely on checklists. Checklists on my iPhone. Checklists on my calendar. It seems there is a constant checklist in my brain. Sometimes I can turn it off and remember life is not about checking items off a list. Other times the list seems so huge I give up and take the kids for ice cream.

How many checklists can one person have? For myself; one for me, one for the household stuff I am responsible for (which is most of it), one for each child (so that is three), the dog, the occasional request to help with Mr. L’s business and then if we make any plans, an additional checklist of packing items for road or overnight trip. Each day I have anywhere from eight to ten checklists to be considered. I love them and I loathe them.

However, the feeling I get from checking off a major item is very satisfying. For example, I have a fitness checklist for myself. It is more of a goals list, but at its essence, it is still a checklist. Finish a 5K run. Check! (Yeah!) Immediate pat on the back. Borrow road bike. (Check!) Plan out another mini checklist for training for said Try a Tri. (Sort of check.)

My training, as with other parents, is very dependent on other people’s schedules. My kids, our family commitments and life in general including weather. There are some days when it seems easy to fit it in. Kids asleep, weather fair, head out for scheduled bike ride. Check! Other days, all good intentions fall to the wayside. Pick kids up from camp. Head to health club to fit in swimming laps while kids splash around in pool with Mr. L and eat their Friday night pub-ready grilled cheese. Swim five of ten laps and realize Mr. L cannot chase two-year old and fight off wasps attacking our food at the same time. Reinforce my belief that men (or my guy in particular) although great in some things, cannot multi-task children with other activities. Swim-time aborted. Black clouds roll in. Winds and pouring rain ensue. Bike ride planned for the evening cancelled. Take kids home and feed them microwaved s’mores. Indulging in the gooey deliciousness myself because lets face it, who can resist s’mores? Summer fun. Check!

Wait, all of that was not on my check list! However, seeing my kids messy faces and happy smiles as we put on a rare evening cartoon after indoor s’mores and then tucking them into bed after followed by continuing to watch the amazing lightening display last night over our house. Mr. L finishing some work so we could enjoy Saturday without any distractions. Perhaps not on my planned checklist, but it is okay. Sometimes life cannot be planned by a checklist.

One thing I try to remember each summer is that for us, summer is short. Before too long we will be in the midst of school and activities wishing we could return to a July night eating treats before bed. As much as I depend on our checklists to keep us semi-organized, letting them fall by the wayside is sometimes more fun.

Invite in the crazy.

Twilight was descending on a perfect spring day. After another crazy day, (typical at our house) of appointments, managing babysitters, picking up dinner and squeezing in a precious hour at the gym my older girl and I were driving off to her musical theatre class. If her year-end performance was not approaching at top-speed, I would have almost asked her if she wouldn’t rather go to the park with her brother and sister. But, teaching her responsibility and keeping commitments is an important parenting task, so instead we drove down the highway at top speed singing to the radio as it blasted above the whoosh of wind through the sun roof. 

After I dropped her off and managed a quick chat with her very intimidating but kind musical director regarding her costume pick-up, I hopped into the swag wag again to quickly run a couple of errands in the forty-five minutes I had left. Sipping my lukewarm Grande Bold Misto coffee (which had already been re-heated twice since picking it up a few hours ago) a huge breath escaped me and I turned up the radio enjoying listening to the music on my own. It was the first time I actually remember consciously taking a breath the whole day. 

Thankfully the stores were not crowded on this Thursday evening so I quickly grabbed my items in between chatting to my mother on the phone wishing her a good trip. My parents were heading for a weekend get-away and part of me wished I could go with them. 

Time-management is essential as a parent of three or more. Oftentimes and not unusually the hours slip away and I find myself running at top speed to cram as much as I can into twenty-four hours. I can see the effects of such a life on myself, Mr. L and three busy munchkins. They all can tell when Mom needs a break or is feeling the heavy load of trying to manage all their lives. I know Friday afternoons exhaustion kicks in. That is probably why I keep our weekends tightly controlled and protected. The week is busy enough with activities, daily dramatic occurrences, work and basically life. This weekend there are some family and friend visits planned, but I do not push the kids to do homework and try to nudge them to finish up their chores Sunday mornings. However, the times I love best are the ones where the house is fairly tidy, tummies are full and we can just sit outside watching the kids play on the swings.

It is in these quiet moments, such as a beautiful spring night where no children are in the car and it is simply me, that I remember, busy times pass. Getting through them is the toughest part. When we are all treading water desperately trying to keep our heads from sinking below we need to remember that sometimes, treading, is all one person can manage. And it is enough. With that thought at the top of my  mind on yet another busy weekday, I drive back up the street to pick up Elizabeth. I smile to myself, crank up the radio as Thrift Shop pulses from the speakers, open all the windows and of course, my cool sun roof, and without a care in the world sing at the top of my lungs. I do not care that I have become that Mom, the one in a huge van still acting like she is eighteen, and I invite the crazy in. After all, what else is a mom of three or more to do? 

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A walk on a spring day.

Another weekend passes by in a flurry of activity. It seems spring brings out everyone with invites for coffee on the patio to drinks at a favourite restaurant. Mingled with the exuberance of our kids itching to dig up worms and plant jewels in the hope a splendidly brilliant jewelled plant will emerge from their muddy pots, it is a time of renewal and yes (insert sigh), spring cleaning.

However, I put all of that on hold this past friday afternoon wanting to enjoy the sunshine and lack of planned activities. I endeavoured to take the kids plus Jake, the dog, on an inaugural walk around the block. The rarity of nice weather has meant our poor yellow lab has been regulated to quick walks in between kid stuff or the backyard with a few good walks a week thrown in by a paid dog walker. This mom just was unable to face taking my crew on a walk while ensuring my old guy did not clip one with his leash while holding umbrellas as it poured around us.

Deciding that as the nice weather continued and I felt safe we were finally out of the clutches of old man winter, I did not look for another dog walker when our current one took on a full time job and was unable to continue helping out. I felt confident in my abilities that if the weather was pleasant, I could handle a walk with kids plus dog.

Walk?

Walk?

After a busy week full of after-school activities, I looked forward to Friday already planning a walk after enjoying snack time out on our patio. My three munchkins, squeezing their knees under the too small toddler table as we await the arrival of our new patio set, were munching on cookies and apples.

After their little tummies were satisfied, we forged ahead. First mistake. Do not let a five year old or seven year old decide to take their “vehicle” of choice unless you are very confident they will ride, scoot etc. the whole way. Giving them a chance, I forewarned them that watching a  runaway toddler while trying to hold Jake meant I could not help with their vehicles. They were responsible for them. Promises were given. Helmets were securely strapped into place and we were off. One on a bike. One on a scooter. One being pushed in an orange “drive-drive” car that we inherited from a friendly neighbour. One on leash excited to be with his “pack” and sniffing all the wonderful smells in our front yard.

Forty-five minutes later, we turned the corner back onto our street from a simple walk around the small block. (Typically this is a ten-minute walk.) Elizabeth was walking her bike having decided she had enough riding. Audrey was pushing Jacob in the car the best she could having to stop every few feet and move it off the lawn she had pushed it onto. I was carrying a scooter while trying to pick up dog poop. What a sight we must have been for the neighbours. The last one hundred feet to our blessed driveway were spent coaxing all the kids to keep going while trying to tell Jacob, who had enough of sitting, not to run across the street.

Giving in I untied the dog’s leash, the relief in my arm immediate as the strained feeling from holding my seventy-five pound guy on a short leash the whole walk and I let him run the rest of the way home. Placing Jacob back in the orange car, I took over pushing the car while carrying Audrey’s scooter as the girls ran ahead. But at least we had made it. The sun was still shining and the neighbour washing his car who had been amusedly watching the whole debacle, shook his head and chuckled as I murmured, “I thought it would be easier this year now that they are a little older?”

As I put all the vehicles away in our full garage, my brood, Jake included, ran crazily into the backyard to drink water claiming all to be “quenched with thirst.” After checking to ensure all were safely playing and Jake was lazily rolling in the newly seeded grass, I started dinner in our kitchen wondering when Mr. L would be home and cocktail hour would start.

I wonder how long it will take to find a new dog walker?

Dancing around the maypole.

“The wind is tossing the lilacs,
The new leaves laugh in the sun,
And the petals fall on the orchard wall,
But for me the spring is done.

Beneath the apple blossoms
I go a wintry way,
For love that smiled in April
Is false to me in May.”
–  Sara Teasdale, May

Has spring actually finally arrived in my little piece of Southwestern Ontario? Within less than five days all the spring flowers have bloomed, the trees are budding, birds are chirping happily building nests and my children are running for the warmth of the sunshine like butterflies eagerly awaiting the warm temperatures. It has been a long wait this year, but with confidence I think we can state, it is spring!

A person can feel their mood lifting with the onset of constant sun. This week is the longest stretch we have had consistently warmer temperatures and sunshine in a few months. I can already feel my whole being sigh with relief and my house is welcoming the open windows.

Last weekend we packed up the family for an hour long trip to a very close friend’s house. R and S are like family to us and we lament that they live so far. Last year we started an annual family sleepover tradition all having young kids still requiring parental supervision where the adults can enjoy some drinks out on the threadbare patios and the kids can giggle and do well, kid-stuff. The girls bunked with their little girl and Jacob bunked with us. It was glorious. The first real taste of a warm spring. A nice change to our little pocket of Ontario where we left gray skies and lower temperatures down by Lake Ontario.

Beauty in the sun.

Beauty in the sun.

This week my two girls have been obsessed with fairy houses and have been diligently writing note after note hoping for the fairies to visit. Currently our playset in our backyard is being turned into a fairy playhouse. Some of my cherished moments are of hearing them playing in harmony instead of the petty bickering that inevitable arises when there are multiple children in a family. I have learned the art this past month of taking a step back and firmly encouraging them to work it out themselves. A constant phrase is, “Is this an emergency? Have you tried to work out? Talk to your sister about it.” A phrase I hear echoed in the classroom and it is with hope I leave them to it turning back to a household chore or chasing a little man who has decided to empty a bag of rice chips all over the kitchen floor.

With spring also comes the reality of taking stock of the winter damage to your property. Gardening, washing windows, finally putting away the winter gear. We also realized that our stone steps although lovely to look at have loosened and sloped to such an extent that measures need to be taken to rebuild or replace them. Add it to the project list. Do they every truly end?

After sneaking away in early April to a writer’s retreat and a renewed dedication to finish a fiction project I am working on, I spent last month forgoing other activities (including this blog) to re-focus myself on finishing a project in the pockets of time I am able to grasp in between family life. A routine has been set-up and to my delight, a fiction novel has developed and I am nearing the last quarter of the story. I can see the finish line!

Now I cannot pretend a lot of hard work is in store as I re-write and edit but the story will be complete which is an accomplishment for this newbie writer and busy mom. On top of that,  I also implemented a new fitness training routine to help prepare for some goals later this summer and truthfully, am feeling stronger each time I pull myself to the gym and leave feeling that natural high that comes after a good work-out.

So what is in store for May? Outside time with the kids. Baseball season starts next week for the girls so I will be trekking to fields across the 401 highway in between spring concerts at school and packing for a big family trip in June. Fitness is on my mind this month. Now that I have a base routine in place, it is time to amp it up and with that figure out how to include the kids.

What are your plans for May?

My dance around the maypole continues.

Parenting Milestones

My path has not been determined. I shall have more experiences and pass many more milestones.

Agnetha Faltskog

A windy April has flown the days by quicker than I imagined. As we still wait for warm weather to appear, our little household is winding down winter activities and there will be a brief lull that I will welcome with open arms. No more running around Monday nights to get the girls ready for skating as tonight marks the last class. Thank goodness too. The girls’ skates are a touch on the small side. Elizabeth (who has never been fond of skating although to give her credit plugs along knowing she is behind others younger than her) has given up and I have become the Mom who is cringing on the bleachers watching my eldest child hang off her instructor or clinging to the side wall. Finding anything to do but the skating drills the rest of her class is doing. Audrey actually seems to be gaining more confidence in skating and although her little shuffles are still cautious, she is precise in her moves and attempting all the drills. But, I think even she will appreciate the break and this mom will gladly take their certificates, pat them on the back for making it through another term of skating and put it aside until next winter. After all, baseball season starts in three weeks and there will be a whole new set of challenges to face for my two girls.

Jacob only knows he is not going skating and watches each week sadly out the front window as we leave. Upon our return home he keeps repeating, “I skate when I three?” To which I respond by kissing his cute little fingers and nod yes, next winter Mommy will take him skating. I am sure he will also appreciate the break of having a babysitter every Monday afternoon and some much needed quality time with his sisters. One benefit of being a mom of three or more, hopefully one of your brood will embrace some of the sports and activities you try so hard to diligently expose them to.

Knowing that each child has their own unique strengths and challenges, Mr. L and I always believed that there are a set of skills necessary as part of childhood. We do not expect Olympic athletes. But we do strongly encourage our kids to learn the basics of some sports and skills in the hopes they will have fun, get some exercise and maybe learn to find their hobbies/passions that will stay with them through life. These markers of childhood are plentiful. Riding a bike, learning to skate, (after all we do live in Canada where cold weather is dominant most of the year). Learning to ski. Swimming on their own with no life jacket and water safety. Along with other non-sport skills like reading, learning the basics to playing an instrument and how to tie shoe-laces, it is our job to help teach them these things. We do our best in our busy household, sometimes taking things upon ourselves and often taking advantage of the wonderful community programs available to help us.

However, the time it takes to do this with three or more, well anyone who has tried with one child, multiply that times three, especially if you have kids all within a similar age range without the benefit of having older children to model the behaviours or help younger siblings. It is a lot of work for two people. I applaud those families that are single-parent families going through these parenting milestones.  Most days I feel I am not doing enough or teaching them quick enough.

Through the last year or so, I have learned to take help when offered. Often, trying to teach your children yourself just does not work well for various reasons. You need infinite patience that is truthfully sometimes hard to attain after arguing about homework with a seven-year old or falling asleep because your toddler was up at four am demanding that Mommy sleep in his room. You also need time. Time taken away from all the other things you have to manage in your life.

So it is with a great amount of pride and relief when I saw my eldest girl teaching her younger brother his colours. She patiently spent a half hour taking different coloured-crayons out of our huge assortment of pencils/pencil crayons/crayons/markers Ziploc bag and having him repeat each colour to her. It was with little surprise that shortly after that, my two-year old could rattle off correctly nearly every primary colour. Check that off my parenting list!

It was also with gratitude I said, “Yes!!” when my mother and step-father asked if they could get the girls their new big girl bikes for their birthdays. Being February babies, they waited until this past weekend and picked up two very excited girls. Elizabeth had already started on a bike when she turned five. Rejecting the tricycle, she went straight to a bright blue two-wheeler with streamers and training wheels. With a little hard work she managed to take-off and enjoyed leisurely riding around the neighbourhood.

On one of the rare warmer days earlier this spring, she hopped on the blue bike. Right away we noticed how much she had grown since last summer. It was time for the next bike size. Her younger sister then attempted to get on Elizabeth’s old bike but the clunky monster was hard for her to pedal and she was easily frustrated. We hoped by getting her a brand new bike of her own, it would encourage her to keep pedaling.

After a lunch out with the grandparents, they arrived banging on our front door asking me to come outside with Jacob. Jacob ran to get his tricycle, desperate to keep up with his sisters, whom to my delight hopped on their shiny new bikes and took off down the sidewalk only pedaling back when I yelled, “Helmets!!”

“Audrey is doing it!” I exclaimed feeling excited at seeing my younger daughter pedal her first bike.

“She kept riding it in the store until she got it!” Responded my mom. Somewhere in my mind, I knew the excursion to buy bikes with their grandparents worked better for my girls than if I had taken them. I can picture myself distractedly trying to get them on the bikes to size them while chasing a toddler through the store and the inevitable whining as each tried to get my attention. Instead, they were excited and proud to show their grandparents what they could do and my mom and step-dad were infinitely more patient with them than I could have been this spring. A win-win for my girls.

An impromptu walk/ride around the block was next and even after a couple of falls and firm encouragement to get back on their bikes and keep going, both girls did not care their hands were freezing on the chilly April afternoon. They simply rode their bikes while their little brother took it all in watching them pedal their two-wheelers.

As I look ahead with excitement to warmer temperatures and the winding down of activities, I will try to remember the joy and happiness I could sense from my kids doing the simple things. The couple of times we went skating this year and my older daughter just glided in the softly falling snow without the demands of lessons. Riding their bikes on a sunny afternoon or  colouring together at our kitchen table. I will take these moments and try to remember that even if it takes a bit of time and sometimes frustration, it is well worth it to help them learn these life lessons.

Next step. Removing the training wheels on a a seven-year old’s bike. The teaching never stops.