Get the gear ready!

Elizabeth's first baseball game of the season.

Elizabeth’s first baseball game of the season.

Second week of May and spring sports season is here!  Many parents will give wonderful advice about how to prepare for this time of year. (Me included!) Going into my fourth year of the kid-time hustle, here are some pointers on how to look like you are way more organized than you really are.

1. Your vehicle is a mess from the winter. Salt stains on the carpets. Food encrusted everywhere. It’s going to get worse. First, clean your vehicle or get it detailed. People won’t believe how you manage to keep crumbs off the floor because chances are, as you pop open the side doors and trunks of your multi-child vehicle of choice, people are peeking in to see if the interior of your car is worse than theirs.

2. If you don’t have them, buy enough camp chairs as you have seats of your car. Keep two or three in the vehicle and the rest in the garage just in case your mother – in -law decides to come and watch the kids.

3. Invest in a good waterproof picnic blanket. It will save damp butt syndrome especially when your kids want to sit on the dew-misted grass.

4. Find a friend who sells cool gear like Thirty-One. Tons of bags and organization ideas. Invest in one per sport. I have a large bag that can hold baseball helmets, extra bat, gloves for the family and anything else.  The worst thing is looking for a baseball glove and find instead a bike helmet in that closet you just can’t seem to get organized. If you can, leave the bag in the van. Why bring it inside?

5. In our house, I often have to take sibling along to game nights. This year I am going to have pre-packed knapsack per person for: sunblock, hats, sweaters and toys/colouring etc. Having a couple of cool toys also brings kids together. The best distraction for your kids, the other siblings at the games. If they don’t find a kindred spirit, a good book or colouring helps distract them. Your knapsack should include the water/snacks for your family, camera/camera phone for snapping candid pictures and an umbrella.

6. Don’t stress if your kid can’t make every game or practice. Nobody can.

7. If your kid’s coach isn’t pushing the “every parent rotate to bring snacks for the whole team,” don’t suggest it! I prefer to bring snacks for my own kids that are not juice boxes or granola bars. They had a full dinners before or will be having a full dinners after. Snacks are at my discretion and to be honest, lugging all my kids plus snacks for fifteen other kids through ankle deep grasses to the field the farthest from the parking lot is not high on my wish list.  Plus, I have two extra kids and I’m sure most families have other kids there too, it’s like a virus. If one sees another having a snack, they want one too and where does it stop?

8. Throw an extra blanket or two in your vehicle. It gets cold some nights and you (or your other kids) will want it at some point.

9. Bring a book/magazine or crossword puzzle for yourself. Sometimes it works out and we find new parent friends to pass the time with. Other times, we don’t. Bring something just in case for that inning your kid is on the bench. We are pro multi-taskers and baseball games are long. Don’t be afraid to finish that chapter if you want.

10. BUT, make sure you are off your device/looking up when your kid is up to bat or is just about to score on net. You don’t want to miss it and make sure to cheer every time your kid’s team gets a hit or scores. Your kid will notice if you weren’t watching that.

And lastly, (because that’s how I roll) after you get home, get your kids cleaned up and into bed, make those nights your special drink of choice night. Could be that new wine, beer, summer cocktail or mint tea. Drink it and relax. It all starts again tomorrow.

Good luck to us all!

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Let’s go out to the ballgame!

Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!” 
― Babe Ruth

Baseball. The sport of spring and summer. Baseball started last week and two out of my three munchkins have been eagerly dressed in their newly pressed uniforms ready to go even before the season started. Gritting my teeth, I mentally prepared myself for the packing up of equipment and mapping out the different parks across two cities. This is the year my girls are split in two different directions. No longer able to be on the same team in the same league, their two-year age difference brings about the first indicator what my future holds trying to manage three different sets of activities. At the end of last week I was left wondering if it was yet possible to clone oneself in order to be in different places at different times?

Fortunately, the first game for my five-year old was on a pleasant evening. Driving frantically from swimming class to the nearest drive-through to grab dinner and a coffee before trying to program the GPS to find the obscure park where the Angels  t-ball team were playing. My little guy was tucked safely at home with our standard Tuesday night babysitter and my elder girl was munching away on her french fries in the back seat of our van. Driving around one hand on the steering wheel and the other clutched around my chicken wrap, I found the park, scanned the no parking signs until a side street brought relief where we carefully steered into a vacant spot. As I gobbled down my dinner, I was calculating the least amount of items I would have to bring on the brief walk to the diamond. Chair. Check. Blanket for Elizabeth to sit on and try to complete her homework. Check. Elizabeth’s homework. Check. Audrey’s batting helmet and glove. Check. Water for everyone. Check. Thanks goodness it was not my night on snack duty!

After settling into a damp grassy spot behind home plate, Elizabeth and I sat down to watch her younger sister. Then Elizabeth was up, kicking stones trying to get her younger sister’s attention. Wanting to talk to the coach who was her coach last year. Wandering in the grass. After many attempts and finally a veiled threat to take her back to the car, she sat down to do her homework. Her attention diverted, I could finally watch my sometimes timid five-year old strike out on her own without the comfort of her sister. She kept up with the group, looking back once in a while to assure herself we were still there. Eventually I saw her start to relax and have fun running the bases jumping up and down making them squeak. Elizabeth finished her reading. I had finished my last coffee of the day. So, I drew out Elizabeth’s glove and my own thinking what a great opportunity for us to play catch.

Audrey on the Angels.

Audrey on the Angels.

I had played baseball as a youngster. Although never the best on a co-ed team, I had enjoyed being outside and the team spirit. It wasn’t until last year at a Jays game with my parents and daughters I remembered that once upon a time, I had loved baseball.

I used to cheer when my team got a home run and loved hearing the crickets chirping as I stood out in field watching dusk approach. Eventually, I was even able to hit decently for a petite sized girl. I was always a little afraid of the ball and I appreciated that no one judged me for my abilities but just worked around them. I was never playing first base when my team was in the field, but my coaches did try to expose me to different positions and encouraged me to open my eyes as the ball came hurtling towards me. Most importantly, I learned about being on a team and having fun. My only real regret from playing baseball in my younger years was that my parents did not come very often to my games. My Mom, also being a Mom of three, had to juggle two other kids so I was dropped off and then picked up at a pre-arranged meeting place. I missed having someone there cheer me on. To be honest, I did not put a lot of effort into playing.  That is probably why today, as a parent, I make such an effort to be at every game cheering my girls on.  Encouraging them to keep trying and advising them after the game to “keep their eyes open and glove ready.”

The next night it was Elizabeth’s turn to play baseball on her new team. A completely different kind of baseball night, it was rainy and damp. I pulled out my umbrella and kept hoping they would call it off. As I switched vehicles with Mr. L who had come to take the younger kids home, I tried to answer his insistence the game should be cancelled that Elizabeth was now in “real” baseball having moved up to Soft Toss. They don’t cancel games unless there is a thunderstorm. He had shrugged, happy to escape the hour and half commitment and securing my place as the baseball parent.

Elizabeth is also in a different city league on a co-ed team due to other previously committed activities. This means she plays twice a week rather than one and I have to try to navigate numerous parks instead of just one throughout the season. A Pirate this year, she happily pulled on her yellow jersey as we sauntered up to the coach and ran out into the field where she watched each play, running towards the ball albeit not making any attempt to pick it up and throw it. Like mother, like daughter. I sat smiling chatting to another Mom while we shook fat rain droplets off our umbrellas.

Elder girl at baseball.

Elder girl at baseball.

This year, soft toss means she is “off the tee” and hitting from a slow-moving pitching machine. The coaches, a little more rigorous in their approach, gamely take her aside and well, coach her. She is after all, only one of two girls on the team. However, she watches the boys who can hit the home runs in awe and I hope she soaks up some of their glory and feelings of victory. Watching her high-five the only other kid she knows, a boy from her class at school, I sit back and let her go. Unlike her younger sister who looked for me every ten minutes, Elizabeth was not looking back but listening to her coaches tell her where to go and where to stand. She grew up a little bit for me after that game, even after watching her eat the watermelon in the rain afterwards her face stained red from the juice as she wiped her hands on her jersey, looking up at me with a guilty look on her face as she chatted to her teammates. All I did was wave and shrug and I let her be. After all, being with your team and getting wet and dirty, isn’t that part of baseball?

As I plunge into baseball season I wish for good weather, fun times, learning where to grab hot coffee and most importantly, that my girls continue to love the game as much as I do.

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?

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.