Our local paper, The Ottawa Citizen, ran a wonderful story about our family. I am so thrilled with how it turned out! (I also just noticed the second tab with pictures!)
It’s been a quiet blogging season. The demands of early pregnancy (now in its 24th week), toddler twins and work have essentially squeezed writing time right out of my schedule. In my few writing moments, I struggle to find inspiration. The topics abound but my writing rings hollow. I have ideas that I struggle to put in order. I have half-started posts on a range of subjects, from teenagers to sleep training to sibling rivalry, with nothing to add. But a recent post in a Facebook parenting group had me reflecting and my reflection lead me to a few ideas I would like to share.
A parent asked for thoughts and opinions on the discipline book “I-2-3 Magic” by Thomas W. Phelan. It was all the rage when my older children (born between 1996 and 2002) were younger. Her questions led me to revisit the 1-2-3 Magic method of discipline and reflect on my own experience. Like most disciplinary methods, the 1-2-3 Magic approach to discipline is rooted in an equal mix of sound psychological information, half-baked assumptions and a one-size-fits-all solution. As with most parenting books, it is very difficult to accept it or discredit it on the whole.
**** As usual with all my discipline posts, this only applies to children who are mentally and physically healthy. Parents of children with special needs such as mental health issues, brain injuries or autism spectrum disorder, or parents who themselves struggle with these issues, may define successful discipline differently and achieve great success with methods that are otherwise problematic for “conventional” children. I am not an expert, just a mom with opinions. *****
The 1-2-3 Magic approach is based on the observation that parents talk too damn much. And this is true. Whether you are a screamer, a ranter, a lecturer or a cajoler, even if you engage in endless explaining in the hope that your child will understand the logic of your position and concede your victory, chances are your discipline involves way too much talking. Studies have repeatedly shown that children (and teenagers!) tune out after a very short period of talking. With the 1-2-3 Magic approach, you let a negative outcome, a time-out period, do the talking. A short explanation may be given, followed by a count to 3. If by 3 the behaviour has not stopped, the child is put in a time-out. The book’s subtitle “Effective Discipline for Children 2 to 12” infers that this method is appropriate for children older than 6. My educated opinion as a mother of almost 9 is that if you are still counting your child past Senior Kindergarten (5 years-old), you have a much bigger issue on your hands than day-to-day discipline. The fact that you may still count a 12 year-old illustrates my main concern with the method: it teaches the children to be compliant without allowing them to develop inner discipline and compliance born of trust in their parents’ lead. If you wonder why this matters, you will find out the hard way when you have teenagers.
My own experience with the 1-2-3 Magic Method (and its acolytes) is that it made my children manipulative and self-centered. When you put children in the driver’s seat of deciding whether they prefer complying or taking the time-out, you get children who become extraordinarily efficient at figuring out what is good for them in less than 3 seconds. I was discussing this with my husband while doing dishes the other evening and I said: “If you give children the choice between ‘stop hitting your brother’ and ‘go to your room’, some will choose the room 100% of the time, as long as they can shove one last time… and come out to hit again” and my 14 year-old chimed-in “That’s me!” Her observation was only half-accurate: she never had an aggression problem but her explosive temperament means that her frustration is expressed impulsively without thinking about the consequences. Sending her to her room after the fact still allowed the release of anger in inadequate ways and the memory of previous time-outs was never motivation enough to check her angry outbursts at the door.
This example illustrates two of my main concerns with the method. First, this one-size-fits-all approach to behaviour modification doesn’t consider the importance of knowing your child’s individual temperament in finding effective discipline. Temperament, also known as our natural pattern of reactions, not only determines whether a discipline approach will be effective in modifying the behaviour but also in determining what will motivate our child to do the right thing. My second issue is that it doesn’t emphasize the importance of attachment in ensuring some compliance from our children or, at the very least, explain the absence of compliance, especially as the children grow-out of the preschool years and approach the challenging 6-10 years of age. As Gordon Neufeld so aptly writes it in his excellent book “Hold On to your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers”:
“When we focus so narrowly on what we should be doing, we become blind to our attachment relationship with our children and its inadequacies. Parenthood is above all a relationship, not a skill to be acquired. Attachment is not a behavior to be learned but a connection to be sought.”
The simplicity of methods like 1-2-3 Magic is what appeals to parents who have a tendency to loose themselves in explanations or rants. But the same simplicity can hide the appearance of attachment voids and the growth of attachment-related issues that are often harder to address during the teenage years, when our children are well beyond the reach of time-outs and punishments. For parents who are inclined to fall within what Dr. Phelan calls the Talk-Persuade-Argue-Yell-Hit Syndrome, 1-2-3 Magic can prevent the constant attacks on attachment caused by age-inappropriate verbal diarrhea. But what we need to remember most of all is that if you need to talk-persuade-argue-yell-hit (even if you only make it to argue and yell) every time you ask something, you are more likely dealing with a relationship problem rather than a behaviour problem.
As parents, we can’t help but notice when our grip on our children is slipping. We get caught in endless arguments, tantrums, and crisis. We are unable to ensure compliance, ever. Parents who rely on coercive methods of discipline, also known under the euphemisms of “consequences” and including time-outs and isolation, watch themselves get caught in a “consequence rut” or in a “last man standing” contest. I often recall a grocery store trip on December 23rd when two active little boys would not leave the candy display alone while their mother waited in line at the cash register. “At 3, if you haven’t stopped, we’re not going to Florida!” and I was dying to reply: “As if!!” But here is the utter powerlessness of a parent who cannot simply ask her boys not to play with the candies.
As with any relationship, the parent-child relationship needs to be nurtured and built-up. Often, our children’s misbehaviours are warning bells we better not ignore. The constant resort to time-outs can prevent us from listening to our child and improve our game. To be effective teachers, we need to first discipline ourselves. How many tantrums could be avoided if we simply provided our children with a calmer, more structured environment? How much aggression could be prevented if we simply took time to reconnect and empathize with an overwhelmed child? How many meltdowns could be nipped in the bud if we simply respected our child’s shyness and reluctance to embrace new situations? Those are all “discipline” problems that are within us as parents to solve, if we would only discipline ourselves and put order in our environment. When we punish our children for responding in an age-appropriate manner to our own lack of structure and discipline, we effectively demand more maturity from our children than we are able to display ourselves.
Does it mean that we must put-up with anything? What about strong-willed children? In the words of Gordon Neufeld (because I couldn’t write it better):
“We may believe that our child is stubborn or willful and that we have to break him of his defiant ways. Yet young children can hardly be said to have a will at all, if by that is meant a person’s capacity to know what he wants and to stick to that goal despite setbacks or distractions. “But my child is strong-willed,” many parents insist. “When he decides that he wants something he just keeps at it until I cannot say no, or until I get very angry.” What is really being described here is not will but a rigid, obsessive clinging to this or that desire. An obsession may resemble will in its persistence but has nothing in common with it. Its power comes from the unconscious and it rules the individual, whereas a person with true will is in command of his intentions. The child’s oppositionality is not an expression of will. What it denotes is the absence of will, which allows a person only to react, but not to act from a free and conscious process of choosing.”
As parents, we need to be able to demand compliance from our children. We may not always be able to connect and empathize with our children first, especially in dangerous situations. The work of building a strong relationship of trust, whereby a child will follow our lead most of the time, happens in the little moments between the meltdowns and the impulsive behaviour. Our power to discipline is not built through coercion as the meltdowns happen. In fact, the opposite is true: by the time we are locked in a power struggle or facing a temper tantrum, our power to teach is all but gone. We need to think ahead and own-up to our share of responsibility in causing our children’s misbehaviours.
I often wonder how often my children would send me off to my room if they could…
I had a moment the other morning. You know the kind? A “Mother of the Year” moment.
I’m telling you this because I used to think that mothers of large families were different. I used to think they had a special gift, a special patience, a special temperament. That they were “good with children,” whereas I wasn’t. I used to think that mothers of large families found joy in the little aggravations of motherhood, whereas I found exasperation. I used to think that they had boundless patience and energy, whereas I ran out of both shortly after getting up in the morning.
I am now one of those mothers. I have 8 children including a pair of twins. I am expecting my 9th child in the spring of 2014. I am a member of the large family club although I expect someone to knock at my door and revoke my membership any day. Mothers of large family are inspirations. They make people think they can do it too. I don’t think anyone looks at me that way. Or maybe they look at me and think: “Yeah… let’s not and say we did.”
Mothers of large families have moments too. Moments like the other morning, when my 4 year-old woke-up just a little too early. I dragged my sorry behind to the kitchen to help her with breakfast before she could wake-up the twins. No luck: I heard one baby stir and thought that I may be able to nurse him back to sleep for another hour or two. I hurried to prepare my daughter’s bowl of cereal before the crying twin could wake-up his sister. Doing so, I inadvertently poured the milk instead of letting her do it. We’ve all done this right? Except that the difference between you and I is that you only have two children: I’ve had 17 years to learn these lessons and I still screw-up.
I am nursing one baby to the sound of a major melt down in the kitchen. She is screaming like her arm has been chewed-off by a shark. The second baby starts waking-up. I return the first baby to his bed and leave the room. Return to the kitchen and that’s when I had my “moment”. I grabbed my daughter by the arms, sat her down a little too firmly in front of her bowl of cereal and told her to stop screaming. Actually, I may have told her to shut-up. I did not threaten to tape her mouth shut with duct tape although the fleeting though may have crossed my mind. My entire day was going up in smoke: the twins up before 6 am meant that they would certainly fall asleep in the car when I left for errands at 9; the short car nap would certainly knee-cap the afternoon nap; no afternoon nap means no work in the afternoon; no afternoon nap means a hellish supper time; a hellish supper time makes everybody cranky and uncooperative. And I dumped all this squarely on my 4 year-old’s shoulders. Because yeah, she should know, right?
By now, I was back nursing my second twin back to sleep but my daughter was no longer screaming: she was wailing and sobbing for a hug. And from upstairs, stuck nursing in the dark, my heart sank. My child is only 4 and her need for affection and affirmation is gigantic. Not that my other children’s needs are less significant. But this particular child feels everything keenly. The frustration of having the milk poured for her but also her mother’s disapproval and anger. The firm arm grab, the harsh tone of voice, they just broke her apart. And now, I was at a loss to understand how after parenting so many children for so many years, I could still let a 4 year-old get the best of me.
I did give her a big hug. And I did apologize. Later that evening, as we were reading bedtime stories and cuddling in bed, I still felt the sting of failure but she didn’t seem to remember. We read about the wolf and the seven kids, naming each kid after her siblings, puzzling as always over who would be left out (all the kids are swallowed whole by the wolf so it’s a blessing really.) My little tantrum of the morning seemed all but forgotten.
In the balance of our parenting, we all hope that the happy, cozy, moments, the ones that we share around a bedtime story or a family walk in the park will outweigh the moments when we lose it. That’s why we need to love and cherish our children at every opportunity. So that on the whole, they’ll remember their childhood as a happy one, and their parents as loving. I don’t know yet how my children will remember me: a loving mom or a tired old hag with a short fuse? Maybe it will be a bit of both.
I used to parent with very clear goals and expectations in mind. I still parent with vision. But the minute expectations about my children’s table manners and church etiquette have given way to a broader vision of happiness and respect for themselves and others. If I can’t be a perfect parent, I will cover my imperfections with an extra layer of love and forgiveness. I hope that my children will remember the love over the imperfections. Warts and all.
Par une belle journée d’automne, nous avons passé de bien beaux moments sur notre propriété en campagne. Pour l’instant, il ne s’agit que de champs et de forêts. Mais un jour, nous y construirons une maison. Si vous cliquez sur la première photo, vous pourrez toutes les voir en pleine grandeur.
True confession: I never waited for my kids to be “ready”. I potty train at 2. That’s it. None of my children (until the twins) cared about spending some time in a soiled or wet diaper. Some of them may still be in diapers had I been waiting for signs of readiness. There is a window of good will at age 2 and we jump right through it.
Our no-nonsense approach to potty training hinges on the knowledge of our potty-training children’s temperaments and the unavoidable fact that we cannot control their sphincter function. Keep cool, calm, and collected. This is not about you. First read the preamble to this potty training edition and make sure that you are in the right frame of mind to teach your child: The Potty Training Edition
1. Take time off work, or plan to stay home for 4-5 days. The key to potty-training success is repeated successes. Success is defined as peeing in appropriate places. This is very difficult and immensely frustrating if you are always on the go.
Ask me about the day I sat my potty training toddler on a cashier’s counter at a department store and she emptied her bladder. I asked for a towel and the cashier gave me 2 tissues… That’s how I learned that if I was going to keep my temper, I would have to stay home for a few days or use Pull-Ups.
Don’t set yourself and your child for failure. Being constantly on-the-go will cause setbacks that are frustrating for you and demotivating for your child.
2. Figure out what motivates your child. Our approach is based on rewards or positive reinforcement. Some children respond well to motivational charts with stickers. Others respond well to the feeling of being a big boy/big girl. Some children are motivated by a special treat. Don’t skimp on the rewards: this is for a limited time only. Once the habit of peeing/pooping in the toilet is well established, you won’t have problems removing the treat, it happens very naturally. We use Smarties all the way. If you see that one motivator is not registering, try another. One of my friends buys a big toy that goes on display on top of the fridge. She uses stickers and after 7 days without accident, the toy is theirs. My kids would get discouraged by the delayed gratification and responded better to the immediate gratification of a single Smarties candy. For the purpose of this post, I will use “Smarties” as a synonym for “reward”.
3. Reward liberally. At first, I give Smarties to everybody who pees in the toilet. It sets the mood for the potty training child.
4. On the first day, I put my child in underwear. A little note: some children will treat undies like a diaper and only have success completely naked. That’s cool too. Just have a lot of cleaning supplies handy and let go of your inhibitions. Make sure that your partner, significant other or co-parent is on board. If not, delay potty training until you can teach with one voice. I strongly advise against using any form of punishment to potty train. It causes more problems than it seems to solve at first.
5. Your goal for the first few days (it can take a few hours or a few days) is to make your child aware that she is peeing. What does peeing feels like? Before a child can learn to hold pee, she needs to learn what pee feels like. The sensation that we “need” to go is the feeling of pressure in the bladder and tightening our sphincters. The first phase of potty training is to make them aware that they are peeing. I watch them like a hawk and offer the potty but I never force them. As soon as they pee I take them to the potty and say “You peed! Next time we’ll do it on the potty”. No rant, no lecture, no disappointment. I try to get them to sit on the potty long enough to pee but this can be difficult. I make a game out of it, try to read a book, watch a movie, whatever. Otherwise, I just let them be and tell them when they pee. “Oups, another pee. Next time you’ll do it in the potty.” I always have some cleaning supplies handy because this can be a messy stage. I also buy 2 dozens cheap underwear. They have to be cheap enough to be cut and thrown out if the child has a really bad poop accident. The key to potty training success is to keep your cool in all circumstances. Scrubbing poop and swishing disgusting underwear in the toilet is not a circumstance that commands coolness. Life is too short to spend it up to your elbows in a toilet bowl. Unless you work in the septic tank business. But I’m not paid for this gig.
6. Keep body functions matter-of-fact, will ya? Peeing is no big deal. There are no air-horns going-on when you pee, are there? Some children may be jubilant when they have early success. Jubilate with them. But for some temperaments, the jubilation is a cause of stress and increased expectations. At first, keep the horns and sirens under wrap until you get a feel for what motivates or stresses your child. I ask my early potty-trainee if she needs to go every 2 minutes. At the first sign of stress or stubbornness, I ratchet-it-down a few notches and leave my child alone. Yes, she may pee on the floor, and that’s ok: she is learning what peeing feels like. Never force your child to sit on the potty/toilet. Just walk away, make tea, go scrub your baseboards or something. At the end of a long day, I have been known to put a diaper back on. Relax, this is not a salvation issue. If you can’t respond in a constructive way DON’T RESPOND. Put a diaper on the child and pour yourself a drink or three.
7. Every time your child puts even a drop of pee in the toilet, give her a Smarties. The goal is to teach her what peeing feels like. Be liberal with the Smarties: she may want to go to the toilet every 30 seconds, fantastic!! Take her. If you get a single drop of pee every 30 seconds, give her a reward every single time. To expel a drop of pee, she is using her sphincters. This is good stuff. One of my friends (a mother of 10) uses pretzels because it makes them thirsty…. Then they need to go more often. Apple juice and pretzels, Baby! Now you understand why you are taking 4-5 days at home to do this.
8. As soon as you see the pee=potty relation consolidate, build on it. If you go to the park, bring a potty. The more time you invest in potty training during the early days, the more success you will have. If you interrupt your potty training for errands, playgroups, coffees etc, it will take longer.
9. Once your child understands what peeing feels like and can control the outflow of pee, she will naturally start to keep it in. I find that this happens naturally: when they understand what pee feels like and are motivated to do it in the toilet, they learn to hold it. This may take a day for a motivated child but it can also take longer. That’s why I don’t like any method that promises success within a certain number of days. “Success” is not potty training in 3 days, children are not machines. “Success” is peeing and pooping in appropriate places with no damage to your relationship.
10. Be ready for setbacks. Potty training is often two steps forward one step back. As your child learns to control her bladder, she can get overconfident and start having accidents again. As always, keep your cool. She is not doing this to annoy you. Stress and tension in the household can also compromise potty training. Potty training is very demanding on the child: if her brain is occupied by a sudden language spurt or a stressful situation in the family, it may take away from potty training. Once again, keep your cool and stay the course.
11. The answer to any and every accident is calm and composed: “Oups, you had an accident! Next time you’ll do it in the toilet.” Don’t rant, don’t argue. Walk away, go make tea, call your girlfriend or take-up crochet. I usually just check Instagram and see what cooler people are up to.
12. Just stay the course. Remember that the most important key to success is not to let potty training turn into a power struggle. You will lose that struggle. It’s as simple a physiology: you cannot control someone’s sphincters. On the up side, your child cannot control your response. Manage what you can control and let go of what you can’t. Remain unaffected by your toddler’s antics. Respond constructively or don’t respond. It’s ok to ignore the bad stuff, how do you think I went this far without taking-up drinking?
13. If you have questions, just leave a comment. Don’t get married to a deadline, those only cause friction and stress. After 5 days in underwear, if your child shows no awareness of her need to pee, nor willingness or ability to go on the potty, stop and wait another month. If after 5 days your child has anxiety or throws tantrums at the sight of the potty, stop and waits another month. If your partner supports harsh methods of potty training and punishes your child when she pees in inappropriate places, stop and get a supportive partner. If your child is scared of the toilet, use a potty. If your child doesn’t want to use the potty, try a toilet adjuster. If your child is severely constipated or has pain when urinating, stop and seek medical attention.
You cannot your child’s sphincters, your child’s mind or your child’s temper.
You can control your response, your temper, the purchase of diapers.
The key to success is to know the difference between what you can control and what you can’t and acting accordingly. Stay calm and happy potty training!
I would say that life gets busier as the twins hit toddlerhood. I used to have time to blog but now, I take 30 minutes to check Facebook before I go to bed and that’s the extent of my online presence. I’m not sure where time went. It seems to run through my fingers like water, one day after the next.
Here’s what a day looks like when I work. I work 3 days a week.
5:15 Wake-up. That’s an hour earlier than the children. I need the hour to wake-up before the children descend on the kitchen. Believe me, this makes me a better person. During this hour, I drink my coffee and maybe do a bit of non-demanding work like formatting my writing portfolio. Most of the time, I read the paper and check what happened on Facebook overnight.
6:00 My three teenagers wake-up. No, scratch that. My two oldest teenagers wake-up. Their sister sleeps through the alarm, the pots and pans, and a nuclear apocalypse.
During the weekend, I make cookie dough that I roll into logs and refrigerate, kind of like a homemade Pillsbury cookie thing. As the kids get-up, I bake cookies for their lunches. It makes them better people.
6:15 The teenagers descend on the kitchen and start making breakfast and putting their lunches together. If they are in a good mood, this can be a pleasant time. When the grocery is running low, it is very unpleasant.
6:30 I realize that the youngest of the three teenagers is missing-in-action. I send someone, usually me, to wake her up. She looks at me with eyes wide open, she may even answer me. It doesn’t mean that she is awake.
6:45 The younger four start waking-up in no set order. This is when the fun begins. Except that it’s not always fun. I may or may not have a series of temper tantrums over this or that. I may wonder why they didn’t stay in bed, as I would if I was still tired. Mystery.
Between 6:30 and 7:20, I start harassing my teenagers to do their morning chores. They need to empty the dishwasher (so I can fill it), feed the dog (so it can go out to poop) and take the dog out to poop (so she can go in her crate for the day). This is the part where they start complaining about the unfairness of life: what, you mean that our meals are cooked, our bills are paid, and we have to empty the clean dishwasher?? What’s next? Put away the laundry that is washed for us??
If the twins are still sleeping, I have time to have a shower. If not, it will have to wait until everybody is off to school.
7:00 My spider-sense alerts me to the fact that I have not yet seen my youngest teenager. If we’re lucky, she’s up and getting dressed. If not watch-out because the bus comes in 20 minutes. She will touch down in the kitchen like a tornado and in a whirlwind of orders, barked and otherwise, will get ready to go to school. She may accusingly declare that since I made her in such a way that she doesn’t wake-up at the sound of the alarm, it is my responsibility to ensure that she is up and dressed at a reasonable time. Yeah, my kids say funny stuff like that all the time. The problem is that they believe it.
The twins are getting up. I nurse them and give them breakfast. Oatmeal with fruits or cold cereals with fruits and yogourt.
7:30 The first batch of children is off to school. I realize that my elementary school kids are still snoozing. Crap. I keep promising myself to get them up at 7:00.
My 4 year-old demands a “giant hug”. This means that I must sit on the couch with her for as long as her Hugness desires. It’s a pit stop for physical affection: when the tank is full, she drives away.
I rotate between helping the younger children with their breakfast and making 3 lunches. Our lunches consist of a main meal (sandwich, pizza made on naan bread, pasta with cheese…), a fruit, cookies, juice or water in a bottle and a snack like yogourt, apple sauce or popcorn (we have a corn popper. My neighbour wasn’t able to sell it at her garage sale 15 years ago so she gave it to me. Best money I never spent: we use it daily).
8:20 I shoo my elementary school kids off to school. This usually involve a mad rush for matching shoes and a desperate cry for “Did you sign my tests?” followed by a flurry of papers being pulled out of the bag as I am trying to push stuff into the bag. Chaos ensues.
8:21 The second batch of kids are gone. I take a deep breath and feel like a deserve a drink. I have a condescending thought for all the people who think that 8:30 am is early. Normally, I should be getting in the car to go to work. More likely though, I am still un-showered and in my pjs. My husband comes out of his home office and asks: “Aren’t you going to work?” I reply: “Of course I am, why are you asking?”
8:30 Showered, sort of dressed, hair…. bah. Whatever. I look for my daughter’s socks. I pick the first two. They never match. One day, I gave her matching socks and she laughed. She doesn’t even know that socks come in matching pairs, this child of the Hand-Me-Downs. Manage expectations People, this will keep you sane. I look at what my daughter is wearing. It usually involves layers, textures and patterns. Lots of patterns. I tell my husband that the Montessori teachers must appreciate the fact that she dresses entirely on her own. He doubts it.
8:40 The “You’re late” school bus drives by my house. That’s the bus I’m never supposed to see because I’m supposed to be long gone, driving my daughter to preschool. We get in the van and drive away.
8:50 Drop-off at preschool.
9:30 I get to work. I write correspondence for a federal Member of Parliament. What this means is that when people write to their MP, I answer. My boss reads my replies and edits them as needed. I can tell how his week is going by the amount of edits. He can probably do the same. I work 3 days a week. On the days I am not at work, I would be going for a run with the twins and my dog.
2:30 I get off work, pick-up a few food items on my way to preschool, pick-up my daughter and possibly other people too. There is a graph that explains when and where I am to pick up which child on any given day. It was trained into me. “This is not a drill, soldier. This is a live project. You’re a go.” (Except that Matt Damon is not in the van with me).
4:00 I get home with my daughter. The teens are already home. The twins are crazy cranky and initiate the whole whine-and-cheese fest for mom. I nurse one while the other has a complete meltdown. I nurse the other. If I am lucky, I still have some frozen meals prepared. If not, I have to make supper while my three younger children compete to see who can drive mom nuts the fastest to the most spectacular effect. I play a game of kids-whack-a-mole involving serving 4 different snacks while trying to keep the twins from doing what twins do best: induce chaos. With one hand, I make supper while keeping the kids from raiding the fridge with the other hand, and closing the cupboard doors with the other hand, while retrieving the hand-mixer with the other hand, while getting a twin out of the (stored) deep-fryer with the other hand, while grabbing a juice bottle just before the other twin pours it on his face with the other hand. Twin whack-a-mole is a fun game except that my sense of humour is deficient.
5:15 I fix myself a double cappuccino. For the second half of the day.
5:30 or 6:30 We eat. And by “eat” I mean that I stuff my face with one hand while feeding the twins with the other. My husband and teenagers are trying to have an intelligent conversation about world events while the younger children exercise their right to free expression. My husband tries to tell me something. It usually ends with “….nevermind, I’ll tell you in 25 years.”
6:30 The twins have their baths and get ready for bed. I get the 4 younger children cleaned and ready for bed while my husband cleans the kitchen. On any given day, there is a waltz of activities and teens comings-and-goings. By 7:00 pm, the twins are down and we get bedtime routines started for the next 2. My husband and 7 year-old son are reading The Chronicles of Narnia together. I go lie down with my 4 year-old until she settles enough to fall asleep. This may require a few stories and more songs. I may go a little nuts as I sit there with her, mentally running through my to-do list like an endless reel.
8:30 By now, the four youngest children are asleep for sure. We cycle laundry, finish cleaning the kitchen. My husband and I often go for coffee or ice cream in the evening if the house is somewhat under control. Or we may go on a grocery date. I know, so hot!
10:00 pm Ideally, we would go to bed now. In reality, we can still be found chatting with our teenagers or wasting time watching a movie (him) or checking social media (me). This is when, in theory, I would be blogging but I’m not.
11:00 pm One of the twins wakes-up. Usually Lucas. I nurse him back to sleep for the night and go to bed.
3:00-4:00 am The other twin wakes-up. I nurse her back to sleep. Return to bed. Find the 4 year-old curled-up in my place. Return her back to her bed (located right at the foot of mine, it’s a short push and a shove).
5:15 am The next day….
During my maternity leave, I plugged into several parenting groups on Facebook. I joined groups I eventually left and others I quickly forgot. Over the year, I reached-out of my close-friends-and-family circle and connected with acquaintances and like-minded parents. Some Facebook friends became acquaintances, others became friends. I even have a Facebook friend who was accidentally friended by my toddler.
I use Facebook as a platform for connecting with people I know. I generally hope that Facebook doesn’t replace real-life interactions although I am lucid enough to know that it has. I was never great with birthdays and now I am positively dreadful. On the other hand, Facebook has allowed me to stay in contact with people I would not otherwise know anymore. Maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it’s not: there is a natural wisdom in the ebb and flow of adult friendships and acquaintances. There are many people on my Facebook page with whom I would never discuss faith, politics or philosophy; and yet I am treated to a steady diet of their best and brightest online — which rarely is either.
I don’t really write about my faith. I was raised in a Catholic family but I came to adulthood with very little formal knowledge of the Catholic Faith. I came to the practice of the faith through the heart rather than the mind and this is where I stayed. I don’t write about faith because others do it better. My most inspirational line would probably be “It sucked before. Now it’s better.” A supernatural outlook on life and a good sense of humour are staples of loving life in a big family. Today is Palm Sunday and Palm Sunday deserves a blog post.
Palm Sunday is my favorite Feast Day in the Catholic Liturgy. Not favorite as in “we get chocolate”, but favorite as in “every year, it chews me up and spits me out.” I’m a lousy Catholic, really. I don’t get the warm-and-fuzzies about Mary or the Pope. There are elements of Catholic doctrine I don’t understand, others I struggle with. There are elements of Catholic doctrine I live-out like a champ, like not using artificial birth control. But I chose to stop artificial birth control and embrace natural family planning before I returned to the Church. So even in that regard I’m not punching above my weight. I found affinity with conservative Catholics because I was not using birth control, not the other way around. So there. But when I had deep questions about the meaning of life, suffering and happiness, Christianity and the Catholic Church had the most thorough answers. And when I thought that my 3 young children were going to drive me insane, Christian moms had a peace and a fortitude I longed for. That’s how I returned to the Church: I wanted a piece of what they had. I didn’t join because I had something for God but because God had something for me. And they used to let me sing at Church.
Palm Sunday is the Feast of the Lousy Christian. It used to drive me nuts. Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entrance of Christ into Jerusalem. The procession starts outside of the Church with the blessing of palms and continues into the church with the reading of the Passion. The procession reminds us that the same people who welcomed Christ as their King would later ask for his crucifixion. I always found the procession painful. It should be solemn. We are celebrating our hypocrisy after all. But instead, we sing and dance and smile and wave our silly little branches. Don’t we realize after 2000 years that it’s a parody of ourselves and our shallowness? It took me a long time to accept than the ridicule of welcoming the celebrant 5 minutes before a dramatic reading of the Passion of Christ was part of the penance. The Feast of the Lousy Christian starts with a reminder of how weak and fickle we are.
The Gospel on Palm Sunday is always a reading of the Passion, the story of Christ’s long, painful, death. But the most graphic depiction is not of what the crown of thorns and cross did to Christ, but of the betrayal of those who once professed their faith in him. And every year, a verse of the Passion stands-up, steps out of the book, walks over to my pew and punches me in the face.
Judas’ 3 pieces of silver represent my choice for comfort over the demands of self-sacrifice. Peter’s denials, they are mine. The two thieves, one challenging God, the other humble, are my struggle to understand suffering. Palm Sunday is the Feast of falling short, of saying things we didn’t mean and meaning things we never say. It’s the Feast of the weak and the proud, of thinking we know better, of wanting to go it alone.
Palm Sunday is the Feast of discomfort, of knowing we are capable of so much more. Judas broke down. Peter wept. The thief repented. It’s the Feast of coming face-to-face with our fears and our limitations and choosing the easy way out instead of pushing through. It’s the Feast of embracing our lousiness before embracing weakness and knowing we need help. Next week, we will celebrate the hand outstretch. This week, we are not ready to accept it.
It’s my Feast, it’s your Feast. It’s the Feast of all of us.
I had the honour to be part of the Human Library Project this year in my city and a friend asked if I would write a blog post about the experience. It was a unique experience and I’m not sure where to start, so let’s start with a definition.
On the Human Library Day, readers get to “borrow” a Human Book for a 20 minute one-on-one conversation. The premise of the Human Library project is to give individuals the opportunity to meet people they would not otherwise encounter. A week before the Human Library day, I had the chance to appreciate the Human Library experience when I attended the Human Book orientation. When I arrived, I sat beside Zelda Marshall also known as The Drag Queen book. I shook her hand and introduced myself as The Mother of 8 book and her response was an enthusiastic: “Wow! I have a ton of questions for YOU!” and all I could think was: “Likewise”. It made me realize that mothers of 8 children were likely as foreign to Zelda’s day-to-day environment as Drag Queens were to mine. I didn’t get to ask many questions to Zelda that day, but as the Human Books introduced themselves one by one I grew in my appreciation of the unique opportunities offered by the Human Library project.
A week later, I arrived at my assigned library branch and met my fellow books. I was sharing the Human Library space with a recovering compulsive gambler, a Chef, a female firefighter, a person living with bipolar disorder, and a CBC radio newscaster. The Human Library set-up takes up a relatively small corner of the library space. Chairs are organized face-to-face but each book is separated from the other by a shared coffee table. You are no more isolated than you would be in a coffee shop having a private conversation with other customers chatting around you. Readers line-up at the library counter and ask to borrow the Human Book they would like to speak to. If they are among the first, they can go right away. If not, they are asked to come back at their assigned time. I believe that all the books were signed-out for the day before lunch time. Each one-on-one conversation lasts 20 minutes and the Human Book gets a 10 minute break before the next reader. In reality, the conversation wraps-up into the 10 minute break and a 5 minute break is more likely. I was warned early-on to take my breaks as the day would be exhausting. I think that “exhausting” is a relative notion: I was sitting in a comfy chair with a coffee instead of chasing, driving, cooking for, grocery shopping with, and generally cleaning after a family of 10. This was fun! But when I got home, I was spent!
My readers were all female and either young women with one or no children, or older women. It’s funny because I was expecting more women with children but really, they can’t come to the Human Library on a Saturday. They are too busy running their families! Some readers came with specific questions. Others just sat and waited for me to start. Then each conversation took a life of its own. Most readers were curious about the role of the older children in taking care of the little ones, the logistics of cooking and cleaning and how growing in a large family affects the character and personalities of the children. One young woman wanted to talk about contraception, human sexuality, natural family planning and the relationship between spouses in a large family. We talked about teenage pregnancies, abortion and why too many young women see their value through the lens of their sexual availability and desirability. It was my most memorable conversation. One grand-mother asked specifically about disciplining toddlers in preparation for a trip to visit her daughter and grandson. I don’t remember all my readers’ names but I remember their faces. Each of them unique. Each conversation breaking barriers and enlarging horizons.
I loved every minute of my Human Library experience. I enjoyed doing media, a long-lost dream of mine. I enjoyed talking about my blessed life – and challenges – as a Mother of 8. I really connected with my readers and I hope that they took home as much as I did.