Thursday, 29 November 2012

O Canada

I was listening to CBC radio this morning, our national broadcast channel.  They were announcing the upcoming contest known as "Canada Reads" where famous Canadians defend a Canadian novel to be voted as the best of the year.  I love this event every year, because it introduces me to some new books and lets me hear some great insight into their stories and themes.

As I listened to the program, my heart swelled with Canadian pride.  Somewhere in our expansive country a lone radio announcer was sitting in a small booth and inviting Canadians everywhere to listen and participate.  I felt united to fellow citizens from the east coast to the west coast, and clear up to the northern seas.  Images flashed before me of listeners young and old, in their car or in their kitchens, in families or in a comfy chair alone, all listening to the same words streaming over the airwaves.  And I wondered if this same kind of quiet pride and unity exists in many other countries.  Patriotism means different things to different people, but I also think that it is expressed differently in different countries.  When I think of the United States, for example, I think of hands over hearts and raised flags and a very loud exuberant pride.  When I think of France, I think of a much more exclusive love of country.  Canadian pride, in my mind, burns strong and silent.

I wonder if other countries have something like a "Canada Reads" program on the CBC, a national station that unites people and places so far apart geographically and culturally.  Truly a wonder to behold.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Christmas decorations

We decorate for Christmas as early as we can without seeming too crazy.  To be sure, I don't have much of a decorating eye, so you don't really walk into my home and think "festive", other than seeing the Christmas tree in the living room and a few garlands here and there.  But one thing that's easy and inexpensive that we do every year is hang paper snowflakes from the ceiling.  (Check out this picture when we did it for Colin's birthday party a few years ago.)  When it's snowing inside, you can't help but feel the season!

Monday, 26 November 2012

"I'm so glad when Daddy comes home"

This is one of my favourite songs from when I was a kid.  It talks all about the joy of Daddy coming in the door from work, climbing up on his knee, giving him a big hug.  I think when Mom is staying home with the kids and they get to see me most of the day, it's something extra special to greet Daddy coming home.

But this thought was put into my mind the other day: is Daddy just as happy to come home?

Of course he loves his family, that goes without saying, but is home a welcoming place that he is racing home to?  Or is he just dreading going from one dreary place (work) to another (home?)  Or, even worse, would he rather linger at work because of the atmosphere that awaits him when he goes home?

A friend wrote about how when she was little there was always a tidy up that happened just before Dad walked in the door, so that his welcome home would be a pleasant one.  Now, this friend does the same thing with her kids for her own husband.  She tries to have a pleasant smell (like dinner almost ready) and a peaceful calm in the air (if the kids can cooperate) and greets the man returning from the trenches of work in a way that makes home a haven and a rest from the weary world.

As I pondered on these ideas, I was first struck by how "fifties" or old fashioned it seemed.  Is this image of ushering the man into the home and into a comfortable chair, letting him put up his feet, and taking care of everything else so he can relax simply a rusty chain left over from an era of women's oppression?  Because every stay at home mother knows that it is not easy to run a home filled with babies and little children, and that the emotional, physical and mental demands on a mother are at least equal to, if not greater than, someone working outside the home.  Should we be pushing the 50/50 workshare?  A mother has been on her feet all day, and I'm sure she would love to sit down and put her feet up when her husband walks in, instead of working to please one more person.

But it's true in so many cases that even if you know you have a responsibility to fulfill (fatherhood) and that you should roll up your shirtsleeves and dig into the work, that doesn't make it any less tiring or undesirable to talk into a home where the kids are crying or fighting and a baby is being dumped into your arms and dinner isn't even started, which means someone's got to get to it, and soon.  Many husbands and fathers wouldn't dream of walking out on these tough years when the kids are small, but I bet many would admit to days when they just wish they could walk through the door and not have an infinite number of demands facing them right away.  A wife and mother making the home pleasant to walk into helps him want to come home, rather than feel it as another obligation.

I thought, perhaps, there might be a little more to it.  The word 'love' popped into my mind, and the selflessness that is necessary to feed a successful marriage.  Bustling around tidying up, cooking a favourite meal, winding the kids down - these are things I can do because I love my husband, because I want him to be happy, because I want to give him all that he needs, because I want the home I am making to be a place he loves.  No, I wouldn't do these things as a re-creation of an archaic idea of the woman having to stay at home and wait on her husband hand and foot.  I would do these things to show my deep love for someone who works hard all day.

A mother's work is never done.  There are precious few moments in the day and night when a mother is not at work, or at least on call.  And I firmly believe husbands/fathers should help at home with the children and the housework.  I don't think any man whose wife is staying home should expect to work his 8 hour job and then do nothing once he comes home.  But just as my efforts to ease his homecoming are an outpouring of my love for him, so too should his desire to help ease my workload at home.

A little effort goes a long way in this case.  Just like a stone tossed into a pond makes only a tiny splash but causes a far-reaching ripple effect, my one effort of creating a positive homecoming will likely garner help with the children while I serve dinner, a joint effort in cleaning the dishes, a peaceable agreement in handling bedtime, and often even the offer to sit down and put my own feet up while he tackles one last chore I couldn't get to.  Then my gratitude might result in giving a back rub once we sit down together to chat in the late evening.

So you see how something so easily perceived by today's modern society as a male chauvinist trap is actually pure evidence of mutual love and respect for your partner in love, marriage and family.  Sometimes it's hard to uncover something so beautiful when we are trained to assume any such action is a gender stereotype that must be abhorred without contemplation.  Instead, I will gladly embrace such an idea with what I consider to be a more mature concept of love than the instant gratification and selfish type so prevalent in our society today.

Friday, 23 November 2012


(In trying to toilet train, Benjamin gets one chocolate chip, that we call candy, for every time he pees in the toilet, and two for every time he...does more.)

Benjamin: I'm hungry.
Mom: Your dinner is still on the table.  Go eat that.
Benjamin: Can I have a candy?
Mom: No, but you can eat your dinner.
Benjamin: I have to go poo.

(He goes to the toilet, works really hard, and manages two little successes)

Benjamin: I went poo on the potty!  So...two candies!!!!
Mom: Yes, I suppose you do.

(Lots of rejoicing among family members, since this is the first time he's ever pooped on the toilet.  We all settle back in to reading.)

Benjamin: I have to poop again!

(He goes to the toilet and then jumps back up.  Sure enough, he has managed a little more.  He gets his reward.  I'm starting to think he's going to just let it out bit by bit until he fills himself up with chocolate!  We go back to reading.)

Benjamin: I'm going to try and go poop again.  Actually, there are lots of little poops.  It's going to be disgusting...

(Too smart, that boy.)

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A measure of calm

The noise and chaos in our home has reached astronomical levels.

And something must be done about it.

I didn't have any brothers growing up, so sometimes it's hard for me to determine what is appropriate for boys and what needs to be curbed.  I laughed out loud the other day when I heard a radio talk show host admit that, as a man who raised only girls, he never understood why other parents could not control their unruly boys.  Now his daughters have sons, and his grandsons are a rambunctious lot, and now he understands.  I can totally relate.

Nevertheless, things are a little out of control.  The wrestling games often end with someone losing an eye (or you'd think so, from the screams they beget.)  The volume on their voices is permanently at 11.  The arguing goes in circles.

And so, for Family Home Evening this week, I took the reins again.  We talked about contention, the kinds of behaviour that breed contention, and the atmosphere it emits.  Then we talked about peace and its associated behaviours and atmospheres.  The boys were surprisingly adept at identifying the differences.  Then I stated that we were going to start instituting 20 minutes of "calm time" a day.  This will involved all family members who are home at the time (which is my way of making sure I do 20 minutes of calm also, instead of prepping dinner or folding laundry.)  We came up with five activities so far: yoga, silent reading, listening to mommy read, listening to classical music, or lying down and speaking "I am thankful for..." statements.  I'm going to make a fun spinning wheel to help us choose each day.  Participation is mandatory.

I'm really hoping this will help settle an atmosphere of peace on our home a little more.  Right now I call 4pm - 5pm the "witching hour" because everyone seems to go really nutty at that time.  My goal for this hour is:

1) to have the dinner already prepped and ready to start cooking
2) to have the main floor tidied
3) to let the boys have their 20 minutes of TV they get per day while I...
4) get a sweet + healthy snack (ie: homemade cookies and apple slices) ready
5) eat the snack at the table while we talk about their day
6) have our 20 minutes of calm time

My hope is that this routine will take up almost that full hour, leaving us more rested and peaceful while I make dinner and the boys play.

(Of course, the very next day I fell really ill with a stomach bug, and am still recovering today, so this probably won't start until next week.  I'll update on how it goes then.)

4) to have our 20 minutes of calm time

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Music lessons (in all forms)

A mother of 5 children on a blog I love to read often writes about how she desperately wants her kids to be readers, but found she rarely ever sat down to read herself.  She chastised herself, saying that how on earth could she expect her kids to randomly immerse themselves in a book if they never saw anyone model it for them.  Consequently, she is trying (trying, being the operative word) to read more, and read in front of the kids, so that they it might rub off on them.

As a piano teacher, many people ask me what age is right to start music lessons for their children.  Really, I field this question all the time, along with "when will you start to teach your kids piano?"  The answers to these questions are all tied up in my love of music.

The answer to the first question is that it depends on the child.  Generally, for formal-sit down-30 minute piano lessons, I advise about eight years old.  It's best if the child can already read, has a basic understanding of math, has more than basic fine motor skills, and can sit for at least half an hour with a mostly undivided attention span.  I have taken younger children, but more often than not it's a battle with the child and a waste of money for the parent.

The answer to the second question about my own children is that I will teach them an instrument when they ask or show interest.

That is not to say that there is not music constantly in our home, or that they aren't learning music in other ways.  While I do not advocate formal lessons until the kids are older and only if they are interested, I firmly believe in early exposure to music of all kinds.  The reason I can say that I want my kids to show an interest in music, is that I'm fairly certain that they will ask.  Because I am trying to model playing music for them.  I sit at the piano and play and sing, I bring out the guitar, I practice the flute and violin.  I hone my skills on instruments I have played for a long time, and work away on ones I'm just learning.  I have my instruments in the play room, on display, and ready to play and ask about.  I allow the kids free play at the piano, and to hold and try out any of the band instruments when I have them out.  I have a toy guitar (missing two strings!) they can use.  I have a drum that sits in the corner.  while they may not be sitting down and getting a lesson, they are certainly learning a lot just by being around music.

If I had one suggestion for any parent wanting to start their kids in music lessons one day, it would be to play an instrument now.  If you don't play one already, learn one.  Let you kids hear you playing the piano or strumming on the guitar.  If you don't have an instrument yet, I'd suggest getting a guitar.  I love the guitar because you can play almost any simple song (kids songs, folk songs, and spiritual songs) by learning 4 chords.  The guitar is easy to get out and take with you, or have the kids pull up around you while you play and sing.  I will play for 30 minutes or more, and the kids will come and go as I play.  Sometimes they'll sit with me, sometimes they'll grab the kids guitar and play with me, sometimes they'll sing or dance, sometimes they'll just keep building Lego.  But they are still taking it all in and soaking up that music into their souls.  Then one day when you suggest music lessons it won't be foreign to them at all.  They might even relish the idea to play a duet with mom!

After being asked by the kids' teachers at school, I'm thinking of getting a group of moms together who want to learn guitar and helping them with the very basics.  I'm by no means an expert, but I know what I need to in order to play for the kids, which is perfect for me.  Plus there is nothing I love more than sitting around and playing/singing music, which I don't get to do with friends very often!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Words for teenagers (and their parents)

I saw the following post this morning:

"Words for teenagers"

Northland College principal John Taplane has offered the following words from a judge who regularly deals with youth.  "Always we hear the cry from teenagers 'what can we do, where can we go?'

"My answer is this: Go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons and after you've finished, read a book.  Your town does not owe you recreational facilities and your parents do not owe you fun.

"The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something.  You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in sickness and lonely again.  In other words, grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone not a wishbone.  Start behaving like a responsible person.  You are important and you are needed.  It's too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday.  Someday is now and that somebody is you!"

This fits right in with my thoughts lately on the "adult-escent" stage of life that has emerged in the past decade or so.  This term was coined by an author who defined this stage as the 20-something adults still living in their parents' basement playing "Call of Duty" video games (or an equivalent stupid pastime.)  It fits right in with the increasing self-centred universe we are creating for our youth and young adults, where "I" am the only one who matters and "my" happiness is the supreme goal of life.  It fits in with the epidemic of laziness that has settled over our society.  It fits in with the concerns we have had in the past about raising kids in a small town and the dangerous pastimes, or "wastetimes" (my term) they get into.

It also is relevant to our constant need as parents to fill every waking minute of our children's time with activities.  Part of my regularly scheduled days is time for the kids to play on their own or with each other, to come up with their own games, tell their own stories, find ways to entertain themselves.  I only sign the kids up for one extra-cirricular activity at a time, and I try hard to make it the same thing for everyone and all on the same night.  (That doesn't always work, but I try.)

I yearn for the days, or the type of town, where free play among children is spontaneous (think "Little Rascals.") Yes, I really do want my children to be little rascals, to head out on adventures, to find a little trouble, to weigh the decision of whether climbing something will be totally awesome or just might kill them.  I want them to make friends and fight with friends and make peace with friends.  I want their Wednesday night baseball game to be the result of kids riding their bikes down the street with their gloves over their shoulders and my boys run out to join them, instead of an organized team with adult supervision (coaches) and a set 45 minutes to be allowed to play.  (No, this is not idealic of a time gone by - a good friend actually witnessed this when she spent time with family over the summer in a small town out in Western Canada.)

I think these types of adventures and situations helped create children who were free-thinking and autonomous, and who didn't rely on someone else to give them something to do.  For all that our backyard is large compared to current town standards, I hate that I have to fence in my kids and restrict their wanderings.  (Okay, I would still have to fence in Benjamin at this age, because he really might get himself hurt!)  I constantly think about ways to help my children reclaim these things so that they will never be standing before a judge hearing words of like written above.  More than anything, I want my kids to know what hard work is, to believe that they can do hard things, and that there are things they can do that will make a real difference in the world.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A lightbulb moment

I have been dabbling in photography lately, taking family portraits of some close friends and family.  I am absolutely loving it, most especially without the pressure of it being a "job."  Further to my previous writings about trading instead of using money, this system is working out really well.

At any rate, Sunday afternoon I was off for 2 1/2 hours taking photos for my sister and my sister-in-law.  James was at home with all four kids.  He does this once a week when I go to band practice, but that's at night and the kids are usually only moments from going to sleep when I leave.  This was an afternoon, with all four of them going at full tilt.

When I walked back in the door, I was greeted by the following promise from James:

"I am going to help you around the house more.  It is impossible to get anything done when the kids are around."

YES!  I guess it was one of those lightbulb moments for him, when he realized that staying home all day doesn't mean I can spend all my time cleaning and organizing and doing dishes and laundry.  For some reason, I'm still not able to get things going smoothly yet.  I'm always lagging behind.  Laundry is the number one culprit, but the kitchen floor hasn't been scrubbed in a long time, and while the toilet and sink get a good cleaning at least once a week (out of necessity, with three young boys), while standing in the shower this morning I couldn't remember the last time it was done.  I figure it gets soaped up a couple times a week during bathtime, and a good rinse every morning with our showers, so that must count, right?  Right?

James is usually pretty good already at helping out, especially if he's home alone.  Almost every time the kids and I are away for a few days (that happens once or twice a year) he inevitably has steam cleaned the carpets or emptied out the fridge and washed it down, or some other major chore that never,  ever, ever makes it to the top of my to do list.  This was a nice moment, though, because I've really been feeling the difficulty of taking care of the house with four young children.

Luckily, the living room and kitchen are tidied most days, and the boys are now in charge of their bedroom, which should help.  The nursery is a disaster while I'm painting and redecorating, and our poor paster bedroom quickly becomes a dumping ground.  But I've got lots of storage solutions and I'm slowing tackling things one at a time.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Tidbits on me

I've picked up the violin again.  Love that sound.  More than I can say.  If I ever get somewhat proficient on it, it may become my favourite instrument.  I've also been listening a lot to Jenny Oaks Baker, an amazing violinist.

One big reason I picked up Jenny Oaks Baker is because my kids really love to listen to classical music.  I by "really love" I mean that they don't complain and ask me to turn it off or change it to something different.  I put on a classical radio station in the car to keep the mood calm and to calm Juliette.  I always like to tell them what instrument is being featured so they can start to distinguish the different sounds.  The other day I mentioned "this is a violin" and Caleb declared "Mom, I know that!"  Good, it's working!

I'm finally getting around to painting Juliette's nursery.  It takes me forever to pick paint colours.  I also want to finally do the downstairs again (after 5 years), but I still haven't settled on exactly which brown I want.  I think I need to hire a decorator.  I can build a fence, but I can't pick paint.

The boys have been nutso lately.  I think I falter in parenting now and then because I'm unsure of what is normal for boys.  I get that they are going to be more rambunctious than girls, but I'm not happy with the level of "accidental" hurting that seems to be happening.  I try to emphasize that if they choose to engage in rambunctious play that they are in effect signing a waiver absolving me of any responsibility should they get hurt.  Unfortunately, that doesn't ease the headache-inducing level of crying that results from such activity.

We are back into chapter books - Pippi Longstocking.  A favourite from my childhood, and the first book of a book club a friend of Colin's is having.  He thought it was so grown-up to be invited to a book club.  I participate in one every month and he's excited that he gets to participate in something like me.

This month's book club book was fantastic.  My favourite so far.  It was called Secret Daughter, and it's about India.  So fascinating.  (I apologize to my brother-in-law whom I grilled about his own family's journey from India to Canada.)

Christmas is gearing up.  Choirs to lead, music to select, programs to write, Nativity floats to star in (yes, we are Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus this year!)

I was able to get into the kid's classrooms last week.  Colin's class had been learning about music and his teacher played the trumpet for them.  So I offered to bring in my selection of instruments and play for them.  Clarinet, flute, violin, guitar.  Plus I brought my conducting baton and had them all play their very own instrument - their voice.  They thought that was really neat.  I stopped into Caleb's class during snacktime and played for them also.  I have such a passion about exposing kids to music.  I got two requests from teachers at the school for a couple of basic guitar chord lessons, which I'm hoping to set up for them soon.  Plus some other students and teachers wanted me to come back in to their classes.  Once Juliette is in school, I really think I'm going to pursue bringing music to local schools.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Parenting with purpose

In the past I've taken for granted the idea of parenting with purpose.  My parents were really great at this, and some programs our church uses also help parents in focusing their efforts at home.  A website I read (and occasionally write for) called the Power of Moms just published a book called Deliberate Motherhood, in which I wrote an excerpt.  (So incredibly cool to see my name in print!)  So often I think we as parents resort to just day to day survival when raising our children.  We see to their basic needs, make sure they are fed and clothed, stop any fights, prevent them from losing an eye or breaking a leg.  All this is important and necessary, but we mothers have so much more possibility.  We mothers are raising tomorrow's generations.  We are raising sons and daughters to become leaders.  We are raising children who may make a difference.

In many aspects of life, we plan.  We meal plan and write grocery lists.  We set career goals and short term steps to get there.  We lay out education roads and the stops along the way.  We host parties that stem from long to-do lists.  Actually, there is very little we do in life that doesn't first require a plan.  But for some reason, raising our children rarely includes such forethought.  We go by the seat of our pants and hope that by the time we leave we've done some good, taught them a few things, and that they'll keep their heads above water in the big ocean out there.

Right now, I think I'm halfway to parenting with purpose.  Once a week, on Monday nights, we have a time set aside for Family Home Evening.  During this short half hour, we all sit down together and learn something that James or I feel we as a family (or someone as an individual, without being singled out) needs to learn.  We include songs and games and activities (and always dessert!) and try to teach things like honesty, peace in the home, prayer, genealogy, tidiness.  We might write letters or cards, or play a game together or go for bike ride.  The nice thing about making it Monday nights is that we know every week we are going to at least have one moment to purposefully teach our kids.  (Also, we know how long it's been since we've purposefully taught them, if we seem to be missing Family Home Evening!)

Other than this weekly event, most of my parenting is reactionary.  For instance, yesterday when the boys' rudeness and physical fighting reached epic proportions, I called a family time out.  We all sat together on the couch quietly while I read two books: Panda is Polite and Lamb is Joyful.  We discussed what it is to be polite, how we had been rude, and what we could do to rectify our attitude.  Then we spoke about anger and joy, how both are valid emotions, and appropriate ways to let our tempers cool down without hitting, kicking, biting, yelling, etc.

Currently, I have two parenting goals I want to institute:

My first goal is to get ahead on some real character development for the kids.  I have a great book called Teaching Your Children Values by Linda and Richard Eyre, that outlines 12 important character values for children to develop.  These are things that some kids might pick up one or two if we do nothing, but they are 12 traits that can be taught to your children with some forethought.

Secondly, I want to do some more tailored teaching to each child.  Each one of the boys is so different, each has his strengths and his weaknesses.  I want to celebrate each child's strengths more openly, so they will feel a sense of pride in the good they are doing.  I also want to teach one-on-one some of the things I see they need to work on.  (Like controlling a temper, noticing needs of others, sharing the spotlight, listening to instructions, etc.)  I found a link to this handout on character qualities that give 49 different traits and definitions.  It's a great list with many ideas I would never have thought of on my own.  It's from this sheet that I'm going to start my one-on-one instruction.

Goals are good, even if they are hard to remember amidst the every day chaos.  But my main motherhood goal right now is a little more peace and lot more reining in of that chaos.  And nothing is every really accomplished without some direction and hard work.