Monday, 28 October 2013

That darn big red brick building

I've decided that school is getting in the way of our learning.

Last week I had another epic conversation with Colin.  His best friend's brother just joined the army, so he wanted to know what one does in the army.  So we talked a little about war, but mostly about Canada's role as peacemakers.  Then we talked about Afghanistan and Iraq, and the decision to send troupes to other countries.  Then we talked a little about why there is fighting in Afghanistan, and the difference between civil wars and oppression.  We covered about how rebels get weapons, and why innocent people are caught in the middle.  (All very delicately, of course, given Colin's age.)  Colin's last question: do we have the right to send armed troupes into other countries to fight there?  I left him with an open-ended answer, admitting that that is the moral question we all have to answer ourselves.

Yesterday Caleb insisted on pulling out Monopoly, and being taught the "real rules."  Three and a half hours later, he bankrupted both Colin and James.  By the end, both boys were multiplying to collect rent and pay for houses, and doing large sum addition and subtraction in their head to make change.  It took mere seconds for them to do problems like 500-320, or 10x the roll of the dice, or 2x $18.

Caleb can't get enough time with me sitting beside him at the piano as he whizzes through his book. Benjamin hasn't had time to learn the letters he wants to write.  Caleb insists there is much more to his story he's writing (he's only 16 pages in.)  And Colin would benefit from experimental time with the new art mediums he's learning in art classes.  Then there is skating and cooking and guitar...

I'm so grateful for the school system that my kids have been able to attend during the years when I was laid up in bed during pregnancy, or (like right now) sleeping about 2 hours a night.  I have had 4 high energy babies/toddlers who all required so much attention I have barely been able to get to the feeding of the family, let alone the cleaning or educating.  But I wonder if, as Juliette and Ben both grow more independent, if homeschooling might be on our horizon yet...

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


I love sunrise.  It's a new day.  Overnight we have slept (maybe) and we are beginning again.  Maybe yesterday I lost it more than once, but today is a chance to be completely different.

This morning, I rocked this mothering thing.

I was up all night.  Juliette had another inconsolable fit from midnight to 1:30am.  Then when she finally went down Benjamin was up.  Suffice it to say, when everyone awoke at 7am I was bleary-eyed from zero sleep.  It could have been a sluggish and yelling kind of morning.

But it wasn't.  I descended with the boys, James saying he would be five minutes behind.  By the time he came down, I had served breakfast and the school lunches were made.  I packed everything up and informed the boys that when they were done that bowl of cereal and platter of fruit, they would dress and get ready for school.  Then they could return to eat more, or use the time to play.  (We've been late to the bus all week.)  What is usually an everybody-drag-your-feet morning routine was in ship shape.  Everyone was ready with 40 minutes to spare.  I folded laundry, did the dishes, jumped in the shower and dressed with 15 minutes to the time we had to leave the house.  I called everyone together to get in winter gear, which took 5 minutes instead of the usual 15.  So with everyone in hats and coats and gloves and backpacks, we had a 5 minute devotional, standing at the front door.  We left the house with plenty of time and walked at a normal pace to our bus stop, at which we arrived well before the bus.  Three happy boys hopped up the bus stairs and off they went.

There was no yelling or fighting or crying.  There were clear expectations and schedules.  There were full tummies and minds and spirits.

Yes, this morning I rocked this mothering thing.

Celebrate the victories, because who knows what the next sunrise might bring.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


Sunday night, Juliette slept four hours in a row.

Monday night, after a complete mid-night meltdown, after she screamed and writhed for an hour and a half, after I held her wrapped in a blanket in my arms and walked the circle of our main floor for a solid hour, she slept for six hours in a row.

She also slept through two hours of a nap two days in a row.

There is progress.  Which, up until this morning, scared me a little.  Because maybe it means that me being on this diet is actually helping.  (Or maybe it's too early to tell.)  Her daytime behaviour isn't much improved, but one thing at a time.

But this morning I spent with a lovely group of women, women with whom I've been meeting for six weeks as we read scripture and see how relative it is to motherhood.  Six weeks of trying to push ourselves to new levels as mothers.  Six weeks of being open and honest and revealing our triumphs and our trials.  Six weeks of gathering new ideas.  As we spoke, I realized just how similar Juliette's case is with all three boys.  My friends helped me remember how bad Caleb's tantrums were, how little he slept, how much he head banged.  I remembered how we switched Colin to soy formula because he cried because of the breast milk.  Someone noted how bad Caleb's eczema was, and how both he and Benjamin had terrible eczema on their cheeks to the point that it bled.  And now, after eight years, I'm finally recognizing all these symptoms as likely allergy reactions.  I just didn't know it then.

The most reassuring thing in all this is that they have outgrown it all.  I didn't know it might be food related, I didn't know to try and take myself or them off these foods.  I just waited, endured, and eventually the tantrums and head banging and crying and screaming and rashes stopped.

With Juliette, we have both the blessing and the curse of information.  It's a blessing, because if she was still eating directly all these allergens, days and nights might be absolutely unbearable.  They still are, when she is exposed.  But it's a curse, because maybe we're overdoing it.  It makes the problem seem so big and so permanent and insurmountable.  Now I can tell myself that, even though I didn't know it, I've been through this three times before.  And we've come through it.  And we'll come through it again.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Knock knock

The boys have been discovering jokes the last couple of months.  Knock knock jokes seem to be the favourite, maybe because the timing is fairly easy to get.  When Benjamin tells a knock knock joke, he actually knocks with one hand in the air when he says "knock knock."

Here are some of the boys' favourites:

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Boo hoo?
Don't cry, it's only a joke.


Will you remember me next week?
Will you remember me next month?
Will you remember me in five years?
Knock knock.
Who's there?
You forgot me already!


Knock knock.
Who's there?
Interrupting cow.
Interrupting c-


Here's my new favourite:

Me: I have a knock knock joke for you.
You: Okay.
Me: You start.
You:  Okay.  Knock knock
Me: Who's there?
You: (awkward pause as you realize what's happened, then giggling together at its hilarity)

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Training the eye

I think there is too much emphasis placed on raw talent or natural ability these days.  Yes, there are a small number of people in the world endowed with such an effortless ability in their craft that it should rightly be defined as "genius."  For the rest of us, it's about work.

When a novel moves the soul, when a song touches the spirit, when a photograph becomes a work of art - it is because an artist has humbled themselves to realize that artistry takes practice.  It also takes learning from others.  You cannot write a book if you do not read.  You can not compose a song if you do not listen to music. You cannot frame a photograph if you do not study composition.

I have learned this lesson because of my desire to jump into things that are completely new to me.  When I wanted to build a clubhouse for the boys, I had no experience in doing such at all.  So I read and I watched.  I watched YouTube videos and read how-to books.  And I watched constructions sites.  Yes, although it might seem odd, there were many walks that I slowed the stroller down and stared at how the house frames were being assembled and the order of materials.  Then I invited someone who knew what they were doing to mentor me, assist me, guide me in the steps to take and the tools to use, and then let me go at it myself.

Right now I am training my eye in photography.  Sadly, I did not take as much advantage of my university education in the camera as I should have.  Ten years ago I was caught up in writing, directing, producing, casting and assistant directing.  There were some very talented professors and students around me from whom I could have learned a great deal.  I don't blame myself, though, because I was not wasting my education - I was simply learning from different masters in different areas.

Now, however, I am dusting off what I did learn, what is tucked away in the reaches of my memory.  I'm surprised at how much is there, at how much I recall, at how much more I understand those lessons now.  I remember some photographers talking about the different qualities of light, and my untrained eye simply didn't understand.  "Sun is sun" I thought, other than the obvious differences between daylight and sunrise/sunset.  Now, each day when I look outside, I see the more subtle blends and casts of the sunlight.  Then, when I was preoccupied in framing a scene, I wasn't thinking of each frame as a painting.  Now, I understand just how important the scene around your subject is, and how difficult it can be to find a perfect backdrop.

Now I am starting to really see photographs and have an instinct for those in which all the elements come together to create a work of art.  I find myself studying these images, dissecting them, asking where the light comes from and what kind of light it is, what to include and exclude in a frame, how to choose the colours and objects for your setting.  I don't feel empowered by my craft, I feel humbled by the works of others.  Each set of photographs I take are leaps and bounds from the previous set, and I often wonder how I could have loved my past work so much when I see how lacking they are.  I have far, so far to go, but I am enjoying the training beyond measure.

(This winter I also hope to train myself further in writing, however this is a much more daunting task for me, and one in which I am not nearly humble enough to begin yet.)

Friday, 18 October 2013

When it takes it out of you

It's been a roller-coaster of a week.  I feel like I'm teetering on the edge of a vast, dark, unknown chasm that might be amazing once I step off the edge, or might be disorienting and wrong.

I have almond milk in my fridge.

Let me explain.  While I have been embracing the idea of eating healthier over the last few years, I never thought I would be the type to buy almond milk.  I like cow's milk.  I like white bread for french toast.  I like chocolate bars.  I like to eat healthy, but I also like to eat foods that many strict diets gape in horror at.

But today I have almond milk in my fridge.

I have a toddler who has a temper that won't quit, and a 4 year old who is irrationally defiant.  And the more I think about it, the more I'm linking it with the foods they have in them.

This week I also ventured into a naturopath's office.  She gave Juliette a muscle based allergy test through me that much of modern medicine would not acknowledge.  I hardly know what to think myself; I was there, I experienced it personally, and yet I second guess myself constantly.  I feel so far out of my element.  Medicine is an area in which I have no experience or knowledge.  The people in this field stand so far apart, so staunchly critical of each other, that I feel that someone must be lying, or at least not giving quarter to other possibilities.

Juliette is getting harder and harder to manage.  She sleeps little, broken.  She screams and yells and throws tantrums and bangs her head really hard.  It's so reminiscent of Caleb it's eerie.  Colin too, to a lesser degree.  Maybe it does run in the family after all - Juliette just has the most severe case.

And now, for at least two weeks, I've moved to eating the same diet as Juliette - fruits, vegetables and meat - to see if taking it out of the breast milk will improve her behaviour at all.  Diet and behaviour have been linked in many different situations, and it's possible that she is lashing out because her gut is constantly in pain.  I know that if I have a migraine, or I'm tired, or sick, or hurting, I get cranky and irritable and short tempered.  So right now I'm literally walking in my daughter's shoes, and it is really, really hard.  I don't like meat very much, but I'm trying to eat more because I'm so very hungry.  I cut it all out cold turkey Wednesday morning after the doctor's meeting, and while I haven't physically broken down and eaten something, it's hard not to eat my evening bowl of cereal or a toasted egg sandwich or a rice stir fry.

I'm hungry and I'm tired and I'm worn from hanging around a toddler who screams all day and a 4 year old who is wreaking havoc around the house with everyone around him.  I feel like maybe, maybe I could manage Juliette, or Benjamin, or the boys, or the house, but not all of them - not even two of them.

These are the times as mothers that it takes it out of you.

These are the times I am driven to my knees in a hazy mixture of rest and prayer.

These are the times I feel like the walls of our house are a little too small.

These are the times that push me farther than I have been before, that make my heart beat faster and my lungs ache and my legs wobble and my muscles burn, and yet it is only through this test of endurance that I can achieve progress.

This will be one of those times, short term and long term.  In a string of coincidences, I will have to do 21 days with the kids in a row, without the much needed weekend break.  I will need some emotional strength to get through that.  And while I felt a glimmer of hope with the naturopath, it is still too early to know if this course of action will change anything for Juliette.  There is nothing on the horizon yet that speaks of change.

With God's grace, and only His grace, I will move forward.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Hockey anthems

The boys have been playing ball hockey all morning.  Every game they play (about every 30 minutes or so) they start with the national anthem, in French and English.  LOVE IT!

The rebel

I'm currently hosting a small women's scripture study group each Tuesday morning.  I selected a few chapters and wrote down some journal prompt questions to help us apply what we are reading to our actual, every day lives.

This past week we talked about rebellion, and we thought about any of our children who are currently rebelling against what we have taught them, or children who are young but seem to have rebellious tendencies in them.  (Yes, I have at least one.  Juliette is too young to discern as of yet.)

My friend noted this sage piece of wisdom: today's culture is completely counter to what we are trying to teach our children.  If we have a rebellious child, let us hope and pray that they decide to rebel against society, not against us.

I love that.  We always assume rebellion is bad, but really it is about being counter-cultural.  And isn't that what we actually want to be?  If we can plant a good seed deep inside, then they will see through the facade to the ugliness of the world's promises and run good and hard in the other direction.  Now that's the kind of rebellion I want in my kids.  In fact, I'm finding myself hoping for a little rebellion in all of them.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

God's grandeur

I'm currently doing a bible study that was filmed in the great Canadian Rocky mountains.  It got me to thinking about the absolute majesty of mountains, rising up from the earth, towering above us, so powerful and strong and mighty.  I got to thinking about the grandness of all of nature, the vastness of oceans and the endless acres of forests.  Everything in this beautiful world around us has been created on a scale so vast it dwarfs us.

I thought about man's greatest attempts to build something large and beautiful.  I pictured Notre Dame de Paris, stone carved with great detail, its towers casting long-reaching shadows on the city below.  I thought about the years and efforts it took to cause such a great structure to come to be.  I considered the feats of engineering our largest and most ambitious buildings needed, the pain-staking decades of labour.  There are some buildings which took so long to construct I bet there were men and women who worked their whole lives just to complete them.

I think of all that effort, and realize that even those grandest structures are nothing, nothing in comparison to the grandeur of God's creations.  Nothing we have ever built can take our breath away like jagged rock reaching heavenward, wearing a cloak of snow and crowned in mist.  How tiny and small our little bodies next to the mountain.

How tiny and small our bodies next to God.

"Thou art the God that doest wonders."

Are you ever struck by the wonders of God?  Wonder struck?

Monday, 7 October 2013

A little dinner conversation

It started with the cub pledge.

"Who is the queen?"

So we talked about the queen.  Which led into the commonwealth and a look at our wall map at the countries included in the commonwealth.  Which led into emigration from England and France and the war of 1812.  Which led into the difference between a monarchy and a democratic form of government.  Then onto voting and elections which moved naturally into lines of succession and kings and queens.  Onto the birth of Prince George, and who can become king or queen.  And what happens if every son, grandson, aunt, uncle and cousin in the royal family dies.  Why people like the queen, and what she does, and what it means to be a figurehead and the parliament and the house of commons.  Why it is called the house of commons, and who can be prime minister.  Back to voting.  Then over again to the royals and what it means to be a celebrity and why millions of people watched a wedding and waited for a baby to be born.  Back to geography, and why some countries want to still have a queen and why some don't.  To the differences between Canada and the United States...

Yep - just a little dinner conversation at the Gawthroupe table with a five and seven year old :)

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Some days are hard

Some days are just plain hard.  I could write here about silver linings, and "one day when they're grown," and learning and growing and gaining experience.  But some days are just hard, and today was one of those.

Juliette woke every 30 minutes last night until 4am.
I started the morning at the walk-in clinic getting a tetanus shot from the carpet I ripped up.
We went to a morning breakfast at the church where Juliette got a black eye and I couldn't keep track of the boys.
I ran around like crazy trying to buy what we needed for our family portraits, because the weather that had predicted gallons of rain today changed its mind.
The house gradually descended into utter chaos with every hour I was away.
James had to bring the kids home from the General Broadcast conference at church because they were beyond disruptive to the others.
The boys couldn't keep off of each other all day, with a never-ending battering of each other.
Juliette didn't stop crying.  At all.  All day.
Including at our family portrait appointment.  She screamed and hit whenever I tried to bring her into the picture.
The boys all ran around at the orchard instead of staying in one spot for the picture.
James dropped us off after the photos and took off for the men's broadcast, but not before throwing out that the house looked like a tornado had ripped through it and he can't live like that.
Instead of watching the opening Hockey Night in Canada with the boys, I desperately tried to clean.
While trying to clean, Caleb and Benjamin ended up locked in a wrestle on the floor, screaming and hitting each other.
I had to physically spank Benjamin (the first time I've ever had to do that) because he had bit down on Caleb and I couldn't pull him off.
The spanking caused him to open his mouth and let go, but only long enough to turn around and smack me on the back as hard as he could.
I lost it and, yelling, sent both boys upstairs.
I pushed through the bedtime routine in record time and flipped off the light.
Thankfully the end of the routine involved a scripture story and a prayer, which at least calmed everyone enough to give hugs and "I love yous" before the light went off.


Some days are hard.  I'm sure glad this one is over.  I'm sad because we had planned a lovely weekend full of spiritual nourishment from the conference.  Instead I read Facebook statuses about how inspiring the talks were and how renewed everyone feels, and I'm left wondering why my children always seem to lose it when I try to do everything to make a day lovely for everyone.

Piano methods

I've been a piano teacher for over 15 years now.  People often ask me what method or book series I use, and it's a question that's hard to answer: I use so many different ones that I can't pin it down to one thing.

I've used the Royal Conservatory of Music.  I've taught children using the Bastien, Alfreds and Adventure series.  I've taught adults out of hymn books.  I've taught teenagers with popular and Disney music books.  I've taught by ear and by sight.  I've let students pick their own style and music and I've used their interests to teach music basics.   I guess if I had to sum up my theory to this point, it would be teaching my students not perfection in music technique, but simply to enjoy making music.

This year, I've subconsciously started something new, with the challenge of teaching my own children. I've only had one boy in all my students, so maybe it also has something to do with the different learning styles of boys to girls.  Whatever the reason, I slipped into something new without even realizing it.  It wasn't until I was trying to explain my method to a friend yesterday that I realized how radical, but hopefully effective, the method is.

When asked if I was using the regular children's books series (Bastien, Alfreds, etc) I replied no.  I'm using a book by John Schmidt that has the student playing 3 different songs each day.  The goal is to learn to read notes by interval, not by note name.  I'm teaching rhythm or fingering or italian terms.  The student does not have 2-3 songs per week that they practice over and over until they master that song and associated skill.  This is not like most music teachers.

This is the analogy that I used yesterday explaining it to my friend, and it was completely spur of the moment, but totally true.  We don't teach children to read by giving them 2-3 books and making them read them over and over and over until they can read each word perfectly, until they read with appropriate inflection and rhythm.  Instead we provide a mountain of books for them to look through, encouraging as much exposure to as many books as possible.  We teach the sounds the letters make, or we teach whole words by sight.  If they don't know a word we might cue them, or let them jump over it.  We don't insist on perfection, and yet somehow they learn to read, and generally quite quickly.

So I'm teaching piano the same way.  I'm providing some basics without overwhelming them with note names and fingering and rhythm and staffs and markings.  I really think that as they have exposure to more and more music, they will start to see that the notes look different, and then I'll explain that some are long and some are short.  They will start to see markings and terms and we can talk about interpretation.  But I have a feeling this will be a much more organic way of learning music, and instead of forcing things they aren't ready to learn or understand, they will inquire on their own about unfamiliar marks on the page as they become familiar with sheet music.

It's all new right now, but I'm not in a rush.  Caleb is only six and Colin only eight.  I figure in two years they'll be playing full songs and you'd never know the difference between my method and the traditional one.  (Which, coincidently, is what they also say about letting children learn to read when they are ready and in their own way - after two years you can't tell the difference!)

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The results of being calm

"If you are calm and peaceful, you can slow time down, and do and see more and better."
(Shawni Eyre Pothier)

While I might work at the wording of the above statement, I love what it's trying to say.  I have discovered the truth of being calm these past 8 years of being a mother.  Before children, I would whip around from one project to the next.  I walked with a quick gait; in fact, a pre-requisitite for shoe buying was the ability to run in them (even my black dress shoes with big fat square rubber heels.)  I piled my plate with projects.  I easily ran down to-do lists.

Now, in the chaos that is young children, I crave calmness.  I centre myself first so that I don't add to the noise and busyness around me.  And in the process I have discovered that I am more productive at a calmer, slower pace.  I reduce the amount of errors, I lower time-eating stress, I start with a clear vision and move through it step by step so as not to repeat or go back to something I miss.

You'd think that doing things more slowly would result in less time, less accomplished.  But the ever-true axiom "haste makes waste" will swirl around someone rushing too quickly.  Besides, what am I rushing for?  If I must move in a hurried manner just to get everything on the list done, there is too much on the list.  If I never seem to get to important things then my priorities are out of line.  If it takes forever to do something then I'm probably doing about it the wrong way.

Our own nature will overflow from within us and touch all that is around us: our tasks, our children, our family, our friends, our projects, our jobs, our homes.  I am convinced more than ever that the mood of a mother will set the tone of her home and those who enter.