The Joy of Being Present…

A dear ‘stay-at-home mama’ friend of mine wrote her Facebook status today on ‘being present’.  She briefly addressed the fact that she is with her children daily, but she is not always present with them.  In this update, she vowed to be more present and ‘in the moment’ than she had failed to be in days previous.

Which got me thinking.  Is that really necessary?  To be present?  And so I challenged myself to be present all day and aware of my children and their importance to me.  And, in even a greater way, to be more aware of everything around me.  So as to be present in this day I am in.  In the moment.  And in so doing, I would know whether or not there is validity in being such and if it is a worthwhile task.

I’m always up for a challenge.

And so, I tried to be very present as the sun came up.  I was present when I woke up to the chortle of nearby campers enjoying their breakfast and having a jolly good time about it all.  I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but who wants to sleep through a party?  So I dragged my haggard self out of bed and tried to sneak out the side door without starting my own party here in our little ‘still-sleeping’ haven of rest.

I was present during my shower in the communal bathroom here on the campground, particularly when I forgot my shampoo.  Thank heavens for that sample I swiped from the hotel during March Break.   I was present when I returned to our camper and my daughter was hopping around in desperation/fear she would again pee her pants because I was her one ‘pass’ to the washroom, and she had to wait my return from the shower so as to GO. Present when I dropped the coffee grounds all over the camper floor.  Present again, when I zipped up my favorite Jacob top in my suitcase zipper, and even more present when I had to borrow scissors from a fellow camper to cut it out.  I was present.  In the moment, baby.

Still not convinced of its validity, I pressed on.

I was present throughout mid-morning activities.  Present when I found an earwig floating in my dishwater and then when the fridge leaked water all over the camper floor.   Present when a prospective buyer showed up to look at our camper this morning just after breakfast and before I had a chance to clean/de-clutter and again present when my daughter had a meltdown because she was hungry and a roll would not appease, coincidentally timed at just the moment this same family were traipsing through our dirty, unclean camper (leaving me no choice but to buckle her in her car seat in our van until the showing was over); present when thunder clouds rolled in right at dinner time forcing us whom are ‘picnic-ers’ by force, to come sheepishly to my parent’s door, food and laundry in hand.  I was present even then.

Again, I was present when the kids were fighting intermittently throughout the day, when the rush for supper was in full swing and we were rushing, rushing, rushing (so that we might not miss our evening’s entertainment).   When Gatorade spilled and kiddos were not hungry, and present still when we made a mad dash to the movie theatre: sweaty, tired and unkempt- brushing hair even in the parking lot.  Only to find out that we still had another twenty minutes until the movie would begin to play.

I was present at the theatres when we played musical chairs, when popcorn spilled, when Little Ones thought the movie was too scary, and then again when everyone had different ideas about which store in which to shop in after the show ended.  Present when we arrived back home to our camper, and as we were pulling in to the campground, Youngest issued disparaging remarks to the Oldest, upon which Oldest proceeded to lecture his father on how lax we are in disciplining the Youngest.  Thus, putting a damper on an otherwise pleasant evening.

And I am currently present in this moment.  Whilst Youngest cries and sobs for water at one hour to midnight and all the while, Older Ones complain about her crying.  Oh, I am present.  And then some.

Contemplating going it solo in the backseat of the van, but still present indeed.

And I have come to this conclusion: I think being present in all these moments has just about killed me.  I’m not that strong.  And I just want to be detached in a few of them.  Rather, a lot of them.  So, here I sit, even whilst the youngest cries and screams and her father is forced to get up out of bed and deal with the discipline.

And I meanwhile just tap, tap, tap the keys of this laptop while balancing it on my lap as I sit on the edge of a lumpy camper mattress.  Only ten feet away from my screaming child.  And I must say, I have reached a verdict.  I am no longer in the moment.  Rather, I am feeling very detached and working on being oblivious to all the chaos going on around me.

And it is a very good place to be.  In this moment.

The Joy of Being Mean (seriously….)

Not long ago, a friend mailed me a letter that contained two sheets of paper.    On one sheet, was an article titled The Meanest Mother in the World, and on the other was the letter writer’s note to me which can be summarized with this one sentence: “Nice to know that being ‘mean’ is not all bad.”  As I read through the words of the article, originally written by Bobbie Pingaro (  in 1967, I thought to myself that mean mothers have been in existence for a long time.  In honor of all the mean mothers that are still around in the year 2012, perhaps we should revive this little mantra for the 21st century, complete with re-vamped demands that all mean mothers are prone to request in our present day world.  Here are a few thoughts that I came up with.

I am the meanest mother in the whole wide world.  While some kids don’t get on the bus with breakfast in their bellies, my kids are forced to have a muffin, bowl of cereal or a piece of toast.  At the very least, an over-ripe banana.  And I have been known to pack up an unfinished waffle or bag up a bowl of dry cereal and send it along for the ride.  All because mean mothers know that kids hate eating breakfast and we live to bring torture to their lives.

I also force my children to fold their pajamas, neatly, and while I include them in making their bed, I insist they learn how to do it the right way, not just any old way they please.  Since I am a stickler for neatness, I assist them in learning how to smooth back the covers, and I show them how to make it actually look presentable rather than as if a dead man is lying underneath the covers.  Cruel, I know.

I force my kids to shower every second day whether they stink or not.  They have to use soap and shampoo, and I often stand there outside the shower until I know they have rinsed all the shampoo out of their silky locks.  They often cry because they hate getting water in their eyes, but since I am mean, I insist that they do it the right way.  They’ll thank me later when they don’t have dandruff to deal with.

They also always have to wear clean undies after bathing. Cruel and unusual punishment.

Mean mothers always overdress their children, and I am no exception.  My kids are usually a slight bit over the average internal temperature for a normal child.  They always have a hat, mittens, sweatshirt, coat and wind pants on their person until about June 15th when I officially break out the summer wear.  I have a history of being mean in this way that dates back to the moment I became a mother.  True story.  After my first child was born, I took him to the doctor because he was running a slight fever.  Come to find out he was overdressed.  Who knew that a knitted sweater set in August could do that to a child?

I am so hateful.  I insist on regular contact with my children’s classroom teachers.  If I hear that they have not done an assignment, I am mean enough to actually contact the teacher to get the assignment right from the horse’s mouth.  And I insist on respect and courteous behaviour from my kids toward their teachers and other responsible adults in their life.  I have been known to insist on my children apologizing to an adult that they have not acknowledged or spoken to in a courteous way when they have been politely addressed by that same adult in public.  The nerve of me, I know.  But you’ll have to excuse me for this poor behaviour.   I learned it honestly.  My own father once drove me to an elderly lady’s house to apologize for rudely not acknowledging her when she kindly spoke to me at church.  Some lessons are learned the hard way.

I insist on my children adhering to a code of conduct that includes an innate understanding of the word responsibility.  I have been known to torture my children by actually requesting that they read a book, do their homework, walk the dog and sometimes (gasp, I know!) even do a chore or two as a means of earning X-box, computer, ipod or television.  Furthermore, I insist that my children do some of those same forms of human torture (a.k.a. chores) on the weekend.  Meanie that I am, I force my children to get up at a half decent hour of the day and then play outside, using their God-given imaginations to create and generate storylines for their play time.  And since we bought them a dog for Christmas, they have now been shackled with the added torture of playing with and exercising the dog.

Mean mothers, like myself, actually brush our children’s teeth for them because we are so suspicious that they might have simply held the toothbrush under the water, sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and then  called it a night.  We also, on occasion, ask out children to wash their hands and face before heading to bed because as we all known, cleanliness is next to godliness.

Probably the meanest thing I currently do is insist that my children wait.  They have to wait until after they have eaten their healthy food before they eat dessert.  They have to wait until Christmas to open their presents.  They have to wait until summer to wear their shorts outside.  They seemingly have to wait for everything and they have to do so with such unreasonable time constraints.  For instance, if my husband and I are talking, we insist that our children not interrupt us while we are in mid-sentence. We then spitefully request that they wait until we are finished our thought until they interject.   As well, we ask them to wait until they have saved up their own money to buy desired toys and goodies that are outside the reasonable expenditure of our weekly allowance.  We even ask them to wait until they are 13 to get a Facebook account. 


I could go on about so many other mean things I do, like insisting that my children eat the food I have served up on the table, saying please when asking for something and thank you when they have been given something or the most detestable of all, apologizing for things that were just mere accidents (as in, “I am sorry I sideswiped you on the way through the door and knocked that huge pile of towels you were holding out of your arms.”)  If I was even half-ways nice, I am sure I would not care.

I realize that being a mean mother has a slew of secondary repercussions.  As a result, my children, although not perfect, have sometimes complained about the undue hardship their mean mother inflicts on them.  As a result of being mean, I have also had to deal with my children being singled out by other responsible adults in their life for being polite and respectful citizens of the groups in which they participate. 

But I can deal with it.  Because mean mothers have a tough skin.  And we come by our meanness honestly.  Our own mothers, bless their nasty little hearts, were mean too.  


J.O.Y. of the top ten list…

The Top Ten Highlights of My Monday (in no order of importance…)

1.)    Getting up only 10 minutes late in spite of the fact that Husband forgot to set the alarm.

2.)    Finishing half of my cold toast and carrying in the other half to school (to hopefully finish at recess) concealed inside an empty cookie container that happened to be kicking around our van.

3.)    Having enough time prior to the bus arriving (exactly 8 minutes to spare) so that it looked like I was well-prepared for the day.

4.)    Being told flat-out in a staff meeting that my alto voice (a.k.a. big mouth) completely dominated the choral group I sang in last Friday.

5.)    Being told that same embarrassing scenario was captured on video tape.

6.)    Arriving home from work to find out there are exactly enough hamburgers left over from Sunday’s bar-b-q that I don’t have to cook supper.

7.)    And for whoever is still hungry, there is greasy Greco tonight at piano lessons for an after-dinner snack.

8.)    Finding out that what I thought was a criminal breaking into the school tonight (as I worked after hours), was only a stray cat.

9.)    Having just enough time to sneak in some surf-time on the Internet before cleaning the bathroom.

10.) Sleeping children, snoring husband and a pillow-top mattress.

joy found in the storm…

It is suppose to be a storm day today.  The alarm sounds at 5:45ish with a twangy country tune blaring, reverberating sound off the walls and into my half-awake brain.  I already have a child glued against my left side, and another knocks on the door when she hears the party going on in the bedroom.   I decide that the computer downstairs is a better prospect for hearing the local weather forecast and cancellations than hanging out in the country saloon-wannabe that is our bedroom.  I plan to get the news, and hopeful cancellation report, then surreptitiously go back to my nice cozy, albeit crowded bed.

Storm days do not always bring out the best in me.  I have such high hopes, such high expectations.  In my mind, I envision a gloriously, quiet day spent in my silk jammies, under the bed covers with a good read.  And a steaming cup of coffee.  And the laptop.  And maybe my cell phone and landline within reach.  I could elaborate.

Curiously, in this little fantasy of mine, the kids are always spending the day at their grandmother’s house.

What actually happens on a typical storm day, is this: I spend part of the morning drifting in and out of consciousness while trying to keep the little one from constantly kicking me, after which I crawl out of bed, wearing my flannel penguin jammies and fuzzy striped socks, destined for the kitchen; at such time of my arrival, I will start and then continue to spend a large part of the morning cleaning up the big breakfast that my darling husband has cooked especially for celebrating storm days.

Ah, the big breakfast.  Crusher of storm day dreams.

We are sitting around the table.  My husband puts a plate of round pucks in front of us that faintly resemble hard-cooked eggs.

“That’s not scrambled eggs,” says one.

“No, it is not,” he patiently answers. “I had to cook breakfast while I was outside putting wood in the furnace, and the eggs cooked in the oven during that time.”

“I don’t like these kind,” she whines.  She looks distastefully at the heaping plate, a vision of circular gelatinous wonder.

Meanwhile, another happy chorister joins the breakfast ensemble.  Brian is still trying to get his body to the table, and l see a look of panic come over his face.  Breakfast is cooling faster than an ice flow in Florida.

“Who set the table?” complains child number two, while noticing there are no utensils at his place setting.

As I shoot a look that would kill, he quickly adds, “…I was just going to say that the person who set the table did a GREAT job.”

I am at one end of the table looking every bit the burned-out mama I am.  Since I have neither showered nor brushed my hair, I am sure I do not look the vision I had pictured in my storm day fantasy.  My husband, looking more awake than I, dashes around the kitchen, all the while getting more and more testy by the minute as the eggs are now nearing a freezing point.  As they look like pucks anyway, they might have a future planned for them other than the table, in the event that the picky eaters sitting round the storm day feast actually follow through on their sensitivity to different textured eggs.  My husband, undeterred, has a place set for himself at the other end of the table, showcasing a plate overflowing with eggs, toast and bacon that are unfortunately getting colder by the minute.

We say grace.

As we partake, the dog steals a sock to chew on under the table causing general alarm from yours truly, as anything the dog has ingested then regurgitated lately, has ended up looking like a hamburger.

As there is only a certain amount of bacon to go around, it is carefully rationed.  I give my share up as I had a few too many chips and dip last night.  The one who doesn’t eat eggs but loves the bacon promptly drops her piece on the floor shortly after we begin, and again the eggs are re-offered and refused.   At least the dog has something other than socks to chew on now.

There is something to be said for tenacity, coupled with a good dose of patience.  That would be my husband.  Where I would have offered a box of Fruit Loops and a glass of juice and called it a wrap, he has the ability to pull off the storm day breakfast and make it look easy.  I grumble and complain about crumbs under the table, and he just thinks that’s what we have a dog for.

In the end, it is all worth the while as the kids head outside to build snow forts and lose mittens in the freshly fallen snow.  The kitchen is clean, the beds are made and I have finally had a shower.

The only thing left to do on this storm day morning is make potato salad for lunch with none other than the leftover eggs from the storm day breakfast.

Not eggs-actly what I had fantasized I would eat for lunch on the perfect storm day.  But I’ll roll with it.

This is joy…under pressure!

Vignette #1:

I arrive at school a bit before 9:00 p.m. I am having a bit of trouble finding my keys, but there they are, on the passenger seat. I gather an armload of muffins for tomorrow’s healthy breakfast selections, and I balance them with my free arm, as I slam the door shut with the other.

It is pitch black inside the school at this hour of the day, so I flick on switches, illuminating dark corridors. I head down a further passageway where another darkened hallway leads toward the kitchen. It is here that I will finally unload the four dozen fruity muffins, brimming with nutrients and goodness, that I now am carrying in my arms. If all goes well, I should be out of here and back home in an hour. Just in time to watch The Office.
I insert my key into the keyway of the lock, and slowly open the kitchen door. Another switch is flicked. The kitchen floods with light, and I turn to place my muffins on the counter.
That is when I discover them. The remainder. The ten dozen other breakfast items now on the counter, making up the balance of tomorrow’s breakfast selections for 200 hungry students. Food to feed their minds, give them energy to learn. I am almost drooling, just thinking of the possibilities.
It is at that very moment when I see them. There, on the counter, in all their neon glory, are pinwheel jelly rolls, a creation so sickly sweet I get cavities just thinking about them.
Kill me now.

Vignette #2:

Earlier in the day, a certain someone, who shall hitherto remain nameless, and a student responsible for buying the healthy breakfast items for the week, came to me and told me that the breakfast items had been bought. “I couldn’t find muffins,” she says, “so I just let Johnny pick out something else.”
“What did you buy? “ I ask mildly curious.
“”Oh, just go take a look,” says that certain nameless someone. I sense pride in a job done well; I feel relief.
As I was busy at the time, I got distracted. The day was crazy due to other complicating circumstances, including, but not limited to: losing and then finding hundreds of dollars worth of cash cards for the afore-mentioned breakfast program, pep squad through first break, discipline through second and that other little minor inconvenience of not having booked a sub to meet with our school’s literacy coach.

Vignette #3:

I am balancing two sloppy joes, a plate with blueberry cake drowning in brown sugar sauce and a glass of water in one hand. I have 2.5 minutes left in which to each my lunch. I can’t wait to eat this cake, the treat of the week brought in by a staff member. I am performing an aerobatic act worthy of a circus clown, when I meet up with our school’s literacy coach coming up the stairs of the school. I see her, and there is that vague feeling looming in the back of my mind that I may be coming up to the verge of a predicament, but those sloppy joes are calling my name. I hope to say a quick “hi”, then bounce down the stairs to inhale my plateful of food…. before the students come in…in 1.5 minutes.
“Oh, Sally!” I exclaim. “How nice to see you! What brings you here today?”
“I am here to see you,” she says, looking at my plateful of food and my sudden ashen face, already showing signs of nausea. Sweat beads are popping out everywhere. I begin to hyperventilate, as I do a 180 degree turn, and start leaping up the stairs in full vault, sloppy joes and all.

Vignette #4:

I am hyperventilating. I cannot see. The sloppy joes are getting sloppier by the minute. The brown sugar sauce is hardening into a brown, syrupy crust over a dark little square that use to resemble cake. I grab a phonebook. I still cannot see, I can hardly think. The only thought I seem to be able to process is this one: “Who can I call to come in for me, to cover for the afternoon, with no sub plan drawn up, that would be able to get here in the next ten minutes?”
The literacy coach, meanwhile, is still standing on the stairs. I forgot to even invite her to wait in the staff room. In the words of Homer Simpson, “DUH!”

Vignette #5:

I later laugh about all this, my obvious lack of organization and ineptitude with social graces, as I chat with the literacy coach. She is extremely gracious, and I fall over myself apologizing for every single faux pas I preformed from the time she entered the school until now. She and I end up talking about how we often think people are judging us for all the qualities we see as unworthy in ourselves, but in reality, we should assume the best of people and their assumptions about us. I breathe finally. I stop hyperventilating. I am almost convinced that this day will get better. I will survive. We end our meeting because I am late taking my oldest daughter to the rink, but no big deal. Life is rosy! I feel grand! It’s all good, and I can take anything from here on out! Nothing’s going to stop me now!
We arrive at the rink with no time to spare. Everyone piles out of the van, and I hurriedly open the trunk. I frantically search, but it is all too apparent. My daughter’s skates are not there.

Vignette #6:

I am silently regretting that I ever thought this day would get better. What kind of idiot am I? I start calling Brian’s cell phone, and he agrees to look for the skates and deliver them. I wait. He calls me, “Where are the skates? “ he asks me. “I don’t know, “I reply. “They are somewhere in the entryway. I hid them from the dog because she was trying to chew the laces last night. “
I wait. He rushes. I have time to get groceries as the time slowly passes. I tell my daughter to sit with her boots off, so that when her father arrives we might be able to shave off a few precious seconds from our lace tying. It is then that I realize that my daughter is wearing bobby socks (an absolute no-no to wear inside skates worn for two hours on the ice), she also has forgotten to bring a sweater and I have now officially lost my mind.

Vignette #7:

Hours later, we are in the car driving to Pickle Night, the infamous night for children at our church dedicated to all things pickle. I am silently composing a pickle theme song, completely spur of the moment, and I am doing so because I have no sanity left, and this seems like a completely reasonable thing to do en route to pickle night. The kids are fighting in the backseat, my husband is thinking about pickles, and I am singing to myself about pickles. At any other time, this whole scenario would lead any sane person to think our family is out to lunch, but this is Pickle Night. The kids are so excited, they can barely contain themselves.
We arrive at church. We sing about pickles, watch a pickle movie, play pickle games, eat pickle flavoured popcorn, search for pickles in a bucket of ice, get pickle-coloured balloons, and exit with pickle scented breath.
Everyone is pickled out, and so ready to go home. But, we first have to pick our son up at the rink, where he is playing the initial of four games played over the weekend for a local tournament. Hubby parks the van in the furthest corner of the parking lot and then leaves to pick our only son up after his hockey game, which has gone into a bit of over-time. The rest of us end up waiting in the van, smelling like pickles, for almost twenty minutes while he chats it up with pickle-free smelling people and son undresses in the change room. I have the window down and I have now moved the van so that it is directly in front of the rink cafeteria, where all the people, including my hubby, are now milling about. Cigarette smoke is mingling with the pickle smell, and the children are also noticing the new scent. They begin complaining about the various aromas in our van. I have a sudden urge to rev the engine and lay on the horn.

Vignette #8:

We are finally on our way to de-pickle the van with the minus 16 degree air filtering through our vehicle’s ventilation system. I emphasize that I am now seriously running behind, and I will only be slowing down to about 20 clicks, which should be plenty slow for everyone to fall out of the van, onto the snow, without suffering too grievous an injury. Slight exaggeration intended.

Vignette #9:

Which brings us back to this: the spiral, pink and white, sugar-injected Swiss jelly rolls sitting on the school’s kitchen counter.
I am inside the office, sitting in the secretary’s chair, not sure who to phone first. The shock of seeing those neon-coloured wonders sitting there on the counter has propelled me into action. The closest store closed exactly five minutes ago, which means we will be serving muffins and sugar coated jelly rolls for breakfast tomorrow. Our school’s nutrition team will be so impressed when they find out what I have on the menu for breakfast in the morning. Not to mention the countless parents, whose children will now use these jelly rolls as an excuse for eating candy for breakfast and who will be themselves super impressed with me and my discretion. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Vignette #10:

It is 10:00 p.m.. My brain is numb, but the crisis is over. A plan of action is in place, and there are people all over West Prince making muffins, even as I am slumped over in a chair, watching a sitcom. The show’s plot centers around two trendy parents and their dilemma over what daycare to choose for their one and only child. I think I may need some Demerol, and a good, swift kick in the head to knock me out of my misery. That, and maybe a Swiss roll and a glass of pepsi.