Joy is Precious…

I have corralled my screaming child in the church bathroom.  We are finishing up a weekend of family camp, and not only is camp done, but so am I.  And then some.  I now prepare for inevitable misery that is the stage we call “packing up and heading for home.”  Everyone loves to see a party end. And so it is, I must also round up the clan, gather up all their dirty odds and ends and then clean my otherwise unrecognizable children’s dirt-encrusted bodies before we start the unravelling of the rest of the afternoon.

Let the good times roll.

So here we are, at the sink, screaming and cleansing.  A purification ritual of sorts.  The immediate purpose of our visit to the restroom is to clean sticky little hands and feet.  The greater purpose for me is to stall for time, cleaning feet here rather than trying to round them all up at home where the mood will be even more dismal.  Littlest One screams another ear-piercing trill that echoes thunder through my head.  I don’t realize this yet, but this screaming will continue long and hard as we prepare to drive for home, and will relentless follow me into the van and on down the road as I drive to our house in Mill River East.  More tears, more pleas.  I think an extra-strength Tylenol is in my not-so-distant future.

I ask my child where her shoes are.  Of course, she does not know.

The screaming abates for a moment as I try to figure out what could possibly be so wrong that she must need lose her right lung and both my ears for it. She spits out her answer, the rage evident in every word.  She is upset because…wait for it, she wants a balloon tree.  A bunch of balloons on a stick, people.  I scrub the brown bottoms of little feet while I try to talk some reason into her.  To no avail.  Thankfully, my friend comes to the rescue with the diversion of a funny story, and thereafter produces one small smile and in due time, the missing shoes.  The lost are found, thankfully.  But there is still the minor issue of the balloon tree.

I leave the bathroom, still screaming child in tow, and I meet up with a second friend.  She is talking to another, but as soon as I approach, she stops chatting and turns to me.  And this is what she says:

“These times are precious.  Some day you will look back on this and you will remember that this was a precious moment.”

I am still inwardly fuming from the exchange in the bathroom, the struggle and the meltdown.  I am in no mood or state of mind to concur that yes indeed, this is pretty precious.  Exasperating? Yes.  Infuriating? Sure.  Precious?  I think not.

But I cannot help but consider these sentiments given to me in a gesture of goodwill.  It was meant for good, and that is how I will take it.  But I will agree to disagree.

As the afternoon rolls on, and the predicted unravelling of emotions, patience and kindnesses indeed occurs, I am reminded again of her warning to me.  To consider even this to be precious.  Even this?  This undoing of my mind even as I listen to the four in the backseat of our van laying into one another?  Even this?  The teasing of one at the expense of another?  That too?  The whining?  The crying?  The boredom?  The general malaise?

But yes, even this.  For there must be some good found in even the worst of moments.  After all, it can be the best of times while also being the worst of times.  And I am determined to not let it unravel me any further.

What is precious?  That which is rare and lovely and sought after.  I do not see these frequent blow-outs as coming anything close to rare.  Nor is a meltdown even half-ways lovely.  And I am certainly not seeking ardently for an afternoon spent in misery.  But precious can also mean fleeting.  And this is true.  These moments of childhood, these rites of passage are momentary.  They are fleeting, and in and of themselves, they are strangely precious in their own little ways.

I hold Little One close tonight, drawing her into a mother’s breast, snuggled under arms of love.  Arms that cradle and hold, soothe and protect.  And she leans in to me as I read a bedtime story.  And I know the wild preciousness of it all.

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The Joys of North American Parenting…

I am standing at the back of Coles book shop, my head buried in an interesting new read I have found tucked in between a few other books on discipline.  The book happens to be Bringing Up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman, her controversial book on how the French parent differently than their American counterparts.  I am fascinated by the new interest that North Americans have in French parenting and its emphasis on educating the child rather than over-using discipline.  I glance down every once in a while to make sure my own little brood is not tearing up the book shelves with exuberant reading or  exhibiting other such inappropriate public behaviours.  So far, so good.  Since all is well, I continue reading while the evening employees make excessive trips past us to the book supply room.

We manage to make it through the entire shopping trip without any meltdowns, fights or crying, although I am asked a few times by my off-spring to buy one item or another.

On the way home, my husband and I listen to the radio while the kids play video games in the back seat.  Suddenly, screams erupt from my youngest as she yells at her sister that she hates her and will forever.  I try to think of one good reason why we took the kids with us this evening instead of going with the original plan of hiring a babysitter.  And then I remember that it was easier to take them than make other arrangements, considering one was crying and begging to come and the other would have marooned himself to his room for the evening.  The youngest would have generally created mayhem.

And so amidst the current screaming and crying that continues to persist for the remaining time we are in our vehicle, I am left to wonder if the French do indeed have the corner market on raising kids or are there other reasons for why North Americans continue to live with our temperamental children?

To understand my own thoughts on this subject, I had to look back on the events that unfolded previous to said meltdown while we were homeward bound.

Earlier in the day, we had packed up the three we were keeping for the evening and then sent one to a friend’s house overnight.  As I shared above, it takes us quite a while to get up the gumption to go anywhere with kids in tow, so we arrived in town quite a bit passed our family’s regular supper hour.

By the time we enter our restaurant of choice, the kids are past hungry and I am still feeling the after-effects of the cat nap I had on the way down during the on-board movie.  As our luck would have it, the restaurant is booked solid, with line-ups eventually out the door.  The staff inform us they will only have a table available in twenty minutes.  We decide, against our better judgment, to tough it out.  Our name goes to the bottom of a long list.  After a few trips down the hall and to the washroom, I take the two youngest and sit on a bench as close as possible to the waitress station.  At least we will be noticed here.  I tried to look as saintly as I can muster strength to do so within myself, all the while realizing that it will be my child’s plaintive cries of hunger that will get the waitress’s attention.  Twice I hear her say that families with young children should be seated first.  I think to myself that this plan of action is working.

Meanwhile, I strike up a conversation with a former co-worker of mine just finishing his meal, and when we are through speaking, and he is just meters away, my youngest asks me who he is.  I tell her he is a retired teacher.  While he is still in listening range, Little One asks me, “Why did he retire…was he just tired of screaming at the kids?”

I discreetly try to explain to her that is not the true definition of retirement, while my other child, with pressing concerns of her own, is trying to convince me that her guidance counselor at school is 73 years of age.  “Daughter,” I say turning to her, “You know Mister is not 73 years old.”

She thinks for a split second, and then replies, “Well, he is 72 then.”

Mercifully, the waitress has now rescued us from these interesting, albeit humorous fallacies, and we are now heading for a back table next to the kitchen.  From this vantage point, we will be able to hear the door slam every fifteen seconds, as well as be privy to insider information about the goings on inside the restaurant’s kitchen.

How delightful.

I can only be grateful we are away from the watchful eyes of most of the other restaurant patrons, as I am sure there will be a few kerfuffles before the night is through.  My expectations are not disappointed in this respect.  We barely are seated when Little One starts whining and crying about one thing or another. I am ready to check in to a table for one, but Husband saves the day by allowing our youngest to sit on his knee while I try to focus on deep-breathing exercises.  The waitress arrives with our menus creating a new source of tension as I now feel pressure for everyone to act appropriately in her presence.

Of course, someone does not.

Our waitress is fast and efficient, and apart from ordering too much food, the meal goes over famously.  With only a few crazy moments, we pay and are out the door to the shops for the rest of our afore-mentioned evening’s entertainments.

And so I am left to wonder, do the French have it best or do I?  My parenting skills, far from perfect, are food for fodder for most of the funny stories I write.  Without the meltdowns of my youngest, the disparaging comments of my oldest and the whiny inquisitiveness of my middle one (not to mention the one MIA this evening with her silly sense of humor), what then would I write about?  I would certainly have no funny stories to share with all of you.

So, although I appreciate the French and their handle on educating the child, I will stick with my “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” approach for now.  Because for the time being, it has allowed me to write my stories.   And that is one of the main reasons I find myself laughing at the end of the day, instead of crying.

The Joy of a Pampered Life…and other myths about resorts

As the children have started swimming lessons, we now are the proud card holders of a two-month membership at the local Rodd Mill River Resort Aquaplex and Squash Courts.  We have the card for two months, and I plan on making the aquaplex our second home.  The kids commented today, while we were home eating lunch together on an Easter Monday, that we can now go to the Rodd for free.

Well, not actually, kiddos- that’s why Mommy works a day job.  To pay for swimming lessons for four.  Which, by the way, cost close to three hundred and fifty dollars because we have to have the membership to get the swimming lessons at this particular resort.   I am planning on moving my essentials over starting this Thursday while the second swimming lesson is underway.  That will be the only point in time over the coming week in which my kids will all be in the watchful care of their new babysitter, er, I mean lifeguard, who will be closely attending to them while I unpack.   I look at my membership fees as the equivalent of one month’s rent.  Squatter’s rights to the second month.

We tell the kiddos that we are going to the pool after supper, and it seems a spell has been cast.  It is as if a magician has waved a wand and obedience dust has been gently sprinkled over their perky, little noses.  All day, we have nary an unkind word or moment of complaint.  Love prevails.  Temper tantrums cease.   Okay, I am exaggerating about this last one: nobody in a household of six really has it that good.  But it is better than normal around here for most of the day.  My husband and I look at each other at various points throughout the morning and afternoon and give each other the raised eyebrow- an unspoken signal that allows you to say the unspeakable.  We salute one another with a high-five when we accomplish the unthinkable: that is, we manage to get all four children working simultaneously at various jobs around the house on projects that might have only gotten off the ground when pigs fly.

Can this day really be happening?  Or, am I watching an early episode of 19 Kids and Counting?

Since the day has been such a roaring good time, we are more than willing to take the family for a nice “top-off-the-weekend” swim before retiring to bed for the night.  What could be better than a nice swim, a relaxing drive home and then a gentle tuck-in and cozy hug to finish the day?

Just about anything would be nicer, actually.

For starters, the pool is freezing.  I mean, something has to be broken in the plumbing department tonight.  And they call this a resort?   However, I am a Canadian girl, so I make it work.  I find the one warm spot in the shallow end, but let’s just say that two little girls have already been laughing about how they always pee in the pool.  As if this was a secret.

Exactly.

We swim, we freeze.  Double whammy.  And, since the hot tub is also not working, I do my best to stay warm in the pool, treading water when necessary and doing various acrobatics to maintain body heat.  Meanwhile, husband mentions he might take a little break in the sauna.  I am now on duty with four little swimmers while he sweats it out in the warmest place in the resort: the sauna.  After about a half an hour, I notice that my husband has not returned to the pool.  I say to my sister-in-law, “He is going to lose five pounds if he doesn’t soon get out of there.”   My youngest, having overheard this comment, abruptly turns and looks at me with genuine worry in her eyes.

“Do you mean he’s going to melt in there?”

After having rescued my melting Easter Bunny from the oven in which he has been slow roasting, we proceed to leave the cold pool area for the even colder shower and changing room.  My three girls and I huddle in one shower stall and wait for five, solid minutes for the scalding hot water to gradually return to a steady stream of warm water.  As I am the mother, I am the last to get out and dress myself.  This night has not really gone exactly as planned, but at the very least, the kids are still in good humor.  With my rose colored glasses retrieved and sitting on the brim of my nose, I can also try to see this whole experience as cup half full.

Right?

Wrong.  The minute we step foot in the van, everything completely falls apart.  The kids start fighting, and before we have made it into our driveway, the oldest has lost video games for two days.  The youngest, not to be outdone, has also lost video games for one day, and she is still crying as we proceed into the house and edge our way toward the staircase leading to her bedroom.

Are you kidding me?

I am flabbergasted.  And quite ready to revoke the kid’s memberships to the pool so I can instead buy myself a makeover package from the local beauty salon instead. Or a big bottle of Asprin, at the very least.

Spa life ain’t all she was cracked up to be.