I'm learning that many of the things I imagined I required from my growing children are idealistic at best and ridiculously, squashably unattainable at worst.  I expected that I'd need to patiently explain things to them only once.  They'd then nod with an otherworldly wisdom and move on from there, bettered little creatures, never again to struggle with this same issue.

I imagined that they'd smell of roses and sunshine.  And only perhaps other flower species, varying from child to child, because in my mind, I magnanimously allowed for individual differences.

I dreamed that they would excel at everything they put their hands to, for I knew in my heart that they would be unusually gifted children, cut not of ordinary cloth, but of shinier, more ethereal stuff.

I knew that they would be fairy-tale children, leaving harmonious relationships and bubblegummy peace in their wakes.  So when I learned that my glimmering Thumbelina had been teasing her friend about her dependency upon Goodnights at the ripe old age of 10, I very nearly couldn't believe it.   In fact, I may not have, were it not for the fact that the Mama to the little girl in question very lovingly, very gently,  told me all about it.  She wasn't the kind of Mama who seeks to bring shame to other mothers so that she can feel better about her own parenting repertoire, but was a gentle, lovely, laughing One who told me in such a way so as to spare my maternal dignity because she knew that I wanted - nay needed - to know.  How else was I to help my little girl out of the place which found her delighting in the shame of someone else?  My Thumbelina seemed a little less glittery on that day.  But she became more substantial, too and less vaporous and more mine. 

My Pinocchios, too, become more real the farther through life they go.  Or at least their Mother begins to see them for who they really are, which is flesh-and-blood children who need loves and cuddles and no more maternal blind eyes cast their way, glossing over imperfections, imagining them to be faultless.  The fruitless hope that if maybe I squeeze my eyes closed tightly enough, then maybe their weaknesses might just be rendered nonexistent is just that: fruitless.  It's naive and it's hollow.  And it precludes real relationship with these real little people.  It makes them think that maybe they should default to lying to me, their doting, exacting mother, so as not to burst her hot air balloon propelling her through her land of make-believe.  That land is a lonely one, though the glitter floats everywhere.

So now as I love them, I try to do so with my eyes open wide.  I remind myself (for it does not come naturally to me, as I am inclined toward being pridefully perfectionistic) to be open about my own failings so as to set the stage for a child-like version of just that same thing: an open sharing of failings.  I want for them to know that they can share all of themselves with me and know in their bones that I will always love them.   And I will love them all the more because they are not imaginary figments of my fairy-tale imagination.  They get dirt underneath their very tangible fingernails and they tattle and they work themselves up into dramatic fits, satisfying only to themselves in the very middle of that moment.  They exaggerate.  They stay up late, sometimes, past their bedtimes.  I sometimes find granola bar wrappers under their beds, stashed clandestinely.  They try to leave quickly on their bike rides without helmets, before I can see their bare heads and I love them so much.  Bare-headed, dirty-fingernailed, wonderful little people.
I've never had an eleven year old son before.  He's so many things all at once these days and sometimes these differing aspects of his personality strike me as being contradictory. 

He is sometimes still a child, playing with his color changer Hot Wheels in his now-necessarily-daily shower.  He still plays little role playing games with his younger siblings and though  it's all done under the guise of 'look at what a good older brother I am,' I can see that he genuinely still enjoys these little blips of his not-quite adolescent life.  Few things bring him more joy that going on Dictionary.com and orchestrating things so that grown-up  (and even better - English) voices enunciate words like poop and butt-cheeks.  He loves to play with our cat and they chase each other merrily all around the house, pouncing on one another in turns.  He still requests each night to be specially 'put to bed,' and feels very hard done by if we bypass his room and only feel we have the energy to formally put the Littles to bed.  In so many ways, he's still a little boy.  A little boy who secrets away the Omega-3 tablets that he's supposed to take each morning at breakfast.  Sometimes I find his stash.  This boy still makes me a homespun Valentine card each year and he's quick to sacrifice his now relatively rare peer-given Valentine candies to me, though he really should not.  When it's his lot to kill houseflies in the summer, he's been known to leave one - carefully arranged - for me on my pillow at night.  A transcendant maturity has not always been his to brag of.

But more recently, these precious last blips of childhood are intermingled with the qualities of an older boy.  Every now and then his voice cracks as he speaks.  He's good natured and laughs at himself when this happens, and he likes to recreate the cracking words over and over for our listening pleasure.  Sometimes when people phone and he answers, they assume he's me.  This too, fortunately, he finds funny so far.  I've alluded to the necessity of regular showers now in his nascent life.  These showers are no longer optional.  He gets to choose class options now in school, which he finds animating and empowering.  Girls contact his older sister via Facebook to enquire about his relationship status.  He is an excellent babysitter and the house is always spotless when we arrive back home, because he knows a monetary bonus is therefore his.  He loves foreign exchange students and does everything he can to ease their transition into Canadian life; he feels very aware of their potential loneliness.  This boy is a beautiful person and in a strange sort of twisting inconsistency, he's curiously mature.  I wish so much that I could post his picture so that you could see the freckles skittering across his nose.  I think they might be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
One of the JoyKids has been struggling with a relationship in his/her life of late.  O who are we kidding?  Those of you who have read for even a short time know full well which JoyKid it is who has struggled with a relationship.  We all know it's not a her and that it's not Jude.  We all know without having to be told that it is my beautiful, exhuberant, life-spilling-over Oliver.  O how I love this kid.  However, he's responsible - almost single-handedly - for each one of the great many grey hairs on my head.  He does life at full throttle, for good and for bad.

And so it all unfolds that Oliver has recently wrestled with a relationship in his seven-year-old life.  The relationship is with a little girl in his class.  You know by now that Oliver dislikes girls and more specifically, their attendant girl-hair at the best of times, but for whatever reason he's taken a particular dislike to this little girl.  I could speculate endlessly as to why this might be and the speculating might include observations about how both children were home-schooled last year and so perhaps their social skills aren't yet honed to a razor sharp edge and this type of thing.  The simple truth might just be that their personalities are just a bit repelled by one one another's.  Who knows?  As a grown-up myself, I know that sometimes in life I meet up with people that I just don't like very much.  I tell myself - and we tell Oliver - that this is normal.  We say things like: you don't have to like her, buddy, but you do have to be kind to her.  And things like: treat her the way you would want to be treated yourself.  

When he's unkind to her, we take away privileges like going to hockey games with his Daddy and the presence of his beloved Seal Family (see more on this, including photo on the entry dated 12/19/10.  O if only I knew how to link things up like the really fancy bloggers all seem to.).  As trite and cliche as it sounds, we just keep walking in the dark the way we learned how to in the light.  We're hoping at some point in the not-too-distant future he'll see that treating people he doesn't like with respect is the right thing to do.  And so we plod on.

In another effort to touch his sometimes gruff little heart, we've required that he do an act of kindness for her each school day.  We've told him that he has a lot of trust to rebuild with this little girl and so he makes her heart snowflakes and home-grown borax crystals and bakes her cookies.  Slowly, she seems to be warming towards him.  The mother called recently, just like in a story from Chicken Soup For the Soul.  Rarely do things turn out this beautifully wrapped in real life.  The mother wanted to apologize for her little girl's contributions to the breakdown of the relationship and said that her daughter had not been raised to behave in this way.  I told her - most emphatically - that she was preaching to the choir and that I, too, had been learning the dignity-defying lesson that our children aren't mere extensions of ourselves, doing exactly and only as we'd like, and that they are whole, albeit mini individuals who make icky choices of their own sometimes, despite what we may wish for them. 

It's nice, sometimes, to find out that other parents know how this feels.  So the mother and I commiserated a while longer on the phone and I felt powerfully lucky to be having this exchange with someone like her who was humble enough to see that her girl wasn't perfect and who was devoted enough to want to work with me on this to help our respective little people grow up to be beautiful adults.  And I've no doubt that they will.
Oliver's class is in the middle of doing a fun project where each child has to bring in and present one of his or her favorite recipes.  Since our littlest is a passionate pancake sort of guy, he's slated to bring in the following recipe this week.  They are required to go shopping for the ingredients for their recipe and also to make the actual recipe together with a loving adult in their lives.  I think it's such a creative way of introducing the little Grade Ones to things like list-making, public speaking and cooking and the consequent math  involved.  Ollie's recipe is from Barefoot Contessa's Family Style.

Makes 12 pancakes

1 ½ cups unbleached flour

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ cup sour cream

¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

2 extra-large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Unsalted butter

2 ripe bananas, diced, plus extra for serving

Pure maple syrup

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mixing only until combined.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat until it bubbles.  Ladle the pancake batter into the pan.  Distribute a rounded tablespoon of bananas on each pancake.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, until bubbles appear on top and the underside is nicely browned.  Flip the pancakes and then cook for another minute, until browned.  Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, add more butter to the pan, and continue cooking pancakes until all the batter is used.  Serve with sliced bananas, butter and maple syrup.  Another fun option is to serve with maple whipped cream and blueberries.

I looked at her enthralled profile, hardly recognizing her.  She was emerging from her chrysalis, right before my fascinated, devastated, admiring eyes.  We were at her first rock concert together and I keep telling myself I'm lucky because she's still happy to be in places like this with me.  The music is so loud, I can feel it pound through my body almost as much as I can hear it through my old-school - even flourescent orange  - ear plugs.

I suspect that this gauntlet is all the more difficult to cross because she's my precious first-born.  I feel so conflicted inside, wanting to stifle the all-too-fast beginnings of this burgeoning new person and at the same time admiring and respecting her so much.  She is everything I hoped she would be and then more.  I didn't know that thirteen-year olds could be so confident and insightful.  I didn't know that they could show glimmers of being so much more than their parents.  And yet, I feel only a tremendous gratefulness that she is mine, even if only for this very short time.

The music is just what she loves and her appreciation is tangible, though not in quite the same way as the three shrieking, shimmying, terribly off-key  adolescent girls directly behind us.  There has always been a dignity about my Anabel.  She's not flamboyant and she isn't all that drawn to physical touch.  Even as a infant, not yet even able to control her own neck muscles, she'd arch her little back away from our snuggles, trying to procure for herself some much valued personal space.  I'm reminded of that little newborn tonight as I watch her.  Her eyes are bright and if you look closely, you can see the joy lining her face, but she's still and quiet.  Though I don't much like the music (I've become that old woman, much to my secret mirth!), my own feet are proving to be far more active than my girls'.  She is careful to avoid touching the person next to her, for that would equal social unpleasantness to her.   I know that she'd undoubtedly be a great deal noisier and overtly 'teenager-ish' if she were here with a pack of girlfriends, but in the meantime, I just try to record all the little observations I make tonight so that I can remember her, here, right now, forever.  She represents eternity in no small way and I'm so happy to be along for the ride.
We have a little dynamic at work in our family of late.  Little Lucy has just now entered the world of online shopping and is currently experiencing the less exhilarating side of it.  She waits for her treasure to arrive.  She waits and she waits and then she waits.  And then, in a burst of flamboyant frustration, she waits some more.

Every day after school, she asks me if I've checked the mail.  Every day I tell her no.   We then proceed to our next stop and pick up our Bigs and our carpool friend.  Every day Lucy then asks me if we can check the mail.  Every day I say yes and smile and hand her the key as I pull over to the  mailboxes, her daily tormentors.  These mailboxes - they mock her.  They sadden and they grieve her.  She hates these mailboxes and then she tries a different tack.  She's cheerfully manipulative and sunnily, as she makes her way toward these witholding  metal boxes, out surely to thwart the fulfillment of her joy,  she calls over her shoulder, wish me luck!  And then she's angry again as she sorts through that day's contents only to find that all the Universe conspires against her to squash her sunshiney joy.

She's ordered an American Girl bathtub, complete with dazzling artificial pink bubbles.  Daily, she pages through the American Girl catalogue, which is dog-eared and tattered from all the loving perusal it's undergone.  She saves her allowance each week and painstakingly works her financial way toward more American Girl paraphernalia.  She hates that in its company name though, it excludes her Canadian devotedness and says so regularly.  When she's grouchy, American Girl's lack of Canadian-ness is oft lamented. 

So she's just now in that heady, unusual position of actually having ordered something from this precious catalogue of hers.  And now she waits and she decries the state of the nearby Canadian border crossing, which has almost certainly mistaken her beloved bath tub for a kilo or two of cocaine.  She's indignant to be mistaken for a drug dealer.  She wonders aloud if maybe one of these selfish border guards has taken her bath tub home for his own, undeserving little girl to play with.  She vows that she'll check it out very carefully for signs of clandestine play when it finally arrives.  I listen to her and if I'm feeling gracious, I laugh at her nine-year-old obsessiveness.  If I'm tired of hearing all these same conjectures time and time again, I don't laugh and instead, I tell her abruptly one more time about the concept of a postal tracking number.  And then I tell her not to talk about it anymore for today and a fairy-tale mother's smile does not light up my saintly face.

But really, she's so cute.  And she's learning so much.  I love her more - much more - than I love myself and I'm so pleased that it's me God has chosen to show her how to grow to be a patient shopper and so much more.  What a beautiful duty.  What a blessed woman.
Anabel's very talented friend just took this photo of my girl.  Isn't it gorgeous?
I was the blessed recipient of a gentle rebuke last night.  Jude - our family's representative people person - tactfully began the conversation with something along the lines of, "Mom, are  you OK?  Do you feel like you're going through anything these days?" 

It's so odd to rear up these children who then begin to surpass you as they go along.  I'm finding now with both Anabel and Jude, that our relationships are morphing into something brand new and unexpected.  They are my children still, needing the guidance and unconditional love that one would expect, but they're also becoming these new creations who are in a strange sort of way, my friends now, too.  I always knew that they'd both push way past me in a physical height sense (their birth weights were 10-7 and 9-0 respectively), but I failed to foresee this element of their development.  They have real insight to offer me, as I journey my way through life. 

Jude's diplomatic opening led the way for me to be able to accept what he had to say to me, which was - I'm afraid to confess - that I've been distracted and irritable with him of late.  He's probably right, too.  Now that the kids are back in school after the Christmas holidays, I've locked into drill sergeant task mode as I try to dissemble some of the aftermath resulting from six people spending two weeks together, mostly indoors.  To my extreme discredit, I get this way when I'm focused on a task that feels daunting.  I lose sight of relationship and I begin, disconcertingly for everyone involved,  to closely resemble Genghis Khan during one of his military campaigns.  My son's gentle rebuke was just what I needed to hear.  Out of the mouths of babes.
Surely you remember my grandiose bragging from a mere day or two ago regarding our unusually spectacular weather?  In the interest of full disclosure, it's only fair that I let you know that it's rained almost every day since.  The running around in a tank top is a thing of the past.  This morning when I went out to attempt a run, I almost immediately chickened out when I discovered that it was raining sideways.  It was that directly-into-your-eyes sort of rain. 

Fortunately for me, in a few days, I'll be heading off to the land of perpetual Sun and Dancing.  Nope, not the Northwest Territories (I think there's a fair bit of dancing that goes on up there, correct me if I'm wrong?).  I'm going to spend some time in Maui with my beloved sisters.  There will be not a husband in sight and there will be no children.  In so many ways, the very idea of it delights my heart.  But there is also the part of me that is dreading it just a little.  I've never left my kids for any real length of time and though I don't doubt that it'll be healthy for both they and I, I can't help but default to thinking that I'm the only person in the Universe who is able to take proper care of them.  Ridiculous?  Most certainly.  Reasonable?  Not even remotely.  My high-strung, but heartfelt reality?  I'm afraid so.

I remind myself that it doesn't spell out disaster if the planners aren't signed every single day.  Surely the world will not stop spinning on its axis if the gym strip isn't washed one weekend.  My friend, also a mother of four AND daycare provider extraordinaire is, if anything, more capable than I of ushering the Littles to and from school each day.  My husband knows perfectly well how to drive to and from the swimming pool.  Surely it's a form of high narcissism to think that only I can do it all competently.   Who do I think I am, anyway?
My parents just dashed off at the crack of dawn.  They're organized like that.  The coffee pot was pre-set, the keys were neatly laid out in orderly anticipation.  There's no question that the gas tank was full.  As I lived with them over the course of this past week, I was reminded of aspects of my childhood. 

I remembered that my Dad always had the vehicle pre-warmed and de-iced and waiting for us before a family jaunt.  I remembered that he always made sure I knew how to change a tire and to insure my car.  The way he said I love you was by filling my gas tank or by replacing my old wiper blades.  I remembered that Mom liked to have pre-cut veggies out and waiting for us much of the time.  I remembered the coffee she'd bring me while I languished in bed as a teenager.  I swooned as I recalled her many back scratches.  I swooned because I was enjoying a modern-day one as I recalled the former ones. 

It feels so nice to be cared for by someone again.  Not, of course, that my loved ones don't care.  But they don't care for me in that just sit down and rest and don't even think just now of all the lunches that need to be made for tomorrow sort of way.  I'm almost always the one planning and preparing and setting out uniforms and packing the swimming lessons bag and the one who runs around meal planning and homework helping  and the one who cringingly has to cut the poop chunk out of our cat's bum fur and it's all as it should be.  But this week, I remembered that it feels so nice sometimes to flop across someone's lap and just think about nothing but how lovely it feels to have one's back scratched for a long, lazy time.  That's parents.  I guess it never really ends.  With your parents, it's somehow ok to just revert back to being a selfish kid who doesn't feel like doing work, but who just wants to curl up on her bed reading stacks of Nancy Drews and graciously allow Mom to bring her a nice drink while she does so.
These hands always made me trust that all was well in the world.