A new school year has begun today and with the deafening silence here after two months of constant togetherness, I find myself reflecting on my life as a mom to my two schooled aged children. I barely remember pregnancy at all, but do have flickers of memories that flash in and out of my rather cluttered brain of late. This is especially the case when I run into pregnant women in the neighbourhood, with or without a wee one toddling beside her. ‘Enjoy these uncomplicated years’, I think to myself. ‘Never mind the fatigue…wait till they’re in school!’
I have learned that fatigue has many denominations.
Eleven years ago I devoured every book, blog post, and article about pregnancy and child rearing I could get my hands on while pregnant with my first child. I wanted to know ahead of time what was coming at me, and I had the time and desire to read all I wanted. What fun it was to plan ahead for my still unborn child!
Then he arrived. And later, she arrived. Suddenly, I was too busy, fatigued or preoccupied with right now to bother reflecting on some of the advice I read about. Planning for the unexpected, as it turns out, doesn’t always work out the way you expect when it comes to parenting those tiny, helpless creatures you created.
Today, as a parent of a 10 year old boy and an almost 8 year old girl, I can’t help but reflect back on the things that I specifically remember no one told me about. Things that never even crossed my mind when I was still pregnant. Things that had a way of sneaking up on me before I was ready. For instance:
No one told me about the constant repetition.
Effective parenting, they say, is about stating your instructions clearly, and then expecting the child to follow through. When the child doesn’t, you are to remove yourself from whatever you are doing and allow the child to follow through on the instruction with you close by to supervise (and encourage, praise and reinforce).
Um, ya. That doesn’t happen.
What does happen is you become rather sick of your own voice. Sick and tired of hearing yourself repeat every single thing several times until the desired outcome is reached or you give up do it yourself. (There are variations to this: one can only expect so much of a toddler or preschooler, but as they get older and more independent, you think this issue has a way of resolving itself. It can, and does, occasionally, or perhaps even most of the time. However, in my experience, kids obey in phases, it seems. But I digress.)
Sometimes, when you catch yourself and in a rare ‘aha’ moment, you decide that now is as good a time as any to try something a little more quiet, like pointing, or glaring instead of repeating yourself. Unfortunately, no amount of pointing or glaring will get an uninterested child to respect your command. Inevitably, you can’t stop your brain from multitasking their obligations and shrieking out orders. ‘Way to go letting them be accountable for their own actions‘ is a thought I often think in the confines of my cluttered brain. And then, I go right back to repeating myself.
No one told me to keep a stack of cash around.
When I was a very inexperienced mother of a junior kindergartener and a toddler, I used to keep a jar around the house labeled as school money. Every time I had a small bill (not a 20) or some coins, I placed them in the jar. Today I find myself spending cash less than I do spending it via debit card, despite the need for coins and small bills increasing with every passing year. My money jar has disappeared and I keep meaning to replace it, but then we renovated the house and things got purged and suddenly it’s time for hockeygymnasticsbaseballpractice and I can’t find any small bills or loose change for the grocery cart.
Look. I realize the tooth fairy is a fabric of someone’s imagination and at least one kid around here announces regularly that he doesn’t believe in her, or any other commercialized imaginary characters that bring money and gifts, but the thing is, they still want to participate in these activities. They are still thrilled with the coin under the pillow, the presents under the Christmas tree, and colourful chocolate eggs hidden in the flower garden. It doesn’t end when they enter school, either, because they like that tradition, and they like it when things are, and stay, the same. “She’s getting money from the tooth fairy, so I’m going to put my molar under the pillow tonight”, he says and the next thing you know you’re frantically searching everyone’s wallet for loose change in the middle of the night until you give up and take your grocery cart coin out of the minivan so the toothless child will find the expected surprise under the pillow in the morning.
But that’s not all. As soon as they enter institutionalized education, they come home with half the rain forest in forms stuffed into their brand new backpacks. Forms that request money in various denominations immediately. Multiply this by the amount of children you have in the school system, and you realize you still need cash on hand. There’s approved snack donations, charitable cash requests, birthday books, and the never-ending pizza, hotdog and subway lunches. Five bucks here, ten bucks there, a twoonie for Terry (Fox) and $15 for the field trip at the end of the month. Exact change, and cash only please, it often says on the form.
No one told me there would be constant invitations to birthday parties.
Back when I was a child, I attended maybe two birthday parties. One I remember well because the boy who invited me lived in a house with a large backyard (I grew up in an apartment building in Switzerland), and it impressed me that he had all this freedom right in his own backyard. The other I don’t remember, but it was likely at someone’s house and involved unstructured play and a piece of birthday cake with candles we could blow out.
Today, the kids have organized parties. My kids, especially the girl, get invited to so many parties I lost track. She has a great time experiencing new things because of the generosity of the people who invite her (and him, too). They go to the movies, to a pottery shop, to a mountain-climbing gym, and the all-time favorite laser place. Sometimes the party is at a local pool, or rink, or community centre, or in a backyard with a rented bouncy castle. And for all these activities, you must remember to budget for presents. You either need cash on hand, and an open mind for gift ideas, or keep a list nearby with reminders. Sure, it gets easier as they get older, particularly for boys, because you can get them gift cards which are conveniently available at almost all stores you regularly go to anyway, but for the younger sort, and especially for girls, an actual present is still, in some ways, more socially acceptable.
I actually went so far as to put electronic reminders into my email when the 7 year old gets invited to a party in two weeks. Must remember to drive to the store closer to the Chapters instead of the one by the liquor store so I can get the little girl a present…
No one told me about the confusing want/need of organized and/or competitive sports when your prodigy exhibits a specialized talent.
I grew up without organized sports. My partner grew up with hockey, but not with a competitive league. He mostly played house league, and a little bit of pick-up hockey with the guys at a local rink later, when they were old enough to drive themselves. But our kids? To describe them as competitive would be an understatement.
It became evident almost from the day they could walk that they had a sporty element in their characters. They had excessive needs to burn energy, preferably outside, and preferably while running, climbing or pulling heavy wagons. Not so unusual, you think. Most kids have a natural need to be outside and perform active stunts at the local playground or park.
But here’s the thing. We live in Canada. Summers are hot, but relatively short. Keeping kids with high energy levels active during cold, icky months is tricky. So we took them to the rink. They skated as toddlers and then discovered hockey and ringette. Today, we spend more time at the rink between September and May than any other place outside of school. Both kids are in competitive, organized sports leagues and this will likely not end in the near future.
To plan for this is impossible since you can’t predict whether a child will begin, or continue with a certain sport, or not. If however the child ends up not just loving it, but getting noticed for his talent and skill, you suddenly find yourself preoccupied with ways to help him stay competitive.
Translation: you need more money. You also need a lot of patience, and a large car to schlepp kids and gear around the general vicinity.
And you need wine. For those days when you’re not at the rink, you understand…
No one told me that school and education will be very different than how I remember it.
As a child in school I had few problems to contend with. I knew I wasn’t good at math, but I had a grandfather who helped me practice my arithmetic. Later I learned that my mom fought all kinds of battles to fight certain injustices, but as a child I wasn’t aware of this. I am aware today. School is an incredibly exhausting process to go through as a parent, even if you have a great school with great teachers and staff. We’ve been lucky to send both of our children to a school within walking distance, that was intimate, caring and focused on their task at hand. The parent involvement is also incredibly generous, and the entire environment is a close-nit community.
There are going to be issues with all the kids. Sooner or later, something will happen that will affect your mentality about school or education in general, and your sanity in particular. Maybe there’s a bullying issue (I heard about this from another parent but have no experience myself with this issue), or maybe there’s a situation on a school bus that got out of control (that I have experience with after my older child transferred to a middle school). There will be phone calls, emails, forms, letters, and meetings to deal with the unforeseen circumstances. Sometimes, a teacher and student dynamic may be off. Or perhaps there’s a recess situation that causes your child stress. Or homework….
Point is: school takes a large piece of the parenting pie.
Translation: you need a lot (extra) time. Also wine for homework. 🙂
No one told me that after all the effort to teach them how to speak you want them to stop speaking all together.
You’re over the moon when they they say “mama” in babyhood. You feel happy and useful when they say “mommy” to get your input for something during their preschool and early school years. And you continue to love the sound of all its derivatives (including the pre-teen, eye-roll, exasperated ‘mooooom’) if it just wasn’t so incredibly, incessantly often. For the love of all things summer vacation… PLEASE STOP SAYING MOMMY every two minutes.
Translation: solitude and quiet time will take on a whole new meaning in your life.