Earlier this week, while trying to recover my homeschool room from the storm that was unsupervised making of thanksgiving posters and crafts, and involved strewing crayons and paper all over the floor, I discovered an old poem I had written years ago, in a beat up spiral notebook. I thought it had been lost forever, and regretted it as I could only remember the first metaphor in it, and wanted to know the rest.
The poem was written early my fourth pregnancy, which followed rapidly on the heels of my third, and writing this poem was part of my trying to wrestle through my mixed emotions I had at the time. Funny how blessings come in disguise…despite my misgivings, this little baby girl turned out to be my most gentle, sweet, affectionate and undemanding child. Her siblings have said this themselves, in all honesty. We are all blessed by her quiet kindness. Here she is a toddler…now she is 9!
Without further ado, here is the old poem from my notebook, long before my blogging days began. I’ll transcribe it above the photos, so you don’t have to try to decipher my scrawl.
I am like a winter tree
laid bare, stripped, naked,
yet secretly bursting with spring,
life swelling through my bare windswept skin.
I feel at once empty and ravenous
as a winter wolf or a nursing bear
emerging after a winter of sleep…
Yet inside me is a miniature universe,
a tiny piece of the puzzle of humanity,
forming rapidly in the dark warmth
of my womb.
I feel like a shipwrecked treasure chest
washed up on shore,
a waterlogged vessel filled with diamonds,
waiting to sparkle for the first time in the sun.
Inside me, a heart the size of a pea
is beating its way toward laughter, sorrow and love.
About 6 years and two weeks ago, my little daughter Josephine was born still. It felt like a crazy freak accident, something no one else would understand. Sadly, that’s not true—there are many people who do. This silent tragedy is all too common, although it often remains hidden until it happens to you to someone close to you.
So for all the moms and dads who are going through this kind of loss right now, or have in the past, know you’re not alone. Reach out and share your love and your sorrow…there are many broken hearts big enough to share your pain and offer the comfort of their company. May knowing there are others still standing after this, and still able to find beauty in life despite the pain, give you some flicker of hope.
Sometimes with an ongoing difficulty, distraction is the best medicine…in the case of ongoing nausea in pregnancy, there are of course many things to be done. Eating small snacks and meals often, having enough protein, drinking ginger or peppermint tea, etc. But sometimes, despite best efforts, pregnancy can feel like a giant stomach flu whose only cure is constant eating…at the very time many foods seems repulsive.
Sometimes the best cure for feeling queasy is simply not thinking about it so much, but that is difficult to do by sheer will power alone. It helps instead, to be distracted and think of something else. This is where reading novels comes in. Or rereading them, as the case may be…almost all the books pictured above were rereads, because I love returning to familiar worlds whose characters I already “get along with” and whose adventures, despite all misadventures along the way, are comfortingly going to turn out well.
So why else do I think reading is great during pregnancy? Here’s a little list:
1. Reading is a great excuse to sit down, or lie down, and to take a quiet moment for yourself. Instead of telling your husband or kids, “I’m going to go stare at the ceiling and moan while my stomach churns,” you can say, “I’m going to go read my book for a little while while you guys play or watch a show.”
2. Sitting quietly and reading a book helps you take time to digest properly when your stomach is sensitive…instead of running around right after a meal cleaning up, which is a great way to lose your lunch.
3. There is so much focus on feeding your body well when pregnant, in order to help your baby be healthy, but what about feeding your soul? Reading novels that inspire you, make you laugh or cry, help you to love and to hope, is a way to feed your soul. Since your emotions and mental state affect your little one, you can see this reading as a way to build up your baby’s spirit.
4. What kind of books do I like? Because pregnancy is already a state of heightened emotion, I don’t recommend reading crazy thrillers or compelling tragedies, especially not the latter. I read the prequel to the Hunger Games (A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes) this spring, before we got pregnant, and I’m glad. It was an extremely scary portrait of a narcissist and I’m glad the baby couldn’t feel me trembling as I read deep into the night. Definitely a must read for any Suzanne Collins fan who isn’t in a super sensitive state, though!
I tried reading an early Canadian wilderness adventure novel, but had to put it down when each chapter’s tragedy was worse than the last.
Another kind of book on my “no thanks list” during pregnancy is parenting books. While this may seem counterintuitive, I find that many books on parenting can be so strongly worded about the “right way” to do just about everything, that they can lead to a huge introspective mom-guilt session…the last thing you need when already generously sharing your very being to help create new life.
I do love rereading classics by L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen, and Louisa May Alcott. I also enjoyed rereading the Lord of the Rings trilogy…while darker than the others, the urgency and adventure certainly distracted me from my own little woes. If Frodo and Sam could half-starve while traveling through the wastelands of Mordor on a mission to save the world from evil, I could surely handle laying in bed eating yogurt and reading a book in order to help bring a new little life into the world.
In my last post, “Spot the Difference” I posted two pictures that my daughter drew of our family, and asked readers to spot the difference. Perhaps you’re all too busy with summer holidays to read or comment, or were simply hesitant to wager a guess, so here are a few more pictures that should make things a little more obvious.
And here’s the family member who isn’t in the photo, for the simple fact that this little bean didn’t exist yet, except, as the saying goes, as a twinkle in her father’s eyes. ✨
My sister has dubbed our new little one Timbit, because this is how James and I announced the baby to our other kids: we brought home a box of Timbits and told the kids we had a little piece of news for them, one currently smaller than a Timbit. After several guesses about things like Daddy buying me jewellery or something, and a hint that the news would not stay the size of a Timbit, the excited kids realized it was a baby.
Yup, it’s kinda crazy, but at this point, may as well own the crazy. Thinking of getting such a jersey for the baby to save trouble at the grocery store: “Oh, how cute! Is this your second? Third? Fourth?”
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It was a dark and stormy night (true). After a long day of battling her miniature t-Rex/ empress (toddler), the exhausted superhero (mom) got her to sleep and disappeared to her fancy office (the kitchen table) to write exquisite literature (a blog post).
Well, isolation isn’t really that isolating when you have 7 kids. It’s actually tricky to find a moment alone, so I haven’t found much time to blog. My luxurious hour and a half I used to have each Thursday to write at a cafe is obviously over. So, like everyone else…re-adjusting.
But as a homeschooler, I’ve been really wanting to reach out and share tips on learning at home with your kids, because so many people have been unexpectedly thrown into having their kids home all day, instead of in school. You might be feeling a lot of pressure and stress, but really, you don’t need to. Kids are amazingly creative and resourceful, and are actually able to learn a lot on their own. Here are a few tips and ideas:
Homeschool Tip # 1: You’re not a babysitter or a clown.
In other words, you don’t need to entertain them all day. They are home with you, but you don’t need your eye on them every second. They might make a mess building a fort or a giant LEGO tower, but that’s ok. Creative, unstructured play is great for learning.
Homeschool Tip #2: Boredom is a good thing.
Say what?? Really, many of the most interesting things my kids have done happened because they were at loose ends and needed to find something to do. So while educational shows and documentaries are awesome and helpful, there comes a time to turn them off, and let your kids figure out what to do next. For example, here’s a few things my kids have been up to lately, while I stocked the cupboards and cooked meals:
1. Putting on simple plays. The other evening, the kids put on a hilarious version of Little Red Riding Hood, complete with costumes and make-up. It was so funny that my hand was shaking from laughter while to tried to film it. It was great to see all their personalities coming out in acting.
2. Practicing music. My 9 year old daughter loves to play piano and spends lots of time composing new songs and practicing her lessons. My 11 year old took ukulele lessons for a few months, and taught her 13 year old sister to play. Now they learn new songs together and do duets.
3. Creative writing. Two of my daughters have been working hard on kids chapter books (their own idea). One is on chapter 6 of her island adventure story, and the other just finished her ballet story, which is 9 chapters. After we comb through and do some editing, we are planning to get some copies printed with Blurb, which is a great self-publishing company. The nice thing is, you can just order as many copies as you like; there’s no need to buy 1000.
4. Mini-Marketplace. The other day the kids came up with a fun game: gathering up things to make little stores for their siblings to shop at, using old postage stamps as currency. They had a great time doing it and kept busy for hours. My friend’s daughters spent a morning making a restaurant at home, complete with menus and meal plans.
5. Creating Cartoons. My kids love to do art, and one fun project is to fold a paper into little squares, unfold it again, then use each one to tell a piece of a story in cartoon. Maybe this seems like fooling around, rather than learning, but actually, literacy skills like planning ahead, creating a cohesive story, and self-expression though different mediums are all there.
6. Making an animal habitat. The kids love to make toys and tunnels for their hamster, so he can have a gorgeous home, and the other day used their interior decorating skills to set up a terrarium for a caterpillar we found outside.
7. Dance and move. We are huge fans of living room dance parties, and with two girls in ballet, they like to practice a lot. We also do exercise videos together, even the toddler. It’s adorable to see her trying to do the plank, with her tiny bottom in the air. Another daughter does Tae Kwon Do, so we practice her latest moves, too.
Homeschool Tip #3: Fill their minds with greatness. Read aloud together.
Filling your kids heads with great ideas might seem like a tall order, but the method is actually simple: read great books aloud to your kids and talk about them together. Think about your favourite childhood books, how much those characters stuck with you, how you changed because of participating in their adventures through your imagination. Lucky you! Now you get to experience them again, through the eyes of your kids.
This shared experience helps build family culture and closeness, and gives a frame of reference when discussing life’s problems. For example, “Remember when Frodo was struggling to carry his burden, but Sam really helped him? Your brother is really stressed…I need you to be his Sam right now.”
You might think reading aloud is only something for little kids, but no; it’s beneficial for everyone, even your teens. Reading aloud gives your kids a chance to hear words used and pronounced properly, to develop more complex speech patterns and vocabulary and to work on concentration skills. Books are not Twitter or Snapchat. They require slowing down, focussing and being quiet. These are good life skills.
You might think it’s too hard when you have little kids who won’t sit still, but try to not get hung up on that. Your baby and toddler might be rolling around on the carpet, but as long as the others can hear, it’s ok. We got through “The Hobbit,” a few months ago and my four year old loved it. He’s super tough so he was ready to take on orcs with his imaginary sword.
Books don’t have to be long to be good. Poetry, short stories and picture books can be wonderful, too. There’s lots of beauty, truth and wisdom to be found in all of those. My kids and I love the Gregor the Overlander Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. It’s fast-paced and easy to read, but full of interesting content to discuss, from loyalty and betrayal to discrimination and what is just in war. One of the best ways to help kids develop critical thinking skills is to discuss things with them…and since we don’t only want to talk about the news and current events, literature is a great spring board for discussion.
Well, that’s plenty for one day! Soon I hope to make a list of some of my most recommended read-alouds, and talk more about the importance of story in helping our kids learn. Take care everyone, and all the best!
The last time I posted was over a month ago, a photo on Christmas Eve of my precocious four year old waiting in the stairway for Santa…fast asleep! After all the festivities, we’ve been busy getting back into the new homeschool year and working on various projects.
Besides being busy with my seven kids, here are three main reasons I’ve been absent from my blog:
1. I’ve been working really hard on my next poetry book, Velvet Flame, which I hope will come out later this year! 🙂
2. My friend Bonnie Way and I just finished our new e-book on pregnancy, birthing and early baby days, including mama self-care and the need for mom buddies, and it will be on sale in the Ultimate Bundles Women’s Wellness Bundle starting today!!
3. And in case you had any delusions of grandeur about me…the third reason I haven’t posted anything this year is that I lost my iPad under my bed for a month. A whole month. Yup. It had slipped down by the wall and was hiding behind my husband’s guitar case and some ferocious dust bunnies in a conniving attempt to prevent me from blogging….
But back to our new book, Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby! 🙂 There are so many pregnancy books out there, and sometimes reading them can be stressful…so what makes ours different?
Rather than being by a one step-removed professional, it’s written by real moms in the trenches of family life–vets in a way–because between us both we have experienced 13 pregnancies and births. So we have had lots of chances to struggle, make mistakes and learn better ways to manage, and want to share them with you.
These short, easy to read chapters represent the best advice we would honestly share with you if you came over for coffee…what worked for us, what was hard, and what helped, every step of the way. We are sharing the stories of our families with you, and encourage you to be the hero of your own story. Rest in what feels right; Mama knows best, for each baby.
Beginners Guide to Growing Baby is full of practical tips and tricks on surviving nausea, exhaustion and huge emotions, pregnancy-safe cures for colds and flu, how to get enough fibre, how to prevent or minimize tearing at birth, and how to adjust to early days of breastfeeding, including what to do if you get mastitis. Bonnie is also an avid researcher of natural remedies, and as an herbalist’s daughter, I’ve used many of them effectively myself, so we write about quite a few. We have experienced births with doctors, midwives, in the hospital and at home, so you can read about many possibilities. We hope learning about different options will empower you to make informed choices about what works for you and your baby.
May our stories of pregnancy, birthing, and early days of parenthood help give you courage on your journey to motherhood! We want you to know you’re not alone, but part of a huge sisterhood, here not to compare and compete, but to care for each other and cheer each other on.
If you’d like to check out the Women’s Wellness bundle this week (as it is only for sale from Feb. 5th-10th), and see all the e-books on health, diet, exercise, online courses on mama self-care, mental and emotional health, and many other resources it includes, here’s the link: Women’s Wellness Bundle.
The floor: for many of us parents, the sight of a bare floor is an amazing and rare spectacle, rather like the sighting of a double rainbow or a shooting star–beautiful and hauntingly brief–before it is submerged under a deluge of toys again.
I’ve tried many things to deal with this problem, like buying more toy bins from ikea and sorting the toys into them…repeatedly! Storage is not the solution, when everything is just going to be dumped out again. I’m also constantly decluttering and making give away bags of clothes and toys for Big Brothers Charity to pick up from my doorstep. I’ve even tried my sister’s method of toy jail, except sticking a box or bag of toys out in the garage temporarily. She told me:
I grabbed a garbage bag every night and a laundry basket. Set the timer. If things weren’t put back where they belonged they went in the garbage or into the “toy jail”. Then the jail went up on the fridge till they earned their toy’s freedom.
She was much more disciplined about doing this every night to establish a habit of tidying up. By the time I hit evening, I’m often too done in to do this. Or I’m just as overwhelmed as the kids by the sheer amount of tiny things to be responsible for. Hundreds and hundreds of little things to pick up, sort, organize, and put away. It’s a lot of pressure to deal with all this stuff.
So I finally hit a wall of frustration last weekend and decided to be a little more drastic. I brought in huge rubbermade bins from the garbage and dumped all the toy bins in them. I gathered up all the toys from the floor, everything but the toy food from in the toy kitchen, and a stuffie or two on each bed, and I put it ALL in the garage.
I waited for an explosion of outrage. For complaints. For tears. For…anything! But nothing came. The kids barely seemed to notice. My three year old Eddie turned all the empty toy bins into a toy train.
In his bed he has his Spider-Man doll and his Star Wars book. He’s perfectly happy. He has his siblings and his imagination. He has space to run and jump and play, instead of living in a toy tornado. We might bring some toys back in after a while, but not until they are specifically requested. So far, in a whole week, only one toy has been asked for, so I’ll go fetch that one thing.
I share this anecdote to demonstrate that sometimes we put too much stock in material things, thinking our happiness depends on them. It is a greater happiness to live the adventure of participating in making the world a better place. Life has much more savour and zest when we are not trapped in the tunnel of thinking mainly of ourselves. I read a great comment by a woman named Lauren in comments in We Are That Family blog:
My pastor said that we expect our children to be grateful when we shower them with gifts, but the only way to be really grateful is to live without.
I think the sheer amount of gifts children receive really cheapens everything. It’s so hard to really care about thatmany things. Especially when an empty box is just as fun to play with– or more!
We are still a fair way away from Christmas, the season in which loving relatives attempt to drive mothers insane by dumping down the chimney a sparkling deluge of tiny toys, to be picked up and sorted and lost and cried over and fought over approximately 2946393 times.
May I suggest, for those who may be thinking ahead, to consider experience giftsinstead? Like taking the kids to a play or paying for an art class? Kids will love it! Nothing has brought my 6 and 7 year olds greater joy than their art class at 4 Cats art studio this fall. They are growing in confidence and learning new skills. Mothers all around the world will thank you for not bringing a million more tiny collectible toys to their house, especially every night when they go upstairs to read their kids a bedtime story, and can actually see that much coveted and beloved object: a clear floor!
As an added bonus, buying less toys is better for the environment, and helps preserve a more beautiful world for our kids to grow up in. Win-win!!