Wednesday, 29 February 2012

My deepest apologies

I have recently read over a few posts written in the wee hours of the morning and I am appalled with my lack of editing. My only excuse is that I find the type of print used in the draft copy makes it difficult to spot errors. I've figured out how to "publish" the text so that I can edit it without releasing anything to Face Book or Google. I will spend the next couple of days editing and figuring out layout and design. Thank-you for your kindness and tolerance

You can't get EVERYTHING out of books?

When I first met my future husband, I weighed 98lbs. I had just graduated with an Honours Degree in English Literature from the University of Regina and considered continuing my studies as a graduate student.  I loved everything about academia, especially the relaxed but challenging experience of reading Chaucer and Old English in the original vernacular with only one other student in a professor's office; this teacher was delighted to find two students  interested in his life's work.
I loved my life and didn't for see any changes. I had grown up with one sister, ballet lessons and a library filled with great fiction. I enjoyed gardening, painting and drawing, eating a vegetarian diet, reading spiritual literature and growing in my faith ; I was content.

Someone had a  completely different plan for my life.
 I met Michael, who was just passing through Regina, Saskatchewan from Ottawa, Ontario to Prince George, British Columbia and from that very first encounter it felt like a rug was ripped from under my feet; all my plans were tossed into the prairie wind.Michael described our first encounter in much kinder terms; he said that he saw fireworks when he first laid eyes on me.

We had been married under a year when I became pregnant. I was suddenly in panic mode because I knew I was utterly unprepared; I had never even HELD a newborn! So I prepared in the only way I knew how; I read every book I could find on pregnancy, birth and baby care. However all that studying did little to prepare me for the responsibility of mothering a fragile, completely dependent newborn.
For example as I held my baby in a small bathtub for his first bath, I was very nervous. Guess what? I had a book propped open with one elbow awkwardly holding it open to the right page. The book was like my security blanket.
 My new husband, who was the second oldest of ten children and completely relaxed with babies, walked through the kitchen, shook his head in disbelief and said, "Melanie, there are some things you just can't get out of books."

Where does she get this stuff?

One afternoon, I was making dinner, standing at the counter with my back to our three youngest children. Katie and Anthony were lounging around the kitchen table, with three -year old Lucy perched like a little elf on a high stool, happily swinging her legs.

Simply making conversation, Katie who was about eight, asked Lucy,
“ Lucy ,who is your favourite-  mum or dad?"
 Lucy replied,
 Still facing the counter, I looked over my shoulder and intruded on their conversation,
"Smart answer, Lucy."
Lucy was not done, though,
"But she's not my real mum, Mary is."

 Katie rolled her eyes, slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand and said incredulously, "Where does she get this stuff?"
I  tried to explain as simply as I could,
"Well, the Holy Spirit is in her heart and she listens to His voice."

 Lucy jumped right back into the discussion and chanted in a sing-song, lilting voice,
"That's right. God the Father in my heart. Baby Jesus in my heart. Holy Spirit in my heart. Mother Mary in my heart.... but.... I still like mum and dad the best!"

Katie rolled her eyes and plunked her head down on the table with a loud sigh.

I just laughed.

A few weeks later as I .crouched down to tie Lucy's shoe .lace, Lucy picked up the small gold cross I wore around my neck and said,
"This is the cross of Jesus and the Glory of God shines all around it."

Katie rolled her eyes again, slapped her forehead and asked, "WHERE does she get this stuff?

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Veggie lovers

This post describes the war my family has waged against vegetable lovers such as muskrats, groundhogs, rabbits, raccoons and deer, bears and mice.

These advesaries are sneaky and tenacious; focused on a single goal- to eat and store as much of our fresh produce as possible. Sometimes they will climb inconceivable obstacles to reach our garden. For example, one year our carrots were disappearing at an alarming rate. Every morning there were a few neat, long holes left in the clay soil where our carrots had been. They were disappearing without a trace. Finally we began to notice that there was a long worn down pathway from our back vegetable patch, over the front yard, across the road, through the neighbour’s property, down the hill and right to the bank of the creek. This long trail was becoming more trampled down each night. My husband and elderly neighbour finally solved the mystery. The creek had flooded a few weeks before and probably washed out the resident muskrat's buried winter supplies. This particular muskrat was replenishing his storehouse with our carrots. We decided to share SOME of them with him. Since he was intent on stealing the entire crop, we quickly pulled almost all the carrots, even though they would have stayed fresher in the ground. The muskrats were never as desperate again and therefore never as much of a problem again but the groundhogs were constant pests

Groundhogs are voracious eaters for their size. They can devour an entire zucchini plant, vines, leaves and vegetables before we can get out of bed.( The operative word in their name is 'hog'.) Our war plan was to assign the early risers to patrol duty, making as little noise as possible. The kids made a real game out of this spying mission. They would tip -toe through the house, peer out the windows , tip- toe back to shake Michael awake, while one of the older kids would silently raise one of the windows and prop it open in preparation for Dad's gun. (Wild pest lovers, read no further, please!!!) Michael shot thirty-one FAT groundhogs one year. After a fifteen year battle, the groundhog population seemed to decline. A trapper told us that a fisher (a fierce predator) had move in across the road and now we hardly ever see a groundhog.

 We expect our dog to keep the next group of veggie lovers away- raccoons and deer .Although deer can usually snack on apples at night from the apple trees that are at the far end of our acreage without alerting the dog, the raccoons can't resist corn near the house. Raccoons are not subtle.  They rip and tear their way through a patch of corn, bringing six foot corn stalks down. They make a terrible sound as well, a cross between a cat screeching and a baby crying. Needless to say, this racket wakes up our dog , who in turn wakes up the entire household while he is still inside AND while he is outside because he is acting like a tough guard dog.

A couple of years ago, black bears were a problem. When one such bear found our sweet corn, he was so happy, he rolled around, flattening a huge area before he settled down to eat the prized corncobs. I don't have to tell you that we left that massive vegetable lover alone. The dumb dog could smell the bear while he was in the house and he wouldn't stop barking but he did not have a clue what he would be facing if we had let him out.
Needless to say we loved our dog more than the corn, so he stayed inside. In contrast to the huge black bear, mice might be little but a little nibble out of a tomato or a strawberry will rot the whole fruit.
Our cats do their best to keep the mice population down but the half rotted vegetables taste like fine dining to the pigs so at least all the spoiled food doesn't go to waste.

We finally realized that the secret to the war of the vegetables is to plant almost twice as many vegetables as we need. We plant 75 foot rows of veggies- Some for us , some for the vegetable lovers, some for our farm animals (who also like weeds, thank God), and some to either barter with or give away to our generous friends and relatives. There is more than one way to win a war.

Veggie haters

There have been two ongoing wars that I have fought in defense of the valuable but common and often devalued vegetable. The first war has been raged against vegetable haters-kids, sometimes teenagers, rarely husbands. The second war has been raged against vegetable lovers- deer, rabbits, groundhogs, squirrels, muskrats, chipmunks, mice, birds and insects.

This post, deals with the war against vegetable haters. Vegetables are good for you right? The Canadian Food Guide tells us to eat a huge amount of fruit and veggies, something like 5-10 servings a day. Tell that to the four year old gagging on overcooked brussel sprouts. At least we're not in the 1950's anymore; I remember sitting at the table and trying to shudder down cooked carrots. Now we know how to stir fry veggies so they are still crunchy but hot and the sauces they make now!!! The bought sauces often have too much sugar and salt but a little dab can entice reluctant taste buds. Another secret is to grate cheese on hot food. It will make any vegetable palatable to even the most picky eater. Even thirty years ago we put peanut butter on celery with raisons and called it ants on a log and cut up raw vegetables to dip in salad dressing. It was my adult children who demonstrated how to grate carrot or zucchini into everything from cake, soup to spaghetti sauce with no one being the wiser; any meal can be served on hot but crunchy bean sprouts or spinach. It's actually fun to create new ways to sneak extra vegetables into other meals. There are two facts that kept me sane in my early years as a little kid's chef 1. Something new has to be offered at least three times before it is trusted by cautious eaters. (My rule is that you must try at least a nibble.) 2. When toddlers are offered a whole table of different healthy food, they will instinctively eat a balanced diet. Now it might be 11 bananas on one day and mainly milk the next but after thirty day,  it will be a perfectly balanced diet! So relax moms; just exercise a few tricks without resorting to pressure tactics and add a huge dollop of humour.

 Oh I almost forgot. Kids love to grow their own vegetables, pick and wash them and eat them right outside. Freshly picked carrots taste like candy and even toddlers will walk over to pull a carrot for a snack. That brings me to another Motto of mine. One that I tell myself in the midst of any raging battle-" THIS TOO WILL PASS!!!"

Two Going On Twenty

It was Christmas Eve  but we were stuck in Canadian Tire, waiting  at the auto parts desk, not to purchase a present, but to buy a car part Michael needed to fix our vehicle.

Lucy, three weeks before turning two, was sitting  quietly in the shopping cart looking adorable in a  soft, pink snowsuit.  Suddenly she pointed and yelled ,
"Gee mum, that guy is cute!"

Once again my tiny toddler startled and amused me  because her  perfectly articulated words were so incongruent with  her  appearance and  the baby like tone of her voice. I turned around to catch a glimpse of the gentleman who had caught Lucy's attention and I almost burst into gales of laughter. He was  a thirty year old, skinny, balding, gap-toothed banker type sporting a blonde, handlebar moustache, wearing a dark suit and beige trench coat. Everyone within hearing distance glanced in our direction. This young man blushed with  embarrassment  but also with pleasure. With a huge smile, he replied,
"That is the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a long time!"

We all laughed but I thought,
"Where on earth did that sort of idea come from?"

Then it all came together.
 One of the after dinner responsibilities, at that stage in our family's life, was entertaining Lucy so I would be free to function as the ring master to the circus of activity that swirled around our house in the early evening.  Mara and Melissa jumped at the chance to be with Lucy because they would relax, look at catologues and magazines.  I knew that they pointed out objects and people to Lucy to increase her vovabulary labled objects and people but  I realized one of their comments must have been,
"THAT guy is cute!"

This incident reveals  one of the disadvantages of a large family; the exposure  of little kids to pop culture through older siblings.

A prime demonstration of this phenomena was during 'circle time' in kindergarten. Sometimes the teacher encouraged the children to sing a song, expecting to hear something like "Twinkle, twinkle little star". She did not get that sort of song from my youngest two.this teacher laughed with amusement as she told me what my two yougest children sang for the other five year olds.
 Anthony sang "Go Grease Lightning" from the movie musical "Grease".
Lucy sang some pop song about not dating a scruffy looking guy "who sits in the passenger side of his best friend's car"!

However, there is usually a positive side to everything . My oldest daughters also taught the younger ones a valuable life lesson through these lyrics. to this song,
 "Don't settle for the first boy who gives you attention."

The lesson must have been absorbed because all my girls are very selective when it comes to boyfriends. In highschool, if my daughters date, it only lasts a couple of weeks because they find that the boys are typically  "idiots". Lucy's English teacher was just teasing her, last month, that she was high maintenance and he pitied her boyfriend. Lucy shot back,
"Don't worry sir; my boyfriend is like my trampoline."
Her teacher was puzzled, so Lucy explained,
 "I don't have one!" `

"Sweetheart, WHO Did You Say Lives In Your Toe?"

I was preparing dinner one afternoon, when five year old David came running up to me with a serious look on his face. He was always full of good natured energy and mischief but he also had delightful spirituality that was not taught but inborn. Once again, David had another theological question for me,
"Mum, does Mary live in my heart?"
I did some fast thinking. Heaven is within us and Mary is in heaven, I thought. So I answered,
"Yes sweetie, Mary is in your heart."
David sighed and concluded the discussion,
"I guess that means that God is in my feet."
I laughed silently to myself and thought that that was a very theologically correct concept since God is our foundation. I had no idea what went on in David's head after that answer  but I  soon found out.
 It was about a week later, when all the kids who were old enough (and one who wasn't really old enough), were playing hide and go seek.
When David's toe was pinched by a closet door he ran up to me again, this time he was sobbing. Although I tried to calm him down, while he sat on my knee, he wouldn't stop crying.
Finally I said, "David, you are going to be fine. There is no blood; you might get a little bruise but that is it."
"I know", he cried," but Jesus is in there!!"

Eight kids with HEAD LICE or The Battle of The Bugs

The school called.

They had been sending notes home about ANOTHER outbreak of head lice but of course I was confident that we had never had and would never would get lice.
The secretary asked me to check Rachel's head because she was in morning kindergarten and the head check was that afternoon.
I laughed and said, "I just washed her hair last night; I really don't think she has any but I'll check anyway."
I called Rachel over to a bright window, parted her hair and peered closely at her scalp.
 After literally screaming, I picked up the phone again only to hear the secretary say, " I guess that is a 'yes', Mrs. Juneau."

I was mortified; Rachel's head was crawling with lice and one daughter saw a bug crawling on her forehead in a mirror at school!! I get itchy just remembering  Lice Week. Of course the school assured me that lice like clean hair but that did not reassure me at all. In the end, all the other siblings at least had a couple of nits and no one could return to school until the were nit free.

 Do you have any idea the work that faced us?
In those days we were told to wash all bedding, favourite stuffed animals, throw pillows, afghans, towels, combs, hairbrushes and hair accessories, hats, mitts, scarves , sweaters, clothes, pyjamas and housecoats and finally both sets of snowsuits (the good set and the farm set).  In addition , it was necessary to vacuum chesterfields, chairs, rugs and ANYTHING else that a head could touch. Those directions amounted to almost 60 loads of laundry! I filled a bathtub almost to the ceiling with stuff that needed to be washed.

I swear, I do not exaggerate but that was not the hard part. Ten heads had to be washed in awful smelling shampoo. Then every nit combed out with vinegar and a special fine-tooted steal comb. You know the saying, 'oh quit nit -picking'? Well, it takes on a whole new meaning after you've tried to pull every sticky nit off  single strands of hair on ten heads.

So what does a slightly paranoid, overwhelmed mother do? She arranges everyone according to age and size to simultaneously check each others'  head. At least that helped with the more obvious eggs.

However, a wonderful gift was given to me. A couple kids became expert nit pickers. The best nit pickers were the detail oriented offspring, who were slightly obsessive-compulsive; I grew to treasure that particular weakness during the next couple of weeks because one overlooked nit could explode into hundreds of offspring in a matter of days. Now that could cause a nightmare!

I wished I could say that that was the one and only "Battle of the Bugs" our family endured but kindergarten classes are notorious hotbeds for lice; the kids are always head to head examining something utterly fascinating with friends.

At least the next time lice hopped onto a Juneau head we were battle ready.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Shaved heads+pierced ears??!!

Some people use this quote, "choose your battles" to express the idea that when dealing with a potential confrontation with your child, it is a good idea to step back and ask,
"Does it REALLY matter? Does this disagreement really have to do with morality, commonsense or responsibility or is it simply a matter of taste, choice or opinion?" About 90% of the time, I had to admit that some disagreements were not worth fighting over and as themost mature person in the equation, I should probably acquiesce as gracefully as possible. For me, this was a 'very hard pill to swallow' as the saying goes. It went completely against my perfectionist nature.  The examples I could give are countless but I'll recount a  couple of the most amusing.

A good friend, who was a slightly younger and a more cool mother than I was, came to visit. Her boys all had shaved heads and her six year old daughter had pierced ears.I wasn't impressed but my four oldest sure were.
My two boys really wanted to shave their heads. David was especially jumping up and down. Carol laughed , as she looked at the expression on my face,
" Oh come on Melanie, it's only hair. It will grow back!"
To me, that hair style looked rough, like an army kid would wear but we didn't have a lot of money and this was a cool, free haircut that would last a looong time. Carol  actually carried her shaving kit with her, so it was easy to let go of my predjudices. My boys were delighted and I had to admit, it WAS easier to wash their heads.

I let Melissa go on her first trip alone with Carol's family when they returned to Toronto a couple days ahead of the rest of our family. The next day another Carol induced crisis popped up when Melissa phoned, excitement bubbling in the tone of her voice,
"Mummy, guess what? Carol said she would pay to get my ears pierced and for the earrings. PLeeeease say yes, pretty pleeease!!!"
This was supposed to happen when she was sixteen but you know what? It wasn't corrupting her morals or injuring her health and it was something free and the earrings would make her feel pretty EVERY day. So I gave in. Of course five-year old Mara saw her sister and cried,
"Melissa got her ears pierced??!!"

I had to let Mara get her ears pierced as well. This decision turned out to be a good one because the girls kept the same little studs in for years and were completely satisfied for years.  Those little studs made them feel like they fit in with the other girls.

What if YOU saw swirling letters when you read ?

Penance in our family, for about five years, was reading with Anthony. "That's it", I'd snap. Then I'd speak the dreaded words, "You're reading with Anthony as your job tonight!" Reading with Anthony was sheeragony. He couldn't sit still, he'd lose his place, forget what he had read 30 seconds after he had read it and after ten minutes he would start rubbing his forehead and complaining that his head hurt and that he felt sick. Perfect eyesight, smart as a whip, especially in Math but read? -hardly at all! We tried everything and then fate stepped in. (It was probably Someone with a lot more oompf than mere chance.) I was gathering up books to return to friends when the book "Reading by Colours" by Carol Irlen caught my eye. As I was skimming through it, Anthony looked over my shoulders and said in a surprised voice, "Gee, those words look nice." I turned to him and said, "What do you mean NICE?" Anthony explained, "The words are flat with the page and they're not moving." I was baffled, "What do you mean not moving?" Anthony shrugged his shoulders and said, "You know, the letters are not shaking and they're not high off the page." I was astounded, "No, I don't know what you mean." This particular page was grey with black letters. I quickly turned the page to a white one and Anthony wrinkled his forehead and described what he thought everyone saw when they tried to read.

It was like a miracle took over after that revelation, everything clicked into place as I did research on Irlen Syndrome or SSS (Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome);  I realized that Anthony head every symptom and no one in the school system was trained to identify this handicap. I found a screener in Ottawa, Adel Francis. We discovered  that Anthony had not one but five different sight distortions that  were cured with coloured lenses. Within two hours of testing, after Adele had pointed out a few complicated words, Anthony read smoothly and flawlessly at a grade NINE level. We were reduced to tears; this poor kid had been pushed and badgered for years and he just couldn't see the way most other people do. That brings me to another of my Mottos- Do not dismiss or belittle anything your child honestly thinks, feels, experiences or does. You are not omnipotent or the ultimate authority on anything. It takes a lot of humility to really listen to even the babbling of a toddler and to take him seriously, to respect what he is trying to share. I have had to repent many times and it is probably the reason I needed to have so many children. I can be a bit stubborn and thick headed. Enough of the preaching but I want to add that 11% to 13% of people have SSS and they end up frustrated and unfilled. Most are not dumb, they just can't read.

There are quite a few amusing stories to tell that occurred after Anthony started to wear his miracle lenses (they are a mixture of five different colours).After realizing that SSS is an oral listening problem as well, Mara's face lit up one night after the younger ones had left the table to play. "Hey, I just realized that we don't have to send Anthony away if we want to discuss an adult topic; we'll just take off his glass!" We all laughed of course. Then there was the time a friend was attempting to give Anthony a hair cut but he couldn't seem to stop squirming. Rachel suggested, "Why don't you try putting on his glasses?" Anthony put them on and he sat as still as a stone statue. "Oh my god, I don't believe it," she yelled, Everyone come see this. Okay, Anthony, take your glasses off and them put them on when I tell you." The difference was so dramatic AND everyone's reaction was so strong that even Anthony was laughing.

Precocious Pets

None of our animals act like they are expected to. Neighbouring farmers are often shaking their heads in bewilderment.

Maybe it is because we love animals almost as much as kids? Our indoor pets and our farm animals really are part of our family and as a result they interact in amazing ways. I will only relate a couple of dog/cat tales here because Iggy the bunny and our Guinea PIG need poste all their own
There was Mickey our handsome tom cat who followed Michael around the farm as he did chores. Often Mickey would perch on a fence post and stand his ground as a cow licked his entire body, lifting him up to stand on his hind legs. When the cow was done, Mickey would simply sit down again on the post. Actually, most of our cats are more like dogs; they follow the kids down the lane to catch the school bus, sleep with the dog and chase balls like dogs.

Then there was Shaker our golden retriever, who sat for hours each day with his back to our three youngest as they played inside and outside; he was our gentle but vigilant guard dog.

Our current dog is a chocolate lab who tries his best to get our attention and if he doesn't, he will sabotage anything that keeps us from relating to him. Just before Lucy gets home from school, he'll snatch the T.V. remote because she likes to relax for a bit in the living room when she first gets home and she ignores Duke. The computer mouse is snatched from me when my back is turned if Duke is feeling slighted.

 One weekend when Katie was home from university, she pushed him off the chesterfield while she was reading and said,
"No more snuggling; I need to stretch my legs."
This dog weighs 89lbs. Duke, never taking his eyes off Katie, suddenly darted his tongue into her coffee and turned and walked out, ignoring Katie's indignation,
" You big jerk! You don't even like coffee!"

One afternoon a few months ago, while my husband Michael was ice fishing, he chastised Duke for playing with a fish on the ice. Before Michael knew it, Duke had picked up the fish and dropped it back into the water through his fishing hole, once again looking straight at his accuser.

I must say in Duke's defens , that he works right along my side as my partner when I pull old wild grape vines and he leaps in the air to grab scruffy tree limbs that I can only cut halfway through with the pruning shears. Much more helpful than a guinea pig.

Don't forget, dogs bark when visitors come.
 Handy when you don't have an electric doorbell.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Even Guinea Pigs Can Be Productive Members Of Society.

Our guinea pig pushed his luck one day when I discovered why Guinea pigs are called PIGS. It is because they eat just like real pigs that's why. 
I was losing patience with ours; every time I opened the fridge that little rodent would squeak like crazy, begging for another vegetable.
 One day, I marched out into our garden and pulled out an entire stalk of broccoli and stuffed it into the guinea pig's cage. The entire cage was stuffed with greens, mini broccoli and a thick, fibrous stalk. The wire door didn't even close competely.

The next morning the entire plant was gone, only a few tough, stringy fibers left. When I opened the fridge door, that guinea pig started squeaking for food once more. I couldn't believe it; his stomach should have burst open.

Then I made a decision.
No able bodied human or animal would live in my house without contributing in some way to our household. I decided that this particular animal was going to trim the grass around the house. I gathered the oldest four kids together and explained that we were taking the bottom off the cage and placing it right beside the house where there were no gardens. Every few hours, someone would move the cage.

It was a brilliant idea.

The kids thought it was hilarious that a guinea pig would have a household chore and I was quite pleased to have a little more peace in the kitchen.

However, I forgot to take into consideration that we lived in the country. Foxes, coyotes, wolves and even owls love to snack on rodents. One morning the cage was knocked over and all that was left of this little guinea pig was his gizzard. David was sure that it was no ordinary predator that had attacked our guinea pig. No, it was a big, black bear and he knew that to be a fact because he could see,
"the big, bloody, footprints down the lane!"

Are You An Acrobat? You'd Make A GREAT Mom.

Once I became a mother, suddenly eight hours was devoted to nursing burping, soothing, changing,  bathing and washing clothes (the baby's as well as mine which were often blasted with spit up and other nasty surprises). Floors had to be cleaned, washed almost daily because babies and toddlers LIVE on the floor, bathrooms and kitchens reasonably santized.

At first I tried to do everything around the house that I had done before I became a mother but even acrobatic, muli- taskers are forced to be reasonable. I finally capitulated and grudgingly accepted the fact that what was essential was clean clothes, clean little bodies, clean kitchen and bathrooms--period. Most anything else I liked to keep up was for status, keeping up with fashions or trying to give visitors a good impression. Sometimes I had to give myself a good shake and let go of an impossible standard and and remind myself that a  peaceful, centred mom has peaceful and happy kids.

Two things helped me put everything into perspective:
If I cleaned my house everyday for two weeks at the end of that time period, myhouse would be clean.

If I cleaned my house once a week for two weeks, at the end of the experiment, my house would be clean.

And what if I cleaned my house only once, at the end of the two weeks?

My house would be just as claean as if I did it everyday. It might take a little bit longer is all.
This new way of viewing housework lifted a whole burden of guilt off my shoulders.

The second, acrobatic trick  is the ability to operate in two different gears, slow and patient and fast and furious.

 Fast and furious is for the moments when they are sleeping, or occupied but don't try to do too much
 like I did at first.

Slow and patient is best for ANYTHING to do with little kids.

 If you try to rush them, they dig in their heels, become antagonistic and angry. Trust me; slow and patient gets better results because everyone is calm. Let them fumble and try to do things on their own. In the end, even if they look a little odd, they feel proud and become more and more independent. Sometimes checked pants are worn with a polka dot top but they did it on their own!

 Little people's happiness and self growth are more important than what outsiders` think about our homes or their appearance. I don't want to die and find out my priorities were all wrong, that I chose public approval over love.

Comical, Intelligent Pigs

Everyone seems to like pigs a little bit more these days, especially tea-cup pigs but our family loves real farm pigs.

For twenty years we have raised meat birds, laying hens, four pigs a year, a calf and had an old horse and a beautiful warm blooded horse. There are many hilariously episodes to tell of our adventures with animals but some of the most amusing and heart- warming have to do with pigs.

Although we treat our pigs like pets, we don't feel bad about eating them because they live happy free lives at our farm. I call our pork, chicken and beef  'happy meat'. I must admit though, there was one poignant moment when three year old Katie stared at the meat on her fork and asked,
"Is this Josie?"
I was standing behind her about to help someone else cut their meat and I waved my hands frantically and mouthed NO.
All the kids lied obediently and said ,
"No, Katie, that's just a pork chop."
Katie smiled and started eating.

When our little piglets are delivered they literally leap and twist in utter bliss as they emerge from the truck because they have never breathed fresh air, seen the sun or touched the dirt or vegetation. They dive into the tall weeds, making pathways and flatten little areas so they can sunbath, rest under a tree, make their way to the food, their mud bath and the low wooden shed with straw bedding. Pigs are very clean and they love to be sprayed with water from a hose; it helps sunburns as does a good thick coating of mud. I don't know who has more fun-the kids holding the hose or the pigs.
Pigs are very intelligent. Once four HUGE pigs got loose and were running down the lane. Michael yelled, "Hey boys, come on back."
The pigs stopped in their tracks, turned around and they came running back.
Michael likes to hang out with the pigs, give them treats or scratch behind their ears until they fall asleep.

You know that saying, "don't eat like a pig"?

Well it has little meaning till you see pigs dive in up to their eye balls in jam soaked feed and fresh weeds and garden surplus. During our first year raising pigs our manure soaked garden grew giant vegetables. We fed the pigs a ton of broccoli.

 The neighbours still rave about the delicious ham with only a quarter inch of fat on it!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

A Four Year Old's theology

It was early evening. We often played musical beds at bedtime because the kids liked the security of a sibling or two falling asleep in the same room, especially when older brothers and sisters were still up and having fun. I was nursing Katie, four year old Emily played with my hair and sucked her thumb and David whad almost fallen asleep across the room.
 David suddenly sat straight up in bed, popped his eyes open and stated, "Someone just called my name. I think it was God!"
Emily asked, "Who is God?"
I answered, "You know, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."
 Emily asked me, "You mean the priest at church?"
"No", I respond, "The God that fills the whole universe."
Emily took her thumb out of her mouth and said very dismissively, "Oh, HIMMMM. I know HIMMMMM."
Then she closed her eyes and stuck her thumb back in her mouth. Discussion closed.
David spoke up, "Well, He called my name!"
Emily opened her eyes and stated very authoritatively and in a nasal, little girl voice, "It was just your imagination, Dave." 

Then she closed her eyes and started sucking her thumb again.
David was upset. I countered her statement, "It could be GoAd, Emily. The Holy Spirit lives in our hearts and does communicate with us."
David was satisfied and he lay back down to sleep but Emily, with her eyes still closed whispered to me, "It was just his imagination!"

Cat Nurses Bunnies!

Our family is pretty inclusive and open. There is always enough room and food for one more person or animal.I can't really offer a rational explanation for the behaviour of our animals,though. Just like our kids, our animals get along for the most part; they have lots of personality and they exhibit unique characteristics. The the most dramatic animal stories involve rabbits and a cat or dog.

Someone gave us a female rabbit but we decided,after a week, that although she usually used the litter box, there were to many rabbit balls appearing on the floor. Anthony was faster at crawling than I was at sweeping. So until Anthony was a bit older, Bunny had to live in the barn.
A week later I moved the chesterfield only to discover two baby bunnies! We were frantically looking for Mother Bunny when Rachel saw Mother Cat,who had only one newborn kitten, slipping under the couch. Rachel yelled,
"Kitty! Kitty is going to eat the baby bunnies!"
(We could never settle on a name so after calling ' here kitty, kitty'all the time, Kitty bcame her name by default.)

 We all quickly uncovered the bunnies again and there was black Kitty nursing two tiny, white rabbits.

The fountain of youth

Want to know a secret, a secret few people seem to recognize? Living with little people keeps you young. Children live in the present moment, filled with awe at the discovery of a ladybug, fascinated with observing how sand spills through their fingers or completely absorbed as they create a clay sculpture. Mothers concentrate on giving love and nurture to their offspring but if we don't allow our little ones to nurture us we can become tired, empty and even resentful.

An infant touches our hearts when we gaze into their guileless eyes but there is much more grace that we can receive if we relax and allow their THEIR love to flow into us! In the early , hectic years I would focus on trying to carve out quiet time to sit and replenish myself. One day while nursing one of my babies, I experienced a powerful surge of love pouring into my heart from my baby to me. I started smiling, heaviness and exhaustion lifted and joy started to bubble up from deep within me!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Unique as a snowflake

 Same parents and environment but each offspring inherits not only different physical genes but different character traits as well. My oldest child, Matthew, was very serious and contemplative, at eleven or twelve months, he would sit and slowly place household objects in a plastic jug after observing each object careful. He would then dump them out and start all over again, all in silence. At four, Michael taught Matthew how to play checkers. Both males would sit in silence, contemplating each move.

When my second child, Melissa, was born everything we thought we knew about child development was blown to bits. Where Matthew was cautious, she was daring. She was only nine or ten months old, when I walked into the kitchen and found her sitting on the fridge! I froze in shock and yelled for her father to come witness this event. Michael had decided that by four, a child was ready to play checkers. After only twenty minutes of playing with his daughter, he was becoming very upset because Melissa was standing up, hopping from foot to foot and jumping checkers backwards and forwards, skipping two, three, four squares at a time. Finally I intervened and said," Honey, I don't think Melissa is going to play checkers like Matthew; you're just going to have to let go and go with the flow."  p.s Michael didn't play checkers with Melissa for another few years. Melissa? She was happy doing her own thing and glad to leave that particular activity to the males in the family. Every child is a completely different character. There are certain, general guide lines a book can give you about child psychology, but ultimately it is up to the parents to intuitively and tentatively discover which approach clicks with each little person. I just remembered another storey. Melissa was about fifteen or sixteen months old gleefully picking up worms as we dug up the garden. Matthew at three and a half, acting on some deep macho instinct, forced himself to pick up worms too. Melissa had a peaceful sleep that night. Matt? He woke up screaming with visions of worms dancing in his head.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Humour Can Transform A Tragedy Into A Comedy Of Errors

One evening, when I had only four children, everyone was finally asleep and Michael had gone out to play hockey with his house league team.
"Ah", I thought to myself, "A chance to put my feet up and enjoy a bit of reading."

This was not to be; A couple of  minutes into my "free" time, I heard that paintive little cry that always causes a mother to jump up into the air and ruch to the rescue. This time it was five year old Melissa who woke up
vomiting everywhere. It covered her pillow, p.j.s, sheets, comforter and was in her hair, all over her face and soaked right through her top. Poor Melissa reeked almost as badly as her room and she was crying. I gently washed her face and body with a warm, wet facecloth and lots of sweet smelling soap, washed her hair over the edge of the tub, quickly dried it,  put on clean pyjamas and tucked her into my clean bed with a hot bean bag and lots of hugs.

Of  course, I had just put clean sheets on all the beds that very morning.

I had no sooner stripped Melissa's bed, rinsed out all the bedding, put in a load of wash and remade her bed  when she vomited all over my pillow, sheets, comforter, her pyjamas and in her hair. I cleaned her up a
second time, tucked her in her now fresh bed, stripped my bed, piled up the dirty bedding in the basement.

 But guess what transpired  in the nexy 20 minutes? You've caught on to the way of things that special, forever seared in my brain night. The entire  procedure happened all over again. Finally my little girl was sleeping peacefully,in her own bed, made up with blankets I had unearthed from a box in the basement.

I  tip-toed into the kitchen  deal with nine month old David who had woken up during all this activity. I had corralled him in part of the "child proof" kitchen only to discover that he had pulled out three litres of oil , tipped it over and spilt all of the oil onto the kitchen floor. Now, David was gleefully swimming and splashing on his tummy in a pool of oil which soaked every inch of his clothes, face, body and hair.

What was my reaction to this overwhelming scene? I leaned against the kitchen wall,  till I sat on the floor with my legs sticking straight out. Then I giggled. Then I laughed and laughed and laughed until my stomach ached and tears were streaming down my face.

I managed to pull myself together, somehow, to begin the arduous task of cleaning up this slippery but happy nine month old. After giving  him his second bath that evening and stuffing his ruined clothes in the garbage, I balanced him on my hip as I spooned up some of the oil.

 Finally, near eleven, that night the floor was washed and David was asleep. Michael came through the kitchen carrying his heavy hockey bag and he nearly broke his neck slipping on that kitchen floor.

"Gee Mel," he said, " What happened here?"

My reaction? I threw up my hands and laughed.

Joyful Chaos

Picture this scene. Five year old Anthony is leaping off the fourth stair wearing his black cape, a purple Batman sweatshirt and his 'Mountie' hat. Three year old Lucy carries a huge, old purse stuffed with cut pieces of paper and fake money and she is trailing behind seven year old Katie who is trying to make a scrapbook. Rachel is in the same living room playing "Magic School Bus" on the computer and Emily is upstairs changing her clothes again. Dave and Matt are building a lego plane across the hall in the family room but eighteen year old Matt is the brains behind the construction. Mara is on the phone and Melissa is listening to music that is way too loud while leaning over the upstairs railing and complaining about life. Michael is tending the animals and me? Why I am putting in the fourth load of laundry that day and planning a folding marathon where I sort laundry and literally toss each kid their own clothes to fold

 Guess what? I learned to be happy in the chaos. I don't have a living room , I have work and play areas. A table in the living room is covered in a 1,000 piece puzzle and the coffee table is Katie's craft station. There are goldfish on my too small counter, a huge dog trips anyone walking through the door and the cat thinks she owns the most comfortable chair in the house and I warn you, do not try to move the queen! My kitchen walls, fridge and cupboards are covered with all kinds of art and scribble art and I have too many indoor plants.
One day my father-in-law tripped over our dog (who did not move, by the way) and he gruffly asked me, "What is that dog doing in the house? He should live outside." I laughed and said, "Welcome to OUR home. We love kids, animals, plants and even you. Just come on in!" Oh, my mum just phoned and reminded me that my chaotic house was very CLEAN !!!

Please, Give Your Kids Plenty Of Free Time

I learnt that children need down time. Time just to be and relax, even time to be bored because that is when creativity and ingenuity are born.

Surrounded by babies and toddlers, I was not always free to run outside to solve every obstacle my kids faced as they played. At first, I frantically scrambled to  run and help my  kids with a problem with a newborn in my arms and perhaps a toddler wrapped around one of my legs. Finally I just could not be all things to every
one at the same time. That meant that my other kids had to wait for me or try to figure out snags by themselves. Loud  shrieks for mum gradually grew less frequent.
impatience is a wonderful motivator, I find; while waiting for assistance, my kids often solved their own problems.

Six year old David is a prime. His grade1 teacher recounted this story to me. It seems  that she asked
her grade one class this question,
"How would you open the garage door if there were no grown-ups around?"
Everybody just stared blankly at her, except for six year old David. He  frantically waved his hand in the air and then  excitedly blurted out,
"You just stand on a milk crate,  push on the upper left-hand corner of the door with a hockey stick and push hard. The door comes up a bit, you jump off the crate and crawl in!!"
Then, David beamed proudly.

You don't have to solve all the logistic problems for your kids or provide all the best equipment and toys. Mara was about ten and at the family cottage with a cousin. Every game she suggested, her cousin would point out that they lacked some piece of equipment. After a moment to think, Mara would brightly say,
"Well, we could always use this instead!"
Her aunt and uncle laughed and remarked,
 "I wonder whose daughter she is?"

Ingenuity and creativity spring into motion if everything they could ever possibly need is not handed to our kids before they even know to ask for it.  I loved watching card board boxes magically transform into cars or doll houses, especially when little people asked older siblings to help them and everyone became excited and involved in the project.

Today my adult kids are self-starters, self-motivated and they are all creative at work, school and at home I give all the credit for those qualities to boredom.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

save $8,000.00 a year per child!

I set up activities or supply art supplies everyday for my kids, but sometimes I encouraged even the smallest of my children to help me. Rachel at 18 months loved to use the hose on the vacuum to suck up every little speck of dirt off the carpet and floor. It used more electricity than I would have but it kept her busy for half an hour and she basked in the praise I gave her of a job well done. I always let a couple of toddlers wash the plastic cups and plates while I tidied up the kitchen after breakfast. After they were finished their "job" I peeled off their drenched p.j.s and gave them a morning bath and washed the wet kitchen floor. This is a very practical bath time for little people who still wear nigh time diapers.

Some days my husband would walk into the kitchen, close his eyes and silently turn around and walk out again; his family were all baking and everything and everybody was covered in flour. Someone would measure, another hold the beaters or roll out the dough. Little people love to decorate cookies or make their own pizzas or small loaves of bread. When Matthew was in grade 7 he was proud to learn how to cook; he gathered all his brothers and sisters together and taught them how to make their own pretzels. (This was in 90's when everyone took 6 weeks each of cooking, sewing and shop in grade 7 and 8.)

As my children matured, they developed their own talents and preferences regarding their contributions to their family. Because our house was always so busy, I depended on all the kids and they recognized that their contributions were important. This was great for their sense of self-worth. Melissa could dive into a messy bedroom with a younger sibling and organize their room (she uses this talent in a very well paying job today). Mara made pastry flakier than me at 11 (she is a red seal chef). Rachel always loved to mind the babies (she is an early childhood educator). Emily, from the time she was two, wanted to put outfits together and she helped the little ones get dressed and sorted through their wardrobe. Today she puts her mother together! Katie is very artistic and patient, she did crafts with Anthony and Lucy. The boys are very handy today because they helped Michael fix cars, renovate and repair anything and everything.

 Marie Montessori used practical life, using real tools, brooms and china to encourage mental, physical, emotional and spiritual life in children. It can cost up to $8,000.00 a year to place your child in a well run Montessori school. Try it at home for free; it is fun.

a re-write My Seven Year Old Explained How to Influence A Two Year Old

In our large family, my children discovered how to interact with each other, without my  constant intervention. In fact all my children have wonderful people skills  today because they lived in a house with ten other very different personalities who all shared one full bathroom.Just imagine the tact it required to squeeze any sink and mirror time  in the bathroom if you  happened to have five or six older sisters! Some  interpersonal techniques were learned through the old trial and error method.  I did not tolerate fighting or yelling among my children , so each child had to figure out which approach gained co-operation from another sibling. I was proud of their negotiating skills.

For example,  one evening when Matthew was seven and his brother David was two,  Matthew sat on the floor and reached over the edge of the tub to  play with his little brother who was in bubbly, warm water. 
Matthew turned to me and asked, "Want to know how to get a two year old to do what you want him to do?

I smiled in anticipation and nodded.

"Watch this", Matthew commanded.

He asked David, "David, do you want the orange ball or the blue boat?"

David chose the blue boat.

Hardly taking a breath,  Matthew asked his little brother the very same question but this time he changed the word order of his request, "Dave, do you want the blue boat or the orange ball?"

David dropped the boat and reached for the ball.

Matthew turned around with a proud little smile on his face, looked at me and said, "Two year olds always choose the last thing that you say!"

How to Give Birth to a Peaceful and Joyful Baby

 Prenatal babies have personalities before they are born. As any mother can tell you some babies move around both in and out of the womb, while some are  physically passive. Other infants are night owls both in and out of the womb. Nurses will point out to new parents that their newborn will quickly turn towards the voice of their mother, father, siblings and even grandparents.  So that means that an unborn child hears what is happening and remembers what he hears while he is still in the womb. These memories  are conscious for a couple of years (see post "My Two Year Old Remembers Life in the Womb") but later on they lay deep within our subconscious. Some musicians discover that they already know how to play a certain piece of music only to discover that their mother had practised that very piece while she was pregnant.

I convinced my son to try this experiment with his  pregnant wife a couple of months before the birth of their first child.
[ A side note- I finally have a grandchild. Previously I only had grandbeasties. These are my adult children's dogs. After my kids drive down our long driveway, they let their dogs out saying, "Go see grandpa and grandma!!!"]

 I asked my son, David, to gently place his hand on one side of his wife, Erica's, stomach and to then articulate out loud the fact that he welcomed his unborn child into their family and that that he would protect and provide for her.  He was to concentrate on pouring love into the unborn baby's spirit. As David loved his baby by talking and placing his hand on Erica's right side, unborn Eva kicked and pushed on that side of the womb! When David placed his hand on the other side of Erica's stomach and repeated the 'prayers', their unborn daughter placed a few good kicks on that side instead!

 As a result of Eva's parents consciously soaking her with nurturing love while she was still in the womb, she is a peaceful, content, good baby who is full of joy and a delight to everyone she meets. Dave and Erica are wonderful parents.

In the hospital, while holding his newborn daughter, David turned to his dad and said, "I think this is the best thing that I have ever done!"
We must have done something right.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A two year-old talks about, "dwimming" in mumy's

The day Melissa turned two, her godmother dropped by to celebrate her birthday. Since Melissa was very articulate for her age, her godmother wanted to try an experiment she had about read  in a hospital newsletter. The article stated that if you asked a young child, when they knew enough words to communicate but before they were too old, they could tell you about their life in the womb. So we decided to test this premise.

Melissa was very tiny but smart; people were startled by her clear diction and large vocabulary because the words were coming out of the mouth of such a tiny person. She was standing on a chair behind the kitchen table, playing with a new doll. During the conversation she answered mainly with one word sentences because most of her attention was on her toy.

I started out a bit apprehensively; I felt a bit foolish as I asked my daughter, " Melissa, do you remember when you were in mummy's tummy?
She answered, "yaaa."
So then I wondered if she remembered any details, "What was it like?"
Again Melissa could only spare a one word answer,"Warm."
"What else was it like?"  I questioned.
To which Melissa answered quite succinctly, "Dark."
"What could you see?", I probed.
Melissa was frustrated  by my dumb question, " Nothing; it was dark!"
So I scrambled, "What did you do in my tummy?"
Melissa said nonchalantly, "dwimming."
I checked to make sure I understood her, "Swimming?"
Melissa nodded.
"Did you like living in my tummy?",  I wondered.
.Melissa nodded again.
 Then I thought of a really good question, "Do you remember coming out, being born?"
Melissa scrunched up her nose and sighed, "yaaa."
"What was it like?"
 Melissa stopped playing, looked up and said in disgust, "Like a B.M.!!!"(a bowel movement).

That answer shocked me into silence. I looked over at my sister-in-law and she raised her eyebrows at me and said one word, "Wow."

Living With Lots of Little people

As a mother of nine kids, people often ask me,

 "How on earth did you manage without any help? "

If I had to divulge one secret that I was fortunate enough to discover early in my mothering career, it would be,

"Never let them get tired and never let them get hungry."

There is a universal image stuck in our brains of  a screaming toddler throwing a tantrum on the floor of a grocery store. Even best parent is reduced to a helpless victimn in these situations because
nobody as miserable and disagreeable as a hungry and irritable baby, toddler, or small child.

When I ignored  the warning signs that my kids were reaching their limits of endurance, I created either a clingy, irritating wimp or a screaming monster.Then NOTHING I did or said seemed to help the situation.
I might have LOOKED like a self-sacrificing mother but I was merely acting out of a sense of self-preservation when I put my kids needs first. No time for resentment because happy and satisfied kids were worth every "sacrifice" I made. The peace was worth any compromise.

One niece once told me that many people had given her advice when she became a new mother but the only thing she always remembered and practiced was,

"Never let them get tired and never let them get hungry."

Monday, 20 February 2012

Wearing Outlandish Clothes in Public

I eventually learned to let go of certain standards  for what a little child should wear in public.  Instead of worrying about what people would think,I let my younger children dress in outlandish clothes, even when we went out. Anthony usually wore a purple batman sweatshirt, black rubber barn boots, a short black cape and an old grey felt fedora hat. This look was a salute to this four-year old's  heroes - Batman, Zorro and a Canadian Mountie.

One day, teenage Melissa went shopping in a large department store with her Dad and Anthony in tow. She had just realized that she couldn't see her brother when a loud announcement was made,
" I have a lost little boy at the customer service desk.  He is wearing a purple batman sweatshirt, black boots, a black cape and a large grey hat. Please come and pick him up."
Of course, it was Melissa who had to pick up Anthony, much to her chagrin.

Oh yes, not to be outdone, my youngest daughter usually followed Anthony around sporting a pair of fairy wings on her back.

My adorable, sweet three year old daughter shouts, " *+#%&**+ ! "

Experience taught me that the easiest and most effective way to influence my children was to ignore negative behaviour and to praise good behaviour  Often if I didn't react to swear words for example, my children soon forgot about them because our family didn't  usually swear. ( Shut up was banned but does mother saying, "Shit" count?)

We had few other kid who lived near because we lived in the sparsely populated greenbelt  which surrounds Ottawa, Canada even before we moved out to our seven acres. However there were three older boys who lived downs the road. Our hockey net attracted the boys at first; they would come over and play road hockey right in front of our house with our older children . Actually everybody was eleven and under back then. David, my fourth, was only five but he was the designated goaly, sporting adult sized pads which almost completely immobilised him. David was thrilled to be included in the road hockey game, even if it meant enduring hockey pucks that relentlessly slammed into his pads.

The hockey scrimmage was the highlight of the day. After dinner, I'd help everyone bundle up against the cold because even our youngest children  refused to be left out of the excitement. They could only waddle outside; scarves wound around their faces and foreheads and just their twinkly eyes were exposed. 

The older boys apparently did not curb their language out there. I discovered this one evening  while tucking three year old Emily in bed.  She had just had a bath, her hair was curling softly around her face and she was in a soft blue sleeper with her thumb in her mouth but she was mad. Rachel, her little sister was still up because she had had a long nap that day.

As I started closing the door, Emily took out her thumb and yelled,
"Close the fucking door you stupid bitch!!!!"

My mouth dropped open and I slowly closed the door without saying a word. I went down the hall in a bit of a daze and slowly said to Michael,
"Do you want to know what Emily just said to me?...".

I didn't mention anything to Emily and  she never repeated those three swear words again.