Monday, 30 April 2012

Teens Influence On Younger Siblings Can be Hilarious

We were standing in line in the Canadian Tire's automotive section with our youngest daughter. 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 in congruent 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 blond, 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,

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 catalogues and magazines.  I knew that they pointed out objects and people to Lucy to increase her vocabulary  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; little kids are exposed to pop culture via  their 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 youngest 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 the 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 high school, 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!" `

Sunday, 29 April 2012

I Want To Be a Circle

Every morning I wake up.
I find that I am
An inefficient square.

I hack off the corners,
try to roll through my day
an efficient circle.
Despite my best efforts
when I wake up..
I am a square again!

Recently began to
Rejoice in my

the world needs more happy squares
to slow society
down a little bit .

Friday, 27 April 2012

Suffering and Struggle are Essential For Healthy Development

If you feel sorry for a struggling butterfly and in empathy cut the cocoon to help him escape, his wings will be deformed.
If, on the other hand, you allow the butterfly to struggle, his wings will be perfectly formed.

Laughter is Great For Mental Health

MENTAL KUNG-FU is my family's term for stressful thinking or over analyzing. Just saying the words, makes us laugh and stops crazy thinking.

Painting The Fridge With Peanut Butter

The terrible twos.
Do those words send shivers down your spine like they do mine? Those two little words evoke many awful and amusing scenarios but the most dramatic usually involve  my fourth child, David. As a baby he was a delight with sparkling blue eyes and a warm, loving personality. Physically he was plump and passive. He'd sit quietly, his head whipping from side to side, completely entertained by the activities of his older siblings. 

Anyway, who needs to bother learning to walk when you have three adoring servants to fetch toys for you?
In fact, David was fifteen months before he bothered to walk but when he actually started to move, he didn't stop.

Suddenly this "good" baby mutated into a travelling disaster. There was no malicious intent behind David's activities, just sheer joy in discovery. However, this baby's discoveries were most often messy. In fact,
this run-about-baby's exploits are simply legendary.

One morning, while nursing David's younger sister in the  livingroom,  I realised that David was no longer in the room with me. I strained  my ears to hear what he was up to but the house was oddly quiet, too quiet. The older kids were right outside, near the house but surely David hadn't opened the door to join them all by himself?  Since David was rarely quiet, I quickly put Emily up on my shoulder to burp her and started to try to discover where he was ans what he was up to.

 I found him in the kitchen and I stopped in shock. My fridge  was now covered in a thick layer of peanut butter. Every inch that David could reach was covered, -door handle, hinges, rubber seal... simply everything.

He heard my loud gasp of shock, turned around, peanut butter jar in one hand, with the other hand dipping in the jar for another large scoop and he cheerfully greeted me,
"Hi, Mummy!"

 Try to picture me scooping, scrapping, wiping and  the same time smearing peanut butter with paper towels.
 I then attacked it with very hot, very sudsy water. I  even required  an old toothbrush to reach all those joints and creases. The next week the entire artistic endeavour was executed with margarine! Soon after an entire wall was covered with a crayon mural of scribbles. Now that art job took a week of scrubbing when ever I passed by!

One of Michael's sisters once said to me,
"I am surprised that David turned out so well. I think it was because you didn't come down on him too hard."

 Somehow, I think I was too exhausted to react. I walked around in a daze some days and just let disasters roll off me. My dog eared  child development book  also helped me  roll with the punches because  I realised that I couldn't demand behaviour  that my child was not equipped  yet to mentally or emotionally produce unless it was out of sheer fear.

 I guess I knew David wasn't bad, just a very messy run-about baby.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Kids Enjoy Gardening

I do live in Canada, don't I ? 

For heaven's sake, my husband was ice fishing through 30cm of ice a month ago and we had some snow on Monday. However, it was 24C outside a week ago so the daffodils are starting to bloom  and tiny leaves are beginning to unfurl. The weather has been so unpredictable that I am still dreaming about gardening more than I am actually out in it. Still, I can't help thinking about gardening this week.

I love to dig in the warm earth without gloves so that I am able to feel the moist earth as well as inhale its rich aroma. This love of dirt connected with my children's fascination with dirt.  My little people  loved digging with a small plastic shovel in their own area near me and I was free to garden to my heart's content. Sometimes a baby slept in our old-fashioned buggy under a tree, a toddler 'worked' beside me, preschoolers helped me plant and older kids filled watering cans.

For me, the garden was also the children's domain as well as mine because I wanted them in the garden, connecting with the earth. As  my kids participated in planting seeds, watering growing plants and picking fruit and vegetables, they became attuned to the rhythms of nature. Planting a bean seed and then eating handfuls of green beans from that one seed was magical to a my youngsters. They freely picked and ate beans, snow peas,raspberries, strawberries and carrots straight from the garden as snacks because they were not banned from a perfect, show piece garden. Now my kids are spoiled because they are use to garden ripe tomatoes, corn picked as the water in a pot comes to a boil and huge plates of fresh geenbeans with butter and salt and pepper.
Our gardens were lush and colourful but not gorgeous show pieces. They were filled with perennial flowers that could withstand being yanked, stood on and sat on. The gardens were and are huge, containing many more fruit and veggies than we could eat because we grew enough to give away to our generous friends and family for bartering with. Our family even grows enough  for the wild animals surrounding our little acreage because, in their opinion's, our garden is their own personal restaurant.

Some years the kids organized a road side vegetable stand. Everybody was involved
because the stand became an exciting adventure, especially to the littlest ones.  A few created signs (just getting them to stand up was hilarious), lugged tables and chairs down a 200m. drive way, and generally ran about yelling excitedly at each other as  kids hurried up to the house to get  more change, served drinks to the vegetable sellers, bellowed for a bathroom break  if they were stuck done at the road or screamed out to everyone how much money they had made so far. Even Dad and the oldest siblings were sucked into the mayhem.
Of course, my children complained about weeding especially when it was hot . To solve that problem they dumped buckets of cold well water over each others' heads and  just generally ran around screaming before attacking weeds. They made games out of their jobs, staged competitions when they picked potato bugs and helped make rhubarb jam and frozen strawberries, currants and raspberries.  Gardening wasn't just a hobby, it was a large part of their childhood. As adults, they still love plants and gardening.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

" I'm Bored! "

I learned 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 everyone 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 because impatience was a wonderful self-motivator. 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.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

My Baby LOVES Dog Food

Life was especially chaotic after the birth of our eighth and ninth children because everyone was still fourteen and under.  It was difficult to keep a sharp eye out for my new bundle of energy, Anthony.

As our second youngest, Anthony's basic character has always been pleasant and easy going. His eyes are usually twinkling and a slight smile graces his face.  Most troubles seem to just roll off his back and his small smile often changes into a mischievous grin as he sits back on the fringes of our family stage and observes the emotional drama of his six sisters enfold.

One year, a high school religion teacher noticed Anthony's deep grasp of the feminine mind. During class discussions, after a few male students stumbled out vague answers to her enquiries, the teacher would turn to the class authority on girls, "Anthony", she'd call out," You had six sisters; what do you say?" Invariably, as my son started giving his opinion, all the girls would slowly nod their heads in agreement.

However this agreeable, laid back young man, was quite a character as a baby and little kid.  With his eyebrows lifted up in surprise, his eyes wide open, making sure he didn't miss anything and  with his wiry body, squirming with energy, he was definitely alive. As Anthony peered over my shoulder one afternoon, staring at a friend of Michael's, the 'stranger' said,
 "Boy,  is that baby ever AWAKE! "
Thar short statement basically sums up baby Anthony's personality.

Once he learnt to crawl, Anthony was into everything and made sure that he reached his destination with great speed.  Sometimes, after running to grab  and scoop up this little bundle of happy energy, before he could dive into trouble,  I would realize that Anthony's hands and feet would be still moving, as if he was trying to crawl in the air.

The pivotal point, where Anthony's crawling speed accelerated dramatically, was when he discovered the bowl of dog food. If the dog, Leisha, didn't come to eat right away or left  food in his dish,  Anthony was immediately crawling over  to it as fast as his hands and knees would move. He'd grab a chunk of dried food in his hand and start gnawing on it.
Was he using  it to teeth on?
 Did I not feed that baby enough?
Did little Anthony actually like the gritty,hard, dry dog food?
 I don't know.

All  I do know is that when we moved the dog dish and huge bag of food to the back entrance,  in an attempt to hide it from the baby, he found  the dog food.  When he reached the dog dish, he dove into it , chomping with gusto. That  spot became Anthony's destination every morning while I was trying to get six kids feed, dressed decently, with notes signed, homework done, lunches made and packed and hair brushed and braided.

 Fianally, I reached my limit; we decided to move the dog dish and food  right out of the house to the wood shed, even if it meant that feeding the dog became more complicated.

Did that stop the crawling baby cruiser?
Not after he was out one day and saw the kids feeding Leisha.
The kids had barely turned away from the shed, when the speedy crawler made a beeline to the dog dish.
From that moment on, I'd yell from the kitchen,as the kids headed for the front door,
"Don't let the dog in and don't let Anthony out!!"

Some mornings, as  older children struggled to keep happy, eager Leisha from following them down the lane,  Anthony would crawl as fast as he could, duck through everyones' legs and  try to squirm out the door. The kids would call out,
"Anthony's headed for the dog food again!"

Monday, 23 April 2012

Being a grandma to a baby girl is much better than being grandma to grandbeasts.. er..dogs.

Eva Marie is my first granddaughter. After her birth, my son turned to his dad and smiled proudly, "Dad, I think that this is the best thing that I have ever done."
Eva was sung to, talked to and loved while she was still in the womb. The first time she heard her parents' voices she turned and gazed them   

There is a whole new level of pride that  is opening up to me as a  grandparent. My son, who I nursed and rocked to sleep, is soothing his tiny daughter as he whispers softly and gently walks with her. His daughter's whole face lights up when she catches a glimpse of my son coming home from work. As he throws her up in the air, her mum like all mums, cringes slightly but Eva squeals with delight, trusting that her daddy will always keep her safe. I am proud of my son and my daughter-in-law. My heart swells with love as our family grows even  larger with three weddings this year. I am experiencing the blessings that come after the years of struggle and rejoicing in each and all of my nine kids, their five partners 
and now my first grandchild. 
Okay, okay.. I admit it. I am even thankful for my two grandbeasts er ...dogs . 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Life Is Stripped Down To The Bare Essentials

One afternoon before Easter, I was ironing cotton dresses and shirts for church the next day.
 Six year old Mara watched for a while and then pointed to the iron and asked,
 "What is that mummy?"
I laughed because I realized that this little girl had never seen me iron; I usually used the clothes dryer as my wrinkle smoother when I wasn't looking for perfection but rather efficiency. Actually it was not just the iron that seldom received attention as I mothered a large family, something that I considered essential was eliminated from my life with the birth of every child.

Painting portraits went with Matthew. Other births gave the boot to crafts, dusting, bread making, interesting meals and laundry folding ( each child dressed out of their own personal laundry basket).  As every mother knows,  a newborn takes at least eight hours a day to nurse, burp, rock and comfort, bath, change clothes and diapers( at least ten times a day), and to wash diapers, clothes, receiving blankets, sheets and baby blankets as well as your clothes which tend to get covered in vomit, and other nasty surprises.

The lack of sleep leads to a rather narrow existence where the best days are when you can sneak in a nap or shower and dress before noon. Oh, those were the days when life was reduced to the basics.

Guess what?
Those basics were actually miraculous when I  relaxed and allowed myself to live in the moment, enjoying my newborn rather than bemoaning  all the "important" activities that I couldn't seem to even start. The very fact that everything that my little one required  to grow and thrive was  inexpensive and near at hand was amazing. My baby didn't need a lot of money spent on him, he simply needed arms to hold him, mother's milk to drink and warm clothes and blankets.

 A friend  who had five children, couldn't quite grasp my peaceful demeanour as I sat nursing a newborn with family life whirling about me. She finally surmised that I was content to enjoy the  present experience  of mothering a tiny, dependant newborn.
I think that I was given the gift of understanding that although I strovet o do my best, ultimately I trusted that my failings would be covered and hidden by Love.

Hence my motto;  "All shall be well, yes all shall be well....For there is a force of Love moving through the universe that  holds us fast and will never let us go."(Julian of Norwich).

This quote is true, even if the iron remains a mysterious object to your children.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Laughter Turned a Tragedy Into A Comedy

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 plaintive little cry that always causes a mother to jump up into the air and rush 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. 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 next 20 minutes? You've probably 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 and slid down  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.

As My Daughter Became A Chef, I Became the Scullery Maid

After the birth of my sixth child, I  managed to cook  old tried and true meals like roasted chicken and mashed potatoes, chicken stir fry and rice, homemade chicken soup and spaghetti. Good, homemade, from scratch meals but boring. Homemade pickles were the only garnish.

My daughter, Mara, was a natural in the kitchen from the time she was small. As a preschooler, she always begged to help stir, roll , cut or decorate.  In fact, she seemed to  possess an inborn confidence in her abilities that actually intimidated her grandmother.  When Mara was only about nine, she watched her grandmother make a dessert with a frown on her face. Suddenly, she burst out,
"Grandma, that is not the way we do it."
In other words, her method was the best method.

As she grew older, Mara continued to amaze me. For example, the first time she attempted pastry, from scratch, I gave her directions as I peeled the apples and balanced Anthony on my shoulder at the same time. Her pastry was flakier than mine! It was almost unbelievable; she was eleven years old!

Once Mara started culinary school, she loved to take over the kitchen and I was happy to be her scullery maid when she did. She had discovered her passion.
To relax on her days  from culinary school or from the restaurant, Mara cooked and baked.

Mara watched incredulously, one afternoon, as I threw one of our  home grown14lb. chickens in the oven.
"That's it?", she asked.
I faltered for a moment, "Ahh... ya."
Her voice rose slightly, "You mean to tell me that You are not adding any rubs, spices..nothing?"
I nodded
" Mum",  Mara sighed, "I just can't handle that..I can't let you do that. I'll cook."
I happily acquiesced because I had so much else to do.
Mara had discovered her passion at an early age because her talents were drawn out and developed within a family who treated children's contributions  with respect and gratitude. Although, God knows, I was often too scattered to always express thankfulness, my kids knew that they were important.

 I think that is why simpler civilisations have less problems with teenagers;  they take their place as adults in their mid to late teens. Our culture leaves teenagers in limbo, bored, listless and often angry.  Teens seem to thrive when they are given a chance  to contribute to the family or to learn practical, real life skills. Anything from how to fix  cars,  to cook, clean and organize a home or take care of finances, all these skills prepare teens for the adult world.

University bound kids don't often get a chance to learn any of the trades in high school.  However, Mari Montessori encouraged teenagers  to run all aspects of a farm and the household as well as study. Just as she let little children hammer nails, sweep or pour hot tea into china cups, Mari believed that practical life skills were as important as intellectual studies  in forming well rounded, mature, intelligent adults.

Perhaps modern society NEEDS to bring back Home Ec and Shop for both boys and girls in the schools?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

" I will never complain about my life again."

The tale of the chickens' demise started out innocently enough. I had no idea that I was setting myself up for a disaster of massive proportions.

It began when the butchers  phoned us to change our butchering day to the very same weekend as a conference that Michael was looking forward to attending. Putting on a positive front, I assured Michael that since Matthew was old enough to drive to  the neighbour's large freezers, we could probably manage without him.  Just to make sure that the day would proceed smoothly, we enlisted the help of one of Matt's friends,  as well as a friend of mine, Cathy, to help  run the household and be with the youngest children. David and the oldest girls agreed to help me bag, weigh and record the weight of each chicken. Three days would be taken up with, slaughtering, freezing, cleaning-up and selling chickens to friends and relatives who would drive out to our farm. With my parents coming by the following Tuesday or Wednesday  next week, my trustworthy sister-in-law offered to help attack housework.

Oh yes, to top it all, off Mara had also planned a party for her sixteenth birthday that same Saturday. Any worries I had  about a rowdy group of teenagers were  swarming all over our little farm were alleviated when Karen , my sister-in-law, offered to stay on after supper to chaperon the party in Michael's absence. I would be free to look after bedtime rituals with the little ones. Everything seemed to fall into place.

Oh, the "plans of mice and men"!!!

It had been a hard day, partially because it was very hot for mid -September.  Michael was usually the one to deal with the butchers every year because, although I usually can disarm most people and make them feel comfortable, this family completely defeated any offers of  friendship. They were a rough, burly, dour family who hardly  spoke and gave the impression that they had emerged from Canada's back woods country once a year to kill chickens.  They all looked hung over, smoked so much that a blue haze filled the car along with country and western music. Their vehicle  also displayed a huge set of fluffy dice dangling from the rear view mirror. I tentatively went up to the car which held the female division of the team, to ask them if they wanted tea, only to be greeted with a roar of laughter  as they toasted me with what smelled like coffee laced with whiskey. They were a scary lot and this is not an exaggeration. Actually,   I would say that this assessment is kind! 

They had finally finished their part of the job and left, although  it was not done as well as when Michael was here. David and I were picking up chicken heads and feet, while Matthew and Rob raked up bags and bags of feathers and innards. Mara was frantically cleaning blood from the lane, barn ,tables, wheel barrows etc. before her friends arrived and Cathy was rounding up her three children to go home. The kids were gathering wood for the  bonfire that night and Karen was helping one of my older daughters start dinner. Then I saw a car with a car top carrier!!

My heart stopped.
 I called out, " Oh no! I hope that car passes by and keeps going."
 We were just ready to celebrate when the car did a U-turn and slowly crept up the lane way. I strained my eyes looking for the license plate pleading silently that it was not my parents.
No such luck.
They had arrived five days early, following the directions I had given them.
"Take the Trans-Canadian highway for over 3,000 km. across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Then just after Arnprior, turn left at Antrim and we are 3.1 km. on the left."

 My parents entered an alien world. My mother especially is not used to crowds of people never mind strangers. To top it off, the music was LOUD as were the throngs of excited teenage girls coming through the house to use the washroom. Someone brought beer and Mara almost intoxicated her grandmother with her breath.
Oh yes; Michael phoned the house to see how  butchering day went only to have the phone answered by a friendly teenage girl who invited him to the party!!

It actually took only a week or two for me to regain my sense of humour. I told a friend this story with my usual sense of the dramatic.

Still laughing, with tears in her eyes she said, " I will never complain about my life again."

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Honey, There Are Some Things You Just Can't Get 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.

Suddenly, my life as I knew it, changed dramatically.
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."

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Do you Believe that Children NEED to Bond with Real Animals?

I developed the opinion  that children have a deep seated need to relate to animals while watching my own kids interact with our pets and farm animals.  Since I grew up in the city, with ballet lessons, books and a only one loving cat, I was as fascinated as my kids with the arrival of tiny balls of fluff called chicks, cute piglets and tiny kittens.We all gathered around  excitedly, not wanting to miss anything.

 Rachel was and still is my most fervent animal lover.   Before she could even walk, she  exhibited an obsession to find, crawl after, grab and squeeze any and all animals. It was a passionate love for animals, I would say. She could barely talk, so to communicate her desire to hold the hamster for example, her hands would frantically open and close and  she would utter soft little grunts  as she pleaded, with  big chocolate brown eyes, for the cage to be opened . When Rachel realized that she would finally get to hold the hamster, hers hand would literally shake with excitement and anticipation.

Needless to say either I or one of the older siblings had to supervise Rachel because she would tend to squeeze Hammy till his eyes stated to bulge out. Then the cry would arise, "Rachel's squeezing Hammy again. Come quickly!"

Once she could walk, Rachel would haul the disgruntled cat around but Rachel was happy with her eyes  shining with joy. She was in heaven, so I couldn't bear to deny her access to her beloved pets. At least the rabbits in the hutch on the covered porch were more placid than Kitty and tougher than the hamster and she was content to simply stare at the goldfish. Although, she did tend to over feed them. I'd scoop out food from the top of the water to use for the next few feedings

The Canadian scientist, David Suzuki , believes that all children need to bond with animals and if they haven't the chance to connect with real animals then they will turn their attention to stuffed or cartoon animals to try and fulfil that inborn desire. He calls it a "grotesque" substitution. I think there is a lot of truth to Suzuki's idea. Animals are part of creation and to live as we were intended to live, we need to touch the earth, plants and animals as well as other people in order to grow into well adjusted adults.

I agree with Suzuki, do you?

Nature Not Nurture. Trust Me.

This real life photo of a cat mothering orphan bunnies as well as her kitten is a great symbol for how I very often feel as I observe my offspring. Sometimes I think,
 "Are you really my kid? Where did that talent, personality or characteristic come from?"

All my children have the same parents and  have lived in the same environment and eaten the same food but each child inherited not only different physical genes but different character traits as well.This gene pool  is much larger than I ever dreamt it could be. The differences between my children are mind- boggling. Actually the truth is that every person is completely unique. My two oldest children are dramatic examples.

 My first child, Matthew, was  and still is 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.When Matthew was only four, Michael taught him 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.

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.

Michael, my husband, had decided that by four, a child was ready to play checkers. Since Matthew picked the game up so quickly, he figured all kids would follow suit. After only ten minutes of playing with his daughter, he was becoming frustrated;  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." Although he managed to survive that first checker game with his daughter, 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 boring activity to the males in the family.

Every child is an unique. I originally believed that everything could be explained in my dog-eared book on child development. My children soon shattered that myth. Of course, general guide lines hold true but ultimately it is up to the parents to intuitively and tentatively discover which approach clicks with each little person.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Make-up and Little Girls

One visit  from Grandma Jean and Grandpa Ron  occurred when Melissa and Mara were about four and five years old.   My two little girls were fascinated as they watched  Grandma apply a touch of make-up each morning because they had never seen anything like it. I wasn't  interested  in make-up in those days and frankly  there wasn't time anyway; I was lucky if I managed to brush my teeth and throw some real clothes on by noon.

Finally, after a few mornings of watching the longing on her  granddaughters' faces, my mom asked, "Would you like me to give the two of you a make-over?"  Melissa and Mara were almost too thrilled to sit still as Grandma applied a light coat of lipstick, mascara, blush and eyeshadow. My mom was delighted with the results; the little girls looked like they could have posed  for a photo shoot. She called me over to enjoy the results and  of course, I was pleased as well . My daughters were delighted with the whole idea of wearing make-up  and glowed with the admiration we showered on them.

"Well", my mom asked with pride, "Would you like to see what you look like now?"
"No thanks, Grandma.", answered Melissa, "We know what we look like."
 Off they skipped to play outside.
My mom and I looked at each other and laughed.

Children are delightful because they are not self-conscious and they really don't worry too much about their appearance. Little people are too busy exploring the world and having fun just being themselves.
Thomas Merton once wrote that frogs and trees are holy because they simply are who they are suppose to be, without masks or false personas. I think the same can be said of little children. No wonder Christ said, "Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the  kingdom of God."

Sunday, 15 April 2012

To the general public observing a temper tantrum.

To the general public viewing a temper tantrum: When I see a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, my first thought is, "That poor kid, not that poor mother."  

To mothers of little children: Do you want "well behaved" kids? Never let them get hungry and never let them get tired.

Trust me, ignoring bedtime, naps or snacks and meals either to shop, talk on the phone or visit a friend simply is NOT worth the aggravation of dealing with upset little people, afterwards.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Joy Of Potty Training

The best way to train little boys to aim for the toilet bowl is to sprinkle confetti or cheerios in the water and tell them to sink the boats


WE really only get enough ompf for today, none for worrying about yesterday or tomorrow- just for today.
So, the smart choice to make every morning is to live in the present. 

Black Socks

 The only thing that will kill you as a mother of  a large family is pairing socks.
Buy LOTS of black socks in every size,throw them in a basket
and hope for the best.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

re-write My Adorable Daughter Shouted at Me, " *+#$#&*+#!!! "

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.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

An Easy Tip For Success When Dealing With Toddlers

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. 
My son 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!"

Monday, 9 April 2012

Joyful Support From Other Women

Most people have never heard of Agnes Sanford (1897-1982) but she has been and, in fact still is, a dear friend of mine. She was an interesting woman who was born to missionaries in China, married an American Anglican ( Episcopalian) and became mother to three children. Agnes suffered post-partum depression and  and was diagnosed as suicidal when one of her children came close to dying.  A tiny flame of hope was lit within her heart after her son was healed physically and she slowly began the process of her own emotional healing. "The Healing Light", Agnes' first book describes her early spiritual journey and reveals a warm, loving, wise and gentle pioneer who  was down to earth and most importantly to me, she was an avid gardener. I absolutely adore her.

Just like Agnes, I let my kids play with almost anything because I had a lot of kids and limited funds. I taught them all how to improvise and make due with whatever was at hand, much to my husband's chagrin. Similarly, Agnes' husband once threw up his hand up in frustration, as he struggled to walk around cushions and sheet forts in his living room, and complained that she let the kids play with everything except her wedding ring and the Bible! Once again I really like my co- conspirator, Agnes.

One night, while struggling to centre myself in The Lord's Presence, a crazy, impulsive thought popped into my mind. Without analysing or questioning theological implications, I asked the Agnes to pray for me. Immediately I experienced a warm, emotional embrace of love and sheer joy as I heard interiorly, "My dear, you have my undivided attention. No one asks me to pray for them because I was a Protestant, you know!" I laughed and laughed, in fact I am grinning like a fool right now.

I don't want to argue theology, I just want to encourage other women with the thought that there are  tens, hundreds, why maybe thousands of sisters, most of whom we will never meet, who pray for us. As Saint Paul said  there is a cloud of witnesses,  both living and dead, cheering us on as we journey towards the Lord. The Holy Spirit is  my companion but in His Body, He has gifted me with many other faithful companions and Agnes is one of my special friends.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

My Childern infused New Life and Fun Into Easter

Once children burst into your life and you see events through their eyes, every celebration is infused with excitment and fun. I recreated activities from my childhood and discovered new ones with my kids.

For me Easter means colouring eggs. If I never had children, I never would have started dying eggs again, which would have been a shame. I can usually be found running around cleaning, putting loads of laundry in,and cooking but sometimes I don't just set up an activity, I actually sit down and enjoy the craft with  my kids. At first we just used the store bought kits. Slowly, as the kids grew older we experimented with crayon designs, stickers and fancier dying techniques.

One Easter, one of our children learned the art of creating Ukrainian Easter eggs and begged to teach the rest of us. Michael bought the supplies, set the kids up and played Handle's Messiah. As the music swirled around us, the kids were silent, completely absorbed in their craft. Every year since, all my kids sit around the kitchen table, dying eggs for hours.  Even though I am still running around cleaning, putting in loads of laundry,cooking, tripping over the dog and helping kids, there still is a special Easter atmoshere that fills the house.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

He nearly Lost His Eye

It was Sunday evening.
All the kids had simply flopped down on the chesterfield, chairs, pillows and rug after supper. This was "Walt Disney Night" if you were young or "Sports Night" if you were a teenage boy. The problem was that we had only one T.V. for eleven people. Half asleep,lounging on the couch, with a grin on his face,  my oldest son, Matthew,  had just switched the channel back to basketball yet again. In utter frustration, three year old Lucy, who was standing up, indiscriminately flung a charcoal pencil down towards the floor. Anthony was laying on the rug nearby.
Then it  happened.
One of those gory warnings  mothers tend to shout at their rowdy offspring became a reality. You all keep these common sayings hidden in the back of your brain. They probably originated in the 1950's. Modern mums, try not to resort to these dire prediction but they do slip out now and again:
"Come down this instant; you are going to fall and break your neck!"
"Careful with that knife; you don't want to cut your finger off."
"Don't come crying to me if you fall and break your leg."
"Watch out for cars or I'll have to scrape you off the road and put you in a box."
"You will be the death of me yet."
"That water is boiling hot; you'll be sorry if it spills all over you."
"Pay attention to what you are doing or you'll poke out your eye."

 That last warning about the eyes?
Suddenly the dramatic over statement  became a reality a as Lucy's flying pencil pierced Anthony's eye.
At first I thought that Anthony had a piece of the chocolate pencil laying underneath his iris; in my ignorance, I tried to flush it out. Thank the Lord that Anthony resisted my attempts because we later found out that if I had been successful, Anthony would definitely have lost his eye to infection.What I was actually seeing was not a piece of brown artist's pencil, I was actually seeing the iris  muscle leaking out from the puncture wound.

Later, just before surgery, a resident asked my husband to sign a waver which stated that, as Anthony's parent, he was fully aware that Anthony could lose his eye during the operation. My young son didn't even sigh during the interview but after the doctor left, he stared sobbing, petrified that he would lose his eye. Michael calmed him down and after he prayed over him, draining fear, trauma and pain, Anthony fell asleep until the surgery.  That was our second moment of grace that day. Anthony's indignat father informed the  head eye specialist that a certain resident needed instructions on bedside manners.

Modern medicine astonished both of us.
The tear was sewn, three holes were drilled into his eyeball and eye fluid was pumped back in to restore the exact curvature to his eye!  In post-op, while two other little fellows struggle and fought the staff by trying to rip out tubes, Anthony was so calm and pleasant that the surgical team gave him a bear for being the best patient ever. The team even remembered  the guilty little Lucy with an  adorable bear sporting fairy wings and a tutu.

For rest of the five days in the hospital, Anthony felt like a prince.
He had sole possesion of a remote, play station and t.v.That simply never happened in our large family where every kid  watched the clock as their time to play approached. In addition he was delighted to receive visiting siblings and their friends who all came bearing gifts and candy.

 Anthony's badge of distinction ,to this day, is a pie shaped area in his iris that is more green than brown and 20/20 vision.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

My Husband's GRANDMA Drank the Last and Best Bottle Of Our Home Made Wine??

Michael and I like to experiment when we cook, bake bread or make pickles. Sometimes of our creative endevours are successful such as our exotic herbs and vegetables, crotcheted blankets,  jewelry and home tied flies for fishing My son cut down a huge black walnut tree, a friend brought over a portable saw mill and cut it into rough boards which my husband planed and sanded and used to build a gorgeous countertop. Making things from stuff at home rather than buying the factory generated versions is less expensive and usually tastes, looks or functions better.

Of course,every creative endeavour was not always successful and some were  total disasters.  For example my soap making project filled the entire house with a horrible stench as I rendered the lard. The odour permeated  our clothes, skin and hair, drapes, furniture... Thank God it wasn't freezing outside because everything and I mean everything had to be aired or washed. Looking back,  I  have decided that our pioneers must have done this stage of soap making outside -over a fire.

One of our better ideas was to make wine the old fashioned way. We had returned home with  a five gallon pail full of choke cherries. We were not quite sure what to do with them because jelly takes so much white sugar. Then inspiration hit- we would make wine.

We refrained from squishing the choke cherries with our feet but we did put them in a clean, white pillow case and which we tied to a broomstick. We filled a huge plastic container with juice to ferment. The first bottles  of wine were okay but we saved a few to let them age and each time one of these bottles was uncorked, the better the wine became.

Then one evening, nineteen years later, the phone rang. Michael answered.
" Michael, is that you?", his grandmother yelled.
" Hi, Nan.", Michael answered, a little puzzled. This was his devout, church going, grandmother. The one who constantly interceded for her wayward grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great,great-grandchildren
" I just want to thank-you for giving me that bottle of homemade choke cherry wine.", Nan slurred slightly, "It's been hiding in the back of my pantry for almost twenty years and I have to tell you, it is the best wine I have ever tasted!"

Michael thanked his grandmother then turned to me and explained what had happened. "I don't think Nan is going to leave us any, my husband guessed."

Michael was right. Nan drank the whole bottle; we didn't taste a drop and she still raves about how good it was.