Saturday, April 24, 2010

Time for two

Sometimes I feel like "hurry up" is my new mantra.

I am naturally a goal-oriented and details-oriented person. That is a lofty way of saying that if I make a To Do list, it is long, specific, and I desperately want to get everything done. This characteristic served me very well when I was planning my wedding. It meant I thought of everything, weighed the pros and cons of every decision, and my wedding day was just what we hoped for and disaster-free. When it comes to mothering, however, that drive and determination serves me less well.

Because I work part-time, I usually have high hopes for the days I spend at home. Do the groceries! Prepare nutritious meals and snacks! Do the laundry and put it away! Create a clean and peaceful home! Make time to be creative! Plan and orchestrate enriching activities for my 2 year old son! Oh wait, that's right... I have a 2 year old son.

If you have any experience at all with 2 year olds, you will already know that their priorities and agendas are not the same as, say, the adult's in their lives. They aren't concerned with schedules or with being anywhere on time. They only have one thing on their To Do list, and it whatever they are doing right now.

And so, as I try to get through the day to day with a toddler in tow, I hear myself:
"Hurry up Nik, we have to get to Grandma's now"
"Hurry up and finish your snack, so we can go get Daddy from work."
"Come on, we need to clean up these toys. It is time for supper right away."
"Hurry and get your shoes on so we can go. Come on, Nik!"

Mornings are the worst, but anytime that we need to make a transition can bring trouble, and the "H" word. And while I am hurrying, and thinking about what we need to do next, and where we need to be, do you know what Nik is doing? Living blissfully in the moment. I am hurrying to get to work, and he is noticing the shadows on the floor. I am hurrying to get to the car, and he is picking up rocks. I want him to hurry up and eat, and he is methodically dropping fish crackers through the space between the table and the wall.

On my worst days, I get angry. Clearly, he is just being this way to drive me crazy. He knows I need to get to the next thing on my list! He is being slow, making messes, running in the opposite direction JUST to be contrary.

But, on my good days, when I am blessed with a little clarity and perspective, I realize that I have the power to give him the gift of time. Time to look at the rocks in the driveway. Time to stamp in the too-deep puddle on the way to Grandma's. Time to be two.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Homeschooling myself

Wikipedia describes Leonardo da Vinci as "a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer". I have heard it said that he was the last person to really know everything that was known, and that after that, humankind simply had more knowledge than any one person could learn in a lifetime. I wonder if that's true.

I was really lucky to grow up with a good education. I got all the regular preschool to Grade 12 stuff, and then went on to get my university degree. I also took gymnastics, karate, CPR, learned to play the saxophone, got a lead role in a school play and was on class council and student councils. I was a good student, always putting an uncool amount of effort into everything I did.

When Nik was born, a sort of unconscious shift occurred. It isn't that I gave up the uncool amount of effort. That is too deeply ingrained. I just started to direct all that effort toward Project Nik. I was so baby-busy, I felt like I had no time for any of the things I did before he was born. I still made some time for reading and taking classes... But I read parenting books, and took "Mom 'n Me" classes. By the time that Nik was about 6 months old, I was focusing so completely on his development, that it had totally eclipsed my own.

Someone handed me a baby, and I lost my balance. I thought that being a good mom was abandoning myself, and pouring all of myself into my child, and I'm slowly realizing that lack of wisdom in that. If Nik had been my second child, I would not have abandoned the first to take care of him. I would have found a balance between the needs of the two. Why should it be any different if my first "child" is myself? My own growth is still worthwhile.

Additionally, putting all my effort into my child at the expense of myself not only devalues me, it devalues the contributions of all the people who have put effort into me in the past, like my teachers and parents. It also places an insane amount of pressure on my two year old to perform, to "turn out". I am, after all, putting all of my proverbial eggs in one basket.

As part of my parenting reading, I've learned about homeschooling, and felt the attraction. I have also seen that it is not confined to the traditional grades of K to 12. Some people talk about homeschooling their toddlers, for example. One day, I thought: "Is there any reason I couldn't homeschool myself?"

Think about it. Who says education past the age of 18 has to occur within the walls of a college or university? Why couldn't I design my own emergent curriculum, based on my interests, and make it a priority?

I struggle with feeling like the things I do for myself are frivolous, and only deserve to be indulged in when everything else is finished. Thinking about it as homeschooling validates the effort I put into my own development, and encourages me to create a balanced curriculum.

What subjects would you be sure to include? I am thinking of yoga for my first Phys. Ed. unit, creative writing for English, maybe collage for Art... I'd like to learn to get my finances under control for Math, learn the chemistry behind vegetable gardening for Science, and begin to make sense of nutrition as part of Health.

I am not planning on adding cartography or engineering just yet, but even da Vinci had to start somewhere.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

That glorious glo-worm

We are nuts into 'In the Night Garden' over here. I thought it was ironic that my non-sleeper has gotten so into a preschool show focused on bedtime, until I saw how every show ends. The British narrator says, after the majority of the characters have gone to sleep:

Go to sleep, everybody.
Wait a minute... Somebody's not it bed!
Who's not in bed?
Igglepiggle's not in bed!

This character is probably Nik's hero. How lucky I am to have my own personal Igglepiggle.

I never knew there would come a time in my life where I would read about sleep, think about sleep, have discussions about sleep, formulate opinions about sleep, and otherwise obsess about sleep. That time has come, and it is called motherhood.

Sleeping through the night, or STTN as it is referred to on many online parenting message boards, seems to be regarded as the holy grail of young parenthood, a highly valued and possibly mythical thing. What is more, your child ability to fall and stay asleep with minimal fuss can be treated as some sort of litmus test for good parenting by some people. Annoying people. People I have not felt like talking to for some time. Or at least being honest with.

Don't get me wrong, now. Nik's sleeping has improved most mightily from the days of nine-months old and waking up every 2 hours or less. He usually wakes only once a night now, and sleeps right until morning once a week or so. I tend to start every conversation about Nik's sleep habits with these two facts. Let's focus on how far we've come! Let's not talk about how bedtimes are still a battle, or how he goes to bed later than those annoying people think he should. And I really don't want to talk about the four cavities he has from nursing to sleep and night-nursing... Let me tell you, I felt like a stellar mom after that dentist visit. But when it is a choice between nurse and sleep, or refuse to nurse and listen to screaming... Which would you choose at 2 in the morning?


Ahem... *regaining composure* So, yes, sleep. It is a hot topic around here.

Now, Nik is a nursing toddler, and mostly nurses at times related to being asleep. We stopped nursing in public around 15 months, and dropped all daytime nursings between 18 and 20 months, but the nursings around naps and bedtimes? My husband and I were afraid to touch them. If we drop those nursings, he may NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. And then we will NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. We have had enough truly miserable nights to consider those things real possibilities. But I also don't see myself nursing a nine year old, so it was clearly a problem we were going to have to tackle eventually. After Nik's second birthday, we figured, "Here goes..."

Following the example of a LLL friend, we started shortening nursings. Nik would usually fall asleep in my arms after 30 minutes of nursing, so our first target was 25 minutes. Then Andrew would come and get him, and try to put him to sleep anyway he could, as long as it didn't include nursing. The things we tried included, but were not limited to:
  • Talking to him
  • Not talking to him
  • Touching him
  • Not touching him
  • Holding him
  • Rocking him
  • Leaving him in his crib
  • Singing to him
  • Humming to him
  • Playing him music
  • Rubbing his back
  • Leaving him to cry for a few minutes *cringe*
  • Leaving him to cry for longer than a few minutes *double cringe*
  • And finally, some nights, giving up and nursing a frantic, exhausted child just to get this night over with already.
I hate sleep.

But then, one day, we tried giving him that glorious glo-worm.

My mom had bought the glo-worm as a present for Nik just before we took a long plane ride to California when he was a baby. He was never very interested in it, and it had wound up buried in the basement toy box. One day, when I was cleaning up, I came across it again, and Andrew suggested we try it.

That first night that Nik had the glo-worm, he stopped crying and calling for us after less than 10 minutes, and played with it until he fell asleep. After 4-5 days, there was no crying, and just a protest as you walked out the door. After another week, our little "I-hate-to-go-to-bed" boy called out, "Goo-nigh Dad!" as Andrew left the room.

Dear Playskool people,

You rock.

Still, it has not been a cure-all miracle. This last week, Nik has been a little sick, and kicking up more of a fuss when it is time for bed than he was before. And he has also gotten to the point where it seems like he doesn't need a nap everyday anymore, so we are trying to figure out some new schedule around that.

Oh, well. Solve one problem, two more crop up. To borrow a phrase from "Night Garden": Tombliboo, ombliboo, that's how it goes.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Eggs of life

My father's family is Ukrainian in background, and even though my father and his siblings are second generation Canadians, their Ukrainian heritage shows through, especially around the holidays. After all, the number one way we stay in touch with the Ukrainian in us is by eating, and there is no better way to celebrate. Cabbage rolls and borscht, dill buns and perogies, creamy mushroom gravy and the best quality kolbasa... Dinner time is a good time to be Ukrainian.

When Andrew and I were dating, the first holiday I spent with his family was Easter. As his parents live a good 14 hour drive from us, I knew that if we spent Easter with them, it would mean missing my family Easter dinner back home. Missing dinner represented missing my check in with my Ukrainian side, so I devised a way to take Ukrainian Easter with us. Before we left home, we stopped by Oseredok, the Ukrainian cultural centre here in Winnipeg. I went in search of a Ukrainian Easter egg to bring to Andrew's parents as a gift, but though the cultural centre was lovely in many respects, it was completely free of real Psyanky. They only had the painted wooden eggs, which is as much Psyanky as margarine is butter.

Not knowing where else to look, I called my former employer at Sevala's Ukrainian Deli. I had worked as a dishwasher at their Ukrainian buffet when I was in high school, and I knew that he had his finger on the pulse of all things Ukrainian in Winnipeg. "Where can I find a real Ukrainian Easter egg?" I asked him. "Todaschuk Sisters," he confidently replied. Um, who?

I found them in the phone book, and called for the store hours. "What time are you open?" I asked, when a women answered the phone. "When are you coming?" was the unexpected answer. Feeling a little on the spot, I suggested a time later that day, and Andrew and off drove off in search of Todaschuk Sisters' Ukrainian Boutique.

Located in an old part of town, the boutique is delightfully unusual. An awning stretches the length of the store front, above the windows. The store itself is tiny, just a squarish room with a display case on one side serving as the cash desk. There aren't really any shelves, no traditional store displays of any kind. Instead, there is a Christmas tree in the middle of the room, hung with ornaments for sale, and lengths of traditional red beads. There is another display case on the wall adjacent to the front window, filled and piled high with candles, dishes, embroidered tea towels, floral wreaths, candy dishes. More goods are in piles everywhere you turn, and there is really only enough room to circle the tree single file as you shop. Here is a photo of the Pope, there is a fridge magnet, here a display of postcards, there a teapot.

In the back of the shop you see a sewing machine, and rolls and rolls of woven trims for making traditional Ukrainian costumes. There is also a hairdresser's chair, and the faint smell of permanent solution fills the air. Then you notice the stairs. They lead upstairs, to where the shop owner lives with her husband. And now let us talk of Sylvia Todaschuk, the wonderful lady who finally had my authentic Ukrainian egg.

Standing behind her overflowing display case, this smiling women peers over her glasses at us. An egg? Of course, she has them. She reaches into the depths of her case, and resurfaces with a basket full of eggs. I pick one up, and it is heavy in my hand. They aren't blown, or boiled, she explains to me. Eggs are left just as they are found, because an egg is life, and if you destroy the life, the symbolism is lost. Cash or cheque, there is no automated debit or credit card machine here.

Sylvia stands and talks to us in the unhurried manner of an old friend. She is not worried about getting back to anything, and doesn't pressure us to buy anything other than our one humble egg, but I pick up a postcard anyway. We thank her and head on our way, and the egg survives its 14 hour drive to Calgary a few days later.

On Thursday, Andrew, Nik and I went to again to buy this year's pysanky. We have bought one for every Easter we've been married. This year brought our fifth egg, and we talked with Sylvia as Nik ran around the tree in the center of the shop. "He's being so good," she crooned, and ran upstairs to get him a treat.

They are moving their store soon, she told us, to a new location downtown. They will no longer live in the room above the shop. The end of an era, I think. But we will find her in her new store next year, anyway, because we know she will always have our pysanky, our eggs of life.

Thanks to my brother, Darryl, for these fantastic photos of my eggs.
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