A very short story about jetlag:
We have left Toronto and have just arrived in Berlin. The kids are six and eight and they are jetlagged. On the first night they fall asleep shortly after dinner. On the second night I fall asleep shortly after dinner while they stay up for hours ripping a tissue box into tiny pieces. On the third night she is too hot, he can’t sleep, she cries because she misses her friends, he spills water on their beds, and I drink most of a bottle of wine. They’re not just jet-lagged; they’re scared. They don’t know anyone in this city; they have to start at a new school and they can’t understand what the other kids are saying on the playground. After midnight I drag both of their mattresses to the floor of our bedroom. He snuggles in quickly. I drape my hand over the edge of the bed and she falls asleep holding it. After a few moments I start liking them again.
A very short story about being the new kid:
She is pouting and having crying spells and I tread softly not knowing whether she needs a hug or needs to be left alone. It’s always alone first and then hugs later. She doesn’t know why she is sad. After a week I lose patience with the crying and the tummy aches and start telling her to just go lie down if she feels sick. At the playground she climbs on my lap and lolls her head around, whining that she’s bored. Then she lies down on the bench and says “I think I need some friends here.” School starts tomorrow.
A very short story about friends:
It is the first day at the new school and the boy has made a friend. She is holding his hand when I pick him up. We hang around so they can play outside where he offers her sips from his lemon drink. I glance around wondering if her parents are going to show up just in time to see some sweaty new kid offering their daughter backwashed lemonade. The next morning he is nervous again and hangs on to me. The new friend is sitting in front of a colouring page. He doesn’t recognize her because she is wearing different clothes. She pops up from her seat and pulls him away by the arm. She shows him her paper and says should we colour this together? He nods and follows her. She is like a magical gift of a human being.
Very short story one:
The baby is seven days old and it is lying on some towels on the table on the deck and everyone is leaning over and peering at it. My nephew who is three asks: “ Whose baby is it? Who is her mother?” I think this is a very pertinent question and look around to see who claims the baby and then tears jump into my eyes and I can’t answer because I realize it is me.
Very short story two:
The baby has been admitted to the hospital and his clothes have been taken off and put back on several times. They come to the room and give me flannel pajamas for him and hospital-issue diapers and baby wipes that are dry and you have to wet them under the tap before you clean him. The pajamas are too big. They will weigh the diapers so I am supposed to leave them at the end of the bed and not throw them out. That’s when I realize that the transformation is complete. When I brought him in here he was my baby but now he is their patient and it only took about an hour.
Very short story three:
She is nine and her birthday was yesterday and she took the bus all by herself and she knew where to get off to catch the subway train and she knows which platform to stand on. I am on the train. I am scanning the platform. She should be getting on at this stop and I don’t see her and I don’t see her and I don’t see her. Then she is standing there and she is smaller than she was at breakfast and she glances at me and she smiles. She gets on the train and she wanted to go all by herself and she didn’t want me to help or even talk to her but she climbs up on my lap and we ride like that the rest of the way to school.
Very short story four:
The kids are pretending. One says “pretend I was teaching you” and the other one says “Yeah. And pretend I was really good.” One says “pretend I was the best one and I got ten points and the other kids said ‘wow, ten points’.” And the other one says “yeah you were really good and I was your teacher.” So they don’t really pretend; they just write elaborate scripts of themselves winning.
Very short story five:
He doesn’t want to go to school because he knows that his teacher is away and there will be a supply teacher. He likes all the supply teachers except one and he is afraid it might be her. Even if it isn’t her he is afraid because his friends will not behave for a supply teacher. He will be good but his friends might not be good and if they get in trouble he will be upset and this is why he can’t sleep. He is not comforted when I say that his friends’ behaviour is up to them, not up to him. He looks at me as though I don’t understand a thing.
Very short story six:
They won’t go to sleep because they are arguing about how old they are. She is ten but he says she is only nine because she hasn’t finished her tenth year. They ask me and I say she has finished her tenth year and now she is in her eleventh year but she has not yet turned eleven. He says he doesn’t get it and now he is mad.
My kids have found something new to play with. It’s cheap and accessible. It helps them develop their fine motor skills and their communication skills. It allows them to explore changing states of matter. It fosters cooperation and a sense of community and looking out for one’s peers. It promotes role-playing, imaginative play and self control. It is fire. My kids are playing with fire.
I asked them to light the candles at the table one evening and showed them how to strike the match. Later, when I saw them tentatively playing with the candle – feeling the heat around it, poking it with the burnt matchstick – I offered to put the candle in the empty sink where they could play with it without sending our napkins up in flames. They pulled two chairs over to the sink and set to work. They burned all the matches. Then they burned the empty matchbox. They were careful. Like, extremely careful. No one got burned. No one got even close to getting burned. They squeaked and gasped and winced each time they lit a match. K and I stood behind them and held in giggles. We looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Are our kids boring? What’s wrong with them? Why aren’t they better at doing bad stuff?
When I was 6 and my sister was 8 we bought cigarettes, telling the shopkeeper they were for our parents. We took them to the gulley and smoked them all (I didn’t inhale!). We then returned to the shop for caramels to soothe our raw throats. I’m not advocating this. I don’t wish my kids would smoke a pack. I share the story simply to convey that I’m pretty sure that striking the matches was not the biggest challenge that day. Getting money and hiding smokes was. We thought nothing of making a little flame.
We all know what happens when you play with fire: you get burned. And what happens when you get burned by a match? It hurts; maybe a small blister. That’s it. Is it unpleasant? Yes. Is it preventable? Also yes. Is it so terrible that it must be avoided at any cost and therefore a wall of caution and fear must be erected around fire so that children never, ever try to investigate and control its allure and may forever doubt their own ability to approach and manage risk? No. No it isn’t.
Now playing with fire has become one of their favourite things to do. When Akka had a friend over and they were leaving Malli out I tried to occupy him for a while with card games but that quickly got boring (for me). “Hey,” I said. “You want to light some matches?” I set him up at a little table with a tealight candle and a book of matches. He set about burning them; holding them for a long as he could before blowing them out, then waiting for the tip to cool and holding the other end to the flame to turn the whole matchstick black. He was entranced; I was free to get other things done. He had a lot of questions about what things burn. Plastic, I assured him, was a bad idea. But sure, lots of other things burn. Like this wine cork from the other night! No, not the plastic one but the real cork one. First he asked for a cup of water to keep next to him (see? careful!). Then he burned it.
A few days later both kids were set up for our new game: burning stuff. I gave them a baking tray to hold all their paraphernalia and they burned a whole box of matches, then the box itself, then some cardboard strips. I opened the windows to air out the apartment and wondered about the reliability of our smoke alarms which never objected during any of this. Must check those.
Look, I’m glad they’re cautious. I’m glad I never glance up to find them walking the roof ridge-line or paddling the canoe out to open water without a life jacket. But I do think it’s fine if they burn small stuff to see what happens. And I don’t think it should be me who shows them; I think they need to figure this out for themselves. So maybe this winter they can make a small fire-pit in the backyard snow. Or maybe next summer at Poppa’s cottage – after a hard rain, when the forest fire advisory is low – I’ll carelessly leave a book of matches and some dry sticks and leaves in the sand while I go take a nap.
I expected to be the subject of much eye-rolling during my children’s formative years but I didn’t think it would start so soon. My boy is only seven but I can already be an embarrassment to him. Yesterday was the kids’ cross-country meet. Hundreds of kids from all over the city running together along the beach of Lake Ontario, then through the park to the finish line. The kids were nervous but I was just hoping I could acclimatize myself to the joyful vision of small children running in time to stop welling up before either of my kids ran past me. Yes, children’s sporting events make me cry (for the record, no, I’m not surprised I’m an embarrassment).
I watched the early races while my kids waited in line for their age groups to run. I stood about 100m from the finish line and cheered as kids ran past, walked past, held hands with their friends and jogged past, lost their shoes and went back for them, or just ambled to the finish line watching the birds. But whenever a kid seemed to run out of steam I’d yell “Keep going! You’re so close! The finish line is just around the corner! You can do it!” And most of them did.
Malli ran his whole race without walking and I managed to cheer him on without weeping which means we both won. Then he came to watch with me while the bigger kids raced. I kept up my enthusiastic cheers and encouraging yells until he pulled on my jacket and rolled his eyes towards the tree line. “Mum…,” he said. “What?” I asked. “You don’t want me to cheer?” He shook his head.
Ok, fine. I stopped yelling quite so much. We still clapped and we still shouted “Go! go! go!” and tried to snap photos whenever we saw kids from his school go by but I toned it down while we waited for Akka’s turn to race.
Then Malli pulled on my sleeve again and pointed, shyly. I looked and saw a little girl in a red shirt slow down to a walk. She looked exhausted. “What?” I said to Malli. “You want me to cheer her on?” He nodded. So I’m embarrassing but I’m not entirely wrong! Is there a name for this stage? Where I can mortify my kids while still being needed?
“Keep going!” I yelled while Malli clapped. “You’re so close! The finish line is just around the corner! You can do it!” She glanced at us. She looked at the trail ahead of her. She narrowed her eyes. And she ran.
Malli has become a dedicated fan of German football this year. He can name every player on the World Cup team. He knows their positions, their numbers, and which club teams they play for. He knows when teammates from the Bundesliga are meeting each other on the World Cup pitch on opposing sides. When we picked him up from the school summer fair last week we were a bit taken aback to find our Canadian-Sri-Lankan child’s face painted in bands of Schwartz-Rot-Gold. He cheered hard for Germany against Algeria, against France, and last night, against Brazil. And being in Berlin, we all wanted Germany to win – mostly because it would be a bummer to be surrounded by a bunch of sad fans.
But last night’s win over Brazil didn’t feel like a victory. Sure, we cheered at the first goal. We even cheered at the second. By the third goal we started to wonder what was wrong. “What’s going on? Is something the matter with the Brazilian team,” I asked? Before I could get the words out, Germany’s fourth and fifth goals were in the net.
Malli had stopped cheering. The firecrackers outside were much less plentiful since ardent fans hadn’t rationed their firecrackers to cover five (and then six, and then seven) German goals.
Throughout the second half of the game Malli kept whispering “please don’t score again, please don’t score again.” This from the boy who had been leaping about in a victory dance half an hour earlier. At the end of the game I carried sleeping Akka to bed and she woke up enough to ask who won.
“Germany won,” I said.
“What was the score?”
“Seven to one. Seven to one for Germany.”
“Oh,” she said sleepily. “I don’t like seven to one.”
I don’t like seven to one either. I did want Germany to win but not like that. I suppose they didn’t have the option to wrap it up after three goals and stop aiming for the net. But even the children could see it clearly: we wanted ‘our’ guys to beat ‘their’ guys but then we wanted the beating to stop. Watching a win is thrilling but watching a beating is horrifying.
So when we watch the final on Sunday the kids and I will be cheering for a very, very narrow German win.
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Tagged Berlin, the boy, the girl
About a year ago we had a good stretch of time when the kids were into playing checkers and snakes and ladders and go fish. They’d sit down after school and play for ages while we delighted in their wholesomeness and cooperation and general fabulousness.
But something has changed. Now, more often than not, board games end with one child flinging a small and un-findable (but obviously irreplaceable) piece of plastic behind the bookcase with tremendous force while screaming “Fine! I’m not playing! You’re a cheater!!” I’d either ignore it or go investigate to find that no one had cheated but that one child’s legitimate setback in the game was deemed to be the result of underhanded tactics by the other.
Finally I relented and played with them myself – an invitation I decline on principle while pointing out that that’s why I made two of them. Akka and I played a for a few turns; then I had to get up to check something on the stove and asked Malli to take my turn for me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see them whispering, shooting me glances, and counting game pieces. Finally Malli made a decision and played my turn. They both erupted in giggles that brought me to realize that the other pot on the stove also needed a good long stir. And perhaps the inside of the cupboard needed another long glance. Malli continued to take my turns for me and they continued to delight in fixing the game so that I would lose. When I wandered back to the game I was dismayed to find that Akka had accumulated almost all of the pieces and was about to triumph. Never mind. I didn’t scream. I threw nothing. We had an immediate rematch and once again the pots on the stove urgently needed my attention after my first turn.
They played on. Game after game. Making me the loser made them both the winner even though Malli was working to sabotage my side of the board. No one threw pieces behind the couch. No one screamed “cheater!” (although perhaps I had the right to). I lost very gracefully and tried to conceal the fact that anything unelectronic that keeps them engaged and relatively quiet is a huge win in my book.
Conspiring to make me lose evolved into them playing against each other the next morning. So far no shrieks or projectiles. Shhh. I win!! I totally win!!
It has been more than two years since I wrote about my children’s voracious thumbsucking habit. I’m sorry to report that their enthusiasm for their thumbs is no less voracious today. Or am I? Therein lies my latest parenting dilemma.
They tried to quit. Then they stopped trying. The little thumb puppets were thrown from the bed. The sleek thumb-mittens were stretched out of shape after being repeatedly yanked out of the way of a needy mouth. Every few months I’d bring it up again and we’d try a new regime of sticker-rewards or check marks for each recess or dinner hour spent thumbless. Check marks could be collected and exchanged for gum or erasers or a pack of pipe cleaners. They built thumb-sandwiches out of tongue depressors and medical tape. Then they wrapped themselves up only to cry out ten minutes later to be set free.
It was all crap. None of it worked. Not even a little bit. It turns out they didn’t really want to quit – I wanted them to. I loved seeing their little faces without a fist in the way. I hated the idea that they’re making their jaws grow askew or setting themselves up for all sorts of invasive orthodontic treatment. I also hated how disappointed I’d be when each quitting method failed.
So we went to see an orthodontist. And he said it’s no big deal. He did say their jaws are messed up. Cross-bite, open-bite, they’ve got it all. But he didn’t seem to think the thumbs were making these conditions worse or that pushing them to quit would do much good. He also said they’ll quit when we start putting stuff in their mouths to correct those bite problems. The dentist, however, says that stopping the thumbs now while they’re still growing will prevent their bites from getting worse. So which one is right? And whose advice do I follow?
Will we cement bars across the roof of their mouths to prevent the thumb from fitting in? Don’t look shocked – I was this close to doing it. But can I handle the anguish and stress they’ll feel if their source of comfort is so blatantly blocked? Oops – I mean – can they?
I have no idea. Today we went to our regular dentist appointment. Akka has four cavities. Malli has two. We had to book three more appointments to get those fixed. The dentist is cool with not putting the anti-thumbsucking-bars in for now but she says that if I talk to ten different orthodontists I’ll get ten different answers. Upon hearing that my first thought was who has the time for more appointments!?
So, I remain uncertain. And they remain thumbsucking. And maybe that’s fine. I need to stop thinking about it for a while. I’ve decided to focus instead on the one small triumph I managed today: I found a tube of raspberry cupcake lip balm after it had been through the washing machine but – and this part is crucial – before it went in the dryer.