The Last Chore of the Day Isn’t – by Annita Woz

caelinpinkThe second kid’s baby book is as empty as a church parking lot on a Monday evening.

My second daughter came about 18 months after my first and there just didn’t seem to be enough time in my day to do her babybook justice.  My alternative to the babybook is what I am holding in my hand. It is a planner with a month-at-a-glance theme and I have pulled it off my shelf knowing that I had written tidbits of things that my second child had said when she first began to talk. 

Not being big on grabbing the video camera since I usually couldn’t find the thing, and then the battery was likely not charged, I had captured with my pen instead of  film,  the funny moments and little observations about my girl on this calendar.  I wrote them in as they happened with hopes that it would be an acceptable stand-in when someday she would flip through an obviously empty baby book and give me that look that said, “I bet Jaedyn’s book is all filled in with good handwriting and everything.”  

January had an entry almost every day. We won’t discuss here the rest of the calendar year.

Little things were scribbled in like the note where she says, “I do it, ” when she wants to put on her own socks and shoes. And scribbled underneath it says,  “she smiles big and is so proud of herself when she gets them on. ” I did not write down how long that process took or how hard it was for me to hold my temper when we were already late for the doctor’s appointment.

Mid January was another entry, this one from bedtime.  In our house we take turns putting the kids to sleep at night.  It gives each parent a half an hour of alone-time every other night and the one who gets to do the bedtime routine also gets some special time to hold tiny hands and see how much long legs are currently stretching out of pajama cuffs. 

On January 12th I noted that she seemed to be in a pattern of gesturing coupled with chattering, using her new words primarily when we were sitting by her bed at night.  In those few minutes, she often told us more than she had shared all day long.  I wrote, “She loves that we listen,” and had a little flashback of the content look in her eyes as she stared into mine while her head rested on her pink princess pillow as I read the entry.  She knew that I was not distracted by making dinner or some tv program and she took advantage of my quietness to fill her mommy bedtime time moments with her growing vocabulary.

I did not write down that every night I regretted not giving my children or my spouse more of my ears during the busy day.  And I didn’t write down that after those evening  bedside chats,  I would hear myself make a promise that I would be a better listener during the next day.  I certainly didn’t write down that I remembered making that same promise for weeks and couldn’t quite measure up to my own goal.

Late in January,  I had penciled in a note on the calendar that she was “having trouble adjusting to dad putting her to bed at night and she made him sit next to her by the bed”.  I did not write that it crushed Daddy to not be allowed to hold her on his lap and rock her to sleep on his chest as he had done since she was a newborn. 

I did not write down in her book, but I know it to be true, that my husband had taught me that bedtime is not the last chore of the day but instead it is the last chance to be with kids and hug them and hear their little stories about how they saw the world that day.

Thankfully, kids see and hear what parents do from their own perspective.  Mine do not know that bedtime is a time for grown ups to leave a hectic day and recharge for another responsible morning. 

Without jobs or bosses to please, kids focus on their most important decisions, like how long they can make the bedtime routine last- and these decisions are taken very seriously- as if they are choosing which career path to take on the road to growing up and they will or will not get the promotion to tooth fairy age unless they choose wisely.

My children see bedtime as stealing them away from time with their mom and dad and to them, perhaps to all children,  time is not measured by clocks or calendars but by how long the final hug  lasts when they are being tucked under blankets before the big light is turned off.

A. Woz

Child-grower

###

Singing Scenery by Annita Woz

longsbarn1On the doorstep, ten of a family of twelve children stood surrounding the youngest boy who had chattering teeth and very rosy cold cheeks.

We quickly invited them in and were told a short story about a previous stop where their knock on the door was met with a raised eyebrow, a suspicious glare and a slam.

This was not a group looking for shelter, not a family with a sad story to tell, not a family offering brochures about religion on Christmas day.

Instead, it was simply a family of voices.

Standing in a circle, the cold fog of their breath disappeared and they started to sing a beautiful harmony. The tiniest child mixed her sweet sound with the voices of her mom and siblings. Some grown brothers and sisters, were all together on this cold night, drawn home to their family by the holiday tradition of caroling.

This was a tradition I had forgotten existed and hadn’t seen anyone put into practice for many years.  I reached for my eldest daughter and hugged her to my side, and she whispered to me, “What do they want?” and looked very puzzled at my answer.

I had circled my arms around my nine year old and leaned in to kiss the top of her head.  She was uncomfortable to be held by me in the front line of the watchers but soon settled in as the tambourine began shaking and the verses of Jingle Bells filled the room.

The home of my sister in law was full of holiday visitors and relatives, cousins and uncles, and boyfriends that we hoped would someday be husbands.  Her home was full of family, full of wrapping and bows and now, these giving hearts had piled on their own gift- the music that was a part of their family, a gift that didn’t need any pretty paper.

A niece from Texas was home to hear them.  Several cousins on break from the final exams that had kept them awake the previous week were pulling themselves out of the family room and toward the front entrance to hear the chorus.  A set of seven year old twin cousins came to the linoleum and edged in by my young girls to enjoy the music.  The TV was turned off, all toys left behind as everyone responded to familiar tunes that drew them closer to this singing scenery.

Despite being wrapped in warm coats, some with mittens that clapped out a rhythm, some with scarves wrapped around chins, and even a few hats with earflaps,  the caroling family effortlessly turned into performers without fancy props.  No sequined gowns, no church books to lead them, they sang out their merriment through Deck the Halls, for the amusement of our family.

We rocked in a semicircle. The littlest in our family hummed along. The grownups took turns smiling at the singers and appreciating this moment.  We were grateful our children were being given a demonstration of the balance of the beauty of carols against Santa’s recent generosity. 

We offered a heartfelt thank you in the form of a request for an encore and  added our own voices to their final song each family wishing the other a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

The  three dogs lay down between the two groups, a fence of fur separating the mouths from the ears. They didn’t know the carolers, but the sound of the songs,  somehow assured them that they didn’t need to defend us from these visitors. Settling in to the warmth of their voices they relaxed in their duty to protect and flopped down in three circles of tail to nose.

A. Woz

Writer – Child Grower

Tender Caution by Annita Woz

  Her long pointed fingers, they look so much like her father’s, fiddle their way inside the hem of her new sweater and then reverse themselves, an effort to smooth the knit and project the quiet confidence that young performers are told to display before sharing their gifts.

It is recital day for our ten year old. Her song is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s, “In My Own Little Corner” 

“I’m as mild and meek as a mouse, when I hear a command, I obey,

And I know of a spot in my house,  where no one can stand in my way…

In my own little corner,  In my own little chair,  I can be whatever I want to be,

On the wing of my fancy I can fly anywhere,

and the world will open its arms to me…”

The simplicity in her voice, the tender caution that we hear as she sings the first line catches us off guard.  In a way, she makes the words come out painfully,  convincing us of the need to hold our own breath, as though to save the air in the room for her throat alone.  We believe the song was created just for her, maybe the words stolen from her own head just a moment before, as she sings, “I’m as mild and meek as a mouse,” in a way that tells us she is not just singing a line, she is living this story right now in front of us. 

In unspoken harmony, we give her strength to do what she has come here to do. We push back all the memories we have of our own fears of performing for others, as though somehow our self-doubts might grow arms and stretch out of this audience, snake toward her, and steal her moment.  We put on our most encouraging grins, lean our shoulders forward just enough to show her that we are with her. And she sings.

On the way to the recital, gentle warnings were given to her siblings. The reminders to not sing out during the performance, to let one girl shine this time, are confusing to the siblings who have joined hands with her many times to sing the song as she practices for the home audience of two little black dogs sitting in front of the fireplace hearth stage.  For one last time, we practice as a group, in the car on the way over, all together. 

Singing this way brings back vivid memories of long car rides made short by singing in the family station wagon when I was a girl.  Our family sang on long and short trips, our six young voices and that of my mom’s are led down the highway by my father’s.  We sang the same round of songs for most of the trip,  but Dad always added a few new ones from his ever growing song list in his head.  He seemed to never forget the words, somehow staying on the right road and staying on the right verse despite the many contributors going off pitch.  If we distracted him enough he would just take what he came to call a long cut- just so we could enjoy the scenery, he said-  and we would head back in the right direction.  These detours only served to give us more time to sing together so no one minded the extra miles. 

We made it home safely through snowstorms, from long trips through the country from Grandmas house, the trip faster for having the familiar songs with us the entire way. A wave of disappointment to pull into our own yard, signaling that we were done singing with mom and dad would quickly vanish as our dog would run to greet us. Then, without regret, we’d trounce into the house, with sleepy heads full of the last lines of the song that took us into our driveway. Surely this was the best way to travel, the best way to sing. Together.

The tiniest girl performs first. She is deemed the bravest for going first and gets a box for her feet,  to keep them from dangling off the piano bench while she plays her first piano solo. Her plaid red dress and tiny black buckle shoes are captured by mom who does not see the real girl, but instead the girl that is circled by dashed lines on the screen of the family video camera.

A dad and his teenage daughter sit elbow to elbow to play some holiday music for us. They have been practicing together since the the days of summer when they had to forgo trips to the beach or shorten phone calls to giggling girl friends. He has cut short business meetings to make the regularly scheduled practice with his soon to be all grown up daughter.  The hours laughing and studying and playing together on the black bench are over with this performance but not wasted.

Mothers sink visibly into their chairs as daughters take final bows. Grandparents nod silently at the marvels of their families, knowing that this generation has not missed out on the simplicity of music.

One father holds a sleeping little boy on his lap. He has been lulled by the performances of other father’s little boys.

There is only one girl singing now. Her back-up singers from the car ride to town are silent.  The entertainer up front emerges.  She holds her arms out wide when singing the line about “no one standing in her way.”  We believe her, accept her honesty when she says, she can be whomever she wants to be. For a moment, we are her, we are singing in front of a room and then in an instant we are snapped back, grateful that she has found her path and is doing what she came here to do, grateful that it is not us who has to convince this room.

Tears roll down the checks of her mom, a mom who always gets sentimental at moments like this. She can’t prevent it,  despite trying to distract herself from the beauty of her girl’s performance with thoughts of  orange extension cords, snow mobiles driving outside the studio, a random curry recipe. She is unable to stop the flood that wets her face, that slides to the the edge of her jaw line. The mom rain silently sneaks its way through her failed motions to wipe them away. 

The daughter sees those tears and it convinces her that she is doing well, because she knows mom cries at all tender things.  She knows she is not just singing the song, she is telling the story of the song.  And it is being heard.

A. Woz

###

Snow Day – Quote Day – by Annita Wozniak

winterbikingOur doubts are traitors,

And make us lose the good we oft might win,

By fearing to attempt.

– William Shakespeare

Recycling the Spirit by Annita Woz

From a clutter-reducing-perspective, I am all for the “Get one, Give one,” an idea posted first by Elisabeth Wilkins, editor of EmpoweringParents.com’s parent website.  I am a parent blogger on the EP site and regularly weigh in on issues that are facing the loyal readers of this award-winning parenting site. 

The “get one, give one” basically allows parents to control the intake and output of toys in our homes and encourages kids to give a toy away when they get a new one during the holidays.  

Woz added the following post to the website on December 17, 2008.

 wozsummerfeet2006

“But, there is always the option of NOT making the reduction of gifts the focus at all…

Some have said, children believe with their whole hearts in the Santa magic, the loads of toys made by elves, and somehow carried by sleigh all the way from the north pole and deposited under trees in homes everywhere in one short sleep. 

And it is this belief that drives the true spirit of wonder for this, the favorite holiday of any child.

If you can, give them all that you can, encourage other gift givers to do the same and let Santa make everything merry and bright. Children will learn all about the sad reality of poverty and economic downturns and scrooges all too soon.

When they are older, sadly wiser, they will not remember the toys you gave them. They will remember only one of the gifts you gave – the gift of Christmas magic- and it will inspire them to recreate the same, to be generous, to keep the spirit of belief alive for their own children.

When this age of awareness is upon our kids,  parents can begin to cut back and give a reasonable amount of presents and your now enlightened child can turn on his/her own generosity and share with reckless abandon her own Santa stories and help perpetuate the magic of the season to the younger ones.

This is the ultimate in recycling, the re-gifting of the biggest gift you have given them; the gift of the spirit of the season.

If you can, give piles of presents, make the magic.  They grow up so fast. “- as posted by Annita Woz on EP.

visit the site at www.empoweringparents.com

Expert Parents Know – Quote Day- by Annita Wozniak

 caelsandalfeetamericangirlbike1The difference between “experts” and parents is that experts talk about things parents can’t see, while parents see things experts never talk about. 

From John Rosemond’s  Daily Guide to Parenting, 1994.

The Meanest Mommy is not Strong by Annita Woz

“I think it is wrong for the strong to test the weak, though it is natural for the weak to test the strong.” – from the novel Ahab’s Wife

hulahoopfallenfeetI am a parent. It is the year when I have two children at home, neither in school yet.  I am alone in my home shedding my visions of perfection, dropping it behind me like a stage curtain closing the show, shutting down the theatre. I have read all the books, am supposed to have all the answers. But I don’t. I am faking it.

One daughter has the strength of a small wild animal, a face full of anger that looks strangely like the one I am mirroring to her when I follow through on my promise to put her in her room if she cannot talk instead of this screaming.  I have lost sight of what has made her so explosive. I am caught between displaying good parenting by enacting the consequence and trying not to get angry that she has again refused to respect my authority.

She does not remember if it was my refusal to allow her the toy that started this tantrum or if it is her shock that I have not given in to her plea of, “I need it right now!”  She is crushed to have lost control and is snorting and stomping her foot and starting to repeat, “I want it now!  I want it right now!”  She is confused about what will make mom happy and is unable to stop spitting the words in my face, “you are the meanest mommy.”

This post was also published in John Rosemond’s Traditional Parenting Newsletter in December 2009.

She is my daughter.  She must be like me I think, just like when I was a girl. I have heard stories of my ability to bounce out of my crib and race my mom to the door in refusal to go to bed, not once, but twelve, thirteen, fourteen times in a row until my mom managed to make it out before I caught her.  Then I would get to the closed door, lie down on my side and peek out under it to look for the shadow of my mother’s feet, imploring to be allowed to come out, resorting to using my tiny heels to kick the door with frustrated rhythm and effectively dishing out the best guilt trip a four year old can give.

My girl knows all my buttons to push, has perhaps been genetically pre-wired with this knowledge of what I was like as a child and spews right back at me the worst of what I must have done as a child.  Perhaps like in nature, she is using this truth in an effort to wake me up to what she is feeling and connect with me even in her anger,  unconsciously seeking to show me familiar behavior and invoke my compassion.

This mommy has known since bringing home her firstborn from the hospital, that the job is more of a challenge than books can ever prepare us to believe.  Wise family members, their children already grown, have nodded their heads in the face of my enthusiasm, knowing inherently that new moms and dads will only learn by trial and error and understand just how much we will learn about ourselves from our own children.  Indeed, from those first few weeks with a newborn, behind all the questions, the choices, the doubt,  I have known in the back of my brain that my character would be tested and many times had asked myself,  “Am I the weak or the strong?” I have been needled by the truth that it is a child’s job to test the strong and today, I am clearly accepting that I am not strong.

My heart is beating in my chest. My throat hurts. I have yelled. My loudest and scariest voice has boomed out of me and has been a wasted effort.  My daughter is no closer to ending her tantrum. I have succeeded only in making her more agitated.  I am the parent, yet I am wondering why I am the parent.

My daughter, is throwing herself on her bed, kicking her legs, beating her pillow, her long hair whipping around her ears is wet from her own tears.  She shakes her head in confusion, not knowing why she is in this room or why she is feeling so alone and wondering what she is supposed to do to end this.

And I am breathing. I am trying to calm myself, to gentle my hands, to think instead of reacting. I am sick to see my older daughter watching from down the hallway, her lips set together, being very still.  She will not meet my eyes. My stomach  churns when I hear her say, “I love you mommy” over and over, words she has said when things are sunshiny and happy now an innocent attempt to ignore this mistake of the moment.  I am so weak.

How can I teach my strong girl how to control her anger and use her words, when I seem to have forgotten to practice my own skills?  I did not count to ten. I did not use my nice words. I did not control my own anger.

Nature has worked her magic. I manage to see a little girl. She is not a lesson that needs to be taught something.   I see she does not want to be the boss of me. She does not want to be confused or angry. As much as I want to close the door, to save her little growing personality from the affects of my poor skills, I push back my shame at losing my calm and go to her.

The meanest mommy hugs her with the same arms that waved like a lunatic earlier, arms that are aching with regret, find the strength to circle around her little body and pull her into my lap.  My girl resists, does not want to be near me, does not believe I am now a loving, calm mom, so opposite of what she saw in me earlier.

She shifts her self, lifts her tummy to ceiling, arches her back, twists her torso to try and escape my sorry mommy arms.  I tell her I need a time out. I whisper that I love her in her ear. I tell her I will hold her and hold her and give her the safety of my arms and say I’m sorry and I promise her that I love her no matter what.

She curls herself into my lap, rests her tired head on my shoulder, scoops her little self into my arms, returns somehow back into the size of an infant.  I rock her like this until her breathing slows,  those exhausted little gasps disappear, and the sad sounds slow to a pace that tells me I am starting to make sense to her.  My daughter’s world is back to what we define as normal at our house. The mom is not the meanest mommy anymore.

%d bloggers like this: