schooling mom: sacrifices

Monday is my long day at school. It follows after a day of frantically finishing those last nagging tidbits of homework  while the boy plays and bathes away the stink of being an active 4 year old. Last week, it was a bit of a bust on the parenting front. I wasn’t feeling my chipper self in the morning and Mr was kind enough to get up with the kids and get Miss N off to her bus, but this meant that I would not see her, not something I took into consideration when I gently shook him awake mere hours after tossing my cookies in the middle of the night thanks to my medication.  I caught the bus out to school at 2:00 and while she was home only 40 minutes later, I was sitting on the floor in front of my classroom eating an apple and scouring that last bit of reading. At 8 pm while I was heading out for a 5 minute break from my night class, she was going to bed. I would not be home for another 2 hours. I may have snuggled in next to her last night (in my bed, I might add) to peck at the computer and work on just one more assignment, but it’s not the same. I didn’t see her eyes or talk to her at all.

This is what happens to a lot of student and working mothers. We are doing our best to better the lives of our children but in the present there are numerous sacrifices. I’ve been in university since Miss N was 14 months old, intermittent breaks, both long and short have prolonged my time at the institution and the inspiration for continuing is currently sleeping. Again, in my bed (it really is comfortable). This doesn’t make it any easier, because kids have a hard time understanding that I need to sit with the computer on my lap on movie night and that I cannot always play with Lego, no matter how cool they are.

Today I had the opportunity to speak with a woman who has fought her entire life for her education. I think it’s pretty easy for a number of people to take their education for granted. I know I did, when I was naive and just presumed I would head off to university post-high school. I knew it was coming and for that reason I didn’t want to do it and I didn’t really value it. This is partially why I am still in university, seated next to 19 year olds who can devote an entire day to watching television or an entire day spent in the library, head bent over the books and surreptitiously sneaking glances at their Facebook wall.

When I am feeling positive I know that my kids see me working hard and that it is a really good example. It’s the same as when you are trying to encourage your children to read, they need to see you reading also. When I’m not so positive, when I feel bogged down by the weight of assignments and professors with stringent deadlines, I resent those hours spent away from my babies. The next time I feel this way, the unbearable weight of my textbooks and the financial burden of being a student I will remember that inspiring woman who has plugged along at her education for years, even when there was maybe only one person rooting for her. Because I have more than just one person behind me. I have a bunch.

Anytime someone sighs wistfully and says they wish they could go back I smile and genuinely tell them: Do it. Whatever it is you want to study will make you stronger, smarter and you will learn so much more than anything you may find in the numerous textbooks you will buy. School isn’t just about the hours spent in the classroom and that’s the real lesson.

Safe from the floods

If ever destruction were to course through my life and leave charred remains or water logged bits of life in its wake, there are a few things I would choose to save. This list favours my father’s artefacts but that is because my mother is thankfully still counted among the living. Provided Mr, the kids and my furbabies are safe I would choose to save the following list of treasures:

1. My Dad’s clothes. These were not his every day clothes. That’s not entirely true, he found a way to wear these brightly coloured dress shirts, his baby pink button ups and the numerous gold lamé dress shirts with the Chinese dragons roaring almost every day. These were the clothes that he felt most comfortable wearing. He had colour combinations that he loved  (pink, black and gold or red, black and gold) and they are evident in so many of the shirts. There is the brilliant red cape that prompted my brother to hold it up and mutter, “What the hell is this?” but I was there when he picked out satin the same shade of red as crushed cherries. I couldn’t possibly let that box go, most importantly because when I gingerly pull the flaps apart, his scent is still trapped in the fibres and in a way, my dad is still here.

2. My Mom’s painting. I’ve always thought of the painting of a wine jug, partially peeled oranges and wine glasses to be my mom’s best work, even though there are seven years of work between its creation and now. It has travelled with me to the small house in Windsor Ontario where Mr and I fell in love and all the way across the country to Nova Scotia. It is currently on my dresser in the space that is usually reserved for a mirror. I don’t mind scurrying to the bathroom down the hall to fix my hair, I like the painting being this close each day.

3. My father’s Yuletide Teapot. An avid collector of fine china, my dad sipped his tea each night from a fragile tea cup, the potent tea poured from a well-loved pot, each from his beloved Tulip Time collection. The Yuletide pot is one of his one-offs, two tea cups replete with saucers trail after it in the cabinet. I remember when he bought this gorgeous piece of work at Shanfield-Meyers, an institution in our family and most definitely in my father’s life. I remember the feel of the picnic table against my skinny legs at dusk while he poured tea into a teacup for me, out of this quintessential Christmas teapot in the middle of summer.

4. My computer and the external hard drive: This one is not as silly as it sounds. The external hard drive and my computer collectively hold all the photographs and videos of my children since they were born. Certainly we have some hard copies but the video of Miss N dancing for her Nanny who was on vacation and the photos of both children dressed in ball gowns and my heels cannot be replaced.

5. My tattered copies of The Edible Woman and Jitterbug Perfume. Each of these books transformed my life and helped me realize that there are approximately one hundred million ways to look at life. Each is valuable in their own right and we ought to question everything, even whether or not these books are valuable. (They really are, you can question it but don’t doubt it.)

6. My wedding ring. I don’t wear it around the house; with two kids in need of booger-wiping, food preparation and general aptitude for making their mother pick up gross things I wash my hands a lot, and when I do I take off my wedding ring.

7.My Laura Secord Cookbook. Another gem I inherited from my father, his name and the date he received or bought this class is scrawled on the front page in pencil. His handwriting is so eerily similar to my own that I can feel the curve of the pencil in my own hand.

8. My leather bound journal from Italy. This book holds the first clues that I was going to take my writing seriously. Honest and brutal, the cream coloured pages, thick enough to be vellum hold many of my secrets. It also has the charm of being bought in a small leather goods store on a side street in Florence, a treasure from one of the afternoons my father and I parted to enjoy our own exploits while we were on vacation.

Tell me, what could you not bear to have soaked with buckets of rain water or charred to miserable crisps? I sometimes think of it, particularly since my mom’s childhood home lost its second storey to fire in the 1960s. The part of the story I’ve always loved, besides the part about the farming community coming together to put out the fire or my grandfather’s refusal to sue the fire department for not knowing how to work their own fire truck, “You don’t sue your neighbour”, is that there are still photographs in my mom’s photo albums that have charred edges.

In the future I will say…

Dear Self,

Chill out. Your kids love you. Your husband does, too. Your family is proud of you and all that time you spent stressing about imagined slights and your failings was time wasted. Mightily so. Life is supposed to be complicated, it’s why underneath those dye jobs for fun you started sprouting curly silver hairs at 20. You don’t have to like them consistently because you won’t, there are days you still contemplate dyeing/not dyeing/shaving the whole mess off; but they are a reminder that you’ve kept going. Even when you didn’t think you could anymore and you were scared about what others would think and that nagging bitch of a voice in your own head would say.

In short, relax. If you play and dance with the kids it’s okay if you have another piece of chocolate when no one is looking. Your kids are happy and you cannot cajole, bribe or entice them to be someone they are not, Miss N will eventually talk to people other than family and restaurant servers though you may want to eat out less. She is simply put, fantastic.

The Boy’s hearing, or lack thereof, is not your fault. Shit happens and he is a spectacular little boy. You know this already and have always known this, don’t lose sight of it.

And remember, any decision that you make out of love is not wrong. Your mother had it right with that one.

Have fun, be kind and play with your friends. You can tell your kids that as much as you want, but you should really pay attention.

You.

I blog therefore, why?

I’ve spent many a night with the computer in my lap, fingers tapping at keys while the babies sleep nearby. The boy snuggles into his oversized lion pillow, his own comfort and luxury. He’ll make room for Miss N when she crawls in next to him and slings one arm across his waist, though she will deny that she is ever this affectionate with her little brother. I wonder while I take pictures of menorahs and squint at the computer screen and run my finger along the lines to catch the mistakes. Why am I doing this? I no longer write recipes, my focus shifted as I started to feel uncomfortable in my former blogging skin. If anything my posts are observational monologues. But why?

I certainly don’t blog for money. I’m not one of the cool kids with droves of people looking to read my blog. Dooce I am not. My own concepts of privacy stand in the way of me being a typical mommy blogger who spills all of her children’s secrets across the computer screen. They’ll embarrass themselves enough as teenagers, they don’t need me doing it now.

I blog because I don’t know what to do when words are not melting and electrifying out of my fingertips. In text I am articulate, or at least I like to think of myself as such. It’s the confidence of the written word giving strength to my voice. In real life where we open our mouths and the words should tumble out I am terribly inarticulate. Prone to trailing off at the ends of sentences, I flail my hands and have short bursts of laughter. When I write, it’s not as awkward. I don’t second guess myself in the strangulating way that I have while speaking.

I blog because writing is what I know best. I have a writer’s bump on the middle finger of my left hand. Years of having a pencil or pen pressed against the tender space has created a hardened callous and flattened the edge of nail. I do it because over the past two years my voice has sharpened, nestling into its own and I didn’t have someone handing it all back to me with a show of disgust and disdain at my carefully crafted words. I do that to myself quite well and in these couple of years I’d like to think I’ve grown at least partially more confident in my writing.

Schooling Mom

Tomorrow I will pack my book bag with my pencils and all my treasures of education and head back to school (this reminds me, must get school supplies before tomorrow). I am three months and three classes away from graduation and it has taken a good ten years to get here. Nothing like using the fast track, right. My affair with school has been a long tumultuous one.

I started university straight out of high school. This was back in the day when Ontario high schools/universities required students to take OAC after they technically “graduated” from high school. I was intent on law school and shuffled myself into the Philosophy department. As mouthy as I can be when it comes to politics and philosophy (it really does happen), I didn’t hit my niche there. I would wander the English department aisles in the school bookstore, naively buy some of the books that were required reading for the literature classes – by the way, not cool of me to do that. If you were an English major at the University of Windsor and the bookstore was always running out of your classes’ books, I’m sorry. But, it’s how I discovered Gabriel Garcia Marquez so I’m only kind of sorry.

It was also at this time that my wonky brain kicked into gear. That is all I shall say about that for now but suffice to say, I floundered and I am the proud owner (?) of a Philosophy minor under my new degree.

Now, many classes, spilled tears and exams written in a flurry (or fury) later, I am almost finished. And I’m really damn scared. I was the social pariah for two semesters because I was pregnant and the looming graduation has me in the same mixed state of excited and trepidatious. (Yeah, want to make friends in university? Don’t show up with a human growing inside you.)

Because at almost 30 (yay me for finishing the degree 3 months before 30), I will be an official adult. In spite of the children, the husband and all of that, there is something about finishing school and being able to get a job that does not include, “Can I get you something to drink to start?” that makes me feel like an adult. A responsible one.

Who doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing. So, this mama has a lot to learn. Like how to funnel this love of writing and reading of hers into actual work. Because that would be the best, wouldn’t it? Also, it’s not just a love I can tell you about. I’ll have a piece of paper that says the same thing and maybe my LinkedIn profile won’t be so pitiful anymore.