Keeping It Real

At least once every couple of weeks two things happen: someone will comment about what a wonder woman or inspiration I am and I will fail spectacularly at some aspect of life.  Clearly there is a disparity – sometimes of chasm proportions – between people’s perceptions of me and my reality.

I absolutely do not set out to convince people that I am some sort of incredible individual who has all of her ducks in neat and pretty serried rows.  Each and every time someone compliments me, I am flabbergasted and don’t really know how to respond because it is unexpected.  And also because I have never really learned how to graciously accept a compliment.  Anyway, I am not deliberately presenting a facade to the world or hiding my shortcomings from public view but somehow, nevertheless, people have this perception of me that is far removed from the reality.

When I first started blogging (over four years ago!), I made a promise to myself that I would “keep it real” on this blog.  My original intention had been to maintain the blog as a sort of diary of my early experiences of life in a new country so it would have totally undermined the purpose had I finessed the truth.  Obviously I now maintain my blog(s) for other reasons but I still hold to that aim of presenting the reality of what my experiences are, sometimes red in tooth and claw.  Clearly, I don’t write about the mundane reality of my everyday life.  My readers don’t need to know that my sock orphanage, where all the unaccompanied single socks accumulate, is currently a mountainous stockpile.  Nor do they need to know that I spend every single weekday morning yelling the same script at my children who must surely be bored by now of my voice loudly hectoring them to put on shoes and coats and pick up backpacks and lunch bags.  I yell so loudly that I understood entirely why my new neighbours, when we first moved into our house, knew the name of my youngest son without the need for introductions.

People seem to perceive me as being super-organised, efficient, a fantastic time-keeper, with an ability to juggle multiple and varied draws on my free time while somehow, miraculously, still having time for art and other hobbies.  Many of those things used to be true of me.  Before I had kids, I was anal retentive with my organisation and punctuality.  I was notorious for my To Do spreadsheets and my colour-coded everything.  However, as my life became more complex, I had to choose between maintaining that level of efficiency or my sanity .  These days I am still a massive control freak but one who regularly freaks out amid the chaos I have little to no control over.

The truth is that I am perpetually frazzled, am prone to yelling because I am apparently hard-wired to associate assertiveness with volume, and frequently over-scheduled.  I experience regular spikes of anxiety because of running late or barely making it on time when punctuality is one of my neuroses.  I juggle many balls and fail to keep them all in the air.  Frequently I drop the ones that can safely bounce; regularly I drop the ones that smash and need cleaning up; and ever so often I just drop all the balls everywhere.

And the truth about how I find time for my hobbies, especially art, isn’t that I am massively efficient with my time or am spectacularly whizzy at getting things done – though I do work fast.  The truth is that I make time for those things by sacrificing other things ranging from dusting to TV viewing to sleep.  I confess I sacrifice dusting a lot.  Furthermore, there are times when my scheduling of “me time” goes spectacularly wrong – such as times when we end up having the most random, cobbled together dinners because I forgot to prep a key ingredient in advance.

I am often in the midst of a scheduling mess.  Back in November, I had a day where I had to be in three places at once.  I am used to problem solving being in two places at once but three was just too much.  It was head-imploding crazy.  And then my oldest son asked if he could be dropped off at the cinema as if it was no big deal to add in being in a fourth place at once.  Clearly my kids think I have super powers too.

Then there was the day when I was already up against it at the thought of having to get my two youngest sons to the orthodontist for 3.30 only to receive a phone call asking where we were since the first appointment was actually 1.30.  This necessitated me dropping everything – literally since I was doing laundry at the time –  quickly organising myself while calling the school secretary to ask for the boys to be whipped out of their classrooms and ready and waiting for me at reception, and driving rapidly to the school to pick them up, and then to the orthodontists’ office.

And, in another orthodontist related example, there was the recent day when my youngest son finished getting his braces fitted at 3pm only to have snapped them by 4pm simply by fidgeting with the wires.  Coincidentally, he snapped them at precisely the minute that the orthodontist is supposed to close up shop for the weekend.  We quickly dashed back to the office in the hopes they had not totally packed up and gone home, which luckily they had not.  I cannot tell a lie – yelling was involved.

Yes, as previously stated, I am a yeller.  I yell a lot.  My kids turn it into white noise so I don’t know why I do it.  Cathartic primal screaming maybe.  When Pennsylvania experienced an earthquake on 30 November, for a fraction of a second I thought it may have been caused by my frustrated rage at supervising hideous mathematics homework.

So, yeah, I am not some wonder woman or role model of togetherness.  I will keep accepting praise and compliments when they are given but – for the sake of keeping it real – please know that my successes are absolutely balanced out by my failures.

 

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Cupboard Love and the Cooking Challenge

Among the goals I set for myself in January was one regarding cooking.  I set myself the challenge to cook at least one new recipe per week.  I was tired of cooking the same couple of dozen meals over and over just to try and appease my kids and quell the meal time whines and rebellions.  I operate an “eat it or starve” policy and tell my kids that I am no short order chef prepared to cook to their requests.  But regardless the griping and groaning can become quite grating.  After school hours are frenetic and frazzling as I oversee four kids doing homework while making the evening meal so to place said meal in front of kids and find a proportion of them protesting it is pretty dispiriting.  As such, I had fallen into the trap of not challenging them too much with food.  I was cooking from a repertoire of meals that satisfied the majority, knowing not all four would be satisfied each meal time.  I enjoy cooking.  I enjoy eating even more.  I wanted more variety.  The solution to my stuck-in-a-rut boredom was the challenge.

So far, with the exception of a couple of far too busy weeks, I have fulfilled the challenge.  Most weeks I have tried and tested two new recipes.  I pick friend’s brains, flick through recipe books, pin interesting looking options on Pinterest and pluck two possibilities (three if I have time to bake something sweet) to try out on my pack of little taste testers.

I am not going to lie about my rate of success.  Many of my attempts have bombed with the kids.  Meals Mr Pict and I have found delicious, the kids have complained about.  There have been a few melodramatic gagging performances and a smattering of going to bed hungry but mainly just moaning.  If more than 50% of the kids declare the meal to be horrid then those meals do not make it into my recipe file.  I dust myself off and try a different recipe the following week.  There have also been recipes I have tried that even I found too mediocre to be palatable.  Some I have adapted to give them a stronger flavour punch and others have just been deleted from my memory.  However, there have been enough comments along the lines of “You can make this again” to encourage me to keep trying and month on month my recipe file is getting chunkier.  A few recipes – and not just the sweet ones – have become family favourites.

A side benefit is that the kids have become a little more sensitive to my feelings when responding to the new recipes.  Dialogue about the success and failings of new recipes, suggestions as to how they might be tweaked to be improved, discussion as to precisely what makes them enjoy or reject a meal, has led to less yelps of “Why are you making us eat food this gross?” to the much more respectful and tolerable “I don’t think you should make this again” and “I would eat this again if it had more spice” and such like.  Meal times, as a result, are generally becoming gradually more pleasant affairs.  I still have to say “eat it or starve” too much for my liking but I accept it is all a process.  I will keep ploughing onwards with my recipe testing challenge.

“What do you do all day since you don’t have a job?”

“What do you do all day since you don’t have a job?”

That question was recently asked of me by one of my son’s friends.  From the mouths of babes, eh?  It is, however, just a much more blunt and direct expression of the same sort of conversation I have been having intermittently with people over the past two years.  It seems that in a suburb where most households are dual income, people find it most peculiar that we have chosen for me to be a full-time stay-home parent.

Our move to America two years ago initiated my first experience of being “just” a Stay At Home Mother.  I write “just” to be clear that I do not disparage the role of the SAHM.  There is nothing simple, easy or straightforward about making the choice to step away from a career and be with your kids full-time.  I also think it is a brilliant thing for women to be in a position to make an active choice as to whether they want to be parents or not and, if they are mothers, what balance they wish to strike between paid employment and raising kids.  However, our immigration was my first experience of being home with the kids full-time, with nothing else going on in my life, and I admit it has been a bit of a tricky transition.

I had actually only been in paid employment for a fraction of my years as a parent even in Scotland.  However, even when not in paid employment, I had a pretty demanding but rewarding voluntary job, serving on my local Children’s Panel, and I was also involved with various groups in the community, serving on different committees.  All these commitments and obligations kept my brain stimulated and ticking over during the baby years, gave me a welcome break from household chores and childcare, and permitted me to feel as if I was still contributing something to society – even after I stepped away from my teaching career.  All the volunteering was like keeping if not a foot then a toe in the door of employment, and gave my life an additional dimension that made it easier for me to transition into being a SAHM.

Perhaps because I was always so busy or perhaps because I lived in a more traditional community, nobody back in Argyll every queried our choice for me to be home with the kids.  It might not have been their choice but they understood it and respected it.  Moving to the Philly suburbs, therefore, has been an interesting experience in that it has been not only my first experience of being “just” a SAHM but also the first time I have repeatedly had to explain and even justify that choice.

It feels harder to justify these days too because none of my kids are babies any more.  Nor are any of them preschoolers.  Since September 2014, all four of my kids have been in full-time education.  I, therefore, have a good chunk of the day when school is in session where I am not actively fulfilling the childcare element of my SAHM role.  Of course, six people generate a lot of laundry and other mess and require a whole load of cooking to be done so I am kept plenty busy.  Now that I have the kids in school though I am able to grab just a wee bit of time for myself each day but I don’t think an investment of time in self-care needs to be justified.  Still, however, when people – and obviously I meet a lot more new people than I did back in Argyll – do that whole small talk thing and inquire as to where I work or what I do for a living, I detect something in their unspoken reaction that makes me feel they think I ought to be justifying my role as a SAHM.  I think some people regard it as a luxury whereas I regard the ability to make the choice the luxury.  Of course, choice is defined by context.  I might be considering a return to paid employment now that we are pretty settled in America if circumstances and our family dynamic were different.  Between me needing to convert my qualifications, the high cost of childcare and – mostly – the demands of my husband’s job, there seems little opportunity for me to return to paid work outside the home at this time.

Ultimately, as tricky as I have found the transition to being “just” a SAHM – largely because it has formed part of a larger process of change – it is our choice, mine and my husband’s, and is therefore, of no concern to anyone else.  Really, therefore, the answer to the question of what I do all day is that it is none of anyone else’s business.  It’s a household and family dynamic that works for we Picts, all six of us, and that is absolutely all that matters.

Washington Crossing

This weekend we went to Washington Crossing, both a town in PA and a state park straddling both Pennsylvania and New Jersey on the banks of the Delaware River.  My 8 year old had to visit a local historic site in order to earn some sort of badge and the pack leader suggested Washington Crossing.  Every year, the folks of the area stage a reenactment of General George Washington’s Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware River in 1776.  Happily they don’t just stage the reenactment on Christmas Day but also on an earlier weekend because we could not have sold a Christmas Day excursion to walk some men in fancy dress row some boats to the kids.  Want to know how stoked the boys were to be attending this event?  Yup.  Correct.  Not.  At.  All.

Honestly, it was a hard sell.  On a list of a hundred trips my kids might be enthused about, standing on the banks of a river watching some historic reenactors go to and fro does not feature.  Not remotely.  In fact, it might feature on a list of things my kids will rebel against.  Which was kind of apt given it was all about a revolution.  It was also hard for me to whip them up into some sort of interest because, quite frankly, the Revolutionary War doesn’t especially engage me either.  Finally I segued from playing Devil’s Advocate with my failing and flailing attempts at persuasion and just went with threats of dire punishment to get them into the car and get the trip underway.

Washington Crossing was absolutely thronging when we arrived.  Finding parking proved to be quite a challenge.  Clearly whole vast herds of other parents had no difficulty enthusing their children about the event.  The best views were to be had from a VIP area with a marquee and ticketed entrance.  There was no way I was going to hand over cash just to hear my kids whine and gripe so we found a spot further along the bank and settled in there.  And by “settled” I mean that Mr Pict and I had to stay on hyper alert as our children picked up large sticks with which to have lightsaber fights, jumped off rocks down to the shore, gave other people palpitations as they scuttered down steep slopes at high speed, hurtling towards the water, and tried to escape.  Oh what fun.

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Finally it was time to watch the reenactment.  I then became utterly confused because the row boats pushed out from the Pennsylvania shoreline and crossed to New Jersey.  Somewhere in the dusty shelves of my memory, I thought that Washington had crossed the other way.  So, to be clear, I had dragged four unwilling and rebellious children on a trip to see a historic event reenacted when I had almost zero knowledge of the event.  This was going great.  So it transpired that what happened was that George Washington conducted a surprise maneouvre  whereby he crossed the river on Christmas night in order to attack the Hessian troops in Trenton.  They then crossed back to Pennsylvania with prisoners and some useful things they had purloined.  Washington’s troops would later cross again in order to defeat Cornwallis’ troops at Trenton.  This whole episode is the subject of Leutze’s famous painting.  So we watched the reenactors cross back and forth in the Durham boats, had our ears cleared and our ribs rattled by the boom of canon, and smelled the rotten egg of the smoke as it wafted thickly in our direction.

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It ended and the crowds clapped and cheered.  My boys yippeed because they could finally depart.  Honestly, it was not the most exciting trip I have ever taken them on but, as I explained to them, it could have been worse: I could have taken them to the Christmas Day reenactment after all.  I realised, however, that my lack of engagement and enjoyment was down to my very limited knowledge about the War of Independence.  Given that we live in an area that is so connected to, so immersed in the history and events of that era, I really must make an effort to learn more.  I think, therefore, that we may well return to Washington Crossing at some stage in order to visit the buildings and learn a bit more about the events we saw being depicted, see replicas of the boats up close, that sort of thing.  Of course, persuading my kids to return might be a whole other thing.

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Parenting while Grieving

TRIGGER WARNING: This post is about bereavement, stillbirth and parenting.

 

I have been overwhelmed by the recent response to the post I wrote this time last year, a post titled The Scab of Grief.  I have been touched by the words of kindness, the understanding and empathy, and I have been moved by those readers who have chosen to share their experiences of grief.  The timing of that post being featured on Freshly Pressed was peculiar in that it occurred just as I was steeling myself for the emotional tumult of my baby’s anniversary once more.  At first I thought perhaps that was bad timing but actually all the support for the post has been a source of succour.  Thank you for that.  Consequently, for this anniversary, I feel compelled to write again about my experience of grief but with a slightly different focus.  I drafted this post in advance – as it would be far too difficult to write on the day itself – and almost did not hit “publish” but I feel that if sharing my experience publicly helps even just one person process their own experiences of loss then it is worth doing.  Thank you again for all of the support.

 

Today is the seventh birthday of our son; today is also the seventh anniversary of his death.  Every year this day is a commemoration of his loss and each year we strive to frame that loss and his absence in the context of our lives as parents to our four living sons, four wonderful people who we are very lucky to be the parents of.  As such, this weekend we will do something fun as a family so that we can all be together while we remember our baby, so we can focus on what we have while feeling our loss.  I know some people find it very strange that we have this tradition of marking our son’s birthday but it is what works for us, our strategy for dealing with the grief that wells up from time to time and never more so than on his birthday.  As parents, we were forever changed by our experience of stillbirth and as parents we accept that as part of our family life now.  Striking the right balance between commemorating the baby we lost while focusing on our living children on days like today is important to us.  Our act of remembrance is a celebration of life.

Parenting is full of non-stop challenges; parenting through grief is beset with challenges.  From the very beginning, we have considered ourselves to have been very lucky to have living children when our son was stillborn.  I can only imagine how difficult it would be to weather the deep and gruelling anguish of such a loss when childless.  As I explained a year ago, the responsibility of having living children to care for was what made me dig deep and find the strength to face each day, to battle through the grief by remembering that life goes on.  My living sons are a blessing and a balm now as they were then.  However, parenting while grieving is extremely difficult and very complicated.  There is no adequate guidebook to everyday parenting: it is the most important job any parent will ever have yet there is no training manual, no assessment of competency and skills, no qualifications to achieve; it is just a case of feeling your way through it with instinct, experience and observation and accepting the moments of failure along the way.  That’s everyday parenting.  Trying to find one’s way through parenting in difficult circumstances, such as through a bereavement, is therefore very difficult indeed.

I remember vividly the moment of walking through the door of my home and my oldest son – then aged 5 – rushing to greet me, yelping excitedly and wanting to know if I had spotted whether he was getting a brother or a sister.  I was still reeling with shock myself, having learned that my baby was not going to make it, and I had no idea what to say.  My mind was still processing the information I had been given, the prognosis for my unborn child, so I had no idea how to convey this information to my child.  Nobody at the hospital had even mentioned my living children let alone how I might begin to explain to them that the baby they were eagerly anticipating would never be coming home.  Honestly, I have no idea what I said in that instant, no recollection at all.  My next memory is of my oldest son scurrying downstairs and handing me his drawing of me with the baby in my rounded tummy.  I assume drawing was his  way of trying to process it.  In that instant I realised that I had to be mindful and focus on being a parent for the sake of my children.

How do you go through a trauma while trying to prevent your children from being traumatised?  How do you deal with soul-shattering anguish while trying to protect your children from such dreadful, overwhelming emotions?  We had no guidance whatsoever.  We had to trust our instincts.  We gave them just the amount of information that was required for them to comprehend what they needed to understand and we concealed the worst of our devastation from them.  I am not sure, in retrospect, that our immediate instincts were the most sensible but the overriding instinct was to protect our children.

One of the benefits of having very small children when dealing with grief is that they keep you very busy.  My older boys were 5, almost 3 and 18 months old at the time, all demanding ages.  During the day, we were kept busy which kept us numb.  During the period between the diagnosis and the birth of our son, being busy with the kids and keeping the house running kept us focused on the here and now, minute by minute.  It was in the moments of peace and calm that the barely suppressed emotions would surge forth and overwhelm us.  For us as the adults that probably was not the healthiest way to process our thoughts and feelings but we felt we had to be parents first and foremost and not let our children see that we were splintering to pieces inside.

After our son was born into silence and we returned home empty handed, we had to parent through the next stage of our grief.  Thankfully my husband found it inside himself to be the stronger one who kept things ticking over because I was a mess, physically but mostly emotionally.  For the first week, I could not face the world at all.  I did not want to see people.  I found it very hard to just function on a basic level.  My children would have been hermits had it not been for my husband.  It was he who maintained a sense of normalcy for the boys.  Then, of course, he had no choice but to return to work and I just had to give myself a good, hard talking to and remember that I was a mother and that I had to mother my children.  My children are my life and life goes on.  That natural instinct became my mantra.

So I returned to the school run, to facing everyone in the playground, pregnant mothers suddenly everywhere.  I resumed taking my younger kids to play groups, having to interact with newborn babies.  I did these things because my kids needed me to do them and because being a parent had to come before my grief.  I just stifled the feelings, shoved them deep down, maintained my focus so as to not let my mind wander, just pushed through it.  Except for the moments when I broke down from the emotional pressure.  I lost it a few times in public but mostly I did a great deal of crying in the shower, crying until my throat was stripped and my temples throbbed, crying where my kids could not hear or see my pain.

And then I discovered that I was pregnant again.  Still bewildered with raw grief, we had to not only find a way to parent our children while processing our thoughts and feelings about our recent loss but had to wrap our heads around the fact we were embarking on another pregnancy.  We had to navigate the rocky terrain of hope and fear, excitement and trepidation, joy and terror.  And we had to parent our children through that pregnancy too.  Their first response when we finally revealed I was pregnant again was to ask if this baby was going to die too.  And it was impossible to reassure them, partly because we knew all too well that it was possible something might go wrong again but mostly because it was a pregnancy fraught with complications, hospital visits and eventually a premature delivery.  I had to parent my kids through all of that stress and worry on top of the grieving process.  In just eight months my children endured the emotional tumult of losing of one sibling and gaining another.

We all came through the storm together and our rainbow baby – our youngest son – was the final piece of the puzzle we needed to be able to see the way forward through the fog of our grief: we had to focus on being a family  in order to start to heal from what had happened to us as a family.  As we gradually felt stronger, we started to talk about the baby more openly in front of the kids and, when the first anniversary of his loss happened, we decided to do something as a family to commemorate him, to remember.  We could accept that he was forever gone but could forever be part of our family life.

Therefore, every year on the closest weekend to our baby’s birthday, we do something as a family.  We focus on our blessings, on the miracles that are our living children, on everything we are so lucky to have, while we also remember what we have lost and feel the sadness of his absence.  Maybe people find that peculiar but there is no guidebook to grief let alone parenting through grief.  We found our way forward in a way that works for the six of us.  Really that is all that matters.

Parent Fail is out for Summer

Today is the first full day of the summer break from school.  It is the first full day because really the summer break started yesterday except my kids had to be in school for two hours.  A whole two hours.  No sooner had I dropped my three Elementary kids off than my Middle Schooler was arriving home.  Pointless.  Anyway, today is the first proper day of the school break and I am every bit as excited about it as the kids.

Ten long weeks stretch ahead of us.  As a natural born pessimistic-realist, I know that being together 24/7 will lead to squabbles and frustrations, annoyance and irritation.  I know there will be yelling (by me) and I will experience rising stress levels trying to get chores done around the house with four kids under my feet and while said kids trail behind me scuzzing up everything I just tidied and cleaned.  I know that by the end of week five, my four boys will be veering between being best buddies who love each other to pieces to having to suppress the urge to poke each other’s eyes out and rip each other’s limbs off.  I will experience the untold joy of refereeing these special moments to ensure that everyone’s physical being remains intact.  I don’t need the stress of hospital visits or the additional chore of cleaning up blood after all.

But, despite all of this, I am still excited because we will get such a massive chunk of quality time together and the freedom to do the things we want when we want to do them.  No clock watching, no conflicting schedules, no deadlines.  I will be back in control and I am a super control freak so that is a good thing.  My rate of Parent Fails ought to taper off too because I will only be having to meet my own expectations.

I experience Parent Fail a lot these days.  With four kids in two different schools, I have a lot of stuff to juggle.  There’s a lot of homework to oversee, a great deal of demands, and inevitably I drop some of those many balls I am juggling.  Sometimes the balls roll into a dark and dusty corner and get forgotten about altogether.

This is a new experience for me.  Back home in Scotland I somehow managed to keep my head above water, stay organised and ensure everyone had what they needed at the right times.  In part that was because all of my school aged kids were in one school.  They also had much less homework to do and fewer demands were placed on parents as a result.  I am all for more homework and homework that is more diverse but it definitely adds more stress to after school time and supplies me with ample opportunities to fail.  It is, for instance, not unusual for me to write on Math homework that X kid could not complete that question because they asked me for help and I did not understand the question either.  Between different vocabulary, a generation gap way of doing things and ambiguous phrasing, even Third Grade Math can make me feel functionally innumerate.  Sixth Grade Math is an alien language.

Part of my issue is that I am still adjusting to solo parenting.  Just to make it clear, I am not a single parent and would never compare my experience to that of a single parent.  What I am adjusting to is solo parenting because I am having to handle most of the childcare on my own for the first time.  One of the benefits of living in a small, rural community back in Scotland was that my husband’s regular commute was five minutes door to door.  He was home in time to eat dinner with us, could use flexi time to nip out from work and attend a school event and was around to help with homework stuff.  Now his commute is longer (though still not long – especially not compared to what it was when he worked in London) and he works much longer hours and he also does a lot more out-of-state travelling.  I am, therefore, juggling all of the everyday balls solo.  Balls get dropped.  Parent Fails happen.

I used to be famous – maybe notorious – for my punctuality.  Back in my teaching days, I was so neurotic about the possibility I might be late that I once turned up for a conference so early that I helped the hotel set up the conference room.  About five years ago, I was so eager to be on time for a Child Protection training event that I arrived to find the venue locked up and in darkness.  There was one time when my watch stopped and I consequently did not arrive at school in time to collect my children.  The school staff and one of my friends reassured my sons that I would be there soon at the same time as assuming I must have been in some sort of mangling, incapacitating accident because I was never late for anything ever.  My oldest son later confided that he thought I must be dead because I was never late ever.  These days, however, “Apologies for being late” is a regular part of my phrase book.  Every time I have to utter that phrase, I feel less like my old self.

Every packed lunch I have made since April has been identical: peanut butter and jam sandwich with a piece of fruit, a fig bar and a bottle of water.  I ran out of motivation and ideas long before the PBJ rut kicked in but I dug deep until my cup of caring ran dry.  Honestly, the kids have not complained, not once.  That makes me wonder why I previously bothered to offer any variety.  It is so much easier just to do the PBJ production line each morning.  Still makes me feel like a Parent Fail, however.  I have forgotten probably as many as 75% of special dress days at school.  We arrive in the morning and I wonder why everyone is wearing crazy hats and then a vague memory clinks in the musty recesses of my brain that it’s Crazy Hat and Hair day and not one of my kids has anything other than their everyday head on.  Parent Fail.  Recently, I picked up an email reminder from my youngest’s teacher about the next morning’s egg drop.  Reminder?  I had not even the fuzziest recollection of anything involving eggs or dropping.  No distant bells ringing.  Nothing.  Having picked up this email at bedtime, I had to pluck the smallest Pictling back out of bed and ask him to figure out how we could protect his egg and save it from cracking and splattering when dropped from the roof of the school.  His idea involved military engineering and a whole collection of materials we did not possess at all.  Want to know what we came up with?  An odd sock from Mrs Pict’s Home for Orphan Socks stuffed to bursting with cotton wool with the raw egg encased in its centre.  Do you think it survived the drop? Of course not.  Parent Fail.  My finest moment of this school year, however, was when I ran out of bread and improvised by making peanut butter and jam sandwiches with strawberry brioche.  As much as my kids sang my praises and hoped this would be a regular thing, that was definitely a big Parent Fail.

Therefore, the prospect of a whole ten weeks when we can largely do our own thing without having to meet anyone else’s expectations, remember deadlines, fulfil anyone else’s projects, contribute to events, figure out the logistics of schedule clashes, is a joyful one.  One of the things we are going to do is a little homeschool style learning project to keep everyone’s brains ticking over which means I get to impose structure on the kids.  Nobody, however, is imposing structure on me.  Control Freak Parent is back in charge.  Boom!  More crucially, when I inevitably stumble into Parent Fails, nobody outside the Pict family need know about them.  Freedom to fail in private.  Ssssh!

Having reflected on my most mediocre mothering moments, however, I shall conclude this (rambling) post with the successes of this school year: everyone secured really good grades, everyone had fun times, everyone is healthy and everyone is alive.  Despite brioche sandwiches.

 

 

Tyler Arboretum

Spring has definitely – finally! – arrived in Pennsylvania so it seemed appropriate to go to a botanical garden for our weekend outing.  We opted for Tyler Arboretum, which is in Media, to the west of Philadelphia.  We thought our children would enjoy exploring the 650 acres of the arboretum, running around, lots to explore, fresh air and space.  It should have been heaps of fun and a great family day trip out.  Quality family time.

Should have been.

My kids are feral and are used to wilderness.  If Bagheera had taken my kids to be fostered by the wolves, the wolves would have refused to take them on for being too wild.  They want to roam free, unfettered, climb trees, make dens among the roots and branches of trees, have battles with sticks …. so it all went wrong when my husband told them that tree climbing was not permitted.  Instant grumps set in.  Huffiness and scowling replaced smiles and giggles.  Only our five year old remained untouched by the curse that had been cast over our children, turning them into hobgoblins.  The other three tag-teamed us, taking turns at being sunshine and lollipops before returning to grouching, grunting and barking.  50% of our children were rotters for 100% of the time.  It was like having three Eeyores and a Roo going for a trek through the Hundred Acre Wood.

My photos won’t show my sons in snarling mode, of course, because I am not much inclined to take photos when my children are being horrors and because sharing would be unkind.  However, in the spirit of “keeping it real” with posting on my blog about parenting, family outings are not always tickety-boo fun and frolics.

Anyway, getting back to the Arboretum …..

The cherry blossoms were in bloom which made everyone happy when we arrived.  The kids danced around among the blossoms as it blew off the trees.  The magnolias were also in full bloom and their incredible aroma filled the air.  The boys spent quite some time among the magnolia trees.  I love magnolias so I was happy too.  I should have banked that happiness because it was after we left the magnolias that it all started to go wrong with the kids taking turns to be orcs.

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The arboretum has actually been designed with children in mind.  There are lots of fun things to happen upon throughout the trail, places to stop and play, little tree houses, and things dangling from trees.  My kids are fans of ‘Lord of the Rings’ so the hobbit hole was a big hit with those who were not beset by grumps at the time.  It was a set of intersecting tunnels fashioned from willow, the entrance being through a circular doorway just like a hobbit house.  The youngest two boys were scurrying hobbits while the 9 year old was Gandalf, complete with branch staff.  The oldest had gone all tweenagery at that juncture so I guess he was cast as an uruk hai.

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After some time spent examining the upturned roots of a large fallen tree, we took the “magic path”.  This trail was decorated with blingy mosaics and little fairies dangling from trees which my middle two sons – who must have been magpies in a past life – oohed and aahed over.  I think we might have to create some blingy mosaics for our own garden as a summer project.  While wandering the magic path, we also had a cool encounter with a snake.  The littlest Pict spotted it first and I almost picked it up in order to ensure that the older boys – who were still catching up – saw it.  But then I remembered that American snakes are not like British slow worms and I let it slither off into the grass.  I think it was a garter snake so I should have been safe to pick it up but it is probably best to leave wildlife to its own devices.  Besides, my kids were stressing me out enough.  There was no need to inflict that on the poor reptile.  They all managed to spot it in the grass in the end anyway as it decided to stare at us for a bit.

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There were lots of cool little huts and buildings sprinkled throughout the arboretum.  It was like a series of play houses, each one sparking the imagination of whichever combination of kids was not behaving like a hungry grizzly bear at the time. There was a crooked goblin house (how apt!), funny little narrow houses, houses built into the hillside and even a structure in the shape of a gigantic guitar, the interior of which contained xylophones.

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Towards the end of our wanderings, we came to a pasture where there were rope hammocks.  The kids loved the hammocks.  At first they complained about the difficulty of clambering into the hammocks and whined about falling on their bums as they spun and flopped and flipped off the other side.  Once they mastered the technique, however, they loved the hammocks and snuggled down into them.  I think they could quite easily have gone to sleep in the afternoon heat.  I should have let them.  Maybe a good snooze in the sunshine would have righted their moods.

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I am sure at some point we will go back to Tyler Arboretum as a family.  There were lots of areas we did not even come close to exploring.  I highly recommend it for a visit.  But go without whinging kids.