Dear Christmas Tree

Dear Live Christmas Tree,

You are beautiful.  Your glow makes 5:03 am feel less 5ish.  You smell really great.  But what’s with all the spiders??

Fearfully,

Natasha

 

Dear Tiny Live spider,

Please kindly agree to the following terms and conditions:

-no running

-no raising of any legs in a threatening-ish manner

-no escaping the gentle death grip of toilet paper

-absolutely no jumping

-certainly no skin to skin contact

(Although I’m almost certain it was YOU who did not agree YESTERDAY, I believe in second chances)

Contractually,

Natasha

 

Dear Sweet Children,

Please do not murder each other as I spend the next 5 minutes trying to carefully catch and release this tiny (very feisty) spider with a single square of toilet paper.

Imploringly,

Mom

 

Dear Mother Nature,

I have returned one of yours to you.

I will be back for that toilet paper, but later.  It was dark, there was no way to know if the spider had vacated.

You’re welcome,

Natasha

Parenting: A Series of Games I Never Wanted to Play

Since having kids my life has slowly evolved into a series of games I never wanted to play. I am an unwilling participant in the game that I ironically created. I put out the pieces, I chose the location, I even created the players and yet somehow they are the ones pulling the strings. Jigsaw himself would shudder at this level of ingenuity.

Now I had pictured predictable games of peekaboo very slowly morphing into cunning and calculated games of risk, but this, this, I never saw coming.

I’m perpetually being forced into games of hide and seek where I am permanently seeking, seeking my toothbrush, my car keys, one of my daughter’s 26 soothers that she has hidden. Which is quickly followed up by 21 Questions, beginning with where have you been?

I’m subjected into performing twisteresque moves as I hold both the toilet and the drawers shut, fending off piranha-like teeth of fury, while applying mascara, in order to prevent my daughter from repetitively sinking her toothbrush into the Vaseline and then the toilet.

Begrudgingly I play Go Fish, except I’m continuously fishing for matching socks in a mountain of laundry. I thought I’d solved everything when I purchased a very large amount of plain white socks. After a few wears and washes they have all turned varying shades of mud, thus creating natural partner socks and the unsuccessful fishing begins again.

I am the master of the 12 meter dash (now I’m not sure if dashing is technically a game, but I’m very well practiced, and could do this competitively, but only in socks and on vinyl flooring). When I hear the eeriest sound a parent can hear, nothing, I take this to mean that they are both dangerously entangled in the perilous strings that control my blinds, only to find them two spoons deep in a ten pound container of sugar. Surrounded by a thinly layered circle of sweetness, my oldest daughter declares, “I like sugar” and since they are both safely occupied I dash back to the bathroom to finish getting ready for the day.

My youngest daughter doesn’t talk quite yet, but that doesn’t stop her from loudly communicating when something is not going her way. There is a mark on her head and she is yell crying proclamations of injury. I deductively try to piece together the events that led up til now. Was it a fall? She shakes her head, which could denote either a yes or a no. Did you bonk your head on a drawer? Again indeterminate head shaking with more yelling accompanied by arms flailing and fingers pointing. Did your sister hurt you in the office with the candlestick?!?

When my daughter dumps the tin full of no less than 148 fragments of chewed crayons onto the table, half of them clattering to the floor, I’m not sure whether to be irritated or giggle as she claps her hands gleefully as she realizes what she has done, either reaction will guarantee a repeat dumping so I sit staring, expressionless, exhibiting the poker face I learned many years ago, unwilling to show my hand, but so close to folding.

Reluctantly, I use my Operation-like skills to scoop quickly regenerating boogers out of a congested, crying, flailing, target. Because of intensive early training, I am able to do this with great precision.

My house is becoming more and more like Jumanji as the number of stuffies and play animals begin to multiply. Stampeding from the bedroom where they belong, they have made their way down the hall and into the living room. I attempt to chase them back but the greater the effort I put forth the larger the revolt.

At times I feel like the poor old maid, pictured as aging and worn, hair pulled back, but even more haggard is the card itself, bent so many times the woman on the front is almost unrecognizable. I know how she feels, wrinkled, dirty and exhausted, and instead of being quickly passed back and forth between 2 players she just wants to curl up in bed with a book.

Being a parent you need to think a few moves ahead, anticipate what the other player may do, adjusting your actions accordingly. I was never any good at chess. I can see exactly zero moves ahead, because kids, at least my kids, are excruciatingly unpredictable. And perhaps that is why parents take a great deal of pleasure in embarrassing their teenage children. One can hope.

Unintentionally Prepared

If you are anything like my husband you might call my car messy. But if you are anything like me, you would call it an unintentional emergency preparedness kit.

In the event of a catastrophic apocalyptic type of occurrence, whose car would you choose? There are more nutritional calories in one of the crevices of my seats than my husbands entire vehicle. You could literally prolong your life by licking a seat.

My well-meaning husband kindly helps to manage the clutter frequently removes valuable, potentially life-saving, items from my vehicle.

At this very moment items in my unintentional emergency preparedness kit include:

-2 buckets, which have the potential to catch fish, collect rain water or provide a portable in-car toilet (now I know what you’re thinking, and no need to worry, the rest of the list will be here while you track down a bucket or two and place them in your vehicle).

-1 bottles worth of water in 3 separate containers, for drinking, washing hands or wound care.

-2 half eaten boxes of crackers, nutrition, clearly.

-1 sealed bag of mini wheats, nutrition again, but it is essential in case of extreme emergency that my kids have a food item that they WILL eat without complaint.

-A minimum of 2 handfuls of cheerios spread throughout my vehicle, more nutrition, or perhaps a lure for trapping creatures, for more nutrition. One of those buckets will really come in handy now (see diagram 1).

diagram 1 – hunting

-An old iphone charge cable, to allow you to set and pull the large beast trap closed.

-8 paper crafts my daughters have lovingly created at day care, fire starter.

-22 laminated hundreds charts, in the event that the catastrophic event is long lasting, my daughters WILL have good number sense. 21 of these could be used as shingles on a makeshift roof.

-A waterproof beach blanket, that could double as an actual blanket or a tarp.

-3 diapers, self explanatory.

-1 full package of wipes, portable bath.

-3 sets of kids rubber boots, we will be spending a great deal of time in streams, for fishing/entertainment purposes.

-2 warm sweaters.

-2 child sized rain suits.

-1 adult rain jacket.

-1 umbrella, as you can see, I have a slight aversion to rain.

-40 pieces of gum, freshness in an emergency never hurt anyone.

-5 locking containers for food storage.

-A fully charged iphone 3, loaded with a variety of music, including “Eye of the Tiger,” which is of course potential motivation music for… well… anything.

-A hand-made happy birthday sign. That ribbon is 4 metres long and can easily hoist any food that has been procured into the air and out of the claws of large scavengers (see diagram 2a). It could also double as a birthday sign (see diagram 2b).

diagram 2a – food kept very safe
diagram 2b – post apocalyptic birthday celebration

-3 pens, for performing potential tracheotomies. I’m not entirely sure what circumstances call for a tracheotomy, but I think I will know it when I see it.

-Roughly $2.78 in change. I haven’t found much of a use for this change yet, but I think it is important to take a complete inventory.

I wasn’t always this messy delusional prepared. I used to have a free hand, sometimes two. I used to take pride in maintaining a minimally messy vehicle, I regularly removed the refuse from the floor and placed it in a more appropriate place.

BUT this is my life now, so silver linings, lemons, lemonade or whatever.

I am prepared.

Are you?

Baby Loss: Our Story

October 15th is here, baby loss and miscarriage awareness day. The day that I wonder if this is the October that I will share my story. The 6th October since losing our sweet first baby. So here it is, the story and the feelings that have been lingering in my thoughts and my soul, that I have long anticipated writing for myself, and for you.

We became pregnant quite quickly and waited the obligatory twelve weeks before announcing our expected bundle. It was an uneventful pregnancy that consisted of routine doctor appointments and ultrasounds, We were always relieved to hear the word “normal” at every visit, the word all parents hope and pray to hear throughout pregnancy and continue to hope for as their children grow.

Each week as my pregnancy progressed I checked the baby loss statistics, comparing the percentage of survival to the week before it. I felt secure in the numbers as they surpassed the 99th percentile. We did some light research, followed by some shopping and we prepared a nursery.

At week 35, in the very early morning of my husband’s birthday, my water broke, while lying in bed. We were anxious as we headed to the hospital, unsure of what to expect in labour and delivery and only slightly concerned about our baby coming a little early. Upon arrival we were shown through the NICU, just in case our little one would need a week or two of breathing help and monitoring. Walking through the NICU I saw tiny babies who presented quite well and I knew we were in the right place.   If these little little ones were doing alright, a 35 week baby would be just fine.

He wasn’t.

Labour did not progress, and I was induced. With each contraction our little one’s heart would slow down, but would pick up again after the contraction had subsided. After awhile it was decided that a caesarean would be a wise choice for our circumstances.

In surgery my uterus was very contracted, our little one’s head was stuck in my pelvis and the cord, up by his ear, had a great deal of pressure on it. They couldn’t get him out. Panic filled the room as all of the medical professionals available tried everything they could think of. Amidst all of the panic, I was calm because I knew, I just knew, that they could figure it out. My husband was removed from the room and right before I went under general anesthesia I heard from a doctor, “I don’t know what to do.”

I woke to very somber medical staff, their faces displaying the gravity of the situation, and still I was completely ignorant of just how wrong things had gone. Staff broke protocol and wheeled me into the NICU to see my little one. There he was; I got to lay eyes on the one that I had dreamed about, the one that had kept me up at night, the one that had made me so uncomfortable, the one I loved so fiercely from the moment I first felt him, and I was proud. There is nothing quite like meeting your first baby, the one that makes you a parent, the incredibleness of it all as you study their tiny body and marvel at the mystery that is life. Aside from all of the wires and tubes, he was breath-taking and incredible, he was perfect.

A medical transfer via helicopter should have been my first clue that things were not going well, but it wasn’t until we arrived at the children’s hospital a few hours later and saw my sweet baby, looking very unhealthy that I realized that this story wasn’t going to end the way I had dreamed that it would.   This day wouldn’t be just a story we told him each year on his birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

His head was so swollen. There was a bleed in his brain, caused by the pressure from the vacuum the medical staff needed to use to get him out.   Medical staff was busy, wracking their minds and trying everything they could think of to save his life. Unfortunately the trauma his tiny five pound, five ounce body had received was too great, and he passed away after eleven hours of life, surrounded by love and in our arms.

Confused, exhausted and broken we left our little guy in the hospital and returned to the quietest house in the world. Empty body, empty arms, empty nursery. I was so lucky to have a husband that I was able to cling to through all of it. Thankfully our home was soon filled with family and friends and flowers and food, everyone took such great care of us, we will be eternally grateful for the kindnesses we were shown after losing our son.

If you are brave enough, determined enough and fortunate enough to get to do it all over again, the stats are refreshed and your chances at heart break are just as likely as they were the last time around, except they feel overwhelmingly like 100% because I lost 100% of the babies I carried. It feels like life should owe you a pass, because when you’ve been one in one thousand, that feels like enough.

And you’re aware. So. Much. More. Aware. Of every single thing that can go wrong. In order to feel normal you seek out people that are like you, that understand you, that get you completely and you surround yourself with them. I was so fortunate to connect with a supportive community of women online, who had all lost their babies within a few months of us losing our sweet son. We helped each other through the hurts and the healing and we have remained friends over the years.

It goes excruciatingly slow. Agonizingly slow. Painstakingly slow. Each hour is torturous and there were countless times I wanted to ask my obstetrician for a medically induced coma, or a crystal ball. I could endure the 40 long weeks of pregnancy if I KNEW it would end in crying that would interrupt our sleep for years to come. She could provide nothing, besides a somewhat unsure assurance that what had happened would not repeat itself. But it should never have happened in the first place. They say lightening doesn’t strike the same place twice but whoever said that doesn’t understand my luck, and just uttering those words felt like challenging destiny.

So when we lost our second baby, another boy, at 15 weeks pregnant, after having a healthy ultrasound the day before, I wasn’t surprised. Because life. Because stats. Because history. Simply, because.

Determined to have a family, we gave it another shot. And the stats began again, we were at the mercy of the numbers. It’s a weird place to be, hopeful but detached, wanting to give this baby all the positivity in the world, yet preparing to announce another baby’s passing. There is a weird peace that comes from admitting powerlessness in circumstances where you would very much like to control the outcome.

But this time we were able to bring our baby home. Our little ball of sunshine, bright and beautiful, our daughter.

 

A Walk Through A Residential School

This past week I walked the grounds of a residential school, the footings remain but the buildings have been reclaimed by grass and beautiful gardens, it has been renamed a heritage site. And as we descended down the steps into what happened to be the basement of one of the dormitories, our children began to laugh and play. We watched as they chased a squirrel and we laughed as he mocked them from the safety of a branch out of their reach. They gathered pinecones, scaled boulders, waved sticks and admired insects. I soaked it in, their innocence, their adventurousness, their independence but at the same time, their need for their parents and their ability to act completely unhindered, young and free. It wasn’t lost on me that not that many years ago, the children who lied there, in that dormitory, lost all of those things.

It has been a week since “orange shirt day,” a day proclaiming that “all children matter” a day that recognizes the atrocities our Indigenous community members faced. A six-year old girl, Phyllis Webstad, was sent to a residential school, proudly donning the new orange tee shirt her grandmother had purchased for her, only to have it removed and taken from her on day one. As someone who has taught kindergarten for several years, I can see her, eyes wide, nervous but excited, in need of someone to care for her in the absence of her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, and I want to welcome her, to tell her it will be ok, that she will be well cared for and her days filled with fun, but I can’t. There’s such an enormous responsibility teaching a students’ first year setting up class rules and expectations without dampening the bright light of curiosity, young playfulness and general enthusiasm for life while sneaking in a few lessons on literacy and numeracy. It kills me that these students weren’t seen as human beings, as children, as little lights, each one a valuable personality, unique unto themselves.

For 90 seconds at a time I can feel it. The pure panic that sets in as your child disappears from your sight at a busy park and your brain races, presenting countless scenarios of your child being preyed upon by disgusting and perverted people and you are completely powerless to prevent any of it because they simply aren’t with you. And after 90 seconds I’m exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed and then I see her, I grasp my little trouble-maker, hold her tight against my body and whisper into her hair, “I love you.” And again it’s not lost on me that 90 seconds is not a long time, and I multiply it out in my mind to an unfathomable 300 days, year after year after year, and I fall apart. How did you make it through, sweet mommas?

It’s not lost on me that had my daughters momentary disappearance been something more than just that, that the RCMP would have been on my side, but they were the ones enforcing the legal seizure of your precious children. The agency that is supposed to provide protection to members of our society at their most vulnerable moments, pried very vulnerable children from the loving arms of their families and placed them in the arms of abusers.

Sweet mommas, I’ve been in a home too empty, void of all the beautiful chaos that is children, and my heart ached. My body and my soul, heavy from the emptiness and the helplessness and my heart breaks for you. My loss was one time, but you, year after year, you suffered, your home emptied, year after year, your arms emptied, year after year, your heart was carried away crying in the arms of someone else.

My daughter cries out in the night, a cry into the blackness and I go to her, and I realize how lucky we both are for this simple gesture. The children who slept here in this dormitory were not so lucky, they feared the dark because very real monsters lurked there, sexually preying on their innocence as they quietly cried themselves to sleep, praying the monsters didn’t choose them that night. Their young cries lost in the dark night, no one to comfort them for 300 sleeps at a time.

I watch my daughters’ eyes sparkle, alive and bright, their beautiful cheeks, their dimpled goofy little smiles. I love their peculiarities, their tenacity and the freedoms they choose to exercise, their ability to be themselves. I can’t imagine anyone deeming them worthless, ignoring their unique natural beauty, and extinguishing the light that shines so brightly in children so young. I just can’t.

I attend a church that each week preaches the single message of “love,” and I shudder to think of the atrocities allowed under the guise of religion. Young children malnourished, beaten when caught communicating in their mother tongue, stripped of their belongings and their culture at the hands of the church. Pedophiles allowed free access to children, when their perversions were brought to light they were moved from city to city, but still allowed a position of power over the powerless, continuously sheltered by the church. Countless abused, disconnected, hungry and sexually confused children lay devastated in their wake.

There was no war to right these wrongs, there was no world-wide upset about the injustices, the last Canadian residential school wasn’t closed until 1996, there was no formal apology, from the government, until 2008, The Catholic Church STILL has not apologized. So absolutely, compensate the survivors of the sixties scoop. That’s right, NINETEEN sixties, when the government took children from their homes, without parental consent and adopted them out to non-Indigenous families around the world. We should have known better. Nothing can make reparations for the familial brokenness, the cultural destruction, the psychological devastation our Indigenous community members suffered but we can try. Teach about it in school. Speak of it. Acknowledge it. THIS is OUR Canada. These are OUR people. THIS is OUR history.

The Mom Song

I am so incredibly lucky to have such amazing moms in my life.  Seriously.  I love you all.  This book is dedicated to all of you.  Thank you for your advice, your friendship and for “getting” me.

Also… look past the pics haha.

 

Have a mom friend who needs a copy of this? Print it here:  Mom Song

The Wasp Trap: A Delightful Demise

I think both my fear and fascination with wasps began with my first sting. This is perhaps my first childhood memory. On a family reunion camping trip I unsuspectingly slipped my foot into a shoe, only to receive a startling and excruciating sting. I vividly remember holding ice to my foot, tears slowly sliding down my cheek as my grandmother pushed me in a swing, in a kind but somewhat pathetic attempt to distract me from that life altering moment.

Since then, I exerted a great deal of energy running from them, ducking for cover from them, surrendering food to them, trying to ignore them, gently shooing them and nothing has worked. Nothing.

Once while waiting at a ferry terminal with a friend I ordered a pizza, a $12 pizza. It was a beautiful pizza, hand made, organic, the toppings placed just so. Merely moments after I had taken my first bite, wasps had swarmed my pizza. No amount of fast walking, jolty movements, blowing, gentle shooing and hysterical shrieking could convince the wasps to seek a meal elsewhere. My friend embarrassed and probably wishing she had invited a different friend on a weekend away, calmly reminded me that wasps are small and generally mean no harm.   But, you see my friend is a vegetarian, and while she is admittedly much more level headed than me, the wasps had very little interest in HER pizza and no amount of sensible speak could prevent me from hurling my pizza onto the ground and running in the opposite direction. Is THIS why people become vegetarians?

I love the outdoors. I need the outdoors. My body and my mind are at peace outdoors. My kids get along outdoors. My dog is happy outdoors. I cannot stand when my peace is disrupted by that all too familiar buzz and aggressive flash of yellow.

I wonder what my neighbours think when they hear my shouting and shrieking. Really, why would a grown woman be raising such a raucous outside? Or maybe they get it. We have all encountered a nosy and persistent wasp, haven’t we? I am slightly concerned that one day they will assume I am being chased by a tiny insect when I am in a deeper sort of peril.

Often lately they have been lurking just outside my door, threatening to come inside each time it swings open, invoking some fearful cursing and an immediate slam. They bump their bodies into the screens of my windows as they peer inside, meticulously studying the perimeter of the house, obviously plotting their take over. It was time, time to take back my doorstep, time to reclaim my place outdoors.

My late, great uncle, great, both in the wonderful sense of the word and in the generational way, an inventive and ingenious man, used to fashion his own traps. He’d hang the carcass of a fish, above a bucket of water. You see wasps are carnivorous, ferocious and selfish little creatures. They would feast and feast until they were so engorged they could no longer lift their tiny little bodies off of the fish and would plummet into the bucket below. Drowned by their own gluttony.

Since a rotting fish would most definitely draw in a much bigger and much more dangerous creature I opted to check out the selection of pre made traps at the ol’ Canadian Tire. Having heard a great review on something that sounded like the trap I held in my hand, I confidently headed for the check out.

I set that bad boy up, following every instruction, tightening and untightening, cutting and dumping, and washing my hands, I need no help attracting wasps.

I caught 39 wasps in 24 hours. 39! I watched two wasps literally fight to be the first one in. The trap was mesmerizing, alive, a buzzing ball of angry beasts, desperate to escape. 39 wasps meant that my original thought that there were one or two, possibly three mean wasps that were taking pleasure in torturing me with frequent fly bys often landing on myself or my kids, sending me shrieking in terror, arms flailing, racing for the safety of my house, was not true.

Day two, the number has probably doubled. On one of my excited frequent checks, I noticed what appeared to be a super wasp, much larger than the others, perhaps the king of all the wasps. Upon closer inspection, I was horrified to realize that it was carrying the head of one of its fallen friends. Turns out when trapped for hours on end, wasps will resort to hauntingly cannibalistic behaviours.

I have begun to picture a world, not completely free of wasps, because apparently they do serve a purpose, but one where there are traps in every space that I frequent. The park, scattered throughout my yard and the place I return my grocery cart to, offering the wasps something far more appealing than me.

Too long had I been running, yesterday was the day I took my power back from the tiny yellow overlords and it feels good. This does not come without consequence. Every time I shut my eyes I see them, crawling on top of each other, entangled, fighting for freedom; which is both delightful and disturbing. But it is worth it, completely worth it.

With a brazen confidence, that I am sure only comes from killing 39 wasps in one day and will soon dissipate, today at the park, I crushed a wasp under my foot, and a second by removing my shoe, and squashing it dead, right there beside the swings. 28 years ago a wasp used my shoe against me, today, I used my shoe to crush it. Today the tables have turned; today I have regained my power.

Unstructured and Unsupervised: Attempting to Raise a (somewhat) Wild Child

I’m slow reading a book titled The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. It’s fascinating, but also long. Basically, due to a large number of factors, children are not playing independently and in natural settings as much as they used to, he believes this is having profound but unstudied effects on children today.

I grew up in the back of town on 8 acres with 3 siblings. We were free and encouraged to roam around and when my mom took a much-needed break (ie. shooed us outside, locked the door and ran herself a bath) that’s exactly what we did. I think back on my childhood with such fondness, but also with astonishment, partly that we all survived and partly because my parents encouraged our behaviours. I really wonder what they thought we were doing out there.

While she was bathing we were eradicating large wasp nests, with a barrage of both buckets of creek water and large rocks thrown from the safety of a very small embankment.

We laid out sticks on the street for cars to drive over, retreating to the woods for cover, triumphant when a car’s tire broke one in half.

We fished with sticks and buckets, bare feet precariously balanced on slippery rocks.

We built rickety fences with real hammers and nails, out of 1×2 pieces of wood and picked hay for the horses we wished to have.

We got blisters digging deep holes, imagining ourselves popping out on the other side of the world.

We lathered ourselves in mud, the thicker the better.

We threw clumps of dirt, handfuls of grass and rocks at each other. We learned to dodge them too, we learned to run fast and to throw back when necessary. We learned to negotiate, call truces and retreat.

We took turns riding our small dirt bike, which appeared small, but when full throttle could send 7 year old legs flying out behind it, while it’s rider continued to grasp the throttle, envisioning the inevitable crash, but hoping for the best.

We were allowed to attempt to sleep in our camper trailer, parked probably 100 meters from our front door. I say attempt because every single time, after the sun went down and our junk food supply ran low, we made that 100 meter dash, usually solo, for fear of wild animals breaking into the trailer. And later we actually slept in a tent, overlooking the trees, surrounded by empty bags of chips and candy wrappers.

When looking at my backyard my child eyes saw freedom, a place to explore to experiment and to build, to test boundaries and physical limits. We were explorers, conquerors and care takers; we were strong, we were brave and we were wild.

I just found out I’m a “millennial” parent, the cut off being the early 80’s, being born in ‘84, I am torn between my millennial thoughts and my desire to parent as my parents did. We were brought up in a different time, the age of double buckling and games of red rover, when we suspected my brother broke his arm, he was told to “sleep on it.” There was no google to tell my parents they were doing it wrong, so they just did. The only “mom group” my mom belonged to was literally a group of her three closest friends. Articles on social media didn’t alert them to the 1000 ways a child can die both in and outside of their home, forcing them to second guess every decision they made; they followed their instincts and their instincts served them well.

The millennial parent in me sees: a creek, filled with ankle shattering, wrist breaking, skull cracking rocks, ending with a drowning death pool, a busy road with fast dangerous cars packed with potential perverts, thumb bruising hammers and skin piercing nails, a perilous crash hazard, lurking bears, hungry cougars and angry wasps. I am so very fortunate to now live only 4 houses away from my favourite childhood property, surrounded by the forest, full of perceived potential dangers. It makes me anxious just thinking about my kids being outdoors without me, and yet I want that for them.

I want my kids to find joy in the outdoors, to navigate this space independently together, to use their imaginations and to care for nature. Louv says in order for adults to want to protect nature they must interact with nature as children and this occasionally involves destroying it. Which feels contradictory, but I think back to my days of trail blazing, feeding bugs to spiders, stepping on slugs, catching fish in the inhumane way, breaking off trees to make marshmallow roasting sticks, uprooting plants and cutting worms in half, and I know he is right. I have a deep respect for nature and I feel incomplete if I haven’t had enough time outside. I shudder to think of my children following in my borderline sociopathic footsteps, and yet so hope that they do.

I want to raise wild children while still keeping tabs on them. But I fear that’s not possible, because it wasn’t until my mom actually locked the door that we were set free.

Thank goodness, I’ve got a few years to wrap my head around this whole independent outdoor play thing, since right now, I can’t trust them alone down the hall.

The Family Photo – The 80’s, The Way Back and The Now

Thinking back to turning pages in my childhood albums I realized that you could perfectly preserve a memory without the photo itself being “perfect”. In a time where each click of the button cost you roughly $.50 and you had to wait weeks to finish a roll of film only to wait another week to develop it, and upon pick up you’d carefully place each photo into an album to be lovingly admired for decades, each photo was truly priceless.

Looking back at those childhood photos most of them are good quality photos. Maybe people inherently knew they had 1 chance to get it right, to look at the camera, smile and keep their eyes open, not 32 consecutive opportunities and 32 more an hour later. Maybe the picture taker knew to time things just right and not to waste a single shot. Or maybe only bringing the camera out on family vacations and birthday parties meant people wanted to perform for the picture. Whatever the reason fewer pictures still resulted in perfectly captured memories, only one photo eliciting all kinds of reminiscing.

I see a childhood photo of me on a quad at my great grandfather’s farm and I’m immediately brought back there. The visiting, the horseback riding, the quadding, exploring the old barn, farmhouse and general store. The long car rides, interrupted by backseat sibling fights and the camping that brought us there, summer after summer.

When my mom said “cheese,” we listened. Perhaps she had more authority than I, an authority that is grown over time that comes with parenting 4 children and is harvested on photo day, or perhaps we sensed the desperation in her voice as she knew she had one shot to capture this moment or perhaps it was simply because the camera didn’t make a daily appearance and we vainly wanted our likenesses forever preserved on film and eventually mounted behind thin clear plastic in the family album.

Even preteen emo me smiled during the annual Santa photo. You see when your 2 youngest siblings are 6 and 8 years younger than you, there has to be a preteen Santa photo, thanks mom. Thankfully the fridge was the family facebook and no one outside of visiting family and friends were forced to see it.

Going back way further, when a photo was only taken every year or two or three, no one messed that up. NO ONE. No cheesy grins, the photographer didn’t even chance a cheesy grin by not yelling “cheese!” at all. Everyone came when they were called, everyone looked in the right direction. Everyone. Got. It. Right. I wonder was the pressure the same? Rather than cleaning toys littered on the floor (ie. Throw them on the other side of the room) as I frequently do, did the homeowner repaint the house? Did they mend the fence or trim the trees for such a momentous occasion?

Going back further still to the painted portrait, it occurred maybe only once or twice in a lifetime. The person commissioned to paint the portrait was operating the original photo shop, removing blemishes, smoothing hair, and adding furniture here or a fireplace there to make the family seem just a little more perfect and prestigious. And they sat still for hours, presumably children too, lest history forget them.

My kids know, they just know that there are countless photos of them on my phone, and they know there will be infinitely more. There is no need for them to smile or look even remotely in the right direction. I assume that’s why photographers and parents alike have begun shooting “artistic” or “candid” photos, showcasing their children’s features and the lovely people they are without capturing the purposeful side gaze and half smile. I asked on a mommies group how on Earth are people managing to get halfway decent photos of 2 children, one recommended delicious bribes, another a kazoo. I tried the candy. It doesn’t work.

Having the ability to take 32 shots in the blink of an eye and being able to delete the m almost as quickly leaves us feeling like we can get the perfect shot. Social media has compelled us to step up our photo game. You can follow professional photographers posting perfect photos of families wearing fancy clothes, traipsing through the forest or a naked baby sleeping peacefully, precariously balanced on a bed of perfect white flowers. All I want is 2 kids looking in the same ish direction, a tidy ish background and mostly clean faces, to add to the large number of similar ish photos stored on my computer.

Sometimes I am too busy trying to perfectly capture a moment that I sometimes forget to enjoy it. All too often I find myself appreciating a moment and sprint down the hall to grab my phone or camera, for fear that I will forget it, because I want it. I want it locked forever in my digital data space, but I return to my kids doing something different and I missed the rest of it. I know the best pictures are locked away in my memory anyway, the bed time snuggle moments the just after nap time conversation moments or the moments when I truly see just how little they are and want to drink it all in, absorb it into my very being.

So when they don’t smile, or stand still or if they flip their shirts over their faces displaying their glorious belly buttons, I’m trying to laugh because it just doesn’t matter.

Perhaps, less IS more, I’m working on it.