Today was one of those lovely days where we didn’t have to leave the house until after lunch—and when we did, it was to go just five minutes down the road to a friend’s house for an art class. Zahra and Noah joined Anjali and Jordan at Cat’s house to take a stab at painting à la Marc Chagall. They stayed for two hours—although Zahra told me it felt more like 20 minutes—and had so much fun. They’ll go back on Friday to complete their paintings.
How lucky are we that we can study a painter with books, documentary video and radio recordings from a major city library; have a semi-private art class with a talented artist and engaging teacher where we try our own hand at that artist’s technique; and then follow it all up with a visit to the biggest Canadian exhibition ever devoted to that artist? Feeling truly blessed.
That was basically the highlight of the day—but there a couple more high points. After some math and French and piano this morning, Noah asked if he could call Jeanne, a friend at the Nook with whom he has been plotting a story. I said sure, I’d find him the number and he could call. He asked if I would call and ask for Jeanne first, but I said no—if he wanted to call her, then he could do that. He hesitated only a second or two before agreeing.
Pacing the floor, he dialled the number, introduced himself and politely asked to talk to her, his eyes wide in nervous anticipation. When Jeanne did get on the phone, he relaxed and they chattered away about their story and the names of their characters. My budding writer! Zahra has been writing for a few years now: plays and short stories. She sets things aside and goes back to them. She edits and revises. Her handwriting is clean, and her grammar skills and spelling are far beyond grade level in two languages. Last year, she fell in love with local writer Monique Polak and still talks about her on at least a biweekly basis. Starry-eyed is she for the flesh-and-blood examples of those who have truly succeeded at their craft.
Noah started writing short stories and comic strips last year, and recently he’s developed a character called Ayron. He’s always had the frustration of having ideas bigger than his writing skills. I’m repeatedly blown away by his creativity, his exciting stories and solid plot lines—but when it comes time to put pencil to paper, he balks. Before, he was dictating his stories to me or to Jordan. After three books, I have to admit, I’ve grown tired of this. So recently, I told him he has to write but I will spell—and I’ll spell every word for him if I have to, and with pleasure. I’m hoping this doesn’t frustrate him too much, but it seems like the logical next step for someone who is so intent on content creation. He’ll practise his handwriting and start to remember how to spell some of those words. Added bonus: I can do this while making dinner, folding laundry, or any of those other exciting tasks that need to get done. Noah’s also doing the illustrations for his most recent book. Before, he asked Zahra to draw for him. He’s been hanging over the shoulders of a few of the artistically minded kids at the Nook (but still not joining the older kids for art class), and last week he surprised me with his own drawing of Ayron. And it’s pretty good!!
So funny how they’re both gravitating to writing. I know a lot of kids do that at this age, but it’s especially gratifying for me as a writer to see my kids working hard at this.
The rest of the day was spent playing outside, chipping away at the ice on the back deck, and running around with the chickens before coming in for dinner.
And there was one last highlight of my day. A mother messaged me to say that she thought Noah was an open-minded, well-balanced, empathetic boy who is really mature for his age. The comment took my breath away. This was the mother with whose son Noah had fought yesterday. It had ended with Noah pushing the other boy down, scratching his face. Noah was sent in by another adult who told him he should have walked away. When I saw him, and the other boy crying, I admit that my heart sank. Noah and I have been talking about this a lot lately: when someone is doing something you don’t like, use your words. Use your words again. And again. And if it doesn’t work, go get an adult to help. After getting the whole story, it turned out that Noah had used his words once; then he had walked away. And walked away again—only to be followed. And then he lost it.
Sigh. No one had taken the time to hear the whole story. No one but me could know that Noah should have been commended for how long he had held it together—and then reminded, yet again, that it can’t come down to physical fighting and that, if he can’t handle it, he needs to get an adult’s help.
After finishing up the class I had been teaching, I told the boy’s mother that I would talk to Noah. She told me that it was ok, that the boys had worked it out. They had shaken hands and were playing chess. And then this morning, she sent me that message, happy that the boys were able to talk it out and stay friends. And you know what it made me think of? It took me back to those new mom days—especially the ones with my firstborn.
You have this brand new baby who is sometimes wonderful and magical and gorgeous and perfect—and, other times, shrieking and miserable and uncooperative and frustrating. Sometimes you dress her up like a baby model in a matching organic cotton cardigan set—and sometimes you both arrive at New Moms’ Group with milk stains on your pyjamas. Sometimes your baby is the first to crawl across the room, and sometimes he’s the last one to sleep through the night. But in all of that, your new mom friends build you up. They ooh and aah over your baby, even when she’s projectile vomiting onto their child’s blanket. They bring you coffee when they see bags under your eyes—and even when they don’t. They comment on how determined your baby is to grab that rattle or how engaging he is with that winning smile. When your baby won’t stop screaming, they tell you to bring her to their house so she can scream there while you sit on the floor and eat chocolate together.
Maybe it’s because we were new moms, and we thought we needed to hear it more often: the good news, the compliments, the solidarity. And as we became more experienced moms, certainly with more self confidence, we were immune. But the truth is, that baby has a lot more growing up to do; and at every stage, with each, unique child, we have moments—many moments—where we need to fall back on the support of that New Moms’ Group. Where we need someone to help us clean up the vomit and hand us a coffee. And then reassure of us of what we already know: our kids are awesome.
At least I do.
And I’m willing to put it out there because those kind words from a mother who could have quickly judged my child in another way, stayed in my heart for the rest of the day. As the kids get older, right around school age, I find a shift in parents. A quickness to judge, to label, to criticize. A loss of that accepting and entirely safe place to fall that was the New Moms’ Group. Or even just simple neutrality. But we can do better than that!
I’m going to channel my first mom friends. I’m going to be a Sarah and make sure to give an extra hug—or a cup of coffee—to that mom who looks sleep deprived. The sleepless night might have been caused by a defiant teen rather than a constantly waking newborn, but it’s still real. I’m going to be a Leigh and make sure my door is always open and there’s always food on the table for whichever mom friend could use a break from chopping veggies and hosing smashed banana off her dining room chairs. I’m going to be a Heather and always be willing to throw the kids outside, brew a couple cups of tea and have a good therapy session with a friend who needs to talk to an adult for a while.
I’m going to draw attention to the beautiful, wonderful, kind, caring, smart and funny things that our kids are doing all day long.
Because they are really awesome little people. And the adults who are raising them are doing a kickass job.