My friend Juanita wrote this honest, real, and heartfelt blog this week and I shared it on facebook so I figured I would pass it along here as well! Merry Christmas, to the broken, the hurting, and the imperfect – which is all of us isn’t it?
Is it as easy for you as it is for me, to get burnt out by the most wonderful time of the year? Good intentions get carried away, so that by the time Boxing Day rolls around on December 26, what felt at first to be miraculous and sacred has been cheapened somehow and needs to be put off for another year. As a Christian, who wasn’t always a Christian, I am at odds with my own self and my reasons for celebrating and enjoying all that Christmas has to offer. Snow, lights, sparkly things, leafy garland, tasty food, candles that smell like tasty food, gifts given and received, carols sung and played all over everywhere? All of those things? Yes please. I want to enjoy all of those things as much as possible until I can no longer stand them. I want to binge on what the holidays do to my senses. And I do. Shamelessly.
But I know that none of them have anything to do with Christmas. With the birth of Christ, which is what the very word “Christmas” even means. With angels and ordinary man, kings and commoners, signs in the stars, and the most ridiculous baby shower ever in the history of babies, because who seriously brings myrrh to the party? I’ve never given birth in a barn or had to run away with my babies to another country or had to trust God with the most sensitive parts of my reputation. I’ve never had to do those things. I don’t think it was a very silent night and I am fairly certain that nobody tied off the baby Jesus’ umbilical cord with tinsel or served Mary a post birth snack of gingersnaps and egg nog.
What have we done to Christmas?
And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Because this season and time of year are so wonderful, so really and truly beautiful and full of delight. And we have centered it around a revered Holy Day in the church’s liturgical calendar which has nothing whatsoever to do with the half of what we’ve tied it to.
So I pray. I pray and I thank God for how the seasons change in this part of the world. I thank Him for ice skates and hot chocolate and lights put up in dark, cold winter, just like I thank Him for air conditioning and road trips and the backyard sprinkler in hot, busy summer. I remind myself that while I don’t believe there are any spirits attached to my fake tree and leafy garland the way ancient pagans did, it is still nice to have something green and lifelike inside when it’s too cold for anything to grow outside. That the lights on my tree remind me of the Light of the World. That I think snowflakes and deer and owls and pine cones are pretty things to have in the house when all I see out my window is snow. And that things that bring people together for good, are good things indeed.
Then we get Christmas right in the smack of it. A time to look around at the season (whatever that may look like in your corner of the world) we’re in, both on the calendar and in our lives, and to reflect on the gift of Christ in us and in whatever it is we’re going through. Not every Christmas is sparkly and lovely, and that is the Christmas that Jesus was born into and came for. For the world that likes to pretend that we can hold onto things that don’t last; where we place value in and fight for the wrong things half the time. A world that hurts and grieves and doesn’t know what it’s doing.
The only way I can think to reconcile this Holy Day with the holidays, is to act on it. To teach my kids that we are walking a line always, in this world with our crazy faith. Even at Christmas. I am thankful for the church calendar, that all churches follow whether they consider themselves liturgical or not – because we celebrate Christmas and observe Good Friday and rejoice at Easter all based on a liturgy that many aren’t even aware of. Who even knows when Jesus was really born anyways? That’s not so much the point is it?
Our family’s way of merging life and liturgy this year is to choose each day, an act of kindness or generosity or of anything that honors this time of Advent. Of waiting for Jesus to come. Our kids have those chocolate countdown calendars and we have a family Advent calendar with scripture and activities. Somehow we are going to bring it all together and see Jesus in it like we try to with everything else.
I was also going to come up with a list of things for us to do each day, but changed my mind. Partly because I waited too long and then got a migraine the day I needed to put together our Advent calendar. Partly because I felt like I needed to wait and see what we were supposed to do. So instead, we are going to choose an Act of Advent each day together. We are going to be mindful and purposeful in finding ways to give and bless and encourage and love people. Because God first loved us. Because we have something to give. Because we don’t want to be burnt out this year – we want to be joy filled.
Update: We had planned on keeping a running list of what kind of acts of advent we’d come up with each day, but it’s been more random and less intentional than I would have liked. However, the kids have been totally engaged and enjoying their Advent study that Glenn has been leading them in. We have found Bible study/devotions to be kind of hit or miss, and that may be because we’ve been too casual about it or just because the timing for more in depth study wasn’t right for us yet. Advent this year has really shifted something, and it’s too early to tell what, but I can hear it in their questions and responses. Good things are rising up in them. I’m looking forward to continuing this time as a family into the new year.
Some of the acts of advent we have come up with so far:
-Giving to the food bank
-Letting someone else go ahead in line at the grocery store
-Writing a card to a friend
-Giving away some of their nice but unused toys
-Some unspoken things that we will just keep a secret
-Writing nice cards to their teachers (I usually do this, so seeing them do it was very nice.)
-Inviting people over for dinner
Seeing my kids looking for ways to share and be generous with each other has been an unexpected, but truly lovely added bonus to this holiday season. These are values we are always working on, and that they do try their best with, but they seem to be trying a little harder all as a result of increased time reading, praying, and talking together. What a gift that is and one we can take with us after Advent is complete.
copyright (c) Jenna Pelias 2014 // all rights reserved
We recently had to fill out some paperwork for Andreas, to apply for some support/resources for him and ultimately our family. And by recently what I really mean is that I’ve been sitting on this paperwork since he got diagnosed in February of 2013. It’s not that we were leaving him hanging in the meantime, by any stretch, but that we thought we had a handle on things on our own. Which we more or less do. Or did? Or thought we did? Until we hit a ceiling in our own ability to support and equip him. So the paperwork had to happen.
It’s a funny thing having a “high functioning” child on the Autism Spectrum. He can and does pass for typical sometimes. He has siblings who he follows and imitates, and who naturally accommodate and include him. In that respect, he is a blessed boy. It was working for a long time. Until he recently started to voice frustration over his own differences from those same siblings for whom certain things just come so much easier. Things like talking to new people, making friends, or joining a group of children playing. So when people comment on how “normal” he seems in any given situation, they are seeing the result of much struggle on his part to fit in and do what everyone else is doing even though he doesn’t always understand it. They are seeing him reaching to his own ceiling, but they are not seeing the tears of frustration and head banging and grief that follows after. After school, after church, after that playdate while my other children are doing what they do, Andreas needs more. More time to process, more time to run around, more time to be still. More of us and less of us, of everything.
We cannot do this alone anymore. As part of the paperwork, another parent in a support group I am part of suggested that we write an impact letter. Even after writing that letter, I still had a hard time finishing the paperwork and getting it to the doctor to sign off on. Until I spoke with a friend who works with special needs teenagers. And as part of her work with those students, she works with their parents in helping them with ‘next steps’ for support, funding, and advocacy as their children become adults in the legal sense of the word. She says that they struggle too, those parents of almost-adults. They struggle to get the papers in for all of their reasons which are probably not that different from mine. But it was good to hear that this is a normal part of our abnormal journey. It was the push I needed to get the ball rolling. The following is the impact letter that I wrote for Andreas. It has been somewhat edited for privacy.
Completing the required paperwork to apply for this support for our 7 year old son Andreas has taken us some time. Time to process his diagnosis and to work out what that means for him and for us in our day to day life and for the future. So much of our time and energy is spent on building up his strengths and strategizing from struggle to success, that to detail and highlight his every challenge and deficit in order to seek help for him and for our family as a whole, has felt almost as though we are selling him out.
When we talk about his often strict adherence to routine, do we tell you how he’s slept with the same teddy bear since the day he was born, and that a silly, dirty, ripped, and faded bear with a rattle in its tummy is the most precious and valuable material possession in our home?
When we say that he struggles through every meal we eat, gagging and choking on most any foods he puts in his mouth outside of his limited list of ‘acceptable’ foods, do we tell you about that one time he swallowed a tiny nibble of chicken and didn’t throw it up? And how we cried tears of astonishment over our own plates of uneaten food?
When we detail the struggle he has in playing and socializing with other children, do we tell you about the time he convinced his younger brother to do things his way by telling him that they weren’t just lining up the cars – they were playing ‘parking lot!’ Or about his mother stealthily taking a picture with my phone the first time he ran to a group of children playing soccer, ran away, and then ran back again to try and join them in their play, when he was 6?
Autism is a word that goes down hard, like the food Andreas chokes on and can’t keep in his stomach. Yes, our son is on the autism spectrum and he does face challenges that are unlike those our typical children will ever encounter. We sought answers and assessments for him in order to better understand and advocate for him, and so that he could better understand and hopefully advocate for himself one day.
Years ago, when the Child Development Center at the Alberta Children’s Hospital called to do an over the phone intake questionnaire, they asked me what word I would choose if I had to describe Andreas with just one. At the time I chose the word “inconsistent” to describe the gap between his brilliance with letters, numbers, patterns, and words and his simultaneous struggle to express himself with those words and use them to relate to others. The psychologist would later go on to describe him by saying that “he has all of this wonderful language but doesn’t know what to do with it.” He never went through that maddening phase of preschool development where he asked us questions. He never asked why or how, skipping those questions in favor of giving us answers and telling us random, seemingly disconnected facts that would always fit together like pieces of a puzzle in the end.
Today, he still possesses that brilliance with words and is able to read text many years beyond his grade 2 level. He will lecture for days on a topic of his interest, but still fails to understand the rhythm and complexity of a simple back and forth, give and take, conversation. He will read from a University geology textbook with fascination, while being unable to understand a pun in a simple child’s storybook. The gap between his ability and his comprehension is a conundrum. Perhaps he will learn to use written language that he can see and touch, with more fluency than the verbal language that confuses and frustrates him, and perhaps that will turn into something that this world needs from him.
Disability is a word that is too loud and too loaded, like a birthday party that overstimulates our boy to the point of tears. He covers his ears and searches for his headphones like we keep avoiding this paperwork, in an attempt to make it go away and not be necessary. When another autism parent suggested writing an impact letter as a means of humanizing our experience, it was something that we could do. Something to soften our story and make it less clinical. We don’t use the word disabled to describe our son, but words are like keys to him and it seems that this word, “disability” – this is the one that opens the door to help for him and our family.
Our application here is made with the hesitation of parents who tirelessly see and seek the best in our children and not the worst, but who also realize the need to also seek the best for our children, and in this case the best for Andreas.
Glenn & Jenna Pelias, for Andreas
October 2, 2014
Advocating for our child has perhaps been the most difficult part of this journey for us. We see him and love him and appreciate him as he is. He is perfect. He is fascinating. He is ours. So sharing him is hard. Explaining him and ourselves over and over is tiresome. But we do it. We will keep doing it for as long as we have to and we will teach him to do it for himself. Parenting a child who needs more, has made us better. It’s made us better for him and for our other children. There is a tenacity in special needs parents that shows up in the most random of moments.
When we sit down in those IPP meetings with the school, we are advocating.
When we tell the grocery store clerk who is annoyed with him pushing the conveyor belt button that he is on the spectrum and likes the button, we are advocating.
When we tell him it’s okay to be in his room by himself when the house is full of people and he’s had enough, we are advocating.
When we tell people who tell us he “can’t” have autism for this or that reason that they don’t get to make that call, we are advocating.
When we stay home from church for 3 years because he.just.can’t.handle.it. – and nobody understands but we do it anyway? We are advocating.
When we go back to church and help him with his frustrations there because he is ready now, we are advocating.
When we write blogs and read blogs and books and articles, just to understand or be understood, we are advocating.
Advocacy is opening doors. It’s about finding freedom and hope and breakthrough, and showing the way there. It is unapologetic. I am not sorry to have to ask for help anymore. I’m not shying away from the conversations or the hard words anymore. There is no room for shyness or sorrow in advocacy. It’s a place full of grace. It’s a messy kind of grace and it doesn’t always bring out the best in us, but there is grace for that, too. It is entirely okay to fall apart in holding someone else up. It is human. We can only do so much and be so much.
Andreas met a new baby cousin this summer. My sister delivered a boy named Coen in August. Andreas was fascinated with baby Coen. As he stared at the baby, I asked him “Do you love Coen?”
He looked up and asked me back, “What do you mean as love?”
“When your heart is happy when you see him?” I replied.
“Yeah, I love him.” Andreas said simply.
Love means a lot of things. Sometimes it means paperwork and impact letters and blogs and hard conversations. This is what we mean as love.
copyright (c) 2014 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
It will be 10 years ago in October that I peed on a stick and saw 2 pink lines staring back at me. Glenn and I had been married 2 months when that pregnancy test turned up positive. 2 months! We both started and stopped using birth control within a month of marriage because I had a terrible allergic reaction to it. At that point we weren’t really concerned about preventing it so we figured, whatever happens is fine. We oh so naively believed that thing people tell you about it taking a year to get pregnant. To that I now say, ha, with a side of shut your mouth. The following is a picture of our “it takes a year to get pregnant” baby, born 10.5 months after our wedding.
Then babies numbered 2, 3, and 4 arrived every 2 or 2.5 years like clockwork.
4 babies into this gig, we are a happy family of 6 with no more babies in my tummy, our arms, or the plan. (You know the plan? The thing that God laughs at? Well we are sticking with it anyway and you know what Juanita, you can just keep that smirk to your own self.) Our smallest baby is 4 months shy of 3 years old. THREE. I have no more babies. No-more-baby land is a shocking place. I’m still adjusting.
But one of the lovely things about this new land in which I am living, is the view. From here I can so clearly see the fatigue and exhaustion of all of my new-parent friends and family as if it were me living it. And there is something I think you all living in shut-up-about-your-no-more-babies-land need to hear. I want to talk about being tired. I know a thing or two about the subject and I just want you to know that there is no tired like new mom tired.
You really are that tired. You are. And just when you think it’s not possible to be any more tired, it is going to get worse. People around you will try to compare it to shift work or pulling all nighters or being hung over or working long hours or having a demanding or complex job. (My Dad, who has been a roofer for like 30 years will be happy to laugh in their faces for you as he is on Team Mom on this one.) And you will smile sweetly or possibly roll your eyes while suppressing an almost Hulk-like urge to smash those morons to smithereens. Then you will consider crying yourself to sleep because nobody understands, but you will be too tired for the energy it takes to cry oneself to sleep.
There is no tired like new mom tired.
Maybe it’s your first baby and the parenting book you read and swore by, was so wrong that you’re considering writing the author hate mail. Maybe it’s your second baby and you thought that you knew what you were doing this time so it was supposed to be easier. Or maybe it’s your third or fourth or whatevereth and your other ones were easy-ish but this baby has its photograph on Snopes because its crying has become an urban legend in your neighbourhood. Whatever you thought, you were probably wrong.
I have had a c-section, a vacuum and then forceps assisted delivery that resulted in hemorrhage and tearing in places I didn’t know babies could tear up, and two perfectly natural, quick, and uneventful deliveries. It doesn’t matter which way you swing it friends – a baby (or babies) just came out of your body by forces of medicine or nature beyond your control. Whether you were chanting affirmations or screaming obscenities during that process is irrelevant to the fact that you now need to recover. Physically, mentally, emotionally.
I had surgery last year when my youngest was 14 or 15 months old. 4 babies in 6.5 years left me with an epigastric hernia that required repairing, so under the knife I went. I remember being at home afterwards, high as a kite on pain killers, wondering how I did this after I had Mateo. How did I have surgery (and a much bigger surgery than a simple hernia repair), and immediately afterwards take up nursing and caring for a newborn? Then I took another pain pill and went back to sleep because the thought of caring for a newborn in that much pain was too much to bear.
That’s how fast we can simultaneously remember and forget.
The total absence of a sleep routine is a big deal. Sleep deprivation causes car wrecks and plane crashes, yet here we moms are having babies, not sleeping for weeks and months and sometimes years on end and still somehow functioning or being expected to.
After my fourth baby it took a year and a half to get my head on straight and stop feeling tired every minute of every day. In that year and a half Andreas split open the inside of his mouth jumping on the couch, and had to have surgery when she was 2 weeks old, Olivier severed his toe in my elliptical and had to have surgery + 2 months of follow up when she was 5 months old, I got diagnosed with low thyroid when she was something like 9 months old (and then spent another year finding the right dose of meds), Andreas went through assessments for and was subsequently diagnosed with autism when she was 8-12 months old, I had that surgery to repair my hernia that gave me daily pain in everything I did when she was 14-15 months old and we moved when she was 17 months old. It was a busy year and a half. New mom tired lasted a really long time. Which is why, a year later and we are still so, so good with not having another baby. Whenever people ask, I just tell them that 4 is a good number and leave it at that.
You need to give yourself grace. You really are that tired. You really haven’t slept in that long. And your baby really is going to keep at this for a while. And it is really going to be okay and get better. Not now. Not for a while. It just will, eventually. Maybe slowly or all of a sudden. It’s one of those mysterious but not in a good way, types of things.
My sister just had her second baby, and I was telling her about how strange it is when I have all my boys in school every afternoon and Rosalie is napping. I almost don’t know what to do with myself. Sure, there is a list of things a mile long to work on, but not in very many years have I had regular, consistent time in which to do anything without kids in tow. She was all, “OMG you could totally nap.” She is a new mom for the second time and she is so, so tired because now she’s got a newborn and a 2.5 year old to chase after at the same time and that is just a whole other level of insanity and fatigue. It made me think though, because I realized in that moment that I am now able to nap, I mean if I wanted to or needed to, but I don’t want or need to. After so many years wishing desperately to be able to just sit down and close my eyes for a minute, I don’t need that extra rest anymore. When I told her that I think she wanted to slap me hard right in the face. It’s not fair.
So yeah, sure I’m tired. 4 kids is exhausting no matter their age or stage. But I am definitely not new mom tired. I am not functioning on a sleep debt so profound that I am on the verge of an energy crisis and rolling blackouts. At night, my kids sleep. In the morning, they wake up. When we do have nights where one or the other is up we feel as though we’ve been hit by a bus the next day. And I just want to tell you who are living in that purgatory every day that you are going to get through it.
There is no tired like new mom tired. It passes, but it takes time. You are not crazy. It really is this hard. You really are feeling it in your bones and throughout every fiber of your being. Give yourself grace. And if you want someone to hold your baby while you pass out into the best half hour long coma of your life, please call me. No-more-baby-land is fun, but there aren’t any babies here and that is also kind of something I miss – minus the fatigue of actually having one.
copyright (c) 2014 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
It snowed on Monday. You wouldn’t think that snow in Canada would be big deal, but it is. It really is. Because we only get so many snow-free months out of a year, it is obscene and offensive when it snows before the calendar even gets officially to fall. I have this weird personal goal of making it past Thanksgiving before seeing snow, Canadian Thanksgiving falling in early October. I don’t know where that goal came from and I am aware of how ridiculous it is to set a goal for the forces of nature, yet I keep trying to make it past Thanksgiving. Obviously, this year nature has failed to meet the goal.
My cheeky oldest child took the opportunity to mock me at every turn on Monday. “Hey Mom, look at all the snow, does that mean Santa’s coming?” He taunted me. Ha. Ha. Ha. Oh, Mateo thought he was super funny. Little did he know.
After two days of winter’s tantrum getting us down, I woke up this morning and decided that there would not be a day 3. The blizzard was back, downing trees, taking out power lines, and causing accidents all over the place. So the most logical thing I could think of was for us to have Christmas. I mean, obviously. If the weather isn’t going to play along with the calendar, then why should we?
I told Glenn my plan. “I think if you can’t beat winter, you join it. You say, ‘forget you winter – we are having Christmas.’ And have a party.” He replied, “You know what else you could do? You could stay warm inside with blankets and relax.” I told him that he needed to thaw his frozen heart of darkness. Such was all the persuasion he needed to be convinced that pranking the kids with pretend Christmas, complete with turkey dinner, a tree, and presents, was a brilliant idea. We just needed Olivier to go to school after lunch so that we could get going on the surprise.
My sisters came to visit this morning and the four girls + Olivier spent a good part of the day trashing my house while we all took turns holding baby Coen. You can never have too many baby cuddles. Backstory: my 2 sisters and I all got pregnant and were due within weeks of each other almost 3 years ago. Nicole had twin girls Emma & Ellie end of January 2012, I had Rosalie in February 2012, and Amy had Adaya in early March 2012. I think we almost gave our parents a heart attack having 4 baby girls 6 weeks apart. Amy just had another boy named Coen in August. Our play dates are hilarious, to say the least.
Once my goofy guy Olivier went off to kindergarten for the afternoon, we were on it. Glenn ran out to get the turkey while I pulled the Christmas tree out of the garage. The girls were thrilled. “Chwismas” was here! I gave them a pile of jingle bells to hang on the tree while they all sang their own 2.5 year old messed up versions of Jingle Bells off key and out of sync.
Along with turkey and trimmings, Glenn scored some $2 kites for the boys, and little toys for the girls. (Dollar store, for the pretend Christmas win.) We wrapped those up and BAM. Christmas. The real moment though, the big thing, was when the boys came home from school. It was really all about surprising them with *something* good on a rotten, cold, snowy, summer-fall day.
Mateo? He was incredulous and thought we were either kidding or swapping this prankster Christmas for the real one, in which case he wanted real Christmas.
Andreas? Eyes big and a smile plastered across his face he says to me, “Oh mom, you shouldn’t have!” In a tone that made it clear he was glad that I did.
Olivier? All excitement and WOOHOO because he is still little enough for everything about Christmas to be magic. This was magic. He also wins quote of the day for finding a wooden baby Jesus tree ornament and exclaiming, “Look! The baby Jesus is on the Christmas tree! HEY DUDE!”
They were as excited for their $2 toys as for the desire of their heart on actual Christmas morning.
We shared Christmas dinner with my sister Nicole, her husband Stefan and their twins. After they had gone and a very burnt out Rosalie was sent to bed early, the boys suited up and did what Canadians kids do on a snow day: they went outside to play in the snow.
All in all, not a bad day. And what a memory.
But to be honest…we are okay with summer coming back like, as soon as possible.
copyright (c) 2014 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
As the clock is nearing midnight on this, the very last day of August, I am thinking about how awesome it’s going to be when Olivier wakes up in the morning and I will get to tell him that it’s September. The longest August in the history of Augusts is complete.
No really. I don’t think you understand. Living with this child has been like the movie Groundhog Day happening in live action every single day for the last 31 days. I walk in to groggy yawns and Olivier blinking at me and squinting because he doesn’t have his glasses on yet, and then he asks me the questions. “What month is it? Is it still August?” Of course it’s still August. August is going to last for the rest of all of our natural lives. Obviously. Even the August page on my calendar was hanging on by a thread until I ripped it off a day early today. After which Andreas made me write in August 31 on the September page because I totally messed with his reality by switching it.
I can’t stress the every morning part of Olivier’s shenanigans enough. Bill Murray would be so bloody proud of my restraint in not throwing kitchen appliances into the bathtub with myself. Like truly. Gosh. I could have learned how to play the piano and emotionally manipulate people this month. Le sigh. There’s always next year, I suppose.
September. By the time I hit post on this blog it’ll be September. Which means that August is well and truly over AND that we have 1 more sleep till school. 1 more sleep till Olivier goes to his first day of kindergarten. Whose idea was labor day anyway? As if the last thing parents need standing between us and the first day of school is a long weekend, because 2 months of summer isn’t enough that we have to tack on an extra day. The government is to blame for this, for sure. Probably.
I feel like back in June I was stressing out about whether or not Olivier was even ready for school, but then August came along to squash my anxiety and now I don’t even know what I was thinking. Is he ready? Lord have mercy. He’s going.
You know who else is going to school? Mateo and Andreas, straight into grade 4 and grade 2. Who were lectured today in the finer points of why I do not care about their every squabble and argument. Like I wake up in the morning joyously strategizing new ways to make their lives and video games a fair and equitable experience. No. I care about peace and quiet. They were stunned. Peace and quiet are not on the list of core values for 9 and almost-7 year old boys. It was almost like I was speaking French to them.
You know what else they learned this week, as I fell off the end of my rope? They learned that they actually have two mothers. Their other mother is a man called Daddy who can and does do all of the things that I can do, except for birth them. So when they see me and Glenn standing or sitting or canoodling on the couch together, and they start a sentence with the word “mom” it has come to their attention that they may as well be speaking French, because Dad is for sure going to be the one who answers them. This is why God says we’re one flesh. I totally get that part now.
I thought I had a point here. Right.
Summer. Summer has been awesome. We have gone to all the places and done all the things. We have watched the movies and had the fires and the parties and the rainy days inside. They have read books and practiced their math (no really, they really did!). Play dates have been played. Our trampoline has been jumped half to death. There is nothing left. Not one thing. So what? So back to school.
We went to the school this week to explain Olivier’s inhaler to his new teachers, who were so sweet and definitely on team ‘keep him alive with meds’ – so we like them for sure. And to give Andreas a chance to meet his new teacher quietly, without chaos and first day pressure. She even showed him his new classroom and let him pick his desk. We like her already. (His teachers in years before have done the same and we like them too.) Mateo probably won’t let me go anywhere near his new teacher but I’m sure she’s lovely. I always pray over the summer, for the new teachers and the school year and for this and that as it comes to mind. At the beginning of summer my prayers are for some kind of badass Miss Honey type to grace my children for the coming year. By the first day of school I’m just like so thrilled that they didn’t get the Trunchbull.
Sharing my kids with total strangers is hard for me. Not homeschooling is hard, because I love learning and love teaching my kids. But I feel like I’m supposed to send them. Mateo would disown me if I tried to keep him home. He’s been asking to go back since the middle of July. Olivier is so sweet that he’d forgive me but he’d be sad forever if I kept him home. Andreas would never go to school ever if I didn’t make him, and that is precisely why I make him. For now. Maybe one day back to school will be a shift in routine at home. Right now, back to school means my kids go to an actual school.
But didn’t I just have a nervous breakdown with words over sending my kids back to school? Why the conflict? Because motherhood is a contradiction. Everything about it. School included. I want them to go back, while simultaneously plotting pulling them all out of school and converting our basement into a classroom so that I can be the one who teaches them. Messed up right?
As for Glenn, well I asked him today what on earth we are going to do when it’s raining or snowing and all the boys are at school and Rosalie is napping? He’s a roofer so when it rains and snows he is home. Basically I walked into a wink and how-you-doin’ head nod with such a stupid question as that. Honey come hither, is where Glenn stands on the back to school question.
Whatever though. The groundhog died or something, and August is over. September is here. Fall is like practically here. School is here. You may now kiss your bride.
copyright (c) 2014 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
Last night I took a very special little person to school for the first time. He’s been to school daily for almost his entire life as we’ve dropped off and picked up his older brothers, or attended this or that assembly or concert or open house. But he’s never been to school, just for him. He was tickled that it was finally his turn to go while his brothers stayed home for a change. Olivier, my third born boy who loves dinosaurs and lives inside of his own imagination, held my hand and went to his very own Kindergarten Orientation in such a state that he was practically vibrating with energy.
I don’t think I can overstate how badly this boy wants to go to school. He’s been asking when it’s going to be his turn since he was 2.5 and the boys went off to kindergarten and grade 2. I’ve been pulling back on the going to school excitement all this time, telling him that he has to wait until he’s 5 to start school. The cutoff here is March 1. I am aware of how different that is from everywhere else, and how odd it must seem that we send children to kindergarten as young as aged 4.5 years old. To me it is odd that people in other places wait until children are nearing or already 6 to send them to kindergarten. That is simply not done here. A 6 year old in kindergarten, unless they are turning 6 sometime maybe in Jan/Feb but mostly in March or after, would stand out in a group of 4.5 to 5.5 year olds. Growing up, all of my peers who were already whatever the next age was for that grade, often got asked if they “failed” a grade, because otherwise why would they be so much older? Usually, all of the children born right up until the end of December go to school. The January/February kids are a bit of a toss up. Some go, some wait. Depends on the kid. When I polled friends informally on Facebook, all of the ones who’d waited replied publicly telling me not to send Olivier this year, while the ones who sent their kids young sent me private messages telling me that if the kid is ready to just send them and it would be fine. Because Olivier has a February birthday, he is eligible to go this fall and be one of those young 4.5 year olds. We weren’t going to do it. I know and generally agree with, all of the reasons why it’s usually better to wait to send the very youngest of the youngest kids and have them be the oldest instead. So right up until Christmas I was firm on how we were not sending him and would be waiting another year.
Then he started to learn how to read in February, right as he was turning 4. That was when the doubt came. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe he should go. Kindergarten here is very much still what kindergarten is supposed to be. Letters, numbers, stories, learning through center time, and adjusting to classroom routine and expectations. It is half day and it is low pressure. There are no academic standards which children are expected to meet before entering school. They learn through play and hands on exploration and activities. Mateo loved kindergarten so much that he wanted to go back almost all the way through grade 1.
Even still, I looked into preschool. Maybe Olivier could just do preschool for a year. Every single preschool or private junior kindergarten that I looked up -and there were quite a few- advertised essentially the same thing. Two or three days each week for 2 or 3 hours, for $150-$400 each month. He would learn letters, numbers, shapes, colors, patterns, seasons of the year, holidays, social skills, and have his first exposure to being part of a classroom. Totally reasonable. If he didn’t already have the academic side of what preschool has to offer, totally down. Why pay for that when he can go to kindergarten 5 days a week for 2.5 hours, for free? He needs more. He needs to go to kindergarten.
I still didn’t want to send him. I talked to the boys’ old kindergarten teacher, who knows my kids very well. She said to send him. I asked the principal of the current school, as well as the Catholic school up the street, and they both said that if he’s beginning reading, to send him. The being youngest part will sort itself out because he won’t be the only kid who turns 5 late. I talked to one of the kindergarten teachers at the current school and he said the same thing. So I got the registration forms. I filled them out. And they sat on the counter for 2 months. Or maybe 4 months. Who’s keeping track?
What is wrong with me? I have done this before. I have sent two children to school already. One of whom started kindergarten having been assessed with the fine motor skills of a 9 month to 2.5 year old, whose teacher had to create an escape space for him to use to calm himself down because the whole going to school thing was an exceptionally overwhelming transition for the poor kid, and who ran his little self out the door and down the hall when another student dared hug him that one time. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder halfway through kindergarten. Yet knowing he was in the middle of assessments for autism, I still sent Andreas to kindergarten having just turned 5 and being in the middle of the pack age wise. I sent my firstborn to school without a second thought. I sent my second born, who had some pretty major things going on at the time, with a lot of anxiety but no doubt whatsoever. Why then haven’t I been able to register Olivier, the child who loves all the people in all of the places at all of the times? The one who wants to go to kindergarten more than any other child I’ve met in my life, apart from possibly me. Why not? As if I even know.
Kindergarten isn’t supposed to be this hard before it starts.
So I waited. I waited and I talked the ears off of my best friend Jaclyn and my husband Glenn. Almost daily. I don’t even know why either of them are still speaking to me on friendly terms at this point. This obsessing has been going on from February until last night, when kindergarten orientation happened. Cue kindergarten teacher introducing herself. I tell her that I have been having a really hard time deciding whether to send him and that I haven’t handed in the registration forms yet. She then shares with me that her own son is a day younger than Olivier and she cried for a month over whether or not to send him, until her husband finally stepped in, made the decision, and registered him. She joked that we can be kindred spirits in the stress of sending our 4.5 year olds to kindergarten.
Done. The doubt left. I love my sweet little Olivier and I love having him home with me every day. I love watching him play and learn and seeing his imagination at work. I don’t want to share him. I am not ready. But he is. He’s bored at home, and needs to be challenged. And in that moment of talking to the kindergarten teacher, my reasons for sending him made sense and the doubt left. If the teacher is sending her own son, then I can feel confident sending mine. He’s going to kindergarten. I handed in the registration forms and walked out of there knowing that this is a done deal.
Do I still wonder how it’s going to go? Yes. But the thing that has kept me from putting the decision off altogether, saying to hell with it and waiting a year, is the knowledge that if we were to wait a year, he’d be bored learning the alphabet at going on 6 years old when he’s got it now. He’d be bored and he’d be nothing but mischief. If we’d waited, I can hear the teacher asking me why we didn’t send him sooner. I may be a proud mama but I’m also an honest one and this boy seeks attention when he’s got nothing else to do. Better to keep this one engaged and enthusiastic now than hold him back and frustrate him (and his teacher) later. All of the what if’s that have been causing me doubt are starting to fade. Doubts like:
What if he struggles later on? What if I get hit by a bus tomorrow? Should I not leave the house? If he struggles later on we’ll help him. Besides, what if he succeeds? I don’t want to hold him back now on the fear that some challenge may arise in the future. Fear is a bad reason to make a decision.
He’ll drive last. What does this have to do with his education? He gets his license halfway through grade 11 instead of between grade 10 and 11. This is not a big deal. I don’t plan to give my kids an all access pass to my vehicle anyway. City transit exists for a reason. If he has a job and his own car, he can drive when he can drive.
He won’t be 18 when he graduates. Only about half of the grads are 18 here. Half are 17. Glenn turned 18 the November after he graduated. I turned 18 in August after I graduated. Technically I graduated in January of grade 12 because I’d met the credit requirements and the government mailed my diploma to me early so I wasn’t even close to 18. I only walked the stage in May because that’s when that event took place. The last half of grade 12 was spent taking a math class for a scholarship and working part time at Investor’s Group. I had my foot out the door of high school well before it ended. Mateo and Andreas will turn 18 in July and September after they graduate. Nobody in this household will be 18 when they graduate, unless we send Rosalie late. Oh well. And you know what else? The drinking age in this province is 18 years old. I would much rather my kids NOT be legally allowed to drink while they are in high school anyway. Be 17. Be a teenager. Finish school while I can still kill your joy by not letting you act like an 18 year old. THEN go be an adult and hit those other adult milestones when I don’t have to ask if you have a test on Monday morning. Take a year off and work to save money for school. If they’re only 17 going on 18 there certainly won’t be a rush for college. Go on a mission trip. Take up a hobby. Make money. Serve people. Work. Hate your job. Get a new job. Figure out what to go to college for. Be sure. Make more money before you quit your job to go to college and be poor for 4 years. No, really. This is what I plan to tell my kids. And it’s all coming out of my dilemma out of whether to send my kid to kindergarten. I need a life. (If they want to go to college right out of high school, that’s cool too. I did. They’ll be 20 or 21 with a degree and lots of time for the living. Whatever. Either way they’ll be fine.)
He might fall behind socially. I kind of doubt this. Because of the next point.
He might get pushed ahead socially. Too late. With 2 older brothers close in age to him, he’s already being pushed ahead socially. Mateo being firstborn was sheltered and kind of naive, and he still is compared to some of his peers who have older siblings. Those kids seem to have more of an idea of what’s coming next, while Mateo just doesn’t. Olivier has always been on the heels of his older brothers. Being around older kids all the time is his normal. It’s really okay. To be honest, I’m glad that Olivier will be only 2 years behind Andreas in school, because they are just under 2.5 years apart in age. The kids at school won’t corrupt him any more than his brothers already have, and he’ll have his brothers not too far ahead of him.
What about bullies? He could be bullied for being the oldest just as easily as for being the youngest. Or for any other number of stupid reasons. This goes back to the fear thing. I refuse to hold my kid back from something that will be such a good experience for him now, out of fear of a hypothetical situation that may or may not take place later.
This decision to send a kid to kindergarten, when their birthday flirts with the cut off date, is so much harder than I thought it would be. I almost wish that we didn’t have the option. That the age range for kindergarten was set and that there wasn’t any overlap to make parents stress over. I know lots of other parents who have had the same choice to make, and decided differently for the best of their particular child and situation. When we have to make this same decision for Rosalie in a couple of years, we’ll be asking ourselves the same questions and we may decide differently for her. It’s hard to say. A big part of my sending Olivier is his eagerness to read and learn now, and my desire to take advantage of that during such foundational growing years. Pour as much into him as he wants to soak up and it’ll always be there. I would not have sent Andreas early if he’d had a later birthday because he had so much going on when he was 4, even though he was (and is) a very bright little boy. Every kid is so different, even in the same family.
I’m just glad that for this one, the decision is made and we can stop fretting over it. Olivier is heading to Kindergarten, baby! (And he is really, really excited!)
copyright (c) 2014 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
Congratulations – you have survived the winter that almost never ended and crushed spirits everywhere. I wonder how much the drug companies made selling antidepressants to people with seasonal depression. No judgement. Just honest curiosity. Cabin fever should be a diagnosis of it’s own I think, because it nearly killed me for real. By March I was sending my sons outside to just shovel off the trampoline and jump in their snowsuits because they were bouncing off the walls indoors enough as it was. I’m Canadian. I actually love me some winter snow. Fall snow and spring snow acting as bookends to the winter snow however, I could live without. I almost forgot what grass and leaves on trees look like in real life. Was I just imaging it being real? It snowed briefly while we were at a BBQ in May and I called out the window, “Elsa, is that you?” Because damn. Enough already. But it’s here now, all of that green lusciousness everywhere. Sweet blessed mercy, spring has finally overtaken winter, and just in time for summer. We are feeling all of the joy over here.
The kids around here don’t get out for summer break until the end of June. Because Jesus loves me, that’s why. The end of June feels really far away right now but really it’s tomorrow so I was trying to come up with like a master list of things to do with my 4 children over summer break. There is no shortage of events, attractions, places to go, and things to do around here. We are signed up for free bowling, we have passes to Heritage Park, access to the lake, library cards, and endless games and toys in our own house and backyard. So why am I worried about what we’re going to do all summer?
Because I am the mom and it’s on me. While I don’t feel compelled to be their constant entertainment committee, and really don’t feel like their boredom is my personal responsibility, the reality is that they are still kids and still need some direction on my part. I need a summer strategy or they will consume me. Here is the list so far. Some of these ideas will make you money, some are DIY, and some will cost you money. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments.
1. Do a super purge of all the closets and toy box and rooms and garage, and have a yard sale.
2. Have a lemonade stand. (Especially on yard sale day)
3. Try out new parks at schools or neighborhoods you haven’t been to yet.
4. Water park or swimming pool.
6. Make an obstacle course.
7. Build a fort.
8. Nature walk or hike.
9. Short road trip (we are hoping to do Banff and the Royal Tyrrell dinosaur museum)
11. Water fight
13. Berry Picking
14. Corn Maze/fun farm type places
15. Put on a talent show or play
17. Bubbles & side walk chalk (for the younger ones)
18. Let them make movies for a youtube channel (for the older ones)
19. Go for a walk to get slurpees or ice cream
20. Quiet time (we make this happen every day)
21. Scavenger hunt or treasure hunt
22. Chores (because summer is messy and they should help clean it up!)
23. Bike ride
24. Disorganized sports (get a few other parents and their kids together and have a soccer game)
25. VBS (Vacation Bible School)
26. Day camp
27. Free Bowling (www.kidsbowlfree.com)
28. Fishing (we just got our boys into this and they love it)
29. School work – because kids forget things over the summer. So a little reading or math isn’t going to kill them.
30. Movies on a rainy day
I’m sure there are many more things to do on a summer day. We have one kid interested in learning French and another one that Daddy is teaching to play guitar. And around here, when all else fails, we go to Grandma’s house and make our boredom her personal responsibility.
copyright (c) 2014 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
“I have a question.”
I had come armed to youth group that night. My questions were a shield, a defense against the clarity of truth that I was earnestly trying to deflect. I’d been reading the Bible in an attempt to find a reason not believe in all the crazy things the Christians (aka freaky Jesus people) believed about Jesus. I was 17. I was angry. I didn’t want a God that called himself Father because if that was the case, then where the hell was He, I wondered? And what could Jesus really have to do with anything? I was walking the line with God and what a maddening, intoxicating time that was. Because I believed in something. I just wasn’t sure what I was going to do if it turned out to be this.
It was my little sister who started it. She went by a church one day and they invited her in. So then, without even making sure that they weren’t a bunch of kool-aid wielding wingnuts, she just went in and gave them our phone number. As if people do that – but she did. It was the summer of 2000. And the
freaky Jesus people Christians called and invited me to church when I picked up the phone instead, telling them that my sister was away for the summer, but that I might want to come. (With thoughts of homicidal juice in the back of my mind, and a pull away from the loneliness in my heart.) As if I did that. But I did. And I went. And I kept going. And I made some really unexpectedly amazing friends who bore no resemblance to wingnuts of any kind. Before I knew what was happening to me, I had started reading the Bible. Which lead to a lot of skeptical and probably very annoying questions for my youth pastor.
Until that question.
“So you know in Luke, where Jesus says to take up your cross…well why would he say that if he hadn’t even been to the cross yet?”
Here I thought I was being clever. Because how could Jesus have said the thing about the cross before dying on one, if he even died on one at all? Answer me that.
Then my youth pastor laid it out for me.
Jesus was talking to people who knew the grief of the cross. People who wouldn’t have thought it was cute to put one around your neck as jewelry, because the way of the cross is the way of convicted criminals convicted to die a merciless death of unbearable torture and naked, crying shame. Following him meant fully giving up your life, your rights, and your dignity – and he meant for them to fully grasp this.
Also – Jesus knew where he was going. He was making a prophetic allusion to what was coming. They wouldn’t know it at the time, but they’d remember it later. Would they ever remember it.
And that’s when a simple question turned my heart. Jesus knew where he was going. HE KNEW. He knew the cross was coming all along and he kept going anyway. He carried it among them every day in his thoughts and heart, and then he carried it on his back to his death as he hung from it, bleeding out and suffocating into glory. This wasn’t imagery or metaphor. It was literal. He knew and He did it anyway. And He was calling them to pick up their cross and follow Him. He was calling me to that.
What. The. What.
More questions came, but they were different then. Instead of pouring over ancient words looking for a loophole, I was pouring over the Jesus story trying to figure out why. Why would He do that? I could get behind the idea of Jesus being a good man or a prophet or someone who points people to God or something, but taking the cross on purpose didn’t fit with my understanding of good man or prophet. So why then? Why would He do that?
Months passed. I kept reading. I kept asking questions. I graduated high school. It was a year from when my sister first went by the church and gave them our phone number. I went to camp with the youth group and God took the opportunity to wreck me for Him upon arrival. He answered my question. It was simple. Jesus did it for everybody and for me. We throw around these big words like atonement and sin and transgression and reconciliation but that’s what He did on that cross. He knew what was coming and He did it anyway. For everybody, but for me too. Because I was lost, so lost, and He was looking for me to be found.
This is the God who was there all along and He showed me. He showed me where He’d been and what He’d been doing and it was glory and I was so, so wrong about everything. What a relief that was.
Cue dramatic conversion experience on the floor of a camp building they called the Tabernacle. Picture less of a tidy sinner’s prayer and more of a repentant, ruined forever, ugly cry. Because Jesus saves, for real.
Easter comes to the church calendar again and I think about that old question of mine as we focus on the Christ of the cross. As I think about His call for me to carry it too and follow Him. And it’s crushing a little bit, the weight of that call. I can’t do it. I can’t give up my life. Except that He says we must. So I do, even though I keep dropping it and trying to dress it up on a pretty chain when it really belongs square on my back. I pick it up again and again and I fail again and again. All the while knowing how the story ends and ultimately will begin.
Knowing that like Jesus and because of Jesus, death will not be the end for me. After the cross and after dying to myself a million times until I really do die for real, I get to keep on following Him. Forever. Eternity is a long, long time and it starts with Jesus not even really being dead after all and neither will we be. It’s terrifying and mysterious and I am all in, rights and dignity be damned, I guess. Easter is Jesus knowing and doing it anyway. Easter is glory and I am undone.
copyright (c) 2014 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved
You know how in the movies, when someone is on death row (in prison), and they’re on their way to whatever it is that the law has decided is going to kill them – the jailer or narrator or someone calls out, “dead man walking!” You know that?
Take that imagery and transfer it for a moment if you will to the tired masses of moms of school aged children everywhere.
We are busy. There is an unending stream of papers and books and forms and clubs and whatnot coming from school at all times. The more kids you have, the more of this gets thrown at you. In addition to the rest of life which may include a job or other children or the marriage you’ve put on the back burner while you raised the children that you now send off to school every day.
As if you even give a care.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the field trips, special days, clubs, projects, and book orders. Having children who can read well and do math proficiently is kind of incredibly important to me. That my kids have teachers who pour their blood, sweat, tears, time, and enough money on Tim Horton’s that they could probably own a franchise of their own – this is pretty spectacular stuff.
But some days, I’m like a prisoner on my way to whatever the next thing is that my kids’ educational process has decided is going to kill my last ounce of will to function in a day. Where is my narrator to call out, “tired mom ranting!”
Thank God for the internet then, right?
Today as I sat down after getting Rosalie and the 2 other kids I babysit twice a week, down for their naps, I saw a little e-mail pop up on my computer. Got Olivier set up with a blanket on the couch for his quiet time with his dinosaurs and some Thomas the Train on Netflix. Opened up my computer as I often do, and read an e-mail from Andreas’ grade 1 teacher.
In said e-mail it explained that they forgot tomorrow is the 100th Day Of School and so they are having a celebration to mark it, and can we please send our kids with 100 of something that is small and we do not need back.
Now, I fully respect that his teacher is putting all that work into a special day that nobody expects of her. So yes, kudos to her. Lucky kids to have a teacher who wants to make learning fun and all that. This is the same teacher who made a special meeting just for us last week to talk about Andreas’ IPP (Same thing as an IEP, for my American friends.) I’m sure her time is just as limited and there is tons of educational value in this 100th Day business.
But that e-mail read to my tired mommy eyes like this:
I need you to do 100 things for me. By tomorrow.
I posted as much on facebook and sarcastically commented that his teacher is going to have 99 problems tomorrow when Andreas doesn’t have 100 of anything to bring.
(Note to teacher, in case she is reading this: I didn’t mean it. Don’t give up on me.)
And then decided that I was going to rip up 100 pieces of paper and write the word “CARE” on each of them to represent all the tiny cares I do not give.
I almost meant it.
Then I got thinking. The teachers are not to blame. I think we need to blame Pinterest. Just like my rant on how Pinterest has ruined birthday party planning for parents forever, I think Pinterest is probably just as bad for teachers.
Oh yes, Pinterest is a treasure trove of idea sharing for educators. If I were a teacher, Pinterest would be my lesson planning sidekick. Like partners in fighting crime, except more like partners in fighting illiteracy. But I have this sneaking suspicion that it also puts the pressure on teachers to turn their classrooms into self-contained think tanks set to produce the next wave of little geniuses. When really some days you’re probably just glad they all know how to wipe themselves independently, aren’t you? I’m on to you, teachers.
You know what I remember learning in school? I remember learning how to count to 100. I do not remember having a party to celebrate this achievement. These kids don’t even know how lucky they are. When Mateo finished grade 1, he asked when his graduation would be. Because they had one for kindergarten and he really thought he was getting a special assembly for completing every grade. We then had a conversation about how you don’t get a prize for doing what is expected of you. The prize is now you get to do the next grade where the work is harder and more is expected of you. Just like life. Yay.
So teachers, everywhere, I just want to say – between you and me – that you are truly wonderful people for doing all these extra things that the kids probably don’t even appreciate half the time, and the underachieving moms like me write ranty blogs about.
The next 100 days of school project may involve 100 tiny bottles of liquor or 100 shot glasses for the staff room. Because I care about your mental health and well being. I CARE.
But this 100th Day project is going to involve 100 pieces of leftover Halloween candy. That should be enough for sharing I think. I won’t need it back. Two can play this game.
copyright (c) 2014 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved