The Circle of Life

Wedding vows
Wedding vows

Everything around me is chaos. There are boxes and piles of all kinds of things all over the house as we move into the final 10 days before Daughter’s wedding. I don’t remember my wedding being so stressful. Perhaps it’s because it was so much simpler. Still, it’s exciting, and it will all be ready on time – somehow.

We’re playing a little Russian Roulette of sorts. Everything is planned for a garden wedding. Plan B, in case weather doesn’t co-operate, is at the church. Please pray for sun with a few clouds and not too hot.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago we brought our first daughter home after four boys. Her birth was easy, and I remember very clearly when she popped out and the doctor very gleefully announced “It’s a girl!” I replied with an incredulous “Are you sure?” He was, and hubby verified it.

The four boys at home glommed on to her. Her oldest brother, who is 12 years older, especially became her protector and her friend. He would fall asleep with her on his chest, afraid that if he put her in her crib she would wake up. Later, he would carry her for hours on his shoulders. He doted on her and she adored him in return. She could do no wrong. It was the kind of relationship all siblings should have.

And the circle of life continues, as it should.

Bologna, Spam, or Skippy?

Peanut butter and jam sandwich
Peanut butter and jam sandwich

I grew up in a home that had the normal ‘blue and pink’ chore divisions, for the most part. Mom, aside from working outside the home, took care of the majority of the laundry and cleaning. I helped with the indoor stuff. Dad took care of the cars and shovelling the snow in the winter. He was always up early and made sure the walks were clear before we started going in and out. The boys did the yard work and shovelled the walks in the afternoon if they needed it again.

Cooking was a shared job – sort of. I remember Mom mostly cooking suppers. Dad had his full-time job and was often taking more university classes and working part-time in the evenings. Since he was an early riser he made breakfast and packed our lunches for school.

Back then – yes, in the good old days – we didn’t use plastic food containers. Tupperware was the only choice and it was too expensive to risk a lid not coming home. We didn’t have ziplock bags, nor did we have little thermoses. Everything was packed in ‘fold-lock-top’ baggies or baggies with twist-ties.

The lunches Dad packed for me pretty much stayed the same for the 6 years I needed them. There was always one sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread, a few carrot sticks or maybe a few pickles, a piece of fruit, a couple of cookies, and a 5-cent chocolate bar. A couple of times each week he’d give me a quarter to buy a can of pop and a bag of chips.

Everything was pretty predictable – except the sandwich. On a good day it was Skippy peanut butter and strawberry jam. On a mediocre day it was bologna with ketchup making the bread a little gooey. On a not-so-good day it was Spam with mustard or relish that soaked the bread or peanut butter with Welch’s grape jelly that also soaked the bread, making the sandwich inedible. I didn’t dare say anything about soggy bread or my not-so-favorite fillings. Doing so would hurt Dad’s feelings and he’d go on strike for a few days. Honestly, I liked his lunches more than I wanted to pack my own. So I ate what I could, glad that he was facing the difficult job of trying to come up with interesting ideas for packable and palatable lunches. With all the sugar and junk food he put into my little brown paper lunch bags, it’s no wonder I had acne, and it is a wonder I didn’t end up horribly overweight.

Still, I didn’t understand fully the challenge of packing lunches until I had to pack them for hubby and 4 kids. Yikes! The “I don’t likes” and “I wants” were hard enough to work around and were further complicated by schools being ‘nut-free zones.’

I hope my article Nutrition for Learning will give you a few ideas to make feeding your children more healthfully, especially during the school year, a little easier.

Delirious with Love

Breastfeeding mother & babyBaby #1 was born when my parents were out of town. This was pre-cellphone days and they were on a highway trip, so we had no way to reach them to tell them their first grandchild had arrived. When they got back into town they tried phoning our house only to get no answer. They guessed the baby had come – and I don’t recall how they knew which hospital we were at, but they came straight over to meet the little guy. Seriously, they tiptoed into our hospital room still in their travelling clothes.

Mom was not a huge proponent of breastfeeding. She was in that wave of women who bottle fed. Although she attempted to nurse my oldest brother, there was no medical support, and her mom was a hundred miles away on a farm with no phone. There was no one Mom could call for help. Since she was not successful with the first baby she didn’t even attempt to nurse her other two babies.

When our Baby #1 was born in 1981, the medical world hadn’t come much further. The nursing staff at the hospital gave lip service to breastfeeding, but most of them didn’t know what they were doing – having only textbook knowledge and no personal experience of the matter. I was lucky. Baby #1 was a natural. He figured it out pretty quick, had an excellent latch, and while the learning curve was straight up for me because he was my first baby, he taught me well and we were a successful nursing couple for 15 months.

My mom, having not had success with breastfeeding, didn’t think I could do it. She wished me luck, but it sounded a little hollow. Fortunately, I not only had a son who was a talented breastfeeder, I also had friends who were breastfeeding. That peer support is so important. It took only a few months for my mom to come around to the idea that breastfeeding could work well. Funny, Mom actually starting boasting to her friends that I had nursed my baby for xxx months. I think Mom could have done it, too, if she had only had the right people around her to encourage her and help her along. Every mom should have this kind of support!

And because Son #1 and I were such a successful breastfeeding team, I went on to repeat the process with all the rest of our children, breastfeeding for up to 30 months with some of them. Lucky me. I got to enjoy so many ‘cloth diaper, skin-to-skin’ cuddles, and lots of ‘deliriously in love’ prolactin highs.

If you are or have been a breastfeeding mom, what support do you/did you have? How did that support help you?

Baby Blanket #7

Baby blanket flannel
Baby blanket flannel

Most people who meet me for the first time don’t believe I’m old enough to have grandchildren. Fact of the matter is – I am. We welcomed our sixth grandchild in November, and not a week later got the announcement that another one is on the way in July. So come July, we’ll have as many grandchildren as we have children.

I must say I am generally delighted with my children and their spouses and the way they feed our grandchildren.

Many years ago I was in a workshop where the topic was parenting adult children. As I sat there, I contemplated my parents’ parenting style. Dad will sit back, let you get into hot water, then throw you a rope to pull you out. He’ll offer advice when asked. Mom, on the other hand, offers advice anytime, anywhere, on any topic, whether asked for or not.  In the workshop, and also from an older woman whom I have admired for many years, I heard, “Don’t give advice unless asked, and then only give the Coles Notes version. If they want more, they’ll ask for it.” I took that advice to heart, and I really try to hold back and let the kids run their own lives. I think I’m mostly successful. So when I say I’m generally delighted, I’m saying my kids and their

spouses are doing a great job without my meddling in their affairs.

I need to run out to the fabric shop now. I have another baby blanket to make.

Adventures in Parenting

My husband and I have been paCobb familyrenting children in our home for a lot of years – 34, to be exact. Somehow, when we started having kids all those years ago my math brain quit working. When we had our last, 18 years into this experiment, I didn’t stop to think that 18 (the number of parenting years we already had under our belts) + 20 (the additional number of years it would take for the newest baby to be ready to launch) = 38 (total years of parenting from start to finish). Thirty-eight years of parenting, minimum, until the last one would finally leave the nest – what were we thinking? Some of you are saying, “I know what you were thinking. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.”

Really, it was more like, we knew what we were thinking in that moment. We knew after our fourth and fifth babies that our family was not complete. We knew, even as we held baby number six in our arms as a fresh and tiny newborn, that there was yet one more baby to come, and it wasn’t just me being ‘baby-hungry.’ Hubby felt it, too.

We may not be footloose and fancy free like so many of our friends who had fewer children, but I am pretty sure I can say we have had more adventures.

There was the scream early one morning as a daughter fell out of bed, landing just right to break her collarbone. While at the hospital waiting for the x-ray, we discovered that she was also breaking out in chickenpox.  When her older sister came home from school for lunch I checked her out – and she, too, had red spots on her tummy. That was a good day *roll the eyes.*

Or how about the time we got the phone call from a parent who was volunteering with the grade five ski lessons to say that our older daughter had fallen and hurt her wrist but ‘she was fine.’ When she got home we discovered it was both wrists – and x-rays showed she had greenstick fractured both of them! (Explaining that to her ballet teacher, with competitions only 10 weeks away, was interesting!)

Then there was the time when a stranger came to the door with two of our sons, ages nine and seven. The boys had been playing at the playground a block away. The seven year old had parachuted off the swing, landed on his arm, and had quite obviously broken it. He said his parachute (jacket) didn’t open right. The stranger said, “I think you should take him to the hospital.” No duh!

One of the cutest, not-a-broken-bone-stories happened when our oldest two were four and two years, respectively. The two year old was being a two year old and the four year old was getting annoyed at him. The older one came to me and said, “Mom, he’s pushing my luck.” The look on his face told me this was not a laughing matter.

Then there was the time, just a few years ago, when one of our adult sons was struggling. His younger brother said he wanted to help and told us of a time when they were in elementary school. It was raining and blowing really hard while they were walking home. The older brother told the younger one to tuck in behind him and hold on. The older one did the very best eight-year-old job of protecting his little brother from the storm for those four blocks to get him home safely – and some 15 years later the younger one still felt a debt of love to his brother.

Yes, I could entertain you with stories of the high adventures or tender moments of parenting for a very long time, and I’m sure that over the next few years as we prepare our last two children to head out on their own, we will add yet a few more chapters to the anthology. Even though my math head went out the window while we were having babies, I wouldn’t, even on the most stressful and heart-wrenching parenting day, trade any of it for anything in the world.

How many years will you be (or were you) parenting minor children? What is your favorite parenting story?

I Asked My Husband to Sit on Him

Cobb Family 2001At the risk of endangering my own life, I am going to openly admit that none of my seven children has ever had an ear infection.

Once, when I made the mistake of making one of our boys go to swimming class in the middle of winter when he had a cold, he came home with an earache so excruciating he was screaming. Being a good mom, I asked my husband to sit on him so I could put liquid herbs in his ears.That’s the closest we ever came to an ear infection. I don’t ever remember having an ear infection myself.

I’ve worked with so many young families who have struggled with ear infections. This article is all about what to do to beat the ear infection problem. I’d love to hear all about your struggles and successes, and especially the results you get after you try my suggestions.

Dancing in the Kitchen

dancingOur children, all seven of them, learned to dance from me.

Being the mom, it was my responsibility to awaken the children in the morning. They were spread through four bedrooms. I used to go in, sit on their beds, and read scripture stories to them – kind of the opposite of bedtime stories. It was a gentle and uplifting way for us to start the day. Then, while they were getting out of bed and getting dressed, I’d head off to the kitchen to make breakfast. I’d load a CD (yes, this was many years ago, pre-ipod days) into the CD player. It was usually Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, or some other smooth-voiced crooner. As the children padded their way into the kitchen they would get scooped up, one at a time. I’d hug them close, sing quietly in my not-so-smooth voice, and we’d dance for a minute before the pancakes needed flipping or the porridge needed stirring. The next child would appear, and we’d repeat the process with any who were little enough for me to pick up.

They were mostly too young to remember any of this, which is sad, since I know they enjoyed it. I hope that they felt loved, cherished, and happy while we were dancing and sharing a love song.

Funny thing is – as the kids got to be teens, we’d still dance in the kitchen. If they wanted to practice jiving we’d push the furniture out of the way, put on the ipod and dance away. They never wanted to slow dance with Mom – that would have ‘weirded’ them out. If they were playing their ipods, and a remixed song of an old favorite came on, we’d dance while they looked puzzled –  “I didn’t know you knew this song, Mom.” “I knew it before you were born, Sweetie!” – and we’d dance some more with both of us singing.

The kitchen is the perfect place for dance lessons. My only regret is that we never got any photos or videos of dancing in the kitchen.

When did you learn to dance, and who taught you?

I Love September!

September creates more liberated women than any government bill – because school’s in again! I love September. I love the feeling of a ‘bonus’ restart to the year. I don’t like the cooling weather, the shortening days (equinox is Sept 21  🙁  ), or the imminence of winter.

But back to the September thing – I remember when I took our oldest son to his first day of kindergarten. I choked September schoolback tears and tried hard to not do the ugly cry. I don’t think it worked very well. More experienced (or maybe just less emotional) moms looked at me strangely. I couldn’t believe my precious baby was old enough to be leaving me, never mind that I already had two other babies younger than he. It got easier after that.

Well do I remember, too, taking our youngest child to her first day of school. Other moms looked at me strangely as I skipped (yes, I really did) down the hall, sang out loud, and sported the biggest smile ever – almost as big as my wedding day. I was now a liberated woman! I now had two and half hours every school day all to myself, after 23 years of having at least one child with me full-time.

The elation over being liberated was short lived. Little did I know, two-and-a-half hours five times a week is not enough time to conquer the world, achieve all my goals, and keep the house clean, laundry done, and meals on the table. It was a terrible shock when, after just a few weeks, I realized the only real difference between what I could do with children at home versus having all the children in school was the house was now silent while I was doing it.

The house is even quieter now, with only two kids at home – one of them working almost full-time and the other in grade 12 (twelfth grade for my American friends, aka a Senior) with lots of extracurricular activities. It feels like we’re almost empty nesters.

Still, I love September. It’s the gift of a second chance in the year to have a fresh start.

What do you love about September? Or do you love another time of year more?

A Band-aid, a Kiss, and a Cuddle – That’s Parenting

I’ve come to the conclusion that parenting little children is easier than parenting teens and adults. I don’t mean to scare any of you away from having children, and I certainly don’t mean to make you think sending your children to boarding school at the age of 11 is a good idea – tempting though it be.

parentingWhen children are infants they take a lot of time, and it’s all hands on. First-time moms are often shocked when I tell them newborns take eight to twelve hours per day to diaper, feed, bathe, and soothe. “How can such a wee one take so much time? Don’t they just eat, sleep, and poop?” moms ask. “Well, not really.” In retrospect, I’ll take the midnight feeds, the endless changing of diapers, the cuddling and soothing any day of the week, thank you very much.

As they become toddlers and preschoolers they continue to demand a lot of time. Mostly, a parent’s job is to keep the child fed, which is a continuous endeavor; clothed, also a continuous endeavor due to their tremendous creativity in making messes and since so many kids think it’s fun to disrobe and run around in the buff; and safe, which requires a constant, vigilant eye. Every mom knows that quiet children are ‘into something’ and it’s usually not good.

When they are teens, however, they start to play their ‘autonomy’ card. They tell you only what you can interrogate out of them, and you’re never quite sure if it’s the ‘whole truth and nothing but the truth’ or if it’s what they think you want to hear. You have to become a master detective, learning how to watch and listen for clues, and chances are you’ll miss some no matter how attentive you are. This is the hardest part of all. You’d gladly trade the busy-ness of their childhood for the sleepless nights spent worrying about something you know is not quite right but can’t put your finger on. This is the point in this article everyone who is over 25 years should be phoning their parents to apologize for all the stupid things we put our parents through when we were teens.

Then, when our kids are adults (and I’ve written about this before), there are the episodes of being ‘blind-sided’, when skeletons emerge from closets, when the poor decisions of teen and young adult years come back to haunt – and as a parent all you can do is try to hold your heart together to keep it from breaking into a million pieces as you watch your adult child struggle with things you can’t possibly help with. You can’t undo the past, and neither can you offer healing for the future. All you can offer is love.

Yup. It was easier when they were little. When a band-aid, a kiss, and a cuddle solved all their problems.

A Reason to Chuckle

I chuckled yesterday. It’s really not that rare of an occurrence – but this time it was different.

toilet talk at dinnerWe’ve had a long standing family joke that says it’s not a dinner if we don’t talk about poop at least once. Sometimes our family dinner chats have even gone that direction when we’ve had guests over for dinner. It’s one way people know we have accepted them into our clan, and I think it’s an occupational hazard of being a nutritionist/herbalist/iridologist.

So why did I chuckle last night? We were eating dinner. One of our ‘Daughters From Another Mother’ was over with our Adorable Grandbaby (no bias, no pride here!) Grandbaby made a funny face that DFAM recognized. She asked the daughter who was holding AG to check the diaper. Sure enough, it was full. And then the discussion followed of how AG’s BMs had changed since the introduction of solids – what the characteristics are of an avocado diaper versus a sweet potato diaper, how some BMs shoot all the way up the back – all while we were merrily eating our dinner.

DFAM has been a part of our family for about three years now. We love her dearly and are so happy our son chose her to join us. We had, however, been sorely negligent in not initiating her properly sooner. When I realized what was happening at dinner last night I did start laughing, and apologized, not for the topic of discussion, but for not welcoming her properly with a ‘toilet talk’ at dinner sooner.