Strings and sealing wax

It feels a little weird to sit down and write things about Tempest’s life and challenges now that she seems to be in the midst of her pre-teen years.
There’s been a major change in her personality over the last six or eight months, and it’s like she’s aged five years over the last one. Suddenly she’s too mature to play with Xan or Zephyra, except on rare occasions; she’s almost never in the house anymore; she’s less shy about showcasing her intelligence and is more and more interested in the finer details of the world around her. She feels like ‘the almost-teenager that lives in the house with us’, and it gives me a rather disconnected feeling, like I’m just as unsure as she is about where she fits in. I can’t group her in with Xan and Zephyra anymore – she’s too much her own person to be one of “the kids”.
This stage of life isn’t proving as challenging as I thought it would be, which can be chalked up to a budding sense of self-confidence and awareness that she never had previously, but it is definitely more… difficult to wrap my head around. Writing about her feels less like writing about my children and more like writing about another person; like how it felt to write about Marika when she was living with us. It’s weird. It’s not so much that I think it’s inappropriate to ever mention her, but rather that she no longer feels like an extension of me the way that “kids” do.

That feeling is doubly weird whenever she approaches me and asks if I’d talked about something funny or interesting that happened to her “online” yet, and if I’d posted enough pictures of her “to my friends” yet and what they’d said. She always urges me to share the mundane things far more often than I normally would, and is very interested in what goes on within my Facebook. Whenever I’m on she’s suddenly needing to ask a million questions that require her to stand right over my shoulder, and is desperate to have her own account (even though she has zero friends who use the service). I think she wants the bragging rights over any other reason.

We went to the Pride festival on July 6th and while I was in the bathroom doing my makeup Tempest came in to ask, “What’s the main colour of the festival?”
“Rainbows,” I answered.
“No, I mean the main colour.”
“Rainbows,” I said again.
She gave an exasperated sigh. “No, mom, I know it’s rainbows but I mean is there a main colour WITHIN the rainbow that… stands out? I need to coordinate my look. My top is rainbow but what about a pink skirt? Does pink go with gay pride?”
“Great, thanks.”

And off she goes leaving me a little stunned at how normal the conversation felt; like I’m not speaking with a little child anymore. I find myself talking to her more like an equal than a kid – like I’ve forgotten to put on the ‘mom hat’ that subconsciously goes on whenever you have conversations with your kids, particularly when they’re emotional – and that’s a bit of a weird feeling. It’s not something I consciously chose to do or not do, it just sort of happened as her conversation skills improved. It’s not even all the time… it’s only just enough that I’m starting to notice it more often, and be aware of how weird it feels.

One of the interesting things about having a preteen is that they barely ever live in the house… or maybe that’s just my preteen?
Tempest will get up, eat breakfast, watch her crazy horrible shows on Netflix for an hour (seriously, have you guys ever seen “House of Anubis”? It’s so painful. Oh my god.) and then leave the house to hang out with her friends immediately after finishing. After that I’m lucky if I see her once or twice before dinner.
There’s a rather nebulous group of other pre-teen girls from the community that she hangs out with, and they do nothing but wander around all day long; occasionally picking up new friends from neighbouring communities or streets, dropping a few around lunch time, and going from house to house looking for snacks to feed their crazy insane appetites. It’s like a little tweenie girl gang. Every so often the group piles into our house for about five minutes to grab some freezies, tease Xan or coo at Zephyra before running back out again.

I only recently granted Tempest permission to leave the complex with her little girl gang and visit neighbouring streets or the park down the road. It’s a low traffic area with lots of families, and I’m not at all worried about her safety: she’s surprisingly well-behaved when on her own, or with her little girlfriends, far more so than she is when she’s with me which I’m sure is also a reflection of the importance she puts on maintaining this new-found independence. To her this privilege has been a life-altering symbol of her maturity (and more importantly, her maturity over Xan).
The girls in the group range in age from 9 to 12, and most have also very recently been granted the same freedom. They don’t really do anything with this amazing gift except wander around all day long, quietly showing off to the younger children in the community who aren’t permitted to leave. The younger kids will chase them until coming to a sudden stop at the invisible age wall at the large sign that marks the entrance to the private road, then throw pinecones or loudly pout over the show of dominance the older girls have.

All of them seem to be in the same stage of transition, and rely heavily on each other for social cues and nuance as they learn to navigate their way through preteenhood. Tempest is a mirror and a sponge: her personality and behaviour gradually shift to match the group the more time she spends with them. I don’t think it’s a bad thing – in fact I think it’s totally normal: she’s learning who she is by absorbing and experimenting, finding what suits her and who she’s becoming.
Suddenly fashion has become way more important than it ever was and she spends ages deciding what to wear, how to wear it, and will go as far as changing her clothes multiple times a day or wearing the same things over and over if she likes them enough. She wants to accessorize everything, and can’t get enough of hats and rings and scarves and necklaces. She walked around in 36 degree heat the other day in a scarf and bolero because the suffocating discomfort was a sacrifice she was willing to make for the sake of fashion.
Music has become integral to her day-to-day life, and she cannot function without the knock-off MP3 player my mother got her, and the portable speaker she found in a box marked “free” after a nearby garage sale ended: together they are her most prized possessions. If allowed, she’ll spend hours with her friends crowded around a computer watching music videos of pop music in English, Japanese and Korean and remarking on the deeper meaning, dancing and visual storytelling. She carries one of my old purses and it can often be heard belting out her favourite songs as she wanders about; creating a soundtrack to her life.
A few years back it was a chore to get her to shower once a week and now she’s up every morning even before Z has woken up so she has the freedom to take over the bathroom for an hour. She’s obsessed with the creams and oils I have for skin and hair care and compliments me on my make-up application.

Tempest has always had a bit of a lag when it comes to her emotional maturity, and up until very recently all her good friends have been quite a bit younger than her. Now, all of a sudden, her friends are her age or a year older.
She started wearing training bras largely because she has two friends that do the same. She’s asking a million questions about God and religion because she has a handful of friends who are either Muslim or Catholic and show varying degrees of observance. All of a sudden she’s talking about what she might believe in and how it differs from me, or Curtis or Xan, and discusses it in a way that lets me know what brings her comfort without judgment and I’m just completely taken aback by her awareness of this kind of thing.

Earlier this week she got a pile of jewelry from a yard sale (for free) and some of it included rosaries and some bracelets with images of Mary or Jesus. After I explained to her what it meant to people who are Christian, she decided all on her own that it was disrespectful to wear the icons of a religion you don’t believe in like they’re “pretty” and polled her friends to find out whose family worshiped these things so she could gift it to them appropriately. I was so impressed, and proud, and just stunned… because it seems like this kind of awareness of herself, others, and social graces has come out of nowhere after years and years and years of struggling hard with the most basic concepts.
I’d love to thank myself for this huge growth in awareness and sensitivity, and imagine I’m the most awesome parent ever who managed to get through the fog of Aspergers and reach her in the most effective manner, but I can’t lay claim to that. I try as much as I can but I don’t believe I’ve done anything in particular that made that big a difference… honestly I think this is 99% her own doing. Maybe it’s just a part of growing older, maybe something clicked in her in a very certain way, but whatever it is… it’s changing her. She’s not that struggling, frustrated little girl that she’s been for so long. I’m so proud. And a little lost… not just for the reasons I stated earlier, but because I’ve spent so much of her life devoted to a specific set of goals and rules and ideals and now that she’s made this very sudden switch I’m left a bit stunned. My wheels are spinning and I think it’ll take me a bit for my parenting program to catch up.

It’s getting really weird thinking of her in a pseudo-adult sort of way. She’ll be eleven in August and I’m not entirely sure how she’ll fare as a teenager; I can only pray, and try my hardest, in hopes she’ll be half as close to me as I was to my mom. But in the meantime I can see her pulling away, and am left to wonder it’s just par for the course.

Months and months back I put my foot down about bedtimes: I said I would no longer be reading these mindless, endless Garfield comic books 365 days a year and that if the kids wanted to be read to as they always have been, then from now on I get to choose the book. They can choose to be present, or not, but if they want to listen they have to be respectful, patient and kind. If they get bored they can leave rather than make everyone else suffer the symptoms of their boredom.

Tempest was very excited by this prospect. Xan not so much.

The first choice was “The Hobbit”, and I pulled out the gilded-edge 50th anniversary edition that I’ve had since childhood. This is the same book my father got me when I was young, and we read it more than a dozen times because I begged for him to repeat it so often.

I started reading one evening after dinner with Z on my back, hoping she would fall asleep listening to my voice. I was pleasantly surprised to find The Elders both absolutely ate it up. I knew Tempest would love it, and while I was pretty sure the story would appeal to Xan, he can be so ridiculously stubborn about not getting his way (and losing his nightly Garfield) that I wasn’t sure how it would go over. It was such an emotional, moving experience for me to watch as their hearts soared for the characters and adventures that were such an important part of my youth. I was legitimately excited to watch them get excited. It was so cool to see how they got so into the story so quickly; to see them get nervous, angry, anxious and cheer for victories. At the end I promised them we’d watch “The Lord of the Rings” extended editions over the course of a few weeks. They ate that up, too.
As an eternal nerd, the best part was seeing them go from ‘casual kid nerds’ to total and complete converts.

After we finished the movies, which was amazing in its own right, we started reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” next. I get through half-to-one chapter per night. Xan often falls asleep, and he has trouble following the finer details of the plot – doubly so once we hit the trial – but Tempest is riveted by the story and is asking questions constantly. At least once every other day our reading time is delayed by 20 minutes or more so we can have another long conversation about race, laws, culture, language, prejudice and history.

As the story progresses, we see Jem start to mature and pull away from his younger sister Scout, she doesn’t quite understand him and thinks he’s trying to show off and act more adult than he is. It’s true to some extent, but it’s also a reflection of his transition from childhood to young man, and his growth is a major theme of the novel. I had forgotten about all of that since the last time I’d read it; I’d wanted to read it to them as a way of expanding on our recent conversations about race and prejudice – but the change in Jem and Scout’s sibling relationship and Jem enters his pre-teens and early teens is an eerie parallel to what is happening within Tempest and Xan’s relationship. I don’t think Xan understands it, but it’s clear that Tempest is absorbing the subtext, and sees herself in Jem’s character development.

We passed the mid-point of the book about a week and a half ago, and just a few nights ago finished the trial, and the chapter where Tom Robinson is found guilty despite being very obviously innocent. As the trial progressed Tempest got more and more into the details. The part where Tom is asked to stand, and the condition of his arm is revealed to all, she about jumped out of her seat just like Jem in the balcony, yelling: “He can’t use his arm! He didn’t do it! She lied! She lied!”.
When he’s found guilty anyway, Tempest was crushed. After consoling her, she said, “That wouldn’t have happened if he was white,” and I felt vindicated in the choice to read this despite being told by others that it was clearly ‘too old’ and ‘too much’. I was younger when my father first read it to me. Reading through this, and the questions and conversations that have come up since we began, has done more to help her and Xan understand the deeper effects of racism than any discussion we’ve had previous to it. I’m continually amazed by Tempest’s depth and intelligence.

One morning last month, Curtis learned that Zephyra had figured out how to get herself out of a nearly-six-foot-high fenced yard with a gate latched at the very top. That was a completely terrifying few moments. When I shared this insight on Facebook, my brother quipped, “What took her so long?”.
She hasn’t had an escape attempt in quite a few months now and we thought she had outgrown the most horrific part of toddlerhood, but apparently not. There is now a padlock on the gate with the key hidden in an envelope, and then stuck to a board on the wall in the kitchen, 5.5 feet up. Still, I remain terrified that I’m going to wake up one morning at 7am and realize that she’s backed a bag and left the house in search of bunnies or something.

Since about mid-June we’ve been babysitting Xan’s best friend Efro on weekdays while his mom works. It’s an arrangement that’ll continue until half-way through August. In exchange she’s offered a weekly stipend to help with food costs, and we’ll be figuring out a carpool plan for the next school year since the boys are going to be in the same school/class. It’s been rather fun having him here: he’s a really intelligent, shy, quiet and polite little guy (making him opposite in personality from Xan… yet they’ve been inseparable for years now). The two of them sit and play Magic: The Gathering or argue about Minecraft more often than anything else, and listening to them is hilarious. A few days ago they had a lively debate about copyright law and what constitutes a proper trademark while eating lunch. Each considered himself an expert despite knowing very little about the topics, making the debate all the more entertaining.
The only challenge has been getting Efro accustomed to Zephyra, as he’s an only child and not at all used to sharing a household with a terribly obnoxious toddler. She takes advantage of his discomfort by chasing, spitting, licking and generally tormenting him every chance she can get. I overheard him and Xan discussing this in Xan’s bedroom not too long ago. Efro solemnly admitted, “I think I hate Zephyra.”
Xan replies, “It’s ok, you just hate her actions. Sometimes I hate her actions, too.”
After a short pause Efro admits, “You’re right, I don’t really hate her. But she is really annoying sometimes.”
“Most babies are, but she’ll grow out of it. You just have to remember to close the door when your stuff is in here.”

It was very sweet.

Every time Zephyra gets into his things or drags something out of his backpack, Xan reminds his friend “that’s what happens when you leave it in her reach!” and gently chides him about natural consequences. It’s really cute, and with Xan’s help Efro is learning very quickly how to adapt. Nowadays he doesn’t have as big a problem with her as he did at the beginning, and is much better about remembering to keep his things safe and keep a calm temper with her.

Though it never ceases to amaze me how difficult the concept of if you don’t want her to chase you, stop running is for kids to absorb. Even my kids. I have had that conversation like four times a day for months now.

Toddlers are smart but have poor eyesight; if you stand still they have difficulty tracking you.

I guess she’s more of a preschooler and less of a toddler now that she’s three (!!!). She’s been out of diapers for about a month now; a milestone I’ve been desperate to celebrate not just for the obvious reasons but also because it allows me to start looking into preschool for her come September. Ideally I’d love to have a preschool/daycare set up that allows me to begin the greuling the process of going back to school, but that’s probably not a reality until Z is in Kindergarten because of the costs (both financial, and physical). Daycare is not exactly something that is easily available in this city, and I’ve had Z on multiple wait-lists for over a year and received only one call-back (and it wasn’t about a free spot, it was about whether or not I still wanted her on the list).

Everyone’s been remarking on how big Z has seemed lately. She’s almost completely transitioned from ‘baby’ to ‘big girl’ with the potty learning, though she still nurses a few times a day. This makes her the only child I’ve had that made it to, and past, three years old still nursing. I night-weaned her about four months ago largely because menopause is making my breasts really tender and her sleepy/lazy latch was making me crazy uncomfortable. And also because I’m really sick of waking up and nursing her 30 times a night because she doesn’t just “nurse quietly” at night… she kicks and spins and goes nuts because it’s more stimulating than relaxing for her. Very, very occasionally she nurses to sleep… but we’re talking once a month. My experience with older toddlers (2.5 and up) has been that they tend to sleep better when they’re no longer night-nursing because they use it as an excuse to party.
With the night-nursing gone she only nurses a few times a day: when she first wakes up in the morning, in the afternoon after her nap, and sometimes when she has a cuddle before bed (which she calls her, “cuddle nursey”; this is the only time she actually drinks milk as opposed to just sort of holding my breast for comfort). I don’t think she’ll continue for too much longer, and once she stops nursing she’ll have left the last remnants of her babyhood behind her. It’s all rather bittersweet: I will miss the little lisping toddler who cannot ever keep clothes on longer than a few minutes, but if I’m being honest I also really, really can’t wait for her to be out of the crazy heart-attack-inducing and constant-tantrum-having stage of life.

Any experienced parent will tell you that three year olds are little assholes. Right now she’s really into the, “Don’t talk to me! I don’t like it when you talk to me!” thing when one of us is disciplining her. That’s fun.
Everywhere I go with her people make the, “Wow what a handful!” or, “So much energy” comments and I’ve long ago learned not to take it as an insult. Those comments started with baby Tempest and never stopped. We’re just blessed to get exclusively high-intelligence, spirited, crazy kids and while it’s exhausting and frustrating and crazy-making, it’s also really rewarding seeing their brains work as they grow. People like quiet, obedient kids that don’t get dirty and never forget their manners and have a default setting of “shy and reserved” but that is really never going to be the kind of kids I have. Once I stopped comparing myself to families like that, and imagined they were “better” and I was “worse”, my life got a lot easier, and I learned to be more thankful, and confident (and relaxed).

My mom always said the smartest kids are the toughest to raise, and she’s not wrong. Tempest and Xan have both been tested and have crazy smarts, and if the escape attempts are any indication then Z is following in their footsteps. I do wish I had the disposable income to enrol them in extracurricular activities, brain-testing camps and such, but you do what you can.
We go for walks a lot, when my pain allows it, and the kids talk so much during the walks that I have to enforce a time-limit on each of them and carefully mediate their turns. It goes on like that literally for hours. I’m always amazed at how they never run out of things to say, questions to ask or topics to expand on, and once we’re away from distractions and screens they get so into it that it’s a challenge to keep up with them.

Since I no longer have a functional camera, a family point and shoot (which Tempest broke), or a phone camera that works (the autofocus has been broken for almost two years) the few photos I get that are acceptable are taken with Curtis’ phone when he’s not at work. So I’ve only got a few to share from my Instagram/Tumblr.

This one was taken with a potato my phone; trying to get a quick, inconspicuous shot of Xan and Zephyra’s favourite new game: Battle Baby.
They go out and carefully set up all the Tonka trucks as war machines, haphazardly pieced together out of broken toys and various parts of other trucks/toys that they can find around the house. Then Zephyra sits her butt down one on of the larger trucks at the forefront and calls out, “BRING ME MY WEAPONS!” as Xan supplies her with loaded squirt guns. Then they yell and scream about advancing aliens and Xan creates intricate plot lines and enemy forces for General Battle Baby to fight with a bucket on her head. It’s pretty amazing.

The kids at the Pride festival this year.

LC came to visit for the first time since Xan’s birthday party last October, and it was in the midst of record-breaking heat. We all walked down to the beach to cool off, which was wonderful, even if it took like an hour and a half longer than it should have to walk home.

Left to right: Aaliyah, Tempest, Z, Efro, Xan, Freja.

The real dangers of co-sleeping.

Zism of the day:
While I’m cooking, Z comes running into the kitchen and says, “Mommy it’s way too hot. We need the door to be open!”
“No, no, no! We can’t open doors, the cat will get out!” I say.
But she’s not heading toward the front door. Instead she passes me, opens up the fridge, takes off her underpants, hikes up her dress and sits her bare butt down on one of the fridge shelves and then tries to close the door on herself.
“What are you doing?” I ask her.
“I’m cooling my hot bum. It’s too hot, mom. I just HAVE to be in the fridge right now.”

Z hands me a piece of paper with some random scribbles on it.
“Oh very nice! What is it?”
“A drawing.”
“I know it’s a drawing, I mean what did you draw?”
She looks at me, blinks, then points at a section of it, “I drew my drawing. See? Right there? That’s a drawing.”
“No I mean what’s it a drawing OF?”
Another pause. “Blue.”
“… it’s a very lovely blue drawing.”
“Thank you.”

Tempestism of the day:
At bedtime, Tempest is being obnoxious by repeatedly playing the same notes on a recorder.
“Please put it upstairs!” I tell her. She starts marching up the stairs, punctuating each step with a note on the recorder. “WITHOUT playing it!” I add.
“It’s an INSTRUMENT, MOM. They’re MADE to be played. What do you expect me to do? Just NOT play it?! When you’re holding an instrument, YOU MUST PLAY IT.”

Awkward moment in parenting of the day:
Tempest came up to me in the afternoon wearing a button-down shirt with half the buttons undone and a camisole/bralette underneath and asks, “How many buttons do I need to have done up before you let me go outside?”

My face: ಠ_ಠ

Links of the Day:
A widow’s 4 children are taken by CPS because she left them home alone to go to work – This right here? This is why I can’t put my faith in the CPS/CAS systems. I have friends who work in it, and I deeply appreciate their efforts to be a beacon, but I feel the system has serious flaws and extremely deep problems when things like this can happen. The terrifying truth is that when I’m outside my home I find myself thinking more often about what parenting choices would have the police called on me, rather than what would actually keep my children safe.
Stromae – “Papaoutai” – I recently discovered this French pop artist and… holy man are his songs great. This one in particular, both the music and the incredible video, give me chills. The hook, “Ou est tu papa?” means, “Where are you dad?”, and the title is a bit of a nonsense word made by playing with the beat and the hook together. I speak virtually no French and can follow along only by recognizing one word out of every 3-4 and getting the gist, but you don’t have to understand the lyrics to know what the song is about. The visual story-telling in the video through dance and set are absolutely spectacular. And if you enjoyed that one, watch [ “Tous les memes” ] (“it’s all the same”) next for more fantastic story-telling through video and dance.
Sir Isaac Newton vs. Bill Nye (Epic Rap Battles of History) – If you haven’t discovered the absolute joy that is ‘Epic Rap Battles of History’, you’re missing out. This one is one of my favourites.
10 common carseat mistakes parents make, and how to fix them – Because proper carseat safety needs to be shared, and discussed and seen until it becomes common knowledge.
I was a victim of predatory remodelling – If you’ve never heard of this term, read this man’s terrifying experience and be aware if you’re ever in the market to buy a home.
The pros and cons of transgender children in the public eye – Choice quote: “You can suppress and oppress your child’s authentic gender so you don’t have to worry about what strangers think, but then you have a very anxious child who will be at a high risk for very negative outcomes.”
“Research shows that allowing children to express their true gender identity from an early age leads to better mental health outcomes down the road, she said. After all, “transgender adults started as transgender kids,”
Dawn of the bionic age: paralyzed man becomes first to use the power of thought to move his hand – Yes, you read that correctly.



Leave a Reply