Friday, December 11, 2009

Confessions: Bad Mother Moments

Oy...this post will be hard to write.

This morning marked my son's first Christmas concert at his school, the Santa Lucia celebration or "Julfest".

In Sweden, today marks the celebration of Santa Lucia, some Italian Saint. The kids dress up in traditional Swedish garb: white floor length tunics or Santa Claus costumes ("Tomten" in Sweden). Many of the girls (and some boys too) wear garlands around their heads with four lit candles, marking the four weeks of advent. Modern days have battery-powered candles so little heads don't catch fire. The children sing traditional Swedish Christmas songs while proud parents look on in a candlelit room. Swedish Christmas buns and gingerbread are served following the concert.

There was one not-so-proud parent in the audience today and likely an obvious one. That embarassed, angry and defeated parent was me. And I am admitting it. Perhaps the first step towards change and healing?

You see the last little concert put on by the school involved a breakdown on the part of my little guy. The parents assembled in the classroom while the kids waited outside in the hallway to make their grand entrance. When they finally entered, he was a puddle of tears and quickly ran over to his Mom and Dad for comfort. Eventually he did join them in singing. Well I deduced that our son couldn't understand why his parents were at his school while he was forced to wait to join them. He didn't quite get it.

I had convinced myself that this concert would be different. I have been prepping him for the eventuality of the separation for over a week. "Mummy and Daddy will come to school with you and you will wait with the kids in the hall while Mummy and Daddy wait for you in the classroom." Cripes, I even practiced the Swedish words for this speech. We talked about him dressing up as Santa, how he would sing loudly with the other kids and how Daddy would take pictures. I took him through the day's events with great care, all in hopes of avoiding this meltdown. I thought it was fool-proof. I was the fool.

We got there on time (a miracle really, considering my husband's chronic tardiness). I made a show (again) of explaining where the two of us were going and we would see him soon. While we waited (me impatiently), I even peeked outside to make sure a puddle of tears hadn't begun to form. And then I sat and waited some more.

The piano started and the children began to file in while singing the Santa Lucia song. And when I didn't see our son in the place he should have been, I knew where he would be: At the back of the pack, holding on to the teacher's hand and much to my dissapointment, in tears.

The only child in such a state.

He came over sobbing and I hugged him. He sat on my lap.

I stewed. My face turned to stone and the anger was palpable. I am certain the other parents and teachers in the room could sense it. I worked so hard to prepare him. How could this happen? His father and I are outgoing. What's wrong with our son?
Even after several attempts to push him into the circle with the other children, I was left wanting. Wanting for him to be the child who sang the loudest, screamed with glee, made the cutest little gestures, the center of attention. Instead I endured over six songs with a silent, shaken child...and I stewed. When he tried to get me to look at the classroom Christmas tree, I ignored him, telling him I was listening to the other children sing.

His father sensed my frustration and quickly motioned for our son to join him.

Our families back home are waiting anxiously for photos and video that will never come. I will have to tell my mother our son didn't perform. And there you have it, encapsulated in that last line: my mother.

I love my mother. But as a child growing up, I did whatever I could to gain her acceptance and love. I was the loudest, the brightest, the most animated, the teacher's pet. That's what I had to do. And if I failed to please her in one of these ways, the consequences were her disapproval, anger, resentment and bitterness.

And today, during that Christmas concert, I became my mother.

I cried all the way home while my husband told me what I needed to hear, the harsh truth: "You just want him to be the best. You are competitive. You want photographic/videographic evidence to prove to everyone what a great son he is and by consequence, what a great mother you are. It has to stop now. We don't know why he didn't want to participate. Maybe he has stage fright. You can't force him. He is not a performing monkey."

The remainder of the event, post sing-a-long, showed my son engaged with his friends, enjoying and participating in play. I just want him to belong, I keep telling myself.

But even that isn't good enough/wasn't good enough for me. I needed him to be the best. To be what I expected him to be. To live up to my standards. To be the "perfect child". He's only 3. What am I doing? What have I done?
I'm praying my husband's words were the intervention I needed. I need to break the chain here and perhaps by being aware and confessing my failure today as a mother, I might be headed in the right direction.

But please pray for me. I do not want my son to grow up constantly longing and searching for his mother's approval and love. I do not want to make him feel like a failure. I want him to know his mother loves him unconditionally and that she will not judge him, but accept and encourage his individuality.

Help. Mon, if you're reading this, I'm asking you especially.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Giddy with Christmas Spirit

T-minus 1 week until we hit the (hopefully) friendly skies from Stockholm to Toronto. I can't wait...
- To see FAMILY
- For Joe to see FAMILY again
- For FAMILY to see Joe again
- To settle into our own home away from home. That's right folks. We were brazilliant this year and opted (much to the chagrin of family) to dig our heels firmly into the ground and rent our own cottage over the holidays, merely a 3-minute drive from the main family. Hooray!
- To resurrect our Annual Christmas Party
- To put Joe on Santa's knee
- For Santa!!!

I CAN wait...
- For the chaos that always ensues, regardless of where we're staying
- The dreaded flights with a little guy
- For jetlag
- For overeating and over consumption of alcohol
- For hubby to look into our wallet and say, "Where did all the money go?!"

Sing with me: I'll be home for Christmas....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

No bad weather, just bad clothes

That is a loosely translated and very popular saying in Sweden.

The weather here sucks this time of year (Who am I kidding? It sucks most of the year). Imagine dropping your child off at preschool in darkness and picking him up at 2:50pm as darkness decends again. Add to that a whole month of perpetually gray skies with 1.5 days of sunlight. And to make matters worse, winter is trying to come but not yet here. Where's the snow?

Dressing my son every morning for school is a fight. But the fight is between me and myself. And I seem to get it wrong nearly every morning, evidenced by the fact that his schoolmates are dressed completely different.

They must think I'm a real tool. "They" being the teachers and parents.

Let's review the list of Swedish clothing shall we? Then perhaps you can begin to understand my panic.
- Wet pants: These plastic, completely water retardent rain pants with easy-snap suspenders go on top of everything from normal pants to snowsuits. Recommended weather situations (RWS): rain, wet snow, dampness, chance of mud
- Wet jacket: Again plastic, water retardent jacket that goes on top of shirts, jackets or snowsuits. RWS: rain
- Wet warm pants: Not plastic but water resistent and slightly insulated and go on top of pants. RWS: dampness, slight chill in the air but mainly dry. Anywhere from +5 to 15.
- Fall/Spring jacket: Likely made of warmish material (can't think of the word but there is one). Right: FLEECE! RWS: Anywhere from +5 to 15?
-Winter snow pants & winter jacket: Not recommended for school use due to increased level of difficulty in applying two pieces of winter gear vs. one.
- Winter overall (aka, the snowsuit): Made of some miracle material that is water resistent, not incredibly bulky, easy to maneuver in, warm and easy for child to apply. RWS: snow, cold, dry, from -whatever to +5? this is the tricky one for me.
- Fall overall: I have not confirmed the existence of this ensemble as of yet. Even with strenuous observation of schoolyard children, I cannot decipher between this one and the winter overall. But if it does exist, I assume it's worn in temps ranging from 0-7ish?
- Winter boots: I don't have to explain this one. RWS: Winter, from -whatever to +5.
- Rain boots: Self-explanatory. RWS: all-season really, temps permitting, except for summer.
- Rain mits: These are an unusual specimen. With a plastic outer shell and a fleece lining, these babies are long and meant to almost go up the elbows. RWS: Rain, from +7-10?
- Winter mits: Self-explanatory. Caution: Must have water retardent shell and be heavily lined. The ones Grandma knit will not do under any circumstances.
- Fall hat: Another unusual speciment. Made of cotton and thin, these head coverings will not overheat like a winter hat but keep little heads a bit warmer on cool Spring and Fall days.
- Winter hat: Again, water retardent is good. No Grandma knit hats accepted.
- Rain hat: Like a sou'wester. Made of plastic. RWS: Torrential downpour
- Misc: I am convinced astronauts can see Swedish children from space. Every piece of outdoor clothing is plastered with photo-unfriendly reflective material. Arm bands, leg bands, hood bands, pocket bands. Stripes of shiny material shout from outdoor clothing announcing said child to anyone within a 5km radius. And if your reflective material has been worn away from wash and wear? No worries. They have portable pieces that easily attach. Then there are the neon-coloured vests that adults and children don when on group outings or riding bicycles. Safety First.

Geez, that was exhausting and exhaustive. Maybe I'll get beter at this dressing-my-child-thing now that I've actually prepared a handy reference list for myself. Here's the deal folks: The kids are outside playing for the better portion of the day. Like the postal worker, "not rain, not wind, not sleet, not snow" will keep a child from the outdoors. So, the onus is on us parents to ensure our children are equipped for any weather situation that might arise. And that part's not so different from home now is it? Except that you should won't find a teacher saying, "Oh it's raining, we'll keep the kids in today." Not-a-chance.

I become a weather woman every morning. I check online. I test the great outdoors with a finger in the air. I try to account for the minimum and maximum projected temps that day, etc. So when the temp dropped to -7 last week and I had no snowsuit for the little man, I must've clothed him in 3 layers (seriously pissing off the teachers would have to help him in and out of these layers). And then I high-tailed it to the store for an insanely priced winter overall. He was ready to go the next day. And then the temps crept back up to +4. Now what to do? I had already made the switch. Do I switch back? Does the fall overall really exist? Do I embarass myself further by inquiring about clothing AGAIN?

A Swedish Mother I am NOT.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Farmer's Almanac of Hockey

Well can't say we didn't try.

I think I might have written a post about how punctual Swedes are, to a fault. More on that later.

Well we showed up at the rink. And when I say rink, I mean the rinks of the olden days. The ones with no heaters for the bleachers, no real bleachers except for wooden benches and no canteen, except for the free stand that was set up offering traditional Swedish gingerbread cookies, juice for the kiddies and the warm Christmas drink called Glögg, that you spoon nuts and raisins into. Which was all very nice and free but I had visions of sitting underneath some fake heat with a cup of warm coffee in hand.

We're in Sweden, land of modern everything, land of IKEA. I had expected a North American type rink and I dressed for one. So instantly my feet were going into the early stages of frostbite.

But it wasn't about me.

Hubby started to dress the kid in overpriced hockey gear (btw, they actually had skates and sticks there for the kiddies). He was fussy. "No helmet Dada". So after hubby's excrutiating but expert application of said hockey gear, they were ready to hit the ice. Well save for hubby who was waiting for his colleague to arrive with a pair of skates for him.

We had miraculously shown up on time at the designated hour of 8:30am on a Sunday morning. And it was truly a Christmas miracle because my husband, God Love Him, is perpetually late. Late for everything. And me being an "on time" kinda gal, it drives me bananas. But this rare occurance of on-timeness had me hopeful that the morning would see my son doing pirouettes while Daddy looked on proudly.

Yes, WE were on time. WE were dressed and ready to go. But the colleague was late. And man was I irked. Here's a good natured 3-year old all geared up but being told he had to wait. Not good.

As the minutes ticked by, a gentleman stopped by our little corner of the wooden bench to say hello. Obviously wondering why we had such a small little potential Gretzky with us when the ages were between 5 and 9. Hubby quickly explained who our friend was and this gentleman (who used to be a professional NHL player, think I can remember his name?) proceeded to complain about the serial tardiness of hubby's colleague. Because it is a mortal sin in Sweden.

I was livid.

Finally 30 minutes later, after constant attempts to keep the expensive hockey gear ON our son, who was growing increasingly upset and agitated, the guy shows up.

Hubby straps his borrowed skates on and drags protesting 3-year old onto the ice. It was the longest 30 seconds of my life. Here I am snapping photos of a son who refuses to stand and a husband who is about to wrench his back trying to hold son up. And then the tears start. And no sooner had they hit the ice, then they were off again and we were removing brand new hockey gear.

I bit my tongue and supressed the urge to look at hubby and say, "I told you so."

What's the moral of the story? We try again next weekend...