“Are you sad, mommy ? ”
It was my eldest asking. She has a way of noticing these things.
Although the question took me by surprise, I had no alternative but to answer it. Truthfully.
Yes dear, yes. Mommy is sad.
“Why are you sad, Mommy?”
Mommy is sad because bad things are happening to good people. Mommy is sad because she will have to say goodbye to somebody very dear to her much too soon. She is sad because she kept hoping for a miracle of sorts, but it never came.
I know it is OK to feel sad, but I try not to show it in front of my children, for fear that the sadness in my heart will to spill over into theirs. And I don’t want that. My first instinct is – and has always been – to protect my children. Protect them from harm, from illness, from heartbreak. To prolong their innocent happiness.
So instead of crying I try to be cheerful, hiding my worries behind a smile. I try not to upset their secure world more than necessary. But they noticed anyway. Apparently my eyes weren’t smiling anymore.
Serious illness and death which sometimes follows in its wake are new to them. When my father was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago they were too young to really grasp what was happening. Granddad was sick and in the hospital, the doctor could make him better. He was in the hospital for a long time and visiting was no fun, because the hospital smelled weird.
But now, at 4 and 5 years old, my children are at that age when curiosity for EVERYTHING is at its peak. Although they may not fully grasp the situation or understand the permanence of death or the seriousness of illness, they do notice something is off. And they want answers and when they want answers they turn to ‘Mommypedia’.
There is no need to sit them down at the kitchen table and discuss for half an hour. I let them come to me of their own accord. This usually happens when they are colouring or when I’m driving them somewhere. It is impossible for them to NOT be active in any way, so when the body is forced to remain stationary the mind starts to work.
I try to keep things as simple as possible, try using the same words over and over so they won’t be confused. I compare the body to a clock which is broken and no watchmaker can fix. I explain why I’m sad, what will happen. If necessary I explain four or five times in a row.
But I don’t always have the answers. Even though the questions are so simple.
How do you talk to your children about death and grieving?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tinne of Tantrums & Tomatoes from Belgium. Photo credit to the author.
These days, the internet is humming with all things Mother’s Day related: special brunches, crafts, gift ideas. All for that special person you get to call ‘Mom’.
Mother’s Day earned its place on the calendar thanks to the efforts of American Anna Marie Jarvis. She organized the first Mother’s Day to commemorate her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, who had helped organise the ‘Mother’s Day Help Clubs’ during the American Civil War. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson decided that Mommy Dearest would get her special day each second-Sunday of May.
Not here. In the rest of Belgium, yes. But not in the province of Antwerp. Here we wait until the 15th of August.
Not because we disdain the second Sunday of May, nor have a problem with holidays coming from across the Atlantic. No, as a matter of fact both the American and Antwerp traditions originated at much the same time.
For Antwerp and its surroundings it all began in 1913 when Antwerp born artist Frans Pieter Lodewijk van Kuyck started the tradition as a way of getting people to pay more attention to family values and social order. Modernisation and the industrial revolution, Mr. van Kuyck felt, had screwed society up a wee bit too much and it was time to take a stand, to defend traditional ways.
And since Mother is at the core of the family, when better to highlight her importance than on the 15th of August, the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. A Catholic feast already celebrated in Antwerp with a huge procession honouring the Virgin as protector of the city. There already was a party going on anyway, so why not add a little extra?
Mr. van Kuyck was not only an artist, he was also alderman for Culture and Fine Arts of the city of Antwerp. So in this official capacity he set up a propaganda committee, mobilised schools, companies and media into promoting the celebration of Mother. Children were to make a special gift and fathers were expected to buy flowers or jewellery. Brunch had not yet come into fashion then, otherwise I’m sure he would have made it mandatory too.
The rest of Belgium did not follow, but instead adapted the new ‘American’ version. Thus, during May when every other mother in the country smiles her lovely so-happy-with-the-macaroni-necklace smile and updates her Facebook status with pictures of her breakfast in bed/fresh flowers/chocolates/whatever…we trudge on and wait our turn until August.
Have no fear, thanks to the school’s Craft Hour, I too receive a pretty handmade gift from my daughters in May. But my husband still has to buy my flowers in August. Nah.
Does your country have a special Mother’s Day tradition? Or do you celebrate differently?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in Belgium, Tinne, of Tantrums and Tomatoes.
The image used in this post is credited to the author.
If you Google bullying, there is a whole plethora of websites to choose from. Most of them deal with how to prevent your kid from bullying, how to react when your kid is bullied/being a bully, how to talk to your child about bullying.
But what if it is you—a fully grown adult—who are being bullied and there is really nothing you can do about it because the bully is also an adult…and your boss? And you cannot afford to lose your job.
Here is the situation: years ago I worked for a small, family owned business (You will understand why I do not name any names). I can best describe my boss as the Belgian cousin of Miranda Priestly, the Devil-boss who wore Prada. Believe me she had her down pat. From the sneering “that’s all,” the calls outside work hours, the berating because I could not divine her thoughts and causing her to suffer the indignity of having to actually tell me what was expected, the pout…
Oh yeah, they were related all right.
After little more than a six months, I was actively looking for another job. And then, a week before I planned to resign and tell her to go do something to herself, I found out I was pregnant. And the game and the world as a whole changed completely.
We had just started building our house, there was no way my husband’s salary would cover all the bills and finding a job while you are pregnant is not easy.
So I stayed on. But it was obvious right from the start that they did not like the idea of having a young mother as employee.
Since I was competent at my job they had no reason to fire me outright and because Belgian legislation is rather protective towards pregnant women in the workplace, it became almost impossible to fire me when I handed over the medical bill announcing my pregnancy.
And so the bullying started.
Little things at first. Saddling me with a huge amount of work half an hour before I was due to clock out. Making a mess of the client contact database, insisting it was my fault, even though there was actual proof that it wasn’t.
But when they noticed that I was relatively unaffected things got BAD. In capitals.
While the company was closed for the summer holidays I got a letter detailing every little thing that I had done wrong after I announced I was pregnant. And I really mean everything, like putting one (1!) sheet of paper for an invoice the wrong way up in the printer causing them the loss of a whole eurocent in paper because I had to reprint the page. After that it got even worse than you can imagine. Belittling me in front of clients, calls at all hours, at all times, screaming, yelling, throwing. One day I came into the office to find that my boss had emptied my trashcan all over my desk. Fun times… I can tell you.
You must wonder how I dealt with the situation. Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I did not deal with it.
No, that is wrong. I did deal with it, but not in the way you might imagine. I did nothing.
I showed up for work, I let them scream, I let them yell, I let them belittle me, when they called at 6am on a Sunday I answered the phone and made no complaint. Nothing. When I arrived at the office I did my job. Business as usual.
This was my defense strategy. I did my job and because I continued to do it well, they never had an excuse for firing me.
Yes, I could have filed a complaint for harassment and started a legal procedure. I even started collecting evidence in case I should one day be forced to do so. Chances are very good I would have won, since the evidence was pretty rock solid. Yet, this was never really my intention. I was 29 at the time and legal procedures in Belgium can take a looooooooooooooooooong time. Dragging my employer to court would take ages, it would cost a lot of money and it is the kind of thing which haunts you forever. I still had my way to make in the world, my career was just beginning. A court case was likely to follow me around for my whole life and I did not wish to bring this kind of baggage with me.
I collected—and still keep—the evidence just in case.
In retrospect, I should have gone to my doctor, explained the situation and asked him to declare me unfit for work. But I did not do that. As soon as it was legally possible I resigned and the happy dance I did on my last day of work might have come straight out of a Broadway musical. I never looked back.
Has this situation ever happened to you? What did/would you do?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in Belium, Tinne of Tantrum and Tomatoes.
The image used in this post is credited to Elizabeth Atalay.
There is no denying that my eldest child is competitive.
The kind which makes for a future Olympic-Gold-Medal winner – competitive.
She needs to be first. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that she is the oldest, but I suspect it is just part of her genetic make up.
Her father has the same drive to always do better than the rest, to drive himself towards new goals, to be better, faster, to force his body into running a marathon and to try to improve his time again and again and again. And he is willing to suffer for it, to endure muscle cramps, to run until his energy levels have been completely depleted and he is more dead than alive.
I’m not like that, neither is n°2. We are happily just pottering about, going about our business and we will get there in the end. So what if it takes us hours, weeks or months. So what if we don’t finish first. We ran, didn’t we? We did our part. Besides I do not like discomfort, mentally or physically.
Like so many characteristics, my daughter’s competitiveness is a two sided sword.
It is what drove her to learn how to ride a bike without training wheels in just two days, simply because a boy in her class could do it and if that boy could do it then there was no reason why she shouldn’t be able to as well.
It got her out of diapers so quickly simply because her friend was also potty training and she wanted to be first.
But there is a downside as well. Being only four, she aims to be first in just about everything she does. And I really do mean e-ve-ry-thing . Whether it is rolling in the dust, dressing herself, putting olives on a pizza, eating said pizza, learning how to count to 20, spelling out her own name AND that of mommy, to her it is a competition. She will try to ‘win’ at it, do a victory dance when she ‘wins’ and be inconsolable when she doesn’t.
There have been many conversations about how winning is nice but not so important that you need to bawl your eyes out when some other kid takes the prize and that she cannot always be first. That is OK not to always win, not to be top in everything and that there are some things, that I’m sorry my dear darling, you will not be able to do.
This – I have to admit – will be a though lesson for her to learn. And she will have to learn it, otherwise she’ll be a pill-popping, nervous wreck by the time she is 16.
And she will have to find a way to turn that competitiveness into something positive.
But there is the glitch in the whole affair. How will she learn?
Through experience? Will it just click one day? Will she simply just realize that she is not musical (she has inherited my signing voice, which sounds like a chorus of warthogs high on helium), that she cannot really jump that high. Will she be sad, will she cry, will she regret it her whole life or… will she just simply accept. Accept that yes, she sucks at music, dancing, mathematics, but hey, she has a knack for drawing awesome portraits and makes a killer brownie, so what the heck …
How did you or your child come to terms with the fact that there is something that you or s/he just is not good at?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our mother of two in Belgium, Tantrums and Tomatoes.
I suppose it is inevitable. After all, people are what they are, they can’t change themselves. And although curiosity was apparently the mastermind behind the murder of someone’s cat, there are many curious people out there.
And curious people ask questions.
Sometimes stupid questions, sometimes profound questions, sometime questions which aren’t really questions but more a judgement on one of your actions and/or beliefs.
And sometimes people ask questions on matters which are none of their damn business.
One of those questions is the oft asked : “When are you having another?” or – since I have two girls: “When are you going to have a boy?”.
The answer usually runs along the lines of : “Oh not just yet! I have enough on my plate with just these two!” or “A boy? With these two… (at which I point at my girls doing whatever they are doing) the poor thing would just get traumatized.”
But I rarely tell the truth: No, never. No we are not trying for another baby. No we are not planning to “gift” our girls with a baby brother.
Perhaps it is due to the fact that I had my two girls in such a short space of time (When n°2 was born n°1 was a mere 16 months old) but I am most definitely done having children.
There are many reasons, finances being but one of them. No, we are not in financial trouble, but face it: raising a child is wickedly expensive. For the past three years we’ve spent a small fortune on day care and let’s not even talk about the price of diapers shall we… Had I been better informed I might seriously have considered buying stock options in Pampers or Huggies. With both kids in school we get a bit of financial breathing space, we can afford to finish our home.
But the main reason is balance.
When you are a mother, whether you have a job or are a stay at home mom, life is nothing less than a big balancing act on a loose rope above a pit filled with hungry tigers and fire.
Our balance is OK, right now. We are not in immediate danger of falling off the rope. Both kids attend school full-time, they are too young to have ‘real’ hobbies yet so no rush, rush, rush on Saturday morning – as yet (Please note: I do not count running after each other screaming bloody murder as a hobby).
Because of their relative closeness in age their feeding schedules (if I may be so blunt) are relatively in sync, meaning I don’t have to provide three or four individual breakfasts, lunches and dinners anymore each day. Lately they’ve started playing proper games together, in which each is an equal player and which do not require constant parental interference, just distant supervision.
We can start going on proper outings without dragging half the nursery and a whole plethora of baby food along, just a change of clothes, some cookies and a water bottle will get us through.
So in short: after four years of clutching desperately at that rope we’ve arrived at a spot where we can breathe freely, where we can relax for just a second, where there is time to be “us” and “just me” again.
The realization that we were as we should be came when we gave away the double stroller without an inch of pain or regret. Just happiness that there would finally be some more room in the garage.
Our family has found its balance and it feels wonderful.
When did you realize your family was as it should be?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in Belgium and mother of just two…Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes.
It is a running gag that we Belgians like to make things complicated. This shows itself best in the Moloch which calls itself ‘Government’.
Government – like all of its kind – has a thing for paperwork. It starts even before you are born, when your mother and father are requested to fill in form after form to guarantee your basic rights and to prove that yes you are about to enter the world.
And it goes on and on and on. Papers which need to be filled out announcing your actual birth, your name, gender, weight, etc… Then when you are a few weeks old, your mother will receive an order to have you weighed, measured and to have a friendly chat with a childcare specialist about how you – little pooping nugget – are doing. (Don’t get me wrong, I greatly appreciate this service: these checkups – and accompanying vaccinations – are free of charge, and they often aid in detecting health issues really early.)
When you enter school the whole administrative shebang is transferred to another institution, which will now not only monitor your growth, weight gain and fine motor skills but also your learning process and general scholastic development. And, of course, there is paper work to be filled out…
So this is how I found myself filling out a five–page questionnaire on a rainy night in May in preparation of our eldest’s first annual checkup. Most questions were simple and straightforward : “Do either of the parents wear glasses?” (Yes, both), “Any hereditary diseases, mental illnesses,…” (None), “Primary language spoken at home?” (Dutch), “Any serious illnesses as an baby/infant?” (No).
But there was one question which gave made me pause : “Was either of the parents treated for a learning disability as a child/adult? If yes, please specify which one.”
Well, yes, actually. I was.
When I was about seven or eight years old I was diagnosed with the type of Attention Deficit Disorder, now called ADHD–I. Later they threw in some dyscalculia for good measure. While I never took any medication, I did receive treatment well into my teenage years.
Those were very difficult times, mainly because when I was diagnosed, the whole ADHD–spectrum was relatively unknown. Most people – teachers, close family members and other – scoffed when ADHD or ADD was mentioned.
Many called it an imaginary condition and would tell me that I was making things up, that I was just “not that bright”, “plain stupid”, “not trying hard enough” or – my personal favourite – “a lazy good for nothing pest, who would never get a degree and whose only career option was cleaning toilets”.
I vividly remember how my mother and I were asked to come to the principal’s office one day during my first year of high school, so we could discuss my poor results and lack of attention during class. We arrived carrying a thick file full of test results, reports, statements,… only for the principal to refuse even to look at the file and tell my mother that “it was about time that she accepted her daughter was not as intelligent as she was and that she should not waste peoples time by insisting I remained in a normal classroom.”
Needless to say, my mom was a wee bit pissed off and the discussion which followed can best be described as a fight between a lion with anger issues and a crazy, rabid baboon on steroids.
It got better when I changed schools the next year. It got better when I got older, because I got a better view on the what, the why and the how. It got better because I developed coping skills. It got better because the therapy actually worked and somehow my brain got whipped into some kind of shape. As we now know there is no “curing” ADHD. I still get distracted easily and rely on noise cancellation headphones or classical music to get me through a bad day.
After filling in the questionnaire I catch myself looking at my children all too often, and playing the “What if” – song in my head.
Because what if – along with the sensitive skin (sorry about that one, by the way, kids) and the shape of their eyes – I gave my kids those parts of me. What if, they, too, will have to fight a lifelong battle?
I know times are different. We are lucky to live in a part of the world where education is a basic right, not a privilege and not something for which we – women – have to fight. I know there is a better understanding, new developments in treatment and more acceptance regarding learning disabilities as opposed to when I was a kid. I know – think, hope, … I will probably be more prepared in dealing with one or both of my children being diagnosed with a learning disability than my own mother, who was basically left in the middle of the jungle with a broken compass as her only tool to help her fight a way out, if only because I’m aware of the fact that this situation may arise and have lived it, am in still living it, coping with it.
What if… ?
How are people dealing with the whole learning disability spectrum in your neck of the woods? If you are a “former special needs child turned adult” how would you deal with this situation?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Tinne of Tantrums and Tomatoes.
Photo credit to the author.