The Monster Wall

There’s a monster in my kitchen. Actually, there are lots of monsters in my kitchen.

Most of them have googly eyes. Some have abnormal numbers of limbs. There are definitely some weird antennae poking out.

Yes, my kitchen has a Monster Wall.

monsters

The Monster Wall

I’m not really sure how the Monster Wall started. I’m guessing the kids were going through a monster drawing phase. From time to time, they produce freshly-created monsters from the guts of their backpacks. There’s always room on the wall for new monsters.

I’ll take monsters on the wall any day over the monsters that used to hide under their beds and which would wrench them – and me – from sleep. It’s been a few years now since our slumbers were shreakingly disrupted with visits from the monsters. Yes, we used to proactively diffuse monster spray at bedtime to evaporate any monster particles in the air that might threaten to make their presence known. We’d read books about monsters to poke fun at them. We watched Monsters, Inc. to see how cute and funny the monsters and their operations are. These days, my son likes to read spooky, scary books and they sometimes produce bad dreams but filled more with ghouls and specters, I think, that the fanged, cyclops, seven wiggly-armed variety. My daughter, with her feet firmly planted on the ground, has recently overcome an everyday monster – automatic toilets with their dreaded, soul-sucking flush.

But for the most part, my kids today are carefree, happily gliding from one experience to the next, with barely a care in the world other than the injustice of having to empty the dishwasher or the regret of a traded Pokemon card.

They will inevitably face other kinds of monsters as they grow. They could be bullies. Maybe self-doubt? Anxiety, depression, loneliness, heart break. So many potential manifestations that, as their mother, I cannot bring myself to conceive, let alone write. Monsters that cannot be soothed with a spritz of lavender spray or a comforting hug in the night.

I’m hoping that they will be strong enough to face their future monsters head-on, as they do right now, everyday when they sit at the kitchen table looking at our Monster Wall. I’m hoping I’ve prepared them, as much as any person can, for the inevitable monsters they’ll encounter in life. I’m hoping they’ll be able to see them for what they are: opportunities to seek help, express themselves, grow. I’m hoping they’ll still call out for me, whether from near or afar. I’m hoping I’ll be able to help.

Maybe I will miss those night-time monsters after all. These future monsters feel mighty scary to me.

monsters and bad dreams

There are monsters in my kitchen

Will You Snuggle with Me, Mama?

Recently, my daughter – who is six – has started asking that I snuggle with her at bedtime. This is by no means unusual, many kids do it. It’s also not a distraction technique to put off the inevitable aloneness of going to sleep. She’s never had a problem with bed time. She knows when she is ready for sleep and welcomes it. In her threes, she was quick to dismiss me once we were done with reading. “Go. Door,” she’d command me. Unlike many kids – and unlike her brother – she likes to sleep in complete darkness with the door closed.

Truthfully, the whole evening routine, and especially the last five to ten minutes of it, have always been a challenge for me. As a working Mom, I am already exhausted and lacking the requisite zen for serenely supervising baths and PJs and teeth brushing and all of that. I just want the whole thing to be over – quickly. Fortunately, my kids are old enough that bath time is no longer about play – it’s all business. At least, that’s how I view it. I want them in, washed and out. But, for them, it’s how they unwind. I see how they drift off into the bubbles, into their imaginations. I find myself stuck between letting them immerse their bodies and brains – and hustling them out of the tub.

The next ten minutes, for me, are truly the most aggravating and patience-testing. The process of toweling off and PJ-putting on, following by the inevitable shenangans as they squabble over toothpaste and so on fairly drive me nuts. I admit that I often resort to threatening to remove everything that matters to them (him – 3DS, her – blankie) if they don’t just get on with it.

Then there’s the book reading. This is where I have always cheated, I confess. When they were toddlers and young’uns, I perfected the art of reading aloud – with feeling – while at the same time thinking about 74937 other things that needed my attention. Fortunately now, my six year-old reads to me and my nine year-old reads to himself.

But then come the words: “Will you snuggle with me, Mama?”

By this point, it’s usually 8.30pm and I’ve barely got an hour left of consciousness left in me during which to converse with my husband, catch up on work emails or watch TV. By 9.30pm, I’m toast. I want this hour of me-time. I need it. I struggle.

But snuggling with her is so … delicious. There in the dark we lie, nose to nose, our breath and warmth meshing. I stroke her hair. She touches my cheek. We whisper. Gradually, her breathing slows and deepens as she drifts off to the land of nod. It’s an honor to witness this up close. That’s if I don’t fall asleep myself. More often than not, I wake up a few hours later and tiptoe out, foggily, my hair askew … and head straight to my own bed. (Note to parents suffering insomnia: go snuggle with your kid and you’ll soon be cocooned back to sleep.)

Admittedly there are nights when I decline her request. After all, there are new episodes of House of Cards to be binged. But I never regret it when I do snuggle with her. Emails can wait. Discussing the family schedule with my husband can wait. Even Frank Underwood can wait.

She won’t be six forever, she won’t want to snuggle forever. Now are the snuggle with me years and I intend to make the most of them.

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Should I Limit My Kid’s Reading?

My son was slow to learn to read. He left kindergarten with six-month delay in his reading abilities and this caused me to worry. Compared to all the other kids who were already speeding through Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the Encyclopedia Britannica, my son was still struggling, even with that damned Cat in the Hat.

But, thanks to an IEP (Individual Education Program) and being placed in an inclusion class with a higher ratio of teachers to kids, he emerged from first grade a confident reader. Now, halfway through second grade, he’s become a ravenous reader. I can’t stop him! If he’s not stuffing his face, watching TV or playing with Legos, you’ll find him knee-deep in books. He devours them. It’s a beautiful thing.

Until it’s bedtime, that is.

It’s nice that his bedtime no longer involves hours of negotiation after tucking him in and reading together (“Yes, I’ll rub your back some. Yes, I’ll get you some water. No, I won’t read another book. Yes, I will put another light on. No, you can not still be hungry …!”) Now, all he needs is a quick hug, a kiss and a tussle of his hair and, quite frankly, he’d probably not even notice if I didn’t do that, because his nose is firmly stuck in a book. Either side of his pillow are books. At the last count, there were about 12 books around his bed.

But the “problem” is he’s staying awake longer and longer at night, sometimes not falling asleep until 9.30 or 10pm which, in my mind, is too late for an eight year-old. Especially one who, until this past month, was averaging 10 or 11 hours sleep a night. It makes for grumpy mornings, that’s for sure.

I realize that he is growing up and maybe that means his bedtime no longer needs to be the same as his five year-old sister. But at the same time, it’s ridiculous when he and I are going to sleep at the same hour!

After talking with friends with kids of the same age, I discovered that this “problem” seems to be happening across the board with our kids. Most advocated setting a 9pm “lights off” hour, something which I’m trying to now enforce.

But my son keeps asking, “Why are you trying to stop me reading, when all along, you’ve been trying to encourage me to read better and more?”

And, he has a point.

Sweet Dreams

I didn’t realize, before I became a Mother, that I had the power to send you to sleep. That my words, proximity, sounds and rhythm held soporific powers.

As an infant, I would lull you to sleepyland with shushes, rocking, swaying.

As a toddler, I’d soothe you as you’d fight sleep tooth and nail, armed with fairy tales, lullabies and cuddles.

As a pre-schooler, I’d remove all specter of monsters and then rub your back in circles, over and over, until sleep snuck in.

As a kindergartner, we’d read, snuggle, have whispered conversations till you’d simply dismiss me, ready to welcome the excitement of your dreams.

As a second grader, you pretty much take care of business yourself, after a quick peck on the cheek, reading independently, falling asleep with your books askew on your pillow.

I have to admit that I miss the days of shushing, swaying, lullabies and stroking of backs and foreheads. Knowing that my touch, my presence was the drug you needed to transcend you from consciousness to a land of hopefully sweet dreams. It’s been an unexpected and heady privilege.

Good Night,Sweet Dreams

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