Monday, April 23, 2012

An interview with Nicola

Do you have any good friends that had the nerve to pick up and move across the ocean? Me, too. My friend Nicola helped get me through high school, not only with dignity, but with an impressive number of concerts under my belt, including Sonic Youth on my birthday. In school I always admired her independence, kindness, and her ability to drop class at a moment's notice so that we could wait in line for concert tickets. She was also my prom date.

Nicola moved back to England while I was away at university. Sad? Terribly. But with the help of excellent long distance plans and the glorious internet, we've stayed close. Which was lucky for me because Nicola was my first friend to start a family. She has experience, this one, and she agreed to answer some of my questions. Listen closely because you might be able to capture a bit of her magic: she can find the humour in absolutely everything, a quality I absolutely adore. Being a parent is hard work, yes, but the ability to roll your eyes and go with it some days is a gift.

You can find Nicola at Canuck aboot Toon and on Twitter @Mammy_P

 1. Tell us a little about yourself and introduce those glorious little boys of yours.

I’m Nicola, I’m 36.  I’m a British/Canadian ex-pat-re-pat.  That is to say: I was born in England, grew up in Canada, and now I live back in England again.  I’m married to Jason who is 42, and my kids are Benjamin Jonathan who is 7, and Jude Alan who is 2.  If you’re clever at math (I just had to double check the number on my fingers) you’ll notice that Ben was an only child until he was nearly 6 – I always knew I wanted more than one kid, but the time never seemed quite right... until it did, of course.  Ben is like a sponge; when he decides he likes something, he soaks up facts and figures about whatever it is with a drive and determination that amazes me; I hope he carries this trait with him through his whole life.  When he was a toddler, he liked fans.  Y’know – ceiling fans.  Desk fans.  Windmills.  Anything that spun round.  He’d walk into your house and immediately do a recce of every room to check out your fan-to-no-fans ratio.  Then he moved onto gardening equipment.  Lawn mowers, strimmers, leaf blowers.  Now he’s moved onto tanks, and World War II.  Phone our house right now and ask him how many millimetres thick the armour on so-and-so American tank is and he’ll tell you and then TRAP YOU ON THE PHONE FOR AN HOUR WHILE HE TEACHES YOU SOME OTHER STUFF.  It’s fascinating to watch, he is a little walking history book.  He is analytical by nature, and wants to understand how things work.  He also has a softer side, and can be very thoughtful and loving.  He is working very hard right now to remember to use his knife and fork in the right hands, and to remember his pleases and may-I’s, and if he puts his mind to it, he will argue with you that day is night AND HE WILL WIN. 

Jude will be 3 in July this year, so it is really only in the last month or so that we’ve started to notice the true shape of his character emerging – he and Ben are like chalk and cheese.  Jude is affectionate and gentle and declares ten times a day that “Mammy is my berry best friend.”  He loves kisses, loves being read stories, and will act out imaginative scenarios with his toys in a quiet corner.  He loves singing, and will sit in his carseat squeaking out renditions of all his favourite nursery rhymes – sometimes making hybrid tunes and joined-together verses; don’t be surprised if you learn from Jude “how he wondered what Old MacDonald are”, and that “four and twenty Mary’s little lamb was in the parlour eating bread and honey.”  With his continuing journey through the Terrible Two’s, he is keenly developing his selective hearing skills – as I type this he has taken all the cushions off the sofa for the 32983423239th time today, but I am utterly defenceless against those blonde curls and blue eyes as big as saucers, especially this close to bedtime.  One of the best things about Jude is that he will eat just about anything you put in front of him.  And then some.  Whenever anyone is eating anything in this house, his little baby sonar will detect, say, the opening of a bag of chips, and he comes zooming into the room just as Jason and I say, “Oh, here comes ‘Want-A-Bite Proctor’...” 

Separately, my children are wonderful.  At the moment, when they are together, they are like rabid escaped mental patients from a Victorian insane asylum.  I can say that, because I’m their mother, see.  Their father and I are hoping that is a phase and that the wrestling matches, sitting on each other’s heads, blowing fart noises in each other’s faces and destroying each other’s LEGO creations will be over before the year is out.  

2. What is your super power? (You know you have one.) For example, I can solve most of Alyce and Shira's problems by dancing.

Oh, that’s easy:  baking.  Shouting up the stairs, “WHO WANTS TO MAKE CAKES?” will bring down those two little dudes at the speed of light.  They each have their own aprons, and they will stand at the island in our kitchen and want to weigh and measure and mix and roll and sneak tastes and crack eggs and sneak more tastes.  I let them do it all themselves; it fills a rainy afternoon (and trust me, where I live we have more than our fair share of those) and has the most magical, calming effect on them both.  When we are in the kitchen baking, all is sweetness and light, all is chocolate sprinkles and harmony.

3. What's the hardest part of your parenting day, and do what do you do to work around it, or help make it hurt your head less?

 Getting ready for school is traditionally the time where, if someone’s head is going to explode, that’s the time it’s gonna pop.  Trying to organise Jason into his work clothes, Ben into his uniform, me into my pantyhose and heels, changing nappies and wrestling while cleaning teeth all in a 60-minute window before we leave the house is forehead-vein-pop-inducing, to say the least.  If you were a fly on the wall in my house between 7am and 8am, this is what you would hear:

40 x: “JUDE, I’m not going to ask you again:  come here so I can clean your teeth, please.”
21 x: “Mammy, can you tuck in my shirt?”
11 x: “Yes, you DO need a clean nappy on, that one has wee-wees in it!”
12 x: “Where are your shoes?  Time to go.”
32 x: “No, I don’t want to hear about which Howitzer has a 35 millimetre armour-piercing shell.”

4. Who do you look to for support as a parent?

My husband, Jason.  We’ve got the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine down to a T.  Mostly I’m the latter because Jason, as they say here in England, is as “soft as pudding.”  Would you like some chocolate before breakfast?  Jason’s your man.  Had your friends over and your bedroom looks like it’s been tipped upside down?  Jason will tidy it up.  When we first started going out together, I knew he’d be a good Dad when I saw what he was like with his dogs.  And for all the fussing and organising and meal-balancing chaos that I’m all about, Jason adds just the right dose of devil-may-care-spontaneity and fun that kids need.  I think we’re a pretty good tag team.  I am also not too proud to tap into the font-of-all-parenting knowledge that is my mother.  She has decades of experience under her belt of raising a spirited child (um – that’s me) so when I call her tearing my hair out in moments of frustration, after she’s done laughing and telling me “payback’s a bitch, Nick”, she usually has some great practical suggestions.  She’s a smart lady.  

5. What's been the toughest adjustment since becoming a parent?

Probably the complete surrender of every moment that used to be for me, that now belongs to someone else.  I think fondly back to those halcyon days when I could pick up a novel after breakfast and blast through it over the day without giving it a second thought, still in my pyjamas from the night before when bedtime rolled around again.  But having said that of course, back in those days I did more than my fair share of complaining that I never had a boyfriend and was bored all the time.  I have a happy medium now:  while it’s true that those “me” times are fewer and further between these days, Jason makes sure that he drags the kids down to the beach or over to his mother’s every once in a while to let me have some quiet time.  He leaves me a frazzled screeching harpy, and comes back to a balanced, recharged, serene and accommodating loving spouse.  And all it usually takes is a good book and some chocolate.

6. If you could only teach Ben and Jude one thing about the world, what would it be?

That while it is important to be proud of where you come from, it is only a tiny, tiny, tiny part of the planet, and that the world is filled with all different kinds of people, all shapes and sizes, who believe different things and feel different things and even though you might recognise those differences, you should also honour and celebrate them with kindness, understanding, tolerance and a friendly hand.  Get out and meet those people, explore where they live, feel the cultures and never stop learning from it. 

7. What ridiculously overpriced splurge do you wish you could spend on your kids? (For me, I would love to get one of those massive wooden doll houses.)

Oooh... it’d be a lifetime supply of airline tickets.  I want my kids to be able to identify with their Canadian-ness, and regrettably we can’t visit Canada nearly as often as I’d like at the moment for them to be able to find it.  So in a perfect world, I’d splurge on packing us all up every summer and Christmas to spend it on the other side of The Pond.  Wouldn’t that just be delicious?  Now I’m daydreaming!

Thanks, dear Nicola!

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