Along with Froot Loop bracelets and emergency wads of Kleenex, a mother wears her sentiments on her sleeve. At times achingly poignant, at times wildly funny, a mother's life is a nonstop, hair-greying, hand-wringing expression of selfless love. Hers is a heartbreaking, wonderful and surprisingly sticky task that leaves precious little time for Dr. Phil, and includes the service of an astonishing number of chicken nuggets. Being a mommy is both the easiest, and the hardest, thing that most of us will ever do. Laura Pratt, mother of four, shares her thoughts on the undertaking with vignettes that will bring a pang of recognition to all parents: exciting visits from the tooth fairy, the wrenching struggle of working parents on their children's first days with a sitter, the ongoing management of the legion bits of plastic that populate a child's world, the complications of travelling with children (and the dilemma of travelling without them), and the constant challenge to live up to the expectations of a little being who thinks that you are the sun and the moon together. And naturally, in due course, there is also a mother's gradual, painful, inevitable displacement from the centre of her children's universe. For Pratt, chronicling her family's experiences as her children have grown has been a way to keep the memories alive and close, reminding her of the value in every moment. The Fleeting Years is the perfect Mother's Day gift—any day of the year.
My eldest is about to turn seven and the heat is on to produce the perfect party. Not that Kenya is getting at all warm. I’m the one in the kitchen here, trying to whip up the seared-salmon-with-roasted-tomatillo-coulis of kids’ birthday fetes. Because, let’s face it, these parties are as much about impressing the kids as the fancy cookies we serve up at the playgroups are. When I turned seven, my mom invited a few neighbourhood children into our living room. We played Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Simon Says. We ate hot dogs and cake, and sat in a circle while I opened my gifts. Everybody went home with a pinwheel, a Tootsie Roll and the memory of a great afternoon. But that sweet, simple celebration just wouldn’t cut it today. Not unless the donkey was the real deal, and the part of Simon was played, by special arrangement, by Lance Bass. I have a friend whose kid is a Harry Potter nut. For her birthday this year, she transformed each room in the house into a different store from Diagon Alley. She stayed up night after night sewing black capes and pointy hats for each of the guests to purchase from Madame Malkin's Robes for All Occasions. She had her husband drill holes in a dozen wooden dowels so that the kids could personalize their magic "wands" at Ollivander’s Wand Shoppe, by stuffing them with unicorn tail hairs, dragon scales and fairy eyes. She even made a seven- (count them: seven) layer birthday cake in the shape of a sorting hat. At the end of it all, each of the party attendees trotted home with their own snitch ball and the bottle of butter beer they had cooked up with Professor Snape in the dungeon. Not too shabby. This mom should have no problem showing her face around the schoolyard. I know another woman who routinely rents one of those huge jumping castles for her kid’s party guests to go nuts in. It costs a few bucks, but it’s a guaranteed winner. Sometimes, there are pony rides. Magicians. Face painters. Rock-climbing. Mad scientists who make putty and set off rockets. Once, I heard about a mom hiring The Wiggles to perform in the backyard. But that might have been an urban myth of the kids’ party circuit. In any event, it all makes its way back to the guests’ mothers, who watch with dread as the party-planning bar inches ever higher. For Kenya, I’m having a couple of "entertainers" drop by with their disco ball and boom box. The youngsters will be instructed on the finer points of hip hop dancing to the stylin’ sounds of Britney and Justin. There will be finger foods and punch. Hair and cosmetic services will be provided prior to the dancing. At the end, the kids will go home with nifty plastic cases filled with little pots of make-up and sparkly jewellery. The whole thing will cost me in the neighbourhood of $300. But it will be worth every dime to see Kenya’s shining face as the celebration swirls around her. And that’s what it’s all about, after all. Not what the other moms will have to say about me and my little party at their coffee klatches. But I do hope the kids remember to mention the disco ball… °°°I think it was the guy in The Graduate who made a pronouncement, way back in the 1960s, that plastics was the business to get into. No kidding. My life, since it became seriously infested with children, has become an exercise in managing small pieces of plastic. Seriously. Not a day goes by when I’m not confronted with the challenge of what to do with myriad bits of colourful crap. We must have 184 Barbie hairbrushes, dozens of tiny tubs of body glitter ferried home in one loot bag after another, a hundred dollar-store golf clubs and balls, hockey sticks and pucks. The other day, my husband was pouring himself a cup of tea and was not in the least surprised when a Monopoly hotel surfed out of the kettle spout. And don’t even get me started on those valuable little add-ons they include in Happy Meals. Then there’s the particular category of plastic-coated paraphernalia that I hold on to for precisely the same reason I keep a drawer of unmatched socks in my bedroom: the tiny Spirograph circles, long since separated from their siblings; the marker lids, whose thirsty companions I continue to believe might still someday appear; the numbered balls from the billiards set Kenya got for Christmas (although I believe I put the table out for recycling some months ago). Once every few months, I feel the weight of the plastic too heavily, and commit myself to getting a handle on it. From there, it’s off to Ikea and Canadian Tire, returning home with all manner of storage solutions. Like a madwoman, I whirl through the family room, dumping one toy bin after another onto the floor. The children are forbidden from entering the playroom during this time: this work, after all, is not kid stuff. Thus confronted with the full bounty of my family’s plastic stash, I set about introducing order. The first step is to confine the mess to categories. There’s the animal section, into which I herd an amazing number of tiny plastic rabbits, sheep, elephants and turtles. There’s the transportation section, for plastic cars, motorbikes, fire trucks and boats. I start an "accessories" category, to house Barbie’s tiny pumps, Madeline’s belts and Polly Pocket’s hand mirrors. I even nominate one plastic tub for "balls" and take great delight in tossing dozens of rubber orbs into its midst. Occasionally, I am faced with great dilemmas, like whether to put Finn’s plastic dress-up shoes with the "girl make believe" stuff or in the "boy imaginative play" bin. And I wrestle constantly with miscellanea whose provenance I am unable to accurately determine. In the end, I assign one large tub "sundry" and vow to return to it later. At the end of it all, I am spent. The ridiculously intricate Kinder egg booty has all been sorted, the checker disks (we’re short two red and one black, but I’m hopeful) have been locked in the "games" box and the Mr. Potato Head ears have been tucked into the rear ends of their hosts. The McDonald’s toys have been sorted into two piles: trash and collectibles. And every last plastic fried egg, Tinker Toy, Mulan figurine and Playmobil coffee mug has been assigned a home. I take a deep breath, filled with the sweetness of order and reason. And then I holler to my husband. "Release the hounds!" The kids, no doubt smelling the promise of freshly systemized plastic, rush in.
“This slender softcover book, published by a small Manitoba press, is a moving and fast-moving account about being a mother of four children who range in age from two to eight. Toronto-based Laura Pratt, both the author and the mother, has contributed to three books on parenting and writes regularly for publications such as The National Post, and Canadian Living. She clearly lovers sharing her most intimate reflections with readers. Where she finds the time, of course, is the big mystery. Her passion translates into a collection of alternately touching and funny very short, self-contained chapters. Busy readers can easily pick up and put down this book without disrupting its flow. Pratt has a knack for conveying her emotions, which allows readers to feel what she's feeling. At times, her entertaining style is evocative of cartoonist Lynn Johnston of For Better or For Worse fame. At other times, she reads like a satirical version of the pregnancy bible What to Expect When You're Expecting. For example, she says the last days of pregnancy "can drag like the first slow ooze from a new bottle of ketchup. "Of her physician-induced labour, she wryly observes: "The contractions took on the characteristics of a small freight train ripping through the rocky interior caverns of my viscera (the nurse's disparaging characterization of them as 'cramps' notwithstanding. )"Pratt views parenting as the fleeting years, because each stage in a child's life is so brief. As soon as her babies are born, she's painfully aware of how quickly they'll grow up. This is the recurrent theme throughout her book, and although every parent knows whereof she speaks, sometimes it's repeated a bit too often. Still, it's hard to fault Pratt when she confesses of motherhood: "Nothing has to poignantly reminded me to savour every sweet moment that punctuates the rushing parade of childhood. And I am thankful to have been included in the procession. "Her chapter on INternet friendships with other mothers is relevant to more than just parents. She writes that studies show internet relationships are sometimes more interesting in part because of the "isolated activity of tapping away at a keyboard in the privacy of your home. These women know stuff about me that nobody else does. "Pratt says she had mixed reactions to her announcement that she was pregnant for the fourth time. But her thoughts on having another child are interesting. She believes that the moment you accept that you'll never have another child is the same moment you accept that "aside from the odd wedding and really wicked graduation party, the next watershed event in your life will be your death. ""What better way to thumb your nose at the aging process than to squeeze out another baby?"Pratt herself admits that she has given birth for the final time. She humorously characterizes parents as "personal secretaries to their pint-sized bosses. "Later in the book, she tugs at the heartstrings when she observes "This is what it is to be a mommy. I will think: perching on the edge of a bed, listening to the laboured breathing of your babies and wishing, somehow, to take away their pain. "Pratt cleverly addresses societal pressure to stop breastfeeding, when she feels reluctant to do so: "The thought of breaking this sweet connection--during which I drink her in as much as she does me --is simply too hard to swallow. "Pratt's view of parenting makes for a charming, candid, and insightful work. ”—Brenlee Carrington,The Winnipeg Free Press