A parenting predicament and homemade mosquito spray

A blog isn’t an appropriate place to describe the kind of mothering I did last week. But if you stop by for a cup of tea, and we sit on my back stoop covered with tattered green carpet, I’ll tell you all about it. About what happens when I speak in a low, calm voice and keep my cool and reason and explain and empathize and offer options and then… S-N-A-P! Yes, just like that. Only louder, and more out of control.

I called a friend while my heart was till beating fast after one of those sizzling snap-bang-boom altercations and left a message that went like this:

Can you remind me why I shouldn’t threaten, punish and lose my temper with my children?”

She called me back sixty seconds later, and I asked her for parenting advice. She resisted. I demanded it. She gave in.

They say,” she said, knowing I knew she knew how ridiculous they can be sometimes, “It’s better to parent out of connection rather than fear. We want our children to respond out of a relationship with us instead of being motivated by external rewards and punishments.”

After I hung up the phone, I told my daughters about the predicament I was in; how I wanted to take the high road, and not lunge at them or invent punishments in fits of frustration. “Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all listened and cooperated with each other just because we love each other?” I asked them.

Belén looked at me thoughtfully and then said, “Mom, that’s not gonna work.”

And you know what? I think she’s right. It’s not because we don’t love each other, or that we never listen or cooperate with each other, but because family life doesn’t happen in a lab or on the pages of a book. It happens in cluttered entry ways, messy kitchens, cramped bathrooms, and narrow hallways where everyone’s egos, needs, desires and priorities keep ramming into each other. And trusting everyone to make kind, unselfish choices just because we love each other is like assuming I’ll never eat chips just because I’m interested in whole foods. (A bad assumption by the way.)


One of their chores–collecting chamomile blossoms to dry for a cup of tea on a winter’s day


Belén, looking for chamomile amongst lettuce and green beans


A 1970’s bridesmaid dress is perfect garden gear, don’t you think?

By the end of the day I came up with a hybrid parenting plan; part high-road (less threats, more discussion) and part low-road (we all agreed we weren’t evolved enough to do away with punishment/consequence). Together we talked about all the yelling, complaining, fighting, unwillingness to clean-up and tried to think of a solution. (That was the high-road part–just in case you missed it.) Then we decided the girls have three chances per week to balk at chores, or be entirely unreasonable, before they lose their allowance. So far it’s working. But then again, most things work at the start.

I’m hoping some of you who have adult children are reading this with knowing smiles, thinking “this too shall pass.” But the thing is, sometimes it doesn’t pass. Sometimes parenting is hard until the bitter end, and the heartache only grows deeper as the child grows older. I met a beautiful lady recently who told me her parenting story; one filled with doctors diagnoses, psychiatrists, arrests, and homeless shelters. She explained that she’d parented both her daughters the same–from pregnancy to adulthood–but one of her girls chose self-destruction at every turn, while the other had become a well-adjusted, loving mother of her own children. Then in mid-sentence, the lady I was visiting with interrupted herself and forced a laugh. I could tell she was embarrassed she’d shared as much as she had.

Since our conversation I’ve thought of this woman almost every day. What do you say to a mother whose prayers have seemingly been unanswered for thirty years?

I said nothing. Well, actually, I’m sure I said something to try to smooth the social wrinkles, but in my heart I knew it was nothing. Not for someone whose parenting path had taken her places she never imagined going.

What would you have said?


In other, not so emotionally taxing fronts, I’ve been experimenting with homemade mosquito repellent.

Inspired by the legend of the vinegar of thieves, I searched the internet for some recipes (like this one) and then I set out to make my own repellent with herbs I had on hand.







I stuffed herbs into an old pickle jar and covered it all with apple cider vinegar. Then I let the jar sit in my cupboard (shaking and stirring it daily) for about three weeks, before I poured the strained vinegar into a spray bottle.


At this point I also added a few drops of lavender and peppermint essential oils.

I diluted the vinegar solution with equal parts water then put the mix and concentrate in the fridge.

There are claims all over the internet that this is more effective than DEET, and that people have used it to protect their prize-winning horses, babies, sick mother’s and the neighbour’s dog, from biting bugs of all kinds. Even in the Amazon. The true test, though, will be the spray’s performance on our upcoming canoe trip in northern Saskatchewan. If it proves itself, I will share a detailed recipe in subsequent posts. If not, well, sorry for the let down…

Inspite of the bugs we might encounter and other reasons not to go canoeing with your family, we’re going to try hard to remember Jesse’s (the biker who stayed at our place overnight) motto:


Susanna grinning beside the sticker on Jesse’s bear cache: NO WHINING.

Perhaps we should make t-shirts with that logo, before we go.

Here’s a parting shot of Jesse and Jackie–one I forgot to include in my former post about them…


Jackie, Susanna, Stan, Jesse, and Belén — before they set off for St. John’s, Newfoundland

Wishing you courage in all your parenting/biking/outdoor/life endeavors this week. If you’re like me, you’ll probably need it.



6 thoughts on “A parenting predicament and homemade mosquito spray

  1. Looking forward to the cup of tea this winter and endless parenting discussions:) thanks for sharing Belen’s response “mom that’s not going to work”… I sighed in relief when I read those words! I’ve travelled the high road… I’ve also meandered on the low road- and you know what? The answer for my family is, like everything in life, moderation. Parenting is not about perfection- it’s growing, learning, loving, laughing, crying and sharing!

  2. Your post is so timely! Just this morning I thought I had the best life in the world as we’re weeding together and eating fresh beans and peas and just enjoying life with kids that aren’t babies but aren’t teens and happily in between…and this afternoon I feel like we’re a complete disaster. They just really don’t seem to care about my allergy to whining and sibling rivalry. I think the high road/low road theory is pretty much bang on! Just catching up on here, great to read a bit!

  3. Yes, it all shall pass! That’s a consolation for practically anything! Let us know about the bug spray. I hope it works! northern Saskatchewan has got to be about one of the best places to try it!

  4. I can’t believe how much Belen looks like a young Tricia in the last picture where she’s picking something in the garden in the bridesmaid dress!!

    The old TV show, The Facts of Life’s theme song is very appropriate for this post…”You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have, the facts of life!”

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