Friday, August 12, 2011

Three Short Weeks

They say when your kids start school it's over. The years slip by, marked by September and June. Until September and June don't matter anymore, and you move back to a January to December life again. I have three short weeks left before our youngest goes off to school. I've been trying unsuccessfully to hold onto time. To slow it down and observe all the details of Ava before handing her off to the big wide world. For her starting school is a new beginning. She is excited and nervous. But she's ready to start. I'm not sure I'm ready to let her go.

Today I took her for a bike ride around the block. It was a rare hour of 'girl time,' while both boys were off on a bike ride with the neighbors. She rode and I walked beside her. Her little training wheels occasionally caught in the dirt, so I'd touch her shoulder to guide her back. Her blond, curly ponytail bobbed up and down as she rocked back and forth on the seat, trying to maintain momentum. As she peddled she chattered. Sometimes she sang little bits of songs. I was lost in thought. Paying attention on one level and working out a new story I'm writing on another.

Up ahead, sitting on the side of the road in the grass, were another mother and daughter. They had their backs to us. They looked to be having a rest. They turned and greeted us as we approached. Ava warned me not to talk to strangers. The mother and I exchanged knowing smiles. Just then a soft breeze came up. It touched all of us. Two mothers and two daughters. And the tails of the little girl's head scarf danced, rose in the air, and then settled back on her t-shirt. She was bald under the scarf. Cancer. Just like that.

I refuse to be desensitized by cancer. I let myself feel all the emotions that chance meeting brought about. I was angry and sad and instantaneously felt powerless. As I walked along side Ava I came back to the moment. Our moment. I looked at her with the intention of never forgetting the colour of her cream soda pink bike. I concentrated on her sweet smile and her songs. I felt her joy at being able to ride all by herself in the sunshine. My baby. My love.

Two mothers and two daughters. One praying for her daughter to go off to school in three short weeks. And the other? Now thankful hers can.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Little Red Tractor

I know. I know. It's been a while since I've sat down to blog. But, in the past month the Morrison family accomplished quite a bit. We sold our home, moved to a new community, I've started down a new career path (career might be a strong word) and best of all had a lot of company.

We love the new house, and so far the community has been very welcoming. I'll paint a simple picture of our little village for you. Two churches, one elementary school, a library, a rink, youth centre, grocery store, and a health centre. Then to top it off is the multipurpose gas station/Sears Outlet/hardware store/Beer Store/convenience store extravaganza!

And this is how we do business in Osgoode. We ordered a fire engine red lawn tractor from Sears. It arrived in a box at our local Sears Outlet. Chris went 'uptown' to pick it up. (For us, uptown can mean 2 minutes up Osgoode Main, or 30 minutes up the 417 to arrive in front of the Parliament Buildings.) The Sears guy handed Chris the tools to unpack the crate. Figuratively, the guy then took off his Sears hat and put on his gas station hat. Off he went to go pump gas. Full service in our village.

Chris pulled the wooden crate apart, put the tools on the convenience store counter, and rolled the tractor outside. After everyone had a look, and offered their comments about the deal he got, the horsepower, and the deck width he pushed it over to the pumps and filled it with gas. Someone ran in and grabbed some oil from the hardware store.  Ready, set, go. He turned 'er over. Loud? Yes. Red? Oh, yes. He left it running, just to make sure there were no problems. Went inside to the Sears Outlet. Took care of the tractor. Moved on to pay for the gas. Finally to the hardware desk to pay for the oil.

Thank yous all around. And Chris jumped on his brand spanking new, fire engine red lawn tractor. Revved the engine, tipped his ball cap, and started out for home. The sun streamed through the hundred year old oaks that line Osgoode Main. The smell of fresh cut grass filled the air. Women with strollers waved from the sidewalk as he passed. Men tipped their hats from the seats of their trucks.

As Chris turned the corner, driving up our street, I watched him through our front window. I contemplated all the changes we've made over the past few months. The big decisions. The work and the worry. The kids broke my reverie with, "Can we go in the pool? Can we go for a swim? Please!" And my mind traveled back thirty years to a cozy house, with a sparkling pool in Nova Scotia. And I knew with certainty. Osgoode is where this family is meant to be. We're home.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lessons from Neighbors

Thane's school is holding a read-a-thon fundraiser. New books for the library being the objective. So after dinner Thane and I hit the street to ring doorbells and dig up sponsors. We have no particular goal in mind. No set amount of cash we want to come home with. It is a lovely evening and secretly I just want to get out of the house. So envelope in hand, off we go. We live on a tree lined crescent. Very suburban. Lawnmowers drone. Cardinals fly around the trimmed hedges, tulips stand on guard. The first houses we hit are familiar. Where we go to borrow lawnmowers and eggs. We recognize faces. We don't know their last names and they don't know ours. But we all end up on the same street at the end of the day. And that makes us more than acquaintances, but less than friends. We meet over the fence, on the street, on the front lawn. Neighbors. Simple as that.

People are just arriving home from work. Pulling into their driveways, emptying trunks full of groceries. Walking up the street. Fresh off the bus. Laptop commuter bags slung haphazardly across their chest's. It's the first day we've seen sun in weeks. It feels like summer. The vibe on the street is light. And we know in half an hour all we're going to smell is BBQ. We're greeted with smiles, not to mention great donations. Thanks to Thane's paper route everyone knows him. Thanks to acting lessons he's self-confident and conversational. I'm taken aback by his maturity. He's having issues at school. One of which is a lack of interest in reading. And yet he promotes the read-a-thon with genuine enthusiasm.

We move down the street. Thane approaches a group of hip looking, twenty-something guys. New to the street. They are strumming guitars and chatting on the front step of a beautiful home. He tries to sell them on the idea of sponsoring him.  They reach in their pockets and, between the five of them, come up with five dollars and fifteen cents. Seriously. They explain to Thane they are a traveling road band. Short on gigs and short on cash. With big grins they advise him. "Read. Stay in school. Or you'll be broke and living with your mom, like us." Great advice, coming from a respected source, given Thane has taken guitar lessons for three years and is awe of anyone in a band.

Often we have the pleasure of sending our neighbor's off to work in the morning. The kids and I stand at the school bus stop and wave to folks as they start their morning commute. One neighbor, we have waved to many times, gave Thane a very generous donation. He explained to Thane that, as an author, he always encourages reading. An author on our street? Who knew? We asked him question after question. Finally he had to take his groceries in the house before his Popsicle's melted. What a great experience for Thane. As we go from house to house we learn all about our neighbor's favorite novels. We hear where they purchase books. Whether they frequent the neighborhood library. It seems everyone we meet is a 'reader'. Everyone encourages Thane to read. They tell him how many books they've read in the past week. They describe how rewarding it is to complete a series of novels.

Finally we head for home. The widowed woman across the street is just pulling in her driveway. Thane runs over, his envelope bulging with money. By the time I walk up Thane has already gone through his sales spiel. She is reaching for her purse. She's in her late fifties. I think she's an elementary school teacher. As she hands him the cash she asks him what he's planning on reading next. A Harry Potter novel, by J.K.Rowling. She's read the series. She becomes animated. She insists Thane has to read Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Her hands fly as she paints pictures with words. It occurs to me she used to be pretty. She takes Thane through the series. Classics. As soon as he's old enough. A favorite of her son's. All of a sudden she grows quiet. Her demeanor changes. She deflates. Looks older. Rubs her eyes, her cheeks. Her late son. He passed in 2002 at age twenty-eight. An undetected heart condition. A jog in the heat of a Montreal summer. A knock on the door at three in the morning and her life shattered. Now she reads his Lord of the Rings novels. Knowing her son read the same words, saw the same pictures in his mind. Her eyes, so full of life a moment before are dull and red. She looks at Thane with a mixture of yearning and tenderness. I can tell, in my mother's heart, that she longs to touch him. I think she may regret revealing so much of her personal story. I want to hug her but for some reason I'm scared of her reaction. Or maybe I'm scared of mine. I thank her for sharing with us. My tone tells her she gave us a gift.

We're done. Thane is quiet. Processing all the advice and information he's learned in one short hour. As we walk up the front steps to our door I remember we are moving. Soon these familiar houses will blur in my memory. And the faces of my neighbors will fade. That makes me sad. I feel the pain of regret. Not stabbing pain. I have too may other priorities for that. Maybe a twinge of conscience.  I could have gotten to know them better. As I slowly close the door I take a last look at our street before the light fades completely.  Wonder at the complexity of the lives behind the curtained windows. Thane learned several life lessons on our short walk. And so did I. Reading is so much more than a hobby. It's a passion. It's a common denominator. And it's a life preserver.  More than acquaintances, less than friends. Neighbors. Simple as that.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Let it Rain

Well, it's been a tumultuous couple of months. Last night I dreamt Chris and I were driving an out of control eighteen-wheeler down the highway. Hmmmm. I don't think we have to pull old Freud out of the ground to interpret that one. 

So, to bring everyone up to speed we're moving. The newly minted urban Morrison family is headed back to the country. Rural enough that going for a walk involves walking past a corn field. Is everyone happy with the decision? Unanimous, 'yes' from all parties. Is everyone prepared for the consequences of moving back to the land of one grocery store, one restaurant, one pizza place (that's closed in the winter), no clothing stores, and one tiny hardware store? That remains to be seen. But I'm pretty sure there will be some pouting in the future. And I won't be the only one.

Our moods have swung high and low as we've negotiated the labyrinth that is the world of real estate. We have actually missed the assistance the military offers when a family moves. And not just the financial assistance. The kids are resilient and are looking forward to the move. But constantly walking through the front door to be told they have to turn around and walk out again because we have another showing is wearing thin. They've eaten in too many restaurants, they are out of routine, they've spent hours and hours in the van. Behaviours are out of wack. Happy one minute, angry the next. And when you live in a community full of people who have immigrated from all over the world teachers and principals legitimately don't have a lot of sympathy for kids moving thirty-five minutes down the road.

And to add to the turmoil, the owners of the house we wanted to purchase decided they were fed up with showing their house. Fed up with leaving three times a day for showings, leaving every Sunday to accommodate an open house. So rather than taking their house off the market they decided to sell it to us. Now, think about that for a minute. That's the opposite of how it usually works. In over twenty years our realtor could count on one hand the number of times she'd seen it happen. We didn't make an offer on the house. They came to us with the amount they wanted. Back and forth. Voila. Done like dinner. To make a long story short, minus the pressure to sell our house, we feel good. The sellers feel good. Everyone is happy. We no longer have to worry about them selling the house out from under us. They can put stuff on their counters again and get back to living normally. When we sell our house we move into theirs at a mutually agreed upon date.

And so we wait to sell. We open our doors to anyone who wants to come in and take a look around. We're thinking of lowering our price. We're thinking of keeping it as is. We put in new closet doors, we painted, we cleaned, we purged and we packed. And now we wait. We try not to get overwhelmed or frustrated. We clean, and we clean, and we clean. This family is really tired of the process. We wait for the new sod to root in the backyard. We pray for rain when everyone else prays for sun. And in the end, the same rain that is driving everyone else crazy, gave us a much needed laugh.

In spite of the rain, and showings, and chaos Chris is trying to follow his training schedule for the Ottawa Race Weekend. He is planning to run the full marathon. He's had a few glitches. Last week the body wash he had stored in his backpack exploded all over his gear. He's missed many runs to help me get the house ready for showings. But, in general it's a beautiful time of year to run downtown. Tulips everywhere, every shade of green. Life in full bloom. So this morning Chris went for a fourteen kilometre run in the rain. He was prepared. Shorts, and his favorite Running Room jacket. He wasn't the only one ignoring the rain in favour of a good run. He acknowledged many fellow runners as they passed. All was normal until the half way point. He made his turn and headed back to a warm shower and his waiting work. 

All of a sudden other runners were returning his nod, or wave with raised eyebrows. Some looked away. Some ignored him. This went on for a kilometre or so. Finally, Chris fed up with their rebuffs looked down at himself. What the heck was their problem? Oh, it wasn't their problem. It was his. On his way out the door Chris threw his running gear in his backpack. Changed at the locker room at work, and headed into the rain. Remember the aforementioned body wash explosion? Apparently he didn't clean out his backpack well enough. This became obvious when he looked down to see his rain soaked shorts covered in lather. Bubbly, white, soapy lather. And so he stood in the middle of the path and laughed. Laughed at himself. Laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Raised his head and thanked God for the rain.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

On Being Friends With Family

How do I avoid housework? Well, I blog of course. I have company coming this weekend. My brother, sister-in-law (or sista' from another mother), my two beautelligent nieces, and their giant yellow lab. The weather and gas prices are conspiring against us, but we're all looking forward to an insane weekend together. My house is small, but just like my mother and my grandmother before her, the walls of our home just seem to expand as family walks through the front door. And, I guess if we can't go south this time of year we can at least plan some distractions. Maybe I can set up a spring cleaning  party and put everyone to work.

I consider myself lucky that my brother and I are so close. For a long time there wasn't just five years, but a couple provinces between us. Now, even though we're five hours away (four in an emergency) staying connected is much easier. He was such a brat as a kid. I can't believe we're friends now. When my little brother was too short to see over the corn stalks, I led him out into the big corn field beside our house and left him there. I was probably tired of hearing him make siren noises. I got a lot of reading done in that old apple tree before Mom came out to hang laundry and heard him.  Undoubtedly he was easily located because he had on his bright red fire helmet, with rotating red light and built in siren. I swear he didn't take that thing off for two years. Once a firefighter, always a firefighter. (Can you imagine knowing, with absolute certainty, when you are two years old what you will be when you grow up?) Now we talk on the phone almost every day. It's a great way to share a cup of long-distance coffee and parenting stories/nightmares, while avoiding housework. Are you starting to see a pattern in the avoidance thing?

We try to get our kids together as much as possible too. After all, some of my closest friends are the crazy cousins I grew up with. A lot of my best childhood memories are of hanging around with them. Sleepovers, family reunions, swimming, riding bikes, tobogganing, camping. There was nothing better than a visit from an uncle, aunt and cousins who lived on the other side of the country. Days were marked off on the calendar until their arrival. Back then there was no Internet, or long-distance phone plans. It was letters, visits or nothing. And family reunions were quite the production, given that I have around 100 relatives on my mother's side of the family. (Remember I mentioned our family anomoly, homes with expanding walls?) But the best part of the reunion happened a couple of days later when we got to see our names in the local paper. Grammie/Nana/Gam Gam/Gram/Granny/Mom would list absolutely everyone who came. God bless her. After raising eleven kids she deserved to brag.

Tonight, I'm going out for dinner with a cousin I spent most of my childhood with. We haven't seen each other since Christmas. There's nothing like that relaxed, comfortable feeling of hanging out with someone who's known you forever. It really doesn't matter how long we've been apart we just pick up where we left off. When I get home I'll probably call another cousin to chat. As kids, this particular cousin convinced me peony flowers are poisonous, and will kill ya dead if ya touch 'em. ( I believed that for years.) Then, when I get up in the morning, there will only be a couple of hours until my brother and his family arrive. I'll pass the time with the kids. There's a good chance when I sit down to have coffee Mom will call. I guess I better get that housework done. I have to get groceries too. What do you think? Should I pick up a big feed of corn for my little bro' this weekend?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hockey Family? Us?

Hockey, the great Canadian game. I fought it for a long time, but I confess I've grown to enjoy it. Growing up, Hockey Night in Canada was the norm. With only two channels we didn't have a lot of choice. Everybody cheered for one of the Original Six. Young or old, we gathered as families and watched the game. Ah, but then came the teen years. Best friends and boyfriends took me away from the game and out into the big wide world. I replaced watching the fuzzy players, on the floor model TV, with live high school hockey. That didn't last long. My high school was denied a team because there were too many fights in the stands. It's all about passion for the play. I'm Canadian. Hockey is in my blood. I denied it for a long time. Sort of like being asymptomatic. But I surrender. How's that old saying go? If ya' can't beat 'em, join 'em.

My mother in law in an avid hockey fan. She watches a couple of games every week all season. She passed on the hockey gene to Chris. A couple of years ago Chris started seriously watching hockey. He developed an obsession for the game. He knows all the stats, the trades, the coaches, the dates and times of all his games. And we all know there's 'an app for that'. He has the big TV, and the comfee couch. So Chris set the stage. Three kids. The odds were against us from the start. Being exposed to hockey and being Canadian, at least one of them had to fall in love with the game.

We wanted all three kids to know how to skate. Skating is great exercise. It's something you can do pretty much your whole life. And there is nothing like outdoor skating. So we put all the kids in CanSkate this year. What a fantastic program. So much fun. The kids have learned a lot. We promised Thane, if he got the first three levels we would put him in CanPower (kind of a pre-hockey program). Well, he flew through the levels of CanSkate in three months, and is still insisting he wants to join hockey. So I made a few phone calls. Flipped off a few emails. I needed more information. I got the information all right. Holy cow. Time commitment. Financial commitment. Volunteer hours, fund raising, driving, freezing to death in rinks all over the place. Uggh. Confirmation that my friends with kids in hockey truly should be given medals at the end of the season every year.

But, I think the volunteer club secretary put it best today. She laughingly said, "Call your lawyer. Ask her what she'll charge per hour when you're making arrangements to bail your teenagers out of jail in a few years. Hockey is an investment in the future of your kids." (I wonder who told her our kid's nicknames are Probation, Parole, and Lifer?) Anyway, judging from the kids I know who are in hockey, or who've been involved in hockey in the past, she's right. Who has time to get in trouble when they are busy with practice, games, and tournaments? So Chris and I will sit down and talk about the logistics and the finances. Registration for the fall is in May. Crazy. Maybe that new vehicle will have to wait. Then again, Ava's telling everyone she's going to be a hockey player too. So, maybe we'll have to get an even bigger vehicle. That girl is destined to be a goalie. We'll figure it out. No matter what, it will be exciting. I'll wear my 'Hockey Mom' hat with as much pride as I wear all my other 'Mommy Hats'. I love being on this ride with my kids. Watching them try new things. Gain new skills. Develop their passions. Especially one as uniquely Canadian as hockey.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Morrison Minutes: Alcohol and Nine Year Olds

Morrison Minutes: Alcohol and Nine Year Olds: "Man, if you want to see a little drama start a dialogue about how old should your kid be when you talk to them about alcohol. Here..."

Alcohol and Nine Year Olds

Man, if you want to see a little drama start a dialogue about how old should your kid be when you talk to them about alcohol. Here's the situation. Yesterday, at my son Thane's ninth birthday party the kids got into a humorous conversation about drinking alcohol. About getting drunk.They were laughing and singing little rhymes about drinking and driving. This is my son's social circle. His closest friends. Here's a picture of these boys. They play hockey, and competitive soccer, they are in Boy Scouts, and a variety of other activities in the community. They are typically developing kids. Firstly, they didn't care in the least that Chris and I were standing a metre away from them. Secondly, did I mention they are nine years old. Maybe because it was the last birthday celebration in a string of way too many. Maybe it's just genetics, but I couldn't keep my mouth shut. For better or worse here's a reasonable representation of what I had to say to them.
You are nine year old boys. This conversation about drinking is not appropriate at a birthday party. I am telling all of your mothers you were talking about alcohol so they can give you the correct information you need. And drinking and driving is absolutely unacceptable and disgusting.
Well. Dead silence. Uncomfortable grins. A couple of apologies. Thane, used to me giving it to him straight, picked up his cake and asked if I could turn the radio on so they could dance. Party on dudes. No skin off his nose. Thane likes to know where he stands with us. It gives him comfort and stability. He's not a kid for surprises. So he won't be surprised or upset when I do call the other mother's, and the principal of their school to tell them what the kids were talking about. It's obviously time for these guys to hear the unvarnished truth about alcohol. Alcohol is a drug. Drinking and driving kills. A drunk kid is a defenceless kid. Alcohol and violence go hand in hand. And finally, drinking in moderation is how Mommy survives. Sorry. What I meant was, when you are an adult drinking in moderation is perfectly acceptable.

I too plan to get on the Internet and see what information Thane needs at his age. I don't want to offer a bunch of old cautionary tales that bore, or overwhelm him. I just want facts and truth. Then if he gets into a situation where he needs to make choices he'll make an educated choice. My kids aren't with me 24/7. They go to sleepovers, they go to school. They go to birthday parties. I'm not naive enough to think a nine year old wouldn't take a jar of alcohol to school in a back pack. Or sneak a beer out of the fridge to taste. If not this year, in the next couple of years. 

Here's the kicker. Thane has been asking sporadic questions about alcohol. Just as I pull dinner out of the oven. Twenty minutes after he's supposed to be asleep, two minutes before we have to head to the rink. Did these questions register on my radar? Truthfully? Barely. And until yesterday's performance, I didn't string them all together. Yesterday, I realized those boys have already been talking about alcohol on the playground. Singing about it. Sharing family practices. You know. My mom has a glass of red wine at dinner, but only with red meat. My dad buys a 24 of beer every Friday, and it's gone by Sunday morning. The first time I raised my head to the conversation the boys were having a kid was describing his grandmother when she gets drunk.

This is 2011 folks. Sticking our parenting heads in the sand won't turn back time. Personally, I think it's pretty avant-garde to talk to your kids about serious topics. Even if you're kid's an angel, going to the best school, in the best neighborhood this parent/kid dialogue needs to happen. Because kids need to be prepared. Information is power. As parents we might as well start cutting our teeth on these relatively simple conversations, about alcohol. Not just because it's our responsibility, but because the conversations about sexuality, sex, and drugs are right around the corner. And if you're reading this blog you have no excuse. You have access to the Internet, your family doctor, your kid's school, Kid's Help Phone. It's all there. Set the precedent now. Start talking.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think of myself as one of those 'older' parents who takes life too seriously. The truth be told the songs the boys were singing were kind of funny. The stories they were telling were cute. I didn't tell them to stop talking about alcohol. We all know the fastest way to get a kid to explore something is to forbid them to explore it. I just told them not to talk about it at the dinner table at a birthday party. Unfortunately, it was just at the point when the drunk grandmother story was headed toward hilarious. Maybe Thane knows the ending...?  I am not an 'older' parent. I just have a good memory. I can still remember being sixteen, pouring my Dad's whiskey into a Mason jar to take to a sleepover. I'll never forget it. Because my father will never let me forget it. I took the expensive stuff and left the cheap stuff for him. Now that was drama.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On Patience

So we're driving along in the Blue Bomb (my old minivan/mom taxi) and I hear my four year old in the back singing at the top of her lungs, "I am slowly going crazy. Six, five, four, three, two, one. Switch." She is very proud of herself. Counting backward is something we've been working on. However, I am a bit taken aback by her choice of song. Hmmmm. I do love that little ditty. Singing it under my breath has become something of a mommy chant. A mantra to get me through times of parental insanity. Although an accurate way to describe my level of patience at any given moment, probably not the best choice. Self-talk is pretty powerful. Given how often that song goes through my head in the run of a day I'll be certifiable in a few months. Time to pick another catchy tune. Fast.

Ever since I can remember I've been told I have no patience. After a while I started believing it. Then I started to fulfill the label. Impatience leads to frustration, anger, and mega stress. As a parent there are many fine threads that tie you to your sanity. Patience is one of them. Snip that thread and entire days can unravel. Who has time for that? I've had to develop my patience. I work on it everyday. Some days are a write off. Some days even the Johnson's baby body wash being slowly dribbled over the oscillating fan doesn't phase me. Even when the ensuing bubbles could bathe an entire elementary school.

I think one of the hardest lessons I've learned as a parent is, "This too shall pass." Your patience doesn't have to be infinite. It has to last through a moment. Unfortunately, if you string enough of these moments together you get a stage. Like the sleepless stage, or terrible twos, silly, lying, biting, hitting, kissing stages. You get the idea. Ugh. But moment by moment you deal with it all because you're a parent and unbeknownst to you it's what you signed up for. Patience comes and it goes. Some days you have an excess. Other days you time yourself out, run to your room, lay on the bed and cry. (Oh, I know you do it. We all do.)

The important thing is to focus on the in between times. You know what I'm talking about. There are minutes, even hours, in a day that don't require patience. When your six year old finally understands how much it hurts you (and him) when he lies. The first meal you eat in a restaurant with the whole family and no one snorts milk out their nose. The day your daughter realizes running into your arms when she's frustrated is better than screaming and stomping her feet. If you acknowledge success you'll actually find you have more patience. Simple, but true. Live the moments in between my friends. Have to go. I hear my husband's ring tone. Love that catchy tune. Alvin and the Chipmunks singing, "We Are Family."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On Electronics and Kids

Here's a controversial parenting topic for you. Electronics and kids. How much is too much? And I'll start by saying whatever works for your family is what's right for you. I'll tell you the story of electronics and our family, and if you learn anything from our mistakes fantastic. If you think I'm an overbearing and controlling mom well, that's okay too. We're all in this parenting thing together. And the only thing we know for sure is that there is no one right answer for any one parenting problem.

The world is a much smaller place than when I was a kid. Information is accessible with a keystroke. Twelve year olds have smart phones. I get ticked if there isn't 'an app for that'. Unfortunately, as parents this means we're competing for our kid's attention. Remember the good old days when an adult used your full name and you thought you might pee your pant's because you were in so much trouble. Yeah. Those were the days. When Thane is on the computer I'd have a hard time getting him to hear me if the house was on fire, let alone just speaking his name. A year or so ago his teachers felt the same way. He was driving us all crazy. He was cranky, sullen, and belligerent. And his father and I had to find out why. His teacher's led us to believe he had Attention Deficit Disorder. Which led to doctor's appointments, and a negative diagnosis. Which led to everyone becoming even more frustrated.

It took a few months of examining our family system and our patterns to figure it out. Well, I discovered my kid was stressed and I was part of the problem. Interestingly enough the symptoms of stress are almost identical to ADD. What a kick in the pants that was. Here I was staying home with the little darlings. Their lives should have read like a freakin' Disney script. Cue the bunnies and butterflies. After all, how many of us have said, "If I wasn't working _____ would be so much better." Yeah right. No bunnies and butterflies here. So let's get back to this stress thing. How does a typically developing seven/eight year old get stressed? Seriously stressed. To the point that professionals would like to label him with a diagnosis.

Obviously everyday was different. But the important items on the 'good parenting' list were there. Snacks, meals, sleep, physical activity, concerned involved parents, stable family. All checked off the list. So why was our kid stressed? What was the problem? Why was he cranky, sullen and belligerent? It isn't easy to condense a kid's day into short sentences. So bear with me here folks. From here on in DS, TV, and computer will simply be referred to as 'electronics'.

I would feel guilty for getting Thane out of bed in the morning so I'd let him sleep until the last minute. After all he looked so sweet and peaceful. But then instead of getting dressed, having his breakfast or packing his bag he'd be using electronics. Already a half hour behind because he slept in he was now creeping up to forty-five minutes behind.

Off to a bad start at home, he had little energy to deal with what the day threw at him in school. By recess he's in trouble, and he just didn't care.

After school he hits the electronics, instead of having a snack, doing his homework or practicing guitar. Gets it done eventually, but it's a struggle. Later has a snack, thus disinterested in supper. Rushes out the door to sports because he just had to finish 'one more level'. Homework being put off after school means playing catch-up the next morning or skipping bath. Hectic evening leads us to believe he needs to unwind with his electronics. A little extra electronics causes him to stay up past his bedtime again. Which guilts me into letting him sleep in the next morning.

I'm sure you've gotten the point, but now I'm going to drive it home with some dialogue. As this is my blog I'm not presuming to bring Chris into it. It should be noted we are a 50/50 parenting team. However, Chris is at work long before I get the kids ready for school. This isn't pretty. But I'm being honest, so put your big girl panties on when you read it.

"Get up. We're already late. You shouldn't have stayed up so late last night."
"Get your clothes on NOW or I'm sending you to the bus stop like that!"
"You knew you had homework. You wrote it in your agenda. Why isn't it done? Indoor recess for you!"
"Eat something. We don't have time for this."
"Do you not have a watch? Use it!"
"Turn that thing off and get your coat on."
"Get off that computer and get to bed."
"I said NO YOUTUBE!"
"How did you get my password? What good are parental controls if you hack into the computer? I don't trust you anymore!"
"I said GET TO BED NOW!!!"
"Get up. We're already late..."

Now, let's remove the extraneous variable. Electronics. No more electronics during the school week. So simple. So effective. Like a small miracle. Amazing. Seriously. A new kid. A happy little boy. Sleeping when he should. Eating when he should. Playing, doing homework when it needs to be done. Electronics were taking up tiny bits of time. Fifteen minutes here. A half hour there. Making us late, and making us resentful. Keeping us from interacting. From talking. From sharing. From listening. All the important things little people need to thrive. And yes, the nagging and yelling settled down. Don't get me wrong. This is a loud house. Full of big, loud people. We yell upstairs. We yell downstairs. But there is a whole lot less yelling at each other.

We got our priorities straight. Should Thane have given up guitar over DS? Homework for computer? Sleep for TV? No way. I should be parenting my kid. Not the TV, DS or computer. Frankly, I just gave in to Thane's requests. Let him do what his friends were doing. What was I thinking? Thane still has his moments. He's a normal kid. He gets Wii, computer, DS and TV on the weekends. Unless he screws up, then we have something to bargain with. Remember, this is not the solution for every family. But, if you are having behaviour issues, controlling electronic usage might be the key.

As a parent take a look at everything you are competing against when you are trying to get your message, your values, your morals across to your kid. No matter what we do we can't bring back the good old days. They're gone. As parents we have to take responsibility. Very few kids have the restraint to self-monitor the time they spend using electronics, or the restraint to stay off sites they shouldn't be on. In a few years I'll be friends with my kids. Not today. Today, I'll proudly wear the label of overbearing and controlling mom.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On Self-Care

I know. I know. Overdone topic. Everybody is talking about going to the gym, personal trainers, hobbies, life style changes and the dreaded D-word. DIET. Frankly it's overwhelming. I don't know about you but I just want to throw out the magazines, turn off the TV and dig into a bag of Hershey's Chocolate Kisses. So much easier. Unfortunately I'm not getting any younger. And it seems the kids, I thought would get easier to physically manage as they got older, are worse than ever. Skating equipment outweighs that ridiculously expensive super, light-weight nine lbs stroller I lugged around for years. The dreaded Pack and Play was nothing compared to loading camping equipment for five people into a minivan. What's a diaper bag compared to the overnight bag a nine year old boy takes on a sleepover? Same thing. Take out soother, replace with hockey cards. Diapers to boxers. I'm still packing and lugging, and pushing, and lifting. Only everything has gotten heavier. Including my four year old daughter who happens to be the exact height and weight of the average seven year old. Seven year olds don't expect you to carry them to bed or lift them out of the tub though. Hence me staring at my forty-one year old reflection thinking if you're going to survive skating, tobogganing, chasing, running, lugging, and toting you better start listening to this self-care stuff and get with the program.

So I did what everyone of our age does. I picked up my smart phone and started a list. What can I do to look after myself? Then I realized how far down the wrong road I've travelled. In the past three years, since I've become a stay-at-home mom, I've given up going to the gym, getting my nails and hair done on a regular basis. The only clothes I wear are from big box stores. I no longer pick the food I eat. My meals are based on what the kids will eat. I have given up my hobbies, my interests, my entire identity. I became Ubermom. At least my definition of an Ubermom. I've been subconsciously trying to make up for all the days I missed being with the kids because of my past employment obligations. I let that guilt consume and reinvent me.

So who the hell is this new person? Do I even like her? Do I care enough about her to even take on the idea of self-care? Here's an example of how far I've let things go. I made myself put together a grocery list of food that I like and I compared it to my typical weekly family grocery list. Not even close to the same. How guilty do you have to feel to not buy yourself a cucumber? Oh yeah. I'm in a bad place. But I'm crawling out. Life is about balance. I just happen to have slid way too far over into the, 'I'm going to be the best stay-at-home mommy ever' side of the page. I need to start finding myself again. So every great success story begins with a plan. Mine is slowly coming together. This thinking about yourself takes a lot of work.

First things first. I warned the troops. Mommy/wife is going to be making a few changes. Some of these changes will enter your airspace and possibly may make me unavailable to your every beck and call. Ahhhh. Even giving myself permission to be at times unavailable was refreshing. So, last weekend Chris took the kids skating for 2 hours by himself. Let's just say there was a little drama, but the survival rate was 100% so we'll consider the activity a success. I am now going to physio three times a week. By myself. Sans kids. This is an example of how desperate I am. I practically skip out the door to be physically tortured. Ahhhh. It's so quiet in the clinic.

I loaded my Ipod with music. When I put laundry away I plug it in to this phenomenal speaker system I bought Chris for his birthday (Who's a smart girl?). The first time I blasted my music Thane took the heat. Chris blamed him for breaking the sound barrier. Too bad Daddy-o. It was me. I had no idea how much I missed having my music in my life. Not the freakin' Itsy Bitsy Spider or Chicken Dance, but stuff I want to listen to. Self-care? You wanna believe it. It felt great. I slam dunked that laundry like there was no tomorrow.

Last week I bought a new yoga mat. My old one is packed with the camping supplies as an extra bedroll for whomever needs it. I needed it and couldn't find it. New mat and some new yoga and Pilate's DVDs later I'm all set. So today, Ava and I did yoga. Oh, and Barbie. Apparently she loves yoga. She does yoga naked, so it's a good thing I didn't bother getting a gym membership with yoga privileges. Barbie would have been uncomfortable. So, not only did I look after myself I set an example for Ava. Mommy takes care of herself. Mommy is worth it. And someday when you 're married with kids you'll look after yourself too.

I have a long way to go. I felt guilty buying a new sweatshirt this weekend. Three years ago I would have spent a whole paycheck in a clothing store and not thought twice. Oh how things change. My value, self worth, self confidence and self esteem are so entangled in my professional identity it will take me years to sort out the mess. But I'll be a better mom, a better wife, and a better me if I figure it out. Right now I think I'll have lunch. I bought a cucumber. No one likes them but me. Let's face it, nothing says, 'I'm worth it' like a toasted cucumber sandwich.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thank You Readers!

Blog. What kind of word is that anyway? It's not a happy word. It doesn't connote something enjoyable is about to happen. You are about to read a blog. A what? Barf, slog, clog, fog. Nope. No feelings of enjoyment conjured up. I've had to explain, using my own limited understanding, to many a friend and family member, what a blog is. Simply a public electronic journal. A place to barf out my thoughts, slog through my problems, unclog my underutilized brain, while meandering through the fog of parenting three little darlings. Okay. Maybe blog is the right word.

When I took on blogging a few weeks ago I was using it as a creative outlet. I considered it an extension of Facebook. I love Facebook because I'm interested (read nosey), social, and given the fact I'm home all day with little people I have many quick opportunities to jump on my iPhone to see what's happening out there in the adult world. But I also love to talk. And I am a creative person by nature. Writing comes naturally to me. Especially conversational prose. So blogging has become something I really look forward to. It's fast. A post takes about 45 minutes including the time it takes to wipe a nose, pour a glass of milk, pull a Barbie out of the toilet, and pick crayon out of the dog's teeth. (I know you're jealous of my glamorous life of leisure. Get over it. In my world wine is known as Mommy Juice.) So blogging has become my new way to connect with the world, and I love it.

And can you believe it? In a little over three weeks I've had over a thousand page views. From all over the place. Hello UK, Angola, and Hong Kong. A lot of repeat offenders I know, but nonetheless I am very pleased. Afterall this is a blog, not a website. I've had a lot of positive comments and some constructive criticism too. I'm just glad you're all along for the ride with me. Pass on my link to anyone you think might enjoy a moment of parental commiseration, or would just like to laugh at our chronic insanity.

To celebrate a thousand page views, and this new found reason to give my 10 year old laptop to the kids and get a new one,  I've redesigned my blog. Just another simple template in an attempt to make it a bit easier to read. A bit brighter. I'm a sucker for bright colours and I get bored very easily. Playing around with my template saved me the hundred and seventy-five bucks it would have cost to change my hair colour. It's that time of year. Brown, blond, auburn who knows? Cheaper to go from coffee cup picture to blue stripe watermark.

Let me know what you think of the change. I'm open to suggestions for topics too. I have a list I update as the kids present interesting issues. But it might be personally enlightening to comment on someone else's parenting misery. Of course, I mean parenting challenges. I think we could have a laugh and learn something along the way. So a giant THANK YOU to all of you for using my blog as a way to avoid housework. I completely understand. I'll try to make sure you avoid tackling dust bunnies at least once a day. You never know, blog may become a happy word yet.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

On Raising My Girl

Silly me. I thought raising a girl would be the same as raising a boy. Well, that's what I was told in all my women's studies classes. Just hand her unisex toys, read her The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch enough times and all things will be equal. Dress her in red or blue. Give her the boy's hand-me-down clothes. Gender neutral colour on the walls of her bedroom. You're all set. Girls equal boys. Boys equal girls.

And then she was born. In a maelstrom of pink glitter. I swear butterflies and tiny fairies floated around the operating room. Okay, maybe those were the drugs they gave me. But in that moment I had an epiphany. No blue will touch my perfect baby girl. No green. No gender neutral wall colours are acceptable. All that I learned was thrown out through the lace priscilla curtains covering the windows of her perfectly pink striped nursery. I'll deal with her issues of inferiority in a patriarchal society as soon as I'm finished getting her ears pierced. Okay. I suck. I know. All feminists everywhere are turning their backs on me. Leaving my baby girl and I to fend for ourselves in a world where I do the baking and my husband takes out the garbage.

But you know something? I have no doubts my girl will turn out okay. After all she wants to be the boss of Daddy when she grows up. After she becomes an astronaut, after she becomes a scientist. I'm not sure how NASA will feel about pink space suits, but there's a first time for everything. I think what's important isn't the colour of the suit. It's the fact she believes with all the certainty of a four year old she will wear one someday. Sure Barbie's waist is too small, her boobs too perky, and her hair too long. But, you know she doesn't rely on Ken like she used to. She's got a career. Many of them in fact. She's got choices. And that's all I want for my girl.

In the back of my mind I know the pink princess phase is just that. A phase. If the little girls around us are any example pink is replaced by a love of all things purple, and then fades to shades of grey. And then, God forbid, darkens to black. So in reality I think I'm embracing this pastel time because it represents sweet innocence. A time when Daddy is still a hero, Mommy can make anything, and big brothers are still the authority on all things cool. I don't want it to end. And yet I am so much looking forward to experiencing all the colours of my girl. My beautelligent rainbow girl.

Friday, February 4, 2011

On Report Cards

What a blah topic for a beautiful Friday afternoon. Let's see what we can do with it. So yesterday was report card day. Oh yeah. A national celebration in some houses, in ours not so much. Thane had a less than perfect year last year, so once bitten twice shy. He handed me his report card with the demeanor of a kid who knew he might be headed to the gallows. I took the missive and sat down with a cup of coffee for a good read. And no, the coffee was not fortified, although don't think I wasn't tempted.

It turns out his report card was fine. His average was at least a B. Not so bad. Hmmmm. Let's examine the Learning Skills and Work Habits section. This is where things go a little astray for Thane. "Not working to his potential," has been the prevailing theme in practically every report card the child has received. Isn't that just a nice way of saying, "He's smarter then he looks"? Just kidding, of course. Thane is very intelligent. He is also very creative, really, really funny, popular, and athletic. Great qualities in a kid. Unfortunately they often mask his academic abilities. The teachers have been right in the past, and are right this year. He can do better. So what is the appropriate reaction to this report card?

Gulp. Gulp. Punishment sounds so harsh doesn't it. Punitive by definition implies a penalty. Thane could have done better. It wasn't like he tried his very best. He admits he slacked off. Although he's nine, he reads at a much higher level. He does very well in math and science. He understands there are consequences for his actions or lack thereof. As parents where do we go from here? We're thrilled Thane has, for the most part, harnessed his temper. He's paying attention most of the time. He has a B average. That's more than acceptable. Punishment doesn't seem like the way to go. But we have to keep in mind he is aware he did not give it his all. And there were times the laughs he got were at the expense of others. Comedy and spontaneity appeal to Thane, and lead me to consider buying LCBO gift certificates for his teachers. (Hmmm. I should write about genetics sometime.)

An out and out report card celebration wouldn't be appropriate either. Our parenting style differs from that. We don't praise our kids for picking a piece of lint off their pants. In the workplace I've had the pleasure of managing twenty-somethings who were raised like that. I called them the 'Entitled Generation'. They honestly believed they deserved a six figure salary, straight out of university. And if they managed to pull together a powerpoint presentation they thought they deserved a raise for all that hard work. They want to carry a brand new Macbook Air, drive a new car, and live in a fully furnished apartment straight out of the pages of Design Beautiful. Oh yeah. Mommy, daddy, and society told them they were perfect for twenty years. Boy, are they shocked when they find out they're not.

So, as with every parenting issue Chris and I need to strike a balance. To find that place in the middle that doesn't protect the kids from appropriate criticism. Yet still dangles some sort of motivational Bey Blade in front of them. As long as I live I will never forget my grade nine teacher holding my honours certificate in front of my nose minutes before Junior Convocation. He held it there and then he ripped it in two. The entire time he maintained eye contact with me. I kept asking myself, "How could he embarrass me like this? I thought he liked me." My heart was broken. What I couldn't have understood at the time was that his was too. He was my mentor and one of the best teachers I ever had. I had not worked to my potential. I still turn to that moment for motivation. Just because the truth hurts doesn't mean it's not the truth.

We'll all sit down and talk this weekend. Caden's report card was great so we dodged a bullet there. No letter grades to consider in Senior Kindergarten. Every kid is different, every family is different; therefore, we're wingin' it again. For the most part Chris and I are doing the best we can to raise our kids to be good people. To be productive members of society.  Sometimes we do right by them and sometimes we fail miserably. Sometimes we even give in and fortify the coffee. Honestly, as parents, we are smarter than we look.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

On Genetics

After twenty three years with the same guy you pretty much know how he ticks and if you don't you haven't really been paying attention. I have a clear idea of how my husband will solve a problem, react to change, or absorb information. What I find fascinating is watching our middle child Caden behaving just like his father. Genetics are beyond my ken. Let's face it, scientist I am not, but I can appreciate the complexity of the zygote becoming the flesh and blood boy. I have a more difficult time getting my head around the repetative behaviour patterns genetics throw at us.

Let's be honest there were some traits my husband possesses I was really hoping wouldn't get passed on to our progeny. And I have no doubt he feels the same way about my less than stellar contribution to the genetic stew. Einstein and Martha Stewart will not be found hanging around my family tree. Regardless, we love each other, and we love our kids, so we put up and shut up with a lot of the crap in between. And let's face it I have a handsome, brilliant husband. What more could a girl ask for?

But how do you cope when your husband has a Mini-Me that tags along beside him? Sometimes I feel a little outnumbered. A little outmaneuvered. My only edge is I have spent more than half my life with Chris so at times I can predict his behaviour. Advantageous when predicting the behaviour of his six year old clone. Take for example trying to get Caden to get dressed this morning. His pants were in the clean laundry basket. I told him to pick any pair and put them on. Half an hour later four kids and I were roasting in our own skins, dressed in our parkas waiting for Caden to make a grand entrance. And finally he did. Sans pants. Dinosaur boxers the only thing between him and the 20cm of snow that fell yesterday. I blew a gasket. Four pair of pants to choose from. What was the problem?

Well it seems, in Caden's opinion, these four pair of pants did not belong to him. They were too long and must belong to his older brother Thane. We argued. To prove my point I hauled Thane, by the hood of his parka, up the stairs to demonstrate to Caden each pair of pants only reached the top of Thane's boots. At this point Thane had denounced any familial relationship to Caden. In Thane's mind anyone who doesn't have the ability to get up and get ready for the day in fifteen minutes is not worth the air they breathe. I sent the grumbling Thane downstairs, threw a pair of pants at Caden's feet and watched him put them on. They fit. Suddenly I thought I knew what the problem was. And then Caden confirmed my hunch. He explained the pants looked different from the pants he wore last week. They were slightly longer and slightly wider. He had yet to accept the fact he had moved from a size 6x to an 8. He needed time to process that he had in fact grown, and that new pants were the product of this growth. He was stressed that something new was flying in his airspace. At six Caden would not be described as spontaneous. As his Mom, I have to allow him the time to process change and new information, even if it means he and his brother are going to be late for school.

So you may now ask, what does this have to do with genetics? Oh please let me explain. In our house Chris does the laundry. Sorts, washes, dries and folds. My job is to put away. Which would of course explain why Caden was directed to pull his pants out of the clean laundry basket. But I digress. Last night, while Chris was folding the aforementioned laundry I watched him holding pants up in front of him. I heard him sigh. This became a pattern. Hold up pants, sigh, fold, place in basket. You'll never guess what the problem was. Oh yes. Caden had new pants in the laundry. Slightly longer, slightly wider. Just that much closer in appearance to Thane's. You see Chris also sorts the laundry after he folds it. Each child has their own pile. He was annoyed that something new was flying in his airspace. In relation to being faced with the 'pants problem', on a scale of 1 to 10 his annoyance was a 2 and Caden's stress a 9, but that's the beauty of age and wisdom. Chris has learned how to cope.

So you thought when I introduced genetics I was referring to eye colour, facial features, maybe the way Chris and Caden walk. Oh that's all there. In spades. Mini-Me all the way. No, I was talking about the hard wiring. That certain something that makes our parents a part of us in a sometimes scary, always fascinating, irrefutable way. So, I think I've made my point. Genetics are a weird and wonderful thing. When you get right down to it I'm not complaining one bit about Chris and Mini-Me. Afterall I love every one of their quirks. And frankly I wouldn't want to tick them off. I predict in a couple of years they'll be fighting over who does the laundry.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On Life Plans

So in order to avoid eating half a loaf of homemade bread (Why does it have to smell so good?) I'm going to see how far I get with my blog. The weather certainly supports writing today. All snow drifts and white gusts. I just want to curl up with my laptop and type the day away. I'm afraid the seven kids running around here may have other ideas. On a good day I get to read my post over once. Today you may receive the unedited truth. Revealing my spelling and grammatical errors in all their glory. Oh well. More fun to watch the kids build with play dough than edit this. (I do have a fantastic recipe for homemade play dough if anyone else needs something creative to do on this blustery day!)

So today I've been contemplating life planning. Not the typical financial stuff, but the sort of life planning parents do for their children. Chris and I have a chat every couple of months about each kid. Where they're at in school. Good grades, bad grades. Typical behaviours, new behaviours. New likes and dislikes, friends and activities. Parenting today is different than it used to be. Kids are more savvy, more educated, more knowledgeable. As parents we have to be on our game.

Kids know what sex is before they see the 'bunny' movie. They know there are good and bad drugs. They know liquor is a drug. They can't wait to have coffee because it will give them energy. Their friends are from all over the world. Some of their friends have lost their parent's in war. Some of their friends have held a gun in war. The news is accessible. The Internet needs no explanation. And every twelve year old has a Smart phone.

So the world is a million times smaller for our kids than it was for us. And we're not doing our kids any favours if we stand around like a bunch of old curmudgeons complaining about it. We're the parents and we need to accept this is the new way our kids will do business. To be prepared as a parent you might like to try life plans for your kids. They don't have to be written in stone, or even written down. It's enough that you make the effort. When it comes to parenting this is no time to wing it.

I'm no fool. I know you're thinking we're insane. Life plans for kids.? Way to over think something that should come naturally! But I don't think parenting comes naturally, or there wouldn't be so many parenting how-to books out there. I think we should take advantage of every opportunity to help our kids out. To raise them to be productive adults. I'm not saying over schedule your kids. I'm not saying pick their friends. I'm not saying meet with their teachers every week. I am saying put some thought into what you want your kid's future to look like? What kind of adult do you want them to be? Just because the kid down the street is in golf, and you like to watch golf on TV doesn't mean it's right for your kid.

As an example of how we plan for the kids let's look at Thane. We're still not sure if hockey is the right activity for Thane. But we have a plan. He is to get the first three levels of CanSkate (essentially figure skating basics). If he passes those he has to pass CanPower (figure skating lessons in hockey gear). All these levels can be done in a few months. If he passes them he can try hockey. Reasons for not just sticking him in hockey? We have a life plan for Thane. Skating is on the list of skills we would like him to have. It's very important to us that throughout his life he be able to skate. If we had put him in hockey and he hated it the chances of getting him to take figure skating lessons 0%. Kiss that skill goodbye. Also, if he does play hockey we want him to be good at it. Not NHL good. Just successful at his level. He has a better chance of success if he has a solid skating foundation. We have made the decision that our kids be able to skate, swim, ski, and have a basic knowledge of how to express themselves creatively. Hence piano, guitar and acting lessons. Anything else they want to try along the way is gravy. Entirely up to them and we will support them within reason.

Another item on the kid's life plans would be sensitivity to differences. So I deliberately provide childcare for a little boy with cerebral palsy. His parents are well aware over the last three years their son has been coming to our house he has taught our kids about differences, tolerance and prejudice. God bless them for sharing their son with us. These life lessons were part of the plan we have laid out for our kids.

Please don't think we have a list on the fridge, a ledger in a safe deposit box somewhere. Chris and I have conversations. A long time ago the plans were laid out. We just touch base every now and then to make sure we are on track. If we're not we make adjustments. Talk to teachers, change coaches, talk with the kids about making good choices. If nothing else having a plan gives us, as parents, a sense of control in a world that can easily take control of our children. And let's face it, even though they just ate a whole loaf of homemade bread in one sitting, they're worth it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Shack Happy. Us?

Going shack happy is a funny thing. It sneaks up on you when you're too busy to notice. It's winter. It's cold. We have no plans to go anywhere warm anytime soon. Everyone is getting a little sensitive. It's not like we spend a lot of time in the house. We're always running all over the place, but the lack of sunshine is getting to all of us. As a family we're a little high strung right now. Nerves are close to the surface and the kids are within a whisper of having an all out brawl. We need to make a few minor adjustments if we're going to eliminate some interpersonal static electricity in this house.

I'll admit I am tired of making meals for everyone and they are tired of my repertoire. It's not like I'm a one trick pony, but some of the meals I've been serving lately have been a little sketchy. The old slow cooker may have to become a plant pot, with a handy attached meat thermometer. Last week I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of eating at the dining table like we always do, I threw the plates and utensils on the coffee table in the living room. Instead of meat and potatoes I got Chris to pick up munchies. You know, besides pizza, every kid's favorite foods. Fruit, veggies and dips, crackers and summer sausage. Cheesies and chocolate milk. It was Friday night, so we put Diary of a Wimpy Kid in the DVD player and ate in front of the TV. I know. Not rocket science. But I spend half my life chasing kids with juice boxes and sticky fingers away from my new sofa. Letting them run loose with food is a big step for Chris and I.

What an enjoyable dinner. Not having to listen to anyone whining about what was on their plate was worth the dip in between the cracks of the hardwood. In our house you don't have to eat it all, but you have to take bites according to age. Four years equals four bites of the dreaded broccoli. The three kids are horrified they are all moving up a bite over the next two weeks. Suck it up kiddies. Birthdays are not all fun and games. But this freestyle dinner was complaint free. No cajoling anyone to take bites. Unbelievable.

It's funny how I can get stuck in a rut doing things the way I think they're supposed to be done. Sometimes I have to remind myself to use my own common sense. In my mother's house you can eat off the floors. Even in the corners. In my house not so much. Even the dog thinks twice before she eats a Cheerio off our floors. (And she has all her shots!) Sure, I hate cleaning floors, but I also hate nagging the kids about spilling or dropping anything. How productive would you be at work if your boss stuck their head in your cubicle every fifteen minutes to remind you to keep your workspace tidy?

And I really do hate clutter. It drives me crazy. You wouldn't know it walking around this place. It's taken me years to come to the realization toys aren't clutter. That some stuff isn't clutter. This is our home. We live  here. You can visit anytime, but you've got to accept, this is the way we roll. So yes, we have lightened up, so you may find our house in a mess. And on Friday nights you may find us sitting on the floor in the living room eating off plastic plates. But you'll probably hear us laughing and that's what will get us through the long cold winter without selling each other on Kijiji.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Camping Dreams

It's -25 in Ottawa and I'm daydreaming about camping this summer. Not hanging out in a travel trailer, but camping in a good old fashioned tent. I know. Crazy, eh? Chris and I talk all the time about buying a trailer. How much more convenient camping could be... If we're in a tent what do we do if it rains? Where do we pack all the required gear? All we have is a minivan. If we had a trailer all that stuff could be stowed and ready in a moment's notice. Then again, as far as tenting is concerned, Chris gets home Friday night jumps out of his car into my van and off we go. For gear we take two totes (clothes and miscellaneous), two tents (sleeping and eating), mattresses, camp stove and bedding. That's it. That's all. Thane and a buddy can load the van in half an hour. When we get to the site I take the kids off to play and Chris sets up. He's a pro. An hour and a half later we're sitting at the campfire.

Last summer we spent five weekends camping. And for our holiday's we set off to the Maritimes for a two week camping trip. Our first two weekend excursions went OK but needed some tweaking. There were a few pieces of gear left behind. The kids weren't used to sleeping in a tent so the little ones were scared. Ava has a toilet phobia. Thanks to an auto flush at the airport that did it's thing before she had her bum off the seat she now asks, "Is this a home toilet or a  'flush-me-down' toilet?" Neither Honey. These toilets don't flush. They're called outhouses. "They stink". Oh yes they do. But by the third trip we pretty much had  tenting (including outhouse etiquette) down to a science.

So what appeals to me most about tenting? I would have to say sleeping. Not that you get much sleep. It's the quality of the sleep you get. Sleeping in a tent with it's flaps up is like all night yoga. All that fresh air just pours into your lungs for hours. It's just cleansing. And after a day in the sun swimming, and hiking, playing catch, making campfires, eating food cooked outdoors you are the best kind of tired you can be. Your body and mind are so decompressed, as you sit by the campfire, you start to feel like you belong with the nature around you. Which, of course, you do. And in that peaceful place the darker it gets the more stars heaven reveals. All you hear is the crackling of the fire, loon calls echoing off the still lake, and the occasional sighs of your sleeping children.

So you sit, hypnotized by the campfire, thinking there is no place on earth you'd rather be. And just at the moment you start to doze off, a skunk with a fetish for grilled salmon, skitters under your favorite soccer-mom lawn chair. And you fly into that tent so fast you catch your yoga pants in the zipper, leaving the pants behind, in favour of the protection of your 10 year old Canadian Tire sleeping bag . Around that same campfire, at breakfast the next morning you tell the kids what happened and you all laugh until your sides ache. Someday I'll tell them I abandoned their father to fend for himself. He refused to leave the liquor to Pepe Le Pew. Seriously, have you ever seen an inebriated skunk? Never. Why Chris took the chance I'll never know. Cape Breton Scotch must be worth fightin' for.

So I love our old tent, and all the stories it can tell. You never know. We might upgrade to a bigger one this year. Buy a trailer? I don't think so. There are too many adventures left to be had in a tent. After all we have to see if we can survive the rain. And I've heard some of those fancy camping rigs have 'flush-me-down' toilets. That's just more than this family can handle.

Friday, January 28, 2011

On Restraint

So it's birthday time at our house. Between friends and family we have eleven birthdays to get through in four weeks. Basically I take it one day at a time. I am in charge of gift purchases and pulling off three spectacular fetes. So, first party on the agenda Star Wars, second Purplalicious,  third Hockey Night in Canada. And oh yes, did I mention we do 'home parties'.

So far we have managed to avoid taking the kids to a prepaid party palace, where they hang from the ceiling, make as much mess as they want, and scarf down enough food to choke an elephant. If I worked outside the home I would be very tempted to book a party at one of these places for convenience sake. Frankly, this year I almost gave in. I called around. Average price for a party $250. Three kids later. Well, you do the math. I'm not knocking these parties. The idea of not having to run to the store picking up this, that and the other thing appeals to me. The idea of not having my house look like the site of an all night rave appeals to me as well. But a couple things stopped me from booking the rooms.

Firstly, if I'm putting close to a thousand dollars on my credit card my rear end better be sitting on a beach somewhere for at least a week. When Thane was born, a very wise woman gave me the best piece of parenting advice I've ever received. She told me, "Don't ever buy anything for your kids they haven't asked for." Of course, that doesn't mean buy them everything they do ask for. It means listen to your kids. Did your five year old ask for a Gap, Bench, or American Eagle sweater? No. Did your three year old ask to go to the party palace? Probably not, and if they did what's going to benefit your kid more? An overpriced party, an adorable outfit they'll stain within fifteen minutes of hitting a playground, or $100 thrown in their RESP, left to gather interest for fifteen years. This parental financial restraint also applies to Christmas gifts, room decorating, and sports equipment.  If they don't ask for it don't offer. And if they do ask for it try offering an alternative. It might work and it might not, but at least you tried.

Secondly, do you remember the birthday parties you had as a kid? I do. You know why? Because my parents made me feel special. I think because mom came from a family of eleven kids she recognized the importance of every kid experiencing the luxury of being the complete centre of attention at least one day each year. I'm not sure that can be accomplished in a room full of 500 kids. So I'll make the sad looking cake, and they'll eat it anyway because it will be exactly what they asked for. R2D2 will float on a cupcake covered in lava and his only hope of survival will be to jump onto a piece of floating chocolate rock. And Mommy's cheese pizza will come straight out of the oven all gooey and hot. And one little boy will be king for a day. And he'll remember his sneaker cake, his Brownie cake, his doll cake. Oh wait. Those were the cakes Mom made for me. Funny, I can remember every one of them, and if I think back I can probably name the kids who came to my parties. So we'll save our money and party at home for one more year. Who knows what they'll want next year? Of one thing I'm certain, even though I'm home everyday it will take me a year to clean up the mess.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lessons from a Paper Route

So last year Thane lost his focus. OK, honestly we all did. The whole family was a bit scattered. Thane was suffering most of all. His marks were plummeting. He was constantly getting in trouble in school. Some fighting, but mainly disruptive behaviour. He was always trying to catch a laugh. Trying to upstage the teacher. Pointing out errors in lessons, distracting his friends with improv and impressions. (Wipe the smirks off your faces. We're not here to discuss genetics!)

Finally in a last ditch effort to salvage his school year we came together as a family. What came from this little  brainstorming session? A paper route for Thane of course. Why not punish everyone for the sins of one? Mmmm. That was probably a tad sarcastic. But let's face it this was a family adventure.

Seriously, all five of us were involved. The papers arrived mid afternoon. I hauled them in the house and started collating. Bet you've never given a thought to the person who sticks the circulars inside your community newspaper. You'll recognize them if you run into them at the mall. Their hands are black with ink and they smell like the inside of Staples. You know. That cloyingly sweet new paper smell.

Chris made sure to try to come home early on "paper day," as we lovingly called it. His smile looked something like a grimmace as he walked through the door every Thursday night. "I'm home. Paper day. Again. What am I making for supper?" Oh yes, supper was on him because Thane and I had to head out before dark to get the 108 papers delivered.

And we did it. For one year. Through rain, snow, heat waves, and crazy wind we delivered papers. At first the only benefit Thane saw was the increasing amount of money in his bank account. He didn't ask to spend it though. He was saving it for university. Or so he told us. Never let it be said that 8 year old boys don't know how to suck up. He moaned. We moaned. We took turns being angry with each other for having to go out at the most inconvenient times to deliver papers. I would blame him for needing to learn responsibility the hard way. He would blame me for getting him the job in the first place. But eventually we found our groove.

And soon the time we spent together became a time to tease each other, a time to listen to our favorite music together. Chris got the hang of Thursday suppers, and Caden and Ava got to spend time with Daddy. Thane started to realize his family, his team, had his back. He started to feel more secure. More self assured. We also met a lot of people in our little community. We'd stop and chat with them. These distant people became neighbors in the true sense of the word. Because Thane started to put names to faces he began to harbour a sense of responsibility. He wanted to make sure he delivered the papers well and on time. I'm not saying he didn't have bad days. But let's face it. His attitude was a lot better than mine.

And now, a year later, Thane is doing great in school. His grades have improved. He's found his place. His place in his family, his place in his school, and his place in his community. Oh he still has his moments. Anything for a laugh. But we're getting there. We had another family meeting to discuss all the new things we wanted to try in 2011 and the paper route became extraneous. His desire to continue his third year of guitar lessons proving he understands commitment. Parents act on the kid's behalf when calling the newspaper offices. When I told Thane's boss Thane was ready give up his route he replied, "No worries, some other kid will grab it." I hope they grab all the opportunities that paper route offers. Including the opportunity to grow.

Monday, January 24, 2011

On Passion

Now, don't look at the title and get all hot and bothered. It's 9AM, and -37 outside. We're not talking sex. Although... But I digress from my original plan. I want to write about fulfilling your passions. Serving your passions. Let's start at the beginning. Do you have a passion? Did you have one and somewhere between changing a dirty diaper, and  dropping kids off at the rink you misplaced it? It's not like you can look in the lost and found or put an announcement in the local newspaper. "Frazzled, somewhat disorganized mom of three, lost her passion last week on the corner of Sussex Drive and Rideau Street. If found please call number below, and remind her to keep a closer watch on this passion. She often let's it slip away." Might be construed the wrong way, don't you think?

My passion is writing. There. I put it out there. Made it real. Writing isn't how I make my living. I don't have the luxury of writing all day long. But writing feeds my soul. It makes me happy. I find joy in writing. And although served in a public forum my writing is very personal. It's like having an overflow valve I can release at will. I'm home all day surrounded by little people. Although I love them all, our conversations are somewhat one-sided. They demand. I supply. Sometimes I forget I went to university. Sometimes I forget the lofty conversations, debates, and discussions I used to have with big people while drinking over-priced pretentious coffee. My writing makes me smile to myself. Think about that. How long has it been since you felt joy? Smiled to yourself? Were pleased with yourself?

Think back to when you were a kid. What made for a perfect day? Swimming in a pond? Skating outside? Riding your bike with the wind in your hair? (Not something I can recommend unless you know someone willing to feed you strained peas for the rest of your life, after you particulate your skull on the pavement.) Or maybe, sitting at a tiny desk writing and writing and writing until your red duo-tang was so full you had to start filling a blue one, and that writer's bump on your middle finger started to look like a deformity, was a perfect day for you.

Don't let the critics stop you. I am dreading the comments I might get when my friend, who makes his living writing, sets eyes on this blog. He's an automatic editor. Editing is like breathing to him. When he reads these rants his head will explode. Grammar, syntax? And the style? Conversational? I certainly don't have a journalism degree, but I've got buckets of self-confidence. Don't let your own lack of self-confidence hold  you back. Take a minute. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you can do it. You can go back. Back to a simpler time when you'd try that back flip into the pool. And sometimes it's not about reigniting an old passion, rather it's about finding a new one. Trying something new. Just think what an inspiration you'll be for your kids.

Is a passion just a hobby? I don't think so. My hobbies are baking and cooking. Camping with my family. I love doing all those things but when I write I feel like I'm free. I'm the best at what I do because I'm the only person ever, in the history of peoplekind, who will every string these particular words together in this particular way. My writing makes me unique. So now I'm considering writing a couple of novels. One in November for sure, for National November Writing Month. The second starts today. I'm excited, I'm scared to death, and I'm dying to get started. After all, what else is there to do when it's -37 outside? Oh, here we go again. Focus people. Focus!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On Cancer

Cancer makes me angry. Mad and pissed off. It takes away my power. I can't make it go away. I can't take it out of the people I love, like taking an ingredient out of a bad recipe. It sticks. It stays. And even when the doctors tell you it's gone it lingers in your head. You're paranoid it will show up again. It could slam into your family like getting t-boned in an intersection. No airbags in the world can protect you. You can stuff your face with lettuce and jog like the devil himself is behind you and cancer can still find you.

Cancer doesn't care if my cousin has a fifteen year old son she's trying to raise into a decent human being. It doesn't care if my aunt is in pain all day, every day. Today. Right now there is no solution. There is no cure. But I can fight the anger. Good, long and hard.

I'm going to show my kids I love them. I'm going to tell them over and over. I'm going to tell my husband how much I appreciate him. We're going to run all over the city today to acting class, and birthday parties and eating in restaurants we've never tried. Our individual passions served. We're going to laugh out loud. And act ridiculous. We'll try to embody every trite, overused cliche you've heard. We'll try to live like we're dying. We'll try to dance like nobody's watching. Too bad about the dust on the TV, the unmade beds. I don't care. My friends don't care.

So today I'm going to take my anger and my fear and turn it into just what my cousin and my aunt would want. I'm turning it into memories. Into LIFE OUT LOUD. So screw you cancer. Screw you.

Friday, January 21, 2011

On Being Appreciative

So Chris and I took on a project almost two and a half years ago. We decided to consciously raise the kids to be appreciative. Sounds like something that would come naturally doesn't it? Afraid not.

It started with the kids receiving too many gifts for Christmas and birthdays. Multiple presents from aunts and uncles, grandparents, and friends. This added to what we bought them turned special occasions into a gluttonous farce. They had no idea where anything came from or who had given it to them. And they simply did not care. They felt entitled to be showered with gifts on every occasion.

It all came to a head the day I came home from the store with a little something for each of them. No particular reason for the gifts. I just thought they might enjoy them. Caden's toy was $14.99. He took the toy out to the backyard, where we were entertaining some friends, and deliberately broke the head off rendering it useless, right in front of my eyes.

I was speechless. I was disgusted. And even though he was three and a half years old (and should have known better), I knew Caden was not to blame. I was. We were. As parents we had failed him. One family meeting, (oh yes, we have family meetings regularly) and a lot of tears later we had a plan. No more toys, gifts, or goodies unless it was their birthday or Christmas. The challenge was the kids could whine, bawl, blat, pitch a fit like there was no tomorrow in the middle of Wal-Mart and they wouldn't get a thing. Well. What a hot mess we created. There were tears. There were pleas. There were ultimatums thrown around like Nerf balls. But we didn't give in. They were allowed as many books as they wanted, but nothing else.

Then came Christmas. Do you hear the Imperial Death March playing? Sink or swim time. We had to convince all the people who loved our kids more than anything in the world that if they really loved them they had to stop buying gifts for them. Those aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends could bawl, blat, and pitch a fit like there... Well, you get the idea. One gift for each kid. Or a couple of small ones. That's it. That's all. And time passed. And we all got used to the new way of doing business.

And there we were, Christmas 2010. Two and a half years after that first family meeting. There was still a mountain of gifts under the tree. Just more like the North Mountain than Everest. The kids started with stockings and without prompting, watched each other open gifts. And best of all, if one opened a gift they thought their brother or sister would like too, they offered to share. On Christmas morning! The first time they laid eyes on a new toy and they offered to share! We heard the angels sing. And Chris and I looked at each other across the mess that used to be our living room, and acknowledged a job well done. Our children appreciate not only material things, but each other. And that is why our kids will never have an over abundance of toys. We love them too much for that.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On Scripting

Mornings at our house are frenetic at best. I try to maintain a strict routine. Follow a script, so to speak. On a typical week day I have six kids to get out the door by 7:40. There isn't a lot of time for matching socks,  and my idea of covering the four food groups involves lining everyone up and dropping vitamins down their throats like baby birds. Also, the school provides me with more homework than the kids. There are always agendas to sign, books to find, play dough to be made, last minute cupcakes to be frosted. And frankly, I'm this close to putting a blank cheque book in Thane's backpack so he can write the school a cheque for whatever I have to pay for that day. Pizza orders, milk orders, book orders. Chris doesn't take half the orders I do every morning, and he's in the military!

So, when poignant moments happen before 9AM they are rarely acknowledged at our house. But today was the exception to the rule. I was changing a diaper. Ava was trying to explain to me that red plaid tights really do match coral floral dresses. Ski pants were everywhere, mittens were flying around like hand grenades. And there it was. A hug. I don't know the reason behind it. I couldn't tell you the last time I'd seen it happen. But two brothers, separated by three years, and totally different personalities, hugged. It certainly didn't last a minute. Maybe 15 seconds. It was quick and perfect and everything I want for them.

For better or worse, I'm prone to scripting. I plan the scene in my head and expect the players to follow my lines and choreography. In my mind I've scripted my kids loving each other enough to be best friends. To hang out as adults. To stand at each other's weddings, and help each other move (the ultimate show of support). They don't always follow the script. Little brother is a pain in the rear copy-cat. Little sister is an alien from a distant pink planet. But today, for some reason, two of them nailed their parts. They followed the script. And if I hadn't been up to my elbows in poop I would have given them a standing ovation.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On Being Military

So, it's that time of year again. Military families all across the country are waiting for posting messages. Self-explanatory really. You're sitting at your desk.  A new email pops up and boom your whole family is uprooted. Everything changes. Well, not everything. You are, and always will be a military family.

There are some who scoff at the military. Cushy government job. Take time off whenever you want, weeks of vacation, pension, incentives... And, guess what? Is Chris at work? Nope. This very minute Chris is sitting at a kindergarten lunch table with Caden, sharing a soggy ham sandwich, straight out of the lunch box Caden stepped on while getting out of the van this morning. Just another day in the life of a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Cushy, eh?

Here's the kicker. It's APS (posting season). Chris is due for a posting. Put yourself in his place for just a second. The view isn't so cushy now is it? There it is, on your computer screen. MOVE. NOW. The kids have friends, you love your new house, your spouse has a great job. Too bad. See ya! You have a week to find a place, four days to pack, load, move, unpack. Find a lawyer, doctor, dentist, bank, school, rink, pool, piano teacher, optometrist, register vehicles, provide immunization records, get your license changed, find a job, find a babysitter, find a friend.

Thank God Chris is quite sure he isn't posted out of Ottawa this year. And, "quite sure" is as good as it gets. I won't bother to jump on my soapbox to pontificate about deployments. Anywhere in the world, anytime, dangerous or not. Think of that when you turn on your computer tomorrow morning. Would you do it? Would you put your family through it? Hell no!

So, to my friends with deployed spouses and brand new babies, to my friend who manages to move every two years, run a business, write a book, and raise three incredible kids, I salute you. To my soul sister, who lives in a constant state of home improvement, just in case a message comes in, I love you. Don't let it get you down. Be proud. Be strong. And tell those boys they deserve to take a minute to stop and eat the soggy sandwiches!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Those Were the Days

Well, here it is. I'm giving birth to my first blog post. The voice in my head is saying, "Keep it real. Don't try to be funny. Don't try to sound like an intellectual. Be yourself. And finally, screw 'em if they can't take a joke!" I think I need an epidural, or maybe some Bailey's in my coffee. This is a bit painful.

What are my goals? Is there an objective to this random, public journal writing? Do I have anything important to say? I always have something to say, but will anyone really want to read it? My teacher's were paid to read what I wrote (Not paid enough I might add!). Will I have to pay my friends? So many questions. This is no time to hesitate. Let's see where this takes us.

Goal? I want to remember these perfect days of snot and tantrums. I want to document minutes of the day. Like a photograph, but with words instead of pictures. I don't want to forget that Ava's hair is the exact colour of 14K gold. That one curl wrapped around my finger could be mistaken for my wedding band.

Objective? To maintain a sense of humour amidst the chaos. To gain perspective on the trivial and the monumental milestones of our lives. Minutes could easily pass into oblivion if I don't think to write them down. Like Thane telling me yesterday, a couple of grade fives made fun of his new parka. They told him it looked like a girl's coat. But he stood up to them. He gave them examples of other kids with parka's just like his. He asked why they never bothered to make fun of those kids. And he wore his new parka to school today. Someday, when he's raising a kid he'll understand why I was brought to tears by his story. My little man in the making.

I'm running out of time. The bus comes in a minute. I think I know where I'm going with this blog thing. This first post was a natural delivery. Too bad the kids weren't!