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!