Monday, April 28, 2008

Old Meets New

Every now and again something from my current life as a real grownup intersects with my life as a kid. Even though I have a family, a real job and a mortgage, something will take me back.

Sometimes it’s the tone of my voice where I sound decided parental (like my parents, that is). You know when the tried and true “because I said so” or “just because” come out after 17 rounds of do-I-really-have-to-do-my-home-reading.” (I’m quite certain as a child I never went beyond 13 rounds.)

Recently my lives intersected when I broke open one of my Christmas gifts from my parents: The complete Brady Bunch series on DVD in a funky green shag rug box. S wanted a top made out of the shag rug.

As we watched it, my kids mostly enjoyed the kid-directed humour. They are a little young, but the laugh track cued them as to what was supposed to be funny. S asked repeatedly “Mommy, why are they laughing?” J asked “Why are so many people laughing?” They both love whenever Alice does or says anything funny. She is their favourite.

The most amusing remark came from S. We were watching a scene in the Brady kitchen. Alice was in her usual crisp blue uniform. Carol was dressed in a typical late 1960’s frock: powder blue, very short, gigantic buttons and large Peter Pan collar. S. asks “why are they wearing pyjamas, it’s not night time?”

But it is amazing how times have changed. While I guess historians would say almost two generations (gasp!) have passed since the Brady Bunch aired in 1969, it just doesn’t seem that long ago. Except when I see Carol Brady wearing false eyelashes - on a camping trip. Or when the Bradys called two doctors at their offices and the doctors answered the phone and immediately made housecalls to check on the measled Brady kids. Or when the girls were told to get lemonade while the boys built their clubhouse. Or the offhand remarks of “girls don’t like camping” or “Ladies do the grocery shopping”. Or when Mike Brady says “electric mixers were made to make women’s lives easier”.

But I still like the simplicity of the Brady household and have enjoyed watching it with my kids. Until the kids are picking up things I don’t even notice being said. J asked me to repeatedly rewind to the part where Greg said to Peter “You Dummy!” And until S asked “Mommy, what are the birds and the bees?”.

Simpler times? Maybe not much has changed.

While I’m on the subject. There is something curious about the Brady Bunch. It’s not the burning question that many ask “what ever happened to Tiger?” Or even “how can six kids share one bathroom that doesn’t even have a toilet?”

Where did they find Alice and how can I hire her?

For starters she cooks, cleans and does laundry. What’s not to like. But she also ferries kids around, does the grocery shopping, is ad hoc nurse, psychologist and mediator.

But she also works around the clock. She makes breakfast for the Brady clan, she works all day and she is pouring coffee for Mike and Carol after the kids go to bed. And she does this all on the weekends as well. I think perhaps there is a mention of a couple days off in five years and that was to go to the Meat Cutters Ball with Sam.

Where is Carol while Alice is running the household? She talks to Ellie on the phone a lot. She is often seen folding laundry and talks to her husband in his den pretty much every episode. She does do a little chauffeuring and of course has many serious talks with the kids about whatever ever the crisis-du-jour is. Don’t get me started on Mike. I don’t think he even takes out the garbage in that house!

In one episode Marcia asked to have a big slumber party. The episode opens with Mike and Carol gave somber consideration before granting their permission. I don’t know why they deliberated. They asked Alice to “hold down the fort” during the hi-jinx packed party while they went out for dinner.

I think it’s what I need: a second Mom to do all the real work while I, alpha Mom, fold laundry and talk on the phone.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spring Cleaning

By the calendar it’s spring (though not by the weather), so I decided a couple weekends ago to start doing a room-to-room tidy, de-clutter and clean.

I freely admit I am not much of a housekeeper. I would like to keep a clean house, well that’s not true. I want to live in a tidy and clean house where everything is put away and no colonies of dust bunnies are allowed to thrive. It just seems other things get in the way of my making it that way. Like writing this blog, doing homework for my class, figuring out what activities to put my kids in, watching TV, contemplating paint choices for our family room (we’re about to test colour #4) and well pretty much anything else I can think of.

Quite apart from my own slob-like tendancies, at some point Husband and I became overwhelmed by the mess our kids make. We try to get them to tidy up. Sometimes. We allow them to play in the basement rec room and we don’t worry about the mess too much thinking this will allow us to keep the rest of the house tidier.

S for her part likes to change clothes. A lot. Her clothes litter the house. We try to enforce a rule that she can change her clothes but she has to put the other ones away, but it does feel like we are facing a force bigger than us. J likes to draw, write, colour. Markers and scraps of paper are everywhere. Add to this J and S like to play house or babies and there are blankets, spoons, baby toys in, it seems, every room of the house.

Against this back drop, the great clean-up of 2008 began. I figured I would start in the family room/kitchen where we do most of our living. As I started to sort through the toys in the family room (keep/give away/ throw away) I hear an excited voice, “My robot, I’ve been looking for this!!”.

I respond, “J, it has only one leg and no head. And it’s from McDonald’s. I think we can throw it away.”

Before I can secure an answer I hear “Mommy, my widow bear, I miss him!”.

“Oh S, that little bear is kind of scruffy, don’t you think? I think he spent the winter outside on the deck. And I think a raccoon tried to eat him.”

“Mommy, where did you find this?” J asks excitedly.

“Umm, what is it?” I ask as I examine unidentifiable piece of plastic. J responds “I can’t remember, but I haven’t seen it in a long long time!!”

My throw away/give away piles are dwindling and the family room looks worse than where I started.

I turn in another direction. “J, do you think you could clean up your things behind the chaise lounge?”

“My lab?”. It consists of jar of pencils, an old stuffed bear, a calculator, an old briefcase-like purse of mine (from which he is now inseparable with and what we now call his ‘man purse’) some paper and a bowl of stale crackers.

“Yes, we need to tidy up.” I am calm, pleasant and hopefully firm.

“But, I need a lab! I am a scientist.”

“Can you make the lab in your room?” I ask hopefully.

“No, that is my old house. And my new house is in the den”.

I seize an opportunity. “Yes, about the den, we can hardly walk in there. We need to tidy that up too”. All the dining room chairs, every cushion that is not nailed down and a bucket-load of other crap is assembled to make the new house.


“How about beside the stairs? And you could put your lab there too.” I’m beginning to realize the kids have more square footage than we do.

“That is my art and book museum. You can’t have a lab there. And I need a house because that’s where I live and I need a lab because that is where I go to work”.

Protracted negotiations begin as to where the house could be. Things get complicated because S wants a house too and the two of them want to be neighbours. We finally settle on the 2 of them being roommates in the IKEA castle which we wedge into a corner of the family room. J reluctantly agrees to have his lab merge with his museum.

A day of negotiations and I still have a lot of cleaning to do.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Fierce Loyalty

It’s one of the things you hope for when you have a second child. That they’ll be good friends, playmates and allies against all enemies.

When S arrived on the scene, J was not yet two and not yet talking. Suffice it to say it rocked his world. That first week he would not acknowledge her presence in our home. The second week, he’s steal glances in her direction when he was sure we weren’t looking. By the time he was two and she was two months, he was the one de-caking her soother from dust bunnies and returning it to her.

Their affection for each other has grown. I remember when J was about 3 ½ and S 1 ½ he said to her “how are you my little chicken nugget?” with as much affection as I or Husband would have gushed. They have been, I must say, relatively good playmates in recent years. There have been hugs, kisses and wrestling matches (I’ll leave the bites, hits, shoves and bonking of heads for another post).

Their current favourite game is to play us. They call is J and H (using our names), which does get a little confusing. They parent their babies and stuffies. Feed them, teach them, admonish them, praise them, take them to preschool, the doctor, the babysitter and grandma’s house (Although I could, by age, easily be a grandmother had I started early, it does feel a little early to be playing that role.)

And they are fiercely loyal to each other. They will translate or explain for each other if we don’t get what a convulsing tantrum-er is trying to say. S might be sobbing and saying POE-EE POE-EE and pointing toward the family room and J will say "she wants to watch Rollie Pollie Ollie".

It recently became apparent just how clueless they think we are.

S will say “I want more hot chocolate!!! I want more hot chocolate!!! I want more hot chocolate!!!” such that the entire block will be closing their windows and dusting off ACDC albums to drown out the noise. We will have told that she has had enough and we’re either ignoring her or devising a plan of action, which might include sending hateful letter to person or people who invented marshmallows as this is why hot chocolate is such an object of desire.

J will come into the room and ever so helpfully say “S wants more hot chocolate”, astounded that we haven’t figured it out.

For his part, J has had his moments in him room yelling “I WANT MOMMY!!” when he is meant to be in seclusion from the world, or at least temporarily out of my eyesight. Clearly, our neighbours listen to a lot of loud music. S will seek me out from whatever rock I am hiding under and say “Mommy, J wants you”.

They have recently started advocating on each other’s behalf. “J didn’t mean to throw that, it just slipped.” “S just wants to watch one more show and then she’ll go to bed”. “J said that he would do it after Berenstein Bears, I heard him” “Please don’t be mad Mommy, S was just distracted”. Even when I might be stepping in to protect one or the other and say “J, please do not bonk your sister's head with your library book". S will trump me “Mommy, it didn
't hurt”.

So they are friends and playmate and allies against enemies. We just didn’t know we would be the enemies.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Since When Did I Become a Scheduler?

Prime Ministers need schedulers. Presidents need schedulers. Madonna needs a scheduler. And, apparently, so do children over the age of 3.

It’s not enough to determne that swim lessons are desirable (and see Influencing Young Minds for what that may entail). You have to decide what day suits our schedule (or days as classes are once a week, twice a week or in summer five times a week). This has to take into account work schedules (mine and Husbands), our Nanny’s schedule (she is more than willing to take kids to swimming but the end time can’t be starting 10 minutes before we get home from work and she is off shift) and take into account we only have one vehicle. Then, the really tricky bit is finding classes for both kids that:

a) are at the same time at the same pool.

b) are back to back

c) are at different times but will not require the other child having to be dragged to the rainforest climate of the pool deck for 10 lessons (which would be 20 trips to the brink of insanity “I am so hot!!! I’m dying of thirst? Can I get a treat from the machine? Isn’t it over yet?”).

Once we’ve negotiated this matrix of variables, the classes have to be available. More than once I have studiously cross-referenced the swim schedules (I find the Income Tax Act easier to follow) for 3 different pools and come to find that Friday is the only time that will suit only to find that J is 8th on the waiting list for a class of 4 students.

And then multiply this complexity by the number of kids (2) and by the number of activities which all happen in differing lengths: all-year activities (music, gymnastics), half year variety (soccer) and 8 weeks (swimming, skating, dance, art).

It’s hard to commit to an all-year activity because that will forestall any swimming, skating or ball hockey on that night. And make finding a free after-school slot for play dates more difficult. And the shorter activities have to be signed up for about 5 times a year. And I need to wait for the schedules from 2 cities (and the books don’t come out at the same time) plus all the private activities.

And once we (which is to say I as it has become my obsession) get activities arranged for a time period, say from New Year to spring break, I can breathe a sigh of relief. Only to find I exhaled too long and missed the deadline for registering and now S won’t be in ballet in April (see From Tomboy to Princess for the importance of that) and the kids can’t take swim lessons together. It was March and I was already sketching in summer activities when we have the usual array of activities plus camps, family vacations and vacation bible school to schedule.

Our kids are actually in relatively few activities, which makes choosing them all the more difficult. If they are only in one or two things after school, the planets must align for the timing, the length and quality of the activity to be perfect.

I wonder if Madonna is in need of help. I think her schedule would be a piece of cake.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Influencing Young Minds

There are a lot of things that I didn’t anticipate about parenting. One of them is the decisions to be made. Millions of them it seems. What schools should they attend? What activities should we register them for?

Now I don’t know if my parents had the choices that we have. I was blissfully ignorant when I signed up J for preschool. It was February and he was just over two and I was at the community centre and saw a sign for preschool registration. I decided that the local preschool was good enough and lined up three hours early and got a coveted spot in the Tuesday-Thursday morning slot (little did I know how popular this school was).

Once we had kindergarten on the radar screen for J, we started to think about moving. We always thought we might move to a location that would reduce the work commute and be closer to family. When confronted with the thought of school, we decided that J who, to put it mildly, has issues with transition and change, ideally should not be moved between grades. We wanted to find our ‘forever’ house.

We had to think about school location, French immersion, and some districts in our wide search zone had middle schools and some only elementary and secondary. The story of our finding a house is a long one, but in the end we found school districts we liked and then looked and ultimately found a house in the school catchment we wanted. And with the big school decision made, I had to research options for S’s preschool. Now that I was more aware of the options (Montessori, parent participation, parent-run, private, public) I didn’t realize all that I had missed in choosing J’s preschool.

Considering what activities the kids should be in is another whole discussion altogether. What do they need in terms of physical activity? Mental challenge? How often? And what exactly does “over-scheduled?” mean? I don’t know a parent that hasn’t uttered or thought that phrase. To some it means NO activities. To other it means having one hour of playtime per week.

And what about summer? It’s nine l o o o n g weeks that kids will have to be kept busy. It’s a charming notion that the summer will be filled with long afternoons at the park or beach. Craft projects, giant sandcastles and long beaded necklaces. Trips to the library and at-home science experiments. But our kids, J in particular, needs some structure and busyness that even our craft maven (part time) nanny can’t entirely provide on her own.

In and through all of this, I wonder how will I help my children become civilized members of society? (and at times we seem very far from that goal – see What is it about Wal-Mart?). I was recently reminded of this greater purpose in raising our kids. Last December, I listened to a friend deliver a moving eulogy of his wife. He said, quoting the mother to their three sons who had had their mother for far too brief a time:

"We can spend a lot of time worrying about what school or what academic stream they’re in or what sports they’re playing or what lessons they’re taking. What’s paramount, for me, is … what kind of person will each of them turn out to be? Will they have strong instincts for how, and when, to help people, and will they follow those instincts?” That’s what she saw as important, and that’s what she was aiming at in raising them.

I couldn’t agree more.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What is it about Wal-Mart?

I know I have plenty of solid reasons to avoid Wal-Mart. I don’t go that often. Honest. But I do like to spend not too much money on things, especially the kids’ clothes since there is a better than even chance that it will be permanently stained with chocolate frozen yogurt or “washable” paints before it’s even been through it's first rotation in our laundry room. We don’t have Target in Canada (as far as I know) and sometimes I need to do a Wal-mart run. And sometimes I have to take the kids.

Now, I like to think of myself as very experienced in dealing with kids and tantrums in public locations everywhere. Schools, malls, parks, church. You name the place and I’ve been on the receiving end of passing bystanders that:

a) Stare with condemnation as if to say: “can’t you control your child? You know in my day, the kids would never have the nerve to yell ‘You are not my mother’ ”
b) Stare with pity and relief as if to say: “Sister, I have so been there. Thank goodness it’s not me today!”

So I know about managing the situation by:

a) taking the kids on fewer rather than more errands
b) going on a day when the stars align and their moods are both good (or at least neither is extremely foul)
c) not doing too much on one day
d) planning something for them to see, do, experience, eat or buy (see Consequences, for example)

So when I was first brave enough to take them both on errands, on occasion it was to Wal-Mart. And I started noticing how badly they behaved. And more importantly how badly I reacted. I’m generally pretty good about getting the kids to the car mid meltdown. It’s not easy, it’s not fun and I usually break a sweat. But I can do it. But the first time I took them both to Wal-Mart they were both carrying on like demon-possessed and I was sorely tempted to do what I heard threatened as a child and"knock their heads together" (though I resisted). It happened a second time and pretty much every time after. Coincidence? I think not.

Today, I had to exchange a pair of shoes. At Payless. Which is beside Wal-Mart and the fastest way (so I thought) to accomplish this task was to (shudder) park in the Wal-Mart lot and race through Wal-Mart to Payless and zip back through Wal-Mart and safely and easily back to the car. I was not even going to slow down on my way through as I would have 4 year old S with me.

She’s a pretty good companion as long as things don’t last too long or I have sugar for her. The errand in Payless took 10 minutes instead of the 2 that I anticipated. On the return routing through Wal-Mart S runs off (I want to say that she never does but this is the second blog where I’ve mentioned it so I can’t say never any more). Anyway after I had her by my side she saw a swimming pool that she had to have. This was not even a princess pool or a pink one. It was a 12 foot wide pool that would take up half of our backyard even if I could get over my phobia of ever having a pool in our backyard for water safety reasons.

She screamed “I WANT THAT POOL!!”. Not even reminding her of the possibility of McDonalds for lunch pulled her back from the ledge. We left the store without lunch to the sounds of “I’M NEVER TALKING TO YOU AGAIN”, which would not have been a bad thing right then if she would have actually stopped talking to me. The walk to the car would have been quiet. But she would not pass up on an opportunity to kvetch, fuss and moan about the fact that the swimming pool was not strapped to the top of the van or that I wouldn’t let her run through the parking lot alone (which is about as safe as letting her across a freeway in L.A.)

I don’t know if it’s the kids or me or something Wal-mart (or its competitors) pipe into the air, but I’ve got yet another reason to stay the heck away from there.