Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wistful Sighs

I fortuitously had an afternoon this week to do grocery shopping. This is normally a weekend chore that Husband and I share. (i.e. we arm wrestle over who gets to circumnavigate Superstore and who has to stay home with the kids).

On Tuesday, S had an all day play date at her cousins. J was at school so I did the weekly shopping trip sans kids. I sometimes will try to sneak in the shopping while S is at preschool, but it’s always a rush. This was a treat to have time to do the shopping at my own pace.

I noticed a lot of other Moms there. They had wistful looks and were sighing longingly. It took me a second, but I realized why. This was their last shopping trip in peace for 9 weeks: school was about to let out. For those Moms with multiple kids in school this will mean doing the trip with complaining kids who would rather do extra math equations than push the cart for the family grocery trip. Or doing it late at night. Or fighting the crowds on the weekend with all the other Moms.

This got me to thinking about the things that I will have a hard time doing with 2 kids at home. During the quieter school hours I often compose emails, write my blogs, create lists, make phone calls, do laundry and clean the house (in pretty much that order).

So I’m pretty much looking at a disorganized summer where I’ll have no contact with anyone outside my own family, we’ll all be wearing dirty clothes and living in a hovel (I'll still make time for blogging).

But we’ll have visited every park in reasonable driving distance, explored the trails by our house, built sand castles at nearby beaches, logged many hours running throught the sprinkler, rode kilometres on our bikes, read books, done crafts and enjoyed trying new activities. I think that’s a pretty decent trade-off.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

One Down, Eleven to Go

Wacky Hair Day!

J completed grade 1 this week (or first grade as those south of the 49th parallel would say). Just eleven more and the part of his education for which Husband and I will be his legal parents will be completed. I can do 11 years, I think? Maybe I’ll get time off for good behavior.

Last summer I had 2 concerns about grade 1. First, would he eat his lunch? Well that fear pretty much realized. But he’s continued to grow physically, didn’t have any trouble in school academically or behavior-wise. All it meant was trauma for me after school, which I suppose is acceptable.

Second, I worried about J making friends. In kindergarten J interacted with kids mostly if approached. He didn’t initiate many social encounters. I did my best to arrange play dates, but it wasn’t always a positive experience. In grade 1, I knew he would not only have the 15 minutes at recess, but 40 minutes at lunch. I had visions of him wandering the field picking up rocks and sticks all by himself.

I had plans to attend at school and play matchmaker to introduce J to potential play mates. I imagined myself lurking in the trees and finding other lost souls who didn’t look too overbearing and then bribing child with candy to go and play with my child.

It was a ritual most of the school year. I’d pick him up and ask him how his day went. He’d say “fine”. Then I’d ask him whom he played with at lunch. He’d give me the rundown (if he wasn’t too hungry) of whom he had played with and what silly imaginary game they had played. “We were pretending the jungle gym was a pirate ship and there were sharks in the water …”. I was pleased.

In his first months, I offered to come pick him up on Fridays and bring him home for lunch as a treat. The first time I asked he’d say “Okay, but then can you bring me back to school so I can play with my friends?” No need for psycho Mom to lurk in the bushes.

As the year went on, the circle of recess and lunch friends grew. It was around this time that J came up the idea that instead of going to bed at night, he could stay up and write mystery stories that involved skeletons and ghosts and monsters (these were also the days when getting him out of bed in the morning = impossible). Then at lunch he and his friends would solve his mysteries and visit every sewer grate on the school ground checking for a certain missing skeleton. I happened to be at school a few recesses and I saw this team of mystery solvers. About eight of them would gather and someone (often J) would say “let’s check the sewer by the swings!!!” and the lot of them would run excitedly until some one made up the next clue.

By spring, J usually played with one particular friend Js and a few others (S,B,N) would sometimes join them. I would ask him whom he had played with at lunch. J would reply “Mommy, you don’t have to ask me anymore, I always play with Js”.

I came home from work one Friday to the news that Js was moving. That weekend. I didn’t even get to say good bye. Js and his family moved across the globe. We already knew that S, another of his frequent play mates, would be moving away in the summer.

I admit that my anxiety about grade 2 lunchtimes is rising with the reducing ranks of his lunch friends. But I have growing confidence that he’ll navigate grade 2 just fine despite my worries. Anyway I know I can spring my psycho Mom plan into action, if needed.

Monday, June 23, 2008

End of an Era

S graduated from preschool and is officially ready for kindergarten in ‘big kid school’. Well “graduated” may be overstating the case, but she has put in her two years of play dough, crafts, stories, calendar, circle time and playtime at the park.

Of course I’ve already celebrated the end of four years of parent duty, but can now enjoy a reduced stream of crafts and field trip permission forms coming home. I look forward to having both kids in the same school in the fall, which means the calendar will be slightly simpler.

But the end of preschool is also the end of having a preschooler. The parental influence is dialed back a bit and the peer influence is correspondingly increased. Kindergarten is the year-of-the-play dates which also becomes the year of hearing “Can I have a TV in my room, like so-and-so does?" and "Why don’t I have a phone in my room?”

There will be no higher authority than the teacher “but that’s what Mrs. X said!” will be the constant refrain. It doesn’t seem to matter that Daddy has 14 years of post-secondary education in the sciences and has published countless papers in peer-reviewed journals, Mrs. X knows more about science!

With J, I was thrilled to sned him off to kindergarten and reach another milestone. While I do feel that for S, I also feel a pull to keep her small: willing to hold my hand, telling me endless impossible to follow stories and always willing to have a cuddle.

Oh and she loves to go to Starbucks with me after we drop J off at school. What more could a Mommy ask for?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How to Ensure Chaos at a Year End Gymnastics Show

Follow these simple steps to ensure chaos, drama and anarchy:

1. Do not tell anyone about the show until 2 weeks before.
2. Be very vague on details and give ambiguous written invitations only one week before the event. If questions are asked give answers like “it’s our year end show!”
3. Tell all 25 classes that they will be going first and should be there at 6:20 pm.
4. When people arrive have candy for sale to ensure children are either a) hopped up on sugar in crowded, noisy and chaotic place or b) whiny and demanding candy in crowded, noisy and chaotic place
5. This part is very important, when people are milling about aimlessly and looking for direction, have as few staff as possible to answer the questions. If someone does corner a staff member have them answer as vaguely as possibly and make sure everyone gives a slightly different answer so no one will know for certain where they are supposed to be.
6. Print programmes that have all the routines so parents will think they know when their children will be on, but have 2 sets of programmes with different numbering so people don’t really know if they are # 13 or # 37.
7. For the vast number of kids that are not going first, tell them ALL to go into a small practice room with inadequate supervision.
8. Allow children to run wild in practice room and run in front of each other on rope swings and balance beams.
9. When each group needs to get prepared for their routine, go into the practice room full of screaming children and frustrated parents and stand in front of a very loud fan and call out the names of the kids in a smallish voice.
10. Then herd the children into an even smaller room with several classes of children. But don’t tell the parents and especially not the children what they should be doing. Make sure that at least 3 kids wander into the halls.
11. With at least one class, make sure the coach does not show up and do not tell the other staff.
12. Then move the kids, who have been waiting 90 minutes, into an even smaller room and tell them to remain quiet.

I wish I were making this up. I was only thankful that I had 5.5 hours on a plane earlier in the day to watch movies, read and restore my patience and calm resevoir for the event. I will say that when the kids did finally get to do their routines they were perfect and I couldn’t be prouder (but really annoyed that I didn’t bring extra batteries for the camera!)

Traveling Without Goldfish

I had a work meeting in Montreal this week (hence the lack of blog entries). A one day meeting and a day to travel on either side. I planned to rediscover just how simple traveling can be. I used to pride myself on being an extremely light packer and never leaving anything behind.

Here was my list of things to do for this trip:

1. Pack small bag.
2. Charge cell phone
3. Book taxi for the morning.

Of course this ignored writing out the schedule of activities and reminders for Husband, who gamely took Monday off to accommodate my trip. His generosity was rewarded with a busy schedule – final preschool picnic and the final gymnastics class of the year.

However, here is the list of things I did not have to do for this trip:

1. Pack goldfish crackers, M & M’s, granola bars and other treats.
2. Pack wipes to clean up after snacks.
3. Make note to buy drinks after pass through security as carrying apple juice boxes apparently categorizes us as potential terrorists.
4. Pack changes of clothes for everyone in case snacks and drinks spill.
5. Calculate number of hours entire trip will be including drive time to airport, waiting time, flight time, waiting for luggage.
6. Pack activities, games, notebooks and pens to keep kids entertained for trip (referencing the total number as calculated in 5.)
7. Visit dollar store to buy crappy toys that will either a) break on the first use or b) become much beloved during the trip only to be left in the seat pocket of airplane.
8. Test portable DVD player to see how long the batteries are staying charged so we know how many hours as calculated in 5. can be used up with movies.
9. Ask both kids to choose several DVDs to avoid “why didn’t you bring Monster’s Inc.?” or “I don’t like Snow White anymore why did you bring it?”
10. Phone ahead to hotel to ensure pool not closed for annual maintenance, to check what cable channels available and to determine room configuration.
11. Make list of clothes for kids ensuring sufficient number of cute and matching outfits with special attention to socks.
12. Plan with military precision the travel days with special attention to bathroom stops and snacks and meals in the home time zone.
13. Ensure hotel has mini bar or pack own bottle of wine in suitcase (which will probably lead to overweight luggage charge three times the cost of the wine). We’ll need it when we get there.

Now the problem with the 3 point-travel-alone-list is I got complacent and neglectful and didn’t plan for certain things. For example, I packed a change of work clothes for the meeting, but decided to use the same pants for the 2 travel days. That’s one extra pound of pants I didn’t want to be carrying around. The problem with this ideal plan is that I should have added to my list to check if the blue highlighter I might use on the plane would combust in the cabin pressurization so that the ink would drain onto my only pair of pants.

So on arrival in Montreal I had a few leisurely hours free before dinner which I used to wash my pants and dry them with a hairdryer. And with hairdryer in one hand I unpacked my tiny bag and discovered I had forgotten the black tank top I need to wear underneath my dress so I didn’t arrive at work meeting looking like slutty lawyer. You’ll be happy to know that I did not risk my career future with inappropriate wardrobe choice and instead wore unmatching T-shirt underneath and I resisted the urge to make apologies and instead pretended that all the models in Milan are wearing mismatched clothes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Light at the End of the Tunnel

As anyone reads my blog may know everyday life has its challenges. Keeping track of the calendar, getting to birthday parties and picking up kids from school is not always easy.

One thing I’ve been told by friends with older kids is that the elementary school years (grade 1 to 5) are the glory years in terms of parenting. The kids can dress themselves and go to the bathroom unchaperoned. They begin to entertain themselves and even arrange their own play dates. They may even do a chore or two around the house. While a disproportionate amount of time might be spent on soccer fields and in dance studios, you can’t have everything. Their hormones are not yet raging, drugs and bullies and dating are challenges too far into the future to be worrisome. And the parents definitely should not be stressed about grades to get into university, career paths and life partners.

Last weekend, we got a sniff of what that world will be life. S’s ‘best friend V’ had a birthday party and our family, along with 2 others, was invited. In total there were nine kids ages 2 to 7 and seven parents. In the past Husband and I have spent a great deal of time attending to the kids at similar events. Either we are pulled away from adult conversation to accompany them because they too shy to engage in an activity, or restraining them from unsuitable activities because they are not shy enough. Or if we do remain in theoretical earshot of other adults, we have one or both kids whining, complaining or pulling on our clothes.

At this party, Husband and I spent at least half of the time free from the kids. The pack of them ran through the house. Since the hosts seemed unconcerned about the kids tearing the house apart, in a remarkably (for me) laid back moment, we let the kids run in their pack. They played inside and out. Played hide and seek and other strange made up games. Husband and I had adult conversation. Our hosts wisely ordered pizza so no real assistance was required in the kitchen.

Come meal time, all 9 kids sat at the same table and ate their lunch. The 2 year old did briefly entertain the older kids (with their encouragement) by squirting chewed pizza out of her mouth, but this only added to the general merriment. The kids enjoyed three legged races, freeze dance, musical chairs with the parents cheering with wine or beer in hand. The kids enjoyed ‘the best party ever’

For Husband and I, it was (we hope) a sweet foretaste of things to come.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Birthday Blues

J was invited to a birthday party at one of those seizure-inducing tunnel and slide places. He was uncharacteristically and portentously ambivalent about going. Or as he put it “my brain wants to go but my body doesn’t”

I had my own motivations for wanting him to go. I am over the general germiness of those places and over the fact that you won’t know where your kid is unless (a) you have GPS or (b) he is right beside you begging for tokens to ride on the $%$&* rides. This weekend was predicted to be rainy, which necessarily meant an energy excess and birthday parties are the best way to deplete the excess in ways that don’t bring out the mean Mommy voice (or so I thought). Also, while there may be many germs in those tunnels and slides, not much pollen circulates which means less sneezing and general misery for us, I mean J.

As the ambivalence continued through the third day of asking J if he wanted to attend the party, I offered something I knew he wouldn’t refuse (yes, I bribed my son to go to a birthday party). I suggested S could go too (yes, I would pay for her!) The pair are excellent playmates at these places. Sure enough this tipped him in flavor of attending.

Fast forward to Saturday a.m. and what has become somewhat of a tradition: futile requests for the kid(s) to make handmade birthday cards. I keep a supply of dollar store stickers and they create their own original masterpieces. I first made the suggestion a whole 60 minutes before we needed to leave. S agreed, J refused. Because it took me 23 seconds to get the supplies to the kitchen table S ran outside to play a dangerous form of bocce ball that will no doubt result in a head injury for one of my kids. Then J agreed to come in to work on his card but after 3 successive attempts with smudgy markers, perfectionist-boy declared that he is not only not making a card, he is not going to the party. S made her way in and started making her own card. In magnanimous gesture she signed it from J as well thus obviating the need for him to make one. In remarkable display of capitulation, I agreed. We have 20 minutes to spare and I left Husband to kid-supervision so I can bank some quiet moments before enduring 3 hours at tunnels and slides. It would have been wise to meditate or do yoga or even go for a walk. But predictably I went to the computer.

Soon, I announced that it was time to go. This news was met with J running upstairs in a blur with S on his heels yelling “GIVE ME THOSE STICKS!!” and J responding “NO!!”. Husband and I soon ascertained that the “sticks” were Tinker Toys. In abnormal display of tidiness S wanted to put them all away. J was determined to make a sling shot out of them. They were then both screaming at opposite sides of J’s bedroom door. Despite our attempts to divide and conquer, the stubborn twins were bent on continuing the torture. J eventually came to his senses after hiding the slingshot (no doubt to be used against us in future).

I coaxed J to the basement and was pleased with the progress when he announced that he is now going to make a birthday card for his friend. I dared not mention S has signed his name on hers as he will likely seek to rip it up and then she will have to make another. So back to the kitchen table and 3 attempts, 2 kinds of paper and several markers later, voila, we have a card. Husband has made progress with S, I haven’t sorted out what he must have promised her to get her downstairs and briefly out of her funk. She came downstairs and goes to the rec room where she is side-tracked by some toy. She relented and let me get matching socks on her (really, socks that don’t clash with her outfit) and shoes. Meanwhile, J rode a tricycle in the garage and Husband resorted to running after him trying to get his shoes on him.

I foolishly thought that we were in the home stretch when S demanded to enter the van from the back, climb over stuff, two rows of seats and her brother to get to her own car seat. Husband and I (finally) hit our limit of ridiculous demands and told her to get into the van or she would be staying home (well, I said that, Husband was terrified she would take me up on this as he has 3 hours of tranquility planned making flower beds etc). So we backed out of the driveway (I’m pretty sure I saw Husband do a jig and maybe even shed a tear of joy) to S yelling “I WANTED TO GO IN THE BACK WAY!!” which made me bellow “I AM NOT TAKING A SCREAMING GIRL TO A BIRTHDAY PARTY” which made J whine “If S doesn’t come my body won’t want to go.”

S stopped screaming and began to whimper that she wanted Daddy. J whimpered that he really wanted S to stay. I can't remember what I whimpered. We managed to press our way into the throngs of birthday party attendees and people escaping the rain. I don’t know why J was so concerned about S being there because he disappeared within a nanosecond of taking off his shoes, lured by the call of his classmates. S fortunately met up with another of J’s classmates who, sorely in need of a little sister, has adopted S as her own.

The kids actually did have a remarkably good time chasing each other, riding the slide and screaming so loudly I pretended they weren’t mine (who needs GPS) all of which accomplished the important energy-depleting goal. I sat back and tuned out the screams, the cries, and the sound of carnival music that accompanies the @#$%& rides and scribbled this blog entry on the back of an old grocery list. And tried to steel myself for September. S has declared her intention of having her 5th birthday at one of these places.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Lessons Learned

S: Will you scratch my back Mommy? It’s very itchy.
Me: Sure honey.
S: It’s itchy but I don’t have any mosquito bites. Or chicken pox. Or measles.
Me: Where did you learn about chicken pox?
S: On Home Alone 3.
Me: Where did you learn about the measles?
S: On the Brady Bunch

(in the bath)
S: Mommy, look at me, I’m doing the backstroke!
Me: Where did you learn the backstroke?
S: On Harry and His Bucketful of Dinosaurs. Now, I’m doing the dog paddle!
Me: Where did you learn the dog paddle?

S: Wags the Dog does it on The Wiggles. Oh look, here’s a submarine!
Me: Where did you learn about submarines?
S: On Maggie and The Ferocious Beast. Look Mommy, this person is crossing a bridge.
Me: Where did you learn about that?

S: On Super Why.
Me: Okay time to get out of the tub.
S: Ok Mommy, I just have to swim to shore.
Me: Where did you learn about that?

S: On Franklin.

Perhaps it's time to rethink our parenting strategy. Surely we must have something to teach the poor girl that doesn’t come from the mouths of talking animals!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Doing My Duty

Four years of wiping running noses and tears, calming hyperactive children, cleaning little hands, reading stories, wiping tables, cleaning toilets, sweeping floors, telling knock knock jokes and overseeing too many art projects to count. I have done my last preschool duty day.

I am the parent in parent participation. J and S were in different preschools but both required a parent to volunteer once or twice a month. How hard can this be? I asked myself in 2004 when I signed J up for preschool. A little “ring-around-the-rosy” and helping a few kids get their coats on: I am up to the challenge.

The duty job began with arriving 15 minutes early (no easy feat) and setting up the gym. Pulling out climbing equipment, basketball hoops, lots of balls and hoops and gymnastic mats. This was followed by supervision of kids in gymtime in the hopes of avoiding any 911 calls. After circle-time, another unfortunate victim-parent and I had to supervise a craft.

Now when I think “preschool craft”, I think make a face out of a paper plate. Glue on some googly eyes and draw a face with smelly markers and bingo, craft! But the first craft I had to engineer (and we were instructed to let the kids do their own crafts) was to make a turkey for a Thanksgiving centerpiece. This was a Martha Stewart-worthy project. Supplies included a large paper bag, scrunched up newspapers, feet and wings pre-cut out, painter's tape, a cup, googly eyes, and a precut beak and that red wrinkly thingy that hangs down at the neck. Oh plus feathers had to be inserted near its butt.

This doesn’t sound too hard if you have 30 minutes per child and have even minimal facility in crafts. We had 60 minutes to accomplish the task with 20 children. We had about 4 kids at a time and their enthusiasm ranged from none at all ("Please C, just stick the beak on - this is supposed to be your craft."), enthusiasm mis-directed (D we need the feathers for the turkeys, they don't go up your nose or down your pants") and overly-enthusiastic ("K I know that real turkeys do have a lot of feathers, but you have 79 already and well what if someone has a feather allergy?"). As time went on we were cajoling some of the reluctant crafters to the table which ate up precious feather-stuffing time. As we checked off the last name, a great sense of relief swept over us both as we high-fived each other.

And then we looked at the craft area, which was about to become part of the snack area. There is paper, tape, glue, turkey parts and feathers everywhere. We’ve been focused on getting the job done not on neatness and we had pay the price. We get to tidying, sweeping and cleaning. And soon we have to clean all the tables including the play dough centre and paint areas. We master this and I’m wondering about a coffee break (I know better than to ask for a serious drink, this is morning preschool after all) when we have to oversee the hand washing and snack retrieval process. The latter is the much preferred as the hand-washing requires keeping the kids in a semi-orderly lineup and ensuring that a maximum of 12 squirts of soap is used, all while skim-surfing the slippery linoleum with excess water and wet paper towels. Of course during snack we try to engage 5 preschoolers in conversation that includes as few references to bodily functions as is possible. Then the snack clean-up and general tidy up while the kids go outside. I usually needed (but never got) a 3 hour nap after preschool.

S’s much less ambitious preschool didn’t require coming early and staying late. It was much more free time though a craft or two was always included. Invariably paint and glitter was included and less structure meant more kids to corral and general chaos at the craft table. Well, you can just imagine what I came home looking like: paint stained fingernails and clothes ruined by paint.

Also with a much smaller play area and no gym, and it seems many more boys than girls, the noise and activity level was similar to the front row of a Hillary Duff concert. I would go to my ‘happy place’ for long chunks of time.

I will say that I did enjoy seeing my children interact and see how they grew and matured over their 2 years at preschool. I will continue to help in their classes in elementary school if needed, but hope that my days as reluctant craft-lady are behind me.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why Children Are Not Reliable Witnesses.

J requested peanut butter for breakfast this morning, which he has every day he can’t talk his Daddy into making pancakes for him. As usual, I made him a full pb sandwich, cut into 4 squares. He always eats 4. Rarely less. Rarely more. He ate the four squares and requested more. I made him another half sandwich, or 2 additional squares. Since I had to start a new loaf of bread from the freezer, I put the slice of bread in the microwave to thaw and made his half sandwich and ran upstairs to help S with a wardrobe issue. I hear the bellow from downstairs “MY PB IS COLD!!!”. Well it may be true that the bread was slightly below room temperature it was certainly not frozen. When S and I were dressed, I came down gave his 2 extra squares a tweak in the microwave and gave them to him (even though we should have been backing out of the driveway). He ate them.

When J got up and I gave him his ‘morning hug’. The morning progressed as usual. It had all the commotion that is the morning (including aforementioned pb issues). He refused to get into his booster seat, complained that he can’t watch the end of Franklin, and he doesn’t want to put on shoes or jacket. After using a 3 week supply of patience, a few threats of leaving Quack and Quackie behind and some subterfuge, he is in his seat buckled and I start backing out of the garage. “MOMMY, I NEED A HUG!”. We are already going to have to get a late slip from the office and I can tell by his tone and volume that this is more about control than his need for physical affection so I tell him I’ll give him a hug at school.

I decided to pick up a cheese pizza for dinner. J and S insist on coming into pizza place and I warn them that they need to be good listeners (dinner hour is not their most compliant time, especially after working up an appetite at gymnastics). I have the pizza and after 12 reminders not to climb, run, push each other or scream, I just want to leave. Kids are staring longingly into drink display. J asks “Mommy, may I have a drink?”. “No, we’re heading right home. We have lots of drinks there and you have water in the van”. J makes it out of store and plants himself on sidewalk refusing to leave until either I go home without him (tempting) or buy him a drink. After some physical force, threats to give him NONE of the pizza, he grudgingly gets into car.

This is what I hear “This is the worst day of my life. First, you barely gave me any breakfast. Then you wouldn’t give me my morning hug and now you won’t give me anything to drink with dinner”.

S, intercedes and gives him some water on the ride home (didn’t I just say we had water in the car?). She also brings Quack and Quackie into the house for him and brings his backpack upstairs. She is the hero: “S, you are the only one making this day good”.

I don’t know how to deal with this. S is being kind to her brother – she doesn’t like seeing him sad. Am I to discourage this kind of sisterly love and make him carry his own bags, which I think he should do? I’m still pondering when S asks J to bring up her baby, which she left behind to be able to carry his backpack. Well, I guess a little brotherly love in return is far better than any lecture I could come up with.