Friday, October 31, 2008

Another Spooky in the Books

Halloween 2008 is over and another year (we hope) until the spooky obsession resurfaces with the same intensity.

J wanted to be something spookier than ever so he jumped at my suggestion of a skeleton, seen above with a grim reaper. He wore the costume so much before October 31 that I had to repair 4 split seams before he went out tonight .

S, for a time, wanted to be a matching skeleton but ultimately opted for pink poodle, seen at right with her pink poodle Webkinz. She was surprisingly reticent about going out to get CANDY, which is shocking for a sugar-choco-holic such as our girlie goo.

Husband took his turn to trick-or-treat with the kids. They did a tour of the 'neighbourhood loop'. A surprising number of our neighbours must be either dentists or diabetics as their lights were off and the houses looked as closed down as Republican campaign offices in Illinois. Since we live on a steep hill and the houses on our side of the street have a full set of stairs, it's a reasonable workout or at least builds up the appetite for the Halloween gluttony that follows.

The weather, which was predicted to be rainy, cleared and the temperature was mild. The favourable weather combined with a Friday night Halloween we thought would mean a bumper crop of kids. You see I track these things from year to year, so much so I think I could give John King, the poll analyzer on CNN, some decent data.

I note when the first kids come, how many come in every 15 minute time period and take note of the weather.

This year, our first customers came at 5:30, which I thought must be because some Dad had to go play hockey. It doesn't get dark until closer to 6:30 and I thought there was a 6 pm rule about trick-or-treating. I didn't even had the candy upstairs from the pantry.

Parenthetically, I am quite proud of that. I did not have the candy upstairs, which means I did not open the 125 box of mini chocolate bars. I did sneak a few of the kids treats from various sources this week, but I did not break into the mother load. I have since made up for any deficiency of chocolate in the past week.

We had no one for 45 minutes after our early birds and after that the pace was slow, with a slight bubble in the 7:15 to 7:30 time slot and then a late rush of teenagers after 8:00 who stopped lighting firecrackers enough to solicit some free candy. Final tally was 53 kids, or a little less than the past two years.

I know I just blogged about how much S is like me, but J boy did pick up a few of my eccentricities. He has the same desire for stats that I do. He spread out his candy and divided it into categories and then described it all to us. In addition to grouping like things together, he had a grouping of "new stuff I want to try" and "stuff I don't like". The latter had a single piece of bubble gum. I indulged him and put each category into a small ziplock bag and then into the large ziplock bag with his name. S just wanted to dig through her pile to find the good stuff without a care for how it was sorted.

We let the kids eat a fair amount of candy last night thinking they would have their fill and wouldn't bug us about it for the rest of the weekend. Not so.

S out and out refused to eat breakfast until almost lunch, though she claims it was because we did not clear the menu with her first. J asked how much French toast he had to eat before her could have candy.

Long live the dentists.

A Halloween Miracle

I spent the afternoon at the kids' school. I was officially helping in S's class, supervising the making of a witch door hanger (they have no prerequisites for helpers as my co-helper and I have zero craft-instinct and we did it all wrong). Since J's class is next door, I popped in there periodically. I enjoyed seeing them both. The school has a lovely tradition of a costume parade. All the classes congregate in the gym and each class has its turn at parading in their costumes.

Although I was on my feet all afternoon, it was quite enjoyable. I got to know some of the other kindergarten Moms and even ran into a friend I hadn't had a chance to visit with in a while. All in all a good day.

Then it happened, my worst Halloween fear.

I went to pick up J Boy. And he said "I'm not sure I have both my gloves from my costume".

I empty out his backpack. I found his mask and one glove easily. As I dug to the bottom I found his lunch box, a spare change of clothes, his paint shirt, a Pokemon secret password, a paper airplane, an aged uneaten snack, one pencil, two markers and a mangled craft project. But no second glove.

We go back to the class but I'm relieved we discovered this now and not at 6:15 when the school is closed. The teacher joins me in the search. J seems content to let me look and uninterested in answering my "when did you have it last" questions. I had popped in mid-afternoon and I had taken inventory and I know he had the mask and gloves then. The teacher said they didn't leave the classroom after that, so at least we had a contained crime scene.

Ms S and I check in and under everything all the while trying to coax clues from J boy. He did admit that D, a classmate, had asked to try on a glove at some point, but thought he had received it back. As time wore on, I was getting uneasy. Despite his uninterested demeanor, I knew this was not good. Once we got home, or more likely only to the parking lot, things would head south in a hurry and it would be a long road home to composure and civilization.

We checked the school lost and found, in the bathroom. I dug through two garbage cans and two recycling boxes. I checked 20 cubbies, and every drawer, container and box I could find with no success.

I started floating trial balloons. "J, what will happen if we don't find it?"

"I don't know", he said, then added "if we don't find it, you'll owe me money."

"Really" I say, tap dancing in dangerous territory "you lose your glove and I have to pay you?"

He didn't bring that up again.

My only lead was D. Ms S found his phone number and I called from the class phone. I explain my problem to D's Mom. I could hear D's Mom ask D and could hear D giving a lengthy answer, but I couldn't hear his response. I figured it didn't take that long to say "I don't know" or "I gave it right back to him" so I harboured some hope.

Apparently D stuck the glove into the back of J's costume and gravity had done its work and it was in the leg of his costume. I had given J a pat down but I could never get a job as airport random screener as it elluded my search.

My miracle.

Mommy vs. Halloween

I never really cared for finding costumes for Halloween for myself. Especially after grade 7 and there was no trick-or-treat candy in it for me. Through high school and university I avoided Halloween festivities so I didn't have to come up with a costume.

Dressing up your kids is another matter all together.

J was a few weeks short of one on his first Halloween. I was steadfastly against taking him trick-or-treating, but I was tempted by the adorable costumes. But my cheapness, prevented me from buying a $30 costume that would only be worn inside of our house.

But on November 1st, I happened to see an adorable monkey costume for $3. This is where cheapness meets desire-to-have-kids-looking-cute intersected and I came home with a bargain.

When J was almost 2, I have a newborn in he house. I attempted to get J to wear his monkey costume. Until then, J had actually been fairly pliable and I could usually convince him to do what I wanted. But though I don't attribute the cause to any Halloween trauma, this was the beginning of his being decidedly less cooperative. About everything. He never did put it on. Husband was so sick of my asking J Boy to put it on, I think he would have donned it himself if it would have fit.

Year three of Halloween, J did wear the monkey costume to his preschool party and to help give out candy at our door. Though I hadn't planned on it, he did go trick-or-treating with a pal in the neighbour for a couple of doors.

Year four S could almost fit into the monkey costume. It was too long so she couldn't walk and she couldn't see but she was freakin' adorable. J Boy told me he wanted to be a "train driver". He had blue striped overalls. I managed to find a matching engineers hats on a shopping trip to the U.S. I got a red kerchief and happened to find a lantern that suited the ensemble. I was mightily impressed with the costume.

Until J went to preschool one day and his teacher suggested something about 'scary costumes''. So a few days before Halloween, he changed his mind. I tried mightily to convince stubborn-boy of the merits of the train-driver costume. But I think I showed remarkable flexibiliy when I cut up a pillow case to make a ghost costume. He wore that to a Halloween birthday party. S went as a fifties girl in cute poodle skirt outfit. I thought we were through the negotiations for another year as the boy now had 2 costumes to pick from for his preschool party and to go to a few houses trick-or-treating.

However, on the morning of his Hallowee party he refused to wear either costume. No explanation, just outright refusal. I figured he might change his mind at the last moments so I sent him to school in his striped overalls and white shirt and stuffed his hat and kerchief in his backpack. Although he didn't turn down any candy, he claims not to have dressed up. He told me when I picked him up "I wasn't dressed up Mommy, but everybody thought I was a train driver".

The next year, I got over my cheapness about buying costumes and figured the $20 each is well spent as the kids can play dress up all year. So in year five we had my favourite costumes so far, Cat in the Hat and Woody.

Year 6 was Pirate and Dora.

Stay tuned for year 7. Photos to follow!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Growing up, Halloween consisted of two things:

1. On October 30th finding lame costume from my closet, or closet of any family member, usually to find rags to be a hobo; and

2. running to as many houses as I could to collect as much candy as I could.

I distinctly remember going trick-or-treating for the last time in grade 7 and feeling that I was probably too old for that kind of thing. I was not, however, willing to listen to that inner voice and forego free chocolate.

My Dad dutifully carved a pumpkin and we had a pumpkin candle that was lit every year for about 2 nights.

That was Halloween.

Much like Valentine's Day, which has exploded into a weeklong extravaganza, Halloween has grown like a fungus.

S was asked to wear her costume to ballet and gymnastics this week. The latter is particularly surprising if not dangerous because most costumes impair visibility, have things hanging off of it or are made of thick fleece. S chose to wear her fleece costume for gymnastics. She relented after 15 minutes and let me remove it. If you live near us look for a cute pink poodle with pit stains coming to your door. To ballet, S wore her costume from 2 years ago, Woody from Toy Story. She is pretty much the most adorable Woody you have ever seen and I was particularly proud that she was fought the gender stereotype at ballet class of all places. (The pink poodle costume does not really break the mould, I realize).

At school tomorrow, both kids have Halloween parties, the entire school will parade around in their costumes, they have done Halloween crafts all week and no doubt their backpacks will be full of candy.

Halloween is getting as decorated as Christmas. I admit that I did fuel this along in our house. Every year I buy one or two cheap Halloween decorations to put out in mid October. Nothing too crazy: a stuffed pumpkin, a "happy Halloween" sign. I tried to stay away from the scary stuff and went mostly with a pumpkin theme. Until J Boy decided that he was obsessed with things spooky. So last year we found a gravestone and a skull that lit up and changed colours. I thought it looked pretty good.

But, we have the misfortune of living next to the 'scariest house on the street'. Our next door neighbours, who must have been collecting scary stuff for years, have a veritable graveyard in their front yard in addition to hanging goblins, witches, spooky eyes, and black cats. J does not like to be outdone, especially when it comes to spookiness.

So this year, in September we made a trip to the dollar store as he convinced Husband and I to part with some money in the name of spooky stuff. We spent a long time examining all the ghosts, bloodied body parts, medieval weaponry and ghouls. We told the kids they could each pick one thing. S picked two rubber bats (heavily influenced by her brother). J, after great deliberation, decided on a skeleton whose eyes lit up. But at the last moment, he also wanted a rubber rat. He reasoned S got 2 things he should. Never mind that her two cost half of his one. I drew the line.

He started to erupt and but uncharacteristically regained control when I told him he could spend his own allowance on the rat. Getting an allowance is new so the idea of being the master of his own wallet has some appeal.

And so started the frequent trips to every dollar store in a reasonable commute. Since then J has acquired spooky signs ("gone haunting"), spiders webs (spiders included), spooky masks, fake blood, ghost flashlights and mini skeletons.

To be honest, it was a good exercize in money management as he never wants to spend it all so he can force us to drive to yet another dollar store in 2 days. Since he gets another $2 every week, it's a reminder that there must be a dollar store that he has not yet visited.

When J exhausted the inventory at the dollar stores, he started making stuff. He coloured huge spooky eyes and put them in our front picture window. He converted the lawnmower bag into a gravestone by standing it on end and adding a "RIP" sign on it. He did the same with a garden stone that he found somewhere. It used to say "Love Blossoms Here". Now it says "RIP".

That kind of says it all.

A Mother's Best Friend

Manipulation is a favourite arrow in my quiver of Mommyhood. At least until my kids out-manipulate me. Objective observers might say that they do so every day, but I think I can mount a case that I still got it.

I'm not talking about day-to-day manipulation. The kids would figure me out in a New York minute if I tried manipulation to get them into the van and to school. That is what threats and bribery are for. But sometimes, circumstances requires, and I admit, it's a high when it works.

Last weekend my niece had a gymnastics birthday party. J Boy announced he was not going. It had little to do with his actual desire to go to the event. He was playing a game on the computer about 2 hours before we had to leave, and he just didn't want to think about something else so he told me he wasn't going.

I told him that I would not be forcing him to go and jump on trampoline, eat junk food and have cake and get a goodie bag. That was his choice. If I have learned one thing, it is that pushing J almost never works. That doesn't mean I don't push, it just doesn't succeed if I do. On this occasion I, in fact, did not push.

ow I wanted him to go, if for no other reason than I had been away for 4 days and I was intending on giving Husband some child-free time so he could indulge in his hobbies: cleaning the garage and cutting up branches he had pruned weeks ago and were now using the space of a car on our driveway.

As the time neared, J seemed entrenched in his "I don't want to go" mentality. Husband was developing nervous tic as he saw his "me" time slipping away. We told J that Daddy had work to do, so if he chose to stay home he could either help clean the garage or do something that didn't require Daddy's assistance or something that he would not have to show Daddy every 2 minutes (as in "Daddy, I got to a new level in Adventure Ball, come see. It is sooooo cool!"). He indicated he would entertain himself for 4 hours, something we know he is biologically incapable of doing, which begs the question of why we even asked.

Here's where the manipulation comes in.

Me: "S, did you know the gymnastics party is not at your gymnastics place?"

S: "Where is it?" (honestly, I didn't pay her to collude)

Me: "At a gym at the UNIVERSITY. It's where the really big kids go. I wonder how big the trampoline would be for those big kids?"

J: "Mommy, I think I might want to go to the party"

Ah, the sweet smell of victory.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mini Me

Pretty much anyone I show a picture of my daughter to, says she looks like me. Well she isn't working on the double chin yet, but I guess there is a resemblance.

She also shares my extreme sense of smell.

I've been know to be in a clothing store and say "Ew, why do I smell margarine?" One day in the car I told Husband I smelled an "electrical smell". He was even less likely to believe that I could smell electricity in the car than I could smell margarine at the Gap. He came to have grudging respect for my sniffer when the next day the car stopped working due to an electrical short. Any pride I felt over the possibility of some day being a drug-sniffing dog was short-lived as through two pregnancies my sniffer was so sensitive it must have shorted itself out as I had to concede that there likely wasn't raw crude oil at the movie theatre (or do that use that for pop corn??).

S has been known to hold her nose when she encounters noxious fumes, which include peanut butter (something I banned Husband from eating in my presence when pregnant with J). J Boy has peanut butter running through his veins so this creates an uncommon amount of conflict. She also doesn't like the smell of cracker-breath (I don't either). And there is little remedy for this as the most noxious smell according to the S-sniffer is mint. So brushing teeth to get her to stop holding her nose in my presence will only send her running from the room.

Personality-wise, we are also pretty similiar. She is a rule-follower. I always did my class assignments and homework. I always asked questions if I was unsure about exactly what the assignment required. I know I exasperated more than one teacher.

I remember early in my grade 7 home economics class we were supposed to be making a fruit salad. The instructions were clear "peel all the fruit and cut up into bite-sized pieces". I went to the teacher for clarification. Before I could open my mouth she said to me very sternly (no doubt tired of my endless need for reassurance) "PEEL, ALL THE FRUIT". And so I did.

As Ms C came around to check our fruit salads, I started to feel a little uneasy about our project and that I may have led my team astray. She came to my table and looked into the bowl and tried to identify something she had not seen in 30 years in the home economics class.

"What is that?"

You said to peel all the fruit", I said meekly.


S has yet to encounter her Ms C at school but I know she will exasperate as much as I did. She is doubly concerned with other people being as law-adiding as she is. She frequently will whisper to me at school or playground an infraction that she has noticed "that girl is going UP the slide when other kids are waiting to go down".

She is still a 5 year old at heart and gets caught up in the excitement of the moment and perhaps forgets about the rules. She confessed not too long ago that she had spent time in the "thinking chair" in kindergarten. She was running in class. She may have gotten away with it another class with a verbal warning, especially since she is under the radar so often. But her teacher runs a tight ship, which is good for S because she has fewer infractions to report.

S also has an excellent memory which she gets from me. I can remember a lot of ridiculous things. It got me through all three years of law school. I could remember case names and salient facts in cases to add a sense that I actually understood what I was writing about, which I didn't always.

Husband has been speechless more than one time when he was unable to remember a discussion we had about something, like taking a vacation, and I will be able to remind him:

Remember, we were in the dining room, we had eaten dinner which you made - chicken with rice and carrots - and I was about to get dessert and you were wearing your Canucks sweat pants and I was still in my work clothes and it was pouring rain. I said 'do you want to go to a movie?' And you said 'depends on which one'. And I said 'remember that time we saw a movie on vacation?' And you said 'When?' And I said 'So do you?' And you said 'Do I what?' And I said 'Want to see a movie?' And you said 'On vacation?' And I said 'You want to go on a vacation? To where?' And then the phone rang and you were talking to your Mom for a while so we never got back to it, but remember, you said you wanted to go on vacation?
S has similar tendancies and will often give me the detailed play-by-play on her afternoon at kindergarten which I think gives her excellent credentials as future spy:

First we had circle time and T was talking too quietly and Ms M said she has old ears and T has to talk more loudly. Then we had centre time but K wasn't listening so she went to the thinking chair, then we practiced a song [she sings song] and then Ms M said that A and R don't speak English and they are learning and we need to help them so I helped A, he speaks Chinese. Then we went to the gym. C couldn't run because she twisted her ankle. I wonder if it will be better tomorrow? And we're going to go the Pumpkin patch soon. I'm going to get a pumpkin. Oh yeah Mommy, I forgot, we did a pumpkin craft today too. Did you know that you can plant a seed and pumpkins will grow? Ms M read us a book about pumpkins. We're learning all about it.
Perhaps we should come with warning labels.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Is Santa Real?

It's not the first time we've heard that question. J is almost 7 and blessed (cursed?) with an abundance of curiosity.

Last December I blogged about our dilemma in how to deal with Santa. In a nutshell, Husband and I believe, and want to pass onto our children, that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ.

Husband grew up in a Santa-free environment. I grew up with Santa in the mix of Christmas, but always knew what Christmas was Jesus' birthday. So we settled on what I called "Santa light". We do not hype Santa, do not make threats about the naughty/nice list , don't make visits to mall Santas, have not so far sent any letters to Kris Kringle.

The past 2 years J asked a lot of questions. Last year we thought he was done with the whole business and I stressed about how to preserve a little of the magic for S. But J put on his intellectual blinders and decided to believe and in fact insisted that Husband and I put out stockings for ourselves.

I think he had a little believer's regret over the last 10 months as he has talked of 'for sure staying up all night this year to see if Santa comes".

Now that it's October, and it is apparently (if you've been in a mall, or receive any flyers) Christmas shopping season. So it's come to the forefront of J-boy's brain in recent weeks.

Our standard answer is "some people believe in Santa, some don't. You have to decide for yourself." (the "what do you think?" tact stopped working about 3 years ago)

J asks me this morning " but how does Santa get to all the houses, and reindeer can't fly?" On second thought it may be more of a statement than a question.

I'm trying to end the conversation and am wondering if S is listening.

"Santa sprinkles magic dust on the reindeer to make them fly", S answers my unspoken question.

I told J that he and Daddy should come up with a plan to investigate if Santa is real together (I know, cheap shot fobbing it off on Husband in a week when I'm going out of town for 4 days).

J decides to go over my head and straight to the fount of knowledge: he Googles "is Santa real"

He found 11.6 million hits and I expect he'll investigate every one between now and Christmas.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Are We There Yet?

We are travel wimps. Husband and I have always marvelled at and envied parents that managed to take their kids on long trips. Other people manage annual car trips to visit Grandma 1000 miles away, cross-country road trips and even trips to Europe using train, planes and buses, crossing timezones with, most horrifyingly, limited access to familiar snack foods.

Well, to be fair, courtesy of my parents, Husband and I did take a cruise from Vancouver to Hawaii and circled the islands when J boy was 10 months old. But the operation took military-like precision planning, not only because most 10 month olds need their own container ship just to get through the weekend, but on a cruise ship we wouldn't have the corner store to rely upon for the stuff we forgot. Oh and the cruise was conveniently scheduled for 2 weeks after we moved to our first house. But, I digress.

With two kids we pretty much avoided any car trip over an hour and studiously avoided family plane trips. We knew our limits.

In a moment of insanity, in December 2004 we did book a long weekend trip to Phoenix. J has just turned 3 and S was 14 months. We hypothesized that an early morning flight would be best for the kids so they would sleep the entire flight. We didn't quite do the math about how early we would have to rip the children from their slumber in order to be at the airport 90 minutes early.

We also didn't account for the fact that when ripped from their cozy beds at 5:30 a.m. and put in a dark car for an hour long drive they would fall asleep and we would have to wake them up again after an hour of shut-eye. Then just a bumpy shuttle ride, interminable lineup to check in, a pokey lineup for U.S. Customs, line up for super-security sweep of our shoes and bingo, overtired, cranky and hyperactive children. And overtired, cranky parents (grownups don't get hyperactive when tired, at least we don't).

We had only a few minutes of trying to keep our children from kid vs. venti Starbucks collisons outside the gate. Then preboarding, a procedure designed to lengthen the time spent in confined space with overtired, cranky and hyperactive children.

Anyone that was on the flight will coorborate that our children were whiny, screamy and generally impossible. It was exacerbated by the fact that we had an uncommon amount of turbulence. Every time Husband tried to walk the aisle with a restless J boy, he was directed back to his seat when the fasten seat belt light was lit. About halfway through the flight, both kids fell asleep and Husband and I collasped in relief. We pretend to fall asleep ourselves in order to avoid the glares of our fellow travellers.

Husband, who is not given to overstatements, declared as we deplaned that we would have to move to Phoenix as there was no way he was ever getting on an airplane again.

For the return trip Husband and I stressed in advance and had loads of snacks and entertainment items. We better timed our trip for the afternoon and both kids slept and honestly were model travelling citizens. Husband and I were wrecks because every time one of the kids made a squawk we were shoving gold fish in their mouths or reaching for crayons as we were loathe to repeat our harrowing trip out.

When the kids were 5 and 3 we did do an 800 mile car trip to Alberta. This trip was immediately subsequent to our purchase of a portable DVD player with TWO screens. Honestly they beared up pretty well when one screen ceased operating. Husband and I are, however, still seething. That long road trip was a high point in our traveling career.

We have since managed one cross continent flight to Florida which, thanks to aforementioned DVD player, also went swimmingly.

But of late the kids, and J boy in particular, have been complaining about any car trip longer than a mile. The perennial parent-torturing "are we there yet?" has been a frequent refrain.

Husband had a conference in Whistler last weekend, which is a two hours drive, with the last hour being on a windy and sometime trecherous highway. We had the chance to go up and spend a night at a fancy hotel with Husband. I did not relish the drive with the impatient twins. So I took a book from a modern parenting school of thought and left the decision and responsibility with them.

"Do you want to spend a night in the hotel with Daddy next weekend?" I asked J. Before the words were out of my mouth, he had run to find his sister.


Have I ever mentioned how much my kids love hotels and even more hotel pools?

Once the excitment was reigned in, I secured their solemn promise not to complain about the drive, the boredom or general lack of excitement in the back of the van. They promised they would pack things to keep them busy, pick lunch items they could eat without complaint and would generally get along like the kids I see on TV.

S for her part was pretty sporting. She slipped once and said "are we there yet?" but quickly added it wasn't her, it was her invisible friend who had asked.

J was good for the first 30 mintutes while he ate. After that nothing entertained him so he chose to spend the next 30 mintues listening to my threats to turn the ship around and go home. He rallied briefly on the windy/treacherous highway and I think gave an ernest effort to enjoy the scenery. When that ended, he resorted to "how much longer?" and so we started to count down the kilometers (finally, the metric system working in my favour - kilometers are thankfully shorter than miles, which means faster countdowns).

He got pleasantly sidetracked by his Pez and I waited for him to finish eating his Pez for an emotional eruption, but I was wrong. Before he finished he dropped all the Pez candy on the floor and erupted into tears and screams. "I DROPPED MY PEZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

S, bless her heart, gave him her Pez, quite a sacrifice for our little sugar junkie.