Saturday, November 29, 2008

Party at 7!

It's Party Day and I, uncharacteristically, don't spend a lot of time thinking about the party. S and I have our Friday Starbuck's date after dropping of J boy. We have some errands which include returning a pair of J's pants or we’ll be beyond that 14 day statute of limitations and I will have a pair of corduroys that J will be wearing next summer.

S and I accomplish our mission and we head home where I other things that must be done (that do not include emptying dishwasher or in any way tidying the house).

I dropped S off at kindergarten and I would have been well served to go home and empty the dishwasher or tidy at least one room in the house or even just relax with a cup of tea. But I cannot resist the 90 minutes of alone time and decided to head to the big mall for some errands/Christmas shopping. I shouldn't have bother was most of what I wanted was not available and head back to school to pick up kids.

It’s in the kindergarten parental waiting spot that I am already having this nagging feeling that I should be more worried about the party. Then I learn that a ferry route has been completely shut down for hours as a car drove off a dock. This means traffic, which is already nightmarish on a very rainy Friday rush hour,will be much worse for our trip to the movie theatre. The main alternate route for the ferry commuters will be the same bridge, and only route, that we will take to theatre.

A huge ball of stress grows in my stomache as I envision sitting in traffic lineup for hours with excited kids bouncing off ceilings. I am briefly relieved from my anxiety when I hear that ferry will reopen shortly only to hear that report was premature and the ferry would not be running for hours. I wondered if anyone would make it to the party on time, including my carful of party goers.

I race home with the kids and, not with a great amount of foresight, give them each a candy-covered cupcake - I am about to be locked up in a minivan with the sugar twins. I pack them a small supper and load the car with party accoutrements.

To heighten my angst, I noticed as we backed out of the driveway that the gas tank almost-empty indicator light is on. I debate whether time or gas is more precious. Do I spend the time to fill up or run the risk of running out in a lineup. Though the smart money was on gassing up, I bucked the odds and headed directly for gridlock.

But the traffic, though worse than normal, was not near as bad as my doomsday scenarios. We arrived at train station just in time to pick up Husband and head to theatre. We were early as were most other partiers.

The excitement over the movie and no doubt the freedom from the car for the long commute made the kids as excitable as Democrats on election night. Fortunately the party room was indestructible, though I think the kids pushed it to the limit.

The movie was fabulous and held the kids’ attention for almost 2 hours. We had some brief trauma as we had a lot of kids who needed a simultaneous bathroom break and the movie theatre at 7 on a rainy Friday night resembled Walmart on a 'everything is 80% off' sale. Somehow we seemed to keep track of the 9 kids and herded them back to camp indestrucible for cupcakes and presents and at 7:30 it was all over for another year

It feels good to have J boy 7. Once S has her birthday in September, it feels very much like unfinished business until J boy reaches his new age. So ends the birthday season for another year, though S is already talking about her sixth birthday. She says she wants it to be a surprise.


As previously whined about, just coming up with party idea and date/time for J's 7th birthday party was an ordeal. In what I was hoping would be a forecast of good luck, most of our invitees could come. We had a party of 9 kids going to be BOLT the new Disney animation movie. To do list for party:

1. Get favours and candy for kids
2. Make cake

In stroke of genius, I conjured up idea to buy BOLT books for the kids to take home. In even greater stroke of luck, mega bookstore next to my office had the 10 copies I need in stock.

Husband and I had been happy with the scheduling of the movie on a Friday night as it left the rest of the weekend open. We had a start time of 6:15 p.m. but were told that the movie times could change so we would be contacted the Monday before the party with the exact movie times.

When the call came the movie was scheduled to be 45 minutes later that scheduled. Which means the movie would end at 9:30, a little late even for 7 years olds, never mind the two 5 year olds invitees. Party scheduler did tell me we could switch to the early movie time at 5:15. But I knew several people had busy after school schedules on Fridays so I wasn’t sure that would work. So I suggested that we might be able to make the early movie work if we could have the party room after the movie. I told party scheduler I would email my peeps and see what better suited the majority.

Most families replied that they could make either work (taking pity on a birthday’ed out Mommy, no doubt) or that they preferred the early show. So I called movie theatre and they told me that no, the party room was to be before the party. As I got wound up into apoplectic state, party person realized that he either had to agree to my scenario or find a way to give me a tranquilizer dart over the phone. He opted for the former option.

Husband has been not so subtly trying to secure my agreement that the fancy cakes were over now that we were spending our retirement savings on birthday parties for the kids. I did toy with the idea of making a simple BOLT cake of a dog tag, but as the day drew closer I did not have the stamina to make a fancy cake. In fact, I decided that cupcakes would make it altogether easier as no cutting, knife or plaintive requests for that part of the cake. I thought I might make individual cupcakes with the kids initials but honestly, it was a busy week at work and at home and I didn’t spend much time thinking about it.

On Thursdays, Husband works from home. I was having one of those work days where finding time to pee was a challenge. While I drafted crucial letter to client, I called Husband and mentioned that I was going to make cupcakes from a mix. There was silence on the line and I believe that Husband either fainted or was on his knees thanking God as he knows I’m a bit of a make-from-scratch Nazi when it comes to birthday cakes. I did mention that I would have to top the cupcakes with candies to make up for other deficiencies and he said he would take the kids to get an assortment of candies.

As I walked home from the bus, Husband is driving J to tae kwan do and pulls over. As he rolls down the windows, the kids are simultaneously excitedly telling me their good ideas about how I can put the face of Bolt, who is a dog by the way, on each of the cupcakes. I have definitely created this monster.

Husband and kids come home with various candies and we broker deal where cupcakes will have candy faces on it, which J boy has convinced himself looks just like Bolt. Done!

Ah, Birthdays

For all the fuss and bother of birthday parties (and I will be blogging about the latest), there is something sweet and satisfying about getting the kids through another year of life.

J turned 7 last week. As is our custom, birthday child gets to pick the birthday meal. J boy picked Chinese food and we feasted at home. Well, the girlie goo not so much as there isn't a Chinese version of grilled cheese, mac n cheese or pizza. But the three of us did enjoy our meal.

S perked up when we had CHOCOLATE for dessert, but as it apparent from the attached clip, she may need a lung function test.

But as we enjoyed our quiet family celebration, I couldn't help but be amazed how that squishy newborn we marvelled at 7 years ago, is now reading, writing, riding a bike, playing on the computer, making friends, conducting experiments, concocting potions and most vexingly having his own ideas about things.

Happy Birthday Bearsy Boo!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Seriously, Is This Too High a Price to Pay?

I, like other global citizens, have accepted my role in the war on terror.

I have paid extra security fees on flights.

I've joined long lines for airport security.

I have removed my shoes, opened my bags and removed my belt at the airport.

I've quietly accepted randon fondling at airport screenings.

In all but one case, I have left all liquids behind and subjected myself to drinking airport water.

I have endured long lineups at border crossings and one interrogation where I was all but accused of smuggling migrant workers into the country.

But the new rules for passport photos, are really too high a price. Does everyone need to look like they should appear on America's Most Wanted?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Power to the People

We had a severe wind event last night and the power went out. Here is what I learned from that experience:

1. No matter how predictable an event, Husband and I will be unprepared for it. We have many candles, boxes of matches and flashlights scattered aournd our house. With the arrival of the wind we did nothing to prepare for it even though we knew a power outage was likely. This was the extent of our discussion on hearing the wind:

"Wow, that wind is strong"
"Yeah, that's amazing"

2. Our kids are well-suited to frontier life. When the power went out they had no fear. Since the sun starts to set around 4:30 these days and the power went out about 7:00 it was dark. Like really dark.

"Kids, stay where you are, Daddy and I will get flashlights. Don't be scared."

I needn't have wasted the perfectly good oxygen with the reassurance as they were running around saying "THE POWER IS OUT!!!" with about the same enthusiasm as we'll hear "SANTA CAME" in just over a month. They could hardly believe their good luck at the incredible gift of entertainment.

As Husband and I tried to converse over where flashlights might be and divided the house into zones (as in, you check the kitchen, I'll check the laundry room) the kids were running around and we were more fearful than them, but of injury to themselves, each other or us.

3. Dust is not flammable. All those decorator candles I have littering the house were gathered and congregated on our two fireplace mantles to provide a small amount of ambient light. Unbeknownst to me, dust collects on candles. It may in fact be attracted to candles as there was an inch of dust on them. Note to self: dust candles annually.

4. Our kids are well able to make do with no electricity. Despite not having the TV or computer, which are their frequent playmates, particularly on a Friday night when Husband and I are worn out from the week's events, they had no lack of things to do. Shining flashlights in each others eyes was high on the list. J Boy was fond of going outside to see if the wind would blow him off the stairs. Their primary enjoyment was running around the house holding hands and making up games that ended with their doing some version of ring around-the-rosie in the semi-darkened room.

5. Husband and I are too dependant on electricity. With the power out, we were at a loss for what to do. Computer and TV were out so we had to satisfy ourselves with holding our hands over the sharp corners of the furniture so the hyper active twins didn't have to make a trip to the ER running on a generator.

6. Let Husband do what Husband does best. The power came on after a couple hours. It flickered off again an hour later but by then I had obsessively checked my email and all the news sites to realize nothing important had happened in our hours off the grid. The power coming back on was a great source of amusement for the kids until they realized the cable was out on the TVs. But eventually we all settled into bed for night.

The activities of the week caught up with all of us as I awoke at 8:47. While I'm hardly one to complain about a decent weekend sleep-in, the kids had activities and we had to be out of the house in under 30 minutes. J Boy was just up and uncharacteristically already dressed. S was somewhat predictably still in bed. I brought the sleepy headed Girlie goo downstairs amazed that at almost 9 she should still be so tired. Husband made his way downstairs uncharacteristically last. I deposited the Girlie goo in his lap with her wardrobe and headed to the kitchen to get breakfast for the 3 of us. Husband threw me a familiar "why are you rushing?" look and I double checked my watch and saw that it was 8:01. Apparently, I should have left Husband to reset the time on the clock beside my bed.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Birthday Portfolio

Birthday parties are part of the Mommy portfolio, like keeping track of library books and registering for swimming lessons. In most families the Dads are often willing walls off which the Mommies bounce the gymnastics vs. swimming debate, but it's generally the Mommies who are calling all over the town to get quotes on magicians and comparing the prices per head and minimum guest requirements at eleven different party venues.

The Dads may be willing and able party assistants but it's the Mommies finalizing the guest lists, managing the RSVPs and price-checking favour bags.

This year is the third J will be having a party where we don't have to clean up after ourselves. We eased our way into the party mania and had a small bowling party when J turned five. He invited his sister, two cousins and a couple of friends. We did have some tension over keeping our guests on our own lane and trying to loosely enforce the concept of turns but overall we were happy with the party and leaving the mess for our party attendant.

Last year after having spent several years mocking people who have gigantic kid birthday parties, we had a gigantic kid birthday party. For the 6th we invited most of his class and a few extra friends for a gymnastic extravaganza. It was one of the most economical parties for a small herd of children and well worth the money. An hour of playing in the foam pit, bouncing on the trampoline and the kids were ready for pizza and cake. A chaotic few minutes of present opening, a couple rounds of 'what time is it Mr. wolf' and bingo party was over. A bit hit except for the mound of presents which seemed excessive by anyone's measure.

With J's past two parties and even S's party this year there was not much discussion about where we'd have the party unless you count the two month of internal dialogue in my head. I presented my idea to Husband who wisely agreed. I pitched it to the birthday child who did not know they really had a choice.

That changed this year.

I did not want to repeat the GKP (gigantic kid party) so my idea was to go small and splashy: a climbing wall party. They are more expensive but for a price similar to last year we could have in intimate party with J boy and 4 or 5 buddies and not spend the equivalent of a car payment on loot bags.

I didn't really spend a lot of time thinking about selling the idea to the soon-to-be birthday boy as I thought he'd jump at the chance. I did float a trial balloon around the time of S's party and he seemed amenable. But as they say, the devil is in the details.

October was a nutty month for Husband and I. I tried a few times to engage J in discussing the party and guest list. I knew I needed to reserve the party. But I needed to secure his formal agreement on the party venue. As we creeping into November, I was starting to develop that nervous tic.

I finally laid out the options clearly: very cool wall climbing party with 4 or 5 good friends or lame bowling party with more friends. In retrospect I should have spent a little more time on my marketing plan.

Neither option got the nod. Climbing too small and bowling by my own advertisement was lame. And, as he told me "I always have bowling parties". Right, that one time when you were five.

I waited a day thinking that he might be manipulated into my way of thinking, i.e the climbing party, but the boy is not always as pliable as I would like. He steadfastly maintained that he wanted a bigger party than 4 or 5. And that a bowling party was a no-go.

And so in between dental appointments and ballet classes I mused party options. Occasionally, I'd flip an idea over to Husband who would give me his on-the-fly assessment. In a moment of either desperation or brilliance I thought of a martial arts party where J takes tae kwan do. I really thought I was doing well when they had openings. But was disappointed when the 'junior leaders' led the party at an extortionate party rate. And that didn't include food. Or drinks.

I started seeking out ideas with a few colleagues who have kids the same ages. I did feel some sisterly compassion when one friend told me her 7 year old also rejected the intimate party scheme. She suggested a movie party as a new Disney movie will be released the weekend of J's birthday.

Buoyed by the brilliant new suggestion, I checked into our local 15 theatre complex where surely they could handle our modest party. Not until Christmas.

Husband bravely wandered cross-portfolio and found a long list of party possibilities within 50 kilometers. I gamely went through the list and eliminated most on grounds of gender or geography. I was neither interested in a spa party for the J boy nor one that took more than a tank of gas to get to.

With the martial arts party as the back-up, I kept searching. I found a circus party where the kids could learn trapeze and juggling. The price was not bad, well about the same as martial arts but way cooler. And no party slots available until 2009.

Parties to the space science centre, aquarium and sport hall of fame were about double a car payment before the loot bags.

In a move that reveals just how great my desperation was, I briefly considered a home party and checked the price of having a scientist (other than Husband) come and do tricks.

Husband sensing both my ineptness and my desperation suggested that we try another movie theatre a little bit further away. I did and secured a spot for the weekend after J's birthday. Big score. Now just to sell it to the J boy.

I had all kinds of movie trailers lined up to pump up the movie. He, perhaps sensing my tension, agreed that it would be very cool party. I did momentarily get heart palpitations when I realized HIS party conflicted with a party S had been invited to. She doesn't get invited to many and complains about the number of parties J get to go to that she doesn't. But in an uncharacteristic stroke of good luck they had another party opening so we are set for Friday November, 28th in the evening. Stay tuned for the post-party dissection.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Looking the Part

It was the mid '80's and I was in my 2nd year of law school. I, along with my fellow 174 classmates, started interviewing for jobs at law firms. You know what I discovered? People who "looked the part" had a better chance at getting the job.

By that I mean if you were a white man who looked good in a suit, your odds of landing a job were good. That wasn't the only factor. Marks were the best indicator of getting jobs, volunteering in the legal clinic was a help, but to my careful yet admittedly anecdotal observation, so was looking the part.

Now I was 22 at the time I started interviewing and I could easily pass for 16. And I was just over 5 feet tall. Not exactly cutting the figure the law firms were looking for. My marks were above average, I volunteered at the free legal clinic and I more or less could string a sentence together. I tried to compensate for my inadequacies (i.e. not having a Y chromosome) but developing a firm handshake and wearing dark conservative suits.

My number one choice of law firm was looking to hire three students, but declined to offer me a job even though I ranked third in the interviews. They had already hired two women and it was simply untenable to hire three so they hired a man in my stead. I know this because the lawyer who had interviewed me, and knew my interest in the firm, wrote me that in a personal note on my rejection letter.

I am by no means saying that the challenges of practising law as a woman in the mid to late '80s was overly burdensome. Almost half of my class were women. The path had largely been cut the the decade before by women who sacrificed much to prove that the quality lawyering skills had no correlation to gender. And I did get a position with a firm that was a good fit for me. I am saying that even in a time when things were supposedly were equal they weren't.

And I think it's fair to say doubly true for those with apparent physical limitations or a skin colour other than white, though I am obviously not able to relay any experiences.

I think that many people around the world think the same of President-elect Obama for precisely the same reason. He doesn't necessarily look the part. He has dark skin, he's skinny and his ears stick out. I heard two people interviewed in the closing weeks of the campaign that stated rather emphathically that his name alone should disqualify him as it 'sounded too Muslim'. So even with the wrong name, he managed to find himself in the top job.

But he had a message, a manner and a mind that won over half of the votes in the U.S. and it didn't matter about that other stuff.

So for those who don't "look the part" of the whatever they might want to be, take heart. By carrying too many or too few pounds, by being too plain or too attractive, by having bad hair or no hair, by having skin colour other than white or by having the wrong last name, it might just matter a little bit less.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Birthing an Elephant

[Regular blogging of exposure of my parenting inadequacies is interrupted in honour of the U.S. Election. Regular programming to resume shortly]

The elephant has longest gestation period of any mammal at 22 months. The gestation period of an American President is 21 months.

The parties take almost 18 months just to decide who will be their candidate. Through the mysterious process of primaries, caucuses and super-delegates, each party decides who will be The One. The campaigns finally proceed at a pace which can only be described as warp speed with the candidates visiting as many at 6 states in a day.

Now the United States is in transitional labour: they are getting ready to push. I think I speak for most of the planet when I say: enough already.

Even I, CNN junkie and self-confessed John King groupie, have tired of it.

The analysis has reached a new level of minutiae: dissection of what robo-calls are being played in what battleground state and where Sarah Palin's wardrobe was purchased, who paid for it and how much was spent.

I'm tired of the 'six degrees of separation': what controversial figure has some tangential connection to a candidate that must surely show lack of judgment?

I think I am not alone in saying let's send Joe the Plumber back into obscurity: let's let the poor man get back to his "plumbing" business so he can pay off his back taxes and shoulder his share of the $700 billion bailout package.



[Regular blogging of exposure of my parenting inadequacies is interrupted in honour of the U.S. Election. Regular programming to resume shortly]

Almost 20 years ago I entered my first NFL pool at the office. Most of my colleagues would study the analysis in the papers, the injury reports and the records. They would take into account home field advantage, the weather and gut instinct.

But I had a better system: where I would rather go on holidays. Miami or Cincinnati. No brainer. Pittsburgh or Buffalo. Hmm, Pittsburgh is not that far from Atlantic City, right? I could hop on a bus. I was in the middle of the pack by the end of the season.

The next year I picked whose uniform colours I liked better. That year I was ranked quite high. I used to gloat about it and I'm pretty sure there was a movement amongst my fellow poolers to have me removed for incompetence.

As the years went on, I would actually try to follow the league. I would buy the magazines in August and try to read and retain the information about who was expected to do well, who was decimated by off-season moves and who just might be that dark horse to win their conference. I would remember a few salient facts like the up-and-coming QB in New England, or the off-season knee surgery on the receiver from Seattle. I even became a follower of the Denver Broncos (and John Elway!). On one road trip with my brother, an NFL junkie, he quizzed me mercilessly till I knew what team was in what conference.

I would have conversations with colleagues or friends and well, show off:

"How do you think the Rams will do this year? Think Jonesy will make the difference?"

"Do you think the Broncos will be as good as last year, their core in still in place?"

"Do you think the Bucs will climb out of the cellar this year?"

I thought I could hold my own. I never fooled aforementioned NFL junkie brother but I did impress some cops I worked with (or maybe they were too polite to point out my fraud).

But my own delusion was crumbled one day. I was visiting one of my oldest and dearest friends. Her husband, also my close friend, was a phys ed teacher so biologically programmed to follow all sports. I said to him "How do you think Philly will do with the 3-4 defense this year?"

Long pause. He had the slightest smile on my face "Do you mean the 4-3 defence?"

I was exposed. My knowledge was only a millimeter deep. My friend was too much of a gentlemen to mock me and well, I mocked myself anyway.

Now my point is NOT that girls can't learn about professional sports. In fact, I know a decent amount about the NHL and various teams I have followed since age 8 (though I can't out-analyze Husband or Sports Junkie brother).

My point is that I don't really love football and I didn't internalize and synthesize the information so anything I spouted off was what I had heard or read. Though I literally followed the NFL for a decade, I was incapable of looking at the lineup of any team and knowing where the holes were in their rosters. All I could do was parrot that I had read: "The Jets have a weakness on defense".

What has this all got to do with the U.S. election?

Sarah Palin does not lack experience or smarts. In my view she lacks interest in the subject matter. There are first year congressional aids who have more interest in foreign policy and national issues even if they can't see Russia from their beltway office. And who have passports.

Katie Couric pressed Governor Palin for specifics on how John McCain "led the charge for more oversight" on Wall Street she reverted to the tried and true "He's known as the maverick" and finally "I'll try to find ya some and bring 'em to ya".

In her early softball interviews with Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson, she struggled with the second questions. She either repeated her initial answer or peppered her responses with "Main Street", "shore up the economy", and "John's McCain's leadership".

She couldn't name a single Supreme Court case she disagreed with, apart from Roe vs. Wade. Or what newspapers or magazines she reads.

In law school, the Socratic method of learning was used. Students were assigned cases to read and a few victims would be chosen each class to provide their analysis and be able to answer the tough questions. We were supposed to read and understand the entire case, including dissenting opinions.

But cases have something called headnotes. It's a summary of the case, the facts and, in a few sentences, what the case stood for. You could always tell the people that had only read the headnotes and not the case. They could sometimes fake their way through the first question, but rarely the second.

Sarah Palin, it seems, read only the headnotes on foreign policy, financial regulation and the Supreme Court. Though the number of coaching hours have obviously improved her ability to respond to questions, her early interviews belie, in my view, her disinterest in national issues.