Saturday, February 28, 2009

Going Green

J Boy has been doing martial arts for 8 months. What appealed to us was additional physical activity. That appeals to us because it has the theoretical possibility of wearing the boy out a bit more and making bedtimes a little easier. As in many things, we're not sure the theory really translated to practice. However, the discipline and emphasis on good behaviours at school and at home is music to our ears.

What appeals to the J boy is progression. Each month they work on one stripe. After four months, they test the student and if they perform all the stripes adequately they get their red stripe and earn the next belt. The visible progress they make each month keeps J and other students motivated.

J just earned his green belt. At graduation, he demonstrated all his skills and received his new belt. We made a bit of a celebration of it and invited Oma and Opa to come and watch and we all went out for dinner afterward.

We enjoyed seeing J do something special to him. S never feels left out because as J earned his green belt, S gets his gold belt complete with stripes. J has his own ceremony for her at home.

That makes our hearts melt with pride, even more so than the earning of belts. He's solicitous and inclusive of his sister.

And makes the annuity we pay to the martial arts school almost worth it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Office Supplies

My love of shopping for office supplies is second only to a serious drug-store cruising addiction. My addiction to coloured Sharpies is, I believe, well-documented. I like to cruise the aisles and find myself spending no less than $50 on things I didn't know we needed.

In my defence, a single new pen has, in the past, catapulted me to an entire season of reorganizing my life by virtue of my needing to use the new pen for something and what better than a whole set of new To Do lists!

Fortunately for our bank balance, I rarely have time to shop for either office supplies or drug store items. In fact I had not been to either in quite a while.

However, my office is one block from Staples, a veritable utopia of paper and pens. Today I made a trip for 1) card stock 2) page protectors (both of which I need for my homework assignments for my evening class) and 3) lined paper for J to use for his homework. His handwriting is about as illegible as mine and the printing he does on unlined printer paper meanders and vastly varies in size - we thought some lined paper was in order.

I found items 1) and 2) within the first minute of my arrival. I then went to the paper pads aisle to find some lined paper. I compared different brands, colours, sizes, single packs, multi packs, loose leaf, scribblers. Why don't I come her more often? I settle on a scribbler for no particular reason (though it was cheap).

My list is now complete.

But I think I'll just check the pen aisle. I like those fancy pens with a highlighter on one end and a ballpoint on the other. On my way I see the coloured stickies. Wow, I LOVE those turquoise ones. Some of them are even lined, which would make great phone message pads. I imagine how cute our phone messages would be to each other "Call your Mom" in beautiful calligraphy-like cursive writing. Then I remembered that even if we did write notes to each other they would likely get swooped up into recycling, get covered in mac n cheese or just end up under a really big pile of paper. I imagine Husband discovering a note and asking me "am I supposed to call my Mom?" And I'd say "I think that was last Easter. Or maybe the one before that". I also remember the J Boy's penchant for making signs and could see turquoise squares labelling everything not nailed down. Scratch the stickies.

Then I saw some adorable paper clips. They were multi-coloured in bright rainbow or camo or pastels. Then I saw cute ones with flowers or shapes of old-fashioned type writer symbols that were very tempting. But I didn't think I would get to use them at home and I knew if I used them at work they'd get buried in my files and never see the light of day.

I eventually made it to the pen/highlighter section. The combo pen I lusted for was not to be found, but I did remember that we needed new dry erase markers for our grocery list/ meal planning board. Just imagine how much better our food will taste using this markers to make our lists and meal plans!

I looked longingly at the Sharpies, but I have plenty of Sharpies at home (but those little ones are very cute AND they make Sharpie highlighters now!).

I meandered to the pen aisle and remembered our distinct lack of pens at home. Husband and I are forever scribbling notes of unimportant things like internet banking passwords in Crayola markers.

I decided we really do need pens. When it comes to pens, I require two things:

1. Fine point. My writing is 80% neater when I'm writing with a fine point (something to do with being left-handed?).

2. A retractable point. I cannot stand the pen caps that litter my home and office landscape and then the pens dry out without my making sufficient number of TO DO lists.

It was here that I realized the gross prejudice against users of fine point pens. 90% of the pens are medium point. I want a 0.5 mm fine point. The few that I find, have caps. Up and down I cruise seeing some very stylish pens.

Just before I found the mini-pen three pack that was destined for my basket, I saw what has to be a new low in marketing of office products the "anti-bacterial pen". I know, just in case anyone needs an emergency tracheotomy, the anti-bacterial pen could really come in handy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When Good Hockey Games Happen to Bad Parents

A good hockey game began. Husband and I took our spots in our room to enjoy. I was exhausted from a half day at work, back to back conferences at school and an endless string of friction-soaked encounters with the J Boy. Husband, well, the Canucks are his only hobby, if you don't include vacuuming and high level debating with J and trying to convince S to come out of a world class pout.

Husband checked on the kids and had a vague conversation about cooking stuffies. There is a well-established legal principle of wilful blindness (intentionally not asking questions so as to be able to later claim ignorance of a crime). Husband and I chose to focus on the game and be wilfully blind as to what might be about to happen downstairs.

The house was a little too quiet, which can mean they are engrossed in an inane cartoon. Or that they are really cooking their stuffies and serving them up on platters:


Monday, February 16, 2009

Why We No Longer Need Toys

As you will experience from the following photo essay, we no longer need buy toys because the kids have taken over the house as their personal play place. They have created a hotel and no corner of the house is sacred. J wants to be a hotel owner when he grows up. S wants to work at J's hotel. I am thinking "FREE HOTEL ACCOMMODATIONS FOR OUR RETIREMENT!!". I just hope the boy's hotel is somewhere warm or picturesque at least near golf courses!

No, this is not a part of the private health care system. He named the hotel after himself. His middle name is Isaac. I don't think we have ever told him how to spell that.

Obviously, the front desk. Have I mentioned he's still working on spelling?

You cannot fault the boy for lack of signage. Or amenities. His own bedroom holds the pool, club, model museum, museum and planetarium.

No explanation required.

We have not yet clarified if we are "Staff".

We always tell them "we are not running a cafeteria" yet, we find signs to that effect in our kitchen.

Are you getting an idea of the scope of this issue?

20 Bonus Points if you can decipher this.

Some People's Kids

I like to think of myself as moderately non-judgmental of the parenting skills of others. Anyone who has visited this blog more than once knows how we, at times, struggle mightily with at least one emotional and sensitive child (and sometimes two).

More than once I have bristled at the unsolicited advice of strangers in the mall, who are usually 3 plus decades older than me. Having raised children and forgotten more than they remembered, they are certain that if I just ignore her tantrum/ give him space / give her a swat / show him whose boss, I will have no more problems with a simple trip to the grocery store. If only it were that easy.

And so when I see a frazzled Mom attempting to sooth an unsoothable children, or trying to keep a 2 yr old from emptying the entire rack of gum or trying to keep up with one runaway child while nursing an infant, I have sympathy. If I haven't found myself in that exact situation, I've probably been in one worse. I don't judge her. I empathize. I would offer a hug but I know she might burst into tears, which is the thing she is trying to avoid most. I know that she is trying her best in the situation.

Having said that, I can be very judgmental when I see parents failing to enforce the first rule of child-rearing: sharing/taking turns. Even babies have to learn to share their parents, and soon after their toys. Their first game of Candyland, they learn to take turns. They must learn to line up for public bathrooms and share toys at preschool or daycare. It is, in my opinion, the most foundational skill for life on this planet.

The kids and I went to Science World last Friday as the teachers were again professionally developing themselves. It's a fantastic place on hands-on exploration, contraptions and good old-fashioned fun. Our kids have been many times and we mostly go to the same section and they never tire of doing the same things again and again.

On this Friday it was particularly crowded with school field trips and parents of small children seeking diversions from the February blues. A lot of kids were sharing. Many would approach a science apparatus and immediately scan to see who was there before them, if there was a lineup or if they could join in without disrupting others. I heard parents enforcing turns, reminding their kids to share and even forcibly removing some stubborn ones. I saw several older kids give up their turns for younger ones. I did see a few older kids playing tag and running over everyone in their way, but the teachers and chaperones quickly put an end to the game. At the floor piano, S wanted it to her herself. She waited patiently, but I told her this was a sharing piano and she couldn't really have it to herself. At that point 2 ten year old girls had arrived and were about to make some 'music'. One heard me and let S have her solo turn and even kept other kids off the giant keyboard so S could run down the 20 foot length of the piano on her own. That was above and beyond the call.

But I also experienced 2 grotesque forms of parental neglect of the alpha rule of parenting. There is one contraption where the kids take a little mini parachute, stuff it into a tube and the parachute shoots high into the air and floats down. It is very popular but there are only 2 mini-parachutes. S had suffered an injury on the ball-spinning event, so she and I sat on a bench while she regained her composure. J went to line up for the parachuting event. (I might add, I was might proud that he noticed there was a queue and took his place at the end of it).

A parent is there with her 2 children who have been there a while on their own. So they were able to take turns, only the 2 of them, with the parachutes. As the parachutes continue to land the 2 boys are lunging for the parachutes and grabbing them from the hands of the other children, and quickly stuffing them into the tube. Now I know kids will be kids and even the most well-trained toddler will forget herself in the face of extreme fun. The mother, however, facilitated the continual dominance of the parachutes. She caught one herself and handed it to the younger of her kids.

As you can imagine, I cannot sit by idly while such childhood injustices are visited on a lineup of children, including my own (S had recovered from finger injury and joined the line-up). I approach the apparatus and as another parachute is headed for one of the greedy twins, I grab it and hand it to the next child in line and say, hiding as much venom as possible, "here you go, you're next in line".

That same child caught the next 'chute and handed it to J Boy, next in line. "Go ahead honey, it's your turn", I reinforced the taking of turns. J caught his own missile and was unsure of who to give it to so I said "Give it to S, she is next in line."

I really have no idea if the mother was angry at me for upsetting the law of the jungle, embarrassed that she had not done this herself or entirely oblivious. I do know that she is likely one of the people that push to the front of lines in long transit queues and who will grab the last cookie on a plate even if it's her sixth.

As we were about to leave place-of-science, J Boy wanted to try one more thing. They have these seats where you pull on rope and you can lift yourself. One is the equivalent of lifting 1/3 of your body weight and one is 1/6th. J Boy tried the 1/3 weight one and could not do it. He wanted to try the 1/6 version. A boy was on there while J tried the other. I agreed even though our parking had expired and the parking vultures are particularly efficient at this location (and we haven't yet picked up our traditional pop corn for the ride home).

J stands patiently while this boy sits on the chair. The father takes his place to try the chair that J Boy just vacated. The little boy is sitting the the chair and staring at J and holding himself at the highest height. He has pulled himself up and down several times. Said little boy seems to enjoy watching J wait. The father says nothing.

J is getting a little twitchy (can't imagine where he gets that from) and I said "let's just wait for our turn". The father can hear me. He says nothing.

J gets more impatient. I say "we have to wait our turn". Although I was tempted to say "well this little boy has not been taught by anyone not to monopolize equipment and to allow every one to have their turns. His parents must not know that although they did pay to come into Science World, they are not the only ones here and admission does not allow them to have the turns of other children.". But I resist (the father was WAY bigger than me).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Things Change

Well it was only last year I lamented about the stress of Valentines. And I meant it. This year, almost a full week before that annual celebration of love, my kids' Valentines are signed, sealed with sticky hearts and have the obligatory chocolate heart attached.

S accomplished this task with Nanny sometime during the last week. J Boy took it upon himself to work diligently on it this afternoon. All I had to do was stick 47 chocolate hearts and stuff them into Ziploc bags. (Have I even mentioned my love of Ziploc bags? One of the bad cops got me into them years ago.)

While it sometimes feels like certain phases we will never grow out of (like the one where I give 16 polite warnings that it's time to go and kids hear blah blah blah), it's nice to reflect on the progress of good penmanship, initiative and cooperation.

Friday, February 6, 2009

GBH'09*

* Greak Bakugan Hunt of 2009

It began at tae kwan do that fateful Saturday morning. J Boy saw another kid's Bakugans. Bakugan is a TV show the kids have been watching lately. There are battles when these spherical things morph into some kind of creature. I don't really know if the Bakugans are robots, magical creatures, toys or humanoid. I really don't.

The kids have been playing a poor man version of Bakugan for weeks. They find every ball, marble or vaguely spherical item in the house and line them up each with a corresponding stuffies. They say "Bakugan battle" and pretend to throw the selected marble and then throw down the stuffie. My only real objection to this game has been the mess it creates as about 15 balls and stuffies are constantly lined up in our family room. Actually, not lined us, more like strewn about.

Anyway, J Boy saw these actually morphing Bakugans at tae kwan do and decided he must have them. He even considered them worthy enough to spend his allowance, which means the defferal of buying his Nintendo DS (handheld game every other 7 year old on the planet owns. Or more accurately, every other 7 year old in his school).

So, J insists that I speak to parent at tae kwan do to find out where the precious morphing creatures were acquired. I asked a Dad who said with little conviction that made me believe it was more of a guess "Toys R Us". On the drive home J excitedly and generously says he must buy 4 so he and S will both have 2 Bakugans each when they play.

Getting J off any fixation such as this is harder than getting Republican support for an abortion rights bill. So we devised a plan. The whole family would go to Superstore, where we would look for Bakugans. While we were there we would do the weekly grocery shopping. If Superstore didn't have Bakugans, we would go to Toys R Us.

I checked on the Toy R Us website and found a vast selection of all things Bakugan. One game looked like a good deal as it had a number of cards and 6 Bakugans. Cards are required to make the Bakugan's morph. I called and found out they had one game left. I had it put on hold and went over the game plan with J:

Plan A: Go to Superstore to look for Bakugan.
Plan B: Go to Toy R Us to buy Bakugan game.

While Husband and S tackled the groceries, J and I headed to toy aisles. We found a few 3 packs of Bakugans for sale for $13. So the options are to buy 3 Bakugan for $13, 6 for $26 or go to Toys R Us and buy the game for $25 which includes 6 Bakugans.

It was then that J Boy tells me of an additional requirement that one of the Bakugans must be Drago. Who is red. You don't really know who any given Bakugan is unless it's morph into its creature and of course the creatures are not morphed in their titanium packaging. They just look like plastic balls.

So J comes up with his own to do list:

1. Ask S if she really will want to play Bakugan. If so he won't buy the 3 pack as they won't have enought to share.
2. If S does not want to play, then he'll find a minimum wage worker (or Superstore lady, as he calls them) and ask her if the red one in the pack he wants to purchase is Drago. (I do not try to advise J on the equal unliklihood of a) finding Superstore lady and b) finding one who knows who Drago is.)

We track down S and Daddy in the bakery aisle and discover S does want to play. So we are settled on Plan B, getting the game at Toys R Us.

J is already one step ahead and says "What if the game isn't the right thing?"

"Then we'll go to Plan C", I say confidently. "we'll check out the Bakugan aisle at Toys R Us and find the right ones".

J is getting more and more tightly wound as we head towards Toys R Us. I have a bad feeling. On top of looking for a minimum of 4 Bakugan with one being Drago, S has decreed that one of hers must be Tigrera. They kids are a little fuzzy about what colour Tigrera might be. Bad feeling grows.

At Toys R Us ustomer service we examine the game. I read carefully to see the contents and hope against all that is rational that Drago and Tigrera are both in the box. Box reads "6 Bakugan, non-morphing". Not what we are after.

I catch J as tears form in his eyes and steer him towards Bakugan aisle. Apparently Bakugan sales are not affected by the worldwide recession as they have none of the small morphing Bakugans for sale. They have belt holders, carrying cases, battle stations, large forms, cards and a half dozen other accessories, but no 2, 4, of any other size pack.

"Plan D" I say quickly to J Boy, sensing him tottering toward the precipice of discombobulation, "is to go back to Superstore and look again at their selection".
J Boy is listening. So I continue, "Plan E is to keep looking at other stores or online for the right ones. And Plan F", I say with my best sales pitch voice, "is to keep saving your money for the DS".

Before going back to Superstore to work on Plan D, I study packaging and try to divine who the @$#%$^& are Drago and Tigrera. My good fortune is we see a giant sized Drago. It is red with orange lines and I memorize the symbol on the outside.

Husband drops J Boy and I off at Superstore for our second go at the Bakugans. I cannot believe our good fortune when I realize the red one we had seen looks like it's Drago. Red, check. Orange stripes, check. Right symbol, check.

J Boy only has to decide how many to buy and what to do since Tigrera did not appear to be available. J showed remarkable flexibility when he decided that one pack would do and we could just keep looking for Tigrera another time.

I'm pretty sure I did a little jig on the way to the checkout. 2 plus hours and we had reached a mostly successful conclusion to our hunt. We paid and tracked down Husband circling the parking lot.

We're about a block away when all the tension, stress, and worry of the past two hours erupts in the booster seat behind me.

"It's not Drago!!!"

Postscript: Even though it was not Drago, J did recover and even figured out a sharing system for the 3 Bakugans and 6 Bakugan cards. The system favoured his sister with any extra Bakugan. Such generousity and inclusiveness for his sister, made the GBH'09 worth it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Money

One of the jobs parents have it to teach their kids about money.

The first lessons come when kids (I hope) learn that money is not unlimited. Every trip by a store, to get groceries or into a mall, does not mean the acquisition of a new toy. With our kids this is around age 4 an appeared in the form of a whinefest over some junky overpriced toy (conveniently displayed with all the sugary cereals at the grocery store) OR toy-envy after playdates.

At some point, kids, in my view need to learn to manage their own money. I started getting an allowance in grade 1 and so we decided to start J Boy on an allowance at the beginning of grade 1. But he seems vastly uninterested and far be it for Husband and I to foist our hard earned money on our progeny. So we waited.

In grade 2, the "Can you get me ..." started in ernest and the timing seemed right to give J his own income stream to manage. We started him at $2 per week. We are apparently tight wads as the 'experts' recommend $1 time their age. But $28 per month seemed like too much. Not like we're going to ask him to pay rent or fill the van up with gas.

The downside of the low allowance is it encourages trips to the dollar store. The upside is my kids are starting to learn that a lot of stuff that looks kind of cool in the dollar store will self-destruct before we reach the parking lot.

Still, J has enjoyed his piece of financial freedom. Last fall when his spooky obsession was in full force he acquired quite a collection of Halloween decorative items. We have appreciated giving him an option other than no when asked if he can buy some baby toy that looks appealing. "Do you want to spend your allowance on that?".

He's generally been quite careful in what he spends and never wants his piggy bank empty. After several housewide searches for his allowance stash, he relented and let me keep it in our room.

We spoke to him about saving up for something "big", like that you can't buy at a dollar store, but initially he wasn't interested in gratification delayed beyond next week.

With the high of his birthday (late November) hype of Christmas he seemed to forget altogether about spending his money. Come January, it seems his nest egg had grown to over $75 if one included some birthday money. Well on his way to a Nintendo DS, which Santa had failed to bring and which he decided he would save up for.

Last week on the way home from swimming lessons he mused on how much money he would have if he saved for a whole year.

"Would I have enough money to buy a city?"

"Would I have enough money to buy a house?"

Despite my attempts to steer him towards some version of reality, he convinced himself that if he saved for a year he would have a million dollars. Then he proceeded to decide how to spend it. He wanted to make sure that he spent the money on things the whole family would appreciate:

1. Add 3 elevators to our house so we all have one in our respective rooms.
2.Make the kids' bedrooms both larger and create secret passage between them (he noted that he would also have to make the basement bigger to support the larger 2nd floor).
3. Put new cupboards in the kitchen and hardwood floors in living room-dining room.
4. Build a fake bookcase in his room, which would reveal a secret room when one pulled on the right fake books (Okay, perhaps he is watching too much Scooby Doo.)

Stay tuned for the Great Bakugan Hunt of 2009 in which J attempts to spend some of his accumulated wealth.

Girlfriend Requirements

Girlfriends are as necessary to the modern Mom as is oxygen, goldfish crackers and a sense of humour. I mean Girlfriends with a capital G. Not just a girl who happens to be a friend in the sense of sharing an hour every Tuesday after school while your kids are at gymnastics. I mean Girlfriends who get you and with whom you need not put on a pretense of having the whole motherhood thing figured out.

Exhibit A, my Girlfriend C. C has 3 gorgeous daughters and V, middle gorgeous one, is S's best friend. They go to different schools now so we try to make a point of getting together for playdates. As demonstrated by recent playdate, C meets and exceeds all Girlfriend requirements:

1. Nonjudgmental: she did not judge me when S arrived with mismatched socks. And I don't mean just her socks didn't match her outfit (though they didn't). She wore one white sock with a yellow stripe and one 2 tone blue sock with a kitten on it. C was only impressed that we were there within one minute of our estimated time of arrival.

2. Generous: Even though I turned down snacks with tea, she got out the "adult chocolates" and insisted I have a few.

3.Gracious: When J started digging into the storage room and thought he hit the motherload in camping equipment, she only casually remarked on the need to stay on the "clubhouse" side of the storage closets.

4.Understanding: After I caught J jumping on the bed in the master bedroom, she readily agreed that kids just will not listen and J must have had excess energy to burn that afternoon.

5. Flexible: She let S take off her shirt when she was hot and ran barechested through the house. She didn't flinch when V wanted to do the same.

(I just hope we're invited back!)