Monday, June 29, 2009

Mission Unaccomplished

I have a bit of a problem completing projects. I start something with great enthusiasm and somewhere, usually about halfway through I stop. Whether it's doing laundry, organizing some hovel in the house or a home improvement project, nothing, it seems, ever gets finished.

I would love to blame it on having kids and say "my time is not my own", but I can't. First because I have incomplete projects dating back to my childhood. Second, even I know that if I have time to start TWO projects, I would have had time to finish ONE.

Today, I dropped off the kids at bike camp (week 1 of the summer) and had just under two hours to do something. I was planning to go to the gym, but I sabotaged myself by not recharging my cell phone overnight and I needed to be available by phone. So I came home. I pondered my options: laundry, cleaning, organizing the guest room.

Then, in a flash of brilliance, I thought, I would make the mother of all to-do lists. I will have hours sans kids here and there all summer to work on projects. I imagined a lovely calligraphied list affixed in an honoured place and dreamt of the satisfaction and crossing things out.

Then, in a bold and frightening move, I decided instead of MAKING a list, I would DO one thing to completion that would have gone on the list. And I knew just the thing: my passport.

Last September, I thought my passport was about to expire. We were thinking of doing a family trip to Disneyland in December, so I figured I better get on the project. So I filled out the online application. I went so far as to contact my 2 references to ascertain their middle names and to ensure that they would vouch for me if the passport office called to verify my existence.

Then I let the completed form languish.

In November, I picked up on the project and got my passport photos taken. See HERE for them in all their mugshottedness.

Then I checked my passport and discovered that it did not expire until May 31, 2009. Phew. I unloaded the guilt that my lack of passport would kybosh a family trip.

We then decided that we would not go visit Mickey and the princesses in December, and I really should have gathered up the completed application and photos and fired that puppy off.

But I didn't.

I did mention it about once a month to Husband, but that was all I did.

So today feeling emboldened by the beginning of summer, I re-filled out the application, actually located the photographs and found my recently expired passport. I went so far as to address the envelope and seal it. I was about to do what I always do with ready-to-go mail, and put it at Husband's appointed spot on the dining room table.

I have a fierce aversion to things postal. Even if I have stamps in my purse, I will not muster up the coordination to stick one on an envelope. Further, I have had envelopes WITH stamps or prepaid postage ride around in my purse for weeks or months because I can't seem to get it to a mailbox. Since we retrieve our mail from a "superbox" which has a mail slot, and I pass by a mailbox on my way to the bus stop and I have a mail drop in my building at work, I have absolutely no freakin' excuse.

But I do have a blind spot.

I don't know if this started my postal paranoia but I do have a bit of a history with passports and the post office. In 2002, my parents announced they were taking the whole family on a cruise to Hawaii and we needed a passport for the J Boy, who would be 10 months at sailing. Mine was in my maiden name and I thought I may as well get that updated to reduce the chance of border complications, though it was strictly speaking not required. So I put together my application for name change and included my existing, valid passport. In a separate envelope, I inserted J's completed application.

I felt very proud that I had completed this project including getting the envelopes into the mailbox. In particular, because we were in the midst of selling our condo, buying a house and moving. It did not dawn on me, perhaps because I was too busy being proud of myself, that I should not put a valid passport in the regular mail.

Another thing that did not dawn on me, was to put any postage on the envelopes. J's passport application came back a couple weeks later "insufficient postage". Since I no longer had time to get it processed by mail, I had to take my 9 month old baby to the passport office where we lined up for 4 hours and left not only the promise of his passport being ready in two week, but with the Norwalk virus.

But my passport application did not come back in the mail. I picked up a new pastime, trying to get through to the passport office on their 1-800 line. Succeeding at this is right up there with capturing unicorns. When I did eventually get through, they told me there was nothing they could do as they had no record of receiving it. Until they charged our credit card, signifying it was actually in their office, they could do nothing. They would not issue me an emergency replacement passport until 72 hours before our trip. I'm not exactly comfortable deadline-skating, but I had no option.

About 75 hours before our trip, I made my daily check to see if our credit card had been charged and saw that it had! That meant it has just been touched by human hands. Now just a scavenger hunt to find my application and some expeditious treatment by some earnest passport office employees and I had my passport in hand.

Perhaps because of this whole experience, Husband has stepped in to fill the postal void . He always has stamps on hand. I give him envelopes addressed and he sorts out the affixing of postage and depositing to mail box. If a trip needs to be made to an actual post office, he will go. Even when it comes to the kids' activities, which is clearly in my portfolio, I will hand him an application form and he will attend the cheque writing and mailing. And he will shepherd the whole thing to the mail box.

So today, in a small effort to prove to myself that I can complete a project, if belatedly, I went to the post office (no lineup) and mailed the passport application registered mail.

Now, I should get to the laundry, oh wait, I need to empty the dishwasher, but first I should return that phone call, right after organize my purse but not before I figure out what I'll make for dinner...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Celebrate!

The end of a school year is indeed a time to celebrate. We did so en famille, at our favourite restaurant (Frogstone Grill).

The Honoured Guests and their gift bags
(they spent the whole drive over guessing what might be in the bag, XBox 360, wide-screen TV, hamster, puppy -- I hoped they would not be disappointed with a bag full of books!)
Comics were a hit!
(how old would Jughead be now??)
So were the Guinness Books of Records.
Special books that lock up were the grande finale!
Mommy and Daddy celebrated a little.
(Despite the crazed looks in our eyes, this is our first and only drink. We're just happy we have 10 weeks NOT to think about spelling lists and home reading assignments)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Diary of First Day of Vacation

8:05 a.m.: The kids are up and TV blasting cartoons in my head, which is still on my pillow.

8:25 a.m.: S comes into my room. "Can you get me something to eat?" I need one of those pellets that we give to the fish that they can eat off of for 3 days.

8:48 a.m.: J is in bathroom and S is pounding on the door wanting J to guess how far away she is "long, medium or short.?" He either can't hear her (don't know why as I'm sure the neighbours can) or is ignoring her, so she is yelling progressively louder and louder.

9:16 a.m: Wow, that was 28 minutes of quiet. S breaks the silence by screaming "DON'T HIT ME!!" I go to check on things and S throws a car at J. J, who is having a tenuous relationship with truthfulness lately, denies all wrongdoing. It's a reflex. Like a governor denying infidelity.

9:30 a.m.: J Boy refuses to get dressed. I don't press him as I am still in bedclothes (is that still a word?) First mention of the B word. He is bored. He made it a whole hour from when we usually leave the house for school.

9:55 a.m.: I ask the kids who wants to go the the mall and hear an enthusiastic "YES!!!". I ask who said that, wondering who inherited my love of shopping. They argue about who said that. J demands to know if I took a movie of it to prove HE said it.

10:16 a.m.: I pry myself off the computer. I have read every news site and they are all just talking about MJ. Kids are strangely quiet.

10:17 a.m.: Kids are making plans for houses. While I don't think having a roller coaster AND a toy store in a house is realistic, I bite my tongue. I set them up with snacks and go upstairs to get cleaned up and dressed.








11:00 a.m: I am ready to go. To the mall. For haircuts. J's hair resembles Kate's (Jon&Kate plus 8). It sticks straight up at the back. Not a good look on a 7.5 yr old.

11:40: Hair cuts are done. We leave $43 poorer (I declined to tip based on extortionist pricing) and just before J is permanently banned from "haircut store" for climbing on the car-haircutting chairs like they were monkey bars. Both kids choose a plastic pterodactyl as their prize.







11:45: Eating lunch at the food fair at the mall -- a huge treat. Really a good time for them to be playing games spinning with their pterodactyls because people are walking around with trays of onions rings and beef teriyaki plus gallon sized cups of Coke. I would grab them by the scruffs of their necks, but my hands are full with our tray of greasy food.

11:58 a.m.: I resist the urge to make a big deal over the fact that J is eating his noodles with his hands. "But the fork is sticky, so I don't want to get my hands sticky."

11:59 a.m.: J needs to wash his hands.

12:01 p.m.: we make trip to bathroom to wash hands. I cannot let J go into crowded boys bathroom without chaperon. He comes in with us girls.

12:05 p.m.: start mall-wide search for the coolest "rides". I have $5 in Loonies ($1 coins) to finance this endeavour.











12:35 p.m.: $5 is gone. Back to the car. NEVER have I had such a great trip to the mall. I tell them so.

12:36 p.m.: trip to the park is next. I give them options of picking a park they know, or my surprising them with a new one. They pick a new one.

1:01 p.m.: I should have picked a closer park but I have ulterior motive. J has been baulking (by "baulking", I mean being downright defiant, obstinate and loud about refusal to go to outdoor swimming lessons.) I take them to park hoping they'll see very cool pool which will make them plead to go to swimming lessons here.

1:02 p.m.: kids have a great time at park. J is befriended by a boy he's never met

1:25 p.m.: kids are ready to leave park but they want a turn on the swings, which are perpetually busy. I suggest swings at their school on the way home.

1:26 p.m.: I casually mention about outdoor pool (which I know is nearby but I can't see). J says angrily, "whenever it comes time to take swimming lessons outside, I QUIT!!!".

1:27 p.m.: Instead of reflexive moan to J about his tone, attitude and mode of communication, I say "a better way to say that is 'Mommy, I don't really want to take outside swimming lessons'. And I would say 'Really, why not?'. Then you would say ..."

1:28 p.m.: J responds "it's going to be too cold". That was easy.

1:45 p.m.: traffic is bad on the way home. I explain to kids it's because a garbage truck ran into a bridge a couple days ago and so ALL the traffic has to come onto one main street.

1:46 p.m.: detour to look at damaged bridge and to see if garbage truck is still there.

2:01 p.m: OOHing and AHing over damaged bridge.

2:11 p.m.: kids look longingly at train museum. S has been asking to go for a year and despite it being 10 minutes from our house, we have not made time.

2:12 p.m.: enter train museum.

2:13 p.m.: I remember why we don't take J to a lot of museums. He is very curious and want to touch everything. Fortunately, the museum is small and he is actually being very self-controlled.

2:59 p.m.: we leave the museum and head home. I float the idea of going to swings in evening with Daddy. School does not have bathrooms and I need one.

3:23 p.m.: we watch firetrucks race up the hill ahead of us and towards our subdivision.

3:28 p.m.: we hunt for firetrucks after ascertaining OUR house in not aflame.

3:35 p.m.: kids have snacks and mercifully watch cartoons.

3:55 p.m.: kids have more snacks. Still watching TV. I don't even feel guilty about it

5:10 p.m.: Husband is home! Wow, did the day ever go by fast.

5:45 p.m.: J Boy adds a little purple to his life.

6:30 p.m.: Celebratory Slurpee!

DS

DS, for those who do not live with an eight year old boy, stands for Nintendo DS or Nintendo dual screen and it's handheld gaming unit. It's what every grade 2 boy we know owns and the only way parents ever take children on long trips. Except us. We use some of the old fashioned ways of traveling, if ever we are brave enough to go further than our local mall. We bribe, plead, beg, threaten and pray. Sometimes simultaneously.

I'm kind of anti gaming. I watched some kids play games in a catatonic state, their thumbs moving as they slay a dragon. I don't like the violence in some games or the vacant look the gamers have.

We are no stranger, as regular readers will know, to computer games. We just don't buy the shooting or repetitive ones. We buy the ones where you have to find stuff, figure out stuff, solve puzzles, search for clues. I've convinced myself that this makes all the difference.

The J Boy has wanted a DS since last fall and made his request to a big red fat guy. Santa did not comply so the J Boy started saving his allowance.

By "saving his allowance" I am really overstating the case. Though J does theoretically get $2 per week, it's really notional accounting. He never asks for it and we don't actually give it to him. I used to have a scrap of paper and I would keep track of how much we owed him.

Initially, every time Husband or I had an extra tenner or a wallet full of $1 or $2 coins, we'd throw it in the pile, make some calculations and scribble "Paid to Jan. 2nd". This would likely be in about late February and we rarely ever caught up.

Eventually, we started using J's allowance as our petty cash. Money needed for field trips or to buy chocolate covered almonds from the Boy Scouts at the door would be taken from "our" slush fund. I kind of liked having that pile of coins. Husband needs coins to wash the car. J kept me afloat for a month when I kept forgetting to buy bus tickets but had ready access to his coinage.

For a while I kept track of what we owed. In my head. So if you had asked me in early March what we owed J, I would have said, "we owe him $16 for bus coinage, $4 for the field trip, $8 for the car wash, $4 for chocolate almonds plus $20 I took to work for a lunch out."

Eventually, it became much more loose, and I daresay as fictional as the books of Enron.

J didn't want to spend his money so I was not really held accountable. Quite fortuitously, he didn't really press me to see his stash of allowance or our Ponzi scheme would have been exposed.

Every once in a while he would ask me how much he had and I would pull a figure out of the air. "You've got $110!". I tried to remember to always make the number go UP from the last time he asked as he didn't spend it and he accrued another $2 every week. We also had to add tooth fairy money (which he funded from his pool of money) and some birthday money.

I realized at one point that I have given him a number about $20 too high, but there was no undo button on that so it became a parental donation to the DS.

Quite apart from allowance juggling, since Christmas I have been tracking the price of DS's. I figured, having taken 4 undergrad courses in economics, that demand is high at Christmas, and with collapsing economy and usual retail slump in January, we could look forward to lower prices. The DS universally sold for $129.99 at Christmas.

Imagine my shock when it was $134.99 in January. The price went UP! I didn't think it would last and I was right. A month later they were selling for $139.99! Apparently Nintendo DS's are price inelastic. At least the price doesn't go down. I actually saw an article interviewing the president of Nintendo saying "the sales of DSs aren't going down in the recession". I spent more than a little time checking out multiple suppliers of the DS thinking somebody, somewhere must have it on sale. Never.

In March I started to hear the hype of the Nintendo DSi, the new better, faster, WiFi version, due out on April 1st. It was set to sell at $199 so I wagered, the DS price would come down. It didn't. The $139.99 price held.

Once the J Boy crept closer to accumulating the price of the DS he cottoned on to 2 things: games and taxes. The $139.99 price tag did not include any games. A few games can be bought for $20 but most are $30 to $40.

Sales taxes (federal and provincial) are 12%. We have foolishly always paid the taxes on the kids' purchases. It was worth it to us to pay the 24 cents on the $2 "Gone Fishing" sign at the dollar store, rather than explain exactly what taxes are, why we have to pay them and why it isn't really $2 "when that's what the price tag says". So J secured our commitment to "always pay the tax on the stuff we buy with our own money".

In June, I let the allowance amount rise to $150, meaning he could afford to buy the DS and almost a game. I thought if the kid is going to get this thing, it may as well be for the summer when his boredness and my impatience peak.

I upped my price surveillance looking for deals. I even checked out Craig's List for local available units. Though there were some, I could not bring myself to buy a used unit only to have it fritz out in a week.

I also started asking around about good games to buy. About the same time, I saw that Toys R Us was selling the DS for $129.99 IF you bought one game in their list. There were a few at $19.99, which meant J Boy could get his DS and a game for his $150 (assuming the parental tax exemption continued).

When the rubber hit the road, he pretty much only wanted a $40 DS game. None of the $20 games interested him. They weren't "real DS games". I even found one that is similar to the ones he plays on the computer but he was steadfast in his desire for a certain kind of game.

So the Toys R Us deal was no good to us. I did float the trial balloon with Husband that we pay for a game (in addition to the tax and my overcommitment on the allowance thing). But we never really settled on it.

At lunch last Friday I was discussing possible games with one of my very reliable Mom friends mentioned "wow, those DS are really getting cheap".

How could my surveillance system go so horribly wrong.

"They're $99 at Shoppers Drug Mart. I saw them there this week and they had all kinds of them".

This Mom knows her stuff and I knew I could take this to the bank. What hadn't I thought to include drug stores in my intelligence grid?

After school, I told the J Boy about the sale (I resisted the urge to pull him out of school early) and we headed there as soon as I could shepherd them and their backpacks to the van. He was giddy over being able to afford the DS and a real game. So was I.

I did make some gentle reminders that the sale might be over, they might be out of stock or we may have had some confusion. "Don't freak out on me if we can't buy it" were my exact words.

Well we did have a freak out when they were sold out. But it was me. They had boxes and boxes of DS's labelled "SALE $99.99", which is what Reliable Mom had seen. The boxes were empty. They were sold out and had been all week. I expressed my dismay, displeasure and even disgust over having the boxes there so it looked like they had them in stock.

"We just haven't put them away", clerk said casually.

"They've been there all week ... my friend was in 3 days ago and saw them. That is why we came in. Don't you think that's ... irresponsible?"

"We should take them down".

I gave her the evil Mommy glare and waited until she started doing so.

When I got home I called every Shoppers Drug Mart in the tri-cities area only to be greeted with guffaws that I would think 6 days into the sale that they would still have any. Everyone was sold out on the first day, because you see, they NEVER go on sale.

J Boy maintained his composure remarkably with this disappointment. He said we could just buy it at $139.99. I reminded him of the Toys R Us deal and started tauting one of the games on sale for $19.99 that actually was 42 basic games. They weren't the fancy Mario Bros/Star Wars/ Indiana Jones, but rather solitaire, checkers, bowling, old maid and a bunch of Japanese card games I have never heard of. With the Shoppers Drug disappointment he was ripe to accept the compromise and immediately saw the appeal of 42 different games.

And so late Friday night I sojourned to Toys R Us for the coveted DS. Imagine my delight when he actually took pride is showing S how it works, and shared, more than a little with his sister. And his mother.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Half Way

The J Boy is officially half way through elementary school. It seems that he just started kindergarten 12 minutes ago, but now he is half way to middle school.

He has had a good year. His report card describes him as "curious and enthusiastic". I always say he was born curious, so it's nice to see that he is his own self at school.

While I like to think I know my son quite well, as I constantly monitor his moods, patience quotient, hungry status and fatigue level hoping to ward off issues, he surprised me this week. At the year end class celebration, all the students made oral presentations on turtles. I must say, I did not know he had such a gift for public speaking. He spoke in a clear voice with great expression and did something we are not used to: he made eye contact with his audience. I guess all the practice presenting magic tricks and lectures paid off to his academic advantage.

He has had the same teacher, the same classroom and some of the same students for three years so this feels a little like the end of an era. Next year new teacher, and a new classroom, hopefully a little closer to the lost and found.

Congratulations J Boy, on to grade 3!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Education Completed!!

Have you ever read the book All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Well, by that standard, S completed her education today.

She successfully mastered sharing, cleaning up after herself and taking turns.

She knows her letters, her numbers, and her way around the school.

She played with new friends and old, had show and tell 20 times and played at more centres than she could shake a stick at.

And never, not once, did any of her belonging make their way to the school lost and found. (Her brother on the other hand will have his own separate box assigned next year.)

She is a "kind, quiet and hard-working student", according to her report card. The same as she is at home. Except for the quiet part.

We couldn't be prouder. Congratulations Girlie Goo!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Closing Window

J, being the firstborn, had dedicated bi-parental attention for 22 months before the arrival of his sister. For the next 3 or so years, he had plenty of attention from Mommy in the afternoons when his sister napped. It's a good thing too, as the J Boy loves his one on one time.

For the first three years of her life, not only did S not get much regular one on one Mommy time, but she spent a lot of time at preschool drop-offs and pick-ups, soccer practices, speech therapy appointments and whatever else was on her brother's calender. I oozed with Mommy guilt.

But when the girlie goo was three, her brother started kindergarten and was at school every weekday. She had preschool twice a week, but even with my work schedule the Mommy-daughter time started and it was the great equalizer and partially assuaged my burgeoning Mommy guilt.

I think we made the most of our times together. We were regulars at Starbucks, I've taken her variously to dance, gymnastics, soccer, swimming and skating. She's had play dates, trips to the park, and has been more than game on errand runs and grocery trips, the latter made more tolerable by the gifting by the grocery store of a chocolate chip cookie the size of her head. We have played a gajillion games of Guess Who? and Candyland and read a library full of books. We played games on the computer and had endless chats about pressing things like why the camera takes that kind of batteries.

But nothing has meant more to me on our mornings together than cuddles. "Will you cuddle wiff me?" the request comes regularly. I rarely turn her down regardless of how pressing the messy kitchen is or how compelling a blog entry is. Basking in the glow of the Teletoon channel we'd watch Scooby Doo. And cuddle.

Today was the last in this season of Mommy-daughter time and so the window is closing. We are in the last days of her kindergarten year. Next year she will be at school for the whole 6 hours, same as her brother.

I know we'll still have girl time. J does like to sequester himself to work on certain projects. But knowing we have that time, just the two of us, every week, is a thing of the past. Much as I am anticipating her being in grade 1 and the delights of learning to read, write and do arithmetic (and our not having to budget for childcare), equally, I am mourning the loss of our time together.

I'm just hoping she will develop my love of pedicures and spas so that we can have some very serious girl time in the not too distant future.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dancing Gene

I didn't dance as a kid. No ballet, tap or jazz. Never had an interest and I was never asked if I wanted to. So my first exposure to dance was in grade 7, junior high school, and I had school dances to contend with. I guess I must have watched enough Brady Bunch to generally know that we weren't talking about ballroom dancing, but I didn't really know how to dance.

With great trepedation I went to my first dance only to find there wasn't much dancing going on. The girls loudly and nervously giggled when any boy looked their way. The boys hovered together in packs and tried to look as cool as possible. A few kids danced, usually those 'going around together', the parlance for 1970's grade 7 coupling. But I did get to see what the dancing looked like.

So I practiced dancing in my basement. I walked 2 steps forward, 2 steps back, swung my arms like an Olympic long distance walker, and I had, I thought, some reasonable moves. I knew I was not the hippest and coolest dancer, but was goal was not to be completely embarassed.

One Monday morning after a dance when some actual dancing occurred, I had cut a rug as best I could. A friend pointed out that I really only had one move and mocked/demonstrated for those gathered at recess my one, well-honed move. I was mortified.

I don't think my dancing has improved much over the years. I had one boyfriend who was an accomplished ballroom dancer and he did his level best to teach me the jive, the foxtrot and the waltz but I am sadly lacking in rhythm and it didn't take.

For a time, I did attend some square dances and found when they call out instructions on what dance move to do, I was no longer handicapped and can do-si-do and promenade with the best of them. Too bad square dancing is a little out of vogue in my circles.

When I was dating Husband and met one of his close friends, who would be his best man, he asked me if I had seen Husband dance? He thought I should know what I might be getting myself into if we chose to elevate our relationship from boyfriend/girlfriend to husband/wife. Husband dances better than I do, no doubt, but does have the same general deficit.

It wasn't even a question of whether we'd have dance at our wedding. Neither of us enjoy dancing enough to pay for a dance, never mind the horrid embarassment of dancing the first dance together for a room full of spectators with nothing better to do than take pictures of us.

Naturally, we expected our kids to follow in our impaired dance steps. J has pretty much fallen in with Husband and I. Though he did show a little promise at a Saturday morning hip hop class he took last fall, he generally does a bit of a robot walk and some jerky arm movements that probably resembles having a seizure more than dancing.

However, S has shown a remarkable dancing aptitude when the music is fast. Even as a 2 year old with the right tempo we'd see the "S dance" where she would basically do the twist, very very fast. Now, she has developed a reasonable break dance routine to one particular song. She has some Britney moves including a butt wiggle that is both adorable and scarily grown-up. Even J will stop what he is doing to watch her dance and will even request that she does certain moves. Whenever J is doing one of his SHOWS!!, she will wait her turn and then dance for us.

She indeed has the dancing gene (I call this Mata Hari meets Flashdance):
video

(this may be in the relative sense, rather than on the absolute scale - i.e. she has the rest of us beat!)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

SHOWS!!

One of the absolute joys of parenting the J Boy at the present is experiencing one of his shows. Nothing oozes more charm and enthusiasm than his articulation in one of his presentations. Sometimes they are magic shows, sometimes dance routines, often joke-telling sessions and more recently an academic offering, complete with diagrams. He seems so grown-up and so little-boy at the same time.

These shows do come at a price. You see the sheet in the photo above?? That was pulled from my shockingly-still-tidy-linen closet. We had a magic show last night and the J Boy decided he needed to delineate a stage and so gathered up every old video and DVD he could find and created a stage. When I walked into OUR bedroom, I squawked and he immediately said "I promise I will put them all away." Of course, he didn't. His last card trick did not go the way he wanted and he stormed off and blamed me and sequestered himself in his bedroom. Still, the shows are worth the price and I will miss them one day.

I invite you to experience the charm and enthusiasm of our J Boy:

video

Favver's Day

Favver's Day has the same traditions as Muvver's Day in this house: family breakfast of cinamon buns served to the honoured parent. This year, the kids shocked and surprised me by setting the table at my casual mention that the table needed to be set. You would think this all the more remarkable if you had been around here yesterday to experience the confrontation over picking up a few toys. I thought they were allergic to doing any kind of chore around here. As ever, they continue to surprise me.

As always, Mommy stalked the family with the camera, as she does at all special events, and the family gamely smiled as they know resistance is futile.

Then onto the present-opening events:

















And Husband was also presented with an original J Boy poem:






I Am With My Dad

We are at the high school ...
I'm excited to ride in the shining sun with my Dad.
I see lots of bikes as we ride on the track.
"Let's go again!" says my Dad.
His smile tells me he is happy.
I like biking with my Dad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chill

I went to bed last night with a great deal of introspection. We had a not-very-fun time with the kids. They were defiant and even insolent (is it not too early for that?). I was angry and loud.

I won't go into chapter and verse but suffice it to say when we arrived home from a short trip and we all went to our separate corners to compose ourselves.

We took away computer and television for the rest of the day. Without electronics as entertainment, we actually had a nice family time. We played 2 games of Battleship, 3 games of bingo and took turns building obstacles courses in the backyard and racing through them. We even had a homework session when the final TV show of the evening is normally on, which is quite exceptional. S, the TV addict, did make some noises, but she complied.

For my part, spending real quality family time was good penance.

So in the nocturnal hours when I usually make lists, or ponder swimming lesson conundrums, I took a hard look at myself.

It serves no one, least of all me, when I lose it. It is not making parenting easier and I'd wager to say I'm digging myself a bigger hole. I don't feel good about it and the lessons I need to be teaching the kids are being lost.

It is not easy for me to be calm in the face of such diabolical behaviour, but I am supposed to be the grown up.

So I resolved to:

Chill.
React less.
Breathe more.
Let a little go.
Be more gracious.
Look at the big picture.
Not sweat the small stuff.
Count blessings.
Seize the day.
Laugh more.
Yell less.
Chill.

I woke up with this new spirit of chill. I gave the kids an extra long morning hug. I didn't fret when J wasn't listening. I self-talked myself into this zen space, quite foreign to me. I even had a fleeting thought of taking a yoga class.

As if I needed any additional challenge to my new found chill-ness, S and I had grocery shopping on our list of things to do this morning. We were dropping off J at school when one of the Moms said "she sure has some energy this morning" (energy is Mommy-code for hyper). Hmmm. Shopping, maybe not such a good idea?

S is rather wiggly as we circumnavigate the store. A little impatience oozed into my voice but I caught it and am on solid chill-footing by the time we get to the checkout.

Then one of the frozen juice concentrates decided to squirt into the cart, over the floor. I requested some paper towel from the cashier. She handed me a roll with a few squares. I'm not sure where to start with the cleanup so I decide to work on the groceries as they are coming home with me and I'm not keen on everything being glued together with cranberry syrup. I told the cashier they we may need a mop for the floor. But I'm still chillin'.

The cashier comes to lend assistance. She snatched the paper towel from my hand and starts smearing cranberry juice across the floor as if to make the point that she does not need to call for a mop.

"Do you have more? I was still wiping my groceries."

"Yes, I have more. You need to chill out lady."

WHAT? I was flabbergasted. I was actually chilled out. I can't often say that, but at that moment, I am actually calm and purposefully not getting annoyed over a lot of red syrup on my groceries. (and who calls anyone lady anymore?)

"Seriously, did you just tell me to chill out?" I was not yelling or upset. I was, admittedly, dripping in sarcasm.

"Don't start with me lady, it's too early."

Then I lied.

"I don't tell my kids to chill out because I don't think it's polite".

"I was joking?? Can't you take a joke?"

If ever I need to go to chilling boot camp, I know who else will be there.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Apologies

I wish that I had a calm temperament. I really do.

I was at the park yesterday and witnessed a 9 year old wipe out on her bike. The Mom was calm. Not trying to act calm, a feat I often attempt. She was actually serenely calm. The daughter was understandably upset at the blood flowing from her mouth. The Mom put her arm around her and guided her home to assess the injuries.

I cannot imagine what kind of blathering idiot I would be if the J Boy injured himself such that the blood was flowing freely. He can be a little excitable. Probably something to do with apple falling near the tree.

I work hard not to lose my composure over is when the kids do not hear me. This is a significant challenge as the J Boy only hears what I say after I've said it 7 times. In order to maintain a slightly larger quantity of calm (as in just over the quantity of zero) I will actually count the number of times I am repeating myself:

"J, your snack is ready."
"J, your snack is on the table, that's two."
"J, third time ...your snack."
"J, your snack is ready. That's the fourth time I told you."
"J, number five, snack is waiting for you."
"J, are you in there??? Snack is ready. That's the sixth time I've said that."
"J, SNACK ....TABLE ....SEVEN."

J Boy responds impatiently, "Mommy, I'm hungry. Is my snack ready?"

I only wish I were exaggerating.

But it is much more difficult to contain myself when they hear me but refuse to abide by the Mommy proclamation.

Last weekend, J was having quite a bad hearing day. I don't know if it was the phase of the moon, tidal surges or he just intended to make me crazy. Everything Husband or I said need to be repeated. A lot.

We were heading out to see a movie, something we were all looking forward to. I asked J the usual 7 times to put on his shoes. Which he doesn't do. Husband put them on for him.

Then J hung on the door. If there is anything that I have said as many times as "don't pick your nose" it's "don't hang on the door". I do not know what it is about doors and boys but he likes to hang on them as the door swings, which puts the hinges in jeopardy.

And so I said "J don't swing on the door".

He did it again.

I repeated myself, "J, don't swing on the door".

He did not cease and desist.

I said it louder, "J, DON'T SWING ON THE DOOR!!"

He did it again, but this time I know he heard me as he is looked straight at me and thought he has me on a technicality in that his feet barely touching the floor which, he postulated, means that it doesn't qualify as swinging. I did not share his interpretation.

"J. do not hang on the door!"

The cheeky so-and-so DID IT AGAIN.

"I SAID NOT TO DO THAT!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I believe I may have broken sound by-laws. My throat was raw. Any mice in hearing distance no doubt left for quieter parts.

J predictably melted into a pile of anger, hostility and tears and ran to a corner of the basement. Typically, the J Boy's emotions are handled over hours and days not minutes or seconds. We do not have hours to sort this out if we are going to make it to the movie.

I was justifiably angry over his defiance.

I did not miss the irony that by screaming like a banshee at him, he is listening to me even less, if that is possible and in some senses I have ceded some moral high ground. I did not feel good about my parenting in that moment. I took a deep breath.

"J, I should not have yelled. I was upset that you were not listening to me. But I should not have yelled at you like that. You know you are not to hang on the doors and it doesn't matter if your feet are barely touching the ground. I told you not to and that means don't... hang... on... the ... door. If we are going to the movie, we need to leave soon, so take a minute, pull yourself together. We'll be waiting in the van."

It's like parenting in concentrate. Quick, to the point, hitting the highlights. [Later, I did have a further discussion of the physics of door hinges and how they are the weakest part and how expensive it it to replace and repair if the door is ripped out. I also elicited an apology from him].

The next morning, J lost a round of rock, paper scissors to determine who got to go first on a game. It was his idea of how to get around the impasse. However, in his mind he would win the rock, paper scissors match and get to go first (I believe he was planning to cheat). He flipped out. Husband happened to be walking by and was the recipient of a large dose of venom.

Ten minutes later, J wants his turn on the game. I told him he needed to apologize to his Daddy first. He balked.

I said drawing on my own experience, "it's okay to be disappointed that you didn't get to go first. But to yell at Daddy like you did and slam the door in his face was NOT okay. You cannot treat people like that. We all makes mistakes. But you need to own up and apologize to Daddy. Remember yesterday? When I yelled at you about hanging on the door? I was upset that you were not listening to me. It was okay that I was upset. What was not okay was that I yelled. I made a mistake, I told you I was wrong about that and said I was sorry. This is the same thing."

J is a little squeamish about confronting his emotions, like most of his Y chromosome compatriots on the planet. So he sent his Daddy an email of apology.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Park, Meet J Boy

View is good up here!
Concentration!
How does he do this?
Tarzan!
So that is why he comes home so dirty.
Taking a breather.
Pigpen (from the Peanuts) has nothing on him!

Activity Day

It's an annual tradition at elementary schools across the planet. The special day is sometimes called sports day, family day, fun day but the goal is to get the kids active, outside and hyped up on adrenalin.

When I was in elementary school, just after the dawn of time, we called it "track and field" day. I can still vividly remember my first (only??) ribbon earned on the footsie event. No, this is not the kind played under the table between consenting adults. For those not in my age bracket, this is a footsie. They have a current version of it, but this one is vintage. At age 6, I rocked on this particular apparatus.

Activity day is very unstructured at our school. No ribbons. It's more like a carnival where the kids can run from skipping to bowling to sack races at their own pace.

J decided that he could not wait to start activity day at 8:45, so he created some home events:

Activity 1: Who can get up the earliest? J had some stiff competition in Daddy who rises at 6 on work days. J was up to the challenge and turned on the TV at 5:45 (which you may recall blasts into our master bedroom.) Blue ribbon to the J Boy.

Activity 2: Non Talking Challenge. J, was a little frustrated that the updated browser Husband had installed was messing with one of the sites he frequents. So he decided this merited a marathon session of silence and note-writing. It started with "computer broken, dont toch[sic]" and culminated in "never trust Mommy". Mommy was definitely not non-talking so ceded to J in this event.

Activity 3: Parental Barricade. This seemingly difficult event requires a child to barricade his or her parent in one room. J used the excuse of my not obeying his notes to attempt the parental barricade. Fortunately for me, I was on the computer at the time with my morning cup of coffee - not exactly torture. But don't tell him that. I'm planning the next running of this event tonight so I can have an uninterrupted bubble bath.

Activity 4: I'm Not Taking My Medicine and You Can't Make Me. This is a frequent event in our home in allergy season. In years gone by Husband and I have won many medals by combining with the Doritos Bribery Challenge, and by Husband earning his Wrestling badge while I practice my accuracy for the Syringe Squirting event. With a whole day playing outside coinciding with dry weather and rising grass pollen counts, I am quite pleased to report I took the gold medal in this event and administered the pill and nasal steroid with sheer will, intransigence and more than a little of the "I mean business" Mommy voice.

With the preliminaries completed we went to school to enjoy the formal events:

THE GIRL HAS SOME MOVES

THE RING TOSS - THAT'S SOME TECHNIQUE

CONSCIENTIOUSLY LEARNING THE MACARENA

BOWLING WAS A FAVOURITE

A RARE INDOOR EVENT

A STRENGTH EVENT

WHO CAN RESIST THE APPEAL OF A PLAYGROUND!

ALLERGIES! IMAGINE HIM WITHOUT THE MEDS

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Contagion

con·ta·gion Pronunciation: \kən-ˈtā-jən\ noun a: rapid communication of an influence (as a doctrine or emotional state) b: an influence that spreads rapidly.

The state of my house (as in cleanliness, neatness and organization) usually is abominable. Despite my best intentions, the state of the house is so bad that when I hear the doorbell, I am palpably relieved when it is the Jehovah's Witnesses seeking to convert me. At least it's not someone stopping by for coffee and I will be exposed as a fraudulent grown-up.
And I do take ownership of the problem. Husband makes efforts, more than me many weeks. I work halftime so more of the responsibility fairly rests on my shoulder.
If ever we have people over (and we often purposefully invite people over to force us to clean up around here) it's an all out sprint to get the house ready. We start with the critical areas: living room /dining room which is usually the main entertainment zone. Of course the powder room must be clean. And the kitchen and attached family room must be tidied.

At the time draws near for the social gathering, we do our trademark "stash and dash". Husband and I pick up armfuls of stuff we don't have time to properly sort and put away and stash it from public view. Laundry room, the kitchen pantry, closets, the playroom and sadly the master bedroom are frequent stashing points (and I trust those of you who might actually be invited to our home will not use this insider information for evil).
One might think that, post-party, with the main floor largely in good shape, we could just revisit the stashed piles and get those put away and the house would be in top shape. The problem is we are bloody exhausted from the arduous sprint to get ready, adding to the fatigue from making the meal and cleaning up. We have nothing left in the tank.
No problem. We will just try to maintain what we have.
The problem is contagion: the influence spreads rapidly.
The mess in the laundry room seeps out to the hall the next time I want to do laundry. I need room to sort dirty and clean piles. The over-crowded mess in the pantry, which houses many of our appliances, migrates to the kitchen counters. The mess in the master bedroom is sometimes overwhelming and seeps into the upstairs hallway.
Soon the whole house is again in abysmal shape. The kitchen table becomes covered and when I need to find library books and field trip notices, I shuffle through the piles and make it an even bigger mess. (Lest you think we have no organizational system at all, let it be known the the dining room table is where the important stuff goes. Bills to be paid, things that must be done urgently. The kitchen table is for constant deluge of kid stuff that arrives from school and activities.)
And of course, when one walks around the house and sees gargantuan mountains of work in every room of the house, it makes one want to just wave the white flag. The task seems too large to confront and so the accumulation grows.
But this past week, we are reversing the tide. J Boy put his boredness to good use and cleaned and organized his room. It was a vision of beauty with clean dresser tops, no stray dirty clothes strewn from wall to wall and books all tucked neatly onto their shelves. A place for everything and everything in its place.
Contagion started working in our favour.

It did not seem right that only J's room was so spic and span. So S and I spent THREE hours in her room bringing it up to scratch. Three hours? You ask, how could one spend three hours in one room? Well, I did belatedly organized her drawers from winter wardrobe to summer. But I also had to confront the girlie goo's pack rat tendencies. I started on the floor. I spotted the lid of an old shoe box in which I find:

1 marble
2 pony tail holders
1 Tupperware container
2 socks (unmatched)
4 pieces of Lego
1 scrap of paper
1 golf tee
1 pen
2 scrunched up tissues
1 Pokeman card
1 Stethoscope from the doctor kit
1 toy from Happy meal
It took me 10 minutes to create piles to sort out this treasure collection.
Then I picked up a plastic bag and find another collection of things, virtually none of which actually belongs in her room. Then I found a bowl, a drawer and Dora the Explorer bag revealing yet more crap. Don't even get me started on the under-the-bed zone.
The good news was after making the 3 hour investment, S's room matched J's in its pristine presentation. Unfortunately the hallway had mounds and mounds of stuff to be repatriated to other rooms in the house. We took a break to go see a movie and after the clean-room influence spreads to the kids' bathroom. A quick tidy of the counter and Husband set to killing a little bacteria. I settled in to purge the bath toys. We have every bath toy we've ever bought or been given since J was a baby. So I purged 7.5 years of accumulated bath toys.
And so the rest of the weekend goes. Room by room we faced the challenges head on. Monday morning, Husband headed to work (lucky so-and-so). I felt compelled to continue the project. I actually spent almost the whole morning cleaning, sorting and doing the occasional load of laundry.
The most amazing thing about this, is how I feel. I feel happier, not weighed down by feeling like slacker hausfrau. I sleep better, I feel ... accomplished, on top of my game, and perceive that maybe this balance thing of which people speak, is actually attainable. I can be a Mom, work and maintain a well-ordered house. It has taken me 7.5 years, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.
Also, I think I have more of a healthy glow, I am having better hair days, and look less fat. All I need is a unicorn to lead me to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and the fairy tale will be complete.
One small thing, I can't seem to stop my kids from messing up the house without my yelling:
"PICK UP YOUR SOCK! DID YOU JUST PUT DOWN A DIRTY SPOON ON THE COUNTER I JUST WIPED THAT!! WHO WAS DOING A PUZZLE OVER HERE AND DIDN'T TIDY IT UP?? DID SOMEONE FORGET TO PUT AWAY THE TOOTHPASTE?"
So much for balance.