Saturday, January 30, 2010

And the latest entry ...

... to be filed under Nutty Things Someone is Getting Rich Off is ...
Yes, BREADED mac n cheese. Because all those white carbs, processed cheese isn't enough!  This should be served with butter to dip in.

While we probably serve mac and cheese and chicken nuggets too much in this house, even I think this is going way, way, way too far.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Shouldn't We Be Better At This?

With 8.25 years of parenting the J Boy, we are still working on our novice badge. I mean we've had the odd triumph, but we, apparently, have a long way to go.

About a month ago, Husband and I surmised, deduced and concluded a revelation about the J Boy: one of the keys for him to let out his accumulated energy/stress/tension is to be creative.

He is a prolific writer and has authored many books and comic books. 

He will also draw and create  plans for his dream house, the ultimate fart machine or annihilation weaponry.

He and Sydney will play some Lego/ Star Wars / Pokeman / Bakugan that I can't even begin to understand. I'm not sure Sydney actually keeps up with the ever changing and emerging rules the J Boy creates, but nicely they do play.

All of these activities seem to be "good" ones for him. And what's good for him, is good for us.

But nothing engages the precocious one like computer activities that allow him to create. He makes stop animation movies stick figure movies on some very cool software. He makes movies with the camera and then edits them on the computer (usually named "Fart Monster" or similar). He learns about physics on one programme called "Crazy Machines" where he can solve problems or just make cool experiments learning about friction, gravity, electricity using pulleys, ropes, balls, boxes, gears and explosives. He creates Powerpoint presentations using photos, clip art and text.

Again: good for him; good for us.

Husband and I belatedly realized the calmly effect of these activities, or perhaps just realized what these "good" activities have in common. We perhaps realized this when we discovered that the opposite is true. Games that involve shooting or driving with no creative element are not good ones for him in excess. He becomes obsessed with completing a level and eventually frustrated that he cannot. This leads to uncivil behaviour and an unwillingness to do homework or go to bed or get along with other human beings.

To recap, big revelation: let the J Boy have his creative outlets, especially on the computer.

Really, parenting is going to be so much easier now that we have unlocked this mystery. I think we might win an award or something.

Last weekend, we had some issues. To deal with this, we took away all screens from Jackson for a week. TV, Wii, computer, and DS (which he was already banned from for earlier poor behaviour). In a show of mean-spiritedness I also took away the camera too (come on, it has a screen!) just because I knew that one would hurt.

J Boy took it like a man. He was very creative, engaging his sister in many games while making a disaster of the rec room downstairs. He didn't ask for screens and I don't think told us he was bored once. I think he was bored, he was just kind enough to not to use the B word.

But on Wednesday evening, this is how Jackson's moods went:

  • upset
  • mean
  • angry
  • aggressive
  • hostile
Then we realized he was hungry and fed him. And then:

  • cute
  • hyper
  • very hyper
  • silly
  • very silly
And then it was time for homework:

  • moany
  • whiny
  • complainy
  • tearful
And then it was time for bed:

  • hyper
  • mad
  • pleading
  • upset
  • tearful
  • asleep
He actually fell asleep an hour earlier than normal as I guess that many emotions in one evening takes its toll on an 8 year old. By the time he was in dreamland, he lost screens for an additional 5 days.

Emotionally drained, we dissected and discussed the evening and tried to figure out where it all went so wrong. We talked about what triggered the stampede of emotions (it started with a supper issue). We reconstructed the day to see where stress might have accumulated. We talked about what we did right and what we did wrong. This was a day where, for the most part, we remained calm (we were almost perfect but when a boy is wildly kicking at no one in particular and connects with some one's kiwis, there is going to be a reaction)

It dawned on us that maybe he was having screen withdrawal. Though he was actually doing a very good job entertaining himself without screens, it was day 4 and maybe it was getting to him. And taking away screens for an additional five days likely did not help the situation.

And then, the light bulb went on.

We had taken away one of his major life coping strategies: the use of the computer to be creative.

So we have a kid who is struggling to cope and we take away one of the few things that help him do that.

Good idea, Einstein. I don't think we'll be receiving any parenting awards anytime soon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ironic Incentive

Jackson was excited after school one day this week.

"I got a real gem today.  For hard work." 

His teachers have an incentive system where a check mark is earned for diligently working in class.  After 50 checkmarks are accumulated, the student can choose a prize.

Jackson reached 50 marks and chose as his prize a green piece of glass, which he thinks is a real emerald. It is, I must say, kind of cool looking.

Ten minutes later we are looking at his spelling list for the week.  He only has half of the words written into his planner. I ask him why the rest aren't there.

"I didn't get them all written out"

"How come?"

"Well" he said with remarkable forthrightness, "I was distracted by my emerald."

I am not sure that is the way the incentive system is supposed to work.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Problem with Parenting.

The problem with parenting, at least on some days, is that it's a job you can't quit. No matter how much you want to.

Our J Boy has been challenging our parenting skills this month. So far we have had confrontations lots of negotiation/discussions over:

- doing homework
- brushing teeth
- going to swimming lessons.
- going to church
- putting on clean underwear.

I wish I was kidding about that last one. All of these things should fall in the why-do-I-even-have-to-remind-let-alone-talk-about-it category.

You see the J Boy has decided to undergo a personality makeover in 2010. He decided to put his natural charm and curiosity on the back burner and move uncontrolled emotions and irrationality right to the front. As evidence of the latter, I remind you of his willingness to pay $29 to be able to brush his teeth AFTER bedtime stories, but also tell you that yesterday he was willing to give up computer for 2010 if I let him stay home from church for one Sunday.

Remind me not to let him haggle on my behalf for anything in Jamaica.

He has also upgraded his Defiance 1.0 to the New and Improved Defiance 2.0 why-should-I-have-to-you-can't-make-me model that is very popular for the grade 3 set. He will say no just because he can. Or, and he actually told me this, just to drive me mental.

So we had a figurative knock-down-drag-out series of issues yesterday -- I will spare you the painful details -- but I was willing to text my resignation to the home office.

I lost my cool. I lectured. I cried. I laid a guilt trip. I doled out consequences. And I pouted. I wanted to pick up my marbles (to the extent that I hadn't already lost them) and go home. To the home where I can read a book not about parenting advice that doesn't work. And the home where I can light real candles without fear that an airborne accent cushion will ignite. And the home where I do not have to say every 10 minutes "don't jump on the furniture".

And then I hear a little voice from upstairs "Mommy, will you play Sorry with me?"

He wants me to play a board game with him??? After what he said??? And did??? Is he freakin' serious???

He heard me convulsing and says "It's okay Mommy, I'll play by myself".

Fifteen minutes later. "Mommy, I played a whole game by myself, are you available to play with me now? It's okay if you can't."

And I thought to myself we are not even halfway through raising this child. He's not an adult until 19 in this province. It was 11:00 a.m. and I did not know how I was going to get through the afternoon, let alone puberty.

I want to withhold my company from him. I want to take away what I know he wants. I want to withhold my love.

But I can't and I don't.

Parenting is about the long haul. The long term. The big picture. No matter how many times I get knocked down, I need to pick myself up, brush myself off, and start all over again.

So I dragged my sad little self upstairs for a game of Sorry. The double meaning in that is rich.

Fair and Square

On days we don't have any activities or committments and when the weather cooperates, the kids play at the playground at school. We are not the only ones. Not only do other parents and caregivers welcome the opportunity to burn off a little energy in their charges, but a few after school day cares spend an hour there.

One of the more popular spots are the monkey bars. During lunch and recess they have enforced rules about one at a time, no pushing, no budding in. But after school it's the wild west. 

Girls in particular are keen to perfect and show off their form. So there is usually a line up for one set of monkey bars at both ends. Even though there are four sets, one in particular is the most prized.

The Girlie Goo, who seems to have the monkey bar gene, will patiently wait her turn. She will put up with being pushed aside, jostled, shoved and yelled at.  She knows that she'll get her turn eventually. She has been known to call out to deaf ears "why don't we line up and go one at a time?".

On Mondays Sydney has a hip hop dance class so we have only a few minutes before we have to race away.  Last Monday, I told her she could have a quick turn on the monkey bars before we left.

She waited patiently for her turn and then insisted on taking her turn only to have a much larger girl grab onto the same ring has her tiny fingers were clutching, but only after being bumped by one, pushed by a second and had to wait an eternity for another to just hang from the handles.

She left the playground in tears as she had not completed her turn.  She projected her anger at me because I told her we had to go.

"Sydney, I know some of the kids weren't sharing. It's hard, but not everyone shares all the time. We can stop by on our way home from dance and you will probably have the monkey bars all to yourself."

Jackson was quick to add his assessment of the situation "they have rules, you know Mommy, but because the noon hour supervisors aren't there, the kids are ignoring them."

Sydney seemed satisfied and her mother and brother had seen the unfairness of the whole situation and she composed herself.

Jackson then added "since we're still on the topic of being unfair, I was playing cops and robbers with V today. V was the cop and I was the robber. But every time I almost got him he would always say that he had force field or that I didn't have the right gun to shoot him. That wasn't very fair."

"Not everyone plays by the rules all the time." I said.  "You know I'm yelling at drivers sometimes because they aren't driving very safely or following the rules."

"Yeah, that's not right." Sydney said.

"When we're finding friends to play with we naturally like to play more with people who play by the rules and take turns.  If someone is like that all the time, that might not be a friend you want to play with very often."

"Mommy, V is not normally like that." Jackson added.

"Well, we all have days when we maybe aren't playing the fairest. So it sounds like V is a good friend  and he was just having  a bad day."

"Mommy" Sydney said "since we haven't changed the subject yet,  I made a salad at lunch and it was the best salad because I had twigs, leaves AND rocks. M. was the judge and she said mine was the best but L said M only picked mine because we are best friends, but mine was the best. Because of the rocks. L wasn't very nice. So that wasn't very fair of her."

If there is one thing I have stressed in my 8 plus years as a parent, it's to be fair, take turns and share. While the kids have their moments with each other, I will say that they do take their turns at school and on the playground.  I know this is in large part due to neither of them liking confrontation (and I guess will not follow in my shoes as one who deals with conflict as a profession).

The lesson of life is that not everyone will share and take turns. And it's not always fair and square.  But we can roll with it. Unless it's someone not taking turns merging onto the highway.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Compare and Contrast

I exist in a living and breathing laboratory. In so many ways an 8 year old boy could not be more different than a 6 year old girl .

The 8 year old boy has two vocabularies to choose from:

A) things violent: gun, bomb, grenade, bazooka, assassin, kill and blood.

B) things scatological: fart, poo, pee, penis, (and it's many pseudonyms too numerous to mention), butt (and it's many numerous pseudonyms).

A 6 year old girl will most often say things like love, happy, cuddle, friends, play and hugs. Even when she might be less than pleased with something going on, she will use the opposite of these words "I'm unhappy because my friends won't play with me."

So yesterday, I should not have been surprised when the kids, with extra time on their hands, made the following artistic creations -- I'll let you figure out who created which:

My birthday is not until April, but the Girlie Goo is planning ahead!

You can see what we're up against!

Sydney promised me just today that she would always love fairies, princesses, unicorns and rainbows and would never use toilet in a compound noun (toilethead, toiletface, toiletbutt, toiletbreath).

And then Jackson came over while she was playing a Tinkerbell game on her DS and after watching two fairies race around some daisy petals, he said "ouch, she got it right in the kiwis".

I hate when their worlds collide.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Monkey Bars

What do you do when the kids have a day off school? Monkey bars, of course!

Jackson has been proficient for a while:

Sydney has recently been single-minded in mastering:

She rarely falls, even when it looks like she might

Synchonized monkey bars - new Olympic event?

And some video to show the wonder of the monkey bars:

I cannot put into words how jealous I am that they can do this.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Two Hour Experiment

I believe my failings as a housekeeping are well documented. However, the calender year 2009 was an improving one in this respect. I organized our linen closets and I made a lot of progress purging the main floor, purging the upstairs and even purging the basement. The latter is an unfinished project which I worked on even this past weekend.

But there is little virtue in this because it is mostly catching up on tidying projects neglected for years.

Last night Husband and I were again lamenting why we can't keep up with the house chores. Husband gallantly accepts much responsibility but because I work for actual money only half the work week, I accept that I should be doing more.

While my being home part of the week is in part to facilitate getting the kids to school, after school activities and play dates and an ongoing commitment to get Jackson to be able to spell competently by adulthood, I still have 6 hours on Monday and Friday sans kids.

Speaking in my own defence, some of these hours are taken up by my role as CEO: Chief Executive Organizer. It's a role I get some satisfaction from: keeping up on school notices, remembering when to sign up for swimming lessons, responding to birthday party invites and keeping the sacred calender up to date. Less enjoyably, on Fridays I also do the weekly grocery shopping and on a good week do some meal planning.

However, I cannot say that these tasks take 12 hours per week that must be done on Mondays and Fridays during school hours. And any housecleaning that I do accomplish is unfocused so I may pick up a few things from the kitchen table and collect up some socks from around the house and wipe one counter in the kitchen, I don't see or feel any progress. I constantly interrupt myself from what I'm doing to say, check for any new Facebook status updates so I feel as though I have not accomplished any goals and the house looks the same or worse as it did when I got up. Plus I spend too much time at the computer.

So I challenged myself this morning to spend two hours this morning on house chores. Solid. In one go. Without checking my email. Or making a Scrabble move on Facebook. It's an iron woman event of housekeeping.

I came home from dropping the kids off at school and I still hadn't had breakfast as out of laziness I stayed in bed 10 minutes longer rather than get up and make a cup of coffee. So I made my coffee and I long ago learned (but recently have been trying to forget) that the time it takes to brew my mug of coffee is almost exactly the amount of time it takes to empty the dishwasher. So I emptied it.

I gave myself 40 minutes to enjoy my coffee and to do whatever I want on the computer. But they must be for my enjoyment and I can't google for lamps for the living room or search for any kid activities. After 25 minutes I had literally run out of things to do. I was about to order the Sunday school materials online but that is a job not for my enjoyment so I deferred it. I decided to do another of my personal goals, and spent about 10 minutes praying for 3 specific things I had chosen earlier.

I then put the timer on the oven clock for 2 hours and got to work. I spent 12 minutes getting project laundry underway. While most of the dirty laundry has been languishing for a week in the laundry room, I sorted and started the first load. But now, where do I start? Every room in the house needs attention.

I started in the family room which was not in bad shape. Husband and I have been trying to pick up the odd thing occasionally and it's paid off as there is less laundry litter on the floor. I organized the ottoman tray which has become a catch all. I took the time to go through Jackson's Indiana Jones playing cards and vexingly discover the 3 of hearts is missing. I dusted, I vacuumed and even looked under furniture where I discovered more socks, cellophane wrappers and the missing 3 of hearts. I put away a few CDs and resisted the very strong urge to fix a problem in the alphabetical sorting of our CDs. I did not resist the urge to put the Simon and Garfunkel CDs under S instead of G. Don't ask me how that escaped my attention for so long.

As I moved on to the adjacent kitchen I thought it was too bad I spent so much time in the family room since it wasn't in bad shape. I bet I spent an hour there. Actually, it was 22 minutes and that included my getting side tracked by tidying up stuff in the hallway.

The kitchen too was not in horrendous shape. Husband did a good job on the counter clutter and vacuumed the floors over the weekend. The kitchen table AS ALWAYS has a wide array of stuff which I repatriated. I did my list of weekly kitchen cleaning tasks (then never gets done weekly) like cleaning the microwave, giving a good wipe to the stove, de-greasing the hood, cleaning the sink well and a spot cleaning the white cupboards. This was under an hour of work Just enough time to do a bathroom.

After I rebooted the laundry I moved to the powder room and cleaned all surfaces, and spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning toothpaste off the sink and counter. I had 12 minutes left and moved the kids' bathroom and finished it almost exactly when the timer went off marking 2 hours.

Who would have thunk it? I still have rooms that need attention including another two bathrooms, but I can hold my head high that by 11:20 on a Monday, I have rooms that look picked up and tidy and even clean. I know it won't last as the kids will spew their clutter I hope it lasts at least long enough for Husband to witness it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Value of a Dollar

I previously blogged about about money and kids. When Jackson first started getting allowance, we made weekly trips to the dollar store so he could buy stuff that would fall apart in 10 minutes and was no doubt laced with lead and cadmium. Then, he forgot about his allowance for a while and suddenly had "saved up" enough to buy himself a Nintendo DS.

I said "saved up" because we didn't actually pay him allowance. The odds of us having the right change (or any) on hand on any given day was remote. So began the fictional bookkeeping of allowance.

But still, I think we were happy that Jackson was learning the lessons of money: spend it on stuff you don't use and it's gone; save it up you can buy something great.

For most of the fall, Husband and I talked about creating an allowance spreadsheet. So that allowance could accumulate visually. Sydney started her allowance theoretically in September, but we bought her a DS for her birthday, which was quite a bit more than we usually spend on birthday gifts. So we deferred her allowance to January for her to make notional contributions to it.

Over the holidays Husband threw together a spreadsheet. We had to backtrack and account for Jackson's allowance from last June. I knew when he bought he DS he had no money left. He got an increase in his allowance in September to $3 a week (still below the "suggested" $1 per year of age per week). Jackson has requested to purchase things over the past 6 months so we deducted the ones we could remember.

We added birthday and Christmas money that we pocketed and noted that gift cards they had available from birthdays etc. And we deducted the week of allowance they agreed to put towards our family's purchase of a goat for a family that needed it to survive.

For the first time since last June, I felt we could survive an audit of the family books.

It was good for the kids to see what saving money can do. Jackson of course is talking about buying a DSi or an iPod iTouch, both cost $180, assuming the parents-pay-the-tax deal continues (it's easier than answering all the questions about what taxes are and where all the money goes).

So Jackson was actually well on his way to $180, if you include gift cards. I was actually worried he would get there a little too soon as I am not keen on his getting another handheld electronic gadget. I needn't have worried.

The spreadsheet did come in handy this week when Jackson called me a piece of crud and, since it's not the first time, we instituted a fine system where parental name calling results in loss of one week's allowance. Now instead of just barking out threats that evaporate into air, I can walk to den and update the spreadsheet, which is much more satisfying than I would have thought.

Also, when he threw plastic bins at his door repeatedly and broke them, I deducted that from his allowance as well.

But if I thought the J Boy was getting any idea of the value of a dollar, I was disavowed of that notion on Thursday. The boy was being particularly obstinate. I asked him to put away his clothes from which he had just disrobed, and to brush his teeth and then Daddy would read him his nightly Harry Potter chapter.

He refused.

I was steadfast.

He kept hammering away, trying to find a compromise.

I told him I was not negotiating bedtime routines that have been in place for 6 plus years. I don't have the kind of energy required to do that nightly when I'm tired and want a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Husband backed me up and we told the J Boy that there would be no Harry Potter read if he didn't do his bedtime routines.

This continued well past when sensible parents would allow it. But he was determined to win. And he didn't care what it cost him. Literally.

"I'll pay you $30 if you let me brush my teeth and put away my clothes after Harry Potter."

I paused.

"OK" I agreed.

"How about $29?"

"Fine." I said.

"How about $28?"

We could be here a while.


"Okay, I'll pay you $29." he nodded very satisfied that he had 'won'.

I think he could be a legitimate contender for finance minister of the country with that kind of financial know-how and wizardry. Or at the very least, an executive position on Wall Street.

Oh and to show that I can also be equally unreasonable with my money, last night I said I'd paid him $29 to babysit his sister last night while Husband and I watched Grey's Anatomy.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What Really Matters ...

Since about the new year, we have noticed that Jackson is talking a lot about stuff. Mostly stuff he doesn't have. Despite receiving gift from parents, Santa, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends at Christmas, he is talking about the stuff he didn't receive. Mostly an iTouch, a DSi and more recently a SIM card for his non-phone.

This has been driving me crazy.

It's one of the reasons we held back on the electronics. He only got a DS 6 months ago when he have saved enough allowance to buy it. We just got a Wii at Christmas and were the last family in town to do so (or so it felt). Our approach has been to defer where possible, the pricey electronics.

Now I very much doubt that it helped with Jackson's obsession with stuff that, in a remarkable display of hypocrisy, Husband and I splurged before Christmas and acquired a 46 inch Plasma TV. We had a long list of justifications for this, one being the OLYMPICS are in our hometown in 4 weeks and we are Olympics' freaks when it's in Greece or China, so you can imagine how we are having it in our own backyard.

We have sort of always prided ourselves that if some burglar broke into our house they would be sorely disappointed as all our electronics are old and we don't have any fancy watches or diamond earrings. But now we actually have something worth stealing.

But back to the J Boy. We have been treated to a barrage of remarks about his desiring more stuff. He talked about saving up for things, asking Santa for them next Christmas, hoping the Easter Bunny will bring them, or just making general remarks about how "EVERY KID IN MY CLASS HAS A DSi AND AN iPOD TOUCH".

So I have been pointing out to Jackson that some kids don't own any toys, let alone electronic games. And many more don't know where their next meal is coming from. It seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.

Last weekend, I thought that we should look for something to do as a family that will remind us all how lucky we are. Perhaps volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen. We certainly participate in food drives at church and school that help those in need. At Christmas the kids contributed to a goat we bought for a family in the third world. But I think the kids (and the grownups) would benefit from SEEING that people are in need and DOING something about it.

When the earth quake ravaged Haiti this week, I myself was sobered by how very much we have. Such an impoverished nation struck another blow by mother nature.

So I made Jackson watch the CNN coverage with me.

"See those kids? They are hurt and there are not enough doctors and nurses to help them."

It seemed to have an effect. "Wow, this is a big story Mommy. Look at those houses, they fell down. Where will all the people live?"

(Of course, CNN wall-to-wall-around-the-clock coverage had the same effect on him as it does on adults:

"Mommy, why do they keep repeating themselves? They are showing the same pictures and saying the same things. They are beating a dead horse.")

But would the images he saw permeate his grey matter for any lasting effect?

On Thursday, I come home from work and Jackson wanted a new computer game. He wanted to buy it with his own allowance, but it's the obsession with stuff that had me again unnerved. He asked me about 100 times in the first 30 minutes I was in the door whether I had talked to Daddy about this.

Husband and I attempted to have a discussion. We have things to consider like:

1. It was rated "Teen", which generally is not allowed. But this game is very similar to an old Star Trek game of Husband that the boy plays and it also rated "Teen".

2. We believe the point of allowance is to allow the kids to spend their money and even make mistakes.

3. Last week he was obsessed with another piece of software and now this. Should we teach him about
delayed gratification and wait some number of days to see if he still wanted it?

4. On Tuesday he had a VERY disrespectful night. I, then known as "piece of crud", was still smarting from the events of that night. Although we disbursed a boatload of consequences (including a fine for the piece-of-crud remark) we didn't bar him from spending his own money.

So as Husband went upstairs to take a long phone call, Jackson continued his pester-ment of me, asking if we had made a decision. It's started to feel like it's not about letting him spend $20 on this game. It's that he is again so obsessed with STUFF.

So I said, "Jackson, do you know what is really important??"

He paused before giving his answer.


Sydney added "And God."

"Yeah" Jackson clarified "Homework and God."

Where did he learn to suck up like that?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cell Phone Dominos

Husband gifted me a new cell phone for Christmas. Well, the gift was researching reviews and actually picking it up and bringing it home since we largely had enough credits on our phone plan to pay for it. He was tired of having cell phone conversations with me that went like this:

Him: ---------------------
Me: Did you say something?
Him: ----------------------
Me: I can't hear you.
Him: I ---- - ---- ---- --- later.
Me: Can you speak louder?
Him: I SAID - ---- ---- --- LATER
Me: Can you yell?

You might say my phone had a volume problem. Or that I had a hearing problem. But when I used Husband's phone, which is identical to mine, I always said "this is so cool, you can hear the person on the other end!". So I deduced it was the phone and not me.

I probably could have done something about it when the phone was newer, as it only worked for a few months (and this says something of how great a Husband I have. Had HE had the same problem I was have pestered him until he (a) got a new phone or (b) stopped calling me.) But after 2 years, any warranty will have expired. As you might guess, we are not heavy cell phone users. We mostly call each other, and more often text since I will know what Husband is trying to say to me. We have free calls and texts between our two phones.

Anyway, Husband got me a lovely Samsung slider phone for Christmas. Yesterday I called him from a bus stop on a busy street, a feat I would not have tried in the last 2 years on the no-volume jobbie. He said to me "Wow it's loud, where are you?" And I said, "at the bus stop. But hey, I can hear you?"

So my old phone, absent SIM card, has been sitting on our desk since New Year's Eve when I opened my new phone gift (which also came with car charger which will help address my other cell phone related issue, having the thing charged up when I might actually need it). The old phone is not really worth anything, but we're keeping it for spare parts for Husband's. Not worth anything, unless you are 8 years old, I mean.

Yesterday while I was at my night class, Husband, in the context of some such thing, gave the old phone to Sydney. By the time I came home, it belonged to Jackson.

Jackson proudly showed me his new cell phone when I got home. I thought this was at the very least good because he seemed to have forgotten, even for a few minutes, now that he has a cell phone, that he does NOT have an iTouch or a DSi, which, according to him every kid in his class has at least one of each.

"Cool" I said as he flipped the screen open. "Can you play any games?"

"No" Husband said tensely in a hoarse whisper from across the room "it has no SIM card ..."

You see all the phone will do is:

a) turn on
b) turn to vibrate mode
c) turn off
d) give message that SIM card must be inserted
e) play a 10 second video advertising Sony products

But that was enough for the J Boy to feel like he had a cell phone. Until I mentioned about the $#^$!@!*^ games. He reluctantly went back up to his room.

Ten minutes later, he asked if we would buy him a SIM card.

Twenty minutes later he asked us why we wouldn't buy him a SIM card.

Thirty minutes later he asked if we would let him buy his own SIM card.

This morning he resumed the SIM card request assault while in the car at school. We were uncharacteristically early and had a few minutes to chat. He used the time to try to chip away at me and described in full volume why he NEEDED a SIM card. He said, in this context,: "Daddy, gave me the phone, you know."

"Actually, I heard Daddy gave Sydney the phone."

"Well, she gave it to me."

"Sydney, you don't have to keep giving your stuff to Jackson even if he wants it. You can say no to him."

"But he promised he'd buy me my own cell phone!"

"Plus" Jackson added, "she said she'd give it to me if I put my hand in the toilet. Which I did, so the phone is mine."

"Remind me to never shake hands with you."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Yin and Yang, Part 3

As I have blogged about previously (here and here), my kids can be oh so different. They also share many traits, but I am sometimes struck by their differences. Like last week.

It was a rainy Friday after school and I needed a diversion from the fact that Daddy does not come home until 5:30. Jackson was obsessed very excited about some new software that Daddy was going to load that night. So we needed something to fill the time.

Enter: Christmas gift cards. The kids have been gifted books at Christmas and birthday by one of my closest friends since their birth. This year, my friend sent them each a gift card to a book store so that they could pick their own. Jackson actually had another gift card from the same store from his birthday. Perfect diversion.

So, I brought a snack for the drive from school to bookstore and off we went on mission: bookfind. I hoped that they wouldn't pick the first book they saw only because that would not kill nearly enough time. I shouldn't have worried.

As we entered the large bookstore, I steered them toward the far corner of the store, the kids' books section. On the way, we happened upon "Kids Bargain Books". As these apples don't fall far from this tree they immediately started looking for bargains.

I pointed out to Jackson a book entitled Ghost Stories. It was perfect: longish stories but with vivid pictures. "I might get this one, Mommy."

Then Jackson sees a book on the human body with a three dimensional heart protruding. "Look how cool this is? I might get this one too."

Meanwhile Sydney has found a Tinkerbell "Search and Find" book that appeals to her. But she puts it back on the shelf and says "I'm going to look at all these other books."

I pointed out to Jackson a book, UFOs and Aliens. "WOW!!!!! I am definitely getting this one!!!!" He said the same thing about Field Guide to Fantastic Creatures and 100 Greatest Inventions.

Each of these books cost about $15 so he's already at $75 in books and we're on the first shelf of the first section in the first couple minutes in the store.

Sydney was meanwhile systematically going through the books. She was taken with one called King Arther but mostly because it has dragons and things she knows her brother would like it (at least that is my assessment of it.) Girlie Goo went to on dismiss a series of princess story books, a book on weather prediction and several Disney movie-based books.

Jackson was exhibiting a nervous tick as he realized that his $20 gift card will not cover all the books he wants. I reminded him he has another gift card but I don't know the value. It must be at least $10, which means he has $30 or two of the prized books he can choose. He narrowed it down to his two favourites, UFOs and Aliens and Field Guide to Fantastic Creatures. He looked and felt pleased and proud.

We made our way to the actual kids section. Jackson was convinced that there was a new Wimpy Kids Diary book out there. He has all five of the series and I know, in fact, no new one exists as the most recent one just came out in October. But he was told by some kid at school this week that a new book just came out. I'm discovering that anything said by anyone in his class is treated as gospel and carries more weight than common sense, his parents, or even the universal fount of knowledge, Google.

We checked and sure enough, no new Wimpy Kid Diary book.

Sydney asks about the "real kids' books" so I direct her to a display of popular fairy books. They are above her current reading level, but I thought they might appeal. She flipped through about eight of them and then saw some other books closer to her reading level. She sat on the floor and flipped through book after book after book after book.  After 15 minutes, I started giving her suggestions "How about this Scooby Do one?" "Here is a Cinderella one!" and she compliantly went through those I suggested. Each one was returned to the shelf.

"Which ones look good to you?" I asked.

"Well, I like some of them, but I don't want to buy them." she said.

Meanwhile Jackson has discovered some Star Wars books that are well beneath his reading level but hey, if it's about Darth Vader with vivid pictures, who is he to turn it down? He looked longingly at them and somewhat anguished said "I don't know what to do."

By then I had received a $5 coupon to use at the store that day so I told him he could also get a Star Wars book. He went through several, and agonized over which one before settling on Darth Vader.

He obligingly followed his sister to the chapter book aisle where she looked at more fairy books, some Junie B Jones, First Grader, some Geronimo Stilton, some Captain Underpants and another half dozen popular series. Her arms were empty. Mine were aching from carrying around the tomes that Jackson has chosen to add to his library.

Sydney took us back to a book, intended for high school girls, which is a diary book much like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It was Dork Diary or something similar. I thought this might be above her in terms of the language (a lot of OMG) and it was $18 for one book.

I steered the kids back to bargain books where I thought Sydney might find something. She went through many of the ones she had seen previously, and I directed her toward a new shelf where more bargain books were located.

After 10 minutes, Sydney had not settled on anything, but Jackson found another must-have: Fright Night. He anguished over what book to get when a helpful staff member came by and brought me a bag to hold the books and also took the additional gift card to ascertain its worth. We discovered it was a generous $20 so Jackson has $40 to spend. I agreed that he could have the three $15 mega books but we'd leave the Star Wars behind.

Sydney meanwhile tells me Dork Diary is the only acceptable book in the whole store. I consult with Daddy via phone who thinks it will be fine and no worse than the inappropriate TV we let them watch.

On our way back to Dork Diary we run into a clerk we saw an hour ago and she saw the fatigue on my face and offered assistance. I asked her if there are any diary type books geared a little younger and she brought us to a 4 book set of Dear Dumb Diary which was acceptable to all.

It was closing in on 2 hours when we lined up for my celebratory latte.

Yin = boy who gets excited about every book he sees.

Yang = girl who weighs the decision so long and so hard, she might still be looking 3 days later but not for store hours and Girlie Goo bedtimes.

One might wonder which one takes after me?? Well, both.

I remember at about age 4 I was pining for an allowance as my 7 year old brother received weekly. My parents had a rule about allowance starting in grade 1. But my parents, knowing how hard it was for me to see big bro receive his parental annuity, made me a one-time offer: I could order one thing from the Eaton's catalogue that cost $1. It was winning the lottery. Back then (mid sixties), a buck went a long way.

I spent hours and hours pouring over that catalogue. I'd run my choices by my parents, babysitters, any visitor to the home or Fuller brush lady that came to the door (anyone remember them??). After weeks, I settled on ordering some plastic dishes. I already has some so this was really an expander set. I actually remember having some regret over the decision as I chided myself for not ordering something NEW. Parenthetically, my parents kept my old dishes and my kids have played with some from this same set. They were not up to the rigours of kids in this millenium and most cracked under the pressure.

On the other hand, I have had a love of books ever since about grade 4 and long summer days spend voraciously reading Nancy Drew books. Even in lean times, I have made room for books in my budget, and I've been an avid library user for much of my life. I can impulsively buy books whereas most purchases nowadays I consider well.

So I guess each apple fell to a different side of this tree.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I consider myself a moderately optimistic person. I think I used to be more so, but motherhood has brought out the worry wart in me and worry is the antithesis of optimism.

But no where does my optimism brim as full as at the grocery store. I just came home from the weekly trip and bought all of this:

Yes, tomatoes, celery, lettuce, avocado, oranges, grapes, bananas, pineapple, raspberries and two kind of apples. Add to this two kinds of frozen berries (for smoothies) and raisins and peach cups plus produce still in the fridge and you'd think we were well on our way to our 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Sadly, we often don't make 5, let alone 10. Husband and I both enjoy salad and vegetables. However we both have mutually exclusive short list on our veggie no-fly list. I do not care for (i.e. hate, but I'm trying to get the kids to stop saying that) peas, celery, peppers or onions, but love avocado, cauliflower, spinach and mushrooms. Husband stays away from avocado, cauliflower, spinach and mushrooms but loves peas, peppers, onions and celery. You can see what we're up against.

But we're adapting. After years of Husband not eating celery because I don't, it dawned on us that we could buy some just for him. Ditto that for mushrooms and avocado for me. I roast cauliflower in so delicious a way that Husband enjoys and Husband as it turns out, loves fresh spinach just not cooked.

I really, really cannot eat peppers because not only do I REALLY NOT CARE for the flavour of any colour of pepper, but they repeat on me so I can not enjoy the flavour for hours on end. However, I can tolerate onions if they are extremely well cooked and cut up extremely finely so that I cannot find them. And I'm finding peas are okay if we have something spicy or served it with rice.

On top of our offsetting preferences in vegetables, we both have a lazy gene when it comes to dinnertime and once we have a protein going, and maybe a starch, throwing a second veggie into the mix (and sometimes a first) feels like an insurmountable hurdle. Remember that we're simultaneously sorting out conflict over computer/Wii/TV, pleading with kids to eat their dinner at the table and not on the mini trampoline and ignoring the phone ringing with people dying to give us a new credit card / newspaper subscription / set of knives if only we book a weekend at a condo so they can sell us a timeshare.

We are tolerable about eating fruit (particularly Husband), especially since getting a Magic Bullet and finding out how easy it is to make smoothies. The kids are okay but each have a short list of acceptable fruits and the required temperatures (apples must be cold; oranges must not be cold).

But still, I am cautiously optimistic that we will eat most of this week's fruit and veggie bounty since last week Husband and I had spinach salad and another vegetable with dinner every night. Together the family ate through a large quantity of fruit. Plus on New Year's Eve I was prodding the children to have chocolate fondue with their fruit, despite their protests to just eat fruit.

So a new year and a new commitment to better eating habits!

In the interests of full disclosure, my grocery cart was also full with a starch bonanza: 3 kinds of crackers, 4 kinds of granola/fibre bars (we each have our favourite), 2 kinds of buns, 4 loaves of bread, 2 kind of cereal, cereal bars and rice.

But Rome was not built in a day.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Parental Perfection

The idea of parental perfection has been swirling around in my head as one of the enduring realities.

Anyone that has been here even once before knows how very far from perfect I fall. A big part of my parenting philosophy is modeling that we all make mistakes but we have to own up to them.

I readily accept that, at best, I am as flawed a parent as the next guy. I have some good days, and some parenting strengths, times when I really shine -- I make almost no errors while the kids are sleeping, unless you count forgetting about the tooth fairy or leaving their music on all night.

But what this blog entry is about how it sometimes feels like you have to be perfect.

I am not talking about society's expectation, or having read one too many books on parenting which makes it sound easy. I am talking about this:

Monday, January 4th - first day back to the routine after the holiday break

I worked this day (unusually) which means Husband brought the kids to school, the kids were minded by others after school and I arrived home from work at 5:30 p.m. Since Husband got to work late, he is not due home until 7:00 p.m.

The kids have eaten, Sydney has done her homework with the babysitter. Really, I have 3.5 hours until the theoretical bedtime, and the last 2 hours Husband will be here for joint duties. My / our to-do list:

1. Get Jackson's to do his spelling homework, which in addition to working on his 16 words, he needs to write them in alphabetical order in his planner
2. Remain calm while accomplishing 1. and still de-stressing from a long day at work and anticipating a long day tomorrow.
3. Kids in their PJ's by 8:30.
4. Kids in their rooms by 9:00.

Even in my somewhat stressed-out stated, but with great resolve to remain patient, I think this is accomplishable (I know that's a made up word, I haven't made one up in a while though, so I'm due).

So I mention to Jackson about his spelling.

"I'm supposed to do the spelling at the same time as I do my reading, which is after I go to my room at 8:30." He tried to fire up the Wii.

"I'm not saying you have to do this now, but we need to some up with a plan. You can do your spelling words in alphabetical order at 8:30 when Sydney goes upstairs, but you need to practice the words before then."

"But the teacher said to do it ALL at bedtime."

Does he think I was born yesterday??

In a well-intentioned effort to create good will, I mention to Jackson that Daddy unlocked some new race courses in Mario Kart Wii, the night before. Since we had been working on it unsuccessfully the day before, I thought we would be pleased. He was.  Initially. My intended plan was to secure his agreement on doing a few races, then homework, then more Wii races. But then this:

"Did Daddy do it under my license, or his license?"

"His license."

"But I want it under my license!!" he wailed.

"You can still play under Daddy's license. And we can work on unlocking them under your license."

At this point, Jackson was unglued.

And it was all moot as the Wii is frozen and will not respond to any commands. But I was calm.

As I start problem-solving the Wii situation I am treated to barrage of unpleasantries.

"You better fix that or I'm not doing ANY spelling"

"You probably can't fix that."


"When is Daddy home, at least he'll be able to fix this."

While I know many might think any of these are offences worthy of court martial, and banishment to barracks should be the only possible result, that never works. While we do exile the boy to his room sometimes, it is a physical fight to do so and is the proverbial gasoline on the fire. It's not that we never do it, it's just often not the best choice.

The point I am trying to remember, is the lad is having problems containing his emotions (frustration/disappointment). I need to keep control of mine. First because if I don't it will make things worse. Second, because if I am expecting HIM to maintain control, it's not a bad idea to model the desired behaviour myself.

So I (calmly) took away the Wii for that day. And while all too often I give him the chance to earn back his privileges (and lately, probably too much), I say "The Wii for today is gone. You can't earn it back." That was for the dumbo comment.

"It doesn't matter, I'll just play anyway."

"Then I'll pack it up in a box until you earn it back." Empty threat as I am not about to do without the Wii Fit.

I won't horrify bore you with any futher details, but Jackson lost Wii for three days before he decided to put the brakes on his tone/language/demeanor. And I remained calm throughout.

He eventually agreed to work on his spelling words, even if he was particularly obtuse spelling cooperate as "cawaparate" and insulate is "insyoulate". Thank goodness this kid was born into a world with spell check.

At some point Husband came home and Jackson had completed his spelling practice, earned back his Wii for Tuesday and Wednesday (but not Monday) and he secured my agreement that he could put his spelling words in alphabetical order in his planner at 8:30.

And once Husband sorted out the problem with the Wii (which required high tech approach of unplugging and replugging) we agreed that the J Boy could watch us play Mario Kart and try to unlock things under his license.

It went pretty well. Husband and I unlocked some things. the J Boy took his Wii-ban like a man and didn't try to sneak a turn or beg for an absolute discharge to his crimes, even when Sydney had turns and was a little ungracious about it.

He did try to convince us that his cessation of Wii privileges ended at midnight and he should be able to play then. He had a hard time making the argument with a straight face and reluctantly agreed that 7 a.m. the following day was the soonest he would be able to play the newly unlocked courses.

At 8:30, the Wii went off and Jackson accepted knowing that "screens are off at 8:30". And, I thought I had curried some favour with him by letting him watch us play Wii on his identity. He needed to put his spelling words in alphabetical order. I asked him to come to the kitchen table.

"But that will take me hours!!!!" he complained.

"Jackson, I wanted you to do this earlier, and you refused. This was your choice to do it now. Come to the table please."

"Can you just write them out in order and I'll write them in my planner?"

"That would mean I'm doing your homework. You have put your spelling words in alphabetical order for months at school. You know how to do it." I replied evenly.

"It's just that I'm not good at it." he said in tears.

We each repeated our positions about three times and then I said:

"You have one minute to get to the table and get to work or you'll lose the Wii for tomorrow. Again."  I was very firm. But in control.

I went to the den to check my work email where I saw an email from a colleague asking for my responses to a 7 part question. This related to something we were to be doing the next day. While my colleague was probably expecting an answer in the morning, I wanted to deal with it right away.

My stress level, which was barely contained at code orange, hit the red zone.

But first, I told myself, spelling.

I went back to the family room and his carcass was still on the couch bemoaning the spelling homework. I put my face in his and yelled:

"YOU ... GET ... TO ... THE ...TABLE ... AND ... DO ... YOUR ... HOMEWORK ... OR ... YOU ... MAY ... NEVER ... PLAY ...Wii ... AGAIN!!!!!!!"

He dragged himself the table tears streaming down his face. He looked broken.

And I felt worthless.

Three hours of my remaining calm in the face of defiance, name-calling, threats and hostility do not make me feel any better that I have yelled at a tired, frustrated, disappointed 8 year old to the point that my throat is raw.

I am not graded based on the number of minutes I kept control. 179/180 minutues is near perfect, but I don't feel any where near perfection. And that night, I needed to be.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bracing for Impact

The Christmas break is over for another year. Tomorrow, it is back to real life. 

I have had every Monday off for over 8 years.  For 3.5 years I was home with the kids. I have worked halftime for almost 5 years but never worked a Monday. Until tomorrow.  Long story, but work requires it.  This means I don't have my usual soft landing  into the week where the kids go back to school and I have one day to salvage what sanity I may have left and try to dig out from under mount washmore.  This week we are all being thrown into the deep end.

That meant I had to arrange a babysitter for after school tomorrow. Someone who could drive Sydney to her hip hop class and deal with the J Boy in potentially fragile state the first day back.  I ended up with a complicated plan where Jackson is going to a friends while our sitter takes Sydney to dance.  I will have an insanely busy day. And then another one on Tuesday. 

But it is 9:30 p.m. and the house is sufficiently clean that I won't be embarrassed that our babysitter is here. Huband is playing MarioKart on the Wii without the advice of the two usual drivers as he attempts to unlock a new course.  I am sipping the last of the New Year's wine (one bottle, but we know how to make it last) and bracing for impact.

And I reflect back on the 10 or so days I was at home.

My List of things to do this holiday:

Organize my closet: UNDONE
Organize craft area of basement: UNDONE
Combine purses/wallets (I've got 4 purse and 2 wallets going and I never have what I need): UNDONE

List of things not on my to do list but accomplished:

Played Monopoly Jr.: 23 times
Played Stratego: 3 times
Played Sorry: 7 times
Played Wii: countless games and countless times
Stayed in pyjamas all day: at least half the time
Movies seen in theatre: 1
Movies seen at home: 4
Cookies, chocolates overindulged on: countless
Puzzles done: 1
Separated the bickersons: 2,359 times
Said "would you guys give me a freakin' break": 11,748
Cuddles with Jackson: 5,728
Cuddles with Sydney: 1,249,834,598,173,441,987
Times listened to fake belching: 1,249,834,598,173,441,987

All in all, I call it a success. But I am not unhappy about them going to school tomorrow. I will brace for the calls from school about the inappropriateness of fake belching in music class.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Year in Blogging

Just before Christmas I passed my 2nd Blog-a-versary. I honestly can't believe I kept it up for this long.Thank you to my faithful followers and to those that drop by when they can. 

I am appreciating more and more what my blog gives me. Here is what blogging brought me in 2009:

In January we experienced a Fashion Show.

In February we saw the results When Good Hockey Games Happen to Bad Parents

In March we experienced Twins Day.

In April  I rejoiced over my Mini Feminista and grinded my teeth over Professional Development.

In May, I experienced some Teachable Moments.

In June, I learned (again) about my need to Chill.

In July we visited the Hows and Whys and had a lesson on Death.

In August, I learned about Birthing Babies.

In September I was reminded that Life is an Adventure and how good it feels to say Wish granted to your kids.

In October, I tried to get a little Me Time.

In November I learned the virtues of being Sensitive.

 In December, we worked on vocabulary, in particular, the S Word, the F Word and the H Word.


A New Year's toast from all of us:

We enjoyed a fantastic meal made by other people. For Husband and I, our New Year's Eve tradition: Greek. For the kids: pizza.

A family New Year's Eve photo (I tried to make the self-timer work, but I couldn't so we resorted to the hold-the-camera-out-in-front of you trick)

One of our New Year's traditions, begun 10 years ago when Husband and I were newly engaged, is to save one Christmas present for New Year's Eve for each person. We usually try to keep something in the way of entertainment so we can enjoy it that evening:

(I told you Mommies pay attention!)
So we played some games:

And then it was time for dessert.

On Christmas Eve after partaking of the chocolate fondue, Sydney said, in response to remarks on her extremely chocolate-covered face, "I can't help it, I love chocolate".  So my mother gave us the leftover chocolate fondue.

So I bought some fresh fruit for us to enjoy the fondue on New Year's Eve.  I remember as a kid the funnest thing was having fondue and doing the dipping yourself. So, I dusted off the fondue pot and we put this yummy selection on the table. I was pleased we were making such fun for our kids:

Sydney had been sneaking the fresh pineapple from the kitchen as Husband cut it up.

She said to Husband "I'm just going to sneak, two more 'pines' and two bananas and that will be all. I promise."

As if we have some kind of fruit limitation.

"You can have as much as you want." I said. "But you can have it with CHOCOLATE."

"I just want pineapple, but I don't want chocolate" Jackson said as he piled his plate high with pineapple.

"After I finish my fruit, may I have a different treat?" Sydney asked.

They had both LOVED this on December 24th. Why am I convincing them to have dessert?

"Don't you guys remember, we had this at Oma and Opa's??? Your faces were COVERED in CHOCOLATE!!??" I reminded.

"You stole this from Oma?" Sydney asked.

"Oma gave it to us because you said you loved it!"

Jackson said "But there were apples at Oma and Opa's."

"I'll cut up an apple for you" I said.

"I still want a different treat." Sydney said.

"Sydney, you like banana and nutella. This is more chocolatey than nutella. But we are not forcing you to eat chocolate. You can have any treat you want."

Jackson ate one piece of apple with fondue, then said he was full. "I like it Mommy, really I do. It's just that my tummy is full."

Sydney tried the fondue:

By george, I think she's got it!

Morning Cuddles

Sydney came into our room one morning as I was trying to catch up on the sleep I didn't get during the night due to bizarre dreams.

She climbed into bed for some cuddles.

This is unusual as on the days she is up before us (not often), she will go downstairs and watch cartoons. If she does darken our doorstep, it is to request breakfast.

So I enjoyed the cuddles, which lasted about 3 minutes.

She sat up and tapped me on the arm.

"I need to ask you a question?"

"OK"  I never know what to expect.

"It's a money question."


"How much does the game Sorry cost?"

"I don't know, we can google it later."

"'Cause I want to spend my Christmas money on that since Santa didn't bring it."

"I didn't think it was on your Santa list."

"It was."

"On the school one?"

"No, on the home one."

Don't ask me under that rock/couch cushion/pile of paper that got burried under.

"Okay. We can go shopping this weekend for it if you want. I think you'll have enough money."

Fortunately, Mommy's don't need Santa lists to know what their kids want. The game awaits her on New Year's Eve.