Monday, August 23, 2010

Annual Leave. Well Spent.

That's vacation in government-speak. And my annual leave (which need not be taken only annually)  is up for summer 2010.  With my non-work days (Mondays/Fridays) and a switch up in my work days on my last week, it means I have had a couple days short of four weeks off.

I blogged excessively about our 12 day road trip. What have I done with the other twelve days?

Usually when Husband and I return from holidays we need holidays. Two years ago we planned separate getaways after our family week. Last year, Husband and I took a week off while the kids went to day camp.

This year, because things went so well, we thought we'd find a project where we could turn the house upside down, get messy and prevent us from enjoying another moment in peace.

Yes, we took on a redecorating project.

Husband and I have two enduring problem areas in the house: the kitchen table which is perpetually covering in kid projects (markers, stickers, toy pieces) and the den. Which used to be the family (i.e. MY den) where I surfed the Internet, minded the family finances, blogged and drank coffee.

With our super computer literate children, we were banging heads, sometimes literally to get to the computer.  I could almost live with sharing.   When they're at school I have my turn. But what was driving me to distraction was their need to bring kid clutter.

They would be finished their turn (and they often play nicely taking turns on some such game) and they would leave behind the following:

1 bowl of fishy crackers
2 stuffed animals
3 blue markers
4 random pieces of paper with passwords and sign in IDs
5 Lego Star Wars characters

Now, I live in my own glass house. I struggle mightily to keep my work space usable, even at work. Paper overwhelms me, even though Husband files all the monthly stuff and papers we need to keep. So you this equation:

Mommy Clutter + Kid Clutter Squared = Hip Deep Piles of Stuff

And what happens with hip deep pile of stuff is you can never clean. And the place borders on an environmental disaster.

So, Husband and I mused on how to tame the 2 clutter areas in the house without evicting the children.  Intersect this with the need for a new computer and the idea of a GROWN UP OFFICE was born. 

Husband and I have come to realize that our house, which is far larger than we need, has way too much square footage committed to people under 5 feet tall. (I just make the cut off).  They have their rooms, the family room, the kitchen table, and the den. They even have been known to spread into the living room and dining room with encampments of stuffies under the tables and ad hoc book binderies.  But none of those are their official play places.  They have the upstairs over sized bedroom as their playroom. Plus about 40% of the basement is where they play with their friends in the rec room.

We are taking back the house.  Well, part of it.

The upstairs playroom is now the big people office.  I told Husband that I really wanted this to be a nice place I would want to be in . And would want to keep tidy. Husband was all in for any plan that would entice me to keep neat.

And that meant making it pretty.  So we have moved the mother of all IKEA wall units to the basement. Along with a lifetime of books, videos, tapes, games and puzzles. We've painted the walls. Put up new curtains. Bought a little new furniture plus my shiny new computer.

Apart from the computer it's been a bargain basement project with the re-purposing of a number of random pieces.  But Husband and I each have our own desks.  On the non office side we have an aging couch, an old TV and our elliptical trainer here as well. (TV only so I don't realize how long I have been exercising).  I dream of a sleek new love seat and flat panel TV on the wall, but that will have to wait.  Probably for lottery win or discovery pot of gold in the back yard left by trolls.

The children are allowed in with supervision but NO TOYS, MARKERS, STUFFED ANIMALS OR ART SUPPLIES may accompany any kids into the adult zone.

In case you missed it, here is the view from my desk
(Yes! We live in a beautiful place):
But what about the kitchen table problem? 

We have moved a craft table into the kids' den. Which they will undoubtedly clutter up permanently. But at least Husband and I will be able to occasionally eat dinner at the kitchen table instead of juggling plates of food on our lap in the living room.

How have the kids taken to having their own den?  While Jackson is still smarting over the fact that he doesn't get to breathe on, touch or watch YouTube videos on my computer, I think he's embraced the whole concept:
Sydney is also okay with it:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Injury

If there is one thing that I have taken an unhealthy and unwarranted pride in, it's the fact that my kids have each only had one trip to the ER. They were babies. They had a paranoid Mommy who thought breathing was essential.

Jackson had croup at age 18 months. He woke up in the middle of the night with the barky cough. Now, the advantage of having become a mother in my very late thirties, is that I had lived through enough parenting stories over coffee with friends and colleagues. So I knew the best way to widen airways on a croupy baby was to get them into a) steamy bathroom or b) the cool night air.  We did that. But the cough sounded barky and wet.  Not the typical barky dry coupy cough. I freaked out.

And called 9-1-1.

By the time the ambulance was there, the cool night air had done its magic.  We went to the ER anyway for a nebulizer treatment and some steroids.

Sydney started erratic breathing at 6 months. Six months exactly. I know because that was the night we introduced her to non rice cereal.  In this house, for babies have a diet of breast milk till 4 months. Rice cereal is added into the mix until 6 months. Then at 6 months, we started adding other foods.

So, in my paranoid mother fashion, I imagined that Sydney had the rare barley allergy. Husband was out for the evening and I was left home with an inconsolable Sydney.  And she was usually quite consolable.  Just before Husband walking in the door, Sydney started funky breathing.  Even Husband had to admit it sounded bad.

This time, I realized that it was faster to drive to the hospital myself as we lived in a hidden cul-de-sac and by the time an ambulance would find us, we could have driven to the ER three times over. 

Sydney obliged me in doing her funky breathing twice more for the triage nurse, just so she didn't think I was completely crazy. But she didn't do it again so when four hours later we finally saw an ER doc all I could say was "really, the triage nurse heard it too" as we were ushered out the door.

Until last night we have avoided trips to the ER for potential stitches or broken bones that is common in the school-aged set.  I attributed that to my kids natural physical timidity (they don`t generally climb stuff until they are well able).  And a slight bit of paranoia on my part.

Yesterday, it had been a tough day.  But the kids had evened out in the afternoon. By the time Husband came home, things were good.  I picked up take-out Asian food from a new place.  Husband and I had planned to putz around getting some things done around the house.

Husband was unpacking my new computer. You know, setting up, untangling wires.  Jackson was in the office with him asking the expected questions. "Why does Mommy get the new high tech computer? Why can't I have it?"

While he asked these questions he was on the elliptical trainer not six feet away.  I used to have strict rules about children not being within six  feet of that thing. But we (I) have lessened the paranoia about that.  Incorrectly, as it turned out.

We actually like Jackson to go on the elliptical on rainy days. He needs to burn some energy and he will be utterly exhausted after 20 minutes.  In retrospect, I should have made a rule about not being on the elliptical in bare feet.

Somehow, while peppering Husband with questions, Jackson slipped. Husband was right there and we know not exactly how it happened.  The next thing Husband knew, Jackson is sitting on the couch holding his foot with blood trickling onto the (thankfully black leather) couch. 

Husband assessed the situation.  There was a puncture wound. And a scrape.  He put some gauze and band aids on and carried him downstairs to where Sydney and I were hanging out.

Though Jackson did not appear to be in too much pain upstairs, once downstairs, the pain had increased. His foot was swelling. And we could now see that the scape was a major point of contact and swelling.  And another deeper cut had become evident on his baby toe.

Jackson, who feels both pain and joy intensely, appeared to be either passing a kidney stone or birthing a baby.   Based on his pain level, we thought a bone might be broken.  We also wanted the deeper baby toe cut looked at. 

So to the ER we went.

I was so impressed with how every person dealt with Jackson. When we first arrived he was in a great deal of pain and he was treated with patience and about the right amount of humour.  Granted, when the doctor was cleaning the wound, it might not have been the best idea to give Jackson the 2 liter bottle of disinfectant without a lid 'as a distraction'.   Because, that stuff stings when it goes on.

But as soon as the ibuprofen kicked in, he was a different boy.  He felt well enough to fixate on where the grown up vision testing chart might be since from his vantage point he could only see the kid one (with pictures instead of letters), to worry about the blood on the sheets and how they would ever get them clean and to muse out loud repeatedly why the person in the next curtained cubicle was so quiet. 

In the end, the deeper cut was sealed with the new-fangled crazy glue.  The x rays revealed no broken bones.  We were sent home with the foot cleaned, dressed and with strict instructions keep a clean sock over the dressing, to change the dressing in 4 days and not to get it wet for 7 to 10 days.

Jackson took quite seriously the doctor`s directions and solemnly repeated them for his sister and Daddy when we got home. 

So as I tucked him into bed, I told him about the additional instructions:

1. Brush your teeth WELL (like more than 5 seconds) twice a day.
2. Eat 12 portions of vegetables and fruits every day.
3. Keep your room clean.
4. Listen to your parents.
5. Give lots of cuddles to your mother.

We had a small laugh about that.  Which is good because we`re going to need a sense of humour for the next week.  I have never had to deal with a slightly immobile Jackson.  He can hobble around, but he normally walks. A lot. Like paces.  I don`t know what kind of caged animal he`s going to be.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dear Husband

Here we sit on a lovely Friday afternoon in August.  I know you must be sitting at work looking forward to the weekend with your family.

A few things you should know about that.

At this moment, Sydney is claiming this is "the worst day ever".  She did not pass her level at bike camp.  Plus he brother got a small stuffed dragon at his camp this week and she did not.  She sees this as a great crime against humanity.

I did point out that she DID get a t shirt this week at bike camp (and her brother didn't) and that she has hundreds of stuffies that are neglected at home but this did nothing to improve her sour mood.

Jackson claimed "this day cannot get any worse" until I told him he was banned from the computer, he had to help me clean the house and do advanced homework for grade 4. Then he grudgingly agreed  that previously, the day could have gotten worse.

One of Jackson's complaints is that the ride-on car which he got for Christmas when he was 13 months old is not as cool or as big as the ride-on car Sydney got for her first birthday.  He wants a new one.  Words escape me. If you see two ride-on cars in the recycle bin by the time you get home, you should not be surprised.

He is also frustrated with something on the computer not cooperating. He blamed the fact that he couldn't win the "sheep dash" game on ill batteries in the mouse.

Finally, he is hostile over the fact that I won't tell him how much money we have in our bank account. I do not know why he wants to know this or what he wants to do with this information. I have told him only that we have more than his $20 guess and less than his $2 million guess.  He sees no reason for us to keep this information private.  His general approach to getting me to reveal this information is berating.

You know me well enough to appreciate how my mood can deteriorate under these circumstances. I did initially endeavour to remain positive and have made a number of constructive suggestions on how to turn this day around.  No suggestion has been treated with anything but grumps, groans, grunts and an occasional eye roll.

When all positive suggestions were rebuffed I told them that I wanted them to spend the afternoon researching how little most of the children in the world have instead of complaining that they don't have more stuff.

Ultimately the foul mood has been contagious and at this point no civil words are being exchanged between any of us.

I think if you should choose to come home under these circumstances, which I cannot recommend, bring gifts. 

For me:  a bottle of wine. 

For them: separate cages.

Love, Wife

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Little Boy's Brain

I do know he is actually not a little boy, any more than I am young and fertile.  But we still call him that. 

Here is a window into his brain.

Jackson was doing something nice for me and I said to him "you can't ever move out, you know. I'll need you to stay with me."

"Well, when I grow up, I'm going to live with Sydney and her husband."


"Yeah, I'm probably not going to get married, but Sydney will, so she said I could live with her."

"That's nice. But aren't you going to get married?"

"I doubt it. But I can live with Sydney. She said it would be okay."

"Why don't you think you'll get married? Because you don't want to or because you don't think you'll find someone you'll want to marry?"

"I don't think I'll find someone."

"I think you might. I wasn't sure I would either, but then I met Daddy. But either way, married or not, I know you will have a great life.  Especially if you can live with Sydney."

"Plus she's going to have two kids.  She didn't know if she could have two kids so I told her to pray to God so that it would happen."

"That will be nice for the kids, to have an uncle in the house."

"I know.  I'd love to have an uncle live with us."

"Where will you all live?"

"In this house, of course."

"Then where will Daddy and I live?"

[pause] "I guess we could all live here."

"Maybe we should buy the house next door and build a bridge or tunnel to connect them?"

"Yeah." Jackson said. doubtfully.

[30 minutes later]

"Mommy, I have it all worked out.  Sydney and her husband will be in your bedroom. The kids will be in my and Sydney's bedroom. I'll be in the upstairs playroom. And you and Daddy can stay in the echo room*.  So we can all live in this house."  He breathes a sigh of relief.

Even at age 8.75 Jackson cannot abide uncertainty in his future.  He does not want to be alone, but cannot imagine being married.  He needs to feel the comfort of this plan for his future. The really funny this is, I kind of can envision this happening. Jackson having a suite in a house where Sydney lives upstairs. 

I hope I'm around to see it!

*echo room is our cavernous odd shaped guest room. The kids love to go in there and yell to make it echo and thus it came to be known as the echo room.

Waterpark: WEM

One last post on our vacation.  The highlight for all of us, but none more so than Jackson was our visit to the waterpark at West Edmonton Mall. This place has to be seen to believed.  We all enjoyed a fantastic day there. Even Sydney, who is still recovering from trauma I inflicted on her at a slide 2 summers ago, found slides to enjoy.

Kelsey was our personal tour guide and photographer.
Gigantic wave pool was a hit!
Okay, I admit it, I had fun too!

Husband on one of the more daring slides.  I had a sore neck from this one!

Jackson's favourite apparatus.

I made a few landings myself.
Kind of makes the emotional investment in swimming lessons pay off.
Hot tub!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reflections on a Roadtrip

Twelve days. Three cities. Two provinces.

And I came back happy. And rested.

Our plans was to drive the 1200 kilometres (800 miles) in 2 days each way.  On our very brief drive on the May long weekend Husband and I were pushed to the brink of insanity (some would say I went past).  This was followed by two subsequent 45 minutes trips during which a certain boy, whom I won't name but his initials are J-A-C-K-S-O-N, was combusting from boredom and twitchiness.

We contemplated cancelling our trip, going to an alternate closer location and flying.  Flying was tempting but we don't exactly have scads of money stuffing our mattresses.  Then we did the math on how much the driving would costs us (gas + hotels + meals) and realized flying would be a few hundred more. Then Husband recalled we do have scads of frequent flyer points and for the payment of a mere $600 in taxes and fees, we could fly and not lose our marbles on this holiday. 

So fly we did.  I will say that even though we have our challenging days (today) I forget that sometimes the kids can be awfully good.  Like in airport waiting lounges.  We saw babies fussing, or crawling all over the floor.  We saw toddlers running from parents. And our children amused themselves.

The children were perfect flying passengers. I realize the personal TVs for each seat helped in that regard. But apart from a tendancy to YELL due to wearing of ear buds  --"MOMMY, THIS SHOW IS SO FUNNY!!" -- we had no complaints until we were waiting to deplane and Jackson said about 11 times, what everyone else was thinking "Why does it take so long?"

At our destination in Edmonton we enjoyed superb food, unbeatable company and in my case, early morning walks with two of my Sisters.  Husband snuck in a couple golf games.  The children were almost perfect if you completely ignore the necessity of having a special meal prepared. For each of them.  They went to bed appropriately, were game for any adventure we proposed and were generally charming, only slightly too loud, which is to be understood with the giddiness of discovering a set of free weights to play with in the basement.  I wish I could feel that giddy at the gym.

We left Edmonton for Drumheller. It was then, on a three hour drive, that Husband and I saw the brilliance of not driving 13 hours with Jackson from Vancouver to Edmonton.  Despite have a DS, a new game,  a box of trivia question, paper and pen, a book and Archie comics, he made the two hours to our lunch destination with an excessive amount of moaning. 

Once in Drumheller, we checked out the worlds largest dinosaur (which we paid for the privilege of climbing).  We checked into our hotel with waterslide which was conveniently located near a pizza shop and cold beer store. 

Woolly Mamouth & my children
The next day we visited the gift shop at  Tyrell Museum, known the world over for it's collection of dinosaur bones.  Jackson was true to his museum personality that compel him to race through and give everything a cursory glance. 

I did manage to slow him down enough to get a movie of him at the T Rex exhibit:

Sydney gave her best impression of reporter on the scene as well:

Tiny speck of Jackson,
 arms up in celebration.
We stopped in at the Badlands, which are incredible rock formations.   When we arrived Jackson saw some hearty hikers had climbed to the top of the rock formation.  He was not to be outdone.  Despite the protestations of both parents, he insisted on climbing to the top.

We weren't the only ones visiting the Hoodoos. There was a mosquito infestation of biblical proportions.  Next stop was drug store for a collection of mosquito bite remedies.

Our final stop in the Drumheller area was an misapprehended trip to a coal mine.  We thought that the trip on the mantrip (mining car) touring the mine might be more than 200 feet, might tour some actual mines and might not be in full Alberta sun at noon.  However, the kids were pleased to be chosen for some audience participation.  Sydney got to push an old coal car. Jackson acted as "brakey" and opened and shut the gate for the man trip.

Next stop was Calgary where the nice weather continued and we visited lakes and were again treated royally to great meals, conversation.  We visited with several groups of people whom we love and wished we lived closer to.

We made a trip to the Calgary zoo and a few other kid friendly attractions which did not fail to entertain and appropriately exhaust the children.

We were hosted Cheyenne (in black) who found herself shadowed by Sydney.

Quite apart from the where-did-we-go-what-did-we-do, how did the trip go? This was a high risk trip. Taking the kids away from home, staying with  other people with no daily routine really could have gone either way.  Even without a 13 hour drive.

It was freakin' awesome. Our plan of having one great family/kid activity a day turned out to be the perfect plan (who knew we would ever get good at this?) The kids settled in well and played Nintendo DS  endlessly amused themselves so the grownups could visit, play Scrabble and relax over a glass of wine.  We wisely limited the number of people we visited. We had many more friends I would have liked to have visited (I lived in Edmonton for 20 years) but in the interest of family harmony, we severely restricted our visiting list (with apologies to those whom we did not get a chance to connect with) 

We barely heard an "I'm bored" for 12 days. It did not hurt that we were unknowingly doing a video game tour of Alberta. Wii, PlayStation 3, XBoxLive, Nintendo 64 were the highlights of this tour. This is the advantage of  having friends with teenagers and twenty-somethings.

The downside of such a fantastic, busy and fun family trip?  First morning home was a steady chorus of "I'm bored, I'm lonely".

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Road Trip

I apologize for my absence, here is what we've been up to:

We saw a lot of water and almost none of it falling from the sky.

We saw it ... at the spray park:
At the beach:
At the lake:
At the pool:
Even a few waterslides:
We saw the Calgary zoo:
We checked out some dinosaurs:
Even made some fossils:
Visited the Hoodoos  or Badlands (you must check this out if you haven't heard of it):
We visited an old coal mine and road on a 'mantrip':
We played a LOT:
We got into some tight spots:
We found time with girlfriends (or golf clubs in Husband's case):
We had lots of family time:
One of us even met her soul mate: