Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Does it take a village? Really?

It is hard not to subscribe to the notion of taking a "village" to raise a child.  We, like most families, rely on family, babysitters, teachers, friends, neighbours and the church to raise our child. We certainly don't do it alone.

But does the village include random interlopers?  Is everyone we come across part of the village?

Let me explain.

It was circa 2008 and Sydney was having a bad bout of what she called  "a sparkle in her bum".  This meant that going to the bathroom was painful and so she did not want to do it.  Husband and I gamely abandoned all other leisure activities, like laundry and personal hygiene, to manage the situation (convince her to pee and poo and clean up when it didn't happen appropriately) and comfort her (she was not her happy little self).

One of the things we tried was to have her sit in a lovely warm tub of bubbles as this helped relax certain muscles, even when she demonstrated iron resolve not to relax them or let her body do its job. Well, she cottoned on to our ploy and soon realized that the lovely big tub full of fluffy bubbles was really her enemy not her friend as the job usually did the trick.
So it became a Mommy/Daddy vs. Sydney cage match of wit and will.  On one particular wintry evening, Sydney was not going down without a fight.  She screamed. You know that really horrifying scream, when the worst thing happens, the thing you fear most. (Like a Republican learning Todd Akin is about to defend his views on abortion on national TV.)
I think Sydney may have a future in screaming voice overs for movies.  Even I wondered if we had accidentally severed a foot.  In the midst of the screaming,  Jackson will come to the defence of his sister and start with "Mommy, I don't think Sydney wants a bath right now." and escalate to "PULLLEASE MOMMY, CAN SHE HAVE A BATH ANOTHER NIGHT???"
Finally in the midst of the mayhem, the door bell rings. We try to ignore it as the only people who ring our doorbell when we are doing anything important are the kids trying to sell chocolate bars to support their hockey team/ band programme / trip to Europe.  Or the ones who want to save our souls, the Jehovah Witnesses.
The person at the door will not stop, so Husband goes to have some unChristian words with the JW's as they are the ones that keep ringing. 

He comes back aghast. A young woman heard Sydney screaming on the sidewalk (through all closed windows and doors) and is expressing her concern.  Husband sheepishly/stridently told her we were trying to get our daughter into the bath and she left satisfied.  I half expected the police, social services and a priest on our doorstep to stage a parental invention, but that didn't happen.
I never really knew whether to be comforted or offended by this. A little of both. It is nice to know someone would take the step to come to the aid of a child being forced into a bubble bath.  But at the same time, I like to think that we can face some of the hard parenting days without a panel of judges.
Fast forward to the summer of 2012.  The kids and I were staying at my Dad's condo for a few days. In the evening, Finnegan needed a walk and we all needed some fresh air.  Dad's place is right by a small river and has a lovely path.  Perfect place for a walk. 
The kids have their own ideas, and they like to dig out medium sized rocks and throw them into the river. It amuses them for long periods of time as they use a stick to dig out the rocks and then throw them as far as they can.  It is not exactly hard core cardio, but they are in the fresh air and not connected to anything with a  USB hub, so I am happy to oblige this form of entertainment.  It's a throw back to the days even before the Mattel and Fisher Price of my youth. When children's toys were sticks and rocks.
The only problem with this endeavor is that I have a dog who thinks every rock thrown is a ball for her to chase into the river.  And she considers it a crime against Canine that I do not let her swim in the river anyway.  So it's constantly Mommy vs. Doggy tug of war, one that I tired of after 4 straight nights.

So on this particular night, I thought I would keep walking the dog along the path and  just walk forward and back past the rock-throwing site so I was not too terribly far out of sight.  The thing about my kids, is they are very obedient about Mommy's safety rules. So I secured their acknowledgement of the imaginary line they were not to cross (15 feet from the river).   I told them I would be nearby.

This was a bit of a leap for me. Jackson is at the age where some kids might babysit.  He is going into middle school.  Sydney is ever the rule follower so I was comfortable. This particular path was just busy enough to not be deserted but not so busy to be a mob. So I decided to walk and let them have their fun. But my heart was beating a little fast.

As I left them with Finny, I was walking behind a couple.  They happened to be a gay couple and I noticed them because they were old enough to be receiving a pension and one was quite tall white man and the other a much shorter black man with a Caribbean accent. Just not something you see everyday. 

As we walked, the Caribbean man slowed down so I walked around him.  I felt him staring at me, which I thought unusual because a slightly tubby middle aged woman walking dog is as ubiquitous as you get in these parts.  I kept walking and noticed that the couple was still standing in the path I had had pass them.  They were in ernest conversation.  I felt that they were staring at me, but then thought I must be paranoid. Or delusional. So I walked a bit more. 

After I turned around to walk back, I saw them still standing there but they had turned around and now were staring at my kids.  Finnegan and I trotted back to get in ear shot and as we neared, the men approached my kids and started talking to them.

I arrived on the scene, breathless from the 50 meter jog, and the Caribbean man said with relief to me "there you are. I thought these kids were left here with no parents."  He was clearly genuinely concerned and then comforted that I had not gone too far.

So, I guess, whether I want it or not, a few interloping villagers will be looking out for the interests of my kids.  And others.
And I am okay with that.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Packing. Made. Easy.

Beautiful words.

"Mommy, I want to do my own packing."

Those words spoken should change my life. I mean, we had a short trip coming up, and I had to pack for myself, work with Sydney on outfit coordination, plan meals and buy food and pack for the dog, having one offspring to take complete responsibility, it quite a load off my shoulders.

What could go wrong.

I took a peak into Jackson's bag once he pronounced it complete.  You know because true control freak cannot so easily outsource some things.

This is what Jackson had packed:

3 pairs of long pants
1 pair of shorts
2 long sleeved shirts.
1 bible
1 science book
2 fiction books
Nintendo DS
iPod shuffle
iPod Touch
1 combination lock
1 bag of balloons (red)
1 Easy Button
This is what Jackson had not packed:
bathing suit
t shirts
But really who needs underwear, when you have an Easy Button.
That was easy. hard.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Camp. The post mortem edition.

There we were, leaving the women's Olympic soccer to pick up our progeny from the boat from camp.  I wanted to leave early, you know in case fire, flood, hail or locusts delayed our drive downtown. The one thing I could not abide was arriving at the dock after the boat. I knew our Girlie Goo especially would be looking for us.

I needn't have worried about doomsday scenarios as we arrived in plenty of time downtown. Only to learn that the boat was 90 minutes, or more, late.

We took the opportunity to grab a Starbucks before the rain started (the only rain we had had in weeks).  In what seemed an eternity the boat arrived with our kids waving at us from the outside decks. 

In short order, they were disembarked and we had only the excruciating job of reuniting kids with luggage.  The what-could-go-wrong approach to luggage removal was to have kids, aged 7 to11 carry the luggage off the boat, down the dock,up the stairs and put in a staging area. Not their own luggage, whatever they could grab.  There were a few athletic camp staff that were also loading up a large luggage cart or we would still be there waiting.  I learned that blue Mountain Equipment  Coop duffel bags are really in vogue. I saw about three before I found Sydney's. As I was trotting off to the car I was tackled by another desperate Dad who was convinced that I hadn't checked the name tag.  Jackson's red bag was briefly MIA but eventually made it to the staging area.

Both kids had a great week and we are incredibly proud of how they managed. Sydney in particular has some things to deal with and she was an absolute star and I realized she does not need me as much I as perhaps thought.  Sydney made friends, assigned everyone in the cabin silly nick names.  She loved the amount of chocolate she was allowed to have and seemed to revel in ignoring her brother (so much for the comfort of their being together).  She changed her underwear every day but completely forgot about the invention of sun screen.

Jackson loved the independence. This camp has a fairly open schedule, much less rigid than the if-it's-9-o'clock-it-must-be-lake-time-I-don't-care-how-cold-it-is camp that I went to growing up. That suited him.  He loved the climbing wall, seemed to be pretty good at cabin cleanup. He came home with more dirty underwear than I would have predicted but a bar of soap still in the wrapper. This is all the more alarming since he swam in the lake only once. I can't believe he had the nerve to baulk at a shower when we got home. He was lucky I didn't turn the pressure washer on him in the backyard.

As for the tuck shop, Jackson spent every penny.  At one point, an error was made in his order and was forced to buy something he didn't like, but he accommodated by giving up something another day. Very accountant-like approach. 

Sydney had about $4 left over, to my surprise.  She doesn't drink pop so her money went further.

And I also realized the grave, grave error I made. I sent neither snacks nor money for snacks for the 90 minute boat ride.  This is the unpardonable sin of camp moms. Everyone else was buying pop and chips and candy and gum. Fortunately, this injustice was slightly remedied by generous friends who shared their bounty.

When we arrived for visitor's day, they have both already purchased a stash of food for the ride back. No way were they being caught junk foodless.  Of course the delayed boat ride meant more opportunity to buy, so Sydney spent her remaining $4 and shared with her friends.

Jackson is looking forward to a reunion camp in October for his age group and would go 2 weeks next year if we let him. And Sydney looking forward to next summer.

I think that should give me just enough time to worry.

Monday, August 6, 2012

When the Cats Are Away, the Mice Will Play...

With the kids away for an entire calendar week, we could not pass up the opportunity to get away.  With the doggy happily ensconced with my Dad for a few days (thanks Opa!!), we headed south of the border.  We booked an ocean side, balcony room.

Pretty sweet.

With the Olympics in full swing, we enjoyed the Olympics without the need of diverting the dog from a barking jag, separating the bickersons, changing the laundry or even making our own lunch.

We also did a little back-to-school shopping, picked up some of our favourites at Trader Joe's and enjoyed the hot tub each evening.

We had vast conversations of where to eat our next meal, managed a little exercise and enjoyed generally just being off the treadmill of family life.

We did learn that we are really bad at packing for ourselves.  I forgot my toothbrush, sunscreen and we both forgot our hats. Husband forgot his jacket and {gasp} laptop and iPod so we were reduced to having Internet access on only two devices instead of four.

The horror.

We left feeling refreshed and ready to hop back on the treadmill.  Hoping to keep the speed and incline down for the next month before the kids are back at school.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Parents' Day

It's Sunday. We had a week without kids. What better way to end it, then to go to camp for parents' day!  First, board small boat for glorious 30 minute ride:
Find both kids, alive and well, but with new low bar set for personal hygiene.
Eat in dining hall:
 Catch up on the highlights from camp.
Rope course:
Climbing wall:
J Boy made it all the way to the top. I required Gravol just to watch:
Tuck shop (or "sugar 30" as they call it nowadays):
Can't wait to have them home tomorrow!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sleep. Away. Camp.

Back in January, I asked the kids if they wanted to go to 'sleepaway' camp. Sydney, I knew, would want to go. She said "YES!!!!".  Jackson, I was not so sure about. He said "okay".

Before there was any changeth of mind, I sprinted to the computer to register them (after trying to coordinate schedules with friends and family so some compadres would also be present).

So for the past 6 months, we have had the specter of a full week of camp for the kids.  This was going to be awesome, even apart from the fact that we might catch up on laundry for the first time in ten and a half years.

I grew up going to camp.  A week or two in the summer.  I have great memories (and a few traumatic ones) at camp. Campfire skits.  Swimming (and bathing) in the lake.  Camp crafts.  I wanted them to have that. And more.

I think my faith in God grew exponentially those weeks at camp.  I wanted them to be immersed in "God stuff" and be able to blossum.

In early July, I began the planning and coordination for operation: camp.  I gathered intelligence from camp Moms about what kind of bag to buy, how many jackets to send and whether there really was any point to sending more than one pair of socks.

As we talked about camp, I started to remember some very important things that I loved about camp.

The tuck shop. How could I forget about free candy? The kids were incredulous that I was sending money along and they could buy candy. "will they have chocolate?" Sydney wanted to know.  I told the kids that we sent money along, and they got to pick how much they spent. And to add to the excitement, I told them they could keep the money they don't spend.  My little social experiment. 

I expect Sydney will come home with vapours left over and she will have enjoyed the candy-paloosa.  Jackson will buy a few sour gummy worms a day and will have money to bring home. He is saving up to buy a laptop as he is sure his tightwad mother will never buy him one.  (He might actually have a good chunk if he didn't always want to spent his money on crap things vital to his survival.)

The other thing I recalled about camp was the feeling of independance.  Even though a counsellor was assigned to me, I had to get myself sorted out without being reminded to get dressed. I got to organize my stuff, choose my clothes and pick what to do in free time.  It was my little piece of adulthood and I loved it.

So I chatted this up to the kids.  Jackson took to this idea.  He loves feeling independant and the notion of being the master of his own destiny appealed.

Over the past week, I topped them up with as much parenting as I could manage. "Don't forget sun screen" "Remember to brush your teeth" "Watch out for each other."

I thought I may have gone overboard and I did not want to squelch all the fun out of camp. After all, I wanted them to go back next year!  So I said "you don't have to wear mathcing outfits".

Then I recalled that Sydney is a pathological rule follower. She has been known to come home from play dates not having done something extremely innocuous because she didn't ask my permission (I know, right?).  So I told her I wanted her to follow the camp rules, and be respectful but she didn't have to follow all of Mommy's rules.

Then, against my better judgment I told Jackson the same thing.

The next day  as I packed and he watched  we packed I asked him  what wormhole he had sent all his underwear as I couldn't find enough to pack and he informed me that was one of the Mommy rules he was planning on ignoring.

Well played, son of mine.