Thursday, February 24, 2011

On Being Friends With Family

How do I avoid housework? Well, I blog of course. I have company coming this weekend. My brother, sister-in-law (or sista' from another mother), my two beautelligent nieces, and their giant yellow lab. The weather and gas prices are conspiring against us, but we're all looking forward to an insane weekend together. My house is small, but just like my mother and my grandmother before her, the walls of our home just seem to expand as family walks through the front door. And, I guess if we can't go south this time of year we can at least plan some distractions. Maybe I can set up a spring cleaning  party and put everyone to work.

I consider myself lucky that my brother and I are so close. For a long time there wasn't just five years, but a couple provinces between us. Now, even though we're five hours away (four in an emergency) staying connected is much easier. He was such a brat as a kid. I can't believe we're friends now. When my little brother was too short to see over the corn stalks, I led him out into the big corn field beside our house and left him there. I was probably tired of hearing him make siren noises. I got a lot of reading done in that old apple tree before Mom came out to hang laundry and heard him.  Undoubtedly he was easily located because he had on his bright red fire helmet, with rotating red light and built in siren. I swear he didn't take that thing off for two years. Once a firefighter, always a firefighter. (Can you imagine knowing, with absolute certainty, when you are two years old what you will be when you grow up?) Now we talk on the phone almost every day. It's a great way to share a cup of long-distance coffee and parenting stories/nightmares, while avoiding housework. Are you starting to see a pattern in the avoidance thing?

We try to get our kids together as much as possible too. After all, some of my closest friends are the crazy cousins I grew up with. A lot of my best childhood memories are of hanging around with them. Sleepovers, family reunions, swimming, riding bikes, tobogganing, camping. There was nothing better than a visit from an uncle, aunt and cousins who lived on the other side of the country. Days were marked off on the calendar until their arrival. Back then there was no Internet, or long-distance phone plans. It was letters, visits or nothing. And family reunions were quite the production, given that I have around 100 relatives on my mother's side of the family. (Remember I mentioned our family anomoly, homes with expanding walls?) But the best part of the reunion happened a couple of days later when we got to see our names in the local paper. Grammie/Nana/Gam Gam/Gram/Granny/Mom would list absolutely everyone who came. God bless her. After raising eleven kids she deserved to brag.

Tonight, I'm going out for dinner with a cousin I spent most of my childhood with. We haven't seen each other since Christmas. There's nothing like that relaxed, comfortable feeling of hanging out with someone who's known you forever. It really doesn't matter how long we've been apart we just pick up where we left off. When I get home I'll probably call another cousin to chat. As kids, this particular cousin convinced me peony flowers are poisonous, and will kill ya dead if ya touch 'em. ( I believed that for years.) Then, when I get up in the morning, there will only be a couple of hours until my brother and his family arrive. I'll pass the time with the kids. There's a good chance when I sit down to have coffee Mom will call. I guess I better get that housework done. I have to get groceries too. What do you think? Should I pick up a big feed of corn for my little bro' this weekend?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hockey Family? Us?

Hockey, the great Canadian game. I fought it for a long time, but I confess I've grown to enjoy it. Growing up, Hockey Night in Canada was the norm. With only two channels we didn't have a lot of choice. Everybody cheered for one of the Original Six. Young or old, we gathered as families and watched the game. Ah, but then came the teen years. Best friends and boyfriends took me away from the game and out into the big wide world. I replaced watching the fuzzy players, on the floor model TV, with live high school hockey. That didn't last long. My high school was denied a team because there were too many fights in the stands. It's all about passion for the play. I'm Canadian. Hockey is in my blood. I denied it for a long time. Sort of like being asymptomatic. But I surrender. How's that old saying go? If ya' can't beat 'em, join 'em.

My mother in law in an avid hockey fan. She watches a couple of games every week all season. She passed on the hockey gene to Chris. A couple of years ago Chris started seriously watching hockey. He developed an obsession for the game. He knows all the stats, the trades, the coaches, the dates and times of all his games. And we all know there's 'an app for that'. He has the big TV, and the comfee couch. So Chris set the stage. Three kids. The odds were against us from the start. Being exposed to hockey and being Canadian, at least one of them had to fall in love with the game.

We wanted all three kids to know how to skate. Skating is great exercise. It's something you can do pretty much your whole life. And there is nothing like outdoor skating. So we put all the kids in CanSkate this year. What a fantastic program. So much fun. The kids have learned a lot. We promised Thane, if he got the first three levels we would put him in CanPower (kind of a pre-hockey program). Well, he flew through the levels of CanSkate in three months, and is still insisting he wants to join hockey. So I made a few phone calls. Flipped off a few emails. I needed more information. I got the information all right. Holy cow. Time commitment. Financial commitment. Volunteer hours, fund raising, driving, freezing to death in rinks all over the place. Uggh. Confirmation that my friends with kids in hockey truly should be given medals at the end of the season every year.

But, I think the volunteer club secretary put it best today. She laughingly said, "Call your lawyer. Ask her what she'll charge per hour when you're making arrangements to bail your teenagers out of jail in a few years. Hockey is an investment in the future of your kids." (I wonder who told her our kid's nicknames are Probation, Parole, and Lifer?) Anyway, judging from the kids I know who are in hockey, or who've been involved in hockey in the past, she's right. Who has time to get in trouble when they are busy with practice, games, and tournaments? So Chris and I will sit down and talk about the logistics and the finances. Registration for the fall is in May. Crazy. Maybe that new vehicle will have to wait. Then again, Ava's telling everyone she's going to be a hockey player too. So, maybe we'll have to get an even bigger vehicle. That girl is destined to be a goalie. We'll figure it out. No matter what, it will be exciting. I'll wear my 'Hockey Mom' hat with as much pride as I wear all my other 'Mommy Hats'. I love being on this ride with my kids. Watching them try new things. Gain new skills. Develop their passions. Especially one as uniquely Canadian as hockey.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Morrison Minutes: Alcohol and Nine Year Olds

Morrison Minutes: Alcohol and Nine Year Olds: "Man, if you want to see a little drama start a dialogue about how old should your kid be when you talk to them about alcohol. Here..."

Alcohol and Nine Year Olds

Man, if you want to see a little drama start a dialogue about how old should your kid be when you talk to them about alcohol. Here's the situation. Yesterday, at my son Thane's ninth birthday party the kids got into a humorous conversation about drinking alcohol. About getting drunk.They were laughing and singing little rhymes about drinking and driving. This is my son's social circle. His closest friends. Here's a picture of these boys. They play hockey, and competitive soccer, they are in Boy Scouts, and a variety of other activities in the community. They are typically developing kids. Firstly, they didn't care in the least that Chris and I were standing a metre away from them. Secondly, did I mention they are nine years old. Maybe because it was the last birthday celebration in a string of way too many. Maybe it's just genetics, but I couldn't keep my mouth shut. For better or worse here's a reasonable representation of what I had to say to them.
You are nine year old boys. This conversation about drinking is not appropriate at a birthday party. I am telling all of your mothers you were talking about alcohol so they can give you the correct information you need. And drinking and driving is absolutely unacceptable and disgusting.
Well. Dead silence. Uncomfortable grins. A couple of apologies. Thane, used to me giving it to him straight, picked up his cake and asked if I could turn the radio on so they could dance. Party on dudes. No skin off his nose. Thane likes to know where he stands with us. It gives him comfort and stability. He's not a kid for surprises. So he won't be surprised or upset when I do call the other mother's, and the principal of their school to tell them what the kids were talking about. It's obviously time for these guys to hear the unvarnished truth about alcohol. Alcohol is a drug. Drinking and driving kills. A drunk kid is a defenceless kid. Alcohol and violence go hand in hand. And finally, drinking in moderation is how Mommy survives. Sorry. What I meant was, when you are an adult drinking in moderation is perfectly acceptable.

I too plan to get on the Internet and see what information Thane needs at his age. I don't want to offer a bunch of old cautionary tales that bore, or overwhelm him. I just want facts and truth. Then if he gets into a situation where he needs to make choices he'll make an educated choice. My kids aren't with me 24/7. They go to sleepovers, they go to school. They go to birthday parties. I'm not naive enough to think a nine year old wouldn't take a jar of alcohol to school in a back pack. Or sneak a beer out of the fridge to taste. If not this year, in the next couple of years. 

Here's the kicker. Thane has been asking sporadic questions about alcohol. Just as I pull dinner out of the oven. Twenty minutes after he's supposed to be asleep, two minutes before we have to head to the rink. Did these questions register on my radar? Truthfully? Barely. And until yesterday's performance, I didn't string them all together. Yesterday, I realized those boys have already been talking about alcohol on the playground. Singing about it. Sharing family practices. You know. My mom has a glass of red wine at dinner, but only with red meat. My dad buys a 24 of beer every Friday, and it's gone by Sunday morning. The first time I raised my head to the conversation the boys were having a kid was describing his grandmother when she gets drunk.

This is 2011 folks. Sticking our parenting heads in the sand won't turn back time. Personally, I think it's pretty avant-garde to talk to your kids about serious topics. Even if you're kid's an angel, going to the best school, in the best neighborhood this parent/kid dialogue needs to happen. Because kids need to be prepared. Information is power. As parents we might as well start cutting our teeth on these relatively simple conversations, about alcohol. Not just because it's our responsibility, but because the conversations about sexuality, sex, and drugs are right around the corner. And if you're reading this blog you have no excuse. You have access to the Internet, your family doctor, your kid's school, Kid's Help Phone. It's all there. Set the precedent now. Start talking.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think of myself as one of those 'older' parents who takes life too seriously. The truth be told the songs the boys were singing were kind of funny. The stories they were telling were cute. I didn't tell them to stop talking about alcohol. We all know the fastest way to get a kid to explore something is to forbid them to explore it. I just told them not to talk about it at the dinner table at a birthday party. Unfortunately, it was just at the point when the drunk grandmother story was headed toward hilarious. Maybe Thane knows the ending...?  I am not an 'older' parent. I just have a good memory. I can still remember being sixteen, pouring my Dad's whiskey into a Mason jar to take to a sleepover. I'll never forget it. Because my father will never let me forget it. I took the expensive stuff and left the cheap stuff for him. Now that was drama.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On Patience

So we're driving along in the Blue Bomb (my old minivan/mom taxi) and I hear my four year old in the back singing at the top of her lungs, "I am slowly going crazy. Six, five, four, three, two, one. Switch." She is very proud of herself. Counting backward is something we've been working on. However, I am a bit taken aback by her choice of song. Hmmmm. I do love that little ditty. Singing it under my breath has become something of a mommy chant. A mantra to get me through times of parental insanity. Although an accurate way to describe my level of patience at any given moment, probably not the best choice. Self-talk is pretty powerful. Given how often that song goes through my head in the run of a day I'll be certifiable in a few months. Time to pick another catchy tune. Fast.

Ever since I can remember I've been told I have no patience. After a while I started believing it. Then I started to fulfill the label. Impatience leads to frustration, anger, and mega stress. As a parent there are many fine threads that tie you to your sanity. Patience is one of them. Snip that thread and entire days can unravel. Who has time for that? I've had to develop my patience. I work on it everyday. Some days are a write off. Some days even the Johnson's baby body wash being slowly dribbled over the oscillating fan doesn't phase me. Even when the ensuing bubbles could bathe an entire elementary school.

I think one of the hardest lessons I've learned as a parent is, "This too shall pass." Your patience doesn't have to be infinite. It has to last through a moment. Unfortunately, if you string enough of these moments together you get a stage. Like the sleepless stage, or terrible twos, silly, lying, biting, hitting, kissing stages. You get the idea. Ugh. But moment by moment you deal with it all because you're a parent and unbeknownst to you it's what you signed up for. Patience comes and it goes. Some days you have an excess. Other days you time yourself out, run to your room, lay on the bed and cry. (Oh, I know you do it. We all do.)

The important thing is to focus on the in between times. You know what I'm talking about. There are minutes, even hours, in a day that don't require patience. When your six year old finally understands how much it hurts you (and him) when he lies. The first meal you eat in a restaurant with the whole family and no one snorts milk out their nose. The day your daughter realizes running into your arms when she's frustrated is better than screaming and stomping her feet. If you acknowledge success you'll actually find you have more patience. Simple, but true. Live the moments in between my friends. Have to go. I hear my husband's ring tone. Love that catchy tune. Alvin and the Chipmunks singing, "We Are Family."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On Electronics and Kids

Here's a controversial parenting topic for you. Electronics and kids. How much is too much? And I'll start by saying whatever works for your family is what's right for you. I'll tell you the story of electronics and our family, and if you learn anything from our mistakes fantastic. If you think I'm an overbearing and controlling mom well, that's okay too. We're all in this parenting thing together. And the only thing we know for sure is that there is no one right answer for any one parenting problem.

The world is a much smaller place than when I was a kid. Information is accessible with a keystroke. Twelve year olds have smart phones. I get ticked if there isn't 'an app for that'. Unfortunately, as parents this means we're competing for our kid's attention. Remember the good old days when an adult used your full name and you thought you might pee your pant's because you were in so much trouble. Yeah. Those were the days. When Thane is on the computer I'd have a hard time getting him to hear me if the house was on fire, let alone just speaking his name. A year or so ago his teachers felt the same way. He was driving us all crazy. He was cranky, sullen, and belligerent. And his father and I had to find out why. His teacher's led us to believe he had Attention Deficit Disorder. Which led to doctor's appointments, and a negative diagnosis. Which led to everyone becoming even more frustrated.

It took a few months of examining our family system and our patterns to figure it out. Well, I discovered my kid was stressed and I was part of the problem. Interestingly enough the symptoms of stress are almost identical to ADD. What a kick in the pants that was. Here I was staying home with the little darlings. Their lives should have read like a freakin' Disney script. Cue the bunnies and butterflies. After all, how many of us have said, "If I wasn't working _____ would be so much better." Yeah right. No bunnies and butterflies here. So let's get back to this stress thing. How does a typically developing seven/eight year old get stressed? Seriously stressed. To the point that professionals would like to label him with a diagnosis.

Obviously everyday was different. But the important items on the 'good parenting' list were there. Snacks, meals, sleep, physical activity, concerned involved parents, stable family. All checked off the list. So why was our kid stressed? What was the problem? Why was he cranky, sullen and belligerent? It isn't easy to condense a kid's day into short sentences. So bear with me here folks. From here on in DS, TV, and computer will simply be referred to as 'electronics'.

I would feel guilty for getting Thane out of bed in the morning so I'd let him sleep until the last minute. After all he looked so sweet and peaceful. But then instead of getting dressed, having his breakfast or packing his bag he'd be using electronics. Already a half hour behind because he slept in he was now creeping up to forty-five minutes behind.

Off to a bad start at home, he had little energy to deal with what the day threw at him in school. By recess he's in trouble, and he just didn't care.

After school he hits the electronics, instead of having a snack, doing his homework or practicing guitar. Gets it done eventually, but it's a struggle. Later has a snack, thus disinterested in supper. Rushes out the door to sports because he just had to finish 'one more level'. Homework being put off after school means playing catch-up the next morning or skipping bath. Hectic evening leads us to believe he needs to unwind with his electronics. A little extra electronics causes him to stay up past his bedtime again. Which guilts me into letting him sleep in the next morning.

I'm sure you've gotten the point, but now I'm going to drive it home with some dialogue. As this is my blog I'm not presuming to bring Chris into it. It should be noted we are a 50/50 parenting team. However, Chris is at work long before I get the kids ready for school. This isn't pretty. But I'm being honest, so put your big girl panties on when you read it.

"Get up. We're already late. You shouldn't have stayed up so late last night."
"Get your clothes on NOW or I'm sending you to the bus stop like that!"
"You knew you had homework. You wrote it in your agenda. Why isn't it done? Indoor recess for you!"
"Eat something. We don't have time for this."
"Do you not have a watch? Use it!"
"Turn that thing off and get your coat on."
"Get off that computer and get to bed."
"I said NO YOUTUBE!"
"How did you get my password? What good are parental controls if you hack into the computer? I don't trust you anymore!"
"I said GET TO BED NOW!!!"
"Get up. We're already late..."

Now, let's remove the extraneous variable. Electronics. No more electronics during the school week. So simple. So effective. Like a small miracle. Amazing. Seriously. A new kid. A happy little boy. Sleeping when he should. Eating when he should. Playing, doing homework when it needs to be done. Electronics were taking up tiny bits of time. Fifteen minutes here. A half hour there. Making us late, and making us resentful. Keeping us from interacting. From talking. From sharing. From listening. All the important things little people need to thrive. And yes, the nagging and yelling settled down. Don't get me wrong. This is a loud house. Full of big, loud people. We yell upstairs. We yell downstairs. But there is a whole lot less yelling at each other.

We got our priorities straight. Should Thane have given up guitar over DS? Homework for computer? Sleep for TV? No way. I should be parenting my kid. Not the TV, DS or computer. Frankly, I just gave in to Thane's requests. Let him do what his friends were doing. What was I thinking? Thane still has his moments. He's a normal kid. He gets Wii, computer, DS and TV on the weekends. Unless he screws up, then we have something to bargain with. Remember, this is not the solution for every family. But, if you are having behaviour issues, controlling electronic usage might be the key.

As a parent take a look at everything you are competing against when you are trying to get your message, your values, your morals across to your kid. No matter what we do we can't bring back the good old days. They're gone. As parents we have to take responsibility. Very few kids have the restraint to self-monitor the time they spend using electronics, or the restraint to stay off sites they shouldn't be on. In a few years I'll be friends with my kids. Not today. Today, I'll proudly wear the label of overbearing and controlling mom.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On Self-Care

I know. I know. Overdone topic. Everybody is talking about going to the gym, personal trainers, hobbies, life style changes and the dreaded D-word. DIET. Frankly it's overwhelming. I don't know about you but I just want to throw out the magazines, turn off the TV and dig into a bag of Hershey's Chocolate Kisses. So much easier. Unfortunately I'm not getting any younger. And it seems the kids, I thought would get easier to physically manage as they got older, are worse than ever. Skating equipment outweighs that ridiculously expensive super, light-weight nine lbs stroller I lugged around for years. The dreaded Pack and Play was nothing compared to loading camping equipment for five people into a minivan. What's a diaper bag compared to the overnight bag a nine year old boy takes on a sleepover? Same thing. Take out soother, replace with hockey cards. Diapers to boxers. I'm still packing and lugging, and pushing, and lifting. Only everything has gotten heavier. Including my four year old daughter who happens to be the exact height and weight of the average seven year old. Seven year olds don't expect you to carry them to bed or lift them out of the tub though. Hence me staring at my forty-one year old reflection thinking if you're going to survive skating, tobogganing, chasing, running, lugging, and toting you better start listening to this self-care stuff and get with the program.

So I did what everyone of our age does. I picked up my smart phone and started a list. What can I do to look after myself? Then I realized how far down the wrong road I've travelled. In the past three years, since I've become a stay-at-home mom, I've given up going to the gym, getting my nails and hair done on a regular basis. The only clothes I wear are from big box stores. I no longer pick the food I eat. My meals are based on what the kids will eat. I have given up my hobbies, my interests, my entire identity. I became Ubermom. At least my definition of an Ubermom. I've been subconsciously trying to make up for all the days I missed being with the kids because of my past employment obligations. I let that guilt consume and reinvent me.

So who the hell is this new person? Do I even like her? Do I care enough about her to even take on the idea of self-care? Here's an example of how far I've let things go. I made myself put together a grocery list of food that I like and I compared it to my typical weekly family grocery list. Not even close to the same. How guilty do you have to feel to not buy yourself a cucumber? Oh yeah. I'm in a bad place. But I'm crawling out. Life is about balance. I just happen to have slid way too far over into the, 'I'm going to be the best stay-at-home mommy ever' side of the page. I need to start finding myself again. So every great success story begins with a plan. Mine is slowly coming together. This thinking about yourself takes a lot of work.

First things first. I warned the troops. Mommy/wife is going to be making a few changes. Some of these changes will enter your airspace and possibly may make me unavailable to your every beck and call. Ahhhh. Even giving myself permission to be at times unavailable was refreshing. So, last weekend Chris took the kids skating for 2 hours by himself. Let's just say there was a little drama, but the survival rate was 100% so we'll consider the activity a success. I am now going to physio three times a week. By myself. Sans kids. This is an example of how desperate I am. I practically skip out the door to be physically tortured. Ahhhh. It's so quiet in the clinic.

I loaded my Ipod with music. When I put laundry away I plug it in to this phenomenal speaker system I bought Chris for his birthday (Who's a smart girl?). The first time I blasted my music Thane took the heat. Chris blamed him for breaking the sound barrier. Too bad Daddy-o. It was me. I had no idea how much I missed having my music in my life. Not the freakin' Itsy Bitsy Spider or Chicken Dance, but stuff I want to listen to. Self-care? You wanna believe it. It felt great. I slam dunked that laundry like there was no tomorrow.

Last week I bought a new yoga mat. My old one is packed with the camping supplies as an extra bedroll for whomever needs it. I needed it and couldn't find it. New mat and some new yoga and Pilate's DVDs later I'm all set. So today, Ava and I did yoga. Oh, and Barbie. Apparently she loves yoga. She does yoga naked, so it's a good thing I didn't bother getting a gym membership with yoga privileges. Barbie would have been uncomfortable. So, not only did I look after myself I set an example for Ava. Mommy takes care of herself. Mommy is worth it. And someday when you 're married with kids you'll look after yourself too.

I have a long way to go. I felt guilty buying a new sweatshirt this weekend. Three years ago I would have spent a whole paycheck in a clothing store and not thought twice. Oh how things change. My value, self worth, self confidence and self esteem are so entangled in my professional identity it will take me years to sort out the mess. But I'll be a better mom, a better wife, and a better me if I figure it out. Right now I think I'll have lunch. I bought a cucumber. No one likes them but me. Let's face it, nothing says, 'I'm worth it' like a toasted cucumber sandwich.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thank You Readers!

Blog. What kind of word is that anyway? It's not a happy word. It doesn't connote something enjoyable is about to happen. You are about to read a blog. A what? Barf, slog, clog, fog. Nope. No feelings of enjoyment conjured up. I've had to explain, using my own limited understanding, to many a friend and family member, what a blog is. Simply a public electronic journal. A place to barf out my thoughts, slog through my problems, unclog my underutilized brain, while meandering through the fog of parenting three little darlings. Okay. Maybe blog is the right word.

When I took on blogging a few weeks ago I was using it as a creative outlet. I considered it an extension of Facebook. I love Facebook because I'm interested (read nosey), social, and given the fact I'm home all day with little people I have many quick opportunities to jump on my iPhone to see what's happening out there in the adult world. But I also love to talk. And I am a creative person by nature. Writing comes naturally to me. Especially conversational prose. So blogging has become something I really look forward to. It's fast. A post takes about 45 minutes including the time it takes to wipe a nose, pour a glass of milk, pull a Barbie out of the toilet, and pick crayon out of the dog's teeth. (I know you're jealous of my glamorous life of leisure. Get over it. In my world wine is known as Mommy Juice.) So blogging has become my new way to connect with the world, and I love it.

And can you believe it? In a little over three weeks I've had over a thousand page views. From all over the place. Hello UK, Angola, and Hong Kong. A lot of repeat offenders I know, but nonetheless I am very pleased. Afterall this is a blog, not a website. I've had a lot of positive comments and some constructive criticism too. I'm just glad you're all along for the ride with me. Pass on my link to anyone you think might enjoy a moment of parental commiseration, or would just like to laugh at our chronic insanity.

To celebrate a thousand page views, and this new found reason to give my 10 year old laptop to the kids and get a new one,  I've redesigned my blog. Just another simple template in an attempt to make it a bit easier to read. A bit brighter. I'm a sucker for bright colours and I get bored very easily. Playing around with my template saved me the hundred and seventy-five bucks it would have cost to change my hair colour. It's that time of year. Brown, blond, auburn who knows? Cheaper to go from coffee cup picture to blue stripe watermark.

Let me know what you think of the change. I'm open to suggestions for topics too. I have a list I update as the kids present interesting issues. But it might be personally enlightening to comment on someone else's parenting misery. Of course, I mean parenting challenges. I think we could have a laugh and learn something along the way. So a giant THANK YOU to all of you for using my blog as a way to avoid housework. I completely understand. I'll try to make sure you avoid tackling dust bunnies at least once a day. You never know, blog may become a happy word yet.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

On Raising My Girl

Silly me. I thought raising a girl would be the same as raising a boy. Well, that's what I was told in all my women's studies classes. Just hand her unisex toys, read her The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch enough times and all things will be equal. Dress her in red or blue. Give her the boy's hand-me-down clothes. Gender neutral colour on the walls of her bedroom. You're all set. Girls equal boys. Boys equal girls.

And then she was born. In a maelstrom of pink glitter. I swear butterflies and tiny fairies floated around the operating room. Okay, maybe those were the drugs they gave me. But in that moment I had an epiphany. No blue will touch my perfect baby girl. No green. No gender neutral wall colours are acceptable. All that I learned was thrown out through the lace priscilla curtains covering the windows of her perfectly pink striped nursery. I'll deal with her issues of inferiority in a patriarchal society as soon as I'm finished getting her ears pierced. Okay. I suck. I know. All feminists everywhere are turning their backs on me. Leaving my baby girl and I to fend for ourselves in a world where I do the baking and my husband takes out the garbage.

But you know something? I have no doubts my girl will turn out okay. After all she wants to be the boss of Daddy when she grows up. After she becomes an astronaut, after she becomes a scientist. I'm not sure how NASA will feel about pink space suits, but there's a first time for everything. I think what's important isn't the colour of the suit. It's the fact she believes with all the certainty of a four year old she will wear one someday. Sure Barbie's waist is too small, her boobs too perky, and her hair too long. But, you know she doesn't rely on Ken like she used to. She's got a career. Many of them in fact. She's got choices. And that's all I want for my girl.

In the back of my mind I know the pink princess phase is just that. A phase. If the little girls around us are any example pink is replaced by a love of all things purple, and then fades to shades of grey. And then, God forbid, darkens to black. So in reality I think I'm embracing this pastel time because it represents sweet innocence. A time when Daddy is still a hero, Mommy can make anything, and big brothers are still the authority on all things cool. I don't want it to end. And yet I am so much looking forward to experiencing all the colours of my girl. My beautelligent rainbow girl.

Friday, February 4, 2011

On Report Cards

What a blah topic for a beautiful Friday afternoon. Let's see what we can do with it. So yesterday was report card day. Oh yeah. A national celebration in some houses, in ours not so much. Thane had a less than perfect year last year, so once bitten twice shy. He handed me his report card with the demeanor of a kid who knew he might be headed to the gallows. I took the missive and sat down with a cup of coffee for a good read. And no, the coffee was not fortified, although don't think I wasn't tempted.

It turns out his report card was fine. His average was at least a B. Not so bad. Hmmmm. Let's examine the Learning Skills and Work Habits section. This is where things go a little astray for Thane. "Not working to his potential," has been the prevailing theme in practically every report card the child has received. Isn't that just a nice way of saying, "He's smarter then he looks"? Just kidding, of course. Thane is very intelligent. He is also very creative, really, really funny, popular, and athletic. Great qualities in a kid. Unfortunately they often mask his academic abilities. The teachers have been right in the past, and are right this year. He can do better. So what is the appropriate reaction to this report card?

Gulp. Gulp. Punishment sounds so harsh doesn't it. Punitive by definition implies a penalty. Thane could have done better. It wasn't like he tried his very best. He admits he slacked off. Although he's nine, he reads at a much higher level. He does very well in math and science. He understands there are consequences for his actions or lack thereof. As parents where do we go from here? We're thrilled Thane has, for the most part, harnessed his temper. He's paying attention most of the time. He has a B average. That's more than acceptable. Punishment doesn't seem like the way to go. But we have to keep in mind he is aware he did not give it his all. And there were times the laughs he got were at the expense of others. Comedy and spontaneity appeal to Thane, and lead me to consider buying LCBO gift certificates for his teachers. (Hmmm. I should write about genetics sometime.)

An out and out report card celebration wouldn't be appropriate either. Our parenting style differs from that. We don't praise our kids for picking a piece of lint off their pants. In the workplace I've had the pleasure of managing twenty-somethings who were raised like that. I called them the 'Entitled Generation'. They honestly believed they deserved a six figure salary, straight out of university. And if they managed to pull together a powerpoint presentation they thought they deserved a raise for all that hard work. They want to carry a brand new Macbook Air, drive a new car, and live in a fully furnished apartment straight out of the pages of Design Beautiful. Oh yeah. Mommy, daddy, and society told them they were perfect for twenty years. Boy, are they shocked when they find out they're not.

So, as with every parenting issue Chris and I need to strike a balance. To find that place in the middle that doesn't protect the kids from appropriate criticism. Yet still dangles some sort of motivational Bey Blade in front of them. As long as I live I will never forget my grade nine teacher holding my honours certificate in front of my nose minutes before Junior Convocation. He held it there and then he ripped it in two. The entire time he maintained eye contact with me. I kept asking myself, "How could he embarrass me like this? I thought he liked me." My heart was broken. What I couldn't have understood at the time was that his was too. He was my mentor and one of the best teachers I ever had. I had not worked to my potential. I still turn to that moment for motivation. Just because the truth hurts doesn't mean it's not the truth.

We'll all sit down and talk this weekend. Caden's report card was great so we dodged a bullet there. No letter grades to consider in Senior Kindergarten. Every kid is different, every family is different; therefore, we're wingin' it again. For the most part Chris and I are doing the best we can to raise our kids to be good people. To be productive members of society.  Sometimes we do right by them and sometimes we fail miserably. Sometimes we even give in and fortify the coffee. Honestly, as parents, we are smarter than we look.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

On Genetics

After twenty three years with the same guy you pretty much know how he ticks and if you don't you haven't really been paying attention. I have a clear idea of how my husband will solve a problem, react to change, or absorb information. What I find fascinating is watching our middle child Caden behaving just like his father. Genetics are beyond my ken. Let's face it, scientist I am not, but I can appreciate the complexity of the zygote becoming the flesh and blood boy. I have a more difficult time getting my head around the repetative behaviour patterns genetics throw at us.

Let's be honest there were some traits my husband possesses I was really hoping wouldn't get passed on to our progeny. And I have no doubt he feels the same way about my less than stellar contribution to the genetic stew. Einstein and Martha Stewart will not be found hanging around my family tree. Regardless, we love each other, and we love our kids, so we put up and shut up with a lot of the crap in between. And let's face it I have a handsome, brilliant husband. What more could a girl ask for?

But how do you cope when your husband has a Mini-Me that tags along beside him? Sometimes I feel a little outnumbered. A little outmaneuvered. My only edge is I have spent more than half my life with Chris so at times I can predict his behaviour. Advantageous when predicting the behaviour of his six year old clone. Take for example trying to get Caden to get dressed this morning. His pants were in the clean laundry basket. I told him to pick any pair and put them on. Half an hour later four kids and I were roasting in our own skins, dressed in our parkas waiting for Caden to make a grand entrance. And finally he did. Sans pants. Dinosaur boxers the only thing between him and the 20cm of snow that fell yesterday. I blew a gasket. Four pair of pants to choose from. What was the problem?

Well it seems, in Caden's opinion, these four pair of pants did not belong to him. They were too long and must belong to his older brother Thane. We argued. To prove my point I hauled Thane, by the hood of his parka, up the stairs to demonstrate to Caden each pair of pants only reached the top of Thane's boots. At this point Thane had denounced any familial relationship to Caden. In Thane's mind anyone who doesn't have the ability to get up and get ready for the day in fifteen minutes is not worth the air they breathe. I sent the grumbling Thane downstairs, threw a pair of pants at Caden's feet and watched him put them on. They fit. Suddenly I thought I knew what the problem was. And then Caden confirmed my hunch. He explained the pants looked different from the pants he wore last week. They were slightly longer and slightly wider. He had yet to accept the fact he had moved from a size 6x to an 8. He needed time to process that he had in fact grown, and that new pants were the product of this growth. He was stressed that something new was flying in his airspace. At six Caden would not be described as spontaneous. As his Mom, I have to allow him the time to process change and new information, even if it means he and his brother are going to be late for school.

So you may now ask, what does this have to do with genetics? Oh please let me explain. In our house Chris does the laundry. Sorts, washes, dries and folds. My job is to put away. Which would of course explain why Caden was directed to pull his pants out of the clean laundry basket. But I digress. Last night, while Chris was folding the aforementioned laundry I watched him holding pants up in front of him. I heard him sigh. This became a pattern. Hold up pants, sigh, fold, place in basket. You'll never guess what the problem was. Oh yes. Caden had new pants in the laundry. Slightly longer, slightly wider. Just that much closer in appearance to Thane's. You see Chris also sorts the laundry after he folds it. Each child has their own pile. He was annoyed that something new was flying in his airspace. In relation to being faced with the 'pants problem', on a scale of 1 to 10 his annoyance was a 2 and Caden's stress a 9, but that's the beauty of age and wisdom. Chris has learned how to cope.

So you thought when I introduced genetics I was referring to eye colour, facial features, maybe the way Chris and Caden walk. Oh that's all there. In spades. Mini-Me all the way. No, I was talking about the hard wiring. That certain something that makes our parents a part of us in a sometimes scary, always fascinating, irrefutable way. So, I think I've made my point. Genetics are a weird and wonderful thing. When you get right down to it I'm not complaining one bit about Chris and Mini-Me. Afterall I love every one of their quirks. And frankly I wouldn't want to tick them off. I predict in a couple of years they'll be fighting over who does the laundry.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On Life Plans

So in order to avoid eating half a loaf of homemade bread (Why does it have to smell so good?) I'm going to see how far I get with my blog. The weather certainly supports writing today. All snow drifts and white gusts. I just want to curl up with my laptop and type the day away. I'm afraid the seven kids running around here may have other ideas. On a good day I get to read my post over once. Today you may receive the unedited truth. Revealing my spelling and grammatical errors in all their glory. Oh well. More fun to watch the kids build with play dough than edit this. (I do have a fantastic recipe for homemade play dough if anyone else needs something creative to do on this blustery day!)

So today I've been contemplating life planning. Not the typical financial stuff, but the sort of life planning parents do for their children. Chris and I have a chat every couple of months about each kid. Where they're at in school. Good grades, bad grades. Typical behaviours, new behaviours. New likes and dislikes, friends and activities. Parenting today is different than it used to be. Kids are more savvy, more educated, more knowledgeable. As parents we have to be on our game.

Kids know what sex is before they see the 'bunny' movie. They know there are good and bad drugs. They know liquor is a drug. They can't wait to have coffee because it will give them energy. Their friends are from all over the world. Some of their friends have lost their parent's in war. Some of their friends have held a gun in war. The news is accessible. The Internet needs no explanation. And every twelve year old has a Smart phone.

So the world is a million times smaller for our kids than it was for us. And we're not doing our kids any favours if we stand around like a bunch of old curmudgeons complaining about it. We're the parents and we need to accept this is the new way our kids will do business. To be prepared as a parent you might like to try life plans for your kids. They don't have to be written in stone, or even written down. It's enough that you make the effort. When it comes to parenting this is no time to wing it.

I'm no fool. I know you're thinking we're insane. Life plans for kids.? Way to over think something that should come naturally! But I don't think parenting comes naturally, or there wouldn't be so many parenting how-to books out there. I think we should take advantage of every opportunity to help our kids out. To raise them to be productive adults. I'm not saying over schedule your kids. I'm not saying pick their friends. I'm not saying meet with their teachers every week. I am saying put some thought into what you want your kid's future to look like? What kind of adult do you want them to be? Just because the kid down the street is in golf, and you like to watch golf on TV doesn't mean it's right for your kid.

As an example of how we plan for the kids let's look at Thane. We're still not sure if hockey is the right activity for Thane. But we have a plan. He is to get the first three levels of CanSkate (essentially figure skating basics). If he passes those he has to pass CanPower (figure skating lessons in hockey gear). All these levels can be done in a few months. If he passes them he can try hockey. Reasons for not just sticking him in hockey? We have a life plan for Thane. Skating is on the list of skills we would like him to have. It's very important to us that throughout his life he be able to skate. If we had put him in hockey and he hated it the chances of getting him to take figure skating lessons 0%. Kiss that skill goodbye. Also, if he does play hockey we want him to be good at it. Not NHL good. Just successful at his level. He has a better chance of success if he has a solid skating foundation. We have made the decision that our kids be able to skate, swim, ski, and have a basic knowledge of how to express themselves creatively. Hence piano, guitar and acting lessons. Anything else they want to try along the way is gravy. Entirely up to them and we will support them within reason.

Another item on the kid's life plans would be sensitivity to differences. So I deliberately provide childcare for a little boy with cerebral palsy. His parents are well aware over the last three years their son has been coming to our house he has taught our kids about differences, tolerance and prejudice. God bless them for sharing their son with us. These life lessons were part of the plan we have laid out for our kids.

Please don't think we have a list on the fridge, a ledger in a safe deposit box somewhere. Chris and I have conversations. A long time ago the plans were laid out. We just touch base every now and then to make sure we are on track. If we're not we make adjustments. Talk to teachers, change coaches, talk with the kids about making good choices. If nothing else having a plan gives us, as parents, a sense of control in a world that can easily take control of our children. And let's face it, even though they just ate a whole loaf of homemade bread in one sitting, they're worth it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Shack Happy. Us?

Going shack happy is a funny thing. It sneaks up on you when you're too busy to notice. It's winter. It's cold. We have no plans to go anywhere warm anytime soon. Everyone is getting a little sensitive. It's not like we spend a lot of time in the house. We're always running all over the place, but the lack of sunshine is getting to all of us. As a family we're a little high strung right now. Nerves are close to the surface and the kids are within a whisper of having an all out brawl. We need to make a few minor adjustments if we're going to eliminate some interpersonal static electricity in this house.

I'll admit I am tired of making meals for everyone and they are tired of my repertoire. It's not like I'm a one trick pony, but some of the meals I've been serving lately have been a little sketchy. The old slow cooker may have to become a plant pot, with a handy attached meat thermometer. Last week I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of eating at the dining table like we always do, I threw the plates and utensils on the coffee table in the living room. Instead of meat and potatoes I got Chris to pick up munchies. You know, besides pizza, every kid's favorite foods. Fruit, veggies and dips, crackers and summer sausage. Cheesies and chocolate milk. It was Friday night, so we put Diary of a Wimpy Kid in the DVD player and ate in front of the TV. I know. Not rocket science. But I spend half my life chasing kids with juice boxes and sticky fingers away from my new sofa. Letting them run loose with food is a big step for Chris and I.

What an enjoyable dinner. Not having to listen to anyone whining about what was on their plate was worth the dip in between the cracks of the hardwood. In our house you don't have to eat it all, but you have to take bites according to age. Four years equals four bites of the dreaded broccoli. The three kids are horrified they are all moving up a bite over the next two weeks. Suck it up kiddies. Birthdays are not all fun and games. But this freestyle dinner was complaint free. No cajoling anyone to take bites. Unbelievable.

It's funny how I can get stuck in a rut doing things the way I think they're supposed to be done. Sometimes I have to remind myself to use my own common sense. In my mother's house you can eat off the floors. Even in the corners. In my house not so much. Even the dog thinks twice before she eats a Cheerio off our floors. (And she has all her shots!) Sure, I hate cleaning floors, but I also hate nagging the kids about spilling or dropping anything. How productive would you be at work if your boss stuck their head in your cubicle every fifteen minutes to remind you to keep your workspace tidy?

And I really do hate clutter. It drives me crazy. You wouldn't know it walking around this place. It's taken me years to come to the realization toys aren't clutter. That some stuff isn't clutter. This is our home. We live  here. You can visit anytime, but you've got to accept, this is the way we roll. So yes, we have lightened up, so you may find our house in a mess. And on Friday nights you may find us sitting on the floor in the living room eating off plastic plates. But you'll probably hear us laughing and that's what will get us through the long cold winter without selling each other on Kijiji.