You bag up your leaves and throw them out …. Say what?

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A couple of days ago, I spent about three hours working on the various yards around our house. Instead of a backyard and a front yard, like everybody else, we have a front yard and two side yards. One of the side yards is similar to a classic backyard – fenced and containing a play structure. The other is divided into two areas, one a sunny terrace of interlocking brick and one a sunken cloister, surrounded by trees. So, really, we have three side yards, I guess? Anyway. Our various yards are not really the point of this post, they’re the birthplace. One of my summer pleasures is taming these yards, since they’re a profusion of both domestic perennials and wildflowers, and you just never know what colours and shapes you’re going to encounter on any given day. I was thinking about the changes each season brings to the yards. When I thought about the fall, I pictured the ankle-deep carpet of leaves I love to shuffle through – and was reminded of things-people-do-that-I-don’t-get. Within minutes, I had come up with a sizable list. The first item, the one that started this chain of thought, is ….

Bagging leaves. First when leaves fall from the trees, they make a colourful covering for the ground, which is rapidly turning to a slurry of browns and greys. As they dry out, they make a lovely crunching sound when you step on them. Through the winter, they provide warmth and shelter for plants and small animals. In the spring, they decay and turn into nutrients for new plants. They’re basically free mulch. Unless you spend hours raking them up and putting them in bags, and leave them at the curb on garbage day. Which alot of people do. Even better: some people bag and dispose of their leaves, and then head for the nearest gardening center to buy mulch. Yeah.

Lawns. Yes, grass is pretty. But so are periwinkles, buttercups, dandelions, lambsquarters, chickweeds and clovers. But because people have been conditioned to see these other plants as undesirable, as weeds, they don’t recognise their beauty or even the environmental value of variety. So they spend alot of money, water, time and sweat on encouraging an expanse of monoculture that does nothing for nature, or the health of people and pets. Sometimes they even subtly bully their neighbours into doing the same. Or they don’t bother with subtlety, and they call the city to rat on the non-conformists. Nope, I don’t get lawns – or their crusaders.

Washing yard gear. Sure, if you like to eat meals outside, wipe the table with a soapy cloth. If a bird poops on your chair, wipe that, too. But attacking your entire deck or terrace with a pressure washer …. Why? Ok, hose it down at the end of the winter to get rid of an entire year’s worth of debris – but then stop wasting water. Unless you live in Death Valley, it’s probably going to rain sooner or later.

Minivans. If you have three or more children, ok, buy a minivan. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do. But what is with these couples who start shopping for a minivan as soon as the woman feels her first twinge of morning sickness over their first child? A baby is a very small human being, and does not need a living-room-on-wheels for her transportation. Ryan and I and our two daughters drive more than anyone we know, comfortably, and we’ve never driven anything bigger than a sedan. We save money on gas, we go easy on the environment, and we can take advantage of tight parking spaces. Don’t be suckered into giving up your car just because one of the three back seats is gaining an occupant.

Baby-on-Board signs. Oh, I’m so glad you put that little yellow diamond in your rear window – I was going to ram into you, then screech around you and hurl trash from my open window into yours. Now that I know there’s a baby in your car, though, I’m going to keep a safe distance and watch out for that precious little bundle of joy you’re packing. Know what? Everybody matters; babies don’t belong to an elite group worthy of enhanced protection. Even if you’re the only person in your car, I’m still going to be careful, because I don’t want anyone to get hurt.

Classes for babies. What’s the point? You’re dealing with a person who, over the next couple of years, is going to learn to recognise faces (including his own), talk, walk, feed himself and interact with other human beings (and animals). He doesn’t know yet that droplets will fly everywhere if he smacks the surface of his bath water. This might be funny or scary to him, depending on his personality. He’s going to learn that a crayon dragged across paper makes a mark, and the colour of the mark corresponds to the colour of the crayon. He will find out that there are things behind doors. He will soon know that if he’s being strapped into his carseat, he’s going somewhere. Things he’s probably not going to learn, no matter how much money you fork over or how many Saturday mornings you burn in traffic, change rooms and line-ups? Swimming. Yoga. Tumbling. Ballet. A musical instrument. Because his little brain’s already working very hard to keep up with the basics! Unless he’s a prodigy, which is unlikely for most of us – in which case his talents will emerge on their own, when he’s ready to reveal them. Maybe parents should ask themselves why babies should learn any of these things. The uncomfortable answer might just be that classes for babies are little more than an expensive way to allow new parents to socialize and kill time between naps.

I could keep going, of course, since the list of things-people-do-that-I-don’t-get is long, and seems to grow regularly. But I’ve reached a thousand words, so I think I’m going to shut down my Little Shop of Say-Whats for today. Stay tuned for part two ….

Go ahead and call me “sweetheart” – I like it.

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So, apparently the Middle East has managed to achieve peace between all its warring factions, global warming has been reversed and we’ve finally fed every starving child in every country in Africa – and nobody told me! Or, at least, that’s my assumption, based on this latest feminist flap caused by the innocuous act of calling a woman “sweetheart”.

Eugenie Bouchard, a twenty-year-old tennis sensation from Montréal, is deservedly getting alot of attention. In 2012, she won the Wimbledon girls’ title. She reached the semifinals of the Australian and French Opens in 2014, and the finals of a Grand Slam in singles at the 2014 Wimbledon Championships (the first Canadian to do so). She’s a truly gifted athlete, and she has worked very hard for what she has achieved.

She has, of course, generated huge excitement among tennis fans. The media has taken to calling her “Canada’s tennis sweetheart”. This is, apparently, an issue. There’s been a bit of noise in our forum of ignorant, impotent knee-jerking, Facebook. A local radio personality, Randall Moore, has been called “sexist” for using the moniker in one of his rants on Chez 106. And then there’s Mike, who doesn’t think Eugenie Bouchard should be called Canada’s sweetheart because she doesn’t rescue baby penguins or pet the wings of butterflies. (FYI, Mike-the-dad-blogger, petting the wings of a butterfly would not make you a sweetheart, it would make you an asshole - because that kills the butterfly. But I digress.) She also doesn’t knit or bake butter tarts, two more things that Mike associates with sweethearts. Um, what?

Sweetheart, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as “a person you love very much”. Synonyms include beloved, darling and dear. It’s a compliment. Eugenie Bouchard is loved very much by Canadian tennis fans everywhere – and even just plain patriots who don’t care much for tennis, but enjoy seeing Canadians perform well on the world stage. She’s our sweetheart (for now, anyway). She’s also young and pretty, with a bangin’ body. And therein lies the problem, perhaps …. If she were a man, and someone called her Canada’s darling, nobody would protest. There’s no way of testing this theory, but I also suspect that her being called a sweetheart wouldn’t raise many eyebrows if she were older or unattractive. Because this is what many people are saying: “oh, you’ve given her this label because she’s twenty and blonde”. No, she has this label because she’s beloved on the tennis courts right now. That’s what rocketed her to fame in the sports world, not her looks. People who call her Canada’s sweetheart, or don’t pay much attention to the reference, innately understand that. So, who are the real sexists here? Could it be those who can’t see how she could be called “sweetheart” without her gorgeous smile and long hair and athletic frame? I know, I know: what a ridiculous thing to suppose. Almost as ridiculous as getting angry and flinging accusations around because someone’s been called a sweetheart?

As I said at the beginning of this post, there are alot more serious issues to which we ought to apply our outrage. In some parts of the world, a lovely girl like Eugenie Bouchard could aspire to, at most, a highly-priced bride. She might get stones or acid thrown at her if she tried to do anything more than that with her mind or her body. Here in Canada, she’s a tennis star. But …. but …. but people call her sweetheart! In the words of the aforementioned Randall Moore, responding to listeners who accused him of sexism, so what? If that’s our biggest problem, we’re definitely come a long way, baby. Oh, sorry! We’ve come a long way, fellow equally-competant-in-all-areas-and-certainly-not-darling-in-any-way human.

Related question: Would anyone who got upset over Eugenie being called a sweetheart also take up the cause of David Beckham? Or is this a one-way street?

 

 

 

School’s out! Or, if you will, Hallelujah! They kind of mean the same thing to me right now.

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Today is the last day of school until September, and I couldn’t be happier. No, not theyI. Alright, I suppose Fiona and Bridget will be happy, too – but not like me. I am dog-hanging-out-the-car-window happy. Toddler-allowed-to-plunge-dimpled-hands-into-the-toilet happy. Handel’s-“Messiah”-soaring-in-the-background-while-I-toss-hundred-dollar-bills-at-passers-by happy. Indeed, I could come up with descriptions of how happy I am for several paragraphs more. My joy at not having to deal with school for a whole two blessified months knows no bounds.

Before you roll your eyes and accuse me of wild exaggeration, here’s my list of reasons for being lifetime-supply-of-Cool-Ranch-Doritos happy …. (See? I could do this all day long!)

1) No more homework! Any parent who has ever stood wearily over the shoulder of their maxed-out son or daughter, doing the delicate dance of not feeding the kid the answers, while trying to ensure that the kid finishes the homework and goes to bed before we all lose our ever-loving minds, will appreciate where I’m coming from. Our girls are only in grades three and one – yet, Ryan and I have spent many miserable evenings patiently (and sometimes not-so-patiently) plowing through assignments that seem to have no roots in their classroom activities and are above their heads. We try to take a hands-off approach consisting of gentle supervision and assistance in the thought process, since the homework is not actually for our benefit - it’s for the kids. This results in two outcomes. The first is that the homework takes a long, long, long time to complete. The second is that the completed work is born proudly off to school, only to look deeply inadequate next to the work of some little twit whose parents obviously did the assignment themselves.

2) Got school supplies? Not enough school supplies! It doesn’t matter how well you outfit the kids in September, they will lose everything you bought for them.

“Mom, I need a pencil.” “But I bought you 835 of them just four months ago.” “I know, but I can’t find them. Can I use the pen in your purse?”

“I don’t have scissors, and I need them for this Friday’s art project!” “What do you mean, you don’t have scissors? I bought you scissors for school.” “I know, but I lent them to Madysonne / Mac’kenzie / Destinii, and she didn’t bring them back.”

Dear parents of Ms. Screamer’s grade two class,

Our classroom is currently out of glue sticks, erasers, kleenex and general happiness. If you could spare some to send to school with your child, it would be greatly appreciated. Also, we’ve noticed that alot of the children seem to have wet socks regularly. If you could put a pair of spare socks in the backpack to replace the ones you put there originally, which have mysteriously disappeared, it would make playtime more fun.

Sincerely, Ms. Screamer and her grade two class

I love shopping for school supplies in the fall. Fresh stacks of paper, bright new crayons with perfect tips, shiny scissors and oh-so-many glue sticks – plus new shoes and a fun backpack? I geek out on that. Buying it in February because it somehow wasn’t enough, for reasons that are never clearly explained, and it’s no longer in a colourful display with a big back-to-school sign hanging over it? Not so much.

3) Which leads me to money. Money for that new agenda, money for fundraisers, money for field trips, money for the book fair, money for pizza lunches – and all them fancy chocolate bars. It will be nice not to be asked for money for two solid months, either by Fiona and Bridget, who have been whipped up into a lather of excitement over whatever money-slurping endeavor to which they’ve been introduced, or by a letter from Ms. Screamer.

4) No more school bus! Any parent whose kids take the bus to school is aware that the bus is a jungle. (Isn’t that an awesome song? G&R = awesome-sauce. You don’t agree? I don’t care, remember?) It’s little more than a mobile holding pen for a wide assortment of children, from the meekest mice to the ones who could be voted most-likely-to-end-up-in-juvie by their class (and every other class). There’s only one adult present, and he or she is driving - unable to intervene, or even see half of what’s going on. The cherry on top of this unfortunate sundae is that Fiona’s and Bridget’s bus driver for the past year is, by all accounts, certifiably insane. He mutters and twitches, and yells alot. I don’t want Psychotic Psam to lose his job, and I might be just like him if I had to drive a busload of brats anywhere at all even for one day – but I really don’t think driving a school bus is his true calling.

6) Bye-bye, bullies! Ever since Fiona’s first day of junior kindergarten, we have had to deal with bullies. That kid who’s a foot taller than everyone in the class and can’t seem to keep his hands to himself. That kid who must be raised by people conducting psychological experiments involving isolation, cattle prods and food as a reward for being dispicable to your fellow humans. Fiona has always been friendly to everyone, and therefore she’s a target. Bridget was quiet and kept to herself, so she was a target. Now she’s outgoing and one of the class leaders – naturally, she’s a target. Neither of the girls has ever been the sole concern of a bully, luckily – but they’ve occasionally been at the mercy of a kid who’s nasty to everyone most of the time. Fiona’s class a couple of years ago included a boy who took things from her and broke them just to make her cry. He also stuck someone else’s finger in his pencil sharpener and twisted off a layer of skin. Last year, Bridget had a boy in her class who was, more or less, the spawn of Satan. To protect his identity, we won’t call him by his real name. We’ll call him Lil’ Shit. Lil’ Shit was rough. He elbowed Bridget, he pushed her, he hit her. Lil’ Shit did this to everyone. One day, he shoved her from behind. She fell hard on her hands and knees and ended up with four big scabs. Not long after that, she tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned around, she slugged him in the gut. She tearfully confessed this to me later. I experienced several emotions. I felt frustrated that every class has at least one kid like that and schools can’t do much about it, and kids are trapped in all sorts of situations with these little assholes. I felt sad that Bridget, who is not a violent child, felt like her only option was to sucker-punch Lil’ Shit. And, yes, I felt good that she picked up for herself – I cheered for her on the inside. Now that they’re a little older, the boys don’t bother the girls, but other girls do. When girls bully, though, it’s usually a quieter affair. Gossip. Cruel nicknames. Exclusion. There’s a trio of grade sixers who patrol the playground, looking for younger kids to pick on, and they gang up on their victims. Fiona and her friends have had to stand up to The Bitches Three more than once, which takes alot of courage if you’re three years younger than your tormentors. (And who does that? Who picks on kids who are three years younger? Can’t wait to see what gifts these beauties will bestow on society when they’re all grown up.) The girls’ daycare doesn’t seem to have as much of that going on. Maybe it’s because daycares have a clear set of rules everyone has to follow, laid out in a contract – and they reserve the right to kick kids out if their behaviour hurts other kids. Schools have to give everyone a shot, and you have to be really bad to get booted out.

7) I can put whatever I want in their lunches. For a while, Bridget was allergic to eggs. Have you any idea how many foods have eggs in them? (Answer: pretty much everything that’s tasty.) It was difficult to find things she could eat and enjoy, and it was even more difficult to find whole meals for our family that didn’t involve eggs. Parents of children with severe food allergies have my sympathy. However, there are few things easier to make and more palatable to a child than a PB&J – and I will be making alot of them for the girls’ lunches this summer. It’s also not as important to give them a meticulously measured amount of each food group when they’re not going to be using their brain all day. Cotton candy for the morning snack, a PB&J and a cheese string for lunch, and a Joe Louis for the afternoon snack? Why not? It’s summer!

8) It doesn’t matter what they wear anymore. I gave up on the battle for things that match years ago – but I still enforce some standards when it comes to what the girls wear to school. So does the school – no spaghetti straps, no short shorts. In the summer, though, all bets are off. Stains? Sure! You’ll stain it more at daycare anyway. Holes? Ventilation! And when there’s a heat advisory in effect, spaghetti straps and short shorts are practically survival gear! Also, while you can’t go to school wearing electric blue eyeshadow and fuschia lipstick that’s overshot your lips by a good quarter-inch, daycare don’t care.

9) It’s a break from the guilt. To hear Fiona and Bridget speak, you’d think that every parent of every kid is always at their school. The turkey lunch at Thanksgiving, the haunted house and costume party at Halloween, decorating gingerbread houses, the muffin breakfast, the field trips to the Museum of Nature, the Children’s Museum and Winterlude, Science-in-our-Schools, the school picnic and games day, the talent show, and the many assemblies and masses? Yep, everyone’s mother or father (and, in some cases, their grandparents) are there. This is, of course, baloney. Most parents have to work in some capacity or other. The ones who don’t have to work are not always free. I come to some things, skip others, and I’ve noticed that not everyone is there all the time. This doesn’t stop me from feeling very, very, very bad about the times I can’t make it. Daycare makes no such demands. By its very nature, it assumes that you won’t be there, because if you were you wouldn’t be paying them a bloody fortune to take care of your kids.

Welcome, summer! We’ve been waiting for you ….

 

Year-round gifts for Daddy that don’t cost a thing!

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It is not an exaggeration to say that I’ve read about a dozen Father’s Day gift suggestion lists since mid-May. Some of these lists were humourous (Dad just wants a nag-free day and an endless parade of cold beers), and some were serious. One that was written by a father with terminal cancer was a tough read. Then, there were the flyers, which seemed to be composed by people who have way more money than me. A thousand-dollar barbeque, a TV, a ride-on mower? I thought we were talking about a Hallmark holiday, not every birthday for the next eight years rolled into one …. Since I love to share my five cents (it used to be two, but now that the penny is gone, we round up), I thought I’d make a list of my own. I know Father’s Day is over – but that’s ok, because these gifts are welcome all year long. They don’t even cost money. If your Dad hammered the concept of frugality into you like mine did, you’ll appreciate that.

From the creators of TV shows and commercials, a little credit. Dads are not all beer-swilling cretins who don’t know which end of a mop to use. Dads are not all hogging the best chair, carelessly scratching in their boxers, belching and demanding sandwiches, unsure of how old their kids are. Most dads I’ve met work hard for their leisure time, and even then they don’t get it all to themselves. They know what their kids are up to, they know their way around the kitchen - and, yes, alot of them mop. With the fluffy end.

From the retail industry, a little more love. Compare the selection of merchandaise on offer in celebration of Mother’s Day to that of Father’s Day. In May, stores are festooned with roses and hearts, and the message seems to be that mothers are angels in the flesh, sent down from heaven to heal the human race (and ensure that we all have sufficient kisses for our boo-boos and clean sheets on the bed). In June, there is a modest collection of cards tucked between the graduation and wedding cards, most of them flippant. Not that there’s anything wrong with funny cards – I’ve given and received my share of them – but surely we can have a wider selection and maybe a sign or two hanging from the ceiling. People spend significantly more on Mother’s Day than they do on Father’s Day. Yet the contributions of the average father to the average household are no less important or worthy of appreciation.

From their exes, respect and fair play. If you’re not with your children’s father anymore, there’s probably a good reason – and now you can’t stand him. But your kids adore him, because he’s their Dad and they know how much he loves them. Don’t spoil that for them. The more people who cherish a child, the better. Each person who loves your kids is a brick in a foundation that needs to be very solid, indeed, if you want them to be ok in this world. You may not like everything your ex does, and you may resent having to deal with him, but your children need him – and he’s half of them. Planting seeds of bitterness against him hurts them, too. If he’s not abusive or neglectful, if he’s doing his best to pitch in and be there for his children, save your nasty thoughts for your journal or an evening out with a bottle of wine and some good friends.

From their partners, some confidence – and space. Alot of fathers want to pull their weight in the daily grind of parenting but are repelled by the eye rolls and micromanagement of mothers. I’ve been like this at times, and I’ve seen how it undermines Ryan’s confidence. Alot of moms hang over their partner’s shoulder and coach and pester him - and they are quick to criticize if what he does is not what they’d do. Then, they complain about doing everything themselves. Maybe it’s become easier for him to stand back and watch Mom do it than it is to be shot down a minute or two into the task by an anxious hoverer. Sometimes, we are just a little overzealous in our pursuit of motherly perfection. Take a deep breath and ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen …. Is it a big deal if the diaper’s on a little crooked? Does it matter if lunch doesn’t include a veggie every now and then? So what if your son’s hair is sticking up or your daughter’s wearing tights with holes in them! Don’t underestimate the value of the relaxation and variety dads bring to the kiddie table – and how nice it feels to not be the only one doing it all.

From waitstaff, caregivers, the general public and old ladies in particular, equal billing with moms. So many times, Ryan and I are both right there, and whoever’s talking to us will leave him out of the conversation altogether if it’s about Fiona and Bridget. The waiter or waitress will offer a dessert menu “if it’s ok with Mom”. Some caregivers and teachers will call our home number, my work number and my cell number before bothering with any of Ryan’s contact info. They’ll write messages just to me, even though we’ve both provided our email address. Acquaintances will ask me, not Ryan, about the girls’ food preferences, and whether they like this colour or that book. Elderly ladies will compliment me on how beautiful they are, and ask me how old they are, and say I’ve done a great job raising them because they are so polite and well-behaved. Guess what: Ryan is going halfs with me on raising Fiona and Bridget. He’s not a mildly interested observer, he’s their other parent. He wants to be included in the communication loop. He knows their favourite songs, and what shows they like to watch, and how they’re doing in French class. He knows what they like to eat, and desserts have to be ok with him, too. If they are good little girls, it’s just as likely to be something they learned from him as from me. Judging by the fathers I know, he’s not an exception, he’s the norm. How about a little acknowledgement for dads’ very big and important role in the lives and development of their children?

From their kids, a World’s Best Dad mug and a tie. Ok, these two things do cost money – I guess my title contains a smidgen of false advertising. But they don’t cost much, so maybe we’ll let it slide this time …. Anyway. I know, I know: we are often assured that Dads don’t want these things for Father’s Day. However, I suspect that this claim is sponsored by companies who make barbeques, electronics and yard gear. I mean, who wouldn’t want to drink their morning jolt from a vessel proclaiming their greatness? Who wouldn’t want another classy piece of neckwear, one carefully chosen and paid for in twoonies and proudly presented by your own darling offspring? Nobody, right? I thought so.

Disclaimer: I’m well aware that there are many types of fathers and family structures out there. I may draw some flame for describing only one of them, the traditional set-up where Mom is usually the queen of the kitchen and the cleaning supplies and Dad is the bigger-money-maker and lawn-mower. This has been my experience, and I can only speak of what I know.

 

 

 

 

Why I like my thirties better than my twenties ….

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A few days ago, I turned 34. It was, of course, a Monday. I’m pretty sure that every birthday for the past eight years has been on a Monday. Or maybe it just feels that way. Anyway, moving on …. People make alot of complaints about being in their thirties. Some of them are painfully true …. You don’t get asked for ID very often – if at all – because there’s no way you’re anywhere near nineteen, no matter how well you dye your hair or what you do with your skin. College students look like kids to you. You feel out of place at clubs, because you are five or ten years older than most of the other clubbers. There are more mysterious aches after seemingly innocuous activities. The morning-after-the-night-before lasts all day. You pay in poundage for every damn bite of anything that’s not lettuce, even if you exercise regularly. You think realistically about your future – you are now highly unlikely to become a star of any kind. Unless you already are. In which case, you’ve probably bought yourself a new face and you can rent the entire club for your private parties, and you can just stop reading right now. But please comment before you leave BethBlog, so I can brag for the rest of my thirties, and beyond, that someone famous once read my blog ….

All complaints aside, I prefer my thirties to my twenties. At 34, I can no longer say I’m fresh out of my twenties - in fact, I’m now less than a year away from the midpoint of my thirties. And, so far, they’ve been awesome. Here’s why ….

1) I am finally able to catch my breath. My twenties were filled with big things. I graduated from college and moved halfway across the country to start my career. I broke up with two boyfriends, and met the man who would become my husband. My father died, my mother remarried. Ryan and I got married, and welcomed two baby girls in two years. We bought our first house. We went to Europe twice, and drove all over the lower forty-eight. Though my thirties have featured a move and a whole lot of travelling, they have not featured anywhere near the same level of upheaval. I have time now. Time to remember and ponder, time to write. Time to soak it all in, rather than running myself ragged making it happen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a working wife and mother who likes to keep a spotless home and feed my family real food, so I’m busy – but not the kind of breakneck busy I was in my twenties.

2) I’ve been able to get rid of some of the clutter that plagued me in my twenties. I like people to be happy, and I will make a reasonable effort to that end – but I also know that I cannot make others happy, they have to do that for themselves. I’ve learned to say no when I need to, and I am feeling less and less guilty about doing so. I know that some people are toxic, and will not change. I’ve gotten rid of some of them entirely. Where that isn’t possible, I’m learning to limit their ability to affect me. I’m a little more forgiving of myself when I drop the ball on something. Which I do alot, because I’m just like everyone else - understanding that is freeing.

3) I have a better idea of who I am. When I was twenty, I wrote an exam and had an interview for a position with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. I wore a conservative outfit in cream and beige, one pair of simple stud earrings instead of my usual four dangles, and subtle make-up. That wasn’t me! Yet I was willing to change my whole style for that job …. What if I had gotten it? Would I have spent years trying to squeeze myself into that muted mould? Since then, I’ve added a nose ring and an eyebrow ring, and I’m not finished with tattoos. I like to play around with my outfits and my make-up. I used to think I wanted to live in the country; now I know I’m a city girl for life. I always gave twenty-dollar-word answers when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. Now I know I’m a nine-to-fiver with no desire to climb any sort of ladder, and I wouldn’t even be that if I weren’t so keen on having dinners out and vacations – and, of course, if it weren’t for our girls, who (I swear) eat money. I thought I was an animal lover; now I know I only want pets that don’t require walking or even daily interaction. And I’ve only ever met about three dogs that I can tolerate, never mind like.

5) I know what I need. I need time to myself at the beginning of every day, which is why I get up before everyone else – and always did, even when Fiona and Bridget were toddlers who seemed to compete with the birds for earliest rise-and-shine time. I need to feel needed and appreciated by people who are special to me. I don’t need a crowd, I just need a little circle of very dear friends. I need to spend a little time with a book, magazine or newspaper every day. I need to write. I need to exercise, not just for vanity’s sake, but to clear my head and boost my energy level. Sometimes I just need to stop, close my eyes and breathe. When I was in my twenties, I burned out alot more often, because I didn’t pay as much attention to my needs.

4) I know what I like, and I happily surround myself with it. I used to think about what I should want. Matching furniture, a purse that costs more than $30, an attractive lawn, a good knowledge of classic literature, an appreciation for sophisticated food and wine. Now I know that none of those things would make me any happier. I’ve read alot of the classics. Some of them are great, and I can see why they’re considered classics. Others are awful, and I can’t understand what anyone sees in them. I’m looking at you guys, “The Scarlet Letter”, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and “Moll Flanders”. These days, I read whatever I feel like reading, while wearing what’s on sale, sometimes on the checkered couch, sometimes on the red couch, sometimes on the thirteen-year-old futon and sometimes on the plastic lawn chairs surrounded by weeds. The books are just as good wherever I sit. I’ve gained an appreciation for lots of things I never used to eat, and my cooking has improved with practice – but there’s always KD in our cupboard, and not just for the kids. I drink an awful lot of Maria Christina, and it goes down a treat.

5) Confidence. I’m cool. What makes me cool? The fact that I think I am. I know that now, and I don’t feel the need to be anything other than my cool self. Ryan’s birthday gift to me this year is a trip to Atlantic City to see an Air Supply concert. I’m unabashedly thrilled. You don’t think Air Supply is cool? Whatever. I know they are, because I think so. I like me, and I care less than ever if you don’t.

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6) I know how to put on make-up without making myself look a little girl who got into her mother’s stash. I’ve figured out what looks nice on my face. This is no small feat for someone who used to wear pink eyeshadow and apply foundation with a spatula. Likewise, I now have a couple of easy-but-neat-and-classy hairdos I can whip up in five minutes or less. I’ve never been good at hair, and our daughters learned to do theirs about the same time I learned to do mine. These two things might not seem like a big deal, but both of them make me more content, as I really want to like my head when I pass a mirror.

Bottom line: I’m not bothered by being in my thirties, I’m embracing them. I know how precious time is, and how every season of my life flies by faster than the last. The way things are going, the rest of this decade will go by like a shake of my head and a blink. I don’t know what my forties will be like, but I hope that I’ll be even wiser and happier with my life than I am now. If so, I plan to write another insufferably smug blog post about it.

 

 

The dangers associated with being alive are a fact of life – whether kids use backpacks or not.

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I thought I might write about dandelions today. Since there are so many of them around, it seemed timely. But the nodding yellow puffs on my lawn (and your lawn, and her lawn, and his lawn, and everyone’s lawn) will have to wait – because something else caught my attention: school security policies. A few years ago, a man with a sawed-off shotgun entered a school in Buckingham (not far from Ottawa), threatening to kill everyone. He wandered the corridors for about fifteen minutes, while the school was in lockdown mode, and the secretary called 911. The incident ended well, with nobody hurt and the gunman apprehended by police. This resulted in a change in security protocol at the school Fiona and Bridget attend. People used to be able to wander in and out at will. The doors are now locked at all times. There is a buzzer that you press to alert the secretary to your presence, and she unlocks the door for you.

According to this article, students at one Long Island, NY, high school will now have to carry all books and belongings in clear plastic bags – backpacks are no longer allowed. In addition to this, they are locked out of their lockers for the rest of the school year. For a little while, all but one washroom for each gender had been shut down, and students had to sign in and out to use the toilet. This restriction has been eased a little: there are now four washrooms open to the students (yes, four toilets for over a thousand students), which will be monitered, but nobody will have to sign in or out. These measures have been adopted in response to a recent rash of threats, including at least one reference to a bomb.

I read a blog post about it, called “You will understand why this high school banned backpacks”. Know what? I don’t understand it – and I wouldn’t accept it. It’s nothing but a placebo, a sugar pill to calm the screaming masses. As one commenter put it, it’s “security theatre”.  The buzzer on the front of my daughters’ school won’t stop anyone from entering. Mr. Coo-Coo with his gun and his plan won’t be daunted by having to press a button, and will probably be able to bluff his way in even if he’s questioned (which he likely won’t be until he’s in, at which point it’s too late). As for the Wantagh High School, banning backpacks and sealing lockers isn’t going to do a whole lot to make people safer, either. Kids can pack heat anywhere – not just in their backpacks. Why don’t we make them wear see-through clothes? How about x-rays and cavity searches before each school day? Oh, and an armed security guard in each classroom – and two in the gymnasium, of course. While we’re at it, why not re-think the concept of school altogether? Instead of making our precious lambs leave their bubble, why not have them take their courses online? Since it’s unlikely that we’ll all agree on a line, let’s not have one. Let’s just go all the way to Crazy Town, together, in a high-security, unmarked, windowless, peanut-free bus.

The thing is, there is risk everywhere. Leaving your house elevates your risk of being robbed, beaten, run over by a car, eaten by a bear, attacked by a dog or a rabid raccoon, stung by a bee. Driving around is dangerous. Walking instead of driving is dangerous. E.coli and listeria lurk in our bagged salads and deli meats. You could talk to other people, but what if they’re stalkers or sociopaths or sales reps for Tupperware or Avon or Lia Sophia? Escalaters, elevators, stairwells – tripping, falling and dying hazards, all. Shall we tear off the top six / eight / twenty-five floors of every building, and have everything at ground level? You could go to the library or a park to hang out, but germs! Never mind waterslides or amusement parks or ziplining – many parents don’t even let their children go to public washrooms by themselves until they’re into the double digits. Our society has become ridiculously risk-averse, even though we’re safer than we’ve ever been – and it’s disturbing.

Yes, terrible things happen – sometimes, with no logic or even warning. A bomb threat at a school reaches into every parent’s heart and strikes at their deepest, darkest fears. But we have to rise above our hysteria and really think about our response …. We cannot live like rabbits, frozen or running scared at every rustle and twig snap. How much freedom are we willing to leverage to feel safe? Because that’s really all we’re doing – we’re changing how we feel. We shouldn’t pour time and money into things that won’t help anybody just so that we look like we’re doing something. Doing nothing is better than that.

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty, to purchase a little Temporary safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”  - Benjamin Franklin

Avoid joining the list of animals who eat their own young, even though you’re stuck in a car with them.

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This family drives alot. Five days a week, we shuttle between home, school, work and daycare. We spend every second Christmas and Easter in Ryan’s hometown of Stoney Creek - along with several other holidays and just-because weekends (that’s about a thousand kilometres per round trip). Every Thanksgiving, we spend a lovely four days in the picturesque town of Collingwood, on Georgian Bay. It’s further away than Stoney Creek. And we do road trips …. Do we ever do road trips!

Since the arrival of our darling daughters, we have been honing the craft of road trips with children. Fiona was about six weeks old on her first Thanksgiving in Collingwood. Our car looked as if the baby section of Walmart had vomited all of its newborn inventory into the back seat and trunk, and Ryan and I were reeling from the sleep deprivation inflicted on us by our new life with our bundle of joy - but we made it there and back, and we enjoyed our long weekend away. She was eleven months old when we drove to El Paso, Texas, and back. She was almost two, and Bridget was almost out, during our trip to Oregon. The following summer, we spent three weeks on the road with our toddler and baby in tow. There’s been at least one road trip every year since. We’ve changed diapers in pastures and vacant lots, on filthy floors from here to California and back, and on the hood of our car. Ryan has driven under conditions that would challenge the focus and reflexes of a fighter pilot. He prefers it that way, probably because he’s watched passenger-me spend hours dangling over the back of my seat, doling out bottles and snacks, settling disputes and delivering justice. All that experience has to count for something, right? In this post, I’m making it count by sharing what we’ve learned ….

1) Get your kids used to travelling. Many people who know our travel habits say things like “I can’t believe your kids will put up with that much time in the car – I can’t even take mine to the grocery store”. They not only put up with it, they love it. It’s not because they are different from other kids – it’s because it’s what they know. It’s how we roll – and, since birth, they’ve been rolling along with us. You can’t feed your kids hot dogs and potato chips for every meal of their life, and then expect them to like spinach when they turn seven. You can’t stay within a half-hour radius of your house for years, and then expect your kids to deal with a six-hour drive when they hit full-day school. Don’t wait for them to be older / mobile / sleeping through the night / easier to deal with. Travel now – and travel often.

2) Don’t over-pack. This is a lesson Ryan and I have learned after years of cramming the car full of things the girls don’t need or even want, then having to dig through it all to find anything – including, at times, the kids themselves. Also, no matter how many diapers, wipes, pacifiers, jars of baby food and biscuits you pack, you will run out and need to shop for more. Accept this, and pack only what can comfortably fit in the car. Likewise, toys. Pack a few favourites, and accept the fact that they will get tired of everything you’ve packed, and need to find new sources of entertainment. This is good for them; it sharpens the mind and fuels creativity.

3) Speaking of packing …. Don’t pack things that make noise, unless they come with headphones – because you will be forced to listen to the obnoxious drone / whine / chatter / “music” all the way to wherever you’re going and back. This might not seem like a problem in a large room in your house. When it’s only a few feet away, and you are tethered to your seat, you will want to set it (and possibly yourself) on fire. Baby Tad came with us on our trip to Texas in 2006. He haunted our waking hours with his relentless cheering and singing, and when he ran out of batteries he scared the cheese-and-crackers out of everyone with his horror movie demon voice. Also …. Don’t. Bring. Children’s. Music. Just don’t; your spawn will beg for it over and over. Not because they like it, but because it’s theirs. Children’s music is a marketing ploy. Kids don’t need nursery rhyme lyrics, repetitive tunes or whiny falsettos to enjoy music. Give them a taste of whatever you like, and they’ll be singing along in no time. Also, you will not feel the urge to climb out the sunroof and throw yourself from your moving vehicle into the path of the one behind you. You’re welcome.

4) Manage your expectations. The kids will slow you down. Their active little bodies need to run around more than you do. They want to look at everything, because everything is amazing when you’re little. They will want more snacks than you because they burn calories faster than a hummingbird. They will need to pee every seventeen minutes. If you have more than one kid, they will not be on the same pee schedule. On the first day of our first road trip, Ryan and I logged a thousand kilometres – from here to Sandusky, Ohio. One day in 2004, we drove from Marathon to Ottawa, an even longer drive. We’ve had a few very long days on the road with kids, too, but those have not been the norm. We stop when anyone needs to stop, because everyone’s happier that way.

5) Use the facilities every time you stop anywhere. Your kids will probably tell you they don’t need to pee when you point out the washroom and suggest they visit it. Bullshit. Tell them to go anyway. Otherwise, about five minutes after you hit the road again, they will ask for a pee break. I guarantee it.

6) Get out and look around! Stop at the rest area that has a wonderful view, stop at the roadside fruit stand, stop at the flea market selling tat you’d never look at back home, stop at the ridiculous monument (from Easter eggs to nickels to smiling potatoes to monster moose, Canada’s full of those). Don’t chain yourself to routines and destinations. Spontaneity is fun for everyone, particularly kids. It’s exciting to have no idea where you’ll end up next – and it keeps kids interested.

7) While you’re looking around, grab opportunities to have fun. Stop and run around the playground you’re about to pass – it’s great for grown-ups to be kids again, and it’s novel for kids to see their parents swinging, spinning and sliding. You didn’t know there was a petting zoo or mini-museum or aquarium in the town through which you’re driving? Now you do; stop and explore it. Check out a local restaurant – and order the most ridiculous dessert they have, plus several spoons.

8) Be flexible; throw your comfort zone and expectations out the car window, along with the words “always” and “never”. Give the kids food they’ve never tasted; see what they think. Let them try things they’ve never done. Don’t assume that what they do at home is all they can, or want to, do. On our road trips, both girls pick up bugs and animals they’ve only seen in books, eat food with gusto that we were sure they’d detest, explore spaces that look nothing like anything they’ve ever seen before. Fiona spent her sixth birthday on the road. We decorated our motel room with birthday signs after she fell asleep the night before. She had a deep-fried pastry filled with cinnamon and cream from a Mexican restaurant instead of a birthday cake. She opened her presents and went for a swim at a Motel 6 on a Navajo reserve that evening. The next day, we checked out a wolf sanctuary in the middle of nowhere as part of her birthday celebration. Bridget learned to swim because her floaties broke one evening last summer. It was too late to go shopping for replacements in the one-horse town where we had ended up at the end of that day’s driving, and nobody felt like getting out of the pool anyway – so she learned to paddle around without them. She’s also the only kid any of us knows who wears a gator tooth necklace that she bought in a swamp in Mississippi.

Our road trips have given us wonderful memories, and experiences we never knew existed until we encountered them at random. We’ve been forced to improvise, and learn and grow, because of them. When you’re in the car together for hours every day, and the distractions of work, school and socializing are eliminated, you get to know each other better and appreciate each other more. I hope my list of tips and tricks will give road trip rookies a smoother ride …. Now, hit the road (and take lots of pictures)!