I’m not impressing anyone today, because I’m wasting lots of precious minutes being sick.

article-0-086A01E0000005DC-238_233x423

I am severely plagued by …. something. I started experiencing the standard symptoms of a cold – fever, aching head, snuffly nose, sore throat – two weeks ago. The sore throat is a particularly bad one – every time I swallow, I feel like a chunk of cactus is working its way down my gullet. I saw my doctor about it over a week ago. He did a swab and said it’s not bacterial, which means it must be viral, so there wasn’t anything he could do for me. I would just have to wait it out. I’m still waiting.

I googled “sore throat remedies”, and came up with a number of things. Everything from the usual gargling with salt water (ew) to the never-heard-of-it eating marshmallows (um, ok). Take lots of liquids …. check. Try a painkiller like ibuprofen or acetaminophen …. check. Have a spoonful of warm honey …. check. Rest your voice …. have neither the fortitude nor even the inclination (uncheck). Unwilling to sing through one more splash of salt water, tired of microwaving ramekins of honey, and knowing that there are only so many painkillers one should take in one day, I decided to try something else. (No, not marshmallows! I’m ill, not addled.) I bought this:

31254663263

Halls has been around a long time – it’s a trusted brand for many people, myself included. It comes in so many great flavours. For just a little while, it takes away the feeling that rusty nails are rattling around my uvula. I had probably yommed half a dozen of them before I noticed that the wrappers were cheering me on. Each Halls wrapper sports two inspirational messages (in English and French, of course, this being Canada, The House That Bilingualism Built). Some are gentle nudges, sympathetic and encouraging:

Keep your chin up.

You’ve survived tougher.

Go for it!

Others are corny, and somewhat vague:

Impress yourself today.

Elicit a few “wows” today.

Inspire envy.

Don’t give up on you.

Don’t waste a precious minute.

Then, there are the aggressive ones:

Let’s hear your battle cry!

March forward!

I didn’t mind the crinkly, medicinally scented pep talk at first. It’s a nice idea – and who wouldn’t want to feel like someone understands what you’re going through and really cares? By the time my lozenge consumption had reached double digits, however, I was no longer enjoying the messages. In fact, at this point, I find myself ripping the wrapper off as quickly as I can to avoid reading them. My chin’s still up, because I know there are much worse illnesses with which I could be contending, and this will go away in time. And, yes, I have survived tougher. But that doesn’t mean I’m not feeling a bit low. Forgive me, but I don’t think I’ll go for it today. Today, I’ll go for doing only what’s necessary, and give myself a break. I doubt I’ll impress myself, and I’m fairly certain no “wows” will be elicited. This will, of course, fail to inspire envy. Oh, well. I’m not sure what it means to give up on me, but I do plan to occupy the couch for most of the evening – or at least until my head stops pounding. Is this wasting precious minutes? Possibly. But sometimes coming down with a cold is your body’s way of telling you that you need to do just that …. Feeling the way I do right now, I don’t even have a battle cry – though I might have a whimper or moan to demonstrate. And I’m marching nowhere. Why should I? I need rest to repair myself. We all do.

I’m sure whoever came up with this pushy campaign meant well. Positive thinking and determination have been proven to help people recover from various illnesses. He or she is probably also enjoying a juicy bonus or promotion – reaping the benefits of all that going for it, envy inspiration and forward marching. Not to mention the efficient use of precious minutes …. However, I’ll bet I’m not the only one feeling annoyed by the relentless paper cheerleaders – and the many other products trying to convince us that we need them because we don’t have time to be sick. Very few of us are working on a cure for cancer, performing brain surgery or spoon-feeding starving orphans. Even those of us who are doing these things aren’t the only ones – we’re not irreplaceable. How about slowing down when our stressed systems start to flounder, rather than muffling our body’s messages and pushing ourselves so hard? What are we pushing for, anyway – and is it worth the toll it’s taking on us?

Where I live should meet your vacation needs?

imagesCAPI4S6J

Another tempest in our obesity-ridden, unfulfilled teacup …. Holly Chabowski, of England, and Nanna Sorenson, of Denmark, are very disappointed with Canada. They came here on a vacation, and toured Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, Quebec City and Halifax, along with some naturally scenic areas, such as Algonquin Park, the Bay of Fundy and the Gaspé region. They, apparently, did not enjoy their trip. They wrote an open letter to a few Canadian politicians, including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, colourful Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, denouncing Canada’s cars-first culture, pollution and fat people. Oh, and also, the “unfulfilled communities”. Their overwhelming impression of Canada is “great oceans of car parks”. Downtowns, which were “quite pleasant”, were surrounded by “this sea of Tim Hortons and McDonald’s and Walmarts and another Tim Hortons”. Poor Ms. Chabowski and Ms. Sorenson say they had to “fight” their way through to get to the nice stuff. Ms. Chabowski, although she cycles to work every day at home,”wouldn’t have cycled in any of the cities in Canada”. You know, all five that she visited …. In talking to like-minded people, they found a few choice sound-bites to bolster their argument, and away they went.

Chabowski admits European cities are built differently, most cities having been designed with pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages in mind rather than cars …. and therein lies the rub. Canada is over two hundred times the size of Denmark, and did alot of its growing during the golden age of the automobile. The infrastructure reflects that.

As citizens of Ottawa, we work with what we have. It’s fine for tourists to complain that public transportation is not given enough emphasis; they don’t have to use it every day to get somewhere on time. If they did, they might understand why people use cars. In most parts of Ottawa, taking the bus doubles your time in transit. Yes, it’s true, we have alot of parking lots. However, Chabowski and Sorenson were probably shopping for, at most, a few souvenirs and an emergency tube of toothpaste. If I’m shopping for my family’s groceries, plus the bulky packages of toilet paper and tissues, liquour, back-to-school supplies and perhaps even furniture, I’m not lugging it all on the damn bus. I’m taking my car, and I need somewhere to park. I might even be doing this shopping on my lunch break, or during rush hour, which means I need to take the fastest possible way: my car. Have they considered the fact that many people’s trips include small children, the elderly or mobility challenges? Or do they assume that most of us are couch-surfing twenty- and thirty-somethings with nothing to think about aside from ourselves, and all freakin’ day to gaily cycle wherever we want?

And then there’s the issue of the type of establishments the two Europeans encountered …. On a vacation, I can spring for expensive coffees, products and services. In my everyday life, I rely on the rock-bottom prices offered by places like Tim Hortons and Walmart – and so do most people I know. Yes, Holly and Nanna, go ahead and enjoy the delightfully twee upscale shops found in the downtown of many cities – you should. You’re on a holiday. But bear in mind that, if I pay those prices for my morning joe or my household goods every day of my life, I’ll be in the red fairly quickly. I, and other ordinary people, need these big-box eyesores to get by. Since you had to soil your eyes with them for less than a week of your entire precious lives, perhaps you’ll forgive us.

In short, I live here, and I need it to be liveable. Yes, public transportation could be improved – and we’re working on it. Yes, we need to get around the almighty car to explore other modes of getting from point A to point B. In the meantime, though, we’re doing our best to deal with what we have. And we really don’t need condescending drivel from people who spend about three days in our city as visitors, then bitch off back to Europe to whine about how the city we live in doesn’t suit their fancy. The people who have to deal with the city day-in-day-out are the ones who should decide what happens in that city – not tourists.

As an aside …. What does “unfulfilled community” even mean, anyway? And how in the name of cufflink fasteners did they come up with that verdict?

Maybe poor people aren’t stupid. Maybe they’re simply overwhelmed.

empty_bowl

Months ago, I read an article (I forget the source) stating that people who live in poverty have a lower IQ than middle-class and wealthy people. The article didn’t contain any proven reasons behind this, but there was some speculation. Poor people work long hours for low pay in menial jobs, and when they get home they’re too drained to feed their head even if they have the opportunity to do so. Poor people can’t think as clearly as the rest of us because their nutritionally bankrupt whatever’s-on-sale diet doesn’t allow for brain growth and development. Poor people don’t value education, and are more likely to buy a gigantic TV than spend their scant leisure dollars on books or classes. Poor people didn’t do well in school because their parents didn’t value education, either, and didn’t support their learning efforts. Poor people are lazy and don’t care to improve their lot by studying or encouraging their children to study. The author was careful to assure readers that not all of these things apply to all poor people, and that more exploration of this issue is needed.

I confess that I mentally yawned, and moved on. “Poverty” is an important word with deep, wide meaning – but, like “injustice” and “climate change”, it has been used to the point of desensitizing many of us. Yes, we know we should care – and we do – but sometimes these words make our eyes glaze over. I had Christmas shopping to do, we were expecting weekend guests and the house needed cleaning, it was time to pick Fiona and Bridget up from school. The article was forgotten for the moment. The next week, something happened that rattled it back to the forefront of my consciousness: a water main broke on our street. It went down on a Monday afternoon, and was fixed by Wednesday night. During this time, sediment built up in one of the pipes leading to our washing machine and jammed it. Our hot water tank burned out. So, first we were without any water at all. We were buying water to drink, brush our teeth and cook. We were bringing in buckets of snow to flush toilets, and wash dishes and ourselves. Then, we had water, but no washing machine or hot water tank. So, I hauled about four loads of laundry to a local laundromat to wash, then hauled them back home to stuff into our dryer. Washing alone was $9; drying would have made the cost double. I boiled about eight pots of water on our stove to fill the tub a quarter of the way so Fiona and Bridget could have a warm bath. Ryan and I got cleaned up at work, since there’s a gym and accompanying showers in the basement.

The whole experience was tiring and stressful. Do we have enough water to drink? Should we wash these dishes now or wait til there’s a bigger pile? Hope nobody at school makes fun of the girls for being a bit funky …. Oh, I’m out of clean underwear – better load up the trunk and head for the laundromat. What? It’s only open until five today? The hot water tank guys can’t get here til Friday. I guess we could shower at work. We’re not supposed to unless we’re gym users, but my hair’s too greasy even for a trip to Walmart. We had everything else we needed, and we knew that the water, washing machine and hot water tank were coming back in a matter of days. Yet all I could think about the whole damn week was water.

Imagine if I not only had to scramble constantly for water, but also for food, clothing, toiletries, electricity, heat, medicine, and school supplies – and there was no end in sight. If this was my life. What brain cells would be left to consider my financial options properly, or relax with a book? What energy would be left to help my children with their homework or cheer them on academically? What energy would be left to educate myself? How could I value education if I was being crushed daily by tough, nobody-wins choices: I can bring Fiona to the dentist and fix her cavity, or we can buy groceries for weeks. I can buy excema cream for Bridget or I can buy her new boots, because the ones she’s wearing are letting in water. I can have heat, or I can skip a trip to the food bank and buy fresh vegetables for once. I need milk, cereal, bread, aspirin, shampoo and laundry detergent – but I can only buy two of those things right now. I think that winter coat will have to wait a few more weeks.

Maybe poor people are not less intelligent than the rest of us. Maybe their minds are just completely taken up by the struggle to get by. Perhaps they need stability and reassurance that their needs will be met before we toss IQ tests at them and tut-tut-tut over the results from our seat of comfort and plenty.

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

imagesCAMMVP2V

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.

Eugenie-Bouchard-Wimbledon-2013-rd-1_2963993

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.

imagesCALM9539

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!

10174868_10154210015180173_7249260643140645584_n

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.