I’m disciplining my kids all wrong, and they seem to be responding rather well.

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In the parenting world, there is no topic that cannot be turned into a debate. No matter what you do, you’re doing something somebody else would never do, and some people just love to tell you that in the jerkiest possible way. It starts before the baby is even born. Pregnancy for most women is nine months of eat-this-don’t-eat-that, you’re-gaining-too-much-weight-you’re-not-gaining-enough-weight, coffee-chocolate-shellfish-deli-meat-wine-and-everything-else-you-love-are-off-limits, should-you-be-wearing-those-shoes, natural-birth-is-the-way-to-go-c-sections-are-a-tool-of-the-devil. Once your little angel makes his or her debut, it ramps up. Breast milk or formula? Co-sleeping or a crib? Signing, flash cards, and multilingual storytime or a laid-back, wait-and-see approach to baby’s developing brain? Baby becomes a toddler, and everyone’s got an opinion on schedules and activities and schools. Get over those hurdles, and it’s all about what you let your kids wear, and if they own a phone or handheld video game system or not, and if you swear in front of them, and whether they’re in hockey or music or nothing at all. It never ends.

One of the hottest, most divisive aspects of parenting that I’ve encountered is discipline. Entire libraries of books have been written about how to discipline your children. The internet is clogged with blog posts and how-to guides. Everyone has an opinion, even people who havn’t been children since before colour TV, and have never had little ones of their own. Your grandmother, your four-doors-down neighbour and the lady in line behind you at Walmart all feel entitled to tell you what you’re doing wrong, and sometimes even suggest alternatives based on the six minutes they’ve spent observing you and your kids through their judgement goggles, one day in a lifetime of days. (Judgement goggles are somewhat like beer goggles, but they do the opposite of making everything look awesome.) Discipline tactics, and sometimes lack thereof, are blamed for everything from shoplifting to school shootings.

Based on years of reading and listening (sometimes involuntarily, while trying to quell my urge to throat punch the tub-thumper), I’m doing alot of things wrong. Let’s start with the things I used to do wrong ….

I didn’t use time-outs. Time-outs are still lauded as a miraculous behaviour modifier by so many people. They are the first line of defence against brattiness for most parents of toddlers. But they simply didn’t work for either Fiona or Bridget. Fiona, when given a time-out, would fidget her way through it and spend the whole time asking if she could run around now. Now, can I? How ’bout now? She wasn’t thinking about what she’d done wrong and how she could do things differently, she was thinking about liberation. I dropped time-outs rather quickly after a few tries. I tried them on Bridget, two years later. Bridget would continuously kick or hit whatever was closest to her (usually the wall), while howling her rage at the world. The. Whole. Five. Minutes. Try listening to that. She was the one who needed to be punished, not the whole house. So, I dropped time-outs for the second time.

I spanked. This is the lollapalooza of discipline tactics. Nobody is neutral when it comes to physical discipline. Some people claim that spanking kids turns them into bullies. They say spanking is hypocritical. If you tell your kids not to hit other kids, then you hit them, what does that tell them? Others call it abuse. Google “spanking”, and many of the images will show a hulking, angry grown-up wailing hell out of a tiny, terrified-but-somehow-still-adorable child. There is also a small slice of people who seem to think spankings are the correct response to everything from thumb-sucking to breaking things (whether it was an accident or not). They say things like “when I was young, I’d have gotten my ass smacked for that, and hard, too” or “if the teacher strapped me at school and my parents found out, I’d get spanked again at home”. Like Jasper Beardly, they are certain the world would be a better place if there were more “paddlins”. I don’t fit into either category. Swatting a kid’s backside is not abuse, and – in my opinion – it is an insult to survivors of child abuse to equate the two. Toddlers have all the mobility of a monkey, but zero ability to be reasoned with. Sometimes, a physical consequence is the only thing that gets through to him or her. You can talk at your two-year-old til your voice is gone, but they won’t understand that they can’t yank fistfuls of hair out of your scalp, gouge the baby’s eye out, jam a fork into an electrical outlet, or run out into traffic. A click on the fingers or an open hand on their backside, though, will get the message across. However, I didn’t do it often, and when I did, it was typically a last resort in dealing with a very serious infraction. Not all children need to be spanked – depending on their nature, a simple change of tone or facial expression is enough. Now that my girls are old enough to speak and understand English, I don’t need to punish them physically, and I don’t.

I’m still breaking rules, though. I’m yelling. According to its detractors, yelling at your kids is ineffective. Some say it dulls their response to your voice. Others say it makes kids hypersensitive, and prone to innappropriate emotional responses. I’m still yelling. Because I’m only human, and raising kids can be downright exasperating – it can feel like the highest-stakes exercise in futility you’ll ever encounter. Plus, I don’t go from zero to yell. Yelling is usually preceded by a couple of nice requests, a well-modulated order and a “didn’t I just tell you to do X – why aren’t you listening”. Who wouldn’t yell after all that? And you know what? When I yell, it works. Every time. Sometimes, I feel bad about yelling. Most of the time, though, I feel like that’s the option they’ve left me with after I gave them plenty of chances.

Discipline experts (self-appointed, all) worship at the altar of consistancy. All the rules apply all the time, and there is no wiggle room. I’m not consistant. Some days, I’m on my game (or maybe just in a bad mood), and I see and respond to every little misdemeanor. Other days, I’m relaxed about it, and the offence has to be fairly serious to get my attention. I ask myself if this is a hill to die on, and it’s usually not. Then, there are the days when I’m just not up to being the law in this here town, and I see and hear no evil. I let it slide, promising myself that I will talk to them about it later, when I have more energy or less to do. Again, I’m only human.

I’m not a “yes parent”, either. I say “no” alot. Some days, I feel like I need a “no” button, similar to the Staples “that was easy” button. There are alot of people who believe that negativity should be replaced by positivity all the time. Instead of saying “no”, I should offer alternative options. I have only one life to work with, and kids ask for alot. If I have to offer and follow through with an alternate object or activity every time I want to say “no”, I’ll run out of life before I finish with the requests I’ve already received. Sometimes, the answer is “no”, and that’s that. They will encounter “no” again and again throughout their lives, and there won’t always be another option. They need to get used to this. Positive parenting advocates also say that I should reward good things instead of punishing bad things. I do reward the good that I see, with praise and sometimes a treat. But the bad things are still there. So, what then? I’m not going to let bad things slide while I wait for a good thing to reward. Depending on the day, it can be a while before anything reward-worthy pops up – and, while you wait, you start to suspect that your child’s odd hairstyle is a result of attempting to hide his or her horns.

You shouldn’t bribe kids, either, apparently. It makes them expect something for everything they do, and it teaches them they don’t have to be good just for goodness’ sake. Oh, and it probably also ruins their teeth and lowers their chance of getting a good job when they grow up. Or something like that. Whatever. I bribe the girls shamelessly. If you’ll sit-patiently-in-whatever-waiting-room / clean-up-whatever-filth-I’m-focused-on-right-now / pick-all-the-weeds-in-the-garden / be-quiet-while-I’m-on-the-phone-for-the-next-hour, you can have ice cream / a new book next time we’re at Chapters / a trip to the park / an extra bedtime story. I bribed them with a milkshake to be brave during their booster shots, and they still talk about those milkshakes and how badass (my word, not theirs) they were to not even flinch when the needle punctured their skin. Not everything I want them to do leads to a bribe – I like to pull one out only when I really need it – but it sure sweetens the pot for them, and it gets the result I want. Would you do something boring or awful for the reward of feeling good about having done something boring or awful? Do you go to work for nothing but the pleasure of making your boss smile? Probably not. Why should children?

I guess what I’m saying is that you should go with your gut. There are alot of loud voices out there, shouting their wares. There are alot of Judgy McJudgersons getting their knickers in a twist over things that actually aren’t any of their business. There are alot of phonies using Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram to make the rest of us feel inadequate. But there’s only one mother / father of your children: you. Do what works. Ryan and I have broken, and are breaking, alot of “rules” – and, somehow, our children are turning out to be sensitive, caring, curious, intelligent, generally obedient darlings anyway. I’ll bet yours are, too. The kids are alright, in spite of our best efforts.

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Bullshit.

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Ask any parent of a child over five – homework can be a harrowing experience for both the child and the parent. (Except homeschooling parents, in which case the frustration probably lasts all day long.) I think the 6.5 hours my daughters spend in school five days per week should be enough to teach them what a third grader and a first grader need to know. And is it just me, or does homework regularly involve me asking “but what did your teacher say about this” and Fiona or Bridget saying “nothing – we didn’t do this in class, Mommy”? Wait. This post isn’t about homework; homework is just the spark to the flame, which is bullshit. One day a few weeks ago, Bridget was whining about homework. “I don’t want to do this. I can’t do this. It’s too hard.” Two possible answers came to mind: 1) You’re reading your way through “The Twits”, but you can’t think of four words that start with M and sound them out and write them down and draw them? and 2) Nothing worthwhile is easy. I didn’t want to make her feel small and silly by pointing out the obvious in such a rude way, so I opted for the second response, hoping to encourage her by making learning a goal. It was barely out of my mouth when I realized that it’s not true.

Lots of worthwhile things are easy. Sinking into a near-overflowing tub of hot, bubbly water. Laughing with friends. Sipping wine and reading a book in the backyard on a sunny day. Dancing to good music. Listening to steady rain on the roof at night. Toast slathered with peanut butter and honey. Coffee and a newspaper. A hug. Paying a compliment. I retired that expression that day. Then, I started thinking of other bullshit expressions that people say all the time. I came up with a decent list within minutes.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Do I even have to go into this one? Words hurt. The bruises and scrapes of my childhood, aside from the major ones, have been forgotten – but I still remember nearly every cruel name or line that was ever hurled at me. I can even remember who said what.

“Just sayin’.” Nobody who says that is just saying anything. When someone says that, it means they have just made a point they feel trumps everything that’s been said so far in the conversation. It’s a parting shot that means “I know what I’m talking about, and if you were smart you’d agree with what I just said, because there really isn’t any other way to see it”. Well, that’s what I think, anyway. Just sayin’.

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” This is something that is said by only two kinds of people: winners who want to make losers feel better, and losers themselves. Neither one actually believes it. Sure, how you play the game is important, but everyone’s playing to win.

“We’re all special.” So, I guess that means special is the new ordinary. You know, since we’re all special.

“Loving every minute of it.” This saying is used to illustrate photos uploaded to social media, as a hashtag, or sometimes as the last line of a paragraph in a Christmas letter. The problem is not necessarily the phrase itself. What makes it bullshit is what comes before it. The photos are usually of a child in a highchair covered with slop, finger-painting or sitting in the middle of a room that looks like the toybox threw up. The hashtag is usually added to a line that says something like “only slept four hours last night – I’ve got one hungry baby girl” or “it’s only nine a.m. and little Mortimer has already asked me forty-seven questions”. The Christmas letter paragraph usually describes a week in the life of the sender, and merely reading it will make you tired. From piano on Monday, drama on Tuesday and ballet on Thursday to hockey and swimming on Saturday, this family is “loving every minute of it”. Bullshit. I’ve never even been to a party of which I’ve loved every minute. Sure, we’re all enjoying life to some degree most of the time, but can we dispense with the illusion that it’s one endless, cheek-cracking, side-splitting LOL?

Speaking of “LOL”, you’re probably not. You might give a half-hearted smirk, or even a breathy chuckle, but are you actually laughing out loud every time you type those three letters? Nope. And don’t even get me started on “LMAO” or “ROFL”.

“We’re pregnant.” No, you guys aren’t. She is.

“I don’t mean to blow my own horn, but ….” But you are doing exactly that, and you know it. Otherwise you wouldn’t have prefaced the trumpeting with that line. So, yeah, you probably do mean to blow your own horn. You just don’t want to sound like you do.

“To each, their own.” This is a close relative of “well, it takes all kinds” and “we’re all different, and that’s a good thing”. People don’t say this as a verbal expression of their admiration, or even tolerance, of different people doing different things. People say this because they can’t understand why anyone would ever think / like / do X, but they don’t want to look like a jerk – so they shrug and pretend they’re not even raising an eyeball, let alone judging hard with every cell of their mystified brain.

“Practice makes perfect.” Depends on what it is. Most of the time, practice makes better. Sometimes, it does nothing at all. Very rarely does it make perfect.

I could probably write about this for hours if I gave it more thought and time. But I don’t want my dear readers to stop reading due to the necessity of getting on with their life …. So, I’ll throw it open to everyone: what bullshit sayings do you or people around you use regularly? I’m sure you can think of at least one. In the meantime, I’ll close with what Ryan said less than thirty seconds after I asked him for a contribution.

“You’ll sleep on the plane.” (Related: I’ll sleep on the plane”.) Bullshit. Unless you have an aisle seat. In my flying history, the only people I’ve ever seen sleeping on a plane are the people who sit between other passengers and the washroom. Oh, and that baby with the voice of a wounded pterodactyl – during the last fifteen minutes of the flight, after she’s inflicted a pounding headache on everyone except the aisle people, she sleeps on the plane. But you won’t, and neither will I.

Hide-and-seek in the park shouldn’t require a threat-and-risk assessment.

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Hide-and-seek and me, we go way back …. Like using my fork, brushing my teeth or singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, I don’t remember learning the game – it was always just there.  It was a favourite of every kid I knew. One memorable game could have ended in tragedy when my little brother hid in the dryer, and I turned it on. André was small and trusting, and I was still smarting from having been displaced by his arrival. All the people who love him are still grateful that I turned the dryer off and opened the door after only a few seconds of thumping and wailing. He came tumbling out, blubbering about how hot it was in there. It should be noted that he was playing hide-and-seek with me again just a few minutes later. That’s how awesome the game is. Or, possibly, how scared he was when I told him I’d put him back in the dryer if he didn’t play another round with me.

Now that I’m all grown up, I still play hide-and-seek occasionally – it’s a favourite of Fiona’s and Bridget’s. In fact, our whole family played it just a few days ago. We had walked to the park in the rain, in search of puddles to slop around in. Then, Fiona suggested the game. Ryan and I became big kids for a while. It was fun to cling breathlessly to a big tree, listening to the confused seeker traipsing back and forth, peeking occasionally and muffling my giggles. The best part was when it seemed like the seeker was looking right at me, but he or she couldn’t see me. Then, bursting out of my hiding place with a whoop, hearing peals of laughter and “let’s do it again, this time I’ll count” …. Ryan seems to be the most skillful hider, followed by Bridget. Fiona just loves to make noise, and can’t seem to stay hidden long enough for anyone to find her. I can’t help laughing, and I don’t time my peeks very well.

As fun as it was, I couldn’t relax completely. There were many moments when I couldn’t see Fiona or Bridget – or both – because, you know, hide-and-seek. The ghost of the fear I used to feel whenever they disappeared from view when they were tiny came back to haunt me. Fiona used to have a habit of hiding in the racks of clothing at Walmart. The logical part of me knew what she was doing, but my heart would leap into my throat anyway – instinct, I guess. Then, there was the time when Bridget got lost in a Chapters store. I don’t know how she slipped away, but I still remember the rising, nauseating, screaming panic I felt in the two or three minutes it took to locate her. I can still feel her hot, tearstreaked little cheek pressed against mine when I scooped her up, wanting to yell at her and not being able to because I was hugging her so hard. The terror of not being able to see your child trumps the calming narrative that plays inside your head. “It’s ok, I saw her just ten seconds ago, she can’t have gotten far but-I-can’t-see-her-she’s-gone-my-baby-is-gone-somebody-anybody-help-us!

I didn’t say anything about it at the park. I didn’t want to give voice to my inner crazy – I didn’t want to transfer my worry to the rest of the family. But later, when the girls were tucked in and Ryan and I were hanging out on the couch with a bottle of wine, he asked me if I had felt nervous about letting them out of our sight, sometimes for several minutes straight, in the park. I admitted that I had, and he said he had, too. I felt relieved that I wasn’t the only scaredy-cat, and angry that this was a thing at all.

Really, this high level of anxiety doesn’t make sense. Crime against children is at an all-time low – at least, in our part of the world. Abductions are very rare, and usually happen at the hands of someone with whom the child is familiar. A child simply vanishing from a park in broad daylight is even more uncommon. However, that’s not the story told by the media, which splashes our nightmares as far and wide as it can, and milks every possible drop of drama out of every one. That’s not the story told by books or movies – because, as we all know, happy endings don’t sell like sensation. The influence of the media and entertainment, though, is only part of the problem. There is also the culture of fear-mongering and risk aversion in which our society has been stewing for years now. Any food could lead to anaphylactic shock, and even common medications have unexplored side-effects. Our homes are festooned with baby gates and child-proof locks and padded corners. Little Prince George is on his first world tour, and the biggest story so far is that his car seat isn’t up to the snuff-of-the-moment (car seat regulations being similar to the weather in recent years). From the big things like cancer and terrorist attacks to the little things like sunburns and food poisoning, today’s parents are, in general, the most frightened creatures in the history of the human race.

When I was a kid, I played for hours outside. Unsupervised. I could have drowned in the harbour. I could have flipped my bike and knocked myself out with only other youngsters to help me. I could have got into a van on an offer of candy, because that’s always how it was in the commercials. I could have fallen out of a tree and broken my neck. I could have been attacked by a hungry bear (we had alot of them around our town, particularly on garbage day). I could have crashed my snowmobile or fallen through the ice while skating. But I don’t remember any grown-ups shadowing us, or listing all the things that could go wrong as we dashed out the door, or making us stay inside because we were safe there. And I survived to raise the next crop – along with everyone else with whom I roamed, free-range.

Don’t get me wrong, stranger danger is real (and food danger and medicine danger and animal danger and-and-and). Kids should learn street smarts and assertiveness and common sense in general, and parents should be vigilant. But we also need to accept that there is a certain level of risk in everything – even if we never leave our child-proof homes. And not being able to play hide-and-seek in the park without that gut-gnawing dread tagging along is another tiny piece of paradise lost. I want to start taking it back. Maybe the first step is another game of hide-and-seek in the park …. Care to join us?

Kwicherbichin, martyr mommies!

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Am I the only one who’s tired of reading the endless saga of motherly martyrdom? Seems like there’s alot of it floating around the internet, and it grows by the hour. These woe-is-mom stories come in many different formats. There are the so-called humourous advice lists for pregnant first-timers. Get sleep now because when that baby gets here you’ll never sleep again. Say goodbye to going out, and even running errands, because that’s all over when you become a mother. You will have to look at your calendar to determine what day it is, and even then you won’t know if it’s day or night. You won’t have any friends, but you won’t care because you’ll be too busy to hang out with them, or even talk on the phone. Your body will never be the same – hope you’re enjoying that nice rack while you still can. Your sex life will be non-existant, and you won’t even want one anymore because even brushing your teeth is going to be a challenge, never mind wearing attractive clothing or having good hair days. Forget having nice things. Your baby will poop on everything you own all day every day, and then when he turns two he’ll break what’s not stained.

Then, there are the open letters to the child-free. Dear Selfish Asshole Who Has Somehow Managed To Avoid Spawning, you have no idea what it’s like to love any other living creature. You sleep away whole weekends – I sleep only for two hours at a time, and even then I keep one eye open. You post pictures of your plate at that new Thai place everyone’s talking about. Know what? I havn’t been to a restaurant in seven years. My caloric intake is limited to leftover chicken nuggets, cold pizza with fingerprints in it, and dry cereal. And I eat it all standing up! Oh, you’ve backpacked across Europe? You just received a Ph.D.? That’s nice. Try being a mommy, if you want a real challenge. I’m a nanny, cook, maid, nurse, psychiatrist, teacher, secretary, event planner, referee, cabbie …. and here’s what my services would be worth if someone paid me for them (insert massive price here). We’ve all read these annoying manifestos.

Finally, there are the wildly exaggerated descriptions of day-to-day life. They manage to make it sound like every mother is currently cooking dinner while doing her taxes while a baby screams in her arms and a two-year-old clings to her legs and a four-year-old fingerpaints on the wall with his own poop and the phone and doorbell are both ringing, and her husband isn’t coming home for another three hours, and she hasn’t left the house or even showered in a week. In between the hyperbole and the hysterics, she has to use the toilet, which she will do with the baby digging tiny claws into her neck, the two-year-old still wrapped around her legs, and the four-year-old banging on the door and howling “mommy” like he’s being chased by a rabid grizzly bear.

Take a deep breath …. in …. out. Motherhood is tough, it’s true. It may very well be the hardest thing most mommies have ever done. You’ll be tired – more tired than you ever thought it was possible to be. But you’ll manage – we’re built to manage. And one night, like a magical switch has been flipped by a magical hand, your baby will sleep all the way through – and keep doing that. One day, you’ll waltz into a grocery store with nothing but your three-year-old – the diaper bag now a thing of the past – and you will get all the things on your list, and a treat for her, because she’ll have behaved so well. You’ll pick up the threads of friendships that were put on hold when you were finding your way in the new and scary realm of parenting – and if they are true friends, they’ll understand and welcome you back into their life with open arms. Catching up will feel great. Yes, you can go out and have fun even when you have children – you just have to plan ahead, and be willing to pay a little more for your fun. Your body will change – you’ve housed, grown and released a human being. However, over time, you will develop a self-preserving pride in your very own lived-in work of art, and you will begin to value your body for what it does for you – not just for what it looks like. Give your relationship the time and listening and caring that it needs, and it will survive the craziness of parenthood. Don’t let the little one come between you; let him unite you as the two people who love him most in all the world – two people who have spent years building something beautiful, and are still hammering away at it. Your time will be more limited, your house will be messier. However, you will value your time more because there’s less of it to waste, and your messy house won’t be so bad if you spend about five minutes in each room each day. Unless you’re living in a mansion, that means an hour or less. And if you’re living in a mansion you’ve probably got some help with the housekeeping anyway. A few of your nice things might suffer, but in the end they’re just things. If you can’t bear to lose them, put them away until your small feral human becomes someone with whom you can reason and to whom you can teach rules and boundaries.

As for the shit’s-hit-the-fan-and-continues-to-spin-and-splatter moments, we’ve all had them. There are some memories I have of the noise and chaos and stress of having small children that still make me cringe. Moments when I did not have control of them or even myself, when I did not do the wise thing – or even an acceptable thing. Moments when taking care of them pushed me to the brink of my endurance, and I wondered why I ever thought I could do this thing called motherhood. But those didn’t happen every day, or even every week – and, when they did, they were brief. There were many times when they would lead to laughter.

It’s really not that bad, and the first step to making things easier for ourselves is admitting that, and letting go of the martyr act. Put the baby down for the few minutes it takes to put on clothes you feel good wearing (over-sized, stained t-shirts and yoga pants with holes in them never lifted anyone’s spirits), and brush your teeth. Maybe even drag her swing into the bathroom, and have a shower …. She won’t cry herself to death, and maybe she’ll even learn to self-soothe, a skill every baby should acquire. Go for a walk. If you dress them (and yourself) appropriately for the weather, ten minutes outside will do you all good. Have a cup of coffee, call a friend. Even a five-minute connection with the outside world will make you feel better. In other words, take care of yourself – put your oxygen mask on first so you can help yourself and others. Finally, do everyone around you a favour – don’t let your cyber-whining rival your kids’ real-life whining!

Disclaimer: This rant is not aimed at mothers of children with special needs, whose days are more challenging than I can properly understand or even fully imagine. Or anyone whose baby is under the age of six weeks. Complain all you want – the newborn stage, as every mother knows, is parenting’s trial-by-fire!

It’s almost playground season!

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I won’t even try to gild the dead and frozen lily that is the winter of 2013/2014: it was atrocious. There are still multiple feet of snow on our lawn, and it’s freakin’ April. However, after months of harsh temperatures and semi-weekly dumpings of snow, there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Every day this week, the daytime high has been several degrees above zero. Double digits are being predicted for Sunday. Double digits, for the first time since early November! Spring is here. If this spring follows the typical trajectory for Ottawa, there will be a couple of weeks of dirty, rotting snow getting lower and lower, exposing layers of frozen dog turds, cigarette butts and wind-strewn trash. Then, there will be a soggy period, when the mud sucks at your boots and grey water ferments in low-lying areas. Finally, we will have spring in full bloom, and playground season will begin again. (Yes, I know there are people who take their kids to the park year-round. I’m not one of them. For years, Fiona and Bridget thought that playgrounds were closed in the winter. Now they know that’s not the case, but they know I don’t do snow-covered playgrounds – so they don’t ask.)

In the spring, summer and fall, though, playgrounds are great. We pack a lunch, go early in the day, and spend hours there. Frank Ryan Park, the closest one to us, boasts plenty of grassy open space, lovely old trees, colourful, well-maintained equipment and a wading pool with all-day lifeguards. Ryan, Fiona, Bridget and I are looking forward to the many good times we’ll have there. However, again, let’s not gild this lily too thick, either. There are a few yucky things about playgrounds, too.

1. All. That. Damn. Sand. In your shoes, in your clothes, in your hair. In your eyes and mouth, too, if it’s windy. The sand comes home with us, where it makes our floors feel like the bottom of a bird cage between April and October.

2. Playground equipment and facilities. Some people’s kids crawl all over everything like adolescent monkeys. Not mine. For years, it was “lift me up …. again …. now I want to get down …. I want to go on that thing …. lift me up …. again”. If they could manage to get up, there was about a 75% chance that they would chicken out of the steps or slide or pole, and howl for me to help them down. And swings. “Push me! Higher! No, higher …. push me higher …. Argh! That’s too high! Stop the swing!” And if the girls needed to go, which they always did, we had two choices. Pee behind a tree (more complicated for girls than boys, obviously) or use the playground washroom. Which always has a slick floor, no toilet paper or soap, and the lingering odour of – oh, I don’t know – a dead squirrel floating in vomit or something. They’ve come to terms with both the equipment and the washroom situation, now – but I’m still not over those years.

3. Found objects. If I had a dollar for every time I had to say “that’s not a balloon, don’t touch it” …. Well, let’s just say I’d have alot more time to write blog posts. Cigarette butts. Nasty days-old, rain-soaked, sun-baked, insect-tunnelled crackers. Rusted beer cans. And, one time, I kid you not – a used needle. Fiona and Bridget are old enough now to understand that you don’t pick anything off the ground unless it’s a really cool rock. Or money. But there was a time when I cringed every time I saw their eyes light up and a pudgy little hand outstretched toward the ground.

4. Sanctimommies. These come in several categories. There are the ones who drill their children in word definitions or math problems or scientific facts in an unnecessarily loud voice while pushing them on the swings. “WHAT’S 5+8, HARPER? THIRTEEN! THAT’S RIGHT! YOU’RE SO SMART!” We all know that’s not for the benefit of little Harper’s budding genius. Momma just really wants you to know what her baby knows. There are the ones who make comments that are designed to showcase the preciousness of their child. “Well, Schmaiden is very gifted in violin but he just won’t practice. My husband says it’s because he’s just too focused on chemistry. Maybe he’s right. I mean, not every four-year-old can recite the periodic table.” Then, there are the ones who feel it’s their duty to moniter all mothering efforts in their sight line. These women have been a problem for me since Fiona was about three days old. “I noticed she’s not wearing a hat – you know that their head can burn, too, right?” “Um, your baby’s eating sand.” “Just thought I’d let you know that your daughter’s at the top of the slide. By herself.” “Oh, granola bars! Those are so yummy. But they’re full of sugar and additives, so Gaylord only gets them at birthday parties.” Ugh.

5. That kid. Every trip to the playground features that kid, and every parent has encountered him (or her). He’s the one flinging sand around for no apparent reason. He takes all the sand toys you brought to make his sand-based, to-scale model of Stonehenge, but won’t let your kids breathe on his creation – or use their own pail and shovel. And, for some reason, he never brings toys of his own. He’s climbing up the slide at the same time your kid’s sliding down. He’s swinging for twenty minutes, giving your kid smug smirks as she stands waiting for a turn on the swing. (Aside: why are there never enough swings at any playground? Is this a conscious decision, or just a bewildering oversight by planners everywhere?) Oh, and he’s a snack mooch, too – but only on the days you bring a non-shareable snack. If you bring extra cookies or a big bag of cheezies, he’s busy ruining someone else’s day. But if you bring just enough for your own kids, he will position himself near your picnic table and watch you eat, like a pigeon waiting for crumbs. Even though he’s a little twit, you will feel sorry for him, and your kids will feel too guilty to fully enjoy their snack. Where’s his mother? Scrolling on her smartphone or flirting with the lifeguards, of course.

6. Which brings me to another irritating species of playground life: distracted parents. I understand that very few children have an adult’s eyes on them at all times, and I’ve looked away plenty, myself. But then there are the extreme cases …. During the many hours I’ve spent at playgrounds, I have stopped someone else’s toddler from eating their third piece of rabbit poop, caught a kid by the tail of their shirt just as they were about to run into the street, administered minor first aid after falls from a six-to-eight-foot height and waited up to five minutes for a parent to appear on the scene, and led a tearful preschooler around the playground for several minutes while she searched for her mother (who hadn’t been searching for her). The other parents at the playground are not your kid’s guardian angels – look up every so often.

Yeah, I know, I’m starting to sound all get-off-my-lawn and kids-these-days. So I’ll stop …. Anyway, I’ve got some pails and shovels to buy. One each for my kids, and one for that kid. Welcome back to my house, sand!

David Woodard’s family is grieving, too.

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As most people reading this post know, September 18, 2013, was a terrible day in Ottawa. An OC transpo bus and a Via Rail train collided, killing five passengers – Michael Bleakney, Connor Boyd, Karen Krzyzewski, Rob More and Kyle Nash – and the driver of the bus, David Woodard. The cause of the crash still hasn’t been determined. It was a sunny day, with clear roads. The warning lights were flashing, the crossing gate was down. Did the brakes malfunction? Was the driver momentarily distracted? Blinded by the sun? Suffering some medical crisis?

Lawsuits were sure to follow, and they have. Not only against the city, as one might expect, but also against the estate of David Woodard. Two of the families of the dead, and one survivor – seeking payment for permanent disfigurement and injury – are suing David’s estate for up to $3.2 million. They are accusing David of negligence, and want compensation for their suffering. But David won’t be paying. He is beyond the reach of the courts. The people who will pay are David’s family – his wife and three children.

David is remembered by co-workers and customers as a competant, friendly driver. His friends and family call him a giver, always ready to help. He apparently had a keen sense of humour, and loved road trips and camping and karaoke. In other words, he was more than a bus driver who got into a fatal accident – and the people who loved him are still struggling with how to fill the hole in their lives and heal their hearts. It’s incredibly cruel to put them through a lengthy litigation process over something that cannot be fixed, no matter what any judge decides.

My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone involved in that horrible accident. I wish all of them comfort and peace. I wish them answers – there aren’t any yet, and it will likely be a long time before they surface. Although I know how it feels to lose someone dear to me, I don’t know how it feels to lose a spouse or a child. And I don’t know how it feels to know that it happened in such a violent way. What I do know, though, is that comfort and peace can’t be bought – and, even if they could, you can’t buy them with money gained at the expense of people who are already hurting just as badly as you are.