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 ….

 

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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 danglers, 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.