I can tell when you don’t care. I keep talking anyway.

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I know my beloved readers are overdue for another dose of Beth …. There’s been alot going on lately. There was an impromptu visit from my cousin, who – annoyingly enough – ran a marathon a day or two before joining my crew for an enormous plate of nothing healthy and a beer the size of her head. Then, there was a planned visit from my mother and her husband to celebrate the birthday of their precious youngest granddaughter. There was a welcome-back BBQ at the girls’ school, where we were swarmed by wasps while meeting teachers and having blurs of colour pointed out to us as “the girl I was telling you about”, “the new boy”, “that kid who’s always in trouble”, and “the guy who picks his nose all the time”. Then, we toured their classrooms. They’ve done an impressive amount of work already. When I was a student, by this point in the school year, I had done – at most – a review of all the stuff I forgot and a two-page essay about how I spent my summer.

Then, there was Bridget’s birthday. We threw a party for a handful of her friends (Bridget being an introvert, a handful is the number of people with whom she can spend more than fifteen minutes without attempting to hide in her room). It was lovely. The group was small enough so that I could make all the food myself – with some help from Ryan, who likes to chop celery and assemble sandwiches. He also blew up fifteen pink balloons. I’m terrified of balloons, so it suited me to outsource their inflation. He mowed, I vacuumed. Purpose of vacuuming before a children’s party: unclear. But it had to be done …. because. He also gave up his other religion, Sunday football, so the girls could use the Wii. This is no small thing for this man and his football.

Bridget is, possibly, the only child on earth who doesn’t like cake. She licks off all the frosting, then claims to be full. As soon as you throw out her naked cake, she says she wants another piece because she’s not full anymore. So, I made mini-cookies-n-cream cheesecakes instead – she loved them:

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The best thing about them: they’re even easier to make than a birthday cake, and people are impressed by them anyway.

I know that birthday parties these days are almost on par with proms when it comes to planning, significance and expense. However, the little girls enjoyed themselves just as much at our house eating finger foods and ransacking Bridget’s room as they would have at mini-golf or bowling or laser tag, and the party didn’t cost $25 per kid before cake and loot bags. One child was particularly concerned that the party didn’t have a theme. She asked about it three times. Finally, I said “ok, the theme is yay, Bridget is seven“. She relaxed, and turned her attention back to the group. At that point, a song they like had come on the radio, and they were dancing with the glitter shakers I had laid out for the craft they were supposed to be working on:

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There is glitter on the floor, the rug, the furniture, our clothes, our hair. None of us will ever be glitter-free again. This is nothing new, though, in a family that includes two little girls. I don’t mind. Glitter everywhere is a sign of a good life. I said this to a dear friend of mine when she arrived to pick up her daughters. She affectionately told me I’m effed up. I pointed out that this was true even before I confessed my affection for glitter, and she agreed. After the crafting and some free time, they descended like a plague of locusts on the table I had prepared. Particularly popular were the “fancy” drinks (grape juice):

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* See? Glitter. Everywhere.

Collectively, they ate about three baby carrots, a tenth of a sliced pepper, a dozen grapes and their own weight in party mix and mini-cheesecakes. As they sang “Happy Birthday” to Bridget, she glowed. That moment was so worth the planning, the mess and the post-party crash. After the party, eyes still shining, Bridget even confided her career choices: 1) rapper, 2) tattoo artist and 3) nurse. In that order.

Some of you, while reading what I just wrote, were smiling. Maybe even saying “aw, how sweet” – and enjoying the level of detail. Others, though, were bored by it all, and annoyed that they were spending time reading about a kid’s birthday party. These people, if I were talking to them, might also have said that it was sweet. The difference would likely lie in their tone and frequency of eye contact. After reading what I wrote about the code many parents speak – what we say to preserve our children’s feelings and innocence, as opposed to what we want to say – Ryan said three things that made me think. First, he pointed out that I don’t always use code. Sometimes, I am brutally honest with Fiona and Bridget. He’s right – that happens. From time to time, it’s because they need it. Other times, it’s because they’ve started talking before I’ve finished my first cup of coffee the morning after a late night – or because we’re all running late and this is no time to wander down memory or speculation lane. Either way, sometimes the code gets dropped. Second, he reminded me that there’s a code among grown-ups, too – friends, neighbours, colleagues. It’s used when we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or we don’t want a bad relationship with that person – in other words, we have good intentions – but we just aren’t into whatever they’re saying.

No, I don’t want to hear about your new workout routine – I’ll be fine if I never know how many times you flexed your inner thighs before you showered and drove to the office. I also don’t care that you’ve cut out gluten and you’re not as gassy anymore. But I’ll probably say something vaguely encouraging like “oh, good for you – whatever works, right”. I guess there’s some part of me that really is happy that your son has landed a summer job or you’ve bought a new couch – but that part is very small, and hidden beneath layers of actual interests. So, while I say “oh – congratulations”, the tone might be a little flat or my eyes might be drifting over your shoulder to the water fountain or washroom, planning an excuse and a getaway. If we’re on the phone, I might be speaking in code if you’re hearing a string of mmm-hmms and yeahs. If you’re reading your daughter’s report card line-by-line, or listing the types of birds that have arrived at your feeder lately, or telling me about your neighbour’s new interlocking brick driveway, you probably shouldn’t expect anything more than that.

“That’s nice.” This, you may remember, appeared in the post about parents’ code words and phrases. It is not only used on kids, and it means the exact same thing when it’s used on grown-ups. Of course, I don’t think it’s nice that you wasted a whole weekend laying down hardwood flooring or regrouting your shower tiles or staining your deck or wandering around Costco. I don’t think it’s nice that your kid is in gymnastics, jazz dancing, hockey, and saxophone lessons, along with learning the art of Japanese cooking and presentation. It’s also quite possibly the opposite of nice that you’ve finally succeeded in your effort to instate those neighbourhood by-laws that make it illegal to drive above 20 km/h, paint your house anything other than desert shades, or have grass more than four inches high. But, again, maybe I don’t want to hurt your feelings. Or maybe you are my superior, and I don’t want to offend you and make my office life miserable. Or maybe I’m just not in the mood for a debate. So, “that’s nice”.

The third thing Ryan said is that people use the same lines of code on me sometimes. This didn’t come as a revelation – I know people don’t always care about what I’m saying. I know they are sometimes uninterested; I’m not oblivious to long lines of mmm-hmms and yeahs. And I know that sometimes you don’t really think whatever I’m saying is nice. However, I appreciate the code because it means that the person with whom I’m talking, however boring they find me, doesn’t want to crush me by admitting it. It’s your way of being kind to me. Thank you! Also, even if I know you would rather be sitting in a white room listening to the sound of your own heartbeat than my voice, I’m going to keep talking. Fair’s fair; you’ve probably done the same thing to me.

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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.