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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“Sweet Pea, do you know yet if the school is doing Pizza Fridays this year?”

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There are so many ways to mess kids up …. Some obvious ways include letting them grow up thinking that Froot Loops and potato chips count as fruits and veggies, howling insults at them all the way through tee-ball or minor hockey and shedding guilt-inducing fake tears whenever their behaviour is less-than-stellar. Oh, and telling them that Rover didn’t die – he just went to a nice farm where there’s lots of room to run, plenty of squirrels to chase, and an endless supply of rawhide. Another way to crush them would be to say what we really want to say …. All those things we mutter under our breath when they’re leaning on our last nerve – we can’t just say those awful things out loud to our kids. So, we speak in code. I found myself thinking about this code a few days ago when it was way past bedtime and Fiona and Bridget were duking it out for the title of Most Annoying Child in Canada, If Not The Entire Flippin’ World. I said, in a creamy voice, “you guys need your rest – you are going to be so tired tomorrow, and you won’t have a good day”. This is a line of the code. What it really means is “the pitter-patter of little feet is going to make me run screaming into the night if it doesn’t settle into its bed and leave me to my near-homicidal thoughts”. Here are some other coded phrases I use – and what they are masking.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Good one!” Every now and then, our girls crack a joke that is actually funny. You know, about 7% of the time. The rest of their jokes range from the merely lacking-in-humour to the impossible-to-understand. They are good at making each other laugh, but that’s about it. However, I don’t want their little spirits to wither like a balloon from last week’s party – so I laugh. Even when I’m thinking “um, ok”. And I don’t tell them they’re at their funniest when they’re being dead serious – that’s when the real laughter happens. Hopefully, they can’t tell the difference yet.

Speaking of laughing, something else I never say – but always think: “Ok, it was funny the first time. Maybe even the second time. Now, stop doing it before I give in to the temptation to have you appraised by a black marketeer.”

One-word answers …. If one of the girls asks a question and I respond with “yes”, “no” or “maybe”, and there’s no elaboration, what I’m really saying is “no more questions, please”. This is especially true of “uh-huh” and “mmm”. I am making a grocery list and I just wrote “butter” three times. Go away.

“Oh, sure, maybe we’ll do that sometime ….” Translation: you’ve pulled this one out of the wild blue yonder, and I’m thrown off. This string of words can mean anything from “yes, let’s think about this and maybe even do it” to “your cray-cray proposal has the same chance as a snowball in hell”. Either way, I need to think it through.

In the same vein, there’s “maybe”. It can mean anything from “never” to “yes, sometime when I’m not so tired or we’re not so busy” to an honest “maybe”. Sometimes, it’s mumbled meaninglessly while I’m driving or cooking or cleaning the bathroom, in an effort to head off an exhausting exploration of everything that could possibly be associated with the topic that has just been raised. Maybe your hamster would enjoy wearing a hat. Maybe your teacher’s actually crazy. Maybe we could go to a movie Sunday afternoon. Maybe you can have a sleepover with your friend. Maybe we could buy you a cellphone when you’re fourteen. However, none of that can happen right now, because I’m flossing. So let’s just sit on this one for a while ….

“That’s a great idea!” This one’s usually accompanied by an ear-to-ear smile and frantic nodding. It may or may not be a great idea. Whatever. I want you to get completely immersed in making the idea happen, so I can finish this chapter or bubble bath or phone call.

“Wow – what a lovely drawing!” This one’s tricky. Sometimes Fiona or Bridget creates a truly lovely drawing, and I’m telling the truth. About half of the time, though, it’s not a lovely drawing. It took them five minutes or less to make it, and it looks it. But what kind of asshole would criticize a picture held up proudly for inspection and praise? Not this asshole.

“You’re a big girl now! You can do this.” In other words, I’m tired of doing this for you, and change happens now.

“It’s good for you! Have some – you might find that you actually like it.” It’s probably good for you. You might like it, but you probably won’t. Truth is, I bought the ingredients, threw them together after a day that’s already been twelve hours long, and I will lose my shiz if I have to scrape it off your plate into the garbage can. It may or may not be good for you, but it will cut me to my quick if you don’t eat at least a few bites.

“That’s nice.” Whatever it is, it isn’t nice. If it were nice, I’d have found a different word for it. Oh, your friend wears $100 sweaters? That’s nice. So-and-so gets cookies after dinner every day? That’s nice. That kid who bullied you all the way through the second grade offered you a lick of his lollipop? That’s nice. Your school’s selling chocolate bars / candles / gift wrap and there’s a prize for the kid who sells the most? That’s nice. Mrs. Has-No-Life-and-Therefore-Volunteers-For-Everything showed up to tie shoes just before P.E., and gave her kid a big hug before she left to resume placing consumer complaints and watching daytime television? That’s nice. None of this is even remotely nice. I just don’t want to smother the girls with my cynicism before they’re able to make these sorts of judgements for themselves.

“Is your school doing Pizza Fridays this year? Because I havn’t seen the form, and I know how much you guys like your Pizza Fridays ….” In other words, we’re not even one month into the school year, and I’m already trying to weasel out of packing lunches.* Three cheers for the code!

* The Pizza Fridays form arrived yesterday. I nearly cried in relief and gratitude.