Happy day-after-Mother’s-Day to all the not-my-mothers!

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day. Unless you’ve been in a coma since stores started advertising pink stuff (right after they marked the Easter chocolate down by 75%), you know that. Hopefully, you took the opportunity to show your mother that you appreciate her. If you are a mother, hopefully, you felt appreciated. Because being a mother can be a tough task (if you’re doing it right, anyway). Those little angels start by wrecking your body as they exit, and they spend years metaphorically drinking your blood, sweat and tears – and, at least for the first little while – they can’t say thank you. In fact, until they’re about four, they don’t give a damn about you and wouldn’t say thank you even if they could. As far as they’re concerned, you’re like the sun and the moon. Up all day and all night, shining for them – it never occurs to them that it could be any different. Bridget expressed utter shock, and a healthy amount of skepticism when she found out, at the age of four, that I actually sleep. And children are expensive! The amount of money I’ve spent on wine and anti-wrinkle creams since becoming a mother could have bought me a yacht by now, I swear.

For years, Ryan did the heavy lifting when it came to making me feel good about being a mother on Mother’s Day. He still gives me a beautifully worded card, and flowers or garden trinkets, makes food and does housework – and, of course, brings home a big ol’ bucket of fried chicken for dinner because nothing tells this Beth she is loved like disgustingly, deliciously greasy food. Now, though, my girls are old enough to treat me well on Mother’s Day – and they do. They gave me fancy bath junk and flavoured teas, two lovely cards and a collection of homemade coupons for everything from dishwasher emptying and lunch-making to a spa day. I had a nice chat with my mother and my mother-in-law. I scrolled my Facebook newsfeed (yes, I’m back) and marveled at just how much people had to say about mothers. Boy, do we ever love our mothers! (Well, on Mother’s Day on social media, we do, anyway.)

Yesterday had me thinking about a different category of women, too, ones that I didn’t say anything about because I didn’t want to take Mother’s Day away from all the deserving mothers out there. I owe my mother alot. More than I’ll ever be able to properly repay. But she isn’t the only woman who mothered me. Over the years, my aunts have spent hours listening to what I have to say. They’ve offered comfort and advice and encouragement. They’ve put me up in their homes and generously shared their fine cooking with me. They’ve celebrated my milestones with me. Likewise, the mothers of my good friends. I ran in and out of their houses, grabbing snacks and making messes and staying the night more times than I can count. They schlepped me to Brownies and piano lessons and figure skating and youth group events right along with their own kids. They took the time to listen to me in a way that showed me they really cared about me – they didn’t have to, and they already had their hands full with their own family, but they did. Even their grandmothers knew who I was and welcomed me at their table right along with everyone else if I happened to be there at dinnertime. Sweet ladies who gave me a hug and kiss just as if I were their granddaughter. My mother’s friends showed up without hesitation when I called them for help (which I did more than once). My mother did the same for my friends. Many of them called her “Mom Two”, and she still asks about them when we talk. I have no doubt that if any of them turned up at her house she’d be thrilled to let them open the fridge, grab a snack and slouch on her couch like they did all those years ago.

I had a series of long-suffering babysitters. My energetic, mischievous, saucy arse surely made them question how badly they needed the money my parents gave them. Yet, they made me feel like I was one of their own children whenever I was dropped off at their house. They’re still cheering for me today, from miles away, complimenting my photos and asking about my vacations and saying “I remember you when”.

I had wonderfully involved female teachers – strong role models, all. They didn’t put up with any bullshit, but they encouraged me to think critically and question what didn’t add up and proudly express myself.

Fiona and Bridget are now benefiting from the same thing – aunts who listen to them, teach them things, make crafts with them, and watch movies with them. Their Auntie Di is even letting them use their baby cousins as test dummies on which to sharpen their babysitting skills. Great-aunts who spoil them from a distance with a little gift for every occasion. Friends’ mothers who kindly open their home to them, offering gentle discipline and encouragement and endless granola bars and popsicles. Friends of mine who rarely show up at our house without a treat for the girls, chat with them with genuine interest in their thoughts and lives, send cards and letters at Christmas and Valentine’s Day and Easter and birthdays. I am certain these friends would be there for Fiona and Bridget without pause, if ever they are asked. They have had wonderful experiences with daycares of various types. The women (and, yes, they were mainly women) looking after them treated them with a tenderness and concern and emotional generosity that made it clear that Fiona and Bridget were more than just a job to them. Their teachers, from kindergarten all the way to today, have been more than just educators. They’ve been carers. Channelling Fiona’s exuberance into positive change for other students. Reaching through Bridget’s shyness to draw her out of her shell and show her how strong she really is. Taking the time to make sure neither girl is ever left behind in any subject. Finding the best in each of them, and helping them polish it to a high gleam.

Yesterday was a day for mothers, and rightly so. But today I celebrate others. Hallmark has yet to come out with cards for some of these people. I have a few suggestions:

Thank you, sixth-grade teacher, for putting an arm around my shoulder and telling me I was doing just fine in gym class when I hadn’t made a single basket in four weeks of learning basketball.

Thanks, friends’ parents, for not throwing me out of your car on the side of the highway when I led the whole backseat in yowling “There’s a Hole in my Bucket” all the way from Robert’s Arm to Springdale and back.

Sorry for my sass. You didn’t get paid enough to listen to that.

Sorry I broke your stuff even though I didn’t live in your home, and won’t take care of you in your old age.

Thanks, Auntie, for picking up the phone every time, knowing you were going to listen to God-knows-what for God-knows-how-long.

And on and on. Maybe this is more of a Thanksgiving post, but my thank-yous were already long overdue – they couldn’t wait til October. Happy day-after-Mother’s-Day, not-my-mothers!

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Farewell, Facebook! (For a little while, anyway ….)

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Yes, I know – it’s been months since my last post. Christmas has been celebrated and packed away, January and February have been endured with varying amounts of grace. I don’t know why my blog has remained untouched by me all this time. Emotional ups and downs, the need to simplify life in order to keep up with it, plain old laziness …. ? I struggled to express all this to my lovely cousin, Charlene, over dinner together recently (delicious food and a thoroughly enjoyable experience at Khao Thai in the market). She’s been a great source of encouragement and enthusiasm for BethBlog, and she mentioned that she still checks in from time to time in the hopes that I will have written something new. A glance at my stats reveals that she’s not the only one. My appreciation to all who keep coming back – and my apologies for the prolonged cyber-silence. One factor in my writer’s block that I discussed that evening with Charlene is the avalanche of information that buries me regularly. There are many days when I feel like I’m being smothered by it – strangled by it – drowned in it. Bad news, good news, fake news. Quizzes, videos, how-tos, recipes, memes. And those ads …. I don’t want to put my girls in private school, rent a beach house in Jamaica, or enhance my sex life. I’d love to buy new dresses and shoes, but not online – and not right now. Where’s it all coming from? Facebook. I’ve been using Facebook for ten years now – I started using it when it was small. My, how it’s grown! What started as a handful of friends and private jokes has become dozens of voices all talking at once, and the resulting babel is grating and exhausting.

Whenever someone complains about internet content, there’s always a snappy, sanctimonious beauty ready to chime in with “if you don’t like it, don’t look”. I’m taking their advice, and leaving Facebook for Lent. As soon as the idea surfaced, I was excited about it. Imagine all that free time! All that peace! An internal clutter-bust! It will be like a long, soothing shower for my soul …. Facebook doesn’t make me a better person. It doesn’t improve my impact on the world. In fact, it makes me dislike people and the world more. Lent is an opportunity to examine our habits and hooks, and assess their impact on our lives. Why not see how leaving Facebook could help me?

Yesterday, though, doubts emerged. There are some family members and friends I only communicate with via Facebook. How am I going to know what’s going on in their lives? How will I know what they’re doing, or what their children look like now? How will they know any of that about me? My beautiful niece and nephew are growing fast – I’m sure I’ll miss some milestones and adorable photos.  I can’t remember the last time I received a party invitation through anything other than Facebook. What if there are lots of awesome parties and events going on and I don’t know about them? My primary form of communication with some people is Facebook. What if I lose touch with them because I’m no longer on Facebook? Sometimes, I see funny memes and videos on Facebook. Sometimes, Facebook tells me what’s going on before I find out from any other source. People on Facebook are all incredibly eager to express how a given death or split or news piece affects them, and that alerts me to the event in question. Facebook gives me ideas, meal plans, exercise regimes, decorating and parenting tips, movie reviews, conversation fodder. And then there’s me, the person I’ve become since using Facebook …. My first thought about quitting Facebook was “how many likes and comments will I get when I say I’m not Facebooking anymore” – and then I realized that I wouldn’t know because I won’t be checking. Can I have thoughts and experiences without sharing them with an instant audience of over a hundred? Can I take pictures without sharing them digitally – just take them like I used to, for the pleasure of capturing a moment? Can I cook or bake or eat someone else’s cooking or baking without taking a picture and uploading it to Facebook with a witty comment? Can I grow a plant without documenting its progress online? Ryan’s birthday’s coming up. So is my friend, Blue’s. Can I send them birthday greetings without fêting them on Facebook – would it look strange not to send them a public shout-out? On March 28, my father will have been gone for fifteen years. It seems strange to let that go by without saying anything on Facebook. Can I go back to the life I used to live, one without an audience? One in which what I did was for me and the people around me, and nobody else? We’ll see ….

I have a feeling I’ll come back to Facebook. It might even creep into my life, little by little, just like it did before – and have me in its thrall in a matter of days. But, for this small slice of time, I’m just me. In my world. Watched by nobody but the people who are actually there. Enjoying the silence …. (I know – awesome song!) Sure, I’ll miss some things. But I have a feeling I won’t miss them as much as I think I will.

You can’t buy what I want for Christmas.

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Every November, as soon as Remembrance Day has ended, I start getting ready for Christmas. People tease me about Christmassing too early, but it works out well in the end. By mid-December, with decorations up, cards posted, gifts purchased and baking baked, I can sit on my duff with a cup of peppermint tea and an unbearably smug smirk because I am ready for Christmas and all the people who made fun of me back in November are not. In fact, in recent years, I’ve extended my gloating to a trip to the mall to eat lunch in the food court and watch people lose their marbles in a last-minute dash for presents. I did that just last Saturday, along with my family.

Located next to the food court is Justice (this is probably not random). Everything in Justice is covered in glitter and smells like cotton candy, which means that Fiona and Bridget love the place. The three female members of our crew wandered into the store to check it out, while Ryan wisely stayed at least twenty-five feet away and immersed himself in his phone. There was a Christmas tree at the entrance to the store, and stacks of post-its in six different colours. Customers were encouraged to write their first name and a Christmas wish on the post-it, and stick it on the tree. Most of the post-its were predictable: iPods, puppies, ponies, cool clothes and accessories (presumably from Justice). There were also wishes that couldn’t be granted using money. A happy Christmas. No more cruelty to animals. World peace. One clever little wag had written a wish for “JUSTICE for girls everywhere”. Out of the forest of pastel slips of paper, one caught my eye and squeezed my heart: a girl named Makayla wishing for a friend. A friend. Not a whole lot of them, just one.

Facebook is a fount of …. well, everything everybody is thinking at any given time, whether it’s fit for sharing or not. Some posts are solid, some posts are more like solid waste. One that I’ve seen a couple of times recently, though, resonates with me:

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What do I want for Christmas? I have been grateful for (nearly) every present I’ve ever received. I do remember a pair of mustard-coloured cords and a matching sweater that I might have worn once before “losing” them …. Even when the item hasn’t particularly tickled my fancy, I’ve appreciated the thought. I’ve no doubt what I unwrap this year will also be lovely. But, really, what I want for Christmas isn’t available in stores. (And, no, Canadian Tire, it’s not available online, either. If I hear one more stupid list of all the many varieties of the many things you can order from Canadian Tire I might just hit them up for one of seventeen different lighters and set the radio on fire.)

I want peace – in my mind, in my home, and on earth. I want hope. I want desperate people to look up and believe – and I want something for them to believe in. I want time. Time to sit and ponder. Time to organize my clutter, both literal and figurative. Time to have a conversation without glancing at the clock every few minutes. Breathe in, breathe out – soak in. I want health, both in body and mind. I want gratitude to replace comparisons and anxiety. I want kindness for others, and for myself. I want forgiveness. I want to let things go. Just let them go, and not look back. I want to be a refuge for the people I love. I want no judgement. Only love today, and every day. I want more hugs.

And I want a friend for Makayla. May this be the year ….

The thing is, most of these things start with me. I can’t control what everyone else does (even though sometimes I wish I could because I know what is best for everyone) – but I can fix myself and my reactions and my priorities. Do I want them badly enough to break them down, make a to-do list, and work towards them? As life races forward, spins me around, and slips away from my outstretched hands, I feel less and less tolerant of anything less. Merry Christmas, everyone.

 

How to raise your children so they’re welcome at other people’s houses ….

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When Fiona and Bridget were very tiny, the purpose of a playdate was mainly to preserve my own sanity. I’d haul my babies to someone else’s place, or welcome their babies to my place, just for the opportunity to have snacks and small-talk with a fellow cooped-up, under-socialized mother. As the girls got older, playdates became a little more annoying. I might spend time at someone else’s house, hollering at Fiona and Bridget. “Don’t touch!” and “Get down!” and “Leave the dog alone!” sometimes composed two thirds of the conversation. Other playdates were on our turf – in which case, the time would be spent cringing and flinching at every crash and smash, and trying to pretend it didn’t matter that a three-foot-tall human tornado was grinding peanut butter into the carpet, using candles as drumsticks, heaving furniture around and leaving murky face prints on every window. In recent years, playdates have become much simpler. Children are dropped off at our house to play with Fiona and Bridget while their parents do their thing, or Fiona and Bridget are dropped off at someone else’s house while Ryan and I do our thing. However, even though the kids are so much more independent and easier to keep alive, there are many moments when I find myself regretting issuing an invitation to other people’s children. At such times, I wish there was a guide to making children better playdates. Enter this guide! Because I can.

Obviously, some patterns are deeply entrenched – so it may just be too late for a few children. For example, if your child is an asshole – and, as we’ve already established, there are many – you might want to use an aggressive treatment rather than a preventative measure. However, this guide could be an indispensable tool for new parents to use as they prune and groom their darlings into people-who-are-welcome-at-other-people’s-houses – or for seasoned parents of reasonably behaved progeny to assess their kids’ performance every now and then. So, without further ado, I present a series of questions that you should ask yourself before sending your offspring to my house:

Can my kid share? Seems kinda basic, yes, but you wouldn’t believe the times I’ve had to settle a sulking (or screaming) match because one of the girls’ friends has pulled a Yertle the Turtle on the house and decided they are the ruler of all that they see. I’ve even been approached the odd time by a kid saying they want an item or piece of clothing to take home and keep. Who does that?

Can my kid play nicely? Again, kinda basic, but a small number of children we’ve hosted have trouble agreeing on an activity, taking turns, losing graciously …. I invite children to our house so that Fiona and Bridget can play with them – not because I feel like sharpening my refereeing skills.

Does my kid clean up his or her messes? Before every playdate, I tell Fiona and Bridget to make sure that one mess is cleaned up before they move on to making another. Sometimes, this works well. Other times, I will see a mess in every room, and I have to remind the girls of the rule about cleaning up behind themselves. Most of the time, our little guests will pitch in cheerfully. However, there have been times when Fiona or Bridget has reported that their friend doesn’t want to clean up the mess – completely ignoring the fact that I never asked if anyone wanted to clean up the mess, I laid down a rule that it must be cleaned up. Recently, Fiona and Bridget have become more bold about insisting on clean-up after having to deal with a few epic messes after their freewheeling pals have gone home – because this mother doesn’t pick up toys anymore.

Does my kid respect other people’s property? I don’t want a hamster-bathing station in the sink. I don’t want make-up fingerprints on every wall from the basement dress-up room to the attic. I don’t want furniture rearranged or things broken. I don’t want my piano banged out of tune. I don’t want my kitchen to become a disaster area because I gave your kid a sliced apple, some caramel dip and a juicebox. And I most definitely don’t want anyone in my bedroom …. Fiona and Bridget don’t even come into the master bedroom without permission – why are so many other people’s kids cool with waltzing into it?

Have I taught my kid manners? If I’m doling out snacks or setting up a movie or supervising a trip to the park, I want to hear as many thank-yous as there are kids present. Before I do any of this, I must first hear an equal number of pleases. Yes, I know – more basics. But these things are important to me. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t have spent years teaching them to my own kids. Having spent years teaching good manners to my own kids, I really don’t feel like putting up with other people’s kids’ bad manners.

Is my kid capable of playing without involving adults? I am not a one-woman amusement park. I have your kids over for Fiona’s and Bridget’s enjoyment and social development. I don’t always want to supervise crafting, do magic tricks, provide spa treatments or play board games. In fact, most of the time, all I want is to get through a glass of wine and a section of the newspaper. So there had better be no little people appearing to ask if I can entertain them – or, worse, to announce that they are bored. Yet this has happened more than once …. A few times, I’ve even been followed around the house by a kid who obviously exists primarily in an adult world while Fiona and Bridget played together in one of their bedrooms or the basement. This playdate is not for me!

What does my kid eat? If your child only eats a certain kind of cheese or crackers, doesn’t like most fruits, won’t eat yogurt, turns up their nose at canned alphabet or chicken soup, is only familiar with one or two types of meat and only on one type of bread, isn’t into frozen pizza …. well, maybe you should just send food with him or her. One recent visitor to our house claimed to not know what baloney is. If you want me to like hosting your kid, teach him or her to like baloney.  I am not a gourmet chef, nor even a short-order hash-slinger. I do not enjoy standing in front of my cupboard or refrigerator while Picky Pete shakes his head and says “meh” over my family’s entire food supply.

I’m sure there are more things that make or break a playdate, and I’m sure there are things that annoy the ever-loving freak out of you that wouldn’t bother me at all. I’m also aware that my own little lovelies are not always perfect guests – we’re all a work in progress. But if you give my list some consideration, it might mean the difference between greeting your kids warmly when they arrive versus breaking into a glorious soft-shoe (complete with jazz hands) the moment they walk out my door.

Back-to-school is not for everyone – but I’m trying to see the other side of the coin.

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Where, oh, where has summer gone? There’s less than two weeks left! Yes, I hear you, gotta-be-right windbags: summer doesn’t technically end until late September. You probably also like to remind people that black is not actually a colour, and that “I can’t get no satisfaction” really means that you can get at least some. Whatever. We all know summer’s over when the kids go back to school.

Most of the items on my summer bucket list have been crossed off. I’ve watched all the flowers come and go in our garden. Having lived in this house for a couple of years now, I know there are more to come, and I’ll be watching for them, too. I’ve enjoyed several sun-drenched happy hours on one of our plastic chairs with a book and the buzz of cicadas and crickets all around me. I’ve made three or four different kinds of popsicles, lemon cream, blueberry-cinnamon-Greek-yogurt, blue raspberry and peanut-butter-chocolate-pudding (new this year). We’ve had a few picnics – on a sunny, breezy day, packing a bag with sandwiches, pickles, cheese, fruit, cookies and juice (or, if you will, vodka), and heading for the park is lovely. We’ve had some barbeques, and dined al fresco both at home and at various restaurants. We’ve spent the odd lazy afternoon at the beach. I took Fiona and Bridget to Mont Cascades for a day. Fiona and I kept pace with each other as the daredevil half of the family. Bridget faced up to a few of her fears and enjoyed some of the tamer water slides – and surprised us by riding Mammoth River with us twice! We went to the Capital Fair, where we all enjoyed the ferris wheel and the Wacky Wurm (which, after a unanimous verdict by Facebook friends, was declared to be, in fact, a caterpillar). Ryan and Fiona had a go at the bumper cars, and Fiona challenged for my Queen of the Thrill Rides title with the Cannonball. I saw her Cannonball, raised her a Pharoah’s Fury, and won that particular hand. There was a musical instrument petting zoo, and a regular petting zoo, and both were great fun. Food trucks galore …. Ok, this post is starting to become an advertisement for the Capital Fair. What was I talking about again? Oh, yes: my summer bucket list. We went to an outdoor concert, Earth, Wind & Fire, and enjoyed some good music and a summer sunset. The girls enjoyed a few nights in their itty-bitty tent. It’s technically a two-man tent, but I think the two men would have to be very close …. In fact, they might have to know each other in the biblical sense to share this tent.

Of course, our summer hasn’t been entirely idyllic …. There were sunburns, mosquito bites and stings of the wasp and bee variety (one per child). There were days so disgustingly hot and humid that the make-up melted down my face as I was getting ready for work. These were usually followed by nights of tossing and turning, peeling the sheets off our sticky skin and gasping in the direction of the open window, craving even the lightest puff of fresh air. There were deluges, accompanied by the awesome power of thunder and lightning. There were skinned knees, and a nasty episode of motion sickness after twisting around on a tire swing way too fast and long (Bridget doesn’t get on those now). There is a dead chipmunk in our yard, foul and festooned with insects, which is taking its not-so-sweet time to return to the bosom of Mother Nature. And there is one thing left on the list: our big summer road trip! We’re leaving tomorrow, but we still don’t know where we’re going. Which is just how we like it. The day after we return, though, is the first day of fourth grade for Fiona and second grade for Boo.

I know many parents are giddily soft-shoeing down the back-to-school aisle of their nearest department store, daydreaming about the moment the be-backpacked backs of their offspring disappear down the street to the bus stop. I know a few parents who would have school go year-round if they could. I am not one of them. In fact, I might even be the opposite of those parents …. I’m really not feeling the rigid mornings, packing peanut-free lunches, tripping over backpacks stuffed like Thanksgiving turkeys, spending whole evenings hunched over the kitchen table trying to work out what in the name of deep-fried butter the teacher wants from the kids (there’s that fair sneaking into the post again). I don’t want to wade through the drama of who-said-what and who-didn’t-sit-with-whom. And head lice! I. Can’t. Even. with the head lice ….

I don’t want to sink too deep in the Pit of Despair-and-Fundraiser-Hatred, though, so I’m going to try to come up with some positive things about sending my girls back to school.

There will be order in their days again. Structure is good for kids, and I honestly couldn’t be arsed to provide it during the lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer. Sometimes, that shows in their attitude and behaviour. Rules and schedules will return to two little people who really could use them. Their nutrition and general hygiene will improve, as schools like children to be fed properly for learning and bathed regularly. Ring-around-the-mouth is not a game we’ll be playing anymore for the next ten months. No whipping hair into a braid so no one can tell it’s been dragged through orange juice, ice cream and licked lollipops, then rolled in playground sand and slept on. No more scraggly fingernails with whole flowerbeds of dirt under them. No longer will the sniff test be used to determine whether something can be worn in public.

They will be using their brains for more than pondering how SpongeBob can die a dozen deaths and still be fine at the end of an episode. Yeah, we’ve taken them to the library a couple of times, and we answer their bazillion questions and toss in the occasional intelligent thought of our own – but homeschoolers we are not. We pay taxes so that somebody else will do the eju-ma-catin’. They will be able to see their friends without me having to see their friends (or their friends’ parents). A few of their friends are lovely, with lovely parents, and they’re no burden to have over or hang out with. Most of their friends, though, are other people’s kids – and, by definition, teetering somewhere between mildly annoying and simply atrocious. Usually, it takes awful parents to make awful kids – and, if you’re not sufficiently hard-hearted to ignore your child’s pleas to see their friends because they havn’t seen them all summer long, you might even end up hanging out with the entire rotten tribe. When school starts, though, they’ll see their friends every day, and it will require no effort or forbearance on my part.

I’m sure there are more good things about back-to-school, and I’ll rediscover them when September comes. In the meantime, though, I’ll treasure these last few days of summer. Starting with hitting the road tomorrow!