Not With a Bang, but a Whimper

Ugh, this summer, am I right? Cold, rainy, and depressing. It’s labour day, and it’s cold, rainy, and depressing – a fitting end to a blah season.

Yesterday I was unloading the dishwasher and I stacked up the plates and put them in the cupboard like I have done a thousand times before. About two minutes later, there was a loud BANG from the kitchen and then this happened:

One of the plates, near the bottom of the stack, spontaneously exploded. Right there in the pile! It was so eerie, and it took forever to clear all the shards out of the cupboard – we ended up rewashing all the dishes in that cabinet because there was fine little ceramic dust all over.

I’m trying not to take it as some sort of sign.

Tomorrow we start Grade 9 at a new school for one kid (who has much shorter hair! He looks amazing!). Grade 8 and Grade 5 for the girls at the same old place. I’m looking forward to getting back into the routine – as usual I’ve left a ton of work and housework and writing work sitting around for the past four weeks and now I’m swamped and behind on everything. It’ll be good to have the house back and knock a few things off the list. With the weather being already fall-like, I’m ready.

Hopefully I won’t be sitting on the edge of my seat the whole time waiting for more explosions, though.

Road Trip In-Jokes

We got a new van!

We went with the Honda Odyssey because it was the only vehicle with a half-decent eighth seat. We picked it up last Friday, loading it to bursting, then hit the road. Road test!

Every year at the end of summer we head about six hours south to visit our parents, both of which live in Southern Ontario. We also go at Christmas and March Break, and often at Thanksgiving and Easter as well. It’s a lot of road trip time, which is why we need a car that’s up for the long haul. The Honda did pretty well. It’s a brand new 2018 – we were looking for used, but turns out a brand new base model is about the same as the three year old upper end models that were generally available, so we went for the new one. It has all kinds of crazy safety features, including adaptive cruise control, which matches the speed of the car in front of you, and some kind of lane-correcting software that literally turns the wheel to keep you in your highway lane. Plus, it has auto headlights that just come on – and flip to high beams – as needed. So all in all, it basically drives itself, and on the highway at least I don’t think I touched the brake or the gas once the whole time.

I have, in the past, complained at how much we feel obligated to go down for these family visits multiple times a year, and how it eats up all of Sir Monkeypants’ vacation time, making it difficult for us to do other family trips. But this time, I was feeling more positive about the whole thing. Our kids are so used to hours spent in the car that they’re pretty good at amusing themselves and don’t complain, which I am grateful for. And while we’re spending hours and hours together in cramped quarters, funny things sometimes happen, things that bind us together. We talk about things, discuss issues and joke around, and it pulls us together.

For example, this trip the kids spent some time watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, a show we adore and have watched several times. One character, Zuko, was introducing himself awkwardly to the show’s heroes by saying, “Hi! Zuko here!” which for some reason, always cracks all five of us up. That led to a discussion of Zuko-as-a-YouTuber, and also a suggestion that he sounded a bit like Kermit The Frog when he was doing his newscasts on Sesame Street, and soon we were all imagining Zuko YouTube reports about tracking down the Avatar only performed in a Kermit the Frog voice.

I think it’s safe to say that from now on, whenever someone in this family says, “Zuko here!” in a Kermit the Frog voice, we are all going to lose it, and everyone else is going to look at the five of us like we are nuts. And that’s the kind of thing, I think, that makes a family.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few things to Google – we just got back last night and while driving home, questions were raised about how the Supreme Court judges are selected (it’s WAY shadier than you think), whatever happened to the band Wheatus (screwed by Sony, now putting out music independently), and whether or not, in the Desert Island Game, compilation/best of albums are allowed as you select your three albums to listen to forever (jury is still out – taking your opinions below). Who knows what we’ll bond over on the next road trip?

The Cost of Summer

Last week we went to see Volta, the new Cirque Du Soleil show that is playing in August in Gatineau. We all agreed that it was pretty good and had lots of great stuff, although the kids were kind of “meh” about it overall. How you can be “meh” when a show features a woman doing gymnastics while hanging from her hair is beyond me, but they were.

Afterwards, Sir Monkeypants asked me how much the tickets were – about $200. That led to a gentle conversation about what summer costs around here, and whether or not it’s worth it.

When he was a kid, Sir Monkeypants spent his summers just hanging out. His parents worked, and they were also not the kind of people who were into public events – they’re not really joiners. And that was fine – he has lots of great memories of just hanging out with friends, playing street hockey or video games in someone’s basement, spending long lazy days reading or watching TV or just throwing a ball against a wall.

I had days like that too, but my mom was more interested in doing stuff – actually it was more my grandparents who were joiners, and who encouraged us to have experiences. We didn’t have much money, but my mom took us to the Stratford Festival at least once a year, an event I cherished. We went to see Cats when it came to town and every year we’d make the trek to the Exhibition in Toronto for treats and rides and concerts. We always seemed to find someone’s cottage to visit in the summer and we stood outside for every single parade, ever. When the Toyota plant opened, of course we went and stood in line for a free tour – it was that kind of thing, checking out every new thing, every interesting thing, that I really remember and cherish about my childhood.

So, is the Summer of Awesome worth it?

Is it worth it to plan and organize all these activities and events, both cost-wise, and energy-wise? Do the kids really appreciate it?

There’s always hit-and-miss with the summer activities. Hits this year: The Bank of Canada Museum (surprisingly), Kontinuum (also surprisingly), Classic Car Night at Hazeldean Mall, the Canada 150 play structure at Mooney’s Bay. Middling, at best: The Canada Hall at the Museum of History (but they did have a pretty good time in the Children’s Museum, despite being a bit too big for it now), and La Machine (we never did get close enough, with all the crowds, to really see the giant robots). Total fail: MosaiCanada (boring and hot, according to my children – but saved with a trip on the water taxi and ice cream in the market).

And in terms of cost, each outing, I’d say, costs somewhere between $100 and $200. Museums are less, but places like Funhaven and Saunders Farm are more. I’d guess I’m spending about $400 a week on our summer. I justify it because we have three kids, and none of them do any day camps; to put all three in some sort of week-long activity would cost at least that much, and this way, we get to go to the places we want on the schedule we want.

Most importantly, for me at least, Summer of Awesome means we are having shared experiences. We are doing things together that hopefully they’ll remember and value – even the crappy stuff leads to good stories and in-jokes that only we share. So for me, it’s worth it, no matter the enthusiasm level.

Last week’s episode of The Amazing Race Canada was set in Ottawa. We’ve been watching as a family, and this episode was the BEST. Every single place they went, we’d been there. The market, Hog’s Back Falls, Dow’s Lake. The Museum of History, the National Gallery, Inspiration Village. We were all shouting – “I’ve been there! I’ve been there!” during the episode and I felt great about it.

We’ve been there. Maybe it was good, maybe it was a flop. Maybe it was expensive, maybe it took them away from a day of lying around the house staring at a screen, maybe it felt like work in the middle of their glorious summer. But no matter what, it was a shared experience, and that’s worth something, worth it to me.

Irritated by Van Shopping

Our minivan is on its last legs. Well, I wouldn’t quite say that – a savvy car owner could probably drive it for another few years at least, if one knew about things like tune ups and was handy with minor repairs and such. But Sir Monkeypants and I are not those people; we live in fear of a highway breakdown, and we do a LOT of driving in our van, so at 11 years old, we feel it’s time to replace it.

We went van shopping last weekend and man, the market really does not cater to larger families anymore, does it? We have an eight seater van from 2006, so we can put all three kids across the middle row in some comfort, and have oodles of space in the back for camping gear or Christmas presents for the whole extended family or a month’s worth of Costco shopping or a day’s worth of ski and snowboard gear. When the kids were small, we had three full car seats across the middle, with each kid having about the same amount of space.

Now, however, there’s only two companies that make an 8-seater, and they are 8-seaters in name only. The Toyota in particular – what we have now – has this unbelieveable, token middle seat that is sort of like a lawn chair you unfold and stick there, only it’s barely a foot wide. It’s a lawn chair for babies. How anyone who actually required a third car seat would make that work is beyond me – in fact, I don’t think that middle thing is even approved, legally speaking, for a car seat. The Honda is marginally better, but even their middle-middle seat is smaller, tighter, and way less comfortable than a real seat. It’s clearly meant for some marginalized member of the family who doesn’t rate actual comfort.

How do people with even bigger families do it? Do they have to take two cars on ski day? I wonder.

So we find ourselves van-disappointed, but needing something, so we are weighing our options. Do we abandon the ideal of the 8-seater van, and accept the fact that one child will be exiled to the way-back, to sit alone amid the luggage and groceries, unable to view the TV? Or do we suck up the 8-seater option and force the smallest kid to ride in it – for at least as long as her butt is able to squeeze into it?

Or do we give up on both and just get a stretch limousine to carry us around, because apparently that’s all that’s made to house a five person family anymore?

Growl.

Perspective

I can always tell when my Ladies’ Holiday is approaching because I have exactly the same breakdown, in exactly the same way.

It starts when someone expresses hunger and a desire for dinner. Then I go stomping off to the kitchen, silently fuming because my family’s logic always seems to progress from “I’m hungry” to “Let’s bug The Help to make dinner,” instead of “Let’s find out what the dinner plan is, then go in the kitchen and get started.”

Then I huff around, peeling the carrots in a Very Pointed and Obviously Aggressive manner, and get mad because everyone else doesn’t notice, because they are barely able to distract themselves from their terrible, terrible hunger with video games. And heaven help anyone who notices my short temper, because if they dare say, “If you need help, you should ask for it,” they are in Big Trouble, because they should have sprung from my loins understanding that their duty in life is to provide assistance, and/or been given divine understanding of my moods with the magic words, “I do.”

And then I serve dinner by slapping down plates and Pointedly Not Clearing Away People’s Crap From The Table, and when people don’t show up the very millisecond I call them to dinner, I flounce off upstairs to sulk because I Am So Very Unappreciated.

Then I look at the calendar and realize I should just have chips for dinner and all will be much, much better.

There’s Not Enough Time To Do Nothing

How’s your summer going?

Ours is going well, actually, I think. As usual we are doing our Summer of Awesome, and as usual, some activities slide by us as we run out of time and energy. But that’s okay, I think.

Yesterday, we were planning on going downtown to Fortissimo, the army/navy concert on Parliament Hill. But everyone was tired, and when I tried to rustle up some energy from the crowd, Captain Jelly Belly said this:

“There’s never enough time to do nothing.”

And it was pretty eye-opening to me. I mean, I only take them on outings now twice or maybe three times a week, at most, because I have to work some days. And on work days, they have all the free time in the world, which often leads to bickering, and angry discussions over minute details of who-said-what and what-means-what, and people lolling around in the office asking me for the hundredth time ARE YOU DONE YET BECAUSE I WANT TO GO TO THE POOL. So I didn’t really think that they were hurting for “down time,” if you see what I mean.

But I guess they do value their bum-around-the-house, do-nothing kind of time, and I also guess that that is what summer is all about. So rather than fretting over the fact that we missed Fortissimo for yet another year, I decided to embrace it, watch some Jeopardy, and go to bed early. Win win.

We have seen some good stuff, actually. We’ve been to the new Museum of Nature ice gallery (awesome) and the new Museum of History Canada gallery (a little heavy on the reading, my kids got bored there after an hour or so, but still totally worthwhile for any interested adults, I learned TONS about our own country). We’ve been swimming a few times and to the library and to the mall. We’ve been to the Art Gallery to see their new Canada area (great), to Saunders Farm (good as always – their new Bunnyworld made it 100% WORTH IT for my youngest), and to Classic Car Night at the Hazeldean Mall.

In between, we’ve been working at home and I’m so, so happy with that. In the past I’ve made the kids do homework each day in the form of English or math worksheets, and that’s work for me in that I have to prepare it, convince them to do it, talk them through it, and then mark it. And I have to say, it has not translated into any fabulous turnaround in their school marks, either.

So this year, I decided to offer traditional homework as an option – but also offer a set of chores as an option as well. These are outside-the-everyday chores that involve life skills and also getting my house in order. For example, each had to do a Bedroom Deep Dive – where we took everything out, cleaned all surfaces, then evaluated everything before it went back in. Each was able to produce a couple of bags of garbage and a whole bag of clothes to donate – not sure if that makes me proud or embarrassed.

They’ve also done things like clean out kitchen cupboards, wash down the kitchen chairs, and pack lunches for a day trip. Soon they will each have to take a turn making dinner – planning it, preparing it, and cleaning up afterwards. We had a baking day where they each had to be in charge of baking something on their own and they’re each taking a turn doing the laundry and taking out the garbage once this summer.

Maybe that’s why there’s “not enough time to do nothing.” But they can suck it on that one, we are DOING THIS, and man, I feel great about both their skill level and the status of my house.

One last thing that they could choose for “homework” – I invited them to start a blog, and on any given day, do a blog post for their homework assignment. Only one kid took me up on this, and to my shock, it was Gal Smiley. Captain Jelly Belly loves to tell funny stories and crack people up; Little Miss Sunshine is a Chatty Cathy who tells you every detail of every aspect of her life. I thought both would be blogging naturals, but it’s my quiet one, the one who actually hates writing, who struggles to get through English class each year, who chose it.

She’s actually doing it too – you can read her blog here.

The other day she woke up and said to me, “I was just thinking about some things and decided to blog about it.” Proudest Mom Moment Ever!

Milestones

The other day I was on a bike ride with the kids, and for the first time since they were born, I think, I had to actually dial my gear up a level, in order to keep up with them.

It felt like a big deal. At least, my thighs thought so.


In other growing up news, my youngest at age 10 is finally able to pass the swim test with confidence. This means that when we go to public swim at the community pool, I am able to act as a “remote supervisor” instead of an “arm’s length at all times” supervisor.

So far I am still going in with them, because I do enjoy a good dip in the pool. I can horse around with them a bit, or even take time to do a few lengths (ha ha, ONE LENGTH, who am I kidding).

But at any time that I want, I could be sitting at the side of the pool, keeping my hair safe from chlorine, reading a novel, while my kids splash around on their own. BLISS.


And in even better news, we have reached that glorious hour when all three children are able to shower on their own, with no supervision. We trust them to go in there, get themselves more-or-less clean, and emerge again safely. They complain about it, especially my youngest who enjoys being read to while in the bath, and my middle daughter who thinks that demons live on our upper floor and are likely to jump out any time she is alone up there. But they do go, and they go seem to get clean(er), and all the while Sir Monkeypants and I are sitting on the couch with a cup of tea, playing Clash of Clans.

These are good, good times.

Night Night

We still do the full bedtime routine around here. Once they’ve brushed and gotten into bed, we go up to tuck them in. We read a story to the youngest, spend a few – several! – minutes chatting with the older two. We turn out the light and make sure they are comfy and secure, let them know what’s on for tomorrow, and wish them good night.

Sometimes we even make it out of the room at that point. Usually they try to draw it out as long as possible, though.

Since our older two are now going to bed around 9:30 or even 10, that means Sir Monkeypants and I are “on the clock” until pretty late. So late that I’m often asleep on the couch by the time the older two are going up, but they still want a tuck in, still want a parent to come up and see them off for the night.

Sir Monekypants and I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, they aren’t always going to want to be tucked in (…right?). Eventually they’ll be busy in the evenings or staying up later than us and having a parent hover anxiously at their bedside will be so very last year, and then we’ll miss these little moments. And I do like having a little check in with the kids at the very end of the day – a chance for them to talk about anything that is upsetting them, or just to reassure them that everything will be okay in the morning, or to laugh together over a shared experience.

But it gets harder and harder to push aside our time for bedtime. It used to be we’d tuck everyone in by 8, then have a couple of hours together to watch some grown up TV or chat or battle each other at Mario Kart. Time to just flake out and remind ourselves that we were something other than Mom and Dad, once.

It’s a weird time, these in-between days when they are both children and yet moving to adulthood. They still need us and want us but we no longer get the breaks of naptime and early bedtimes. I love my kids and want to hang out with them…but morning, noon, and night? Hm.

The other day I was putting the youngest to bed, and she’d had a hard day and I was doing all the usual Mom soothing stuff, making her feel better. Out of nowhere I remembered a time – this goes back at least three or four years – when she was having trouble falling asleep every night, claiming she was afraid of bad dreams. I somehow managed to convince her that I was able to actually see her dreams, floating gently in clouds over her head, as she was settling into bed for the night. Each night I’d tell her what colour her dreams were (always happy shades of pink, yellow, turquoise) and then I’d “pluck” the bad dreams out by waving my hands over her head, pulling little imaginary tufts away and dropping them in the garbage. It was so hokey I always thought that she could see right through me, and maybe she could, but that didn’t stop her from asking night after night – she couldn’t go to sleep unless Mommy cleared away the bad dreams.

It’s such a lovely thought, don’t you think – that we, as parents, have the absolute power to take bad stuff out of our kids’ brains, their lives, their dreams, and just throw it away. Even though we don’t do that whole dreams routine anymore (when did it stop, exactly?), I think I still have kind of the same effect at bedtime – giving them a moment of comfort, a moment of quiet, a moment of pure love to send them off into dreamland.

And that’s a nice thing, and a good thing, if a little bit of a tiring thing.

Someday, my heart whispers, someday…this will pass. And it will be a sad thing and a happy thing and a bittersweet thing.

Moving On Up

Today is the last day of school, and it’s the last day ever at this school for Captain Jelly Belly. He’s gone there since Junior Kindergarten, and now he’s graduating from Grade 8 – ten full years at the same place, on the same routine, with more or less the same set of kids. It’s a small school with a small graduating class and I’ve known most of them since they were wee little things – many of them, since they were still in diapers. And now they’re grown and moving on to high school next year and sunrise, sunset.

Here’s a weird thing: I’m totally fine. I am known in our house hold as A Cryer – I cry at all movies, happy or sad; most television commercials, funny or touching; pretty much every book I read, ever. I’ll tear up if I catch one of the kids doing something kind or when someone changes the page on the bunny calendar and there’s a new picture of baby bunnies and OMG SO CUTE.

But when it comes to major life events, I’m the absolute opposite. I don’t cry at funerals or weddings. And apparently, not at Grade 8 graduation ceremonies. The Captain had his yesterday, and I packed a wad of tissues – all those kids, so grown up! Moving on! Looking so earnest in their fancy clothes!

And yet, nothing. I mean, it was nice and all, but I didn’t feel particularly sad about it. I did have one small moment of emotion when I saw several of the girls clomping around in high heels, obviously trying them out for the first time, uncomfortable with the motion. It was sweet, but it felt more like watching kids play dress up, than seeing kids I know truly move from childhood to young adulthood.

I guess the thing is, they’ll always be small in my eyes. When the Captain was in Grade 1 or 2, I remember seeing the Grade 8s in their fancy clothes on graduation day and thinking, God, they are so HUGE. Not just physically big, but grown up, wearing makeup and ties and looking so eager to move on from this little place that they had outgrown.

But when I saw the kids yesterday, I could still see the youngsters they once were, even in the Captain. I just know them too well, and I know that behind their maturing exteriors, they’re still pretty little on the inside. Even the Captain, when I look at him, looks like my little kid. I have yet to find that way of stepping outside and taking a sober second look and seeing him fresh, like others will when he meets them next year at the high school.

I suppose it helps that I still have two kids at that school, so it wasn’t any kind of dramatic goodbye for me, personally. And it helps that I’m so, so ready for summer vacation that I’m looking forward to giving all school the big kiss off (5 more hours to go, and the last lunches already made and sent – WOOT).

But for today I’m just feeling pretty okay – okay with moving on, okay with moving up, and ready to see what the future holds.

Edited to add…

I just got home from picking up the kids on the last day of school, and the Grade 8s poured out of the school in tears, sobbing their heads off. The Captain himself was a mess – he’s a cryer, like his mom – and the minute I saw his crumpled face I burst into tears myself. Then we walked home in the rain with tears running down our faces and it was the tragic end of a French movie.

So much for being all stoic about it, I guess!

Breakfast

This morning, at breakfast.

Gal Smiley, 12 years old: Mom, what can I eat for breakfast?

Me: There’s no bread, I’m sorry – maybe some cereal?

Gal: I don’t feel like it.

Me: There’s lots of fruit, or you could have cheese and crackers, or a bun with butter.

Gal: Do we have any broccoli?

Me: ….uh, yes?

Gal: Will you make me some?

Me: For breakfast?

Gal: Yes.

(Makes a whole head of broccoli. Kid eats it.)

Gal: That was awesome!

Twelve years old is WEIRD.