Parenting Advice

One time, when my kids were small, I was invited to a baby shower. There was a book there where everyone was invited to write a few words of parenting advice to the mom-to-be.

Everyone was writing flowery, unhelpful things like “cherish the baby times as they are so precious” and “the days are long, but the years are short” and “nothing is as wonderful as the laughter of a child,” blah blah blah.

Gal Smiley was just a few months old at the time, and she was our first girl, so I wrote in the book, “If it’s a girl, don’t wash the pale pink stuff with the dark load or it will go kind of grey and ugly.”

Everyone was horrified in a pearl-clutching kind of way, but I wanted to write something concrete and actually useful. But also, I was in the early days when everyone is telling you what to do and what not to do, and I had had it up to HERE with people sharing parenting advice, so I went cheeky.

(But also useful. You really need to make a separate pinks and reds load if you are going to be the parent of girls. I stand behind that.)

The other day I realized I do, in fact, have one piece of actual parenting advice to share. I don’t think you can tell other people how to parent and everyone is out there doing the best that they can, making the choices that fit their family best. But if I went to that baby shower today, and had to write some parenting advice, here’s what I’d write:

You have a shockingly short amount of time to teach your kids how to be human beings. Start now – from day one.

I think this is what surprised me the most about being a parent. By the time my kids were, say 13-ish years old, it was all over. I mean, I’m still here to listen to their troubles and help them through social issues and difficult decisions and friend betrayals. But it’s too late now for my older teens to teach them things like it’s a nice thing to offer to clean up after dinner, especially at a friend’s house.

I remember when the kids were young, I was so tired all the time just from the physical effort of caring for everyone and the house. At the end of the day it was so much easier to park them in front of the TV rather than have them all in the kitchen, herding around me, needing help to do the simplest thing. I have to say, it’s really thanks to my husband that the kids turned out well. He’s really good at the big picture, big planning, and from a young age he got them doing chores and thinking about how to be a good citizen of our home and good citizen of the world.

I always thought there’d be time to impart my wisdom and teach them life skills when they got older – when I wasn’t so tired, when they were able to listen to reason. But it’s too late, when they have outgrown after school care and are home alone at the age 12, to just assume that they know how to use the internet responsibly. It’s too late, at the age of 14, to introduce the habit of putting your dishes in the dishwasher. It’s too late, at the age of 16, for them to suddenly wake up and understand that they are expected to be responsible for their younger siblings and kind to others.

You only have a few short years to teach them to stand up, step up, be strong, be generous. Start as early as you can – and no matter the setbacks, never stop.

Hibernating

For the past few years at least, I have liked winter, but even I am tiring of this long, endless winter. I mean, I have lived through cold, I have lived through snow, I have lived through freezing rain. But this year there is just SO MUCH ICE. Our street is basically a skating rink. A narrow, one-lane skating rink with such deep ruts that driving down it is like taking a covered wagon over a muddy path through the prairies in the 1840s.

I haven’t checked the mail in two weeks because I need hiking spikes just to walk the block to the super mailbox. But unless my mail carrier has a covered wagon, he probably hasn’t been able to get down our street, anyway.

So the end result is that we have been trapped at home for weeks now. One plus though is that we are watching a lot of TV, fueled by the fact that we are now subscribers to Netflix AND Amazon Prime AND Crave. It’s a lot of pressure to keep up with the content and feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. We must watch it all!

Last week, I watched Isle of Dogs with the kids. I just loved it so much — the minute it was over I wanted to restart it. Wes Anderson, man – I totally vibe on his stuff. He’s weird and not for everyone, but his work really IS for me.

The kids thought it was only okay. I suppose they were bound to disappoint me someday.

Other filmmakers who I adore – who I plan on introducing my kids to when they are ready for adult content, probably with further disappointment – include:

  • the Coen Brothers
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • Spike Lee
  • Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Tina Fey
  • Christopher Nolan
  • Sophia Coppola

My oldest, Captain Jelly Belly, will be 16 in two weeks and when we are not forcing him to learn to drive, I will probably be forcing him to live through Mom Film School, which will likely also include a selection of Oscar winners, AFI Top 100 movies, and the best of the auteurs above.

Then I’m guessing we will move on to various TV Series Of Quality, because it probably will take until May for our street to become passable, and heaven knows we have a lot of work to do to make all those subscriptions worth it. Time to flip on the gas fireplace, curl up with a cup of tea, and get to work.

Good Work

My two teens are working this winter at the Vorlage ski hill, one as an instructor, and one as a TA.

Quick public service announcement – if you live in the Ottawa area, and you have a 13 or 14 year old who is a high intermediate or advanced skiier or snowboarder, then consider the TA program at Vorlage. I think it’s awesome. Your kid has to pass a two-day ski program (held in December) but pretty much anyone who can make it down the mountain with confidence passes, and then you get:

  • free ski pass for the season
  • free weekly lessons, so you can continue to improve your skiing
  • a paycheck – it’s only about $30 or $40 a week but for my kids, that was a lot
  • a discount on passes and classes for all your other family members
  • a discount on food in the cafeteria

In return, you have to work one full day every weekend, either Saturday or Sunday. It’s a pretty full day – you’re on from 8:30 to 4, and pretty much all the time you’re either assisting in a class or doing “chair lift duty,” where you just ski all day but take a little kid up with you on the lift each time you go up. Also, if you come up to the hill on any other days – like for casual fun skiing – you’re expected to check in with the office and might be pressed into some kind of duty if needed.

I think it’s a good deal. My kids are getting great experience plus a real paycheck, at a time when finding part-time work for kids of that age is basically limited to paper routes and babysitting. It’s only for about 12 weeks in the winter so they are still free in the summer and it gets our whole family to the ski hill every single weekend, which has done amazing things for helping turn winter into our favourite season.

This year the Captain was old enough to get certified to actually teach, and he did, and he was nervous about it but they hired him right away so he decided to at least try it. This past weekend was his first full day of teaching and he had four different lessons in one day. I have to say, I am so, so proud of him. He worked so hard and put his heart into it. He had funny and cute and adorable stories to tell about all the toddlers he taught all day long. He was outgoing and fun with the kids, which is hard for him as an introvert, but he shone. I could literally see him growing up before my eyes.

Meanwhile, Gal Smiley is in her second year as a TA and also rocking the hill. On Sunday, her first full day of work, I went into the bathroom with Little Miss Sunshine and we happened to run into Gal Smiley, who was taking a little girl of about 4 to the washroom in the middle of her lesson. Gal Smiley was AWESOME – sweet and upbeat and helped the girl on and off with her things, and told her little stories, and chit chatted with her the whole time, and I was just so, so proud of her.

And then by the end of the day, both of them were so exhausted they could hardly drag themselves to the car. But they did! And they did a great job!

As our family gets older, it’s harder to blog about them, for privacy reasons, and also because those little cute compact tales that fit so well with three-year-olds don’t quite mesh with the complexities of the teen years. But I wanted to write this down, because on Sunday I looked at both them and saw truly lovely people being truly kind, honourable, and tough. I’m so, so proud of them both.

December Randoms

Today, as Captain Jelly Belly was leaving for school, I went to give him a goodbye hug and then we both stopped cold and said, “Whoa.”

It was because we were looking at each other eye-to-eye. Height wise, we were dead even.

He was in boots and I was barefoot which gave him at least an inch or two of boost, which is why this crazy thing happened. But he’s been growing like a weed lately so it isn’t too far away before he actually IS that tall, and IS even with me, or even TALLER than me, and I can’t even.

It was a pretty shocking switcheroo moment for us both.

Gal Smiley, on the other hand, seems to have topped out at a very tiny five feet. She swears she will also be taller than me someday but she still has four inches to go so – well, good luck, honey. I am thinking your one-time dream of being a professional basketball player is history.

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Speaking of the Captain, I couldn’t find his lunch bag the other day and I thought it might be in his backpack so I went to look for it.

In his backpack I found:

  • his spring jacket, balled up in a lump
  • his super-heavy bike lock, which he hasn’t used since October
  • an umbrella which I don’t think he has ever opened once, and definitely not since it started snowing
  • about 100 homework assignments
  • his information form for the school, and his “I’ve seen this” form from his mid-term report card, both of which were supposed to be handed in weeks ago.

He was carrying around this stuff every day, back and forth to school, just shoving his lunch on top of the heap.

It’s not an albatross you are required to carry, dear. You aren’t pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s okay to clean out your backpack from time to time and lay down your burdens.

(Also okay: HANDING STUFF IN. Sigh.)

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In other news, I would offer this:

Those people who are sitting outside the Shoppers Drug Mart at 7:50 a.m., waiting for it to open, wearing their jammies, so that they can buy over-the-counter Pink Eye medication for their kid, five days before Christmas, YOU ARE MY PEOPLE.

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Today I was dropping off my youngest at school and it’s a kindergarten to Grade 8 school. You have to walk past the kindergarten play yard to get inside and the kindergarten kids were still outside playing.

Their yard had kind of a low area and this area was covered with a heavy sheet of solid ice. All the kids were on the ice crawling around and licking it and rolling on it and dragging each other around on it, while the teachers sat on the side and kept an eye on things.

I’m guessing this is how they planned to spend most of the morning.

I was both delighted and amazed and found it absolutely hilarious. Those were the days – when your kid could be amused all morning long by a wonderful, awesome patch of ice. The squirming mass of kids was just so weird and funny and also so very happy.

Now that’s a Happy Holiday Moment, I’d say.

Celebrating Lucky

I like to make a note on this blog when something really lucky happens to me.

This happened to me this week:

I had online ordered a really obscure item for one of my kids for Christmas.

It was delivered last week but I hurried it away into a closet and didn’t look at it carefully.

A couple of days ago, a local store that I follow on Facebook happened to post that they had received a few of this item. I was amazed, because it’s very seriously obscure and I never would have thought any local store would have it. “If only I’d known,” I said to myself, “I could have bought it locally from a store I really love.”

Then today I went to wrap said gift, which is very unusual for me as I usually leave this to the last minute, and also I am drowning in work to be done before the holidays, so why I chose to wrap today is beyond me.

And I found that the item that had been delivered from an online store was damaged – the package was ripped open and it looked like it had gotten wet at some point.

But instead of freaking out and having a total pre-Christmas THINGS ARE RUINED meltdown, I just called the local shop and had them put their last remaining copy of said item on hold for me, then printed off a return label from the online retailer, then boxed up the damaged one, then swung by the post office where it return shipped for free, then swung by the local store where I got a nice new copy of the obscure item at a $10 savings over the online one.

BAZINGA. Now that’s lucky. I feel like Santa must have had a hand in that one.

Getting Festive With It

The girls and I have been working our way through the cheesy Christmas movies on Netflix. We’ve never had the Hallmark Channel here, so the bountiful riches of crappy romances on Netflix is totally new and novel. Some have been okay, some have been a little groan-inducing, but mostly they have been cheerful and positive and smell faintly of gingerbread, so all good.

(Mini reviews – the kids loved Christmas Chronicles way more than I did, but it was okay; The Princess Switch was the bomb; double bill of A Christmas Prince and A Christmas Prince: Royal Wedding was so-bad-it’s-good; Nailed It Christmas Edition is NOT to be missed)

I was laid up on the couch yesterday, so I decided I might watch another – Christmas Wedding Planner.

But luckily I thought the main girl looked a little familiar, so I looked it up in the IMDB first.

People, this movie, THIS MOVIE. It has the BEST horrible user reviews of all time. Here is a very small sampling:

Entitled “Garbage”:

Brew up a cup of hot cocoa, and then dump in a hearty helping of your favorite cleaning chemical. This one’s a doozy.

Here are a few tidbits about this abysmal, schlocky assault on the senses:

1. The female lead spends half the film texting her dead mother.

2. Joey Fatone plays a chef. He has way too much dialogue. He plates and serves a lobster like 2 and a half minutes after it has been ordered.

3. The film’s ending wipes out the second and third waves of feminism in one deadly, surgical strike.

Please. Hug a loved one. Read a book. Water your plants. Pick your scabs. Do anything but spend a nanosecond of your infinitesimally short time on this earth watching this movie.

Here’s another:

Keeping aside the sub par acting coupled with the most unreal storyline, the ending seemed the most bizarre to me. There is no real plot, the characters do not feel any genuine emotions (not even a woman who just broke up with her fiance on the aisle), and do not even get me started on the last scene. I concur that love conquers all and all other cliches associated with it, but Christmas Wedding Planner portrayed each and every aspect of love and christmas horribly wrong. I watch a lot of romantic comedies and this movie will definitely top the list of the 5 Worst RomComs of all Time.

This one is also typical:

This is by far the WORST movie I think I’ve ever seen. How it was in my recommend on Netflix has me perplexed. The dialogue was horrible. The acting somehow even worse. And the ending was absolutely absurd. It was like a car wreck that you couldn’t stop staring at. I literally made an account to save people from 90 mins of cringe.

Best review ever – entitled “My Eyes are Bleeding…”

I would rather die….I would rather die….I would rather die….I would rather die….I would rather die….I would rather die….I would rather die….I would rather die….I would rather die….I would rather die….I would rather die….I would rather die….I would rather die….

Needless to say these are all 1-star reviews. I guess the 0-star review isn’t allowed. There are DOZENS like this, and so many more hilarious ones. If you are looking to kill time while laid up on the couch, skip the movie, and just read its reviews instead.

(Although, don’t you totally want to watch it now, just to see if it is really THAT bad? I am tempted.)

In happier holiday news, Spotify has just added a new Christmas album, my most favourite of all time – It’s A Hi-5 Christmas. It wasn’t there last week, and now it is, and there is JOY in our household. It’s a kids album, and it’s as cheesy as a Hallmark movie, but a GOOD Hallmark movie. It has lots of original tunes you won’t find anywhere else that are absolute classics in my house.

If you’re on Spotify, you can find it here. Santa Claus is Coming!

If I Were Famous

I work from home, so I spend a great deal of time wandering about my house in my jammies with a cup of tea and bowl full of Skittles.

This sometimes leads me to imagine how different my life would be if I were famous. By “famous” I specifically mean for acting or singing or modelling, or something else where my physical appearance was part of the package, as opposed to for writing or winning a Nobel Prize for Economics or whistle blowing on the addictive properties of the brightly-coloured hard candy industry.

Once I saw an interview of Madonna (I believe it was in her Carpool Singalong with James Cordon) where she talked about how she’s totally un-glam at home. She prefers sweatpants and no makeup and only puts on the Rock Star when she’s leaving the house.

But even then, I imagine she has to be camera-ready at all times. No matter how much she likes to slob it around at home, she must have to hit the gym at least every other day, if not every day, just in case she gets called in for a photo shoot or interview or red carpet event.

And she must have to watch what she eats all the time, because she can’t be getting a giant pimple just before some big awards show or something. Plus all those gowns and designer clothes would be expensive to replace if she gained even one pound, so while slumming it in her sweatpants she’d still have to stick to salads and carbonated water.

And if she did want to leave her house, even if it’s only in the car to hit the McDonald’s drive through for a black coffee, then she has to worry about someone taking her picture, so a minimum amount of makeup and hairstyling would be required. Even Madonna, I’m thinking, does not keep a full time makeup person on staff so if I were her, I’d have to spend a lot more time learning how to actually apply makeup so I don’t look like a circus clown, and maybe buy some hairspray.

And if I were someone like Angelina Jolie, then every time I left the house I’d have to worry about my outfit and whether or not it makes me look too fat or too skinny or too rich or too menopausal, because people are going to comment on that. So, for a random example, I wouldn’t be able to drop my kid at school wearing my jammies and Bogs and a Girl Guide toque like I did this morning.

Not to mention the fact that I’d have to make sure every one of my kids was properly turned out whenever we were leaving the house, not just physically, but mentally too – happy and shiny and ready for the world, and not likely to be screaming “I HATE YOU YOU’RE THE WORST MOTHER EVER” in the aisles of Shoppers Drug Mart in a half hour or so.

And then I feel like maybe it’s a good thing that I am not a famous person, because clearly I am not cut out for that lifestyle, even though (just between you and me, please keep this hush-hush) I wrote that achieving fame was my number one life goal in my Grade 11 summer camp yearbook.

On the other hand, if I had a jagillion dollars and a full-time chef and full-time maid and full-time assistant to constantly monitor all my social media feeds for me, maybe I’d have a little more time for glamming it up. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Things I Used To Do

I’ve been getting our Christmas Cards together. I still like sending them, because I like making up the annual family newsletter, but I’m starting to feel kind of weird about sending them because almost no one else does. And no judgement! It’s a lot of work and people just don’t exchange cards like they used to. I remember back when Sir Monkeypants and I lived in our first house – this would be at least 15 years ago – we’d get so many cards each year that I had them strung on ribbon all up and down our bannister. Now, if we get ten cards a year we’re lucky (and five of those come from my mother, who buys each of us the most beautiful card each year).

I was working on them last night and my youngest was helping out by putting on stamps and return address stickers, and she asked me how many cards I thought we might get in return, and I had to brace her for probable disappointment. She’s HEAVILY into Christmas and traditions and holidays in general. I’m sure when she grows up she’ll be sending out packets of cards with joy and delight. I will do my part and send one to every member of her family so she gets at least six or seven (I’m betting on her having at least a full handful of kids).

It’s a good thing that she is so into traditions because I find I am losing enthusiasm for the whole thing, at least this year. I just feel tired all the time. Remember when I used to bake up ten different kinds of cookies, and make mixed tins for every family we’d be visiting over the holidays? Remember when I started shopping in October, putting together ideas lists and combing the stores for just the right thing for each person, whereas now I hit Toys R Us on one Saturday in December and pick up whatever is on sale? Remember when I wanted all the lights on our house, and now I’m happy with one of those laser light shows and a sparkly snowflake in the window?

Yup.

This year it was my youngest who pulled out all the decorations and put them up, and decorated the tree on her own. She’s done most of my wrapping so far and as mentioned, is helping with cards. I’m sure she’d do the baking for me if I asked her, while I’m happy to just sit with my David’s Tea Advent Calendar Tea of the Day (BEST THING ABOUT THE HOLIDAYS EVER). She’s anchoring the team. Go Little Miss Sunshine!

I do tend to blame Girl Guides for a lot of things – feeling tired and burned out and having all my creative energy going to that one thing. Work has been super busy and for me that’s both busy and creative, too. So I get why the days of me doing a daily craft or Christmas activity with the kids are maybe over.

But secretly I’m hoping that next year will be different. I’ll take less work in December, I think to myself. I’ll be done with Girl Guides, I promise. And then maybe I’ll feel those same old cinnamon sparks that encourage me to bake, and light evergreen scented candles, and pore over flyers looking for just the right gift for everyone on my list.

Next year, I whisper.

Toking Up

I was at World Trivia Night on Friday, which is a huge trivia competition done in teams of 10 people here in Ottawa, once a year. There are a LOT of teams, and as a result we are usually crammed in there pretty tightly. I was sitting at the corner of our table of 10, and pretty much back-to-back with the lady on the team next to us who was at the corner of her team’s table.

Over the course of the evening, those of us at that end of the table (sending shoutouts to my poker buddy LuckySevens and Bibliomama) smelled the distinctive heavy sweet smell of weed. It took us a while but we eventually pinpointed it to the lady sitting back-to-back with me.

She had smoked enough of it beforehand to smell of it when she arrived. There were two 15-minute breaks in the three-hour evening, and during both she went outside and smoked more (evidence: whiff test).

It was just kind of an interesting thing. I’ve smelled it before at say, concerts, or in the parking lot outside the Circle K down the street from us. But this was a quiet sort of average public event. I guess this kind of thing might happen more often now that marijuana is legal.

The weirdest thing for me was how incredibly normal this lady seemed. She was about my age and about my size (read: starting to thicken out in the middle a bit and sporting some grey hairs). She looked like your average soccer mom. She was there with her husband/partner and they seemed really happy and cuddly. She looked healthy, although I know some kinds of pain don’t really have external symptoms.

It wasn’t a horrifying or icky thing or anything like that. Just curious and interesting. Is this going to be a typical thing now, or was it just a fluke? Are average soccer moms toking up several times a day, or is it still just something for people who are sick and/or rock stars?

I guess I just assumed that with the legalization of pot, it would be something people do in their homes, in private, quietly, with a small circle of friends. Maybe something you did in a party situation; not something you did three times in a three-hour window while at a public event. I wasn’t anticipating the general public to quickly start carrying it around and smoking it freely. Maybe I was naive.

But it does make me think it will be hard to keep it out of the hands of young people.

Have you had any experience with legalized pot so far? What have you seen?

(Also: free use of the phrase “toking up” in this post is meant to disturb my teenagers, who had never heard that term before and still deny that it even exists. I’m bringing it back, baby!)

Mixing It Up

Our family is a multiracial family – my husband is Indian – and I feel so lucky to live in a place where a) I have never once thought that this could be any kind of problem, and b) at least ten other mixed race families live on my very own street, so it’s literally no big deal. Surburban Ottawa rocks, y’all!

But that said, I am vaguely and mildly aware that there are very few mixed race characters on TV and in the movies. So when I see one, I do notice, and I like it.

Recently I watched a Christmas movie on Netflix while I was spending the day cooking for a Girl Guide sleepover. It was called The Holiday Calendar and the main character had a white mom and a black dad and it was all super casual, like not even pointed out, absolutely not any kind of factor in the story.

Don’t get me wrong, you should NOT watch this movie. It was terrible. (My apologies to those friends of mine on Facebook who liked it and recommended it.) Terrible acting and writing. But still, it will always have a little special place in my heart for the way it showed a multirace family as being a totally normal thing.

In a similar way, this is my favourite TV commercial. It’s for Tide Pods and they have bought my respect and goodwill forever for the same reason – the way they showcase a multiracial family like it’s no big deal.

Hard to believe that no more than five years ago, similar commercials from Old Navy and Cheerios caused a big stink. We’ve come a long way, which is nice, considering the first black-white kiss on TV was back in 1977 and was a huge, huge deal. No need to rush or anything, pop culture!

When you see yourself reflected in movies and TV, it’s something, isn’t it? I don’t know, I just get a warm feeling. I shouldn’t need a cheesy romance movie or a Tide commercial to feel like my family is normal and accepted, but I guess I do. It’s just reassuring – especially the ad, as advertising is usually all about including the widest audience possible and not offending anyone. Canada is a pretty awesome place to be right now, I’d say.