Kid Politics

First, an update on Girl Guides: things are settling down a bit, but it continues to be a huge time suck. I go back and forth between feeling like I am getting the hang of things, and feeling like I am thisclose to throwing in the towel because the whole thing is impossible. It’s funny how I used to shake my head at teachers, and wonder how they could possibly do what they do – hardest job on Earth, I’d say – and now I am kind of among their ranks, planning lessons and activities and trying to organize a gaggle of girls, which is much harder than you’d think. At least Sir Monkeypants has stepped in to be my full support staff – making phone calls, dropping stuff off, picking stuff up, craft prep, not to mention taking on a huge share of the housework. And my co-leader Jen is the Bomb Diggity. So there’s that, but I’m not sure I would return for a second year.


Second, we are having an awkward situation with one of the children – I will try to keep this anonymous, but it’s one of the girls. She has another girl in her class this year that she just can’t seem to “click” with. My daughter wants very, very much to be this girl’s friend, and this girl is not receptive. And that is okay! A girl should be allowed to choose her own friends! We are long past the age where everyone is expected to play nicely with everyone else.

Some mothers go a little Mama Bear when they feel that their child’s feelings have been hurt, but I tend to do the exact opposite – assume it’s all my kid’s fault and apologize profusely. It comes from years of assuming everything is my own personal fault, I suppose, and the struggle to try to fix every thing that goes wrong ever. When my kid comes home with a conflict, it’s less of, “Tell that other kid to suck it!” and more of, “Take a hard look at yourself and figure out what you did wrong, and what you could do differently in the future.”

But my daughter here isn’t really doing anything wrong. It’s just a mismatch. For example, she got this girl’s number so she could call and invite her over on the weekend. But when she calls, the other girl is always busy – just running out the door! just sitting down for a mid-afternoon snack! Her parents aren’t home, and she isn’t supposed to be talking on the phone! And then she says she’ll call back later, but of course, she never does.

If my daughter tries to pin her down to a time to get together – “How about next Saturday afternoon?” – it’s always, “My parents won’t let me, they don’t know your parents.” I even, at my daughter’s insistence, wrote a long letter to this girl’s parents, introducing myself and giving them every possible way to contact me and inviting them to stop by and say hello, and suggesting we work via email to get the girls together. Crickets.

And that’s okay! Because a girl should be allowed to choose her own friends!

But this is what comes of generations of girls who are afraid to hurt feelings. Who couch the truth and make excuses and hope others will just get the hint. I know, I have been one of those girls, I still am one of those girls. I’m someone who doesn’t know how to say no in a polite but firm manner.

So I get it.

But now I’m left with the mess on our side. I have already had gentle conversations with my daughter along the lines of What A Good Friend Acts Like, and How Much Effort A New Friend Is Worth, and How Sometimes A No Doesn’t Quite Look Like A No. But she is determined – more than that, she believes she and this girl are best buddies! and are just having some scheduling issues. It’s time for a talk on the subject of She’s Just Not That Into You, I suppose.

Sigh. Kid politics are rough sometimes.

Plastic Madonna Bracelets

I have been absent from life, for a single reason: Girl Guides. My youngest daughter’s unit was going to close because no one wanted to be a leader, so I caved. She loves Guides; Guides has done great things for her and her older sister. I didn’t want the unit to fold, so I signed up about three weeks ago.

Since then I have breathed Guides. My every waking moment is spent reading about the program, or designing upcoming meetings, or ordering stuff online, or taking a First Aid course. I go to sleep at night thinking about Guides. I wake up thinking about Guides. Today I spent three of my hard-to-come-by work hours pickup up and sorting cookies.

The other night, I was super stressed about the patrols – how we divide up the girls into smaller groups – and then I had a dream in which they arranged themselves nicely. I AM DREAMING GUIDES.

It’s a situation.

I hope it all settles down eventually and I can go back to Life As We Know It. I’m publishing a book this fall, if I ever actually get around to being able to upload the files. I’m working extra hours, after taking August off, if I ever actually get time to put together a website or two.

Sir Monkeypants is helping as much as he can – taking the brunt of things around the house, schlepping stuff around, making phone calls on my behalf to places we want to book. This past weekend, he and Little Miss Sunshine took on the task of going through two giant Tupperware bins full of craft stuff that we inherited from past Guiders and documenting what’s inside.

I was typing up the list afterwards and found out the bins included things like:
* pushpins, used to make Grade 2 clocks
* milk bag clips
* one craft box with pencils and glow sticks inside, also little aliens and lipstick pens and some earrings
* plastic sheets for doing needlepoint crafts like Ba likes to do (his mother)
* plastic Madonna bracelets.

All EXACTLY on point, no? I knew immediately what all these things were. He’s a crafting genius, that guy.

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.