What A Waste

This year on my birthday, I wrote about how I don’t mind being 37, that I’m happy with my life right now, and the number feels right. But I’m having some second thoughts now about aging, and what it all means.

The other day Sir Monkeypants and I were having a casual conversation about me going back to work. We’re both happy with me being at home right now, so it was a very no-pressure kind of talk, but we both think I’ll go back to work someday, and every so often we discuss when that might happen, and what I might do when I get there.

This time, pointed out that if I wait until the Wee One is in Grade One, as is our plan, the year will be 2013.

I’ll be 43 years old.

And I won’t have worked in 12 years.

The last time I had a regular full-time job was in the fall of 2001, when I was a software developer at Nortel. I was laid off from that job along with about half the company when it ran into trouble at the turn of the century. I didn’t take it too personally and I got a great severance package, so I took a few months off to just bum around and finish up our Christmas shopping and decorate our house.

In the new year I started to poke around for a new job and took one working for an old manager of mine, who I had liked very much. The job itself, though, was not a good fit for me, and I was unhappy there. When I had a miscarriage after I’d worked there for only three weeks, a small, irrational part of myself blamed the stress of the new position, and I quit.

(Aside: Public apology to RheostaticsFan, who asked me point blank at this time if this was the reason why I quit, and I denied it. I just was not ready to talk about it all, and I’ve always felt bad about it, but it was what I had to do at the time. I’m sorry, and hope you understand!)

I spent the next few months getting myself back in order, and then in the fall, when I was already pregnant with Captain Jelly Belly, a friend of mine called and said that her small development company was looking for programmers with my skillset. So I went to work there, and then, five weeks later, the company was bought out and they laid off half the employees, so that was the end of that job (but the beginning of another nice severance package).

By that time I was already big and round with the pregnancy, so I had a few job interviews but they did not pan out. They always ended with the interviewer looking pointedly at my big belly and saying, “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself???” and I’d say, “Um, no,” and they’d be all, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” So that was the end of my working career to date.

And maybe the end of my working career, altogether.

I always kind of thought that I could go back to work whenever I wanted, just throw together a resume and within a week or two, I’d have a few offers. But that forty-three/12 years thing has thrown me for a loop. The software industry changes so quickly, that after 12 years, I’ll have very few skills on my resume that are of interest to employers. Even if I upgrade with a little training…why would you hire a 43 year old with no job experience, when you can hire a new grad at half the cost, and for a longer term investment?

Back in 2001, I had lots of contacts, people who knew me and liked my work, who would hire me in a heartbeat even if I didn’t have the right skillset, because they knew I was a hard worker and a quick learner and a good team player. These days, those kinds of people have moved on and I haven’t kept in touch. These days, I might still be a hard worker but I have to get home at the end of the day to my three kids; I might still be able to learn but not as quick as I used to be. And are these kinds of soft skills enough to win me a job over someone just coming into the workforce as a swinging single 20-something?

I also used to say that this was a great time to try a new career. I was a good developer but it was never something I was passionate about, and this break in my job path seemed like a good time to consider my options. A year or two of retraining, and I could be something new and exciting…a midwife! A radio producer! A journalist! Governor-General of Canada! The world was my oyster.

But again…I’ll be 43. At least. Trying to break into a new field. I remember when I first started working, and if someone on my team was 43, they were totally old school. Set in their ways. Outdated skills. Good for leading, not for making innovative breakthroughs. Not the kind of person you’d give an entry level position to, not the kind of person you’d expect to be happy at the low end of the totem pole, not the kind of person who will hang out with the other interns and newbies at lunchtime and become a happy part of their team.

So is that it for me? I’ve never regretted my decision to stay home with the kids, and I’m not going to rush back to work now. But for the first time, it really feels like I have given something up to stay home, like I have chosen one path, and in doing so, have closed off another path. My mom says all the time that my staying home with the kids is a “waste” of my talent, of my intelligence, of my university degree. I’ve always pooh-poohed that, but now I can see her point. It’s not just that I’m not doing anything with my brains now. It’s that I might not be able to do anything with them ever again.

I’ll always be proudest in my life of being a mom, and it’s a much more fulfilling job than programming ever was. But I guess this is what they mean when they say that parents have to sacrifice for their children. You really can’t have it all.

Like I said, I’m not going to rush back to work in a panic, and I’m still going to stay home for at least a few more years. But maybe it’s time to start thinking about what I really want to do with my life, and what is actually possible. I feel like I need to make some real decisions, make a real plan, and get cracking.

In the meantime, it’s time to make breakfast for the kiddies.

In Praise of Caillou

I know that all the “good” parents keep their kids away from the terrible, awful, corrupting power of the television. But I must admit that my kids watch quite a lot of TV, especially in the winter months. I’m talking at least two hours a day, sometimes more if we get desperate enough to watch a movie in those twilight hours between dinner and bedtime. I’m kind of embarrassed about it, but there it is.

I hope I don’t sound defensive when I say that kids’ programming of today is quite different than when I was young, in a good way. There’s more than one channel that airs commercial-free kids shows all day long, and those shows are age-appropriate, sweet, and funny. They introduce the letters of the alphabet and cover basic scientific principles and teach counting and get you to buy many, many hundreds of dollars worth of toy trains. All good stuff, right?

One show that we hadn’t explored much before this fall was Caillou. My nephew Eric really loved it as a kid, and my mom does not hesitate to mention that Every. Single. Time. we see them, much to his total humiliation. But ‘ sister told us that the show was terrible and annoying because Caillou was really whiny, and that we should avoid it, so we did.

CJB and GS discovered it one day, though, when it happened to come on after something else they were watching, and now we all love it. Yes, Caillou can be whiny. But speaking as a parent of a 4-year-old — Caillou is 4 — the show is bang-on. Everything that comes out of Caillou’s mouth is something I’ve heard CJB say. The whining is true to life, but also short-lived, as Caillou learns how to deal with a new situation, or gets help from his parents.

Other kids’ shows, like Dora or Backyardigans or even Curious George, are about stimulating kids’ imaginations. They learn things like counting and how to say “jump” in Spanish, but the setting is fanciful and the characters can do pretty much anything they like. Parents are on the periphery, if shown at all, and there’s never any conflict between friends.

Caillou is one of the few shows I’ve seen that deals with actual situations that our kids will actually encounter. Caillou feels nervous about being left with a babysitter for the first time. Caillou feels frustrated when he can’t tie his shoes right away, then elated when he finally does it right. Caillou doesn’t feel like playing with his little sister when he has a friend over. Caillou has trouble sharing with his friends at the park. I think it’s great for CJB and GS to see a show that reflects and validates their own feelings, and shows them that it’s okay to feel that way sometimes.

Of course, the show offers a nice resolution to all these issues, and that’s why I personally like it too. Caillou’s parents are usually very patient, and although he does get into trouble sometimes, they rarely get really angry. Instead, they know just when to let him work things out on his own, and when to step in; when to push a situation and when to back off; and when to stand firm versus when to give in. It’s quite inspirational and it has given me lots of ideas on how to handle situations in my own home.

It may sound like I’m being facetious here, but I’m really quite serious. It’s a great show for illustrating a functional, happy family, in which all the members are treated with respect and talked to in calm voices. I know it’s only on TV, and I can’t be the TV mom all the time. I’ll still occasionally lose my temper or choose to read a magazine over dinner while the kids watch Caillou, instead of engaging them in meaningful conversation.

But sometimes, especially when there’s conflict, I think of the Caillou mom and try to be calm and understanding, like her. I try to realise that my 4-year-old and 3-year-old are perfectly normal, that they sometimes feel lost or scared or frustrated with everyday life, and it’s my job to help them through it.

So Caillou — thumbs up over here.

Gift Wrap

One thing I really enjoy doing is wrapping presents. I love to make creative shapes to mask what’s really inside, and I love to make them all pretty with ribbons and bows and handmade tags. Plus, I love paper and all things paper-related, so buying wrapping paper (and cards) is one of my favourite parts of the holiday season — a reason to buy more paper, fully endorsed and guilt free!

Aside: when I was a teenager I had a real reputation in my family for being “the” gift wrapper, so I would like to take this moment to acknowledge that as much as I like to wrap presents, is actually better at it than I am. It’s one of those situations where one kid in the family gets identified as something — like, the sporty one, or the scary one, or the posh one…or is that the Spice Girls? Anyway, once the label of “good wrapper” gets attached to one, the rest of the family can’t see the wrapping for the label, if you will, and so ‘s superior skills have been woefully ignored, until now. You rock, girl!

Anyway, one way that I am trying to grow as a parent and as a person is to let my kids help with the Christmas wrapping this year. I get out my little (okay, ENORMOUS) box of gift wrap and wrapping accessories and let them pick out whatever they want. Then I help them as little as possible, although that is very, very hard, with my inner voice screaming, “NO! The BLUE bows go with the snowman paper! The red bows are for the SANTA paper!”

I just finished wrapping a set with Gal Smiley and they have tape haphazardly placed all over the packages, and they’re all wrapped in the same paper — she obviously does not share my need for a wide, wide selection of pretty papers. She preferred the store-bought sticker labels to my own lovingly handmade versions and she scribbled a little on each tag.

I didn’t even say anything…much. And it was a nice, Christmasy time for all. I think my heart grew two sizes today!

gDiapers

Hey, this is exciting — the creator herself commented on my post about gDiapers.

Apparently it is, in fact, “G Diapers,” not “g’Diapers.”

But I’m going with “g’Diapers,” because it’s much more fun to say.

They’re available now in Western Canada…still waiting on Ontario, though.

Canada Post Delivers JOY

I didn’t get to make my usual Monday blog post this week because I was TRAPPED IN HELL.

That is to say, I had to go to the post office.

This is actually the first year that we won’t be seeing our families at all over the holidays — we’ve stayed in Ottawa just once before, and that year, all of Sir Monkeypants’ family came up for a visit. I’m looking forward to the quiet time and the family time, but the presents thing is kind of a hassle. I did all the shopping for my own family back in October and took their gifts down with us at Thanksgiving, but Sir Monkeypants is one of those looney types who only thinks about Christmas in December, like, how can he possibly deal with the pressure of finding the absolute most perfect gift for everyone in his family that shows how much we value them and care for them, if he is only going think about it for three weeks out of the year? Sheesh.

So we finally got around to getting some stuff for them this past weekend (with more to be purchased online and shipped directly, SOON, ), and I had to mail it. Monday morning I took all the stuff and put it in the car, loose, because we didn’t have a box that was the right size to fit it all. After I dropped Gal Smiley at school, instead of rushing home so the Wee One could have her nap, I made a “quick stop” at the post office.

First of all, they were out of the right size of box, so I had to buy a bigger one for $3 more. Then I wrote the address on and everything, but found out they couldn’t mail it without me taping it shut. And a roll of tape, at the post office? Is SIX DOLLARS.

AS IF.

So I said screw that, I am going home to get tape. But first, I had to get in the long, long line to pay for the box, which I had already written on.

And while we waited behind like, 10 people, the credit card machine ran out of paper, and the lady behind the desk had to call to see someone somewhere to see what kind of paper it took. That took 10 minutes. Then the machine was finally fixed, and the lady behind the desk had to spend a further 10 minutes explaining to the lady doing shopping that although they are the Post Office, they were completely out of stamps. ALL STAMPS. The hell?

And do I even need to mention the fact that the Wee One was crying this whole time, because she needed to nap? No, I do not.

So finally we get up to the front and I plonk down my six dollars for a freakin’ box, and race home, just in time to get CJB off of the school bus. While at home I taped the box shut, and managed to mail it this morning at the post office (which STILL has NO stamps, like, do you understand what business you are in?) with bitterness but no further incidents.

I’d still be bitter, but yesterday the kids’ Letters From Santa came in the mail, so I’m trying to forgive and forget. Canada Post apparently holds the world record for “Answering Letters To Santa,” which is further evidence that there are way, way too many world record categories. Captain Jelly Belly and Gal Smiley sent in their letters a couple of weeks ago and received responses — form letters with their name hand-written in, and a little two line personal note at the bottom.

It’s actually really nice — the letters are long and talk about elves working hard and reindeer planning parties and everyone eating cookies and candies, la-dee-dah. I was all impressed, although the kids couldn’t really care less. They didn’t even have the patience to wait around to hear me read the entire letter to them, although granted, the Doodlebops were on at the time, and how can mere text compete with the technicolour glory that is Doodlebops?

In any case, they were relieved to hear that Santa did, in fact, get their letter, and he will, in fact, be bringing them stuff.

In the meantime, I guess this means we’re even, CANADA POST. Just don’t screw up again. Happy holidays!

Five Card Unmentionable

DramaQueen23 was bold enough and kind enough to join a gaggle of complete strangers last night for our regular ladies’ poker night. I’m so happy to report that she is every bit as delightful and lively and whip-smart in real life as she is on her blog. She let us grill her all night about her life and didn’t even complain that I was hogging all the bridge mix.

Mmmmm, bridge mix.

Anyway, she’s awesome, and I thought I’d tell the world.

Also, we found out Hardcormier’s real name! Dude, your secret identity is totally busted. But don’t worry, we will only use this information for good, not evil. Mostly.

Because He Has A Very Shiny Nose, That’s Why

Remember when Captain Jelly Belly became obsessed with the song Hard To Say I’m Sorry? And my answers to his questions about the song sent me down to the Lying Hell for Liars Who Lie?

You think I would have learned not to toss off casual answers to his questions, questions that may result in my being grilled over and over again like a key witness/secret murderer on the stand in an Agatha Christie novel.

So the other day, CJB asks me who my favourite reindeer is. His is, of course, Rudolph, because they’ve been practicing the song at school for his Christmas concert. And how easy my life would have been if only I could have said that Rudolph was also my favourite.

But did I? Oh no. I had to go and say, “Donder,” because the mutation of poor Donder’s name into “Donner” by Gene Autry in the Rudolph song is exactly the kind of nit-picky trivia that an obnoxious know-it-all like me gets off on. Last night I almost came to blows with over it, actually.

Anyway, CJB asked me to rank all of Santa’s reindeer in order of preference, and I named a couple more — next Blitzen (since he’s paired with Donder), then Prancer (since he has a movie named after him and everything). Then CJB asked about Rudolph, so I threw him in next. Then I listed the rest in a random order, as I remembered them, ending with Comet and then Cupid.

And now, I must answer for my list. Oh yes, every decision on the ordering must be carefully accounted for.

Why don’t you like Rudolph?

I do, I do, he’s my favourite.

No, you said one of the black-nosed reindeer.

Donder, yes, but really it’s Rudolph.

But that’s not what you said.

It’s what I meant.

No, you said him at number four. Why is he only your number four?

Really he’s number one.

That’s not what you said. Why do you hate Cupid?

I don’t hate Cupid!

But he’s last on the list. Is he a bad reindeer?

No, he’s fine. I like Rudolph and then all the others are tied.

But that’s not what you said.

I changed my mind.

Why don’t you like Comet?

…and so on, and on, and on, until my head explodes.

Gloria Steinhem is Listening

Last year, if you asked Captain Jelly Belly what he wanted to be when he grew up, he’d say, “A Daddy.” Aw.

Then last night, over dinner:

CJB: Mommy, know what I want to be when I grow up?
Me: What’s that, honey?
CJB: A teacher.
Me: How nice!
CJB: Gal Smiley, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Gal: A Mommy.
CJB, rolling eyes: Yes, but what do you want to do?

Is it too early for a talk about feminist principles?

Saving The World, One Bag At A Time

In my ongoing effort to reduce the amount of garbage our family produces, I finally got around to buying some of the PC cloth shopping bags. They seem like a good idea, although I have to say, I can’t watch the TV ads for them (“We’re saving the world! One bag at a time!”) without feeling a little jaded, like, there must be something in it for them, it just can’t all be this simple. Can it?

Anyway, our massive weekly grocery shopping trips usually result in us getting between 10 and 15 plastic bags. We actually use these bags around here for our other garbage and diaper disposal, so it’s not like we’re taking tons of empty bags and just chucking them.* But I figured we could probably make the house run on fewer plastic garbage bags (because we’re cutting back on garbage! See how it all fits together?), so I thought I’d buy just three of the cloth bags. Then, on each grocery trip we’d be doing something small, at least, and we’d still get a few plastic bags for home use, too.

It turns out that the cloth bags are both way bigger than the plastic bags, and way tougher, so they can hold at least two plastic bags worth of goods. Two giant 4 litre bags of milk can go in one cloth bag! How cool is that? No matter how heavy the clerks fill them, I can still lift them, too, because the straps are soft and gentle and don’t cut your hand in half like a plastic bag with milk in it. Oh, how I shudder thinking back to all those long, long trips home from the grocery store as a carless student, six bags in each hand, slowly losing all feeling and circulation. Eeek.

So now, on our weekly shopping trips, our plastic use has been pretty severely cut back. So far we have plenty of plastic kicking around so that’s not a concern, and using the cloth bags has made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. In fact, I think I should just carry one around with me everywhere, and use it at the mall, or at the bookstore, or at the Zellers. Why not? I could single-handedly save the world! Anyway, I recommend them.

In other waste-reduction news, I’ve still been too chicken to make the switch to cloth diapers, but I have my eye on these as an alternative. They’re called gDiapers (not “G Diapers,” as I originally thought, but “g’Diapers,” like “g’Day,” because they are from Australia). They have an outer plastic liner like cloth, but inside, you use a flushable liner — it kind of looks like a big maxipad. When the liner is dirty, you pop it out and snap in a clean one, easy breezy.

Then you take the dirty liner, break it into smaller pieces, and flush it down the toilet. Brilliant! Not only does this keep a lot of crap out of our landfills, it sends the poop to a treatment plant where it can be properly handled — poo from disposable diapers is a major threat to ground water contamination.

And there I go talking about poop again.

Poopy diapers must always be flushed, but the pee ones can actually be composted or, if desperate, thrown away — they will break down to nothing within 120 days. How cool is that?

The only thing that prevents me from switching over right this second is that they are not available in Canada yet. You can order them online from their website but the shipping is crippling — more than the cost of the diapers themselves. Already they are more expensive than disposables, but not to the point where I wouldn’t pay it…but with the shipping included, they become financially infeasible. Apparently they will try to roll them into Canada sometime this coming year so I’ll be keeping an eye out.

* Plastic bags are not blue-box recyclable in Ottawa, although you can return them to some grocery stores for recycling.

Barrette Princess

Captain Jelly Belly and Gal Smiley are only 18 months apart in age. When I found out I was pregnant with the Gal, I knew it would be great if the baby were a girl, but I also thought it would be very nice if the baby turned out to be a boy, since he would be so close in age to his big brother and they’d be buds.

Gal Smiley is a girl in all the important ways, but she idolizes her older brother and thus is quite the tomboy. She prefers to wear clothes that used to be his, and so often leaves the house wearing cargo pants and grey socks with trucks on them and a striped rugby shirt from Old Navy. She likes to play cars and trucks and Buzz Lightyear Show. She likes to roughhouse with the Captain, rolling around on the floor or jumping off couches or slapping each other until someone calls Uncle. So I guess she and CJB are buddies after all.

This morning, CJB was off at school and Gal Smiley was watching me get dressed. She saw me put on some lip balm and so she got out her own cherry-scented lip balm and put some on, and announced that she was now pretty like “when Mommy got married.” Then she saw me put a barrette in her hair and she seemed interested, so I asked her if she would like a pretty barrette too? Yes!

So she skipped over to her room, where she has a massive bucket full of little barrettes and hair clips and funky-coloured elastic bands, all of which have NEVER been used, because she hates having anything in her hair. In fact, if we let her have a buzz-cut like the Captain I think she would gladly take it — she is always asking why she has to have long hair, like it’s a huge hardship, and she never understands when I try to explain that ten years from now, if she looks back at photos of her three-year-old self and she has a bowl cut on her head, she will decry me as the worst mother ever. I’m sure her thirteen-year-old self will not need any further ammunition on the Worst-Mother-Ever front, so thus, I insist on the long hair.

We got down the bucket of hair accessories and I put a few in her hair, which has long been my dream, and then she spent a half hour putting every other barrette she owns into my hair, until my head kind of looked like a Christmas tree. Now this is what having a little girl is all about.

I definitely could get used to playing hairstylist on a daily basis. It’s awesome having a girl.