Calm Down

You know, it’s funny, but I used to consider myself something of a Pop Culture Aficionado. I used to have my own online pop culture “magazine” called Sidekick, which I still miss dearly. I used to listen to cutting edge music and go to the movies once a week and be up on all the latest TV shows.

But somewhere along the way I became what I like to call a Two Years Late Adapter, where I know everyone is talking about something, and I see it everywhere, and yet I totally resist getting into it, and then two years after everyone has moved on, I’m all like, have you heard about this amazing thing called Hamilton? And everyone gives me a big eye roll.

(I suppose this is preparation for being the parent of teenagers, because my growing immunity to eye rolls and being passé certainly has served me well in recent times.)

Anyway, I am like this with Taylor Swift. Flashback: my friend Tudor Robins was just about to publish her second teen novel, Appaloosa Summer, in 2014. She told me that she had a soundtrack while writing it – all Taylor Swift. And she was like, “Do you know her stuff?” And this was after Taylor had already won countless Grammys, and her song Never Ever Getting Back Together in particular had been a smash hit on every radio station ever, and I was like, “Um, I’ve heard of her, I guess?”

And then of course, two years later I was madly in love with Tay-Tay and acted like I discovered her. TYPICAL. I think back to that conversation with Tudor all the time and cringe – not because I was out of touch then, but now I am so TOTALLY a Taylor fan and I act like I am the ULTIMATE Taylor fan and yet just a few years ago I knew nothing of her. It’s our little secret, right?

(Next year: I’ll probably discover this “awesome new show” called Stranger Things and tell everyone that I meet that Beyonce’s “fabulous new album” Lemonade will change their life.)

All this is to say that Taylor can do no wrong in my book (in fact, in our house we refer to her as “Aunt Tay-Tay” for complicated in-joke reasons), and she just announced she has a new album coming out in August, so SQUEE, and she just released a track from it called “You Need to Calm Down,” and I don’t know why, but I think it is hilarious and fun and delightful and true.

You should probably listen to it because Taylor Swift is really an up-and-coming artist and all the cool, cutting-edge kids are digging her these days.

Limping Into June

This morning my youngest asked me how many more days of school she must endure, and the answer was 12, including today. The older two have just five more days of classes, then exams, then they are done. It doesn’t sound like much, does it? And yet it always seems like FOREVER away, for both them and me, at this time of year.

Considering the longest day of the year is next week, and it gets light now in Ottawa by like, 4:30 a.m., we are all struggling to limp over the finish line. I think my youngest, age almost-12, is finally hitting the mark where she is capable of sleeping in. She’s been getting up at 5:30 a.m. (or earlier) since she was like, three years old, and for the past two days in a row now I have had to wake her up for school, which is BANANAS. Meanwhile, the other four of us are falling asleep on the couch at night and sleeping through our alarms in the morning and everything just feels sluggish, like we are running on fumes.

For a while I have been thinking I should record our daily schedule, because I did that a few times when the kids were little and it’s fun to look back now and remember when they would all pile into bed with us at 6 a.m. on the nose (fun NOW, not as fun THEN). And it seems, if my youngest is going to start sleeping in all of a sudden, I should do it, as I will miss the current routine. It’s nothing fancy; basically, I get up around 6:30, then Little Miss Sunshine joins me downstairs in the kitchen around 6:45, and the two of us have some pleasant, getting-ready-for-the-day hugs and chit-chat until she has to get dressed around 7:20. Then she’s off to school, and by the time she leaves the Captain is up and eating his traditional banana at the kitchen table. There’s a bit of a rush when Sir Monkeypants gets up and has to drag Gal Smiley (NOT a morning person) out of bed and then everyone runs around grabbing lunches and is out the door by 8:50 or so, when I can make a cup of tea and organize my work day and settle in.

It feels so normal and regular, sometimes I have to remind myself that someday I’ll get up and it will just be quiet and lonely in the morning and WHY would I remind myself of that, SIGH. But perhaps that time is sooner than I think, and it’s best to prepare.

Speaking of bittersweet sadness and memories, I have officially finished guiding, yay! I expected to have mixed feelings and maybe even feel kind of sad about it in the end, but NO. I have joyously moved on. Don’t get me wrong, it really was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot and I will miss the girls in our unit. But oh, the GLORY of having free time again!

And just in time for summer, in all its non-lunch-making beauty. Sometimes I wonder if the studies that show that a long summer break is a bad thing are right, and we wouldn’t feel so burned out in June if we went to a more modern, non-agricultural schedule that involves several 2-3 week breaks throughout the year instead of the long summer off. But then we get here, and I imagine the joy of long, warm days with nothing much to do but eat popsicles and ride bikes and read a book in the cool of the basement, and even though I personally have to work, I still feel the excitement that comes with the promise of a long break, and I don’t want to give that up.

So let us embrace summer in its current state, and celebrate the joys of the current daily schedule, and revel in not having any girl guide planning to worry about, and pour out a lemonade and just BE.

After the Flood

We had a small flood at our house on Friday. Captain Jelly Belly went down to the basement to play video games and found a large puddle of water with a steady stream falling from the ceiling. In the words of the Captain, who immediately rushed upstairs, “I believe there is an emergency happening.”

Sir Monkeypants was still at work, but the kids were great and we all swung into action. We opened up the ceiling in the basement and let the water drain into a bucket, and mopped up the puddles. We traced the source of the problem to the area under our upstairs fridge and successfully stopped the flow by turning off the water supply to the fridge ice maker.

Just in case we were going to have to replace the fridge or have it repaired, the kids and I emptied it, too. We have a very small downstairs fridge — the “drinks fridge” — and we formed an assembly line. Me, upstairs loading up bins of food; the girls shepherding the bins downstairs; and the Captain loading it all in.

Aside: the men in Sir Monkeypants’ family are LEGEND in their ability to pack. Every time we go on a trip, Sir Monkeypants grumbles about all the stuff I am taking, as I am a classic Just In Caser and must bring the whole house on every trip. But despite his grumbling, he always manages to get it all in, which probably doesn’t discourage me at all, but still, is amazing to see. In fact I suspect that underneath his grumbling, he secretly appreciates the mental challenge of Packing Jenga.

It is becoming clear to us that the Captain has inherited the packing gene and he was determined to get everything from the Big Upstairs Fridge into the Small Downstairs Fridge, with the added challenge of not removing any of the pop/water/juice/beer that was already in that fridge. And he DID IT. I should have taken a photo, it was like a WALL of food when you opened it up. AMAZING.

Anyway, eventually Sir Monkeypants came home and we ran some tests and figured out that the upstairs fridge seems to be okay as long as we keep the water turned off. So for now we are living without pre-made fridge ice (LIKE ANIMALS) but this staves off the decision to repair or buy a new fridge for an indefinite amount of time, or until we get tired of warm iced tea in the summertime, which may come sooner than we think.

So now we have an interesting kind of science experiment happening in the house. Although we moved everything from the upstairs fridge downstairs (and then wiped it out – the GLORY OF A CLEAN FRIDGE, am I right?), we didn’t put much effort into bringing everything back upstairs. We’re in an As Needed mode right now, where we sigh heavily and trudge downstairs when we need something from the fridge, then we go and get it and put it back upstairs.

Hypothesis: We don’t actually need or use any of the 100 condiments that were in our old fridge.

Experiment: Let’s see if, after several months, they all make their way upstairs.

Progress to date: We obviously need the ketchup and mustard. Also, surprisingly, the soy sauce and the fake Big Mac sauce. Other 96 condiments: ON PROBATION.

(For some reason, no one ever brings up any more than they actually need. For science, I suppose.)

The Worst

Captain Jelly Belly, looking for a cereal snack: “Oh no…we’re out of bowls.”

Me: “Just use anything. A tupperware container or a mixing bowl or whatever.”

CJB: “No, that’s dumb, forget it.”

Me: “Don’t be silly. Use a soup bowl. They are basically the same size as a cereal bowl.”

CJB: “No way! They’re much bigger!”

Me: “They just look like that because of their shape. They’re really not that big. We only call them soup bowls because we have soup in them, but really they were MADE for cereal.”

CJB: “Really? Are you sure?”

Me: “Yup.”

CJB: “Hm…okay.”

(gets soup bowl, fills it with cereal and milk, sits down to eat)

Me to Gal Smiley: “Oh my God, have you SEEN the ENORMOUS bowl of cereal the captain is eating?”

Gal Smiley: “That is just INSANE.”

CJB: “You people are THE WORST.”

And scene.

Baby Driver

I posted this on Instagram on Saturday:

View this post on Instagram

Baby Driver in da house!!!

A post shared by Lynn (@lynnturtlehead) on

We have a third driver! Captain Jelly Belly has joined the world of cars. We are hoping he will be fully licensed by summertime.

We dragged him into this, truth be told, kicking and screaming. He had NO interest in learning to drive. Apparently this is a millennial thing – all the kids his age are completely uninterested in cars. He is the first among all his friends to get his beginner license and the only one, as far as we can tell, who is being pressured into it by his parents. He claims it’s an environmental thing – that he and his generation have moral problems with the whole concept of driving. I am skeptical of this, as a) Gal Smiley is CHOMPING AT THE BIT and cannot wait to get behind the wheel, preferably of some classic muscle car, and b) whenever we suggest to the Captain that he drive somewhere, he is TERRIFIED, so I’m guessing fear has much more to do with it than morals.

But whatever, onward and upward! I am very interested in having another driver in the house as I intend to pass all driving obligations on to him as soon as I can, as I hate driving and am terrible at it. But also, we want him to be able to drive alone by the time he is in university, as it is likely he will have to live off-campus somewhere and being able to have a car rather than take public transit all the time would be amazing, he just doesn’t realize it yet.

Of course, once he has his license he’ll probably only need to drive for a decade or so before we’re completely on self-driving cars. But then he’ll be able to tell his kids all about the days of yore when he actually controlled a vehicle. The other day, we were telling the kids about our own days of yore, when you had to turn on the television by walking over to it and turning a dial, and then you had the choice of like, 12 channels tops. Their eye-rolling could be seen from space.

Anyway, in addition to someone getting a license, it was also our 23rd wedding anniversary this weekend, and we celebrated by going to see Avengers: Endgame, and then going out to dinner. It was bone-chilling cold and actually snowed, and everyone was astonished, but since April 27 is my anniversary I can confirm that it snows at least 1/3 of the time, and did indeed snow on my actual wedding day, and that was even in Toronto, not Ottawa. So we continue our long trek towards spring but at least it was a very nice anniversary and a bright spot in an otherwise pretty bleak April.

Then last night, after winning our local trivia team event, we rushed home to watch Game of Thrones, which featured an extra-long episode with a crazy battle and many sad deaths. Between that and Endgame and being married for 23 years and self-driving cars, I have a lot of processing to do today. It’s times like this that I wish I had a pop culture blog, because I have a LOT of thoughts about Endgame and Game of Thrones and how they both were great, but specific pointers on how they could have been better, in case the creative types behind these things need a little advice. But sadly, I will just have to share my ideas with my laundry basket and all the chocolate I can muster as I sort it all out.

Traditions and Politics and The People You Can Count On

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours stuffing a hundred plastic eggs with treats for an egg hunt on Sunday, without much enthusiasm. I am reminded once again of one of my parenting rules that came along too late to be of any use to me: do not introduce any new traditions unless you are willing to commit to them for a lifetime.

When I was a girl, Easter was not a huge thing. We’d get a basket of treats and often a new outfit on Easter morning, and then go to church, dinner with our grandparents, that was it. But Pinterest and Blogging and Keeping Up With the Moms led me to think that, when my kids were toddlers, that an Easter egg hunt would be so fun! And we did it the first year, and it was pretty okay! And then the following year, I already had a hundred plastic eggs, so why not!

And now here we are 12 years later and I’m seeking little items to put in eggs for my sixteen-year-old who is learning to drive and who is growing a mustache, because TRADITION.

New moms: you have been warned.

I think I am especially cranky lately as my son and husband have been rewatching The West Wing. I picked up the first three seasons in a steal of a deal at a used book sale – $2 per season. I watched it the first time around so I haven’t been a devoted viewer this time around but the few scenes I have seen are really depressing. It’s because it’s a show about people trying to do good in this world, with basic kindness and humanity, and that seems so rare these days, especially in the world of politics.

And it’s almost comical, the things that pass for a “scandal” on that show – a major first season storyline is that Sam, who is the assistant communications director at the White House, is dating a woman who also happens to be a call girl, and that’s HUGE and TERRIBLE and must be stopped. Which compared to today – I mean, who even knows who the assistant communications director is, and what he’s doing, when we have so many worse things to worry about in the actual Oval Office?

Sigh.

Speaking of kindness and dedication, I was ranting to my youngest the other day about Unreliable People, as a few people had recently disappointed me with their failure to do things they said they would do. She was probably too young for such a talk, but I do find that as I age I am getting more and more jaded about people just showing the hell up when they say they are going to. I can count on one hand the people who I consider “my people” in that I know they will be there for me 100% of the time, no matter what, no questions asked. And I am related to most of them. What has happened to the days of It Takes A Village? Will we ever return to a time when streets and communities bonded together to care for one another?

I am probably just as bad. When I do it in reverse – people I’d be there for any time, any place – it’s probably also only a handful.

No wonder I’m such a curmudgeon. Hopefully a hundred pretty Easter eggs, lovingly posted in Instagram to convince other mothers that I’m as cool as they are, will fix me, for one day at least.

Springtime This And That

It’s not very spring-like in Ottawa. In fact, I believe it is snowing right now. Every morning Little Miss Sunshine, who has to leave the house first every day, asks our Google Home for the weather, and every day the Google Home says cheerily, “It’s -5 right now, with a windchill effect of -11, cloudy today with a high of 2 degrees and chance of snow showers.”

Then she sighs heavily and trudges to the door to put on her boots, and toque, and mitts, and winter coat, although she refuses snow pants now on principle. I feel her pain.

But! Despite the fact that spring is dragging her feet, I am still feeling pretty chipper. There is fresh light in the mornings and the snow is sloooooowly melting and there are things to be happy about, like:

Les Miserables.

Okay, it IS one of the saddest musicals/movies of all time. But I watched it last week with my older daughter, Gal Smiley, and now she is obsessed, and I’m so, so happy. I saw it when I was on a Grade 9 field trip to New York City and it was TRANSFORMATIVE. I know every word to the soundtrack and now she and I go around the house all the time, several times a day, belting out all the parts to “One Day More” (her: Marius, Enjolras, Javert; me: Jean ValJean, Cosette, Eponine, while we both take on the Thenardiers). It is awesome.

She’s getting into stage musicals in general, having recently been through phases when she listened to the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack and then the Rent soundtrack on repeat. I’m thrilled. I was super into musicals and theatre as a kid – still am.

Side story – I was thinking this morning about how I begged my mother to take me to see Shakespeare as a child and she eventually caved and took me to The Tempest at the Stratford Festival when I was 11 years old, the same as as Little Miss Sunshine right now. I even READ IT before we went so I would understand everything and we sat in the front row and I was ENTHRALLED. Every year after that my awesome mom took me to at least two plays or musicals there, sometimes three or four, and thinking about this over breakfast made me realize I was NOT a normal child. I am trying to imagine going on a field trip with Little Miss Sunshine’s class, and having some kid in her class tell me how much they enjoyed their recent outing to see The Tempest and that they were hoping to catch something by Gilbert and Sullivan or Moliere next year, and basically falling over from shock, and also thinking that kid was WEIRD.

This explains a LOT about my school days.

Anyway, I am just happy that I have at least one kid who is into stage and screen and musicals and we can geek out about it together.

Also good this spring: the end is in sight for Girl Guiding! My last meeting as a leader is May 29 – I have signed the papers and told the people. I will really, really miss all the crafting. This past week I stayed up late every night to make 24 custom Harry Potter wands, each a different size and shape and pattern with a different semi-precious stone embedded in the handle, and I love them all. And I also made a set of mini Harry Potter bookmark-scarves out of felt, and made little scrolls with a Harry Potter potions assignment on it, and now I am thinking of opening up an Etsy business to fill the void.

Also I will miss the paperwork. I’m serious about this – I just love paperwork and record keeping. I love updating the files I have on each girl that track what badges they have and I love entering the attendance and I love updating the budget and making inventories of supplies. I TOLD you I was weird.

But I will not miss the rest of it – the hours spent planning and the way my mind cannot let go of a cool idea once I have it, and how I must do EVERYTHING because I can’t not be a perfectionist, and how I stress out before every meeting and have to have a big glass of wine after each one, and how some girls are great but some girls are annoying and I have to be nice to everyone all the time.

So farewell to guides and guiding, it was a lovely experience but I’m ready to be done.

As they say in Les Miz: One Month More. Actually, Two Months More, but I think I can make it work in the song. We will nip it in the bud! My place is here, I stand with you! Les Miz applies to SO MUCH of your daily life, it seems.

Happy spring!

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.