New Houses

We bought our house, the house we live in now, just before our second kid was born. At the time, it was a completely new house – a new build on a new street. We wanted more space and to live in a specific school district and this new street they were putting in was a perfect fit.

At the time, though, I got kind of frustrated at the money pit that is a new build. First of all, there’s all the fixtures – you go to a big design centre to pick out tile, cupboards, and flooring, and everything other than the most basic thing costs extra. It felt like we were nickel-and-diming ourselves into the poorhouse.

After we moved in, it was one additional cost after another as well. We had to paid for air conditioning, eavestroughing, and a ton of landscaping. We put in a fence and built a shed and, after a couple of years, finished the basement. Every room needed new furniture and art, and it was just one trip to Home Depot after another.

That was almost 13 years ago, and I’m just now realizing the true benefit of having bought a new build – the fact that our house needed very little maintenance while our kids were very young.

It turns out that right around now is when everything goes to pot. We had to replace our roof last fall. We got a new water heater. Our driveway is heaving and we have some broken siding to replace and our foundation has cracks. It’s all small jobs – not the kind of jobs where you’re throwing money at it, but rather, the kind of jobs where you’re throwing time at it.

It seems now that every weekend we have a to-do list a mile long. Clean out the work room. Repaint everything. Top up the river rock in the gardens. Fix the broken eavestroughing spouts. Repair the fence. Replace every single light bulb ever.

I remember when the kids were little. Almost every weekend was about going somewhere. I used to have an Ottawa Events newsletter, and we’d actually DO something from that list every week – we’d hit a museum, or we’d visit a local festival, or we’d tour a cool boutique shopping area. We’d go to all the major events and we’d see shows at the NAC and we’d catch The Wiggles when they played the Canadian Tire Centre. We were OUT of our house, because our house was doing just fine.

But now we spend our weekends in maintenance mode. I’m hoping this is a life cycle kind of thing – we’ll spend this year doing a massive amount of repairs, and then we’ll be good for another decade or so.

(Stop laughing. It could happen.)

Ah, home ownership. It’s like having a fourth kid. A really whiny, needy, expensive fourth kid. There’s no place like home.

Fire!

We had some excitement on our street last night, when a couple of fire trucks with sirens blaring and lights flashing roared into our next-door-neighbour’s driveway. It was about 9:30 at night and we were just getting our older two kids ready for bed, when our whole house lit up with flashing red in every window.

Soon a group of neighbours gathered in the road in front of our house, and Sir Monkeypants went out too to make sure everything was okay. Turns out, everything really IS okay. They had an outlet that started sparking and smoking, so they called the fire department just to have it checked out. They didn’t really expect the Ride of the Valkyries, but I guess the fire department doesn’t mess around.

In any case, there was no actual fire and they’re calling an electrician and all is well.

But given that it was the house right next to ours…it does give one pause. What if, you wonder? What would that mean? What would we do? Not six weeks ago, there was a fairly major fire in a home three streets over from us. Due to seriously fortunate winds – blowing directly from the back of the house – the two houses on either side were completely saved, with only a bit of buckled siding in damage, even though they’re only a couple of feet away from the house that burned down. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

What if we weren’t so lucky?

I’m surprised to realize that there’s little that I would lose that would truly devastate me. If everyone got out alright, that’d be fine. The only objects I would really want to save are family photos. Many of the ones of the kids are in the cloud, so that’s good; a lot of my older ones are not, and maybe I’ll find the motivation to preserve the best ones in some way. They’re the really only irreplaceable thing, I think.

My kids would probably not leave the house without their extra special stuffed animals, and yup – that would be the one thing that would be terrible to lose, I can’t imagine the heartbreak. If we had time to gather a few things, I know they’d try to bring ALL the stuffed animals. You’d see us out on the street in our jammies with six bins of stuffies and a box of photo albums. PRIORITIES, people.

It’s interesting to me how much things, material things, mattered to me when I was young. The very idea of getting rid of a toy or throwing out a piece of artwork was too horrible to consider. The thought of a fire destroying my room, my home, was unbearable – in fact, my best friend in Grade 5 used to say goodnight prayers each night that ended with, “And God protect us from fires,” which resonated so much with me that I started doing that too, even though we weren’t all that religious.

But now, surprisingly, I’d be okay. I’d find a way to replace my kitchen gadgets and my thousands of books and all the Lego. We’d get new clothes and a new couch and a new piano.

As long as I have my peeps with me, we’d be just fine, just fine indeed.

Who Owns What?

My kids are getting to an age where they don’t really play with toys much any more – the poor Toys R Us flyer goes unopened and unloved each week. They still get out the Lego and the Hexbugs every now and again, but things like dolls and Strawberry Shortcake and stacking rings are no longer in use.

But they’re still in my house. Taking up space, mostly in storage bins in the basement, but also sprinkled in just about every other room.

Lately I’ve been thinking about getting rid of some stuff, but I’m torn. Do I own it, or if was bought for the kids, do they get to say?

My grandmother – my mother’s mother – was a thrower-outer. That led to a few incidents where she got rid of things that my mother considered “hers,” and was attached to. As a result, my own mom firmly considered our toys and books and things from childhood ours. As an adult, I’m still getting the occasional box of stuffed animals or puzzles from her that were mine as a little girl. Sometimes I value it – I’m overjoyed that she kept the entire Nancy Drew series, for example, and my youngest has gotten hours of fun out of my old Pretty Ponies. But sometimes it’ll be some cheap thing I won at a local fair at age 8 or some notes from my Grade 10 English class and I wonder why she bothered to keep this stuff all these years and to ship it to me.

I suppose the real point here is that she left it up to me to decide for myself. I can decide now that I’m grown what’s crap, and what I value enough to want to share with my own kids.

But do I need to do the same? With everything?

I’ve tried in the past to get the kids to go through their own stuff for filtering. It’s hit and miss. The youngest is actually ruthless – to the point where she always makes a big bin of things to get rid of that includes things that I personally am attached to, or think are high enough quality to last through to the grandchildren, so I end up talking her back off the ledge. The other two are terrible – they want to keep EVERYTHING and if I manage, after hours of cajoling, to convince them to let go of a shoebox worth of crap, they’ll lament about it for weeks afterwards.

When they were younger I used to have one day a year – a school day – when I went into their rooms and “cleaned up.” I’d make my own giant box of things to get rid of – old notes and birthday cards, McDonalds toys, various craft creations – and I’d put this box in the basement, labelled “phase one removal.” If no one asked for the stuff in the box for six months, it’d go out without me even opening it to double check what was inside. Maybe I should go back to this process?

Or maybe it’s just time I put my foot down and had them go through their own stuff again, with a firm hand and some limits. It all sounds so tiring, though. Wouldn’t a “phase one dumpster” be less painful for everyone? Or am I going to get some kid, at age 25, ask for one specific Hot Wheels car that is long gone, and be crushed when she finds I gave it away?

I wonder.

Driving Captain Jelly Belly

And we’re back! It wasn’t pneumonia, and we’re all doing well now. In fact, our doctor only ordered the x-rays in the first place because we were leaving the next day for Florida – glorious, sunny, hot Florida where we could forget we live in a soggy, freezing Canadian city for six whole days. Do you know that it snowed today in Ottawa, SNOWED, on May 8? I give up.

But the trip was great – we had amazing weather, and we had so much fun at the theme parks (we went to Orlando), and we came home exhausted but with heads full of magic and wonder. When I was a younger mom, I used to love reading stories about people’s trips – actually I still do, I’m always curious to see how various problems were handled and what the accommodations were like. But I feel like a detailed summary of our trip would be tedious for everyone so I’ll sum up quickly, and if you want more detail on any specific point please comment or email me and I’d be happy to wax on about it for pages and pages.

The short version:

  • For Ottawa-area readers: we flew Alligiant out of Ogdensburg, which had been heralded back in October as the Dawn of Cheap Flights. It wasn’t a huge savings, but it was a small savings, and it was pretty easy to do, although the airport in Ogdensburg is about the size of my house and when your flight is delayed by four hours in a place with no wifi and no cell phone coverage and no food it can be pretty grim.
  • We rented a house in the Windsor Hills area and it was glorious. Everyone had their own bedroom AND their own bathroom AND we had our own pool and hot tub. Recommended!
  • We spent three days at the Universal theme parks because we specifically went to explore the Harry Potter worlds, and they did not disappoint. But I’m glad we waited to go there until our kids were older and taller, as the rides are a bit bigger than Disney.
  • We spent one day at Magic Kingdom and one day at Hollywood and they were magical.
  • We spent one day at the Kennedy Space Center and now I am OBSESSED with the Mercury 7 and Apollo moon landings. OBSESSED.

If that sounds like a super packed, full six days, it was – my fitbit recorded over 20K steps on all the days except the Kennedy day, and we were so, so tired at the end of the day (but not too tired to pass up a sit in the hot tub). We had originally planned to go for 10 days, and have some rest days in between the parks, but we ended up having to cut the trip short, so we had to squeeze it all in. It was worth it, but still, not exactly a relaxing vacation!

The reason we had to cut the trip short is that Captain Jelly Belly, who is in Grade 8, was invited to attend a week-long course at the University of Ottawa last week. They take a few hundred kids in grades 8 through 11 and send them to university for a week, studying one thing in particular – he chose Civil Engineering. (Mini-review: he enjoyed it, but I think it’s safe to say that he is not planning on becoming a civil engineer any time in the future.)

So for the past week, I’ve been driving him to the university every morning, then picking him up every afternoon. Due to rush hour traffic it’s about an hour each way, meaning we’re in the car together every day for a good long while. And you know what? It’s been awesome.

He’s older now and often has his head buried in homework or a tablet or his phone, and if we do pry him away, it’s usually to do something as a family. Having this time alone with him was so great. We listened to the morning show and did the daily Game Show Bit together. We talked about silly things, like what Harry Potter spell is the best, and serious things, like what unions are, and whether they are good or bad. We plotted a different route for each day and then compared traffic and roads for each, and he grew into a great navigator. We talked about his day and my day and made jokes about classmates and clients.

The best part was close to the end of the week, when I found some Vinyl Cafe CDs and we spent a couple of commutes listening to Stuart McLean tell his sweet, funny stories about Dave and Morley. During one of the last episodes, there was a particularly funny moment involving Dave and a duck and a dry cleaner, and the audience laughed with a roar, followed a few seconds later by a single man laughing loudly. This single man’s laugh was booming, a Ho Ho Ho like Santa Claus, and when he laughed on the CD, the Captain and I looked at each other in instant recognition, our mouths gaping open in disbelief.

Every year I take Sir Monkeypants to see The Debaters, another CBC comedy show, recorded at a local theatre, and for the past three years we’ve taken the Captain along as well. All of those years we’ve sat just in front of a man with a distinctive, booming, Ho Ho Ho kind of laugh, one that often comes late, building steam to explode out just a moment or two after the rest of the audience has moved on. This guy is sometimes annoying and sometimes endearing but always a major feature of our post-Debaters analysis.

And here he was, clearly at a taping of the Vinyl Cafe, caught forever on our recording. It was the ultimate in joke – something no one else would get, something just for us, and something so instantly recognizable and strong that we didn’t even have to say anything – we just looked at each other and knew immediately what the other one was thinking – and then burst into laughter ourselves.

It was a great marker for the week, a way to know that he’s my buddy, my guy, my first baby, my always baby. I feel quite sentimental about it, but I embrace the mushies. It’s been a good couple of weeks.

Outed

We are still sick, and the Captain and I in particular have been so sick for so long that I finally broke down and took us both to the doctor yesterday. My mom put the bug in my ear that it might be pneumonia, and of course, once she mentioned the word it WAS pneumonia in my mind, so off we went.

The doctor listened to our chests and declared them clear, but since we have been running fevers for more than a week (him) and are having chest pain when breathing (me), she sent us to the hospital for x-rays, just to check.

On the way there:

Captain: “Now Mom, I know in your head you are already getting into a frenzy, because you are sure it is pneumonia, and everything is ruined, and we are all going to die, but it’s probably not that, so just calm down.”

Me: “SHUT UP YOU DON’T KNOW ME AT ALL.”

Sigh. And I thought I was so crafty at hiding the real me.

(Still waiting on the x-ray results. It’s probably pneumonia, I’m thinking.)

Siiiiick.

We are sick. Captain Jelly Belly missed school all of last week with this bug; Gal Smiley has missed all of this one. Little Miss Sunshine and I both went down the day before yesterday and now Sir Monkeypants has a tickle in his throat. It’s been a festival of tissues and hot bags and naps on the couch around here. I sorted some laundry this morning and it was 90% jammies and thermal socks.

I shouldn’t complain, because we managed to go most of the winter illness-free, but this bug is vicious – high fevers, a relentless day-and-night cough, constantly runny noses, and sore tonsils (there’s been a lot of wistful, nostalgic talk of the good ol’ days when everyone got their tonsils removed). Someone is always freezing and huddling near the fireplace, while someone else is boiling and dragging themselves upstairs to change into a tank top and shorts. We are all achy and no one is sleeping and last night, the Little Miss transitioned into croup.

PITY ME. It’s healing.

The worst thing about not being Patient Zero is seeing what’s going to be You In Three Days. I think Sir Monkeypants is getting the brunt of this now. As the us three girls are in the thick of it – struggling to sleep and breathe, crying because drinking is so painful – he knows he’ll be there himself on, say, Saturday? Maybe Sunday?

Now would be a good time to get a few movies from the library, honey, is all I’m saying.

All this illness has put a damper on the Easter prep around here, although we are not that big into the holiday anyway. We usually do an egg hunt on Sunday morning and it surprises me how much the kids still look forward to it, so I better find some time to pull it together before then. These days, now that they are older and also Super! Allergy! Kids!, the plastic eggs are mostly filled with loonies or the occasional Lego man for history’s sake, but it doesn’t seem to matter that the treats are lame – it’s the possibility of an exciting treat that is the thing, don’t you think? Finding the eggs is fun, and having the things is fun, but it’s that moment when you’re sitting with a basket of eggs that might contain anything at all that is the real wonder of the event. That’s the thrill.

Of course they have to be opened eventually. But sometimes I think – maybe it would be better to keep one, just one, as a mystery.

Happy, healthy Easter everyone!

Home Alone…with Friends

Here’s a parenting question that’s come up recently: how old do you think your kids have to be go for a “hang out” at a friend’s house, when their parents aren’t home?

I mean, clearly you would not take your five-year-old over to a friend’s house for a playdate when there’s not going to be any parental supervision. (And unless you are a much bigger person than me, you’d be giving those absentee parents the side-eye.)

And clearly, your twenty-year-old man-child can go play video games in his buddy’s basement without having said buddy’s mom around to bring them Kool Aid and Pringles (because that would just be weird, no matter how much both boys would likely love the service).

But somewhere in the middle is a foggy area where you wonder. If you let your young teen go over to a friend’s house and there’s no parents there…what kind of trouble will they get into? But if you’d let them stay home alone, then isn’t that good enough to let them stay home alone…with a friend?

This came up recently because the Captain, who just turned 14, now plays Dungeons and Dragons once a week after school with a bunch of his guy friends (and I have to actively stop myself from gushing all over them, because I just LOVE it that they are playing, and LOVE it that they LOVE it, and it’s just so adorable). Usually they play at one guy’s house, and usually this guy’s dad is around, but this week the dad couldn’t be there due to a late meeting at work.

And that led to some questions. Would it be okay for them all to just gather at the house with no supervision? Would all the parents think that is okay, or do we need to check? Most of these boys are already home alone from the end of school for a few hours until their parents get home from work – so is it okay if they are at someone else’s house instead?

We certainly wouldn’t hesitate to leave the Captain at home alone if we were going out. He’s also our go-to babysitter now, taking care of his sisters some evenings or afternoons while Sir Monkeypants and I go out like Actual Adults. And if he wants to hang out at the local corner store with his buddies after school, getting a slushie and chilling on the corner, that’s approved.

So in this particular case, I was fine with the parent-less D&D gathering – I suppose that means that in my book, 13 or 14 is the age when parent-less hangouts become okay.

Do you feel the same way? Do you think every parent should be consulted? If you had a couple of 12-year-olds over for a playdate, and you had to run out and drop some other kid at gymnastics, would you? Or would you feel like you had to send the guest kids home first?

It’s these grey areas that make up the fabric of parenting, don’t you think? If only they came with a black-and-white rulebook.

A Rambling Post about Dentistry

So after my musings from a few days ago about how I’m ready to officially move on from the baby years, both of my girls were sick this week and got up multiple times in the night over three consecutive nights. I think that seals it – I am definitely, without question, too old for that kind of nonsense. CONFIRMED.

I am not a regular coffee drinker – I have tea every day, but always herbal or decaf – so caffeine and I are not close friends. But this week, I have drunk the coffee. AND KEEP IT COMING, my eyeballs say, as my hands start shaking and I develop a weird facial tic. I’m a bit of a physical and mental mess, is what I’m saying, so forgive me if this seems like a bit of a mess of a post.

What I really want to talk about is modern dentistry. Over the past few years I have become jaded about the need for dental maintenance and other advanced dental gymnastics. Growing up, I was a faithful twice-yearly cleaning kind of girl, and I got the occasional filling, but that was it. I had my wisdom teeth removed in my early 20s, more at my own suggestion than my dentist’s (I was having some mysterious headaches, turns out he was right, it wasn’t related to the teeth), and I went for an orthodontal consulation in my teens, again at my own insistence, in which I was told my bite was just fine and to move along. I always considered our dentist to be a medical professional akin to a doctor, someone who would give you sound advice and you could take that advice and who had no skin in the game except your own health.

Recently, however, I’ve come to view dentists as half doctors, and half salespeople. It seems every time we go for a checkup, there’s some new process or new system or new referral they are recommending. We have full insurance through Sir Monkeypants’ work, so it’s not about the cost, but I still feel like they are pushing things we don’t need. Is this true? Or has dentistry made huge leaps forward and I’m behind the times?

My kids just had their semi-annual checkups this morning and X-rays – both regular and panoramic – were recommended for all three. They recommend X-rays for them once a year. I don’t think I had a single dental X-ray until I went to have my wisdom teeth out – certainly never before all my baby teeth fell out. I refused the X-rays, and I had to sign this big waiver about how the dentist can’t find all cavities if I don’t agree to it. What do you think – more tech than needed, or should I have said yes?

And then there’s ortho. My son just told me yesterday that it’s officially crossed the 50% mark – 14 people in his Grade 8 class now have braces, versus 12 that don’t. When I was in school, braces were a Grade 10/11 thing, not a Grade 7/8 thing, but now I see kids at the school as young as Grade 5 with a full set. It used to be the odd guy here and there with braces, now it seems everyone gets them as a matter of course and those without are the exception, not the rule.

Both of my older two were “referred” to the orthodontist at age 11, and my middle daughter ended up with an expander, this thing that went in the roof of her mouth for six months to create extra space for her new teeth that were coming in. I regret it now – it was annoying and uncomfortable for her, it used up 1/3 of her lifetime ortho coverage, and I really think it was not worth it. At the time she’d barely lost half of her baby teeth and was nowhere near puberty, so there was no way to know how big her mouth would eventually get and what the long term need would be. At the time of the referral, I think my son had only lost about 10 baby teeth. That seems way too young to be considering braces – can’t everything shift around when the rest come in?

My youngest is only 9 and today they recommended she go for an ortho appointment, “just to check her bite.” First, she’s NINE, second, she’s lost a grand total of EIGHT baby teeth, and third, her bite seems absolutely fine to us and we have no concerns. Is this a potential kickback scheme? Or am I paranoid?

(Needless to say, we refused the ortho referral.)

I stopped all dental work myself about four years ago and I feel fantastic about it – I take super good care of my teeth at home and I’ve never been happier with them. I’d stop it for the kids too, but frankly they are all TERRIBLE brushers, I’m sure the cleaning they get twice a year at the dentist is the only time some of their teeth even see a brush. But it’s getting more and more annoying to have to put my foot down and say “no” to a thousand new “services” they offer. Am I the only one who feels this way?

The Silver Years

A few years back I took many of my old blog posts and bound them into a book. They were mostly cute stories of the kids when they were young, interspersed with their baby photos. My kids love flipping through this book, especially my middle daughter, who will often pull it out. It makes me really happy that we have all this family history written down, a one-of-a-kind story of their lives.

Gal Smiley has been on another tear through the book this week and it does make me nostalgic to see their smiling little toddler faces looking out at me, next to tales of adorably mispronounced words and hijinks at the park. But up until now, I’ve never really felt a true longing for those baby times. To me, the real Golden Years were when they were old enough to be out of diapers and naps, free to travel and explore and to have thoughtful conversations about their world – and yet, not quite old enough to be sulky or embarrassed by hanging out with old Mom and Dad. It’s been a great few years.

Now things are starting to turn a bit – just little hints that someday the kids will move on. The older two like hanging out with their friends after school, and no longer rush home to tell me all about their day. They still like to be tucked in at night but most of the time, I’m too tired to make it there so I give them a quick kiss on the cheek and they end up reading long after I’m asleep. They’re still willing to come to the movies with us, and on family trips, but they grumble if we ask them to put their screens away, and they’re long over quiet little outings to the park or a museum. It’s still good – at least now we can talk politics at the table and freely watch PG rated action films with them – but I can tell change is in the wind.

This week my youngest sister announced she’s pregnant with her fourth child – an unexpected, but not unwelcome, surprise. It’s made me set that all aside once and for all – nothing too heavy or depressing, just a quiet, official acknowledgement that yup, we’re done with all that. Baby time is past. I know I won’t miss midnight diaper changes and the challenge of figuring out how to pick up the others from school when you’ve just finally gotten the baby to sleep.

But I do, ever so slightly, miss the promise a baby brings of a second round of the Golden Years. Another round of Curious George movies and sandcastles on a beach vacation and family bike rides.

Deep breath, and head up. Now that I think of it, the Silver Years look pretty good, too. They’ll be additional bodies around here to make dinner, shovel snow, drive over to the grocery store for something I’ve forgotten. Kids who have their own surprising senses of humour, who like my Instagram posts, who enjoy board games that are more complex than The Game of Life (and who handle it better when they lose).

Kids who are becoming people – people I’m excited to get to know. Welcome to the Silver Years.

Stress Relief

Sometimes, I get so worried about something I turn it over and over in my head, like a shiny jewel I can’t stop admiring. I’ll wake up early and my mind will fly to the worry spot and I’ll fret about it for a while, then I’ll fret about all the sleep I’m losing due to fretting, then I’ll fret about my total inability to stop fretting.

Right now, I’m stressing out over a family vacation I am attempting to plan for later this year. I am not normally a superstitious person. But I am seriously wondering if the universe is trying to tell us something. Something like, DO NOT TAKE THIS TRIP OR YOU WILL ALL DIE.

It’s a big deal for us to book a family vacation – we usually save up and only go somewhere once every other year or so. So we dithered about for a long time before finally booking some flights to a nice, warm destination in the United States.

The next day Trump did his immigration ban thing. Also: my husband is Indian and has a middle Eastern kind of look. Fabulous.

Then, a few days later, just after I booked and paid for a place for us to stay, our oldest came home with an invitation to go for a week long enrichment program at a local university. Just GUESS what week it was. SIGH.

Of course, our first reaction was sorry kid, you can’t go, but he was so upset, and so determined to go he actually asked if we could just leave him behind with another family. So eventually we caved and paid heavy penalties to change our flights and our accommodation bookings.

And I almost forgot – or perhaps blocked this out – that while booking the plane tickets, I needed to refer to our passports to check the date of expiry… and one was missing. Totally gone, vanished, poof. It’s my oldest son’s, and it’s just gone. There’s no reason for it not to be with the others, he obviously used it to get back home the last time we travelled. That led to a declaration of a lost passport, two separate visits to the passport office downtown, a four hour wait when I finally decided to commit, and extra fees for the penalty of losing it in the first place. GAH.

And then just this week, I went to order some tickets and passes online for attractions we wish to visit on this trip, and the order failed, because our credit card was maxed out due to the flights and accommodation charges. So I went online to pay off that credit card, and accidentally transferred an enormous amount of money to the wrong thing on my list of online bill payments, and now a utility has several thousand of our dollars, and I had to start some sort of crazy and arduous process to get it back that may take 4-6 weeks, and in the meantime, we have to find some other way to pay our credit card.

Of course, I have never, ever made a mistake like this in 15+ years of online banking.

At the moment I’m pushing forward with the planning but I gotta tell you, I am losing a LOT of sleep. I can already picture us being caught up at the border and missing our flight; or making our flight at the last minute, only to have our luggage lost; or to find the house is full of cockroaches (apparently it has happened at this house in the past, OF COURSE); or to have someone (i.e. ME) break their leg skiing and have to manage the whole thing on crutches.

Maybe it isn’t too late to cancel? Sigh.