One Tough Class

All three of my children have one subject that is the bane of their school life.

For the Captain, it’s Visual Art. Oh my heavens – trust me when I say you have never seen a child do so poorly in art. I usually try not to slam my own children in public like this, but he’d be the first to tell you that art is just not his thing. Last year, Grade 8, was the last year he was required to take it, and he was still barely able to draw stick figures in pencil. He’d never have got through without his art teacher, who ironically did not always mesh with the other kids due to her strict adherence to rules and lack of interest in creativity, but it worked very well for him to be given tasks like, “Draw a circle and paint it completely within the lines in a solid primary colour.”

Needless to say, now that he’s in high school, it’s sayonara art. I’m down with that – it’s not his thing, and it’s not like he’ll need it to get by in the world. The worst case is that he won’t be able to draw a hundred copies of Thomas the Tank Engine when his train-obsessed toddler demands it. I think they’ll both survive.

For Gal Smiley, it’s unfortunately English. She has never been good at expressing herself in words, and it’s even harder for her when she has to write or type them out. She struggles with abstract ideas like theme or characterization – she is a woman of action and prefers to talk about What Happened, and little else. I feel for her – she has five more long years of high school English ahead of her. But we have taken a “Let’s just do the minimum and try to get through it” attitude that serves us both well. There’s no sense in pushing her or expressing disappointment. Instead, we just try to help her as much as we can, and to her credit, she also works very hard in this area to try to improve. So we’re getting there.

Our real problem these days is Little Miss Sunshine, age 10, Grade 5. She hates, hates, hates gym. And I empathize, oh do I ever. Gym was my own horror show in school – no matter how much I tried, I was forever an uncoordinated weakling with no speed, no balance, no game. Every year I was required to take it, I got a C- in gym, and an A+ in health, balancing out to a nice B that was in no way reflective of my physical skills. I dropped it like a hot potato the minute I could, which sadly, wasn’t until the end of Grade 9.

Little Miss Sunshine does what she can. We always emphasize that gym class is about participation and attitude. That we will be thrilled if she just approaches each class with a smile and tries her best, and comes away with a pass. But it’s hard for her – she is frustrated when she’s always the last in the race, the first out of a game, the one who causes groaning whenever she is put in goal. She feels like a failure and a loser, and I get that. And, just like her mother, she’s rather injury-prone, resulting in a lot of meltdowns and freakouts over bumps and bruises. Somehow she always seems to end up with a ball in her face (or, in one memorable case, a rubber chicken), or at the bottom of a pile-on, or flipping into a pile of rocks when she is accidentally tripped during a soccer game.

This past Thursday I got the call again – she’d fallen in gym during Bordenball and another boy had fallen on top of her, and she was pretty upset. I’m sure she was banged up and bruised, but it wasn’t physically serious. I could tell, though, that it was a tough mental blow. She was embarrassed and sad and angry, and so I came and got her and took her home for rest and pampering and a mental health day. Sometimes we all need one of those, I think, and if you can’t get a little TLC after a horrible gym class, then what is life all about, anyway?

It’s five more long, long years of gym class for Little Miss Sunshine and me. But we’ll make it through, and if nothing else, we’ll learn to be tough. Warriors. Fighters. Superheroes who dream of a life without gym class. Someday, honey, it’s coming.

The Crankies

There is a scene from Seinfeld that sticks out in my mind. Elaine has come over to Jerry’s apartment, and she is in a bad mood. She takes a juice from the fridge and is annoyed by the fact that it says to “shake before drinking” – she swears she won’t shake it because you have to shake everything these days and it is totally unreasonable. Then Jerry slowly shakes her juice while giving her the side eye.

(and, it’s on YouTube, of course – isn’t everything?)

Huh, on rewatching she doesn’t seem quite as infuriated as I recall. But I think of this moment often these days, as I am increasingly enraged by little things that have me envisioning myself on the lawn, shaking my fist at people, in the very near future.

For example, I watch Jeopardy every night – already marking myself as an honourary Senior Citizen, and I have to admit, I am really drawn to the commercials for the Acorn stair lift, which would bring such joy to my life. I have always been mildly annoyed by people who say “please” at the end of each category request. “World Geography for $200, please.” “Rock Bands B for $1000, please.” It slows the game down, and grates in my ear. Tip to all future Jeopardy contestants: Alex HAS to read you the question. It is not an “if you please” situation. Step up and order your category with authority, dammit!

Even more annoying: the way Alex exclaims “Hello!” whenever someone makes a big bet. Alex, you are not a 25-year-old from the year 1998. It’s as jarring as if you did a Z-snap. For the sake of my sanity, do not do this. Please.

(and, of course someone on YouTube has made a supercut of Alex saying “Hello!”, which has made me want to shove a pencil in my ear, and also to die laughing. That’s what the internet was invented for, right?)

And THEN, a couple of weeks ago, my grocery store decided to reorganize and move EVERYTHING around. This has caused no end of grumbling around here and if you are my friend on Facebook, I know you have had to hear about this repeatedly. I’d apologize, but really, it is THE WORST. I used to have a list where everything was laid out perfectly. I could practically shop with my eyes closed, be in and out in 45 minutes, never miss a thing. Now grocery shopping is an unwanted adventure were I wander the aisles aimlessly, searching for items like I’m on safari, throwing random things in the cart as I come across them. I still haven’t been able to find the juice boxes. WHEREFORE THE JUICE BOXES, SUPERSTORE? Sigh.

I actually thought to myself I should keep a list of these little things that annoy me, and then turn them into a blog post, but then I envisioned myself ranting away about The Jeopardy and The Groceries, and young people looking at me like I was an old crone and OMG, they would be right. So I have abandoned my list idea for now, but it’s lurking. You have been warned.

A Brief Post About Laundry

Today is laundry day, and that means that over the course of my work-from-home-day, I do five loads of laundry. We are five people, and that makes five large loads. I can sometimes get away with four loads in the summer, when there’s no socks or pants or sweatshirts to fill things up.

Lately, I have been thinking that it is probably time to welcome my fourteen-year-old to the wonderful world of Doing His Own Laundry. I know lots of other families do this. But I don’t understand how they make it work – I’m always hung up on the expense and bother of having the machine do extra loads when it doesn’t really need to.

For example, say he sorts his laundry into lights, darks, and socks/underwear. Then he washes these three little loads – when? Once every other week I think would be the minimum, otherwise he’d be out of clothes; he might even need to go weekly for things like socks and underwear.

So now our house goes up to 8 loads a week? And what happens next year, when Gal Smiley turns 14? We’re doing 11 loads a week? When we could be doing only five?

To that I say…HM.

Perhaps the answer is to have them do ALL the laundry, just only once every other month or so. Or to have them take on some PART Of the laundry, like say the sorting or the folding, as a first step.

Any advice on this difficult time of transition is most welcome.

Best. Pumpkin. Ever.

My kids made some very nice pumpkins this year (unicorn, panda, barfing man) and I could show you a picture, but instead I will include this picture from the CBC’s Facebook page, because it is the best pumpkin ever:

Am I right or am I right? So totally doing that next year.

It’s Halloween, and I enjoy Halloween. I like handing out the candy at the door and seeing the kids. We usually get hundreds of kids here, but this year is very cold and wet and rainy so I don’t know what to expect. I’d complain, but the last several years have been gloriously clear and warm, so we seem due. And if we have tons of candy leftover, so be it, right? I’d love to be able to be all, “oh heavens, what will we do with the leftover candy?” but even I can’t pull that off with a straight face, as we all know it will be going straight into my belly.

This year is the first year that Captain Jelly Belly, at age 14, won’t be going out door to door. We have put a firm foot down about it – Grade 9 is our cutoff. He’s a little pouty about it, to tell the truth, but he negotiated that, in exchange, he be allowed to watch a bona fide horror film, something he’s been asking about for a few months now. He’s a pretty good negotiator and I’m tired of putting him off so I’ve said yes.

And now, what to choose? Personally I am not a horror fan. I want him to be scared but not too too scared. The Saw movies, for example, are still right out. And I don’t feel he’s quite ready for say, Quentin Tarantino. But I don’t want his first horror to be something stupidly cartoonish, either, like Bride of Chucky or Sleepaway Camp, which I watched at a Grade 8 sleepover party in my youth and left me scarred forever with both its murders and its terrible, terrible acting and dialog. I mean, they can’t all be Citizen Kane, but at least put in a half-assed effort, am I right?

Anyway, I recommended Scream to him, which I think is a very fine film, but Sir Monkeypants things perhaps he won’t get all the cool meta moments having never seen the basic version. We tried to get a copy of the classic Friday the Thirteenth or Halloween, but they are nowhere to be found, and I did find a pack of all six? seven? Nightmare on Elm Street DVDs at Walmart but I have no desire at all to own seven Nightmare movies at a cost of $50.

So we have borrowed a few things from my sister, including The Thing, a movie that’s not quite horror but is TOTES AWESOME and has some great jump scares, and I have a copy of the crappy remake of Poltergeist from a couple of years ago that might fly. I’m sure we can rent something suitable on iTunes as well. Hopefully he survives it – I think he will, he’s pretty chill about such things. He’ll be watching alone, though, as his father will be taking the girls out. I wonder, if while I am handing out candy at the door, I will hear a small voice on the couch in the main room asking me to please come sit beside me NO REASON.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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.