For Christmas We’re Getting Her a Green Visor

This past weekend our friends the Lucky Sevens came over for dinner. They have two kids that slot nicely in between our three, and the five of them usually have no trouble finding some scheme or other to occupy themselves when we get together.

This time they all disappeared into the basement and while the adults were chatting, we could hear quiet, followed by a crazy uproar of shouting and squealing, followed by quiet, repeat. We were curious, but no one showed up with blood or a broken bones and we’ve been parents long enough to know that if no one is crying, you leave well enough alone.

Later at dinner we asked them what they had been playing and it turns out that my darling daughter, Gal Smiley, age 11 3/4, had started an underground Hexbugs betting ring.

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If you’re not familiar, they are little electronic bugs that you can put on a plastic course, kind of like a Hot Wheels course, and they vibrate when you turn them on and sort of jitter around and move places. What Gal Smiley was doing was setting up some sort of course challenge – the first to break out of a closed space, or the last one to remain on an elevated bridge perhaps – and then taking Monopoly money bets as to which hexbug would win.

Winners got their investment back plus 10%. Losers lost it all.

I gotta tell you, I wasn’t sure if I should be mortified or proud, but I was certainly leaning towards proud. The inventiveness! The entrepreneurship! The drive!

And yet, you know, the vague illegal nature of it all. This must be how Bernie Madoff’s mother feels.

Gal Smiley loves nothing more than the exchange of money, and she is always hustling to make a buck. We’ve already called her for a future career in sales or possibly stock trading. But this is a whole new area for her. Our daughter, the bookie. The heart swells, does it not?

Approaching the Summer of Awesome

I can hardly believe that this is the last week of school. Teacher gifts went out this week – I was talking to my sister about how teacher gifts were not a thing when we were a kid, but now they are a MUST, not that I mind, because I think teaching is a tough job and you have to be some sort of saint to want to spend hours a day with other people’s children, but it’s interesting how times have changed, isn’t it?

Starting Friday I will have three children in the house full time, and also for the first time ever, I am going to be trying to work (albeit at reduced hours, but still). I’m kind of in denial about the whole thing, choosing to focus on the fact that I don’t have to make lunches (WHEE) rather than I will shortly have no personal space for quiet contemplation or creativity, and instead will have three squeaky voices at my elbow at all times, begging for more video games and/or narc-ing on the others for sneaking video games.

It’s going to be an INTERESTING summer, to say the least.

I am still planning (hoping?) to do a couple of day trips a week, even though I now have two teen/tweens who are much more interested in having a video screen in their face than doing anything with their lame-old mom. To counteract this, I have already decided that there will be a daily limit of screen time (three hours, in case you are curious, I always want to know what other parents consider reasonable, so I’ll open the conversation here), and they can decide for themselves how to spend it, and whether to binge all at once or parcel it out. I’m hoping this will eliminate a lot of the whining and begging and mental effort it takes to be the Video Game Jailer, but we’ll see. Considering bickering and fighting and whining about being bored is likely to drive me around the bend when I’m trying to get some work done, I may turn out to be a bit of a marshmallow when it comes to enforcement. I have no Illusions of Backbone here.

In any case, I still went ahead and optimistically made two lists this year – one of places to go and visit, and one of “no-screen” activities that I’m hoping I can point to when they are going into video game withdrawal (although most of these require my personal supervision so I may have shot myself in the foot here). Here’s our plans:

Places to Go / Day Trips

Altitude Gym Clip and Climb
Karter’s Korner (likely more than once, they are in prime go-kart age)
Saunders Farm
Art Gallery
Rock Balancing at Remic Rapids
Westboro Beach
Petrie Island Beach
Puppets Up! Festival (August 6/7)
Rideau Hall/Changing of the Guard
Parliament Hill
Pink Lake Hike/Carbide Willson Ruins
Laurier House
Diefenbunker
Byward Market shop tour
Company of Fools Shakespeare in the Park – my kids love this, mostly for the pre-show Lego recreation I give them so they will know what’s going on. It’s Pericles this year, a tragedy – wonder how that will play.
Funhaven
Mini Golf Gardens
Museum of Nature – ultimate dinosaurs, nature swap
Casino/Museum of History Fireworks show – August 6, 10, 13, 17, 20
Museum of History – CINE+ movie
Tuesdays – classic car night at Hazeldean Mall
The Capital Fair – Aug 19 to 28
Splash Pad Park
Upper Canada Village
Mont Cascades/Calypso
1000 Islands boat cruise (maybe, this one is a long shot considering I will have to actually organise something in advance)
Movies: Finding Dory, The BFG, The Legend of Tarzan, The Secret Life of Pets, Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond, Pete’s Dragon

No-Screen Activities

Bike Ride (to the corner store for a slushie or just around the neighbourhood)
Lego Build Challenge (where I give them an assignment and they must create it)
Board Game/Card Game
Make cookies – or just eat the dough
Bubbles
Sing It/Rock Band/Just Dance (doesn’t count as screen time as it’s a family activity)
Storytime with Picture Books
Hot Wheels challenge
BeyBlade Challenge
Read a book
Visit the Library
Go out for a treat
Swim at the pool
Croquet at the park
Splash Pad Park
Go fly a kite
Remote control car driving challenge
Target practice – with bow and arrow, nerf guns
Hide and Seek – with stuffies or action figures
Make ice cream or slushies
Set up the tent in the backyard
Make PlayDoh
Scavenger Hunt – inside or outside
Write a Letter
Dance Party
PJ Party
Lunch picnic
Science Experiments
Throw a disc around at the park
Stargazing
Trip to Sugar Mountain, a candy store
Trip to PlayValue, a Lego/Playmobil mecca

What are you doing this summer? Any suggestions for us?

On Their Own

We have started giving the older kids a little more freedom around the neighbourhood. For example, Gal Smiley at age 11-and-a-half is allowed to ride her bike over to her friend’s house, and then either hang out in the park or go down to the Mac’s Milk for a slushie. Captain Jelly Belly at age 13 is allowed to go to our next-door-neighbour’s house after school for a couple of hours – his parents aren’t home from work yet, so it’s just the two boys in the house playing video games.

It’s that time, I guess, when you set them free and start letting them figure things out for themselves, hoping that all the training you gave them about life stuck in their minds somewhere and they make good choices. Eeep.

Two boys alone in a house with internet access in particular makes me nervous – of course, one’s mind does go to porn. I’ve been on high alert for this, quizzing him each time about what they did, watching for signs of blushing or shifty-eyed changing of the subject. I like to think I’ll be calm and fair and that it’s normal and I just want to talk to him about reality vs. fantasy, and respect for women, and put it all in context. But don’t worry, I do have a Major Freakout on the back burner just in case it seems called for.

Today his buddy was accidentally locked out of the house so they came over to our place instead and it was revealed that the shady dealings of teen boys actually do not involve porn, but do involve Call of Duty, a Mature-rated video game that the Captain is not normally allowed to play at our house. We’ve been limiting him to things rated Teen or under. But we are very good friends with the other boys parents, and we like them all very much, so this is less a case of “hey, you broke the rules” and more a case of “huh, if they think this is okay, maybe we should revisit our policy.”

So they’re downstairs right now playing Call of Duty (we have a copy, it’s my husband’s) and I’m a little fretty and a little unsure and a little sad about the Loss of Innocence and such. But that’s parenting, right?

My Husband Went Out Of Town and the World Exploded.

I can count on one hand the number of times I have gone away, overnight, from my children.

Each time I have done so I return home to a clean house with children happily playing outdoors. My husband is full of tales of kids helping to cook, long family bike rides, board games, and cheerful bedtimes. He always wonders why I think being home with the kids alone is so tough.

This week he had to go out of town unexpectedly and within 24 hours of him being gone:

  • two out of three children got terribly sick;
  • the phone and the internet both died;
  • the hot water heater died;
  • the van refused to start, and I had to call CAA for a jump, and then it happened AGAIN;
  • and our shower developed a leak.

Needless to say, I was a hysterical mess. The house slowly descended into Heart of Darkness style madness as I wept over the fact that we had no Netflix to occupy the sick children, the dishes and laundry piled up, and we got smellier and smellier.

He came back on Saturday and suddenly all was well with the world. He fixed the internet and all the children were healed. I think this might go to his head.

Evil Mastermind

Little Miss Sunshine: I want to quit piano.

Me: Sure, whatever. By the way, I got you this book of beginner Taylor Swift songs for piano, if you want to try it.

(two hours later)

Little Miss Sunshine: I am never quitting piano.

Me: Sure, whatever. [evil mastermind laugh]

A Retirement of Superlatives

I recently picked up this book: The Geist Atlas of Canada.

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It’s all maps of Canada, with certain totally-real place names pointed out based on a theme. For example, the “Doughnut Map of Canada” features place names like Jelly, Ontario and Bakers Dozen Islands in Hudson’s Bay and The Hole, Newfoundland. The snicker-worthy “Impolite Map of Canada” features Bummer’s Roost, Ontario, the Cockram Straight, and Dixville, Quebec.

On the other side of the page from each map is a bit of trivia on how a few places got their names. Here’s the “Literary Map of Canada,” featuring place names with the same names as famous authors:

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I adore this book and I think they must have made it just for me. I cannot imagine who else this book is going to appeal to.

Imagined marketing meeting at Geist Magazine:

Idea Guy 1: I know! Let’s put together a book of maps of Canada, with place names marked by theme! And we’ll add trivia!

Idea Guy 2: Great idea! It will absolutely kill with Canadians who love maps, goofy puns, and wowing their friends at parties with lesser-known linguistic facts!

Idea Guy 1: But, how will we alert our target market?

Idea Guy 2: I’ll get her on the phone.

And scene.

My favourite map in the book is this one – the “World’s Largest Map of Canada”:

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It shows all the places in Canada that claim to have the “world’s largest” something. This is another totally geeky thing that I am super into, and Sir Monkeypants even more so. For ages we have been saying that our dream vacation would be to drive across North America, stopping at every single “world’s largest” item we can.

Now that we have this map to guide us, I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time. We’ll retire, buy an RV, and cruise from the world’s largest curling stone (Thunder Bay) to the world’s largest aluminum snowflake (Kittimat, BC) to the world’s largest potato (O’Leary, PEI). We can go right ahead and skip the world’s largest T-Rex, though – it’s in Drumheller and we saw it last year:

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One down, a hundred more to go. Are you with me?

Favourite Mugs

I have tea with breakfast every morning in this one. I got it for my birthday from Sir Monkeypants and the kids, and they bought it because it’s BIG, and I want a BIG cup of tea every morning. You can never have too big a mug for tea, I say.

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Gal Smiley is my most loyal companion around here and she has started having a cup of tea in the evenings, mostly out of solidarity with me, I think, as it is intolerable to her unless laden with three spoons of sugar and a half cup of milk. But she’s made it a habit, and she prefers her tea in this cow mug because, she claims, it is “smoother” than the others.

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Sometimes Sir Monkeypants joins us for tea, too. He prefers this mug we bought at Universal Studios in Florida back in 2000 when we were young and carefree and childless and able to get up at 7 a.m. on New Year’s Day to go ride the Hulk coaster six times in a row until I nearly threw up. GOOD TIMES.

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Every morning for breakfast the Captain has a “hot chocolate,” which is really a protein drink that is a milk-substitute for him. It mixes better if warmed up so he has it in this mug every morning, which was a birthday gift this year. If you can name the TV show that this references, you are my friend for life.

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The Little Miss isn’t much into warm drinks but when she is cold she likes a hot chocolate – the real kind, with milk and cocoa – but she doesn’t want a big serving so I always make it for her in this little Belle mug. My mother bought it for her and there’s a matching plate, and we also have a Mickey and Donald set for the other two that see their fair share of use, but it’s the Little Miss that considers this little one her go-to mug.

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Join us for a little something sometime, won’t you?

May in Ottawa

May is my killer month. All the year-long activities come to an end with big parties, while soccer and other summer sports are ramping up. May is our month when we have at least two activities on every weeknight, plus a few things on the weekend, and I just run from one thing to the next. I like to say to Sir Monkeypants, in a smart alec-y kind of way, “I’ll see you in June,” but it isn’t far off the mark. He goes one way, I go the other, and in between it’s all baking brownies and cutting up watermelon.

May is pretty lucky, I’ll tell you, that it has such nice weather. It’s kind of like a newborn baby – the adorableness helps mollify the horror. A bit, anyway, until I get out there and attempt to weed the gardens. SHUDDER.

If you’ve seen me out and about with pink and purple hands, that’s because on top of everything else, I’ve been tie dying. Gal Smiley is in the grade 5/6 level of her soccer league and it’s always a small level because it’s a super casual community league, and usually by that age all the kids that are actually interested in soccer have moved on to a higher level. Last year they had four teams in this level but this year they have only two teams. That means the same two teams will play against each other every week, which is fine, but what is NOT FINE, NOT FINE AT ALL is the colour of their shirts: light grey and light blue. TWO TEAMS, people. They couldn’t have ordered shirts in, say, red and yellow? Navy and bright green? Black and white?

Sigh.

At the first game, the kids in Gal Smiley’s side both a) passed the ball to the other team multiple times, and b) stole the ball from their own players, multiple times. Sadly, I am not the kind of person who can let this sort of thing stand, so I collected all the light blue shirts and tie dyed them, with the help of the girls. Now they look like this:

One of these (relatively) faceless children is mine.
One of these (relatively) faceless children is mine.

It was an ugly amount of work but I suppose worth it for how thrilled the kids were with their shirts. Gal Smiley actually asked if she could wear it to school. As far as soccer shirts go, that’s a major elevation from the others that are stuffed in a drawer somewhere. Plus, it gave me that Laura Ingalls Wilder feeling to be standing over a steaming vat of cloth and dye, wiping my brow with one hand while wearing a plastic Crayola painting bib meant for toddlers. It’s a good look for me, I think.

In other Gal Smiley news, she had her last guides meeting ever last night, as she’s now aged out of the program (and, interestingly, has decided to go to Scouts next year instead of Pathfinders, which is the next level of guiding). Little Miss Sunshine had her last brownies meeting ever last week as she’s now moving up to guides, and in both cases the leaders were just SO fantastic. They put so much work into the graduation and into all the stuff they did all year and most of the leaders cried when the girls were leaving. One of Gal Smiley’s leaders wrote each leaving girl a thank-you note, thanking them for making her into the leader she is today, and telling each what great qualities they bring to this world. SO NICE. I really cannot say enough fabulous things about the whole program and the ladies who give so much of their time to make that happen.

And now I must run – the new flowers in the garden need watering, I’m making some buns for dinner, I have one last shirt to tie dye, and I need to cut oranges as we’re on soccer snack tonight. But I’ll probably also squeeze in a popsicle on the porch after picking up the kids. May is madness – but it’s glorious, too.

Feeling My Age

Last night I stayed up late working on a puzzle, because I am now old and that’s my idea of a rocking good time. It’s a puzzle of china teacups, in case you were wondering – for maximum old lady style.

I’d only been asleep an hour when Gal Smiley got up with a stomachache. Getting up after just one hour of sleep is the WORST. Even when I had a newborn and was totally messed up and almost used to getting up 6 times a night, the one-hour-past-bedtime wake up was the hardest.

So I dragged my butt out of bed and sat up with her for a while, and then went back to bed and sleep for just over another hour before Little Miss Sunshine got up with a stuffy nose. I barely managed to force myself to get up and zombie-walked her through various treatments and then went back to bed for three more hours of sleep before my alarm clock went off and I smashed it into a million bits. (I may have dreamed that last part.)

My point here is that I am way, way too old to be getting up twice in a night. I feel bad, because my kids are still young, and certainly when my oldest was 8, I was still able to pop out of bed and provide comfort in the middle of the night instead of acting like my poor youngest has interrupted the beauty sleep of Helen of Troy, GO BACK TO BED CHILD.

The wife of a friend of mine used to read my blog a few years ago, when I was still mired in sleepless nights and cute baby talk and figuring out how to work naps around kindergarten pickup. Her kids were grown and she was dealing with teen crises and university applications, and she eventually stopped reading my silly stories here. She apologized, explaining that she was just in a different place now, and couldn’t go through it again. Trust me, Bonnie, I am there now. I’m OVER IT. I’m ready to move on to the part when I lie in bed sleepless with worry while the kids are out with the car.

I’ll turn 46 later this year and that has me thinking about two things recently. First, my father passed away at age 47, from cancer. He was young, for sure, but now that I am approaching that age I see that it is no longer so young to be a fluke. I’ve lost a handful of friends to cancer now and although it’s still rare and tragic at my age, it’s no longer unheard of. When my father died I went through years of stress, thinking 47 was my end date as well – I almost didn’t have kids for fear of leaving them motherless at a young age. I’m more hopeful these days, but it’s still out there, like a big finish line. I’ll be crossing it soon, one way or the other.

On the flip side, my grandmother was 47 when her first grandchild was born. Lately I have been watching a lot of cartoon shows with my kids and it’s fascinating to me how “grandparents” are always portrayed as grey-haired, wrinkled, and frail. My own grandmother was anything but – she was active and vibrant and participated heavily in the upbringing of me and my three sisters. By the time I’m a grandmother – if I ever am a grandmother – I’ll be old and grey like the ones on TV. At 47, instead of bouncing babies on my knee and then handing them back for a diaper change, I’ll still be in the thick of things with a 14, 13, and 10 year old. I’m starting to think my grandmother had things figured out.

And now, I believe it’s time for my midmorning nap.

PJ Mommy

I have reached a new low of motherhood, and it’s this: I am now one of those parents who drops off their kids at school in their pajamas.

In my defense: I only drop the kids off in the morning on Mondays, when my son needs to bring his saxophone to school for the week. When he picked the alto sax as his Grade Seven instrument it looked smallish, definitely carryable, but even I find it hard to schlep that thing around for more than a hundred metres or so by the itty bitty handle. So Monday mornings require a car ride.

I work from home and my mornings usually go like this: drag self out of bed, brush teeth, put away clean dishes from last night, make three lunches, make sure everyone has their homework and has, unwillingly, taken gloves with them, then collapse from the morning rush in front of a cup of tea and some toast. Maybe then, maybe, I’ll think about showering and clothes, but often I don’t get around to it until mid afternoon. It’s just as easy to code in my PJs as anything else, and I like to get working as soon as possible in the mornings, while my mind is still fresh and the silence is golden.

In the winter, I had a secret weapon: snowpants. I could slip on my snowpants and long, heavy jacket right over my jammies, pull a toque over my unbrushed hair, boots hiding my slipper-socks, and no one would be wiser. No one had to know what was going on under the outerwear.

It’s a little warmer now, though, but I am still convincing myself that PJs are okay since the dropoff routine goes: exit through garage into van, open garage door, start car while kids buckle themselves in, pull up at little-used back entrance of school, open the van’s sliding door automatically with dashboard button, wave to kids from driver seat, close sliding door and head home. Do not exit van until garage door is closed.

So the uncombed hair and the unwashed face and the jammie pants (funny with black leather shoes) really go unnoticed by everyone. By most, anyway. By the majority, I’m thinking. Right?