Clean Slate

Welcome. Welcome back!

I love fresh starts, and new beginnings. There’s nothing quite so appealing as the promise of a New Year, with 365 pristine days spread out before us, all holding so much potential.

This year, I always think, is my year. I’m definitely going to get it right this time! I’m going to get enough sleep, start exercising, and stop stuffing my face with Chicago Mix at midnight. I’ll study another language, plan exotic travel and become the most amazingly serene parent ever. I’ll finally finish that book I’ve been working on for, well, ever, and while I’m at it, I’ll declutter the house.

2019. It’s amazing how, with a pop of a cork and the whizzing of fireworks, we are suddenly in an entirely new era. We kick the dust of 2018 from our feet, and leave our sorrows behind us, marching forward into the New Year with all of our resolutions shiny and intact. Until the end of January, anyway.

As much as I love this new-leaf feeling, I also know that something not-so-great can lurk under that promise of fresh starts. I can’t do all the things at once, and when, by mid-February, the daily yoga practice has dropped off, and many a project has fizzled, it’s easy to think, “Oh well, this year’s broken. I guess there’s always 2020!”

So rather than taking off like a rocket, this year I’m making some really small, daily changes. I am actually going to try to get more sleep.

I was very tempted to just scrap this blog altogether and start a sparkling new one for the ultimate clean slate. Instead, I’m doing some tinkering, and clean-up, putting in some work and making some changes.

I’m wishing you all a very happy 2019. I hope January is off to a beautiful start. This can be your year too. Come back and visit me often. There are many exciting things to come!

The Feral Child

“I’m not a human!!! I’m a girl!!!” – Lark, aged 35 months

My daughter is an animal.

As I write this, she’s lounging on the couch in her undies, eating cream cheese straight out of the container. With her hands.

In some ways, she’s right. She’s not a human being just yet. She’s a toddler. Toddlers are really teeny wild beasts that we adults have to mould into full-fledged humans. Homo sapiens have all of these great ideas; like manners, culture, inventions, et cetera, et cetera. These are the things that set us apart from the other animals, yes?

As a result, from the second our offspring are born, we begin the process of trying to teach them the rules around this humanity stuff. To start with: don’t hit, don’t yank things away from other kids, say please, keep your clothes on in public, bathe at regular intervals, don’t pick your nose, eat nicely, and so on.

Lark’s had a very different kind of childhood from my son; one that has allowed her many freedoms that he never had. Because of this, I’m more inclined to let her spend a bit more time being an animal. She’s got the rest of her life to be a human.

On some fronts, she’s already well ahead of the game. She’s ridiculously polite. She seems to come by it naturally, without ever having been prodded to say please or thank you. She’ll say things like, “Thank you for making us such a lovely dinner, Daddy.” Or, “I’m so glad you bought me a ballet skirt Mummy, thank you SO MUCH!”

Unlike most other parents, Craig and I haven’t  focused too much on the manners end of things. Frankly, we’ve had bigger fish to fry than to remind our son to say please at every juncture. We model good manners (mostly) but don’t insist upon them. But we’ve ended up with one kid who makes rude demands and forgets his thank-yous, and another who acts like she’s attended an etiquette seminar for preschoolers.

However, in some other aspects of her journey to becoming a full-time human, she’s definitintely still a wild thing. Since the time Lark figured out how to get her clothes off on her own, she’s almost always nude at home. She just finds clothes unnecessary and restrictive. She peels her offending garments off, shouting, “I just want to be mak-ed!” accompanied by the cutest bum wiggle. She literally has no shame. AND NOR SHOULD SHE BECAUSE SHE’S TWO. The rest of the world, for various reasons, feel that she should be properly clothed. Admittedly, as the months have passed, and she approaches the wise old age of three, she’s started to become less likely to strip off in public, which is a relief, as I don’t have to field the looks-like-you’ve-got-a-nudist-on-your-hands comments from passers-by.

I don’t have any issues with her running around rudie-nudies 24-7. But secretly, I fear I’m failing her in the bathing department. Oh, she loves having a bath or shower. She’s not noticeably smelly, with flies revolving around her head or anything.

But. She despises getting her hair washed. Like screaming, kicking, tries to climb out of the bath hates it. This has been going on since forever. I now have a mild case of PTSD in relation to washing her hair. I’m surprised that no one has called emergency services to our door because of the sheer volume of hair-washing screams.

None of us need that kind of stress in our lives, so what ends up happening is that the hair wash doesn’t. Happen, that is.

You don’t want to know how long we go between washes. Her hair always looks amazing, a kind of silky golden baby-curl that salons the world over would love to replicate. Maybe there’s something to be said for not washing your hair, like, ever?

And just when you think something’s going to continue the same way for the rest of your life, your kids go and change or grow up or become a little more human. Last night, after writing this, when she was in the bath, I asked her if I could wash her hair.

“Sure!” she said. Amazingly.

“Really?” I asked, holding the shower a decent distance away from her head.

“Yes,” she said firmly. “But no shampoo.”

Baby steps.

When Things Go Wrong

I’m having one of those weeks.

One of those is obviously code for somewhat crappy.

Monday morning, as I was getting the bikes out of the shed to take the kid to school, Bean suddenly piped up behind me, “I hate to tell you this, Mum, but there’s something really furry up there on that shelf.” A quick glance revealed a raccoon, curled up in a ball, sleeping. If you are not from Canada, you may not understand why this was an annoying discovery. Raccoons are cute, nocturnal, territorial, destructive and hard to get rid of.  With a sigh, I ignored the fuzz-ball and left for school.

Tuesday, I learned that we have signs of termites in our house. “Not a major infestation,” the inspector informed me. Ugh. Isn’t any kind of infestation bad news? We are in the midst of home renos, a time during which it is important to remain very, very calm even in the face of termites. “Hmmm, okay,” I said, very, very calmly. Then he handed me a quote for several thousand dollars worth of termite-termination.

The next day I got a text from my contractor, telling me my cheque had bounced. “Hmmm, okay,” I texted back. Further investigation revealed this was due to bank ineptitude and was resolved the same day. Phew.

Later on that day, as I was about to sit down for a picnic in the park with friends, my phone rang. It was my son’s school. “Bean’s not feeling well,” said the secretary. With a sigh, I collected him. We’d organized an appointment at the hospital that afternoon which I’d rather hoped he could keep, but in the end had to cancel.

Which brings us to today. This morning at the park, I saved my daughter from an almost epic bail off the climber, which left me breathless and shaking with adrenaline. This afternoon, I didn’t manage to save her as she tripped in Rowe Farms and slammed the side of her face into the corner of the counter. And this evening, I locked her in the car.

Yes, you read that right. I locked her in the car and had no way to open it.

Here’s how this went down: I’d organized with my sister to babysit my two, while I got a hair cut this evening, and we agreed to get takeout from a place we both like.

Before her arrival with my niece, I cajoled Lark into hopping in the car to drive over to pick up the food, and was chuffed to get a parking spot right out the front of the restaurant.

Food secured, we returned to the vehicle, and that’s when the shenanigans began.

Of late, my daughter is a total imp when it comes to buckling up. She decides she wants to sit in her brother’s booster. She climbs into the front and starts playing with the high-beams. She wriggles her little body in such a way that I cannot, for the life of me, do up the clips of her seat-belt. I’m torn between hilarity and frustration, dying to laugh but also trying to keep a stern face as I bark at her to GET INTO HER SEAT. Usually, there are threats. No Paw Patrol. Daddy’s doing bedtime for the rest of the week, etc. Generally, these don’t work.

Tonight, she scampered into the driver’s seat and started pressing every single button she could lay her little hands on. Most of the time, this means that when I start the car I’ll be turning off the windshield wipers and turn signal. I should also add that our car is old and low-tech, so this isn’t really that big of a deal.

Often, my biggest concern is the time-crunch. I’m standing there, waiting for her to decide she’s done playing, as the minutes tick by, and suddenly that comfortable 15-minute buffer to get wherever we have to be, has dwindled away. Then I have to resort to brute force, which I hate.

This evening, I watched her manipulate the steering wheel and jab her finger repeatedly on the hazards. I made a few attempts to lure her into the back seat, “Auntie will be waiting for us.” “Aren’t you hungry? It’s almost time for dinner!”

Finally, after this went on for ten minutes, she climbed out of the driver’s seat, got in her seat and allowed her clips to be done up without fighting me. I immediately felt that parental wash of relief that you get when your wild-card child is contained in a way which prevents them from engaging in any more silliness.

I closed her door and marched around to the driver’s side. The door was locked. A shot of sheer panic went through me. Naturally, I checked the other doors, just to be sure, knowing that they were also locked. She had locked them in her button-pushing frenzy. And had put the car keys on the passenger seat along with the food and my wallet.

As with home renos, in these situations, it’s important to remain very, very calm. My daughter called to me through the window, but wasn’t upset at all. Yet.

Quickly I assessed the situation. I needed the second set of car keys. They were at home. My sister was on her way there. I pulled out my phone. If this was the movies, my phone battery would’ve been flat. But it’s real-life, so I had 20% charge left. I called her and rapidly explained the situation. She was stuck in traffic, far from us and still at least half an hour away. Damn.

My next thought was CAA. I called their helpline and began listening to elevator music while a soothing voice informed me that they were experiencing a higher than normal volume of calls.  The same voice also told me to hang up and call 911 if this was an emergency. Was this an emergency? I wasn’t sure.

I was starting to not feel very, very calm.

I could see now why parents go mental in these situations. I thought back to how my mother had famously chopped the bathroom door down with an axe when my sister locked herself in there at the age of 3, and stopped responding to questioning. She was fine. The door was not so fine.

Suddenly, a light-bulb appeared above my head. I have neighbours! Neighbours who might be home and whom I can call! Rapidly, I pulled up my friend J’s number and rang it. She answered! She was home! She had her car there! She grabbed her daughter and they ran across to our house. I guided her to our hidden key and to where the extra set of car keys was. She was on her way.

The solution was approaching. I continued to smile and wave at Lark.  She kept smiling back. I resisted the urge to find something heavy and smash the window open.

A few minutes later, J and her daughter appeared and joined me and another friend who’d happened to be passing by. We unlocked the car and opened the door. Everyone cheered. Bemused, my daughter looked at all of us surrounding her.

It felt strange to not immediately take her out of her seat, but it had only been 15 minutes. Waving goodbye to our saviours, I drove home, and then took her out of her seat and held her.

I held her so tightly, thankful that it wasn’t a hot day. Thankful that I have great neighbours. Thankful that if I had needed to, I could’ve called 911 and help would have been there in a minute.

 

 

 

Screen-Free Sundays

A few weeks back, I was hiding in my bedroom, trying to find ways to free up storage on my phone, which had reached capacity and was in a feeble state. I heard Bean looking for me around the house, while I continued tapping away at my device, in stealth mode.

“Mum! Muuuuum. Where are you?” He bounced into my room and saw me holding my phone. “Hey!” he said accusingly. “Isn’t this supposed to be screen-free Sunday?”

It was. It was our very first screen-free Sunday – a family initiative that I had announced to general groans the previous week. The other household members were doing pretty well with this new thing, but I was failing miserably at it, as I just needed to do one more thing on my phone. All the time.

“What IS a screen-free day?” you might ask. There are a few iterations on this theme: screen-free weeks, social media detoxes, screen breaks, etc. Basically, it means taking a break, (of some pre-determined period) from screens in all their forms. Phones, iPads, TVs, video games, and so on. I knew that a screen-free week wasn’t realistic for our family, but I imagined that a full Sunday would be a refreshing break from being nose-down in some sort of tech all the time.

The first thing that I hoped to gain from it was to back my daughter off of her Paw Patrol habit. Every morning, she asks to watch Paw Patrol before she even eats breakfast. Even though we have a hard and fast rule that we don’t watch any TV before school. I know why she thinks I’ll suddenly relent though, because to be honest, depending on the day, I sometimes allow her to watch 2 or 3 episodes in a row – in the afternoon. This is usually when I’m desperate to get something done and having her absorbed in a show is a welcome break from the unceasing two-year-old-ness.

The last few Sundays have been kinda great when the kids have wanted to watch some telly, and we could be all, Sorry, no, it’s screen-free Sunday. And they were like, Awwwww, okaaaaaay. On the flip side, after the kids went to bed, Craig and I realized that we couldn’t watch our show on Netflix either because…it’s screen-free Sunday. So, one Sunday night, I ended up reading a chapter of The Magician’s Nephew with Bean and then fell asleep. At 9:45. For once, I got 8 hours of sleep instead of my usual 6.5.

Realistically though, the kids’ TV habits are the least of my problems. The world and the technology we now use daily is so different from what it was even 10 years ago. About a month ago, Lark called me over to where she was playing. “Do you want to watch a video on my phone?” she asked me, holding up her hot pink plastic smartphone. Thankfully, it doesn’t light up or make noise, except in her imagination.

“Sure!” I said. “Who’s in this video?” “Me and Ginger,” she said. “See?” She tapped the fake screen with one small finger. We both pretended to watch it for a moment, and then she moved on to a different game. On another occasion, she brought the phone over to me and asked, “Shall we FaceTime with Bubby?” Almost every day, she – relentlessly – asks to look at photos on my phone, play iPad, watch children’s clips on YouTube or check out videos of her and her brother.

These are the realities our children are growing up with. Hundreds of videos and photos of themselves to view whenever they like. Every episode of every show that they love on demand. All of their video games available to play for as long as they want. None of this pay-25-cents-then-you-die crap that we grew up with.

As much as I may lament, or at the very least, ponder the implications of all of this for my kids, the next obvious question is: What about the adults? 

What’s happening to all of the grown-ups who spend more time each day doing stuff on their phones than, well, anything else? Who did my daughter learn from that a smartphone is such an endlessly fascinating device?

Recently, on the same topic, I heard an interesting interview on CBC Radio’s The Current, with Adam Alter, the author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked. Alter explores how addictive technologies like social media can be destructive to our human interactions, and also what we can do to create some distance from them.

Personally speaking, I’m completely addicted to my phone, and I’m well aware of that. Hence, screen-free Sundays. I’m sure that many of you can relate to that feeling, half-panic, half-despair, that you have when you think you’ve left your phone at home. And then the consequent rush of relief when you realize it’s actually in your bag. I don’t even want one of those apps that tells you how many times a day you’ve looked at your phone or whatnot. Because, yeah, it’s a lot.

I’m not making an argument for chucking our phones out and returning to Morse code and carrier pigeons. The Internet is amazing and I can’t imagine living without it. Our devices enable so much ease in our lives, as one Sunday when I used my phone to book an Uber to go to my parents’ house for my niece’s birthday party. I’m trying, though, to create a little mindfulness around using it, rather than picking it up all the time as an instinctive, knee-jerk reaction to boredom. My husband and I mock each other when one of us pauses a show to get a drink, and the other immediately picks up his/her phone, because the Lord knows we can’t be alone with our thoughts for an entire minute and a half.

Okay, we do bend the rules of screen-free Sunday for certain things: when we need to Skype Australia, check the weather, quickly reply to a text message, or order an Uber as mentioned above. If we are doing something memorable, then we’ll use our phones to take photos. And quickly post them to Facebook or Instagram. Just kidding. I do that on Mondays.

For the most part though, we have to pick up the phone, not get distracted by it, and complete the task at hand. Sundays make us more thoughtful about using screens. We all have to find other things to do, together and alone, so we’ve been doing more reading and playing games. And even better, getting more sleep.

During that 20-minute Uber ride to north Toronto, I couldn’t sit there and scroll through various feeds, or text people, or put things in my calendar, or whatever it is I do all the time on my phone, so I chose instead to stare out the window and just be. My driver was skimming through an oldies playlist, and I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos came on. Spring sunshine was streaming in, I was relishing the quiet of being alone without a small person clambering on me, and I had one of those dreamy moments where a song on the radio becomes the perfect soundtrack to your day. Everything seems to blur around you, as you really notice a song for the first time, although you’ve heard it many times before.

With my phone in my hand, that moment would have been lost.

Or captured forever on Instagram. #uberselfie #theflamingos #bestsongever

 

For more on this topic:

http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/spark/segment/12390509

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-may-15-2017-1.4112604/why-technology-is-addictive-and-what-to-do-about-it-1.4112606

http://adamalterauthor.com/irresistible/

 

 

 

Rifle Celebration

We’ve all been on the receiving end of nosy questions from perfect strangers. Right? Personally, my life is a mostly-open book – I mean, I write a blog about me and my family that is read by actual dozens of people, so obviously I’m not averse to sharing. But, even I have wondered what is going through other people’s heads when they inquire about some intimate detail.

In the age of the overshare, there are still some things you just shouldn’t ask other people – particularly, strangers. We’ll start things off with the basic stats: “How much do you weigh?” “How old are you?” “Have you ever had plastic surgery?”  Fact-seeking inquiries all, yet questions about our physical properties are considered rude by most people over the age of 12.

Moving on, direct questioning about finances: “How much money do you make?” No need to elaborate. For most of us “not enough” suffices as a response.

So, those are bad. But what’s the absolute worst question you can ask someone? You know. If you’re a woman, you know. The worst. Wait for it. Drumroll. Ready?

Are you pregnant?

I hope I’ve never actually asked anyone this. I tend to err way on the side of caution on this one, even when I’ve just encountered a woman rubbing her giant watermelon belly, and lamenting her cankles, I probably won’t bring it up unless she does. Because, what if she has some insane glandular condition or similar? What if – gasp – she is pregnant but she’s one of those women who doesn’t know that she’s pregnant, until she goes to the hospital and the doctors inform her that it hasn’t been digestive trouble but in fact a small human that’s been bothering her all of these months? (You may laugh but I’ve known in my lifetime two women that this has happened to.)

I have an unfortunate amount of personal experience in fielding the are-you-pregnant query, which is why it’s my policy to keep my mouth shut when faced with a suspiciously rotund abdomen. If Possibly Pregnant is a friend of mine, she’ll eventually tell me in good time. She has her own reasons for keeping it quiet. And if she isn’t a friend of mine, then, obviously, it’s just none of my business, is it?

I’ve been asked this question a total of three times. The first time was definitely insulting, but not meant to be hurtful. Perhaps I’d been eating a lot of bread? The inquirer genuinely thought that I had that special glow. In fact, being pregnant was THE furthest thing from my mind or uterus.

The second time broke my heart. I found myself walking away from the person who asked me, with tears in my eyes. This, I thought. This is why you don’t ask.

The third instance – which was actually the second time – was a communication breakdown of the finest calibre.

Long ago, when I taught ESL for a living, I’d just started working at a private language school in downtown Toronto. The majority of the classes there were mixed-demographic, meaning that the students came from all over the world and ranged in age from teens to retirees. Because of that, teaching these classes was challenging, but a lot of fun. Throw some Brazilians, Koreans, a smattering of Europeans and a couple of Saudis in a classroom together and hi-jinks will inevitably ensue.

A couple of weeks after I’d started there, a school group of teenage girls arrived from Japan. For reasons unknown, the director decided not to disperse these students amongst the regular classes, but to segregate them in a group of their own for the few weeks of their stay. As the newest hire, I was volunteered to teach this group of giggling school-girls, who were around 16 years old. And they were quiet. Very, very quiet.

I was tasked with teaching them to speak English, but getting them to actually form words proved to be a formidable task. My most “fun” lesson plans crashed and burned, and without the usual different nationalities to balance things out, our Conversation classes resounded with the gentle chirping of crickets.

One day, I mentioned in passing that I was engaged. This information galvanized my class. They actually applauded. They wanted to know everything about my future husband and our wedding plans. This was the most I’d heard from them in weeks.

As we chatted, I noticed one of the girls saying something to the friend next to her in Japanese. Nodding in agreement, they whipped out their electronic dictionaries and consulted them. Those dictionaries were a useful piece of technology. However, much like Google Translate, they were also prone to errors. Subtleties or levels of appropriateness were lost.  Earlier that year, one of my students was horrified by my reaction – uncontrollable laughter – when he’d used the word horny to describe his hands after a weekend spent doing yard-work. A more accurate translation might have been rough or callused, yes?

At any rate, the girls put their heads together and came up with something they wanted to ask me. Calling me over, one of them looked up at me, smiling and asked hesitantly, “You and your fiancé…um,” and here she paused, pointed at the dictionary and read out the words, “Shotgun wedding?

It took me a moment to twig to what she was asking.

Then I realized that she thought I was pregnant. I flashed through several emotions in quick succession ranging from irritation to amusement – I mean, it’s hilarious, right, SHOTGUN WEDDING?? I could only turn to her and simply say, “No. I’m not.” She blushed beet to her hairline and gasped out an apology between giggles. I imagine that the phrase she chose in Japanese was rather more polite than the English translation, which conjures up images of a rifle-totin’ dad forcibly marching his future son-in-law to the altar.

Nothing more was said. I was used to students from other cultures thinking that I was fat, so I let it go. During the break, I relayed this story to my co-workers, who fell off their chairs laughing whilst examining my stomach for signs of a baby bump.

The girls eventually went home to Japan, hopefully to go on to even more scintillating English conversations like the ones we had together.

For a little while, shotgun wedding became code amongst the teachers for any communication snafu or epic lesson-fail.

If you’ve read to the end of this tale, here’s a simple infographic on the topic to take with you: