Friday, 23 December 2011

Giving

I sit here, shopping done, house decorated, gifts wrapped, Christmas dinner prepped and ready to go in the oven at dawn (or whatever the hell time it is that cooking starts- Jason does all that. I serve booze and make gravy). I am ready. Bring it on.

Given a few minutes of down time, I have a chance to appreciate what Christmas is and how grateful I am. I think a lot about gratitude at Christmas. Our kids are spoiled rotten every year, always getting a few things they desperately want, a few things they didn't know they wanted, and a few things they didn't really want (Underwear. Every year. Love, Santa.) Jason and I usually get each other a bunch of stuff we don't need, and we can shop for our relatives without having to worry overly much about the budget.

It wasn't always like this.

Our first Christmas after Isaiah was born was hideous. He was an August baby, and I had gone back to work at the beginning of December. I felt like the worst mother on the planet. Jason was doing on-call snow removal at $127.50 every two weeks. He wanted to pick up a few shifts somewhere else, but since we couldn't predict the snow, we couldn't always predict when he'd be available for other work, and that generally doesn't go over well with employers. However, the money he made in the summer from that landscaping job was good enough to make it worth sucking it up in the winter. When you added Jason's income to my $165 unemployment cheque every two weeks, it meant I had to go back to work. On the up side, McDonald's was close to the house, so I didn't have to scrape up money for a bus pass.

We were miserable. We were 19, COMPLETELY broke, and had a new baby we couldn't afford. Formula was too expensive, so I was pumping bottles for him before I left each night for work. We could barely afford diapers, had been to the food bank more than once in the last 4 months, and aside from the McDonald's leftovers at the end of the night, had no real source of protein.

We resented each other, and (this was the worst part) we resented Isaiah. We were barely speaking, and if we could have afforded to split up, we would have. I hated that I had ruined my life, that I had been trapped by pregnancy in a doomed relationship, and that my mother was disappointed in me. I despised that when I was out walking with Isaiah, people stared (I still looked about 13 years old), but it didn't matter, because I couldn't stand leaving the apartment anyway. I hated that Jason and I were spending Christmas apart (not knowing how to fix the tension or figure out the arrangements for Christmas with my newly single mom and his widowed mom, we decided to go to our separate ways for the holidays), because I figured it would probably be our last Christmas together.

We had no money for gifts. None. We had no money for food, rent, cable, phone, or electricity, so Christmas had sunk so far down our list that it didn't even register. We'd each scraped together something so we could buy our moms some crappy gift, but that was it. The only small consolation was that Isaiah was too young to remember how bad this would suck. I tried to keep it from our friends and family how truly, disgustingly AWFUL things were, but it's hard to put on a brave face when you're screaming inside.

Someone figured it out.

On the 20th of December, our doorbell rang. There was no snow that day, so Jason was home. He was in the living room, avoiding me, and I was in the bedroom with the baby, avoiding him.

I answered the door, and there was a box. A giant, big box, and my mom standing behind it. She couldn't possibly have carried the thing in there herself.

"I don't know what it is," she answered when I asked her what was going on, "they just needed a key to get it to your front door. I know who it's from, but I'll never tell you, so don't ask. Merry Christmas!" And off she went (scampered?).

We dragged the box into the apartment and opened it up.

Oh. My. God.

The top layer of the box had a new shirt and sweater for Jason, a new shirt and sweater for me, and a set of sleepers and some outfits for Isaiah. There were baby toys, a package of diapers, and baby wipes. There were new books for both of us (we are HUGE readers- it was like giving an addict some heroin- our eyes kept drifting back to them), and a set of dishtowels. And underneath, there were cans. Cans and cans of BRAND NAME food- not the crappy stuff people donate to the Food Bank. There was a frozen turkey, and boxes of Stove Top stuffing (we have used it religiously since- it will for ever and always be my favourite stuffing). There were fruits, and vegetables, and boxes of juice. There was a carton of milk, and a tin of coffee. There was a thing of eggnog, and a frozen pumpkin pie. And at the very bottom, there was a $50 gift certificate to Safeway. Fifty dollars. I had NEVER spent that much on groceries at once.

We stared at the contents of this box, stunned at the generosity it involved. We had new clothes, which we hadn't been able to buy in a year. Isaiah had a gift to open, even if it wasn't from us, and we have that silver rattle to this day. We had more food that we knew what to do with (even though we had no idea how to cook any of it), and we had the guarantee of MORE groceries in the near future (we intended to save the gift card, but the excitement of shopping overwhelmed us and we went first thing the next morning).

I started to sob. I'm crying now as I write this.

It wasn't just gifts and food. It was enough generosity to take an increasingly heavy burden off our shoulders for a few days so that we could breathe. It was the reassurance that although people wanted us to succeed on our own, that we would never be completely forgotten. It was a reminder that however badly we screwed up, someone still loved us. It was recognition that we were trying as hard as we could, and appreciation for the effort.

It was a giant box of hope.

I looked up to see Jason putting things away in the cupboards (some of them had never actually held anything before), tears rolling silently down his face. He would never have admitted it, but that box meant everything to him too.

We set aside our tension, and bitterness, and anger. We put everything away, and cooked a giant (with some telephone advice from both moms) Christmas dinner. We sat in the living room afterwards, full, and happy, and watched our 4 month old ignore his rattle.

We sent a thank you card, signed by both of us (and chewed by Isaiah), and mom promised to deliver it to the right people. We still don't know who sent the box, but we're grateful. Maybe we would have made it through the holidays anyway, and maybe we would still be together today, but I truly believe that moments like that forge bonds that may never otherwise exist.  We have celebrated 17 Christmases since then, and have added three more children to the circle on the floor around the tree. And that first Christmas is the one we talk about.

Not knowing who was behind it made it even better. When you're that low, and that broken, the last thing you sometimes want to do is look into the eyes of your benefactor, no matter how badly you needed the help. It's a reminder that you aren't measuring up. I know that's how I would have felt.

So this Christmas, help someone. Give something. Give time, or money, or food, or love. Pay off someone's Christmas layaway plan. Shovel the neighbour's walk. Put your paycheque into a Sally Ann kettle. Buy the coffee of the guy behind you in line. Do whatever you can, in whatever way you can. But do it anonymously.

And to the person or people who put together that miracle for us so many years ago, that 3 foot by 3 foot box saved our Christmas.

And it probably saved our family.

Thank you again.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Fail

Fail.

Everything I have done over the past 24 hours is a total fail.

Last night I:

Promised the most wonderful person in the world that I would get my husband (who is on the board of directors of our housing co-op) to sign a packet of very important stuff that she dropped off so she could grab it this morning & then completely forgot to tell him about it, thereby screwing up her day today.

Got so annoyed at my baby because she WILL NOT QUIT SCREAMING that we ran out of patience and put her to bed without putting on her pyjamas because we couldn't stand her anymore and she kicked off all her blankets over the course of the night and woke up this morning with approximately the same body temperature as a frozen turkey. 

Told my youngest son to "Please, just shut UP!!!!!" because his stories take 3 years to tell and there's no point anyway, and I just wanted to finish watching the "Survivor" finale that we had already paused 442 times and now he is telling everyone else to shut up. 

A few weeks ago, Liz qualified for the Team Calgary wrestling team at the Alberta Winter Games next February (GO, Liz!!!!!), and because she is a stellar athlete and had also made the school senior basketball team, and the basketball games are at the same time as the Team Calgary wrestling practices, we told her she'd have to choose one or the other so as not to take up a space on the team that could be given to someone who could commit to being at all the games and she was hysterical (What? You’re good at too many things and it makes you sad? Some people have acne or missing limbs, and some have no friends and no food. This is not a big deal.) and I made a nasty comment about her sense of entitlement and sent her to bed. (Note- school principal has since called and asked that I let her play anyway, because she came to him today to quit the team and he promised he would talk to her mother, so she will be missing all the games, but will be playing in tournaments and playoffs, so the lesson I was trying to impart was lost anyway).

Called my husband a name so foul I can't even type it because he went to bed and left his spaghetti plate out and half full Tim Horton's on the end table, and I am apparently expected to clean up after him.

And this morning I:

Caused Eva to have yet ANOTHER temper tantrum because I dared to put coat, hat, mitts & boots on her (the snow pants weren’t worth it), and clothing makes her angry. 

Spilled my coffee down the front of my 'It weighs 378546 pounds and takes 6 months to dry if I wash it' heavy winter sweater. 

Fell off the front steps (apparently they're icy) and am pretty sure I have sprained my wrist. 

And discovered I accidentally unplugged the deep freeze when I cleaned the basement on Sunday night and everything in there (including Christmas dinner) is a write off, and that's what I get for shopping early and getting all my ingredients early and prepping them and freezing them and cleaning the basement, which I had been putting off for weeks and weeks and weeks and finally couldn't ignore anymore.

My goal is to get through the rest of my day without suffering any more injuries or accidentally killing someone else, then I will curl up on the couch, eat the two turkeys and a giant ham and 8 loves of bread that have survived the destruction in my deep freeze, but are now thawed and need to be consumed, and cry myself to sleep.

Please send booze.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Update To The Previous...

My mom called me today, howling, to tell me she read the last blog ('Why I Am The Way I Am').

She explained (through shrieks of laughter and tears of mirth) that she remembers the entire incident like it was yesterday (having previously forgotten all about it), and it seems, after seeing it written down in black & white, that the 'drug dog' scenario may have been a somewhat silly idea after all.

Ah, the sweet, sweet taste of vindication....

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Why I Am The Way I Am

When the big kids were really little and we lived in the condo, we used to have Isaiah's birthday parties outside. The yard was the size of a postage stamp, but it was still bigger than the whole inside of my house smashed together and rolled out flat. Besides, outside gave us adults the opportunity to get really drunk on cheap booze and play rousing games of volleyball with the balloons after my mom and grandparents left.

Anyway, this one birthday party, we're all sitting there, chatting it up, and all of a sudden a GIANT German Shepherd walks in through the gate and sits himself down in the middle of the party and helps himself to a slice of (ridiculously good) birthday cake.

I try not to argue with German Shepherds, ever, so I sat there, quietly fuming, until about 5 minutes later when his owner sauntered over from the bagel place across the street, looked at her dog and the cake, and says,

"Oh- look! He had some cake!"

And walks out the gate with her (much less hungry) dog, not a word of apology spilling from her lips.

My mom was talking to my Grandma (she was awesome, and I miss her to this day, but together, she and mom came up with some WEIRD stuff) about it later, and between the two of them, they decided that it must have been a drug-sniffing dog, sent in by the cops to investigate the party and look for cocaine (Really? You couldn't even credit me with something soft? You had to go straight for the hard stuff?), and when he didn't find any drugs (in the cake???), they left.

Anyone else would have thought that the dog had finished eating his (ill-mannered) owner's bag of recently purchased bagels and had come over for dessert.

When I pointed out that the police don't just send drug sniffing dogs at random into small children's birthday parties, and that there is generally some prior reason for doing it, she refused to back down. Her mind was made up. She wondered about my neighbours.

This is why I'm twitchy.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Hookers and Hit & Runs

A hooker once hit my car.

No joke.

I'm sure she was a very nice lady, but she worked some pretty odd shifts and had some impulse control problems. This does not make for a cautious, defensive driver.

Right after Liz was born, when we were living in our 'slightly less skanky than the downstairs one' upstairs apartment (see my post 'On Poverty'), we figured we were in an ok area. It wasn't GREAT- it was one of the small apartments by the old Ernest Manning High School normally rented by teenagers with babies (Huh. Go figger.), but we didn't think the neighborhood was all THAT bad.

Until one night, the phone rang at about 2 a.m.

When I answered it, a woman identified herself as Constable Whasserpickle, and told me my car had been involved in a hit and run. Because we have friends and family with some seriously warped senses of humor, I politely told her to go back to her beer & hung up the phone.

Ring, ring.

Now I was irritated. I picked up the phone, and in my very best 'I'm bigger than you and I have a stick' voice, told her that if she woke up either of our kids with her screwing around, she could come up here and put them back to sleep herself. At which point she (in her best 'I'm bigger than you and I have a stick AND a gun' voice) informed me that no, she really WAS Constable Whasserpickle, and my car really HAD been involved in a hit and run.

"That's impossible," I told her, "it's outside."

"Yeah." she said. "Yours was the 'hit' part."

Come ON!!! Why couldn't we just catch a break??? That Dodge Aries had cost us at LEAST $20 to buy from my aunt (Ok- she charged us $1- I'm a compulsive liar), and was the first car we'd owned together. And now you're telling me it was destroyed in full view of my front door???

I told Jason what had happened, and while he stood staring out the window, I dressed quickly and ran downstairs.

Constable Whasserpickle met me at the front door and walked me over to my car, which, to my INTENSE relief, had a broken taillight, and no other perceptible damage (good deal, too- we could only afford PL & PD). The mint condition classic Trans-Am behind me, however, which had been pushed into my car by the truck that had done all the damage, had fared much less well. It was still a Trans-Am. It was just....... shorter.

The truck that had inflicted all the pain on our poor, defenseless vehicles was sitting all catterwonky in the middle of the intersection down the street, with the paddywagon pulled up beside it.

I turned to my neighbor, the owner of the Trans-Am, to tell him how sorry I was about his car, when I noticed he was laughing.

Like HOWLING.

Like he was leaning on his hood and tears were rolling down his cheeks.

And that's when I noticed the police officer chuckling. And then I saw the OTHER neighbor, handcuffed and on the ground, swearing like a drunken sailor with Tourette’s Syndrome.

Turns out, one of the guys who lived in the apartment building next door to us had rented some companionship for the evening. It seems that at the end of the night, he realized he had no money to pay the tab (remember- he lived in our neighborhood. I'm surprised she didn't ask for cash up front. Or at least do a credit check), and she decided to take his truck as.... collateral. She hit him over the head with a bottle of booze (which I can only assume was a 1787 Chateau Lafitte or a 1951 Grange Hermitage), grabbed the keys out of his pants’ pocket (which were apparently not on his person where they should have been), and took off out the door, kicking him in the nether regions as she went past.

Luckily, the woman's thought processes were so slowed by the evening’s consumption of fine wine, rare cheeses and innocent fun that our saintly neighbor had enough time to regain consciousness, dress himself, and (here's the best part) CALL 911, before she made it to the end of the block (ricocheting off other vehicles like the little metal ball in a pinball machine).

At this point she abandoned the effort in the middle of the intersection (perhaps she hadn’t taken driver’s ed classes at AMA), switched off the truck, crawled into the back, and fell asleep. When the cops got there, good neighbor was standing out front, angrier than hell at this violation of his civic right and personal property, and she was having a nice nap on a pile of painter's tarps in the bed of the truck.

Never let anyone tell you that you live in a bad neighborhood.

Make them prove it.

Monday, 12 December 2011

It Can't Just Be Easy

The other day while I was at Superstore loading up on groceries, I put the final bag into the van, slammed the hatch and noticed someone had stolen the 2012 registration sticker off my license plate. Seriously? Isn't that a lot of work? I don't know about any of you, but that struck me as FAR too much work to be worth it. I am pretty sure those suckers, with glue adapted for Alberta weather, don't peel off all that easily.

I drove home, fuming, and told Jason about it as we unloaded the groceries.

"Well," he said, with an odd look on his face, "are you sure you remembered to put the stickers ON the cars when you re-registered them in November?"

When I re-registered them???

Shit.

So the next day, as I bundled and loaded my kids up to drive to the Registries Office by our place, desperately praying I wasn't followed closely enough by a cop who might NOTICE that my van's plates had expired 9 days previously, I went to grab the information out of our other car so I could take care of them both at the same time.

This is where it got difficult.

For the life of me, I could not find the pink insurance slip for our Saturn. It wasn't in any of the places I expected it to be (namely, the glove box, the glove box, or possibly, down the back of the glove box), and it wasn't anywhere on the floor. After 20 fruitless minutes, I called Jason at work to see if he had any idea where it was, and in a little bit of a startled voice, he says,

"Huh. It's in my wallet. I have it right here. I wonder why??? But don't worry about it, because I seem to remember that last year you couldn't register that car anyway, because the registration is in my name."

Oh, yeah. Now that he mentioned it, I remembered that, too. At least it took the sting out of the fact that, for no good reason, he was carrying the insurance slip around with him. I locked the van doors, and moved the car into our parking spot, where at least it wouldn't (because this is the way our luck runs) get hit on the street in the next 6 hours and I would get a zillion dollar ticket for having an unregistered vehicle out there, and my insurance company wouldn't cover the damage.

After finally getting to the mall up the hill from us (having promised my younger children a trip to McDonald's, as neither of them were overly excited about the opportunity to stand in line for 3 days with nothing to do), I realized that the gas light was on in the van. No big deal- I would register the van, get gas, get McDonald's for the little kids, and still be back home in time to appreciate part of my day.

I reached into the glove box, grabbed my little folder (containing all the pertinent info, cause that's how you're SUPPOSED to do it) out of the van, un-car-seated the kids, and walked in. Score- there WAS no line up! The time I would be wasting getting gas had been magically redeemed to me! How often does THAT happen?

I stripped the kids out of their winter coats to their 'the heat in a public building is up far too high because winter is starting' layer, and walked up to give the lady my registration and pink slip (explaining sheepishly that I had forgotten all about it). As I pulled my driver's license out of my wallet for her, I realized I had no bank card.

We do everything in cash, and don't use credit cards. Years ago, we figured out how much we were spending on bank fees with both of us constantly going to the bank machine, and cut up one of our bank cards and now existed with just the single one. It halved our service charges, but created many an irritating surprise. Like now. I was going to have to come back.

"We also take cheques, Visa or MasterCard!" chirped the clerk.

Awesome- I knew I had a check left in the car from the last time Liz had to sell something and I wrote a check to cover it (because, as we only use one bank card and are inherently lazy, Jason and I had spent most of the cash she had collected for her poinsettia sales rather than go to a bank machine. Thanks for nothing, Gail Vaz-Oxlade.)

I bundled the little kids back up into their winter coats and ran to the van- yep- there it was- one check, slightly wrinkled, with barely a coffee stain to be seen. I smoothed it out, grabbed the little kids & ran back in, only to see the clerk with a sympathetic expression on her face.

"I can't do it." she said. "The only name on your insurance card is your husband's. It needs to show both your names. I can only re-register the vehicle to the person on the insurance."

"Seriously?" I asked, "Ok- can he come in and register it when he comes in to do his car later?"

"Nope!" she crowed gleefully, "The van is registered under your name, so it can only be you that does it! You'll have to call your insurance company and get them to fax a copy of a pink slip with both your names on it before we can help you!"

I sat the kids down on chairs to wait while I called our insurance company, gave Eva my keys, and handed Squid a piece of pocket gum (You know the stuff that's been in your pocket since probably last winter and is hard and crunchy and you have to chew it for about 10 minutes before it's even really gum??? That's pocket gum. Since it takes them longer to chew it, it takes them longer to lose interest and swallow it. That's why I gave it to him. Not because I didn't want to go back out to the van. That would be silly.)

I got my insurance agent on the phone, who, it having been at least 6 months since last I spoke to them, was not the same guy I had talked to last time, and had no idea who I was and had to look me up in a verrrrrrrry sloooooooow computer system, and proceeded to announce that although I was listed as the primary driver on one of the vehicles, and a secondary driver on the other, my name had been dropped from the actual ownership of the policy for no damn good reason. They could fix it, sure. But it was his lunchtime, and until he could get ahold of the correct people (who, it would appear, were ALSO at lunch), he couldn't do anything about it. Could he fax or email the right slips to me in, oh, say, an hour???

Even the registries clerk felt bad. And this is a person TRAINED to make your life more difficult at every turn.

This trip was a lost cause. It was easier anyway, cause I really DIDN'T want to write a cheque for 84 bucks. I was going to keep my composure, and accept it for what it was. I re-re-RE-bundled the kids up and went back out to the van, only to realize when I turned it on that the gas light was still lit, and I probably wasn't going to make it home on what few fumes I had left in the tank.

I ripped apart the ashtray and glove box, the back seat where my eldest children sit, and the pockets in the door and came up with $8.32. Good enough. It would get me home and I wouldn't have to stop for gas again till my NEXT trip to the registries place that night. I ran into the gas station to give the clerk my pocket change, and went out to the van (Quick note- $8.32 is actually a pretty decent amount of gas. WELL over an eighth of a tank.)

I pulled away from the gas station, grateful to just be going home. I was proud of the way I had handled it. I hadn't lost my cool, divorced my husband, beaten my children, screamed at the registries clerk, or shown up at a pizza place with a week-old pizza (expressly kept for that purpose) only to deposit in on the counter and announce that if they weren't even going to TRY to get my order right or fix the problem when I called, they could have the damn thing back (we don't order from there anymore). I was like a superhero. My own, special brand of superhero. Moms everywhere should admire me!

Right then, Squid's quivery, teary voice piped up from the middle seat.

"Are we still getting McDonald's???"

Never mind.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Nobody Lives Here.

Nobody lives here.

No one else.

Just me, and NotMe.

And NotMe is pissing me off.

When I woke up this morning, NotMe had drunk all the apple juice, and left the barest smidgen of it in the bottom of the carton. NotMe does this all the time, and I'm getting tired of it. I don't think it's too much to ask that when I go to get sippy cups of juice for Eva and the dayhome kids in the morning, that NotMe either leave an appreciable amount of juice, or grab a new carton out of the pantry and put it in the fridge. It's not as though we don't stock 400 litres of the stuff. It would just be nice to reach into the fridge and have one available so I don't have to serve warm juice. That's all.

NotMe toasts bagels in the morning and butters them and leaves them on the counter before she goes to school, wasting not only a bagel, but butter, and my last ounce of patience. After a hearty breakfast of warm apple juice, I am not super jazzed by the idea of eating NotMe's cold, rubbery bagel, just so it doesn't have to be tossed in the trash. I usually stick it in a baggie and leave it out so that NotMe can eat it in lieu of dinner, but NotMe typically throws it away and I forget about it anyway. NotMe is costing me a fortune in baked goods. Just saying.

NotMe's favorite prank is to crank the heat up from 19 to 35. No joke. The tab on the thermostat actually gets pushed all the way to the digits 3 & 5. NotMe did this once in the dead of winter when we left the house to go to a friend's for the evening, and when we got back, the condensation from the melting snow had frozen the screen door shut. I didn't see it happen, but apparently, while I was getting Squid out of his car seat, NotMe accidentally shoved his hand through the screen on the door trying to force it open. NotMe is making my paint melt. No biggie.

NotMe eats cereal out of mixing bowls, and leaves an inch of milk in the bottom of them to go rotten over the course of the day so they smell when I go to load them in the dishwasher. Come to think of it, NotMe doesn't pull his own weight with the dishwasher loading, either. NotMe accidentally punched an elbow sized hole in the wall while having an innocent conversation with his sister. That was 2 years after NotMe made her fall of the bed and she needed her nose put back together with surgical glue. NotMe lost her iPod Touch, left the tv on downstairs AGAIN, and used all my black mascara. NotMe just spilled my pop.

Last night, NotMe took it to a whole new level.

We live in a world where cards are king. I use a debit card to grocery shop and buy gas, and I use a Starbuck's card for my coffee. When my best friend's kids sell chocolate for fundraisers, I email them the money. And I pay all my bills online. I hate going to the bank machine 400 times a day. So every week, I figure out how much cash I need, and grab it from the bank. Jason gets $20 in case he has to pay cash for parking, and I set aside whatever I need for the kids.

And every single week, NotMe screws me. NotMe grabs my wallet (which is apparently public property) out of my purse, takes all the cash, and spends it on Slurpees, Tim Horton's, and texas donuts. And when I go in there to grab the $3.50 I need for pizza day at school, it's missing. This invariably happens at midnight... so that I am left driving to 7-11 in my pyjamas... so that I can take $20 out of a bank machine... so that I can then use it to buy gum... so that I can give a child $2.80 in cash for his new science journal.

It happened last night with my last toonie. I needed it for Liz's bus fare so so she could go to the tour of her new high school in the morning. As much as I wanted to make her walk, I knew it wasn't her fault. NotMe was behind it.

I lost it.

I was in amazing form. I started out speaking calmly, until I found out that it wasn't Squid, Liz, Isaiah, or Jason who had taken the cash from my purse, but that irritating little thorn in my side, NotMe.

Come on! Really? Enough already! Is NotMe trying to KILL me??? I do more extra legwork because of NotMe's laziness! I had just gotten back from the store, JASON had just gotten back from the store, and now NotMe had spent my last damn toonie and I had to go OUT again?

I raged. I cried. I yelled and I screamed. And NotMe (brave bugger that he is) stood there and took all the blame. I threatened to cancel Liz's sailing trip, and NotMe didn't waver. I promised Isaiah would never see the (street) light of day again, but NotMe held true in her steadfastness, and refused to let the other kids take the blame. I resorted to guilt tripping and bemoaning my fate, and NotMe stood there, firm in his resolve, and would not go down without a fight.

I gave in.

I pulled apart my couch and the ashtray in my van, and managed to find enough assorted nickles, dimes, and pennies for Liz to put together the required bus fare. I grabbed a Smirnoff Ice out of the fridge (huh- NotMe's been drinking them again), and sat down on the couch. I flipped on the TV, started watching a PVR of Judge Judy (I have to watch them quickly or NotMe deletes them in to make room for 723,654 recordings of 'The Office'), and quietly gave myself up to fate.

NotMe had me. There was nothing I could do to change her. Maybe the best thing was simply to roll over and surrender to the chaos. But someday, it was going to get to me. Eventually, NotMe was going to drive me out of the last shredded remains of my sanity. And when that happened, and the nice doctors sent mommy to a quiet place where she could rest and relax and get in some serious crayon time, who would run the house and take care of the kids and buy the groceries and rake up the pinecones and sort the toys and remember to take out the recycling?

That's right.

Not me.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Squid Is Six

Squid is 6.

My BABY is 6.

My very first 'got pregnant on purpose within the sanctity of holy matrimony' baby is 6.

It happened last week, and I don't know of a single way to reverse the process (if you have an idea, let me know). My angelic baby with ringlets all over his head and the sweet smile and slightly demonic laugh has now turned into this BOY who goes to school, can shower (mostly) without help, and has some wicked dance moves.

I hate it.

He still cuddles, which is good, because my OTHER youngest baby hates people in general, and being held usually makes her scream, so at least I have that going for me. Till he turns 10 and realizes I'm gross. Then he'll drift away from me; find some girl who will NEVER be good enough, and settle down far, far away from his parents, never to be heard from again.

I'll be fine. I'll adopt cats. Don't worry about me.

All right- got it out of my system, and I promise to be good. Anyway- after a weekend filled with a bowling party with all his friends, cake, pop, sugar, candy, a birthday party with the family and MORE sugar (including a WICKED gorgeous cupcake display, courtesy of Nanny), I finally have time to sit down and write his story.

Every year on their birthdays, I tell the kids their birthday stories. I only tell them once a year, and that way I hope that it will remain a special conversation for them (as it does for me when my mom tells me my adoption story). Squid isn't quite old enough yet to appreciate the sentiment, and usually ends his by suggesting I change a few things here and there (his version has Optimus Prime in it). Having my own blog gives me the freedom to tell the story uninterrupted, so please- enjoy.

I felt great the night Squid was born. So great, in fact, that I felt comfortable enough to PROMISE Liz the whole family would be at her soccer game. As any mother knows, that action virtually guaranteed the onset of labor. That evening, after getting her into her uniform, and getting all the snacks (it WOULD have to be our turn) and water bottles ready to go, we sat down to watch tv for a few minutes before we left, and sure enough, my water broke. Once I realized what was going on, Jason and I informed Liz that we would be dropping her and her brother off at Nanny's house and that there wasn't a soccer game in her future.

Just to clarify, Liz hadn't been overly receptive up to that point about the whole 'baby' idea in general. When we started thinking we wanted another baby (the premise being it would be fun to do it on PURPOSE for a change), we talked to Isaiah about how he felt about it. He was 10, after all, and old enough to participate in a mature discussion. We refrained from talking to Liz, because we were worried that she would say no, and then feel we ignored her wishes if we decided to go the other way. We really didn't want the opinion of a child who had been the baby for the last 8 years. We were pretty sure we knew what her thoughts would be on the subject.

Rather than give her the false hope that her opinion would matter, we held off on telling her till I was actually pregnant.

To give her credit, she had gone from being REALLY angry and plugging her ears and yelling when she was told that she was being replaced to silent eye rolls and blistering glares 9 months later. We figured this was a major improvement, and were willing to accept baby steps.

So telling her that we were blowing off her soccer game for a new baby she didn’t even want in the house went over like a rice cake with a fat kid. She sobbed all the way to Nanny’s house. Heartbroken, I joined her, as I had now realized that we had ruined her life by forcing this new sibling on her, and the only alternative was to leave the baby in a bread bag on our best friend’s front step, ring the doorbell, and run. And having just delivered said baby, I would consequently run much more slowly than normal. This would never work.

I can only imagine what it was like to be Jason, driving down Glenmore, past the brand new construction zone (more on THAT later), listening to his wife and child sob hysterically (and alternately moan in pain). I’m sure if we had been pulled over just then, he would have punched the cop in the throat just so he could be taken away from us and deposited safely in prison. I would have.

We dropped the big kids off at Nanny’s, called my best friend Lana, and proceeded to the hospital, where Jason informed me that in his rush to get the kids over to his mom’s, he had forgotten the bag I had packed for the hospital. He had to go back. Normally, the drive from our place to the hospital was about 6 minutes, but the new construction on Glenmore had turned the ride into a 45 minute idle. Not knowing this, he left, expecting to be back there with me within 15 minutes.

An hour and a half later, when Lana showed up, I was in the hallway (apparently EVERYONE has their baby in November, and no one really believes that a woman whose water just broke 120 minutes ago is REALLY in labor, and therefore unlikely to need a room, a bed or a shower), again sobbing hysterically, this time because it was obvious that Jason was so disgusted by his family that he had run away, and was never coming back. (Oh, how he must wish now he had taken that particular Get Out Of Jail Free card!!!!). Lana (somewhat unsure herself at this point, having seen what a delight I was), assured me he loved me, and would return as soon as possible. Jason came back in the middle of this little scene, armed with hospital bag (and freshly showered too, the ass!), and immediately took charge by going a little pale, and somewhat whispery. Jason hates childbirth. That’s why Lana was there.

My loved ones realized that we probably weren’t going to have a leisurely few days in the hospital here (my labor with Isaiah had taken 3 hours, from the first pain to the first cry, and my labor with Liz was only slightly longer), picked me up off the hallway floor (I had slid down the wall during the last contraction) and dragged me up to the assessment desk, to politely suggest that perhaps a nurse should take a look at me. We were informed that tonight was a busy night, and although they meant to get to me as soon as possible, emergencies kept coming in, and there were a lot of women who had been here longer than an hour and a half, and I would have to wait.

Really?

If you were playing baseball, and someone smacked a line drive at your temple, would you tell the ball to hang on a sec? Same concept here. They could leave me out in the hallway as long as they wanted, but my giant baby was going to show up whether they wanted to give me a room or not. Luckily, the nurse we were speaking to took a look at my face, and realized we weren’t joking around. She became very helpful very quickly, and took me into an assessment room, where I was (ahem) assessed, and informed that I had just jumped to the head of the lineup and would be moved to my room in just a moment.

I didn’t care. All I wanted to know was if there was enough time for an epidural. I had had one with Liz, and I knew I liked them. I also knew that there was a very narrow window, and it was rapidly closing. As they wheeled me though the hallway, I kept repeating to anyone who would listen that I wanted an epidural right away. It didn’t even need to be an anesthesiologist. A cattle farmer with a basic knowledge of anatomy, somewhat clean hands, and a supply of tranquilizers would do. I wasn’t picky.

We just made it. About half an hour after I got into the room, a guy with a giant needle (again- didn’t care who he was) walked in and made the pain go away. He needn’t have bothered. Turns out I was already past the awful part, and all I got was a quick nap, and the end was nigh. A few (painless) pushes later, and our new baby boy had arrived.

As they got him cleaned up and weighed (Remember my earlier blog about the bad pictures we have taken? This was the moment where Jason took a picture of our son on the scale and I sent it to my coworkers without checking the periphery of the photo first…), I realized what I had done. I had just had a 9 pound, 4 ounce baby, and had only had an epidural for the last 45 or so minutes of it.

I ALMOST became the super mom who had a giant baby with no drugs! I could have been the woman everyone is slightly in awe of! I could have milked it for YEARS! What a missed opportunity! (This is why we had to have another baby after Squid….)

The following morning, after we had adored our new baby boy (whose name was chosen by his older brother) by ourselves for a while, Jason’s mom brought the big kids in to meet him. Liz was entirely uninterested in meeting her new brother. We laugh about this today, because she is Squid’s biggest fan. They do everything together. She is also the only person allowed to do his hair. She adores him.

Isaiah felt more comfortable, and hopped right up on the bed to hold the baby, and, in what is now the best part of the whole experience for me, looked down and sniffed the brand new life snuggled into his arms and said,

“I don’t get it- I’m so happy and I love him so much, but I can’t stop crying. Cool.”

Just to make sure Isaiah didn’t feel alone, I gave him a giant hug, and let my tears mingle with his a bit. I understood just what he meant. I had been so worried that I wouldn’t have enough love for all three of them, and as soon as Squid was born I remembered how it worked.

What happened then?
Well, in Whoville they say
that the Grinch's small heart
grew three sizes that day.

And I love him still. Happy birthday, Squidling!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Camping With A Teenage Girl

Do you have a teenage daughter? Have you ever taken her camping? Are you going to be ok? Do you have the number of a support group I can contact? Some sort of program to get me through the worst of the pain, till the twitching stops???

Liz is an amazing kid, but we are just beginning her teenage years, and it turns out there are a whole lot of things I don't remember about teenagegirldom. And this becomes blatantly obvious on vacation.

Liz and I get along like a house on fire when we're out camping, because she is my daughter and I have ruined her. She is scared of the same things I am, and we are usually each other's first line of defense. We walk together to outhouses, and NEVER make spooky noises while the other one is peeing. We run from the same things in the dark. I can throw myself through the door of the tent trailer onto the floor and kick it shut behind me because I imagined I was being chased by skunks with knives (It can happen!), and she won't laugh at me, like OTHER people in our family do. We have a song we made up years ago for when we have to walk through a dim forest/empty field/past an abandoned building of any kind/in the dark/to an outhouse/isolated garbage bin. It has one line, repeated over and over, as we stomp along in time with the song (because marching makes you less likely to break into a run). It goes: "We are so brave. We are so brave. We are so brave. We are so brave. We are so brave," to a simple 3 note tune (that way it's easier to remember when your voice starts to quake).

She's always been one of those kids who makes her own way in life and doesn't really give a shit what other people think. It's one of the things I admire most about her, and one of the things that makes her so popular. She marches to the beat of her own drummer (usually a more interesting one than the one we used for our camping song), and her quirks are the best part of her.

When she was littler, she grew her hair really, really long, and shaved it off to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Association. I guess she had heard of someone doing it, and wanted to do it for a while, but figured there was no point unless you were going to REALLY sacrifice something. We cut 12 inches of hair off her 9 year old skull, and she raised $3298 doing it. I still can't believe how cool she looked with her bald noggin, and how proud we were of her.

Her first real 'boyfriend' was someone she dated for eleven and a half hours in Grade 7, until he wanted to go to a dance and she didn't, and he pouted, and she told him no man was going to tell her what to do and broke up with him (please, please, God, let this particular personality quirk last until her 50's!).

She has so many neat things about her that it's very rare for any of them to REALLY annoy me, but this year, camping with her was more challenging than ever before.

Although she is normally a very neat child, with a place for everything, and everything in its place, out camping there are fewer spaces for places and those that exist usually need to be shared by everyone. This meant that the 378,645 cubic inches of mascara, bronzer brush, lip stain, eyeliner, lip gloss, blush, bronzer, tweezers, eyebrow brush, face cleanser, makeup remover, eyeshadow brushes, lipstick, eye shadow, blush brush, and cotton balls she brought with her for the 10 days we were about to spend in the thriving metropolis of 'just outside Pincher Creek' were CONSTANTLY encroaching on everyone else's space.

Every time I tried to get the big pot out of the bottom cupboard to make dinner, I was pelted with a hail of Q-Tips. A simple search for my toothbrush resulted in near blindness caused by accidentally triggering a spray of HoneyDo perfumed body mist. (People should carry this stuff in Banff instead of Bear Spray- it completely incapacitated me. Even now, the smell of overripe fruit causes my eyes to tear up and sinuses to involuntarily drain.) Trying to find a diaper in an 8 x 12 tent trailer involved lifting my body weight (no mean feat) in cosmetics just to access the diaper bag, which had been emptied of its supply of baby wipes, as she prefers these to the harsher cleansers in the makeup remover she also brought along (apparently just to fill some weight requirement).

Her hair, which she used to care so little about that she allowed her father to shave it off, now requires the electrical output of a small village in Tanzania simply to keep it in an acceptable state for a week spent swimming in a muddy river. Her phone charger and IPod were plugged into the outlets that we had (incorrectly) assumed would be used to run the lights and power in the trailer, and the sound of her blow dryer drowned out singing birds for miles around. She had appropriated the longest extension cord we had because nothing else could reach the tent, where she was straightening her hair, and she was seriously annoyed that she we didn't have a power bar so she could heat her spiral curler at the same time. At one point, she actually UNPLUGGED LANA AND ERIK'S ENTIRE TRAILER to charge her Nintendo DS. (It was accidental, and she felt really bad, but we'll never let that one go. It's just too funny.)

She and the other girls were able to do near-professional manicures and pedicures on themselves, using the array of polishes, files, and buffers that they had brought with them for the trip (in comparison, Isaiah was excited simply to find a $5 pair of sneakers without holes in them to wear after his 6 weeks volunteering at a wilderness bible camp). She sacrificed a $20 beach towel to clean clay (CLAY!) off her body when the kids found a deposit in the river and spent 3 hours sculpting, and used my entire supply of laundry loonies to wash and rewash her white bathing suit to remove the streaks of mud. She used up a brand new bottle of body wash in 6 days (one intended to last the family a whole week), because camping makes her sweaty and she has to shower twice a day.

At one point, I started to sob quietly simply at the thought of having to go into the cooler after her (she doesn't like to screw lids onto jars, and more than once I have had to clean crystallized, half-frozen pickle juice off the steaks before thawing them). I gave up on arguing with her about her helmet when she rode her bike (it ruins her hair), because somehow, the 35 feet to the playground didn't seem worth the battle. I learned to leave her alone for the 2 hours in the afternoon where she disappears with her video games and music because I KNOW she needs a rest or she will be moody for the rest of the day. I began to adapt.

And here is what makes this all bearable. At one point, the tent that all the girls were sleeping in developed a leak, and I went looking for our roll of bright yellow duct tape. After several fruitless minutes, I asked her what had become of it, and she informed me that she had used it to make shoes. Yep. Shoes. She had gotten instructions for making duct tape shoes, and because yellow is a cool color, had used up the roll we keep in the camping fixit box. Come on. Tell me this isn't cool. My wonderful daughter had used up something I desperately needed, but she did it in such an awesome, creative way that I was too busy being impressed by her to give a hoot about the tape (besides- I didn't need to sleep in a puddle- that was her problem). And, despite the fact that making duct tape shoes sounds like it should be required learning for the homeless, she wore them all over the place this past summer, and inspired home repair fashion in countless other teenagers.

So I will keep being proud of my funny, independent daughter, and I will keep learning to camp with a teenage girl. Because the thing that scares me most of all is that someday, that teenage girl will stop wanting to camp with me.



Monday, 31 October 2011

Happy Halloween

Our first three kids were the happiest, lovingest, most outgoing balls of chubby sunshine you could ever hope to meet. Liz actually smiled SO much at people that we wondered if she was simple and didn't understand that she was supposed to play strange.

Eva hates everything.

When we had our fourth child, we assumed that she would be similar in temperament to the other three, as they, in turn, are similar in temperament to us.

Not so. When Eva was 4 months old, she realized that not everyone who was holding her was me. Being an equal opportunity hater, this gave everyone in our family and circle of friends who was NOT me an opportunity to not hold her when she cried. I got screwed in the deal, as, being me, I was the only person who could make her stop. I would have paid someone to be me, but no one wanted the job.

Eva was a stellar baby. From birth right up to the age of 4 months, she almost literally NEVER cried. We went an entire 10 day camping trip without hearing her cry (and not because we lost her). Then, suddenly, she realized what she had been missing.

To be fair, she had bowel issues. For some reason or another, Eva didn't poo. The turning point was that camping trip. In the same 10 days that she didn't cry, she also went 17 days without pooping. I don't know about you, but if I didn't poop for 2 weeks, I would start crying nonstop, too. The problem was, after 3 months dealing with her bowel issues, the nonstop crying had become a habit. Once the bowel issues were resolved, the crying continued.

Eventually, Eva decided to branch out. There are so many things in this life to hate, that to limit yourself to one or two seems like a waste. So from hating everyone who wasn't me, she moved on to hating all foods, toys, most clothing, diapers, and the outdoors.

We knew Halloween was going to be a challenge.

I run a dayhome, so I got to have a pre-trick-or-treat practice run. I got the other 4 kids in the dayhome dressed in their costumes in record time (including the 14 month old, who looked adorable in her kitty cat suit), and then I started with Eva.

Liz and I had picked out a bumblebee costume for her, with black bodysuit, tutu, antenna, buzzing wand, and wings. As I threw the black bodysuit onto her, the screeching started- Apparently, the feathery edging got in her mouth and bothered her. Note- wet it and smooth it down before we leave tonight. Check. The tutu was too stiff, so we rubbed it with a Bounce sheet and that seemed to solve the problem. Her wand annoyed her, so she threw it at her brother and we left it behind, and the antennae and fuzzy shoe decorations were, frankly, beyond my capabilities.

She screamed. The dayhome party started at 2, and from 1:45 till almost 2:30, while I got everyone else set up and organized, she screamed. She screamed so hard she forgot how to swallow her spit and it ran in rivers down the front of her outfit. She screamed at the other kids. She screamed at me. She sceamed until I took her out of the costume, sat her in her highchair, and gave her fruit snacks to keep her quiet. (Fruit snacks ALWAYS work. Something about the lack of any appreciable nutrient does that for a kid).

Jason walked in the door, and while I gave him a quick rundown of how this evening was going to go, we fed the kids a spinach salad to appease my guilt about all the candy they were about to consume. Jason distracted Eva with more fruit snacks while we got her dressed, and we were off. (After we mixed our 'coffee' in our travel mugs- we needed to fortify ourselves with liquor).

I don't even know if Squid knew Eva was upset. He was so wired at the THOUGHT of chocolate that we had to peel him off the ceiling just to get him out door. Even handing out the candy was an event to be written home about (Mom! WE just had TWO CUSTOMERS! And they were vampires! And I gave them Mars Bars AND Twixes!!!)

(Note to all those who came by our house while we were trick-or-treating: We save the real candy for when we're there to hand it out. If you leave a bag of chocolate outside while you're gone, with a sign that says 'Please Take One', they won't. Hence the crappy freezies. If you're super chuffed about it, stop by tomorrow. There may be some left. My 'coffee' is making me too sleepy to unwrap the Snickers.....)

We met some friends at the neighborhood hot dog & hot chocolate Halloween warmup before going trick or treating, and it seemed like we had it nailed. Eva was contented, ate her hotdog like a champ, and smiled at all the volunteers. We were so mistaken.

Turns out her main joy in trick-or-treating stems from having the freedom to walk down the sidewalk with her brother and her friends. Normally she's in a stroller, so this kind of latitude went straight to her head. This meant that every time the other kids turned up a sidewalk to collect some candy, she lost it. After three or four houses, the adults picked up on what she was doing, and we and our friends started to simply walk ahead with her (Kim- you rule!!!), and she dialed the anger down to a constant low-grade sob. It was a good compromise, right up till she got cold and we had to put her in the stroller. Jason wrapped her up in a blanket, and tried to give her her sippy cup of milk and her soother, and Eva's mood went from mildly disgruntled to the kind of rage displayed by an angry bull shark on a three month starvation diet. Anyone in biting range was fair game.

I couldn't take anymore. I looked at my watch, to see how long we had been out- it had to have been hours. It had been twenty-three minutes. Not including the ten spent chowing down on hot chocolate and tubes of floor meat. Seriously? I hadn't even finished my first 'coffee'!

Sometimes, you have epiphanies. Mine came tonight. Some things just aren't worth the agony. This was one of them. Jason and Squid continued onwards on their quest to collect Squid's body weight in chocolate, and Eva and I went home. I wrapped her in a blanket, finished my 'coffee' while I cuddled her, and put her to bed.

Maybe next year, we can try again. She seems to be growing out of this anger thing. Only a few weeks ago, at Thanksgiving, my cousin remarked how Eva had just smiled at him for the first time, and wanted to know if we had given her a thimbleful of rum (to which I replied ''No- a bucketful of Prozac''). Maybe there's hope.

But I'm eating her candy. She owes me.

Happy Halloween, everyone!


(Quick note: Isaiah and Liz just came home from their separate evenings with pillowcases FULL of candy. I can't believe people gave my teenagers candy!!! Unless, being faced with a 6 foot tall man-eating clown or a 5 foot 6 woman in a full body morphsuit, people gave them chocolate because they were worried that the alternative was even worse???)

(I'm eating their candy, too.)


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Driver's Ed

Isaiah started driver’s ed classes at AMA last week. The classes consist of 18 hours of in-class instruction and 10 one-on-one hours in the car with a qualified instructor. Considering that it cost us $754 (member price for the basic package), it should also include dinner and a marriage proposal.  However, being a reasonable woman, I will settle for him not killing himself or anyone else when he is finally let loose on our city’s roads.
We tried to teach him ourselves, but ran in to a few major stumbling blocks. Most importantly, we are a busy family, and the rare number of times per week that one of us AND Isaiah are not busy at the same time leaves us with approximately one opportunity every 984 family hours in which to practice driving.
Secondly, Jason does not have the patience to teach. He is all over taking Isaiah out to practice AFTER I teach him the basics, but he has no patience for the endless repetition of circling the closest parking lot. That leaves me as the sole instructor, bringing possible driving time down to once every 54895 family hours.
Lastly, driving practice stresses Isaiah out. On our one outing onto an actual road, Isaiah did beautifully until faced with oncoming traffic, at which point he took his foot off the gas, stomped on the brake, took his hands off the wheel, and refused to move until the other car had passed us. (Luckily, it is a very lightly traveled street, and there weren’t any cars behind us. But the old gal at the bus stop had a nice laugh.) He needs time to recuperate between lessons. Now we are down to one good opportunity every 56395290732 family hours. It’s just not feasible to wait till he’s 86 to teach him to drive, so we decided to pay someone else to do it.
Isaiah is excited about the opportunity to learn to drive, and the ensuing freedom brought on by not having to leave your girlfriend’s house at 10:42 in order to get home by 12 using the transit system. Jason and I are excited about never having to go out to pick up pizza (or Liz) again.
I wonder if every kid who takes driver’s ed goes on to get their license. Do you think the actual lessons ever scare anyone so badly that they just never bothered to take the test? I bet they have. And I bet I know who….
(Disclaimer: Remember. I worked nights. I don’t drive this badly anymore.)
One winter, when Isaiah and Liz were little, I was on the way to the mall, when fate (in the form of stupidity) intervened. For years, I had driven a stick shift. I learned to drive on a stick shift, I taught JASON to drive a stick shift, and there is no earthly reason for me to have forgotten HOW to drive a stick shift.
And yet…..
As I turned the corner from Richardson Way onto Richard Road, while chatting away to the kids in their carseats, I, for no earthly reason I can possibly think of, pulled up on the lever to engage the emergency brake. In the summer months, this would have been followed by my forehead crashing into the steering wheel, a little bit of embarrassment, and a 3 week long headache until the concussion healed. This being winter, however, the results were entirely different.

When I pulled up on the emergency brake (immediately forgetting I had done so, by the way, until I tried to engage it later on, only to find it was already done….), I locked the wheels of the car, which then proceeded to slide on the icy road. I tried tapping the brakes, turning into the skid ,and every other defensive driving move I could think of (none of those moves, however, were designed to correct stupidity and sleep deprivation, so they were essentially futile). I looked up to see where I would end up, and, to my horror, saw a red sedan with the all-too-familiar plastic tent on the roof, indicating a student driver.
I leaned on the horn, trying to alert the driver ahead that I was out of control and on the way into the space they were currently occupying, but I knew it wasn’t going to do any good. No way was a student driver going to realize and react fast enough to get out of the way.
I slid forwards for roughly twenty minutes, unable to alter my course, and finally impacted with the car ahead. I heard that nasty crunching noise I have come to associate with higher insurance premiums, turned off the engine, and turned around to check on the kids, both of whom were cheering in the backseat. They seemed fine.
I got out of the car and started to assess the damage. Luckily, I had been driving our new (to us) Chevy Sprint, and the Driver’s Ed car was a sportier model with a higher back end, so rather than damage the other vehicle, it appeared I had simply slid underneath it, without even scratching their bumper. Sweet. I wouldn’t even have to make a claim.
As I approached the other car to make sure they were ok, since they were taking a little longer to get out than I would have expected (seriously- I had been going less than 30 when I hit them- there was no way they could actually be HURT, could they?),  I walked up to the driver’s window, which was slightly unrolled. I could hear the driving instructor coaching her student.
“OK- this is a perfect lesson. We have just been in a car accident. First we need to make sure we are pulled over to a safe spot (the impact had driven them to the side of the road, so that box was ticked.) Then we will exit the vehicle, assess the car for damage, exchange insurance information and contact information, and call the police if necessary.”
 “Nope.” said the student.
“It’s actually a good thing to learn.” said the instructor.
“Nope.” said the student, her tone changing not one teeny bit.
“Are you hurt?” asked the instructor.
“Nope.” said the student.
“Are you alright?” asked the instructor.
“Nope.” said the student.
I looked at her. There was no freaking way. She had obviously only turned 14 an hour and a half prior to the beginning of the lesson, and she was terrified. She had a shocked, frozen look on her face, and her hands were white-knuckling the wheel like it was the only thing between her and certain death. She wasn’t going anywhere
The instructor got out of the car, and walked around to the back with me. We checked the damage, and, thanks to the high-back-end factor, although I had torn off my own bumper and shattered both headlights, they were good to go. The instructor was sympathetic (I hadn’t told her why the accident had happened, lest her sympathy evaporate), and helped me pick up all my car parts and put them in the hatchback of my car.
As she went to get back into her car with the student, she opened the passenger side door, and we both noticed with surprise that the seat was already occupied. The poor kid was already buckled in, and had both hands braced against the dashboard, as though at any minute I would hop back into my car and continue to batter them with it. I leaned my head into the car and told her how sorry I was, and she nodded back weakly. I noticed she was a little pale. And a little green. Poor kid.
I apologized again, and got back in the car with the kids, who were imitating the sounds of a car accident (Crash! Crunch! No! It was screech!), and headed to my mother in law’s house, as she was the closest place from which I could call my husband.
I called Jason to let him know what had happened, and, as he always did, he asked if the kids were ok. Then he asked about the student driver. Then he asked about the car. Silly man! He was obviously distraught by the news of the accident and not thinking clearly. I’m sure he MEANT to ask about me first….
I would be willing to bet that girl never wanted to drive again. I’m sure she finished her lessons (since they cost so bloody much that if I was her mother, I would have forced her to continue even if she had lost the sight in both eyes), but I bet she thought twice about taking the road test. I would like to think she has fully recovered by now, and is happily driving gaggles of children to kindergarten on a daily basis. It HAS been 10 or 12 tears, so I’m positive she’s gotten over it by now.
I’m sure of it.
Right?

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Year That Dell Wrecked Christmas

Before I begin today's blog, I know I owe everyone a HUGE apology. I started the blog in the summer while on holidays, and have failed to take into account the fact that during the school year, the computer availability ratio in my house increases greatly in favor of the kids, which leaves me with only about enough time to pay a bill or two, and check the due date on the library books. Even Squid's homework is posted online, so I have gone down to one blog a weekend, which I think is more manageable. Thanksgiving, however, was an exception. No one should ever have to type with that much good food in their bellies. It's a physical impossibility. I was too doped up on turkey and ham to stay awake to sit at our desktop, and the prime rib and yorkshire puddings prevented me using the laptop as, alas, I no longer had a lap. Now that I am back in (pear) shape, I can bring you my next installment. Please enjoy!

On the surface, Dell seems like a great company. You can pick out what's important to you, computer-wise, and they will put it together, pack it in those fun shipping peanuts, and send it right to your house. Any time I can NOT go into a store before Christmas, I am all for it.

I'm sure lots of people have great things to say about Dell. I will not be joining them. The following is a story about how Dell wrecked Christmas.

Christmas 2007 looked like it was going to be a great one. Squid was a year old, and just beginning to enjoy eating wrapping paper, I had been back at work for about a year, and we finally had some (small) elastic in our budget again. We were completely settled into our new place, and looking forward to having Christmas dinner in our nicely re-floored dining room. This boded well for the holidays.

The big kids had put up with a lot the past year or two. I had surprised them by telling them we wanted another baby, been pregnant with Squid, which I KNOW was no treat for them, and, although things had looked up for a while right after he was born, they had started to go downhill again the last few months after he learned that their stuff was better than his stuff and had decided that they should learn to share.

We wanted to do something really great for the big kids. While ordering a piece for our computer in late September, Jason noticed that Dell had a bunch of their video games and consoles on sale. Like REALLY on sale. Like it was almost stupid not to buy them. This was the perfect solution! Until then, we had told the kids that we would NEVER buy them a handheld game (I still think they're horrible things, and tend to get annoyed when I see them playing one), but considering all they'd been through, this was just about the best way we could think of to thank them.

We ordered a PSP for Isaiah, as they had just come out and were THE coolest things since sliced bread, and a Nintendo DS for Liz, since they had way more games geared towards girls. Then we ordered 5 or 6 games for each of them, sat back, and waited for the screams of appreciation to roll in.

When we ordered the games originally, they had told us that our PSP was actually on back order, since people were snapping them up as soon as they became available, and that they could either ship our entire order on the promised delivery date, or hold the whole shebang until the end of October, when the PSP could be shipped out as well. Not wanting to split the order into a bunch of smaller, easier to screw up bundles, I told the Dell kid simply to ship them all at once when they had everything.

The end of October came and went, and with it, no gifts from Dell. I checked online to find that the gifts hadn't even been assembled and shipped from the warehouse. I called Dell and found out that the PSP's had been backordered again by three weeks, but that we were DEFINITELY on the list to receive one as soon as they came in. The rest of the order was assembled and waiting in a box, and as soon as they received the PSP from Sony, they would ship it at supersonic speed (or some equally placating lie). I realized that even if it took until the end of November for our gifts to arrive, we would still have everything approximately a week prior to the date that we normally went shopping, so we were still ahead of the game. (Jason and I have developed a tradition of doing ALL our Christmas shopping last minute. Although we know what we're getting everyone and the list is laid out in a spreadsheet including gift recipient, type, size, store location and approximate price (with applicable coupons or discount flyers in an attached envelope should I need them), there is nothing like the Christmasey feeling you get when running around the city in the snow, battling through crowds at the mall, and enjoying a hard-won spiked eggnog (or four) at dinner afterwards. It's the one time of year that Jason ENJOYS shopping, and he will happily spend an entire day playing mall rat.)

November 21st arrived, and I checked online to see if Dell had come through. Thank God. I looked at my order summary and our boxes had been assembled, packed, and were on the truck. Since the warehouse was in Ontario, I knew it would take a few days for the gifts to arrive, but I felt so much better about the whole thing now that I knew they were on the way.

Feeling organized, Jason and I decided to do the rest of our shopping 'early', and had everything purchased by the beginning of December, when I again went online to check my order. Interesting. The boxes appeared to have been assembled, packed, and were on the truck. Somehow, this all seemed very familiar to me. I called the 1-800 number and asked to speak to the gentleman who had previously been helping me with my delayed order, and, to my surprise, it appeared he was no longer employed there. Of course. So I got connected with a new person who checked his system (apparently the same tracking system they have for their online customers), and assured me that my order had been assembled, packed, and was on the truck. he seemed a little confused when I asked him why it had been on that truck for a week and assured me it would be at my door in the morning. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, but informed him that the next day, when the package was assembled, packed, and on the truck and STILL not at my door, I would be calling back to speak to him again. The poor soul assured me it wasn't a problem, gave me his direct line (in hindsight, that decision ranks right up there with 'poke the sleeping  bear with a sharp stick'), and wished me a Merry Christmas.

Thus began what I am sure were the longest weeks of that poor man's life. Every morning, I would call him to let him know that I had STILL not received the package. About 3 days into this, I started calling every evening to ask if it would be shipped tomorrow. Despite his repeated assurances, by December 5th, I had given up completely.

"That's it." I told him. "I want my money back. Right now."

"I don't blame you," he told me. He was just as irritated as I was at this point. He had been on the phone with the warehouse staff, on the phone with the order desk people, and essentially doing everything he could to get me my kids' gifts. And we were still waiting on that damned PSP, so everything he tried was ineffective. I understand he was doing it only out of a deep-seated desire to never hear from me again, but at least he was trying. And a refund seemed like it might just accomplish all those things for him.

"Let me get the order desk people on the line and we'll get the refund set up." I breathed a sigh of relief. Although it would probably end up costing me more money, at least the kids would still get their gifts. As soon as I got the refund in my hot little hands, I would haul ass to Wal Mart or EB Games and do what I should have done in the first place. Let this be a lesson to everyone out there. I had now wasted nearly 3 months on this Dell fiasco, and I was eager to get out of it.

"You're not going to believe this," said an uneasy voice as it came back on the line. "The accounting department can issue you a refund cheque, but it will take 2-4 weeks to get to your house."

What little self control and dignity I had managed to retain went flying out the window.

"Are. You. Kidding. Me????" I whispered, too shocked even to raise my voice. "I have spent almost $700 on gifts and been waiting almost three months while you guys screw up, and now I have to wait till after Christmas for the refund cheque???"

"Uh. Basically. Yeah."

"But I have spent my entire Christmas budget for the kids on those games. Unless I get the refund, I can't GET them anything else!"

I was stunned. Yeah, I had their stocking stuffers, and their other gifts, but this had cost so MUCH money that I literally had no budget left. I was reduced to having to wait for Dell to possibly get organized and ship the gifts before Christmas.

"Fine." I told him. "I give up. Just get the gifts here. Can you at least ship the REST of the stuff, so we're only waiting on the PSP?"

"That I can do." he said "I am so sorry about this."

I went to bed that night angry, but still functioning. After all, they were going to send everything else, and even if we got the PSP last minute, it wasn't a big deal. At least the gifts would come.

After a week or so of waiting, the rest of the gifts hadn't arrived. It was now WELL into the second week in December, and my anger was now being drowned in panic at the thought of my kids having nothing (relatively speaking) under the tree when they got up Christmas morning.

I called the guy at Dell, who seemed much less happy to hear from me than he had on previous days. I explained that the gifts still weren't there, and he made a quick call down to the warehouse. When he came back on the line, he sounded as though his best friend had died. Apparently, although the request had gone through, the order did not ship as I had asked because on the ORIGINAL order slip, there was a note that the customer did not want the package shipped until all the pieces were complete. (Really? Out of this whole mess, THIS was the thing they did right?) The conversation ended with the guy from Dell apologizing profusely and promising, no matter what, that my partial order would arrive the next day. He was personally having it shipped rush by Fed Ex.

The next day, when they showed up at my door, I breathed a giant sigh of relief. At least they had shipped SOMETHING. I opened the box, eager to see what I had received, and could have cried. Dell had shipped the covers for the DS and PSP, the extra styluses, two carrying cases for games, and the computer part we had originally ordered and had since forgotten about.

I held out hope that by some miracle the games would get here by Christmas, but on December 23rd, when I called the guy at Dell, and he put me on hold and never came back on the line, I knew it was a lost cause.

We sat the kids down that night and explained to them that we had screwed up. They were going to get gifts they had always wanted, but that somehow, the company we had ordered from had blown it, and their gifts wouldn't be here by Christmas. They would be here soon after, we promised, and they would still get their other gifts from the rest of the family, and there would still be stocking stuffers and stuff, but the majority of their gifts would be missing.

I underestimated my kids. As I sat at the table, sobbing so hard Jason had to take over the conversation, Isaiah looked at me and said,

"It's actually ok, mom. I really don't care so much about the gifts. I like having dinner with your family and dad's family, and sitting around on Christmas morning talking and laughing and going out to look at the lights. It really actually IS about spending time with the family, so please don't be sad- it's ok!"

"That's right!" piped up Liz, "and it's not like the gifts aren't EVER going to get here. So we'll be even more excited when they arrive. Although.. " she said, ever the pragmatist, "maybe next year you should buy us even bigger stuff, just to made up for it."

What an awesome reaction. 

Inspired, I invited a few friends of ours to meet us at the Festival of Lights in Airdre on Christmas Eve. Originally, we had decided it was too cold to take them, but if lights were what my kids wanted for Christmas, by God, I would give them lights. It was -76521 degrees out, with a wind chill of -32456789, the roads were a sheet of ice, and your breath froze so quick in the air it actually hung in front of your face and choked you a little bit. And I didn't care one bit.

When we arrived at the Festival of Lights, our friends handed the kids a pile of presents.

"These are for you guys." said Lyndsay, "We know your Christmas presents aren't here yet, and we heard from your mom how well you reacted, so we thought you should have a few more things to open." The kids were thrilled. They piled the gifts into the backseat of the car and we were on our way to see the lights. About halfway through the display, while we were riding Santa's train around the venue, Isaiah turned to Lyndsay and thanked her again for the presents.

"No problem!" said Lynds. "I can't believe how good you guys are being about this! If I was getting a PSP for Christmas and had to wait for it, I'd be a WHOLE lot more upset than you guys are!"

"I'M GETTING A PSP???????????" shrieked Isaiah, in a register normally only heard by dogs. "COOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I had to laugh. Like hysterically. Lyndsay sat in the train seat next to Isaiah, in tears, whispering "Omigod. I'm so sorry. I thought they knew. I had no idea..." as Isaiah bounced around next to her, dancing in absolute glee. All I could do was howl in laughter. This had to be the single most screwed up Christmas in the whole wide world. The very LEAST bad thing to happen had been Lyndsay telling him what his gift was going to be. We finally got her calmed down, after she apologized eight or ten times, and it became a funny story in its own right. I'm pretty sure she STILL feels bad.

Christmas Day dawned with no gifts in sight, and the kids opened their stocking stuffers and gifts and watched Squid open his. They visited with Grandma and Brian and Grandpa, and Nanny and Auntie Coreen and Uncle Kelly and the cousins. They laughed, and ate eggs and sausage and ham and potato bake and turkey and chicken fried rice and all the things that mean Christmas in our family. And they were ok. They didn't need giant gifts (although they were greatly appreciated), they just wanted to be around friends and family and enjoy the togetherness.

I actually heard the sounds of all the Whos in Whoville singing their Christmas songs, dancing emptyhanded around the village square, with the Roast Beast nowhere to be seen. We had been so busy thinking about the material things we had completely lost sight of what mattered, and had to have it explained to us by a 10 and 12 year old. Somewhere along the line, my kids had gotten a giant dose of the meaning of Christmas. They understood what mattered and they taught us what was important. We had ruined their Christmas and they, somehow, had saved ours. What a humbling and wonderful lesson for our kids to teach us.

But when Dell finally sent the gifts, a week too late, and accidentally sent us an extra Nintendo DS, I kept it. I'm a slow learner.