Monday, 29 August 2011

Camping Parenting

Camping parenting is 100% different from home parenting. Things that would normally send me into the screamingbatcrapcrazies at home don't even faze me if they happen near a fire pit.

Our kids (and when I say 'our', I mean those belonging to my best friends and myself) have been camping for so many years that we know they will make relatively smart decisions, and we can pretty much trust them to stay safe. (The older ones, not the one still learning to walk. That's why God made playpens.) We know that they will usually stick together in groups of three or more, know to sing real loud when you're hiking in bear country (producing excessive noise is not something they generally have a problem with), and can find their way out of a forest. This means that every morning after we arm them with a few walkie-talkies (and stuff the other walkie-talkies into any cup holders not currently holding our liquor), we can pretty much settle into our lawn chairs and forget we have kids.

This provides us with some unique learning opportunities. For example, we now know that if one of our kids (not mine!) falls off a bike and lands on a giant rock and cuts her leg to the bone, the remaining kids are pretty quick to organize themselves into the 'first aid' group and the 'going for help' group. Their response time is actually better than most major cities. (If we had had any 3.0 silk on hand, her parents wouldn't even have had to leave the campground).

We also know that if two of those kids (again, not mine!) should happen to accidentally bike to a completely different town, they are smart enough to find a phone and call for help. (Although not smart enough to realize that calling for help meant you had to explain where you were, which was more likely to cause you bodily harm than getting lost in the first place.)

And lastly, we have learned that if you should happen to be camping with 10 or 15 other people in someone's back yard in small town Alberta and, say, lose a wander-happy toddler (yeah. mine.), local residents are more than happy to slow down their trucks out front (while you frantically search the back) and let you know they've found her. (On a side note, the words "There's a baby out here!" and "We have free beer!" sound oddly similar. As I came tearing around one side of the house, exceedingly grateful for the return of my daughter, the response from the other side of the house was overwhelming. They were so disappointed.....)

Normally I have pretty strict rules regarding food. It has to be clean, safe and free of any non-organic contaminants. Out camping, however, I am perfectly willing to take a half thawed chicken breast that has been laying in direct sunlight for the last 4 hours (my kids hate to close coolers), cook it to a nice medium rare with a thick layer of external char, watch my child drop it on the ground, pick it up for them, brush off the dog hair and rocks, put it back on their plate, and ask them if they want barbecue sauce for it. We even have a specific term for it- 'forest candy'.

We have taught our boys to pee on trees. Somewhere along the line, Squid took it to heart. He cannot wait to go camping, simply for the pee factor. The instant we pull into a campsite, he starts to pee. He marks every tree around the perimeter of the campsite. He sprays his initials on rocks. He sprinkles fallen logs. He wipes out entire anthills. The kid has a 35 gallon bladder, and endless patience. We have taken him out to the middle of various lakes, only to be told he has to pee. It seems cruel to just plop him into 30 foot deep water to piddle all over his life jacket, so there has been more than one occasion where we have balanced him on the side of whatever watergoing vessel we were currently in, and in full view of everyone on shore, let him sully the swimming hole. When you are 5 years old, and this has happened every year since you were potty trained, it stops being a phase and starts becoming a lifestyle.

Once, in a fit of alcohol-fueled hilarity, I taught all the kids how to make ghost gum. Take a marshmallow or two, and knead them between your fingers until the mess takes on a rubbery consistency. Do it long enough and it becomes gum-like and you can chew it for AGES. The longer you knead, the longer you can chew it. Ghost gum gets everywhere. Once you start to knead it, it sticks to your hands, your clothes, gets in your hair, and can glue your eyelids shut. My friends were stunned. This is SO far outside my normal behavior that they lost the power of speech and completely forgot to give me hell for it. (At the time, that is. Every camping trip since then, whenever the marshmallows come out, the campfire is in danger of being smothered by clouds of thinly veiled hostility. I don't blame them. To this day, I can't figure out why I did it.)

So for a few weekends a year and a couple of weeks every summer, we change to a slightly tipsy, lackadaisical version of parental unit that allows the kids to go 11 days without changing their socks, feeds them skittles for dinner on the way to the campground, and thinks jumping off a 30 foot cliff into near-freezing mountain water is a GREAT idea (provided your heart doesn't stop). Then we take them home and get irritated that their shoes aren't in the shoe rack.

Cause having kids is no fun if you can't mess with their heads.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Grocery Shopping

I go grocery shopping every week. Once a week, every week, for the last 18 years. And every time I go, I tell myself it will be different. I have just returned from yet another shopping trip, and am having a moment of clarity. IT WILL NEVER BE DIFFERENT.

The problem is, I have 4 kids, so I am constantly looking for ways to spend quality time with them. And so when I leave the house to go grocery shopping, I think of what a great opportunity it is to spend a few hours finding out what is going on inside the head of one or two of my darling offspring.

Every time this happens, Jason looks at me, rolls his eyes, and returns to whatever he was doing. He knows how this will go- we have had this argument so many times it's almost scripted. He tells me it's a bad idea, I tell him it's a great way to hang out with the kids, he tells me I'm going to regret it, and I tell him they will thank me for it in the future.

No, they won't. They will invest thousands of dollars in high-priced therapy for it. They will have flashbacks of it. They will have nightmares about it. But they will never, ever thank me for it.

There is only one child in my family who enjoys grocery shopping with me. Liz thinks it's the greatest thing in the world (mostly because she is getting away from the little kids). She writes grocery lists with me, compares prices like a champ, and is willing to stand for 15 minutes in the meat section, debating whether to buy the case of chicken thighs, or the case of chicken breasts, which we prefer, even though they're more expensive, which may make them a better deal. Liz is the exception to the rule. She is not the problem.

Isaiah simply refuses to go with me. He is way past the age where he wants to spend a few hours in the grocery store with his mother. He learned the lesson as a small child. He stood up in a shopping cart once. He was in the basket- not the seat up front. (I said I was a teen mother- I didn't say I was a GOOD teen mother), and the sound of his face hitting the cement floor when he landed was enough to bring our best friends running from about 60 feet away. Consequently, he knows there are better things for him to do with his time. Even if it involves yardwork. He is not the problem.

The little kids are the problem. They don't understand that we are having quality time, and that we are making memories that will last them a lifetime. They just think we're shopping.

No one said my kids were smart.

Squid doesn't see a grocery store. He sees row upon row of racetracks, all designed just for him. He is a champion at 'looking with your hands, not with your eyes'. He gets bored easily, HATES standing in one spot for more than a millisecond, and likes to talk to strangers. He has the attention span of a hyperactive guppy, and can take apart a rack of gift cards faster than I could spend them. I also kinda think he hates me.

So I go to Superstore now, because their carts have those double seats in front, and if you load them just right, you can actually fit a 5 year old and a 1 year old into the thing. It doesn't leave a lot of room for groceries, but this isn't ABOUT the groceries. It's about bonding.

As soon as we get in the doors, I remember why this is a bad idea. Every time. First of all, I hate other people. Not all of them- just the ones I don't already know. And grocery stores tend to be full of that type of people. So now I have to remember to keep the kids quiet, while not bumping into any strangers. Check.

Then Squid starts up. "Can we get a candy? I want chocolate milk. Can we look at the lobsters? I hate Superstore. If we're good can we get Little Caesar's? Can I have the loonie from the cart when we leave? Where is my shoe????"

Eva just waits. She knows that eventually, I will have to turn around, and that is when she will put on the cutest face she has, and attract strangers from up to 30 feet away. All of whom like to touch babies. Then she will lean over, take her soother off the clip that keeps it attached to her shirt, and drop it on the floor. And every single person she has ever done this to has leaned over, picked it up, and Given. It. Back. To. Her.

So not only am I gagging and stressed out and running out of hand sanitizer, I'm slowly realizing that I have nowhere near the room left in the cart for the week's worth of groceries that I need to feed 6 people. Now I need to grab a couple of those 'we're only here for strawberries and sour cream' baskets and dangle them from the crooks of my arms as I continue to push the shopping cart through the store. It slows you down considerably, because you have to keep stopping and putting them down and letting the blood flow back into your hands.

This is when the kids start to lean. They save this till what they decide should be the end of the shopping trip, cause they know it's the last thing my frazzled nerves can take, and even if we don't have milk, diapers, or any sort of vegetable, the trip will be over. Squid will lean into Eva's side of the cart, pinning her against the side. She lets out a bloodcurdling scream every time this happens, and proceeds to fight back. She (all 22 pounds of her), will lean into Squid, pinning him to HIS side, and he starts to cry as though someone has cut his arm off and beaten his puppy to death with it.

This sets the stage for when we line up at the checkout and everybody gets to see what quality time you're having with your kids. I am separating two struggling kids while packing my own damn groceries (if it wasn't for the carts, we'd never go back to Superstore), and I'm starting to sound like someone you would normally find in Wal Mart, whispering death threats under my breath to the kids if they don't, for the love of God, stop TOUCHING EACH OTHER!!!!!!!!!!!

By the time I get my groceries into the car (breaking at least 1 egg out of the 18 I just bought), load Eva into her carseat, and put back the cart (no, you CANNOT have the flipping loonie!!!!), I have vowed never, ever, ever again will I take the little kids shopping with me. Ever. I can't do it. I am not emotionally equipped for it. I stop crying, crank up Simon & Garfunkel, and pop into the liquor store for a bottle of Boone's on my way out of the parking lot.

So the next time you're in Superstore and see a mother beating her children with a loaf of French bread, stop, smile, give her something harder to hit them with, and wish her a good day.

She's probably me.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Horror Movies and the Bathroom Effect

(Note- Mere hours after having sworn never to put my best friends in a blog, I find myself needing pseudonyms for them. Ladies and gentlemen, please meet my best friends, Jamie & Shawn and Lana & Erik.)


I am scared of everything.

I rented my first horror movie with my best friend when we were in grade 6. It was called "Do Not Open till Xmas", and was about a mall Santa Claus with anger issues and an impulse control problem. I had nightmares about Giles, the crazy Santa, for years. Since then, I have seen virtually every horror/suspense/slasher flick I can get my hands on. I read every Stephen King book the instant it comes out, and repeat ghost stories like they're gospel. All of this, over the last 24 years, has given me a seriously screwed up way of viewing the world.

I am 36 years old, and still need to turn on the light ahead of me before I extinguish the light behind me. I never put my feet right next to the bed when I get in- I always do a little hop so I clear the scary dark space. When I hear a noise at night, I try never to open my eyes to see what it is- you never know what might be looking back at you. I don't dangle my hands over the sides, and I NEVER sleep with my feet outside the covers.

I have sat quivering on the couch when the power went out during Nightmare on Elm Street (Seriously? What kind of bad timing is THAT???), and had to wait almost 45 minutes before Jason came to rescue me, because I had to call for him in a whisper- anything louder than that and Freddie would have been able to pinpoint my location and that would have been the end.

Jason recently suffered an injury and had to sleep on the couch for 2 weeks (he wasn't able to get up & down stairs). We had seen Paranormal Activity days before it happened, and I slept with the light on until he was able to get up to the bedroom again. I didn't get any rest for 14 straight days, but considering that the alternative was madness and death, it was a small price to pay.

Jason never has as much fun as any OTHER couple out camping, because I know what happens to loose women in the forest. I've seen that movie a thousand times. No way am I risking it. It took till I was 34 years old just to be able to use an outhouse at night without having someone in there with me, holding a lantern. (And even at that, it needs to be a flushable toilet. I am not risking my life simply because my bladder is full. I can wait. Weeks, if need be. I know what lurks down there.)

This brings me to my point. I have a long history with camping bathrooms (you will hear about this in a future blog, I'm sure), and between my love for scary movies and my overactive imagination, it usually makes for an interesting trip.

Years ago, on our very first extended camping trip with our best friends, Jason had to stay in town and work for the first few days. This worried me a bit, because we were tenting at the time, and therefore without a bathroom and at the mercy of the campground. Jason usually scares away the boogeymen for me, but I was on my own.

To my relief, the bathrooms were actually quite nice. As you came in, there was a row of about 5 toilet stalls on one side of you, and on the opposite side was a row of sinks. These were followed by a row of shower stalls, raised about a foot off the floor so that you never had to step out of your shower into a puddle of water. It made for a long 'hallway' type building, so they had placed an exit sign above the door. There were flush toilets, which meant no icky odor, the place was clean, and there was enough toilet paper. I was going to be ok. This was a camping bathroom I could use alone.

Until I went there later on. As I approached the place after dark, I realized that the exit sign that had seemed so innocently helpful during the daytime had become something malevolent and hateful at night. I slowed down and took in what I was seeing. At night, the red glow from the exit sign shone around the edges of the (ill-fitting) outside door to the bathroom, leaving the entire structure looking like nothing so much as the gateway to hell. Knowing I had just consumed FAR too much liquid to be able to wait, I began to pull the door open. As the crack between door and jamb got wider, the red light around the edges of the door got brighter and brighter, and the steam from someone's recent shower began to billow out from the opening.

I wasn't going to be able to go in there.

I went back to the campsite to explain myself to my girlfriends, Jamie and Lana, who, having dealt with me for many years, simply picked up their wineglasses and escorted me back to the can. Once my immediate issue had been solved, the three of us took a few moments to look at the effect caused by the red light and clouds of steam, and, to my surprise, agreed that yes- if there WAS a gateway to hell on earth, this is probably what it looked like.

Laughing like hyenas, we made our way back to the campsite and told their husbands my story. We discussed it ad nauseum for the next few nights until the bathroom had taken on legendary proportions, and even I was starting to feel a little foolish. (And trust me- I do not embarrass easily!)

And then, late one night, as Jamie's husband Shawn wandered over to the bathrooms before bed, he started thinking about it. And he found himself slowing down, and staring at the door, then finally coming to a stop. And he couldn't do it. I had gotten into his head. Shamefaced, he wandered back into the campsite, making a beeline for the nearest stand of trees.

"Frigging Heather." he muttered, as the rest of us laughed so hard tears ran down our faces.

Apparently crazy is catching.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Swim Goggles and Blood Flow

Have you ever been in the last few moments of sleep, and hovering on the edge of awareness, and just KNEW someone was right next to you, staring at you? This happens far too often when you have kids. It's creepy. I find it almost next to impossible to open my eyes and find out who it is, just in case it's the boogeyman. But I open them anyway, because every once in a while, it makes for a WICKED story....

When one of the boys was about 4 or so, I woke up one morning with that exact feeling. Knowing just from the way the sun was landing on my face that it was WAY too early to be awake, I laid very quietly and very still, and hoped whoever it was wouldn't realize I was awake. No dice.

"Mom."

"Mom."


"Mom."


"Mom."


"Mom."

"Mom."

Since you can only realistically ignore that sound for about 3 minutes, I cracked my eyelids open, and rolled over to look at him. My child stood beside my bed, staring at me with wide, shocked eyes, completely naked and sporting a pair of swim goggles. Really?

"Mom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" gasped my son, "You'll never believe! It's magic!"

"What, honey?" (This had to be good.)

"I went to bed with a little boy penis and I woke up and it was HUGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOOK at it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I. Lost. It.

I laid there laughing for a good 3 or 4 minutes, until I noticed that Jason was laughing silently beside me. No way was he getting out of this one. He's a man. This one was all his.

"Go talk to dad."

So he walked around the bed, swim goggles and all, and parked himself in front of Jason.

"Look." he said. "How did that HAPPEN?"

"Well," said Jason, "you're a boy. Every once in a while, all the blood falls out of your brain and lands in your peepee. Don't worry. Eventually it will go away, and you'll be able to think again."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, 22 August 2011

My Best Friends

We are blessed with the four best friends on the planet. There is no one else out there who could POSSIBLY put up with the six of us at once, so it's a good thing we like each other. Jason and I have known the other two couples who comprise our twisted little group for roughly 20 years. TWENTY YEARS. We have pretty much grown up together, and we know essentially every detail of everyone else's life (I say essentially because if I DON'T, it will turn out that there is something giant going on that I don't know about and I will look stupid.)

The six of us look upon each other as family. For various reasons, some of us have smaller families, or have families who don't live in town, or can't stand the families we do have (KIDDING, MOM!!!), and we have now built a family around our friendship. We celebrate holidays together, we camp together, we travel together on occasion, and since high school, there has rarely been a Saturday that goes by that we are not at one house or another for 8 or 10 hours, eating dinner and yelling at the kids. While in Disneyland, one of the kids (we don't really know who anymore- if anyone does, please enlighten me), came up with the idea of amalgamating all three last names to make life easier when making dinner and hotel reservations. We now refer to ourselves by one made up last name, and it has made life infinitely easier for all of us (but not for confused restaurant hostesses who are trying to figure out if we belong to some weird polygamist sect, and whether we're sister wives or they're brother husbands...).

Part of the reason our friendship works so well is that there are 3 of us women. Realistically speaking, the men would stay friends forever if the 3 of us girls died, but only because they've been in the habit so long that they wouldn't know what else to do for Saturday dinner (hmmm.... who would cook, I wonder???). We all know that women are the driving force behind ANY friendship!

In 20 years, the three of us have managed to drive each other crazy quite nicely, thank you. I can't even BEGIN to think of the stuff we've done that's driven someone else nuts- I don't have that kind of spare time. But here's the sweet part. In a group of three women, NO ONE can possibly be pissed off at the other two all the time!!! That means there is always a buffer- someone is ALWAYS on your side (or your imaginary side, or at least thinks your crankiness might be at least PARTIALLY justified, or just doesn't feel like arguing with you about it), and is willing to listen to what you have to say. There is always a vent. It's not like a friendship between two people, where if you get pissed off at each other, you're kind of stuck- we ALWAYS have someone there to talk us off the ledge. It's twisted, it's weird, and it works. (And no- this will not be a surprise to my best friends while reading this- we know perfectly well what holds us together.)

Our kids are all the same age (with the exception of my last two kids), and they have grown up together. I am continually amazed that 8 kids who are so different and have such differing personalities can enjoy each other's company so much. I remember years ago, we used to discuss our friendship and worry that eventually the kids would grow tired of spending every Saturday together and rebel ("NO! I'm NOT GOING! I can't stand any more of Auntie's stories! Tell her to write a blog or something, but get her OFF MY BACK!"), and it hasn't happened yet. There are the occasional Saturdays where the kids have somewhere they want to go, or something they'd rather do, which is going to happen any night of the week, but on the whole, they are pretty good with it. Seeing as the oldest one of them is now 17, we may have worried unnecessarily. Some weeks a few of the kids are missing, and maybe another week some of the adults are missing (generally though, even if the parents can't be there, we make a point of picking up or dropping off the missing kids so they don't miss out), but overall, we all see each other on a very regular basis. It works for us.

The six of us have so many inside jokes that it's almost a completely different language to anyone who doesn't talk to us on a regular basis. We once tried making friends with a new couple and it went miserably, horribly wrong. Firstly, we had to explain the inside jokes. Then we had to try to find inside jokes that included them. Then we had to figure out how to relate to a childless couple when our own darling progeny were running around them in a tiny living room, dropping food on the floor and crying over scary tv commercials. (This last part isn't actually true. We rarely let the kids come upstairs when they were that age. They were loud and annoying, and utterly defeated the concept of 'relaxing Saturday night'.) We really made an effort with this couple, till we finally realized that they had committed the fatal flaw of not having known us for the last 20 years. This is a hard mistake to fix. We had to let them go.

I haven't gone so far as to make any sort of formal promise to my best friends that they won't end up in this blog, because they know I don't have to. They know too much. If I ever mentioned something embarrassing they did, the speed with which they would retaliate would make your head spin. They would share details of things even I am too classy to mention before I ever had a chance to hit the 'Publish Now' button. If the two of them worked together, they could turn me into a quivering, emotionally shattered, sobbing mess in less time than it take to utter the words "inappropriate carpet burn". They would destroy me.

And I love them for it.

So that will be almost the last of what I have to say about my best friends, except the occasional mention in someone else's humiliating episode. Although they are a huge part of me, and everything I do is a product of the person I became over the course of our friendship, and although we do more stupid things in a week than most people do in a lifetime, they are sacred to me. And apparently even I have my standards.

Love you guys.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

On Poverty

Seeing as I have told everyone my age & my kids' ages, I assume those of you who didn't already know are now aware that Isaiah was born when I was 19.

Actually- he was born in August, 3 months after I turned 19 (during my year off to figure out what I wanted to do with my life- I'm still on that particular break), and Jason turned 19 about 6 weeks after he was born. Needless to say, Isaiah was a 'blessed surprise' (which sounds better than 'holy crap, where'd THAT come from????').

There are lots of fun things about having a baby when you're a teenager, before you even decide you're in a committed relationship. Poverty was not one of them. I recently took a look at our back tax returns (I keep all that stuff forever), and realized that I pay more in taxes each year than my & Jason's combined income the year Isaiah was born (1994). That was apparently how I stayed so skinny. And probably when I became so twitchy.

Friends told us a few years ago that they loved coming over to our place after work (did I mention that at the time we were all gainfully employed at a restaurant that serves fries with that???) They both still lived at home with their respective parents, and they thought it was so cool that we had our own place, and could do whatever we wanted and could come and go whenever we pleased. (With the 12 or so dollars remaining after we paid our $350 rent, and assuming I could waddle far enough to do it). We never saw it that way. To us, it was a dim little basement suite with one bedroom, and no furniture. It was kinda nice to hear their point of view- I only wish we had realized at the time that we were that cool. I would have charged admission.

The place was furnished in McDonald's chic. When the McDonald's we worked at closed for renovations, we took everything they were throwing out. We took milk crates, napkin dispensers, toilet paper holders, plastic buckets & containers, old spray bottles, the whole 9 yards. You remember when you used to be able to smoke in McDonald's? Those plastic ashtrays were AWESOME. You could put glass beads in them & make it look like you had the place professionally decorated; you could serve soup in them (they were clean, trust me- we have already discussed my germ thing); you could fill 20 of them with store brand Cheetos and call it a buffet; you could store pocket change in them (or so I've heard- we never had pocket change); or, if you were feeling unimaginative, you could put out cigarettes in them. (Did I mention that one of the big draws to our place was you could smoke in there?)(If you could afford to.)

We had a card table my mom had picked up at a garage sale for the kitchen/dining/laundry room, and there was just enough space where if you pulled up a couple of milk crates and sat up real straight, you could have dinner at the table, just like normal people. We also had a couch that old neighbors of mine had while I was growing up, and we kept that for YEARS. It was so old that the foam had disintegrated, and every time you sat down (always gently), you got a little puff of something that smelled like sawdust. It was like being part of a magic act, if you pretended really, REALLY hard (TA-DAH! And she appeared in a puff of smoke!). It finally got sacrificed during a move, when we (and who knows HOW, because we obviously got the damn thing IN there when we moved in) could not, for the love of anything holy, get the thing out the door when we left. We had to cut it in half with a borrowed saw, and the resulting cloud of desiccated foam drove everyone out into the parking lot for half an hour (now you see us, now you go blind with scratches on your corneas- more magic show fun!)

Our favorite game was the mattress game (not NEARLY as fun as it sounds). Until we devised a system, every night we would argue about who got to sleep next to the wall on our twin mattress (if you slept next to the wall, you were virtually guaranteed not to roll out onto the floor around 3 a.m.). It got to the point where the mattress game was on the verge of becoming the thing that split us up. Not being pregnant, and scared, and broke, and tired of eating free fast food from work. The mattress. Eventually, we decided that Jason got the mattress Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and I got it Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays (I got the extra day cause I played the 'I'm Pregnant' card). By the time baby Isaiah came along, we had been given a double bed, which was a good thing, cause otherwise he would have been rotated into the system as soon as we brought him home. And he wouldn't have appreciated it NEARLY as much as he should have.

I learned to love ER. We had three channels (everyone remember those? 2&7, 4&5, and 6&9). ER was one of the very few good shows that played on any of those channels (although I still have a fondness for Buckshot's '16 Chickens and a Tambourine'), and it premiered the year we moved in. Since we were in the basement, the reception usually sucked, but we found out if you opened the window above the couch, stretched out the cord with the rabbit ears on it, and kind of propped it there with a roll of tin foil and 2 of those wicked ashtrays, you could watch the whole show (if you weren't too worried about Juliana Marguiles' skin color being an odd shade of green). I watched that show for years, and every time I did, it gave me a warm, cuddly, nostalgic feeling. (But not till a LONG time later).

Laundry days were the best. Although there was a laundry room in the building, it was $1 to wash and 75 cents to dry, and when you only own 5 outfits that fit and 2 of them are constantly stained with grease, this is not a fiscally responsible option. I bought a giant bucket of laundry soap at Liquidation World, and we would throw all the clothes in the tub, dump in some laundry soap, and stomp our worries (or at least the grease) away. Then we would take all the clothes, hang them on a rack in the kitchen/dining/laundry room, open all the windows, the front & back doors to the apartment, and the front and back doors to the apartment building, and try to get the stuff to dry before anyone yelled at us for bringing the indoor temperature down to -30. I wish it had been as fun then as it sounds now- I am laughing my tush off at the mental image of Jason, pants rolled up to his knees, stomping his arse off in a pink bathtub, suds flying everywhere. If I had been able to laugh a little more then, it might not have seemed quite so bad.

We used to love Liquidation World (I kinda still love places like that). We got a giant case (not a carton of 8, but a CASE of 8 cartons of 8) of Beef Stroganoff Hamburger Helper for like $5 cause the box was damaged and all the noodles were kind of smashed. I was so excited! There's nothing like 11 hour old McDonald's to make you appreciate fine cuisine. We rationed it out and realized that even if we ate it for lunch AND dinner every day, we STILL had enough for a whole month! We would eat like KINGS! We didn't have any money for actual ground beef, but that was totally ok- after the first box or 2, we realized all you had to do was cut down a little bit of the water you were supposed to add, and the consistency would be just fine. The first week was awesome- it was probably the most flavorful thing we'd eaten in weeks. We even splurged a few times and had it for breakfast, too. The second week wasn't QUITE as exciting, but still, it was way better than limp lettuce on a flat Big Mac that had been stored in the fridge since your last shift at work. By week 3, we had decided that maybe we didn't have to eat lunch every day- we weren't really that hungry, anyway- we could wait for dinner. And by week 4, the smell of fake sour cream had permeated the walls of our little apartment so much so that even the cigarette smoke and the breeziness of laundry day couldn't get it out. We have since been to dinner parties and banquets where REAL Beef Stroganoff has been served, and even though we KNOW it's been 17 years, and we KNOW it's probably real sour cream, we can't even try it. 2 years ago Liz, who has never had it, decided that she wanted to do that for dinner for Squid's birthday party, and even then, Jason still couldn't bring himself to eat it. He went out and got a McChicken afterwards. Just like old times. Yum. 

Eventually, we managed to get enough raises between the two of us to move to the 2 bedroom upstairs apartment, and after Liz was born, even bought a condo, and eventually made our way to where we are today (this is it, by the way- I hate moving. I will die here), and the icky memories faded, to be replaced with hysterical laughter when we talk about it with friends (or the occasional reflexive gag when we walk down the Hamburger Helper aisle in the grocery store), and I kind of miss it. NOT in a 'gee- I wish life was still like that' way, but in an 'I walked uphill both ways barefoot in the snow to school and lived to tell about it' kind of way.

We're still together, after 18 years, we have 4 kids we adore, and we're still (usually) in love. It didn't kill us, so I guess it did make us stronger.

Huh. Who'd a thunk it???

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Teachers

My husband and I find ourselves beginning this school year with one child about to graduate from high school, one graduating from grade 9, one starting kindergarten, and one still too young to understand that paper is not for eating. It's an interesting place to be, and I spend a lot of time thinking about teachers.

I have a huge respect for teachers. Especially teachers of small children. Can you imagine spending your day in an elementary school? They all have that distinctive pee smell that never, ever, ever goes away. You could be completely lost, blindfolded, turned around 16 ways from Sunday, and you could smell that smell and IMMEDIATELY pinpoint your surroundings. I, for one, could not mold young minds while constantly surrounded by Eau-de-Old-Urine.

Or have you ever really tried to talk to a 5-8 year old you don’t know very well? This is the age where they really start to practice lying, and their stories are always so overblown and confusing that you’re never sure if you’re being taken for a ride or not, and even if you think you’re being lied to, you aren’t the million percent positive that you need to be in order to call them on it. (“Why, yes, Mrs. X., my wife DID run away with a troupe of mimes, and I would appreciate it if you would not harass my son about it anymore- he’s very upset.”). Oops.

TEACHERS DO THIS STUFF EVERY DAY.
  
Years ago, Jason got a substantial speeding ticket that he neglected to pay (or rather, he assumed his wife would pay it, and she had better things to do and was trying to teach him a lesson). We then moved, and forgot all about it, till one day, a police officer showed up at our door with a summons for my husband to appear in court to explain to a judge why he had never paid it, and who would then decide on an appropriate fine to be added on top of the original ticket. This interchange was fascinating to Isaiah, who watched the whole thing with giddy excitement. It was like cops and robbers! Only at HOME! Afterwards, we had a long family conversation about how rules are for everyone, and how even if you forget the rules, that’s no excuse for breaking them.

I forgot about the whole thing until the following Monday, when I picked Isaiah up from school, and we discussed his day. What he had learned, who he had played with, and what today's snack was. As we entered the house, he casually discussed sharing time:
“Oh- and everybody wanted to play with me at recess today, 'cause of my dad is gonna be on COPS.”
“What do you mean?” I asked him, my heart sinking to roughly the level of my knees.
“I told them all how daddy can't remember to follow the laws and then the police came to our house to yell at him and take away all his money.”

I almost barfed. I scooped Isaiah up under my arms and SPRINTED the 3 blocks back to the school. I barrelled in through the doors and slammed into the classroom just in time to catch his teacher putting on her jacket and picking up her purse. I gasped out the REAL version of the story, silently praying that she had not already called child protective services, and all the while berating myself for ever teaching any of my children to speak.

“Oh, don’t worry about it at all”, laughed his teacher. “Stuff like this happens all the time. We get pretty good at separating the reality from the fantasy!”

I was so relieved. I had honestly thought by the time I got back there, they would already be debating who should get custody of my children after they had them removed from my care. It could have been SO much more embarrassing than it was.

Until the next morning, when, upon our arrival at the school,  I received two beautiful baskets of homemade muffins, a Hallmark ‘Thinking of You’ card, scads of sympathetic half smiles, and three invitations for coffee ‘whenever you feel up to it’. It slowly dawned on me that no matter how many times I explained it, none of the other parents would ever really believe that I wasn’t desperately trying to hold together a family being torn apart by a no-good jailbird husband. They weren’t teachers. They didn’t get it.

Joking aside, teachers deserve all the thanks we can give them. My children's teachers prepare lesson plans, mark homework, and know what colors to mix to make brown. They plan and supervise field trips, get the right consistency to their papier-mâché, and mediate between students, parents, and uncounted combinations of the two. They police the school yards, spend one on one time with integrated learning disabled students, and remain on the lookout for signs of physical and sexual abuse. They feed children who arrive at school without having eaten, hunt down parents without the time or inclination to attend parent teacher interviews, and are pretty quick to figure out who smoked pot at lunch. They fix boo-boos, supervise the sharing of the swings and the basketball hoop, and serve as counselor to kids who have no one else to listen. They do all of this while trying to pound the principles of algebra into the brains of hormonal teenagers, and explain the concept of "i before e" to 27 hyperactive 8 year olds.

You couldn't pay me enough.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A Word About Compulsive Neatness

I drive Jason and the kids crazy for several reasons, but this is one of the biggies.  I have control issues. I have cleanliness and neatness issues, and I have germ issues.  I am one hand wash away from my own show on A&E. Over the years we have learned to appreciate my quirks. (Or at least I have- I can't speak for everyone. In fact, judging from the eye rolls every time I clean something; it's possible I am the only one who appreciates them.  Odd.)
Here's the thing about kids. They are great, but they’re NASTY little buggers! They touch their butts. They put their hands in toilets. They pick their noses. They throw food on the floor. They (this kills me) LOSE parts of their toys. It's awful.
So rather than have everything and everyone in the house making me crazy, and me in turn making everyone ELSE crazy, we have simply adopted a few weird rules that everyone has to live by. That way I don't turn into a shrieking, twitching maniac and the kids still get to be, well, kids.
I have banned PlayDoh from my home and I have no regrets. PlayDoh has virtually NO redeeming qualities. Ok- well- I guess it won't kill the kids if they eat it. However, slugs won't kill you if you eat them, but that's no reason to invite them into your home. So, no PlayDoh. If you’re one of those people who have, in the past, given my kids PlayDoh as a birthday or Christmas gift, please ignore the previous paragraph. We loved it. Thank you again.
Lego- that’s another thing that drives me batty. No matter how much of it you pick up, it spreads. It gets everywhere. It’s like sand in a bathing suit. Once it gets in, you are NEVER getting it out. Have you ever stepped on a piece of Lego on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night? I did it. Once. It feels like you've had your foot bitten off by a great white. Mother of PEARL, does that ever HURT!!!!!!!!! Since then, we have had rules about Lego. The kids have a giant Rubbermaid tub for it. Before you put the Lego in the tub, you take a fitted queen size sheet and line the tub with it so the puckered edges hang over the corners, kind of like how a garbage bag fits a garbage can. Then you dump all the Lego in. The rule is that when the kids want to play with it, the sheet (with Lego) gets lifted out of the tub. The Lego has to stay on the sheet while they're playing with it (this is actually the easy part- the kids almost never take the Lego off- they prefer to play near the pile). Then, when they're done, gather up the corners of the sheet, plop the whole thing back in the tub the way it was before, and put the lid back on. Now they still get to play Lego, and mommy doesn't have a stroke every time she comes into the room. (There is, by the way, no similar solution for Play Doh. I have tried. It's still crumbly and bad and gross.)
When the kids were little, I used to wipe down their toys once a month with 1:10 -bleach:water  solution. It drove Jason nuts, because the house smelled of bleach for DAYS afterwards. But kids are germy! When I sat down & thought about the stuff they were touching at school or at the playground, I could actually feel my eyelid start to twitch. Imagine my delight (and Jason's irritation) when I registered as a licensed dayhome and found out that they actually REQUIRE that you do it once a week!!! Seriously??? It was like giving a fat kid candy! I am in germ free heaven! And Jason doesn't breathe indoors anymore. Marriage is all about compromise, remember.
Until my kids are tall enough to hover over public toilets, I hold them about 2 inches ABOVE said toilet. This is also the time to teach them that you NEVER flush a public toilet with your hands- always your foot, and you never touch the door locks with anything but your elbows. (And if it's a long bathroom trip, you can discuss OTHER bathrooms, like how you should always be frightened of hotel shower curtains. Never touch them. Or the bedspread- never touch that either.) Kids this age can be taught to do anything. This gets harder the older they get. By about age 5, they start to complain about the bathroom rules. They’re lucky I don’t do it till they’re 30. But then they’re old enough to write a tell-all book about it and I would look crazy or something.
Whatever. Even though my teenagers are now old enough to start making jokes about licking hotel shower curtains, and Squid is still suffering flashbacks about mommy's reaction when he dried himself with a towel he had previously dropped in a puddle on the change room FLOOR, none of them have expired from PlayDoh withdrawal, bleach poisoning, or embarrassment, and none of them have contracted Scary-Other-People's-Pee-And-Skanky-Nasty-Foot-And-Butt-Germ-Disease either.
So I guess the aforementioned ‘Word About Compulsive Neatness’ would be…… Awesome.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Gratitude

Although I promise not to do this often (as it will go to their heads and I will NEVER get them to do chores again), I have to tell you, I have the nicest family I know. I am always telling our kids how amazing it is that out of all the babies in the universe, God sent us the four who fit in the best with our family. That doesn't happen often, and it's pretty freaking amazing.

Every once in a while, you start taking your kids for granted, and God, or the fates, or karma, decides that it's time to remind you of what's important in life. When Squid was 2 1/2, that happened to us, and I wrote about it at the time to get it out of my system. Today's post is that same chunk of writing. I have left everything basically as I wrote it when it happened, but have changed the names, and edited some of the details now that we have more information.

The Infection
Anybody who knows Squid knows he is a 3 foot ball of unstoppable energy, and because of this, we have had some pretty memorable holidays......

Camping in Drumheller, he tipped his chair over & fell flat out into a patch of stinging nettles, and got to visit the emergency room. And then he spent the rest of the week slumped in a chair, doped up on antihistamines, grinning vacantly at an ice-cream cone...

At Christmas he was playing with Liz, tripped on his pant leg, fell down, and smacked his head on the living room floor hard enough to cause him to have a seizure. So then Daddy got to call 911, Mommy got to ride in an ambulance, Liz went into hysterics, cause she totally blamed herself, and Squid got roughly 53 popsicles once they cleared his neck & spine & took him off the backboard.

And those are just the injuries that were bad enough to really stand out...

This summer takes the cake.

Squid woke up Saturday morning at about 8, complaining his peepee hurt. Seeing as he was just flailing his drumsticks at his drum, we didn’t think too much of it. Took a look, and it was a little reddish. No biggie. So I drove Isaiah to work, and Jason gave Squid a bath, thinking it was mildly dirty- he’s a boy- there’s always dirt SOMEWHERE. By the time I got back, Jason said it looked a little swollen, and maybe we should run him in to the doctor’s. By the time we got THERE, it was turning red, and worrisome enough for the nurse to bump us up to first in line. Before the doctor even came in to the room, we peeked at it again, freaked, left (with only his underwear on- that’s a good indicator) without seeing the doctor, and drove to the Children’s. This was all in about a 2 hour space of time. When we got to the Children’s, they looked at it in the emergency room, and by then it was swollen to almost the size of Jason's’s thumb, and this angry, mottled purple. I actually burst into tears & had to leave the room- I’ve never seen anything so painful looking.

The doctors decided it was some sort of bacterial or fungal infection, and it had been brewing under his (uncircumcised) foreskin for some time without showing symptoms, and now it was raging out of control. They wanted to be sure they could start to knock it down with antibiotics before we went home, so we could expect to stay at LEAST 6 to 12 hours. Jason hates hospitals, and there was no point in both of us being there, so he left & went to go play his 2:00 ball game, and the emergency room doctor gave Squid a shot of antibiotics.

The doctors told me we would be moved upstairs to be admitted, and there was a slight possibility that they would need to put in a catheter, because he hadn’t actually peed since he woke up & they were a little worried that he wouldn’t pee cause of the irritation/swelling. OK. Fair. Ugly procedure, but I understand.

So they moved us upstairs to a room at the farthest end of Unit 3 so he could get some rest & some antibiotics, pee a bit & go home. Might take a day or 2. The nurses came in, and because putting in a catheter is really traumatic anyway, AND he was infected, they needed to kill the pain. So they plug in an IV, give him a shot of morphine and the second dose of antibiotics, and while he was out, they put in the catheter, which took several tries, as the whole thing was so swollen.

Afterwards, they tell me his blood pressure is a little low, but that's normal- they just need to monitor it. If it gets too low, they can take him to the ICU, where they have more sensitive machines. I called Jason, told him we might be here a bit longer than expected.

Then they routinely check his pulse (little high), temperature (little high, but he has an infection, so ok) and check his blood pressure again & it’s registering as a pretty low 85 over 30. Seems the electronic cuff isn’t working. Happens all the time with these damn things. So they flick it, try again, and his blood pressure is reading 79 over 26. So they go grab a manual one, and do it that way. While she does it, the doctor, who is getting concerned, checks his heart rate, which is now 170 beats a minute. WHAT???? And his temperature has shot up from 38 to 40. In five minutes? That doesn’t happen, does it? So they put the oxygen prongs in his nose, and then the doctor gets his blood pressure reading, which is not wrong- it’s 70 over 20. And what the heck- the kid’s unconscious!

At which point I get nudged out of the way, a nurse yanks out the oxygen prongs, and slaps on a face mask. Someone calls a few people and 2 nurses come in with a portable XRay machine & take pictures of his chest, at which point I am somehow standing in the hallway, not understanding where I am or what’s going on. Someone says they need to start a second IV line, and then proceeds to poke holes in both his hands and his other elbow, as apparently his veins are buried under miles of baby fat. They finally get one in & I say “Gee- he’s sure been poked a lot today” or something equally stupid, and they check him again & the doctor says, not even hearing me “Get me whatever cc’s of Epinephrine”, and I thought- Epi? Is that Epi? Is that the ‘amp of Epi’ they always ask for on ER before the patient crashes???? And then they flip my kid onto his side, jab a huge needle into his thigh & the nurse says to the doctor- I’ve called the PICU and they are getting a room ready- do you want me to call a porter to take him down & the doctor says “No- we have no time- we’ll move him now” (WHAT!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!) And we all rush into the hallway, get on the elevator, and go (up or down- I can’t remember where) to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where the doctor, after having started him on a constant drip of epinephrine, tells me that “Either 1) he has had a severe anaphylactic allergy to either a) Ancef, the antibiotic, or b) morphine, or 2) the infection has gotten into his blood stream and he has c) septicemia or d) toxic shock syndrome, all FOUR of which look exactly the same until you get blood cultures back. We can’t treat his fever, cause we need to know what’s causing it, and we can’t treat the infection in case it’s the antibiotics causing this, and we can’t give him steroids for an allergic reaction cause if it’s toxic shock, that will cause problems. We have sent off blood work to test his liver & kidney are still functioning & we are getting the chest XRays developed right now. We need to make sure his system doesn’t start shutting down. And did no one ever tell you he has a heart murmur? (Oh, God- I can't take in any more information.) And I look at him, and he is so swollen his eyes are just slits and his skin is shiny & tight and he is bright red and sweating and RADIATING heat, and so very still that it finally sank in. He just isn’t that still. Ever.

And then she says ‘He’s a very sick little boy- we’ll take it hour by hour’. I honestly felt like I was in an ER episode where someone brings in their kid for a bruised toe and all of a sudden this chain reaction occurs & the kid dies. And then I thought “Oh, my God- that’s what she’s trying to explain to me- we’re that family and my kid might DIE and he hasn’t even eaten breakfast yet”. Mom & B., who had just popped in to visit cause Jason told them Squid needed antibiotics & mom wanted to bring me a book to read while I waited, got to the unit 3 room about 5 minutes after we left it, (and panicked when all they found was an empty room and a bunch of needle wrappers, I might add) and one of the nurses took them down to the PICU and they heard what the doctor was saying, which was good, because I didn’t absorb it because the whole time she spoke to me someone inside my head was yelling “FOR GOD’S SAKE, HE BANGED HIS PEEPEE WITH A DRUM STICK- WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE????????????????????????????????????” and mom had to re-tell me most of what she said.

So I went to the phone, and called Jason, who had only just gotten home again and explained to him exactly what the doctor had said, because maybe I didn’t understand & I was over-reacting, and if a cooler head listened to her words, maybe I would realize it was all ok. And he listened & very quietly said he was coming, and hung up and got there like 10 minutes later, so I knew it was not ok & I was NOT overreacting. When he got there, the doctor came in & said she had gotten the blood cultures, etc, back, and it looked like we were dealing with anaphylaxis, not TSS or sepsis, so that was good, but we may need to put him on a ventilator if his breathing gets any worse, and if his blood pressure drops any lower they will have to open up his wrist & place a gauge INSIDE the artery, because the blood pressure monitors can only pick up so low a pressure.

Luckily, they didn’t have to do either of these things, and through late Saturday night and Sunday morning he got better & better, and by late Sunday night the nightmare was over.

So from about 3 pm. Saturday till about 9 p.m. on Sunday, our baby was clinging to life in the PICU at the Children’s, getting pumped full of epinephrine and Benadryl and methyl prednisone & hydrocortisone & solumedrol & 11 other drugs (no shit- 11 others- I made them write everything down before we left, cause I want to be able to explain to future doctors exactly what happened). They moved us back upstairs on Sunday night. Later that night, they tried a new antibiotic and we did it all over again, except this time, they knew to watch him- his new room was right beside the nurse's station, they had the ‘emergency drugs’ by his bed, and a medical person was in attendance the whole time, so it never got very far at all.

By Monday afternoon, he was in good enough shape to be taken off most of the drugs he was on (he was already off the epinephrine drip- that was a condition before leaving the PICU), and by evening, he was eating and drinking on his own and being rude to the nursing staff (He started by yelling ‘GO AWAY’ at anyone who entered the room, and when I told him to stop cause he was being mean, he settled on yelling ‘BYE BYE’ whenever anyone with a stethoscope or a needle came near him). By Tuesday morning, he was able to have the catheter removed, and the IV came out Wednesday morning & we came home at about 2 that day.

They figured we’d have to stay till Thursday, but he was doing so well, they let us go on Wednesday. Now, however, he will sleep in our bedroom forever, and I will be examining him every 83 seconds for signs of impending doom.

There is still some confusion still about whether he reacted to the morphine, the antibiotics, or everything, which will be solved when he undergoes his allergy tests, but until then (end of August), he is not to have ANY medication, especially antibiotics, unless it is in a hospital setting. He also has an appointment next Wednesday with the Infectious Diseases guy at Children’s, because this guy is their antibiotic expert, and he wants to make sure Squid is still not reacting to this obscure antibiotic they finally had to use to treat him. And, for the now-comparatively-unimportant-as-it-is-not-currently-killing-him infection, he is on antibiotics for the next 6 days, and has a follow up appointment with the urology clinic in 4 weeks, at which point they will schedule an urgent circumcision, because now that he has gotten this infection, it is very likely to recur if he stays uncircumcised.

(Every time you have an anaphylactic reaction to something, it keeps getting more severe with every exposure. So until they figured out what it was he was allergic to (we know now it was the morphine)  I had  EpiPens in the diaper bag and at the day home, and all over the house, in case he came in contact with whatever it was.)

These pictures were taken in the PICU at the Children’s after it was all over and I felt like it wasn’t morbid to take a picture. Note the IV’s in both elbows, blood pressure cuff, oxygen tubes, chest monitor leads & the catheter coming from the diaper. What you can’t see are the needle holes in both thighs, both feet, and both arms. And of course, the infection that started it all.







So I joke, cause that is how I cope with things, but for 2 entire long, agonizing days, we thought that when we left the hospital, we’d be leaving alone. Jason brought Isaiah and Liz to the PICU on Sunday morning, just in case. We didn’t tell them that, of course, but they figured it out pretty quick. I kept trying to figure out how to explain to people that it was just an infection, but he was dead anyway. Whenever he was awake he kept screaming for mommy & daddy to make them stop poking him & hurting him & we couldn’t do it for him. Every time he needed something, he got screwed, and it broke my heart.

But we left on Wednesday, 5 days later than they originally thought, but a day earlier than hoped for, and he ran out the hospital doors and yelled bye-bye & blew kisses at everyone we passed in the hallways & we played in the park before we left there for good. So I figure I probably won’t win the lottery anytime soon, cause our luck's been used up, and I’m perfectly fine with that.

The Surgery
So I know it took me months to post (we've been CRAZY busy), but Squid had his surgery Thursday before last. When the doctor said 'He may be uncomfortable for a few days', he was obviously in some sort of liquor-fueled daze....

He couldn't eat the day of the surgery, so he woke up at 6 a.m., as per usual, and went without food till 3:15, which was surgery time- it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be- we just stayed really busy.
His surgery was actually very quick- in & out in 45 minutes, just 18 stitches to close the circumcision, and then the removal of the scar tissue from the infection (sort of like a vegetable peeler on a baby carrot- not cool.), and then 3 hours waiting to make sure he wasn't going to react oddly to the anaesthetic. The anesthesiologist mentioned (about 5 minutes before surgery) that Fentanyl might work as a pain reliever, and if we wanted to try it, we could do a supervised trial run in the hospital after the surgery, but she didn't know if we wanted to complicate the day at all, and just in case he reacted to that too, maybe the surgery was enough to deal with. After our morphine-induced downhill spiral in July, I was more than happy to agree with her. Little did I know...

Squid was a bit groggy when he woke up, and we took him home from the hospital a little before 7 p.m. He seemed tender, but not in too much pain, so we thought it was all good. We hadn't realized that the anaesthetic hadn't worn off yet. Which it did, at 9:42 p.m. Seriously- I kid you not- it was like flipping off a light switch- we watched his eyes shoot open & the screaming started. It didn't actually stop again till the following Tuesday. No joke. He screamed non-stop, except for when he passed out in exhaustion every few hours for a while right after we gave him his Tylenol, which was as often as we possibly could.

B. & D. got married on the Saturday right after his surgery, and instead of all of us attending like we planned, Liz & I went to the wedding alone. It was BEAUTIFUL, and Jason & Isaiah were so sad they missed it, but we had to have 2 people with Squid so that there was always someone there to relieve the other person when  the screaming got too bad.

Also- they don't tell you till AFTER the surgery that the bandage has to be removed on the 2nd day. Not by a professional. By you. They recommend soaking it in warm water, then gently peeling it off. This leaves the impression that the bandage will come off relatively easily. This is a BIG FAT LIE!!!! What actually happens is that you soak the bandage, and try to take it off (they don't tell you it's a clingy bandage, and that it's now glued shut with blood), and nothing happens except that you cause excruciating pain to your poor 2 year old. Jason was so upset- he had to hold Squid down while I tried to pull off the bandage without making him any more hysterical than he already was. Part of the problem was that there was also the weeping from the outside of his poor little unit from removing the scar tissue. He was actually screaming so hard that we were worried he was going to have a heart attack or something- he was bright purple, his eyes bulging out of his skull, screaming at the highest pitch I have ever heard him scream at. We finally decided that being gentle was making things worse, and opted for the 'yanking a bandaid' approach. It ended the agony, but I still can't talk about it.

Eventually the pain wore off, and and in about 5 or so days he was walking again, and in about a week and a half he was back at the dayhome. The swelling took till the end of October to completely go down, and the bruising lasted till early November. It took till Christmas to potty train him again, and till January for him to allow us to pull his underwear down for him when he gets dressed, or to wash him anywhere near that spot in the bath.

Now we're back to normal, and my sincere hope is that by this time next year he will have completely forgotten this whole agonizing ordeal- I figure it's likely- he's still young.

A friend asked me the other day if the whole drama made me rethink my stance on circumcision, and would I circumcise him at birth if we could do it all over again. I gotta tell ya- as much as I would have loved to save my baby all the heartache and pain, and as awful as it was, I still do not believe that if we ever had another boy, I would circumcise him.

I have a hard time believing that a newborn doesn't experience the kind of pain that Squid experienced during the process. A newborn simply doesn't have the capacity to express it to the outside world the way he did. I could never knowingly inflict that kind of horror on my child by choice. I actually think I am probably MORE against circumcision that I was before.

Anyway, all's well that ends well, but I think it will be a while before he stops asking if his peepee is going to hurt tomorrow...

So let's all take a moment and be grateful for our kids today, because you may not have a tomorrow to do it in.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Candid Camera

I just want one good picture. I don't think that's too much to ask.

I have a lovely picture of my cousin and myself with my Grandpa, who recently passed away, and didn't notice until my cousin's wife pointed it out that my youngest son is falling down the stairs in the background.

I have one single good picture from my wedding, as the photographer's young son exposed all 6 rolls of the film she had taken and we had to rely on copies of pictures taken by guests (and no- we weren't far-sighted enough to supply those cute little disposable cameras at every table).

Some idiot (I'm not naming names, but she is currently wearing my pj's and posting on my blog) recently told Squid, my youngest son, that he needs to smile nicely in pictures, and not make the constipated face. He is now bent double and straining in every shot taken since. Gorgeous.

I have a charming picture of my brand new baby boy on the hospital scale, weighing in at 9 pounds, 4 ounces, which I proudly attached to my birth announcement and emailed to everyone at work. This prompted a light-speed response from my supervisor, who wanted to know if I was aware that my right leg, from thigh to ankle, was actually in the OTHER half of the picture, and did I really mean to send that to a group of engineers? If I listen, I can still hear the screams of laughter...

I have a teenage daughter that takes umpteen pictures of herself, all of which involve her flashing a peace sign and making the duck face. (If you know a girl between the ages of 13 and 20, you know to what I refer. Otherwise, feel free to visit the website www.antiduckface.com). You would think that because of this, she would feel comfortable smiling sweetly in my pictures, so that we would have SOME recorded proof of her beauty. Not so. She delights in wrecking everything with her face in it.

I have a different picture of one of my two best friends holding my brand new baby girl. Immediately before posting it to Facebook, I noticed that although the FOREGROUND of the picture contains a stunning shot of Auntie L. and Eva, the BACKGROUND of the picture contains a midwife examining a bag of placenta, and me, naked from the waist up, chowing down as fast as I can on a plateful of toast and peanut butter. Seriously. It's like feeding time at the zoo.

This brings me to my latest attempt to get a nice, candid shot of all four kids, together, to remind us of this summer. This year, I have allowed myself to dream big enough to imagine a 10x14 print, professionally framed and matted, hanging on the big red wall in our living room.

I love nothing more than pictures of children doing what comes naturally, unaware that they're on camera. While at my husband's company's beach party this past weekend, which takes place at his boss's lake house, I happened to glance over and saw my children, standing together, silently gazing out at the water. Perfect. And with no camera in sight, utterly useless to me.

Not one to be defeated by trivialities, I set out to recreate the scene. Since it was obvious that by the time I retrieved the camera, the moment would have passed, I decided to wait until morning, when everyone was in a good mood and well rested. The following day dawned cold and windy, and after breakfast, determined not to give up, I gathered up baby Eva and Squid and made my way down to the beach. When I reached the water, I found my two teenagers standing within 15 feet of each other (a miracle unto itself) and handed them their siblings.

My instructions were simple. Stand at the water's edge, holding hands, just like last night, and gaze out at it with your backs to the..... Damn it. Who forgets the bloody CAMERA when they're taking a picture???

Ignoring the cries of "It's cold!", and "I'm shaking!", I sent Jason back to the house for the camera. Knowing perfectly well that allowing even one of the kids to step out of the shot would cause the rest of them to scatter like so much sand in a windstorm, I warned all of them to keep still, and proceeded to line them up by gender- that gave me the natural, carefree summer effect I was looking for.

Jason returned with the camera, and I turned to take the picture. Although I had been worried the night before about having boaters, jet-skiers and swimmers crowding the shot, the day was far too cold and the water far too choppy for any but the stupidest families to be on the beach at all.

My daughter Liz gave the baby a brisk rub (she was starting to look a bit blue at that point), and plopped her down directly into the freezing water, inspiring a screaming fit that lasted for 23 straight minutes. Past caring, I shrieked at Liz to stand up and relax and stop looking so COLD, yelled at Isaiah to hold onto Squid, who was desperately trying to make a break for the pile of towels he could see at the corner of his vision, and finally, blessedly, took the freaking picture (to the delight of friends, who were standing behind us, taking in all my parenting skills).

It looks great. Check it out. All the kids are getting along, and you can tell just by looking how happy they are to be together, and how appreciative of the short time they have to themselves. I am taking it in to have it matted and framed this weekend.

And whenever anyone admires it, I will tell them how I had been walking past, saw them, and just had to snap the picture, because I love nothing more than pictures of children doing what comes naturally, unaware that they're on camera.




Monday, 15 August 2011

Why This Seems Like a Good Idea....

I love to make people laugh. Even at the expense of my dignity, my children's self confidence, or my husband's sanity, I will repeat hideous things to get a giggle out of a total stranger. I really truly believe that when you screw up or your kids do something that will cause them embarassment later in life, you should HANG ONTO THOSE MEMORIES! One day, you will repeat them and make someone chuckle. (Usually, however, not the person involved in the actual memory. They mostly just cringe.) This makes all the aggravation worth it.

For years, people have been telling me I should write a book (this is their way of saying they are sick to death of my stories, and if I don't find a new audience, I will have to find new friends). The idea of a book scares me for several reasons, but mostly because I am lazy. If I can procrastinate, postpone, or simply not do something, I will avoid it like I owe it money. Somehow, piles of typed, unpublished manuscript taking over my dining room doesn't seem like something I can ignore for any extended period of time. (Yes, I realize that the actual manuscript would be stored on my hard drive, but this makes for a better image. Don't question it.) A blog, however, is something I can post to whenever I feel like it, ignore when I want to, and, if all else fails, I have found a handy 'Delete Blog' button I can resort to if need be.

One day, it is my hope that I will have enough blog entries to be able to gather them all together and turn them into a book. Even if it is one of those vanity press books (you know- where YOU pay THEM to publish it), at least my children will know I haven't scarred them for absolutely no good reason, and I will be able to keep my friends.


Let the shame begin.