Sunday, 25 September 2011

Going Batty

We all know I am bothered by camping bathrooms. When I was about 5 or 6, attending a family reunion at an Alberta campground, my cousin Dougie told me about the bad man who waits in the bottom of outhouses for little girls to go pee. Right when they're in the middle of peeing, when they're at their most helpless, he grabs them, pulls them in and makes them live forever in the darkness and poo. (I'm pretty sure Dougie was a great kid otherwise, but I dislike him to this day.)

It ruined me. Starting the very next bathroom trip, I was terrified. (It baffled my mother, as she was never able to figure out why.) This is a problem that persists to this day. I'm good if I'm there in the daylight, but I still get panicky when I have to lower my guard to pull up my pants. Nighttime? Not a freaking chance. If I have to pee, it's a group project. (And please don't think I won't stoop so low as to make Liz accompany me. We even have a song we sing about how brave we are while we're in there. Drowns out the spooky background noises.)

Recently, a lot of campgrounds have been replacing the one-holers in their outhouses with actual flush toilets, which solves a lot of problems for me- it eliminates the odor, darkness and scary bad man issues all in one fell swoop. A few years ago, we stayed at the Cypress HIlls Interprovincial Park, on the Saskatchewan side (they still do interpretive programs in Saskatchewan, and they have an AMAZING dark preserve that defies description). Cypress Hills, in their wisdom, had switched to flush toilets in their outhouses, and I was pleasantly surprised.

One night, after having consumed our usual 32 litres of cheap camping booze, Jamie, Lana and I made our way to the bathrooms. Jason had long since gone to bed, (he had gotten mildly tipsy setting up the tent the first day we got there, and it had upset his body clock for the entire rest of the trip. Every day thereafter, he was up at 4, drunk by noon and in bed by 7. Although incredibly annoying, it solved the problem of which one of us was going to lay down in the tent with Squid till he fell asleep), but it wasn't a big deal- there were 2 outhouses side by side, so 1 person would be able to wait outside the door to the one I was in. I wasn't really ALONE.

When we reached the outhouses, we realized that in our giddiness, we had only brought two sources of light with us- we didn't have a 3rd, and it was pitch black in the outhouses. As Lana and I looked at her, desperately NOT wanting to be the slasher bait without the lantern, Jamie piped up-

"I'll do it. I don't need a light- everything down there's been in the same place for the last 35 years, and I'm pretty sure I know where it all is."  Chuckling to herself, she went to the left hand outhouse. Lana and I cackled our way over to the other side of the shack, and I opened the door to go in first. I had had a LOT of wine.

I balanced my lantern on the edge of the sink (cold water only), and, already unbuttoning my jeans, turned towards the toilet. And there, struggling to get free, was a bat. A big one, the size of my hand. A giant black bat, squeaking in desperation, drowning in the toilet.

I couldn't breathe. I couldn't scream. The spit dried up in my mouth. It took me a few seconds just to force my paralyzed muscles to unlock. I snatched up my lantern and slammed back through the outhouse door, hysterical.

"Oh, my God. There's a bat. Drowning in the toilet." As I gasped out my story, I started to sob with relief. What if I hadn't seen it? What if I had SAT DOWN? The disgusting nasty creature, already infected with other people's skanky butt germ disease would probably have been thrilled at being presented with such a wide (ha ha) avenue of escape and bitten into my ass and held on for everything it was worth. I COULD HAVE DIED!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Lana was not amused. "Uh huh," she said, "and Micheal Myers is on the other side with a knife. Stop being crazy and hurry up and pee- I have to go."

"Go look." I told her.

Lana held up her flashlight, and cautiously opened the door. She poked her upper body into the outhouse, took a look, and slammed back out of the thing, nearly hitting me with the door and concussing me in the process.

"Oh. My. God." she said, gagging, "You're actually RIGHT."

Jamie came around the corner from her outhouse and looked at the two of us like we needed a spanking.

"What is WRONG with you idiots? People are SLEEPING!"

"She saw a bat in the toilet," said Lana.

"What are you??? New???" asked Jamie, "She's ALWAYS seeing stuff in the toilets."

To no one's surprise, she didn't believe a word of it till she looked into the facilities. But when she had proved to herself that I was without a doubt telling the truth, and not my paranoid version of it, she did what every good friend does and joined us in falling apart just a little.

We managed to make our way back to the campsite, laughing hysterically, with the occasional sob thrown in for good measure. Erik and Shawn were still up, and they wanted to know what all the screaming had been about. (You'll note that although they heard screaming, they didn't bother getting up to investigate. This is how often I scream out camping. It's doesn't even register anymore.) As we explained the situation, we discussed what needed to be done. We thought about just leaving it, but realized that the kids might get up before us in the morning, and may not be as lucky, and not see the bat before they sat down. Also- it was cruel. It HAD scared the bejeesus out of me, but I would never wish that kind of death on anyone. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wasn't going back in there. Ever. I would travel with toilet paper and pee on trees till the end of this trip. Jamie and Lana weren't dealing with it, either, so, by default, it became the boys' problem.

Armed with a stick, Erik and Shawn entered the outhouse, and were each just a little bit surprised by the fact that I WASN'T crazy. They knew there was a bat, as their wives had confirmed it, but they had counted on it being some sort of miniature specimen, roughly the size of your pinkie finger. A cuddly, non-threatening one. With pink polka dots, maybe. Instead, what they found was a big hairy black bat, roughly the size of my hand, still trying not to drown in the toilet. Its struggles, however, had become markedly weaker.

They leaned over the toilet bowl with the stick, touching the bat's claws, trying to get it to grab hold so they could transport it outside. The bat, though, had become so weak that ther few times they WERE able to get it to grab hold, it would simply fall back into the water as they lifted it up. Once they realized this wasn't going to work, they tried to use the stick to slide the bat up the side of the toilet, and sort of tip him over the edge to freedom, but wet bats are apparently very slippery, and they had to keep chasing the thing around the inside of the bowl, trying to slip the stick underneath it. In a short period of time, the situation had deteriorated so far that they were now essentially scrubbing the toilet bowl with a dying bat. Not only was it not helping, it was embarrassing for the bat.

Erik finally went back to the trailer and put on his 'dumping the porta-potti' gloves and came back. He reached in, pulled out the bat, (who at this point was gasping for breath and far too traumatized to bite anyone), and laid him outside the outhouse door, in the hopes that eventually it would come to its senses and make its way home.

The next morning, the story was told to all the children (and Jason) around the communal breakfast table, and everyone congratulated me on finally having something real to be afraid of. They also commended Erik and Shawn for being Mother Nature's Heroes (Hairy, Winged Creature Division).

I, personally, am thrilled to have a story to repeat when I tell people how crazy I'm NOT, and the others are less thrilled as they have come to realize that now, no matter WHAT I say, they have to give me the benefit of the doubt. Because, on the odd occasion, I turn out to be correct.

And Jamie doesn't pee in the dark anymore.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Immediate Consequences and Technology

When I was a teenager, I screwed up all the time. That's what teenagers do. They're argumentative, impolite, and they don't listen to a word you say. That's their job. Your job is to catch them at it and make them suffer. It's a nice back and forth that keeps everyone happy.

The nice thing about being a teenager in the 80's and 90's, like I was, is that as long as you covered all your bases, you could get away with just about everything. A quick couple of notes passed in school to make sure that Friend X knew that if your mom called tonight, to say you were in the shower; or to ask Friend Y to unplug their kitchen phone so that all your dad heard when he tried to call to check up on you was a constant unanswered ring. It was simple, it was quick, and it was easy to keep track of.

The technology to catch your kids doing something they weren't allowed to do simply didn't exist. You couldn't put a GPS trace on your teenage son's phone and figure out where he was, and you couldn't phone your daughter's cell at 2 a.m. to make sure she was safe and sober. You couldn't monitor their conversations with their friends to check up on what they were doing and with whom. You actually had to be in the room to catch them red-handed at ANYTHING. Now, thanks to entities like Research in Motion, Microsoft, and Steve Jobs, you can bust your kids long distance. I love that I was born in an age where these options are available to me.

The downside here is that often, the actual technology causes the problem. When I was a teenager & wanted to complain to my friends about my mother, as long as I didn't do it within hearing distance of a responsible snitch (adult), I could get away with it. Not so today. The following is a series of text messages between myself and my son....

Isaiah: Can I go to the mall and then to a movie after school?
Me: No. You have been out every night this week. I want you home at 4.
Isaiah: Please. I will stay home every night this weekend.
Me: No. You need to do homework and you need to do chores. I want you home at 4.
Isaiah: Please???
Me: Just cause you keep asking does not mean I will change my mind.
Isaiah: Please? I will do the laundry this weekend.
Me: Now you're making me angry. Be home at 4.
Isaiah: What if I do my chores AND Liz's chores?
Me: If I have to tell you one more time to be home at 4, I will snap and you will be grounded till June.

(10 minute gap in conversation)

Me: Are you clear on the fact that you need to be home at 4? This is non-negotiable.
Isaiah: (In what he must have thought was a text to his girlfriend) OMG- my mother is pissing me off. She keeps repeating shit that she's already told me. And now I can't go out.
Me: I think that was meant for Polly.
Isaiah: Crap. Now I feel like an ass.

Nothing says 'immediate consequences' like Blackberry Messenger.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Driving Him Crazy

Although I haven't had an accident in over 5 years, historically, my driving record is pretty dismal. Entire families of insurance agents were sending their kids to Ivy League Universities and taking ski vacations in Europe on my premiums alone.

My problem was that for years I worked nights. I got up at 6 a.m. with the kids in the morning, took care of them all day, shuttled them back and forth to school and various other activities, then ran out the door at 5 to work a full 8 hours at work. I am able to juggle a lot of things. I can multitask like you wouldn't believe. I can survive on next to no sleep. But I couldn't do all those things AND drive. Interestingly, since I stopped working nights and started working days, I have only had one accident, and that occurred when Squid was about 8 weeks old. I have a sneaking suspicion that sleep deprivation was probably a factor in that one as well. Just a guess.

It occurs to me that rather than write a 400 page essay about my driving difficulties, I could tell about each accident (or the funny ones, anyway) in a different blog, and scatter them throughout my postings, like little gems of stupidity for people to find and treasure.

Even when I had stopped working at McDonald's, and started working at Starbucks, Ronald and his greasy friends still found ways to screw with me. One night after a late shift at Starbucks (in my world, they were all late), I found myself leaving work with enough time to hit the McDonald's drive through (oh, how prophetic those words seem in hindsight....). I had been craving a McChicken for days.

I hopped into the car- our brand new (to us) Saturn, which we had possessed for exactly 4 months, and off I went. I pulled into the drive through and ordered my McChicken. I thought about getting something for Jason, then figured he'd be asleep when I got home, and besides, when you're a mother and wife, sometimes you just want to be selfish. When was the last time I had done something just for ME?

I grabbed my change from the kid at the window, and pulled forward. As I made my way up, I heard a nasty little crunching sound, and looked up to see that I had scraped my side view mirror off the car with the yellow cement pole put in place in drive throughs to prevent customers from hitting the building. The bloody mirror was dangling from its mount, hanging from a strip of plastic molding the width of my pinkie.

Slightly stunned by this turn of events, I leaned out the window and checked the pole, which, being cement, was unaware it had even been attacked. I pulled up to the next window, where the girl was leaning out, mouth open, bag in hand, watching as this out-of-control customer trashed her drive through. Since my first reaction to anything is to minimize my OWN embarrassment, I smiled sweetly at her, thanked her politely, grabbed my McChicken out of her fingers, and pulled away, side view mirror waving in the breeze. To this day, I deeply appreciate that she waited for the window to close before exploding into hysterical laughter.

All the way home, I thought about it. We had never before owned a car so new and in such good shape. We had actually purchased the thing FROM A DEALERSHIP. Never in our lives had we expected this to happen. And now I had to go home to tell Jason I had hurt it. This was not news to which he was going to react well. I had totaled our last vehicle, caused immeasurable damage to another, and the very first thing he said to me when we got the Saturn was for God's sakes, to be careful.

Maybe I could fix it. It was molded plastic, so it seemed to me that it might be like the arm of a Barbie- you should just be able to pop it back in, shouldn't you? I pulled up in front of the condo, left the headlights off, and inspected the damage by the light of the streetlamp. No dice. Maybe at one point, the thing had been 2 separate pieces that snapped together, but if you blew Barbie's arm off with a rocket launcher, you weren't going to be able to stuff the shredded remains back into the socket either. Same concept here.

I stealthily pulled out my cellphone and dialed my best friend Jamie's number. Shawn is a licensed heavy-duty mechanic, and if any repair looked heavy-duty, this was it (Yes, I realize that this is not what is meant by 'heavy-duty'. Work with me, here.)

"Hello?" she said, wondering what idiot was calling her house at midnight on a weekday.

"Hey," I responded in a whisper, lest Jason hear my voice, "is Shawn there?"

"Uh, yeah...." (considering that they were probably in bed sleeping at this point in the evening, it may have been a dumb question)

"Ask him how to put the side view mirror back on a car. Is this something I can do myself?"

I heard a whispered conversation, a grunt, a chuckle, and then she came back on the line. "No, Heather. You can't do it yourself. You're going to have to tell him."

"Thanks for nothing!" I whisper-shrieked, "It's good to know you guys value my LIFE!!!!"

I hung up the phone and rooted around in the glove box till I found a roll of electrical tape. It would have to do. At least it was black- maybe it wouldn't show.

15 minutes later, I stepped back and admired my handiwork. Although the electrical tape DID blend awfully well with the black of the plastic housing, the only way to keep the mirror on was to wrap miles of tape around the the actual frame of the window. The mirror would stay on, but the window couldn't close all the way. This might have flown in the summer, but not in
-30 degree weather. I was hooped.

I parked the car and dragged myself into the house. Jason was awake on the couch, and as he looked up and saw my face, he knew it could only mean one thing. His smile fell, his shoulders slumped, and the sparkle went out of his eyes.

"Want my McChicken?" I asked.

It was the least I could do.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Banning The Brat. A Rant.

I kinda promised myself that I wasn't going to get into social commentary using this blog, because I hate that every Tom, Dick, and Harry has an opinion about EVERYTHING. I know I can get preachy, and trust me, I do not need another soapbox.

Unfortunately, this is killing me. I just watched my PVR'd episode of Dr. Phil's 'Brat Ban', about airlines banning children, or wait staff asking parents with screaming kids to leave restaurants, and I feel like I have to say something. Seriously- it's bubbling up behind my lips (or my fingers, I guess) and if it doesn't come out, my brain will explode.

It's so simple.


Aaaaaaaah. I feel better now.

Seriously. There was a woman on the show who complained that she was asked to leave a public library because her child was 'cooing' too loudly. Had the noise actually been a loud 'coo', it STILL would have been disruptive, but they played some audio of the sound this kid makes when he's happy, and it is NOT a coo. It is a scream. You know the screamy noise a one year old makes when they're just learning they have a voice? That godawful, earsplitting, MOTHER of a screech? No wonder the library asked her to leave. (Interestingly, it seems this woman then threw a raging temper tantrum about it and was arrested and banned forever from that particular library. Perhaps the whole family could do with some behavior modification.)

I don't know about you guys, but I remember when we were growing up, every time mom took us to the library, she told us on our way in the door to be quiet. And we were. When did 'Sssh' cease to be the standard for a library? Did the rules change and I didn't get the memo? This is why I take my kids (and the dayhome kids) to the library at VERY specific times. We go when everyone is well rested and no one is having a hard day. We sit together to read, and if the kids make too much noise after I have asked them once to speak quietly, we leave. No threats, no tantrums, no embarrassment. Simple as that. I was in the library the day before yesterday with a 5 year old, a 3 year old, and 2- 1 year olds. We were there for 30 minutes (which is about as long as they can handle), and everyone behaved beautifully. When I started to notice that everyone was getting a little tired of the outing, I, AS THE RESPONSIBLE ADULT IN THE GROUP, made the decision that it was time to go. I did not let the kids dictate whether we were staying or going, or humor them and wait so long that they became angry, overtired, and disruptive. Why? Because it's rude. Because whatever the kids are doing is MY responsibility, not the problem of everyone else in the building. And because I want to raise adults who accept the consequences for their own behavior, not overgrown children who will eventually blame society for their crimes.

Some restaurants are now banning children under the age of 6, or have a zero tolerance policy for screaming children.

ABOUT FREAKING TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's not a difficult concept. If you are unable to teach your child table manners or how to behave acceptably while in a restaurant, you need to take them somewhere more suited to their skill level. Again- not hard. If your kid can't sit still, shoves food in double handfuls into their mouths, or still screams at the dinner table (and at various times, I have had children who do all those things, sometimes all at once), DOWNGRADE. Take them to the McDonald's Playland. Take them to Chuck E. Cheese. But do not take them to La Caille On The Bow or Pasquale's or Japanese Village and assume that the diners surrounding you appreciate the dulcet tones of your budding soprano. They do not. If I am going to pay $35 for my appetizer, you can bet your ass that your screeching child has ruined my evening, and the evenings of everyone else around you.

It's hard to teach kids to behave. I have taken my kids out of more restaurants than I can remember actually being in. I have eaten ribs alone in Tony Roma's while Jason walked around the parking lot with a 2 year old in the throes of a meltdown. He has watched a movie by himself because Isaiah was screaming and I left the theater. I have repeated the words "Please take your elbows off the table" until I am blue in the face. Every time my children speak, I expect to hear 'please' or 'thank you' follow it. (And trust me- teaching gratitude to a teenager will NOT make you age gracefully.) I have spent every minute of my parenting life trying to teach my children how to behave appropriately in as many situations as may arise in their lifetimes. I KNOW it's possible to teach a 2 year old to wipe their face and ask "May I please be excused?" when they leave the dinner table. I have taught it to my kids, and I have taught it to my dayhome kids. Kids are smart. They understand what is expected of them, and are more than happy to do it. If you do not expect kindness, courtesy, and good manners, they will give you exactly that.

Here's the payoff.

The number one compliment I get about my children??? How polite they are.

I can take my teenagers to a fancy restaurant, and they can handle themselves like champs. There may be some discussion about dessert forks vs. salad forks, but I can trust that they will put their napkins in their laps and not knock over the stemware reaching across the table for the salt. (No- I do not expect this from the little ones. I know my limits. And theirs.)

That movie Jason watched alone? The manager was so impressed when he saw me sitting alone in the lobby with my sobbing infant (we figured he'd nap through the movie, but alas, we were mistaken), that he refunded both our tickets, gave us 2 free passes for the next time we went, and a $20 gift certificate for the concession. (That alone should tell you how rarely people with crying babies actually leave a movie theater.)

When our group of friends went to Disneyland in 2004, we had with us a 10 year old, three 8 year olds, and two 5 year olds. On an Alaskan Airlines flight on the way back, the attendant came over to us and asked if we were Canadian. We were a little confused, but told him yes, we were. And he smiled and said "I could tell. Your kids are all so polite and well behaved. I just wanted to thank you for making it such an enjoyable flight."

Holy crap. Really? Cause we all thought our kids were out of control. Honestly- we had just spent seven days in the happiest place on earth and they were coming down from a WICKED sugar high. We figured they had used up every last ounce of good behavior in them. The six of us adults beamed all the way home. We smiled for weeks. And it took MONTHS for my mom to stop having to hear the story every time I called her.

And last November, when Jamie and Shawn and Jason and I and the kids went to Banff for the weekend, we had dinner at the Grizzly House (you know that awesome fondue restaurant?). The concept here is boiling oil. It's fondue. Everything is hot. There are signs posted EVERYWHERE asking that you keep your children seated so they don't get their faces burned off.

We timed the dinner well. I made sure 6 month old Eva was just beginning a nap when we got there, and we made sure the other kids weren't overly hungry on arrival, because fondue, by nature, is a long-ass meal.

The expressions on the faces of our two waiters when we walked in with our baby, (who, by the way, will not get to go this year, as she will be a toddler and therefore unable to cope with a two-hour-long, burning hot meal- see how it works????), our 5 year old, and our gaggle of pre-teens and teenagers was priceless. We had just ruined their day (and quite possibly their entire weekend, depending upon how badly it went). We sat down with the kids and let them order away. Some of them felt more comfortable with beef, chicken, buffalo or venison, and the more adventurous ones tried shark, alligator, rattlesnake, ostrich and frog's legs. No one complained about the cheese fondue that was heavily flavored with Kirsch- they simply tried it, and if they didn't like it, went on to something else. They were polite to the waiters, stayed in their seats, and avoided using the phrase "Ewww! GROSS!!!!” At the end of the evening, both waiters came up and thanked us for defying their expectations and complimented the kids on their beautiful manners. (We doubled their already generous tip.)

Who doesn't want to hear that about their children??? Wouldn't you rather have service people (and, having been one for years, be assured they are a crusty bunch with very little goodwill) exclaim over how beautifully your children have comported themselves, rather than have everyone in a 50 foot radius glaring in your direction and using you as an example in their next rant about 'kids today'?

Let's recap. It’s not the kids who are the problem. It's us.

As parents, we are tasked with teaching our children to become respectable, productive members of society. Adults who throw food, loudly monopolize conversations, belch, slurp, interrupt others and can't sit still are generally assumed to be either drunk or from Wetaskawin. Neither of these things is something you want people to think about your offspring.

Would you want your child to be left off the guest list for parties, or have no one to sit across from at lunch? Do you want people to give your kid that vacant smile (we've all used it!) when they interrupt a conversation to talk about themselves for the umpteenth time? To suddenly realize that they have no social life because they are rude and unpleasant to be around? This is what happens to people who lack basic manners and social skills. Why doom your child to that sort of existence? Don't you want your kids to get everything they can out of life?

SOMEONE has to teach our children how to become adults. For those lazy parents who can't be bothered to say no, it seems as though the choice is finally being taken out of their hands.

Thank God.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Go To Bed

Every night, we do the 'go to bed' dance.

It starts at about 6:30 with Eva, who is the only one who should be difficult to put to bed, and, consequently, is the easiest one to get there. We get her into pj's, cuddle on the couch with a cup of milk, and pop in her soother. Then we lay her down in bed, turn on her lullaby seahorse, and she's done. It took her till she was 1 to sleep through the night, so I figure we had this coming.

It's the older kids who seem to have a problem with the process. They have had roughly 13,505 bedtimes between the 3 of them, and still, none of them seem to get it.

Squid has (as we have already discussed) a bladder that never runs dry. So if you tell him to go pee before you read him a story (almost always 'The Gruffalo'- best kid's book EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!), he will still need to go AFTER the story. And again before you flip the light off. And he still gets up 15 minutes later and pounds on the door of whatever bathroom someone else is in, and pees another 8 to 10 liters. Then he drinks a glass of water. It's a vicious, vicious cycle.

The big kids seem to have selective hearing problems. And issues telling time. And organizational problems. And I kinda think they hate me, too.

Recently, I told them I wanted them in bed by 9:30. Whatever they needed to get done before bed needed to happen now. I used small words, looked them in the eyes, and enunciated clearly. I then had them repeat my instructions verbatim. This was at 8 p.m.

It's not that I want them to go to sleep right away. I understand that they might not be tired yet. I just need them out of my space. I don't think a few hours of undisturbed quiet in my living room is too much to ask after spending all day ruining their lives. I want to sit down and watch Shark Week, uninterrupted by sarcastic commentary from the peanut gallery (who both think "America's Got Talent' is quality TV). I want to eat the ice cream I've been hiding in the back of the freezer for 6 months without having to share a spoon. I want not to have to write a cheque for yet another replacement set of gym strip (2011 total? $125.). I have at times sent them to bed, sat down and logged into Facebook and had them comment on my status as I watched. Stealth is not one of their talents.

They both told me they had finished everything they needed to do, and proceeded to lay on opposite couches in the living room, watching 'The Office'. When I repeated myself every 7 minutes or so, they assured me that they were completely ready for bed. I really started to believe them. Maybe this would be the night they listened. Maybe this would be the night I got some time to myself. Maybe tonight was the night.

Bull. They were screwing with me.

At exactly 9:25, as I stared openmouthed in disbelief, both kids sat bolt upright on their respective couches, threw down their remote controls and cell phones, and fled like I had just released a hive of Africanized bees. I heard their steps thundering up and down the stairs, and then silence. Nothing.

I got up to look for them, and found Liz in the shower. When I asked what in the name of God she was doing, she opened the shower curtain, and stared at me through a haze of steam, shocked that I dared interrupt her nightly ritual.

"I'm showering." she pointed out.

"Yes," I said, "but you need to be in bed in 4 minutes."

"That's fine. I'll just straighten my hair instead of blowdrying it."

"What????" I almost flushed the toilet just to watch her scream. "You aren't going to straighten your hair! You need to be in bed in 3 minutes. Now go to your ROOM!"

"Fine!" She slammed the curtain closed (inasmuch as you can slam vinyl), muttering about her unreasonable mother and how I had no idea how irritating her hair was. Really? I have hair so curly I can hold the kids' hands with it. Seriously. It's like a billion rotary phone cords, sticking out of my skull. I just know how to use a scrunchy.

With her dealt with, I went looking for Isaiah. I found him seated at the kitchen table, surrounded by textbooks, piles of paper in hand, half-gnawed pencil in his mouth, looking for all the world like he'd been there since noon.

"Seven pages?" he muttered, staring at a sociology textbook like it was about to bite him on the nose. "This will take me HOURS."

How do you argue with homework? You can't tell them NOT to do it, and telling them that they should have started it earlier is next to useless. If you fling a textbook at their heads, it might make them stupid, which makes homework take longer. You can't tell them that they'll have to do it in the morning, because then YOU have to get up early to make sure they're awake to do it. There is no consequence that makes sense. I settled for throwing his pencil across the room and storming out of the kitchen.

At 10:15, I gave up and went to bed. The point was lost. Even if I did get some alone time, I'd be too tired the next day to make it worth the wait. I crawled into bed, snuggled into the blankets, and drifted off to sleep, only to be awoken 34 seconds later by a phone call from my daughter's cell, from her bedroom, asking for $7.50 for pizza day tomorrow.

I should have had cats.

Friday, 9 September 2011


I felt bad that it took me 5 straight days to publish the last blog, so this one's a little bonus for anyone who was suffering withdrawal! Enjoy!

Jason is a great dad. That said, he drives me crazy. He believes that children should never feel like their parents don't know all the answers, but he is too lazy to Google things. He makes things up and forgets to explain afterwards. He finds it amusing that kids take your every word seriously.

This is a bad, bad combination.

He once told one of the toddlers, after I had blown up over finding yet another booger smeared on the wall, that if they ate them, mommy would stop yelling. Although I haven't seen a booger since, it was the most disgusting problem solving method I've ever come across.

Liz slept in our room for a week after we had our floors done. She walked in and admired the brand new pseudo-wood, to which Jason's response was to be careful. Laminate flooring breeds lampires, a special breed of demon that crawls out of the floors at night and sucks your blood. She was 10 at the time, but apparently the mental picture was too much for her to handle. I made her sleep on his side of the room.

When Isaiah was 4, there were a few weeks in the summer where I though he'd gone simple. Every time a plane flew by, he would roar with laughter, nearly hysterical in his glee. I didn't get it.

Other airborne objects didn't turn him in a gibbering fool. Helicopters didn't make him titter. Seagulls didn't give him the giggles. I had never seen him snicker in delight at the appearance of a helium balloon. Not a single guffaw over kites at the park. Odd.

I finally became frustrated enough to ask Jason about the airplanes.

"Oh, that." he smiled, "I forgot about that. He asked me why planes left contrails in the sky. I didn't know, so I told him that planes are pressurized. Airplane food makes people fart, and all that extra air being released into the cabin could make the plane explode. So at the back of the plane is a tiny vent, and every time someone farts, they open the vent and let the fart out. That way, the plane doesn't blow up, and nobody dies from the smell. Now every time he sees a contrail, he loses it. It's kind of cute."

That man needs to be supervised.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Hot Food

I have to apologize for the length of time it's taken me to post another blog. This week is the first week of school and between ferrying Squid to school (and bringing Eva and the entire dayhome along for the ride) and writing hundreds of dollars of cheques for the older 2, I seem to have run out of time and energy. However- I have opened a bottle of wine, and am sitting here with a glass of Strawberry Boone's over ice (quite possibly the best thing in the whole world), and have found the strength to type the latest installment....

I have no taste buds.

It's not some strange mutation or an accident at birth. I'm just stupid. There is something about the look of food fresh from the oven that I just cannot pass up. Intellectually, I know it will hurt. I'm not such a dolt that I really BELIEVE that this time it won't burn the skin off my lips. I just don't care. I'm a very visual person. The sight of freshly cooked food does something for me. It shuts down the connection between brain and hand. And the resulting scorch mark on my tongue is more than worth it to me. On more than one occasion, I have picked so much food off the baking tray or out of the casserole dish that by mealtime, I am full. (And if it contains melted cheese, there is a possibility no one else will get to eat, either.)

Some time when you're bored and have nothing to do, take a look at a dish fresh from the oven. Bread crusts glisten with that little bit of butter, and you can actually see the steam rising from it as it cools. Meats have that little bit of juice pooling around the spices on the surface, just BEGGING you to cut into it. Casseroles have a gorgeous looking crust that you know will only get hard by the time you serve it. This is the only time that your food will actually LOOK like the pictures in cookbooks and magazine advertisements. How do you NOT taste it??? It's GOT to be good! Nothing that pretty can hurt you!!! (Note- it is also this type of thinking that got me into trouble with boys as a teenager....)

My family and friends make fun of me for it constantly. You have to admit, it's pretty funny. Even the youngest of the kids can hear a screech from the kitchen, and will tell anyone within hearing distance not to worry- it's only Auntie Heather putting burning food in her face.

Recently, one of my best friends made fun of me for doing it. We had just pulled a dish of potatoes out of the oven, and I couldn't help snagging a little piece, just to see if it tasted as good as it looked (I never get to find out, by the way. It's physically impossible to TASTE something as it burns a hole through your soft palate.) I popped the piece of nuclear-hot potato into my mouth, and, predictably, gasped and did that open-mouthed pant that is the hallmark of idiots everywhere.

"You know," she said, "you don't actually have to do that with EVERY dish. They're all going to be hot. It's not a new concept. It's going to happen every time."

I know this. However, since there is no logical argument on the PRO side of what I was doing, I laughed and let it go. Really- it IS pretty dumb.

And then, with absolutely perfect timing, as she closed the utensil drawer with the hand wearing the oven mitt, she used the other one to reach over to slide the potatoes aside to make room for the pork chops.

Now THAT was a scream. My shocked gasp had nothing on her shriek of pain and embarrassment. And as I turned on the cold water tap for her to douse her smoking hand, I did what every good friend does, and laughed my ass off. I may not be able to TASTE my dinner by the time we ate it, but at least I had enough digits left to hold my fork.

Score one for my taste buds.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Body Mass And Shame

I WANT to be fit. I want to be one of those moms walking down the street with my gaggle of offspring and have people gasp and say "They must be adopted! Look at her hips!" I want to sigh to my friends about how I just CAN'T find clothes that fit me unless I shop in the girls' section. I want people to confuse me with my daughter. I want to be able to walk past a brownie without sucking it into the gravity well that is me....

That's the thing about having kids- I lost all the weight from being pregnant with Isaiah within 6 weeks of his birth. (Not being able to afford food probably helped.) I lost all the weight after Liz (except about 10 pounds I had gained in BETWEEN kids) within about 6 months. With Squid and Eva both, I had gestational diabetes, and although I LOST weight during pregnancies due to the diabetic diets I was on with both of them, I was so excited to eat carbs again after they were born that I picked up another 30-odd pounds over the course of their baby years.

This means I am no longer the skinny size 2 I was in high school. Basically, I've eaten a whole other small person. I have reached a poundage that I USED to think was only attainable by professional wrestlers and marine mammals. (Lest you take me seriously and have a mental image of someone who wears bedsheets and needs a wall knocked down to get out to the emergency room, please understand that although I make fun, I don't need to worry about the weight limit on a busy elevator. I'm just saying I don't feel super comfortable in leather anymore.)

Anyway, every few years, I feel motivated and decide to do something about it. It drives Jason crazy when I do this. Although there are some things he doesn't mind, like the fact that I try to avoid packaged foods, use plain yogurt instead of full fat sour cream, and how we don't fry grilled cheese sandwiches (they always get done in the toaster oven so you don't need butter), he hates the gym membership merry go round.

You know how it works. You realize you need to do something about your shape, so you pop into a gym (World Health Club, Heaven's, and Curves are a few of my failures), commit to the monthly fee, and start off the next week full of energy and optimism. You KNOW you're only a few workout sessions away from the body you've always wanted to have.

You do a few workouts, and relish the feeling of slight stiffness in your muscles when you wake up the following morning. You remember how ENERGIZED you feel after a workout. You start window shopping (not REAL shopping- it's too soon) for 2 piece bathing suits again. You talk slightly condescendingly to people who DON'T have gym memberships about how much better they'd feel about themselves if they got some exercise. You start to feel a kinship with people like Jane Fonda and Lance Armstrong.

And then reality sets in. It takes so much TIME! You can't go to the gym early in the mornings, cause what if there's traffic, and you can't get back home before your husband leaves for work? You can't go during the day, because who wants to pay for babysitting on top of your membership fees? You can't go at night, because what kind of mother chooses a workout over spending quality time with her children? You want to wait till after the kids are in bed, but then you don't have time for a shower before bed or you'll wake up exhausted. Your visits to the gym start to happen fewer and farther between. You start making up reasons not to drive past the mall that it's in. You avoid using any words beginning with 'g' around your husband, lest he ask about your next visit. Mid-August, you hide your gym bag under the Christmas decorations. You realize that these are not the actions of a woman who really wants to go back. And you quietly finish making the next year or 2 of payments, and vow never to buy another gym membership.

Till next time.

In one incarnation as a fitness failure, I bought a membership at World Health Club. I really committed for a few months. I went to the gym every other day, with an almost religious fervour. I bought workout clothes and USED them. I meant it this time! And, predictably, I got tired of it. The problem was, we lived less than 2 blocks from World Health Club. I started to get paranoid. What were they thinking? What were they saying? Were they having staff meetings where they all discussed the fat kid, and agonized over how to bring her back into the fold? Were they watching the doors, anxiously awaiting my return? They must be so disappointed in me. I was.

I stopped walking to the dry cleaner's, in case one of the trainers saw me through the reflective front windows of the gym. I started parking directly in front of the liquor store when I bought wine, so that I could scope out the parking lot, and when it was clear, dash from one door to the other without being seen. I quit buying gas at the Petro Can next door.I started letting the kids run into 7-11 themselves to get a slurpee while I stayed in the car. Everywhere I looked, I saw phantom World Health Club Trainers. I was on the verge of becoming a shut in.

And then one day, as the kids and I were grocery shopping at Safeway (not even the Safeway across the street, dammit, the OTHER Safeway), I finally ran into an ACTUAL World Health Club trainer.

"Heather! " she screeched (in an emaciated tone of voice), "How ARE you? Where have you BEEN? I haven't seen you in AGES!!!!"

And every lesson I have ever taught the kids about honesty, integrity, and taking responsibility for your actions went flying right out the window. Right in front of the very people to whom I am supposed to be modeling dignity and trustworthiness, I gave a performance worthy of a politician with a gambling problem.

"Oh!" I trilled, "It's so good to see you again! We actually just got back from taking the kids on an extended trip to Europe."

"You should have told us!" she exclaimed, "We could have put a hold on your membership until you returned!"

"Oh, it was such a surprise," I said, "We were only going to be gone a month, but the kids were being exposed to so much culture, and were having such a great learning experience that we decided to stay for 6 months."

"Wow," she said, "what an awesome opportunity! I would have loved to have a trip like that as a kid! You guys," (turning to my kids, who were teary-eyed and shaking with restrained screams of laughter) "have amazing parents. You'll remember that for the rest of your life!" (Yes. Unfortunately, yes. They will.)

As we finished our conversation and turned and walked away, I looked at the kids and their unbridled glee at my acute discomfort. I realized what I had to do. I hated it, but I had no choice. I had to save SOME little scrap of dignity.

We moved.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Birth Control And How It Works

After Isaiah and Liz were born, when Jason and I were in one of our "we've had enough kids, I think our family is complete" phases, I went back on The Pill (you'll notice I've capitalized it so it won't be confused with things like Advil or Gravol or Oxycontin).

We had had a lot of discussions about the pro and cons of various forms of birth control, and settled on The Pill, mostly because I like to control EVERYTHING. The greatest thing about The Pill is actually that fun dial-a-Pill disk. It's cool. It made me feel like I was eating Pez every night before bed (I didn't get out much at the time.)

When the big kids were little, Jason and I made a concentrated effort to be the ones to raise them. It was really important to us to be their primary caregivers. It worked out great- both our big kids are super-confident, really well adjusted, generally great kids, and I credit this to our being at home with them for the first 5 years of their lives. (If one of them ever commits mass murder or votes for the Pirate Party Of Canada (no joke- real party- see, we'll blame that on the chemicals in tap water, not their upbringing, which was obviously highly successful.)

The problem was, we weren't a 'single income' type family- not if we wanted to eat. Our solution was that Jason would work days landscaping, and I would work nights. So every day, Jason would get home at 4:30, and I would give him the abridged version of how everyone's days had gone, and what needed to get done that night, and rush out the door to be at McDonald's (and later Starbucks) by 5. This meant that for most of the big kids' childhoods, we were essentially 2 single parents operating out of the same home. And as a (pseudo) single parent, you can't possibly be on top of EVERYTHING.

One night, when the big kids were about 2 and 4, I came home from Starbucks after my shift at around midnight, and found the house peaceful, kids in bed, fast asleep, and Jason, standing in the bathroom, looking around with a puzzled expression.

"I put them to bed, and about half an hour later I heard them laughing and came in here. I don't know what's wrong. But something has to be."

He had checked the usual- Liz had been known to mascara herself up like an undercover cop on a vice sting, and Isaiah had flushed more things down the toilet than I care to remember, so it shouldn't have been hard to figure it out. We looked for almost an hour, but between the two of us, we couldn't figure out WHY they had been so happy. And nothing scares me like a happy kid.

We figured nothing was wrong and gave up looking. Right up until my pretend-Pez moment before bed. I went into the bathroom to take My Pill, and couldn't find the fun little disk. With a sinking heart, I checked Isaiah's room, and yep. There it was. In the corner. One empty plastic package (which had been almost completely full that morning), and one lonely, little, pink Pill laying on the carpet beside it.

Praying Isaiah had simply taken them out and flushed them (and we all KNOW it's never that easy, hmmmmm???????), I shook him awake to ask him where they had gone. When I finally got my point across his sleepy little brain, he stammered out,

"We ate them! We ate your candies! But it's ok, cause I shared! We went one for me and one for her and one for me and one for her!" And at the end there was one left over and I didn't even keep it for myself!!!!!"

DAMN those Pill companies and their fun little dispensers! What the hell were they THINKING??? (We'll gloss over the part where I left them on the bathroom counter instead of putting them back inside the medicine cabinet, shall we???) There must be kids all over the WORLD dropping dead from estrogen or progesterone or whatever-it-was-in-there poisoning!!! WHAT HAD WE DONE??????????????

As Jason dragged a sleeping Liz out of her crib and proceed to try to stuff the two of them into winter jackets and boots for the trip to the emergency room, I called poison control to find out if there was anything I could do to keep them alive till we got there. When the woman on the other end picked up, I blurted out my story, nearly hysterical with early-onset grief.

And she laughed.

And laughed.

And laughed.

And then explained that this happens all the time. Mostly due to the awesome little Pez-like dispensers. And that there was nothing to worry about because the amount of hormone in the package wasn't nearly enough to harm a child or have any lasting effects.

"Your son will probably throw up in the next few days," she explained, "and since your daughter has just received a fairly large dose of adult women's hormones, she may be a little off kilter as well."

Awesome. We put down the phone, got the kids out of their winter gear, flushed the last remaining Pill, and crawled into bed, absolutely wrung right out.

The following day, as Isaiah was coming down the stairs when I called him for lunch, he threw up. It wasn't a little bit of barf that can be easily cleaned off the carpet. It was a GEYSER of puke that sprayed the stairwell, the walls, the railing, and dribbled through the railing onto the toy box below. Whereupon Isaiah turned to run back up the stairs to the bathroom (still puking) and got the OTHER half of the stairwell, the hallway  carpet, and most of the bathroom floor. I plunked Liz down in the living room and spent the next hour wiping vomit off virtually every surface in the top floor of my home. Isaiah sat in the bathtub with a bucket and watched me.

Seriously grossed out, I went downstairs to retrieve my poor daughter, who I had left to her own devices in the living room while I cleaned. I found her (no joke) sitting in front of the tv, SOBBING in front of a commercial with puppies in it. I asked her what was wrong and she looked up at me and screamed "LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!!!!" Oh, my God, my 2 year old was PMS-ing.

This went on for 3 straight days. My house reeked of barf, and Liz cried at the drop of a hat roughly every 15 minutes, and was mad as a hornet the rest of the time.

I never bought another pack of Pills. I was done. There were other, better methods that didn't involve the kind of hell I had just been through. But I realized that you don't actually have to TAKE The Pill. You can just watch the aftereffects of having it in your home with two young children.

Best birth control method EVER.