When It’s Gone

            My friend said something yesterday that stopped me in my tracks. I’d gone on a lengthy tirade about my stay-at-home life and how it was getting me down. How the dishes kept piling up, the laundry never stopped, and how I’m constantly finding Cheerios in weird places. Yesterday, I found one in my folded ironing board, which my kids have never even seen. Someone should investigate the quantum mechanics of this breakfast cereal because those nuggets teleport themselves. My friend looked at me and said with a chuckle: “one day you’ll miss those things.”  As I wiped Andy’s runny nose and fixed Molly’s hair for the umpteenth time, I realized she was right. What a profound statement to hear over lukewarm coffee and stale pastries!

            My kids already need me less than they did last year. “I can go into the school by myself, mom,” Molly told me last week, “you don’t need to come with me.” I smiled and watched her walk away, my heart splintering a tiny bit. “Mommy, watch!” Andy cried as he swung on the monkey bars, “I do it myself!” Just last year, he needed me to lift his tiny body high into the air so he could grip the bars. Where have my babies gone? No one told me that the hardest part about parenting is letting go. All these years, I thought it was sleep deprivation! It’s hard to appreciate what you’ve got when you’re in the trenches. I’m hard-pressed to feel warm and fuzzy when I’m mopping spilled milk off the floor. Or when I’m swatting dirty, stinky socks off my kitchen table. Or when I’m breaking up a catfight for the fortieth time that day.  You can’t see the forest for the trees, am I right? I’m so deep in the trees I can’t even see the sky!

            Parenthood is a maddening, confusing, rewarding mess. Just when you think you’ve mastered something, your kids run up and smack you back to reality. I’ve realized I’m never, ever going to know what I’m doing; I’m just doing my absolute best. I’m trying to teach Molly and Andy how to be good people, not just good kids. It’s easy for them to follow rules, but what about when they have to cope on their own? It’s my job to give them the tools to deal with problems, and then I have to step back and watch them muddle their way through. Until then, it’s up to me to teach them that milk goes in our tummies (not the floor), dirty socks go in the laundry basket (not on the table), and we solve our differences with words instead of fists, although the latter is sometimes more satisfying. I’m still in the trenches of childhood right now. My friend was right – I’ll miss all this when it’s gone — but it ain’t gone yet!

Molly’s In Charge

           “Come ON, mom!” Molly said as we hustled down the hall, “we don’t wanna be late!” It was “student-led conference” day at school, and we only had a half hour time slot. The one time I should be punctual, and I couldn’t find a clean pair of pants. Why do I have fourteen pairs of sweats and only one decent pair of trousers? That math ain’t addin’ up!

            We hurried into Molly’s class, which was bright and clean. What struck me first was the lack of smell; my entire childhood centered around the smell of chalk and musty books, but those aromas were nowhere to be found. The chalkboard had been replaced with a whiteboard and dry-erase markers, and the books were brand new and plentiful. Talk about upgrades! “This is where I sit,” Molly said, pointing to a little desk that came up to my shins, “you sit here and I’ll esplain everything!” I crouched awkwardly into a baby-sized plastic chair, nearly swallowing my knees. This had better be quick; my joints were gonna snap like a rubber band.

            “Student-led” conferences were a brand-new concept to me; they had nothing of the sort when I was a wee lass. I remember teacher conferences, when the dried-up old prunes who taught me listed everything I’d done wrong. “She doesn’t pay attention,” one of them sniffed, “she prefers reading instead of listening.” I mean, could you blame me? Who wants to listen to a raspy-voiced cigarette-stained saddlebag natter on, when I could be lost in a fantasy world? These visits always included praise from my parents and encouragement to pay closer attention. I’d start listening when the lessons started to be interesting!

            But my daughter was another story. For the next thirty minutes, she told me all about her science, reading, and writing lessons. She showed me how to count coins, how to add and subtract, and how to sound out unfamiliar words. My little baby was growing up! “That’s terrific, sweetie! I’m so proud of you!” I said, giving her a big hug. “Thanks,” she replied, like it was no big deal. I’m so glad Molly has teachers that encourage and support her. She’s learning and growing in leaps and bounds; she’s gonna be smarter than me, that’s for sure. Maybe she’ll be a teacher herself; after the way she schooled me, she’s off to a good start!

Scratchin’ That Itch

It’s here again. Same time, every year, that ol’ itch that can’t be scratched begins. You feel it tingling in the darkness, you feel it when you’re splashing through ice cold puddles day after day. It’s gotten so bad that even the kids can feel it; their restless little bodies toss and turn endlessly. It’s the itch……. For sunshine.

            “Can we go outside and pway?” Andy whined, pressing his face against the window. He looked every inch the Dickensian urchin as he stared out sadly. “Andy, it’s pouring rain, and super windy. We can’t go outside; we’ll get blown away!” I answered, frowning at the smears he left on the glass. “But I waaaaanaa,” he continued, “I wanna go outside. Why is it always dark all the time?” Why, indeed? I’ve been asking the same question for thirty years! That’s what you get for living in the Pacific Northwest; nine months of rain, two months of summer, and one month of roadwork.

            Rain was a constant in my childhood, so I know how Andy feels. Months of wet shoes, wet socks, and ruined hair styles really got me down. There was mud in the playground, mud in the fields, and mud on the classroom floors. If you were brave enough to venture outside, you’d better hope you had an extra pair of socks (and shoes and pants). It’s hard not to be depressed when you’re inside twenty-two hours a day!

            The good news is the weather’s getting better. Minute by minute, hour by hour, the days are slowly getting longer. It’s so subtle you might not even notice, but it’s there. The darling buds of May are stretching out, gently reaching for the sun. Remember what it feels like to open your front door and feel a warm breeze? Me neither, because I open the door and am blasted with icy air that freezes my innards.

            So, hang in there, Andy, we’re in the home stretch. Soon it’ll be t-shirt weather, and soon after that it’ll be bathing suit weather. We’ll all come back to life in the sweet Canadian sunshine. Until then, just be grateful; after all, I’m the one mopping the mud off the floor and desperately drying your shoes and socks!

It Takes Practice

Nothing is easy about being a teenager. On top of all the insane body and hormonal changes, there’s suffocating anxiety to deal with. Add to that a raging case of “pizza-face” and you’ve got a human that’s as emotionally stable as a drunken buffalo. One way to deal with pimples is to spackle them in makeup. But how do you do it properly? Back in the Crusades, when I was a winsome tween, there were no helpful internet videos available, because the internet hadn’t been invented yet. I had to rely on my mother’s basic skincare and makeup routine and invent the rest as I went along. This, of course, resulted in some less than stellar looks. Good thing camera phones weren’t around then, either!

            Who could forget the tangerine colored foundation that ended abruptly at my jawline, making my face look like a grumpy orange? There was also the thick white eyeliner that I thought was “so kewl”, or the vinegary vanilla body spray that gave me a headache. Then there was the glitter that I smeared all over my skin, which dried and shed a trail as I walked. They don’t call them “blunder years” for nothing! Don’t even get me started on the many, many hair disasters. From too-short cuts to orange streaks, I went through the worst. Once, I curled my hair and swanned off to school, full of confidence. I thought I looked cute! But imagine my horror when the boy I had a crush on saw me and said “whoa! Bad hair day, huh?” I. Was. Crushed. I ran to the bathroom and washed my hair in the sink, then desperately used the hand dryer to dry it. Ugh. The memory of that day makes me cringe. I snubbed said crush for the rest of the week.

            I like to think I’m better at makeup now. It certainly helps that there’s hundreds of options available, instead of the two or three brands there used to be. I’ve learned more from internet videos in the last few months than I ever did during high school. Turns out you’re supposed to buy things that suit you, not just things that are popular! That doesn’t mean I haven’t fallen victim to false advertising. There was the “must-have” lipstick that dried my lips, which peeled in layers, and don’t forget the brand new mascara that stung my eyes and smelled like fish. What can I say, I’m a sucker for empty promises.

            Molly hasn’t shown an interest in makeup yet (thankfully! She’s only seven), but when the time comes, I’d love to help her find what works best. I’ll tell her to blend her face makeup down into her neck so they’re both the same color, and that mascara should look natural and not like spider legs. She’s so beautiful she doesn’t even need makeup, but, if she chooses to, I can help her avoid the same mistakes I made. One thing’s for sure: she’s not allowed to wear body glitter. There’s no way I’m cleaning up that shrapnel from my floor!

Serenity Later

Whoever said, “silence is golden” obviously never had kids. As someone whose spent the last seven years desperately trying to keep my offspring alive and out of trouble, silence is suspicious. It means that instead of playing “Let’s Give Mommy a Migraine”, they’re playing “How Much Mess Can We Make?” The answer? Lots. It will be sticky, permanent, and disturbingly wet.  

Elizabeth dumps a box of toys on the floor while Elly sleeps.

            Such was the case last weekend when I accidentally fell asleep on the couch. The miserable weather kept Molly and Andy inside, and, unless I wanted them blown away to the next town by hurricane-force winds (an appealing thought, at times), we were stuck indoors.

It’s my failing as a parent that instead of playing board games and sipping hot cocoa, we had been at each other’s throats like rabid dogs. “It’s MY TURN to sit there!” Molly screamed at her brother, “you’ve been sitting there ALL DAY!!!” Groan. Another fight over the coveted “best spot” on the couch. “NO I HAVEN’T!!” shrieked Andy, “IT’S MY TURN TO WATCH TV!” At least I never have to worry about my kids’ lung capacity. “Alright, that’s it! The TV goes off. Molly, Andy, go to your rooms and do something quiet. The next person who screams is in BIG TROUBLE, you hear me?” I screamed. As the combatants slunk off to their rooms, muttering under their breath, I sighed. Was every household like this? Full of shrieking banshees and peanut butter sandwiches stuck to the ceiling? I lay down on the couch with a groan. I’ll just rest my eyes for a minute…… just a quick minute……

            My eyes opened with a snap. What time was it? What planet was I on? And, probably most importantly, where were my kids? It was eerily quiet in the house. Unnervingly quiet. As I struggled off the couch, wiping drool from my face, a sudden noise from down the hall made me start. “Watch what happens when I mix these two!” Molly giggled. Oh no. Oh sweet merciful heaven! When she mixed what two? Had they gotten into the flour and butter again? Were they mixing soy sauce and olive oil? Cursing my stupidity, I rushed into the dining room to find……. Molly and Andy sitting happily at the table, scribbling on sheets of paper. “Look, mama!” Andy chirped, holding up his drawing, “I made GWEEN!” He certainly had! He’d used two entire yellow and blue crayons to create a chunk of green pigment. “Wow, looks great, guys!” I puffed out, calming my racing heart. Shame on me for thinking the worst. Once again, my kids proved they’re better people than I am. Sure, there was six hundred crayons dumped on the floor (and the dog was eating some), and someone had attempted to make a bowl of cereal (the milk was warmer than freshly baked bread) but my kids were alive, safe, and happy. And they’d done it all by themselves. If that isn’t a proud mommy moment, I don’t know what is. The dog would be pooping rainbows for days, but that’s a small price to pay. “Can I join you?” I asked and settled down at the table. We colored happily, rain pattering softly on the window. Maybe I’m doing a better job than I thought! In this case, it turns out that silence was inquisitive instead of golden. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not gonna tempt fate a second time. If I accidentally fall asleep again, I’ll do it with my eyes wide open!

You Did That on Purpose?

“Here we are in Bora Bora!” screamed the photo’s caption as I scrolled social media. My dear friend and her family smiled out from the screen, water droplets glinting off their sand-speckled skin. As I sat hunched in front of my laptop on yet another cold, grey, Canadian day, my friend, her husband, and their two kids were enjoying the sun and sand halfway around the world. And yet, all I could think was: she’s a brave woman! I don’t even like taking my kids to the grocery store, let alone on an international trip to some place I can’t find on the map. She must’ve made a deal with the devil himself to convince her family to take that trip. All I can say is: if that were my family, I’d come home in a body bag after dying from stress-induced angina.

Elly hauls suitcases and the kids at the same time.

            Travel isn’t what it used to be. The extent of my childhood journeys involved the back seat of a station wagon and violent spells of heat stroke. There was no air-conditioning. My parents thought that traveling to the interior of British Columbia during the peak of summer was fun (for some reason), so we’d spend days driving the blisteringly hot highway, peeling our thighs off the vinyl car seats when we stopped. Bathroom breaks were at outhouses on the side of the road. First class travel, indeed. “Look at all this fresh fruit!” my mother would exclaim, grabbing fistfuls of peaches out of cardboard boxes at dinky little road stands. Terrific, mom. We drove two hundred kilometers for peaches. Lemme write about that in my diary. “Would you kids stop reading?” she’s hiss at my sister and me, “you’re missing all the scenery!” Forget video games or cell phones, my mom was mad at us for reading in the car. And I’m not sure what ‘scenery’ she was talking about, because the only things you’d see in the interior are scrub brush and dust.

            Still, it is good for kids to experience different things, right? To experience new sights and sounds; to taste new foods instead of the tired fast-food hamburgers I buy. Now that my offspring are older, I don’t have an excuse to keep them home. Maybe, this summer, we’ll pack up our ol’ minivan and hit the road, bound for adventure and endless whining. All I can say is my kids won’t deal with certain pains that I did as a child. Our minivan has cloth seats – no vinyl burns for them. Sigh. Who am I kidding? Why would I torture myself on purpose? Any car trip longer than ten minutes has me gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles. Forget road trips and international travel – I need to survive my next drive to the liquor store!

Be Not Afraid

Is there anything more terrifying than things that go ‘bump’ in the night? Yes, in fact, there is. It’s hearing things go ‘bump’ in the night when you’re all alone and pretending you’re not pooping your pants in fear. Such was the case last weekend when I had to face the unknown alone and afraid. Quite frankly, I’m amazed I survived.

April, scared, holds both the dogs tightly.

            My husband, Jeremy, had left in the early morning on a business trip (that lucky !$#@*%). I’d survived the day with my precious offspring (barely) and was hanging onto my sanity with my fingernails. After a long, torturous dinner, and an eternity spent wrangling Molly and Andy into their beds, I was dog-tired. The kitchen was a mess. I had peanut butter in my hair, but I was too exhausted to care. I collapsed on the couch, switched on the tv, and turned my brain off. I just needed to rest my eyes for a few seconds…..

            Thump. What was that? Groggily, I opened my eyes. What time was it? As I struggled to return to my senses, one glimpse at our dog sent an icicle of fear through my heart. Teddy was alert on the couch, his muscles tensed like an Olympic sprinter. Then I heard it again: thump. Teddy’s fur stood on end, his eyes staring a hole down the hallway, and his lips curled back into a growl. “Oh no, what do I do what do I do? It’s the $)(%&@*($)*%^ boogeyman! I need an adult!” I thought wildly, scrambling to my feet. I considered phoning Jeremy, but he was a six-hour car ride away. He wouldn’t have the fastest response time. Thump, came the sound again, and I trembled with fear. “It’s nothing, okay?” I thought rationally, “what are the odds that a serial killer is knocking on my back door? Pretty slim.” Curiously, ‘pretty slim’ did nothing to calm me down! Wait a minute – if the sound was coming from downstairs, that meant my sleeping children could be in danger! My heart hammering in my throat, I went down the stairs as quietly as I could, with Teddy close at my heels. This bad guy better prepare himself for twelve pounds of fury!

            The hallway was dark and still. Thump, came the sound, much louder this time. Oh no! It was coming from Andy’s room! Steeling myself and grabbing a broom for protection, I clutched the door handle and flung it wide……  only to find my little son, peacefully sleeping. The sound, however, continued. I relaxed. The dog looked pleased and important. See, what happened is this: Andy must have gotten out of bed and turned on his little desktop fan. As it swung back and forth, it pushed his piggy bank onto an angle, and when it rotated back, the piggy bank ‘thumped’ onto his desk. Exhaling loudly, I quickly turned the fan off, made sure Andy was still asleep, then left his room with a sigh of relief. See? No serial killers here!

            Curse my overactive imagination! Here I am, a mature, independent woman, scaring myself to death for no reason. I would’ve laughed if I wasn’t so embarrassed. At least the dog was pleased with himself; he puffed his chest out and harumphed loudly. He’d fulfilled his guard dog duty. With a sigh, I double-checked the doors and windows, then shuffled into bed, where I spent the next hour convincing myself that the sounds I heard were normal (the boiler turning on, the dog sneezing) and not precursors to my imminent death. All I can say is: next time something goes ‘bump’ in the night, it better be when my husband is home!

Down at the Dumps

The Hunter family drives towards the town dump, their truck bed piled high with garbage bags. What should be a quick trip is anything but once the whole family is involved!

A big mess at the garbage dump.

Andy:               “EEEWWWW, it smells wike FART!”

Sarah:              “Andy! That’s gross. But yes, it does smell like fart.”

Molly:              “Why is the truck full of stinky trash?”

Jeremy:            “Because somebody forgot to put the garbage out last week.”

Sarah:              “Hey! I was knee deep in lunch-making and breakfast clean-up. I didn’t see you rushing out to meet the garbage truck.”

Jeremy:            “I was already at work.”

Sarah:              “Oh. Right.”

Jeremy:            “And, since I’m tired of the trash stinking up the laundry room, we’ll have to get rid of it ourselves.”

Sarah:              “It is particularly pungent this week.”

Jeremy:            “Yeah, why is that?”

Sarah:              “I tried to make cabbage soup. It wasn’t easy.”

Jeremy:            “There’s your first mistake. Cabbage. The vegetable that’s worse on the way out than in.”

Sarah:              “I’m trying to make food that’s healthy!”

Jeremy:            “You gotta get the kids to EAT IT first, don’t you?”

Sarah:              “Okay, thanks for your input, darling.”

                        The truck screeches to a halt at the dump site. A treasure trove of metal scraps, old fridges, and broken curios greets the kids. Their pupils dilate with joy. This is their Disneyland! Jeremy parks the truck and hops out, causing Molly and Andy to follow suit.

Sarah:              “Hey! Be careful! Don’t fall down into that giant hole!”

                        Andy leans down, looking with interest into a crater in the refuse pile.

Andy:               “Mommy, wook! A giant teddy bear!”

Sarah:              “Uh huh, that’s nice, sweetie.”

Andy:               “Can we keep it?”

Sarah:              “Andy, do you see how that bear has no head, and is covered in what I’m hoping is red paint? Why on earth should we take that home?”

Andy:               “……………we can CWEAN it.”

Sarah:              (Sighs)

Molly:              “Cool, a forklift! Can I ride it?”

Jeremy:            “Sure, just go tell the manager you’re gonna drive it. Maybe they’ll give you a job.”

Molly:              “Really?”

Jeremy:            “No.”

Sarah:              “Just hurry up and throw the trash out before we all need tetanus shots.”

Jeremy:            “It’d go faster if you helped me.”

Sarah:              “I would, but who’d watch these gremlins?”

                        Unfortunately, as Jeremy grabbed the last bag from the truck bed, it ripped in half, spewing a massive blob of mushy cabbage chunks, chicken bones, and coffee grounds all over the truck and tailgate.

Jeremy:            “#*$&%() piece of $(@)#^&!”

Sarah:              “Ummmmm…. Lemme ask if we can use the garden hose.”

                        Sarah grabs the hose from a beleaguered attendant. Swearing profusely, Jeremy sluices the garbage juice out of the truck bed. Several long minutes later, the offspring and Sarah were loaded into the truck, while a grimy, wet Jeremy silently got behind the wheel.

Jeremy:            (mutters under his breath)

                        The family left the dump; the kids were disappointed they didn’t get to keep anything, and Jeremy was on the point of murder.

Sarah:              “………. Who’s hungry?”

Molly:              “Not me!”

Andy:               “Daddy smells wike fart!”

The ABC’s of Crazy

Elizabeth is sitting on the floor writing on a piece of paper. She runs out of paper and keeps writing on the carpet.

Stay-at-home mom Sarah is trying to teach four-year-old Andy the alphabet. The only problem? He doesn’t wanna learn!

Sarah:                   “Okay, sweetie, you hold the pencil like this, see?”

Andy:                    “Like dis?”

Sarah:                   “No, try again…”

Andy:                    “Like DIS?” (Andy holds the pencil like a thumbless gorilla).

Sarah:                   “Well, that’s better. Now, look at this workbook mommy got you! Let’s try the alphabet, okay? What letter is this?”

Andy:                    “I dunno.”

Sarah:                   “Think hard, Andy, you know this one.”

Andy:                    “I don’t wanna.”

Sarah:                   “Look closely, I know you can do it.”

Andy:                    “Um….. F?”

Sarah:                   “This is the letter ‘A’, Andy. It’s the first letter of the alphabet. Remember the song?”

Andy:                    (starts humming)

Sarah:                   “That’s ‘Old Macdonald.’ I meant the alphabet song; it goes “A, B, C, D,…..’ Right?”

Andy:                    “I guess.”

Sarah:                   “Now, try and trace the letter A. Up, down, and across, see? It’s easy!”

Andy places the pencil tip on the paper, then carefully slashes an enormous, Rorschach scribble across the page.

Sarah:                   “A little smaller next time, but that was a good try.”

Andy:                    “Dis is BORING.”

Sarah:                   “Sweetie, you need to know the alphabet, it’s important. Try this one – what letter is this?”

Andy:                    “Dubba-you?”

Sarah:                   “This is the letter ‘C’, as in “‘you’re driving mama crazy. ‘ ”

Andy:                    “Hee hee.”

Sarah:                   “Come on, Andy, focus!”

Andy:                    “I don’t wanna do dis! I don’t wanna go to school!”

Sarah:                   “Well, you’ve got to. Besides, you’ll make lots of new friends!”

Andy:                    “I don’t want fwends.”

Sarah:                   (Sigh). “Okay, let’s try one more letter. What’s this one?”

Andy frowns at the page, wrinkling his little brow.

Andy:                    “O”.

Sarah:                   “Yes, that’s right! Good job, sweetie!”

Andy:                    “NOW can I go?”

I debate whether to push Andy a little further, or to cut my losses and end on a good note.

Sarah:                   “Sure, we’ll work on this tomorrow.”

Andy:                    “YAAAYYY!”

Andy skips out of his chair and down the hall. I breathe a sigh of relief, grateful that my patience didn’t snap like a rubber band. As I’ve found out: there’s a fine line between trying to teach and torture!

The Bad Ol’ Days

As kids and pre-teens tumbled down the school steps, Molly walked out with a frown on her face. This couldn’t be good; she usually mustered a smile for me. Had I forgotten to put yogurt in her lunch? Last time I did that, she nagged me for weeks! “Some boys in my class were teasing me,” she said sadly, “they were saying mean things and buggin’ me.” Oh no. The lion inside me roared to life, and my cheeks flushed with anger as I plotted revenge.  Ultimately (and possibly regretfully), I didn’t engage in thermo-nuclear war, but it was down to the wire. As an adult, I had to handle situations like this appropriately. Dangling my daughter’s bullies by the ankles ‘til change fell out their pockets would invite frowns (satisfying as it would be). Taking a deep breath, I leashed my inner lion and vowed to handle this without launching tactical nukes.

Miss Edwards sits in her classroom thinking "Oh, how I could teach...if I didn't have to discipline!"

After getting the boys’ names, I messaged Molly’s teacher and filled her in on the situation. Confidant I’d get the brushoff, I was mentally planning my rebuttal when I was pleasantly surprised. Miss Harris replied quickly and decisively. Molly’s seat would be moved away from the boys, the troublemakers would be separated, the principal would be informed, and Molly was reminded to tell the teacher if any further teasing occurred. This situation was resolved faster than a greased pig on a waterslide.

When I was a youngster, things were very different. Bullies followed you from class to class, and grade to grade. Teachers would shrug their shoulders and say, “just ignore it”, as they left to smoke cigarettes in their car. When I complained that I was being teased, I got the ol’ standby: “that just means he likes you!” What the #@$%! does that mean? I don’t care if he likes me, tell him to stop stealing my *&^#%^# juice box! Growing up was hard enough without dealing with daily fear and stress. I had gray hairs at the tender age of nine!

So, thankfully, it seems like certain things about school are getting better. Bullying is taken seriously, instead of “it’s just one of those things.” Teachers seem to be more empathetic, more in tune with today’s youth. I can’t tell you what it would’ve meant to have a teacher on MY side. I’m so glad Molly came to me with her problem, and I’m glad I was able to help. There hasn’t been any further teasing or name-calling from those boys, so maybe they’ve learned their lesson. If not, they’ll have to answer to me, and I’m meaner than a hornet. My inner lion is foaming at the mouth and ready to give the scolding of a lifetime.