Family Fun

“Let’s go! Let’s go!” six-year-old Molly chirped brightly, “I wanna go to the pool!” A cold and rainy Saturday had threatened to descend into boredom, so my husband Jeremy had suggested a family swim at the rec centre. Before I knew it, I was packing a duffel bag with towels, spare clothes, and dry socks and hauling it out to the minivan. Molly was vibrating with glee in her car seat, while three-year-old Andy seemed confused. “It’s too cold for the lake!” he insisted, “I don’t wanna swim!” Indeed, it was positively frigid outside. “No, buddy, this pool is inside a building, and it’s nice and warm,” I said, as I buckled him up. “Hmph,” he replied, lower lip stuck out in a pout. Rolling my eyes, I climbed into the van and the four of us trundled down the driveway. The great thing about our small town is that everything is so close; seven minutes later, we were parked at the rec centre. Talk about door to door service!

The familiar smell of chlorine and disinfectant wafted over us as we walked inside and headed to the change room. After a Charlie Chaplin like hurricane of undressing and dressing, everyone was mostly wearing bathing suits and ready to swim. I crammed our steamer trunk sized bag (how’d it get bigger?) into a tiny locker, and we headed poolside. The water was full of kids, parents, and floaties, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a dog had snuck in. Molly and Jeremy waded into the kiddie pool; I was worried Andy would be overwhelmed, but he walked right in without pause. “Wait for me!” I cried, and soon we were all splashing and laughing. Despite my best efforts to keep my hair dry, I soon looked like a drowned rat and my mascara was streaming down my face. The kiddie pool was shallow, so I was forced to do an awkward crab walk in three feet of water. “This is murder on the ol’ quads” I muttered to Jeremy. At least I could skip leg day tomorrow.

Ninety minutes later, we were all pruney and tired. Leaving the pool was just as cumbersome as arriving, but we made it back to our van, slightly damp and stinking of chlorine. After a quick dinner, it was mercifully bedtime. “This was the best day ever!” Molly cried happily. I gotta admit – I’d had a great time, too! My feelings, however, changed the next morning when every muscle in my body was sore. Isn’t swimming supposed to be low impact? “Why are you so broken?” Jeremy asked, as I hobbled into the kitchen, bent over like a question mark. “Because I forgot I’m old, okay?” I whined pitifully. I spent most of the day curled up on the couch feeling sorry for myself and received no sympathy from my kids. “Don’t you like swimming?” Molly asked. “Sure, I do, sweetie. But do mommy a favour: next time we go to the pool, remind me to do some stretches first!”

Jeeping Adventures

The air was still and quiet, the trilling of robins the only sound. A soft wind, full of promises of spring, whispered through the trees. Somewhere close by, a creek burbled merrily. The peaceful sounds of nature surrounded our Jeep, broken only by three-year-old Andy’s record-scratch whine of “why did we stop?”

“Yeah, Jeremy, why did we stop?” I said, glaring at my husband. Our off-roading adventure had come to a pause when our vehicle lurched forward, sputtering and coughing itself to a quiet death. “I told you we needed gas,” I hissed at him. Jeremy frowned, staring at the dashboard. “Says we have a quarter tank left; maybe the fuel pump blew.” Whatever it was, we were stuck in the woods, with daylight fading, two antsy kids, and four hungry tummies. Six-year-old Molly was watching us closely, her owl eyes wide. After investigating under the hood, Jeremy popped back in and said “we’re not that far from town. If we push the Jeep forward, I can winch it off that tree and we can coast down to the main road.” Okay, no problem. A little hard work never hurt anyone, right? Wrong. You’re talking to the woman who blew her back out by sneezing. There’s no way I could do this! Still, I hopped out, my feet sinking into a mud puddle. “Okay, ready? Push!…………………..Are you pushing?” Jeremy called, “nothing happened.” Repeating a phrase I’d said during labor, I gritted my teeth and told him “I. AM. PUSHING.” The Jeep inched forward, agonizingly slowly, taunting our efforts.

“Just a little more,” Jeremy puffed, “dig your feet in!”

My muscles straining, I gasped and said, “I can’t!”

“Why not?” Jeremy asked.

“Because I’m wearing FLIP FLOPS!” I yelped. Here I was, in the depths of a soggy, cold spring, pushing a 4,000 pound hunk of metal wearing foam on my feet.

“Okay,” Jeremy said, “that should do it.” He unwound the winch from the front bumper and hooked it up to a tree, engaging the motor and pulling the car forward. Soon the Jeep was at the precipice of a small slope, so Jeremy unhooked everything, and I hopped back in. With one last mighty push, our vehicle started rolling downhill, heading back towards civilization. Talk about a lucky break!

Andy and Molly let out a cheer as we reached the main road. Jeremy parked the car, and called his dad, who graciously drove out and rescued us. The Jeep was towed home, where it now sits forlornly, awaiting repair. We escaped without a scratch, and with a funny story about our high-stakes escapade. The lesson I learned from this? The one that was pounded into me with the subtlety of a freight train? When selecting footwear, flip flops are never the right choice!

Precious Moments

“AnDYY! You’re doing it WRONG!” six-year-old Molly bellowed angrily from the living room. “I am NOT!” three-year-old Andy screamed back. As their voices rose and their fury increased, I sat in the kitchen rubbing my temples. Another day, another squabble. At this point, making it through an hour without someone shrieking (including me) would be a miracle. Why do kids fight? Why are their fights so illogical? Why is every argument a matter of life and death? (According to them!) Such questions are never to be answered; they’re a cosmic mystery, like socks that disappear in the dryer.

It seems that life is one constant quarrel. From the moment they get up straight through till bedtime, Molly and Andy are bickering like it’s some sort of contest – but, rest assured, no one ever wins. And no matter what I do, I’m always the bad guy. This one complains about getting smacked, but I didn’t see it. That one complains about a stolen toy, but I don’t know who had it first! Two of us are always in a bad mood: the injured party, and ME. Oh, what a time when all three of us aren’t sulking.

On days like these, I have to remember what makes it all worthwhile. The tears, the pouting, the constant noise – all seem to disappear when I think of Andy running into Molly’s arms when we pick her up from school. When Andy pats my back and comforts me when I stub my toe, or when Molly writes me a card saying I’m the “best mom ever!” These tiny little moments, these slivers in the forest, help me make it through the day. My kids are good people, and sometimes I forget that they’re…. just kids! Kids who are reckless and irresponsible and as confident as gorillas. Kids who are curious and emotional and blooming with life, who teach me something new every single day. It won’t be loud and chaotic forever. One day It will be too quiet, and I’ll mourn what I once had.

But today is not that day. Today my offspring are fighting about a dried up raisin they found on the floor. Said raisin is astronomically important to both of them, and they’re about to go nuclear. Remember how illogical their fights are? Neither of them likes raisins!

Wonky Temperatures

“I’m ready for school!” six-year-old Molly chirped.

“You can’t wear that,” I scolded, as I buttered toast and slurped coffee.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because it’s snowing outside, and you’re in a bathing suit!” Molly replied with a grin and a dismissive shrug. Kids must have different thermo-regulation than adults. At the slightest whisper of cold, I’m wearing wool socks, long johns, and four parkas for warmth. My offspring, on the other hand, wander around the house in short sleeves and bare feet like they’re on the French Riviera. At what age does your internal furnace sputter and die? For me, it was around age thirty. Suddenly I was grumbling about gas bills and open windows, because “I’m not paying to heat the darn outdoors!”

I can’t seem to handle the heat anymore, either! Summer, my favorite season, can be just as uncomfortable as winter. While other people are breezing around in cute rompers and sundresses, I’m sweating and beet red in my cotton t-shirt and oversized shorts. Will the madness ever end? Andy and Molly (my six-year-old) could stay outside in the blazing sun all day, running and jumping, and I’d be hiding in the shade, starfished on the ground and praying for a breeze. Yet I won’t retreat inside. After ten months of winter, I deserve sunshine!

There should be a way to upgrade your failing body parts. Your regulator’s broken? Here’s a new heating/cooling system. Your left knee clicks and clacks? Just swap that out for a new joint. Hair growing out of your ears instead of your head? Your wires are crossed, let’s fix that for you. Yes sir, a quick trip to the “body shop” (pun intended) and you’re as good as new!

I convinced Molly to change into more appropriate clothes. “I won’t get cold!” she insisted, “I promise!” Trust me on this one, kid. I finished my coffee and reminisced about when my body ran like clockwork; how long ago would that have been? Probably when I was Molly’s age! Oh, to be young again. Molly stomped up the stairs and declared she was dressed (for the second time). She was wearing jeans, a pink tutu, and a sparkly rainbow shirt. But the piece de resistance was her bathing suit, which she proudly wore on top of her clothes. With a surprised laugh, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “looks good to me!”. I’ve gotta hand it to her – she won this round!

The Joy of Baking

An optimistic mother is ten minutes into cookie making with her six-year-old daughter, Molly, and three-year-old son, Andy. The kitchen is cluttered with baking trays, measuring cups, and dry goods. This well-intentioned mother has bitten off more than she can chew.

Sarah: “Okay, so we’ve creamed the butter, now we – “

Andy: “Can I smell it?”

Sarah “What, the butter? Why?”

Andy: “Cuz I want to.”

Sarah: “It doesn’t really have a smell, buddy.”

Andy: (sticks his head into the bowl and breathes deeply, exhaling directly into the porous butter) “Mmm, I wike it!”

Sarah: “Ew, Andy, don’t do that.”

Molly: “Can we add the chocolate chips now?”

Sarah: “Not yet. Now we need two cups of flour, and –”

Andy: “Oooo, can I smell it?”

Sarah: “No. Keep your face outta my ingredients.”

Andy: (falls off the counter like a sack of wet potatoes) “I will wook for more choccy chips” (he opens a lower cabinet and starts rummaging).

Sarah: “Andy, we already have the chocolate chips. Okay, so….. Molly, how many cups of flour did you put in there?”

Molly: “……………….Two?”

Sarah: “Are you sure?”

Molly: “……………………..mmm hmm.”

Sarah: (frowns) “Okay, so that’s the flour, now we need one cup of sugar.”

Molly: “I’ll do it!”

Andy: (triumphantly holding something) “Let’s add this!”

Sarah: “NO.”

Andy: (shocked) “Why??”

Sarah: “Because that’s a can of tuna.”

Andy: “But it’s my favowite!”

Sarah: “Sure, pal.”

Molly: “I added the sugar!”

Sarah: “AAAUUUGHHH, Molly, that’s SALT!”

Molly: “I thought it was sugar!”

Sarah: (breathes deeply) “Okay, no problem, I’ll try and scoop that out. We can probably still save the dough.”

Molly: “Just add more sugar!”

Sarah: (busily scooping salt out of the bowl) “Gimme a second.”

Andy: “Wook, spwinkles!” (Andy quickly opens a jar of sprinkles, tips his head back, and dumps the contents into his mouth, sending a shower of colorful sugar all over the floor).

Sarah: “Andy, NO! Go get the dustpan!”

Molly: “I fixed the cookies!”

The bowl is now heaped with a mountain of brown and white sugar, flour, and an unidentified chunky mixture. Sarah wonders if it’s too early for hard liquor.

Sarah: “………..Yep, looks good. Let’s put the dough on the trays and into the oven.”

Twenty minutes later and despite her best efforts, the cookies are oily, crunchy, hockey pucks of sadness. The children are sticky and splotched with flour; the floor is gritty and greasy. Failure never looked so sad.

Molly: “Maybe daddy can eat these.”

Sarah: “Well, we tried our best, that’s all that matters.”

Andy: “Can we make more cookies?”

Sarah: “No. Let’s never speak of this again. Have an Oreo.”

There’s Always Something

Home ownership is a wonderful, exhausting, challenging privilege. With skyrocketing real estate prices and the crippling cost of living, I’m so thankful to be where we are. Yet had I known the tribulations my husband Jeremy and I would face, I might’ve thought twice about taking the plunge!

There are endless things to worry about. This water on the floor – how did it get here? Is it a spill from a clumsy child, or is the roof leaking? Do I have to climb into the dusty attic to investigate? Or can I just ignore the problem and hope an actual adult will take care of it? I would take the latter, but Jeremy’s very responsible. He’d be up in the rafters with a flashlight, while I’d be hiding under a blanket eating chocolate. I may look like a grown-up, but I’m still an immature teenager inside. Someone will call me “ma’am” soon, and my last flame of adolescence will sputter out.

Basic maintenance is never ending. That garden you want to enjoy needs to be weeded, and that lush, warm grass needs to be mowed. Forget about reading in your lawn chair – angry hornets live there now! Even simple tasks are Sisyphean. Jeremy was going to install a rain gutter on the shed, and to do that he needed the ladder. The ladder was in the garage, trapped behind his car. The car couldn’t move because he took the engine out. He took the engine out to repair it. So, a small installation job snowballed into a complete engine overhaul and garage cleanout. No wonder the “Honey Do” list is so long!

I miss the irresponsibility of childhood. Wouldn’t it be nice to make a mess without being the one to clean it? Or enjoy a snowfall without having to shovel the sidewalk? In a fit of adolescent rage, I once told my mother that the only reason she had kids was so they could do chores, and she said, “you’re absolutely right”. Seems like she’s having the last laugh.

It might be time for me to grow up, put on high-waisted “mom” jeans, and accept my fate. Home ownership is our dream come true, despite the endless, mundane chores. The garden is begrudgingly weeded, and the lawn is eventually mowed. And when the time is right, I’ll pawn all my chores off onto my kids – just like my mother did to me!

Tattletale

Three-year-old Andy barreled into the kitchen, full of indignant toddler rage. “Mowwy’s bweaving too loud, Mommy!” he whined, his cherubic face set in a scowl. So much for my quiet coffee break. The tattling had begun, and the sun wasn’t even up yet – a new record! I could be unconscious, and my kids would still complain to me. They’d perch on my chest like vultures, watching me and whispering “she got more candy than meeee” while I ignore their demon mutterings. Parenthood is fun! (Not actual fun, more like riding a gasoline soaked carousel next to a bonfire).

“Your sister is allowed to BREATHE, sweetie,” I sighed as I turned to face Andy.

“She’s doing it wong on purpose,” he huffed, stomping his foot for emphasis.

“I am NOT!” six-year-old Molly called from the living room. “He stole my spot on the couch and he’s lying!” Before I could blink, my offspring were engaged in an all-out screaming match, both insisting that justice be done. I stared mournfully at my cup of coffee, now rapidly cooling on the table. I should switch to espresso – a shot of that gets the job done and I could drink it while it’s hot!

What are kids hoping to gain by tattling? Praise? Extra credit? They must think I’m keeping score somewhere. How did this even happen? I’m teaching my kids to be assertive at the cost of my sanity! Was it better when Andy was younger, and hadn’t learned to speak yet? Not really. There was just more unintelligible shrieking and crying (most of it mine). Instead of spending the next eighteen years refereeing pointless fights, I should run away to Mongolia and herd yaks. Maybe then I could finish a cup of coffee!

The injustices of childhood are many, and for kids, it’s the small battles that count. Your sister’s cookie theft can fester for decades, and your brother’s destruction of a toy is an open wound. I still remember the myriad of catfights I had with my sister, Emma, and it’s been twenty years! Once, she and I were ordered to clean the kitchen, and Emma was shirking her duty (as usual), so I threw a dishrag at her. Outraged, she grabbed the spray head from the sink and sprayed me with water. The joke was on her, though; she had to frantically mop the floor lest our mother send her to eternal timeout.

Tattling is a rite of passage. I’ve yet to meet a pair of siblings that don’t bicker, and if they exist, they’re likely from another planet. Seriously, how weird would that be? I’m imagining dead-eyed children staring straight ahead, plotting my demise. Children of the Corn, indeed! But why do kids tattle so much? Is it really important who sits on the end of the couch? Or who gets the first cookie out of the package? Why does my sanity depend on two children who argue over whose turn it is to pet the dog? The dog wants to be left alone! Just like me! Why do……….. ugh, hang on. World War Three’s broken out again. Andy’s losing his mind because Molly is looking at him. Once again, Judge Mommy forgets her precious coffee, and rushes in before the war goes nuclear!

Must Be Genetic

“Molly, it’s time to get up,” I whispered softly. The child-sized lump underneath the blankets didn’t move. “You’ve got to get ready for school,” I said. The lump stirred and shifted, a bird’s nest of tangled hair emerging. Six-year-old Molly stared at me with groggy, unfocused eyes, opened her mouth and muttered “bleeeeeeuurrgggghhh”. My sentiments exactly. Assuming she’d be upright eventually, I headed over to three-year-old Andy’s room. Holy moly, what happened in here? It looked like a drunken weasel had had a party! Blankets were kicked onto the floor, stuffed animals were hanging from the light fixture, and Andy was sprawled on his bed like a cartoon starfish. “Hey buddy, it’s time to get dressed. You have preschool today,” I said, opening the curtains. Andy rolled over without opening his eyes, rubbed his face, and mumbled the classic line: “just five moah minutes.” A man after my own heart!

Mornings are tough; mornings in the winter are especially hard. The sky is dark, the air is frigid, and the bed is so darn warm. To be yanked out of sweet black nothingness only to face an ice cold floor is a special kind of torture. I’d spend the entire season in bed if I could, emerging in the spring like a wide-eyed fawn. Alas, I’m a mother, so it’s my job to stumble out of bed, and rouse my offspring into the day. Why be miserable alone when you can be miserable together? The only happy creature in the mornings is the dog, and that’s because he goes outside and chases birds. He’s got more energy as a senior canine than I’ve had my whole life.

Miserable morning moods must be genetic. Andy and Molly are as lethargic and cranky as I am once the sun’s up. I’ve cursed them with my sluggish “get up and go”. On the other hand, my husband, Jeremy, is as sprightly as a blue jay when he awakes. He’s often up, dressed, and drinking coffee before I even open my swollen eyes. Isn’t he the worst? No matter how early or late I hit the sack, I always need more sleep. My perfect day would be spent curled up in bed, with rainfall softly pattering on the window. No interruptions, no diapers that need changing, just blissful, warm, unconsciousness. I’d love to be a morning person – think of how much I’d accomplish! The house would be clean, meals would be made, laundry folded, and……. oh, who am I kidding? I could be Mary Poppins and I’d still be a lumbering, exhausted elephant before eight am. I’m just like Andy; on my tombstone will be the inscription “just five more minutes!”

Chicken Surprise

“It’s nice having food in your tummy!” three-year-old Andy chirped happily, as he stuffed macaroni in his mouth. After a full day of school, errands, and grocery shopping, dinnertime descended as swiftly as nightfall. What was on the menu tonight? Sauteed prawns in butter sauce? Sirloin steak and grilled asparagus? Haha nope! Surprise, we were having chicken! Again! For the third night in a row! The only one complaining tonight was me. I would’ve killed for lasagna.

Elly tastes her cooking and smiles. Michael looks worried.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to spice things up. I’ve made dozens of different dishes, from pork to beef to fish. At this point, I’ve tried everything except kangaroo! Without fail, every variant has been met with derision and turned up noses. “I don’t like this,” six-year-old Molly said about my homemade meatballs, “it tastes like yucky garbage food.” How devastating. “I don’t want this,” Andy whined about the quiche (to be fair, I didn’t like that one either). There’s only so much abuse my confidence can take, and after a while I gave up on variety, and we’ve been eating chicken ever since. Chicken and mac and cheese, chicken and tater tots, chicken and shattered dreams. If broken ambition could feed people, my family would never go hungry!

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I was a picky kid back in the day. I liked what I liked, and nothing was going to change my mind. I’d ask my mom for “toast, unburnt, with the crusts cut off and butter on top.” My lovely mother would roll her eyes, then grudgingly oblige. I remember her pleading with me one dinner to try eating a single grain of rice! Thankfully, I grew out of my pickiness, and now I’ll eat anything (and I most often do!)

I guess all I can do with my kids is keep trying. There are millions of different recipes; they MUST like ONE of them, right? I can’t eat plain chicken every day! The world is full of fabulous tastes and smells; what a shame to limit yourself to a four-pack of chicken breasts. Molly and Andy need to experience flavor diversity; they’ve got the rest of their lives to decide their favorite meals. A more varied palette isn’t going to kill them; in fact, let’s start tonight….. I’m ordering pizza!

It’s An Art

Michael and Elizabeth hug Elly to try and get a cupcake.

Kids are adorably awful negotiators. They specialize in terrible, one-sided deals that only benefit their laser-focused teddy bear brains. “I’ll only have ONE sugar-covered choco-blaster, okay Mommy? Only ONE,” six-year-old Molly informed me. With a chuckle, I explained that it doesn’t matter how many junk-filled treats she has, it’s that it’s seven in the morning and she can’t have any! Changing tactics, she came back with “if I eat my yogurt and berries, can I have one?” What’s a parent to do? As Molly watched with puppy-dog eyes, I felt my resistance shatter. “Alright, sweetie. Eat your healthy food first, okay? Then you can have a treat.” Had I done the right thing? Or had I been outmaneuvered by a first grader? New rule: never make decisions before having coffee.

Andy, my three-year-old, has a more direct approach. I was eating a muffin yesterday, and, like a bloodhound, he sniffed me out.

“Can I have some?” he pleaded with owl eyes.

“I don’t think so, bud,” I replied.

“Why not?”

“This has raisins, and you hate those,” I mumbled muffinly.

“No, I don’t!” he insisted.

“Here’s what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna whine at me until you get a piece, you’re gonna taste it, hate it, and spit it in the garbage. Am I right?”

“PWEASE can I have some?” he begged, ignoring my statement of facts. With a sigh, I broke off a piece of muffin and gave it to him. Imagine my surprise when my son proved me wrong! Instead of the garbage, he spit the muffin into the sink. Eugh.

Why do I constantly give in to my kids? I’m not trying to raise wheelers and dealers. I’m trying to raise strong, independent people who will make the world a better place. It all boils down to this: fundamentally, Andy and Molly are good, decent people, and I like them a lot. I want them to enjoy life. If a piece of chocolate before dinner is going to make their day, I’ll give in every so often, and make them think they’ve pulled a fast one on good ol’ mom.

I remember needling my mother constantly, too, and she was a much harder nut to crack. Once, I tugged at the exact right heartstrings and convinced her to buy me a two pound bag of brightly colored gumballs. I was in heaven! For weeks, I would sneak into my room and ecstatically chew the rubbery chunks until my jaw hurt. I couldn’t throw my precious gum away, so I stored the masticated, flavorless lumps in my laundry hamper. When my mother washed my clothes and melted the gluey, sticky gum everywhere, there was hell to pay!

So yes, Molly and Andy, today you can have ice-cream for dessert. Yes, you can watch an extra half hour of tv. Yes, if you clean up the living room, you can stay up a little later. Just don’t ask me to buy you a sack of gumballs – I’ve gotta draw the line somewhere!