The guilty displeasures of parenthood

Among the many things I’ve learned about myself since having children, one of them is this: I do not like playing Paw Patrol. There. I said it. I will build train tracks, use my sock as a puppet, even turn our living room into a fort, but for some reason playing Paw Patrol makes me want to dive into the netherworld of mysterious grossness that exists under our couch.

Of course, I instantly feel like an asshole for saying that. I’m thinking someday my son is going to read this and think, “WHAT? My own mother didn’t like to play my favourite game?! Call my therapist!” Judah, if you are reading this, I love playing with you, dude, I’m just too old for these bootcamp-like military races around the first floor. You will cry at the sight of a scratch you got five days ago yet somehow you can slam your knees into hardwood a million times without flinching once.

I feel this is a giant red X in the cons column of my current parenting style. Were I to get a report card from the boy, Paw Patrol play would likely be my weakest subject, possibly even lower than meal preparation:

Alison actively skirts my direction around Adventure Bay and consistently offers me plates of unwanted vegetables instead of the macaroni cheese or rabaloli I so politely request.

I know I’m not alone. I was talking to a friend this morning as we dropped our kids off for their weekly meeting at the day home, also known as the time I try to get a week’s worth of shit done in less than three hours. We were talking about how wonderful the day home lady is with the kids. She does crafts, takes them outside on adventures or picnics, lets them leave their toys all over the place. This week, for some reason, she has an Ikea mattress out in the middle of the living room floor. The kids have been using it to jump or roll or do whatever little kids will do with such things.

She just has fun with them, seemingly without another care in the world, even though she has a lot on her plate. And we aren’t sure how she does it.

“I hate playing Lego,” my friend said with a sigh. “Sean’s way better at it than I am. He’s the fun one.”

I feel you, sister. I think we all do. Luke is somehow always able to find a way to make daily challenges with kids into something fun. Judah doesn’t want to get dressed so Luke turns it into a contest to see who can get dressed first, making sure to accidentally put his sock on his ear, or something equally silly. Ellie is being grumpy so he does an exaggerated grumpy face back and tells her not to laugh. Me, I just get exasperated.

Maybe it’s because he spends most of his time working in an office with adults who see the value of wearing shoes outside and can readily admit when they need to pee. He still has to deal with high-level bullshit, but perhaps that makes the frustrations of raising strong-willed micro-humans feel like, well, child’s play by comparison.

For me, it is a daily, sometimes hourly, or even minute-by-minute challenge. Some days I’m good at it, like the other day when Judah and I had to wait for Ellie’s class to finish and I started talking to him on my banana phone. He thought that was hilarious, especially after he took a bite and garbled (gobbled) the connection. Other days I just want to put in my earbuds, turn on a podcast and pretend like I’m taking part in an uninterrupted, intellectual conversation with a couple of like-minded adults.

I realize how fortunate I am to spend this time with my littles and, of course, I wouldn't change it for the world. I find myself simultaneously counting the days until they are both in the same school for the same amount of time—glory, hallelujah—while watching videos of when they were little and wondering when they got so big. I am in a boat on an ocean, never sure which way to paddle. But time has its own agenda and, sooner or later, I will reach a shore.

In the meantime, there are decorations to hang, advent calendars to create, meals to cook and appointment to make. This week's worth of shit isn't going to do itself. Luckily, there’s a new episode of Edit Your Life available to keep me company along the way. Paw Patrol is on a roll! 

A missing side to our square

Luke was away last weekend, in Panama, of all places. People kept asking me why Panama and honestly I have no clue. This is how strange our conversations are these days. I knew when he was going, who with, and when he was coming back, but I had no idea why they went there and what they were planning to do. Maybe he had a secret passion for canals as a kid.  

He wasn’t gone long—in the neighbourhood of four days—but the littles acted like he was off on some round-the-world trek with no end in sight. She had an emotional breakdown the day before he left, thinking she hadn’t given him an adequate goodbye and wouldn’t see him again. And man was she pissed when she woke up on Sunday to find him not yet home. Clearly she inherited her calendar skills from the maternal side of the gene pool. 

She talked about missing him much more than the boy, though that may be a factor of age and understanding. One minute, she was acting out about some random thing only to break down in tears a moment later, desperate for a hug from dad. Hugs from me were not an adequate substitute. 

The boy was okay during the day but then kept waking up at night for more snuggles. I was okay with this the first couple of nights—who doesn’t want a warm, cuddly bundle of affection right next to them in bed— but by the last night I was in need of a little space. There’s only so much touching an introvert can handle, even if it is in the form of an adorable, nuzzling little boy.

The problem is I'm a sucker and the boy knows it. This is why Luke has been on middle-of-the-night duty ever since Judah was about 15 months old. I can’t fathom the idea of losing more sleep than is necessary, so I always just crawl into bed with him which results in neither of us getting a good rest. Somehow when he falls back asleep in the middle of the night it’s that light, not-really-sleeping sleep that causes him to jolt back upright anytime he senses my desire to go back to my own bed. 

“DON’T LEAVE,” he whisper-yells as he reaches out to grab my arm. At 3 am, I don’t have the mental capacity to argue nor the physical stamina to resist so back down I go. This is partially the reason why his big boy bed is a double. I never understood why people got huge beds for little kids until this guy came along. 

The night that Luke came home, everything came back around. The girl chilled out and the little guy slept in his own bed for the whole night, possibly because I told him he had to but that’s putting a lot of stock in my ability to influence the actions of a sleepy preschooler.

I always find it amazing how Luke’s return can bring them back down to earth, which is why I often hesitate to write these sorts of things. I realize how lucky I am to have a partner who’s here more often than not and who shares in a lot of the child-rearing when he is here. 

So many parents out there are doing this on their own full-time, with either no end in sight, or with the moments of reprieve months away. I don’t give them sympathy—no one needs pity—but my compassion and empathy for the struggle that is managing kids on your own. It’s probably the same way people who have family support might look at me and wonder how I manage to get by every day. A lot of the time, it’s really friggin’ hard. But what other choice do we have? 

The times when Luke is away are definitely getting easier, despite the afore mentioned struggles. It’s nothing like the trip to Nova Scotia a couple years ago. I think we’re all still traumatized by that one. But there is still something about having him missing from our foursome that sends them into emotional upheaval. It’s like we’re a square with a missing face. We aren’t a triangle, just a box with a big hole on one side.

With two more trips near on the horizon, I’d be wise to consider a strategy for managing the next hole. Perhaps a bit more patience when little man loses his shit over an uncomfortable sock. Perhaps a bit more empathy when she snaps at of me or gives Judah heck for not “playing right.” And, if all that fails, baking cupcakes in our pyjamas always seems to help. 

Untitled 29

I am in a major creative rut. Every time I sit in front of a screen with the intention of writing, the same sequence of events takes place. I open my laptop. I see 29 layers of unfinished musings on my desktop and am immediately stumped. Then I open the various notes where I keep writing ideas and my brain stages a rebellion.

“No way in hell I’m writing any of that crap,” says Muse. Door slams. Silence.

So I go to my default. I plan children’s activities. I plan menus. I make to do lists that include planning children’s activities and menus. Maybe I start the laundry, do the dishes, figure out what’s for dinner because, despite all the posturing, I actually suck at menu planning.

There’s always a new project I can use as an excuse for not putting words on a page. The newest one is Christmas. Christmas, you beautiful cornucopia of manufactured obligations. Photo books, family advent calendars, parties, gingerbread houses! And amidst it all I have someone suggesting I put my kid on a restricted diet. So now there’s research to do, cookbooks to read and oh so much planning.

You know what I mean. All that mental load stuff we’ve been talking about for the last few months. It is never ending but it’s almost like one of those exploding snake fireworks, the one where the black ash keeps frothing out of a tiny capsule. I can keep producing items for my list but if I really want it to stop, I just have to put my foot down.

And here’s where I usually hit a wall. I’ve written a few paragraphs, come to a decent point and am now left with no clue as to where to take this thing. So I send a text. Check email. Make a coffee. Try not to eat chocolate. 

This happens to me a lot. I was in a good groove back in the spring, posting twice a week. I have no idea how I made that happen. Judah was only at the day home once a week and I used all his preschool time to workout so I’m not sure when I wrote. More importantly, I’m not sure how I wrote. These days, idea of writing anything at all sends my muse into the fetal position. The thought of writing two things a week, well that’s just crazy talk.

I have figured out one important factor, though. If I ever get back into a groove like that again, I can never take a break. Ever. It’s the same as working out. You miss one day, it’s fine. You miss a week and you think, screw it where’s the remote and that bag of Cool Ranch Doritos? (I just googled to make sure they still make those.)

I fell off both bandwagons as soon as summer rolled around. I missed a self-imposed post deadline. Then the next. Then I let the workouts slide. Next thing I know it’s September, I’m back at the gym and my legs are wondering what the heck I’m trying to prove. Meanwhile my muse is still sitting in the corner pretending there’s something uber important happening on Instagram.

It reminds me of a quote I heard last spring when I started to put some effort into my fitness regime. That is to say, around the time when I decided to actually go to a gym and not assume driving children all over place counted as “moderate activity.” I was doing an online workout and the instructor said, “If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up.”

That one hit me like an eight pound hand weight. I was used to hearing her spout out the cheesiest of cheesie motivational quotes, ones that would be written in violet cursive overtop a floral background in your Instagram feed.

You get what you give. This is your time. Find the real you. Life is a box of chocolates so don’t eat all the good ones first.

OK, maybe not that last one. The point is I wasn’t expecting to feel compelled to write down anything she said let alone put it on a post-it on the bathroom mirror. Even Luke thought it was good, and he’s not one for violet cursive talk.

Whether it’s working out, eating more consciously, challenging yourself not to yell at your kids or honouring your creative passions, one of the hardest things to do is stay on course. Like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill, each step can seem impossibly hard, but at least we know our rocks can actually reach the top. We aren’t destined to continually start all over again. We have a choice.

I should know. I’ve walked back down that hill a thousand times, only to find my desire to write staring me right in the face when I get to the bottom. Clearly, I need a plan. Because as I stand here dusting my hands, I am certain of one real truth: I don’t want to spend the rest of my life at the bottom of this hill with this bloody rock standing in my way.

Deep fried goodbye

I’ve been on a bit of a minimalism kick recently. It’s the new thing, don’t you know? Get rid of all your junk and find eternal happiness. So far, all I’ve found is more junk.

According to Instagram, I’m not the only one diving into my cupboards head first. I just checked and there are more than six million photos with a minimalism hashtag. I guess one thing minimalists don’t do minimally is post photos. Although, having just looked at some of them, very few seem to be snapshots of people’s pristine and empty living rooms. There’s even a photo of the eleven pastries a guy bought to share with his girlfriend. Perhaps, in their case, minimalism refers to the number of food groups.

I first got started on this when I read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I never got to the point of personally thanking my underwear before I threw it out, but I made decent progress. I gave away close to 30 bags of clothing and household goods. Somehow, that was just the beginning. Two years later, I’m still digging through excess stuff in the hopes of reaching an epiphany or, failing that, the back of the closet.

The room that has fascinated me the most through all of this is the kitchen. I don’t know how many times I’ve been waist deep in the corner cupboard only to find yet another questionable inhabitant. The latest exploration unearthed five slow cookers. Yes, FIVE. I use a slow cooker maybe once every three months. Even that’s being generous. I’m just not a slow cooker kind of gal. I had a few go-tos back in the day—and maybe I should go back to them—but I have never been such a prolific slow cooker to warrant owning five of them. Well, four and a half, really. One of them was for dips since we all know dips need six to eight hours on low.

Throughout all this, there was one cupboard I completely overlooked: the one above the fridge. Out of reach, out of mind. I only decided to pay it some attention because I needed a new home for the booze that was living on the top shelf of the pantry. I’m not as confident in the structural integrity of wire shelving as Luke appears to be. I had visions of single malt crashing down on the heads of my innocent children, who have a tendency to either hide or imprison each other in this tiny food closet.

I was curious to know what we had been hiding up there for all this time. There were a few guarantees: the bigger Vitamix container, in case I ever need to make a smoothie for 16 people; the two pint beer glass I stole from a pub 17 years ago; and all the weird liquor we never use. Chambord, anyone?

What I was not expecting to find was a deep fryer. A deep fryer that hasn’t been used in maybe eight years. A deep fryer that still has the oil in it from the last time it was turned on, likely because I had (and still have) no idea how to get rid of a two litres of vegetable oil.

I have likely faced this scenario before and just blocked it out of my mind. I’m sure I’ve rummaged around up there, looking for a random kitchen thing, noticed the deep fryer and made a quick-penned mental note. “Deep fryer sighting. M’eh.”

I find it amusing that a deep fryer was something I ever thought reasonable to own, especially now that I pray to the Holy Trinity of wholesome foods: Ella Woodward, Angela Liddon, and, in more localized religion, Brett McDermott. Honourable mention goes to Aviv Fried (not pronounced like the food that would have come out of the afore mentioned fryer), who bakes some of the only bread I can eat without causing everyone to assume I’m incubating our third child.

I remember buying this thing back when I had oodles of time to cook, loved experimenting in the kitchen, and had the ability to digest everything the world had to offer. I was also scared shitless of boiling oil and perhaps found it prudent to own a machine that would reduce the chances of the house burning down over my desire for a french fry. Even still, I think it was only used twice, both times to make Vij’s potato and cauliflower pakoras. They were delicious but also really messy and finicky. I see now, looking at the recipe, they are gluten-free. Damn it. Oh wait. I’m over 40. I don’t have the metabolism for easily accessible fried food.

According to Marie Kondo, one is supposed to assess the level of joy certain items spark before tossing them to the curb. You hold it in your hands, close your eyes and ask yourself, what’s my joy meter reading? The moment I reached in to remove this gremlin from its fridge-top cave, I knew its fate. But I still didn’t know what to do with the oil, so the machine sat on the counter for three weeks while I waited for divine intervention.

In the end, I put the oil a container and threw it out. I felt decidedly unjoyful about this part, due to the environmentally unfriendly act of pitching a recyclable container. The fryer then joined a couple of its slow cooker cousins on a drive to Goodwill and went onto be someone else’s problem. I hope it helps an adventurous home cook with a more forgiving waistline whip up something finicky and fabulous, without having to worry about the house burning down.

As long as there's chocolate, there's hope

A few years ago, I had to stop eating everything that tastes good. One after another, food groups dropped like flies until all that was left was chicken, white rice and avocado. It was decidedly less than fun.

In retrospect, it’s possible I shouldn’t have taken everything out all at once. But I was desperate and, really, if you’re going to eliminate foods to figure out what’s causing you problems, you kind of need to go all in. Or all out, as the case may be.

I had a doctor, a naturopath and a chiropractor all recommend different diets, none of which overlapped, other than the elimination of gluten, dairy, caffeine and alcohol. Also known as the four horsemen of the digestive apocalypse. It was all in an effort to get my body back to some level of functionality after too many months of post-baby sleep deprivation, possible postpartum and likely also a gut infection. Like I said, fun times.

At the peak of my elimination frenzy, I was avoiding gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, corn, yeast, sugar, coffee and alcohol. I feel like there was something else. Oh right, joy. I eliminated joy. I was also trying to do FODMAPs, which instructs you to avoid things like onions, apples, kale, blueberries and a host of other random, seemingly unrelated ingredients. I challenge you to find a product out there that doesn’t have at least one FODMAP no-no on the ingredient list. Lord knows, I tried.

The whole experience has given me a lot of empathy for people who can’t just eat whatever they want. It makes you crazy, sometimes, having to contemplate every morsel that passes your lips. You can’t just stop at Starbucks to grab a muffin if you’re hungry. There’s no getting an easy pass on dinner by grabbing pizza or burgers on the way home. And sometimes all you want is a freakin’ latte to get through the afternoon with some of your sanity left intact. But you make it through, because there’s an inkling of hope that you might feel human again someday.

I’m happy to say, that someday has come. I wouldn’t say I’m all the way back, but back enough that I can go to restaurants and attend dinner parties without having to tell the hosts to just feed me a rice cake. I have learned to savour decaf americanos blended with coconut oil. I have learned to enjoy a burger wrapped in lettuce. I have learned to eat chicken for breakfast.

One thing I didn’t have to learn was how to survive without baked goodies, thanks to the commitment of lot of smarter and more resourceful people than I. You could be down to five items on your dietary okay list and I’m sure someone will have found a way to make them into brownies.

Speaking of brownies, I decided to make some for a friend who’s just starting an auto-immune/paleo diet. I don’t know a whole lot about these diets other than what I googled, so hopefully these treats will fit into her protocol. If not, it's possible other people in her house will eat them, although brownies with pumpkin and tapioca can be a tough sell with people who can still pop a Timbit without a second thought. 

Instead of writing it out, I’m being lazy and linking to the recipe. These Dense and Fudgey Chocolate Brownies were exactly as advertised. I had the boy taste a sliver and he threw a fit that I wouldn’t give him more, so I’m assuming that means they’re acceptable to a normal palate. I used cacao paste instead of unsweetened chocolate and used canned coconut milk instead of the kind she recommends. I will definitely be making them both again, just not tomorrow because it’s going to be above 30˚C and I don’t want to turn on the oven. Score one for the summer waistline.

Hair today, gone tomorrow

I’ve always had a hard time when it comes to haircuts. It’s a crap shoot trying to choose the best time to go. Does it just look horrible today or will it continue to look horrible until I do something about it? I generally end up making an appointment after a couple weeks of follicular dysfunction only to have it look amazing the day before it’s destined to be snipped.

My apprehension around all this has grown with the introduction of children, only now it’s focused on them instead of me. How typically motherly of me. It took me more than two years to get the boy’s hair cut, even though he was constantly being mistaken for a descendant of Kenny G. I had this notion that cutting his baby curls would somehow strip him of his baby-ness, like a miniature Samson losing power at the hands of my maternal Deliliah.

Interestingly, he started using actual words not long after the first cut. Up until then, he communicated mostly in grunts. Perhaps he had been channeling Encino Man. I have since come to the conclusion that he fares better with his hair short, even if I don’t. And at least I knew the girl would never cut hers.

“I want it down to my butt,” she’d say, emphasizing butt as any six-year-old is wont to do. Sounds good to me, I’d think. Except when it came time to brush it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, she made a big announcement. She wanted it cut significantly and, strangely, on June 29th. I pointed out that this would thwart her plans for butt-length hair. She didn’t care. I marked June 29th in my mental calendar under “We Shall See.”

I’m not entirely sure where the idea came from. I suppose we had been planting the seed over the past few months. She has ridiculously thick hair that lands somewhere between wavy and curly, depending on the humidity. After a season of swimming, it had more in common with a bale of hay than a head of luscious locks. Add to that the fact that she never wants it tied back and you get a mess of hair that spends most of its life being dragged through mud, dipped in food, and caught in zippers.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal if we actually remembered to bathe our children every once in a while. Showering her had become quite an ordeal, so we were likely more focused on self-preservation than personal hygiene. One of us would stand there with the shower door open, manipulating her mound of hair in an attempt to get it clean all while listening to her increasingly deafening protests. Basically, bathing her is the reason why I’m now questioning the capabilities of my ear drums.

After several of these therapy-inducing incidents, I told her one option would be to cut her hair. It may have actually come across as more of a threat, but the idea of wielding scissors around a resistant styling victim didn’t seem prudent, even if it would release me from bath time hell.

In the days leading up to June 29th, she told everyone and their dog about her plans. Perhaps it was her way of psyching herself up for the day. Perhaps it was her way of psyching me up for it. For while she seemed entirely unfazed, I was kind of freaking out.

Part of me was scared that she would hate it. I was flashing back to my childhood, when every cut was a lesson in raised hopes and dashed dreams. I remember once asking the stylist to make my hair longer on one side. Obediently, he cut one side to the top of my ear and the other side to the bottom of the other ear. It didn’t occur to me until I saw a photo years later that all I actually wanted was for him to move my part from straight down the middle to just off the side. That one got a lot of weird looks.

The other part of me was filled with nostalgia. There’s a lot of history in that hair! Most of it has been with her since she was three, save the half inch we had trimmed off every year. Cutting it off would be like saying goodbye to my little girl. Saying goodbye to those adorable mispronunciations, like granola (“granunga”) and spaghetti (“pasketti”). Saying goodbye to her bouncy little run that looked like a bunny hopping down the street. Saying goodbye to those epic tantrums that made me think she had a brain tumour. Hmm… maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all.

June 28th arrived and I had yet to make an appointment. I texted a couple of friends to ask where they take their kids, but really, who’s getting an appointment with a specific stylist on such short notice? My excuse was I was letting the universe decide but really I was in denial. The next morning, I called a place at the mall and asked if they did kids’ hair. I told the receptionist my situation—that my six-going-on-twenty-year-old had decided to get a drastic cut—and wondered who she would recommend.

“Sam has an availability at 11:15,” she said. “He has kids so he gets it.”

E was a little nervous when we arrived, but that seemed to be more about meeting someone new as opposed to the task at hand. He popped her up in the chair and, with fair warning, grabbed a ponytail’s worth of hair and chopped it all off. An amazing thing happened in that moment. She seemed… free. She tossed her head around like a dog that had finally lost its collar.

In the few short days since the cutting, a kind of metamorphosis has taken place. She got up the next morning and ran her own bath. She has taken her plate and cup to the counter without being asked. Tonight, she gave herself a bath, ran a fresh one for her brother, then put herself to bed.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about letting go of old patterns, shedding your old self to make way for new thoughts that lead to happiness and authenticity rather than staying rooted in conflict and pain. Elliot’s haircut didn’t rob her of any precious part of herself, it released her from the past. She not only looks more mature and confident, she actually is. She is smiling more, and so am I.

Cookies transcend what it is to be cool

We had a nine-year-old over for a play date today and something traumatic dawned on me: I am so not cool.

The glory of having kids who are still relatively little is that they have no idea how out of touch we are. They don’t really care about being cool or hip or whatever it is. They just care about the possibility of eating candy before lunch and knowing when Daddy is coming home. I’ve been breezing by on this free ride with a vague understanding of Paw Patrol and Littlest Pet Shop without having to worry about whatever’s currently flowing through the zeitgeist of the pre-teen world. 

Case in point, I just asked my husband, “What are kids into these days?”

“I dunno. Minecraft?”

“What about Snapchat?”

“I think that’s more university age kids… but maybe younger kids use it? I have no idea.”

Luke, the husband, always said he would know when he was out of touch when he stopped recognizing the people in the supermarket tabloids. That happened for me when the Kardashians came onto the scene. I’m still not entirely sure what their deal is. They’re famous because they’re famous? Or is it because one of them is handy with a video camera? Are they still even famous or have we moved on?

I’ve only just recently started feeling microscopically cool within my own age group, let alone trying to figure out what’s socially current to a kid who's been alive for less than a decade. I've owned my espresso maker for longer than that. So instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, or understand what the new wheel is, we did what the three-year-old wanted to do: bake shortbread cookies. 

This makes me sound like a wonderfully wholesome mother. Trust me, it was not my first choice. It’s messy and fraught with technical difficulties. Everyone’s dough was rolled out to a different thickness, meaning everyone’s cookies baked at different speeds, and the three-year-old kept cutting out shapes on the same patch of dough then freaking out that his cookies looked like shredded cheese. It also results in children eating copious amounts of sugar while dropping copious amounts of crap on the floor. But, it keeps everyone occupied and in one place for an hour. You take the good with the bad.

The nine-year-old seemed to enjoy baking and left quite happily with her box of cookies, but not before taking over the Apple Music playlist and introducing us to some Katy Perry songs we hadn’t heard and Adele. Yes, I am likely the only woman over 40 who has never listened to an entire Adele album. I will refer you back to the part about me only recently coming out from underneath a rock.

I used a Betty Crocker recipe for the cookies. It was well-received, as any half pound of butter mixed with icing sugar should be. Despite the article that came out the other day about cookie dough being bad for you, I let my kids taste a bit. Judah then questioned the need for baking it at all and demanded the right to embrace the raw food movement on his batch of dough. His request was denied.

Shortbread Cookies, according to Betty Crocker

1.5 cups powdered sugar 1 cup butter 1 egg 1 tsp vanilla 1 tsp almond extract  (I didn’t have any. Oh well.) 2.5 cups flour 1 tsp baking soda 1 tsp cream of tartar

Mix the first five ingredients together on medium speed until well blended. Add the rest until mixed. Cover the dough and put it in the fridge for two hours. Prepare to answer the question, “Is the dough ready yet” every two minutes for the next two hours. Steel yourself.

Roll out dough to a quarter inch thick and cut out shapes. Bake at 375˚F for 8 or 9 minutes or until the edges are brown. Or bake some for 6 minutes and others for 10, depending on how well your bakers use a rolling pin.

For the icing, mix two cups of powdered sugar with a splash of vanilla and a few tablespoons of water until you have something resembling icing. We added some purple food dye (horrors) and I put it in ziplock bags (more horrors) with the corner cut out so they could squeeze it onto their cookies or, in Judah’s case, directly into his mouth.

Cue the Alice Cooper anthem

This week marks the dawn of a new reality. It could either be the start of something so glorious it can’t be put into words or the beginning of a long journey through wet sand while carrying bricks on your back. It all depends on how much your kids like each other. Welcome to summer vacation. 

The past month has been a total shit show for us. We ate no less than four grocery store chickens over the course of three weeks. Other culinary highlights included pizza, noodles, scrambled eggs, oatmeal and even just Rice Krispies. Yes, for dinner. We were late for school almost every day and a pile of clean laundry lived unfolded on the floor of the hallway for two weeks, along with the vacuum cleaner that was transported there in a brief fit of optimism one Saturday morning.

The kids rarely got to sleep before nine and never slept until seven. I stayed up past midnight most nights and was awake before six. Everyone was tired, grumpy, and emotionally unstable. Or maybe that was just me. I felt like a hamster that lost its footing in an overly enthusiastic wheel, bouncing around ass over tea kettle as the damn thing kept merrily spinning, ignorant to my need for reprieve. Stop the world, I cried. I want to get off!

Through it all, there was a feeling of familiarity. Didn’t this happen last year? Oh yes, the school year is coming to a close and everything is wrapping up in a spectacular, flaming tail spin. I remember now. At which point present self says to past self, “Why the eff didn’t you warn me?” Past self gives a half-hearted shrug and goes back from whence she came.

Past self has a history of slogging through the same ordeals year after year without much consideration for future self’s sanity. Christmas is a good example. Halloween is another. Any of those times when I might benefit from being on top of the situation before the situation is on top of me. Somehow, it never occurs to me to put a warning in my calendar. Something to the effect of: Take heed. June draws nigh. Hell cometh forth. Bring in reinforcements and, for god’s sake, sign up for Chef’s Plate.

It all sounds very dramatic, yet here I am, having survived with only a few pounds of water retention and an extra knot or two in my shoulders. Better yet, it’s the start of a new week and I am not in a panic over what to pack in their lunches or whether her uniform is clean or whether I signed permission forms or whether there’s gas in the car.

(Again, this is an area where past self likes to screw with future self. I have, on more than one occasion, turned on the car in the morning to see the number of kilometres left in the gas tank only slightly outweigh the distance between our house and the school. And let me tell you, that gauge is a liar. An optimistic, bold-faced liar.)

We have all been waiting impatiently for this day. Finally, she will be able to get up in the morning and start an art project without me breathing fire down her neck about eating breakfast and getting socks (what is it with socks). Finally, he will be able to start a puzzle without me telling him to get his shoes on so we can get his sister to school on time, for once in our bloody lives. Finally, they will be able to play together for more than twenty minutes a day without someone yelling, “Go to bed!” or “Come for dinner!” or “Get your socks!”

People think summer vacation is all about giving the kids a break. No way, man. I couldn’t wait for this day to come. Not only am I off packed-lunch duty, I also no longer have to be in the car for more than an hour and a half every day AND I don’t have to be the jerk who keeps telling my kids to drop whatever enjoyable thing they’re doing so they, too, can get in the car.

I have so much I want to do with them. Hikes, bike rides, adventures, experiments, spend oodles of time in nature. I want to give them as many opportunities to throw rocks in water as is humanly possible in 73 days. This week, though, we will stick close to home. We will go to the community pool. We will chase an ice cream truck. We will play with neighbourhood kids. We will take a moment to come back to earth and fall in love with that wonderfully simple life called summer.

Drink your greens but make them purple

Until recently, I had never really seen food as a means to an end. The world has so many delicious food combinations to enjoy. I couldn't imagine throwing away the chance for a fabulous meal from this cornucopia just for the purpose of sustenance (says the woman who used to eat popcorn for dinner). Enter motherhood and the tune changes. All of a sudden, meals become more of prerequisite for basic function rather than an enjoyable taste experience.

Take breakfast, for example. They say people are inclined to eat the same thing for breakfast every day, in part because it means reserving brain power for things like walking upright and being civil to your partner. For me, it also used to be incentive to get out of bed. What better reason to shower and get dressed than for the reward of peanut butter oozing all over a toasted english muffin?

Surprisingly, the promise of liquid salad has never offered the level of motivation. But time, reality, and countless elimination diets have a funny way of shifting your perspective. As I was weighing the desire for fitness, convenience, and the ability to survive a day with children, the green smoothie weaselled its way into my routine.

According to my research, there are at least a million recipes for green smoothies. About 999,992 of them start with an entire banana. In my mind, there’s a 20 second window during which a banana is suitably edible and by the time you’re done peeling it, those 20 seconds are up. Other options included tofu (don't get me started) or recipes that aim to include an army of powders, seeds and potions. I don’t have the patience to open that many containers before 7am. Grass-fed collagen be damned.

So I made up my own. It remains quite simple and remarkably tasty. The almond milk adds some creaminess to the mix. The beet crystals give it a hint of sweetness and a beautiful colour. My three-year-old asked to taste it—the guy who picks vegetables out of vegetable soup—and he actually liked it. He is my litmus test for palatability. If he will eat it, it has to be good. Mind you, he also likes mustard on macaroni and cheese, so maybe I'm off on my assessment of his sophisticated palate. 

I've been drinking this for a few weeks, and now find myself waking up favourably to the idea of a liquid breakfast. The other bonus is that it forces me to drink at least some water, something I have been known to eschew.

The Not-Green Green Smoothie 2 cups of kale (off the stem - no one’s body needs to fight that demon) 1/3 cup frozen sliced strawberries 1/4 cup frozen raspberries 1 tbsp chia seeds 1 tbsp beet crystals 1.5 tbsp pumpkin seed protein powder* Splash of vanilla Shake of cinnamon Almond milk** Water, depending on desired thickness and the willingness of your blender

Do I need to tell you to put all this stuff in a a Vitamix? I tried putting it in the Magic Bullet and all I got was a watery mess of chopped kale. I didn’t think I had issues with texture until that vile concoction landed on my tongue.

*This is the simplest of protein powders. It doesn’t have much of an imposing flavour and it delivers 9.5 grams of protein and 1 gram of fat in a 55 calorie serving.

**I like Califia and I just noticed they have a Toasted Coconut Almond Milk flavour that I might just have to go crazy over. I just have to find a store that stocks it since they don’t ship to Canada. Sad face.

Keep calm and party on

I was freaking out a little last week. By a little, of course, I mean a lot. I could list any number of possible reasons— birthday parties, Father’s Day, the 104 unread emails in my inbox—but there was an even more pressing issue on my mind: Neighbour Day.

Neighbour Day is an annual celebration of neighbourliness where Calgarians are encouraged to come out of their houses and interact with the other humans who live nearby. The city started it a few years ago to commemorate how compassionate we all were after the 2013 floods. To sweeten the deal, they waive the fee for Neighbour Day block party permits. Bring on the open alcohol!

Generally, I like to let the social aspects of life unfurl as the universe intends—or maybe I’m just lazy and I can’t be bothered to influence the cosmos—but when I heard about this block party idea, I decided to throw my disorganization tendencies to the wind. I had visions of children frolicking, adults guffawing, balloons, an ice cream truck, firefighters (for the kids, of course), a circus. I figure this all must have come about during a period of reduced cognitive function for me, though that basically describes motherhood so far so it's hard to pin point.

Despite my amateur planning skills, last year’s party was great fun. We got a decent turn out, but it was largely the core group of neighbours who already knew each other that ended up hanging out until 2am. I wanted this year to be even better, but I had no idea how to make that happen. I felt immense self-imposed pressure to have all the cards lined up in advance. While I’m okay with leaving my own social life to chance, I didn’t think that was a good strategy for a group of 40-50 near-strangers who were being asked to hang out with each other for six hours.

Then, a few weeks ago, a lesson presented itself. Some of the dads held an informal barbecue competition. There was much talk of cuts, sauces, rubs, etc. The women steered clear. I think we were all just happy to have someone else plan and execute a neighbourly get-together. But an hour before the time of judgement, we started to ask questions: Where would we meet? Were there side dishes (like, I don’t know, vegetables)? Come to think of it, were there dishes?

Blank stares.

My better half was even surprised to learn that I was planning to serve some of this carnivore’s delight to our children for dinner. I think he was surprised to learn that any of us were planning to eat it for dinner! And yet, by some miracle (a.k.a. the women), it all came together. 

I tried desperately to keep that in mind as the days leading up to the block party flew by at a remarkable pace, taking my sanity with them. Somehow, it would all work out. People would still have fun if I didn’t rent a massive bouncy castle or arrange for a visit from a food truck or the mayor, right? I didn’t even know what time to make the damn thing start, so I just told people the barbecue would start at 5pm and left the rest of the day to chance. I took a deep breath and hoped for the best. 

Surprise of the century, our second annual block party was totally and absolutely amazing. All I did was get the permit, hand out flyers, and buy some burgers. I didn’t tell people what to bring. I didn’t tell them when to come. It just happened, like a beautiful, independent organism that thrives on social interaction and ridiculous amounts of food.

The kids ran around in bathing suits all day, periodically stopping to consume fruit, chips, or ice cream. They made new friends. It was awesome! It made me think there is hope for a 70’s summer after all, where we send them out the door in the morning and yell for them to come back at dinner.

On the adult side of things, we got to know neighbours we’ve lived near for eight years but have never really met. The 89-year-old lady who’s lived at the end of the block for 60 years came out with tins of cookies. The people we never, ever see come out of their houses came out of their houses. And I hardly did a thing. All that fretting for nothing. <Insert eye-roll emoji>

Thus, I have written myself a list for next year: 

  1. Book fire department earlier.
  2. Invite adjacent blocks.
  3. Encourage barbecue rivalry.
  4. Keep calm, dude. The block will party on.

Muffins for the masses

Back when I used to eat gluten, these glorious goodies could be seen making the trip to my mouth on a regular basis. My good friend, Christine, brought me a batch not long after we got home from the hospital with our first burrito. They have been a staple in our house ever since.

They smell so good coming out of the oven, I am often tempted to throw caution to the wind and inhale one on the spot. Then I remember how nice it is to not look five months pregnant (since I'm not) and I walk away. 

The original recipe had things like white sugar, white flour and canola oil. True to form, Chris gave them a nutritional makeover with no resulting impact on their popularity. Not only are they healthy, they are dead easy to make—so much so that I’ve been able to get over myself and let the kids help.

In keeping with that, they are also forgiving (the muffins, not the kids). Today, for example, we added an extra egg because heaven forbid one child gets to crack and egg and the other does not. Then I accidentally governed the addition of an extra half-cup of flour. No tantrums were thrown upon consumption so I’m assuming everything worked out fine.

Branana Chocolate Chip Muffins 1 cup mashed ripe banana (about three medium) 1 egg 1/2 cup apple sauce 1/2 cup wheat bran 1 tsp vanilla 1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp baking soda 1 tsp salt 1 cup whole wheat flour 1/2 cup chocolate chips

We just add all the ingredients into one bowl—in this order—then bake at 350˚F until a pokey thing comes out clean. I think it’s around 15 minutes. I usually forget to set a timer then remember I’m baking muffins right around the time they’re done. This is my version of living on the edge.

These can easily be made gluten-free by omitting the bran (or replacing it with a gluten-free oat bran) and substituting an all-purpose gluten-free flour. If you go ahead without the bran, add an extra quarter-cup of flour. I find gluten-free flours need extra moisture so you may need to add an extra egg (perfect if you are baking with two kids) or more apple sauce.

I will say, they don't keep as nicely when they lack gluten. This is rarely a problem since having muffins around that I can eat usually results in me eating most of the muffins. Hence why I usually make them with gluten. It's my willpower's safety net.

Lastly, if you don’t have a silicone muffin tin, go get one post haste. They are glorious. Since getting ours, we no longer leave the muffin tin soaking in the sink waiting to see which one of us will stop pretending it doesn’t exist.

You spin me right round, baby, right round

A friend of mine just asked if I want to join her for a spin class this week. Truthfully, she’s been asking me to come to a spin class for about a year. I keep saying no, simply because I’m a big fat chicken. Bok bok.

I don’t know what it is about spin classes but they intimidate the crap out of me. Everyone seems to be one step away from Tour de France qualification, you have to attach yourself to the equipment so you can’t run away and it’s an entire hour of working my wimpiest muscle group, the one that’s always first to cry uncle.

Also, I’ve just discovered you have to book—and pay for—the bike in advance. So I can’t fall back on my usual habit and come up with some elaborate, last minute excuse to save my quads from this imagined hell. Not unless I want to kiss $20 goodbye. That kind of money could buy five coffees or two jars of amazing peanut butter. That logic should give you a good indication as to why spin class is a necessary addition to my life.

I have never been athletically-inclined. Back in grade school, we had sports days when everyone in the school would compete to earn points for their house. The only event I can remember participating in was the mandatory 100 yard sprint. They would blow the whistle and I would run like I had never run before. Run like there was a tiger chasing me. Run like there was an ice cream truck about to disappear around the corner. I focused on the goal and gave it my all. Then I watched each one of my classmates cross the finish line while I continued to knock my knees half way down the field.

Despite my inabilities, I convinced myself that joining a sports teams in high school was a great way to convince people I was not a loser. The only team that didn’t have try-outs was the swim team. I guess they figured it didn’t matter how good you were as long as you weren’t going to drown. The good kids would win. The kids like me would lose but get half a day off school. Win win!

My biggest problem with swimming, other than not being able to breathe, is the flip turn. There is something in the logic of the movement that is completely lost on me. I experienced this same lack of comprehension more recently in step class, only this time I didn’t end up going sideways through someone else’s territory, which is precisely what I did at my first and final swim meet.

After that, I think I accepted that fitness would never really be a part of my life. I created a narrative of failure in my mind. I dabbled with it every once in a while, but always felt like it was on a higher plain than I could ever reach. Every class I tried would leave me dying on the floor or wiping away tears. Again, I would see everyone else trudging forward, rocking those mountain climbers like they were born to run horizontally. And there I would be, sloppy and uncoordinated, unable to handle the burn.

But two months ago, my spin friend asked if I would join her for a birthday fitness class. You have to understand, this woman would do anything for her friends. She gave me one of the best birthdays I’ve had in years. So the absolute least I could do for her on her birthday was endure an hour of pain and embarrassment.

To my shock and amazement, the class was incredible. The instructor was amazing, the music was motivating and the moves felt like they were going to make a difference. I loved every minute, even the parts where my quads felt like they were swimming in acid.

I officially drank the BODYPump Kool-Aid and have kept coming back for more. I even tried some cardio classes, despite my hate-hate relationship with cardio. The step class is the most amusing. The instructor said it takes about ten tries to graduate from uncoordinated mess to only slightly incompetent. Seven more to go and no ankle injuries yet!

So what’s happening with spin? I swallowed my fear and said yes—not just because she dangled a post-workout carrot by making a dinner reservation at our favourite restaurant. This time, I think I can actually do it.

Good intentions don't carve themselves

Somebody please disembowel me and give my life meaning

I always start out October with grand plans around Halloween. I set my sights on the first weekend of the month and make a mental note: We need hay bales! We need pumpkins! We need a blow-up mechanical Edward Scissorhands display! I decree that decorations must be out by sundown on that Sunday.

Flash forward to right this very moment: 3pm on Hallow’s Eve when I find myself standing next to the only candy I could find at Costco this morning (rocket lollipops and mini bags of MSG) and a lonely, warty, lopsided, and decidedly uninjured pumpkin. I really don’t want to carve this thing. My MacGyver brain is going into overdrive. A wig? A funny hat? Wait… guilt brain is making a last minute play. Dammit! Where are the rubber gloves?

I like to say that Halloween is my favourite holiday but I always seem let it slide. Not only am I lacking a costume, our three-year-old is going as the same dragon he was last year because his ignorant mother had her head up her ass. The man is obsessed with Paw Patrol. Did it occur to me that a child could be a Paw Patrol character? NO. Did I notice during any of my umpteen trips to Superstore or Costco that Paw Patrol costumes exist? NO. Did I go today in a last minute panic after being made aware of this possibility? YES. What was left? Wonder Woman. Dammit again!

The Main Event

I love the excitement of Halloween. If it’s warm, I love going around while the kids yell at the neighbours, demanding hoards of candy. If it’s cold, like today, I love to stay at home and see all the adorable costumes. I have learned not to make assumptions about who they all are because they get really insulted if you get it wrong.

“Ohhh… aren’t you a scary…. Witch/Zombie Bride/Pippy Long-Stocking!”

“I’m Evie from Descendants.”

“Of course you are, dear.”

I love all of this until it comes time to put the kids to bed. I’ve heard through the grapevine that some people have children who are gloriously immune to things like sugar, late nights, excitement, and unusual happenings. Then there are my children who take the better part of a week to recover from one night of staying up past 8:30. If you miss getting them down during the bedtime window, they get that adrenaline kick and end up bug-eyed and bushy-tailed until after 10. Sweeten the deal with handfuls of food dye and corn syrup and, well, we could re-enact Children of the Candy Corn right here in our living room.

Hmm… that’s not a half bad costume idea. That’s going in Evernote.

I Want It Now!

What’s everyone’s philosophy on candy consumption? There are those who believe children need a chance to learn self-regulation and, therefore, should be given free reign over bulging pillow cases. The theory is the child will eventually feel ill and stop eating. We tried that once at Easter. 47 eggs into it, there was still no sign of defeat. We had to shut it down. That did not go over well.

Other strategies I’ve heard include one piece of candy per age, exchange the candy for toys, exchange the crappy candy or better treats. I suggested that one to E.

“What do you have to offer me that’s better than candy?”

You got me there, kid

There’s even a dentist here in town that does an after-Halloween party where kids can exchange their candy for money, green smoothies and dried apples.

I have also heard of a mystical breed of unicorn children who forget about their candy. I laugh at this, then have a moment of panic over the expiry date on their mayonnaise.

But here’s what I don’t get: we’re all buying candy to give away so that our kids can collect candy that we want to give away. There has to be a better way. If it hadn’t been for that fictitious razor in the apple, we would all still give away homemade fudge and popcorn balls. This coming from the woman who’s pumpkin skill hasn’t carved itself.

I think I’ve stalled long enough. Time to get my gloves on and remind myself why that career in medicine never worked out.

Happy Halloween!