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.

Wake me up when September ends

IMG_3325 Kindergarten is the modern world’s dunk tank into cold, hard reality. One day, you’re sleeping til you’re done, eating a lazy breakfast, and getting dressed when the mood strikes. The next day you’re ripping yourself out of bed, being blinded by the rise of curtains and shovelling down food in an attempt to provide sustenance before the bell rings.

I’m sure it’s been tough for E, too.

After three hard weeks I’ve come to a startling conclusion: September kind of sucks. I had notions of sliding into a gloriously well-oiled routine after a summer of lackadaisical free-for-alls. Clothes would be chosen the night before. Bedtime would be easier (since she’d be tired from all that learnin’). Then we’d have a happy skip to school before she faced another exciting day of mind expansion.

That fantasy played out for the first few days. Then sometime in the middle of week two, E woke up and asked me how much longer she’d have to go to school. At first I thought the truth would be a hard blow but then I remembered she has no concept of time. I also realized that no matter what I said, it wouldn’t be the answer she wanted, which was likely something along the lines of, “just a few more days, babe.”

In the last few weeks she’s gone from excited to tired to annoyed. Now we’re at just plain pissy. And I’m here thinking, good gravy this is going to be a long thirteen years. Luckily, I know people who’ve been around the schoolyard a few times. I’m told everyone’s shit hits the fan near the end of September. The kids have caught on that this school business is an actual thing and it isn’t going away. Apparently, they lose their will to fight after Thanksgiving (the Canadian one).

(I’m sure there are exceptions. We all know those people whose social media feeds have us believing they’ve found the key to the perfect family life. No one yells, their kids do the dishes and everyone plays Jenga together on Friday nights.)

It also doesn’t help that E is convinced I’m the one who made school start at eight in the morning. What kind of crazy fool does she take me for? In a fit of irrationality, I tried to introduce reason to our conversation.

“How could I possibly be responsible for forcing hundreds of kids to be at school that early? More importantly, why would I ever do that??” I suppose I should be flattered by the reach she assumes of my power, although also concerned that she thinks I’m capable of such lunacy.

When her anger first started to rise, I wondered whether something bothersome was going on at school. Unfortunately getting pertinent information out of a five-year-old is like trying to get shoes on a two-year-old. Both are incredible frustrating activities that usually result in footwear being thrown across the room.

Then I found this list of great questions. I tried ones like, “did anyone do anything nice for you” and “who made you smile” but another thing about five-year-olds is that they have no concept of gratitude. I was asking these idyllic questions of the same child who, a week prior, cried over the future absence of ice cream while she was still eating the ice cream.

Last night, I took a different approach:

Who did you sit beside? Noah. If someone in your class could be the teacher, who would you want it to be? Me! What’s the hardest rule to follow? NO TALKING!!

Little by little, I’m shedding light on the mysteries that unfold behind those closed doors. In this respect, I’m happy Alberta has bucked the trend of subsidized daycare and kept kindergarten at a half-day. It gives us a bit more time to prepare for that day when they go off on their own, forget that we exist, and only call when they need money or advice about how to do laundry.

Free to be

Little E. Big E.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent days about showing girls the value of personal authenticity—that the best version of themselves is the one they are to themselves, likely when they think no one else is watching, and that being a little rough around the edges is better than feeling like you have to pretend you aren’t. At least, that’s the message I’m taking from the viral sensation that is Kate T. Parker’s photographic series, “Strong is the new pretty.”

From what I’ve read, part of the reason behind Parker’s project was a desire to show her girls they don’t have to be the picture of magazine perfection to be valued. Parents might also heed that advice, since they are the ones entering kids in cover photo contests or having people vote for their baby to be deemed the cutest in order to win a year’s supply of god-knows-what.

It’s a wonderful message for us all to hear, but part of me also thought, “how sad are we that the concept of encouraging our girls to be true to themselves is so novel, it garners the attention of the Today Show and CNN?” Then I remember how far society is from understanding things like equality, respect, and individuality. Group think is safe. Different is scary.

It reminds me a little bit of Tracey Spicer’s TEDx talk. I encourage you to watch this brilliantly engaging woman break down the cumbersome daily ritual that takes her from a frizzy-haired, fair blond with a less-than-perfeclty flat stomach (i.e., one that has housed babies), to a culturally acceptable, coifed, tucked and tanned TV host. At one point, she talks about the trouble she has explaining the point of this song and dance to her young daughter. What does it say to our kids when they see us painting our nails, straightening our hair or putting on various forms of face goop? We say, “Be yourself! You’re perfect!” Then we show them how we feel the exact opposite about ourselves.

So perhaps, by the same vein, photography is best platform to expose people to a different form of “perfect little girl.” After all, we see before we hear. This I learned during my brief stray from radio into the world of television news. You can have an amazing story, but if you don’t have pictures, you ain’t got shit. If Parker’s story is that her kids are amazingly real and unique characters worthy of celebration, there is no better way to prove it than to for her to show not tell.

As someone newly-smitten with the art of photography, I took something else away from all this. It’s a similar message, but one directed at me, not my kids. It’s that, as a photographer, it’s okay to do your own thing. I’m not sure what I’ve been aiming for recently, but I’m often crippled by the idea that actual photographers will look at my work and think, “I hope she doesn’t think she knows what she’s doing because x, y, and z are all wrong.” I struggle with the notion that there is a right and wrong and that there are little details I can’t see that give my ignorance away.

Then I see a series like this and I am struck by the variety, the freedom and the pushing of envelopes. The images are divine. They inspire me to experiment with scene, perspective and composition but also with the aftermath. Some of her photographs look like screenshots from a Wes Anderson movie, speaking to me from a land caught between truth and fantastical. Seeing something like this, I realize a good photograph isn’t just what I see through the lens, it’s also what I see through my imagination. If I play around with it, maybe people will catch a glimpse into that crazy world inside my head.

I’m not saying I don’t have more to learn (if we compare my photographic journey to climbing Everest, I haven't even bought my ticket to Nepal). I’m just saying it’s okay to play around and be flawed in the process. I’m pretty sure that’s the message Parker is trying to convey to her kids. She just probably didn’t realize it was a lesson the rest of us could take to heart.

Five days in November


Karma and I have had a falling out. I wouldn’t say things have been going swimmingly recently, but they’ve definitely been better than a dog paddle. I no longer roam through each day in a sleep-deprived fog and I’m able to eat the majority of my meals without feeling like crap. These are definite bonuses, especially when most days involve some kind of battle with a four-year-old reincarnation of Stalin.

This week had an agenda no sleep trainer or elimination diet could have saved. After all, the combination of no child care, -30º weather, and a temporarily absent husband is I believe what you will find in the parenting cookbook under recipe for disaster. Additional ingredients for extra zing include a teething toddler who’s also learning how to walk and a preschooler whose starting position for everything that doesn’t involve TV or chocolate is an ear-piercing NO.

In my naivety, I thought it would be manageable and, potentially, fun. Even the Cheerios tried to warm me. Perhaps an arrow pointing feverishly to the door would have been more effective message of impending doom.

Normally on days when the kids are home, the first mission of the day is to get the hell out of the house. But it’s November and it’s dead-of-winter, snot-freezing cold.

E was not-so-secretly pleased about our inability to venture out of doors. She has developed a strong sense of fashion that doesn’t include her one-piece snow suit. I understand where she’s coming from, but at the same time I don’t need my ear drums pierced every time I suggest a romp in the snow.

After one particularly impressive display that would make Gordon Ramsay look polite, I decided my sanity was worth the exorbitant cost of new snow pants. So we made a deal.

“What should we do if you (lose your shit) at the store?”

“Take away my show.”

Losing TV screws me more than it screws her, but it’s her currency so I had to go with it.

This is (one of the many times) where I feel like an asshole. I set her up to fail. It was late in the day, she was tired after a morning play date, and I was about to take her into a huge store to try on something bulky, hot, and complicated. Brilliant combo.

We left the store with no snow pants and, of course, no Dora on the horizon.

That evening, I realized the dishwasher had been sitting full of clean dishes for three days. I unloaded them onto the counter and crammed an Ikea’s worth of colourful plastic bowls into the machine. Then, I went to the basement to relocate the carpet in anticipation of the cleaning ladies’ arrival the next morning.

Mid-way through sorting toy trains and Frozen costumes, I heard an appliance yelling at me from the kitchen. It was the dishwasher. It quit.

At this point, I guess little man was feeling like he wasn’t pulling his weight in the catastrophe department. About ten minutes after the dishwasher buggered off, he woke up and started a night from hell. He screamed more than he slept and I cursed everything under the sun, including boy’s trips to Phoenix.

Day Five has arrived. Our entire collection of dishes is on the counter in various states of dirtiness, there’s a pork tenderloin in the fridge that’s been waiting to be cooked since Thursday (when I still had hope), and there is no TV again today, thanks to the g.d. snowsuit. I thought I had a decent post-nap peace offering in the form of a muffin and new puzzle, but the muffin went flying for not having enough chocolate chips and there was too much screaming to allow for a new toy.

This is when I start to wonder whether four-year-olds understand consequences.

Now that everyone is asleep (knock wood), I start my evening ritual of second guessing every parenting move I made during their waking hours. I google things like “why is my four-year-old so angry” and read articles that make it sound like I’m damaging both of their psyches. I text my friends for sympathy and pray the kids have good benefits when they’re older.

Luke’s resurfacing is sure to be met with gloriously happy children who will make the incessant texts he received over the past few days look like vacation-killing lies. He will be popular, loved, cuddled, and serenaded with giggles. I, on the other hand, will be the jerk who didn’t want to make waffles because it would have dirtied our last three dishes. At least now there’s someone else around to share the glory of dish pan hands.

Saving daylight. Losing sanity.


Igot yelled at this morning. A lot. In my quest to deflect blame from yours truly, I landed on the most obvious villain I could find: Daylight Saving Time. That jerk.

You see, children, like farm animals, are not swayed by the concept of hours and minutes. They (the children, not the farm animals) are driven by desire, hunger, energy, fatigue and the search for that invisible line that separates what they can control and what they can’t. What makes all those things easier to handle is a nice, predictable routine. Having well-rested parents also helps.

Enter Daylight Saving Time, a true abombination. The sun still rises and sets. The weather stays relatively consistent. But all of a sudden you’re either going to bed when it’s light and getting up when it’s dark or vice versa. It doesn’t make sense to me (and millions of other people) so why should it make sense to someone who can’t tell time or discuss macroeconomics.

I am flummoxed by the havoc this tiny little hour wreaks on modern society. It’s easier to adjust after traveling across three time zones than it is to physically accept this biannual sixty minute leap. Maybe it’s because when you hop around the continent, you’re psychologically geared up for time-related turmoil. Also, it often means you’re on vacation, which makes lots of things easier to take.

I went to an adult person gathering (i.e. not a play date) on Sunday, the day of the time change. Most of us struggled to string together three coherent words. I even drove to the wrong house. Not the wrong house on the right block but the wrong house in an entirely wrong neighbourhood.

I have also been waking up before 5 a.m. and craving carbohydrates like there’s no tomorrow. Sometimes those 5 a.m. wake ups are greeted with the silent, shadowy figure of a child staring at me through the darkness. Try getting back to sleep after that.

So let’s take stock. We have a house full of tired people, two (maybe three) of whom are still trying to get in touch with their emotions, one of whom has zero language skills other than to feverishly use the sign for please while making anxious grunting sounds. Add to that the fact that I am trying to wean myself off coffee. It’s no good. We all need an emotional reset.

This morning, in an attempt to make peace, I sprinkled a few chocolate chips in E’s oatmeal. After witnessing a performance that would make Gordon Ramsay look polite, I played my last card.

“Just try it. It tastes like a chocolate chip cookie.”

She tries it.

“NO! It does NOT taste like a chocolate chip cookie. It tastes like a chocolate chip cookie WITH OATMEAL!”

<Dish gets pushed off placemat. Placemat gets thrown off table.>

Needless to say it’s been a rough week, one that has us all wanting to disguise ourselves as unmade beds and promptly fall asleep (see photo). And as I trudge around in my new gluten-and-caffeine-free hell, I am wont to lose perspective. It’s her job to push my buttons. It’s my job to… I don’t know. Not go totally insane? Keep making oatmeal?

In the absence of revelations, I am choosing to watch this twice then go for a walk. You know, to take in some of this daylight we so desperately needed to save. 

A shot in the dark

IMG_8112Today is the scariest day of the year - the day we make that annual trek through neighbourhoods of ghouls and goblins (i.e. pumpkins and scarecrows) to join hundreds of other parents and children on a similarly daunting task.

Today is flu shot day.

Back in the B.C era of my life (Before Children), announcements about flu shot clinics barely registered. I was healthy! Shouldn’t our bodies learn to defend themselves? Besides, every flu shot recipient I knew got the flu! Blah blah ignorant blah.

In truth, I was secretly hoping to get sick. I just wanted a few drug-induced days of bad television. I may have even touched a few germ-infested keyboards in an attempt to hasten the process. It never worked.

Now that I have kids, there are several reasons why I hold my breath and dive into the flu shot pool:

I don’t want the kids to get sick (because we will all be tired and grumpy).

I don’t want to get sick (because I will be tired and grumpy while my kids bounce off the walls).

I don’t want Luke to get sick (because I’ll be grumpy at him for staying in bed all day).

So I make the gamble that two hours in close quarters with hundreds of people and three hand-sanitizer stations will reduce my overall risk of sleep-deprivation and bouts of irrational anger. At least this year, I had a brilliant plan.

“What kind of jerk takes their kids to get flu shots on Halloween?” I thought to myself with a menacing cackle.

Turns out, there are lots of like-minded jerk parents in this city, many whose children were on a P.D. Day. What’s that saying? Great minds think alike and dummies end up standing in a huge line with restless kids who can’t stop thinking about candy?

Our collective ignorance led us all astray. Despite it being less than an hour before lunch, I packed just a few small snacks, water and, thank the good lord, a half-charged iPad. One lady forgot her health card and had to fill out a detailed form about her life, since I guess you wouldn’t want to accidentally vaccinate an impostor. Another lady looked longingly at the zombie-like faces of my hypnotized children as her wards tried to swing off the line dividers.

We were ushered to the nearest nurse’s station. Janet, our kind and brave practitioner, introduced herself as I attempted to pry the technology from E’s hands. Up until that point, E had been all for this act of preventative health care. But the moment it went in her arm, she opened her mouth, turned red, stopped breathing for a few seconds, then let out the kind of scream one might associate with having a car door slam on your hand.

Janet and I locked eyes. Hers held the look of a long day getting longer. Mine conveyed a mix of embarrassment and regret. I turned around to see the saucer-like eyeballs of the kids standing in line as their parents hung their heads in defeat.

“Probably not the kind of advertising you were looking for,“ I offered with a sheepish grin. She smiled and turned her attention to the little guy. After his jab, he cried for a few seconds then got distracted by something shiny.

Then we went to Safeway where E was offered a free donut and we bought their few remaining bags of over-priced and unpopular candy. High fives all around.

Next year, I will leave earlier, pack more snacks and, most importantly, check to see if it’s a P.D. Day before we walk out the door. I will also try not to leave my Halloween candy purchasing until four hours before the Elsas and Ironmans start arriving at the door. At least with this strategy, I wasn’t tempted to erase the morning’s shenanigans with waxy chocolate and no-name cheezies.