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.

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!

So, Monday, we meet again

The jeans of the crime

I don’t know about all of you, but we started the week off on a spectacularly shitty note. I could tell from the moment I woke up that it was going to be rough. My hindsight brain is saying, “if you knew that going in, why didn’t you do something to change course? Duh."

Hindsight brain is such a turd. He’s always like, “I would have handle that so much better.” It’s in the same category of people who offer helpful advice for how to best handle challenging situations next time, as if you hadn’t already learned that going to Ikea on a weekend with a three-year-old was a bad call. Has no one read Men Are From Mars? Women don’t want advice. They want empathy.

So, yes, hindsight brain, I realize I could have altered course. But I didn’t. And that’s what brings us to where we are now.

Here’s my mandatory list of excuses: We were running late. When we’re under the gun, younger people seem to somehow move slower than usual, like time is speeding up and they’re stuck in molasses. Then my stress about getting younger people moving seeps out into the world and makes everyone cranky. There was even a clothing crisis… from a child who wears a uniform.

I believe that’s what therapists call miscuing. People think kids are straightforward and easy to read. Hell no. It’s never about what you think it’s about. Maybe it started off being about uncomfortable jeans, but it morphed into something much harder to manage: reality. Specifically, the realization that another week of school was about to begin. More specifically, the realization that she was going to miss me.

By the time I figured this out, the morning had already gone to hell. I saw our metaphorical train leaving the station and I did nothing to stop it. I could have waved frantically at the conductor or pulled the emergency brake or even let the train leave so we could wait for its non-crazy cousin to pull in. But, no, I let it keep chugging away.

“This is the worst morning ever of my whole life,” she screamed as I tightened her brother’s car seat, crushing his nuts in the process.

“Yes," I commiserated, "it probably is.” Meanwhile, my upstairs brain is knocking on the door of my downstairs brain, cautiously whispering, “This would be a good time to be stronger, wiser, kinder. You know…  be the adult.”

I close the car door, do a silent fist-shaking swear dance, take a deep breath and accept that we are going to be late. I go around to her side of the car. I help her with her seat belt. I look her in the eyes and tell her how much of a joy she is in my life. I tell her she is a good person. I pray that some of my words will stick to her Tephlon heart.

Things seem to settle down until I turn on the car, see the time and immediately turn back into cranky, late, asshole mom. Then I realize I’m being cranky, late, asshole mom and that this does nothing to help set them off on the right foot. I apologize for my behaviour, but not my feelings. I’m trying to show them it’s okay to make mistakes, that people will still love you if you lose your cool.

I’m sure there are practical lessons to be learned here. Set out clothes the night before. Get them up earlier. Get them to bed earlier. Be more organized. Move closer to the school. Perhaps the most valuable is this: Mondays are already tough. Skinny jeans will only make them worse.

Baby, it's cold outside

snow day I tend to walk through the brevity of autumn with a naive hope that the crisp, sunny days will last for weeks, or at least until Thanksgiving (the Canadian one). I picture myself crunching through leaves on the sidewalk, comfortably dressed in jeans and a sweater with perhaps a vest for good measure.

I'm not sure where I picture myself enjoying this fabled fall, but it certainly isn't the city in which I live. This is the city where Halloween costumes have to either fit over snowsuits or incorporate them into the theme. Oh look, another Stay-Puff Elsa! Cute!

So it came as no surprise when the flakes started flying this morning. Sure, it was pretty but it was also really friggin' cold. I have a tendency to treat my winter wear like I used to treat vacation days when I was granted such things: save them, hoard them even, for when it's really REALLY bad.

"I can't put on the parka when it's only -3 degrees (Celsius)," I thought. "If I do that, what will I wear when it's -30?"

I even resisted turning on the heat. Now that it's been on for a few days, I'm finding the house cold again. And believe me, this isn't a case of insufficient body fat.

One might think a day like this could be a happy excuse for filling the house with the smell of freshly baked goods. Muffins, cookies, cinnamon rolls... all those things that beg for creation when the world outside is solidifying. It's a beautiful reason to stand next to an oven with a hot cup of coffee, waiting for some new delight to emerge.

Unfortunately, my freezer is already full of delights, some that no one but me will eat (apparently, in the absence of gluten, I've lost all perspective on what constitutes an edible cookie) and, besides, there was another cold hard reality staring me right in the face: a three-year-old boy.

You see, when you're a parent, you're not supposed to stay inside all day when it snows. You're supposed to act all excited that it's freezing cold outside while you rally the troops to go explore the new winter wonderland.

Yay! I can't wait to squeeze myself into snow pants I know I can't do up. Double yay! I can't wait to wrestle you into a snowsuit only to have you need to pee five minutes later.

But, as we all know, a good part of parenting is being able to bullshit. Examples include:

  • What are you talking about, flu shots don't hurt!
  • The dentist is fun!
  • Broccoli is delicious!
  • We have perfectly good food at home!

I muster up my best fun mommy voice and say, "Hey buddy. Let's go outside and play in the snow!" He looks up at me and says, "No." This is his standard response to every sentence that doesn't involve Smarties or Paw Patrol, so I try again. "Come on, it will be fun!" This time, he literally runs away from me. "No! I will be too chilly!" He grabs his talking dog, hops on the couch and says, "Mommy, will you come put the banket on me?"

I hesitate. I'm supposed to force him outside, aren't I. That's what good parents do. They show their kids that it's worth a half hour of prep to walk around the block. This is our penance for being Canadian. But as I walk to the living room, I get sucked into the cuteness vortex and lose all resolve. To hell with it. I'll be a good parent tomorrow. Better yet, I'll get Luke to do it.


Double rainbow


Three years ago today, I was in the tub, soaking in complete denial of what the day had in store.

The week before, E had been battling her third round of croup. It being the middle of summer, there were few places to find a cold breath of air during her coughing fits. The ER doctor suggested we put her head in the freezer. I’m still not sure she was joking.

She only wanted me, on the couch, in the rocking chair, but mostly snuggled up with her in bed. So there I was, her massive, whale of a mama, for whom sleep was a distant memory, perched precariously on the side of a tiny twin bed with a child the temperature of a pizza oven. I was willing the contractions to stop.

“Listen kid,” I said, “I know I’ve been telling you in not so nice tones to get the hell out of me for the past three weeks, but I implore you now to stay where you are. I promise I will give you chocolate before you’re two.”

Wonderfully, baby listened.

The following Monday, when I was a week overdue, E went back to the day home. I joked that she might have a sibling by the end of the day. I closed the door to go home. Click. Contraction. Ha ha. Very funny. 

I got back home. Closed the door. Click. Contraction. What a joker. 

I went about my usual morning, tidying up from breakfast, likely folding one of the seven hundreds onesies people had given us, all the while feeling these twinges grow stronger and more consistent. At an ultrasound appointment later that morning, Luke asked if I was in labor.

“Nooo, no, no. Just a cramp.” He humoured me by feigning belief. 

He goes back to work. I go home. I had an appointment with my OB at 2. "I can make it until 2. This isn’t that bad." I got in the tub, also known as the midwive's epidural. I was still just calling it a bath. A really long bath from which I never wanted to emerge. 

The drive to the doctor's was interesting. It’s amazing how much power your mind can have when you need it to. Only have contractions at red lights, I told my uterus. It obeyed, but there were four red lights and it made me pay for each one.

Once there, I mentioned casually that I might be in labor. She attached me to some machine behind a curtain from which I would occasionally reach out for Luke’s hand.

“Your contractions are three minutes apart,” she said.

“Do we have time for me to go home and change.” Luke asked.

“Mmm… Maybe,” she said.

As much as it would have been an exciting end to this story, we did not end up having a baby in the SUV. In fact, our little man took another seven hours to make his grand entrance, or exit. Both, I guess!

Today, three years later, I stood in the kitchen preparing cupcakes for the first birthday party this poor second child has ever had. Mixing the icing, all I could think about was that peaceful soak in the tub when the two of us had our last conversation as one, when this glorious being knocked on the door and told me he was ready to take in the world. 

Real life, no filter

Playing with oats while the dishes wait for someone to notice them For the longest time, Luke and I believed we were the only people in the world, or at least our circle of friends, who had Tazmanian devils for children. No matter how hard we tried, ad nauseum, incessantly, with Sisyphean effort, our house perpetually resisted order with the vehemence of a three-year-old resisting transition. It still does, as does the now five-year-old, still, with respect to transitions.

Every time we’d go to a friend’s house for brunch (parents of small children don't do dinner parties), their houses would be perfectly tidy as if they were preparing to list it for sale the next day. Countertops devoid of crumbs, the sink an empty chasm waiting patiently for a dirty dish, toys hidden away in quaint cubbies that would make Real Simple proud. And you could walk on the floors without playing the what-did-I-just-step-in game.

There is only one moment when our entire house looks pristine: the moment I close the door behind the wonderful woman who cleans our house every few weeks. The latch clicks, I turn around, and take a mental picture of the beauty that lay beneath the mayhem. Usually by the time I blink, there’s a bowl of yoghurt embracing gravity or an art project underway involving scissors and many tiny pieces of paper.

The disorder has sparked many an argument. I don’t like chaos. Luke doesn’t like chaos. But there are only so many hours in a day and sometimes breakfast dishes just don’t fit into them. There’s been resentment and assumptions, swearing and tears. All because our house is, for the most part, unkempt.

But you see, we’ve all been fooled. Worst of all, we do it to each other. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve warned an imminently arriving friend of the disastrous state of my house, only to perform an emergency high-speed restoration of order in the rooms said friend is mostly likely to use. I answer the door praying I haven’t missed anything, like a certain someone’s remarkable inability to remember toilet flushing (not Luke).

“Your house doesn’t look like a disaster,” friend will say as I wipe the sweat from my brow.

“It was five minutes ago,” I say jauntily as the kids race past to unleash a new form of destruction.

There was one time I let my guard down. It was a ridiculously cold, rainy morning in August. A bunch of us had our kids in swim classes at the outdoor community pool a couple of blocks from our house. All available overhangs were occupied by shivering parents and siblings waiting for the swimmers to emerge from the steaming water.

A relatively new friend of mine was there with his two boys whose swim classes were something like two hours apart. Normally, they’d spend that time at the adjacent playground. That day, their prospects were diminished to hanging out in the change room or sitting in the car, playing tic tac toe on the fogged windows.

“You should come hang out at our place in-between lessons,” I suggested as I was leaving, my child’s lips starting to turn blue. “But I’m warning you, our house is a disaster.”

This time, there was nothing I could do about it. There were toys all over the place, clothing on the banister, dishes piled on either side of the sink. There was even a kitchen cupboard open for some inexplicable reason and not one I could easily blame on the baby.

I remember his face when I opened the door.

“Wow,” he said. “You weren’t kidding.”

He stood there looking stunned for what seemed like an unusually long time, almost hesitant to sit down for fear the movement of the stool might cause a domino like cascade of tupperware from across the room. I swallowed my pride and offered to make coffee.

Later, perhaps after he’d sat down, he told me he was honoured I felt comfortable enough to invite him over when my house was in such a comical state. It killed me to have someone see the house like that. It was as if I’d opened the door in my underwear. But seriously, who’s going to choose ego over letting a friend and his kids freeze their asses off in the rain?

I guess the lesson there—other than to close the kitchen cupboards before I leave the house—is that people appreciate authenticity. Real life doesn't come open house ready. Real life involves smoothie on the ceiling and hand prints on the fridge. At least, it does in our house. How about yours? 

Game face


Last summer, when I was in the midst of feeling like shit, this poor girl went around telling everyone we were having a festival in our backyard. She was desperate to be surrounded by anyone with life left in them, since her mother clearly had none.

She picked a date. She made invitations. She invited about 30 people. I entertained the notion for a few random moments — I desperately wanted to let her see it through — but eventually had to break the news that it just wasn't going to happen. Not only did I then feel like shit, I also felt like an asshole.

This year, I'm functioning on a scale much closer to, well, functional. So I decided to take the advice of a friend who is wiser than her years should allow. It was originally given before Christmas, when I was loathe to supply my children with another mound of presents in the absence of what really mattered: cousins, chaos, and memories.

“Write your own story.”

I’m sure those words have come to me in many forms from many people on many different occasions. But here's a funny thing about advice: it's only good when you're ready to take it. After all, taking good advice usually means doing a lot of hard work — either by yourself or, perhaps worse, through asking people for help. Horrors!

This particular chapter of the story involved organizing a block party to celebrate Neighbour Day, and also to make up for crushing my child's dreams. It sent me knocking on every door — even the scary ones — to get signatures for our permit application, chasing a neighbour down the street in my pyjamas, driving to the strange traffic sign graveyard to pick up road blocks from a short, round, grey-bearded dude named Walter or Wiley, and perhaps most challenging for me, purchasing hot dogs. Yes, I have an issue with nitrates. All I can say is, I’m working on it.

I had absolutely no clue how to put on a block party but, miraculously, it all came together. There was food, a ridiculously small bouncy castle (rented under the guise of it being “Large”), music, street hockey and, of course, a water fight. Children played past their bedtimes. Adults drank until past theirs.

The best part didn't happen until the next day. The doorbell rang. It rang again. I opened the door to see a five-year-old boy standing there, the grandson of the woman I chased in my pjs. 

"Is she here," he asked, poking his head in the door. "Can she come out to play?" Clearly, he had forgotten her name. Or maybe he never even knew it. Kids don't seem to waste time with those kinds of formalities. I remember picking up E from bike camp and having her point out her new BFF, then drawing a blank when I asked for said BFF's name. Kids just want to play, and here was this new child asking mine to come out to do just that.

With that, the Neighbour Day chapter was officially written. Next on the list: summer adventures. Dear God, let it not be a cliff hanger.