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

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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

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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.

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.

Day One

Myers First Day 2

In the days leading up to this moment, all I could think about was how the hell I would ever get the Queen of Stall Tactics to school on time. I've been ruminating on that point since about May, back when we learned school would start at the ungodly hour of eight o'clock in the morning. I imagine it was my brain's way of creating a diversion from the actual task at hand: letting go.

Friends had told me how they melted into puddles of tears the first day their little one marched off to school. I couldn't imagine why. It's not like we're shipping them off to boarding school. It's kindergarten. It's less than three hours long. You can't even do Costco in that time.

Then it was my turn. Luke stayed home late that morning to help get everyone out the door on time. As I mentioned, I was worried I would be dragging a half-dressed, underfed fit of defiance to the school yard to greet the new teacher. On this day, she was standing by the side of the bed, fully dressed and raring to go before I had both eyes open. Excitement, fear, nerves, whatever we were working with, it certainly made my life easier.

It all seemed rather idyllic. We walked hand in hand in hand, the three of us, towards the schoolyard we know so well. She has spent many an afternoon exploring its playground or running through the field. It's where she learned to ride a bike and where she flew a kite for the first time. Despite my agonizing over school options, I think we always knew she'd some day join them on the inside.

The teachers stood outside in front of the swarm of nerves. Parents and children alike staring silently as they waited for a name to be called. Some ran to stand in line without looking back. Some ran the other way. All of them with their massive, snack-filled backpacks smacking the backs of their knees.

E had a few last minute tears, then walked up the steps and disappeared. All of a sudden, it was just the parents, standing there watching the doors close behind kids that two minutes ago were taking their first steps, saying their first words or eating a grape for the first time without it needing to be cut into a million pieces.

How the hell did that happen so fast? Why the hell did I want it to? Now it's all coming crashing down around me, all this time that I can't get back, and I finally empathize with the ugly cry set. We're not sad that they're growing up (we all talk about how wonderful it will be when they can get their own lunch or walk to a friend's house without a secret service detail), we're sad that they're doing it at the speed of light.

We're sad that with each new milestone, the previous ones seem to fade in our memories. We long for the feeling of their baby soft skin sleeping against our chest, for the fuzz of their hair tickling our nose, for the squeak of their voice as they learn how it works. We long for them to be small and vulnerable and close just a little while longer. Then they let go of our hand and walk away.