Why My Mum Isn’t My Best Friend

Today is my mum’s birthday. She is turning 71 and while that may not seem old by today’s standards, believe me when I say that I am very grateful that she is still here with us. She hasn’t led an easy life and she had a heart attack about 10 years ago that gave us quite a scare. Her health is poor, her arthritis makes it incredibly difficult to walk, and she gets very stressed out about the smallest things. I love her very much, but she is not my best friend. She is my mum. And that is a million times more important.

She isn’t the kind of mum who takes you on shopping sprees and teaches you how to do your hair and makeup. Although she was a hottie in her younger years, time and age have long ago taken away her desire to keep up appearances. She lives in stretch polyester and sometimes dabs on some frosted pink lipstick if she’s going out somewhere. We didn’t gossip or share secrets. She didn’t give sage advice. She didn’t help with my homework because she was never was able to finish high school.

There were times when my sister and I would come home to fresh-baked cookies after school, but my mum was no great housekeeper. I can remember going around the living room with a grocery bag, emptying ash trays and picking up wrappers and pop cans. I can remember her picking us up after school and stopping at the convenience store every day to get a bag of chips and a chocolate bar each for our snack. I remember her letting us eat french fries and gravy every day in high school from the cafeteria because she never forced us to pack lunches and always gave us $4 instead.

For years she worked in retail at a local discount department store and sometimes she would be home for dinner or sometimes she would be working until 10 at night. My dad didn’t cook, so my sister and I would make whatever we felt like – often involving french fries. My dad was what my mum would call a ‘drinker’ but what we would call an alcoholic. He wasn’t physically abusive but he was very adept at going out for a loaf of bread and returning 6 hours later. It was a constant, pervasive source of tension in our house and my mum never called him on it in front of us. I’m not sure she ever called him on it at all.

What I have come to realize as an adult and a mother is that my own mum was doing the best she could do. By looking at her life, I have learned how to take control of my own. I have a partner who doesn’t drink at all, a relationship where we try to air our grievances. I went to university and have skills that will always translate into work that I enjoy. I eat a healthy diet and try to impress it upon my children so they will have the skills to be healthy when they are out on their own and fending for themselves. I try to take care of my body and look good because it makes me feel good.

Am I the polar opposite of my own mother? Not at all. In fact, I would say that we are incredibly alike. We look similar and have the same body shape, which has taught me that I need to take care of my wonky back and stay fit so that when arthritis inevitably hits, I will be better equipped to handle it. We have the same anxiety problems which seems to have worked its way through generations of women on my mother’s side. But while my mum suffered panic attacks, I spoke to my doctor and got medication. I work at jobs where my innate stubbornness and manic organizational skills are appreciated. We also have what I have come to realize is a compulsive eating problem, turning to food in times of stress. I recognize it and manage it where my mum never could, leading her to become morbidly obese. I am sure that I am not done learning from her either, as I enter menopause with very little grace and a lot of bitching.

So, Happy Birthday Mum. You are not my best friend and I would never want you to be. You are my rock, my sympathetic ear, my example of what to be and what not to be. I love you with all my heart.

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The Bane of My Existence

Is it an alien? A monster? A mutant bug from a tropical rainforest? Oh no. This, my friends is the typical head louse.

This critter has been the bane of my existence for months now. I remember back in the day, when Mini Me started school and you would see those letters go home with the other kids, you would thank your lucky stars and say, with a touch of pride “Oh no, we have never had to deal with head lice.” Those days are loooooooong over.

Monkey came home with the dreaded letter from school back in the winter and the battle was on. We bought the chemical wash, we bought the professional level comb, we picked, we rinsed, we picked again, and he was in the clear. Until they came back again. And again. And again.

I’ve read up and tried it all but I think the frustrating thing is that head lice is no longer seen as a stigma, and the school no longer bans kids from returning to class until they test clean. I get it. I really do. Parents can’t take time off work and kids can’t miss school for something that is no more than an annoyance. But man, it’s hard to be understanding when you’re trying your hardest and it just keeps coming back.

Part of the problem is that I know I can talk to Monkey until I’m blue in the face about putting his head near other kids, but he and his buddies hug when they see each other and I can’t stop it. They put their little heads together to examine bugs and draw pictures. I have a touchy feely kid.

So, I resorted to something I have never done before. I gave him a Mommy Kitchen Cut (TM). It’s crooked and he looks like he’s recovering from a lobotomy, but I can see right down to his scalp on at least half of his head and I am going to get all of those little buggers off if it kills me. Wish me luck!

Is Back To School Shopping A “Girl Thing”?

We’re in our last week of summer holidays FINALLY. I don’t mean to sound mean, but my kids really really need to be back in a classroom. Summer camps are over and family camping is done, they are staying up waaay too late and they are bored. They won’t admit it but they miss their friends from school and the routine of being busy and stimulated every day. And I miss being able to hear myself think when I’m desperately trying to get some work done (I work from home).

They both need new backpacks and I was thinking that we should probably head over to our local mall today to scope out the selection. My suggestion was met with a real lack of enthusiasm and a request for a stop at the Tim Hortons by the mall. Which got me thinking…

The kids have been bombarded with back to school ads for the last few weeks but I haven’t heard a peep about what they want or need. Hmmm. Could they be immune? All of my friends are talking about how their kids have been fretting over the perfect outfit for a week now, searching for the ideal backpack, clamouring for haircuts. Oh. Wait. Those are all my friends with girls.

Which got me thinking some more. Is the whole ‘back to school’ shopping frenzy really just a ‘girl thing’? Do most boys even care what they look like when they return to school after a summer off? I am talking about pre-teens here because I think it’s safe to assume most teenagers are fairly self-conscious about the first day back at school and are looking to make a good impression – girls and boys. But I don’t know a single boy in the 10 and under set who gives a flying fart about what he wears on the first day of school.

Is the whole ‘back to school’ phenomenon just another indication of how we have made our girls so obsessed with beauty and attractiveness? They are told that they need new outfits, they need to look cool, they need to make a good first impression. They will be judged. Or do I just have two fashion challenged boys on my hands and I’m reading too much into it. What do you all think?

I will tell you what we came home from the mall with, though. Mini Me got a backpack after sitting there and having me root through the racks of them, shoving each one at him until he approved of one finally. And Monkey, he got a pale yellow long-sleeved button down dress shirt with a clip on blue tie because he can wear it to look like Bruce Banner when he plays Incredible Hulk. Sigh.

Super Awesome Weekend of Fun Part Deux – Street Party

One of the things I love about our neighbourhood is that there is a huge sense of community. It’s like living in a small town smack in the middle of Toronto. We had our 14th annual street party on Saturday. It was run by a couple of mums on the street until about 3 years ago when they decided to hand over the reins to myself and Muppet. It’s a lot of work but I love how everybody pulls together to make it happen year after year. What I love most though, is seeing how the next generation is taking ownership of the party and making it their own.

Ask any kid who has lived on our street for more than a year and they will tell you that the street party is their favourite day of the year (except maybe Christmas). It starts at noon with a hot dog BBQ for the kids, then off to the local park for the Olympics, which Muppet runs with the help of some other dads. There are obstacle courses and team tag games and the grand finale is a water balloon toss which quickly devolves into all out war between the kids and the adults. The kids then all continue the water fight in the wading pool while the adults pick up the shredded balloons. Back to the street for face painting, tattoos, crafts, paper airplane races, sidewalk chalk and bubbles. The street is blocked from traffic by two huge cloth banner strung between lamp posts. The first banner was made 14 years ago by the kids who lived here then, the second made 3 years ago by the next generation, covered in with designs, names, and hand prints.

Once the kids are suitably adorned, we have a parade up and down the street, followed by a group photo. As I looked around this year though, I realized that there is a whole new dynamic on the street now. Those kids who were around for the inception of the party are teenagers now, some are off at university, and others are just ending high school. There is a whole new generation of kids around the age of my own and yet another group of babies who are 2 and under. There are now well over 50 kids on the street and the majority are under the age of 12.

There is a potluck dinner after the parade and then the kids all play while the adults sit and chat, have adult beverages, and get to know each other or catch up. I was thrilled this year by how many new neighbours came out to participate and I have never seen such a big crowd for the evening’s events. What thrilled me even more though was all of the kids and how this party has come to mean tradition and joy and community for them.

The kids stage an elaborate game of cops and robbers after dinner which was started all those years ago by the kids who are now teenagers. They taught the younger ones and played with them and now my kids teach those who are younger than them how it goes. Most of the teenagers still come to the party and they are now the ones who help run the Olympics and encourage the toddlers who are trying so hard to participate. They do face painting and adorn the little ones in temporary tattoos. This year, one of the teenaged boys was our official photographer and he took some lovely photos which he set to music and presented to us all after dinner as a little slide show. His friend has become our DJ, complete with a light show that had the kids busting a move for hours. We also now have a rock band, consisting of two of the 12-year-old boys. They set up their drum kit, plugged in an electric guitar and amp and treated us to some pretty awesome covers of Nirvana and AC/DC.

I feel so privileged to be able to watch all of these kids grow up together with such pride in their community. I love knowing that this is a place where they feel safe and happy, where there are so many adults they trust and look up to, where there are older kids who still love to be around and participate because they grew up here and loved it. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to see my own kids embrace the little ones, the babies and toddlers, teach them what it means to live on this street. It is a gift that I never could have imagined when we bought this house almost 8 years ago and I will be forever grateful because this street has changed our lives for the better.

Super Awesome Weekend of Fun Part One – CNE

Do you ever have one of those days where you are just capital T Tired? Where you want to stay in your pyjamas and sip tea and randomly nap all day? That would be me today. It’s a good tired but I am now sitting with my feet up and a glass of iced tea beside me and I really don’t want to move.

Friday was a trip to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) for those of you who are not from around these parts. I’m not even going to try and explain but if you’re curious, check out their website at http://www.theex.com/. I went with my sister and her 3 kids plus my niece’s friend this year and it was a very different experience this time around. No more forays through the farm building to look at the baby chicks, no more sitting and watching the wonderdogs show, no more craft fair. This trip was midway, midway, midway, and frankly, I was exhausted without having gone on a single ride.

Turns out Monkey and his cousin of the same age have now hit the magical 50 inch height barrier and they can now go on ANY RIDE. Seriously. I had to watch my kids boarding the Polar Express. Remember this baby? I’m not talking about the feel good Christmas movie. Remember how fast this thing goes and how you get crushed if you’re the unlucky soul sitting on the outside?

The thing with having 6 kids all going on rides is that it leaves the mums holding the bags and seeking shade. It was 37 degrees yesterday (that’s 98.6 farenheit for any Americans out there), and super sunny, so my sis and I spent a lot of the time hunkering beside game booths seeking shade and waiting and waiting and waiting. The best new attraction at the midway this year? There, amongst all of the hot dog, funnel cake, and cotton candy booths, was a new concession stand selling COFFEE!!!! Iced coffee, hot coffee, frozen vanilla lattes, you name it. Nothing hits the spot when you’re tired, sticky, and overheated like a gigantic frozen coffee. Ahhhhhhh.

Lunch, or early dinner, was at theCanadian National Exhibition - Food Stall inside Food Building Food Building. Imagine a food court but with a couple of hundred booths serving pretty much any food you can imagine.

Of course, the one thing they didn’t have was avocado sushi which was what Monkey wanted. That meant pizza instead, which he is much less likely to fill up on, and which meant he would be clamouring for ‘treats’ within an hour.

I ended up having some yummy Asian/Mexican fusion fish tacos that had a lovely soft shell, a crunchy Asian slaw, and soft flaky fish, with some creamy and spicy sauce that was divine. I was very happy to find something relatively healthy with a bit of veg, while in a building that has an entire booth dedicated to bacon.Canadian National Exhibition - Garden Show

After lunch it was back to the midway and I was extremely happy when Muppet showed up around 5:30 to up the parent/child ratio to a more sensible 2:1. By this point, the incessant whirring of the rides, blaring music, heat, sun, and smells (both good and bad) were sending me into a definite sensory overload.  Time for a bit of a break in the air conditioned and very quiet garden building. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I kind of look back and see this year’s trip to the CNE as a bit of a parenting experiment for Muppet and I. We learned very early on that our kids have limits to how much fun and excitement they can take in a day. If we don’t read their signs of fatigue and hunger, we end up with weepy, whiny  basket cases where our cheery children used to be. It’s not pretty and we always aim to avoid it.This year, because they were with their cousins and able to enjoy the ‘big kid’ midway, we followed their lead and just kept on going. We hit the midway again after dark, which I have to admit is extremely cool, and waited to see what would happen. There was funnel cakes and fresh lemonade, fun houses and more Polar Express. About 4 rides later the meltdowns began. Mini Me got off the Gravitron and said he was ready to go home NOW. He couldn’t wait any more, he wanted out of there.Then Monkey had a total mental collapse over something that I can’t even remember which meant I had to pick him up and carry him for a bit. That kid is skinny but he is no lightweight, let me tell you. He tucked his sweaty face into the crook of my sweaty neck and had a good cry. It was time to go.

One of the fantastic things about living in Toronto is the ready availability of taxis. It’s a splurge, sure, but when you have 2 kids having complete and utter mental breakdowns, $25 is a small price to pay to be walking in your front door within 20 minutes.

And the parenting lesson Muppet and I learned? Sure, our kids are older now and they can go on the big kid rides and we can have a family day without strollers and goldfish crackers and diaper bags, but their basic personalities are still the same. They want to be Energizer Bunnies like their cousins, but when push comes to shove, they need their sleep, they get over stimulated, and somebody needs to be the bad guy and put an end to the fun before things get ugly.

Oops, I just realized that they’re exactly like me!!

My Kids Make My Brain Hurt Sometimes

Maybe it’s because it’s almost 11am and I haven’t consumed my required 2 cups of fully caffeinated black tea, but I already have what I like to think of as Achy Brain. It’s a particularly dull ache accompanied by overall annoyance that I think is specific to parents and it is caused by just too many ridiculously stupid demands on your brain in too short a time period, compounded by having to repeat everything you say at least twice. Sound familiar to anyone?

Like this morning, I am trying to drink my tea and Mini Me decides to get himself a bowl of cereal. He takes the first bite of Rice Krispies and flies out of his chair with a yell of pain that gives me a jolt of fear and possibly another grey hair. I look at him slightly stunned, fully expecting him to start bleeding from the eyes or something. No. The Rice Krispie poked his kanker sore. Seriously? Can we get a little perspective. Geez.

CAUTION! DANGEROUS WEAPON!!

Monkey was given a balloon by one of the neighbourhood kids and left it in the kitchen so as I turn on the ceiling fan to get a little air circulation going (is it hot in here or am I having another hot flash?), I carry the balloon to living room for safekeeping.

Me “I’m moving your balloon out here because the fan is on in the kitchen.”

Him “What?”

Me “I’m moving your balloon out here because the fan is on in the kitchen.”

Him “What?”

Me “Never mind.” The balloon has now been delivered to safety and I am heading back to the blissful breeze in the kitchen and my cup of tea.

Him “No! Tell me! Tell me!”

Seriously? He is not only selectively deaf but also incredibly nosey, so while he is happy to ignore you while he’s immersed in Minecraft, he will hunt you down and nag you to death if he gets wind that he has missed some juicy bit of info. Which leads to the following conversation.

Mini Me almost drops the tv clicker in his Rice Krispies and in his lunge to save it (or the cereal, I’m not sure), he comes away with a wince and an arm wrapped around his stomach.

Me “What did you do?”

Him “I stabbed myself with the table edge when I was grabbing for the clicker.” Again, the table is rounded and wood, so probably not a lethal blow but I wince in commiseration.

Me “Ooh, that had to hurt.” See, I am not without sympathy, even when he’s being a drama llama

Monkey (From the living room couch) “What?”

Mini Me “NOTHING!!”

Monkey “WHAT?? WHAT HAPPENED?”

Mini Me “NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!!”

Monkey “Whaaaaaat (insert whiny voice). Tell meeeeeeee.”

Me “HE BONKED HIS STOMACH ON THE TABLE. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, JUST STOP IT!!!!!”

I may have to make more tea if this is the way this day is going to progress. Maybe I should spike it. What kind of alcohol goes well in black tea? Anyone?

 

 

Boys and Gender Stereotyping

If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you know that I have two sons. Mini Me is 10 1/2 and very much the NIT (Nerd In Training), already following in his dad’s footsteps playing Dungeons and Dragons and video games, reading fantasy novels, and showing a real aptitude for science and math.

Monkey is a whirling dervish of creativity who also seems to be just as good at math as he is at art. There was a point, from the ages of about 3-6, that he was always in a superhero costume of some sort. He still plays dress up at least once a week with his BFF, although some of the costumes are getting a tad small on him and starting to fray at the edges.

Yesterday, I read a blog post by natural urban mama here: http://www.naturalurbanmamas.com/2012/08/19/notbuyingit/

She was talking about recent Gymboree and Old Navy ads for Halloween costumes that were very much gender stereotyped. Girls are pixies and fairies, boys are astronauts and EMTs and she very rightfully refuses to buy into it.

She did a second post today after a reader named Dave pointed out that her original article tackled the issue of girls dressing as boys but not vice versa. You can read it here: http://www.naturalurbanmamas.com/2012/08/20/notbuyingit-part-two/

What Dave very eloquently points out is that while we can be indignant about our girls not being shown in traditional ‘boy’ roles, the reverse is never spoken about. We don’t even address the idea of a boy wanting to wear a pixie costume.

I would beg to differ with Dave, just a little bit. We are a very liberal household and we live in a part of Toronto that is pretty far left-wing. Most of my friends are of the urban leftie hippie granola type and I know several bloggers who are of the same persuasion. Here’s the thing though: I hear talk about sons who dress up in fairy costumes or wear nail polish and sparkly barrettes. I see pictures of my friends’ little boys wearing princess dresses and lipstick. We want to be open-minded and let our kids be who they want to be, so we say it’s cute and it’s a natural part of growing up. Little kids are like magpies and ‘girly’ things are bright and shiny. But while this seems to be a typical stage for boys up until they’re about 6, I rarely seem to hear about boys who are still in this phase after the kindergarten years. And I wonder if that’s when society has determined that a boy wearing princess dresses goes from ‘cute’ to ‘wrong.’ This is when your son’s love of nail polish and sparkle becomes an ‘issue.’

It was at Monkey’s dance and drama class that I met another mom whose son, just turned 7, identified himself as a girl. He dressed in shirts with flowers on them and pants with pink trim, put his beautiful, long wavy hair in pigtails with colourful clasps and bows, and wore pink sneakers. I had no idea there was even another boy in the class until I spoke to her. We got friendly as moms do when they’re forced to wait around and she shared some of her pain with me. How her son was picked on at school, how the teachers didn’t know what to do, how he was starting to get angry and lash out physically. He had reached that age where it went from ‘cute’ to a very real problem. Not for the mom, but for society.

We lost touch after the classes ended and I do regret that because she was a pretty awesome woman. She wanted her son to be whatever he wanted to be and she wanted to support him every step of the way but society was making nearly impossible for this poor kid to be happy, despite all the love and support he was getting at home. And the most difficult part, she told me, was other kids. Because her son dressed like a girl, strangers assumed he was one, but the kids in his class knew the truth and they were making grade one pretty hellish for this poor kid. Somewhere along the way, those little boys who used to dress in princess costumes had learnt words like ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ and ‘fag.’

I wonder what happened to that little boy and his mom. I do think about them often and wish I had pursued the friendship between Monkey and her son because I realize now how much it must have meant for Monkey to be so accepting of her son. I think the conversation between Monkey and I went something like this…

Me “You seem to really like that other little boy. Do you know his name?”

Him “What little boy. It’s only girls”

Me “No, Chris (not his real name) is a little boy too.”

Him “Oh. He looks like a girl.”

Me “Yep. He likes girl clothes but he is a boy.”

Him “Oh.” and dances off.

I could pat myself on the back for a parenting job well done, but I think that it’s just in Monkey’s loving and trusting nature to accept all things. He has also grown up with a BFF who has two mommies, and in a school with about a 50% muslim population where head scarves are pretty commonplace. He doesn’t have much of a concept of ‘different is bad.’ I wish there were more kids like him out there. I wonder if there would be if we didn’t impose our own notions of gender at such an early age. I wonder how many kids are out there like that little boy from dance class who have learned that they are ‘wrong’ and are too afraid to be who they really want to be. And it makes me sad.