Man camping

Last weekend Muppet and his guy friends embarked on what we have come to call Man Camping. This was their second annual foray into packing up and heading north for a fall weekend. There was much manly excitement which involved buying copious amounts and forms of beef and googling recipes for homemade McDonald’s big Mac sauce. Viva puffs were bought, beer was purchased, and chips were packed with meticulous care.

Five guys, two tents two canoes, a few decks of cards and a whole lotta junk food. And the best part is that I don’t have to lift a finger to help. I only wish Muppet was that proactive when it came to doing stuff around the house!

This year they camped in unseasonably cold weather with tons of heavy rain and even some hail. The tent leaked and sleeping bags got soaked. A canoe got tipped and a camera went for a swim but they came back happy and smiling with lots of inside jokes and memories.

It’s so great to see guys bonding like that and even though my own little men were pretty bummed that they weren’t allowed to go, I know that one day their dad will take them and they can share in the bonding too.

I know that part of the reason they go is to get away from us women and our endless lists of chores and demands. I’m sure they moan about us when we’re not there to hear it. But you know what? That’s fine by me. I have a girlfriends cottage weekend every summer where we go to complain about our significant others and eat kale salad and fish without listening to everybody moan about it. Fair is fair and the guys deserve to decompress too.

And as for the kids and I, we are happy to stay home where it is warm and dry, order pizza and watch Back To the Future, then crawl into our cozy beds. It’s a type of bonding for us too, and I am going to enjoy these Man Camping weekends for as long as I can, until it is comes time for my sweet little boys to take their places as Man Campers themselves. And that is when I will start to spend that weekend once a year at the spa

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Balls In the Air, Nose to the Grindstone

Being a stay-at-home mum is something I never thought I would do. Actually, being a mum at all is something I told myself I didn’t want until well into my twenties but by then I had met Muppet and I think I just knew right away that he would be the kind of dad to our kids that mine never was to me. So, we talked about the idea of kids and exactly when I had just gotten a promotion and a bunch of new responsibility at work, I got knocked up. Of course.

But then along came Mini Me and I took my year of maternity leave but went back to work because I liked my job in book publishing. It was fun and challenging and a bit glamorous. I got to meet important Canadian authors and go to cool parties and talk to interesting people. But. Very few of the women who held higher positions in the company had kids, including my boss, and the hours were rough, with night events and some weekends. With Muppet working as a computer animator in film and television, having punishing deadlines at the same time, it was too much.

When we got pregnant with Monkey, we talked a lot about whether I would go back to work afterwards. I loved the glamour of the job and certain aspects of it, but it was draining and I didn’t feel that there was enough flexibility for a woman with one kid, let alone two. Then fate intervened. The company was slowly being swallowed up by a larger publisher and they took over my department while I was on leave, getting rid of all of us in senior positions. I was packaged off (cue happy dance!). There it was. The decision was made for me. Not only would I stay home, but I would be getting money for it, for a while at least.

The funny thing about deciding to stay home is that you enter a whole new world. You have ‘mummy friends,’ and those who don’t have kids, you just don’t see as often. Your days are overtaken by diapers and potties and Cheerios and the constant picking up of toys on the floor. You go to ridiculous music classes and clap your toddler’s hands along with some over-enthusiastic instructor because you want to aid their growth and development. It becomes acceptable to wear yoga pants every day of the week. And your brain can really take a beating.

When Monkey started junior kindergarten, I decided to look for a part-time job that I could do from home and within a couple of weeks, I had landed an admin assistant position with a cheerful, ambitious I.T. guy who needed some help getting organized (thank you Craigslist). That job led to another and then another, with a slight detour along the way with a job that sounded great, but never did pay me.

My most recent job was data entry with some research added in, until my bosses decided to throw me some more interesting stuff about 6 months ago. Social media, article writing, research, reaching out to bloggers, forming a community. It all sounded right up my alley. But, being the I.T. guys that they are, they decided that it just wasn’t the way they were going to increase traffic to their particular website. It just wasn’t making money fast enough. So, back to data entry I went but now I had a taste of something I really loved.

That was when I started shopping around and sent out a few resumes. I applied for anything that had to do with writing that didn’t look like a scam (but some of them still were). I found out that writing reviews for ‘dating’ sites meant porn and that a lot of people want writers to work for free. But then I came across a posting that seemed like it may be legit and I sent in my resume. They emailed me and we set up a telephone interview.

When the call came, it was a cheerful sounding woman who spoke about how important it was to have a work/life balance and doing something you really love. She said that all of their employees were mums who were making their way back into the workforce bit by bit, at their own pace. She said that being a social media and communications associate could lead to writing articles if that was what I wanted and possibly blogging for their readers. It was important to the company that their employees felt fulfilled. Imagine me, sitting on the other end of this phone conversation just vibrating with excitement. It seemed too good to be true.

I went on to speak to the president of the company, a strong, independent businesswoman, who asked me to come to the office the next day. The office, it turned out, is a comfortable condo where brainstorming sessions happen a couple of times a week. I felt immediately at home. We spoke about everything from my dream job to my opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey and by the time I left, they were talking about having me start on Monday. Which is tomorrow.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. These women seem amazing and it is going to be a fantastic learning experience working with them, but I hope I am up for the challenge. I will be working 20 hours a week between their office and my home, making sure I can pick up the kids every day at 3pm. And to add to the crazy, I am trying to keep my current admin job at least until Christmas because it is only 10 hours a week at this point and we could frankly use the money. I am also looking after my friends’ son two days a week after school and in another couple of weeks I will add swimming lessons for both my boys, on two different nights. Gulp. Too many balls? Maybe, but I’m gonna give it my best shot.

I head to the office for the first time tomorrow morning. The outfit has been chosen, laundry done, computer bag packed. I am ready to start what will hopefully be a whole new chapter in my life. Wish me luck!

Epic Week of Epicness

Is it Saturday? Finally? I would do a happy dance but I may fall down in a heap of exhaustion. This was one of those weeks where a bunch of little things just keep adding up and adding up to the point where I just want to crawl into my bed and sleep for about a week. Instead, took advantage of Monkey being off at a sleepover, Muppet having gone ‘Man Camping’ (more on that another time, I promise), and I spent some quality time with Mini Me watching Back To The Future and eating Pillsbury Cinnamon Buns. Mmmmmmm, warm gooey goodness.

This was the week of the Invasion of the Bed Snatchers and I ended up with a kid in my bed every night but Thursday. Wednesday, I actually bailed and slept on the couch (have I mentioned our couch is only a two seater? Yup.) It was also the week for strange afflictions, like an infected cuticle on my left hand. Seriously? Who gets that? The whole tip of my finger was all puffy and red and sore all around the nail. Let’s just say there was lancing and puss. End of story. And finally, it was the week of the Epic Cold of Epicness. Two whole days of swollen glands, achiness, slight fever, before the damned thing finally became a proper cold and had me sneezing and blowing for two straight days. I’m still not a pretty sight and I may just take a nap after I write this. Ugh.

On the upside, it was the week when things started to really look up in a financial and career front. I have worked from home since Monkey was in junior kindergarten and my latest job was pretty much straight data entry and research until they let me take over the social media and do some article writing. I LOVED IT! Problem was, I.T. guys that they are, they didn’t see an immediate reward from social media and decided to scrap it, just when the ball was really getting rolling. That was when I started shopping around for another job.

I found out as I was writing this post that I got it! Social media for a women’s startup magazine. I am totally thrilled and totally freaked out. But that’s a whole other post, I think.

In the meantime, I give you the giant cauliflower that we just picked in our backyard. Notice how I use a typical wine bottle for scale. This thing is MASSIVE. I think there will be soup this weekend!

 

Invasion of the Bed Snatchers

I think that the biggest indignity when your kids are older and still causing you to lose sleep is that you keep fooling yourself into thinking those kinds of nights are a thing of the past. Then, every once in a while, you hear the clomp clomp of their not-so-tiny feet and open your eyes to see them hovering over you and staring you awake in the middle of the night. You sigh and lift up the blankets and let them climb in and it’s only then that you remember they are waaaay too big to just slide in between the two of you anymore. Something has to give, and it’s usually Muppet, who flees to the vacated kids’ room to sleep free from jabbing elbows and flailing feet.

Mini Me has been a bit clingy since the start of this year and last night was the second time in two weeks that he wandered into our room claiming nightmares. He’s 10 1/2 but he hasn’t reached that age yet where he shrugs away our hugs and touches. He’s actually pretty affectionate with the both of us still, but he was never one to crawl into our bed very often, even when he was really little. So, when he needs the security, we still let him get in. He’s getting so big now that he takes up almost as much room as his dad, minus the snoring, so it’s not an issue. Muppet bails out and I get a good night’s sleep.

But then last night, two hours after Mini Me comes in, I get Monkey as well. I don’t even remember why he said he was coming in. He is not a good co-sleeper. He tosses and turns, pokes elbows in my face, and generally has to hang onto me or bury himself against my side the whole night. This is when I wish that I could bail out too and just leave the both of them to cling to each other. But, they have mummy radar and I know that if I switched beds, it would only be a matter of time before they would follow.

I’m not complaining, not really. They are both getting older and these nights don’t happen that often. I am just grateful that when they were little and Monkey would co-sleep for a week on end, that I was able to still fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Those days are long gone as I creep steadily into my forties and deeper into perimenopause. Insomnia and I are good friends now and I am at least grateful that I am at least not having night sweats like some of my friends while I lay awake at night. I guess this is the price you pay for having your kids later in life.

Hopefully tonight everybody will be in their own beds. Maybe I should take a lesson from the cat and spend my nights somewhere that nobody else can fit!

Indy in my pyjama drawer

Invasion of the Junior Nerds

Funny looking dice

So, I may have mentioned in the past that my lovely partner Muppet is a big, giant Nerd. We use the word with love but it is what it is. When I met him, I knew he was an artist and extremely talented, with some pretty stong computer geek tendencies. Then, I found out about the Dungeons and Dragons thing. Sigh. Luckily, I was already hooked or that may have been a deal breaker right there.

Yes, he was one of those guys who spent his weekends in his friends’ living rooms or basements, rolling funny looking dice and plotting elaborate escapades that involved ogres and wizards. In fact, he had started up the first ever D&D club at his high school. I bet that really impressed the chicks.

But, here’s the thing. Those guys that he met in high school are still his best friends now, over 20 years later. They are loyal to each other, they love each other to bits, and they still get together to play whenever they can. Every one of them is married and several have kids. They are fantastic husbands and fathers. The creativity they put towards gaming when they were teenagers has translated into successful jobs as engineers, Gemini award-winning script writing (that’s the Canadian Emmys), high level marketing executives (for a gaming company, no less), and video game designers (that’s my Muppet).

And now Muppet has started a Junior Nerd campaign. Mini Me and a gaggle of his 10-year-old friends get together in my dining room about once a month and Muppet gets out his funny dice and elaborate spreadsheets and helps them to imagine being ogres and wizards and rogues. They love it, and to my surprise, the group has been growing. These kids who have been growing up on Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter don’t thing it’s nerdy or geeky or uncool to spend an afternoon eating junk food and rolling dice. Anybody at school who finds about it wants to join in.

Mysterious spreadsheets of nerdiness

I have to go and start preparing the snacks in a couple of minutes and when they all get here, I will leave them to it. It’s not something that interests me, but I admit to sitting quietly in my adjoining living room and just watching them sometimes. I love to see the camaraderie and hear the laughter. I imagine them doing this in 5 or 6 years time when it will be at night with candles and creepy music to set the mood and pizza and wings will replace my carefully thought out healthy snacks. I hope that this creates a bond in these boys the way it did with Muppet and his friends.  It’s a rare thing to see a bunch of men who love each other and accept each other the way Muppet and his friends do. My boys have grown up around that and I wish the same for them.

I’ve Created A Couch Potato

It has been a rather frustrating week here with Mini Me and I’m sure Muppet and  I only have ourselves to blame. I heard on Monday that the track and field club had started up and suggested to him that he may want to join. He did training for a 5k run back in the spring and was really good at it. The whole thing culminated with a huge run involving kids from the whole school board and there were sponsors and goody bags. Really fun. So, he seemed game to join track and field although he had missed the initial sign up and the first day.

But here’s the thing about Mini Me and it’s the very reason he has this nickname. That kid can freak himself out over nothing and put up obstacles in his brain that are truly astounding. To the outside world he seems social and outgoing but if you know him well (which I do), he can be his own worst enemy. Can you say anxiety? I’m pretty sure it’s a genetic trait and one that I would have happily kept to myself but there you have it. My mother used to keep paper bags in the glove compartment of our Chevy Nova in case she had a panic attack. I was afraid of my own shadow as a kid and still deal with anxiety regularly. Looks like the Mini apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

His dad took him to the running club Tuesday morning while I had to wrestle Monkey out the door later amidst tantrums and tears. He wanted to bring a toy to school and I told him big kids in Grade 2 didn’t do that. I finally got him tearfully out the door and said that if he specifically asked his teacher and she said yes, then it was okay with me (FYI she said no –  I think I love that woman). We get to the school late and find Muppet and Mini Me sitting outside looking like somebody had peed in their Cheerios. Uh oh.

I guess Mini Me got there and all of the anxieties in his little brain just came crashing together to cause a total breakdown. There were too many kids on the course. He wanted to run 5k, not 2.5 (seriously?). He didn’t know what he was supposed to do (ummm, RUN?). It went on and on. As an added bonus, he didn’t want to go to class until he could see me and air his concerns, so now he was late as well as Monkey, who was still in a funk and dragging his heels the whole way to school. And poor Muppet, who thought he was going to drop off his kid and get to work early for a change ended up being especially late due to all the dramatics. Sigh.

After school that day Mini Me and his dad had a talk and they agreed that he would try again on Thursday. Which is today. Which is why I am writing this post. I could tell from the minute I saw his face this morning that it was a no-go. The complaints of fatigue only confirmed my suspicions. Then Muppet got out of the shower and the poop hit the fan. The end result? I think we have given up on cross-country but Mini Me has also lost his computer privileges. If he’s refusing to be active then we are taking away his main temptation to be inactive.

I want to blame myself for letting things get so far out of hand but I don’t know how much of Mini Me’s couch potato tendencies come because of a lack of rules or because he is naturally apathetic. The kids were home this summer for at least a few weeks where they were left to their own devices while I worked. The hours I had been working in the spring were easy enough to maintain when the kids were out of the house from 8:30 to 3:30 but come summer, they were nearly impossible. Monkey is 7 and, left to his own devices, flits between the odd video game or YouTube video, then outside to play, then downstairs for some Lego, then time for some crafts. Mini Me will play Minecraft. Period. The summer before, he would play outside and ride his bike, but that all seemed to be a thing of the past.

So now here we are in September, trying to right our wrongs. In a lot of ways, it’s just like having a toddler in the house again. Remember when you would put a new rule in place or say ‘no’ to them and they would tantrum, and all you could do was wait it out? Then, the next time the tantrum would get a little shorter, and so on. Yep. That’s gonna be my house this fall. I am imposing rules on a 10-year-old toddler who is going to tantrum. But I need to do it. He needs to be more active and I don’t want him to have to struggle with his weight because I can already see the tiny first beginnings of a bulge around his middle. No way. Not on my watch.

Which means I have to get my act together, make the rules and enforce them. There is going to be some tough love around here this fall and that couch potato is gonna get mashed (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

The Gift of Education: A Follow-Up

For any of you who read my post on the Gift of Education, you will know that I met with Mini Me’s teacher this week. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read that post here:

https://noshrinkingviola.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/the-gift-of-education/

To make a long story short, Muppet and I were a bit worried about Mini Me being in the top half of a grade 4/5 split. He’s a bright kid and rarely gets a grade lower than a B+. We wanted to make sure that he wasn’t going to fall through the cracks, that he would be challenged, and not allowed to coast, which he would do happily if allowed.

A teacher friend of mine pointed out kindly that we are lucky that we have these kinds of problems and I totally appreciate that. That was why I was having anxiety about approaching the teacher to begin with. I don’t like causing problems, or making an issue of things, but I guess what I learned about myself is that when it comes to my kids, all bets are off. I will do whatever it takes to make sure they’re ok. Thank you Mothering Instinct. Glad to see you’re in full working order.

So, off I go to meet the teacher. I sent the kids home ahead of me so we could feel free to talk in privacy, and I honestly couldn’t be happier. Mr. D. is probably around my age (40-something) and he is no newbie to this business. He has also taught grade 6 for the last 7 years. He listened to my concerns, and said that he was really glad I came to see him. He said that when teaching grade 6 he often saw kids who would hit a wall academically because they had never learned how to work hard or face challenges, and by then he was trying to get those kids over a huge hump in their school careers before sending them off to junior high. He found it frustrating. Having me air my concerns about Mini Me meant that he was really taking stock of his abilities, as well as those of all his other kids, individually. He had even started giving my boy some grade 6 math, which he was overjoyed to tackle. I left feeling that all of my questions had been answered and that my kid was going to have a fun, rewarding year with a teacher who really ‘gets’ him.

Which really got me fuming again about the way our teachers are treated. Here in Canada, teachers are paid more than in the United States, but yet in the province of Ontario (where I live) the government has just passed a bill to freeze teacher’s wages, cut sick days and deny them the right to strike for two years. WTF?

In our school, teachers run numerous after school clubs and sports activities so that our kids can be healthy, fit and involved. They volunteer at the fun fair and sit in the dunk tank, they meet with parents on their own time, and go the extra mile to help the kids who really need it. They do all of this on top of caring for our kids from 9am to 3:30pm five days a week. For some kids, that is more time than they spend with their parents. And yet, we want to freeze their wages? Try pulling that one on most CEOs in this country.

I volunteer in the classroom and go on field trips regularly. I see first-hand what those teachers are dealing with and I know that I only get the tip of the iceberg. These people are handling a classroom full of rambunctious, hormonal, distracted, chatty little people and trying to actually teach them something. And not just that, but teach according to a strict curriculum with definite expectations about what has to be accomplished. Then you need to add in the kids who have behavioral problems, learning disorders, anxiety, problems at home, abuse, bullying… It is teachers who often identify these problems. I know teachers who have had to call Children’s Aid. I can’t even imagine how stressful that must be and how much you want to just grab that kid and hug them and hide them from what their life must be like, but you can’t because you have to maintain a professional distance. And we say these men and women need to have their sick days cut?

I just spend the majority of the summer (minus two weeks of camp) with my two fairly functional and well-behaved children and found it mentally exhausting. The bickering and fighting, the nagging and demands. Monkey is only just passed the stage where parenting s also physically demanding. The picking up and carrying, dressing them, being called in to help with every little thing.  Come September, I feel like I need a holiday. And yet, we begrudge our teachers having 8 weeks off in the summer? Please. I’m sure it takes them about 3 weeks to stop twitching from the stress of being responsible for all of our kids, then the last two weeks are spent with that slowly creeping feeling of anxiety for another school year. I have been told that no teacher sleeps well the night before the first day of school. What will the kids be like? Will they have a low-key class, or a challenging one? Which kids will need special help and which will cause problems? I shudder just thinking about it.

My kids have been so lucky to have some truly amazing teachers in their lives and it has helped them to love learning. From what I am seeing now, we have hit on two gems again. I think this is going to be another stellar year