Kids Are Mean

In my family, we pride ourselves on preaching the value of being different. In a household (and extended family) full of what could best be described as “quirky” individuals, we all get along just fine. But then sometimes the outside world comes along and rudely reminds us that being different is still something that is to mocked – a reason to be shunned.

Monkey is 10 now and its been a year and a half since we had his ADHD diagnosis. His was a pretty typical type of ADHD, with emotional rather than physical impulsiveness and an inability to stay focused unless it was something he was VERY interested in. He is doing unbelievably well on his meds and noticed the improvement so much that he demands his pill every morning before school.

Of course, being an ADHD kid who is also a bit quirky and a huge nerd has made him a target for some of the kids at school. He isn’t being beaten up or picked on necessarily. He has lots of friends and loves to run around and play outside with them. Where he has run into trouble is with kids mocking and devaluing the things he loves. Let me explain.

I may have mentioned before that Muppet makes video games for a living. He works for one of the major gaming companies in the world and his work is not only fun and rewarding, but lets him travel to places like San Francisco, LA and Paris. Pretty sweet.

So, like any boy his age, Monkey wants to be just like his dad. And honestly, he has a pretty good chance at pulling it off. He has natural artistic talent, an ability to create original structures out of Lego that blow my mind, and a creative mind that loves thinking of stories and scenarios. Recently he made a functioning gumball machine out of Lego.

He loves to play video games, of course. When he was 8 he created the entirety of Sponge Bob’s Bikini Village in Minecraft. He also created a functioning amusement park in the game with rides and attractions. He built houses with functioning rooms, giving thought to their livability. This kid has talent.

But, he also likes to talk about what he’s been doing to other kids and here’s where the problems start.

Imagine a mocking 10 year old boy voice.

“All you do is play video games.”

“Why would you spend all that time to do Lego?”

“Why do you spend all your time watching Youtube?”

“Who cares about that stupid game?”

He’s also a cautious kid who likes to think things through. This is the kid who only told me weeks later that he left the neighbour’s backyard and came home in a huff because the boys he was playing with were running their fingers through flame from a lighter they found as some kind of initiation into their backyard club.

“You need to be more brave.”

“Don’t be such a chicken.”

“See all these scabs on my knees. They didn’t hurt AT ALL.”

“Suck it up.”

We all know that kids are mean. That little boy bravado starts at an early age and it’s rough on the kids who don’t conform. What I would dearly love is for the parents of those kids to hear what their kids are saying. I want them to talk to their kids about the value of not following the crowd and how brave it is to do your own thing. I tell my own boys that all the time.

My kid has talent and I think he has the skills to do exactly what he wants to do in life. Devaluing his love of video games comes from that blanket idea that “video games are all evil and pointless.” I get that.

Maybe I would be the same way if I didn’t live with somebody who has obviously found his perfect job and who has intelligent discussions about how to make the industry more female friendly and less violent. It may interest them to know that our own kids aren’t allowed to play the very games that Muppet makes because we both strongly believe that those ratings are there for a good reason.

I would like them to know that creating video games takes artistic talent, knowledge of math and spacial relations, programming, creative writing abilities, a talent for narrative, and attention to detail that would astound most people. My kid has all those skills and one day he’s going to kick ass at whatever he wants to do. But for now, he’s just a 10 year old kid dealing with the mean, thoughtless words that come out of other kids’ mouths.


On the upswing

The birds are chirping, the sun is shining and I am sitting in my lovely office with a much deserved cup of coffee. I have a million things to do but the craziest part of now writing for a living is that I find so little time to do my own writing. So right now, I am ignoring the laundry and the two articles that are due for my jobs and just taking a minute for myself.

June is finally here and in a way I feel like this is the beginning of a new year for me. A better year. The last 6 months have been difficult in ways that I could not have imagined and I feel like I need to purge them to move forward.

We said goodbye to my mum in December. A year after major surgery for uterine cancer, it came back with a vengeance. November and December were spent dealing with a terminal diagnosis, trying to get home care in place and travelling back and forth to try and relieve my sister, who lived with her. It was stressful, it was sad, and in the end, even with a life expectancy of at least 6 months, her body gave out from the strain and she was gone only weeks after her second diagnosis. I will post about my mum at some point, but for now I still hold those memories and experiences close to my chest.

The holidays were, of course, rough. She died shortly before Christmas and we stumbled through the holidays for the sake of the kids with a few tears and a lot of laughter and memories. At her memorial in January I spoke to a room full of friends and family and realized that although blood relatives were few, we have such a wonderful family of friends made over the years. It was an eye opening and amazing experience even though it was supremely sad.

The new year started and the kids went back to school. Then came another blow. A good friend. My brother-in-laws best friend since childhood ended up in the hospital. The rare cancer diagnosis came through only a few weeks before we lost him too. He would have just turned 46 and left behind two young adult kids as well as a new wife and 4 month old baby.

Muppet and his brother went to the memorials. I stayed back with my own kids who knew him, but who were in no frame of mind to see that kind of grief so soon after their Grandma died. Honestly, I wasn’t able to cope either.

I think of them both every day. Our friend, who was the kind of guy who always had a smile and a kind word. My mum, who I spoke to almost every day and who was the voice of reason and sanity when life got crazy.

With the summer coming, I finally feel like I am on the upswing. I am still mourning but it hurts a little bit less and I have good friends who I can talk to when things get rough. The kids are resilient, as kids always are, and they are looking forward to a summer with no camps, and time spent with their cousins swimming and having fun. Muppet, of course, has been my rock through it all.

So, here’s to a wonderful summer. Full of family and friends and sunshine and laughter and new memories.

My Weirdly Awesome New Job

Hi Folks!

After a shockingly long break, I am back at it with some new insights and a brand new job that you are all going to either love or hate.

If you haven’t read this blog before, you may not know that I’m now a work-from-home parent with all of the distractions and multi-tasking that involves. I’ve been at it for a good 6 or so years now and I’ve had some truly fabulous opportunities but none as fun or as challenging as what I’m doing now.

Prepare to blush… I am now managing a sex toy website! Yep, that’s right. And while the opportunity came completely out of left field, I have to say that I’m enjoying every ridiculous sordid minute of it.

If you’re still with me and haven’t run screaming, let me explain.

I’ve worked with a couple of great guys for years on a website they developed that’s in the medical field. I do updates and make phone calls and write health articles. It’s a lot of fun and I get complete creative control over what I want to research and write. I love it.

About 6 months ago, they let me know they were selling the site to another company and while they made sure that the new company would keep me on, they had some ideas up their sleeves and wondered if I wanted to be involved.

You see, they had always wanted to run an online store and were mulling over some ideas of what they wanted to sell. We went to lunch and were tossing ideas around and they said they were thinking of either staying in the medical field and selling geriatric devices – walkers, canes, the stuff you need to keep from falling in the tub etc. Or…. sex toys.

Now, I have a Political Science and History BA but they didn’t realize that a lot of my degree was in gender politics and women’s history. I loved the idea of a site where women in particular could be comfortable to shop for items that would make them happier and discover their sexuality alone or with their partners.

I think I shocked them a little with my enthusiasm.

It was on a patio across from St. Lawrence Market that the idea for Betty’s Toy Box was born.

We threw around ideas for what we wanted to do and decided that we wanted to be different from other sites out there. Canada has some really great sex toy retailers that are focused on education and acceptance but there seemed to be more of a void in the American market. I said that I wanted a cheeky, but not sleazy look. Something that women would be comfortable with but men would like too. I hated he in-your-face styles of some of the major sites where it’s all sex sex sex. I wanted women to realize that buying toys wasn’t something elicit – that toys can help your relationships, improve your overall mental and physical health, and be fun, not dirty.

Which brings us to today. About 4 months after our launch, I am having so much fun and learning so so much. I have been given complete control over what we stock and how we talk about our products. I am writing about things that really affect women and couples and helping people. I have met some really great people along the way, too.

I know this may not be everybody’s cup of tea but I wanted to share this with you all. There’s no way I would be able to pick up this blog again and not talk about something that is taking up so much of my time and brain power, plus if you’re game, you may learn something along the way. I promise this won’t turn into a sex toy blog. That’s not my intention. I’m still a mum and Mini Me is 13 now, with all the drama that comes with it, so there will still be chunks of my real life in this blog. It’s just that now, I have a cupboard full of sex toys to hide from the kids… and that’s a whole other post altogether!

Social Media Parenting Perils or How My Child Got Scolded on Facebook

I may have mentioned in the past that I live in a neighbourhood very unique to the big city. We had a community organization, do street parties and fund raisers, our children play together on the street, and many of us parents know each other. Some of my best friends are the ladies who live on my street. With all this community togetherness, however, comes a downside. I have come to think of it as the Facebook Group of Nosiness.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to having a community Facebook group. It’s great when you’re looking for a recommendation on a good contractor or selling off the toys your children have outgrown. My issue is how some people have begun to use the site to air their grievances and to just generally vent. It has led to some rather amusing posts mind you. Like the time somebody decided to go on a diabtribe about the number of outdoor cats wandering through her backyard. I checked to make sure it wasn’t my cat she had issue with, then promptly ignored it all but I have been told that the thread had well over 100 posts and turned rather ugly by the end.

This weekend, things got a bit personal though and it had me longing for the days when it wasn’t quite so easy to air your dirty laundry.

My little Monkey has recently turned 9 and has been enjoying all the freedoms of playing outside unsupervised with his friends for quite some time now. With over 60 kids on our street aged 16 and under, there is never a shortage of kids to play with and since Mini Me has become a surly tween, with all the sulking and Minecraft playing that accompanies it, I am glad that Monkey has so many kids who can occupy his time. He loves to be outside running around and never gets into trouble… until now.

Since spring has finally arrived, we have been letting Monkey go to the park which is up the street and around the corner, with his friends. I am insistent that there should always be an older kid going along, but this weekend I made a tactical error. He asked if he could go to the park with two other boys his age and one of the older kids to deliver some outdoor toys that the older boy wanted to leave up there for the neighbourhood kids to use. There’s a fair collection of old dump trucks, play kitchens, and riding toys that people have contributed in the past, so I was fine with it.

Imagine my surprise when I went onto Facebook later that evening to see a post by a parent I don’t know describing my son’s little posse and their reprehensible behavior. It would seem that the older kids were launching these big toys off the top of the climbing structure in the presence of the park’s toddlers. Great. She went on to describe their appearance and what they were wearing, and commented that she did say something to them, but then she felt the need to go on Facebook and describe the incident further, saying that she wasn’t sure where the kids lived but she hoped they would be taken to task.

And you know, I would have been fine if it had been left at that. It was the ensuing comment thread that had my hackles up. About 10 comments had come in already, tracking the boys’ progress home and identifying them as living on our street. There were also several comments from parents about how their children would never do such a thing, how disrespectful they were, and a call to post the photo of the boys that the parent had taken of them – in order to describe them better, she said.

Now I was pissed.

I spoke to Monkey right away because honestly, I have never seen or heard of him doing anything like that. As far as the 9 year old boys of my acquaintance go, he’s a pretty passive kid. Loud, energetic, and willful sure, but never destructive of his own property let alone anybody else’s. He also loves little kids and is very careful around them, so I found it very uncharacteristic that he would do anything that could potentially hurt a little one. He was puzzled when I asked him what happened at the park and didn’t seem to really understand when I pushed further and asked if people were throwing around toys. As it turned out, he was a witness to what his friends were doing but said he didn’t participate himself. Why didn’t he speak out? He just “wasn’t that kid” who could say those things to his friends. He quite rightly pointed out that any time he has spoken up he has been told bluntly “you tell me what to do.” Sigh.

What he did or didn’t do was really immaterial by this point. It was the online witch hunt that upset me. Monkey was mortified when I told him how I found out about it all and couldn’t understand why somebody had to post something like that on Facebook for the whole neighbourhood to see. It had me thinking the same thing. The kids had already been told off by the parent at the park and in fact, she mentioned that several parents were watching it all happen and never said a thing. I applaud her for telling them off. But why take it to social media? Why open up the incident for a huge group of people who could now judge my child and his friends? Why the need to track them down and determine where they live?

It made me long for the days when kids could do stupid things and be told face to face by an adult that it was not okay. Where an isolated incident remained isolated. Where a kid could be marched home and made to stand there and be held accountable for his actions by a concerned bystander who just wanted to make sure things were put right and deliver a face to face apology.

In the end, I posted to the thread that the incident had been addressed, grounding had happened and the witch hunt could be called off. I left the thread and never went back to see what became of it. I figured that if the same group could go on for hundreds of comments about stray cats, who knows what they could do with this one.

I’m going to use this incident as a learning moment for my kids. They are still young enough that they don’t use social media themselves and they don’t understand the power of it. I want them to understand that what you put on social media is out there for all to see and you can’t take it back. If you choose to vent, you had better think about the people you may be offending, or hurting, or embarrassing. You need to think of the impression you are presenting about yourself and about other people. These are powerful tools and even though my little run in this weekend is very minor, it has also made me mindful of what I put out there. Lesson learned.

Long Weekend Hangover

For those of you not located in Canada, you may not know that we just celebrated Victoria Day. Being the good former colony that we are, Victoria Day is a celebration of our former Monarch’s birthday which has now devolved into an excuse to shoot off fireworks, have a BBQ, drink beer, and generally kick off the summer season – despite the fact that we often have to attend said fireworks still wearing our parkas and mittens.

In our house, it’s also usually Monkey’s birthday weekend. He turned 9 this year and we spent the weekend surrounded by his friends and our family, too much food, and some awesome cake.

It’s the kind of weekend that I both love and dread. Having a house full of 8-9 year old boys for most of Saturday afternoon was loud, to say the least, and it always grates on my poor introverted, quiet-loving nerves. But, Monkey’s friends are just so damned cute. Everybody got along and at one point there was a herd of boys running up and down my street dressed in variations of every former Halloween costume that I keep in our Tickle Trunk (any Canadian over the age of 35 will get that reference). We had an Indiana Jones pirate, a Jedi Captain America and some other creative choices that defy description. They’re at such a great age where they don’t care what anybody thinks and it’s all about having fun and seeing how many chips they can stuff in themselves in a 3 hour period.

Muppet outdid himself once again with an amazing Plants vs. Zombies themed cake and actually got some of the kids to sit still long enough to do a Zen Garden themed craft to take home. For my part, I kept them fed and alive and only suffered a little bit of guilt over the amount of sugar they all ingested before I sent them home to their parents.

Saturday night Monkey had one of his friends sleep over and despite my best efforts, they were still laughing and giggling and farting in his room until almost 11pm. What I didn’t expect was for them to be up at 5:30am raring to go. Being the good parents we are, we sent them to the basement to play video games so that we could get some more sleep before the descent of virtually every family member on our house Sunday afternoon. We figured that we needed to be well rested in order to deal with Monkey’s inevitable meltdown that was going to come at some point that day from lack of sleep and too much excitement.

The family started arriving around 2pm and it was the usual chaotic hubbub. My favourite part is always being able to sit with my mum while she knits and we catch up on life. After her cancer diagnosis last year, and given her limited mobility caused by arthritis, I am realizing that these moments are going to be gone some day, so I’ve learned to just sit quietly in the chaos and spend time with her.

The BBQ burgers were great and there were more cupcakes. Muppet’s parents set a new personal record by being 4 1/2 hours late to the party, which is a whole other topic for another time. The expected meltdown came when poor Monkey got shot in the forehead by a Nerf dart which led to hysterics of epic proportions but thankfully there was the promise of presents to soothe his (and our) frazzled nerves. The sniper was eventually identified as my 12 year old nephew, and I was just grateful that Monkey wasn’t taken down by his own brother. Cousins can be forgiven, brothers… not so much.

Everybody evacuated by about 9pm and I beat a hasty retreat to my friends house for some backyard drinks to celebrate yet another, more grown-up birthday. We tried valiantly to ignore the fact that the temperature was dropping rapidly and finally gave up at 1am when we realized that there was frost forming on the ground.

Monday is always a day to clean up the carnage of the weekend around here. The promise of fireworks in the evening is always my favourite part. Our neighbourhood association puts on an amazing show every year and I always get such a warm, fuzzy feeling when I see everybody gathering, buying bags of popcorn from the concession, catching up with friends, kids running around and dancing with sparklers. It’s such a precious sense of community in such a big city.

Now it’s Tuesday and the kids are off to school. I’m still in my pyjamas, nursing my second cup of coffee and feeling perfectly content. The weekend was chaotic and loud and stressful at times, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way.







A Year in the Life

Okay, so maybe not quite a year but you get the idea. And while this poor blog was always in the back of my mind, I just didn’t seem able to sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to make it happen.

The reasons were varied and I’m sure I’ll talk about them at length at some point but not right now. The two life altering biggies were my little Monkey’s diagnoses of ADHD and Tourette’s which came on the heels of my mum’s diagnosis of and battle with uterine cancer. They both took the wind out of my sails, let me tell you.

The update now, a year later, is that Monkey is fine, and so is my mum.

For Monkey, we were lucky enough to have a fantastic pediatrician who is not only knowledgeable but well connected. He had us at an OHIP covered, University of Toronto affiliated ADHD clinic within a couple of weeks. The Tourette’s was a bit of a surprise but he has always had little tics that we didn’t think about too much. Excessive eye blinking was the first one, then a little cough followed by a shoulder shrug came later. The worry was that medication for ADHD may worsen the tics but Monkey has been a textbook case so far. We hit on just the right medication first time out the gate and he has been taking “his pill” (that’s what he calls it) for about 7 months now with great results.

As for my mum, that was probably the longest year of my life. She doesn’t live in Toronto (where I now realize we get quicker, better, and more available care), so it took longer to get a diagnosis when she started having unusual bleeding. Referrals, appointments, trips to the ER – all handled by my amazing sister who lives with her – finally led to an appointment with oncology and a diagnosis of uterine cancer, stage one.

Long story short, after a complete hysterectomy, she is fine. It was early enough to not need radiation or chemo and although the surgery was high risk due to her age and other health problems, she came through with flying colours.

As for myself, I got a part-time job working at a local store that sells housewares. It was exactly what I needed to shake off the bad taste left in my mouth after about 9 months working for an online magazine and for a boss who was nearly impossible to please. Don’t get my wonderful partner Muppet started on that topic – he has some choice words.

Things have settle down now and I’m looking forward to a summer that is completely unplanned, with no summer camps and the kids underfoot every day. If you live in Toronto, I am looking for cheap ideas on how to entertain 9 and 12 year old boys!!

So there you have it. A year (almost) in the life. A new start, a new look to the blog and some new ideas on what I want to share with you all. I can’t wait to get started.




Single Parent for a Week

Muppet left this morning, off for most of this week to L.A. on the company dime. He’s there for the big retail video gaming and electronics convention to help demonstrate the video game he just finished making, so it’s a week surrounded by what he loves and all his fellow geeks.  He hasn’t been there before, and the company sending him is kind of a big deal, so I’m really happy for him. I am less happy for myself, however.

You may recall my last post where I was waxing poetic about how this was really the Golden Years of parenting and how much easier and enjoyable my dear boys were blah blah blah. Yeah. I may have to rethink that one.

I already put one kid to bed in tears, weeping over how much he misses his Daddy and how he needs to come home RIGHT NOW. I made the dinner, but had to do all of the dishes and cleanup on my own. Had a massive battle with the tween over whether or not he was stinky (he was!!) and threatened him with no electronics until he bathed. The morning will be me rushing them out the door to school and I know the little guy is going to protest. He somehow thinks that school makes the days seem longer and if he could only just stay home, this week without his father would fly by. Riiiiiight.

Actually, I’m just being tired and crabby. What this post really amounts to is a salute to all of those single moms out there who do it all, by themselves, all the time. I know several of them and I know I will be thinking of them a lot this week as I do it all by myself.

I know that I will hit my groove by tomorrow night, but today I want to feel sorry for myself, just a little bit.

Actually, my wonderful girlfriend and neighbor just texted me and said that if I needed anything this week, to just say the word. She knows my favourite wine and has a hubby who can run out to the liquor store. This week may be okay after all.