Enter the Tweens

My little Monkey is not so little anymore. He turned 11 this week and is proudly announcing to all who will listed that he is now a tween. To be honest, the tween attitude started about 6 months ago, but I’m not telling him that.

Mini Me is 14 now and he outgrew me about 4 months ago, which is not that insignificant since I’m 5’8″ when I stand up straight. His teen years came with hours locked in his room and deep sighs when we ask him to do anything. They also came with a stubborn refusal to wear anything but sweat pants and t-shirts or to do anything with his hair. That I can live with. The lack of showering on the other hand… His friends are all the same so I just shrug and roll with it.

Monkey is going to be a very different kind of teen, I can tell already. The last week I have been enlisted every morning to put a bright green streak through the front of his hair – which, I may add, hasn’t been cut in about 5 months. He’s going to be one of those scraggly haired kids who experiments with crazy dye jobs and develops a distinct and unique sense of fashion. He also still loves to bathe so I’m calling that a win.

As different as they both are, I love this time in my parenting career. I see my friends with really young kids and I do not feel at all wistful. I love being able to pick up and just go anywhere with them. I love that they have the freedom to make their own arrangements with their friends and that my house is becoming the hang out hub. I laugh with the cashier at the grocery store about the amount of milk and number of chip bags in my cart. I can just shrug and say “teens” and they laugh knowingly.

They have important opinions now and we can talk about the world. Mini Me brings home ideas that they discuss in class – much deeper stuff than we were dealing with in grade 8, let me tell you. Racism, slavery, misogyny, homophobia. I love to see his brain wrap around ideas of social justice and acceptance in a deeper, more philosophical way than when he was younger. He sees the shades of grey now and it’s inspiring.

Monkey has just joined the Anti-Trump Alliance at school. Not an official organization, of course, but a little society created by two of the Muslim students in the school yard where apparently they talk about the evils of the Orange Menace. I guess with about a 50% Muslim school population, and a good majority of the rest coming from pretty left leaning households, the Trump issue comes up a lot. Monkey fulfilled his membership pledge by naming 10 things he didn’t like about Trump – in writing – and them generously designed their club logo. I am loving it.

My biggest regret about these years? How quickly they seem to go by. I know that everybody tells young parents that the baby years seem endless but that they really go by in the blink of an eye. No way. Those baby years WERE endless. I still have back problems from dragging my boys around and not for one minute do I lament about changing another diaper. It seemed like I had young kids for AGES with all their tantrums and toys everywhere and no sleep.

But these years, with all their independence and interesting thoughts and doing chores and easy outings – these years are flying by. And maybe it’s because I realize that we are in the final stretch. Mini Me starts high school in the fall and that’s only 4 years away from University and potentially moving out. Monkey only has one year left in the school that has been a second home this family for so very long.

Realistically, I know that they probably won’t be gone when they finish high school. Living in Toronto and taking into account the number of amazing colleges and universities here,  the chances of them doing post-secondary here are huge. But they MIGHT move away. And they may never move back. When I think of that, my gut clenches. Forget babies. Can’t they just stay tweens and teens forever?

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.

The Golden Years

Spring is always the craziest season in our household – surpassing even Christmas in some ways. Not only do 5 out of 7 kids in the family have birthdays falling between early March and mid-May, but so do most of my kids friends. I have done the math (and know from experience) – the Canadian summer long weekends are to blame for this spring baby boom. Add in Easter, March break, my own birthday, some crazy work hours and this year, for the first time, a tropical vacation, and it seemed like the spring was just non-stop around here.

It also seemed to cause somewhat of a shift in our household. My baby, my little Monkey turned 8 and Mini Me is now a tween. We are in what seem to be the parenting golden years where the kids still like us and want to be around us, but they are more and more able to do things for themselves. I am milking these years for all they’re worth!

Mini Me, who is now 11 going on 40, is able to hang out with his friends after school and walk himself home afterwards. He can walk his little brother home as well, although I get complaints that the walking home conversation is less than stellar. He can get his own snacks and get himself off to bed without complaint and he is willing to stay home alone while I take Monkey to his dance classes Monday night. Now if only he would bathe without threats of eternal grounding, but I am told that showering willingly comes with the discovery of their sex drive, so I am willing to deal with the stench and threats as long as I need to.

Monkey, who has always been my little social butterfly, plays outside with his friends and I don’t have to be watching him every second of the day. He goes to the park with his brother and understands that he has to listen and behave if he wants to keep that privilege. He can make his own breakfast on the weekend without waking us up for help and is great company to hang out with. We have sushi dates together and he is fun to take to a restaurant.

And here’s the thing. I am not at all nostalgic for the younger years. In fact, I think that my whole parenting experience has been leading up to them being the ages they are right now. I found the baby and toddler years difficult, frustrating, and incredibly restrictive. Of course I loved them and I loved spending time with them but I craved time alone where there would not be little people hanging off me and crying. I look at friends who have toddlers now and it makes me realize how active and non-stop my boys were when they were little. Not that they weren’t well-behaved. They were actually fantastic kids. But THEY NEVER STOPPED!! Up, down, in, out, climbing, running. No wonder I was always exhausted!

I was talking to a friend recently who joked that she felt like such a bad mother because she was counting the years until all 3 of her kids were out of the house. With one off to university and the other two in their teens, she was looking forward to having the house back, to reconnect with her husband, and enter a new stage in her life.

She got me thinking – it doesn’t make you a bad parent at all. Enjoying your kids for what and who they are, encouraging them to be independent and move towards adulthood, isn’t that our job as parents? Isn’t a parent longing to relive the baby years kind of the equivalent of those popular kids whose lives peaked in high school? I think the same way about my own ageing. If I start wanting to relive the past, then how can I have a happy present or future? My kids are getting older and they are changing, and I am changing along with them. We are growing up together and I plan on enjoying every second of it.

 

Snow Day!

It’s about 4pm on Friday afternoon here in Toronto and it has been snowing since about the same time yesterday – a wintry kind of blast that we rately get anymore. I’m sure you’re thinking SNOW DAY! Well, in fact, you would be wrong.  I’m not exactly sure what it takes to make our school board shut down for the day but apparently 25cm of blustery white stuff does not qualify.

Still, I am a cool mom (in my own mind!), and one who really didn’t want to go out in this anyway, so I declared my own snow day, DAMMIT! It didn’t help that the school principal totally got the kids’ hopes up yesterday by telling them to listen for cancellations in the morning “just in case.” Maybe he was hoping for a snow day too? At any rate, it left me with two wound up kids eagerly checking out the window this morning to see how bad it was out there. I just couldn’t bear to make them trudge up to the school, get soaking wet, and sit in classes where half of their peers were probably missing anyway.

Of course, by 9:30am they were out playing in it anyway…

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And this all got me thinking about my own childhood snow days in Montreal. Now, they know how to do snow! I remember snowbanks waaaay over my head. I also remember the moms having to supply non-perishables to the school for storage in case we ever got snowed in and couldn’t leave the building.

My mom sent chocolate pudding cups, Chef Boyardee and, for some unknown and bizarro reason, tinned salmon. Can you imagine all your other friends cracking into their Spaghetti-Os and you being the kid who has to stink up the room with a can of salmon? What was she thinking?

Then again, this was the woman who made me give knee high nylons to my teacher as a Christmas gift because it was “practical.” Maybe she thought the risk of calcium deficiency was more critical than my utter humiliation?

Anyway, I declare this snow day a resounding success and I’m going to pat myself on the back. They’re out playing in it now for the second time after spending some time inside with video games and cartoons. I’m just about to gear up and join them for some shovelling. I was glad to give them this little memory because I know I still carry around mine to this day.

Hearing Noises: The Update

So, it would appear that my little Monkey is not going insane and that whenever he’s not listening to me speak, he’s really just ignoring me. Not sure how I feel about that one. Huh.

For those of you who didn’t read my last post, my 7 year old was complaining of hearing noises in his head that he compared to “nails on a chalkboard.” Needless to say, we were puzzled, particularly when a trip to the walk-in confirmed that his ears were clear.

Well, I am happy to say that our awesome pediatrician checked him out and declared that it was probably nothing more than a virus that was probably lingering in his ears long after the original bug had cleared out of his sinuses. Sure enough, when we went back one week later for the boys’ checkups, Monkey declared the noise to be gone. We all cheered… and then traumatized him with a chicken pox booster shot for which he earned a celebratory trip to Tim Hortons.

So, there you go. Drama over. Phew!

 

Hearing Noises

It is blissfully silent in my house right now. After 2 weeks, our new kitchen floor is almost done and although I love our contractor and he is now a good friend, it is so nice to be sitting here, still in my pjs, sipping tea, with my hair looking like Medusa’s. I’m giving myself a bit of time to wallow!

It’s also a relief to have a break from what we are calling Monkey’s “Voices In His Head.” The secretary called me from the school Monday afternoon to say he was shivering and complaining of noises in his head that sounded like nails on a chalkboard. Being the good mummy I am, I rushed off to the school and he did look pale, he was shivering, but then he went on to talk my ear off all the way back home. Hmmm.

I assumed he would come down with a fever like his friend across the street who he had been playing with the day before. Nope. He even gladly took Tylenol in the hopes the noise would subside. Curioser and curioser. He was acting totally normal for the rest of the night but when we had a good talk at bedtime, he told me the sound had been there for a while (he said weeks or months but he’s 7 and has a crappy concept of time) and he wanted it gone. He would even go to the doctor to get rid of it. Okay, now I know this isn’t B.S.

Muppet trooped him off to the walk-in the next morning but his ears, nose, and throat were clear. The doc recommended having his hearing checked and gave us a number to call. He was thinking maybe there was a nerve being irritated or pinched. Turns out the place he recommended doesn’t take anybody under 18, so now we’re off to our pediatrician tomorrow afternoon to see what’s what. Sigh.

Thing is, as strange as his story sounds, he is a crappy liar, even if he is a bit of a drama llama. So, I think this is all legit and I am going to let him explain it all to the pediatrician and see what he makes of it. His story is remarkably consistent for a 7 year old with the attention span of a gnat. Anybody had similar complaints? I admit that I am going to feel guilty for how much we tell him he’s “not listening” if it turns out he couldn’t hear us!!

 

Why I Love My Inner Bitch

It was quite the week last week. The tree is up and gingerbread are baked but I’m finding my Christmas spirit to be a bit elusive. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the horrible tragedy last week in Connecticut, which I won’t even speak about because it makes me tear up every time. Another huge part of it has to do with my 14-year-old niece being stuck in the hospital with stabbing abdominal pains that they can’t seem to diagnose after 7 days. It is frustrating and worrying and she is handling it all like a trooper but her poor mum, my only sister, is slowly being worn down to the point of exhaustion. And there’s nothing I can do.

I know this all sounds terribly depressing and I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer but I am finding that having my nerves frayed and this constant low-level of worry eating at me has been quite the eye-opening learning experience. I think I am finally falling in love with my inner bitch.

Don’t get me wrong. She has always been there. She makes an appearance every once in a while, but usually when I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine with my girlfriends and we get started on our men, or our kids, or life as a woman in general. She is pretty much bound to show up once a month and my poor Muppet is well acquainted with her.

And here’s the thing; I love women who let their inner bitch out once in a while. Let me be clear. I’m not talking about the kind of woman who looks you up and down, gives you a withering look, and walks away or who insults perfect strangers based on superficialities. That is juvenile and unnecessarily hurtful. What I love is when a woman can finally let loose and actually voice those things that she is unhappy with in her life; the things that drive her crazy, or make her dissatisfied. I love it when my otherwise cheerful girlfriends will let loose with a few choice expletives while pondering why their dear spouse can’t seem to get his dirty undies into the hamper.

Let’s face it; we women are taught to be nice. I know that I have a huge problem saying ‘no’ or rocking the boat. I was always the shy one who was well-behaved and easy-going as a child. And I was complimented on those traits A LOT. Sound familiar? We were encouraged to be nurturing, to play quietly, to keep our dresses clean and our hair tidy. I don’t think I even realized until the last few years how much of that I had carried on into my adult life.

I realize now that all this time I had this other side of me that was aching for more than just a brief walk-on role in my life. As I grow older I realize that my bitch – that part of me that stands up for herself, and doesn’t suffer fools, and gets fed up and frustrated – is a real and important part of my personality and I am growing less and less afraid to let her out.

I look back at some of the times that she was trying to make herself known and I repressed her: The time that I was forced to work until almost 10pm one night because my boss didn’t get his own work done on time and I made a comment to that effect (in a joking tone) which got me a stern look and a warning. The time that I was told I was ‘too blunt’ when I gave my opinion in a meeting. I was right in both cases, but I forgot to be nice and unassuming, to remember my place and not rock the boat.

Maybe loving my inner bitch comes with being in my forties now. I have obligations and responsibilities and I don’t have the time to mess around with poor customer service or whiny people or incompetent bosses. I want my life to be happy, and to run as smoothly as it can, and I am not going to put up with anything that stands in my way.

I actually think my bitch was always there to make sure I did what was best for myself, but the rest of me just wasn’t ready yet to put myself first. She shows up when things are at their toughest and says ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. She is the one who gets me to say ‘no’ when I really am stretched to thin. She is the one who gets me to cancel plans that I am actually too exhausted or sick to enjoy. She is the one who lets me speak my mind at my current job because I have important things to say and should be heard.

I am almost grateful that the last couple of weeks have been so stressful. Unleashing my inner bitch has actually allowed me to prioritize and to see what is really important. She has given me permission to say ‘no’ to everything except those things that matter most; my kids, my guy, getting ready to make this a great holiday, and helping out my sister and niece in any way they will let me. In many ways, its like I have found a new best friend!