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?

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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

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!!

 

Stroller Battleground

This morning I woke up to a news story that the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission for those of you not from around these parts) is being asked to investigate measures to LIMIT the number of strollers allowed on transit during peak hours. The wonderful citizen (and a woman, no less) who raised this also suggested an extra $2 stroller fare ON TOP of the parent’s existing transit fee, which is now $3 per ride.

http://www.cp24.com/news/woman-urges-ttc-to-limit-charge-for-child-strollers-1.1124057

Sure enough, I went on my Twitter to find that it had exploded with moms raising their objections (I was one of them!).

Here’s the thing. I totally get that strollers are a pain in the butt. I pushed one of those things around for about 6 years straight and I can tell you that they do take up a lot of space and can be unweildy and awkward when you have to go on transit or into smaller retailers and restaurants. Strollers have also gotten really really big. Maybe unecessarily so, but I would argue that a stroller was our family’s main method of transportation for many years, and we needed the extra room for diaper bags, and groceries. Also, smaller umbrella strollers seem to be made for those well under 5’5 and I would have long ago developed some kind of hunchback or major spinal problem had I pushed one for all those years. And quite frankly, it is incredibly nerve wracking to bring a flimsy umbrella stroller onto a full streetcar because it is so low, leaving your child virtually unprotected from the surrounding people who press against it.

Strollers were a major consideration when we moved into our current house. We had a 2 1/2 year old, one on the way, and no car. No way were we buying off the subway line and becoming dependent on busses or streetcars. Why? Because there was no way I could lug strollers on and off, but also because I knew how stressful it was when you dared try to take your kid onto a relatively busy mode of public transit. The stink eye and attitude you get from other travellers was something I knew I could not handle on a regular basis.

So, here’s what I have to say to the TTC stroller haters. Lighten up and get some freaking perspective people! Do you think we parents (mostly moms, let’s face it) bring stroller onto the TTC just to piss you off? We are going to or from doctor’s appointments, and daycares, running errands, and living our lives. Just to get onto transit, we have to exhibit superhuman feats of strength and coordination getting the damned strollers up and down stairs and escalators. We park awkwardly on the bus because nobody has the courtesy to shove over a little and let us through to a more out-of-the way-location. Maybe it will shock you, but we moms are actually reluctant to use OUR CHILDREN as battering rams to force people to move out of our way, especially when dude with the big backpack or lady with the monster sized handbag keeps turning around and almost hitting my kid in the head because they aren’t paying any attention to what is going on around them.

To the woman who decided to bring up this complaint in the first place, I say ‘thank you’ for being incredibly selfish and self-serving and setting feminism back a good couple of years. Did it never occur to you that many of the people who take strollers on transit HAVE NO OTHER MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION? There are many single parents out there who can barely afford the $3 fare for themselves, never mind a $2 surcharge on a stroller! Or would you rather they and their children just stay home and keep our of your line of sight? Because I get the impression you seem to think that public transit is only for those middle to upper class suburban Torontonians who can pat themselves on the back because they are helping the environment by driving their minivans to the nearest subway stop and then taking transit into the city.

EVERY citizen of this city has the right to be on public transit whenever they damned well need to be. Yes, that sometimes means waiting for the second or even third bus or streetcar before you can get on. And sometimes it means that a baby in a stroller will be crying because of the crush of people around it and the mother’s physical inability to pick it up and soothe it on a packed train. If the whole thing is making you so miserable that you need to launch an official complaint with the TTC about it, then maybe you should consider relocating and cutting down on your own, obviously miserable, commute. Or maybe you should get yourself a car and make the trip in to work through our lovely commuter traffic. Let’s see how quickly you change your tune then!

Bridging the Distance: Why Women Need To Support Each Other

Today I read a post from my friend Lynn over at http://diaryofaturtlehead.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/the-world-as-i-know-it/ and it finally got me to sit down and commit to writing some ideas that had been swirling around in my head for a month or so. She is talking about an Ottawa woman who killed her children, aged 10 and 6, then killed herself.

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/Stittsville+children+mother+dead+murder+suicide/7818753/story.html

When I look at this story, I wonder what made this woman so different from me. My kids are almost the same age and I am the woman on the street who organizes our yearly street party as well as ladies’ night out. I stay home with my kids and have since Monkey was born, making it 7 1/2 years now. Would people describe me as ‘strange’ or ‘hard to get to know?’ Perhaps. For all that I may seem like a social creature, I know that I only open up to those I feel close to.

So, what makes me so different from this woman? I know that there were mental health issues at play. How could there not be? But what makes me truly sad is wondering if this woman felt so alone that there was nobody she could confide in, to share her thoughts and her insecurities and her fears. Did she have anybody who she could have a cup of coffee with and say ‘What a crap day. The kids were being spectacularly loud and crabby. Is it a full moon or something?’

And this is the thing that was nagging at me even before I heard about his poor woman. It started with a roundtable I participated in at work where the topic of women’s friendships came up. I was truly shocked to hear several of the women (mostly 35-50) say that they had no real ‘girlfriends.’ They claimed that they identified better with men and found women to be catty and distrustful and competitive. They admired my friendships with my girlfriends but had given up on the idea for themselves. And yet, these same women had gone through strings of bad relationships with men and kept going back for more.

It got me really thinking about how truly isolated we as woman are in this society. We are given the message over and over again that other women are our competition – we must strive to look younger, be more fit, have a better job, have better behaved kids, keep a better house, have better sex, wear better clothes, than other women. We must keep our men happy in the bedroom or some other woman will steal him away. We see other women as a threat on our climb up the corporate ladder because there are so few of us making it.

I think it’s time we call B.S. on the whole thing. We are not each other’s competition. We are our greatest means of support. When you get a bunch of women together and let them tell their own truth and really be there for each other, it is empowering and reaffirming and good for the body and soul.

The idea that women are seperate from each other, that they are supposed to seek support and stability only from their male partner, is something that is unique to this century and this North American society. Since the dawn of time, families lived together in multi-generational households. You had your mother and aunts around to help you when you had a newborn. You were taught life skills from the women who surrounded you all the time. They shared their secrets and wisdom with each other. It is a real tragedy that we have lost this.

Of course, I could go into all kinds of reasons why we live the way we do. That’s the women’s studies scholar in me rearing her opinionated head. But we don’t need to go into feminist theory to figure out what to do about our predicament.

Reach out to another mom in your neighbourhood. Get together for coffee. Offer to swap kids for playdates. Tell that new mom you don’t care if she has breastmilk stains on her shirt and her hair isn’t washed. You want to see her. Invite the new woman at the office to have coffee with you one afternoon. Reach out to those ladies you only see at PTA meetings and invite them out for a cocktail. Do you really think they are going to say no? Chances are, they need somebody to talk to just as much as you do.

Let yourself be vulnerable. Let yourself be imperfect. Tell your girlfriend that your kids are driving you crazy and you need a break. Talk about your wrinkles and those extra 10 pounds and how sometimes you feel like you can’t keep up with it all. They are going through it all too in their own way.

I think for myself, I want to make even more of an efford to close the distance between myself and the women around me. I love my dear Muppet but there are things that sometimes only another woman is truly going to understand. And on that note, I think I am going to arrange another Ladies’ Night Out. I think it is long overdue.

Ninja Bread and Gangham Overload (Or How I Spent My Christmas Vacation)

How on earth did we get this far into January already? Seriously. Happy New Year to all of you. Did you all get through the holidays with your sanity intact? I came out of it all relatively unscathed and with only a minor nervous twitch, so I consider that a success!

This was the first Christmas holiday in about 15 years that I have actually had to work not only on Christmas eve, but also on the days in between AND New Years eve day to boot, which was interesting to day the least. Even I was pretty proud of my powers of organization and concentration, although Muppet did have his moments of doubt (which he will now probably deny). I secretly think that he’s been spoiled by me having the time to plan ahead and shop during the day all these years, so he was in a bit of a panic that our shopping wasn’t all done by Dec. 1!!

Highlights of tNinja Bread!he season included some awesome cookie cutters that were a surprise gift from a dear friend. Ninja Bread!! These went to Mini Me’s Grade 5 Holiday Party and they were a big hit. I also sent some gingerbread cut out with the Star Wars cutters that Muppet got a while back and which we had never used until now. Let’s see how many of you pick up on what one particular cookie resembles (and how dirty your minds are!)046

I had suggested that perhaps some icing may improve the situation but Muppet, who is the icing master says that it would probably just have made matters worse. Anyhoo…         The real bummer this year was the lack of winter concert at the kids’ school. With the Ontario teachers job action, that meant no extra curriculars and so our two choirs were part of the fall-out. We have a junior and primary choir and they are both just fantastic. The primary one is compulsory for kids in grade 2 and 3, although the kids don’t have to perform, but the junior choir of grades 4-6 is voluntary. The kids all love their music teacher so much that most of them, including my non-joining little wallflower Mini Me still participate straight through to grade 6. It was sad not to see them all dressed in their little matching red sweater vests this year, singing their hearts out. What they did instead was hold a holiday assembly which has somehow made my little Monkey a school celebrity. Don’t ask me how or why because I still don’t know, but my kiddo was picked with 2 other boys to dance Gangham Style in front of the whole school. He had kind of mentioned this ahead of time, but since I couldn’t get a straight answer out of him and he didn’t seem to know any of the details himself, I just shrugged it off, thinking he was confusing the assembly for his class party. That’s what I get for questioning him after school while he’s watching SpongeBob. The morning of the assembly, Monkey informed us that he had to wear a Gangham Style outfit and we needed to help him find one – pronto! Here is what we came up with on 5 minutes notice…I thought we did a pretty good job: His dad’s vest, and some 3d sunglasses from the movie theatre seemed to meet his approval. Phew.022

Unfortunately, now that we realized something seemed to be going on for real, we both had to work so Mini Me agreed to take his Ipod and film the performance for us!  And yes, there was my kid, in front of about 400 of his peers and teachers, with not an ounce of nervousness, dancing Gangham Style for all to see. The 3 boys were doing the real choreography, working that song for all they were worth, and the crowd was loving it. When they came off-stage, they were mobbed by fans, giving them high fives and pats on the back. It was pretty amazing if I do say so myself.
And as for Monkey, he no longer has aspirations to be a rock star policeman. He is just going to be a rock star because being a police officer is hard work and being a rock star is easy. The scary thing is that for this kid of mine – it may just be true!!!
Oh, and because I am a great mom, I got him an upgrade to the Gangham Style outfit that actually fits him. We have been treated to many performances since that school assembly. I think Psy should be giving my kid a cut!
Gangham 2.0

Gangham 2.0