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.

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Super Awesome Weekend of Fun Part Deux – Street Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boys Will Be Boys?

These last few weeks of summer are shaping up to be quite the challenge here in my house. While the month of July was filled with family visits, camping trips, and summer camps, the last three weeks of August are filled with… nothing. Part of this lack of planning was that summer camps need to be booked way back in March and at that point, I imagined the boys wanting some freesom to play, to see their friends, to have some downtime before school starts again. What I hadn’t counted on was Mini Me with his butt fused to the couch playing Minecraft and Monkey being ostrasized from the posse of 4-9 year olds on our street. Welcome to the end of summer at Vi’s house.

It was the situation with Monkey that really got me thinking these last several days about boys and girls, their differences and similarities, and how rigid society can still be about these rolls. My little guy is very much what you come to expect from a 7 year old boy (7 and 1/4 he would want you to know). He has a lot of energy, he is loud, he likes to run and play and get dirty. He loves superheroes, particularly the Hulk, who he has adored since he was 4. He likes Avatar (the Air Bender, not the weird blue aliens) and light sabre battles and wrestling with other kids.

But…

He also loves to dance and sing and draw elaborate pictures. He learned to do stop motion mini movies with plastercine figures he made himself and our digital camera (thanks Artzooka!). He and his best friend dress up in the old costumes that make up our own Tickle Trunk and play out elaborate storylines involving Hulk, Wolverine, Spiderman or Harry Potter. He loves the planet and can tell you all kinds of facts about every planet in our solar system. He and his dad made a fully illustrated book about the solar system for everybody in our family last Christmas which involved his own computer drawings and text (big shout out to http://www.shutterfly.com/ who did an amazing job of printing them).

My little Monkey is a Renaissance man, for sure. I love him for it. Lots of people adore him, find him an amazing kid. Problem is, when it comes to other kids his age, he’s having a difficult time finding his niche and sometimes it just breaks my heart.

There is a group of kids on the street, let’s call them the Posse, who are always outside playing and Monkey wants to be a part of it all. What 7 year old wouldn’t? They dig for snails and get dirty and run around and wrestle and ride bikes. It’s all stuff that he loves to do. Problem is, he likes to sing and dance when he gets outside, he likes to stage elaborate play scenarios, he likes to have a say in what the group will do next. The Posse don’t give him the time of day. In fact, it would seem that they have developed an ability to push all of his buttons which means he will inevitably fly off the handle and come stomping inside in a fit of frustration. Cue mummy who has to talk him down for the next 30 minutes.

Of course, we have given him dance lessons, musical theatre, and anything else that he has asked to try. I have wonderful memories of him performing in grass skirts or with a western bandana around his little neck. He picks up choreography well and has a great sense of moving to the music.

But…

He is usually the only boy in his class. He is the loudest, the rowdiest, the most rambunctious. When he was really little the other kids would sit in a circle jiggling their tambourines and Monkey would be running laps around the perimeter of the room. This summer at dance camp, he ended up befriending one of the boys from the neighbouring camp over shared lunches because none of the little girls in the class could be bothered with him. He wanted to talk about the Avengers and Spiderman. He is prone to break-dancing whenever a good beat comes on the radio. He was too rowdy for a group of 7-10 year old girls.

I guess what I have concluded is that we have a long way to go with gender stereotyping. I have known a fair share of girls who are ‘tomboys’ and a lesser number of boys who identify with many thing typically ‘girlish’, even dressing in girl’s clothes – the parents of those kids are my heroes for how they stand up for and defend their children’s right to be whatever they want. But what do you do with a rowdy boy who also wants to dance? Or a sensitive boy who wants to get dirty and hunt snails? You spend a lot of time wiping tears and quelling tantrums, it would seem.

 

Downtown Zen

I had to travel downtown today to drop my son off at his summer camp because his dad is at the dentist. I was really looking forward to the change of pace not to mention popping in to the fancy Winners store nearby

As we took the subway across town this feeling started to creep up on me. Not only was my baby growing up but he was such a city kid. He knew which end of the train would get him closer to the stairs at his destination. He had his tickets securely tucked in his pocket and confidently led me to the museum, our destination, along a path I hadn’t considered.

As we walked down the street towards the museum I felt wave after wave of realization hit me. What a lovely city Toronto is on a summer morning with the sun shining. How much it felt like Manhattan or Paris with its sidewalks still rolled up, tourists absent, and locals heading to work. The museum is reminiscent of the Natural History Museum in Manhattan and overlooks a grand boulevard filled with imposing and beautiful buildings.

And here we were, Mini Me and I right in the thick of it. Him in his Pokemon t-shirt and backpack, lunch packed sunscreen applied. Ready for another day at architecture camp. I always wanted my kids to have the opportunities I never did and this morning I realized that I had done it.

We live in this truly beautiful city and as Torontonians we tire of hearing the term “world class” because it sometimes sounds like our Canadian way of asserting ourselves despite our insecurities. But truly, I feel so privileged to be here and to let me kids enjoy all it has to offer.

Now, I realize there is a lot of dislike for Toronto in other parts of the country, and this big city is not everybody’s cup of tea. But my little love- fest for my adopted city is about more than buildings and summer camps. It’s me realizing how much I have to be grateful for in my life and to take stock. As a teen living in southern Ontario I dreamed of the kinds of things I get to do all the time now. I look up and can see the CN tower from my neighborhood. I take the subway, I go to concerts, restaurants, plays, musicals, dance clubs (or at least I did until I had the kids!).  I live amongst like-minded people who agree with my life views. I can take virtually any kind of class that I can dream of for fun or education. I can be whomever, and love whomever I chose without raising an eyebrow. I have this city to thank for me realizing my dreams. I hope my kids will have the same, and for that I am grateful.

My Laundry Is Giving Me Wrinkles

It’s Tuesday and Toronto just got hit with a humidex advisory. I am all for fresh air, but if the air in question feels like it’s over 40 degrees (that’s 104 for any Americans out there), then I am opting out. Apparently we’re just starting off a three day heat wave which makes me VERY grateful that we just had the air conditioner serviced and given a clean bill of health.
Not so for Monkey, who is home again today, running a slight fever and coughing like 70 year old lifetime smoker. He’s raspy and phlegmy and a bit lethargic but otherwise in good spirits. Not so for his cooped up mummy.
Opting out of the great outdoors is one thing, but being forced to stay in and endure the incessant drone of cartoons or youtube videos is more than a little nerve wracking when you’re supposed to be working. On top of that, I have realized that I can no longer ignore the laundry that is piling up. Cue the wrinkles.
I have mentioned before that I live in a house full of men. I have not mentioned before that they smell. Oh, I realize that it’s not their fault. They bathe regularly (even though we have to sometimes threaten Mini Me with loss of computer privileges if he doesn’t get in the shower RIGHT NOW!!), and generally don’t get very dirty. But…
Maybe it’s this whole perimenopause thing, but I seem to have developed the nose of a blood hound. I remember being like this during my pregnancies, when certain smells could cause me to dry heave. As it turns out, the dry heaving has not returned, but I have been seriously tempted to put a clothes pin on my nose to avoid the smells that emanate from the dirty laundry. I can feel myself frowning and wrinkling my nose, my whole face scrunched up as I sort through sweaty shirts and stinky socks, not to mention anything Monkey wears on his lower half, because he still has some problems with drippage (to put it kindly). Ugh.
It has gotten to the point where I have to consciously talk myself into relaxing my facial muscles because if there is one iota of truth to the “Make a face and you’ll stick that way” story, then I am screwed. Maybe I should burn some incense in the laundry room to distract myself of maybe I should put sachets of potpourri in the laundry hampers. Of course, the easiest thing would be to have them sort their own damned laundry. Hmmm. Now there’s a thought. Okay, I am off to look at laundry room organizational tools at IKEA. Muppet can’t complain about me buying new, fancy hampers if it’s for the sake of my sanity and to keep my face from prematurely ageing. Right? Right!

Bad Days and Good Mornings

Yesterday was definitely one of those days when I felt like just running away from home. Not for any really good reason. It’s not like the kids were being particularly horrible or my partner particularly annoying. Nothing went really wrong.

But…

Do you ever have one of those days where everything seems to just catch up with you? I fully admit that I woke up crabby. I had enough sleep and the kids were quiet this morning, so there was really no excuse for it, but there I was, Grumpy Mummy, and no amount of caffeine seemed to fix it.

I looked around at my cluttered, messy house and felt stressed. Then, the cat barfed on one of the living room chairs and the second one turned out to have fleas. The 7 year old started making demands about breakfast and the dishes from the night before still hadn’t been washed. Muppet decided to catch up on all the sleep he had been missing the previous week of working late and stayed in bed until noon and Mini Me was glued to the couch and laptop, barely grunting acknowledgements of my existence.

I spent a glamorous Sunday tidying the house, while Monkey alternated between playing outside and throwing tantrums because his friends wouldn’t listen to his brilliant ideas for starting an art club in our driveway. Muppet left in the late afternoon for a ‘guys’ night’ at his friends place and I was left with two grumpy children and an even grumpier me. It did not go well.

Suffice it to say that by bedtime, I had Mini Me in tears because I was ‘too rough’ washing his hair for him (which I absolutely should not have been doing anyway because he’s TEN ) and Monkey was in tears because I didn’t cuddle him enough during his last tantrum, which apparently meant I hated him. Sigh.

I went to bed crabby and woke up unwilling to decide on my mood until I had at least some caffeine in me. So, I sat down and started to look at some blogs and, lo and behold, there were other moms out there who had a crappy Sunday too. It made me smile to know that I wasn’t alone and it made me realize that the power of blogging is that you can always find somebody to identify with, whether they’re in your city or halfway around the world.

It made me realize that I did the right thing by going back to this blog because maybe somebody out there will read my post and identify with me and what I’m writing, even if it’s just about my crappy mood on a sunny Sunday. And maybe I will make them feel a little bit better too.

Why I Want To Give Tina Fey A Big Hug

I was poking around on some news sites lately and came across an article delcaring that “Tina Fey feels Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pain” and I admit that I was intrigued. What I went on to read made me want to take the both of them and invite them over for a coffee and a hug. The article went on to quote an interview that Tina Fey did with InStyle magazine.

“Anytime you talk about being a working mother and you complain about it in any way, people eat your face.”

“I remember reading some interview where Gwyneth Paltrow said something like, ‘I missed my kids on the set one day and I was crying.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ve totally done that.'”

Not everyone is so empathetic.

“On the website where I read it there were these furious comments. ‘But you’re a movie star!’ Yes, it’s much worse for a mom serving in Afghanistan. Of course,” Fey said. “But there’s just no forgiveness.”

And isn’t that the truth.  Why do we as women allow ourselves to buy into this new cultural standard of motherhood as some form of competition? Why are stay-at-home mums better than working ones or working mums more fulfilled than those of us who stay at home with our kids (or any permutation of the above)? Why do we criticize mums who have nannies or other caregivers for their children? Why are we all still supposed to take on the lion’s share of raising the perfect child, keeping the perfect house and making the perfect meal at the end of the day?

I am so very lucky to be surrounded by a bunch of wonderful women who support each other instead of dragging each other down. We babysit each other’s kids when we can, we feed the kids pizza while we share a bottle of wine, we swap information and advice and reassurance. Some of us work, some of us don’t but there is no judgement about who is leading the better life or who is more fulfilled. Sometimes I pine for the days when I would put on a nice skirt and heels and head out to the office, just like they pine for the days when they were able to go to the park in the morning with their kids. We share those thoughts and then pour another glass of wine, smiling.

Here is what I think about Tina and Gwyneth. Yes, they are celebrities and they have scads of money so that they can have a personal trainer, a nanny, a chef and so on and so on. But really, how many of us wouldn’t jump at the chance to have those things? Would I hire a caregiver who could look after my kids for an afternoon while I went for a mani/pedi? Hell yes. Would I get somebody to cook my meals for me so that I could take the kids to the park and not have to come home and scramble because I forgot to defrost the chicken? Ummm, duh.

I love my kids and I have been both a working and a stay-at-home mum.  I couldn’t begin to judge which one was more difficult and each has its challenges and rewards. Gwyneth Paltrow is a working mum who has a job that sometimes takes her away from her kids for stretches at a time. Does she love her kids any less than my friend who has to take overnight business trips or any less than those of us who are often with our kids 24/7 and crave a break? Sounds kind of silly when you think about it that way, doesn’t it?

And really, in some ways, I feel sorry for celebrity mums because they get the double whammy. Not only are they supposed to be perfect mothers, doting on their children, but they are supposed to look perfect physically as well. They are supposed to be toned and coiffed and glowing no matter the circumstances or they will end up in the tabloids under a big headline reading “Is She Letting Herself Go?” They are supposed to appear in public with their children looking like the dutiful and caring mother with no nanny in sight or the headlines will read “So and So Parties While the Nanny Raises the Children.” That’s why celebrity mums are so often photographed lugging the two year old on their hip through the airport with the nanny skulking in the background. They would never hear the end of it if they actually passed the kid off for even a minute. And really, how many of us have breathed that sigh of relief when we have pawned our fussy kid off to our spouse or friend? Hell, I’ve been ready to hand them to perfect strangers at times to give my arms and brain a break. Does Gwyneth have that option? Of course not.

So, to Tina Fey I say “Kudos to you for sticking up for another mum.” I hear what you’re saying and I have a newfound respect and admiration for you for saying it.  Any time you want to come over for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine so that we can compare notes, just let me know. And bring Gwyneth with you as well.