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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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.

Plus Sized Fashion Crisis

So I’m having a bit of a fashion identity crisis lately. I’ve spent the last 7 1/2 years home with the kids and have been pretty much living in Old Navy jeans and shirts, which I do love because of their price and versatility. Problem is, I don’t seem to have any ‘grown up’ clothes anymore.

I have been trying very hard to be good about anything new that I am buying. Does it look nice and make me feel great? Is it not black or grey? But here’s where I am finding the dilemma. I am a plus sized woman but I am also 5’8″ tall, so I can get away with a lot of styles and shapes. If I could find them. I am not getting down on the amazing plus sized stores here in Toronto at all. They do have some fantastic clothes and when I find something that I love, I scoop it up (thank you Addition Elle fall line!). I just happen to be a bit hard to fit. Apparently, according to most plus sized clothing, my boobs are too small for my shoulders and my hips are too big for my top half. Oh, and my legs are too skinny for plus sized pants and  jeans.

Now, I happen to think that I have a perfectly lovely, curvy body which is well proportioned but clothing manufacturers would beg to disagree. Which drastically narrows down the number of clothes available to me. I have had one business suit in my life where the jacket and skirt both fit. It was like some kind of shopping miracle.

I think the solution would be to have my own personal designer and dresser. How expensive could that be? Anybody out there feel up to the task. All I’m asking for are clothes that fit me properly, are suitable for work and a night out, are not black or grey, do not make me look like a teenager or a matron, and are affordable. Shouldn’t be too difficult, should it?

Carnivores R Us

Saturday was a rainy day here in Toronto and by lunchtime, I was starting to get restless. Muppet has been working crazy hours lately, which means he has been getting about 5-6 hours a sleep every night when he really needs at least 7. He has this uncanny ability to bank sleep though, which means that if he can stay in bed until 11am even once, he’s good to go for another week of deadlines. While he was snoozing away, I decided I just needed to get out for a bit and as I looked across the room at Mini Me glued to the computer and his Minecraft game, I formulated a plan to bring him with me. I knew that to get him away from that computer screen, I would need something enticing, something intriguing, something delicious, something… meaty!

Mini Me is a carnivore through and through and that boy has never met a sausage he hasn’t liked. We often buy them from the St. Lawrence Market which is in downtown Toronto and where you can get a great variety of good quality, lean meat sausages. I wanted a bit of an adventure on our rainy day, though. I wanted to try out a meat store that had opened in our ‘hood and which was rumoured to have fantastic fresh, farm raised meats as well as homemade sausages in a huge variety of flavours.

When I mentioned this to Mini Me, his eye lit up like it was Christmas morning. As an added bonus, I promised we would stop for a croissant at a nearby coffee shop (mainly because I needed a caffeine fix). He actually squealed with glee at that one. So, off we went.

I love going for walks with Mini Me. It’s when we have some of our best chats. Those conversations make it all worthwhile when it’s the middle of winter and I’m grumping about slogging through snowbanks because we don’t have a car. The walk down was mostly filled with tedious and very detailed descriptions of his Minecraft game, so I smiled and nodded where appropriate and put in some pretty sensible comments, considering I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about half the time. When we got to our destination, after about half and hour’s walk, we were greeted with this…

Wait, there’s more…

Sorry, any of you vegetarians out there for the graphic display of meat porn. We stood staring at the display case, astounded by the sheer variety of sausages. All hand-made, all naturally raised meat, and the smell in that place was AMAZING.

I let Mini Me take the reins and I was surprised by the ones he picked out. Pork and Potato with Leek, Spinach and Ricotta, Moroccan with Cinnamon, Blueberry and Pork. Then he asked if they had anything that was a bit spicier, so the butcher recommended their Buffalo sausage.  I was like “Buffalo spice like the wings?” and the butcher said “No. Buffalo like the animal.” “We’ll take two,” said Mini Me. That’s my boy!!

We left the butcher with our prize and headed over to the coffee-house for a treat. We chatted, drank, ate, and avoided a downpour in the cozy little cafe which I love but which we hardly ever visit. Being so transit reliant, the butcher and coffee shop both are not on the subway line, so we just don’t get down to that ‘hood very often. I really want to remedy that.

As we walked home, we had some great conversations about the kinds of summer job he wants to have while in high school (lifeguarding), which high school he would attend (the local academic high school. He says the arts high school is better suited for Monkey), and when he could have another Junior Nerd Night (next weekend for Dungeons and Dragons). We looked at the houses we were passing and noticed some interesting architecture…

As well as a very stubborn snail who we tried to pry off the middle of the sidewalk but who was determined to stay put.

It was such a great afternoon. My little boy is growing up. He has interesting things to say and is getting adventurous with the things he likes to eat. He really pays attention to what is around him and has so much love and compassion. He’s learning to love architecture  and the city he lives in. I can’t wait to see what kind of man he is going to be.

Oh, and the unanimous favourite in the sausage department? Buffalo. Who knew?

Hello Fall. It’s About Time

Ahhh, I woke up this morning to a dismal and rainy day but am I sad. Nooooo. I cracked open the living window, made myself a cup of tea, sparked up the computer…. and had to find myself a SWEATER. Hooray!

It’s not that I am opposed to summer. Not at all. We all had a great summer camping and swimming and hanging out with friends and family. I was a bit sad to see the kids go back to school, mainly because I realize that they are getting older and time has been passing way too quickly. Mini Me has these broad shoulders now and wants to hang out with his buddies after school. Monkey has moved up to the second floor of our hulking old school building, which means I am now permanently relegated to picking him up outside in the school yard instead of occasionally popping in to the classroom and keeping up a rapport with the teacher.

But I digress.  The reason I am thrilled to finally get a taste of good old Canadian fall weather is because I am freakin’ tired of sweating! I know it’s petty but there you have it. This was the kind of summer in Toronto where some days you just stood outside and dripped. The air conditioning was running way more than I would have liked and the days with a nice breeze and a perfect 25 degrees were few and far between. I come from Scottish and English stock. I don’t handle this weather well. I am also creeping towards my mid 40s and I suspect that perimenopause has been rearing its ugly head for a couple of years now. I suppose I will have my answer about that little issue when it’s -15 outside and I am still sweating in a few months.

Another totally ridiculous reason for loving fall? The clothes. It’s difficult to look put together when you’re sweating buckets and just want to walk around naked with a fan blowing on you at all times. In the fall, you can wear stuff like this…

From the Addition Elle fall line

Oh yeah, I went and bought this skirt last weekend. Red pencil skirt with a cheeky black zipper that runs down the entire length of the back seam. I have plans for this skirt.

I can’t wait to dig out my jeans, my boots, my scarves. Oh, how I love my scarves. And my sleek leather jacket. Sigh. I’m looking forward to getting myself put together and staying that way instead of becoming a drippy, shiny mess 5 minutes after leaving the house.

It’s not all about the clothes though. Craft fairs, farmer’s markets, Thanksgiving, Halloween, hay rides, pumpkin patches, apple pies and cider, hikes to see the leaves turning colour. And if I get to look fabulous while doing all of these things, then that’s just an added bonus.

What’s your favourite season?

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.

Vi’s House Is Falling Down

I love my house, in all its 92 year old glory. Yet I am realizing that a relationship with a house is like a marriage. If you don’t work at it, it falls apart. Didn’t I read somewhere that 7 years is like some kind of bump in the road for marriages, like if you make it to 7 you either get divorced or go on for another 20. Well, the house and I have hit that 7 year mark and I am a little worried it wants a trial separation.

You have to understand that when I say 92 years old, I am not talking about one of those gems where you strip off some paint to find gorgeous mahogany underneath, where the lot is vast and the ceilings high and glorious. Nope. I’m talking about 92 years in east end Toronto. Rumour has it our streets were once a bit of a ghetto for the factory workers of the east end docks.and portland. No stained glass and expensive wood here, folks, and that’s maybe why I love it so much. Our house is sturdy and bare bones, practical and strong, just like my ancestors! But now, it is showing its age.

My loving partner is not a handyman, as you may have guessed by his moniker. Muppet does not exactly conjur up visions of a do-it-yourself kind of guy with a wrench in one hand and a hammer in the other. He is much more at home sculpting clay action figures of Plants vs. Zombies for the Monkey or teaching Mini Me and his buddies how to play Dungeons and Dragons.  Total geek, totally not handy.

But this summer, I’m putting my foot down. If we don’t look after this poor old house, it’s going to fall down around us sooner rather than later. So, where to start? Well, there’s the front porch that desperately needs replacing, the back mud room which has to be drywalled, insulated and tiled, after a flood last year that left the old drywall stained and crumbling. Then there’s the upstairs bathroom floor with its loose peel and stick tiles, the kitchen with its scuffed peel and stick that is about 5 layers deep. Oh, and the two toilets that need to be replaced with low flow before the city forces us to put in the new water meters. Sigh.

Oh, and did I mention that hiring somebody to do all of this for us is totally out of our budget? Yep. Let the games begin! Maybe I should start submitting our poor old house to some of those home improvement shows that will take pity on you and do the stuff for free? I wonder if I can convince Mike Holmes that he has to ‘make it right’ around here.

The fun starts next week with the mud room and I am going to document the hell out of this because I’m sure it’s going to be a crap load of frustration and hard work but this is a relationship worth saving. We’ve invested 7 years and I want to do whatever it takes to get over this hump. Wish me luck!