Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Hole in My Holidays

‘Tis the season for making memories, family fun, love & laughter…

Now, let me start by saying I have had my share of amazing Christmases. Memorable gifts, great times spent with friends, and an amazing family to share it all with. They may be known to put the “fun in dysfunctional” at times, but they are truly a family beyond compare.

I honestly don’t feel like I’m missing anything when it comes to my family, yet somehow when the holiday season rolls around, there is a tiny part of me that is forced to think (Consider yourself warned!). Growing up in a divorced family, Christmases often became a carefully contrived and scheduled series of appearances.  My brother and I never spent a ton of time with my dad growing up, but we could always count on seeing him at least three times a year – Father’s Day, one gathering for our birthdays, and, of course, Christmas.

Fast forward to adulthood and, for some reason not completely understood by me, those three occasions disappeared altogether. Although disappointing, as an adult I learned how to come to a general level of acceptance and tolerance. What I didn’t count on was the surge of all of these repressed emotions erupting to the surface after the birth of my beautiful little boy. You don’t want anything to do with me? Okay. You don’t want to know this perfectly wonderful and innocent human being? Now the gloves are off!

Each year I continue to remind myself that my son is lucky enough to be surrounded by an army of incredible friends & family who love him dearly. Each year I once again tell myself that anyone who chooses not to be part of such a wonderful thing is the one who is suffering the loss.

Yet each year around the holidays I still find myself carefully selecting a handful of pictures, painstakingly crafting a warm yet vague message for the holiday card, neatly scripting the address I still know by heart onto the envelope and mailing off the picture-filled card in the hopes of…. Well, to be honest, I’m not sure.

I guess I just feel like he should know what he’s missing – whether he cares or not. Like it’s important that he’s aware of what an amazing little boy exists in this world that he COULD be fortunate enough to have in his life. At this point, is it even possible that my son would receive any sort of benefit by having a relationship with this stranger-by-choice? To be honest, I have no idea.

So then why do I keep up this one-way holiday ritual each year?

Masochistic tendencies?
Misguided belief that things might one day change?
Naïve inability to accept the inevitable?
Wish I knew…

What I do know is that I want to be completely confident that I have done everything I can to be the one who has kept the door of possibilities open at all costs.

He may not know that this phenomenal pint-sized individual is a taekwondo red belt… or that he hates carrots… or that he has a fantastic sense of humour… or that he gives the best hugs… or that he only eats home-baked cookies… or that he has to have his stuffed “Rudolph & Dexy” buddies with him every night…

But I continue to do what I can to ensure that he WILL know that this beautiful little boy is happy, healthy… and here. And what he chooses to do with that information is up to him.

In the meantime I will continue to cherish each and every moment that this incredible kid is in my life. And thank my lucky stars that we are both surrounded by so many exceptional human beings that we are lucky enough to call ‘our family’.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Greatest Gift I Never Played

Let me start by saying I’ve received some great Christmas gifts over the years. As a kid, I spent countless hours creating hundreds of baked goods by the light of a 10 watt bulb. The year Santa showed up with our very first video game system was a definite hit (Atari’s Space Invaders, anyone??). The Christmas Eve my brother & I discovered our new Walkmans under the tree was a huge score! (NOTE: IF you were born after 1985 just picture a huge iPod!)

But none of them hold a candle to that one gift that resulted in choirs singing, spotlights beaming down and sheer & utter happiness prevailing. The year I stumbled down the stairs with messy hair and crumpled pyjamas with half-opened eyes and saw it. The gift that made all of the waiting and hoping and praying worthwhile. Yes, it was every little girl’s dream.


That’s right – my happiness that year was found at the bottom of a plastic 12” shark. *Sigh*…

I was too young to be able to actually watch the movie that was sweeping the nation, or even know when or if it was actually safe to go back in the water.  But I knew it was a big thing and come hell or high water I wanted to be part of it too! So forget the dollhouse or the Barbie or the colouring books – it was the Jaws game that was destined to make my Christmas complete.

So there it was at the top of every Christmas list, shared with every mall Santa, circled & dog-eared in every toy catalogue & flyer we received. I wanted – no… I NEEDED this Jaws game to be under my tree Christmas morning.

Thankfully, Santa Claus has a reputation of delivering. Of course, as kids we may not be aware of how many miles Santa may have to cover, how many shopping malls he may need to frequent, how many favours he may need to call in to locate the desired item… All that mattered was that come Christmas morning, my Christmas wish had come true. There amongst the Christmas tree tinsel and orange-filled stockings lay the most beautiful hunk of plastic my 6-year old eyes had ever seen.

I immediately ignored the other gifts that Santa had so generously left to keep my Jaws game company, and got down to business. I gently took the beloved shark out of its box and lovingly set up all of the pieces according to the directions. The goal of the game was to carefully pick the various items out of the shark’s mouth with a hook. If you weren’t careful – SNAP! The mouth snapped shut and the game was over. Seems relatively straightforward, doesn’t it?

So the shark was set up in its place of honour; the plastic tires, boots and other random paraphernalia were strategically placed throughout its mouth; I had finished limbering up and had the hook in my hand ready to rescue that first piece of junk from this fierce competitor. I spied the spare tire leaning haphazardly against the anchor and knew it was an easy rescue. I leaned in slowly – taking all angles into consideration – carefully hooked the inside of the tire and ever so slowly began the extraction process. Slowly….. past the anchor… over the rubber glove… around the old shoe… and……


I never played that game again.

(Sorry Santa!)

Do you have a favourite holiday gift that you'll never forget?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Taking My Holiday Season Back

The sugar rush has faded, the pumpkins have found their way to the curb, and the spooky spiderwebs have been stashed until next October. Where does that leave us? That’s right – Holiday Planning Season. The time of year where sleigh bells and mistletoe are not-so-delicately punctuated with countless items from the endless to-do list.
  • Plan the holiday baking.
  • Find the best holiday baking recipes.
  • Learn how to bake.
  • Pull out the holiday decorations.
  • Pull out the repair kit to restore the decorations that didn’t survive the Summer storage.
  • Head to the store to buy all new decorations.
  • Buy Holiday cards.
  • Address, sign & mail all Holiday cards.
  • Cut self some slack when signed & sealed Holiday cards are found in a closet following Holiday season.
  • Make a holiday gift shopping list.
  • Vow to complete all holiday shopping without leaving it to the last minute.
  • Breathe deeply when braving holiday crowds while shopping at the last minute.

Is it any wonder that the first sound of those jingling bells strikes fear in the hearts of so many of us? So much to do, so little time… so much to accomplish, so little money to go ‘round… such high expectations of holiday spirit, such low levels of patience to be endured…

Well, not this year! This year I’m taking my holiday season back – and I’m going to find my holiday cheer if it kills me!

I will not...
  • stress about finding the perfect gift for everyone.
  • glare menacingly at the next person who tells me how many shopping days there are until Christmas.
  • roll my eyes as the 27th rendition of “Silver Bells” blares over the radio airwaves… in November.
  • purposely walk slowly to my parking spot at the mall to irritate the person who has been trailing me with their car since my foot hit the pavement.

I will...
  • enjoy any and all holiday cookies that come my way without giving in to the guilt.
  • revel in the giddy happiness that the red festive cups at Starbucks bring me.
  • take a moment and reflect upon how beautiful the first snowfall really is.
  • remember that my son will only be young enough to enjoy the magic of Christmas for a short time and I should enjoy every minute of it.

So that’s that. I am officially vowing to bump “Find & retain my joy” to the top of my Holiday to-do list. I’m inspired, I’m motivated, I’m… going to run to Starbucks to kickstart my campaign with another holiday-themed cup. After that, I’m figuring out what the heck a ‘bobtail’ is, and letting those bells ring!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Tough Guys or Tender Hearts?

Recently I was forced to think (not always a pretty sight!). I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of “MissRepresentation” at Blissdom Canada – a writing & business conference in Toronto – and the experience led to countless conversations that went well into the night.

Basically, the movie shared how the media’s misrepresentation of women has led to increased challenges for women in society, regarding their appearance, career paths, and overall positions of power and influence. Everyone from elementary school children to celebrities to high-level politicians weighed in on the topic – as did all of the incredible women in attendance that evening.

Admittedly, my initial reaction as a parent of a little boy included a small sigh of relief knowing that these issues were not necessarily directly on my radar as a parent (yay, boys!). However, my little “bliss bubble” was duly shattered the longer the thinking process continued (can ignorance really be bliss??). I may not be raising a daughter, but these were still undoubtedly my issues to deal with.

I was reminded of some of the conflicting messaging I deal with on a regular basis while raising my beautiful little boy. On one hand, I would love for him to be the new “Millennium Man” – sensitive, empathetic, caring, not afraid to show emotions. I want him to believe that women and men are completely equal and the world is open and available to everyone equally. I want him to be blind to gender stereotyping and follow his career aspirations, whatever they may be, without pressure or worries. I want him to grow up always able to hug and love as freely and as openly as he does now.

But in encouraging him to move in that direction, am I building him up for success or setting him up for a world of hurt?

Mainstream media is filled with endless examples of women gravitating towards the ‘tough guy’, while the ‘nice guy’ is quietly pushed aside. We’re constantly presented with heartbreaking stories about various children who have suffered tremendous pressure and ridicule through online and/or in-person bullying. As an ideal, typically boys are encouraged to “man up”, excel at sports, be active & driven and not get hung up on feelings, etc. Of course I want my son to grow up and be accepted in society and excel as a man, but at what point does the contradiction become too much?

At a recent taekwondo tournament, my little guy was competing in his first sparring event and lost in the finals. He promptly burst into tears – partially motivated, I’m sure, by the loss but equally as much by the swift kick to the unprotected thigh he received mid-event. My first instinct as a mom was to take him in my arms and comfort him – letting him know I was incredibly proud of him and hoping the promise of hot chocolate from Tim Horton’s afterwards would help alleviate some of the pain. However, a fleeting thought did pass through my mind – Will people think he’s crying because he didn’t win? Do they think he’s a ‘wimp’ or a ‘suck’? Truthfully, I was horrified, saddened and riddled with guilt all at the same time.

As parents, we want the best for our kids. And unfortunately sometimes that involves a number of difficult contradictions. Be strong but sensitive. Be confident but humble. Be successful but charitable. If we can’t figure it out, how the heck are our kids going to be able to?

I have no idea what the future holds for my little guy – I can only cross my fingers & toes and hope that he’s happy, healthy, and successful – whatever that means to him. For now, I will encourage him to laugh until his cheeks hurt, cry until he feels better and allow me to be there for him through it all.

Monday, 3 October 2011

My Back-up Blessings

My Back-up Blessings

We all know that Thanksgiving is a great time to count your blessings and be grateful for all of the wonderful things that have a place in your life. Like many people, my health, my wonderful family, and my amazing friends maintain a much-deserved position at the top of the list. Pretty much a no-brainer, right? So this Thanksgiving I thought I would take a moment to appreciate my “Backup Blessings” – you know, the things that randomly make break into a mental ‘happy dance’ when they happen…

•    The seat heater in my car. Seriously, I run that thing until June!

•    Catching Starbucks on a day where they’re handing out free samples (Free coffee? Bring it on!)

•    Finding that all the socks that went into the washing machine actually made their way into and out of the dryer. Miraculous!

•    Hitting nothing but green lights when I’m running late (assuming, or course, there are times when I’m NOT running late!)

•    When the duvet actually stays where it belongs instead of ending up in a pool down by my feet

•    Good hair days. Enough said.

•    Good mail days – gotta love anytime there’s a magazine, a product sample or anything to offset the drudgery of bills & junk mail!

•    Seeing comments on my blog or Facebook pictures. I love being acknowledged!

•    Paying for something and finding out there’s an extra discount I didn’t know about. Score!

•    Waking up and realizing there are still hours to go before my alarm goes off

•    Remembering there’s a secret chocolate stash in the cupboard

•    Finding out there’s actually some chocolate in the secret chocolate stash when I get there!

•    Making a dinner that everyone will eat willingly without turned up noses or picked out pieces

•    Putting on a pair of socks and realizing there are no holes or runs in them (a sad glimpse into the state of my sock drawer!)

•    Thinking I have no cash in my wallet and then discovering that through the miracle of endless loonies & toonies, I actually have enough for a latté and a lemon poppyseed loaf (Nirvana!)

•    Finding a pair of nylons in my drawer that don’t have a run in them.

•    Not having to wear nylons

•    Needing batteries and finding some. Then finding out they actually work!

•    Finding money in my coat pocket or pair of jeans. A surprise savings plan!

•    Those mittens that open up and are gloves underneath. It’s like the best of both worlds!

•    Breaking off the perfect length of dental floss (too long is a waste, too short won’t stay on the fingers! I know… I have issues…)

•    Call display. Sometimes knowing who I’m not talking to can be a beautiful thing…

So do any of these things displace the sheer happiness I feel when I’m surrounded by all of the incredible people in my life? Of course not. I love my son, my husband, and the rest of my family with all my heart and not a day goes by where I don’t remind myself of how lucky I am to have them.

That being said, some reading a new magazine, while spending some ‘found money’ on a coffee… all while enjoying matched socks and a good hair day never hurt anyone!

What are your back-up blessings?

Monday, 19 September 2011

Why I Blame Tiger Woods

This past weekend my “one and only” competed in his very first kids triathlon and if there was a prouder mama there, you would have been hard pressed to find her! He swam, biked and ran his little heart out and at the end of it he was thrilled to run into the waiting arms of his cheering section! (Well, that may have just been a momentary diversion on his direct path to the snack table, but I digress…) He didn’t finish first, he didn’t finish last… he finished. And for a little guy who has a “slight” (read: MASSIVE) tendency to lean towards perfectionism, his pride (and relief!) was a thing of beauty.

You would think that a high five and a few mama tears of joy might have been the end of the story, but unfortunately the overall experience was somewhat tarnished by some of the things we witnessed while we were there. Dads yelling at their kids to “Stop breathing like that… breathe properly!!”… moms shouting in the not-so-distant distance “ What are you doing?? You’re not even trying!”… parents shaking their heads in disbelief and bemoaning the “certainty” that “there’s no way he/she is going to win doing it like that…!”.

Seriously? Perhaps I have low expectations but if my son is breathing at all, I’m a happy mama. Not trying? How do I know? Maybe he’s thinking I could be cheering harder! Not going to win? Couldn’t care less… My only hope was that he finished… in one piece… and didn’t turn into a popsicle in the process (It was crazy cold out there!!).

When did “being the best” become the ONLY option? I remember playing softball, ringette, hockey, etc. growing up – sometimes I had a great game, sometimes not so much. Sometimes we won, sometimes it was a disaster. People won, people lost… but at the end of the day everyone seemed to understand that it was mainly for fun and 90% of us were never going to make it to the ‘big leagues’. And that was okay.

Why is it that these days, all kids need to be the “Tiger Woods” of their chosen sport almost immediately upon exiting the womb? Whether you’re smacking golf balls, swimming laps, shooting baskets or even ‘tickling the ivories”… did I miss the memo stating that everyone needs to be a superstar??

My question is this – if my son has to be “the best” at something, and we all need to get him immersed in whatever that may be ASAP, aren’t I picking what I want him to be good at? There are the few rare “phenoms”, like Tiger Woods, who seemed to destined for certain things (although perhaps we won’t pay too much attention to where that eventually got him!) but they are most certainly the exception rather than the rule. A phenomenon is, by definition, a “singularity” or “unusual occurrence” – not the norm. So why do we all expect that everyone needs to conquer the competition?

My 7 year old is a smart kid, who is kind, caring, empathetic, inquisitive and makes me laugh until my sides hurt. He swims, is a red belt in taekwondo, has played soccer, enjoys rock climbing and may even check out snowboarding this Winter. Is he the ‘best’ at any of these things? Nope. Will he be at some point? Probably not. But if he decides that one of these things – or even something else – is his true passion I will be there to support him 110%, whether he’s 1st or 101st.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my son dearly and obviously want nothing but the best for him. The difference is that I’m completely okay with letting him decide what that might be. And until then, I will continue to be his biggest fan, supporter and champion.

He’s already talking about the possibility of another triathlon next year. Maybe he’ll do better… maybe he won’t. (Maybe it will be warmer!) And that’s completely okay with me.

Will You Be My Friend?

At a recent birthday celebration (we won’t mention the age!), I took a second to appreciate the room full of not only amazing family members, but also fantastic friends who have been in my life for years. Many of these friends have been with me through highs, lows, and everything in between – and besides, they know where the bodies are buried so it’s good to keep them close by!

That being said, the majority of these friends are people who I’ve known from high school or even earlier. It got me thinking – is it really that much harder to develop long-lasting friendships as you get older? Not just the “grab-a-coffee” friends or “let’s-chat-about-last-night’s-Big-Brother” friends or the “hey-you’ve-got-toilet-paper-tucked-into-your-skirt” friends… I’m talking about the honest-to-goodness “I-would-share-my-last-glass-of-wine-with-you” connection. A real true friend!

When my son makes new friends, it’s often a simple “Wanna be my friend?” that creates a potential lifelong buddy. Since my life doesn’t necessarily revolve around playgrounds and Pokemon, it definitely seems a bit tougher.

When I was on mat leave, there weren’t many friends off at the same time, so I threw myself into whatever local ‘mommy events’ & Early Years Centre groups I could find. To say it wasn’t exactly a raging success is an understatement. I went in desperate for adult conversation and some touch of the “mommy bonding” – and came out desperate to jam a fork in my eye! It was the same group of people each time, and it felt more like a walking “brag book” then an actual support group. (Seriously, if your kid slept through the night from Day 1, nursed like a champ at all times, napped 20 hours a day, was reading by 6 months of age, and painlessly grew a full set of teeth at the same time – just assume we can’t be friends!)

What I learned is not to give up. I have been so fortunate to stumble upon so many amazing people who make me feel like less of a basket case mom - people who just "get it". And I'm sure it's made me a better mom - and a better person - to have those outlets and such support. Never try to do it alone.

End of story, right? Not quite…  As I looked around that room at that infamous birthday event not so long ago, I was so grateful to be able to see “news friend” amongst my “true friends”. Seeing people who not only "knew me when" but also people who know me now - and like what they see - has been incredibly gratifying. I'm so glad that their answer to my “Will you be my friend” has been a resounding “yes”!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

How I Survived My Family This Summer

How I survived my family this summer

Don’t get me wrong. I love my family. I really do. And I love hanging out with them. However, when a recent opportunity came our way to take a family road trip to Florida, my first reaction was “Wow, how long do we have to be in a car together??” After all, I have the kid who breaks into the never-ending “Are-We-There-Yet” chorus when our travels exceed the 15 minute mark!

As part of a recent media fleet excursion to test the new Chevrolet Orlando, we packed up our bags and headed on a fantastic whirlwind adventure that included stops in West Virginia, Georgia and finally, Orlando (Get it? An Orlando to Orlando??) I was thrilled about the opportunity, excited about the events planned along the way… and terrified about the 23 hours of fighting & fidgeting – and that’s just from me!

Now, I’m not usually the type to flip ahead to the end of the book, but let me just say… we not only survived but actually had an amazing time. In fact, we’re even talking about planning our next road trip – which would only be possible because of the tips & tricks we learned on this trip.

1.    Never underestimate the power of the electronic babysitter! My son’s favourite part of the vehicle? The iPad propped up on the back seat! Sure, I’m all about limiting screentime in the comfort of my own home, but on a 23 hour road trip? Bring on those Angry Birds!

Happy kid? Check!

2.    Keeping connected! I admit it – my first car didn’t even have a tape deck. So imagine my surprise when this car actually came equipped with a USB port! While I was happily debating whether my phone or my iPod should be the first to benefit, Dear Hubby already had his laptop up & running and was halfway through his first report. Hmm… not exactly as I saw it playing out, but we were well on our way!

Happy husband? Check!

3.    Sing out loud, Sing out strong! The way I see it, if I can’t knock off a few Angry Birds, or surf the web to find the nearest Starbucks, then the radio stations are all mine. And, of course, the luxury of controlling the XM Satellite Radio means hours and hours of pure ‘80s bliss (much to Hubby's chagrin!). Time to channel my inner Cyndi Lauper!

Happy me? Check!

So, could we have survived this experience without the help from our electronic travelmates? Of course – driving through mountains, historic towns, and other major attractions was an amazing experience we’ll always appreciate. The gift of enjoying this experience as a family? Unmistakeable. Seeing the joy on my son’s face as we pulled in to Disney or my husband’s face as we explored historic downtown Savannah? Priceless. And if you ask my son, one of his favourite memories of the trip was falling in love with Maggie, his new 'furry friend' at the Bed & Breakfast in West Virginia! (Hey, beats the hamster!)

And for that I will always be grateful – to GM and to my family, for an experience I will never forget. And for reminding me how cool my family really is.

Is technology necessary to surviving family time? Of course not – but that Starbucks app was definitely appreciated!

Does technology get the invite on your road trips?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

My Big Social Media Lesson

My Big Social Media Lesson

Facebook. Twitter. Linked In. Google Plus. Email. MSN. BBM…. Seriously, if I didn’t know any better, I could walk around with a seriously swelled head at how “connected” I am!

Now, if you’re one of those people who eat, sleep & breathe social media and can’t get enough of it, you may want to stop reading here. Go ahead……. I’ll wait………

For the rest of you, I have a confession to make…. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of social media. And truthfully, even once I was immersed in the world of the never-ending posts, updates, tweets, pings, nudges, and whatnot, I still trudged through it with a raised eyebrow and a grain of salt (sadly, not always around the rim of a margarita glass!).

To me the majority of these platforms took me back to all of the negative aspects of high school that I had hoped time – and therapy – had allowed me to forget. The showiness of people oversharing every last detail of their lives; the ‘cliquey-ness’ of people and groups who never seem to have time for anyone else; the acne… (Oh wait, wrong rant!). The majority of it all seemed like something that I “should” be doing, rather than something I really “wanted” to do.

All of that changed for me this past week.

Unfortunately my family was forced to deal with an incredibly sad and traumatic ordeal recently. I needed to get some information out in a hurry and decided to send it to some of my online “friends” in the hopes that one or two people might help out and spread the message.

To say I was overwhelmed would be a huge understatement.  Within minutes over 50 people had sent out the information; within an hour the number rose to over 100. Many of these were people I’ve never even met or spoken to IRL* (*IRL = In Real Life) yet they all took the time to help out a relative stranger. In fact, many of them sent me personal emails and messages with words of support and encouragement – and have followed up to check up on me as days have passed.

Truly amazed, humbled and grateful.

In today’s online world it’s easy to sometimes feel like just another random “friend”, “follower” or “fan” – another miscellaneous profile on various lists, groups or pages. It’s hard to believe that a person can feel isolated or alone in a time where we’re all more connected than we’ve ever been – but it can happen. The good news is that – just like high school – there are some truly amazing people who are there for you when you really need them.

So to all of those wonderful people who let me sit at the “cool kids’ table” this week and helped me through this tough time, my sincerest thanks. Thanks for the support… and thanks for helping me understand and appreciate the true value of the social circles that I am privileged to be part of.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Birthday Parties: Bonanza or Bust?

I’ve been thinking about the whole party planning process lately, and I’ve come to kind of a sad realization – by today’s standards, my parties just wouldn’t have cut it.

Today’s birthday parties aren’t just parties… they’re “experiences”. Experiences with tightly packed agendas, themes, entertainment, and more.

Today there are party planners dedicated to ensuring that every last detail is planned and in line with the birthday’s “theme”. Hmm… epic fail on my end, as I’m pretty sure that growing up my parties’ ‘themes’ were “Birthday Party”!

Ponies? Only if Barbie happened to get one to add to her Dream House.

Themed costumes? Do the cardboard party hats count?

Indoor playlands, beauty salons, craft centres, sports extravaganzas…? Nope. How about our living room? Or perhaps our backyard, if the weather cooperated. Actually, I do remember one particularly rousing party held within the confines of the McDonalds’ train caboose one year… Ah, good times…

Masterpiece cakes? Nope. Big thanks to the various grocery store offerings, or the few “homemade” efforts (thanks, Betty Crocker!). I do remember one year my mom cobbled together a particularly impressive Raggedy Ann cake, complete with licorice hair, etc., but the creativity was killed by my “pre-party sampling” that wholeheartedly destroyed her efforts! (Sorry, mom!)

And don’t even get me started on the “money cakes”… They were awesome! Random coins baked into a cake – and you got to keep whatever you could find. Sweet! If you choked on one or cracked a tooth, the general consensus was that you should have been more careful. Can you imagine the lawsuits and social media chaos that would erupt today?

And those tightly packed agendas jammed with swimming/laser tag/craft-building/circus events/and more? Can they really compete with musical chairs, hot potato and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey?

And speaking of games, there were those who won, and those who lost. And if you lost, it sucked. But you sucked it up and got over it. EVERYONE didn’t win, but everyone had fun.

Let’s face it – times have changed. The infamous bar has been raised and we all have the choice to keep up with the proverbial “Joneses” or blaze a new trail. Rest assured, whichever path you choose, your kids will most likely never remember if their napkins matched their loot bags. But they’ll remember that you were there and took the time to make their day special… with whatever that entails.

Now, where did I order those amazing Batman-themed cupcakes last year…? ;)

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

I've Been Crowned!

Yes, it's true. I have recently been crowned "World’s Meanest Mommy" by my adoring 7-year old! Yes, that’s right – all of you who have been diligently vying for the title can now stop practicing your talent routines and polishing up your “world peace” speech. The crown has been awarded, and I have no doubt I’ll have absolutely no problem fulfilling any and all duties as required!

What have I done to earn this highly sought after title? What HAVEN’T I done?? In fact, just this week alone I have:

•    Took him to Summer Camp (yes, I knowingly abandoned him in an environment with other kids, games, activities, outdoor events and other evil tortures...)

•    Took him back to camp on Day 2 after receiving explicit instructions that he had absolutely no interest in returning (I obviously don’t take direction well!)

•    Asked him if he wanted to make his bed or brush his teeth first before heading out to the aforementioned camp (I know, can you imagine??)

•    Refused to buy him a ginger cookie from Starbucks as a treat for surviving Day 2 of camp (NOTE: Offering to make them at home does not produce brownie (or cookie) points!)

•    Suggested that he should have drank all of the water in his thermos at camp, after complaining of being hot (NOTE: Cold, fresh, filtered eco-friendly water – not pond water, puddle water, toilet water…).

And, don’t worry, I’m obviously full of equal opportunity nastiness – and have cemented my title outside of the camp venue this week as well:

•    Made him get out of the public swimming pool (NOTE: The fact that we were there swimming for two straight hours and the public swim time was actually over is apparently irrelevant.)

•    Mixed the soy sauce into the rice without letting him put it on himself (Did you know it tastes differently??)

•    Didn’t buy him a dog when we were at the pet store to pick up hamster food (Since when does a Retriever become an impulse purchase??)

•    Made his sandwich with mixed greens instead of romaine lettuce (apparently, it’s all about the crunch…)

•    Told him that he shouldn’t worry about the fact that the bouncy castle was covered in Disney Princesses… (Seriously, is the bounce impacted that much??)

Can you imagine if I included all of my “mean mommy” evidence from the last seven years? No one else would stand a chance!

But the best part of “Meanest Mommy in the World”? The hug, the kiss and the “I love you, Mommy” I still get at the end of every day. And that’s even cooler than the crown… (most days!)

Monday, 18 July 2011

22 Ways to Survive the Summer with Kids!

So, in another couple of days, the two words that send shivers down the spines of most parents will be heard…. “School’s out”. That’s right – no more teachers, no more books…. No more kids out of the house and kept busy by someone else for seven hours a day! So, with 44 days of “I’m bored” ahead of me, I’m determined to attack with a plan this year. 44 days? Bring ‘em on…

1.    First and foremost, track down every friend with kids who lives within walking, biking, driving… hangliding distance and put them on notice. The more playdates you set up, the better your chances for success. Share the pain.

2.    Turn your yard into a makeshift artist’s studio. Line your back deck or patio with rolls of easel paper or construction paper – tape it all down, bring out as many paints, markers, & crayons as you can find (all washable, of course) and let your “mini-Monet” go to town!

Little kid car wash
3.    Sunny day? Dirty car? Set up your own car wash and let your little ones run the show. BONUS POINTS: Get them to clean their dinky cars and any other random toys too!

4.    Let your little one plan an entire meal, from start to finish and then spend some time in the kitchen helping them prepare their meal for the family. (NOTE: You may want to set some suggestions around “One food per food group” or use the Today I Ate A Rainbow guideline so you don’t end up with chocolate pudding, marshmallows & goldfish crackers for dinner!)

5.    Let them plan a meal that includes chocolate pudding, marshmallows & goldfish crackers. Hey, its Summer!

6.    Hop on the city bus, GO Train, streetcar, or subway and make an adventure of it. Half the time you don’t actually have to be going anywhere in particular for them to have a good time!

7.    Break out the sidewalk chalk and create a masterpiece on your driveway.

8.    Create a Scavenger Hunt list and see how many items you can find around your neighbourhood.

9.    Grab a camera (or pick up a disposable one) and let your budding photographer take pictures of whatever catches their eye each day. BONUS POINTS: Get them printed and put in a little album for them to remember that they actually had a fun time with you!

10.    Check out a local Conservation Area – take a nature hike and see what you can find. (Don’t forget the water & some snacks to help ward off a crabby cohort!)

11.    Plan a “What do you want to be when you grow up” day – Veterinarian? Visit a pet store or petting zoo. Chef? Pick out fresh ingredients at the grocery store. Firefighter? See if you can pop by the station for a quick tour or visit. Teacher? Break out the chalkboard or some flashcards and let them teach you a few things!

12.    Start befriending that neighbour of yours with the pool… Just sayin’….

13.    Rainy day? Crank the iPod and dance the day away. BONUS POINTS: set up your video camera and create a fun little music video of you & your backups getting your groove on. They’ll get a kick out of watching themselves and *poof* you’ve created a lasting memory.

14.    Whenever you do something or go somewhere fun, have your kids draw a picture or write something about it. Then, at the end of the summer you have a scrapbook of memories for them – and written proof that they actually had fun at some point!

15.    Write a story – every day get your child to write one line of a story, then you write one; add another line each everyday, then read it aloud at the end of the Summer. Feel free to draw pictures to illustrate it for bonus points, then laminate & bind it. More memories... more time killed!

16.    Can’t sweet talk that friend with the pool? Check out your local rec centre for family swim days and times. Bonus points: some cities even have free sponsored swims (i.e. by Tim Horton’s) – so you can use the money you saved to treat yourself to a well-deserved coffee afterwards!

17.    Declare “Treat Tuesday” (only if it’s Tuesday, of course!) – choose a nearby treat shop (i.e. Starbucks, Tim Hortons, local bakery, ice cream parlour, etc.) and head out for a shared treat. BONUS POINTS: make it somewhere you can walk or bike to, instead of taking the car – good exercise and takes up more time in the day!

18.    Find a big hill and walk to the top with your kids. Lie down. Begin rolling. Laugh uncontrollably. Reach bottom. Repeat as necessary. Trust me – sometimes it’s the simple things!

19.    Plan a moonlight dessert picnic. Talk it up throughout the day and get your little ones to help with the planning. Roast marshmallows over candles or set up lanterns or tea lights around a blanket in the backyard and dine on donuts “al fresco” while staring up at the stars.

20.    Take in a matinee and soak up a little A/C on a hot day. BONUS POINTS: some smaller theatres show older movies at a fraction of the cost – more money for popcorn!

21.    Visit a local farmers’ market and check out all of the yummy fruit, veggies and other foods. Make it a game to buy & try one new food each time you go. BONUS POINTS: some of them have amazing homemade fudge or cupcake vendors. Just sayin’…

Kids at the beach
22.    Visit a local beach and fill your day with sand, surf (and snacks!). Build sandcastles, play in the water and soak up the sun. BONUS POINTS: keep a few bottles of water in your car to wash off sandy toes before they get into the car!

Most importantly, make time to sit back and enjoy the fact that you’ve all made it to the halfway point of the Summer... in one piece... more or less!

Only 22 more days to go...!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Who Wants to Play?

One of the great things about working from home is that I’m able to avoid “Camp Chaos” - the endless juggling & scheduling required to fill up the 44 weekdays (but who’s counting??) between “School’s Out!” to that first glorious September school bell. Between figuring out the logistics of getting them to & from the camp, raiding piggy banks & couch cushions to ensure you can actually pay for these camps, and (hopefully) finding camps that are even remotely of interest to the little day campers (preferable, but not required!), it can seriously be a full-time job!

So I should be kicking back with a celebratory drink toasting the fact that I don’t have to deal with all of that, right? Not exactly… What is my little guy most looking forward to this Summer? “Playing.”

Here’s where I lose my “Mom of the Year” nomination (Hey, I could have had one…!) – I have to confess something… I don’t like to play. I can read with him, tackle an art project together, brave the baking/cooking process with my sous chef at my side, collect rocks on nature hikes, and plan day trips with the best of them. Heck, I can even endure the occasional board game. But ask me to just generally “play” and the glowing “Super Mommy” halo starts to slip.

I’ve watched him do it – he can run around in circles in the backyard making space laser noises and inventing stories and conversations for what seems like hours at a time. He can go forever telling me what to say & what to do in order to be part of the current scenario. And don’t get me wrong – I do it… I just don’t get it! I know that not everything requires a purpose – but admittedly, I just function much more effectively when there is one.

I know, I need to just relax and enjoy the fact that he wants to hang out with me at all – and trust me, I love spending time with him – I just need to get better at this “play” thing. I guess I’ve got 44 days to get it down pat (but who’s counting??).

Friday, 3 June 2011

Man Up!

Don’t let the tough-guy, taekwondo-kicking, always-on-the-move thing fool you – my kid is as sensitive as they come. Talk about wearing his heart on his sleeve – he’s practically got it tattooed right on the middle of his forehead! I’m pretty sure “The Fox and the Hound” scarred him for life,  and I have yet to find a Disney movie that doesn’t have at least one scene where I assume my position as “World’s Meanest Mommy” for “making” him endure such an appalling experience.

When he gets frustrated, the tears come. If one of his buddies has something less-than-positive to say about his choice of game/snack/superhero/etc., the lip starts a-quivering. If he thinks I’m upset about something – poof! My sad little shadow is glued to my side.

So here’s my dilemma … we talk about encouraging kids to be “real”, express their emotions, be themselves, and all that other good stuff. Heck, isn’t Sensitivity usually on the list of “must haves” for the ol’ Perfect Mate Checklist?

Sounds great – my kid is sharing and I’m raising the next "Perfect 10". Perfect.

Not perfect. For as much as everyone sings the Sensitivity Song, there is also an equally strong assumption out there that no one likes a Weeping Willie. Society likes its men strong, in control, with just a hint of softness that only makes an appearance during the fleeting, yet appropriate situations.

So “How much is too much”? I shudder at the “Boys don’t cry” battle cry and, quite frankly, I love the extra hugs & cuddles when he’s upset and only Mommy can fix it.  I don’t want to downplay what he’s feeling, but not keeping it in check at some point sets him up for a whole world of hurt.

Let him cry? Don’t cry at all? Cry for a minute & a half, then man up? This parenting thing is a lot of work! I think for now, I’ll just go with the flow, enjoy the hugs… and ditch the Disney movies!

Monday, 16 May 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Pet Store

Let me start by saying I’m not really a ‘pet person’. I mean, cats & dogs are great... if they're other people’s. The way I see it, I’m just not equipped to deal with feeding, cleaning, walking, and training another little creature – I’ve got my son for that!

So when he first started begging for a pet, we finally caved and bought him a fish. We convinced him that watching it swim back & forth would be entertaining enough… and for the first little while, he actually bought it! Fast forward four years, two dead fish and one life lesson of death, grief, etc. and you’re up to speed. My son was ready to hit the pet store and find another little friend to follow in the fins of the infamous Bluey and Herbie. I sent him off with hubby to the pet store for what seemed to be a ‘win-win’ situation for everyone – son gets new fish, dad gets quality time with son, mom gets an uninterrupted 20 minutes to enjoy a coffee.

Well, time passed and coffee consumed – however when ‘the boys’ returned, there was no fish to be found. Why? It seems that somewhere between my driveway and the neighbourhood pet store, the wish for a replacement fish somehow morphed into a burning desire for a hamster! Seriously?? A fur-covered mouse, requiring much more maintenance, that stinks, and could potentially escape (not once did either of our fish ever make a break for it!). What part of this seems fun?

Plus, when the time comes for this thing to head to ‘hamster heaven’, we’re now dealing with a dead ‘thing’, rather than just a floating fish. Lovely. So when my son sat us down and declared a ‘family meeting’ to discuss the potential new addition, I was prepped & ready to launch into “anti-pet” mode.

What I didn’t count on was how seriously he was taking the process. He sat us down with a piece of paper and a pencil in hand and proceeded to write out his detailed list of pros & cons. He asked the right questions, gave the right answers, wrote out a schedule and asked for a vote.

Nuts. I could feel my resolve starting to crumble. Could I stick to my guns and keep my house rodent-free?

Meet Harry, the newest addition to our family….. *sigh*…. Could you say no to that face??

Monday, 2 May 2011

Don't Say the 'G-Word'!

When my son won his first taekwondo trophy, I sang his praises. When he learned to swim in the deep end, I shouted from the mountaintops. Heck, when he was finally potty trained, I pretty much had a marching band lined up! So why is it I have such a problem telling people that my son’s a pretty smart kid?

Before entering Grade One this year, he was given the opportunity to take part in a new pilot program in our area – one that might lessen his likelihood of being bored every day (When your kid is bored in SK, you’re in trouble – I kept telling him it was all downhill after that!). So along with the normal pressures that come with determining your child’s educational path, I now had to deal with the fact that some team of random school officials had used the “G” word… Yes, apparently my son is G!f+@d.

What does that mean? Absolutely nothing to him – heck, we’ve never even had the conversation with him and to the best of my knowledge he doesn’t even know about it. But to me it’s been an ongoing weight on my shoulders that keeps me second-guessing my every decision! Will he be able to keep up? Will his social skills suffer? Will it be too focused on academics? Will I be screwing him up for life?

We bit the bullet and decided to try it for a year. Again, he’s been fine – but somehow I’ve managed to go from “shouting from mountaintops” to barely mumbling under my breath! First of all, let it be said that I NEVER use the “G-word” when discussing my son or the program. Just doesn’t seem necessary. I quite often dance around in extremely uncoordinated circles when asked about my son’s schooling. I realize that “these types of programs” can be highly controversial so I try to remain well out of the direct line of fire.

Well, the other day, while volunteering at my son’s school to help out at a local fundraising initiative, I ended up chatting with a few other moms at my table. We were having a fine time – chatting about the event, the school, the weather – when the conversation inevitably swung around to our kids. Turns out all of our kids were in the same grade – however, when I was asked which class my son was in, I gave the teacher’s name and immediately the entire feeling of the conversation was changed. Both of the other women stopped what they were doing, gave me the raised eyebrow (you know the one) and responded with an extremely short “Oh.”. And within minutes they had both left the table and were whispering to one another in a corner of the room.

Seriously? I was stunned into silence (a rarity for those who know me!) – I said nothing, and in doing so, I felt like somehow I was devaluing my son and the opportunities he’s been presented. So ladies, if you’re reading this, here’s what I want you to know: I love my son, just like you love your kids. I want the best for him – I may not always know what that is at the time, but I make the best decisions I can with the information I have. My job is to do whatever I can to try and ensure he has every opportunity to continue becoming the wonderful, intelligent, caring, entertaining, amazing person he already is.

And maybe I should find a few more of the mountain tops to shout from…

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Seven "Real Truths" I've Learned as a Mom

Seven "Real Truths" I've Learned as a Mom

At the recent Babytime Show I met enough beautiful babies – and belly bumps – to make my uterus start contracting! Chatting with some of these new moms or moms-to-be got me thinking about my own experiences… There are a million books, magazines, and websites that let you know what to expect when it comes to pregnancy, labour, delivery, and caring for your baby. But somehow I was still unprepared for the “real” reality…

1. You can do all the research, planning and organizing you like – the reality is, your baby didn’t read the Birth Plan so he/she is coming out the way they want and there’s nothing you can do about it!

2. Not everyone glows when pregnant. Some of us were definitely not the thick-maned, dewy skinned goddesses that grace the covers of trendy style magazines. Some of us were just fat and miserable with no ankles and our heads in the toilet. Stick THAT on the cover of your magazine!

3. Labour & delivery hurts. A lot. I expected that. However, no one warned me about the hellish nightmare known as the first “post-partum pee”. Now THAT’S something I could have used a heads-up on…

4. Everybody has an opinion… and odds are whatever it is you’re doing is wrong. Breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding, co-sleeping vs. crib sleeping, cry it out vs. snuggle it up… Here’s the real truth - whatever it takes to get you & baby through the day in one piece (more or less) is the right decision for you.

5. When people offer to help, take them up on it! We don’t have to look like we’re on top of everything because – let’s face it – we’re not! Most of us are just barely hanging on during those first few months so if someone wants to offer me a little piece of nirvana in the form of a coffee or a meal that I didn’t have to make (and that I can eat with one hand), then sign me up!

6. Your boobs will never be the same again. Enough said.

7. God made babies and little children look like angels when they’re asleep. I’m pretty sure that was no accident – one little glance at that innocent little face and somehow all of the chaos, turmoil and misery you've endured throughout the day fades away…. Almost!

Come on, ladies – time to spill the beans. What are YOUR “real truths”?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

My Not-So-Guilty Little Secret

Get your disapproving head shakes and harsh finger wags ready… I’m going to blow your socks off!

Here it is… My kid watches TV. And I don’t feel guilty about it. Not a bit. In fact, he’s actually watching it right now while I write this. Take that!

I know that many of you reading this right now are patting yourselves on the back and congratulating yourself for never allowing yourself to stoop to the level of the dreaded “electronic babysitter”. To that I say, hey, if my lifestyle makes you feel better about yours, then there’s my good karma for the day…

When my son was a baby I repeatedly tried those Baby Einstein videos in the hopes that he would mindlessly sit and stare at the screen (you know, like every other baby on the planet apparently does!) so I could actually catch my breath. No luck. In fact, he was about two years old before he finally cut me some slack and noticed that weird square box with all the sounds and pictures I kept trying to sit him in front of. I still remember the day he wandered by the TV with a dinky car in each hand and stopped… and stared… and watched.

Instantaneously, Max & Ruby became my heroes and finishing a hot cup of coffee once again became a reality. I couldn’t have cared less that they he wasn’t learning another language, or solving the problem of world peace… heck, I didn’t even care where their parents were (it’s a TV show, people… if you want to get all judgy, how come no one ever cares that Dora’s parents send her off on her own through mountains, jungles and rivers just to get them a gallon of milk??) All I knew was that my wonderful, amazing, beautiful, loving, hyper, high-maintenance, non-sleeping toddler was giving me the 20 minutes I needed to tidy up, start dinner…. even go to the bathroom without company. My paradise had arrived!

Fast forward about five years and my handsome little devil still watches some TV, and has added additional screen time on the computer and his DS to the mix. Have I stunted his intellectual and social well-being and essentially turned him into a screen zombie? Not a chance… He powers through books at top speed, has earned himself a brown belt in taekwondo, loves photography, hiking and “mini sticks”… and is truly the most amazing kid I know.

So let’s all take a deep breath and enjoy the lovely glass houses we all live in. And enjoy the fact that we all love our kids and want the best for them.

And enjoy that hot cup of coffee whenever we can.
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