bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Kids · parenting

Day 392: A Teacher is Born…

E got a new bike yesterday. She was looking awfully cramped on the 14″ bike she had been riding, so I put out a call to my FaceBook friends for a used 20″ bike. This gorgeous pink one had been outgrown by a friend of K’s, and we snapped it up. I’m very excited because it’s got a basket and a chain guard and everything. E’s excited because her new helmet looks like a unicorn.

It’s always a bit awkward when a kid moves up to a bigger bike. They have to adjust their steering to account for the longer frame and suddenly they can’t put both feet flat on the ground unless they slide off the seat. For E, this move up has also introduced her to a brake lever—her last bike had a coaster brake that stops the bike if you pedal backwards.

E and I decided to head down the street to the cul-de-sac to give her some practice time before our next family ride. R volunteered to come with us. I naïvely assumed that R just wanted to ride around (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and was surprised when we got to our destination: she spent the entire time teaching E how to brake, dismount, and turn safely on her new bike.

R seems to have a natural talent for teaching. She knew how to break down each skill into smaller components that she made E practice before trying the whole skill. Her words were gentle and encouraging: “That’s okay, let’s just try it again…” and “You’re doing it!” She hugged E after a fall and rode alongside her, giving pointers all the way.

At one point I beckoned for R to come over to where I was sitting. When she approached me, I hugged her fiercely and said, “I love watching you teach your sister.” She grinned and ran back over to E.

I don’t know whether this skill at teaching is inborn or whether R has picked some things up from the way Mr. December and I teach her. It’s probably a bit of both, although like most things I suspect it’s mostly part of R’s personality. In any case, this is quickly becoming my favourite part of parenting: seeing the kids use their natural talents for good.

bikes planes and automobiles · blogging · Fibro Flares · Kids

Day 385: Failure to Pace

Here we are again. Yesterday was such a beautiful day, and E was especially eager for a family bike ride, and I agreed to a shorter ride than we ended up doing. I overdid it yesterday, even though I biked very slowly on an easy gear and took lots of breaks. As you might guess, today was not a good day, fibro-wise.

Every day has its good parts, though, and yesterday I was tremendously proud of E. She biked six kilometres—three out and three back—on her own bike, entirely unassisted. She’s still too wobbly to do much riding on city sidewalks, but on the trails she’s doing fine. Better yet, she loves biking as much as I do.

It’s very hard to resist such an earnest entreaty from E: “Please, Eema! You said we’d take a bike ride together! We can go slow! I’ll wait for you! Please!” I had said no to her on Wednesday; I didn’t want to say no again.

So right now my legs feel like they’re made of lead (or maybe even Tungsten) and my brain feels slow and foggy. My arms are absurdly tired, too. I did very little teaching today and abandoned any pretense of schooling the kids after lunch. They busied themselves building another epic living-room fort while I zoned out in the back-porch hammock with my fuzzy blanket.

(On a side note, I went outside for some peace and quiet, which is pretty bizarre seeing as I live half a block away from a massive (and noisy) construction site. Still, outside was more peaceful than inside by far.)

I lay down for a while this evening and binge-watched some of Shtisel (season 3), which is just drama upon drama, but which I love because I can understand it without subtitles, even though they switch between Hebrew and Yiddish.

I think this post was supposed to be about how hard it can be to pace myself, but I’m seven (short) paragraphs in and haven’t really gone there yet. My brain feels like it’s been switched off. The kids are talking to me and I might as well be underwater for how much I’m hearing and understanding. Bed now. More blog later.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Kids · The COVID files · waxing philosophical

Day 382: Siblings and Friends

One of the greatest gifts the pandemic has given us, I often think, is that the kids relate to each other as friends. Sibling rivalry doesn’t seem to be much of a thing anymore (although it could just be in the last week or so; My memory for such things doesn’t go much farther back than that.) Instead I’ll glimpse moments where they’re encouraging, comforting, entertaining, and supporting each other—moments that are so sweet they take my breath away (or maybe I just need to use my blue puffer. Not sure about that one.)

Today we went on a family bike ride, the first one where E has ridden her own bicycle instead of being on a tandem trailer behind mine. She’s still a bit wobbly, but she rode three kilometres before we stopped to play at the park (and a final kilometre to get back home.) As the rear guard, I got to watch as R cycled alongside E, shouting encouragement and advice as they went.

“You can do it, E! We’re almost there!”

At the park R immediately climbed up a freestanding rock wall and then called to E to try it. As I spotted E from below, R called out pointers and persuaded E to keep trying when she wanted to quit. Eventually E made it to the top where R congratulated her and showed her the most secure place to sit up there.

After dinner I refused to give E more screen time. “Go do something else!” I instructed before sticking my nose back in my book. She came to me some minutes later with a dominoes game, asking how to play, when K sauntered into the room. I offhandedly suggested that K could play with E; after telling them the basic rules I went back to my reading. I thought K would play maybe one round with E—but they played four or five games before deciding to do something else. K spoke softly, patiently, and she treated E as an equal.

I store up these moments in my mind and in my phone, greedily, against the day when they go their separate ways, each with their own peer group. I often comment that it’s wonderful being married to my best friend; it’s pretty wonderful that the kids get to grow up as close friends, too.

bikes planes and automobiles · el cheapo · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 380: Anti-Theft System

There have been a lot of car thefts in our area lately. It seems that every few days someone else posts on the neighbourhood Facebook group that their car was stolen, and the comments section is soon peppered with discussions of Faraday cages, The Club™, and other anti-theft measures. Despite all this, I have no fears of my car being stolen; you see, I have my own patented anti-theft system that I use for my car and my cellphone.

Here’s how it works: my stuff is functional but old-looking (and usually just plain old.)

Our car is a 2012 minivan with peeling paint and a dented side panel. It’s a workhorse that hauls lumber, bikes, and people. It’s pretty comfy to boot, with seat warmers in the front and a separate heat/ac system for the passengers in the back. It’s served us well for the past nine years and we plan to drive it for at least another six.

My phone is a 2016 iPhone SE. I bought it used in 2017 and immediately covered it with the most waterproof, shock-proof, me-proof cover I could find. It’s not new, pretty, or flashy, but it takes good photos and serves as my external brain; I don’t need or want anything fancier.

My anti-theft system works because, as Mr. December drily observed, even thieves have standards—and apparently, their standards are higher than my own. Just further proof that lower standards are the key to happiness.

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 245: Minor Crises

Yes, I said crises, not crisis. Crises, plural.

Over the weekend our car had a bit of an issue and ended up getting a new alternator, tensioner, and belt. The mechanic thought our battery was fine and just needed charging.

This morning I drove out to the supermarket to pick up my Click & Collect order. I turned off the engine and opened the trunk. Then I waited. When I got chilly, I turned the car on again so I could run the heater—but the car didn’t turn on. I had to call roadside assistance and then wait for half an hour with my groceries in the back of my van. At least I didn’t have anything terribly perishable in there.

I got a boost from the roadside assistance guy, and was told to keep the engine running for forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the store is only fifteen minutes from home, I had to leave the car running in the driveway for a while after we got home. I set an alarm for thirty minutes and went about putting away the groceries. Two hours later, in the middle of doing something completely unrelated, I suddenly looked up and yelled, “Oh no! The car!”

The car was fine. Everything was fine.

Then the kitchen sink backed up. Both sinks, actually. The dishwasher was running, so I turned it off because it’s attached to the sink drain. Of course, when you turn a dishwasher off mid-cycle, it drains itself. The sinks began to fill up.

“WE INTERRUPT YOUR SCHOOLING FOR AN IMPORTANT LIFE SKILLS LESSON!” I called out. “EVERYBODY TO THE KITCHEN!”

The kids crowded around as I pulled out the drawer under the sink and explained what a P trap is and what it’s for.

“I think we should take the P trap off,” I said, “so we can get out whatever is blocking the drain. Somebody please get me some wrenches. Also some buckets. Big ones.” The kids ran off to do my bidding.

I was impressed—K got right in there with me and helped me unscrew all the connections. I tried to open it slowly, so that the water wouldn’t all come rushing out, but I loosened just a bit too much and suddenly we had a deluge.

“Quick! New Bucket!” I shouted as the greasy water approached the bucket’s rim. The kids passed me the bucket and I switched it out quickly, but not quickly enough; the water spilled into the cabinet and onto the floor.

“TOWELS!” I yelled. “And not the nice ones from your bathrooms! Get the old faded red ones!”

When we finally took off the P trap, it looked like the problem was actually further into the drain. And what was the problem, you ask? To me it looked like couscous. But who puts tons of couscous down the drain? In any event, we couldn’t clear it all out the way we wanted to—but I still used it as a learning moment:

“You guys. THIS is why we ask you to scrape off your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. If food goes down the drain, it will eventually clog.” N and R nodded, wide eyed.

In the end, we cleaned out the P trap, reinstalled it, and then used a bottle of Liquid Plumr to unclog the drain. I guess we could have just used the Liquid Plumr to begin with, but where’s the fun in that?

After cleanup and a shower (my pants were soaked with greasy, couscous-laden water) it was pretty much the end of the school day. I didn’t dissuade the kids from doing their work, but I didn’t push it, either.

At least we ended the day on a restful note, with scones and jam for poetry teatime. All’s well that ends well… right?

bikes planes and automobiles · education · Homeschool · Independence · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 210: So, How’d It Go?

Today was our first day of homeschool. After all the preparation I did, it felt very anticlimactic. N and R did their work pretty enthusiastically (although R was having trouble focusing), E did a very little bit, and K worked hard on her math but balked at the writing assignment.

“It’s easy!” I said for the millionth time. “You’re just hunting for words. Any words. Just find words in a bunch of different places and write them in the tiny notebook I gave you. Take words from this pile of catalogues. Borrow words from the spines of the books in our library. Snatch them from the lyrics of songs. I don’t care what the words are and I don’t care where you find them. Just do it.”

K went into anger mode: “It’s so pointless! Why are we even DOING this? It doesn’t make ANY SENSE!” And on she ranted. I walked away. I still don’t know whether she actually did the assignment or not.

My short Pirkei Avot lesson went pretty well, with a very animated discussion of what it means to “Make a fence around the Torah” and a demonstration of the unbroken chain of transmission of the Torah. The latter featured the six of us and a chocolate bar. It was my take on the Jewish custom of putting sweets in a child’s first school books so that they associate learning Torah with sweetness. Judging from my kids’ reactions, Pirkei Avot will be a popular lesson in future weeks as long as I always bring treats.

The copywork for it, though, was only done by R, and even then only partly. She insisted that she didn’t know how to write Hebrew letters; they “might have tried” to teach her at school but she never learned. I don’t see how that’s possible—I’ve seen her Hebrew homework over the years—although maybe she had a lot of help with her written work at school. However it happened, I’m a bit miffed. Six years in Hebrew Day Schools, the last three in a school with a “rigorous” Hebrew program, and my kid can’t write Hebrew in grade four? I want my tuition money back.

One of today’s highlights for me was biking with the kids to their dentist appointments. The fresh air and exercise in the middle of the day was good for all of us. When I went to retrieve N from his, E insisted on riding her bike alongside me. It’s only about a kilometre of mostly-flat road. Still, she biked hard and was exhausted at the end.

(Here I must interject to say how excited I am that at least two of my children can travel to and from their own dentist appointments independently. I accompanied them each one way because they wanted me to.)

All this is to say that really, today went about as well as I expected, if not as well as I’d hoped. It wasn’t a “normal” day for us, though, with dentist appointments (for two of the kids) in the morning and an optometrist appointment in the afternoon (speaking of which, N needs glasses.)

Tonight we’re having poetry teatime, for which E is going to help me make tea biscuits. And then I hope to go to bed nice and early so I can wake up tomorrow morning and do it again.

bikes planes and automobiles · community · Homeschool · waxing philosophical

Day 202: The Local Life

I’ve long complained that school was the primary reason I was stuck driving a lot. Our kids never went to the neighbourhood public school, so every morning I had the dubious pleasure of sitting in traffic for half an hour after making the 8:30 a.m. drop-off. Then two of my kids went to a public school that, while not our local school, was nearby, and I had the pleasure of sometimes walking home from dropping them off.

Now that we’re homeschooling, I can finally realize my dream of giving up daily driving. I’ll have no commute, which comes with its own problems: if there’s nowhere to go, will we have days when we never leave the house at all? That can’t be healthy—surely it’s a good idea to go outside and look at the sky every so often—but I can see it happening. There must be some sweet spot between too much commute and too little.

On the upside, we’ve begun to patronize more local businesses. I’m still getting used to paying more for the same things (economy of scale is a real advantage for major retailers), but I do like the experience of having a small radius of travel, not to mention the pleasure of getting to know the people in my neigbourhood (apparently my goal is to live on Sesame Street.) On a single one-kilometre stretch of main road near our house we have our family dentist, an optical store (where we bought K’s glasses), a bagel shop (several, actually, but I have my favourite), a health food store, my chiropractor and massage therapist, and the paint store I always use. Oh, and there’s the health-conscious-and-also-kosher café, the laffa restaurant, and the ice-cream parlour.

(We used to walk to the pharmacy, too, but ironically at the same time as I was trying to do more locally, their service really deteriorated and I switched to an online pharmacy. I regret nothing.)

What am I missing, exactly? In my perfect world all our parents would live nearby, so that we really wouldn’t have to drive unless we desperately wanted to… but given how much we love my parents’ home with its ravine setting, that’s unlikely to happen. It’s probably too much to ask, anyway. We have neighbourhood friends, parks, shops, and (some) health care; I’m basically living my dream of a walkable lifestyle. Now it only remains to be seen whether I actually enjoy the lifestyle I’ve craved for so many years.

bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 172: I DID IT!!!!

Well, I packed the car this morning, with everyone looking at the assortment of crates and bags and saying, “it’s not gonna fit.” Boy, were they ever wrong. Behold the photographic evidence:

Above: The trunk of our Honda Odyssey, stuffed to the gills. Yes, there was still room for the six of us. Mr. December even got the entire passenger footwell to himself.

I decided that seeing this is really not as impressive as seeing how it all was put together in the first place, so I’m posting photos as each new column of stuff was revealed.

So once we removed the guitar, sand toys, a milk crate full of canned goods, and a few bags of groceries, you see the next set of stuff: Our cooler (by “ours” I mean “stolen from my parents with their well wishes,) a stack of my magical black crates, another milk crate of nonperishables, and some assorted groceries. You might also notice the shoes and rainboots stuffed into every crevice and cavity.

Over on the left you can see a bag that says “The Green Scene”. It’s in the area above what would have been an armrest for the back row, and it fits nicely into the window space. The clear containers next to it are full of our activities and materials; the stack of black crates is all of our clothing. To the right of those is a plastic container holding a monitor (Mr. December will be working from the cottage half the time.)

With the piles of crates gone, you can see the things we stuffed into the area between the seat backs and our crates: life jackets, packing cubes full of my clothes, toiletry bags, and six-packs of applesauce.

I was pretty proud of myself — possibly even prouder than I was when I managed to fit three carseats across the back seat of my Yaris. I danced my way over to Mr. December and said, “Who’s the master of Tetris and packing up the car? THIS GAL!” He had to agree. Wouldn’t you?

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · el cheapo · family fun

Day 171: Be Careful What You Say

Okay, so my post about how I’m the one who’s really good at stacking and packing? I shouldn’t have written it. Or published it. Whatever. All I know is that today it seems like I’m the only person who knows how to pack.

“Eema! I laid out all my clothes, will you pack them?”

“Eema! I put my clothes in the crate but they don’t all fit! And they’re all on the packing list, so I neeeeed them!”

And Mr. December:

“Honey, I know you love packing stuff up really efficiently, so I left my stuff on our bed for you to pack. ThanksIloveyoubye.”

I actually started my day with one of my favourite outings, a bike ride to Lowe’s through the beltline path. I had to buy a concrete deck block to anchor the corner post of the sukkah and some more bolts to finish securing its ceiling beams. I can now proudly say that the sukkah frame is complete and ready for walls and decorations as soon as we get back.

Then off to the supermarket, where I phoned a friend and talked to her while waiting for my Click and Collect order to be brought out to my car.

R informed me last night that she has no running shoes that fit. Seriously? Now she tells me? I can’t be too annoyed because the truth is that she hasn’t needed to wear running shoes since school closed in March. Given that R has grown a lot over the spring and summer I guess it’s only right that she’d need shoes now. I feel like I scored big, though: there was one pair of sparkly sneakers in her size on the clearance rack (always the first place I look) and they fit well. When we got to the cash my jaw almost hit the floor when the cashier announced, “That will be $14.51, please.” Looks like I had a coupon on my account there. Who knew?

Then I got even luckier.

I’ve been scouring Value Village for the last couple of weeks in search of the perfect pair of cottage sweatpants: men’s vintage Roots sweatpants with a drawstring at the waist and elastic at the ankles. Today they were just waiting for me, and I let out a whoop of elation when I found them. I don’t usually believe that stuff about how you have to ask the universe for what you want, but it seems to have worked this time! (Hey, universe? How about some cheesecake?)

The rest of the day is a blur of folding, rolling, and smushing everyone’s clothes into my magic crates. I don’t even remember packing my own, but just now when I trudged up the stairs to pack my clothes I was met by a crate neatly packed with everything I needed. It was like a gift from my past self. (Thank you, past self!)

There are crates, boxes, and bins all over the front hall and the upstairs landing. My typical can-do attitude is telling me that everything will fit just perfectly; a more rational part of my brain doesn’t know what we’ll do when we discover that it doesn’t all fit. (Is it illegal to strap a kid to the roof of the car? Yes? Okay, how about my husband?)

I do know one thing: when we get to the cottage, I’m going to go sit on the dock and let Mr. December and the kids unload the car. I’ve done more than my share; as of 3 p.m. tomorrow, I’m on strike vacation.

bikes planes and automobiles · Homeschool · Kids · parenting · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 169: Chatterboxes

Sometimes my kids just won’t stop talking.

We’ll be reading a book aloud when N’s eyes suddenly light up. Then he’ll start explaining how what we just read reminds him of this other thing, and this other thing is so fascinating because… and he’s off and running wherever his hyperactive mind takes him.

One the one hand, it’s adorable. I can practically see the neurons firing and the connections being made. And I know it’s great that he’s truly listening to what I’m reading and digesting it. But if left unchecked, his rhapsodies will go on and on for ten minutes or more, which is not appreciated when I’m reading to him and any (or all) of his siblings. R and K are not generally kind about it, and although I’ve tried to eliminate the phrase “shut up” from all our vocabularies, it tends to pop out when N digresses.

It’s usually K’s voice we hear: “Ugh! N! Shut up! We want to hear what Eema’s reading!”

Fast forward to our car, tonight. Mr. December had just finished telling N that since tomorrow is our last day of homeschool before a month’s vacation, he has to get up early and work hard (he’s been slacking off the last few days.) Apparently this triggered something for K, because she launched into a rant:

“Don’t you hate how they always do that at school? They advance so slowly at the beginning of the year, and then they slow down halfway through, and right at the end of the year they pile on the work!”

“Um, no,” Mr. December said, “I’ve never noticed that.”

“They totally do!” She continued, barely drawing breath, “It’s like, the first day of school you’re just sitting there doing a stupid word search and meeting the other kids in the class, even though you already know them because it’s the same kids every year, and why can’t they just get down to the hard work right away? It’s so annoying! It’s like they forgot that they wanted to get all this work in and so they have to cram it into the last month of school and it’s so hard and then there’s too much work and it’s crazy because they should have spread out the work all through the year instead of saving it up to make us miserable in June and –”

“Hey, K?” I interrupted, “You know how sometimes you get annoyed at N for going on and on about the same thing without saying anything new?”

“Yeah…” She nodded emphatically.

I waited. In three, two, one…

“Oh.” She said.

And there was silence. Blessed, blessed silence.