Camping it up · el cheapo · IKEA · Keepin' it real · Kids · lists · Sartorial stuff · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 453: I never learn.

I feel like I’ve spent my entire day shopping online. If I have to look at one more sizing chart, I’ll scream: every few minutes I called a different kid over to my desk to be measured for clothing sizes. I managed to find bathing suits for all three big kids—no mean feat when you realize that the fashion and retail sector is always one season ahead of us. I had a hard time finding bathing suits at all, because all the summer stuff seemed to be on clearance and the only sizes left were for four-year-olds.

I thought we had all the large duffel bags we needed; but when I went to bring them upstairs so the kids could start packing, I found that two of the bags were shedding little bits of their waterproof coating all over the place. They had to go.

(It’s not like those bags owed us anything—they accompanied Mr. December and his brother to summer camp 30 years ago—but I was just so happy to think that at least I had luggage squared away.)

I decided to focus on bedding for a bit, so I went to the IKEA website and started loading things like inexpensive comforters into my cart. On a whim, I searched for “laundry bag” (because I needed those, too) and found this:

Image description: screenshot of the IKEA website. The product is a blue rectangular bag with handles, called FRAKTA. It sells for $3.99 and holds 76 litres.

It’s a 76-litre bag made out of the same indestructible material as those huge blue IKEA shopping bags you can buy at their checkout. This huge bag has zippers, carry handles, and shoulder straps (backpack-style.) And it costs $3.99. Four dollars for a bag that will probably never die? I hit “Add to cart” a few times.

And then I was sorely disappointed—again. IKEA has the worst e-commerce site I’ve seen in a while. They don’t tell you if an item is in stock for delivery until you get to the very end. So there I was, happily about to check out, when I was informed that the bag was out of stock for delivery. And for pickup. There were exactly zero 76L FRAKTA bags in their entire system. I almost cried.

And do you know where I ended up buying about half of today’s purchases? That’s right, Amazon.

So to recap, here are the lessons I should learn from today… but probably won’t:

  1. Don’t wait until bathing-suit weather to buy bathing suits—they’ll be sold out. The time to find swimwear for the kids is April.
  2. IKEA stuff looks promising but you’ll be disappointed somehow. (Didn’t we just cover this with the window shades, like, less than a week ago?)
  3. Despite your best efforts to buy from small local vendors, when you’re up against a deadline of any kind, or when you’re price sensitive, you’ll end up on Amazon. Again.

Lesson 1 I really should have learned the first time I had to buy bathing suits for camp, seven years ago. Lesson 2… well, as I said above, we just had this conversation last Friday. And lesson three… I’m still resisting, but sometimes it just seems inevitable.

It’s not that I don’t want to learn from today’s adventures, but the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour—which leads me to believe that after all these learning experiences, I’ve still learned nothing.

Camping it up · Homeschool · Kids · The COVID files

Day 452: Packing

K accosted me this evening as I sat at my computer, about to start writing tonight’s post.

“Eema, you said we could talk about what stuff I need for camp that I don’t have yet.”

Right. I did say that. So we started going through the list.

Camp packing lists are tricky. On one hand, you really do need fourteen t-shirts because the laundry truck only comes once a week, so you have to have two full weeks of clothing (because one week’s will be at the laundry at any given time.) On the other hand, if there are things on the list that you don’t normally use, you might not need them at camp.

K balked at the fourteen pairs of socks. “I don’t even wear socks in the summer!” she pointed out.

“Then you don’t need fourteen pairs, do you?” I said reasonably. “Six or seven pairs will do, and one should be cozy just in case you have a couple of chilly nights.” Problem solved.

She moved on, “Four pairs of sweatpants? I don’t think I have any sweatpants. I don’t wear sweatpants.”

“Then don’t take them,” I said patiently. “Take comfy leggings instead.”

And so on, ad nauseum.

Shopping for this stuff is extra annoying this year: “non-essential” stores just opened a few days ago and can only have 15% of their normal (i.e. non-covid) capacity limit. This leads me to think I can expect long lineups just to get into the stores. Better to shop online, I think. Of course, that thinking is why my front hall looks like a shoe store specializing in Keens: we ordered a bunch of different sizes and styles online with the intention of returning the ones we don’t want. It’s a fine idea, but with six of us—four of whom are still growing—we ended up ordering a lot of shoes. And we’re not done yet.

The most annoying part of all this is that I’m carrying this mental load constantly, and I get distracted by it all the time. I’ve been writing this post for the past hour, because I keep suddenly thinking of a store to check for swimsuits, and then I’m off searching for a while before I remember that I have a post to write. But seriously, there’s a lot of stuff to get, and three kids to buy for, and it’s dominating my thoughts these days.

It’s a good thing the kids have enthusiastically (and diligently!) taken on the yearbook project. That’s one thing off my plate. I should delegate more often… maybe I should tell them to plan our upcoming travels and call it geography class.

Camping it up · el cheapo · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 445: I wish I could quit you.

Dear Amazon,

I wish I could quit you.

By most accounts, you engage in unethical business practices and your employment practices aren’t anything to write home about either. You sell lots of stuff cheaply, most of it made in China, which makes me wonder whether it was made by Uyghurs in Chinese detention centres. And you’re not-so-slowly taking over the market, elbowing small local retailers out of the way because they can’t compete with you.

Granted, you have economy of scale on your side. And I’m sure you’ve invested gazillions of dollars in software development and logistics planning and implementation. You’re so big because you’re so good at what you do. I get that. But still, for ethical reasons I’ve been trying to reduce my purchases from you by, oh, ninety percent.

But I just can’t leave.

There are some things I can’t seem to find anywhere else; all of your collapsible silicone water bottles in multiple colours, for example. It may not seem very important to others, but in our house we colour-code everything so we know which of the four kids each item belongs to. I checked five local sports/outdoor stores before resigning myself to the fact that I’d have to buy from you. Again.

I needed a very long, continuous curtain track system. IKEA’s system failed me. I looked everywhere I could think of and found absolutely nothing. So I came crawling back again, credit-card CVV in hand, to buy a seven-metre track with rollers and everything. It works perfectly, by the way.

At least the curtain track story has a positive spin: it was sold by one of your “Marketplace” vendors, which I gather means they use Amazon as an e-commerce platform so they don’t have to develop their own. They benefit from your reach and your search algorithms and I presume they pay handsomely for the opportunity. Anyhow, this vendor was a small family-owned business based in Alberta that only sells through you. I had a minor customer service issue and they were perfectly lovely to deal with. I would absolutely buy from them again… on Amazon, of course, because they have no other platform.

And now… I have three kids to prepare for camp. Who knew they’d need so much stuff? Twenty-four towels (total, not each)? I mean, yeah, first I’ll canvass everyone I know for their old towels they don’t want anymore. But after that, you might be my best chance for towels on the cheap. Although I’m happy to pay smaller local stores a bit more for their products, I’m less happy to do it when I’m staring at a packing list that looks like it was put together by a stereotypical Jewish mother who doesn’t get that it’s okay to wear your sweatshirt a whole week running even if it’s got grass stains on the elbows and a smear of melted marshmallow from Wednesday night’s campfire. Point is, there’s so much stuff we need from camp that I do need to economize just a bit.

So, Amazon, even though I said goodbye dozens of times, even though I’ve resolved to stop crawling back to you, I can’t. You’re just that good at what you do. And apparently, I need you.

Shamefacedly yours,

Camping it up · family fun · Independence · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 430: Undirected

You know, you can hold your breath and turn blue, or nag them for hours, and my kids still won’t have cleared the table; they’ll just bicker forever about who swept up more Rice Krispies or who unloaded the dishwasher last time and nothing will get done.

So it’s reassuring to know that the kids can formulate a plan, take action, and work together to achieve their goal. I mean, of course they can, because that’s what’s involved in building a couch fort; but somehow I’m always surprised that they can get it together to do anything.

Right now they’re carrying a tent as if it’s a chuppah, each kid holding a tent pole where it attaches to the corner. They have no choice but to work together and listen to instructions, seeing as they have to all move in the same direction or risk damaging the tent.

R and K have been asking us to let them sleep outdoors.

“We’ll sleep on the low wooden deck near the tree swing,” they told me.

“You’ll have to move the big pile of sticks off it and rinse the platform first,” I told them.

They went out and followed my instructions to the letter. Soon they were back saying, “There are bugs out there and we need to put something over us to keep them out. Like a tarp. Or some kind of net.”

“Or maybe a tent?” I asked pointedly. “We do have one.”

While retrieving the tent, K and I noticed the air mattress in its bag. K instantly decided it was also necessary.

I’m very happy that my desk is next to a huge window that overlooks the whole backyard, because this was fun to watch. The kids put up the tent with some basic instruction from Mr. December. Then they inflated the queen-size air mattress. And then they tried to put the mattress inside the tent. Now that’s entertainment.

Image description: After many failed attempts (first three pics) at getting the mattress through the tent door, they carried the tent and mattress back to the house (fourth pic).

I’m too impatient for my own good. After watching them for only a few minutes, I cranked the window open and told them to inflate the mattress when it’s already inside the tent. I should have watched to see how long it would take them to figure it out. I guess it’s not their fault: their dad is an engineer, and their grandfather is an engineer, and I believe it’s an engineering maxim that says, “If brute force isn’t working, you’re not using enough,” so they come by it honestly.

I just love watching kids—especially mine, but others too—play and work without adult direction. It gives me faith that one day they’ll be fully functioning adults.

Camping it up · el cheapo · Kids

Day 423: Camp.

It’s not often that I open my email and start cheering, but it happened today. Our Premier announced that summer camps will be allowed to open this year! YESSSSS!

The three older kids are registered for a month of overnight camp and I am so thrilled and relieved that they get to go. I’m also just a tad jealous—I love camp.

Anyhow, I was sitting at my computer when I read the news, and when I started cheering and whooping, the kids came running to see what was so great. They were pleased, of course, but nowhere near as excited as I am. I wonder why?

So now begins the thankless task of finding, labelling, and packing everything three children need for a month at camp. I hope Value Village opens soon, because no way am I sending any clothing to camp that cost more than $10. As a former camp counsellor, I know how much stuff gets lost by the end of the month. I also know why it makes sense to have four sweatshirts at camp, although that might be influenced by the time it was rainy and twelve degrees for half of July and I had to write home to ask my parents to bring me more sweatshirts as well as a hat and mittens.

Gosh, I miss camp.

Camping it up · Kids · parenting · snarky · whine and cheese

Day 413: Quaint.

It’s that time of year again: time to fill out all the camp forms for the kids. Most of them are time consuming, but no big deal. Where I always get stumped, somehow, is at the immunizations.

For those of you who don’t live in Ontario: we have this antiquated system of keeping track of our immunizations. It’s this little yellow trifold card that we (or the doctors) fill in by hand with the date and which vaccines were given. That’s all I have to refer to when the camp asks me for the dates of every vaccination the kids have ever had. I’m sure the doctor’s office has this information in the kids’ files (which are, thankfully, now all computerized,) but that information doesn’t get shared with anyone. Not with me, and not with public health.

That’s why, when each of my kids was enrolled in grade one, I got a letter from Toronto Public Health threatening the kid’s suspension from school if we didn’t provide records of vaccination. The first time it happened I was baffled; The second time I was annoyed; and the third time I was fed up. Apparently after the doctor vaccinates the child and enters the information into their computer, the parents have to go home and enter the same information into the Toronto Public Health website… every single time the kid gets a vaccine. You’d think there’d be some way to opt-in to your doctor sharing the vaccination records with public health—but you’d be wrong.

Honestly, I have flirted with the idea of just telling the school and public health that I’m not vaccinating my kids on conscientious grounds. Of course I’d still have them fully vaccinated—I’d just be saving myself the duplication of labour.

Today as I put in the kids’ vaccination dates I noticed a few… irregularities. I had no record of K being immunized for chicken pox, even though I’m positive that we’ve never declined a vaccine that was offered. That’s the sort of error that comes of having the parent and/or doctor forget to update the quaint little yellow vaccination card. Now I’ll have to call the doctors’ office and have them spend even more time on this issue by generating lists of the kids’ vaccinations and emailing them to me (at least I hope they’ll email them to me, although most doctors won’t actually email confidential medical information. That’s why doctors here still have fax machines, another quaint reminder of a bygone and less efficient era.)

All of this to say that there has GOT to be a better system for sharing this information. A unique PIN for each child, perhaps, that the camp can input into a database to confirm that the child has had all required vaccinations? Something? Anything to advance our public health system past the days of carrier pigeons and fax machines?

Booster shot for Ontario's vaccination policies | The Star
Image description: an Ontario Immunization Record Card. Yep, we’re on the honour system, it seems.
Camping it up · Keepin' it real · Kids · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 251: Registration

You can learn a lot about a school or a summer camp by the questions they ask on their registration form.

Is your child eager to attend camp? Or are they being “urged”?

Translation: We know some of you folks don’t give your kids any choice; please give us a heads up if that’s the case, so that when the kid refuses to participate or acts like a total jerk, we’ll at least have an inkling of why that might be.

Is your child aware of the educational and religious aspects of camp?

Translation: Please, please, please don’t make us to be the ones to tell your kids that they’re expected to pray after each meal and attend a class or two a week. It’s really best to start getting them used to the idea sooner rather than later.

Tell us about your child. What strategies work best for you?

Translation: We’ll only have your kid for eight weeks at the most, probably more like four. We don’t have time to waste on trial and error—and we want everyone to have a good time. Just tell us what to do with your kid so we can get on with having fun this summer.

Please describe any dietary issues or restrictions.

Translation: We want to know about allergies, obviously. We also want to know whether your kid is going to be one of the picky ones eating jam on bread for every meal. Does your kid eat vegetables at all? Are they super picky? On an all-carb diet? The more you tell us now, the more accurately we can order food to prevent waste. Otherwise we’ll be dumping chicken fingers down the gully every Wednesday night, and that never ends well. Just ask our custodian, Armless Joe.

Does your child take any medications to assist them with focus or attention?

Translation: We know that at least a third of the campers probably take ADHD meds during the year. You could answer “no”, but we’ll figure it out as soon as we meet the kids, so you might as well come clean now.

Are there any medications your child takes during the school year that they will not be taking at camp?

Translation: We know how tempting it is to take your child off their meds at camp. Please think carefully about whether that’s a good idea. For heaven’s sake, do you have any idea what it’s like to have four out of twelve campers in a cabin who are off their meds for the summer? You have seen your kid off their meds, haven’t you? Do you really wish that, times four, on a couple of eighteen-year-old counsellors?

Yes, I’ve sent in applications for three of my kids to go to summer camp. And yes, I was once a camp counsellor with a cabin of twelve 12-year-old girls, four of whom were off their meds for the summer, and one of whom was seeing a psychiatrist regularly but hadn’t indicated that on their medical form. That was a fun month.

No custodians named Joe were rendered armless in the making of this blog post.

Camping it up · DIY · Independence · Kids

Day 236: Can we measure that?

Never mind those stores that are already hawking Xmas stuff as if the holiday is tomorrow (even though we haven’t even hit Remembrance Day yet.) Summer camps (as in, open July and August) are already filling up for summer 2021, which has put me into a frenzy of camp decision making and planning.

I remember back in the olden days when January was the time to get serious about camp registration. That was what, five years ago? Six? Can’t we go back to that?

I thought I had made this decision last year. Of course, camp was cancelled last summer and our money refunded, but I had no reason to change our choice of camp… until R got involved. She’s been begging to go to the same camp as one of her friends. As it happens, it was not our top choice of camp last year. Now the decision has been opened up again.

Have I mentioned that I hate making decisions?

I went back to all of the camp websites and read them over. I created a spreadsheet. But kids don’t really know what to do with a spreadsheet; I needed a simple way to compare the kids’ values with what was offered at camp. Behold the solution:

Obviously I only picked the things that I thought might be different enough at various camps to matter. I didn’t bother asking the kids about food preferences, because they’re all going to be pretty much the same. Likewise, I didn’t include things like sports facilities, because my kids just don’t care that much about sports.

Each child was asked to circle their answers on the likert scale, with the far left unhappy face meaning “I don’t want that at all,” the middle meaning “Doesn’t matter to me,” and the far right, “I really really want this.” While they were circling their answers, I took one form for each camp and filled in the likert scale with black marker.

Now, the magic part. Look what happens when you put the kid’s form on top of the camp form and hold them up to a light source:

See how the camp’s answers show through? I can see how closely a child’s expectations align with what the camp has to offer: if a face is both shaded and circled, that item is a perfect match. Now I just have to compare each kids’ form with each of the four camps’ forms and see which camp is the best fit.

This is what marriage to an engineer has done to me. Where decisions like this used to paralyze me, I now have a method to help me solve them: measure first, then use the data. I still don’t like making decisions, but at least now I know how!