Homeschool · Keepin' it real · parenting · Sartorial stuff

Day 490: Books! Pockets! Happiness!

There are a lot of jokes about how you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a [insert item here] and that’s pretty much the same thing. If that’s true, I didn’t buy myself happiness this month, but I bought kind of the same thing, because I got two boxes of books, and dresses with pockets.

First, the dresses: I took this photo the day after my first dress was delivered to my front porch. It has two pockets that don’t bulge or show at all even when full, and nice wide straps to hide a bra if one wants to wear such a thing. It’s also constructed so well that bras are optional when wearing it. I picked a pink and purple batik fabric because the world needs more colour, doesn’t it?

The books are an assortment of reference books and children’s books that relate to my curriculum plans for this year. I bought them from an online discount book seller, so it was nowhere near as expensive as if I had ordered from Indigo or any other retailer. Getting these books for $5-$10 each gives me permission to buy extras, right?

Yesterday, after I examined the nicest book of the bunch, I essentially became my dad.

“E, come here. Isn’t this beautiful? It’s our new atlas!”

Yes, I got super excited about an atlas. The Times Concise Atlas of the World, to be exact. There are satellite images and maps of all kinds of things like tectonic plate borders. It’s so cool! And yet, E politely came over to the table when I called her, peered at a couple of pages, feigned a modicum of interest, and then… walked away.

I don’t know why she’s not more excited about seeing our world depicted in all these different ways; I do know, however, that I wouldn’t have been excited at her age. I have many memories of my dad urging me to appreciate what a beautiful dictionary/atlas/nature guide he was holding, and me thinking, “When can I go play?” Sorry, dad. I get it now. Maybe we can look at my new atlas together.

Camping it up · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 480: Monologuing

Today the kids’ overnight camp sent us an email with a link to view pictures of the last few days at camp. I clicked immediately, of course. Had you been inside my head at the time, you’d have heard the following.

Let’s start with July 9. Not my kid… not my kid… not my kid… oh, that’s my friend’s kid. He’s in N’s cabin. N must be somewhere in this set. Hmm… they’re playing basketball… his friend has the ball… where is N?

Oh, there he is. Of course. He’s standing on the bleachers—wearing fuzzy pajama pants and a fedora—chatting with another boy. Why am I not surprised?

Moving on…

That redheaded girl looks familiar. Oh! That’s R’s bestie. I bet R will be in a few pics from this batch.

I’d know that bathing suit anywhere. Nice to see that R is wearing her long-sleeved sun protection suit. Oh, and here’s one of her and her friend snuggled together in a beach towel… and here they are, learning how to play volleyball. Better them than me—I hate volleyball.

There’s K. The fuzzy purple sweater was a dead giveaway; it makes her look like she’s part Muppet, and the shaggy hair does nothing to combat that image. Oh, look—she’s making a boomerang in woodshop. They’d better not be teaching her how to use it.

Everyone’s dressed up and looking clean—must be Shabbat. Why is everyone but N sitting in their folding camp chair? Did his chair ever make it to his cabin after we dropped it off? Well, at least his tuxedo-printed t-shirt looks dressy.

While I was perusing the photos, I got a call from camp.

“Everything’s fine! I just wanted to tell you how K is doing.”

Apparently K has rated camp at a 7/10 because of COVID but was adamant that it could never score 10/10 because she’s not allowed to have her phone with her. Furthermore, she’s already identified the unequal treatment of campers based on gender (boys are allowed to walk around shirtless, while girls can’t wear crop tops.) Not that I was worried about her adjusting to camp, but it’s still reassuring to know that K is comfortable enough at camp to be herself… her injustice-detecting, opinionated, phone-loving self.

I wrote each of them a letter and packed it with their stationery, so K, N, and R will see my letter as soon as they open up their kit to write one to me. Still, I should probably write to them again soon.

Or I could just print and send all of my recent blog posts. They might like that better.

Mr. December and I got our second COVID shots today. If you don’t hear from me tomorrow, don’t worry—I hear the fever and chills rarely last longer than a day.

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.
family fun · mental health · parenting · waxing philosophical · weight loss

Day 399: Picture Me

I’m very picky about what pictures of myself I allow to be seen. They should be taken from slightly above me, so I don’t have a double chin, and never in profile, because then my belly looks huge. These are the things I look at first every time I see a picture of myself.

I’ve learned to get creative when posing for family pictures. Having small children helps, because they’re so willing to stand in front of me and be hugged. I’ve hidden behind my kids, my husband, my guitar, and my bike. Even then, I demand veto power before any photos are shared. At least, I try to.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want my great-grandchildren to look at me and say, “Why do we only see her from the shoulders up?” and then learn that I was ashamed to let my body show because I was fatter than the current fashion. It’s reasonable to assume that at least some of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren might resemble me, right down to body type. Am I being ridiculous to think that if they see me effectively hiding my body in every picture, they might infer that there’s something wrong with our shared shape?

Maybe the opposite is true, too: maybe they’ll see me, with a double chin and a belly, and say, “That was my great-grandmother. She did so many cool things—music, and building stuff, and quilting, and homeschooling my grandma—and look, she’s got the same chin as me. And she had a belly, too, like I do. And she’s so pretty. That must mean I’m pretty too.”

Of course, I’d be even happier if it didn’t occur to my great-grandkids to judge themselves based on where they carry their extra weight. But in order for that to happen, I first have to raise kids who know better, too, which means that I have to step up and model how I think we should relate to our bodies.

That means no more asking, “Do I look fat in this dress?”; not obsessing over or cataloguing every morsel of food I ingest; not calling myself “bad” for eating an extra slice of cheesecake; and not acting like my body shape and size is so unacceptable that I have to hide it. Not that I plan to wear skintight, revealing clothing from now on—that’s never been my thing, even when I’ve been slim—but I don’t have to choose clothes solely based on how well they hide my fat. My body isn’t wrong, it’s not broken, and I’m not less deserving of being seen because I wear a size fourteen or sixteen instead of a six or eight.

Which brings us back to pictures of me. This evening after dinner we took R and E to the park. I was wearing the dress I bought from eShakti, which might well be my favourite piece of clothing. It’s super comfortable, it has a huge pocket, and the skirt is flowy. I was sitting on the bench with Mr. December, the breeze playing with my hair, and all at once I just felt… pretty.

“I’ve got a dilemma,” I told Mr. December. “I feel so pretty right now, and I think I want you to take a picture of me. Then again, what if you take the picture and I see that I don’t look nearly as pretty as I feel?”

Which is ridiculous, because that would be conflating beauty with size, which are not mutually exclusive. I have quite a few friends and relatives who aren’t thin, and many of them are just gorgeous, full stop. I love and admire them. They don’t need to change their bodies. Their beauty isn’t conditional on their weight. Why, then, have I always felt like mine is?

In the end, the joy of the moment won out over my fat phobia, and I posed for a few pictures. I’m sharing them with you here, deliberately including the ones that I would normally edit out, because I need to learn to see my own beauty with the extra chin and the fat, instead of seeing my beauty despite it.

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 na├»vely 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.

family fun · Kids · parenting

Day 360: So Long, Shantytown…

The day after my kids built their epic fort, they rebuilt it to be bigger and better. Suddenly my living room resembled nothing so much as a shantytown. This fort-turned-shantytown had a separate room for each kids as well as a guest room for Mr. December to sleep in, which he did. Not me. I value my sleep too highly. Thank God I’m married to a man who’s willing to do all these things for our kids, so that I can continue to be a wet blanket.

The shantytown. Image description: couches and chairs draped with blankets and sheets, forming a huge fort. Kids in the foreground.

Actually, it was a cute sleepover that involved storytelling games, snacks, and the girls doing Mr. December’s hair (more on that in a future post.)

The shantytown stayed up all weekend; I just gave the demolition order this afternoon. The kids worked diligently for a few minutes, but now they’re sitting in a circle chatting. Everytime I see them behaving like friends (instead of just siblings) I’m loath to break it up, but I really need my living room back.

At this very moment Mr. December is reminding the kids of how cool we are as parents who allow them to do this sort of thing. He’s playing the “with privilege comes responsibility” card and making it clear that there won’t be any more of these epic forts if we know they won’t get cleaned up. E has jumped up and started taking stuff back to the basement; the other three are taking a bit longer to get moving. It doesn’t matter, though; one way or another, the most epic fort ever is coming down tonight.

Image description: a large room with two couches on their fronts, a small mattress, and a child moving another mattress covered with towels and blankets. There are two children sitting on the side.
Kids · love and marriage · parenting · The COVID files · waxing philosophical

Day 353: Re-evaluating

I’m moving into a different phase of life, it seems. E isn’t a baby anymore. Gone are the days of endless diapers and drooly kisses. I realized only today that it’s time to re-evaluate some of my personal rules that have served me well since 2008. Among them:

Only buying super cheap clothes because “someone is going to vomit all over it or flick paint at it or touch it with greasy little hands, and I’ll be sad if I spent more than $5 on my shirt and only wore it twice before it was ruined.”

Not using any kind of face moisturizer because my toddlers’ idea of a kiss involved a very open mouth and far more tongue than is appropriate for a non-romantic relationship.

Not wearing jewellery because it would scratch my babies’ faces when I held them, or because the kids would chew on it and get who-knows-what metals in their mouths (especially in the case of costume jewellery.)

See what I mean? Those rules need to change.

I’m actually entering a phase of buying more expensive clothes because I finally feel confident that I’ll be able to wear the same things for years. These days the only person getting paint on my clothes is me, and if I can’t take two minutes to change or put on a smock before painting, I can only blame myself for the resulting stains. And Mr. December and I are increasingly trying to buy clothes (and other things) produced by people who were actually paid a living wage. Locally made clothes, too, if possible. That stuff doesn’t come cheap.

On the moisturizer front, well, when I decided to stop using it I was twenty-eight years old. Now I’m forty-one and my skin isn’t as elastic as it used to be. It’s also brutally dry here in the winter and it shows on my face, which gets itchy when it’s dry. The no-moisturizer rule should probably be retired, at least until I have grandbabies who want to lick my face (yes, that’s way off in the future. Yes, I’m looking forward to it.)

And jewellery… that’s kind of laughable these days, when I have zero special occasions to attend and therefore very little need to dress up; I haven’t yet become so bored and despondent as to dress up in formalwear to take out the garbage. I guess I could wear jewellery just because, but that’s not really me. I’m much more practical and streamlined on an average day.

A few of my personal rules that are definitely keepers:

Anybody who wakes me up on a weekend had better be having an emergency. I need my sleep. And my kids need to learn what constitutes an “emergency” lest they become adults who call 911 because their neighbour was rude.

The kids’ job is to play. I’m the mom, and my job is to do mom stuff. I’m not the cruise director or the playmate. Even with older kids—especially with older kids—I assert my right to not have to play games that make me long for the sweet succor of the dentist’s chair.

My marriage predates my kids, and it needs to outlast their childhoods. That’s basically my catchphrase when one of the kids is trying to interrupt a hug or kiss between me and Mr. December. “My marriage predates you,” I say to the kids, “wait your turn.” I sure as heck hope that’s a good way to model marital felicity, because I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

What are your personal rules? And how often do they change?

el cheapo · Kids · parenting · The COVID files

Day 351: Spending Their Own Money

“Can you buy me more Robux?” says one of my kids every month.

In case you don’t know, Robux is a currency used in the game Roblox. As far as I understand, my kids are mostly using their Robux to upgrade their avatars (on-screen characters,) and maybe to play certain upgraded games. Whatever they’re using them for, the kids seem to need more Robux every month or so. And since we’re the bank where they keep their money, we have to be involved in the transaction.

There is no way Mr. December and I would choose to spend our money this way; but we decided long ago that if our kids have their own money (from birthday and Chanukah gifts, mostly,) they get to decide how to spend it. It’s better for them to learn about money and value and utility now while the stakes are low; when you’re a kid, being flat broke just means being without spending money (as opposed to lacking money for food and rent.) We’ve accepted that they’re going to spend some of their money on things that we think are foolish: that’s part of the learning experience.

There are still times when we get the urge to say, “No, we won’t let you buy that.” There are things we view as a colossal waste of money, and Robux is one of them. But if our philosophy is that they have to be able to choose what to do with their own money, then we have to stand back. That does not mean that we won’t give them our opinion, though.

“Seriously? That’s a lot of money to spend on a video game that you might not even like anymore in two weeks.”

“Do you feel like that’s worth it?”

“That’s a lot of money. Abba has to work for an hour to earn that much.”

“Why don’t you think about it for a few days and then if you still want it, you can buy it.”

That last one was Mr. December, this morning, trying to impose a cooling-off period on R. I thought that was a pretty good strategy: it’s still her money and he’s not saying no, just suggesting that she think about it.

When I think about it, though, it’s not such an unreasonable spend. How different is her buying Robux from her going to a movie with her friends and buying popcorn too? That’s $20 (including tax) for under two hours of entertainment; she’ll certainly get a better hourly rate for the Robux, considering how many hours (SO many hours) she spends playing Roblox. If I think a movie with friends is a reasonable expenditure, why not Roblox with friends—especially when it’s the only way she can even “see” her friends these days?

family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · snarky

Day 313: Let’s Not Pretend.

I played pretend with E this afternoon. It was agonizing.

In case you’ve forgotten, I do not like playing make-believe with my kids. I’ll happily jam on musical instruments, play a board game or a party game, play cards… that’s all good. But playing “house” or “school” or “family”? No, thank you.

I understand that kids learn through play, and that they use play to rehearse scenarios they encounter in their life. When my kids play (which they do, often) I hear them learning to negotiate roles, establish common assumptions, and take turns leading and following. It makes me unspeakably happy to hear them playing made-up games with each other. I just don’t want any part in it.

Anytime I hear them playing “family” and R (always the mom) tells the others to clean their rooms, I think, “Why is this happening in imaginary play? They have real rooms that really need to be cleaned!” One time many years ago K came up to me and said, “Eema, let’s play pretend. Let’s pretend you’re my mom, and I’m your daughter.” I stared at her blankly for a moment, blinked, and said rather obtusely, “But I am your mom, and you are my daughter. Why are we pretending?” She left me for an easier quarry: her dad.

Mr. December is great at playing with the kids. He’ll pretend to be anything or anyone. He really gets into the game and he can play for an hour, no problem. He got that ability from his parents, both of whom are amazing at playing with the kids. My mother-in-law will sit with them for hours while they play Barbies. Me? I’m crawling out of my skin after five minutes.

And yet some days I feel guilty saying no to an invitation to play. They’re inviting me into their world, right? I should show an interest, right? That line of thinking is what got me playing “house and store” with E.

First we shopped for fabric food and miniature housewares. E was running the cash and actually calculated my change from $10 (I owed $6, she gave me back $4) with ease. That part was cool. Then she said, “Okay, now I’m the mom again and we’re going home,” and I obligingly followed her into her little house under the stairs. That’s where I was when I really started wanting out. I just couldn’t feign interest anymore—so I feigned a nap instead.

“Mom?” I asked her in my best imaginary-kid voice, “I don’t feel so good. Can I lie down in bed while you cook dinner?”

“Of course, honey. Maybe I should check you out.” She ran for her doctor-themed Kiwi crate and used her homemade stethoscope to make sure I was okay. Then, with her blessing, I cozied up on a mat in the corner of her playhouse and closed my eyes… and fell asleep. For real.

I vaguely remember her talking to me. At one point she had to go back to the “store” and she brought in a giant elephant stuffie to babysit me. Then Mr. December came in and laughed at me. I cared not at all. I was having a delicious nap and was still earning brownie points with my six-year-old for being part of her game.

It’s not the most brilliant parenting hack, but this might just get me through the rest of the “playing pretend” years with my sanity intact. I still plan to decline invitations to play most of the time, but on the rare occasion where I feel I really ought to join them, I now know that I can take on the role of the sick or tired child… or a tree that got chopped down and is lying on the forest floor… or the dead body in a murder mystery… or the doctor’s secretary who is glued to Facebook instead of attending to patients… or I could just play the mom who hates playing pretend. Problem solved.

Apathy · Keepin' it real · Kids · mental health · parenting · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 297: Get Outside

I’m not the only one in this family feeling the strain, and it’s really starting to show. A few nights ago I asked E to get ready for bed; she dug in her heels and refused, then began to cry. Eventually she calmed down and when I asked her what happened, she answered tearfully, “You know, Eema, I’ve just had a really stressful day.” Not what you want to hear from your six-year-old.

Last night we were reading in bed after tucking in all the kids. After knocking on our door, R came in and jumped onto our bed for a hug. She does this from time to time, coming in for a few hugs and then going to bed. Last night was different, though: at one point she started to cry, but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell me what was bothering her. She ended up sleeping on a mattress on our bedroom floor.

N begged me to stay with him until he fell asleep last night, but I suspect that has more to do with Mr. December’s choice of movie—Contagion—to watch with N and K than it does with any kind of lockdown-related angst.

And K… well, she’s a teenager now, which means emotional outbursts are par for the course. Come to think of it, outbursts have been par for the course for a long time with her: ADHD will do that. Bottom line: I don’t know where “normal” teenage reactions end and “crisis” reactions to COVID restrictions begin.

We forced the kids outside today. The sun was shining and it was above zero. Still, the kids resisted. They begged us to let them keep playing Roblox. They insisted they weren’t going anywhere. E cried in frustration. I don’t remember how we did it, but we somehow got all of them outside. Some of us went for a walk, others played on the trampoline and swings, and still others sat on the porch, reading; but we all got outside, and it did us good.

We should be getting everyone outside every day, rain or shine, but it’s just so difficult to get the kids to do it that on my more depressive days I can’t summon the strength of will to outlast them. I hope that one of these days they’ll realize how much better they feel when they have some outdoor time, but I’m not holding my breath. Maybe I’ll just make screen time contingent on having spent a certain amount of time outside.

After dinner tonight R came to me and asked permission to play on the computer again. I said no. She nagged, she begged, she cried. I stood firm. It was a rough half-hour, but as I type she’s sitting on the floor with a book while the Secret Garden Broadway cast recording plays. N is reading too, and E is inventing a game with random small objects on the coffee table. I haven’t heard “Can I play Among Us?” in at least an hour.

I wonder what life would look like in our house if I just took away the computers. I don’t know if I have the fortitude right now to withstand the whining and nagging that would surely ensue, but it’s very tempting.