Archives for October 2012

Scary, Scary Words

Happy Halloween! In honour of the holiday, I thought I’d take a walk on the spooky side. I’m not a fan of horror movies, but there is plenty of scary stuff in the life of a parent. There are some words, for instance, that may not have been at all alarming pre-kids. But now that we have children, these phrases will cause most of us to break out into a cold sweat. Today, I have gathered some of those words here, and the resulting post is not for the faint of heart. Read on … if you dare.

scary words happy halloween strocel.com

The Scariest Words a Parent Can Hear

  • Honey, my work is sending me out of town for three weeks.
  • Double extra bonus points – The work trip overlaps Junior’s birthday party, so I won’t be able to help out.
  • Time to go for a swim, telephone. Cue sound of flushing toilet.
  • Dry clean only.
  • Here, baby brother, let me give you haircut.
  • Daddy, Daddy, I found the permanent markers! (Thanks for the inspiration.)
  • No public restrooms.
  • Oh, Mom, I forgot to tell you, I need to bring cookies to school tomorrow. They can’t contain nuts, dairy, soy, eggs or sugar.
  • Mom, do you really like that blue dress? Yes, I do. Why do you ask? Um … nothing.
  • Overseas flight.
  • Oops, that wasn’t just a fart.
  • Upon answering the door. Hi, I’m your neighbour. I thought you might want to know that your three-year-old is running naked down the street.
  • Daylight savings time.
  • Here, doggy, have some of my chocolate.
  • Some assembly required.
  • We are out of wine.

What words strike fear into your parental heart?

Happy Halloween!

Kids, Chores and Allowances

When my daughter Hannah turned four years old I decided to start giving her an allowance. I started with $2.00 each week, thinking it would be enough that she could save up a little and buy something she liked, but not enough to flood my home with cheap plastic crap. In retrospect, I don’t know what I was thinking. She discovered the toy section at Value Village in pretty short order, with its multitude of cheap toys, and within a couple of months my home was quickly filling up with her purchases. And while she very quickly cottoned on to the fact that she could buy stuff, she was still far too young to really understood how money worked.

The allowance ended up going on hiatus for a couple of years. When Hannah was six years old or so, we started up again. I’m thinking I’ll start giving Jacob an allowance once he’s around six years old, as well. The second time around, I decided to go with a monthly allowance, mostly because it’s easier for me. I don’t have to come up with exact change every week, and I can pay her in paper money, which also happens to be a lot lighter. Right now, she gets $15 each month. Sometimes I think that may even be a little bit more than is necessary, but since it’s established at this point I can’t very well go back.

As a seven-year-old, Hannah is actually starting to understand how money works. She’s also getting pretty good at understanding how much money is worth. She can figure out how much she has, and whether or not that’s enough to pay for something she wants. When it isn’t, she will save up her allowance until she can afford to buy the object of her desire. For example, she recently saved up for three months in order to buy herself a bear at Build-a-Bear. It was her first, because that is something that I am not willing to buy.

Cleaning up afterward

One recommendation that a lot of financial experts make around allowances is to set up a system of saving and spending for kids. The “three piggy bank” approach is especially popular. The idea is that your kids allowance is divided into three categories, usually spending, saving and sharing. The “spending” money is theirs to do with as they wish. The “saving” category is to save up for something special. The “sharing” is for charitable giving. In the process, you’re trying to instill good financial habits and generosity in your kids.

Personally, I have rejected the three piggy bank approach. For one thing, it’s more work for me, because it would mean that I need to make sure that I give the money in the exact amount for dividing. But for another, I think that the lesson around spending and saving is automatically built into an allowance. If Hannah spends all her money, it’s gone and she can’t afford something really big. To get that Build-a-Bear she needed to plan ahead. I kind of like the idea of teaching my kids to be generous, but there are other ways to do that, such as modeling it for them, or volunteering together.

In October I’ve gotten serious about getting my kids involved in keeping our house clean. They don’t have assigned chores yet per se, but I think I am headed in that direction. For now, I give them jobs that vary with the situation and my mood. Getting my kids to help makes my life easier. It also helps to teach them responsibility, and teaches them how to do basic household tasks. The idea is that by the time they leave my house, they’ll already know how to use the washing machine, how to vacuum and how to cook, for example.

kids chores allowance strocel.com

I don’t tie my kids’ allowance and chores together. There’s a debate on this, and I come down on the side of separating money from housework. I believe family chores are something that we all need to do, because we all live together as a family. I don’t get paid for housework, and I’m not paying my kids for it. Plus, it’s not optional. They can’t opt out of helping set the table and just take a cut in pay. Mostly, though, I don’t want to have to police how much work they’ve done, and haven’t done, and how much money they’re owed as a result.

It’s important to me that my children develop good financial habits, and a healthy work ethic. I’m doing my best to teach them. Truthfully, though, I don’t know how well it’s going. Maybe one day I’ll regret not setting up the three piggy banks, or not requiring them to work for their money. Maybe one day I’ll wish I had been more stringent with chores and set up a jobs chart when they were still toddlers. I don’t know. For now, I’m just doing what makes sense to me, and doesn’t make my life too hard, and hoping that my kids are learning something. Honestly, I think that’s all that we can really do as parents most of the time.

Do you give your kids an allowance? Do your kids have regular chores? And do you tie allowance to chores? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Things I Love About Having Kids

A lot of what I write here on Strocel.com covers the trials and tribulations of raising children. After all, as any parent can tell you, there are a lot of trials and tribulations. The job involves, among other things, sleep deprivation, loss of bathroom privacy, public embarrassment and a whole lot of expense. But any parent can also tell you that’s not the whole story. Sometimes having kids is a lot of fun. Today I’m writing about the fun stuff.

The Fun Parts of Having Kids

Here are some of the things that I really enjoy about having kids. They’re not deep or meaningful. We all know that becoming a parent is a life-altering and awe-inspiring experience, and that it teaches us things about life and the universe and ourselves. I don’t need to write about that. Instead, I’m writing about the small ways that being a parent brightens my life.

1. Better Holidays

Special occasions are way more fun with kids. I’m not just talking about the big ones like Christmas, either. Children get into every celebration, from Groundhog Day to Halloween to Canada Day to your birthday. They’re always looking for a reason to celebrate. That spirit is infectious. When you’re dressed in green from head-to-toe and preparing an Irish-themed dinner, I defy you not to smile, at least a little.

2. Playing With ToysLight saber battle

I don’t remember exactly when, but sometime in early adolescence I stopped playing with toys, because I wanted to appear “grown up”. Now that I have kids, though, I have a ready-made excuse to get down on the floor and build something with Lego, or re-arrange furniture in a dollhouse. Plus, now that I really am a grown up, I also get to buy the toys. Those things I always wanted? Now I have them.

3. Adorable Clothes

Children’s clothing is the cutest. I have a particular weakness for itty-bitty shoes. While dressing myself is always a little fraught, thanks to the fact that I have my own share of body image issues, I have none of that when I buy clothes for my kids. Dressing them is totally playful. Plus there’s the extra fun of the signature looks they create when they start dressing themselves. I wouldn’t wear two different shoes, but my kids would.

4. Children’s LiteratureReading at the school open house #latergram

I love children’s literature. Sharing some of my favourite books with my kids, and discovering new ones together, is so much fun. I often find myself flipping ahead in the chapter books I read my daughter because I’m all caught up in the story and I want to see what happens next. And picture books, filled with amazing illustrations and hilarious or heart-warming stories, are always good for a little bit of fun.

5. The Stuff Kids Say

Kids, as the old TV show title affirms, say the darnedest things. Like the time recently when my son looked at me very gravely and said, “Mama, you are not the best Daddy.” Or the time that my then-two-year-old daughter Hannah decided that the new lines on the soccer field had been drawn there by fairies. If you can’t laugh you’ll cry – but luckily my kids keep me laughing, without even really meaning to.

There are lots of other things I love about having kids, but I’ll leave it at that for now, because I’d like to open it to you. What parts of having kids are the most fun for you?

Podcast: Kate Hopper on Writing and Motherhood

This week on the Strocel.com Podcast I’m speaking with Kate Hopper. She’s a writing instructor, blogger and the author of Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers.

podcast Kate Hopper Use Your WordsAs a blogger, I get a fair number of pitches. When I got the pitch for Use Your Words, I was intrigued. However, I didn’t fully understand from the email what the book was about. I thought maybe I would skim through my review copy to prepare for my podcast with Kate, and then pass it along. Once I held it in my hands and started looking at it, though, I knew I was keeping it. This book is part writing anthology, part writing text, and part literary coach. Each chapter contains pieces from published authors, writing craft tips, and writing exercises. Whether you’re thinking you’d like to start a blog, you’re a blogger who’d like to take your writing to another platform, or you’d just like to improve your writing, you’ll find something in Kate’s book.

podcast kate hopper use your wordsI was excited to have the chance to sit down and chat with Kate. We talked about a whole lot of things: why writing about motherhood isn’t taken seriously, how mothers can hone their writing, how to find time to write when you have a whole lot of other commitments on your plate, and how you share your story while honouring your children’s privacy. As a writing teacher who runs classes specifically for mothers, Kate had a lot of great tips and ideas to share. She inspired me to work on my own writing, and I’m feeling pretty grateful for that.

You don’t have to be a blogger or a paid writer to put your words to paper or keyboard. As parents, recording our family memoirs is a great idea whether you share them publicly or not. Kate can help you get started, and give you tools so that the finished result is something your kids will really enjoy reading someday. Whether you’re a writer or not, I think you’ll find something to take away from this podcast. I enjoyed recording it immensely. While the sound quality is a little lacking, I hope you’ll take the time to listen, because the take-aways will be worth it:

I’m working on several interviews for next week, and I’m not completely positive which one will be running first. I do promise that whatever it is, it will be worth tuning in for. Subscribe to the Strocel.com Podast in iTunes and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions.

The Enviro-Mama Confessional

It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday, and today I am stepping into the confessional. Sometimes I fear that when I’m writing here I’m projecting something that isn’t real. I fear that I’m projecting a level of environmental perfection that just doesn’t exist. While I do really try to live a green lifestyle, I would hate to come across as judgmental or preachy as I write here about green topics. The truth is that I am really in no position to judge anyone.

I’m actually not the perfect green mom. I do the best I can, but I live in a suburban neighbourhood in a developed country. Like most other people in my situation, I’m using far more resources than the earth can afford. My lifestyle is far from carbon-neutral. So come into my confessional, as I come clean on the ways that I fall short.

The Enviro-Mama Confessional

1. Sometimes, when there’s something really, really icky rotting in a container in the back of my fridge, I just throw the whole thing in the garbage. Yes, I could hold my nose and try to dump it into the compost, while trying not to gag. And I could try to scrape the 15 layers of green mold off the sides of the container and wash it for re-use. Or, failing that, I could at least recycle the container, since many are recyclable. But on some occasions it’s just too gross and I don’t.

Confessional my attempt at homemade poutine2. I store food in plastic. I know that there are lots of chemicals in plastic, that could be leaching into the food. But there’s no way I’m going to be able to fit 40 pounds of blueberries into my deep freeze if I use plastic jars. And while I have some glass containers, when I send them to school with my kids (1) they can break and (2) their backpacks are really heavy. And I haven’t found stainless steel containers that I like. Plus, replacing my existing plastic containers would be pricy.

3. I eat meat. While I do try to eat less meat, I still have it at least five or six times a week. And when I’m not eating meat, I’m often eating eggs or dairy, so I’m just replacing one animal product with another. Meat production is a major contributor to climate change, so I feel guilty about this. But for a variety of reasons I’m not ready to go vegetarian.

4. I average at least one car trip a day, maybe more. Since my husband and I each have our own cars, it’s just so much easier to drive than it is to wrangle two kids on to public transit. As the rains start to fall on Vancouver, and the kids get into their activities for the school year, I’m spending even more time in my car than I did over the summer.

Sushi with kick5. I adore take-out sushi. It’s one of the few fast food meals my whole family can – and will – eat. Plus, I feel that compared to most other fast food options, it’s fairly healthy. When I’m not up to cooking, and I’m also not up to sitting in a restaurant with two kids, it’s the perfect answer. But it comes in styrofoam containers, which go straight to the landfill.

6. I have never made my own home cleaning products. I do use things like vinegar and baking soda in cleaning, and I try to buy greener brands for almost everything. But you won’t catch me mixing up homemade laundry detergent or floor cleaner. I’m sure it’s fun and easy, but I just can’t muster the energy to make it happen.

These are far from all of my environmental sins, but they should be more than enough to give you a picture of my failings. Honestly, though, in the end I don’t think it’s fruitful to beat ourselves up for the things we don’t do. If we allow ourselves to become overly focused on the idea that we can never do enough, it’s a short leap to believing that our actions don’t matter. I think we’ll get a lot farther by focusing on the little things we can do. Those little things add up.

In the spirit of sharing, and without beating yourself up, I invite you to step into my confessional. Share your green sins. I promise, no one will judge you!

Places I Have Found Rotting Fruit

When you’re a parent, you find yourself saying What is that smell? rather a lot. In fairly short order, you learn that you probably don’t want to know the answer. You also learn that regardless of what is causing that smell, it is probably going to be up to you to deal with it. Lucky you!

When I find myself scrunching up my nose and saying What is that smell?, the answer is often rotting fruit. A smart parent would impose a rule that says we only eat at the table, but apparently I am not a smart parent. I try to discourage the consumption of messy food over carpeted areas, and in good weather I’ll send my kids outside with anything drippy and sticky, but I’m sort of haphazard about it. On top of that I have a fruits and vegetables are okay anytime policy, because I always want my kids to eat more fruit and veggies. All of this means that it’s not unusual for a child to wander off with an apple somewhere in my house, to eat while they play.

Of course, children being children, when they head off to eat an apple they rarely finish it, and it often doesn’t occur to them to properly compost the leftovers. They’re busy playing, or creating, or practicing standing on their heads. They don’t have time to think about cleaning up. And so, I’ve found rotting fruit in more places than I care to remember. Just for fun – or possibly because I like to torture myself – I thought I’d list all of the rotting fruit hideouts that I can remember.

adorable little leavers of rotting fruit
It’s a good thing they’re so adorable

Places I Have Found Rotting Fruit

  • In the toy box
  • Under the couch, in both the living room and the family room
  • In between the car seats in my car
  • Under beds
  • Behind the entertainment unit in the living room
  • In the play kitchen
  • Under the kids’ stools in the actual kitchen
  • On bookshelves
  • On dressers
  • Under dressers
  • In one of my shoes
  • In my purse – and no, I didn’t put it there
  • Behind my computer
  • In the dirty laundry
  • Mixed in with the art supplies
  • Inside the school backpacks

I’m sure I’m forgetting some rotting fruit hiding places. They were probably so traumatic that I’ve erased them from my memory. I’m thinking it’s better that way.

What about you – what places have you found rotting fruit, or half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches, or goldfish crackers? I could use some commiseration!

Tears, Smells and Fluorescent Lights

Yesterday I interviewed Kate Hopper, author of Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. I’ll be sharing our conversation in an upcoming podcast. Today, I’ve been inspired by her to complete a writing exercise, which I’m sharing in this post.

Some smells have a way of instantly transporting me back to a time and place. The sanitized smell of cleaning products and new toys, for instance, brings me back to my daughter Hannah’s first day of daycare. She was two weeks shy of her first birthday when we started gradual entry in a new centre not far from our house. Easing her in was supposed to make the whole thing smoother. On the first day her father and I would bring her, and stay to play for half an hour. Once she was settled in and happy we would leave for an hour or so, just long enough for her to get her feet wet.

Ponytail at 11 1/2 monthsAs I walked into the new centre, I carried her new backpack. She seemed far too young for it, not even walking yet. I had written her name on the back in Sharpie, punctuated by a smiley face. Somehow, I hoped the smiley face portended good things and happy days, while she was away from me. I could still detect that strong marker smell mingled with the rubbery smell of the new backpack as I walked down the hall, my baby on my hip, inhaling the daycare through my nose. The whole place was so different than our home. So institutional. I was putting on a brave face, but I didn’t want to be there. All of the brightly-coloured mats and decorations hit me like a slap to the face, their cheeriness standing in sharp contrast to my mood.

While my daughter played happily beside me, exploring her new space, dread grew in my stomach, starting as a small knot no larger than a pebble, and expanding until I could feel it in my whole torso, a ball of maternal anxiety. I knew that eventually the moment would come when we had to leave, and Hannah and to stay. Soon enough it did. My husband held my hand as we walked back down the long, dim hallway towards the door, long ribbons of light from fluorescent bulbs marking our path. Tears stung my eyes, sharp and hot, fighting to get out. I held them back, just barely, until the heavy blue door swung shut behind me. Then they fell unimpeded, and my nose started to run. As the cold air hit my face my mind travelled back to a different afternoon, eleven and a half months before.

It is just after lunch. I am wearing actual clothes for the first time in five days. I am in another place that is very institutional. The same smell of sanitization fills my nose. The same sorts of fluorescent lights give off a faint buzzing sound overhead. I’m leaning on my husband, still not having recovered fully from giving birth and then hemorrhaging severely. Until yesterday, I was wheeled around in a wheelchair if I had to go farther than three steps from my hospital bed, since no one trusted me to stand on my own two feet without collapsing. Now, I’m wearing maternity clothes and walking down the hallway slowly, since I have been declared ready to go home. My daughter is one floor below me in the NICU, under the bili lights. No one knows when she will be ready to leave.

Hannah needs to tan

I stop at the nurses’ station to let them know that I’ve finally managed to gather my things and I’m leaving. A nurse that I don’t recognize looks up brightly and asks, “Do you need any help setting up the car seat?” It hits me full force in the gut, an emotional punch that she didn’t intend to throw. While the cold, bright winter sun shines through the window behind her, my face crumples. On this day, I am too exhausted, physically and emotionally, to play at being okay with leaving my baby behind. I start crying, and the nurse’s smile is wiped away by a look of surprise and dismay. Another nurse explains to her that my baby is not coming home with me.

As I looked out the car window, my husband driving me away from the daycare on another cold, February day almost a year later, I cried for all of it. I cried out the pain of leaving my baby in the NICU, and the pain and worry of returning to work and leaving my baby behind after a year-long maternity leave. Once again I was driving away from an institutional building, knowing that it was what had to be done, wishing it weren’t the case. My throat was painful and tight as I cried, and a tear fell into my mouth, salty and warm. The taste of sadness. The taste of the moment when you have to muster the strength to walk away when you’d rather go running back. The taste of motherhood, and the ways that it sometimes chews you up whole and spits you back out. Tears, smells and fluorescent lights, and a tiny little girl that I didn’t want to leave.

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