Poem of the Month: Penguin Costume

Recently I re-embraced my adolescent love of writing poetry. Many of them are written just for me, but I have written enough that are not as personal and I’d like to share some of them. And so, a blog series is born. These aren’t necessarily my deepest poems, but I do enjoy each of them.

And now, here is this month’s poem, which I wrote after a trip to the aquarium with my children. I was playing with rhythm and rhyme on this one, and I had a good time writing it.

poetry vancouver aquarium

Penguin Costume

Leave me alone with my lapsang souchong
I departed from home six very long
Hours ago, wee chestnuts shouting their glee
Contagious excitement – what could go wrong?

Minivans aren’t glamourous, but we three
Each have our own row and I am gutsy
Hands clasped tight on the wheel, all lesser cars
Are forced to yield, compacts make way for me.

The day – a blur of otters and sea stars
And entrenched, never-ending sibling wars
Over whether we get ice cream later
Or get it right away and I feel far

From zen. “We’re NOT going to the theatre!”
I am not playing conciliator
Nearly half so well as a mother should,
I’ve become impatient, turned dictator.

Back to the car! But Mom, please please please would
You buy me this snow globe it looks so good
Or a penguin? I can’t stand to prolong
The whining which of course they understood.

Holidays and Sick Days

I had grand plans this holiday season. Grand plans. With my daughter now almost 11 years old, we were going to bake together. Oh yes, we were! Or perhaps I was going to get her to bake for me, which sounded even better. And then we would enjoy holiday movies together and it would be very warm and fuzzy and all that stuff.

As I wrote recently, though, those holiday lists often go sideways. And that happened for me when my kids took turns being sick over the holidays. For Hannah it was December 17 to December 20 or so. For Jacob it was December 21 to December 24 or so. And hence, there wasn’t any baking. There weren’t any holiday movie marathons. There was just a lot of sick kids on the couch while I hovered nearby and worried.

When my daughter Hannah had to stay home from school on December 17, which was gingerbread house day, a decision had to be made. That decision ended up being that I would pick up her gingerbread house supplies from her teacher and bring them home. Because I couldn’t send her to school, and she was super, duper, extremely sad at the thought of not getting to make the house.

sick day gingerbread houseIn the end, it all worked out. She built the house. And then while she recovered she watched almost the entire first season of Once Upon a Time on Netflix. She’s been asking to watch the show with me for ages (I am an avid viewer), but since I am well into Season 5 now and since I don’t want to have to wait for a time that’s convenient for my daughter to catch new episodes that hasn’t happened. Luckily, thanks to the wonder of technology she can watch it all on her own.

When my seven year olds Jacob got sick he also turned to Netflix. We got Apple TV not that long ago and he loves that he can talk to the remote (or, as he says, marote). He is his father’s son, and is therefore naturally much better at technology than me, my engineering degree notwithstanding. For a couple of days he binge-watched Batman: The Brave and the Bold. And once again, I hovered nearby.

It is Murphy’s Law that both of my children were sick over the holidays, but I am sure I am not the only one. And I am happy to report that they are both all better now. The fevers are gone, the lethargy is gone and the tissue station on the couch in front of the TV is gone. For the time that they were sick, though, I was really thanking my lucky stars that we have things like PVRs and Netflix and DVDs and 24 hour children’s channels. Because while family togetherness as we all watch movies together is fun, being able to keep a sick kid more or less happy is worth its weight in gold.

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

Making a List, Checking it Twice

Sometimes it feels as if Christmas is all about lists.

  • Gift buying lists.
  • Grocery shopping lists.
  • Baking lists.
  • Decorating lists.
  • Gift wrapping lists.
  • Lists of errands to run.
  • Lists of tasks to perform.
  • Lists of parties to attend.
  • Lists of Christmas light displays to see.
  • Christmas card lists.

And, even:

  • Holiday playlists to compile so you have the perfect soundtrack.

Santa Claus is not the only one who’s making a list and checking it twice. We’re all doing it – especially those of us who have children. The feeling is not exactly festive.

Sometimes, though, you have that moment. That bright spot that makes all the running around, spending money, coordinating schedules and so on worthwhile. It’s the moment that reminds you that traditions matter. That you’re making memories. That you’re doing it all in service of something much bigger, older and wiser than you. Ritual is powerful and it calls to us all. And few rituals are as deeply ingrained in my psyche and identity than the rituals of Christmas.

This afternoon I was decorating the tree with my children. There it is … I am a Christmas slacker. My Instagram feed has been filled with photos of other people’s fully-decorated trees since late November and I am just doing it now. And to make matters worse we still aren’t finished with the tree. I find that it’s easier and more fun to do it in fits and spurts, rather than pushing myself to get it done in one go. Those lists? I am better at making them than completing them, and sometimes it just doesn’t all get done.

christmas joyAnyways, I bought new Christmas lights for our tree this year. They are small multi-coloured LED globes that flicker and blink and change colour. My children were delighted. And then I turned on the Christmas music, and we strung the garlands and got out the boxes of ornaments. My daughter sniffled because she has a cold, and clung to me like a kid who is much younger than almost 11 years old. Then my son, who is seven, placed his third ornament on the same branch of the tree and stopped to admire his handiwork before saying, “Mom, when you play Christmas music and we decorate the tree I feel the joy.”

And then Christmas happened for me.

Because this is what Christmas is. It is a tree that is haphazardly decorated with mismatched ornaments acquired over a lifetime. It is children who are excited and embrace the moment and don’t agonize over perfection. It is letting yourself step away when it’s all a bit much. And it is being present with your family in the mess. Those amazing holiday moments don’t come when you look at a list completed list. They come in spite of the lists.

I am trying to cut myself some slack and reducing what’s on my lists. Because someone will get sick. Some beautiful ornament or dish or brand new gift will break. Some family member will disagree with some other family member. And at some point the weather will get in the way of carefully laid plans. Accepting it is better than feeling bad that things didn’t go to plan. I don’t believe Christmas is meant to be an exercise in making yourself feel guilty for not being Martha Stewart.

In fact, I bet even Martha Stewart finds the pressure overwhelming sometimes.

So here’s to the holiday season. May it be joyous, and loving, and festive in spite of the lists.

The Bedtime Blues

This is one of those posts that I start with a disclaimer. This means that I was offered something cool and I took it, because life is short and cool things are not as plentiful as I would like. This time the cool thing I was offered was membership in the Netflix Stream Team. In exchange for writing about Netflix I received a free subscription for a year and an iPad Mini. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the free gift part of it as you will.

My children’s bedtime is both the best and worst part of my day. I think many parents can probably relate.

On the upside, kids are at their cutest when they’re sleeping. This is indisputable. No matter what happened all day, no matter how annoyed you were with your child just 10 minutes ago, no matter how frazzled your nerves, it’s all forgotten when you see your sleeping baby. And it doesn’t even matter how old that baby is. My daughter is almost 11, and her sleeping face is still one of the sweetest sights in the world for me.

bedtime sleeping

Bedtime is also a time to slow down and re-connect with your children. There are stories and snuggles, footie pyjamas and clean, soft skin fresh out of the bath. (Maybe not so much with the footie PJs anymore in my world, but you get the drift, right?) I have some of my best conversations with my kids when I’m tucking them in, as we contemplate the meaning of life and compete over who loves the other one the most. My kids always one-up me. I may love them to the moon and back, but they love me to the moon and back times infinity. Eventually I let them win, but I know the truth: they can’t even begin to understand how I feel about them.

Of course, bedtime can also be incredibly aggravating. There are the kids who won’t put on pyjamas, who won’t brush their teeth, who won’t sit still for a story, who won’t get into bed, who won’t stay in bed, who just can’t fall asleep, who need another snack, another drink of water, another hug. Some of my hardest parenting moments have happened at bedtime, after spending 90 minutes with a two-year-old who still isn’t asleep while I think about the sink full of dirty dishes I still have to wash and the article I still have to write.

To top it all off, my kids have different sleeping styles. My daughter is a night owl and my son is an early bird. I am a math whiz, so trust me on this: 1 kid struggling to sleep at night + 1 kid who wakes up before the sun = 2 cranky parents.

bedtime

No one ever said parenting was easy, and that’s never more true than at 9:30pm when your child is still awake and everyone is beyond exhausted. Or at 6:00am when you’re just not ready to be awake yet and your toddler won’t sleep anymore. Luckily, my kids are old enough now that they can wake up and entertain themselves for the most part. I don’t like them to have too much screen time, but the day when they learned how to wake up and turn on their favourite TV show themselves was a pretty sweet one for me, I confess.

As a member of the Stream Team I get news updates from Netflix. They recently conducted a global survey around bedtime and found out how Canadian bedtime stacks up against bedtime around the world. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • 79% of parents worldwide are willing to make compromises with their kids at bedtime, spending an average of 20 minutes per night negotiating with them to go to bed.
  • 85% of Canadian parents agree that the last snuggle is the best (vs. 87% globally).
  • 40% of Canadian parents have faced the “just 5 more minutes” negotiator (thankfully I am in the 60% here!).
  • The stall tactics of Canadian kids results in 13.2 additional minutes added to their bedtime routine (vs. 15.7 minutes globally).

Apparently Canadians are also less likely to give in to stalling tactics. I can’t say I’m that good at resisting. One of the things that I run into with my own kids is the dreaded, “But my TV show is almost finished!” For me the extra 7 minutes spent watching a show is usually outweighed by the fact that my kid will be more cooperative. One option if you have a similar kid on your hands is Dinotrux 5 Minute ‘Favorites’ from Netflix and DreamWorks. Shorter shows = less stalling = happier parents. At least in theory. It’s worth a try, right?

Aspiring Talk Show Hosts

This is one of those posts that I start with a disclaimer. This means I was offered something cool and I took it, because life is short and cool things are not as plentiful as I would like. This time the cool thing I was offered was membership in the Netflix Stream Team. In exchange for writing about Netflix I received a free subscription for a year and an iPad Mini, and some other fun stuff. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the free gift part of it as you will.

netflixEarlier this month a box arrived on my doorstep announcing the debut of The New Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show on Netflix earlier this month. On the show Mr. Peabody and Sherman host a late-night talk show, with important historical figures as guests. My son, who is seven, loved-loved-loved the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie, so he was excited for the show right away. The box also contained some talk show props, which definitely upped the ante. Because, you know, fun stuff.

The good news is that my son enjoyed The New Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show, and finished the first season within about a week or so. My daughter, who is 10, watched an episode and said it was good, but she prefers other shows. She says The New Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show would be really good for kids between the ages of four and eight. In the interest of honesty I will confess that I haven’t seen it myself so I can’t say, but my son is smack in the middle of that wheelhouse so I suspect my daughter is right.

One of the things that both of my kids really are into, though, is YouTube videos. Like a lot of kids their age they play Minecraft, and then watch YouTube videos of other people playing Minecraft. Although they are both too young to create their own YouTube channels, they have both decided what their usernames will be when they are old enough. It’s also pretty common for them to practice their sign-ons and sign-offs, and narrate the events as they play Minecraft. Apparently this is something lots of kids do now, according to my friends.

Although my kids are too young to have YouTube channels, I am not. So, we decided that we could make a video together. They used the talk show props we got from Netflix to create their own Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show. Do you want to know what Mozart’s favourite contemporary song is, or who Cleopatra would like to meet? You’ll have to watch the video.

The Tween and the Death of the Landline

My daughter Hannah is 10 and a half years old. In a week and a half she will be starting grade five. And the fact that no one has a home phone anymore (including us) is killing her social life.

landline tweens home phone cell phoneWhen I was 10 I had a number of friends in my neighbourhood. I also had their phone numbers, for the family phones that sat attached to the walls in their kitchens or living rooms. If we wanted to get together to play we could call each other and find out if we were free. I remember asking my mom if I could go to my friend’s, or have my friend over. Sometimes the answer was yes, and other times it was no, but we could make plans for later. It made summer vacations, when we were bored and missing each other, much more palatable.

We got rid of our home phone about four or five years ago. Both my husband and I had cell phones, and it just made sense to cut what had become an unnecessary expense. By the time we got rid of the landline we mostly only got telemarketing calls on it, anyway. A lot of other people have made the same call and gotten rid of their landlines. According to an article from this past February more than half of children and adults under the age of 45 (i.e. – my family) live in a house without a landline, and the number is only growing.

Here’s the problem, though: I don’t want to let my daughter use my cell phone as her phone. My iPhone feels much more personal to me than my home phone ever did. I’m not okay with Hannah using my phone to call her friends. I’m not okay with getting phone calls from her friends on it. And I’m definitely not leaving it with her when we’re in different places. And most of Hannah’s friends’ parents? As far as I can tell they have the same deal.

Hannah does have her own phone – my husband gave her his old iPhone, but it doesn’t have a SIM card. It’s essentially an iPod that could be a phone but isn’t. She can use FaceTime and iMessage, which means that she has a way of connecting with other iPhone users, including me and my husband and her grandparents. However, many of her friends don’t have iPhones, or don’t have any kind of phone at all. And many of her friends also don’t have landlines, or email addresses that they check regularly. So Hannah’s “phone” is essentially useless and she has no other good way to get in touch with her friends in the neighbourhood. As a result she sees her friends less than I saw my friends when I was her age.

In a few years, once these kids are 12 or 13 or 14, I’m guessing they’ll all have cell phones of their own and be more than able to connect with each other. In the meantime, though, the onus remains on us as parents to manage their social calendars. Since the kids can’t get in touch with each other the parents have to text and email to set up play dates or arrange to meet up somewhere. By giving up the landline we’ve become responsible for keeping our kids entertained for a few more years, until they all have texting apps of their own.

It’s not all bad, staying connected to our kids. And I certainly wouldn’t want my 10 year old to be glued to a texting app. There’s plenty of time for that later. For now, though, I’m realizing how a decision you make for one reason can reverberate in unexpected ways in other areas of your life. So if you have a six year old and you’re considering whether or not to keep your home phone, you might want to hold off on your decision for a few years yet.

Jacob + 7 years and 6 days

Last Thursday my son Jacob turned seven.

Seven!

Seven year olds climb trees and ride scooters and read comic books. Seven year olds have skinny legs and knobbly knees and gap-toothed grins. Seven year olds go to school and swimming lessons and baseball practice. Seven year olds are not babies. Although sometimes they are still your baby.

Even so, this birthday isn’t hitting me as hard as his last one. Seven doesn’t really feel so much older than six. Grade two doesn’t really feel so much more sophisticated than grade one. Maybe I got all the tears and bitterness out last year, and this year is only sweetness. Maybe. I suspect the more likely reason is that I’m enjoying having older kids. I am really grooving on the increased independence (for them) and freedom (for me). I like that my son can wipe his own butt and choose his own clothes and pack his own backpack. Watching him become a more fully-formed person is cool.

So what is my seven year old son like? He’s funny. He loves to tell a joke and he loves to make people laugh. He is still a little bit scared of the dark. He is always delighted when he receives a gift. He gives me the silent treatment when he’s angry. He’s friendly with everyone. He is super into Minecraft. He dreams of being a scientist. He tells me that when he’s old enough he’ll be a YouTuber. He is better at math than his big sister, although he is much less coordinated than she is and definitely cannot touch her artistic abilities.

Sometimes I look at Jacob and just feel gobsmacked. Can this person really have grown inside me? Is this really the tiny baby I gave birth to seven years ago? Did I really have any part in creating this person? It boggles the mind and even though I was there I don’t really know how it happened. I guess I am always too busy living in the moment to observe the journey from point to point to point. I can’t remember how I got here, but I know what I need to do now that I am here, and it probably involves cleaning a mess.

Because parenting? It is a beautiful mess.

So a happy belated birthday to my son, one of the best things that ever happened to me. I can’t wait to see where you go next.

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