Christmas Eve-Eve

To Mike, (allegedly) from Ellie

To Mike, (allegedly) from Ellie

Hello! Merry Christmas Eve-Eve to you. You all look quite festive this evening. Have you already been a-wassailing? Mike is out at the late show of the new Star Wars movie and I figured this was the perfect time to catch up on the various important intellectual documentaries* cluttering up our DVR. I should probably be finishing up the remaining wrapping I am responsible for, but I outsourced some of it to Ellie last week (they had a wrapping centre in their classroom, where the kids were enthusiastically wrapping up all of the toys and activities in the room; I am fairly certain by the time Christmas break arrived there was nothing left in the classroom to actually DO as it was all covered in metres and metres of tape and lumpy paper and placed lovingly under the tree) and as you can see from the photo above, she did a lovely job, and by “lovely job” I mean “well, it’s not THAT much worse than I would do, and besides I hate wrapping gifts anyway, because nine times out of ten I cut a piece of paper that is about an inch too short to actually go all the way around the present, and it’s impossible to get the edges right, and I would much rather spend this time eating Christmas cookies!” However, she put a label on them saying they were FROM her, so any credit I would have received for the gifts will now go to her. It is a small price to pay to not have to wrap the gifts myself.

Ellie is so excited about Christmas that she is practically vibrating. She asks me about once an hour to go over the agenda for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day — this is the first year she really understands about Santa and she is VERY INTERESTED in discussing that topic. She doesn’t seem at all concerned about the logistics of Santa’s visit, however, which sort of surprised me, because she is in a Tough Questions stage (she asked me a couple of weeks ago, “Mommy, before I was in your tummy, before you were my mom, where WAS I?” Well, I … uh. That’s a … hmmm. “I’m not sure, honey, but we are very glad you’re here now!”) and also a Not Accepting Your Answer the First Time stage. Zach, of course, is thrilled by the whole thing, but he is always thrilled by everything, because he is the toddler version of Alec Baldwin’s character from Friends.

Merry Christmas to you if you are celebrating, and happy Friday if not. Let’s meet back here in January, shall we? I have to tell you about the time Zach almost broke my nose with his giant head.

*episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians

Christmas carol

Seems legit.

Seems legit.

I had what I thought was some very sad news to share with you about Carol, the bunny that lives beside our house in the winter. I had already been preparing myself for this bad news, because when Ellie and I were at an exotic animal show at the library this summer, one of the presenters mentioned offhandedly that wild bunnies usually only live for a couple of years, so I reminded myself of this fact a few times in the fall, taking comfort in the fact that we got to see her for three winters and that was probably more than I could have reasonably expected anyway. One day last week as Luna and I came home from our walk, she was sniffing and pulling rather insistently in the direction of a snowdrift at the end of our neighbour’s driveway, and I discovered there was a pair of bunny hind legs sticking out from the snow. Without going into too much graphic detail, foul play was definitely suspected. By me. Although I didn’t get too close, for obvious reasons.

After I dropped Ellie off the next morning and had to flap my arms and shriek “LEAVE CAROL ALONE!” to some menacing crows perched hungrily on top of the snowbank, Mike called animal control and they removed the body. I was really sad about the whole situation. Out of habit, every time I was at the sink in the kitchen, I glanced out the window to look for Carol, and then yesterday, she was there! I gasped so loudly I scared Mike. I was very relieved and continue to think about it with joy. So instead of a sad story about Carol, I have a sad story about another dead bunny. Merry Christmas!

Growing pains

Jurassic Farm

Jurassic Farm

One day last week, Mike came home from work and I managed to go in and out of the kitchen a few times without noticing the beautiful flowers he had brought home for me (he had to actually point them out to me, and commented that I wasn’t very observant). The next day I dyed my hair purple (technically it is “black plum” and it’s not PURPLE-purple, although it was definitely different than the light brown it has been for many months) and he didn’t notice for almost 24 hours, until we were standing under the very bright lights of a church gymnasium at his company’s kids’ Christmas party. Possibly we are both a little distracted lately.

I posted about this a bit on Facebook, but I feel like discussing it further here, because it is troubling me a little bit. Ellie is doing so great with school, enjoying it and really flourishing, but she’s also figured out how to lie (thankfully she is only 4 so she is really not very good at it yet) and how to talk back to her parents in a way I naively didn’t expect for a few more years. It’s a very strange feeling to go from having her at home with me, to sending her out into the world where she will be influenced by a whole host of people, most of whom I don’t know. She’s changing! And I would say “right before my very eyes” but I don’t even get to see it happen. Which is fine! It’s normal! It’s expected! But it’s hard.

I understand this is just her growing and learning and asserting her independence, but sometimes I wonder what happened to my polite, respectful little girl. I’m so bewildered by this that it’s almost as if I thought you could do a whole bunch of excellent parenting and then rest on your laurels for a while, enjoying the fruit of your labours. Only no, parenting requires CONSTANT VIGILANCE. But then, there are little flashes that we are doing something right, even if we’re not doing everything right — yesterday after school she gave her friend a hug and said, “I love you, Emma!” — and I wonder if the growing pains are mostly mine, not hers.

This morning while we were walking to school, Ellie said rather enthusiastically, “The snow is all melting! I think it’s SPRING!” And if you ask Zach what is all over his face, he will cheerfully respond every single time, “Chocolate cake!” even though I can’t remember the last time we had chocolate cake in the house. The children, they are optimists.

Pardon?

Sick day supplies

Sick day supplies

It is fall! The season that would absolutely be my favourite season if not for its inevitable terrible slide into winter! The leaves are a beautiful colour, the air is fresh and crisp, my hair is no longer embiggened by the humidity, our house is full of fun-sized candy bars, I’m Pinteresting soup recipes like it’s my job, and my children are once again turning our house into some sort of science experiment. The germs, they have overtaken us. There is a plague upon our house. I lost my voice for several days last week, which resulted in a lot of this:

Me: (something witty and insightful)

Mike: Pardon?

Me: (witty thing again, embellished to be even funnier)

Mike: I still didn’t catch that.

Me: NEVER MIND.

Mike: Pardon?

*******

Me: Ellie, one more minute until it’s time to put on your stuff and go to school.

Ellie: What did you say, Mommy?

Me: I said it’s one more minute until it’s time to put on your stuff and go to school.

Ellie: What did you say, Mommy?

Me: I said it’s one more minute until it’s time to put on your stuff and go to school.

Ellie: WHAT did you SAY, Mommy?

Me: I said we’re late for school. Come on.

I ended up in the ER yesterday evening for some pretty serious ear pain (and felt silly the whole time, because clearly ear pain is not an EMERGENCY, per se, but our doctor’s office gets in trouble with the government if we visit walk-in clinics because they’re supposed to be available to us at all times, so when they’re not available to us we’re supposed to go to the ER, which seems like an odd solution to that problem, but whatever) and he sent me home with some Tylenol 3s and instructions to see my family doctor when my eardrums rupture. But! I am feeling much better today, so hopefully the rupture isn’t as inevitable as he made it seem. Anyway, I am in the market for a sorcerer or enchantress or homeopath to cast some sort of protection spell around our house. Any of you know anyone?

I also had an optometrist appointment last week, and when I asked about getting my eyes lasered, she said with my terrible prescription it will likely cost upwards of $5,000. Then she said that for the two days after the surgery (maybe more) I would have to lie quietly in bed by myself to recover, and I think $5,000 for two days of (doctor-ordered!) peace and quiet seems quite reasonable.

One day last week when I was walking Luna, another dog just appeared out of nowhere and joined us on our walk. I let the dogs sniff each other, then pulled Luna along, thinking the other dog would likely turn around at some point and go home. We repeated that a few times, until I started to wonder if he was a lost dog and panicked a bit about what to do (maybe he doesn’t HAVE a home! or maybe he has a home but he doesn’t know where it is! should I take a picture? post on our town’s Facebook page? bring him home with me?). After another 100 metres or so, he peeled off from us and Luna and I followed him as he headed home to rejoin his elderly owner, who was out vacuuming her front porch (I … don’t know) and who didn’t seem at all concerned that her dog had gone missing for 10 minutes. Part of me is irritated that he wasn’t on a leash (tie up your dogs, people!) and part of me heartily enjoyed that this dog saw us and thought, “Walk? I could go for a walk.”

Nectar of the gods

Controversial candy

Greetings, friends, and welcome to the most wonderful time of the year! It is officially Candy Corn Season. Now look, I know that candy corn (aka nectar of the gods) is an extremely polarizing candy and there are two very divided camps on this issue, and neither the twain shall meet. But if you don’t like candy corn, you are wrong. They are delicious, waxy, teeth-achingly-sugary triangular lumps of manna. I will try to love you anyway, but things will be a little awkward between us for a while.

As is my habit every fall, I’ve been scouring grocery stores for the first candy corn of the season. I don’t know if the crop was late this year or what, but it took a while before I found any. I wandered up and down the aisles in Zehrs a couple of weeks ago, loudly declaring that this is unacceptable, clearly there is a WAR on HALLOWEEN, and anyway I don’t think Mike wants to go grocery shopping with me anymore.

Ellie has started school and after a bumpy few days (walking away after peeling a sobbing child off your person is really not the best way to start the day) she is loving it. It is proving to be quite difficult to get any information out of her about what they’re actually doing during the day, so they could be making meth for all I know. I DO know, though, that she is learning the national anthem, because she has been singing “O Canada, we stand on colourful bees!” as she gets dressed or colours or plays with Zach. Mike tried to teach her the correct lyrics but I put the kibosh on that real fast. Next he’ll be telling Zach that the word “wombat” is not pronounced “boombat” and NOT IN MY HOUSE. No sir.

Bees

Affirming message in the camp bathroom

Affirming message in the camp bathroom

We are back from our yearly week at Camp Hermosa and I think I can speak for our whole family when I say the ennui is at an all-time high around here. Well, except for Ellie, who is remarkably cheerful and is talking like there is a bomb on the bus that will explode if she gets below a thousand words a minute. I discovered on Saturday that Ellie’s tendency to sob when saying goodbye after an enjoyable day with a friend is not so much “weird” as it is “inherited directly from me” as I wept a little when we left camp and could very much have ended up crying, “I just want to stay and plaaaaaay! They’re my beee-eeee-eeee-eee-st fr-iii-eeee-nds!” had I lingered any more over the goodbyes.

We came home from camp with the usual giant piles of laundry (plus bonus horrifying spiders stowed away in our luggage) and an unidentifiable stink in my car. Before we left there was always a mild mildew odour when the air conditioner first turned on, but now it smells like something crawled into the inner workings of the car and died. I left the windows rolled down yesterday morning in an attempt to air it out, and only remembered upon returning to the car in the afternoon that this was an unwise decision, because of bees. I can’t remember if I told this story at the time, but shortly before Zach was born, a bee flew into the car and I left the windows open, figuring the bee would exit the car when he or she was ready. That plan did not work. My dad arrived a few hours later to pick up Ellie, and said, “Hey, did you know your car is full of bees?” (He then got all of the bees out of my car because he is a great dad.) I was pleasantly surprised to discover this time there were no bees in my car! No bees at all. Except for the five bees that came out of the woodwork a few minutes later and swarmed around my head when I was driving 90 kilometres an hour down a country road. I am pretty sure my life flashed before my eyes. I thought to myself, “This is how I’m going to die. In a stinky car filled with bees.”

I hit the button to put the front windows down and the bees were sucked out the window and thankfully I lived to tell the tale. I’m no doctor, but I’m starting to think maybe bees are attracted to goldfish cracker crumbs, drops of apple juice, and the smear of donut icing Ellie left on the window.

Dispatches from a coffee shop

Kids' sports are so out of control these days. Even the household pets get a medal!

Kids’ sports are so out of control these days. Even the household pets get a medal!

Ellie is at a half-day dance camp this week with her friend Amelia, and Zach is at the sitter’s every day this week, so I am taking advantage of the free mornings by working in a coffee shop (I scored a table by the plug! this is a banner day!) and the free afternoons by doing some fun things with Ellie. First up: her 4-year-old vaccinations! We sure know how to party. It is nice to have just her in the car occasionally, as we can have an actual conversation, which I enjoy far more than listening to the dulcet tones of siblings bickering in the back seat (“Stop it!” “No, YOU stop it!”) and/or the sounds of a frustrated toddler unable to get his shoes off, and then the sounds of a frustrated toddler when he has successfully removed his shoes but has realized that he actually still wants them on. This morning we were discussing the difference between horses and unicorns, and Ellie told me in an aggrieved, “is this too much to ask?!” tone of voice, “I just want to SEE a unicorn and PET it and RIDE on it!”

Soccer, mercifully, is over for the season. We ended on a high note with Ellie playing happily and then receiving a participation medal, which she has proudly showed off to many people over the past couple of weeks. I’m not sure if we’ll do it again next summer or not, but I am glad we tried it, and I am also glad it meant I got to witness Zach, who got ahold of one of the spray bottles Ellie’s team used during a warmup activity, figure out how to spray himself in the face, and then proceed to do so for the next twenty minutes while cackling madly. *squirt* “HAHAHA FACE!” *squirt* “HAHAHA NECK! Wet!”

I hurt my shoulder last week while vigorously wiping down the kitchen counter. You can feel free to make a joke about how I clearly need to do more housework if I am so out of shape, chore-wise, that I am literally injuring myself in the process. I need to be proactive to reduce my risk of developing further cleaning injuries. Vacuumer’s elbow! Toilet scrubber’s knee! Dust lung!

I have met a few new people recently and enjoyed their company, so I took a bold step (for me) and added them as friends on Facebook. However, days or weeks have passed and not a single one of them has approved my friend request. This leads me to two possible conclusions: either my Facebook app is malfunctioning and no one ever received my request, or making friends in your 30s is really no easier than making friends in your teens. Part of me wishes I was still Ellie’s age, where you are so charmingly innocent that you assume any kid roughly your size is either your friend or, in the case of a select ten or twenty, your BEST friend.

Floating in the arms of a doughnut

Lovely morning on the dock (absent: one horrifying spider)

Lovely morning on the dock (absent: one horrifying spider)

Thanks to everyone who chimed in with additional Preschooler Soccer Tales of Woe. My sister-in-law commented that Ellie might just be an introvert and if that was the case she certainly comes by it honestly, and that made me realize there is a very long list of things I would rather do than play on a soccer team, including: watching a slideshow of a Google image search for the term “dock spider” while seated between someone eating something really crunchy and a Men’s Rights Activist. We missed last week’s game due to being away at the cottage, but we will try again this week with greatly lowered expectations.

Dock spiders truly are an abomination unto the Lord. I’m going to repeat the same warning I gave when I blogged about the cottage last year: whatever you do, do NOT google dock spider. (Or do, whatever. I’m not your mom.) The first morning at the cottage Mike took the kids to visit a friend of his from work who has a cottage at a neighbouring resort community, and I sat out on the dock with my book and my coffee and read and relaxed and listened to the peaceful sound of the water lapping against the dock. I think my brain, in some sort of self-preservation mode, must have blocked out the very existence of the dock spider, because when one appeared I was freshly filled with horror that such a thing lives and thrives in Ontario. This is Canada! We’re not Australia! We don’t have giant spiders! BUT WE DO.

Other than that, the week was truly lovely. We swam and relaxed and ate ice cream and Mike took Ellie canoeing for the first time, which she loved and called “going laking” and was very pleased to do in the evenings after Zach was in bed. I read a bunch of books (Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, One Good Turn: A Jolly Murder Mystery by Kate Atkinson, and part of All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which is this month’s book club book and is very good but for some reason I’m having trouble getting into it) and slept in a lot, thanks to the wonderfulness of Mike, who had become the preferred parent by virtue of the novelty of him being around every day.

At some point I ended up in the Fatty Arbuckle entry in Wikipedia (I have no idea how, such is the way of Wikipedia) and there was a quote that gave me such an enjoyable chuckle I thought you might enjoy it as well. Louise Brooks, an actress he worked with, described how graceful and agile he was in spite of his rotundity, saying, “Oh, I thought he was magnificent in films. He was a wonderful dancer—a wonderful ballroom dancer, in his heyday. It was like floating in the arms of a huge doughnut—really delightful.” Floating in the arms of a doughnut! That WOULD be really delightful.

Fournado

Monster, by Ellie (age 4)

Monster, by Ellie (age 4)

We enrolled Ellie in soccer this summer, figuring it would be cute and she would get some exercise and have the opportunity to run around with her friends. It has turned out to be not so great. Every week except one, she has had a meltdown on or off the field about something. This week she participated happily in the warmup, and then burst into devastated sobs when the team sat down to have a drink of water and she discovered she didn’t have her water bottle (it was still with me, on the sidelines). Nothing I could do or say managed to convince her to rejoin her team, so eventually we left, all of us varying levels of frustrated and upset. A similar scenario had played out on the weekend, when Ellie was inconsolable after spending most of the day with her best friend. So bereft! It is hard to have someone you love so much you don’t want to say goodbye to them, even only for a few days.

Everyone has Stuff, right, but there is something sort of … disconcerting about watching your kid struggle with the same Stuff that you struggle with. Ellie and I are both sensitive, overly empathetic, easily overwhelmed and overstimulated people, and I think many of those are really great qualities — I’ve read that increased sensitivity is a positive evolutionary trait, because someone needed to be on alert at all times against sabertooth tigers, while people like Mike sit around the fire and say, “Well, it is very UNLIKELY that we would be eaten by a tiger!”, and I think the extra empathy is generally an incredible thing, especially since I understand empathy to be one of those character traits that is difficult to teach — but it also means that sometimes we cry when we’re hot and sweaty and thirsty and we think our parents forgot our water. I struggle a little bit with maintaining realistic, age-appropriate expectations for her, because a) she is so articulate and intuitive I think I sometimes forget she’s only four, and b) I want her to have an easier time with certain things than I do, so I push her more than maybe I should. That means that sometimes I try to force her to play soccer, when there would have been nothing wrong with watching the game from the sidelines. She’s only four! Who cares about soccer?

Parenting seems (at least for me) to involve a lot of “oh man, I really should have handled that differently!” but my mom reminded me of something my grandmother used to say, that all we can do is the best we can with the information we have at that moment. After we got home, Ellie apologized for her behaviour at soccer, and I told her that it was okay, that we all get overwhelmed sometimes, and she said, “Even you?” Oh yes, definitely me. Especially me. (My life is basically Rachel at 1:30 in this clip from Friends.) And yet I feel ill-equipped to deal with it in this tiny sweet little person. I went to the bookstore yesterday to stock up on some books for our upcoming cottage vacation, and I picked up a copy of The Highly Sensitive Child, in the hopes that it will give me some strategies to help her cope with these difficult moments, or at least help Mike and I anticipate them.

She did demonstrate some unexpected bravery recently while getting an ultrasound of her kidneys at the hospital (just a precaution, and the results were normal). I told her we were going to go to the hospital and they were going to use a special camera to take a picture of her insides. A few minutes later, she asked me, “Will they have to break it?” I asked her what she meant, and she responded, “Break my tummy so they can see inside it!” After we cleared that confusion up, she was good to go. She spent most of the procedure chatting happily with the technician about what she had eaten for breakfast.

I took her to Walmart to pick out a toy as a reward, where she spent a long time weighing the pros and cons of the various Barbies, before deciding on one wearing a kind of sparkly cocktail dress that velcros up in the back. She keeps coming to ask me to do her dress up, and it is remarkably difficult to get the dress done up over her curves! If even Barbie needs Spanx, there’s really no hope for the rest of us.

Ottawa mini break

O Canada

O Canada

Greetings! I am writing to you from the first day back at work from vacation, which is always a bit of a letdown day, but it is sunny and warm outside and I am drinking a strawberry-basil smoothie (an odd but tasty flavour combination) and things don’t feel impossibly Mondayish. Our vacation, which might be more aptly called a “mini-break” to use British terminology, could not have been better timed, because the week before we left, the whole family came down with fifth disease. (We all managed to follow along okay, in spite of never having had diseases one through four.) Apparently this is something that most people get as kids, and for some reason is more unpleasant in adults — the kids were a little bit miserable, but Mike and I were a LOT miserable, suffering from joint pain and the worst headaches we’ve ever had. Every time I sneezed or coughed, I thought I was going to pass out from the pain. Two days before we were meant to leave for the week, Oliver managed to escape again (it sounds crazy, but we are pretty sure he opened the front door and let himself out while we were at the park, since neither of us remembered leaving the door ajar and it has the same kind of doorknob as the door to our basement, which he can operate on his own, in spite of having no opposable thumbs) so generally it was not the least stressful week on record.

Thankfully we were all feeling much better within a few days and our neighbour once again caught Oliver and returned him to us before we left for Ottawa, where Mike was attending a conference and I was reprising my favourite role: Conference Wife. I swam in the hotel pool, I ordered room service breakfast one morning, I explored Byward Market, I allowed people to call me Mrs. Mike’s-Last-Name without correcting them. On our last evening we partook of RibFest and lounged on the lawn at Parliament Hill for a while, and I got the same rush of patriotism and gratitude I feel every time I remember that we live in a country that is safe enough that people are allowed to play frisbee in front of our government buildings.

On our way home, we drove past signs for two local landmarks, the names of which were … not at all inviting: Hell Holes Nature Trails, and Salem Woods Trailer Park. Come for the ambiance, stay for the natural horrors and/or kidnapping! Survive one night and the next one is free!