Dead In A Pirate Ship

So here it is: the number 20. I have been working at the same place, for twenty years. Two decades. Twenty. Two. Zero.

The year was 1994. It was September 13th. The first thing I did, when I got the phone call was to ask for permission to use my mum’s car, then race to the pool to fill out the paperwork. I didn’t want the opportunity to pass me by; didn’t want my new supervisor to change her mind.

I still remember running down my parents’ gold shag carpeted stairs and leaping out the door into the late afternoon sunshine. My new supervisor ribbed me for my promptness.

Today, September 14, 2014, I sit on my blue-jean couch in my living room, next to my husband while our three girls snooze in the next room. Our minivan sits on the driveway; our dog guards the backyard from rats, raccoons and other nefarious creatures. The number twenty spins and swirls through my head playing peek-a-boo with memories like a wisp from my daughters’ fairytales.

Three weeks before September 13th, 1994: I lay dead in the pirate ship of the largest, newest, most overwhelming pool I’d ever seen. The builder said you could easily fit a 747 with a space shuttle attached within its walls, and there I lay: dead.

It was a simulation that had gone deliciously wrong when my fellow lifeguard-in-training ignored me. Winner of best actress in the role of a fake heart attack victim: me. Then I was ordered by our instructor to die.

Naturally when I croaked I made sure to scrunch my body in the darkest corner of the ship, posing my limbs in what I thought would give the police a good chuckle when outlining my body.

The lifeguard found me, exclaimed some exclamations then set to work trying to revive me, but it was too late. I was dead. Gone. Kaput. Set up the next lifeguard-training scenario; solidify a 20-year friendship.

When the number 20 gets tossed around I begin to feel like the old woman of the sea. I’m old enough to be the parent of any of my teenaged staff and I’ve been told 80’s Nite has been replaced by 90’s Night down at the bars.

But what really makes me feel old is technology. I’m still the last one on earth (aside from my husband) without a cellphone… are they just called phones now? And it’s hard not to show any amusement when I walk into a full staffroom and everyone’s glued to their phones not conversing.

P.S. to all that: How happy, oh so happy, am I that i-anything wasn’t in vogue back when I had a nightlife that didn’t include TV and my blue-jean couch? Dodged that bullet.

I fell into my first job for the municipality: lifeguard and swim instructor. Turned down by the folks at the yacht club, I was told I was better suited for lifeguarding over sailing instruction, so I switched gears.

Naturally, the people I was surrounded by made my early years at the pool. But slowly, like cheese, as I aged, I found inspiration in active communities as well. There’s something about being in a building where everyone has a common goal of movement.

Of course, 20 years of being a working girl hasn’t been all roses. Like anything you’ve grown up with there have been moments. Some public, some internal, some so crazy no one would ever believe. Ever. Believe. But because I still need to work, my tell-all is shelved.

Municipal recreation has been my steady partner, faithfully funding my dreams for the last twenty years.   As I lay dead in the pirate ship, I never imagined this gig would turn into a career, but I suppose it quietly has.

This wasn’t how today was supposed to go. Six months ago I had a vision of a misty drop off (me, not her) and then a glorious workout – a whole hour and fifteen minutes to myself – maybe capped off with a celebratory drink. (Sans alcohol.)

Yes, today was supposed to be a good kind of misty. The kind of misty one looks back on years later and says: Hey, we both did good kid.

But the first flicker of ‘me’ time has been snuffed.

Pinched by an on-going labour dispute, Miss Q and Miss S are my chaperones this morning. The pallbearers, holding the Kleenex; the clowns, gleeful their baby sis is going to school. How fast can they push her out of the minivan?

Even my husband appears to have conspired against me today. First he forgot to ask permission to duck out of work; second, he scheduled a new employee orientation and then is tied up with interviews all day. He’ll be there next Tuesday for her official-official – the entire class will be there – first day.  A decent consolation prize.  Perhaps by then Miss C will have her own lunch kit – oops.

Naturally, Miss C doesn’t notice my plan has gone sideways.   She’s helped me pack her snack, her extra change of clothes and her indoor shoes. Earthquake Bear is already tucked in her earthquake kit and waiting for her at the school should an earthquake occur. (Knock on wood.) She’s wearing her favourite Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles hooded t-shirt, frilliest hot pink skirt, complete with Elmo socks, and is bouncing around the house, excited for the day to begin.

Life happens while you’re busy making plans, seems an appropriate quote to live by on this momentous day.  So:

Happy first day of school, Miss C, may you come home covered in paint, bubbling with stories and eager to return next Tuesday.

In an ironic twist, the only one in our family who may be going to school this September is Miss C.  Ironic because of all our girls and preschool, I was the most hesitant on whether I was enrolling Miss C, or not.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the preschool we’d chosen; I love it, and won’t consider any other for my girls.

Both Miss Q and Miss S attended, had a great time, met lovely friends, and most importantly, those friends had lovely parents; a trifecta.

But, however wonderful it was for the older two, when it came to re-committing to a 5th and 6th consecutive year of co-op preschool, this mama had to pause and balance her time vs. money vs. the benefits for Miss C.

For the last year, I’ve been an annoying broken record. The ebb and flow of should we/shouldn’t we preschool sucked me up and down the fiord too many times to count.

If it was simply about picking an awesome program and teachers, the decision would be a cinch; however, this preschool is parent participation, meaning we parents run the non-profit school and get to spend at least two days a month with our littles in class.

I don’t mind the model. It’s just that with all things over the last thirty years, it’s become more complicated.

What started as a grass-roots program: mums being isolated while raising their kids, hey let’s start a play based preschool, has turned into a full-fledged business with fundraising, marketing, budgets, job binders, contracts and all the in-between. Sprinkle in a mix of keener parents and non-keener parents, stay at home parents with working parents and well, you get the picture.

Sure, I’m probably classed as a keener, being in charge of the fundraising department for the second year in a row (if you want to make a charitable donation email me – lol) but the truth is, I feel more like a realistic, sometimes snarky, mother of three compared to my zesty counterparts.

The easy route would be not to put Miss C in anything, to let her sample from the school of life, being towed around town in a bike trailer, dining at the local coffee shops and living a beach bum existence.

Even as I type, with our decision cemented, I feel the familiar tug back down the channel, option ‘easy’ sounds good to this no longer perky mama.

But then there’s Miss C. At 2.75, she is excited at the prospect of packing her backpack with a snack, doing art and playing with the dolls in the preschool.

So with my selfish time is money philosophy out the window; I eventually came to the realization that Miss C needed to be immersed in age-appropriate activities for the first time in her young life. Sorry Monster High, Barbie, Harry Potter and everything else her big sisters have exposed her to.

I literally wrote on Miss C’s registration forms that all Teacher G had to do was give her a newspaper and cup of coffee at 9 a.m. and she’d be good to go. Of course, I embellished, sub the newspaper for Young and the Restless; coffee for hot chocolate, add an fried egg, and you get a tidy snapshot of what our lives were like in the mornings last year.

Just Mama and Miss C.

Well in November this might be true. Come November I’ll be misty at the prospect of having all my girlies tucked away in school, leaving me by my lonesome for four hours each week for the first time in seven years.

When I mentioned packing Kleenex in my purse for her first day, Miss C replied, “Don’t cry Mama, because then you won’t be happy. Preschool is a happy thing.”

Clearly if my little Zen master is ready, I am too.

Last Monday in August

On the last Monday in August, a father and daughter tried something they’d never done before: stand up paddle boarding in Brentwood Bay.

Some people, my husband, my mum, the boat captain for Butchart Gardens, said it would be cold, that our ankles would hurt, that we would come out of the lesson frozen and whiny.

Before you try to match the comment to the person, let the record show: paddle boarding was ah-mazing… once I got over my fear of falling into the dark greeny/blue, a killer whale might be lurking, abyss.

Don’t worry, my dad and I overcame that falling hurdle early and simultaneously – done in by the Brentwood Bay ferry as it made it’s last run to the dock. Even though both of us had our boards pointed with the wake, the space between the trough and crests, coupled with our wobbly sea legs, proved our undoing.

Surprisingly, the water was refreshing, not frigid. In Brentwood the water can be up to 15 degrees warmer than it’s counterpart over in Oak Bay. Sure, I’d read that somewhere, but didn’t believe it until I was completely submerged.

Buoyed by the lifejacket, I lay on my back in the water, looking up at the blue sky, head on my board, feet on my dad’s, waiting for him to swim over.

Our instructor held my board as I slid up it like an ungraceful sea lion. Once I’d regained my balance, I felt my whole body relax into the experience – as refreshing as the dunk was, I had to remind myself not to get too complacent.

It was peaceful out in the bay: the water flat, sun setting, and seals spying. The only disturbance was my dad stepping back on his board, causing the second, and last, splash of the evening.

As we paddled back to the dock in the twilight, the air was so still it felt like we were in another world.

It reminded me of another space and time, back when I was thirteen, when my dad and I made a midnight run in our sailboat from Sidney Spit to the town of Sidney to drop one of my friends off to her parents at the dock.

The moon was full that night, the water calm. My twin brothers slept below as I kept watch for my dad as he steered us back to where my mum, brother and his friend waited. “One day you’ll want to be out here on a night like this with someone other than your dear-ol’ dad,” he said as the moon’s reflection rippled in our wake.

I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time. But now that I finally have someone other than my dad to share moonlit cruises with, we don’t have a boat and, it turns out, the salt water doesn’t run deep in my husband’s desert lungs.

Needless to say my husband has been forewarned and the boat fund has been resurrected.

Though it will be at least another outing before I feel comfortable plunking Miss C on the front of my board and taking her for a spin, getting to paddle tonight when nature was in harmony with itself was pure magic. And, just as it was when I was thirteen, sharing the moment with my dear ol’ dad was all right too.

Camp S

balloons2Miss S wanted an inside out party this year.  Inside out to her meant her friends would play both inside and outside – “I am sick of just outside birthdays,” she told us with a hint of a teenaged groan.

Fair enough, but summer birthdays itch to be held outside.  There’s the slip ‘n slide, water balloons, shaving cream… riiiight, it’s her birthday, not her mum’s, who, given the choice, would like the messy fun to stay outside; however, let the record show: food colouring, glue, sparkles, you name it, it’s all welcome in my house.

This year, Miss S turned five.  Five.  FIVE.  As my second child, this number hits a little harder than the first.  Of course there’s the obligatory, “Where did the time go?”  But with Miss S, I’ve been all too aware of time slipping from my fingers like sands from the hour glass and the number looming on the horizon.

Second children give you perspective on how fleeting every stage is.  Sure, you think you’re stuck in h-e-double hockey sticks when your newborn isn’t breastfeeding properly, or your toddler isn’t sleeping through the night, or, or, or, but the thing to meditate on, tattoo on your forehead, spray paint on the nursery wall, is This too shall pass, because it does.

Second children allow you to sink farther into the stages, enjoy them more because you know in a few short years they’ll be standing on the cusp of independence, of someone else’s influence, of full-day kindergarten, of new friends who you haven’t had a hand at picking.

This doesn’t mean you’re completely zen with it all.  Just writing the last sentence gave me heart palpitations.  Thankfully, here in BC school might not start until the middle of October, and this mama’s okay with that.

Being five to Miss S meant a party.  Like any child worth their card carrying membership, Miss S is excited to be growing up.  She can’t wait to return to swimming so she can do cannonballs with her instructor; skating so she can be in a different level.  And she takes great delight in the fact she comes up to Grandma S’s chest when they stand back to back…er, Grandma’s chest is where you’d expect it to be, in the front, but, well, you get the picture.

Present wise, Miss S had her eye on a Monster High doll.  Sure she wanted other things, or at least we, her parents, made her think she wanted other things, useful things, like a bike, jacket for school, backpack, money for an activity, all of which she welcomed enthusiastically.  But her eyes were locked on a Monster High doll.  Thankfully she has an aunt who turned a blind eye to the commercialization of childhood and surprised her with one.

Her party was small and surprisingly quiet.  Four friends from preschool came to our house with brightly coloured present bags filled with art supplies, bubbles, a board game and dolls. They started inside, as per the birthday girl’s specifications, but after lantern making, ventured outside on their own free will, baited by balloons, a tent, and  boxes of fun cereal.

A camping theme ran loosely through the party, so my husband dressed up like a werewolf/cat/bear, and the girls defended their fortress by pummelling him with water balloons.  Some weren’t too sure when he launched an unpopped balloon back at them and it soaked their feet.  Daddy.

Olaf made an appearance, but because it was summer when he came out, he melted.  We sang happy birthday to Miss S as Olaf’s eyeballs, hair and carrot nose floated around in a bowl of water.

Here’s the great thing about being five: you aren’t quite sure if your parents are joking and the Olaf cake you remember seeing in the kitchen still exists or if he really did melt.

I hope five stays with us for a while.  As I’ve typed this out, I’ve been asked to snap arms back into the Monster Highs, found construction paper and twisted caps off glitter glue.  You couldn’t pay me to be somewhere else.

So here’s to our sweet and spunky, sometimes bossy, always up for adventure, beautiful Miss S!  May five be the year you spread your wings while keeping your feet firmly in the nest.

Lanterns before.

Lanterns before.

After, with a battery operated tealight.

Lanterns after, with a battery operated tealight.

Camping cereal.

Camping cereal.  The easiest birthday party snack food we’ve had to date.


Olaf cake.

Dear Disney Animators, Could you please pause before creating the next big thing, and  think about the parents who have to re-create in batter and icing your vision for their attention to details littles?  Sincerely Cautious Mum






Hello, Kitty.

“She only likes Hello Kitty, or those big eyed stuffies,” my husband declared as I walked out the door.

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”

It was 7:40 a.m. on August 2nd.

A meare 16 hours before, I’d casually flipped the calendar to welcome the new month, and spied my blue printing: Birthday Party 12:00 August 2nd.

Of course this realization came about 15 minutes before I was leaving for work, while my husband was prepping dinner.  I wouldn’t be home until 10:45, long after the stores were closed… unless cans of Hello Kitty in tomato sauce were suddenly en vogue for a present. Hello 24-hour grocery stores.

I took Miss C with me for our early morning jaunt. Miss Q, the birthday party attendee, was sleeping in for the first time in forever, and I dared not wake her after all the bike riding and swimming she’s been doing.

Walmart was a gong-show at 8 a.m.  Who knew so many people were up and at ‘em wandering the aisles with towering shopping carts and coffee?  Not me.

The plan was to get in, find Hello Kitty something and get out. Badda-bing, badda-boom.

Apparently the Kitty is not as popular as Monster High, Barbie or Ever After High. With Lego as the only option, Miss C and I hit the second floor.

Hello Kitty duct tape and Hello Kitty bandaids, I fought my urge to put function behind the gift, and, fear that function would make Miss Q the odd Hello Kitty gifter out.

Thankfully the shopping gods were with me. On a random shelf, away from all the pink and cat sat a box: Hello Kitty stepping stone. A do it yourself, age appropriate Hello Kitty craft. At $15 it was over my $10 limit, but at the eleventh hour, beggars couldn’t be choosers.

I almost crushed my little helper, Miss C, under the weight of the box. “I’ll carry it,” I told her pushing the stroller to the elevator.

Back at home, Miss Q gave it a suspicious once over, but the gift passed. Not that she had a choice: that gift was heading out our door with her in 3 hours.

Miss Q came home from the party glowing. It had been fun to see her friends after six long weeks of separation. She loved the trampoline with the sprinkler underneath, the home made ice cream cake, everything. “My gift was the heaviest,” she said.


The next weekend I was prepared. I’d studied my August calendar, I’d seen the next birthday looming. Miss Q and I were going to hit the town and find the perfect Hello Kitty gift to accompany this next birthday girl’s stash of Hello Kitty.

As I opened the van door for Miss Q she said, “Do you know what she likes more than Hello Kitty?”

A chance to buy not Hello Kitty?  I was all ears. “What?”

“A store called Claire’s.” Miss Q looked puzzled.

“Do you know what Claire’s is?” I asked.

“I don’t know but last week, birthday girl x kissed the gift card to Claire’s, birthday girl z gave her.”


We walked into Claire’s with all the promise that one has when they find out that it’s a “favourite store” and see sale signs. However, a quick scan of the prices made me realize all birthday girl z was going to get was a Hello Kitty necklace and maybe some Dr. Pepper lip gloss, even with the sale.

Miss Q did laps, pointing out what the other girls in her class wore or owned.

Had I missed a memo? Did 7-year-olds really shop here? How could a place filled with jewellery and hair accessories be a favourite store?

Nothing against Claire’s. I bought my first pair of dangly earrings there when I was twelve: solid red longboats, complete with shadows of little men rowing.

Didn’t anyone like art or stuffies?

Apparently only the wide-eyed ones.

I tried to talk Miss Q into a gift certificate to make the birthday girl’s money appear to go farther. No dice. We’d been there for too long, Miss Q was overwhelmed; we walked away.  Thanks to my pre-planning, we had time, this party wasn’t for another two weekends.

Before calling scene on this mall trip, I threw caution to the wind and took a spin through Toys R Us in hopes something other than a Hello Kitty heart locket would be “the one”.

Within minutes of entering, my seven-year-old lost her glazed look and began gushing over the giant sets of equestrian Playmobil and a Fur Real Baby Panda.  All gifts for Miss Q, mind you, but my faith in all that is seven was restored.

Hello Kitty and Claire’s may be beckoning, but for the moment, my girl is all about imagination and creative play.  Sorry, pop culture.

As for the birthday girl? We arrived home only to have my husband point out the party we’d been shopping for was actually a Twoonie party.

Hopefully by September I’ll have this party thing figured out.

The ‘L’ Word

They like clean hair. Four words that taunted, like a Murphy’s Law broken record, as I patiently parted hair this morning.

Searching, examining, scrutinizing, I felt like a paleontologist trying to unearth an object I had never seen in person. With only disgusting internet images and icky stories from parents who have volunteered to spy objects leaping off elementary children’s scalps, I was coming to this as one might approach a placid lake: the alligator was one follicle away from attack.

Thankfully my children, all three of them, were clean, uninfected, nary a nit in sight. I should stamp their foreheads with a red “pass”, or at the very least French braid their hair into triple checkmarks.

There is nothing but hair in this house. With three girls ages 7, 4.5 and 2.5, plus myself and our dog, our vacuum is in overdrive. So when the word “lice” enters our domain, it causes more than a pause; my germ radar, along with my heart, spikes off the charts.

When notice came home with Miss S from preschool, last year, I felt like I was in lock-down: for a week children couldn’t come into the schoolhouse unless their scalp was checked and cleared, the dress-up clothes were instantly bagged and sent home with the parent washer, anything that could be scrubbed was. Not to mention the mounds of laundry the family who had the infected child suddenly found themselves doing: stuffies, pillows, couch cushions, nothing soft was left unsanitized.

As a parent, I was grateful for the sense of urgency and deep clean. The last thing the preschool or my family needed was an outbreak.

This alert was different. Word came 2.5 weeks after our last contact with the family. The mum who reported it was completely chill; educated. She’d spoken to the pharmacist, bought the shampoo, done the research – apparently these buggers calmly crawl from head to head when an opportunity presents itself, no jumping; no flying. They also can’t live more than 3 hours off the scalp.

She joked that telling people felt like she admitting to an STD.

No matter how understanding, no one wants to tell their friends, “Thanks for the playdate. Oh by the way, the plague might be on the way, stay vigil.”

Sure, we say over coffee and sandboxes that it doesn’t matter, that communicable diseases are rites of passage, but the truth is they’re uncomfortable, routine altering and to some children, hospital admissible.

Fortunately lice are just a minor hassle in the grand scheme of things – A minor hassle, that if it darkens our doorstep, I’ll try not to go all Velveteen Rabbit on the stuffies.

So, knock-on-wood, throw salt over our shoulders; soak our tresses in tea tree oil, because with hair that stretches four feet, if you shave the girls bald (tempting) and lay the brown and blond strands end-to-end, if their childhood passes without checking the ‘L’ box off, you’ll get no complaints from me.


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