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Winter Camp

On a weekend that found our youngest with pneumonia and my husband with a concussion, our middle child, Miss S went to Brownie camp for the very first time.

Friday, as I sipped re-warmed tea out of my Yoda mug and ironed labels on size seven sweats, I couldn’t imagine a camp scenario where I wasn’t summoned by a 4am phone call.

On Miss S’ camp forms I’d written four different phone numbers, a note to say she was a picky eater, please don’t force the issue annnnd a special p.s.: if they couldn’t distract or reason with her to call. We wanted to keep the layer of trust, so she’d leap at future camps as enthusiastically as she did this one.

Did I mention this was the very first time a child of mine was sleeping away from us, her parents? And not for one, but two, count ‘em, two whole nights?

Miss S charged into this camp with all the joy of Olaf in summer. She couldn’t wait to sleep on the bottom bunk, couldn’t wait to hike; couldn’t wait to earn camp badges. There was no time for me to be melancholy, weepy or pouty, she was ready and raring to go.

My husband whacked his head on the frame of our van’s trunk Friday afternoon as we were picking the girls up from school. Miss Q’s seatbelt was stuck, it was raining, he had his hood on, and couldn’t see properly as he jumped into the trunk to help her.

We were in the middle of buying Miss S’ indoor hard-soled slippers when he said he didn’t think he was in any shape to go to drop-off.  It was evident he needed medical aid, so it was up to me, and the sisters to give a proper fare well to our Miss S.

The road to camp was dark, twisty and wet. It always feels like we’re going miles out of the city, even though it’s only 15 minutes. “These are Bigfoot woods,” our resident back-seat nine-year-old comedian announced.

“Miss Q!” I exclaimed as a lightning bolt froze my soul. In the dark, I couldn’t see Miss S’s face.

Thankfully, and as if by magic, my headlights illuminated a “watch for turtles” sign, that sent everyone peering out their windows for midnight turtles.

Two of the rules of Brownie Camp were:

  1. Miss S had to pack her backpack by herself so she’d know where everything was. Apparently her monkey, Indigo, got to be her bedtime buddy, not her mother.
  2. She had to carry everything by herself. Miss S’ backpack was 2/3 her size. Watching her wiggle in and out of it was a lesson in contortion.  I wondered what her old chiropractor would say.

Her sisters and I were more verklempt than Miss S. Actually, come to think of it, I was the only one who was verklempt, but in my defence, it was heavily laced with nostalgia.

How could 32 years have passed since I was a Brownie going to camp? Excited for bunk beds, disgusted at the congealed spaghetti, giggling at our leaders’ campfire skits?

My mum was one of my Brownie leaders, so for my first years of camping, the umbilical cord was firmly intact.

Miss S’s first camp found me on the other side of the gate. Her backpack on her back, flashlight at the ready, giant grin on her face.

When I got home, I told my husband that she hadn’t wavered; like her mum she was diving headfirst into adventure, which would probably mean there would be a “what have I done moment” by bedtime. But overall she must be ready for this. My husband replied, “Just like when she’d talked herself into Splash Mountain.”

I’d like to blame the concussion, but that’s my husband.

It goes without saying: I slept with one eye on the telephone all weekend. But the longer it didn’t ring, the more the nagging layer of worry morphed into pride.

She was actually staying! She was actually camping. I hoped it meant she was having a good time.

Driving to camp on Sunday morning, I envisioned two Hollywood endings:

  1. She ran up the hill, saw me, dropped her pack and ran into my arms sobbing saying she’d never leave me again.
  2. She ran up the hill, saw me, dropped her pack and ran into my arms saying she had fun, but she’d never leave me again.

Needless to say, there was a third ending, one where Miss S hiked up to the gate with her friends and leaders, backpack on her back, giant grin on her face. She gave me a hug, said she had ice cream and Rice Krispies for breakfast and no, she didn’t miss me.

cmDaggers.

Ignoring seven-year-old speak, for what I was sure meant I missed you so much, I don’t want to say it in front of everyone, my heart burst with pride at all she’d accomplished.

The most beautiful part is she didn’t have one bad thing to say about the weekend. Even when she started a story with, “My worst night was the first one…” the reason was: she couldn’t get comfortable, and ended up trying to sleep with her feet on her pillow.

Clearly Miss S was among supportive leaders who’d planned a dynamite camp, and allowed Miss S’s confidence to sparkle. But above all: Miss S was truly ready.

Here Be Dragons

Judy Blume, Karolyn Keene, Beverley Cleary, and Francine Pascal were some of the authors I read when I was in elementary school.

Fast forward thirty years and you’ll find my mini-me, Miss Q, reading Tui T. Sutherland, Erin Hunter, Dan Jolley, Chris Colfer and J.K. Rowling to name only five in her massive library.

The difference between me at nine and Miss Q at nine? Genre.

Where my cherished couldn’t-wait-to-read books were close to real life fiction: friendship, mystery, and twin sisters trying to navigate high school.  Miss Q’s cherished must reads centre on fantasy. From the dragons of Wings of Fire, to the cats in the Warrior series, she is hooked. So hooked, I’m contemplating filling a wheelbarrow with books and leaving it under the Christmas tree.

I’ve always wanted my girls to love literature. Always followed my mum’s prescription of as long as they’re reading I don’t care what they read. So it makes me very happy to see Miss Q curled up with a book.

But I never considered my favourites wouldn’t be her favourites.

Enter my husband, the original D ‘n D (Dungeons & Dragon). Like me, he’s held onto a stack of books from his childhood. Like me, he’s always thought one day his children might want to read them.

Well guess what? When it comes to our eldest daughter, he was right.

Currently, Miss Q is plowing her way through Lord Of The Rings after finishing the Hobbit last week.

I still haven’t finished the Lord Of The Rings trilogy after starting it, oh, fifteen years ago.

Psychologists say after year one, fathers are the most important influencers on a child’s life. While this statement feels like a slight to me, the woman who birthed, nursed and hung out in the wee hours of the morning with our offspring, as I watch Miss Q and her father interact, sigh, I know it’s true: at the core of their twinned dragon hearts live souls of elf warriors.

Better luck next child, Nancy Drew, Super Fudge, and Anne with an ‘e’.

But even though Miss Q hasn’t bought into what I would have chosen for her, I really can’t grumble. I was the one who introduced her to Harry Potter, the portkey into the fantastical worlds now calling to her.

My nine-year-old’s eyes dance as she describes the inner workings of plots I’ve never dreamed of writing and my husband nods fondly, encouraging her to go on.  I listen, trying not to be the third wheel in their love language of orcs, healers and rangers, finding comfort in this quote by George R. R. Martin:

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.

So read on, Miss Q. Read on. Don’t let anyone, especially your mother’s nostalgia, hold you back.

gHere is Miss Q’s current must-have reading list in no particular order:

Joy To Her World

This summer Miss S turned seven and her world cracked open. Laughter that had always been bubbling below the surface erupted. There was joy and enthusiasm in everything she did.  Confidence exuded from her pores. I found myself on more than one occasion, mouth open, filled with pride, wondering: who was this masked girl?

It started with the bike park. Where once Miss S only wanted to pedal the flat path between two runs, or cry, she became fearless, and at the gentle peer pressure of her older sister, tested hillier trails. Suddenly she was zooming down intermediate runs, with a gigantic grin plastered on her face.

Okay, full disclosure: she did break the visor of her bike helmet when she went headfirst into a compact dirt slope. But even that didn’t stop her. Some snuggles and sips of water, and she was back in the saddle, giggling about her visorless helmet, zip zap zooming again.

At the pool Miss S discovered the one-meter diving board. Over and over and over again she jumped into the dark blue water – we’re talking forty-five minutes or more of jumping, climbing out and then jumping again.

Her enthusiasm for this newfound skill was so contagious that on one visit, I decided to honour my inner acrobat, and showoff, show Miss S a new skill.

Toes curled over the edge of the board, I swung my arms and sprung into action. My beautiful, high arching dive would have given any Olympian a run for
their money. The landing: a perfect 10.

Miss S waited for me to get out of the way, walked to the edge of the board and, without hesitation, dove in.

Nary a splash, compared to my blue whale awooga, her first ever diving board plunge looked like a penguin slipping into the water.

It’s amazing what happens when confidence collides with happy.

She didn’t care when the attendance list for her birthday party was stuck at zero. “I still get to do everything I want and have cake,” she told me.

And when she jumped onto a log that was half in the water and half on the beach, but more in the water than she first calculated, and she was pitched into the frigid Pacific, all she could do was shriek and laugh until her sides hurt about how wet she was.

But the summer wasn’t all smiles. A cloud rolled in when ever anyone mentioned her two front teeth. She was quite pleased they were loose and quite displeased when anyone suggested she make them both fall out at Christmas.

She was even more displeased when her older sister slid down the slip ‘n slide and knocked the first one out. Even though the tooth was literally hanging by a root, the fact it had been knocked out before its time angered our little Leo.

When days later, the second one finally fell out, the cloud lifted and Miss S was happy to place it under her pillow for the Tooth Fairy… and finally found humour in how the first was lost.

P.S. She makes an adorable walrus.

July and August were sweaty, dirty, chlorine, with ice cream on top, filled months. They were an opening act to a fall that has been full with grade two, Brownies, bell choir, friends, and of course, monkey bars, Miss S’s latest accomplishment.

monk

“Monkey” By Miss S.

With all children, there is a feeling of hope and excitement for the future. But spend some time with Miss S, these days, and you will realize how truly wonderful the future is shaping up to be.

The Man In Our House

Miss S saw a man walking down the stairs towards our basement. He was dressed in white and held a candle in an old fashioned holder. He didn’t say anything, didn’t look at her, just walked down the stairs and disappeared.

My husband, who was doing dishes in the kitchen had his back to the stairwell and missed the whole event.

This story didn’t reach my ears until earlier this month when I overheard Miss S talking about the man’s presence with her sisters.

When I asked Miss S what he looked like she jumped to the junk drawer, pulled out a pencil and a piece of paper, and started sketching his nose. Over and over she drew noses, trying to get the slope and rounded tip perfect.

This isn’t the first time our children have seen something in our house.

One morning when toddler Miss Q and I were lazing around in my bed, she suddenly started to giggle. “What are you laughing at?” I asked.

“That man’s making faces at me,” she said.

“What man?” I asked.

“The man who’s hanging in the corner,” she replied like she was talking about the weather, not seeing dead people.

In a completely separate moment, and without prior knowledge of her sister’s observations years earlier, toddler Miss S told me there was a man in my bedroom… in the same corner.

So is our house haunted? Has the man who used to live here come back? Does he like to watch me sleep?

When we bought our 1950’s home eleven years ago, I asked the realtor if anyone had died in the house. She told me no, as that was something people had to declare when selling a home.

Our house has had three owners: us, a single man, and a family with four children. The latter lived here for forty years. So if none of them passed away in the house, maybe someone they didn’t have to declare did?

When my grandma was a young girl living in Victoria, she came home from school at lunchtime to learn that her grandfather had died upstairs in the guest bedroom that morning. She stood on her front doorstep and called across the street to her friend, “Hey (friend’s name) guess what? My grandpa died!”

Her mother was horrified and sent her back to school as quickly as possible.

Don’t worry if you live in Victoria, her childhood home was bulldozed long ago.

Victoria is among the most haunted cities in Canada. This, we are currently capitalizing on.

On ghost tours, my friends and I have heard heavy footsteps in empty stairwells that have stopped in front of us, then continued on the next flight above our heads. We have smelled cigar smoke so putrid that we looked sideways at each other, and then accusingly at the group to see who was poisoning our still forming lungs, only to find we were the only ones who could smell it.

There is a ghost who haunts a golf course by the water. Her name is Deloris. She is most often spotted in her wedding gown and if you ring the bell between the sixth and seventh holes, she is said to appear.

One year, for my friend’s birthday, we took her down and forced her to summon the ghost.

The peaceful, starlit April evening was shattered by clangs from the bell. Moments after the final gong, one of our friends, who had been hiding halfway down the green, appeared cloaked in a white bed sheet. As the birthday girl screamed and tried to run, I couldn’t move I was laughing so hard.

In all my trips to the golf course prior and since, I’ve never seen Deloris or her murderous husband for that matter.

There might be something to it.

There might be nothing.

I have zero explanation for the stench of cigarette smoke that occasionally fills pockets of our non-smoking household.  And I cannot tell you why our girls need, want and like buddies when venturing downstairs, but are okay with the idea that a ghostly man might live with us.

I guess he’s part of the family.

 

Children of 2016

This last month I signed school district permission forms for all three of my girls from kindergarten to grade four to have Internet access, and their own email accounts.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

As a family we try to limit our girls Internet access and exposure. Though they aren’t completely in the dark ages. As I type this, my husband is playing WarCraft, a game he has now successfully introduced to all three of our girls. They say they’re in it for the cute battle animals, WarCraft lite, but I know it’s a gateway. Insert eye-roll.

When we let them, our girls also play games on our iPads, know how to turn on Netflix, work the TV remote, and love Mario, but if you peer through our windows on any given Sunday, you’ll see them creating with each other, imagining with toys and listening to Stuart McLean at noon.

As parents born in the 70’s, who are now raising children sixteen years into the millennium, it feels as though we’re walking a technology tightrope. We don’t want our children to be left behind, but we want them to hold on to their innocence for as long as possible.

And phones are everywhere. And, a sarcastic surprise, not every parent has our values. Kids Miss S’s age (7), and slightly younger, run around with their parents’ old phones, making videos and snapping pictures like they’re going out of style.

Miss Q has confided that some of her friends are less than a year away from being allowed to have their own YouTube channels; one click away from international fame.

Suddenly we’re talking to our girls, Miss C (4) included, about how to navigate friends when we don’t want our picture taken, or how to act if we do. We’ve given them permission to blame their old fashion parents for not releasing their images. All the while knowing how hard it is to zig when everyone else has zagged.

The truth is ‘good luck’ seems more appropriate, as we shove them off into the abyss.

Keeping our daughters’ faces off of social media has been a challenge over the last 9.5 years. Not because of their adorableness and my trigger upload finger, but because snapping a picture and posting it seems to have become kin to breathing in our society. People do it without a second thought to personal space, privacy or asking.

Birthday parties are the worst. It’s gotten to the point where I consider sending them in t-shirts that say, “Don’t post my picture.” I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve dropped a child off, thought as I’m walking away from the party location, “I should’ve told them to keep her off Facebook.” Shook my head thinking, I was being overly cautious, then opened my computer later that night to find my child’s face smiling back at me.

Of course, if they’re out in public and happen to be in a crowd shot, like they were last weekend when we saw the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, publishing their image is unavoidable. We brought them to the event knowing the world’s media would be there. I mean, seriously, it was the future King.

But when they’re in friends’ backyards running through sprinklers, or in living rooms dancing? That’s kid time. They’re having fun, oblivious of the cameras potentially uploading their every move. It’s that fracture of trust that makes my inner mama bear grumble.

How can we teach children to be free spirits if they are constantly aware or wary of cameras? Are we interrupting their lives for the money shot? Stunting their growth, by making them self-conscious?

The phrase ‘qui prodest’ or ‘who benefits’ comes to mind. Sure we’re all prouder than proud of our kids and their accomplishments. I actually, surprise, enjoy seeing pictures of friend’s children succeeding and living life to the fullest. I completely get that social media connects us all and is a great and easy tool to keep in touch with friends in far off corners of the globe.

That is part of the reason why I started this blog. And yes, the fact I write about my children, but refuse to put their faces on social media, does seem hypocritical. The difference is my words allow readers to form their own images, whereas photos show what they actually look like, for better or worse, the moment the picture was taken.

But something tugs at my soul when I stop and think about what we’re possibly doing to childhood. Are our kids becoming dancing bears?

Over the years when I’ve asked well-meaning people to take down my children’s images, I’ve heard everything from, “My social media privacy settings are air tight,” to “Only people who know her know it’s her.” I’ve had people look at me as though I have three heads. I’ve been made to feel like I’ve ruined the essence of events.

The thing is, I hate asking people to take down our girls’ pictures. I feel awkward, like I’m going to make the person I’m asking feel awkward, but how could they know unless I say something. Ugh. How Canadian.

For me, it all boils down to trust. All I want is for my child to smile for the camera, or continue their temper tantrum, and not question if their image is staying in-house. I always tell them if I’m sending the picture to Grandma or Granny, and they enjoy helping me with the message and pressing ‘send’.

When they’re old enough, which seems to be sooner rather than later, I want my girls to have control over their images and social media presence, without ghosts of photos archived past haunting them.  This is something I hope the school district echoes now that I’ve granted permission.

It’s all about choices as parents. And if you choose to document your children’s lives through pictures on social media, continue on, just kindly leave my children out.img_0064_2

 

 

 

 

Start Of Something Good

one-cmI was not that mum. You know, the one who was pulled over by the police for smoking a celebratory the kids are back in school joint? Oh, no. I was the exact opposite: mum in a puddle as she drove around singing, “One is the loneliest number…”

Today Miss C started kindergarten. She spent a whopping 105 minutes in elementary school, 9:00 – 10:45am, shorter than she ever spent at preschool, even still, my husband suggested I needed a towel instead of Kleenex.

I’m told it gets easier, so perhaps tomorrow I’ll downgrade to a hand towel, and by Monday, it will be a facecloth.

As for Miss C?  She got sick of everyone asking her if she was excited for kindergarten.Her emotions have ranged from, annoyance, to flashing a sideways thumb, to flat out overwhelmed tears.

Thanks to her ups and downs and in-betweens, my own feelings on the subject have been silenced. Selling this amazing opportunity, has forced me to change the words I use around her.

Of course I’d love for her to continue to be my fearless adventurer, shopping consultant, duet partner for the rest of my life. But in the words of Phil Keoghan, “the world is waiting,” so I suppose it’s time for my cub to start her race… but only for 358 minutes a day, Monday to Friday. Sorry, world, I’ve got her on weekends.

Just as her sisters before her, Miss C has morphed into an inquisitive, too smart for her own good, little girl. This summer we’ve covered everything from why people don’t throw dead bodies into the garbage when they die, to, “It just looks like Prince William and Princess Catherine are going to jail,” when a motorcade passed us on the highway and I told her the police were most likely practicing for the royal visit later this month.

I’ve always said Miss C’s the type of kid who likes a newspaper and cup of coffee in the morning. And watching her shop with her fun money on Wednesday served to confirm how mature her thought process is at 4.5.

She bought nail polish. The first of my girls to ever wander a toy store for forty-five minutes and come out with a, “My sissies won’t ever want to wear this because it’s too sparkly,” bottle of polish. At least it’s functional.

Oh and she now wants a unicorn head mask for her birthday, so at night she can poke her head up from the bottom bunk and scare Miss Q, who sleeps on the top.

Today, with my three girls at the same school, grades four, two and kindergarten, my world has just shifted. I’ve known this moment’s been coming ever since I started having babies. People often told me how amazing it would be, I’d finally get to go back to work full-time, write, workout… In short: have my pre-kid life back.

But the thing is, I never needed any of that. Raising my girls through each of their first five years has been my most favourite thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never felt so whole as a person as when I was trucking off for an adventure with my three girls in tow.

And now, for the first time in 9.5 years, there isn’t a baby to nurse, child to entertain, hand to wipe – okay there was, my husband’s.

After we dropped the littles off, he put his bike together and then asked if I had a baby wipe. “You’re not who they were meant for,” I accused, handing him the package.

So the question remains, now that my littles are on track to leave their marks on the world, what am I going to do?

Once again, as it was ten years ago, the possibilities are endless, though I’ve been told by many a wise been there, done that mama, to keep working part-time as long as I can. Apparently I’ll feel needed again when my girls become teenagers.

Miss C, for the record, let us leave her in her new classroom with zero issues.  She reported school was “good” and when asked for details said, “I forgot.”

How quickly they learn.

nails

Pretty nails for first day are a must for all kindergarteners.

Boiled and Squished

In our family, the first case of a mother murdering her child’s pet was recorded in the late 80s when my mother boiled my brother’s (Uncle G’s) pet shrimp. Before you side with my mum on the tastiness of her crime, know this: my brother had caught his friends with a net off the dock our sailboat was moored at for the night.

He had lovingly cradled each shrimp as he slipped him or her into the seawater pool he’d made out of an ice cream bucket.

They had names.

Uncle G had naively trusted our mother when her hooks hands took his catch and rested them beside her freshly lit alcohol stove. But if he had stopped and looked at our mum, really studied her, he would have seen her eyes had turned from brown to black and a singular strand of drool threatened to drop from the corner of her upturned lips.

Of course, if Uncle G had told his mother they weren’t for consumption, his high-pitched scream harmonizing with the shrimp as they were unceremoniously plunged into the boiling water wouldn’t be seared into my brain.

The second case of peticide happened yesterday. In the hot parking lot. We were walking up to our car after a refreshing swim when I noticed a little lizard speeding away from us on the edge of the yellow curb.

The girls ooh’d and awed at the little fella. When he or she stopped, the girls got up close and personal with him. The cuteness of the moment was not lost on anyone.

Suddenly, their new friend turned. He went rogue. Charging off the curbed away from the trio and the manicured lawn, he came straight at me.

Visions of the lizard running up my leg and into my shorts filled my brain. I danced a silly dance; trying to show my daughters I was cool with the moment their pet went berserk – he didn’t scare me.

But I wasn’t cool nor at peace. I gave the Lords A Leaping a leap for their money. He was out for blood. Not my bare toes. Not on my watch.

“Where did he go?” I asked, quickly feeling my shorts for a stowaway.

“You squished him,” Miss Q said.

“I did not.”

“Yes, you did. You actually squished him,” Miss S replied.

Their faces were long and solemn.

“I didn’t.” I spun around and lifted up my foot. There, under the sole of my cork Birkenstock was the lizard, his soul no longer contained by his scales. “Shoot,” I said.

My girls crouched around their deceased pet. “Poor lizard.”

“Why did you step on him?”

“I wasn’t trying to – I didn’t mean – he ran at me.” Anything I came up with sounded lame. Thirty seconds before that wild animal had been poised to attack – both he and I knew it.

“Sorry, Dudes.” I crouched down with them. He wasn’t moving, or breathing but his head and upper body still looked whole. “Guess he’ll make a crow happy now,” I said, trying to lighten the mood; illustrate the circle of life, but knowing all the while I was going down in their books, like my mother before me, as a pet murderer.

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