Mugshots

It’s been a minute since our last family photo. We missed the boat on Christmas cards last year (sorry Mom), and our last ‘professional’ photo was a few years ago, when our baby was still a baby and my body had a bit more bulk. So this year, my husband convinced me that it’s the perfect time to update our old, tired portrait for a new, shiny version. Just in time for the holidays!

There’s just one problem. Having our photo taken makes me itchy and anxious and irritated. Add an eager photographer and three restless kids to the mix and it’s a one-way ticket to disaster town. And with our crazy schedules between now and the end of time, I wasn’t sure if we could even find the time to book a session. (Also $$$).

So, because I’m brilliant, I made the decision to take the photo myself. I have a great camera (that I never use). A tripod (hidden somewhere in the basement). And access to helpful how-to YouTube videos (just after I watch Adele seven more times). I could take our family photo in the comfort of our own home, with minimal to no mental breakdowns. Yes?

Umm, no. When I’m having my photo taken for the purpose of a family portrait, which will exist as definitive proof of our carefree yet photogenic candidness, I want to shoot myself. (And not with a camera.) I cannot do family photos.

The proof is in the pudding. If you looked above the piano in my parents’ home at our big family photo of 2011, you would see several beautifully dressed, perfectly posed people in their Christmas finest, all smiling at the camera. And then you’d see me in the middle, seemingly on the verge of tears. (Although 2011 was also the year of my ill-advised pixie cut, so to be fair I was always on the verge of tears, camera or not.)

Or you could look at our little family photo of 2013, taken in Nova Scotia to a beautiful backdrop of sand and sea. You would see one smiling husband, three smiling children, and then me, looking slightly murderous. In my defence, we were swarmed (SWARMED!) by blackflies during that shoot, so my homicidal undertones were somewhat justified. But overall, it’s just  me. I cannot do family photos.

So, as you might expect, our attempt at a family photo this weekend did not go well. We had three tired, cranky girls, one tired (I would never say cranky, but…) husband, and one helpless, hopeless photographer/subject/mom with murderous undertones.

We did not achieve a perfectly presentable family photo. We did get some slightly blurry, tremendously silly ones that we may send as part of our Christmas cards (it’s hip to be ironic, right?) or we may try again. (Although the tripod has been bannished to the basement once again, reminding me of why I buried it so deeply before.)

But at least we have the memories of squirming toddlers, sulking six-year-olds and screaming, pleading parents as the self-timer ticked down time after torturous time. And those memories? Those memories will last a lifetime.

Nightmare on easy street

Have you ever done something you just know you shouldn’t do? (Slow down, I don’t mean anything illegal, just ill advised.)

A late-day espresso that you know will keep you up all night? Waiting in a busy Starbucks line when you know you’re already late? Balancing a scalding hot coffee in your lap when you know you’re about to merge into traffic? (Much of my life is dictated by coffee. And being late.)

I know my limits. Low caffeine tolerance and high caffeine dependence are just two. I have many, and I often push them without too much harm. But there’s one thing I do know, that I KNOW that I should not do… I should not indulge, should not watch or read or listen to or even dare to think about scary stories.

(I do realize this is a ridiculous problem to have. I really do.)

I’ve written about being a scaredy cat before. I cannot handle fear. The thought of fear simply terrifies me. But during this lead-up to the spookiest night of the year, Halloween, it’s been inescapable.

I suppose it’s partially my fault. I’m sometimes under the delusion that I can read a short horror story, watch a scary move preview, conjure up a spooky memory, and all will be well. I’m an adult. I can withstand a little pulse-quickening and hair-raising for the sake of a good thrill. Right?

Wrong. I can’t. And lately, with the nostalgic film nods and the revival of ghostly folklore and the two-sentence twitter horror stories (Have you read those?! They’re chilling!) I totally overdid it. And I’m not the only one. Two nights this week my husband and I have been summoned around midnight to the bedrooms of our little ones, who have also overindulged. (Their vice is Scooby-Doo.)

Luckily for them, and for me, my husband is fear-resistant. (Or at least, he ain’t afraid of no ghosts. His hair is raised more by sports losses and stock crashes than things that go bump in the night.) While I offer what little comfort I can from the comfort of my own bed (paralyzed by fear of what’s under there), he runs to their bedside (in total darkness!!) to rescue and reassure. My hero.

This particular character quirk, I can’t overcome. I will never be super fearless in the face of the supernatural. But at least, after October 31, my kids and I will enjoy a bit of reprieve from all things ghosts and goblins and ghouls.

But just for November. Because December brings something even more terrifying, something more cruel. Something that sends shivers down the spine of even my fearless husband. Christmas bills.

The art of quitting

I will begin by saying that, when it comes to committing to something new, I always have the best intentions.

Actually, I put a lot of thought into the programs in which we participate, the events we choose to attend, the schedule we keep. I remember the first time I registered my newborn daughter for something other than lactation counseling. I agonized for hours over the choice between baby genius music class and infant phenom sport-palooza, even though our daughter was barely holding her head up at the time. I was so excited to get out and do something that I eventually signed up for both. And not too long thereafter, I quit. Both.

Our cumulative ‘quit list’ is as long as my arm. For one reason or another, our family has failed to last the entirety of the following activities: baby music, baby art, baby sport, (baby anything), ballet, gymnastics, ballet (2nd attempt), swimming, ballet (3rd attempt) and one ill-advised mommy boot camp when I was six-weeks post partum. (This was the only occasion in which I wanted my calm, contented newborn to fuss uncontrollably, while I breathlessly did my burpees. I was always jealous of the moms who had to sit out certain intervals to attend to their screaming, crying babies. Lucky ducks.)

Yeah, so we quit things. A lot. We never quite know when the quit is coming, but there are some warning signs. They usually fall into four categories:

Convenience. Swimming is our thing. Knowing this, it may surprise you to see that swimming is on our quit list. This was the season that we failed to get into our preferred pool program and tried a new location. Close to downtown. At 5pm. Rushing to make a swimming lesson in rush hour? Sorry, no. This one lasted two lessons.

Cost. Gymnastics was new and exciting for my husband and I, and it’s one of the least lame programs for very young kids. So as soon as our first born hit the 18-month mark, we were ready for the rings. The classes were… fun, and we eventually enrolled our second born for balance-beam training, but when it came time to sign up for a second semester ($$$), we bowed out. Average attendance: five lessons.

Enjoyability. Here’s where most of the music, art, sport, yoga, salsa-dancing, craft-making endeavors fit into. Basically, they were kind of basic. Once the kids got older and could actually enjoy music and and sport and performing, things changed, but for years there were a lot of empty spots in semi-circles throughout southeast Calgary because we just simply lost interest. After about one lesson.

Vibe. This is a big one. Even when all the other factors fall into place, this is the kicker. Like ballet. We have three daughters who love all things pink. Ballet, buns and body suits were seemingly inescapable. But each time we took the plunge, the vibe just wasn’t right. I can’t explain, except to say that things were a little too serious for a three-year-old in a tutu. So we quit. (But kept the tutus for amateur use.) On average, we lasted about a month or two each time.

So there you have it. The encouraging news is we haven’t quit a single program in almost a year. I’m not sure if this is because I’ve become better at selection, or because the quality of the programs have improved, or because our kids have become too old to swallow the line, “Sorry, honey, but ballet always ends in November.”

Either way, we’re on a roll. Maybe it’s a good time for another mommy boot camp?*

*It’s never/always a good time for mommy boot camp.

Lost and found

Despite what it says on my resume, I’m not very good at multi-tasking. Especially when it comes to parenting.

I can’t play an effective game of Eye Spy when I’m making lunch. I can’t recount the lyrics to “Let It Go” when I’m writing a post. And apparently, I can’t keep track of three small children at once while waiting in line for a family skate.

I joke about losing my kids all the time, especially since my husband and I are officially outnumbered. But the truth is, it has happened. It happened last summer on the soccer pitch, when our third and youngest child waddled off without us noticing. It happened a few months ago, when our third and youngest child wandered a few aisles away in the grocery store. And it happened this weekend, when our third and youngest child (notice a pattern here?) went missing at the skating rink.

In an effort to prep our oldest daughter for her upcoming debut in hockey (yes, we took the plunge) we decided to take in a family skate at our local rink. We were meeting two other families who each had two kids of their own. Almost immediately, our kids mingled and weaved and zagged out of sight, the way kids do when they’re in a gigantic space filled with hundreds of strangers and sharp objects. I was already suffering from a bit of sensory overload, with the long line for entry, the shrill of the skate sharpener and just the complexity of the space. I was also a bit distracted in discussion with our friends, who we hadn’t seen in a while, as my husband waited to pay.

I usually take a quick mental note of the outfits our kids are wearing when we leave the house. While I was giving our friend a run-down of our summer highlights, I scanned the crowd for my kids. Purple, pink… My eyes scanned for a third hoodie, belonging to a tottering two-year-old who should be by my side.

I circled my head around and around to confirm that she was really missing. She was. I asked my daughters if they had seen her. They hadn’t. My husband was too far away, so our friend and I sprinted in different directions. I ran down the hall towards what looked like a birthday party. She must have followed the balloons, right? Wrong. I circled back towards the line and looked over at our friend, who was still searching.

I started to feel dizzy and sick and scared and so, so scared, when someone’s voice said, “Are you looking for this little one?”

I whipped around and coming down the stairs from the entryway was my daughter, holding hands with a complete but lovely stranger. I grabbed her and squeezed her tighter than I ever had. (My daughter, and the stranger.) Even though I had no right to, I dared to hope that my daughter had never really been that lost at all, and it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. I was wrong. It was worse.

Apparently, my two-year-old had followed this lady up the stairs, through two automatic doors, out of the building and into the rain. Thank God, Thank God, THANK GOD this woman happened to look down to notice my daughter there, standing solo on the sidewalk next to her.

Assuming correctly that this toddler was lost and not just waiting for a bus, this woman brought my daughter back inside. She almost immediately saw my face, the face of a parent who is looking for his or her lost child, and returned her to me.

The entire incident lasted only about a minute. I wouldn’t believe it was that fast, if not for the fact that no one else had seemed to notice. It was only after the tickets were bought and the skates were laced did I recount everything to my husband. My hands were still shaking.

We did go on to skate, and we did make it home with all three kids safely in tow. As I was tucking my littlest one into bed, I kissed her lids and squeezed her arms and said, “Let’s never leave each other again.” She agreed and drifted off to sleep. I know that won’t stick, I know that eventually she’ll have to leave (and maybe, unimaginably, I’ll want her to) but for now, that’s our deal. And I’m holding us to it.

 

Hit the books

By now, everyone is aware that it’s back-to-school season. There’s been no escape, and no excuse if you suddenly found yourself searching desperately for disappearing glue just a week before the first day of class. Like me, last year.

So maybe that’s why I was much more prepared this year, and why I had a little extra time and energy to buy some new children’s books for our already bulging shelves. We spent a lot of time at the library this summer, but there were a few gems that I just had to add to our permanent collection. Books like these are one of those rare parenting moments when you actually hope you’re fostering an addiction.

A few of our recent favourites!
A few of our recent favourites!
IVY & BEAN by Annie Barrows

Our oldest daughter has been begging for “Chapter Books” all summer, even though she’s not quite at that reading level. (Actually, at age six, she barely registers on any reading level.) But, as a 90s kid and cherisher of the box set myself, I totally understood. So I bought her a set of the first three books in the Ivy & Bean series, and we love them. We read a few chapters every night and it’s a welcome change from the terrible tablet habit we got into while on vacation.

THE PRINCESS AND THE PONY by Kate Beaton

Ok, I’ll admit this purchase was initially just for me, but luckily (and unsurprisingly) it’s become a favourite for the entire family. Princess warrior? Cozy sweaters? Farting pony? Yes, yes, yes. I love Kate Beaton, and not just because she’s a fellow Nova Scotian, but because she’s hilarious and ridiculously talented. This is the book that travels from room to room to room at bedtime. When it comes to hype for children’s books, this one lived up to it and more.

THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT by Drew Daywalt

There are books that have hype, and then there are books that have all of the hype. I don’t know why it took me so long to buy this book, but when the sequel, The Day the Crayons Came Home, was recently released, I realized it was time to buy the original. My kids love this book. It’s thoughtful, funny and never gets boring. I should know, because I’ve read it over and over and over again. The sequel is on our wish list.

So, what are some of your favorites for Fall?

The year of the swagger wagon

My parents had four kids. Although I have a few vague memories from the angular backseat of a navy Volvo sedan, the mode of transportation for almost the entirety of my childhood was a minivan.

There was the dark blue Chrysler, which we affectionately dubbed, “The Bluenose.” Then there was the upgraded Town & Country, with wood panel sides and state of the art sound (perfect for two teenage girls learning to drive and blasting ‘Bootylicious’ on the way to basketball practice). It endured more than a little wear and tear. Eventually, at certain speeds, its sliding doors would open unprovoked, negating any safety features that typically entice people to purchase passenger vans in the first place.

Then my parents made what was one of their proudest purchases, a brand spanking new Honda Odyssey with all the bells and whistles. It had power sliding doors! You have to understand, in the early 2000s, in my small hometown, power sliding doors were a thing of sorcery. My siblings and I drove that pretty gold van into the ground (literary, at one point), until it had well over 300,000 kms on it and would only drive in reverse. When my parents finally sent their youngest child off to university, they downsized. But for decades, we were a van family.

So it may surprise you to learn that I hate vans. I never wanted a van. Yes, safety, Yes, room. Yes, convenience. Blah, blah, blah. To me, family vehicles do not have to begin and end with minivans. Even back in the day, my cousins, who were also a family of six, drove around in a massive, mafia-esque black and chrome SUV. They were the COOLEST. I would never get a van. Nope. Nope. Nope.

This sentiment stuck with me well into parenthood, when we were searching for a new family vehicle to accommodate baby #3. We didn’t even test drive one van. SUVs, please. We ended up buying a bulky seven-seater and I was a happy camper. (Tow package included!) We may have comprised on year and mileage to get the model and trim we wanted within our budget, but that’s ok. We didn’t get a lemon.

We got a lemon. Well, it could have been much worse, but after only two years and a ridiculously low amount of kilometers, we have reached a crossroads: put more money (a lot more money) into our aging seven-seater or cut our losses and trade it in. I reluctantly admitted to myself that I don’t want another big SUV, thus a familiar question has once again raised its ugly, uncool head. Should we get a minivan?

This time, my husband wanted to at least test-drive one. As much as I’d like to deny their appeal, I knew that once my husband got behind the wheel of a minivan, he’d be lulled by its features, convenience and (ugh) drivability.

I desperately tried to distract him in the parking lot of another dealership. Look! A zippy five-seater! It’s perfect! Trust me! We just need to spend $1200 on aerodynamic space-engineered car seats and no one can exhale while the vehicle is in motion! We can literally make this happen! (My husband has learned that when I invoke, “Literally!” in any argument, I’ve lost all ground.)

There at the dealership, I jammed our three car seats in the back row of a small SUV to the point that they were unsafe, and unsuccessfully attempted to shut the doors. I then slowly, sadly arrived at the same conclusion my husband had reached weeks ago: We need a van.

So that’s where we are. Researching, test-driving, adjusting our life-long identities. I’ll let you know how it goes.

*Update: We got a van.

Jet lag white flag

It was at an amusement park in Prince Edward Island where my two-year-old daughter grabbed my hand and led me into a glass-walled maze. My husband had already entered ahead with our oldest two girls, so my fearless youngest daughter was left with her anxious, hesitant mother to guide her through the creepy fun house. (When you have two or more kids of a certain age, you’re almost always dragged into the action.)

At first, we giddily moved through the maze with our arms out in front, carefully avoiding the abrupt dead ends. I even did the bit where I slammed my foot into a deceptively clear glass panel and threw my head back in fake agony. She loved it. (Why do kids love it when we pretend to get hurt?)

But after a few wrong moves and getting absolutely nowhere, I started to feel a little disoriented. The entire experience lasted only a few minutes but I’m embarrassed to say I was more than a little relieved when we eventually found the exit. True to form, my two-year-old’s immediate response was, “Again! Again!”

That dizzy, disoriented feeling hasn’t really left me since our vacation. (Although it could also have to do with the many, many rounds on the carousel and tea cup rides. “Again! Again!”) I’m also still jet-lagged, often waking up at 4AM with the sensation that I should go running, dye my hair blonde or start my own blueberry business. (I would love to embrace an onslaught of brilliant ideas at 4AM if they were actually brilliant.)

I’m also dealing with a little bit of calorie-withdrawal. After subsisting almost solely on a diet of s’mores, shellfish and COWS ice cream (not consumed all together, I’m not an animal) I’m trying to right-size my menu now that we’re back in Calgary. While I’m not technically hangry, I’m a little hanky (hungry/cranky).

To top it all off, we chose this week to take our two-year-old out of her crib and out of her diapers in a potty-training, bed-upgrade boot camp. Another one of my brilliant 4AM ideas. To be fair, though, our toilet-training attempts have never been that strategic. We usually make the move when our kids are about a certain age and we’ve simply run out of diapers.

I guess my sluggish adjustment to regular life is to be expected, considering everything we have on our plate. (Or don’t have on our plate. I wish I could shake this craving for two scoops of Messie Bessie in a signature waffle cone.) And it’s also likely temporary. I’m sure my energy levels and REM cycles will return to normal soon.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to teeter around my tottering toddler as she excitedly runs to the toilet. Obviously, the best part is hitting the flush.

“Again! Again!”