To get to the other side

Things have been… busy, lately. And when things get busy, I start to notice my sanity unravel. I’m loath to admit this, because of course I’m perfect, but unfortunately it’s true. I’m not built to be too busy. I like being just busy enough.

My tipping point arrived a few days ago, during one of those ridiculous weekdays in which every minute was scheduled, every task was essential and every word I spoke to my kids was, “Hurry up. Quiet down. WHY AREN’T YOU DRESSED YET?” Everyone had been sick, including our pets, and I had committed myself to several things that were outside of our typical timetable. In between hours of errands and our very limited minutes at home, I prepared dinner in advance. I made chicken.

In the past, one of my most stressful daily experiences was driving home during afternoon rush-hour and having absolutely no plan for dinner. Now that I stay at home and our kids are a bit older and my brain is almost at a functioning level, I have all of our weekly meals planned. I have our fridge efficiently stocked. I have food on the table every day by five o’clock. It’s not just my best attempt at a Norman Rockwell painting, it’s part of my self care. (It’s also delicious.)

Minutes after the meal was cooked, I had just enough time to pat myself on the back before running out the door with all the kids for another appointment. It would be quick, and we would all be back in time to meet my husband at the door when he got home from work and sit down to a family dinner. What I didn’t have time to do was put the piping hot chicken just out of reach of our naughty nine-year-old dog who sometimes (enough for me to know better) has the habit of eating off the counter. When I returned home around five o’clock, it took me two seconds to realize where the chicken went. And my head exploded.

It wasn’t just that I was upset about the chicken. That’s not how my brain works when I’m overworked. Instead, in those moments, my brain pulls every bad memory, every moment of weakness, every failure on record and parades them in front of me like a slideshow of shame just to say, “See, Shannon, this is why you can’t have nice things. Or chicken.”

I couldn’t stop the tsunami of thoughts that went very quickly from, “Dinner is ruined!” to “Our dog’s going to get sick! Our vet bill was already enormous this week and shoot, did I give my daughter her medicine this morning? Why is this house such a mess, I just cleaned it and why did the school call, was I supposed to volunteer? I didn’t write today, no one’s socks match in my family, what happened to my career and F*** YOU NORMAN ROCKWELL!”

Or something like that.

Eventually, I calmed down. This was after my husband came home, we pulled together a meal, put the kids to bed and coaxed our darling dog out of the corner where she was hiding because she knows what she did. When I was finally able to breathe again, I was almost grateful for my breakdown because it gave me the chance to say, “I can’t do this. Today was too much.” And for my husband to remind me that that’s ok. And that we have each other. And to remind me that I am, in fact, perfect. (I’m paraphrasing.)

The next day, when I had to clean up our dog’s barf which consisted of my perfectly cooked chicken and some undigested grass, I wasn’t even mad.*

*Ok, it was barf. So I was a teeny, tiny bit mad. Like, the appropriate amount for cleaning up dog barf, if there’s a scale for those things.

This bill is bananas

You're not fooling anyone, bananas.
You’re not fooling anyone, bananas.

Yesterday I did something that I rarely ever do. I went to the grocery store on a Wednesday. My list had two small items that I needed before my usual grocery-getting trip on Friday. I felt a little bad, and not because it was 8am and my two-year-old was already enjoying one of the complimentary cookies. It was because I’ve worked very hard to keep our grocery check-outs in check, and yesterday I went off-course.

Ok. I don’t mean to be dramatic. This was a small, necessary deviation from our regular routine for the sake of milk and bananas.* But it did remind me of how we used to handle our groceries, and our grocery bill, and I have to say we’ve come a long way.

A few years ago, our eating habits were what you might call unsustainable. We were spending way too much money and wasting way too much food. This was around the time we became brand new parents and our heads exploded. I spent hours steaming, roasting and processing fresh fruit and vegetables to ceremoniously feed to my little ones, while I unceremoniously stuck a frozen pizza (or two) in the oven around 8pm for my husband and me. This was our reward for getting through the day, so we could enjoy our easy meal and binge-watch The Wire in peace. It worked for us at the time.

Until it didn’t. Right around the time that our growing girls began joining us at the dinner table, I took a real, hard look at our growing grocery bill. And then, I took a real, hard look at the forgotten food that would end up as waste at the end of each week. It was our wake-up call. I wanted to make changes for our health and our wallets, and we both wanted to set a better example for our kids at mealtime.

It probably should have been a gradual shift, but truthfully we did an overhaul almost overnight. We changed the way we approached buying food, eating food and enjoying food. We actually started to eat more in terms of ‘quality’ and quantity. And it saved us money! I cut down on my trips to the grocery store, started meal planning and made much more use of my time. Our meals were no longer an afterthought, or worse, a source of negative thoughts. They were thoughtful. And worry-free. And thoroughly enjoyable.

We still splurge every now and then (and again and again), but we attempt to eat and spend as it fits into our overall plan. I try very, very hard to never feel guilty about the food I do eat, but I do feel guilty about the food I waste. After we made this change a few years ago, I hardly feel guilty about food at all.

Except when our favourite pizza place calls to say they miss us and hope we come back soon. I still love you, pizza place! Just not three nights a week.

*Due to an unfortunate combination of unrelenting morning sickness and a bad banana smoothie, I have not eaten bananas since 2009. And I have no future plans to do so. My family loves bananas, so I buy them, but even mentioning them in this post has made my stomach gurgle. That’s how much I care about my family’s happiness (in relation to their banana consumption).

A year in words

I’m not really one for resolutions, or regrets, or radicchio. (Although I am one for alliteration, at all costs.)

But I can’t help but look back on 2015 and think it was a raging success. I had some ups, some downs, and some life-turned-upside-downs, and (lucky you) they were all documented here for your reading pleasure. Here’s a snapchat:*

This year, I said yes. A lot. Like joining my husband and daughters for a family run instead of standing in my pantry eating handfuls of gummy bears. (I did that, too, and it was amazing.)

I said no. There were times, especially in the last few months, when I felt overwhelmed. On top of stumbling through my day job and dreaming of my dream job, I felt the pressure of the four million other things I should be undertaking. I had to slow down, practice self-care and say no to some less important things, so I could eventually say yes to more important things.

I pushed myself to write. And to call myself a writer. And to share my writing with you and a bunch of discerning five-year-olds. I pushed myself to run. And even though I fell short of a few running goals, and some writing goals, I’m still standing. (Which is the anthesis of running, so that should be obvious.)

I said goodbye. I found myself traveling alone to Nova Scotia twice this year, once to say farewell to a wonderful woman, and once to be together with my parents and siblings at a difficult time. These times were hard, but they made me forever grateful for everything.

I was surrounded by love. Lots of love. So much love. I learned a lot about my daughters, and they learned a little about me. (Mostly good stuff.)

And despite a few close calls, I made it into the New Year without losing a single person. Ok, ok, I did technically lose a person, but she was found relatively quickly and is now tethered to my body with rope and glitter glue. But I can proudly say that I made it into the New Year without losing a single person for a period longer than five minutes.

It was a good year. And I have a feeling 2016 will be even better.

Happy New Year!

*Possible new years resolution: Learn what snapchat is.

Good expectations

People often ask me, “How do you do it?” And although these people are my small children and they’re usually referring to complicated board game instructions, I thought I would take the time to share my recently discovered secret to success: good expectations.

I like to set my sights high-ish. I have goals-ish. My expectations are good, not great. That way, I hardly ever fall short of life’s seemingly endless challenges and spiral down a rabbit hole of failure, fear and regret.

It wasn’t always this way. As a teenager, I had laughable, lofty expectations of life, love and prom. I blame American television shows. But as life, love and prom (and my vocabulary) proved to be a bit less glamorous than that of the sesquipedalian kids of Dawson’s Creek, I adapted.

For example, when I was a new mom at home alone while my entire family lived on the East Coast and my husband travelled for work, my daily expectation for myself was pretty low. The lowest of the low. Did my baby attempt a nap? Yes? Success! Is her belly full of breast milk and her bones still intact? Seemingly so? Success! Did I shower today and remember to rinse the conditioner from my hair? Who can be sure? Success!

Aside from the tears, fears and unsettling hormone imbalance, my year-end parenting performance review was outstanding. (So much so that I promoted myself to mother of two. Then tree. With each new newborn, my expectations lowered even further. Does everyone have a pulse? I think so? Success!)

Now, as my youngest daughter approaches age three and my mind, body and soul emerge from the trenches of tantrums and toddlers, I’m slowly starting to raise my expectations ever so slightly. But there are levels to this sh**. And since you asked I’ll share with you my approach, which involves a tertiary goal system and exactly zero accountability. (You have to find what works for you.)

Level One: Daily life.

While some people might call this category a routine, or universal parenting responsibilities, or simple mindless tasks a monkey could do, I call these goals, simply so I can give myself extra credit when we make it to the bus stop on time or I remember to pack my daughter’s lunch. Bus, lunches, dinner, drop-offs, pick-ups, these are all my daily life goals. (In addition to these daily life goals, there are also what I like to call add-ons, like permission slips, library books and special events. If I can successfully accommodate these add-ons at a frequency of three out of five, I pat myself on the back.)

Level Two: Nice to haves.

These goals are less things I should accomplish and more things I pull off somehow. Like hitting (and surpassing) 100 posts on my blog. Applying successfully to the WGA Mentorship Program. Showing up on time to hockey / piano / dance with equipment / homework / all three children safely in tow. These are nice to haves. Did the sweet teacher receive her gourmet chocolates on the last day of school before Christmas break? No? My daughter forgot them in her backpack? Oh well. No biggie. Appearing as a put-together, appreciative mom of a girl who had a great beginning to the school year was a nice to have. Besides, who doesn’t love getting chocolates in January, four days into their resolutions?

Level Three: A girl can dream.

Here’s where I store the unmentionables. Goals that seem about as achievable to me as winning the lottery. Run five miles. Publish a book. Win the lottery. These are the loftiest of all my goals, so lofty that acknowledging them at all makes them even more elusive, like a birthday wish or another Jays pennant run. Raise three happy, well-adjusted, independent kids. Retire early and travel the world with my husband. Retire at all. Find a job from which I can eventually retire. Have perpetually manicured hands. Overhear my daughters’ friends say, “Your mom is so cool,” and my daughters say, “Yeah, she’s pretty great.” Like I said, a girl can dream.

So there you have it. The anatomy of ‘good expectations’ provided by someone who managed to shower this morning and make the kids lunch. In that order. You’re welcome. And good luck. (Or, should I say, great luck.)

The F-word

Almost every parent I know has a line drawn in the sand. Sometimes it’s around sugar. Sometimes it’s around screen time. Sometimes it’s Caillou. (I could go on and on about this show, but if you wanted to hear someone whine for hours, you could just watch the show for yourself.)

As a parent of three young daughters, my line in the sand is drawn around my body. It’s a wall, actually. Inside the wall are only good thoughts and behaviors and words. Outside the wall is everything else, including one word in particular: fat.

It may seem small, and I’m not even sure what affect it will have, but that is my line. My kids eat sugar, they’ve binged on Netflix, and they have definitely, inexplicably delighted in watching Caillou throw a tantrum at the grocery story, the public pool, the soccer pitch, the water park… (WHYYY do kids love that show?). But they will never, ever, EVER hear me call myself fat.

Which is why it broke my heart so acutely, so deeply, when my six-year-old daughter called me that.

It happened during my foolish and fruitless search for a holiday outfit that is stunning, affordable, and appropriate for all holiday occasions. (Is that too much to ask?!) I also foolishly thought this could be accomplished in the company of my three young children during the 10 free minutes we had that day. I undressed in our crowded change room and began with outfit number one, a faux furry sweater that looked like a dog’s butt. I know this, because my six-year-old said, “That looks like a dog’s butt.”

We laughed. It did look like a dog’s swirly butt. But as any parent knows, laughing at a six-year-old’s slightly inappropriate joke is adding fuel to a wildfire. Things accelerate quickly. All roads lead to more butt jokes. And I could see the embers blaze in my daughter’s bored, blue eyes as she hungered for more laughs.

Your butt is funny,” she said as I removed the butt shirt.

More giggles from her two younger sisters. She pushed on.

“Your belly is jiggly,” she said. I attempted to temper the conversation by doing an especially silly dance as I stepped into a skirt, standing there in a state of undress in front of my three small girls.

And then she said it.

“Why is your belly so… fat?”

I assume you are now wondering what my belly looks like. Well, it’s a belly. It fits nicely inside my jeans. I guess it looks like I delivered three babies in a span of three and a half years. It looks like I gained weight and lost weight. When I do jumping jacks, it looks like Jello. When I do push-ups, it looks like a loaf of bread. My body does not look as it did when I was 16. But I’m ok with that. In fact, I love it. I love it more now than I was able to love it back then.

My husband loves my body too. He tells me every day. My doctor loves my body too. (OK, love is a strong word, but judging from the thumbs up at my last physical, at the very least she finds it medically acceptable.)

My children love it too. They trace the fuzzy freckles on my forearm like clues on a treasure map. They wrap themselves around my legs and giggle at my disaster of a pinky toe. (Show me a pinky toe that’s not a disaster.)

And almost every chance they get, they sink their hands deep into my soft belly and tell me stories of their entirely made-up adventures as babies in the womb. It’s my most favourite time. If I hadn’t learned to love my body, including my belly, if I flinched or winced or instinctively tugged down my shirt and covered my ‘flaws’ when they wanted to touch my skin, I would miss those ridiculous stories. I would never know that they commandeered a pirate ship inside my stomach. I would never know they banged on drums inside my lungs. They would never know what my body really looked like. And that I think it’s beautiful.

That didn’t come without effort. I worked really, really hard (and still work hard) to have comfort with and appreciation for my body. Initially, I faked it, motivated only by my daughters’ precious sense of selves. But over time, my self-love started to take root. And in my 32 years, this is the best I’ve ever felt about my body. Just in time for those three curious sets of eyes to take notice.

Which is why it broke my beating heart when my six-year-old asked me why my belly was so fat. Because what she was really saying was, why is your belly so wrong?

And truthfully, my heart didn’t break because my daughter called me fat. It broke for what she might one day call herself.

She immediately felt remorse. Kids are always testing new language, and I could tell she was confused why this particular word left the mark that it did.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t even know what that word means.”

Of course she’s going to learn what that word means, especially in its most negative form. The word itself isn’t bad. It’s the message. And of course my line in the sand can’t protect her from every negative thought about her body. But when she tragically, inevitably has one of those negative thoughts, I hope she remembers my response that day. It was the only thing I could think to say.

“I love my body.”

I do. And I love her body. And her sisters’ bodies. And my husband’s body. Not just because they’re strong or fast or one-of-a-kind, and not in spite of any lumps or bumps or perceived imperfections they may have. Because of one simple reason.

Every body is worthy of some love.

All things being equal

Life is about balance. Work and play. Give and get. Spend and save. (Although this time of year it feels more like we’re spending our savings…)

Each Christmas, I attempt to reign in our holiday spending. With recent tax hits, looming lay-offs, and market slumps, we really do need to proceed with caution. (We also decided that this would be a great time to make a large, unnecessary, emotionally-driven investment, because obviously.)

I love Christmas, and all the gift-giving, cookie-baking, tree-decorating merriness that it brings, but I want our kids to know that there’s more to this season than get, get, get. They will have an amazing Christmas, and even though our household is feeling the pinch, we’re feeling it with vet bills, hockey fees and vacation plans. We still have food on the table. Many folks do not.

It was actually around the table that our family had this discussion. In an attempt to keep the kids in their seats long enough finish their meals, my husband and I asked them for their Christmas wish list. They’re aware that Santa brings one gift, and that there are limits to what that gift can be. (“But if Santa builds his toys, why does it matter if it costs too much?” says the six-year-old about the iPad that Santa will not be bringing.) Their want lists were a mile-long, which accentuated the fact that our need list is mercifully short.

Food Bank use in our province, Alberta, rose dramatically in the last year. (So much so that it increased the national average.) It’s up 83 percent since 2008. We do our part when it’s asked of us, for school food drives or clothing donations, but I’ve hardly been proactive when it comes to supporting our community. It’s shameful, really, because we all had much more to give during the boom. Now, during the bust, it’s the time when it’s needed most.

So on Tuesday, December 1 (officially proclaimed Giving Tuesday by the City of Calgary, following Black Friday and Cyber Monday) we’re starting a new tradition. Our doorbell will ring. Our girls will see that Santa has left a box of wish list items for the Calgary Food Bank’s Emergency Food Hamper. And they can do their part for their community, year after year.

It’s a small step. So small it’s almost nothing. But it’s something. And hopefully our kids will get the message that it’s ok to want something (other than an iPad, sorry sweetie) but it’s important, more important, to give.

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.

All hands on deck

One of the simplest truths about parenting is that the bigger person needs to be the bigger person. Simple. But not always easy.

It’s also true that I can be a bit sensitive at times. And while it’s easy to reason with yourself when your toddler looks at the lovely dinner you’ve prepared and goes eewwww, there are other times when the reasoning takes a bit of effort.

Like many stay-at-home parents, the bulk of the weekday shuffle is left in my moderately capable hands. Monday to Friday I’m the cruise ship captain of our family vessel, trying my hardest to be chipper and cheery as I muster my slowpoke passengers from the poop deck (so much poop deck) to our daily activities. Sometimes, most times, all goes well. But other times, there’s a mutiny.

Lately, our oldest daughter has been a little…fiesty. With our crazy September schedule and the ever-evolving experiences she confronts on a daily basis, I can hardly blame her. I’ve also probably failed at being more ‘Mom,’ and less ‘Captain Get Dressed for School, We’re Late Again.’ I’ll admit, as the oldest child she’s the one I expect the most from. But I could also afford to give her a break once in a while. Because now she’s pushing back, and I’ll admit, it’s a little hurtful.

What’s important, however, is that I don’t react as someone who is hurt but as someone who hears what she’s really saying. For example, we’ve entered into a pattern where she hops off the school bus and blurts out some ‘constructive’ observations about my failings. You forgot to pack my spoon! You were supposed to sign this form! You sent the snack in the wrong bag! Almost immediately, I can feel my defenses engage.

Instead of, ‘How was your day?’ or ‘I missed you!’, I’m tempted to say, ‘Weren’t you proud to bring in the snack for your class, whatever bag it was in? This form isn’t due until next week. And look, here’s your spoon, in the front pocket of your lunch bag.’

But we’re not really talking about a bag, or a form, or a spoon. (Although a spoon does go a long way when you’re eating soup.) I think it’s her way of showing me that she’s overwhelmed. And she needs my help in other ways. And that her shirt is stained with tomato soup.

It’s sometimes hard for me to keep my defenses down and really hear this, because (surprise) I’m overwhelmed too. It’s hard to be the parent, the Captain, the cook, the deck hand and the lifeboat, all while operating completely without a compass. (Luckily my husband has an excellent sense of direction.)

Our daughter is navigating new paths too. And while she still needs me to do all the logistical things that parents do, she also needs a safe port in the storm. Which is important to establish now, when the waters are relatively calm. Because in a few years from now we’ll have three tween-age daughters all under one roof, and I have a feeling it’s going to get rough. Or as my husband likes to put it, “Man overboard.”

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.