Room for one more

I used to have a theory that women who couldn’t convince their husbands to have any more children would get a family pet instead. You know how it is: a couple has two or three kids, and when the youngest becomes a preschooler, all of a sudden a pet arrives on the scene. The cause and effect relationship seems obvious: someone wanted another kid, and someone else had tapped out with the last one.

I’m here to tell you that cause and effect relationships don’t always speak for themselves. The more likely scenario is that by the time the youngest child becomes a preschooler, the oldest is old enough to beg for a pet. For an entire year. And while stuffed animals may delay the inevitable for a while, the day is coming when your children will wear you down and you will find yourself the proud owner of a pet – preferably a furry one.

  As anyone who has followed my blog for any period of time knows, our children have a fascination with animals and animal behaviour. For Teddy, the sweetest memory of the summer of 2011 will probably always be his three mini toads that he smuggled back to the city from the cottage. Letting them back into the wild will probably always be one of his most bitter childhood memories.

Teddy’s first pets: mini-toads in a water bottle cap

Although the toads are long gone, they had the lasting effect of awakening in him a desire for a real pet.

 Here’s the thing: I’ve never been a “pet person,” certainly not a “cat person”, and probably could have lived out my days happily without a pet of any description. But when a charming young lady begs you to take an adorable kitten that you know full well would put your sweet young boys in raptures, your heart is bound to soften, no matter how hard it previously was. And so it was, that after having Lucy at our house for a late-night test drive after the children were in bed, we agreed to take the plunge.

 

Two nights later, our friend brought Lucy and her few earthly possessions to her new formerly pet-free home, and with some parting instructions and many tears left this playful, alien creature with us. Lucy spent the night in her carrier, and we looked forward to the next day when our children would get the surprise of their young lives.

 

The next morning Sammy went downstairs to get his stuffed horse, and walked right past the carrier. On his way back upstairs, this new accessory caught his eye and he curiously peered inside.

“TEDDY!” he called loudly. “You gotta come see this! There’s something really cute downstairs!”

Teddy came bounding down the stairs, saw the kitten, and asked incredulously, “is this really our pet? Is she staying with us? Forever?” That last question is a tricky one. It really addresses one of the main concerns I’ve always had with getting a pet for children: that animal represents a heartache waiting to happen when “forever” ends in tragedy.

The seasoned pet owner’s obvious response to that line of reasoning is, of course, that you’re failing to take into account all the joy that preceeds the sorrow, and that the value of this joy exceeds the duration of the sorrow. Even I must concede that they are right. Lucy is quite a character, and our children are very much taken with her. Let’s put it this way: if they treated each other with the love and affection they reserve for their feline sister, our family would be the 3-D version of a Tricia Romance painting. Lucy is hugged, kissed, squeezed, carried, given good-night hugs, told she is loved, fed, and followed around the house. That cat has somehow managed to secure her little band of groupies by doing absolutely nothing. And if the individual members of her following didn’t fight over who got the chance to pet her next, it would be heaven.

For me, the real joy of owning a cat comes when she noiselessly slinks onto the couch where I am reading a book after the children are in bed, and promptly falls asleep on my lap, making no demands of my time. She’s like a low-maintenance kid: she’s fun-loving and curious, does funny things like chase her tail or jump into the paper recycling can, but is already potty-trained, cleans herself, sleeps through the night (not technically speaking, but I don’t notice her in the laundry room), can be left home alone, and eats from a bowl that does not even need to be washed every day. Whoever thinks this type of pet is a lot of work has never had a baby. We’ll see whether my enthusiasm lasts beyond the first visit to the vet.

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A blast from the past: On the Brighter Side of Puke

In honour of another round of vomitting in our house, I have re-posted a short piece that I had removed from my blog way back when it became “creationcarekids.” Some of you may have read it. To others it will be new. Either way, enjoy, for it is still as true today as it was when I first composed it.

            I’ll admit that today’s topic might not be for those with a weak constitution. But Parents, listen up. I personally do not enjoy these dastardly revolts of the gastro-intestinal system any more than the next person, but I’ve decided to find the silver lining around the dark cloud of virally-induced vomiting and diarrhea.

  1. A puking family member requires little to no food. This is a benefit when you consider that it costs at least $500 a month to feed a family of 5. That’s a savings of $3/day per person. The longer the puking lasts, the more savings will be realized.
  2. It’s a well-known fact that a recovering stomach requires chicken soup made from scratch. In most families, each member will get a turn hosting (and subsequently expelling) the gastro-intestinal viruses, but this is no problem when you’ve made soup from an entire chicken in your giant stainless steel canner. Best to get all the puking over with while the soup’s still good.
  3. There’s nothing like vomiting and diarrhea to get you to change the bed and wash your linens. Some of us aren’t as on top of changing the bedding as we’d like to be, so a good puke-soaking will straighten that right out.
  4. Your bathroom is never as clean as when there is vomiting and diarrhea going through the family. These messes are powerful motivators to clean up good and proper.
  5. You’ll probably notice a marked decline in energy levels in your house when one or more children feel nauseous. Take this time to sit down and make a phone call, because once that kid feels better, that may not happen again during waking hours.

I think I’ve adequately illustrated how vomiting and diarrhea are actually blessings in disguise. The key to survival is to brew up a big pot of coffee to get you through the next day on little to no sleep, and you will almost wish for the flu at your house. Well, I’ve got no plans today. Play-date, anyone?

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This is not farewell

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

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I recently spent an evening listening to a 90-year-old woman talk. If you’ve never listened to a 90-year-old person talk about his or her life, you really should. Our conversation gave me a lot to think about.

Aunt Susie told me about her life; about her decision to marry a widower with 13-month-old twins instead of pursuing her own dreams, about raising 8 children while working in a nursing home to make ends meet, all the while taking care of a child who was in and out of the hospital. She told me of the pain of losing that son at the age of 18 after 13 years of illness. “I still miss that boy,” she would say. She has buried two husbands. She has housed and nurtured foreign students, been the live-in companion to the developmentally challenged, and adopted the 30 descendants of her deceased sister, in addition to her own large extended family.

Now in her 90’s, she starts her day by praying for each family member by name. There are over 200 people on her list, so this takes a while. People will approach her with personal needs and she prays for them. She calls one friend on a daily basis to pray with her over the phone. Aunt Susie has no idea how her friend’s problem can be solved, but this doesn’t stop her from praying for her. She’s confident that God knows the answer.

She journals. She writes down the minutiae of life: the phone calls she made, what she had for breakfast, which appointment she had at 10:00am. It keeps her mind sharp. I wonder what she would think if I told her that people are doing this on something called the internet for the whole world to see. She would probably think me insane.

She also journals about sermons she’s heard. Helps the teaching to sink in, she says. One would think that someone who spends that kind of time praying and reading her Bible would have no use for the sermons of people 30 to 50 years her junior, but she does.

And finally, Aunt Susie makes cards. Personalized birthday cards for the people in her life, complete with dried flowers arranged on the front and a verse or poem chosen just for them. Sometimes she makes up to six cards a day. She probably uses more stamps in a month than I have in the entire last decade.

Aunt Susie spends her time serving, praying, and counting her blessings. She is blissfully unaware of reality TV, which movies are now playing, what Lady Gaga tweeted about today, or who has posted new photos on facebook. She never has to check her e-mail, pay a cell phone bill, or install a firewall on her computer. What matters in her life are relationships with people and her Lord. That’s it. And I envy her for it.

Having said that, I already hear the rebuttals: “She’s 90 and living in a retirement home where all her needs are met. You’re 32, caring for a young family, networking with people, paying a mortgage, saving for retirement and your kids’ education, and trying to keep your ear to the ground so as not to appear totally stupid in a conversation.”

I get that. And still I envy the simplicity of her life. I envy the peace that emanates from her well-organized mind. I envy the discipline she has developed in her formative years and maintained in her later years. I envy the quiet of her inner being, the attitude of rest in her manner. Her contentment with her situation. The total absence of striving after meaningless things. I cannot help but compare her simple life to the social networking noise, the frenzied pace of technology, the worship of the environment, and the pressure to do it all because you are Woman!

So for this reason (and because it’s gardening season) I have decided to take a hiatus from blogging and unnecessary use of technology. This does not mean I will not return to this place to write down my thoughts in the future. This blog will still exist. But I have decided not to care about how many people follow my blog, or whether they care about what I care about. I have decided that, for now, I’d rather invest my time in training my children and being with my family than writing about it. I’d rather be in my garden than sitting in front of my computer writing about it. I have decided to invest my precious time in the relationships that are right in front of my nose instead of bowing to the pressure to “follow other blogs so that someone will follow yours.” This is the reason I left the juvenile medium known as Twitter, why I can’t be bothered to post statuses on facebook, and why I leave the computer off on evenings and weekends. As far as I’m concerned, this metal box full of chips and wires gobbles up too much time that could be spent doing other useful things – like riding my bike to visit a friend.

To be clear, I am not bringing my laptop to the curb. I rely on it for everything from banking to e-mail communication to running my piano teaching business. With the change of season, however, I am once again putting it in its proper place of servitude, and elevating relationships and real-world, tangible, sensory-stimulating things and activities to their rightful place of importance in my life.

The very first blog post I ever wrote began like this: Technology and I have come to a tenuous agreement: though I hate it and it hates me, neither of us are going away, and so here we are, coexisting in a space called Debbiesblog. (Now creationcarekids) As any shrink will tell you, a relationship where both parties are seeking their own advantage is doomed to failure, and so it is when I attempt to coexist with technology. My dear readers, do not let this temporary separation distress you, however. This is not good-bye, but merely see you later…

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Saving the Oregon Spotted Frog

“We are going to save The Frogs!” Teddy announced yesterday as he arrived home from school. What I heard was, “Mom, I need 20 bucks!” He proudly presented a round, pink paper-maché pig, which, in his little mind, made perfect sense in connection with saving The Frogs. Although the details were sparse, the connection in my mind was clear: Teddy’s school needs more money.

Let’s just say I wasn’t too enthusiastic about throwing money at frogs. The kids’ pizza order forms are still lying around on my desk, waiting to be filled. Our friends are going to Thailand and are asking for our support. The Kidney Foundation wants our money, as does the Humane Society. Our el Cheapo BBQ needs to be replaced, Caleb has no summer shoes, and some months our grocery bills are dangerously close to the four-figure mark. I don’t need another thing to throw money at. (Did anyone notice that I stifled the urge to include rising gas prices in my list?)

At supper, Teddy finally filled us in on the details, which were surprising to say the least. Apparently the Northern Leopard Frog and the Oregon Spotted Frog are both endangered in North America. The fact that the kids are learning about endangered species is not surprising to me. What is surprising, is that the kids are supposed to fill that pig with money raised by the sweat of their brow. In other words, they’re supposed to work for mom and dad’s support! I have decided that his teacher is a genius.

What makes her even more of a genius is that she’s asking every child to raise – get this – one dollar. Not $20. One dollar. I had to read that several times to be sure I hadn’t misplaced the decimal in my mind. Given that Teddy and his classmates have been primed to seek work vacuuming, clearing the table and drying the dishes, I can get a lot of mileage out of this buck. He received a quarter for clearing the table after supper yesterday. This morning he helped Sam clean out the dishwasher (Sam’s morning chore) in hopes that it would garner him a dime. All of this from a kid who, together with his brother, earned almost $10 picking up sticks from the lawn during March Break. To be specific, Teddy and Sammy picked up 960 sticks, which, at a penny per stick, added up to a handsome $9.60. Teddy was already earning $1.00 picking up sticks when he was five or six years old, so this assignment seems almost too easy.

I suppose his teacher has to consider the lowest common denominator though. Our children learn to work almost from the time they can walk upright, whereas some of the 7 and 8-year-olds in his class have probably never made the acquaintance of a kitchen towel. Kudos to the grade 2 teachers at Teddy’s school for reintroducing the long-forgotten idea that kids can do real useful work to raise money for a cause they believe in.

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A Quiver full of Blessings

When I consider all the evenings Oliver and I have fallen into bed, utterly exhausted by our three boys and their antics, yesterday seems even more surreal. While on most evenings I find myself praying, “God just give us the strength for this next half hour of showers and tooth brushing,” yesterday I found myself thanking God for the three amazing gifts that never cease to surprise us.

After a lovely day of gardening and playing outside, we had just finished supper when a landscaper friend came by the house to give us some advice on our outdoor plans. We left the boys to play inside so that we could both be part of the consultation. Every now and then I would check on the boys, just to make sure that there wasn’t any trouble. After all, in my experience, war will break out between those three within about 2 minutes of being left to their own devices. Though I didn’t actually see them, their quiet voices assured me that there was no reason to worry. “They’re probably just looking at books,” I thought. Still, strange…

As we were wrapping up the consult with the landscaper on the front porch, we spied the kids inside, jumping around in the living room, obviously trying to get our attention. Seeing that they were all happy and smiling, I simply smiled, nodded, and returned my attention to our friend. All of a sudden it dawned on me that Teddy was wearing PJs. Come to think of it, so was Sammy. Upon closer inspection, even Caleb was in PJs, which surprised us, since Caleb does not dress himself yet. “Too bad they don’t know it’s shower day,” I commented to the two Dads standing on the porch. “They’ll just have to take everything off again.”

At that point I noticed, however, that the boys’ hair looked wet. “Teddy,” I asked our 7-year-old through the window glass, “Did you shower?”

“Yup!” he exclaimed, obviously tickled pink that I was slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

“Did you shower everyone?

“Yup!” he said again, a giant smile on his face. “We even brushed our teeth!”

I couldn’t resist re-introducing our trophy children to our family friend, who was as shocked as Oli and I were.

As we were preparing to begin the story time ritual a little while later, Caleb suddenly entered the room saying, “I yat a poop!” Since Caleb still prefers the diaper to the potty for this particular bodily function, I assumed he was stating a fact that was in the past tense. I quickly ushered him into the bathroom, where it turned out that his pants were clean and he was eager to sit on his little red pot.

From his vantage point watching the exciting drama unfold in the doorway, Teddy was quick to tell me that he had already put Caleb on the potty before his shower. (Trust me folks, this kind of thing happens all the time when you have trophy children.) Apparently Caleb was having a great potty-day, because his subsequent potty-success sealed the deal on an incredible day.

We read stories snuggled on the couch in front of a warm fire, and finished off the time with some acappella singing. When we got to Peter Lutkin’s The Lord Bless You and Keep You – which I have been singing to all three at bedtime since they were nursing babes – I decided to take the two older boys to sing in Caleb’s room, who was still awake in his crib. As we stood in the darkness by his crib singing the familiar strains of this beautiful hymn of blessing, Caleb joined his little voice to our dissonant chorus. Although we don’t yet have harmonizing voices, that day we had harmony in the home. It was there in the darkness that I mentally bottled the moment; a small preserve for the next time they’re at each other’s throats and I’m losing my mind. For all the trouble they are, children are indeed a blessing.

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C’est L’amour – the Fall-Out of Valentines Day

Buster Brown Valentine postcard by Richard Fel...

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The only thing more frustrating than wasting err… spending precious time on February 13 making your child’s Valentines for his classmates, is finding every single Valentine still in his backpack when he comes home from school on February 14.

I didn’t realize how much pent-up frustration I still held from the previous night’s mad dash to finish something I do not believe in to begin with, but let’s just say Valentines Day at our house became a little less sweet beginning at 3:30 in the afternoon when everyone arrived home. “Sammy, what’s this?!?!?” I asked, both surprised and annoyed.

“Oh, I forgot.” He answered.

Nice try, my boy. There is no way he could have forgotten when I spent the night before urging him on toward the goal of at least writing his name on all of the cards, by painting a mental picture of how he would get to be the mailman the next day and distribute all his little letters in the kids’ mailboxes.

On the morning of February 14 I led him to his backpack, showed him the bag full of Valentines, and again enthused about how today was going to be a great day where he would get to hand out all of his Valentines just like the other kids.

You may ask why all this enthusiasm is necessary. I’ve already learned that our Sammy’s middle name is Apathy when it comes to things like this. The canned goods I sent in all came back home in his backpack. “I forgot.” His library book collected about 25,000,000 Air Miles riding back and forth in his backpack before he finally returned it. And now, we have over 60 Valentines in the house: Teddy’s received Valentines, Sammy’s received Valentines, and Sammy’s undistributed ones. I know you’re all laughing at the poetic justice of it all.

I should have known something was amiss when he was unwilling to go into school yesterday. He quietly confided in me that he didn’t want to hand out his Valentines. A shy boy, he probably feared having to go out on a limb and personally wish everyone a happy Valentines Day along with his little offering. I explained that he only needed to put them in the kids’ mailboxes when everyone else was doing the same thing.

Knowing that he is sometimes blissfully unaware of what’s going on around him because he has his head stuck in a fantasy world involving paper fish and possibly fire-breathing dragons, I figured he probably doesn’t really get what’s supposed to happen with those Valentines. So we went in together and I talked to his teacher, explaining that he was nervous for some reason and might need a bit of help handing out his Valentines. His teacher, an exuberant woman who does not have an introverted bone in her body, simply exclaimed, “Oh, he’ll be fine. It’s you who looks nervous.” Little did she know that I had a vested interest in those blasted things, am fully aware of my son’s track record in these types of things, and had just picked up our two-year-old off the ground after he had gone down a wet slide wearing only cotton pants.

My guess is, that while all the other children were happily putting their mothers’ carefully prepared Valentines into all their friends’ mailboxes, our son was either eating a cupcake (blissfully unaware) or playing with the dinosaurs in a corner (also blissfully unaware).

Maybe we should have just used the undistributed Valentines as fire-starters this morning and saved ourselves the hassle. Although, living with the guilt of having transgressed the 11th commandment would be too much for me to bear.

 

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C’est L’amour

I just finished the single-most futile yet somehow obligatory task in all of motherhood: my children’s Valentines cards. Combined, we completed over 40 this year. And yes, the kids did help. A little.

This afternoon (Feb. 13) at 5:00pm I found myself browsing through Shoppers Drug Marts’ assorted Valentine offerings along with all the Dads who had left the task to the last minute. The funny part is that I am not a Dad, but a Mom who is supposed to love Valentines Day and all it stands for. I’m supposed to be the torchbearer of all things sappy and pink in a household where my gender is outnumbered 4:1, but I just cannot do it. In my mind, Valentines Day and this ridiculous tradition of handing out a Valentine to every child in the class could be done away with, beginning immediately.

Being the saintly mother that I am, however, there I was standing in the drug store trying to decide on whether to throw my money away on Dinosaur Valentines or (official) NHL Valentines. The Dad next to me was on his cell phone with his 6-year-old: “How about Hello Kitty? No? Tinkerbell?… Ummmm, pink, it looks like… The Tinkerbell ones are Pop-Ups. No? So Hello Kitty then? Ok, I’ll keep looking.”

I wasn’t about to let my kids make the choice between dumb and dumber, and so I went with the non-licensed character Picture Search Valentines for Teddy, who would love that type of thing, and the Dolphin Pop-Up Valentines for Sammy, who would also love that type of thing. Had I realized that the pop-ups aren’t actually built-in, I would have dropped that box like a hot potato.

While Teddy went about preparing his Valentines like a seasoned pro in a chicken processing plant, Sammy needed more guidance (this being his first Valentines Day, after all). He was so taken with those dolphins that all he wanted to do was play with them. I repeatedly reminded him that his only task was to sign his name, which he did to the best of his ability. My tasks in preparing those Valentines included:

  •  punching the 20 dolphins out of the cardboard
  • matching the correct dolphin to the correct card background (which took some figuring out, seeing as there were 8 different card designs and 8 different dolphin types – Yay!)
  • bending the little tabs to fit into the little slots of the cards
  • carefully finagling them through the little slots
  • ensuring that each dolphin would actually pop up
  • securing the card tops into the little tabs to keep it closed
  • addressing it to the lucky classmate who would receive this token of Sam’s affections.

The hilarious thing is that Sammy has no interest in actually giving Valentines to girls. Just this morning he was telling me that girls only gave to girls and boys only gave to boys.

If only this were so, my Boy.

The truth is that there is this unspoken 11th commandment that says “thou shalt prepare a Valentine for each child in the class of thy progeny with a view to each child’s fragile self-esteem and the other parents’ esteem of thee. Shouldst thou disregard this immovable law, thou and thy child shalt be smitten with the knowledge that thou wast the only family to not participate in this most sacred Elementary sacrament.”

So every year I put it off until the very last minute, finally haul my reticent rear-end to Shoppers Drug Mart on February 13, and spend the evening helping my children complete a task that they really cannot be expected to do by themselves at the age of 4.

I asked one last-minute Dad whose children are in grades 5 and 2 whether there was any end in sight to this madness. He didn’t offer me much hope, saying that the tradition was still alive and well in his daughters’ grade 5 class. I’ve done the math, people. If this blight lasts until grade 6, I will have spent 12 years buying and preparing Valentines that will only end up in the recycling the next day (at least if the other homes are anything like ours). For 7 of those years I will be responsible for more than 60 Valentines.

I think it’s time to start a revolution.

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