Posts tagged holidays

C’est L’amour – a year later

Once every ten years or so I change my mind about something. Most people with my personality will tell you that it is not easy to admit that your views on something may not have been sufficiently explored, and must therefore be subjected to scrutiny. Valentine’s Day is one such issue for me. Those of you who remember last year’s post are no doubt intrigued that I would even suggest a change of heart.It all began with my resolve to be more prepared this year. Because I have always found the tradition of handing out Valentines at school utterly useless, I would wage silent protest by not participating until February 13, when it became clear that my children would be the only ones not professing their undying love for their 19 classmates the following day. So on February 13 at 4:30pm I would yield to the will of the masses, and by 4:45 I’d be standing in Shopper’s Drug Mart with the other parents who had dragged their butts on the issue until the 11th hour, so to speak. (See last year’s post for a more detailed presentation of the repercussions of this type of approach on the home front.)

To avoid the stress and frustration therefore, I vowed that this year would be different. So casting aside my principles about the utter wastefulness of the purchase, preparation and distribution of Valentine’s Day cards, I headed to Shopper’s on February 3 of this year – a personal record in preparedness.

I should mention that the thought had been planted quite firmly by our second son, Sammy, (hereafter referred to as Romeo to better reflect his character) who began preparing Valentines for the entire family on February 1st. When we turned over a new page on the calendar he saw hearts, and immediately felt it incumbent upon himself to prepare for this most worthwhile of celebrations. By the end of the day every family member had a construction paper heart taped to the wall beside their bed with a heartfelt message of his affections. Obviously, someone around here actually cares about Valentine’s Day this year.

Contrary to the common perception, I am not a troll on matters of the heart, particularly not where my children are concerned. If it means this much to Romeo, I will surely do my part to help him celebrate. If I learned anything from last year, however, it is to carefully examine the cards before purchase. Do not purchase anything that has the fine print “some assembly required” if you do not wish to spend the evening of the 13th furiously assembling cards. The cards I found this year are really quite simple (no folding, no stickers, no pop-up construction, no GPS tracking device) and, I think, quite profound in the message they convey. Nothing says “I love you” like a googly-eyed Lion with the caption, “You’re Wild!” (The argument could be made by the astute parent that these cards may not be appropriate for young children, but I’m claiming naiveté in my defence.)It is hard to over-state the profundity of these cards.

The children are excited to hand out Valentines this year, I must admit. I suppose there could be worse things to celebrate. So while I do not ordinarily go on about mushy stuff on these pages, it is only fitting that I close with a small tribute to my stalwart husband who has, in the past year, selflessly taken on a lion’s share of the responsibility at home, now that I have a real-life job. I do not know too many men who do laundry, groceries and vacuuming in addition to working full-time and keeping everything from faucets to hinges to piano pedals working properly. So here’s to you, Babe: Happy 13th Valentine’s Day!

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

Buster Brown Valentine postcard by Richard Fel...

Image via Wikipedia

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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The War is Over

Bugs Bunny Rides Again

Image via Wikipedia

It has been one month since our family’s television fast began, and it’s time to take stock of our time spent disconnected.

I can’t say that we’ve gotten used to being completely without television, although I’d love to say that it has no draw on our family after being without it for one month. The truth is that there are times when I’d like to sit down with Oliver after the children are in bed to watch an episode of The Office. There are times I’d like to allow the children to watch a story they delight in, because I remember how I cherished those times with my brother when we were growing up. I have very fond memories of watching Mr. Dress-Up on a weekday morning or Bugs Bunny after church on Sundays with Dad.

Still, our television fast has been worthwhile. For one thing, we’ve been forced to come up with alternate activities during unstructured time. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, it required some effort on my part to plan activities for the children to do when they would normally have watched television before. As a result of exercising our collective creative muscle, our home is decorated with home-made paper snowflakes dangling in front of our picture window, and many of our presents are wrapped in recycled newsprint dressed up with paint stencils and potato stamps. We have handed out and enjoyed large amounts of home-made goodies, baked and decorated with the children’s help. We’ve made more music together, played more Lego together, and read more books together.

Oliver and I have also been challenged to find different things to do on those evenings when we’d rather have sat down and watched TV. We’ve spent many hours sitting in front of the fire, sometimes sipping a glass of wine and chatting about life. Our marriage has certainly benefited from the “forced” communication. Although we have spent many evenings apart, involved in our respective commitments and friendships, we have found more uninterrupted time to communicate in meaningful ways.

I cannot say that there have been any fundamental changes in our children’s behaviour as a result of not watching television or playing computer games. This is to be expected, however, since television only comprised a very small part of their daily routine to begin with. The one difference I can see is that they have become better at playing together peacefully, but that can be attributed to a change in the way Daddy and I deal with their bickering (for details on how we have begun dealing with sibling rivalry, see Cock Fights in the Chicken Coop).

The pre-Christmas season has passed seemingly more slowly than in previous years, and I feel that we have allowed our hearts to be prepared to celebrate the Saviour’s birth in the coming days. As with all fasts, we are looking forward to being able to return to “regularly scheduled programming,” as it were, but with the understanding that discernment still needs to be our plumb line as we expose ourselves and our children to media again.

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The War Is On (Part 3)

Douglas and his cake

We’ve baked cookies. We’ve decorated cookies. We’ve baked more cookies. We’ve celebrated a stuffed dog’s birthday with real cheesecake. (Our media-free Christmas is turning into a cholesterol-laden shock to the system.) I decided it was time for a new activity to ring in the festive season. I settled on painting.

   In my mind’s eye I can see a few of my readers shaking their heads. Painting at your dining room table with a 2, 4 and 6 year old? Are you nuts? By some definitions I probably am, considering I’ve voluntarily turned off the electronic babysitter for at least a month. I guess decorating Christmas cookies has awakened in me a dormant desire to create, and lately I’ve been dreaming of a colourful Christmas, complete with hand-painted plaster ornaments and home-made wrapping paper.

I spent the afternoon preparing the after-school craft, which is to say that I indulged my inner artiste and sat there painting a plaster ornament from the set I had purchased that morning. This will be perfect for Teddy, I thought. A quick search through my old craft supplies yielded more painting supplies than I remembered having. Apparently there was a time in my life when I had time to sit and paint plaster ornaments.

It quickly became clear though that there was no way Sammy – who is just learning how to grip a pencil properly – could manage the ornaments, so I also tried out the stencils I had bought at the craft store earlier in the week on some blank newsprint that has been accumulating in my desk for months. This brilliant idea came to me this week and I thought it too good not share it here.

For months our weekly advertising package arrives with an extra sheet of blank recycled newsprint. I’ve been saving these pieces thinking that they’d be great for crafts. Now that Christmas has arrived I am faced with the same conundrum I struggle with every year: finding an alternative to non-recyclable, high-gloss Christmas wrapping paper. For our own family I’ve sewn simple cloth bags from some flannel I once fell in love with at the fabric store. We use them year after year, but I don’t feel like giving them away with cousins’ and friends’ gifts.

Sammy's work of art

Today I discovered that a 4-year-old can – with some assistance – use a stencil, some acrylic craft paint and a large toddler paint brush to turn boring, recycled newsprint into an impressively festive and environmentally-friendly gift wrap.

I’ve also discovered that spending an afternoon supervising two separate painting projects while attempting to re-connect with a spouse after work and simultaneously whipping up homemade pizza (so the child whose pizza order was misplaced will at least have leftovers in his lunch tomorrow) basically amounts to stress. So here I am (alone!) at Starbucks, sipping a Peppermint Hot Chocolate (thanks Kim) and de-fragmenting after a day of hearing my name taken in vain one too many times. Ahhhhh

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The War is On (Part 2)

It has been a full week now since our family last turned on the television, and I’m happy to report that we are still whole and sane and thriving. Amazingly enough, our children have not protested anywhere near as much as I thought they would. I used to hear, “Can-I-watch-a-show?” several times a day whenever they were too lazy to come up with anything creative to do. (Other requests included “Can-I-have-a-snack?”, “Can-I-go-on-TVOkids? and “Can-we-go-somewhere?” All of these phrases can be translated to mean, “I am bored. Entertain me.”) In fact, 2-year-old Caleb had started to say it when we were driving in the van coming home from somewhere. Except coming from him it sounded more like this: “Ca-A-watchasha? NO!” (Yes, he would add his own emphatic “No” based on the general answer the children would receive to their oft-repeated mantra.)

I can say with certainty, however, that our Television Fast would not be so successful were we as parents not intentional about planning other things for our kids to do or just being available to them during the times when they would normally watch television. There have been several times where I have been tempted to turn on the television for them so that I can get something done. It requires effort on my part to come up with an activity and then supervising that activity.

This is not to say, however, that our life is now centered around doing stuff with our kids and that everything else is being neglected. I think there are two reasons for this:

1. Our children are inwardly more at peace without all the media input and can occupy themselves happily. Yesterday while Oliver and I sat on the couch, Caleb was busy playing with PlayDough at the table, Sammy was immersed in decorating Christmas cookies on his own, and Teddy was working hard at creaming some butter and sugar for Spritz Cookie dough in the kitchen. Sometimes all it takes is giving them a start on something and they run with it.

2. Because Oliver and I are also not watching television in the evenings, we are getting all sorts of things done, even if it’s just sitting and having a long-overdue conversation and investing in our marriage. Most of our Christmas presents are bought and wrapped already. Oliver spent last night practicing piano for his involvement on Christmas Eve, and I finally sat down to read a book without interruptions.

While I bake or craft with the kids, Oliver has become more intentional about passing on his love of music to the kids. His most recent project has been to build a South American drum called a Cajon (which, by the way, has an amazing array of sounds considering it looks like a wooden dehumidifier). I don’t know of any child that can sit still when they hear a good beat, and our children are no different. A few nights ago he brought the drum upstairs, cranked the tunes on the stereo, and began accompanying the Transylvanian Orchestra on his drum, much to the delight of the children. Before that, we actually had a jam session in my music studio downstairs. While I played the piano, he played the Cajon, and those children that wanted to participate picked one of our percussion instruments and played along. When they were done they went and played with the train track Oliver had set up previously, and we could continue with our jam session. It was the first real one since the children came along, and it was sweet. We ended off with the most rocking version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” our children had ever heard. I felt like a teenager again. Wicked.

Last week we baked and decorated Christmas cookies. This week will include more baking and perhaps some Christmas colouring for the grandparents. Maybe next week we’ll be putting together cookie plates for the neighbours and then deliver them. That’ll be fun.

 

 

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The War is On (Part 1)

 
Christmas lights on Aleksanterinkatu.
Image via Wikipedia

Ah, Christmas. Time for much food, much drink and way too much stuff. It’s no wonder January is a major downer given that the fuel that has fed the fires of the “Christmas Spirit” has run out. It’s a hangover, really. For this reason many people spend the pre-Christmas time wracking their brains for something new and exciting that will make the holiday “more meaningful this year.”

I’m one of those people. I love the decadence of Christmas; the real-butter baking, the regal decorations, the festive meals, the pretty dresses, the majestic music of the season (this does not include Marshmellow World or Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.) Christmas is the one time of year when my heart is moved to worship at surprising times when an actual Christmas song floats over the airwaves of a radio station that ordinarily plays hollow and meaningless drivel. Dark neighbourhoods suddenly seem more inviting as people dress up their homes with lights and bows. And yet each year I spend time thinking about concrete ways to allow the truth of my Saviour’s coming to earth penetrate deeper and bring about actual change that will last past December 31st.

Years ago I researched different Christmas traditions for a stage play I was writing and came across an interesting custom from the Coptic tradition. In this tradition people fast during the advent season as they prepare for our Saviour’s birth. So this year our family is doing a fast of sorts: a television fast.

It happened more by chance than by plan. Those of you familiar with my writing know of my aversion to all things media, especially where my children are concerned. It just so happened that the latest development in the saga (chronicled in my last post) happened during November, so Oliver and I decided to pull the plug on the children’s consumption of media during advent. To make things fair, we felt that we needed to lead by example (though the children don’t ever see us watching television during waking hours anyway). And so here we are, putting away the remote for a few weeks as we prepare our hearts for Christmas.

baking sugar cookies

This means, of course, that Mommy and Daddy need to be more intentional about planning things for their children to do. This week we have been baking Christmas cookies, which is a real hit. Nobody complains about wanting to watch TV given this alternative. Since the project has several steps and we’re doing this after school, we’ve had several days of fun. I had forgotten how fun it was to bake and decorate cookies, although that could be because in recent years the children were less of a help and more of a nuisance when baking. This year it’s great fun. Tonight we’re thinking of putting up the tree.

We will make an exception for family movie nights featuring classics like Rudolph and the Little Drummer Boy. Perhaps Oli and I will even take in a Christmas classic after the kids are in bed one night. But as a general rule we have decided to devote the advent time to things that families would have done generations ago to prepare for the season. There is so much to do to get ready for Christmas, and this year it won’t all be up to Mom.

Horsey and DouglasThe television has been off since Monday and we’ve already seen signs of the boys’ imaginations returning. On Wednesday morning Teddy and Sammy walked out of their rooms with their stuffies, Dougles (a dog) and Horsey (a horse).

“Only seven more days until Douglas’ birthday,” Teddy announced. It’s written on the calendar folks: November 30. Teddy has already asked whether we can have a party complete with a cake. I’m thinking of humouring him. It will be the first time I’ve thrown a party for a stuffed animal, but it is another idea to substitute TV time.

At this point Sammy chimed in to tell me about Horsey’s birthday. “Horsey’s birthday isn’t for a long time,” he said.

“Yeah,” Teddy added. “It’s still a long, long time away. It’s in a whole year.” Apparently the horse’s birthday was on November 10th. How could I have missed it? I’m sure Douglas won’t mind sharing a slice of cake with Horsey.

“Before he turns 1, Douglas has to have his eyes checked,” Teddy informed me next. “He’s still a puppy so his eyes are just opening. He has to have them checked to make sure they’re opening properly.” He went on to tell me that the one thing Douglas didn’t like in his life was when Teddy massaged him on the tummy (which was accompanied by a demonstration) and that if he wasn’t careful Douglas would attack him as a result.

“And the other day,” Sammy added, always needing to be a part of the conversation, “Horsey was going for a walk and tripped off a stump and bonked herself in the eye.” Sammy went on to scratch Douglas behind his ears, just like a real pet.

While I am loving the return to imagination, I’m a little concerned about the subject matter. I can handle a stuffed dog on my couch, but what happens when the children ask for a real one? If we end up with a real dog because we insisted on the children using their imaginations instead of watching television I just may have to bend my principles in the future.

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Why I hate August 31

I always thought “September Dread” would end with my childhood, but I was wrong. Now that I’m a parent with children entering school next week, I am downright grieved that the sun is setting on yet another summer holiday. I’m not sure what the people at Staples were thinking when they chose Bing Crosby’s It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year to usher in the Back-to-School season. Come to think of it, their accountants are singing and raising a glass, but I certainly am not. Here’s what my children and I will miss about the carefree days of summer:

  1. leisurely mornings without a deadline
  2. swimming in neighbours’ pools
  3. endless hours to devote to the sandbox
  4. gardening together
  5. beach days
  6. family bike rides to friends’ houses for barbeques
  7. petting neighbourhood dogs at the park at 11:00am
  8. camping
  9. reading bedtime stories outside
  10. being together as a family

 I would love to hear what my readers would add to this list (please leave your thoughts at the blog [not facebook] so that everyone can see them).

 Here’s to carefree summer days, innocent childhood years, and lasting family memories…

 

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For the Love of Brothers

I have recently asked myself the question, “what must have gone through Eve’s mind when she brought Abel home from the…wherever babies were born at the dawn of time?” As the first sibling in the history of the world, it was anyone’s guess as to how this would play out. Eve probably knelt down, took little Cain in her arms, and said with great feeling, “look honey, it’s a baby brother for you! He’ll be your best friend and you’ll play together all the time and maybe, when you’re older, Daddy will build you bunk beds!”

Not having grown up with any siblings (not having “grown up” at all, I suppose) Adam and Eve must have been left scratching their heads more than once about why on earth their two boys just couldn’t get along. When exactly did it dawn on them that there was a problem between their boys? Was it the first time Cain grabbed baby Abel and dragged him around the house by his head? Perhaps it was when Abel was 3 ½ and Cain was 6, and Abel would argue every single point Cain made, insisting that the blue sky was actually red, and a helium balloon floats down, not up. At least there were no relatives who gave the boys non-identical gifts, otherwise Cain and Abel would have been fighting about who got to play with which jeep too.

Some of my readers will think all this conjecture a stretch, no doubt, but look at how that relationship ended. Don’t tell me those boys didn’t have a history before Cain finally did in his younger brother.

After two weeks of Christmas holidays, Oli and I found ourselves desperately wishing for a four-bedroom house where we could sequester the boys at regular intervals.  Our new parenting motto is “divide and conquer.” I highly recommend this motto to anyone who feels like they’re kept busy just trying to put out fires as they erupt between their children. (It’s also very useful when you’re trying to get two of your children to complete a simple task like putting on their pj’s while you’re putting the baby to sleep. The division will decrease the temptation for the children to run around naked in their bedroom, waving their pajamas like a cowboy lassoing a heffer, and shouting and laughing loudly about jokes involving poo, pee, and farts.) Alas, we remain in our three-bedroom home, which brings with it some unique problems beginning at 7:00am and usually ending 13 hours later.

We have been blessed with a bossy and pious 6-year-old parent and a 3 ½ year-old dissenter with the emotional constitution of a stick of butter. Here is the typical 6:45am interchange for these two who, for better or worse, share a bedroom: One of the boys wakes up and cannot stand being awake alone, so he wakes up the other boy. Since it’s still dark and neither one likes the dark (besides, it’s lights-out until 7:00am) they are completely co-dependant until the lights are on. If Teddy has to go pee and heads out the door too quickly, Sammy panics and begins to cry as he quickly runs after him to the bathroom.

Once in the bathroom they begin to discuss, which is dangerous when one of the boys feels compelled to argue every point that his brother makes, and the other has the patience quotient of a Tazmanian Devil. Teddy, who usually begins any conversation, will make a statement like, “Sammy, when we’re done peeing we have to go back into our beds until the clock says 7:00.” At age 3 ½ (at least I attribute this to his age… it’s my only hope) Sammy will inevitably say, “No we don’t,” in that sing-song way that annoys Teddy more than anything else in the world. Instantly furious, Teddy reiterates the validity of his statement by angrily pointing out that, “yes we do, because Mom said so!” Using the broken-record tactic that drives even the most expert debater to the brink of madness, Sam simply re-uses his initial response: “No she didn’t” (imagine the sing-song voice here). In Teddy’s world it’s two strikes and you’re out, and so he comes out swinging at his annoying younger brother, who immediately bursts into heart-wrenching sobs and comes running out of the bathroom blubbering about how Teddy’s angry and he hit him. Go figure. Repeat this interchange with slight variations throughout the day and take away separate rooms, and you might see why I desire a four-bedroom house.

18 months ago we were also entrusted with a highly intelligent, mischievous little boy whose idea of a good time is incessantly bothering his older brother Sam with things like repeatedly touching his arm while we’re driving (yes, that is a grievous sin), or pressing in really closely next to him to get a look at the book Sam’s looking at. When Sam – who, deep down, is really a peaceful little boy – takes his book and moves away, Caleb will wait for only a second or two before following him to press against his side once again. (It doesn’t help the situation that Caleb is really near-sighted and needs to see things up close.) When Sam says, “No Caleb!” our pre-verbal baby can often be heard responding with “ehh!” which Sam correctly interprets as a “yes,” which results in those two phrases being volleyed back and forth between the two.  As Sammy’s ire rises, so too does Caleb’s enjoyment of the interchange. If Sammy has barricaded himself in his room to get some peace and quiet from the onslaught on two fronts, Caleb sets out to find Teddy. Surprisingly, Teddy has much more patience for him, although even Teddy has his limits. It’s just a plain fact that 18-month-old little boys get in the way of a good game of cars, and cannot be tolerated. Their peaceful play usually ends when I hear, “Caleb, NO! Mom, could you come take Caleb please?” So much for dinner preparations.

It was with much delight and surprise, therefore, that Oli and I commented to each other just a few days ago about how peacefully the boys were playing downstairs. By the sounds of it they were playing with their toy kitchen, and were obviously engrossed in their meal preparations, which allowed me to complete mine. Anybody who’s a parent knows that you do not pick that moment to go check on the kids, because that will automatically break the spell, so we stayed upstairs, enjoying the rare moment of peace. After a while, Teddy invited me downstairs to see what they had been cooking. Expecting dinner at their restaurant, I made my way downstairs to see what they had been up to. When I arrived at the bottom of the stairs, Teddy excitedly proclaimed that they were giants, and that the little Playmobile people in the pots and pans were the people they were eating for breakfast. Too much Jack and the Beanstalk, perhaps? The scenario left me essentially speechless, so I turned around and went back upstairs. Pick your battles, right? That night, dinner on the table won.

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Stories from the campfire

 The 2010 Trefz Family Holiday is now on the books. Our stay at a 500 sq. ft. cottage in the beautiful Kawarthas did not disappoint. The cottage was comfortable and quaint, though on the scratchy side to be sure. Everything from the army blankets to the living room furniture to the curtains that graced each window was scratchy. It must be said though that it was a comfortable kind of scratchy. I caught more than one member of the family finding relief for a mosquito-bitten leg or back on the rough couch.

I do not intend to spend my time blogging about our holiday though. Our time away has stirred in me the desire to start talking about a topic that has long been ignored, much to the detriment of families with young children everywhere. It’s time to talk about marshmallows.

I realize it’s hard to take this topic seriously, given that, at first glance, everything about these things seems so benign and perfect for kids:

  1. They’re white and fluffy and too big to choke on (although someone has probably sued for that somewhere)
  2. They smell and taste sweet
  3. They’re the main ingredient in Rice Krispies Squares, for crying out loud. Is there anything that says childhood more than whipping up a batch of Rice Krispies Squares in the kitchen with Dad, and emerging 20 minutes later with flour on your nose? (Or was that childhood according to Kelloggs?)
  4. They never go bad

 

I submit though, that marshmallows and children are a terrible combination, at least when there’s a fire and some sticks involved. Allow me to explain.

In preparation for our stay at the cottage Oliver had purchased two bags of marshmallows, not because I was going to whip up a batch of Squares, but for roasting. I should mention, at this point, that I have no appreciation for roasted marshmallows, and I highly doubt anyone else does either, if they were honest. I’m convinced that the only reason the tradition has survived, is that there’s so much nostalgia involved that nobody ever had the guts to say, “hey, this stuff tastes (and looks) like melted Styrofoam. Let’s make some Banock instead.” In fact, I don’t even like buying them, because I just can’t believe that any additive that’s truly food-grade would have that consistency when it’s dry, and burn like that when it’s on fire. Furthermore, doesn’t it concern anyone that they never go bad? Anything that’s truly edible should rot, which marshmallows don’t. They probably have the half-life of disposable diapers.

With most processed foods one can at least guess at what the original was: hotdogs used to be sausages, which came from pigs. Freezies resemble juice, which comes from fruit. And even though there’s nothing nutritionally redemptive in Nutriwhip, it replaces cream, which comes from milk. But marshmallows? Where the heck did they come from? And who ever thought of putting them on a stick, watching them bubble in that chemical way, and decide, “ohhhh, that looks tasty. Let’s pass this on to our grandkids and their grandkids.”

Being the saintly mother that I am, however, I do not want to be guilty of robbing my children of the experience of skewering that fluffy little confection onto that perfect stick that they trekked through thistles and poison ivy to procure, roasting it to perfection, then savouring the work of their little hands as the warm marshmallow slips easily into their little mouths. So, much to their delight, we took marshmallows along to the cottage.

Maybe I’ve watched too many Tim Horton’s summer camp commercials (or maybe it was even a Molson ad, who knows) where true-blue Canadians are laughing together in the warm glow of the campfire, playfully trying to manage the sticky, gooey marshmallow as they pull it off of the stick. For whatever reason, neither Oli nor I were prepared for the real-life 3-kid version of this quintessential summer activity.

It goes without saying that no kid wants to wait for the fire to die down to start roasting marshmallows. That would amount to patience, which goes against what they were trained to do wherever they spent their time pre-natally. We would have probably insisted that they wait a bit longer had the whole family’s eyes not been in constant danger of being put out by out-of-control marshmallow roasting sticks and eager children. So I skewered up a marshmallow for 3-year-old Sam and began roasting it for him. There was no denying the fact that the fire was still much too large for proper roasting, so while I was moderately successful with my marshmallow, Teddy (who was roasting his own) was not as successful and managed to set fire to several marshmallows, once extinguishing it in the grass (which leaves a sticky residue that rivals tree sap), and another time shaking it wildly in an attempt to put out the fire, which only sent gobs of melted marshmallow flying all over the place. Between roasting Sam’s and trying to help Teddy with his, I was growing more and more frustrated all the time. It didn’t help that neither Teddy nor Sam like dirty hands, so our stress-levels rose as soon as they attempted to pull the roasted marshmallow off the stick and discovered that the melted version is way, way stickier than the dry kind.

I went inside to get the baby wipes, at which point I was juggling roasting Sam’s marshmallow, helping Teddy with his, and wiping both boys’ hands, mouths, and noses. Since we were sitting near the playground where the boys were running around barefoot all day, I was also scrambling to clean up the gobs of sticky marshmallow that had landed in the grass before anyone stepped on them. At this point the magic had totally gone out of the experience for everyone involved. The kids’ loud complaints of smoke stinging their eyes and ash blowing on their marshmallow served to seal the deal, and I was done roasting those blasted things. The kids began eating them cold – a treat to be sure, since we never eat marshmallows from the bag at home – and they were just as happy to enjoy them that way. I even offered one to Caleb who was sitting on a blanket, but he (after close inspection) rejected it as being a non-edible thing and didn’t even try to put it in his mouth. That’s saying a lot for a kid who will put even rocks into his mouth. Smart kid, that one.

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