The Long Winter’s Night

candle light

candle light (Photo credit: Judy **)

We are, in my family, more nocturnal than not.  Society demands that we rise early, so we do: we pull on clothes in the semi-darkness and pack lunches at an hour far removed from lunch time.  Peter usually leaves for work before the boys rise, and in the hour before they get up, I settle in front of computer screen, steaming mug of coffee in hand, and try to coax thought from my sleepy brain.  At night,  I force myself to bed at a “decent” time so that I can rise at an hour that, despite my familiarity with it,  still feels like hostile territory.  Not one of us are early birds: given our natural tendencies, we would all likely fall asleep somewhere between midnight (the boys) and three (the adults), to rise sometime around ten in the morning or later.

Every holiday, during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we are rebels against schedule. Freed from work and school, we reacquaint ourselves with the night. Bedtime is a suggestion, not a rule. The kids build Lego and read and we watch and re-watch movies until all hours.  Peter and I play Scrabble  –sometimes one game, sometimes a couple of games, because I’m never content to lose and I always do lose to Peter at least once. We eat stinky cheeses from Quebec with baguette after midnight.  There’s always (for the adults) wine, or port: we try to make the port last the holidays, but the wine gets consumed much more quickly. We light candles and play music. We try not to rush.

Even though it makes the return to routine in January more difficult, for that one last week we shake lose the demands of the year, content that whatever time we spend together, when ever it is, is ours alone.

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At Issue: Favourite Holiday Rituals

With  Halloween and (American) Thanksgiving behind us, and Christmas and New Year’s Eve (among others) ahead, we’re thinking about the holidays today.

Most everyone has family rituals that they share, year after year . In my family when I growing up,there were certain absolutes: Bing Crosby’s White Christmas must be played at least once, The Bells of St. Mary’s and It’s a Wonderful Life must be watched, and Christmas dinner (and present opening!) take place on Christmas Eve.

As parents, we’re developing our own traditions — and so far, they all seem to involve the assembly of lots and lots of Lego.

Join 4mothers this week as we explore our favourite holiday rituals. We invite you to join us.

Un-bearable mistakes

When Youngest Child was born, my husband’s boss sent us a gift basket filled with baby treats. In among the baby rattles, blue onesies and teethers was a fluffy, brown eyed, soft-mouthed teddy bear not much bigger than the baby himself.

Oldest Child, who was 26 months old at the time, and being as gracious as a 26 month old can be when he realizes that he now has to share his parents attention and affection with a mewling infant brother, took one look at the teddy bear and pronounced that it was his.

“I’m sorry, honey” we said. “That’s your brother’s bear. It was meant for him”.

“No. MY bear! I want the bear.”

Back and forth we went. We tried to convince him that the bear wasn’t meant to be his. He did his best to convince us that the bear was the most precious thing he’d ever seen. I thought I might have heard him do his best Gollum impression as he intoned, “Bear. Bear! BEAAAARRR!” over and over.

We relented. We gave him the bear. Becoming a big brother was a big deal, and he was doing his level best to be a good big brother.  He wasn’t being overtly jealous, or agressive. He just wanted the bear. That bear, soon named Carlick, for reasons we’ve never understood, became Eldest Child’s closest companion: the stuffy that went everywhere, that was cuddled at night and fetched whenever he had a boo-boo.  And how could it hurt, we thought, if we gave him the bear? He wanted it so badly, and really:  Youngest Child will never know it was originally his, anyway.

Youngest Child would never know.

Ha.

I’m not sure who told Youngest Child that Carlick was originally his. All I know is that to this day, Youngest Child remains mightily put out by the idea that his mother and father would take HIS bear and give it to his brother.  Every now and then, Carlick is bear-napped from his spot on Eldest Child’s bed, and held ransom in retailiation for some real or imagined slight by Eldest Child against Youngest Child.  Occasionally, there are tears. Numerous replacement bears have been acquired for Youngest Child, and he has his own favourite, Paddington, with whom he cuddles at night (occasionally: interestingly, he’s not a big stuffed animal fan, anyway). All I can do is hope that one day he might see things from our perspective, as we were just trying to placate our first-born who really wanted that darn bear, nothing else.

It was love at first sight for Eldest Child, and I don’t know that I would do anything differently except this: next time, we’d keep our mouths shut!

My Rookie Parenting Mistake

Seven years ago, my husband and I flew across the country to Vancouver with our then three- and one-and-a-half year old sons to attend a friend’s wedding. Arriving late the day before the wedding (mistake #1) we failed to make arrangements for child care for the ceremony (mistake #2) so we decided to bring them with us (mistake #3).  After a quick snack at a friend’s home and a forty-five minute drive to the golf course where the ceremony was to be held, we woke the boys, who had both fallen asleep in the car, quickly hustled them to our seats (bag of toys in hand: look at us super parents, planing ahead!) to await the arrival of the beautiful bride at a lovely outdoor ceremony starting at three p.m.

Just as the music started, a small voice sounded from the child sitting on my lap: “I’m hungry”.

“You just ate.”

“No I didn’t. I’m hungry. I wanna go back to the car!”

“Honey, we can’t go back now. The bride will be here in…look! There she is!”

“I DON’T WANNA STAY HERE! I WANT TO EAT SOMETHING!”

“Shhh! We’ll get a snack in just…”

Eldest Child started to scream so loudly that I was worried he’d cause a tectonic shift (it being the west coast, this was a concern). I promptly threw him on my hip and ran as quickly as I could away from the ceremony, as the bride made her way up the flower strewn centre aisle to the sounds of a string quartet and a three-year old’s sobbing. I spent the entire ceremony in the parking lot trying to get him calmed down, while feeding him Vegetable Thins because those were the only snacks we’d thought to bring with us (Huge, screaming, neon-lit parenting mistake #4) Luckily, one of the golfers playing nearby took pity on us (after investigating to ensure that I wasn’t actually beating the child who was screaming his head off) and went and got some cool water from the clubhouse, and that helped.

It is hard to believe, but it’s true: it took three years, a 3300 km plane ride, a total change of scenery and schedule, and a three-hour time difference (for which we forgot to account, totally forgetting that 3 pm PST is, oh -noon — in Toronto*) for us to learn that Eldest Child is just about the most inconsolable, unreasonable, most colossally hangry person alive if he isn’t properly and promptly fed on schedule.

All those years, and we just thought he was difficult. Daily.

Every parent has one: that moment as a (sometimes, but clearly not always) new parent where you do something so incredibly stupid that you can’t believe that you haven’t seen yourself on a reality TV show.  Inspired by this series of posts that the Globe and Mail has been running for the past few weeks, we’ll be sharing our cringe-worthy rookie mistakes with all of you. We hope you’ll take a moment to share yours with us.

*Author’s note:  Mistakes clearly happen, and not just parenting ones. If you’re paying attention, you’ll note that 3 pm Vancouver time is indeed 6 pm Toronto time: we we’re late for dinner, not lunch. Eldest Child was still miserable.

Family Rules

I’ve been on a bit of an organizing and (re) decoration kick lately, in anticipation of the upcoming holidays and the possibility that someone I’m not related to might visit my house. We live in a typical east-end semi detached house: not huge, but with long hallways just begging to be covered in photos or art.  I’ve been perusing my local Home Sense on a regular basis, looking for cheap and cheerful prints. One trend that I’ve spotted, which I’m sure is just about played out, is those “Family Rules” prints that seem to be everywhere. You’ve probably seen them too: usually printed subway roll style, they list those rules that every family has whether they declare them on canvas or not. Here’s one from the Etsy store Chestnut and Lime:

Cute, right? The best part of these, of course, is that when someone’s not being patient, grateful or forgiving (for example), your kids can just point to the sign and say “Mom, you have to forgive us! It’s the rules!” and there won’t be a darn thing you can do about it.

I keep thinking, though, that I really would need one that outlines OUR rules. I mean, my kids know all about sharing (that’s why they went to daycare) and doing their best (about which I reminded Second Child about eight times between 4:33 pm and 4: 57 pm yesterday). I need a sign that repeats the most frequently repeated rules in our house:

Dirty dishes go in the dishwasher

You don’t need it, you want it. There’s a difference.

The sour gummies belong to Mom

Flush the toilet. PLEASE!

Soap and water are good things. Especially when you use them on your hands (see rule #4)

Socks do NOT live in the Living Room.

Yes, you can always have more broccoli

Snuggling is not optional

And the most important rule?

Love each other. That’s all that matters.

Canadian Ski Council Ski Pass is back!

Just got word that the Canadian Ski Council will be running their very popular Ski Pass™ program again this winter. For just $29.95 — the cost of processing and delivery of your child’s pass —  your grade four or five student can ski or snowboard up to three times each at one of 150 participating ski centres across Canada. Otherwise, the pass is free!

If you’ve got a child born in either of 2002 or 2003 (currently enrolled in grade 5 or 4) and are a Canadian resident, all you have to do to take advantage of this fantastic offer is to visit the Canadian Ski Council website. To get immediate online access, you’ll need a digital photo of your child as well as digital proof of age or enrollment in grade four or five in a Canadian school. If you don’t have the required information at your fingertips, you can download an application from the website.

Snow Pass season starts December 1st and is valid for the entire 2012 – 2013 ski season. Visit the Canadian Ski Council website for more information. Happy skiing!

Hallowe’een’d Out of a Helmet

So, Eldest says to me, “You know what I want to be for Hallowe’en? A Greek Soldier. But not just any kind of Greek solider. An ancient Greek solider. Or maybe an ancient Roman solider. But not a Gladiator. They were criminals.”

A Greek soldier. Okay. So, I ask him, what exactly does an ancient Greek solider wear?

Turns out, Eldest isn’t exactly sure. Mostly, he just wants a costume that involves the enormous plastic sword that he acquired at the dollar store the weekend his Dad and I were away.

“Can we broaden this costume idea a little bit?” I ask. “Isn’t there anything else you could be and still use the sword?” (Actually, what I meant to say was “Can’t you be something that doesn’t involve sewing?” but it didn’t quite sound like that coming out of my mouth. Oh well.)

“Well”, he says tentatively, “I could be a knight, I guess.”

We have a winner. A knight! Of course!  What ten-year old boy doesn’t want to be a knight, right? What does he need? A sword! (Check!) A tunic! (Check! That’s what duct tape is for!). The favour of a lovely maiden! (Does his mother count?) Oh, and of course, a helmet.

If I’m making a tunic out of duct tape (try it, it’s easy) then surely I can make a helmet out of duct tape. Look at this kid! He’s got it all figured out:

Looks easy, right? I mean, easy enough that a kid of — how old does he sound? Eleven? Twelve? If he can do it, I should be able to do this. Right?

Right.

So, Eldest now has a face mask that resembles something that Jacques Plante might have worn, but there’s not much else to it, I’m afraid. I’m hoping that he can wear it underneath the black hoodie that serves as his “chainmail”.  I’ve given up totally on trying to enclose the helmet around the crown, as my fingers are not nearly dexterous enough to get it right.  No matter what I did, the strips of duct tape stuck to one another in a lumpy mess before I could get them into proper position.The result looked more like  — well, it looked like a lump of duct tape — than a knight’s helmet.

I really hate not being able to make this darn helmet, but I have only so much time and energy to devote to the pursuit of duct-tape crafts. Still, there’s got to be a secret to making this helmet. Maybe I’m not patient enough. Maybe the kid in the video didn’t have a glass of wine with his dinner. Who can say?

In any event, Eldest has already announced that next year, he wants to be Poseidon. Another ancient Greek, but this time in a toga. That, I can handle.

I hope.

One Day, But Not Yet

Whenever I visit my mom’s, I’m greeted at the door by fifty pounds of rollicking black mutt, whose rapidly swinging tail tells me that ohmygoodness, ohmygoodness, someone is happy to see me. Sadie, my mom’s dog, treats me like the long-lost sister she considers me to be. She’ll vocalize at me like a gossiping neighbour, and once I’m seated, she’ll settle down with her head in my lap big black eyes looking up at me. “She only ever does this with you, you know?” says my mom, every time.

Once Sadie’s calmed down, Sweeney the cat will make his appearance, meowing incessantly until I acknowledge him. He’ll then do that thing that cats love to do, rubbing themselves in a figure-eight around your legs until you’re rendered nearly immobile. He and the dog will then get into a spat over who gets my lap, which is when I usually get fed up with the pair of them and shoo them away.

Funny thing is, Sweeney hates everyone. Everyone, except my mom and me.

Pets? They love me. I’d love them too, if I wasn’t so darn allergic to them.  That reason alone is a good enough reason not to have a pet (although, there are some days when, in the abstract,  I long for a pet and wonder if I could fit in weekly antihistamine shots, and then I remind myself I can barely find enough time to floss my teeth) but the truth is, I love animals enough to know that I’m not the right person to be a pet owner.  I leave that to those whose hearts are a bit bigger than mine, because I’ve been traumatized by the demise of too many pets over the years, and I don’t know that I’ll ever truly be ready to go through pet ownership again.

I grew up with animals: Keela, my first cat, who died when I was two. Sasha, the guard dog — my grandfather’s dog, and not a friend to anyone, really (frankly, he scared me). April Asphalt Cohen the first animal I truly loved, who blessed us with a litter of kittens at an unfortunately young age (and then I fell in love with all of her kittens except Porky the runt, who was just mean, and sobbed as they were given away) and who died one summer while I was away at camp and no one told me. There was Eggie, found in a plastic bag in a garbage bin in our school yard and taken in by my mom. He died a few weeks later. There were lab mice who escaped and fish who floated and budgerigars that I generally ignored because I was too young to care about them,  and my sister’s unfortunate newt, James Dean, who taught us that newts decompose at an alarmingly fast rate. She named the subsequent newt Frankie, for Frank Sinatra. He stuck around much longer.

Then there was Dijon, the neurotic and inbred Bichon Frise  inherited from friends of my mom’s, who thought him a bit too much to deal with.  He marked his territory in the house (being “pure bred” and apparently of show dog stock, he wasn’t fixed when we got him)  and chewed the crotch out of our pants.  I used to joke that I’d marry the first man who walked into the house and who the dog didn’t bite on the ankle, as he was so furiously overprotective of us girls (my husband to be only ever got a nip on the pantleg; I figured that was close enough). He died at home, and we buried him in the back yard.

And then there was Suki. Another mutt, of pointer and lab parentage, inherited from neighbours who didn’t know what to do with her. Smart, intuitive, with the kindest eyes and softest muzzle. It was with her that I posed with on my wedding day.  She developed cancer at the ripe old age of 17 and when it was time to say goodbye to her, I’m not lying when I say that I was glad I was a few hundred kilometers away from home so that I didn’t have to go with my mom to the veterinarian. I wanted only remember her in her prime.

It was after Suki that I decided that no, pet ownership was not for me. My mom has two pets, my sister three, and like a good pet auntie I go over to their houses and play with their pets (and wash my hands after)  and leave satisfied. My home is pet dander free, and that’s the best thing for me, health wise. My boys are fascinated by other people’s pets, which probably means they’ll go out and get dogs or cats as soon as they can when they leave home, and that’s alright. Our lives are chock-full of activities and I don’t want to figure out how to fit in the care and feeding of anything more vital than a pet rock.

Mostl though, I don’t want to say goodbye to another animal any time soon.

Roasty-Toasty

I love the foods of fall: warm, soothing soups; hearty stews, and satisfying, meaty roasts.  As much as I like summer’s salads, my heart is gladdest in the fall, when I’m inclined to stick-to-your ribs comfort foods.  Always, on the side, are roasted root vegetables: whatever you have lying around, it works.

Roasted root vegetables are a really simple thing to make (so much so that I almost hesitated to post this recipe) but the results are always satisfying. I think I get most of my vegetable consumption from September to March, when I regularly indulge in slow-roasted, caramelized goodness. You can too:

My pan of roasted vegetables always includes the following:

5-6 waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges

5-6 carrots, peeled, quartered and sliced into 3-inch lengths

5-6  parsnips, peeled, quartered and sliced into 3-inch lengths

2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled, trimmed and cut into quarters.  For added crispness, toss the sweet potato wedges in a bit of corn starch and add them to the vegetable mix just before it goes into the oven

1/2  head of garlic, cloves separated and smashed

1 medium onion, sliced ( I like big pieces of onion; feel free to cut them smaller but keep in mind that they may burn before the rest of the veggies are cooked)

2-3 golden or candy cane beets, peeled and quartered.

These are suggested amounts and vegetables, but as long as all of your vegetables are cut to about the same size, feel free to substitute what you’ve got on hand (suddenly, I’m channeling the Urban Peasant, but it’s true: use what you’ve got!) and play around with the proportions.

To prepare, prep all of the vegetables as suggested above and throw them into a big mixing bowl. Coat them with at least 1/4 cup of good olive oil, with salt and pepper to taste. Add a couple of sprigs of rosemary if that’s your preference (it’s not mine). Roast in a 400 degree F (200 degree C) oven on baking sheets for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until your vegetables are fork tender and have taken on a nice browned, carmelized sheen.

The most important thing here is to not crowd your vegetables, otherwise they steam rather than roast and you won’t get those nice crispy bits that are so satisfying. You may need to split the vegetables between two baking sheets; if so, be sure to rotate them in the oven about half-way through the cooking time.

And that’s it. Not only do these make an excellent accompaniment to roast beef, roast chicken or a side of barbequed salmon, they’re also good topped with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup and a slice of warm goat cheese (take one log of goat cheese, slice into coins, drizzle with flour (I use coconut as it’s gluten-free) and sear in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil).

They also make a lovely salad, cooled and tossed with some baby greens, toasted hazelnuts, sliced apples and a vinaigrette made with apple cider vinegar, honey and just a pinch of grainy mustard. Or, add a side of lentils cooked in Carol’s vegetable broth for a vegetarian meal.

Add vegetable stock to the leftovers and puree into a roasted vegetable soup (add a pinch of curry to the puree and broth and heat through. Add a dollop of yogurt to serve). 

Not that we have any leftovers, of course.

Changes

I’ve been on a bit of a blog break lately as I get myself situated in a new job.   I’ve gone from  from toiling away in a downtown office to toiling away in an office located in my basement.  I now have a two-minute commute: two and a half minutes if  stop and pour myself a cup of coffee.  The advantages to this move are myriad. My boys see me more frequently.  They get to sleep later than they used to.  After school activities are more easily managed. We’re saving money on child care. The plus column of my pro- and con- list is full.

On the con side is one enormous black smudge: as we had no need to bring them downtown with us each weekday (neither of us working in the downtown core anymore) we moved them from the school they’d both attended since kindergarten to the local school a short five minute walk away from our house.  Don’t misinterpret me when I say that this move falls under the “minus” column: their new school is lovely. But  oh my goodness, do they miss their old school and their old friends.  There is a longing for the familiar there that I can feel emanating from them when I pick them up at the end of the day, and I can’t say I don’t understand. Truthfully, I miss their old friends too, as well as their parents and the communities of which I was part until only a few weeks ago.

Both boys have reacted differently to the move (as would be expected: they are different children, after all). The youngest railed unceasingly against the change for days after it was announced to him,  but now appears to have settled in, buoyed by a new friendship with a boy who also lives on our street. The oldest approached his new surroundings with the expectation that the new school would be just like the old one, and the kids just like the kids at his old school, and is finding it a challenge to fit in.

Watching my oldest try to navigate his new school is breaking my heart. He’s not bullied, he’s not been made to feel unwelcome…he’s just, unknown. And he’s not used to that.

I said to my eldest the other night that I knew exactly how he felt. Now, I’m not about to turn ten, so I’ve lived a bit more than he, and I have no expectation that my work colleagues will become my bbf’s, no matter how lovely they may be. Still, from the moment I sign into my computer in the morning, to the moment I leave the school yard after picking them up in the afternoon, I am an unknown quantity.  I have to prove myself. I have to find my niche.

Niche finding, whether you’re ten or forty, is an exhausting pastime.

I see that the boys are becoming new versions of themselves. In time, they will grow a whole new skin of experiences that will wrap around their  old friendships and memories. Likewise, I’m testing out a new version of myself, and for now I feel as if  the soft underbelly of all of our vulnerabilities are on display. In time, we’ll all feel comfortable with where we’ve landed. Until then, I’m going to  do what I can to help us all find that new place that feels like home.