May I have some more, please?

Here’s one of the things that has always worried me about having two boys: that one day, I might have to get a second job to keep us all in groceries. It happens to all of them, doesn’t it? One day they start eating, and a week later they’ve grown a foot taller, and they just keep eating constantly until they’re 25 and hopefully by then they’re buying their own food or at least bringing home dinner every now again but in the meantime you’ve wasted away because you continue to buy one pork chop too few, and you’re not going to deprive your growing boys, are you?

Tonight, they plowed through two packages of Italian sausage, an entire head of broccoli, and two servings each of these potatoes. Usually, we only make one package of sausage, and there are always left over broccoli bits or potatoes. It makes me wonder whether we’ve been starving them all these years. They’ve never been huge eaters — grazers, more likely — but have they been eating only half a sausage each all this time out of politeness? Has the sudden abundance of food made them reckless? I’m not sure what’s going on.

(Photo courtesty of Flickr Creative Commons/stu_spivack)

I do know this: the shoes we bought Sebastian at the beginning of January are already too small — and we had sized up a half-size larger than he’d been wearing so that he’d have room to grow. Daniel’s pants are all too short. They can’t keep their eyes open past 8:30. It might be too soon for a declaration, but I sense a trend: my bird-like grazers are on a growth spurt and appear to have turned into fully fledged eaters.  Send help. And more broccoli.

 

Disney Daze

We’ve just come back from several enjoyable and unforgettable days in Florida. Each time I travel with my family, I learn something new about them. Traveling, even somewhere as relatively mundane as Florida, pushes out the walls of your comfort zone — and as Oprah-ish as that might sound, I think it’s a good thing for all of us to have our boundaries pushed at a little. My own boys seem each to be a year older and six inches taller today, and I swear that’s a by-product of being somewhere other than home for eight days.

Travel also reminds you of things you already knew, but probably have forgotten. To wit:

1. No matter how obedient your children might be, there will be moments when corrective action need be taken to keep their behaviour in check:

2. Not only are my boys friends, they are also best friends. Sometimes, they even act as if they are:

3. Theme parks are loud, crowded, and boisterous. They can be incredibly fun places if one is in the right frame of mind to be jostled, well prepared for the crowds, armed with a touring plan (we really liked this website, for that) and armed with a sense of humour and a large packet of patience.

Wine helps, too. Especially when you can sip that glass of wine anywhere in the park:

4.  I’m convinced that there exists over Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park an invisible bubble, which keeps in all the fairy dust, happy, scented air and whatever else it is they spread around there that makes it virtually impossible to be angry or grumpy at anyone for the entire duration of your stay. About ten minutes after you leave, you will find yourself doubly confused, both by the sudden return of your cynicism about all things Disney, as well as by the gaping hole in your wallet where your money once was.

5.    Every now and again, it’s okay to get a little Goofy:

Demands

Heard around the house this week:

“Mommy, can I go on the computer?”

“Mommy, when can I go on the computer?”

“Mommy, can I go on the computer when I’ve finished my homework?”

“Mommy! Daniel got half an hour on the computer and he’s hogging it and won’t let me have my turn!”

“Mommy, can I get a membership for Legoland?”

“Mommy, can I get a “Hero Up” account? I’ll pay for it out of my allowance money!”

“Mommy, I practiced piano for fifteen minutes and finished my homework. Can I go on the computer now?”

“Mommy, how come he gets to go on the computer? I never get to go on the computer!”

“Mommy, can I go on the computer now?” (pause)

“Ok, how about now?” (longer pause).

“Now, right?”

“Mommy, if I stand here watching my brother, does it count as computer time?”

“That’s not fair! What do you mean, I can’t go on the computer because it’s too late? We just got home! It’s not my fault I had to eat dinner.”

“Mommy, if I finish my homework early, can I go on the computer tomorrow?”

Is it any wonder I’m ready to chuck this laptop out the window? This hunk of silicon and plastic on which I’m typing this blog post rules my life and the lives of my children. To say they’re obsessed is an understatement. There is nothing of greater importance, it would seem, than convincing their parents that it is crucial that they spend every possible waking minute playing a computer game. Or watching their brother play a game.

Or talking about a computer game. Or reading books about games they can play online.

Or, for that matter, playing chess. Or singing, playing ball hockey, playing piano, having playdates with friends, playing with lego, and very occasionally, watching TV.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? From my perspective, it would be foolish of us to act as if that the computer won’t be a defining force in their lives. They’ll use them in school, in the workplace, and from day-to-day, so there’s no use pretending otherwise. But when you have two boys whose lives revolve around the computer, it feels unhealthy to indulge their desire to spend every waking moment playing games, especially because we know they also have other interests that they want (and need) to indulge, too.

Do you limit the amount of time your children use the computer? I admit, I don’t know what the right amount of time on the computer is. Whatever it is, it always feels like it should be less than the amount of time that they’ve most recently tried to convince us is reasonable. We have placed limits on their computer time: no computer during the week, unless you’ve completed your homework, at which point you’re allowed a half-hour on a school night. One hour per day on the weekends, to be broken up into half-hour segments. But even within those (seemingly clear) rules, there seems room for debate, pleading, begging, and outright rebellion, which leads us to be obstinate and punitive (“Ask me just ONE more time if you can use that computer, and you lose computer time for the weekend!”).

Their love for the computer is wearing me out.

So, suggestions are welcomed. I’ve heard of programs that you can install on the computer, which time how long the user has been at the computer and then automatically shut it off when a certain preset usage has been reached. Maybe that’s the answer. But in the meantime, if you see a laptop go flying, it’s probably because someone around here asked to use the computer one too many times.

Candy Everybody Wants, or Doesn’t

Like most kids, my kids bring home more candy from trick-or-treating than they can possibly eat. In the past, I’ve struggled with how to handle this problem, since half of me thinks Hallowe’en is just wasteful and a huge boring mess, and the other half of me really dislikes Hallowe’en. I realize that, while I am not unique in my disdain of Hallowe’en, most people think dressing up and asking total strangers for more sugar than is reasonable to consume in a lifetime (and then doing it again the next year!) is fun, wow. Included among that group are my children, and so I play nice for their benefit.

A few years ago we realized that the boys got far too much candy and that we needed to do something about it. They collected so much that they couldn’t eat it all. Ever. Even the youngest, who could eat candy all day if we let him, was hard pressed to finish all of it by Christmas, and we usually just threw  out what was left. Still, they’d collected it, it was theirs, and it seemed unfair to just take it away (Ok, it wasn’t unfair.  We just didn’t want to listen to them howl).  We decided that we’d make it worth their while to give it up. We’d buy it off of them.

As it turns out, cold hard cash is more appealing than chocolate so every Hallowe’en the loot gets dumped on the living room floor, inspected,  and sorted into piles as follows:

  • candy you like and want to keep
  • candy you like but not that much
  • candy you hate and that your brother and parents hate, too
  • candy you hate but someone else likes
  • chips
  • sour candies (of which 50% are to be handed over to Mom because ain’t nobody happy if mama ain’t happy, and this helps)

Candy in the “like” pile is kept by the recipient. Candy that you hate but someone else likes gets traded or given away to another member of the family. Chips go into a big basket on the dining room table, because everyone likes those. I take my gummies with glee and promptly hide them. The rest gets counted out, and we pay a nickel a piece to haul it away. I usually take the discards to work, where I leave them in the lunch room, free for the taking.

It isn’t huge money that we’re handing out, and dental fillings cost more than their combined weight in candy measured at five cents a piece, so I figure we’re still ahead. I’m not entirely sure what parenting message we’re sending by buying it from them; I’m sure we’d be truer to our values if we just let them visit the houses on our block so that they didn’t end up with so much, but that would also be much less memorable, and as far as teachable moments go, I figure that Hallowe’en doesn’t have to be one of them.

P.S. Looking for something Hallowe’en related to do with your family this weekend? Tynan Studios is holding its third annual Click or Treat! fundraiser supporting the Daily Bread Food Bank this Sunday between 9 and 3 at Royal St. George’s College campus, located at 12o Howland Avenue, Toronto.  Receive a free 4×6 of your little trick-or-treater for every bag of non-perishable food items you donate. Further details can be found on Tynan Studio’s website . Happy Hallowe’en!

Some Things I Know, and One Thing I Don’t

After almost nine years of parenting, I’ve learned a few things.

I know that no matter what I do, I’ll have to put the toilet seat down at least once a day.

I know that my eldest gets miserable when he’s hungry, and my youngest gets LOUD.

I know the difference between Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh, and Chaotic, even if I don’t understand all the rules.

I’ve come to understand that sometimes hugs do make things better, and sometimes, they don’t.

But what I don’t understand, what makes no sense to me, what I’ve wracked my brain trying to comprehend, is why my boys are incapable of getting up for school in the morning before 7:15 a.m without being totally miserable about it.

Despite putting into place morning routines to make a parenting expert weep with joy, our mornings often start with having to physically rouse our sound-asleep (and grumpy!) children from slumber. The rest of the morning should be easy: all they have to do is put on their clothes (already laid out), eat breakfast (already made), brush their teeth (there’s only so much I can do, here) and go. Somehow, this takes an hour, and through all of it, I repeat variations on a running monologue that usually starts at a normal tone of voice and then just keeps getting louder and louder:

“Good morning my boys!”

[Crickets. Snoring.  Sound of leaves changing colour.]

BOYS! You’re-going-to-be-late-we-have-to-leave-in-ten-minutes-no-you-can’t-play-your-DS-where-are-your-socks-last-person-upstairs-turn-off-the-light-do-you-have-your-snack-NO-I-don’t-know-where-your-library-book-is-WASN’T IT YOUR JOB TO FIND THAT LAST NIGHT?-brush-your-teeth-please-go-back-upstairs-and-turn-off-the-light-we’re-leaving-in-two-minutes-please-put-on-your-shoes-please-put-on-your-shoes-please-put-on-your-shoes-please -grab-your-back-pack-back-pack-please-PUT DOWN THAT LIGHTSABER!-put-on-your-shoes-already!

Have I mentioned that I’m not a morning person, either? That I understand that my children are just like me and so I’m both sympathetic and completely unimpressed by their weekday inertia?

Yet.

On weekends, they rise at 6:30 a.m., chipper and cheerful. Without using an alarm. Without our help.

But not, I might add, without waking us up.

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was a conspiracy.

Photo by Evil Saltine/Creative Commons

On Toy Guns and Norway

Image courtesy Wikipedia

The summer I was eight, I won a miniature toy handgun as a prize at the Canadian National Exhibition. It was clear orange plastic, and contained some sort of mechanism inside that made a whirring noise and set off sparks when the trigger was pulled.   I loved that gun. With that in my hand,  I could be anything I wanted to be — a policewoman, one of Charlie’s Angels, an inter-galactic princess like Princess Leia — and I felt bigger, safer, and stronger than I was in real life.

Most of all, I felt dangerous.  I liked feeling dangerous.

The gun was left out in the rain one day, and rainwater seeped into the mechanism, rendering it useless.  Without its spark,  it was nothing but a piece of plastic from the CNE.  But I still remember the thrill of it, and that’s why I feel utterly and completely conflicted when it comes to the issue of toy guns for my boys.

I am, at heart, a good liberal Canadian, who abhors violence and who can’t understand why, in this day and age, that anyone would need to own a gun.  We teach our boys that guns are unnecessary, that they’re used to kill people, and of course, that killing is wrong. I cringe when I hear one of them roar at the other, “I’m going to kill you!” followed by mouth sounds of “phew! phew! phew!”, which I know to be  sound of an imaginary Star Wars blaster, firing.  When their grandfather bought them each Nerf guns, I admit to being more annoyed that they’d conned him into buying something that we’d already said they couldn’t have, than I was with the Nerf Guns themselves. They’re infinitely cooler than the Nerf pop guns my sister and I had when we were kids, as it turns out.

Other than the Nerf guns, they don’t own any toy guns that they haven’t themselves fashioned from sticks, cardboard, or other household detritus.   We don’t buy guns, but we also haven’t completely forbidden toy guns from the house, either.

Then, the news this weekend from Norway of a horrific shooting massacre of innocent youth, and I can’t help but wonder whether we’ve taken the right path on the subject.  Should we forbid toy guns? How can we abhor and denounce this sort of violence and still allow our children the means to play act in a similar manner?  Yet, if I take away their toy guns (and swords, and light sabres, and sticks and and the cardboard tubes from wrapping paper, and on it goes, for the line between violence and gun violence is thinly drawn) as a reaction to what they symbolize, have I really done anything to teach them why violence is abhorent, or have I simply left them to their own devices, finger guns drawn?

I’m not sure of the answer.  I wonder sometimes whether we’re unclear on what message we’re trying to convey.  Sure, we all feel like we’re doing something, in loudly and vocally denouncing guns, but I’m not sure that repetition of that message makes playing with toy guns any less of a thrill for the average child. Does playing with a toy gun make a child more likely to use  a real gun when they’re older? Probably no more so than wearing a Superman cape makes it likely that a child will try to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  The message that real violence is to be avoided, that real guns can be used to kill, that killing is not glamorous or something to be joked about — these are the the things we want our children to learn — for their safety and everyone’s.  I haven’t yet decided whether the lesson can only be learned if toy guns are removed from the equation.

“I deaded you!”

“Oooh, you died.  I deaded you!”  My three year old squeals.

“No, I am not died.  I am going to kill you!” My four year old responds.

This banter has been going on for a few minutes and I cringe  listening to such violent play.

“Boys!  Enough!  We don’t kill people.  We are kind to people.  We don’t use guns or play with guns!  They are dangerous and hurt people.”  I make a final plea.

I have got to hand it to my boys.  They are definitely creative.  There are no toy guns in our house.  There are no photos of guns.  None of their toy characters have guns.   No one we know owns a gun. My husband and I don’t own guns and I am fairly certain that neither of us has never shot a gun.

Yet my boys can craft a gun out of anything.  Toilet paper rolls.  Broom handles.  Pencils.  Their fingers.  The latter is difficult to take away from them.

I am not sure where this “kill ‘em” business came from but if I were to guess, school would be my bet and of course, pretty much most entertainment that is marketed towards boys has some sort of violent component to it.

It amazes me to see how much the boys have learned during the short school year.  Jack, who is four, is using words like liquid to describe melting ice and explaining to me the root system of our tomato plants.  Sam, who is three, clicks puzzles together faster than I can turn over the pieces and he counts aloud to twenty while staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to come without skipping a beat of flubbing the sequence.

But they learn other things at school, things about guns, war, weapons and death.  They are fascinated by the death of things – ants, flowers, batteries and yes, people too.  Together with their friends they play light-sabers, soldiers, police and bad guys and even, thanks to our recent trip to the movies, cars.

I respect and appreciate their curiosity and imagination.  But I also hate it.  It’s absolutely impossible to shield them from everything.

To me, it’s more important to expose them to things and then explain to them how their father and I feel about it.

This is what I tell myself to quiet my desire to lock them in their rooms with a few stuffed animals and a plethora of mommy-approved books.

My mother-in-law who has raised many boys insists to me that it’s futile.  As cliché and perhaps as offensive to some (click here and here) as it may seem: boys will be boys.

In an effort to understand this play, I turned to Leonard Sax’s book, Why Gender Matters, for some insight as to why my boys are so obsessed with rough play.  Here is what Dr. Sax has to say:

According to the section, Lessons From The Playground (pages 58-65):

  • Boys fight more often than girls to, including being physically aggressive towards each other.  He insists, and cite studies to back this up, that boys although they fight more frequently than girls often become better friends with their mates.
  • It’s normal for boys to show a preference for violent fairy tales and games.  It does NOT mean that they have a psychiatric disorder.  (Phew!)

The section in the book that most rang true for me is Grand Theft Auto.  Sax describes on page 71:

“. . . Don’t buy any video game that employs what I call a “moral inversion”- where good is bad and bad is good.  Playing those games for hours on end can warp your mind.  If your son absolutely has to play violent video games, choose something like SpyHunter instead.  In SpyHunter you’re a James Bond sort of character, assigned missions such as escorting diplomats to embassies while various enemies try to shoot you and the diplomat you’re escorting . . . You lose points if you kill or injure a civilian.  You can’t just fire your weapon blindly.  You have to avoid the civilians (who become more numerous as you advance in the game) and make sure you’re right on top of the bad guy before you can fire.”

If I am to be truthful, and it’s hard to be, I would admit that I am also embarrassed by their boisterous play.  My own ego and insecurities whisper to me other mothers are watching and judging, deeming my boys the “bad ones”.

But when I look around at other boys in the playground, I see the same play and hear the same words that fill-up my home coming from other little bodies.

“Boys, let’s just say “get ‘em”, okay?” I try again with my little warriors.

“Mommy, don’t worry. It’s not a gun, see?”  My son holds his tiny hand out to me and opens his palm.  He looks up at me with the sweetest eyes, and smiles his toothy grin and says, “It’s a sword.”

photo credit: http://www.openmarket.org

Are All Guns Created Equal?

I am the crazy mother who went through all her mother-in-law’s toys (she had five boys, and her basement is boy heaven) and hid anything that even vaguely resembled a gun.  I wasn’t even at ease with water guns in the tub or back yard.  I would strip search the Playmobil figures and disarm them before any playing happened.  I had a collection of teeny, tiny guns that I kept stashed away.   There was no gun play allowed in our house.  That was eight years ago. 

Last month, when he asked for gift suggestions, I told my brother-in-law that he would be the hero uncle if he got Rowan a nerf gun.  I could not believe it as the words came out of my mouth.  It was a moment of reckless abandon.  It was also a moment of almost out-of-body disbelief. 

Griffin’s friend gave him a nerf gun for his 10th  birthday in May, you see, and it was causing no end of arguments at home.  I hated the jealousy over the gun more than the fact of having the guns themselves, so my no-gun policy (already severely compromised by Lego, Playmobil, Star Wars action figures, and, let’s face it, any handy stick or their own fingers) truly went out the window.

I hate gun play.  I hate to see children pointing guns at each other and pretending to shoot.  I don’t for a minute think that playing at guns will turn my boys into psychopaths, but I cannot help but see real violence and death when it is acted out in front of me, and it scares me.  It scares me that they want to play at killing each other, and no matter how many times I remind myself that it is just play and a safe outlet for aggression, I still hate it.  I also understand that these are my problems, not theirs.

I have learned that my outright ban on guns only made them more appealing.  And who was I kidding, anyway?  The boys have swords and shields, light sabers and wands, and they use those in the same role-playing of aggression.  We’ve had to ban the unforgivable curses, put the light sabers in time outs.  I still won’t allow a “real” toy gun into the house, though.  There’s something about that nerf buffer that makes it tolerable, somehow.

So now I let weapon role-playing happen.

Until I don’t.  Gun play, light sabers and wand play are kept on a very, very short leash in this house, and as soon as it gets out of hand, away they all go into a cupboard.  By out of hand I mean: too loud, too mean, too hyper or someone gets hurt.  The boys know that if one of them gets hurt, they all lose their weapons, and when things have cooled down we talk about what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. 

We are now in the middle-of-the-road camp, with weapon play allowed (if not endorsed) and lots and lots of discussion with the kids around the purpose and limits of that play.

I’d like to say that there has been more harmony on the home front now that both big boys are armed with nerf guns, but of course, there is still Gavin…

Spending Days in Montreal

Schwartz's smoked meat medium fat Montreal Que...

Image via Wikipedia

The boys and I are taking our first mommy-son vacation later next month, when we hit the rails for a four day adventure to Montreal.  When trying to decide where to go, it didn’t take long to land on Montreal as our first choice. In fact, the location was a no-brainer. Where else could we go where we can reach our destination within hours, take a “real” train (says Sebastian, as opposed to the subway he rides every day) and hear French at every turn? Daniel starts French lessons this fall at school, and he’s anxious to try out a few French phrases (which I will dutifully make him and his brother practice between now and them, whether they like it or not).

Having spent some time in Montreal, I’m familiar with the city and its charms. Finding things to do will be easy peasy: Hike to the top of Mount Royal? Will do. Visit the Biosphere, stroll through Old Montreal, and eat smoked meat until you puke? Why, don’t mind if I do!  Montreal is such a wonderful city for visiting that I’m sure that we’ll all have a fantastic time.

There’s just one hiccup.

I haven’t got a clue where to stay. I mean, I really can’t decide. There seem to be hundreds of choices, and all the regular web sites offering hotel reviews are, surprisingly, unhelpful. For every decent review, there appear to be seven negative or neutral reviews, for all but the chicest, most exclusive (and least likely to be child-friendly) hotels. While I try to see through the comments made by chronic complainers, I’m finding it hard to make up my mind about my options.

It shouldn’t be this hard. My list of hotel needs is not huge. At least two beds ( A king will not do. I love my boys, but they sleep like starfish). A pool would be ideal. I’d prefer a suite with at least two rooms and some sort of kitchenette, which makes it easier to save on food costs and allows one person (read: the adult, a.k.a. me) to remain awake in the living room while others sleep in the bedroom.  Close to downtown…or close to Old Montreal…or close to the Main, or close to, close to….ARG!

So here’s my request to all of you. If you’ve been to Montreal lately, or know someone who has, let me know where you stayed. Where does your neighbour from Montreal stay when he’s in town? How about your co-worker? Right now, I’m looking for room for three people, close to downtown, and I’d love an honest, genuine recommendation. Let me know in the comments if you’ve stayed somewhere worth revisiting.