What My Graveyard of DIY Projects Taught Me About Parenting

Behold the graveyard of DIY projects.

There is a box of papers, colorful scissors with various edges, a hodgepodge of stickers, stamps and decals residing on a shelf in my office closet.  Last year I discarded a two-inch stack of recipes torn from magazines promising mouth-watering delicacies.  A clear, plastic, zippered pouch that contains two spools of soft, chocolatey brown yarn and a partially completed scarf resting on needles has followed us to two homes and remains under my bed.

I had never given much thought to the DIY culture until I became a mom and then I couldn’t escape it.  Personalized Valentine’s Day cards, hand-stitched Halloween costumes, laboured over meals, ornately designed snack foods, and play dates requiring more scheduling and production than a low-budget highschool musical seemed to be the norm. I mean, WTF ever happened to just knocking on someone’s door and playing with a Skip-it in the yard while eating FunDip?  And then just when I thought I had it somewhat figured out, Pinterest came along and upped the game.

I spent years on that hamster wheel trying to do it all and do it “right”, but the years have brought me three busy boys, and an acceptance that “good enough” is really good enough.  I learned to identify, appreciate and accept my limitations.

This year I did make my son’s skeleton costume for Halloween but it was the process more than the end product that proved to be “pin-worthy”.  My son and I worked together to turn my son’s vision into reality.  He learned the importance of communication and teamwork.  I learned there are no perfect skeletons but there are happy kids.

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Being honest with myself is difficult.  I used to feel that doing everything for myself was somehow a reflection of my worth as a mother.  If the Valentine’s Day cards were perfect, than somehow this meant that I was a good mother, a kind mother, a patient mother, the mother that we are all supposed to be.  Never mind that it was a grueling process with me snatching the scissors from my boy’s hand while muttering with exasperation, “I’ll do it”.  Never mind that while eating a store-bought birthday cake at little Jimmy’s party or surveying the parade of made in China Buzz Light Year costumes knocking on my door, it never once crossed my mind that these mothers were “bad” mothers, lazy mothers or not the mothers that we are all supposed to be.

I thought that people were judging but it was really me who was doing the judging.

There is a part of me that does long for DIY projects.  I am nostalgic for the lost arts that generations before were commonplace.  I am amazed when my husband fixes things around the house without consulting You Tube.  It’s his confidence that I admire as much as the skill.  Now when I find myself lost in a chosen project, it’s the sense of calm and the absence of expectations that I find as rewarding as the final project.

My experience with parenting and DIY projects is very similar.  At first I was lured by the glossy images promising picture perfection but it’s the fails: the shattered glass, the burnt dough, the botched hemline – that’s when the real learning occurs.  It’s often the most basic projects, the ones that are the least glamorous or fun, that most need mastering and bring about the greatest sense of accomplishment.

Halloween Candy Bar Graph

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What to do with all of that candy that is about to infiltrate your gluten-free, sugar-free, locavore pantry? Why make a bar graph of course! I have posted about this before, but bar graphs are a great way to make a meaningful connection between math (data management and interpretation) and every day life.

Start by dumping all of the candy into a pile. This is fun for the obvious reason: seeing a mountain of candy! But ask your kids if just by glancing they can see any natural groups. Once they’ve determined the grouping, start the sorting. Sorting is a great activity for the littlest ones and possibly the older, more experienced ones can oversee and make corrections when necessary.

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Ask lots of questions during this part of the activity. Do you think we have enough to make a group? Why or why not? What are some other ways we can sort the candy? Could we sort by chocolate, candy and chips?

Once the candy has been sorted, write the title of each group (for example: gum, suckers, Rockets, etc.) on a sticky note.

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Then the children count each pile. This is where you can encourage skip-counting by 2’s, 5’s, 10’s. After the tally, record the number on the corresponding sticky note.

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Now it’s time to create the graph. Ask your child to recall the components of a graph: title, X and Y axis labels, data labels, and scale. Listen to their reasoning for choosing the scale. When working on this graph my boys engaged in a discussion about the best way to capture the data because the smallest group was the Play-Doh with 2 and the largest group was the Chocolate Bars with 125. That’s quite a range!

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Get out the ruler, the pencil and the colour pencils to finish the graph.

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Now here’s a problem: What do we do once we start eating the candy?

Finishing The Bag: 5 treats that I can’t stop eating!

“Is this really half-eaten candy sitting in your cupboard?”  Nathalie asked me this as she reached for a glass.

“Oh.  That.  Yup.  I guess I should toss it.”

“You can actually have half-eaten candy in your house?”

I have, what one would call, a non-committal relationship with food.  In truth, it wasn’t until I became a mom and other human beings depended on me for food that I actually started to care about what I ate.  Before that, I ate to survive and barely gave it a second thought.  Days would go by before I would realize that all I had eaten was toast and fruit.   Rest assured all you parents of picky eaters, miracles do happen and I now joyfully eat a variety of foods.

Junk food has always been a cohabiter of mine.  I grew up with a junk food cupboard (always accessible, rarely pilfered) and there is one in our house, accessible to the boys (most often ignored; stale treats are regularly purged into the garbage).  I can take it or leave it.

Until I have to take it.

“And so I just said, fuck it, and made the commitment to finish the bag!”  – Beth-Anne Jones on inhaling a large bag of peanut M&Ms after a seven year hiatus of all things peanutty and chocolate.

And now I present to you the list of treats I have gorged on and never want to eat again and/or avoid like the plague because I don’t want to go down that sweet, salty road to stomachache hell (again):

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World Famous Chocolate Covered Almonds

I bought $20 worth from my cousin after my boyfriend bought a box and refused to share them with me.  He ate one box and I ate however many $20 bought me.  We got married and share everything except chocolate-covered almonds.

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Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Third-year university.  150 Halloween sized peanut-butter cups.  No trick-or-treaters knocked on our door.  Three hours later: nothing but wrappers.  Side note: this was a team effort.

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Krispy Kreme Glazed Donuts

After making their much-anticipated Canadian debut, I ate 6 glazed donuts in a 12-hour period.  I have never met fried dough that I didn’t like but K.K. and I parted ways after they pulled out of the donut game (in my neighbourhood) – lucky for my jeans and me.

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President’s Choice Chocolate Fudge Crackle (Vanilla)

There have been wars waged in this house over proper scooping etiquette.  Dig out the chocolaty goodness or equal mix of ice cream and crackle?  It’s no longer allowed across the threshold because someone can’t control himself/herself when it’s in the freezer. . . it’s not me.

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Coconut-filled Hershey’s Kisses

My latest obsession, not yet available in Canada.  This is what I have consumed while writing this post.

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The bag is empty.  I can rest now.

How about you?  What is your weakness?  Does all of this treat talk have you thinking about Halloween?  Follow 4Mothers1Blog on Pinterest for easy-peasy Halloween décor, costumes you can wear outside of the boudoir and baked goods that even I could make!

Thanks for the images:

http://www.davidbordwell.com, http://www.recipegirl.com, http://www.theredheadriter.com, http://www.candywarehouse.com

The Day After

So your kids have gorged out on Hallowe’en excess, what a Mexican grandmother friend once described to me passionately as “horror!”  You may have too, sneaking in some extra junk when the kids weren’t looking.  The thing is, there are still piles more of it in your house, especially if you over-estimated how much to buy for your own household to give.  What’s a sugar-crazed post-Hallow’s Night family to do?

Here’s where the Switch Witch can fly in, if you choose.  She’s been known as the Candy Fairy around these parts, although I prefer the rhyming moniker better now that I’ve heard of it (but it’s kind of too late).  Whatever you call her, this ethereal creature can swoop into your lives and save you from your sugar high selves.  Summon her, and in exchange for some quantity of candy mass, she will proffer a toy, book, or other coveted item.

In our house, these items have been books.  If a child trades half of his candy, the Candy Fairy will gift him one book; if he trades a half of the half left, he’ll get a second book; if he trades another half still, he’ll get a third book.  Theoretically, this could go on, but we’ve never gotten beyond the third trade.  I was more than delighted with this last year, as by then, both of my (trick or treat age) kids had no more than 10-15 small pieces of candy each.  Six quality books were ushered into our lives by Amazon the Candy Fairy, and all was well in the world.

I started this with my kids when they were young; my hunch is that, as with almost any good habit, it’s better to start early than late.  However, it’s never too late to begin, and it’s always wise to keep an eye to changing the rules if necessary.  For if, like someone’s hypothetical six year old son, your child declares “I’m not trading any of my candy.  Fine, I won’t get a book!”, you might have to up the ante on the Candy Fairy, and she might have to work a little harder to get her sugar fix.

I’m not deterred though.  I’ll find a way to rid ourselves of some of the Hallowe’en hyperglycemic horror, because all that poundage just can’t stay.  Come hither, Candy Fairy, there is work to be done.

Trick or Treat, Sick or Sweet?

I’m late coming to an appreciation for Hallowe’en as a holiday.  As a child, my memory of our suburban trick or treating was uninspired – just donning a makeshift costume to collect free candy from neighbours we mostly didn’t know.

Getting older didn’t help me get into the spirit, really.   Basically, I never learned to play dress-up.  It didn’t help when a work colleague added her critique of Hallowe’en by describing it as “a holiday that revolves around food waste” – she was referring to pumpkins, but the remark would surely apply to the the sugar gorge too.  And although I understand in theory the idea that getting out the blood and guts once a year can be a therapeutic and safe way to let off conscious or unconscious fear and violent steam, on the ground I can’t help but consider the ghoulish masks and dismembered limbs to be evidence of a suffering society.

I kind of don’t get Hallowe’en.

But six years ago, my husband and I moved to Leslieville, a village-like community in downtown Toronto.  Our neighbourhood is filled with children, and for our first (childless) Hallowe’en year here, I was astonished by the celebration.  It seemed like everyone on our densely populated street were out in costume, yelling out to each other, cranking smoke machines and stereos, and enthusiastically greeting young trick or treaters by name.  The sidewalks were filled; people had to pass one other by stepping into the street.

It was a street party, where everyone, all ages, were welcome.  There was spirit.  There was community.  And I loved it.

So I’m not baffled by Hallowe’en anymore, because the appeal of a holiday that uniquely gets everyone out of their houses at the same time to party is obvious.  But I’m not fully converted.  I still find the candy glut and bloody costumes to be unimaginative and gross.  I wish my husband wouldn’t carve such scary faces on our pumpkins.

I dislike that last year my four year old son was so frightened by the horror scenes that he could barely go door-to-door as he desperately wanted to do (one example:  our neighbours re-enacted a scene of the headless horseman on their front lawn, complete with a blood-covered bride and the decapitation of a straw man lying on the ground, with entrails hanging from the lopped-off head).  This year, my son has been socialized enough to parrot our words that it’s all pretend and talks happily of spooky decorations, but for a week he has woken up screaming with “bad dreams that I have around Hallowe’en for some reason”.

I wish there were a better (more creative, more heartfelt, more meaningful) holiday that could gather us together on the streets for one night of the year.  There isn’t though.

And now I have children.  They like dressing up in costumes, and I’ve learned to paint their faces.  They’re part of a community that really likes Hallowe’en; they know many of the people whose houses they visit; they like to be part of the fantastic party; they like to eat sugary treats (they’re allowed a few on Hallowe’en night, and the odd candy after that).

So we go.  It’s usually a fun night, and makes me feel good about where I live.

And then I’m glad it’s over.

Image credit:  myspacegraphicsandanimations.com

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!

Fake Danger vs Real Danger

My Halloween pet peeve?  I’m going to echo Beth-Anne here, and say folks who gripe about having to take extra care because of kids with food allergies. 

Tell me if I’m on the right track with this:  most of you would notice and be alarmed if your kids’ Halloween candy wrappers appeared tampered with, right?  You have an actual hairs-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck reaction just thinking about it.  And you do think about it, right?  We have individually-wrapped everything because of the fear that some crazy will lace candy with cyanide.   Most of us also know that poisoned candy is an urban myth.  (See Snopes for more.)  But, but, but WHAT IF?  And the fear of the infinitesimally small chance that someone has gone postal keeps us filling up landfills with millions of wrappers.  The effect on the environment is real.  The threat of poisoning?  Not so much.

There is, however, a very good chance that a child in your neighbourhood will have an allergic reaction to something in his or her Halloween bag this year, and this is a very good reason to make sure that nutty treats stay in their landfill-filling wrappers.  It is also a very good reason to buy nut-free treats.  Why should the rest of the world adjust because of allergic kids?  Because, unlike the threat of cyanide, their illness is real

It has been estimated that 3% to 4% of Canadians representing approximately 1.3 million people have a food allergy (Source: Health Canada).  These statistics are similar to recent U.S. data, which suggest that nearly 4% of the US population, or 1 in 25 Americans, is at risk for food allergy alone, a rate much higher than noted in the past.

from Anaphylaxis Canada

I know it’s a pain; I know it’s not fair; I know how much you love peanuts.  I do too.  But to underplay the danger of allergens, as people regularly do at this time of year, really does not serve the community well.  Yes, there is only a very a small chance that a child will actually die from eating a nut this year, but the less dire outcomes of hives, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing and trips to the ER are still too high a price to pay for carelessness. 

I don’t expect my neighbours to provide nut-free treats at the door at Halloween.  Vetting the loot bag and tossing the dangerous stuff is part of our Halloween routine.  Those of us with kids with allergies will find fun stuff for our kids to trade for.  Just please don’t make us listen to you gripe about groundless hysteria.  It’s real for us, and it’s real for 1 out of 25 kids who will come to your door.

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Weighing In on Hallowe’en

How do you feel about Hallowe’en?  Or more precisely, how do you as moms feel about Hallowe’en?  Do you love it, hate it, ignore it?  In my neighbourhood, the feelings span the gamut.  On the one hand, an immediate neighbour loves it more than Christmas (and he’s Catholic).  On the other hand, I know two families who don’t participate at all for religious reasons (I’ve never asked, but I think this is because Hallowe’en was once believed by some to be a day when spirits of the dead could cross into the living world, or something like that).

Most of us fall somewhere in between, and what exactly we’re thinking in that ghouly middle ground is what we’ll talk about this week at 4Mothers.

Stop in and say boo.

The Aftermath of the Halloween Haul

The Aftermath of the Halloween Haul. 

What a joy to behold the boys, simply saturated in sugar cravings fulfilled, joyfully munching on usually forbidden treats, slowly shucking their costumed alter egos as they plow through the pile of candy.

The photo does not capture the volume of candy that came through our doors, since Rowan is only one of three trick or treaters in this house, and it does not capture the joy.  He was positively giddy. 

True story: When Griffin was five, he came home with a massive load of candy, and my colleague at work and I discussed how to handle the volume of junk.  She said she had a rule that worked well: one piece of candy a day.  Her son’s Halloween loot had lasted until Easter the previous year.  I jumped on the idea.  It was perfect: it let him enjoy his haul, he policed its consumption himself, I did not have to play the authority figure, he would see the value of “budgeting,” and it was only one little bite of candy a day.

Except it wasn’t perfect.  The next trip to the dentist revealed SIX cavities.  That’s right.  Six.  The daily exposure to sugar, even to one bite-sized serving, took a massive toll, and I was horrified.

So now we let them binge for two days, and then it goes into the garbage. 

To be honest, I don’t really like that approach, either.  I hate throwing it away, not only because that makes me a killjoy, but also because it feels wrong to throw away food, even if it is junk.  Then there’s also the whole bingeing aspect. 

So I’m still looking for the perfect plan: something that will balance health and fun, something that does not make me the wicked witch or the clean teeth police.

What rules do you have with the Halloween Haul?  Do you do trades for stickers and such?  Slow and steady consumption?  Binges?