Friday, 28 September 2012

Fall Fair

This weekend was the local fall fair.

I have gone every year for as long as I can remember and it has always been, without exception, either pouring rain or freezing cold. Usually both. Often with gale-force winds thrown in for good measure. It's generally quite miserable.
I'm not entirely sure why we go to the Fair, actually.

And I think we wonder that every year on the way out, soaking wet and shivering deep down in our bones, slopping through mud up to our ankles and dragging the children behind us - "but I don't wanna go home yet" (despite hours of "I'm cold" and "Can we go inside somewhere?")

It isn't that the Fair is the most exciting thing in the world. It's more just that it is a thing - it's one of our traditions - we go every year, and therefore have to keep going every year.
petting zoo, fall fair, feeding animals

fall fairThere are the animal exhibitions and buildings - horses, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits. The kids love petting them and feeding them bits of hay and, now that they're a little older, reading all the fun facts the farmers post about each animal. There's a horse show and a sheep shearing competition and all sorts of fabulously farmy fun with hay bales to climb on and play areas filled with corn kernels. The local fire department sets up a firefighting obstacle course and lets kids 'drive' the firetruck; the local hydro company takes families up for rides in the utility bucket for a view of the fairgrounds from above. The army brings in jeeps and guns and kids can climb all over them and pretend to shoot. There are clowns and magicians and face-painting and shows of every kind, pony rides and elephant rides and junk food galore. This year they had BodyZorb, an enormous, clear inflatable ball that the kids strapped into to be rolled at one another by the adults - fantastic fun. One of the kids' favourite parts, of course, is the midway, with its rides and games and prizes and flashing lights and pounding music.

And then, at night, is the monster truck show and demolition derby. Spectacularly redneck awesomeness. Such good fun for little boys - the larger-than-life monster trucks with enormous tires and over-the-top paint jobs and ridiculous names, the deafening noise as they rev their engines for a jump and the sickening crunch as they land onto the roof of a car, the smashing and crashing and twisted metal and smoking wreckage of the demolition derby - good old-fashioned small-town fall fair fun.

This year, unusually, the weather wasn't bad. It was such a treat not to have to hunch through the day, cold & wet and telling each other how much we were enjoying ourselves through clenched, chattering teeth. Maybe good weather for Fair will be a new tradition.

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Apple picking at the farm
apple orchard

Apple picking at the farm!

apple picking, apple farm, pick-your-own apples
Nothing signals fall for this family more than our annual autumn trip to the apple orchard.There's something so perfectly "fall" about the family apple picking trip. It happens during that two weeks in September when it feels really properly fallish - cool and crisp enough for sweaters and hats, but still sunny and bright enough that we can be outside all afternoon. The trees have just started to turn brilliant oranges and golds, but only a few scatter the ground beneath our feet.

We've been taking the kids every year since they were babies, and it's one of our favourite annual family traditions. Wagon rides, corn maze, pumpkin patch, climbing the haystacks and feeding the goats and exploring the rows upon endless rows of apple trees. Climbing to the tops of the trees, swinging from the branches like monkeys, filling our bags past stuffed and eating more apples in an afternoon than we'd normally have in a month. There's something so tangy and refreshing about a crisp, juicy apple picked right off the tree, polished on your sleeve, and eaten right there in the field under the sun.

And eating ends up being the focus of the trip in the end, although our afternoon at the farm is always tons of fun - because what do we do with all those apples once we get them home?

Apple pie, apples and cinnamon, baking
Exactly. That's the best part:

Apple pie, apple crisp, apple tart, apple-cinnamon upside-down cake, baked apple bites, homemade apple sauce, apple cider - almost everything we make has apples in it for the next few weeks.


As soon as we get home from the farm the first apple pies are prepared. The kids love to help with the baking, and the kitchen is a flour-filled mess. Then the house fills with the oh-so-autumn scent of hot apple-cinnamon, and we wait, salivating, for the first taste of this fall's harvest.

Nothing is more delicious than that first slice of warm, spicy sweet gooey goodness still hot from the oven and fresh from the farm just hours earlier.

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

An intro to rep sports

kids, sports, soccer, active

This weekend marked our first introduction to the world of rep sports - Eldest Child had his first tryout for next year's rep soccer team.
At 8:45am.
On a Sunday morning.

Eldest Child isn't exactly a morning person these days, so I set my alarm a little extra early to get a good breakfast together for everyone (and put a pot of coffee on - husband really isn't a morning person, particularly early on a Sunday morning.) After three or four rounds of wake-up attempts (dear God, what am I going to do when these kids are teenagers?) everyone was up, fed and dressed; Eldest Child was awake enough to function at a reasonable level, dressed in jersey, shorts, shinguards and cleats with the appropriate-sized soccer ball in hand - the tryout guidelines required each child to bring a size four ball, no others would be accepted; and husband and I had forms and releases signed and coffees in hand.

I was more nervous than I've ever been for a job interview, first date, Board presentation or first day at a new job; Eldest Child was just excited. It's been three weeks since his summer league ended and he couldn't wait to get back out on the field.

When we showed up at the frost-covered field about ten minutes before tryouts were scheduled to start there was a group already there running drills. We introduced ourselves to the head coach who immediately sent our boy out to start warming up. Within a few more minutes there were dozens and dozens of kids tearing around the field while the coaches stood there with their clipboards and the parents and siblings huddled shivering on the sidelines, hunched over their steaming coffees.

It's bloody cold at 8:45am on a late September morning.

The tryout was interesting.
From what I could see through my frozen eyelids as I jogged on the spot and jumped up and down for an hour and a half trying to keep the blood circulating.

There were the kids whose parents didn't think to put a long-sleeved shirt under their jerseys who will probably be suffering from pneumonia by the next tryout. There was the boy who showed up in his jersey from this past summer - gasp - who was given a warning. (The tryout guidelines specified that athletes were required to wear non-logo, non-team, non-league jerseys. Which meant that we had to go out and buy a plain soccer jersey just for tryouts rather than wearing one of the six already-paid-for jerseys hanging in the closet at home.) There was the group of blustery dads trying to one-up one another - "Well, I ran into Coach last week and he said I absolutely had to bring Christopher this weekend...we weren't planning to do rep soccer next year with the baseball and lacrosse, but if he's that good..." "Aaron played last year, of course, so the tryouts are really just a formality..." "Michael did house league this summer but his coach was telling us all season he should have played rep, so we had to bring him..." There were the parents screaming at their kids from the sidelines - "Come on, Kyle, get in there! Move! Take the ball!" - and the ones hissing in their children's ears when they came off field for a water break - "If-you-don't-start-moving-faster-you-will-not-make-this-team-" and then there were those who dumped their kids on the field and went back to sit in their warm, heated cars for the full hour and a half.

The kids seemed to range in ability from good house league player to exceptional, oh-my-God-there's-no-way-that-kid's-eight-years-old. It was pretty obvious which kids played rep last year - not just in their skill level, but in their confidence. They knew the drills the coaches were running, they knew where to go and what was expected of them. The rest of the kids were more tentative, looking for instruction, waiting for someone else to go first.

Eldest Child did very well. We are constantly surprised by how confident that kid can be in a group of his peers- he was always such a shy little boy when he was younger. But he adores soccer - it really is his passion. The coaches were fantastic - there's a very clear distinction between a house league coach and a rep coach. The drills they were running, the organization and flow of the practice, the way they explained and demonstrated the skills, the smooth transitions, how they managed both returning and new players without singling anyone out, and the coordination involved in giving a zillion kids an opportunity to work and show their stuff and be evaluated all at once, two-thirds of whom they'd never seen before that morning. We were really impressed.

Of course we want our little athlete to make the team. It's what he wants. His dream is to be a professional soccer player when he grows up, and this is the first step. It's an enormous commitment for the whole family if he does make the team, and frankly I'm not sure about spending ten months of the year with those crazy parents. But playing in a recreational league with players who just aren't at his level isn't giving him the coaching he needs to improve or the challenge he needs to excel.

We also realize just how competitive this process can be, and he may not make the cut this year. We've tried to look at is as a learning experience - this is our first introduction to how it all works. If at the end of tryout season he doesn't make the team, at least we will have experienced it and know what to do going forward. We'll know what's expected, we'll have feedback from the coach, we'll know what to work on and practice for next year. And, whether he makes the team or not, I think it will be a valuable learning experience for all of us. Kids need to learn to work hard and try for what they want, succeed or fail, and I believe sports are the very best way to learn that lesson.

One tryout down, five more to go.
I wonder if there's any chance the mornings will be warmer as we head into October.

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Birthdays...a week long extravaganza

birthday cake, candles, boy's birthday
It's been a big week in our household.
Our oldest son turned eight years old.
So we have been celebrating for five days straight.

That's normal, right?

See, here's how we do it:

Birthday day: big deal. The house gets decorated overnight: balloons everywhere and the big Happy Birthday sign in the living room. Birthday breakfast with the whole fam, usually pancakes or french toast with candles. Gifts. We tend to go overboard with gifts. It's a thing. Then a gift bag goes to school with a little treat for his classmates (no baked goods - this is now frowned upon - usually stickers or a bouncy ball or something. This year we did a dinosaur pencil and eraser for all the kids in his class.) I pick the boys up for a special lunch at home, birthday boy's choice, and have decorated the kitchen in his absence with balloons & streamers & such. Cupcakes, in our tiered cupcake tower that makes every occasion feel extra special. Birthday dinner out at night - again, birthday boy's choice.

kid's birthday, Chuck E Cheese, ticket blaster, tickets, prizes, birthday partySometimes these events need to get spread out over two days depending on the kids' sports schedule and Husband's work schedule.

Then it's the weekend. Saturday: kid party. All his little friends from school, at a location of his choice that will guarantee oodles of fun and insanely out-of-control kids and no mess whatsoever for me to clean up because it takes place outside of my home. This year (and for the last several years) the location of choice was Chuck-E-Cheese - video games, sports games, Ticket Blaster, tokens, balloons, pizza, prizes, song and dance show. Insane. Sunday: family party. His grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins all come over for a big family dinner and party. Gifts, pinata, cake and craziness as the kids seem to multiply while the afternoon stretches on. I always do a themed cake, whatever the birthday boy wants. This year was a soccer ball - pretty easy, comparatively speaking. My favourite ever was the Mater cake I did for Middle Child's fourth birthday. It took me an entire night to make. I'm pretty damn proud of that Mater.

kid's birthday cake, Cars The Movie, Tow Mater, cake, birthday partyFinally, once the weekend's over, the mess gets cleaned up, the balloons get taken down and played with until they pop, the Happy Birthday sign and gift bags and ribbon and tissue and bows get folded up and packed away into the special occasion cupboard and the gifts - roughly a million of them, it would seem - slowly get sorted into their new home in the playroom.

A week is probably enough, really, for a single birthday. I mean, it's only a month until the next kid's birthday. Time to start planning.

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Monday, 24 September 2012

The big breastfeeding controversy

I am a firm believer in breastfeeding. I breastfed my eldest son for two years and his brother for a year and a half. Baby is eleven months and I'm still nursing - it's up to him how long we'll keep it up.

I am baffled by how much controversy seems to surround breastfeeding.

I know some people who chose not to breastfeed their babies but went straight to formula and bottles. This choice astounds me. The World Health Organization states that "Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants...As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed." Health Canada makes it clear: "Breastfeeding provides nutritional, immunological, and emotional benefits to infants and toddlers. Breastmilk is the best food for healthy growth and development."  Why would anyone choose NOT to do what the World Health Organization, Health Canada, and the medical organizations of every other developed nation in the world recommend as best for an infant's growth, health and development? What all medical research for all of recorded human existence shows is the best and healthiest option? When even the advertising for infant formula says "breastfeeding is best but..."? I simply can't understand why any mother would have the first decision they make for their newborn baby be second-best.

I also know what seems to be an extraordinarily disproportionate number of people who say they "tried" to breastfeed but "couldn't" - usually because they "weren't producing enough milk." Medical research shows that in fact it is incredibly rare for a mother to be unable to produce enough milk to satisfy her baby's needs. Health Canada tells us that "in most cases the lack of milk is perceived rather than actual. Only a small percentage of women are unable to fully lactate, due to breast abnormalities, surgery, or hormonal abberations." I know how unpopular this opinion is going to be, but I suspect that some of these moms who "couldn't" breastfeed may not have tried for long enough.

Breastfeeding isn't easy, at first. Or comfortable, or fun. It can actually be quite painful and frustrating, particularly during those first few days and weeks when baby seems to need to eat constantly in order to bring the milk in, when he can't latch on every time and you're wrestling with this screaming, starving, wriggly little red-faced monster, when your breasts are so swollen and sore even the water from the shower hurts, when every time he nurses it triggers excruciatingly painful labour-like contractions, when your nipples are dry and cracked and bleeding and sore, when you're waking up every hour on the hour to stumble to baby's room, cursing your husband for getting to sleep peacefully through it all, when you're so exhausted and frustrated and hormonal that you're constantly bursting into tears for no apparent reason. Some people legitimately can't breastfeed, for one reason or another, and I acknowledge that. But - and I know the reaction I may get for saying this - I think a lot of people who claim they are not able to are in fact choosing not to.

Then there is the backlash in society against breastfeeding mothers - both for breastfeeding in public and for breastfeeding too long.

Frankly, I don't know anyone who has ever just whipped out their boob in the middle of a public place to feed their baby. They'll find a corner, a bench off to the side, a separated area to sit in and nurse their baby in as much privacy as possible. In the interests of modesty - and to keep baby from getting distracted - most will toss a blanket over their shoulder to cloak baby's head and Mommy's breast. But, particularly with newborn infants for whom breastmilk is the only source of food, if baby is hungry then baby is hungry and he has to be fed. An infant is not a nine-month-old who can be given a rice cracker or banana to tide him over until family-friendly facilities can be found. And if you're the sort of person who would be offended by the accidental glimpse of a bit of boob because a baby is trying to eat, then I'm guessing you'd be even more annoyed by the endless tortured screams of a thirsty, starving infant if the mother chose to ignore her child's hunger in favour of your sense of propriety.

The notion of "how long is too long" is a tricky one. The World Health Organization and Health Canada recommend a minimum of one year of breastfeeding. There is no maximum. According to Health Canada, "healthy term infants should be exclusively breastfed to six months of age and then continue to be breastfed with appropriate complementary feeding to two years of age and beyond." The average age worldwide for a child to stop breastfeeding is in fact about four years old. This notion that breastfeeding is gross or unnatural or - are you kidding me? - in any way sexual is a very Western notion - and one held, it seems, exclusively by people who have never had children and never breastfed themselves. I don't disagree with the idea that once a child is approaching school-aged - say three years old - they should probably be weaned simply for societal reasons. They will be interacting with other children on a daily basis, they are old enough to start forming early memories, and there is a social stigma attached to long-term breastfeeding in our society - whether you agree with that stigma or not, your child still has to grow up in that society. I chose to stop breastfeeding my boys when I did - at eighteen and twenty-four months - because it was what was right for them. I don't think that anyone should judge a mother for choosing to breastfeed her children longer, if it is what is right for them. That mother is choosing the healthiest option for her child -  why is there stigma attached to making the healthiest choice for baby, a positive thing, but no negative reactions associated with NOT breastfeeding?

I don't judge any mother for the decisions she makes regarding how she feeds her infant. There are a myriad of reasons why someone might choose to breastfeed or not. There are a myriad of reasons why someone might be able to breastfeed or not. Perhaps there are health issues - for Mom, for baby, for both of you. Maybe Dad's the one taking parental leave - Dad simply doesn't have boobs. For some people - lower income families, single parents - it's not practical or feasible to take a leave of absence from work at all - and no-one can spend all day and night hooked up to a breast pump. There are a myriad of reasons why someone might stop breastfeeding sooner than a full year, and just as many reasons why someone might continue until three years old. What works for each child and each family is what works, and if it works for you then that's what's right for you.

But in my humble opinion, all other things being equal, there's a very good reason that every respected medical professional in the world recommends breastfeeding and there's a very good reason that in millenia of human evolution we haven't come up with a better solution to feed our young:
breast is best.

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Mommy needs a glass of wine

Friday, 21 September 2012

Mommy needs a glass of wine.

I worship my children. I really do. But it has really been one of those days.

6:00am. Baby is up. Bring him into our bed, close door to hallway and bathroom, blackout blinds down, Mommy and Daddy sleeping. Anticipating sleepy snuggles and possibly nap. Baby disagrees, wide awake, babbling away and climbing all over everything, particularly us. Mystifying, as Baby had six wake-ups last night rather than usual three.
6:30am. Middle Child is up. Comes into our room, crawls into our bed. Baby and Middle Child commence to playing superheroes/Jedis/ninjas/wrestling-type game. Very loud, very active. Mostly on our bed. Someone jumps on husband, kicking him in bruised rib. Middle Child sent back to his room to read quietly for half-hour, as per family's 7am wake-up rule.
7:00am. Loud crash. Baby has somehow pulled Daddy's good camera (very fancy, very expensive, professional-grade Canon) off dresser we thought he couldn't reach and onto the floor. Quick investigation reveals nobody's hurt, camera is fine, small chip in brand-new hardwood floor. Middle Child comes flying in to see what happened, knocks Baby over. Crying ensues. Mommy and Daddy give up, husband starts to get ready for work.
7:30am. Beds made, coffee made, Baby changed. Eldest Child refuses to wake up. Middle Child out of clean jeans, sent to retrieve from dryer as laundry done late last night. Laundry is still damp. Turn dryer back on.
7:45am. Making school lunches. Baby fed, bruise forming on forehead. Did camera hit him after all? Maybe bonked on floor when Middle Child knocked him over? Mystery. Parents at school will likely think abused.
8:00am. Eldest Child still refusing to wake up. Forcing out of bed as have to leave for school in less than thirty minutes. Child in foul mood.
8:10am. Eldest Child appears downstairs wearing shorts and t-shirt, despite having been informed that it's seven degrees outside. Not unusual as child is often bit of space case. Sent back upstairs to change, sulking and stomping ensue.
8:15am. Eldest Child just starting breakfast, Middle Child on fourth bowl of cereal. Baby has discovered how to bend nozzle of sippy cup to pour water out. High chair tray is now pool of water & Cheerio bits. Baby is soaked, will need to be changed before leaving.
8:20am. Packing backpacks, signing agenda books - realize that both boys' library books are due back and pizza money has to be handed in. Frantic search ensues for books, chequebook & envelopes.
8:30am. Backpack and lunches packed, Baby changed. Eldest Child still sitting at table barely having touched breakfast, throws fit upon asking contents of lunch and discovering contains bagel - which he specifically requested yesterday. Middle Child throws similar fit upon being told to wear jacket or fleece hoodie as bloody cold outside. Mommy doesn't care at this point.
8:34am. Out door, everyone appropriately dressed, only four minutes late.
8:40am. Older two kids at school as bell rings. Mommy heads home with Baby.
9:00am. Home, cleaning up from breakfast, doing dishes, etc. as kitchen appears to have been hit by hurricane or tornado.
10:00am. Kitchen cleaned, should only have taken twenty minutes but everything takes longer because Baby requires constant entertainment/supervision. Moving on to laundry.
10:30am. Dirty laundry in, clean laundry folded and put away. Making grocery list. Baby, who was puttering happily with his play kitchen three feet away two seconds ago, has disappeared and is ominously quiet.
10:32am. Baby has opened up video game storage box and is happily playing with the discs, wires & remotes. Brothers must have left partially out - usually stored such that Baby can't open. Mommy removes, Baby throws fit.
11:00am. Baby still throwing fit.
11:30am. Phone call from office, useless question followed by even more useless conversation that makes me wonder if I mightn't have done better hiring a trained monkey.
12:00pm. Follow-up emails and phone calls to useless question to clear up problem that wasn't problem to begin with. Make and feed Baby lunch. Baby has no "full" reflex and will literally eat anything put before him. Lunch takes forever - finish making grocery list and feel pleased with self for multi-tasking.
1:00pm. Baby is grouchy, Mommy gets excited about possibility of rare nap. Bring basket of toys in bathroom for Baby to play with on floor, hop in shower.
1:01pm. Baby ignoring toys, trying to climb in shower.
1:02pm. Baby also ignoring empty shampoo bottles, usually entertaining.
1:03pm. Baby not interested in brothers' toys either, brought in as last-ditch bribery attempt.
1:04pm. Baby. Will. Not. Let. Me. Shower.
1:05pm. Give up on shower and get dressed. At least got wet, somewhat refreshed.
1:15pm. Baby bundled up and in stroller, off to grocery store.
2:00pm. Home from grocery store, putting groceries away, run to bathroom and realize forgot to buy toilet paper. Back to grocery store.
2:30pm. Home from grocery store, fix platter of grapes apple slices, crackers and cheese for after-school snack. Give Baby snack. Since Baby is strapped in high chair & happily eating next to me, pull out laptop to begin monthly Board report and newsletterfor work. Due tomorrow.
2:35pm. Logged on, files open, Baby starts to cry. Food, unusually, will not soothe.
2:55pm. Baby still fussy and has now filled his diaper - leaking up back & all over clothes. Gross.
3:00pm. Baby clean & changed, off to school to pick up older children.
3:15pm. Hovering between two separate doors that two children are dismissed from as each teacher requires wave from parent before releasing child. Eldest Child comes flying out, big hug, excited about playdate with best friend today. Oh right. Playdate. Arranged earlier in week. Middle Child comes flying out, very snuggly with Mommy, lots of kisses for Baby, attacks Eldest Child and they hug ferociously for a few minutes. Watch them with loving smile, heart brimming over. Other parents say "awww."
3:20pm. Retrieve Eldest Child's best friend for playdate, few moments' chit-cat with mother. Middle Child requests playtime at park, Eldest Child vetoes, I say no as policy is child with playdate gets to choose what to do. Middle Child throws absurd tantrum, tossing backpack across yard and trying to take stroller from me to turn around toward park. Insane mood swing. Very embarrassing as school yard is still full of parents.
3:30pm. Arrive home, frustrated beyond words as Middle Child is still in full tantrum swing. House has odd odour. Upon investigation, find that left diaper pail open about an eighth of an inch in rush before leaving. Entire upper floor stinks of soiled diapers. Close pail, open windows.
3:40pm. Sit children down for after-school snack, suddenly no-one likes cheese and crackers or fruit. Eldest Child requests garlic bread, Middle Child wants hot dogs. Inform everyone this is not a restaurant. Middle Child is just simmering down upon not having received desired reaction to tantrum and temper begins to flare back up again. Eldest Child's friend asks if we have freezies. Chorus of, "yeah, freezies!" We do have freezies. Fine. Whatever. Kids eat freezies, Baby at least is satisfied with crackers and cheese and fruit, Mommy unpacks lunch bags and agendas, signs notes and reviews homework.
4:00pm. Having lovely moment with Middle Child - told him we'd have our own playdate so Eldest Child and his friend could have theirs uninterrupted, so playing board games while Baby watches happily from high chair, still eating. Middle Child's temper has vanished and he is all snuggly again; has made several comments to Eldest Child about special playdate just he and Mommy. Heartwarming.
4:30pm. Baby throwing fit for no apparent reason. As soon as began crying, all other children suddenly required help with: tissue (box is in front of you), pouring cup of milk (cup is in front of you, fridge is three feet away), batteries need replacing in toy (Mommy doesn't have two hands while holding Baby- play with other toy), can't find where shot Nerf dart (must find as Nerf dart is exact size and shape of Baby's throat).
5:00pm. Need to start making dinner. Eldest Child's friend's mother should be here any second. All older boys sent outside together to play soccer in backyard, Baby helping with dinner.
5:15pm. Middle Child losing his mind with frustration - Eldest Child & friend are teaming up against him. Must be hard to be younger and outnumbered. Why it's better to keep him otherwise occupied when brother has playdate. Where is friend's mother?
5:35pm. Eldest Child's playdate has finally left, more than half-hour late. Mother is bit of flake. Children moaning weakly and complaining of starvation, although still half an hour from dinnertime. Dinner is likely an hour away from being done. Reevaluate meal plan.
6:00pm. Husband home, dinner just about ready, Baby already eating. Eldest Child remembers homework he has to do that wasn't written in his agenda. Later.
6:15pm. Sit down to lovely family dinner together.
6:16pm. Hop up to grab other salad dressing, forgot every family member requires different kind.
6:17pm. Hop up to grab banana for Baby as has already plowed through chicken, noodles and salad served him for dinner
6:18pm. Hop up to refill kids' milk glasses.
6:19pm. Hop up to grab yogurt for Baby who has now plowed through banana.
6:20pm. Hop up to refill Eldest Child's plate as child eats more than two or three adults combined - perplexing, as child has ribs sticking out and is all elbows and knees, similar to starving African children on TV.
6:21pm. Baby has remembered that he was cranky and tired earlier and has yet to nap. Commences crying at a pitch and volume I've never heard before. Neighbours likely think someone is being murdered / tortured.
6:22pm. Husband offers to walk around with Baby to try to soothe. Baby is having none of this and is extraordinarily offended at the idea of anyone holding him other than Mommy. Pitch and volume of crying increase.
6:24pm. Hop up to grab Baby from husband. Dinner abandoned. Head upstairs to bathe and change Baby & possibly put down to sleep.
7:00pm. Baby feels much better after bath and a few minutes of nursing. Thought Baby would fall asleep as usually only nurses at night now, but seems to have acquired second wind. Hopefully fades out fast. Begin working on homework with Eldest Child, practice reading with Middle Child. Nice few minutes around kitchen table, no-one melting down, good talks. Homemade apple pie for bedtime snack.
8:00pm. Showers, jammies, brush teeth, bedtime story, hugs and kisses all around.
8:30pm. Older two children in bed. Husband heads downstairs. Baby seems to be getting more and more wired. Hmmm. Hyperness before bedtime crash? Going to try nursing again and possibly put to sleep. Lights out, blinds closed, soothing nightlight and ocean waves sounds on.
9:00pm. Resounding failure. Baby very awake, seems to think it's midday. Eldest Child has been out of bed three times, twice to get water and once for band-aid for invisible injury. Middle Child has been up twice, once for water and once for tissue.
9:30pm. Almost had Baby asleep, then Middle Child came barreling into his room to ask if I'd come snuggle when I was done putting Baby down. Baby rolled over, laughed at his brother, and went squiggling down to the floor in glee. Mommy had to bite down very hard on inside of cheeks to keep from screaming/swearing/something otherwise inappropriate. Sent Middle Child back to bed with an "I'll try."
10:00pm. Baby still awake. Older two children have both finally fallen asleep, but for some reason Middle Child is on the floor next to his bed with his blanket wrapped around him. Don't think he fell, although not sure would have heard as had to close door earlier when Baby kept trying to crawl in there and climb up on top of him. Looks too tidy and comfortable to have fallen, must have decided to sleep on floor. Odd. Wake up and move, risking not falling back asleep? No, will leave where he is.
10:30pm. Losing mind at Baby's unwillingness to fall asleep and absolute neediness with regards to requiring Mommy's undivided attention, imperiously pointing and yelling at various toys and books he wants and then tossing aside once receiving them,  refusing to be put down, etc. Have to pee. Have had to pee for half an hour. Call husband on cell phone as am trapped in Baby's room and suspect he's in basement or garage doing guy things. Husband laughs - "Oh, I thought you were still putting him to bed." For two hours? "Really? I was puttering, I didn't realize it had been that long."
10:35pm. Have peed. Feel much better bladder-wise, but still very cranky.
11:00pm. Why won't this child go the fuck to sleep? Great book, by the way. Have wonderful picture of husband reading it to Baby one night a few months ago when he was still crawling around cheerfully at 1am.
11:30pm. Baby appears to have learned how to function without sleep.
11:45pm. Middle Child woke up screaming at the top of his lungs. Found him lying on the floor still, all twisted around so that his upper body was hidden under the bed and only his legs were sticking out. Couldn't get him out as he was thrashing and screaming. Grabbed his knees and yanked backwards, then took nearly ten minutes of rocking and snuggles to calm him back down. Must have been terrifying - tight space, pitch black. If he wasn't claustrophobic before I'm sure he is now. Baby kept trying to wrestle and play with Middle Child while I rocked him. Unhelpful.
12:00pm. I actually think this child may not ever go to sleep.
12:15pm. Just spent ten minutes trying to explain to my eleven-month-old that I need alone time if I'm going to function tomorrow. Actually tried to reason with the child - "All Mommy wants is a few minutes of alone time to sit quietly and hang out with Daddy like grown-ups. I don't think that's too much to ask." Baby laughed. Full belly laugh.

I'm having a drink.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Mom Brain

It's nothing to be concerned about, but I seem to have lost my coffee. And my cell phone.

My phone can only be in one of three places - the key table in the front hall, the kitchen counter, or my bedside table. These are the only places I ever put it down. EVER. Otherwise I'll lose it.
Except, oddly, it doesn't seem to be in any of those places.
Can someone give me a quick call so I can follow the ring?

My coffee could be, quite literally, anywhere. I carry it around with me all over the house and put it down on whatever the nearest available surface is. And then, more often than not, leave it there.
But the thing is, this is just not that big a house. And I've looked all through it. Everywhere.

I'll get the kids to help me. "Treasure hunt for Mommy's coffee" is a game we play almost daily. Middle Child rolls his eyes and goes racing upstairs, yelling "I'll look in the usual spots." Eldest Child tries to work through it with me: "Where did you have it last, Mommy?" Well if I knew that, dear, it wouldn't be lost, now would it?

It's not my fault, though. I'm not one of those completely befuddled, head-in-the-clouds types who barely muddles her way through the day, nor do I believe I'm developing any sort of middle-aged memory problem. I'm only thirty-four years old, and I am a very competent multi-tasker who raises three children, runs a successful business, keeps an organized, efficient home, coordinates a community parent group and participates in school council. These tasks, I can manage. Keeping track of my coffee, or remembering a name or what I walked upstairs to grab - these sorts of things are absolutely beyond me.

It's Mom Brain.

Mom Brain is not to be confused with Pregnancy Brain, a condition in which the little angel you're growing inside you is tapping all your resources to the point where your brain is barely functioning at minimal capacity. The ability to answer questions intelligently, speak coherently and form rational opinions is inversely proportionate to the size of the baby, forcing the brain to operate on cruise control for the last few months until baby arrives. At this point Pregnancy Brain is taken over by New Mom Brain. Those suffering from this condition bear a strong resemblance to zombies, since it is triggered primarily by lack of sleep and extended and almost exclusive interaction with non-verbal little beings. New Mom Brain doesn't last long, as at some point our bodies adjust to less sleep and independence and we start to realize that babies are, in fact, manageable. Of course, it is often by this point that baby number two is on his way, starting the cycle all over again.

Mom Brain is what happens to those of us who have progressed beyond the first baby stage, who have several little people running around underfoot, children and toddlers rather than infants, depending on us to feed, clothe, shelter, entertain, educate, transport, schedule and coordinate, and clean up after them. Whether you work full-time or are a stay-at-home mom, share parenting duties with your spouse or do most or all of it on your own, participate in community groups, volunteer, have your kids in sports or arts programs, however busy and active you and your family happen to be, if you're a Mom you're affected by Mom Brain.

There simply isn't enough room in the human brain to keep track of everything moms have to keep track of, so the little things slip through the cracks. The entire family's work and volunteer and school schedules, snack sign-up days, pizza lunch days, field trips, homework, deadlines, weekly spelling drills, helping with fractions, school council meetings, committee meetings, practice reading, when-are-the-books-due-back-to-the-library, classmate birthday parties every other week, Eldest Child's sports twice a week, Middle Child's sports once a week, rep tryouts three weekends in a row, game and tournament schedules, drop the eldest for a playdate at his friend's house, pick up his brother's friend for a playdate at our house, doctors appointments, dentist appointments, allergies, medical history, swimming lessons, program deadlines, dear-God-it's-Friday-what-was-it-we-had-to-do-this-weekend? - and nevermind the portion of the brain kept separate for work, responsible for class schedules, client info, Board reports, newsletter updates, email correspondence, staff scheduling and payroll - if all this information needs to be kept at the tip of my tongue at all times then, well, I'm sorry but some things are going to slide down the priority list.

I'm simply not going to remember your name, despite the fact that you may just have told me two minutes ago. I will walk into my bedroom three different times and stand there, perplexed, only to turn and head back downstairs, before finally remembering that I was going in there to grab a sweater. My coffee and phone will misplace themselves a half dozen times a day somewhere in my own home. I will submit a thorough, clearly-written analytical report to the Board of Directors at work this afternoon and publish a literate, cogent, well-argued blog post tonight, but be unable to remember the word for those thingys that you use to serve salad - you know, that thing you squeeze - the salad thingys - whatever, you know what I mean, just pass them to your brother please. TONGS! Salad tongs.

These things will happen. It's Mom Brain. I accept that.

And, I don't want to alarm anyone, but my keys seem to have wandered off somewhere.

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Monday, 17 September 2012

Little corners

Vignette, seating, shelf styling, living room, shelves, cozy corner
Reading corner
When you live in a small space you need to plan your space very carefully - particularly when there are a half-dozen (or so it sometimes seems) children living in that space with you. Not just for seating and storage and all that practical stuff, but for aesthetics. I don't just mean proper furniture placement and neatly styled shelves, either, although those are important too; you need to create little corners of happiness in your house. Little vignettes that will fill you with pleasure every time you look at them, or sit in them, or use them.

shelf styling, clean lines, family photos, favourite things, pottery, black and white photography
Living room corners
shelf styling, clean lines, family photos, favourite things, pottery, glassware, black and white photography
Our home is tiny, but it doesn't feel small. We are cozy, not cramped. And every square inch of our house is put to good use. Of course, planning and organizing are my favourite hobbies - some (like my husband) might say obsessions - so getting to furnish, decorate and style a home is pretty much my idea of heaven. The furniture placement was laid out in advance on a little graph paper diagram and fit to the inch. We did a massive purge of "stuff" before we moved in (how we even had stuff to purge, I'm not sure, since I am perpetually getting rid of anything we haven't used in the last, say, year) so there'd be no wasted space, even in cupboards, and I am incredibly picky about what and how much goes out on shelves since I hate the look of clutter. The kids' stuff (which, let's be honest, takes up about ninety percent of the space in our house) all has its place, either in furniture-look storage bins and benches in the living room or in the uber-organized playroom in the basement.

And because everything has its place and we keep nothing we don't need or want or use, we have more than enough space to live comfortably and enjoy all the little corners of our happy little home.

crystal, glassware
Bar corner
antique bench
Front entrance corner
kid's art, art display, art shelf
Kitchen art shelf

Friday, 14 September 2012

Knick-knacks and trinkets and tchotchkes (oh my)

I hate clutter.
I don't just mean the sort of crazy, over-the-top, piles-on-piles of heaped-up-everything clutter you see on those TLC shows. I mean, clutter of any sort. Visual clutter. 
I really just kind of hate stuff.

Living room, shelf stylingShelves in our home are very carefully clutter-free - a few favourite family photos on one shelf, a plant and one of my husband's black-and-white art prints (he's a photographer) on another; a couple of interesting pieces of pottery on one, a trio of art glass pieces on another. And great expanses of clean, clear, blissfully clutter-free space in between.

Nothing soothes me more than looking at a carefully styled, clutter-free shelf. Visual nirvana.

I have been into so many homes where you can't even see the room for the stuff filling its corners. Dozens and dozens of teeny-tiny photos in teeny-tiny frames filling every available surface. Dried flowers in vases on coffee tables, shelving units, fireplace mantels. Heaps of books and magazines piled high. Candles - dear God, what's with the candles? - and little gifts and souvenirs and collectibles. Can you even see and enjoy your stuff when there's so much of it? And, my God, how do these people dust?

It actually makes my head hurt sitting in these spaces. I develop a twitch.
I don't know how anyone lives like that.

And it's not that we don't have stuff, or that we don't use and enjoy our stuff. We just edit very carefully which of our stuff is important to us, and if it doesn't make the cut, it's gone. Or, if it must be kept, packed away in our very handy crawlspace in the basement. And the stuff that is out on display is the stuff that gives us pleasure to look at.

Look around your house. Do you have too much stuff? Visual clutter?

Try this: pull everything off every surface. Group all like things together - family photos in one pile, those porcelain figurines in another, candles in another. Then cull from each pile. Be ruthless. Do you love it? Do you love all half-dozen of them? Do you need to see them all every day?

Maybe just one piece of art glass standing alone in the middle of the fireplace mantel will have more of an impact than eight or nine of them crammed into the china cabinet. A cluster of your absolute best-of-the-best favourite photos of the kids, the ones that make you smile every time you see them, will catch your eye more often than dozens of snapshops in random frames all over every tabletop in your home - the rest can go in an album where you can flip through them as often as you like.

Think about what you're displaying on your shelves and coffeetables. Why is it there? Is it because you love it and want to see it every day, or is it because it was a gift from someone, or part of a collection? If it's there for any reason other than that you love it and want it to be something your eyes rest on every single day, it doesn't need to be there.

Once you've pared down, put things back in place one group of items at a time. Like items should stay together - group them in threes (you shouldn't have more than three left of anything) or a single item alone; don't scatter them across three different shelves or tabletops. Leave lots of space between items or goupings to keep the eye from being distracted.

And sit back and enjoy the soothing restfulness of a clutter-free home.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

So we're basically farmers

We did a vegetable garden for the first time this year. More my husband's idea than mine. I adore the idea of growing our own vegetables, and have this vague sort of fantasy of walking barefoot in the warm grass of the back garden every afternoon wearing a floppy straw sunhat and a long flowy sundress with a small basket slung over my arm, plucking this crisp cucumber and that plump, juicy tomato and eating handfuls of ripe berries, planning our daily dinner based on whatever our garden produces that day... but frankly, vegetable gardens are just not that attractive for ten of the twelve months of the year, and for someone as OCD about aesthetics as I, it's simply not practical.

But we planted one anyway - Husband really wanted to. Just along the fence on the sunny side of the yard, a curving kidney-shaped cut-out to keep as much open grass space as possible for soccer games. By the time we got around to tackling the gardens it was too late to plant from seed, so we bought dozens of tiny little plants - tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, and green, yellow and purple peppers. And a grapevine, meant eventually to meander up and across the fence and then trail along the top, which had an unfortunate run-in with the weed trimmer early in the season and didn't make it. Since all the little plants are the same size when you buy them, we had no idea how big or small most of them would be or what they would eventually look like.

Squash, as it turns out, will half take over the yard given the slightest chance and grow leaves the size of umbrellas which will shade and eventually choke out the rest of the garden. And cucumbers, which grow on vines that need to be wound up and around something to keep the vegetables from lying on the ground and rotting, end up requiring a six-foot feat of engineering in the middle of the garden. Eyesores, both. But productive little plants - we've been eating a lot of cucumber and squash this summer. And tomatoes. But we only got one eggplant all season, our yellow peppers grew in green and our green peppers barely grew in at all.

As ugly as the garden was the vast majority of the season and as unproductive as most of the plants ended up being, we'll still do one again next year. The kids absolutely adored it - watering the plants, watching them grow, learning about each of the different vegetables, turning and weeding the soil, then taking turns picking the vegetables and getting so excited about eating something they'd grown and picked themselves. And I have to say, there's something very satisfying about eating a meal made out of something you've grown in your own earth in your own yard and picked with your own hands. So we'll definitely have a vegetable garden again. We'll just aim for slightly less hideously unattractive, and slightly more productive fruit-and-veggie-wise.
home garden, vegetable garden, squash, green pepper, purple pepper
Our first harvest!

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Monday, 10 September 2012

Underwater Pirate Paradise

My two oldest boys share a bedroom. Always have. They're only a year-and-a-half apart in age and the absolute best of friends. We've asked if they'd like their own rooms and they flat-out rejected the idea.

So when it came time to decorate, we needed to come up with something that would appeal to both boys (not hard, since they have virtually all the same likes, dislikes, interests and hobbies) and could also grow with them a bit - young enough to appeal to Middle Child who's just turned six and old enough to grow with our eldest who's almost eight.

There's a bit of a pirate obsession in our house these days that started with our first family vacation to Walt Disney World. We stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort, pirate-themed the way only Disney can do it.

Caribbean Beach Resort, pirate suite, pirate bed, pirate bedroom, Walt Disney WorldThe suites are every little boy's dream - pirate ships for beds (complete with masts and flags and a steering wheel and covered in a blanket made of gold dubloons), stacked treasure chests instead of dressers, a powder keg for the fridge, and a treasure map carved into the table. The pool is a Spanish fortress, the splash pad's a shipwrecked pirate ship, the playground's on a "lost island" with cannons hidden in the forests and the restaurants are housed around a cobblestoned square in Old Port Royale.

We've gone back every year. Same resort, same trip. We all loved it that much.

Walt Disney World, The Pirates League, pirate make-up, pirate costumes
One year, the boys joined the Magic Kingdom's Pirates League - a secret hideout where they were given pirate makeovers complete with skeleton make-up, eye patch, earring, sword and sheath, were sworn in as members of the pirate crew, and marched through Adventureland in a pirate parade.

So a pirate theme it is. But I rather thought waking to an enormous skull-and-crossbones or a poster of Captain Jack might be a little scary - especially for Middle Child, prone to waking with nightmares as it is.

kid's bedroom, boy's bedroom, under the sea, ocean theme, fish theme, pirate themeSo I painted the walls ocean blue - the most perfect little-boys-room Caribbean Sea blue - and hung a series of oversized watercolours-on-fabric of fish and sea creatures across the largest wall. Sheets and comfortors are sea blue, and a brightly-coloured fish-shaped area rug sits in front of each bed. Those Ikea "leaves" are cradled over each headboard and on their dressers sit their fishtanks - goldfish in one, fighting fish in the other. An entire wall is devoted to their pirate memorabilia, and they each have a pirate's treasure chest next to their bed for their special treasures. Voila - Under the Sea.

As the kids get older, we can move out some of the younger "fishy" elements and bring in some more big-kid piratey things, but for now they love it and it's the perfect cozy little place to sleep.
Or play pirates.

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Friday, 7 September 2012

Baby's new big-boy bed

He's not yet a year old, but we decided to put Baby in a big-boy bed. I know it seems young, but this is a kid who was crawling at five months and walking at nine months. At eleven months now, he's just not willing to be contained in what I'm pretty sure he sees as a cage.

kid's bedroom, big boy bed, Elmo, blue bedroom
Realistically speaking, he's never spent a full night in his crib anyway. By the second or third night-time wake-up I usually move him into our bed - it's just easier. Easier to nurse, easier to sleep (both for Baby and for me), and more comfortable for Baby, I'm sure - Mommy and Daddy are much warmer, softer and more malleable when he kicks than those wooden crib slats. But I wouldn't mind a few consecutive hours' sleep every now and again, and I wouldn't say no to some alone time with my husband. So off to Ikea we went to buy Baby his first big-boy bed to match the rest of his bedroom set.

kid's furniture, kid's bedroom, blue bedroom
I love Baby's bedroom. I have been obsessed with the exaggerated, cartoony lines and bright colours of the Ikea Mammut bedroom set since before I even had kids - it's very Dr. Seuss. But when my eldest graduated to his first big-boy bed my grandparents gave us a pair of hand-me-down antique twin bedframes for him and his brother - which were beautiful (and, almost as importantly, free!) but definitely would not look right in my dream room of bright blue molded plastic. So when Baby came along I was very excited to put together my - I mean his - perfect little boy's room.

It's perfect. I love it. And so does Baby.

His first night in his new bed he slept for four consecutive hours. FOUR. Without a wake-up. FOUR HOURS! Last night was nearly five hours. And just today, this little boy who never naps stopped in the middle of playing puzzles, crawled up on to his bed, popped his thumb in his mouth, gave me a big sweet sleepy smile and fell fast asleep with his head on his pillow and his rear end sticking up in the air.

Some mothers might feel a few pangs about passing this milestone, possibly shed a few tears over the end of another part of babyhood. Not me. I got an entire evening to hang out with my husband, just the two of us. We went to bed, together, alone - just the two of us. I even got a couple of hours' sleep in a row. And Baby took almost an hour long nap during the day of his own volition.

Operation big-boy bed: success!

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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Back-to-school blues

And it's September. Actually, it's September 4th. The first day of school.
How on earth did that happen already?

My older children are both at school full-time this year for the first time - my oldest son's in Grade Three and and his brother has graduated from kindergarten into the "big kid yard" and full-time Grade One.

Again, how on earth did that happen already?

The first day of school went swimmingly for all concerned.

We slept in, because Mommy forgot to set an alarm. (I have three kids. I haven't had to set an alarm in years. On account of NOBODY BLOODY WELL SLEEPING. EVER. But, of course, on the first day back to school, all three children decided that this was their morning to catch up on lost sleep from summer vacation.) So we woke up at a quarter after eight and had exactly twenty-five minutes to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, pack lunches and backpacks, and make the seven-minute walk over to the school on time for first bell.

We made it. Just.
Eldest Child was just fine, calling out to all his friends across the crowded yard, making arrangements for who he'd sit beside in class and meet for soccer at recess, planning playdates later in the week. Middle Child was a little more tentative and held Mommy's hand all the way into class, but once he noticed his best friend across the room a quick kiss sufficed as a good-bye.

And then it was just Baby and I.
It's never been just Baby and I.

I've been a little anxious about this whole back-to-school thing. I'm going to miss my boys terribly, having grown used to this stay-at-home-mom full-time-parenting thing. We had such a fun summer - lazy board games around the breakfast table every morning and long bike rides around the neighbourhood every afternoon; hours playing pirates on the jungle gym at the park and hiking through the trails of the arboretum; Lego construction and craft projects and massive sidewalk chalk creations that spread from the driveway into the street; entire days spent in the backyard running through the sprinkler, playing in the ball tent, digging in the sandbox and kicking around the soccer ball; weekly trips to the splash pad and the library and a once-in-a-while ice cream treat. It was such a great summer. I'm going to miss having my boys at home.

And I'm wondering what I'm going to do with Baby all day long.

When Baby was born last fall, Middle Child was in kindergarten - a half-time program here. Between PA Days and holidays and school breaks and everything else, it amounted to more like a one-third time program. He was home with us most of the time. By the time Baby started crawling and really getting into things it was the spring - almost summer vacation - and then Eldest Child was home too.

My older two boys are the best big brothers in the world. They absolutely worship Baby, and love and protect him with an intensity I never would have imagined. They adore playing with him, snuggling him, singing or reading to him and they think everything he does is hilarious. They let him wrestle them to the ground and win, climbing all over them and smushing their cheeks with his fat, dimpled fingers and his slobbery kisses. When he fusses or cries they put on little song and dance routines for him. I'm not joking - they will actually sing and dance in circles around him and make silly faces and sounds until Baby's laughing again.

And Baby thinks his big brothers are about the best things in the entire world. They are his heroes. At six and almost-eight, they are quite grown-up in his eyes. He loves playing with them, but just as much he loves watching them play - they're so big, they're so fast, they have such cool big-kid toys. He's happy holding his ball or his bear and watching them whirl around him while he just looks on with those enormous eyes, laughing like crazy at whatever they're doing.

But now they're both back to school, and it's just Baby and I.
At ten months old, walking all over the place and into absolutely everything he can figure out how to get into, obviously having two extra sets of eyes and hands around Baby was a huge help. But that's not what's making me nervous.

I'm nervous because I'm not sure how to fill in the days, how to keep him happy and entertained and stimulated all day long. It's been a long time since I was home for a full day with just one baby - almost eight years - and I just can't picture it.

I'm simply not as much fun as his brothers.

I am happy to get on the floor and play puzzles and Mega Blocks and Little People. I love curling up with him in the big cozy armchair in his room and reading stories. We can still play in the ball tent and the sandbox and go for long walks; we can still visit the park and the library and the splash pad.

But no matter how many fun activities we do, even as I keep a running monologue going all day long to keep him engaged and turn on the radio so I can sing and dance around the kitchen for him while we cook - he likes to cook in his play kitchen while I'm making dinner - I'm still just Mom and simply not as loud, not as fast, and not as much fun as his two superhero big brothers.

I hope Baby's not bored by just me, or we're in for a very long school year.

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Monday, 3 September 2012

Making Memories

Just arrived home from a long day at the CNE, an annual tradition for most Toronto families. We've been going every year since our oldest was three. It's a thing. But this year we almost didn't - it's been such a busy few weeks, the thought of enjoying a sunny afternoon in the backyard with nothing to do was very appealing. Only the guilt of long-standing tradition won out in the end, and we went. And I'm so glad we did.

CNE, The Ex, cotton candy, Toronto funMy back is aching, my feet are sore, my shoulders are sunburnt and I'm feeling vaguely ill from the deep-fried-everything. It took us an hour to find parking and we had to hike in from a questionable neighbourhood in the west end. We spent a couple of hundred dollars in a few hours and the highlight, as far as the kids were concerned, was the dollar-store beads tossed out to the crowd in the Mardi Gras parade. All three boys fell asleep in the car on the way home and have now, one day before back-to-school, completely screwed up their sleeping schedules as a result.

Firewords, Cinderella castle, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom, Disney vacation

But we all had a blast, kept tradition, and made a memory.
This, I believe, is important. We have a lot of traditions.

March Break is the big one - a week at Disney World. Obviously, unforgettably amazing. Pirate-themed hotel room complete with pirate ship beds and treasure chests for dressers, shipwreck splash pad, Spanish fortress pool, lost island playground, private beaches, meet & greets and meals with Mickey and Minnie and Tigger and Pooh and Woody and Buzz and, of course, the magic of Magic Kingdom itself - rides, characters, shows, parades, fireworks, reality merging with fantasy at every turn - Disney the way only Disney can do it, fun and fantasy to the Disneyth degree.

Edward's Gardens, botanical gardens, Toronto gardens
splash pad, summer activities, free activitiesIn June there's the street festival in the town where my husband and I grew up - bouncy castles, children's games, face painting, street vendors, patio pints and sausages, street performances of every kind. There's the CNE, of course, Labour Day weekend. Midway rides, cotton candy, petting zoo, ice show, beer garden, live band, air show, Mardi Gras parade. In October is the local fall fair - rides, hot cinnamon donuts, farm animals and a monster truck show.

apple picking, apple farm, petting zoo, horseIn July we go strawberry picking at a local farm. September is apple picking and hayrides. The beginning and end of summer vacation is marked by a trip to the botanical garden and hiking trails, a visit to the splash pad, and an afternoon on our favourite patio. We spend a weekend at the cottage with my brother and his family, another weekend camping with my other brother and his family. Every long weekend means festivities at the town square park and fireworks at sundown.

hay maze, Toronto ZooHolidays are filled with food and family, of course, but we have our own traditions as well. Easter means dinner with the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, coloured eggs, a visit from the Easter bunny and hunting for foil-wrapped chocolates, but it also means a trip over to Centre Island for the Easter Egg-stravaganza - rides, bouncy castles, crafts and an outdoor egg hunt. Christmas means shortbread, gingerbread, Polar Express & The Grinch, not one but two Santa Claus parades, a visit to the mall Santa three towns over because that's the real Santa, tree lighting and skating at the town hall, and storytime with Mrs. Claus at the library - all before the big day with its presents and toys and visiting and big family dinners. Mother's Day we go to the zoo, Valentines and St. Patty's and Thanksgiving and Halloween we decorate the dining room and have our own little party. It's a tradition.

Everything's a tradition.
There's always something coming up, always something to look forward to.

And when the kids are all grown up they'll have years and years of memories of happy childhood happenings, and maybe start some traditions of their own.