Friday, 28 June 2013

Last day of school

(slash first day of summer vacay)

It's the last day of school.

I have no idea how that crept up so fast!

This morning was a bit of a gong show as on top of the usual flurry of getting-ready-for-school activity we had to organize teacher gifts, make their thank-you cards, and chop up and pack fruit and treats for the class parties. Then we had to leave an extra fifteen minutes early so Baby could walk - in addition to their backpacks the boys were carrying big bags with fruit platters and boxes of popsicles and clutching their homemade cards, and I was loaded down with two enormous baskets of flowers and a half-dozen bottles of wine. (I'm a firm believer in gifts for administrators as well as teachers; I'm also a firm believer in booze as a gift). There was no way anyone could manage a stroller as well. And because Baby wants to do everything his big brothers do, he carried a backpack and a homemade card he'd scribbled, too. It was a slow journey, but we made it for a morning of assemblies and parties before early dismissal at lunchtime.

And then it will be ten weeks of summer vacation. Ten weeks at home, just me and my boys. All three boys. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I'm looking forward to it - but I'm also a little anxious.

Three kids are a lot of work! And all day long can be a very long time. I've been stay-at-home-mommying for a long time, and I've always had a work schedule that enables me to spend a lot more time with my kids than most parents, but over this last year I've become accustomed to this new weekday routine where it's just Baby and I for five or six hours. It's a bit of a break - caring for and entertaining one little one is nothing compared to three. But now summer vacation has somehow crept up on me and I have less than an hour until school is dismissed for over two months.

I love summer vacations at home with my boys. I love having so much extra special time with them. I love lazy mornings playing board games and building couch forts and doing crafts and watching movies. I love playing soccer and frisbee and sandbox construction in the back and making sidewalk chalk murals on the driveway. I love going on long hikes and bike rides through the neighbourhood and in the ravine. I love playing at the park and exploring the neighbourhood for new and different playgrounds. I love our trips to the splash pad, the botanical garden, the pool and the library. I love our evenings as a family at the soccer field.

We'll have lots of fun field trips to break up the summer, too: the beach, the waterpark, the Zoo, Canada's Wonderland, the Ex, a couple of camping trips. And of course once the boys are actually at home we'll be right back in the swing of things and having a blast and I'll dread them heading back to school in September. But right now I feel like it's definitely going to be a big change.

I've got a make-your-own fajita table set up for when I bring them home and then it's off to the park for the afternoon. Tomorrow will be a picnic and the splash pad. It'll be fun. The summer will fly by. I need to try to cherish every moment - this could be one of my last summers home with the boys before returning to work part-time.

It will be a blast, and I'm so excited to spend every day with my babies.

Happy summer vacation!

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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Forever House...

We're all forever working toward something bigger and better, aiming for a future with more, more, more - bigger house, better neighbourhood, finer finishes, more furniture and stuff, stuff, stuff.


Before we'd even moved into this house two years ago, when the offer was accepted and the deal was signed and our lives were a flurry of activity purging and packing and planning out the furniture, decor, and future renos in the new place my husband made a passing remark about one of our ideas being "not in this house - but maybe in the next." Why does there have to be a "next house?" I don't want to move.

We have different perspectives, coming from different experiences. I've done the bigger-better-more-more-more thing. I bought my first house with my first husband at twenty-one years old. Teeny-tiny new construction townhome from the builder. Liked it, wanted more. Sold for a profit, bought a much bigger fixer-upper historical home. Liked it, wanted more. Sold for a profit, bought an enormous five thousand square foot mansion. Hated it, hated everything, never been so miserable in my life. Divorced, sold house, lost assets, single parent, single income, etc.etc.etc. Learned to live with, want, and be happy with much less. My husband's never done any of that - this is the first home he's ever owned.

But still I say - why?

diy, home improvement, landscaping, interlocking stone, retaining wall
New stone walk & gardens
Why do we have to plan for a bigger, better house in the future?
Why does there always have to be a "next place" down the road?

Why can't this house be our forever house?

Our house is small, but cozy - and the layout is perfect. Our backyard may be small by normal standards, but for this suburb of this city it's huge. We live in one of the best neighbourhoods in the area, our perfect little Pleasantville. I love our home - we all do. So why can't it be our forever house?

Why should we scrimp and save for an ever bigger house - why can't we spend our time and money turning this house into the home of our dreams? We're happy here. We're comfortable here.

Home decor, living room organization, warm colours, shelf styling
Brand-new living room redo
 And we've already done so much work on this house - we've painted every square inch of every room, we've replaced the carpets with hardwood, we've redone the stairs and railings, we've replaced all the light fixtures, we've completely redone one of the bathrooms and half of the kitchen, we've landscaped and installed stonework and gardens and are halfway through building a massive two-storey deck.

In another year or two this house will literally be the house of our dreams - so why would we ever dream of moving?

In this house, we can afford all the renovations needed to turn it into our dream home. We can afford for one of us to stay home to raise the kids. We can afford for our boys to play rep sports, we can afford to send them all to university. We can afford a trip to Disney World every year and we can afford little extras like our Zoo pass and day trips and dinners out. We even have plans for early retirement. I don't know if we could do all of those things if we were ever buying bigger homes with bigger mortgages and bigger rooms to fill with more stuff.

I have friends still stuck in the "bigger-better-more-more-more" cycle, having to go without vacations and extras and even having to float a dinner out on a credit card. I would never want to be back in the position of choosing between lifestyle and house payments or between giving my kids all those extras they deserve and financing a slightly bigger home. I feel far more spoiled knowing I have money to spend on little extras than I would if all our earnings were going to pay for a little bit larger of a house.

My husband loves this house as much as I do. But he's still not sure we won't outgrow it at some point. We've already planned out possible basement and attic renovations to add more square footage to this teeny-tiny townhome if the need arises - hopefully that will let us stay here in our happy little Pleasantville home forever.

I want this to be our forever home. I want my children's memories tied up in this one family home - we had enough moves and changes in their early years. I want all the rest of my memories to be in this one home - I've moved every year or two since I was eighteen. I want my husband and I to grow old in the same home we raise our children. I want this to be our forever home.

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My Ikea home

I love Ikea.

Living on a budget while furnishing and decorating our home to our taste has been challenging, and has taken a long time. But thanks in a large part to the brilliant people at Ikea, we're getting there!

We don't have much in the way of large furniture pieces from Ikea, opting instead to spend a little more money over a lot more time for good, solid pieces that will last a little longer - but there are a few items.

small spaces, home decor
The Expedit shelving unit - on its side - filled with fabric boxes is fantastic storage in our older kids' bedroom. Baby's room is furnished from top to bottom with the Mammut series of kids' furniture - I love the bright, primary colours and the exaggerated, cartoonishly Seussical lines - and if it doesn't last more than a few years, unlike a sofa or an adult's bed, I'm ok with that; Baby will likely have outgrown it by then anyway.

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home decor, kids decor

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The Billy bookcase, outfitted with stainless-steel-framed glass doors, stores our crystal and stemware and acts as a small bar in our dining room.

home decor, comfortable casual

The comfy brown leather chair in our living room - deep and cozy and big enough to curl right up in but with the clean, contemporary lines that we crave - is everyone's favourite seat and it's a battle every night for who gets to sit in the big chair. We went back to buy a partner for it a month or two after getting this one, only to discover that it had been discontinued.

Other than that, though, our Ikea home is more about storage solutions (I'm obsessed with storage and organization - Ikea is like a small slice of heaven for me!) and small decor items. 

home decor, lime green pottery

I've had these cheerful lime pottery pieces for years, which is saying a lot given my aversion to knick-knacks and tchotchkes and shelf clutter in general - the little pop of colour in the living room makes me happy.

This oversize bamboo bowl is the perfect centrepiece on our dark cherry dining table and ties together the maple and bamboo accents we have in our home.

And I have a whole wish list of Ikea items for future purchases!

home decor, shelving, furniture

Our playroom is a masterpiece of organization, but at the moment it's a mish-mash of various shelving units and storage towers and bins and boxes and drawers (yes, most of them Ikea). When the budget permits I'd like to replace them all with a few of the Expedit shelving units like we have in the boys' bedroom - I love the high-gloss red, but may wimp out and get the birch finish instead.
home decor, rug

This sheepskin rug belongs in front of the fireplace in our living room. Kind of kitchy, you say? Yes, yes it is. That's the point.
home decor, decorative bowl

I've been obsessed with this stainless steel bowl for I don't know how long - it's really not my taste, so I don't know why, but I have to have it. It will live on our otherwise empty espresso coffee table - gorgeous.
home decor, vases

And these vases (all but the purple) clustered on a shelf in our otherwise neutral living room will be fabulous - I love the rich, saturated colours and the clean lines.
home decor, basket, storage

I'd like to replace some of the fabric storage boxes we have throughout the house with these coconut palm leaf baskets - so sexy comfy casual.

I think it's time for another field trip to Ikea! My bestie's been doing a little Ikea lusting lately, too, judging by her most recent blog post - so I think we'll have to plan a shopping date soon!

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Monday, 24 June 2013

"First date" jitters

I have a date next week.
A first date.
I'm so nervous.

We've been working up to it for ages - much longer than most. We knew of each other, saw each other "around," and smiled without saying anything for over a year before we ever even spoke. We've been chatting a few times a week for the last nine months. Nine months.

And, finally, that moment we'd both been waiting for - the not-so-casually casual "we should have a drink sometime" when our conversation was inevitably cut short - that turned into a plan with a date and a time and a place.

We've finally decided to take that all-important first step - we're going on a first date.

That's right - I have a date. A date with another mom. My first new friend in years.

I saw her around the schoolyard all last year, but although our oldest children were in the same grade, they weren't in the same class and were dismissed from different doors. We stood near - but not too near - one another in the schoolyard while waiting for the bell to ring each day. We smiled if we caught one another's eye. There was a little nod and a quick "hi" if we passed too close for politeness to avoid it. But for the most part she stuck to her corner of the yard with her mom friends and I stuck to my side of the yard with my mom friends.

This year, our kids are in the same class. The first few weeks of school were the same as every year - all the moms sort of roam around the yard, jockeying for position nearest the school door or the schoolyard gates or the spot in the shade or out of the wind, the various groups gravitating toward or away from one another until by the end of September pretty much everyone has their spot staked out, their group they stand and chat with, their place in the schoolyard parents' hierarchy. This year, she and I ended up standing with the same group in the same spot.

We've been chit-chatting day in and day out since those early fall afternoons. We've talked about tests and grades and field trips and parent council drama and third grade hilarity. We've delved delicately into the periphery of our personal lives, but only so much as can be covered in the six or seven minutes a day we share in the schoolyard waiting for our kids.

I like her. I've liked her since I met her. I'm not the sort of person who makes new friends very easily, but if pressed I'd probably say she's someone I might be interested in being friends with. She's easy to talk to, she's mildly crass, she's sort of sarcastic and she laughs at the same inappropriate things I do.

It's very hard to make real friends as a mom. There are your friends - friends you've had since before you had kids - and then there are your mom friends. Mom friends are the mothers of your kids' friends, the mothers of your kids' teammates, the mothers you sit with on parent council or see at the park every week or chat with in the schoolyard. Nice people, good people, people you see frequently and regularly by circumstance but only by circumstance, people you enjoy talking to superficially but only superficially, people you'd never be friends with in real life but who make perfectly acceptable temporary mom friends.

But there's a big difference between mom friends and real friends. And it is very hard to make that leap from mom friend to real friend.

I think she and I may be making that leap.

I'm so nervous about our first date.

She made the first move, suggesting a glass of wine one afternoon, so at least I don't feel that pressure. But I feel just as much of the "first date jitters" as I ever have for any real date I've ever been on.

What if she doesn't like me? What if I don't like her? Like any first date, it's just going to be me out there - no buffer. It's not like a coffee date with a girlfriend you've known for a zillion years when you know each other' history, husbands, and intimate details of everything that goes on in each other's heads. It's not like after-office drinks with co-workers, a group of faux-friends with the common ground of office gossip and the daily grind to discuss. It's not even like a playdate at the park with mom friends where the kids serve as the buffer and the distraction to keep everything going. What if we have nothing to talk about?

I still have to see her every day in the schoolyard, after all. And, though our kids may not be in the same class every year, they are in the same grade - so we're looking at another five years of shared schoolyard awkwardness if this friendship thing doesn't work out. Are there rules I should know about with mom dates? What if I overstep my bounds, what if I miss some signal and don't follow up the way I'm supposed to?

I can't believe I'm putting myself out there like this. I'm terrified.
A first date.
I'm so nervous.
And so excited.

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Summer sports

summer, sports, kids sports
Summer sports season is finally well underway - and I couldn't be happier.

For our family, summer evenings have long meant endless hours at the soccer field or baseball diamond cheering one or another or both of our older boys on in their sports, often with one or the other of us volunteering as a coach or assistant.

It's a very busy schedule with practices or games almost every weeknight and most weekends. Both boys have played soccer every year since they were four, and until this year one or both played baseball as well. It takes a massive mid-winter scheduling effort to coordinate the separate sports, separate teams, separate fields, and separate nights when organizing our summer schedule. With our oldest playing rep soccer this year and its three-day-a-week commitment (plus tournaments!) there simply wouldn't have been enough days in the week so he had to choose his sport.

It makes for a hectic schedule, particularly in the spring while school's still on; the after-school rush of backpacks-homework-snacks overlapping with early dinner prep, uniforms on and water bottles filled and waiting by the door, sitting down to eat the moment my husband gets home from work, and racing across town to a different field every night. It's even more hectic now that we have a rep player in the family with away games spread out across the GTA. From May to September our lives are dictated by the team schedules. The trunk of our car is permanently filled with baseball gloves and batting helmets, soccer balls and shinguards, folding chairs and an outdoor blanket and a case of water bottles. My husband has to text as he's leaving the office each day just to find out where we need to be and when on any given night. It's crazy.

And we love it.

For our family, this is what summer nights have come to mean.
Hours spent spread out on the picnic blanket next to the ball diamond with toys and snacks and books to keep our other kids entertained while we lean back and bask in the late evening sun and cheer on our little athlete and his teammates; racing to claim the good spot on the sideline at centre field then taking turns watching the child on the field from the folding chairs and kicking the ball around with the other kids behind the goal line; idle chit-chat with other parents we barely know but will be spending three or four hours a week with for the next four months (or, in the case of rep families, six to twelve hours a week for ten months); and the magical sound of the ice cream truck's tinkling music as it rolls across the gravel parking lot just before the end of the game.

This year neither my husband nor I are coaching, assistant coaching, organizing or coordinating anything. We get to just sit back and watch the games and practices and play with our other kids and enjoy how much our little guys enjoy their sports. It might be not the most relaxing way to spend the summer, between the crazy schedule, commuting, carpooling and coordinating, and the time and cost commitment - but we wouldn't ever want to spend it any other way.

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Friday, 21 June 2013

Crazy rep parents

You hear the stories all the time.

You see them, sometimes, at the games.

The parents yelling obscenities at the ref for the call against their team.

The baseball mom screaming at the fourteen-year-old umpire for missing an out.

The hockey dad talking down to the opposing team and encouraging his twelve-year-old to fight.

The adults so competitive about their kids' sports they forget that it's recreation - and that they're kids.

But it's still shocking when it's actually happening in front of you.

Our kids are into soccer - they've played a few seasons of other sports, but soccer is their sport of choice. They love to play the game. They love running drills, they love perfecting their technique, they love practicing their footwork and taking shot after shot on goal to improve their skills. You don't really expect to see those crazy competitive parents at a soccer game.

But they're there.

We're pretty lucky with our team - there don't seem to be any crazy parents. There's the one mom I refer to as "crazy rep mom" - loud, brash, a little pushy, a little aggressive, constantly reminding us all how involved her family is in sport and trying to give the coaches pointers - but in all fairness when it comes to game time she cheers on all the kids on both teams and keeps her mouth shut when it comes to coaching and calls. Our team parents are fantastic at games and tournaments - we're always the loudest, most enthusiastic bunch there and having played together since last fall we've become friends. We're like a little family. Everyone knows everyone else's kids' names and cheers on good plays and goals and shouts words of encouragement after errors. And we're fair - if the ball goes out and the ref missed the play, we'll call it fairly even if it's the other team's ball. Because these are children, and this is a game.

But some of the other parents? Not so much.

I can't believe some of the comments that come out of these parents' mouths.

"Come on, ref, are you blind?"
"What the hell are you doing, coach?"
"Kick it left, number three sucks."
"No ice cream if you don't get a goal."
"Let's go, Eric, you can kill this kid."
"How could you let that one in?"

No "good try, guys" or "nice play" or "don't worry about it, you'll get the next one."
No words of encouragement for the kids on either team, no acknowledgement of the fact that these are kids - still learning and growing - trying to have fun playing a game they love.

At our first game of the season, what seemed to be the entire opposing team's parents questioned every call the ref made. At another game there was a group of parents snickering loudly at the smallest boy on our team (probably a head shorter than any other boy on the field) - who subsequently, I might add, ran circles around those bigger boys. Adults. Making fun of. A child. And at last weekend's tournament there was one opposing dad so vocal he actually got into a fight with our team's coach. Shouting, across the field, over the heads of fourteen very confused little boys. Our coach just kept responding, "just trying to do my job."

I feel sorry for those parents' kids.

We're all competitive. Some of us more than others. Nothing brings out the spirit of competition more than sport, and nothing brings a parent's aggressive nature out more than a sense of helping, defending, protecting, or sticking up for their kid. And of course there is another dimension to rep sports - even at this age, some parents have in the backs of their minds the possibility that this sport could turn into a scholarship or a career or at least a lifelong passion.

But we have to remember that these are kids. And these sports, rep or house league, are supposed to be fun.

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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Don't mess with Mama Bear

I've never been terribly assertive or aggressive. I've never been the sort of person who would welcome confrontation - in fact, I'd go out of my way to avoid it.

Until I became a mom.

You mess with my kids? You'd better watch out.

My eldest son is playing rep soccer this year. This is our family's first experience with rep sports so it has all been new for us - the tryout process, the year-round training, the intense practice schedule, the out-of-town games, the insanity of tournament weekends, and the exorbitant cost. It's been an intense experience for all of us and an incredible opportunity for our little athlete.

Since the start of the summer season last month, however, we've hit a few bumps in the road in our dealings with our club that have brought out my inner Mama Bear.

During the winter season the focus was on skills training and development. The coaches are AMAZING. The improvement in the players from the fall tryouts to now - not just ours, but all the little soccer stars on the team - is astonishing. In September they were a bunch of kids just playing a game - talented kids, certainly, kids who ran faster and kicked harder and had a little more ball control than the average group of schoolyard eight-year-olds, but still just a group of kids racing around after a ball without a lot of focus. Now they are a cohesive team of remarkably talented athletes. Fancy footwork, picture-perfect passes, near-impossible shots on goal, players playing their positions and incredible teamwork. We're impressed beyond words. I can't say enough positive things about the program and the coaches.


We are not happy with our club.

We noticed a few little problems as soon as the summer season opened. Gym time not booked, field time not booked, double-charging parents for fees already paid, last-minute schedule and location changes, missing uniforms, miscommunication and lack of communication and very questionable business practices. The team parents bitched and moaned and grumbled amongst ourselves, but no-one wanted to be that mom who rocked the boat and went in to the club to complain and cause a fuss.

Then.We received an email from our team manager last Thursday around noon - six hours before game time - listing the roster for the evening. The roster listed fourteen names. Our team has nineteen players.

A flurry of phone calls between moms and emails to and from the club, the coaches, and the manager finally revealed what the club had done. The provincial soccer association allows for a maximum of fourteen players per team when competing. These things are recorded and regulated at the rep level - it's non-negotiable. Teams, therefore, register up to fourteen players and no more - if there are more than fourteen qualified players, they will sometimes create two teams to compete, but fourteen is the maximum per team. Our soccer club decided to ignore the registration cap and register nineteen players on a single team - with the result that five players will not be playing in each and every game all season long.

I lost it.

After the game that night - the duration of which the parents spent comparing notes on phone calls with the club and manager (after which I was elected the unofficial parent representative of the team) - I went home and drafted an email to the club. It was copied to every member of the Board of Directors, the coaching staff, the manager, and every parent of every player on the team. Each and every parent replied in agreement. The coaches agreed. The manager agreed. I spent all of Friday seething and waiting to hear how the club was going to fix the problem.

I did not hear back from the club.

At six-thirty that night, however, the team received an email outlining the roster for that weekend's tournament - our first of the year - which the kids had been looking forward to and talking about for weeks. It didn't occur to any of the parents, even after having found out about the over-registration issues, that a third of the team would be left out of the tournaments as well.

There were only fourteen names on the list.

My boy was not on the list.

I lost it again. Actually lost it.

My son lives and breathes soccer. My son was so excited to try out for rep this year. My son was so excited to make the team. My son has enjoyed every minute of every training session this season. All he wants to do is play. And the club is keeping him from playing the games he was told he would play.
And every other parent on the team feels the same way. This group of eight- and nine-year-old boys are at an age where they're just deciding what their passions are and how much they're willing to commit to those passions. A bad experience could sour them on the sport and they could decide to give up on something that might otherwise have been an enormous part of their lives.

Because of my email to the club at large that morning - and our parent forum at the game the night before - my phone was ringing off the hook after the tournament roster was released. I always end up in this position. Despite having always been a fairly passive, go-with-the-flow, don't-rock-the-boat sort of girl, since the day I became a mom I've turned into this vocal, aggressive, passionately defensive person when it comes to my kids and my family. Don't mess with Mama Bear's babies.And because I have slightly better than average communication skills, I'm constantly finding myself in the position of speaking for other parents.

There were five kids crying their eyes out that night, having been told with only twelve hours' notice that they were not on the roster for the tournament they'd been looking forward to for weeks. There was no way we were going to take that lying down. I told my son he'd play - maybe not the first game, but he'd certainly play. Mommy would make sure of that. I reponded to the email, letting them know that my child was not going to miss a tournament because of the club's mismanagement. I let every parent who called know that we would be there with the rest of the team in the morning and thought they should do the same.

Every child on the team showed up the next morning, rostered or not.

The coaches and manager approached the host club, explained the situation, and got permission for our team to have a floating roster - fourteen kids suited up for each game, but a rotating group between games. So all of the kids got to play - but only in two thirds of the games. We were very lucky that the club allowed the rostering exception - but we've already found out that the remaining tournaments for the season will not allow it.

We are still in the same position. Our kids are being denied play time because our soccer club couldn't resist the extra several thousand dollars' revenue five extra players would generate. Instead of capping registration at the team capacity or creating a second team to accommodate additional registrations, they chose instead to make the children suffer by eliminating game and tournament play time that they'd been promised (and, incidentally, that we'd paid for.)

The team is pulling together to work with what we have. The manager and coaches are trying to arrange for extra "fun" games between extra clubs or other teams within our own club. The parents are sucking it up and supporting our kids - we were by far the loudest, most enthusiastic cheering section at last weekend's tournament, despite the fact that our kids were sidelined for some of the games. But there is no way we are letting this go.

I'm in full Mama Bear mode right now.

You don't mess with my kid. You don't make my kid cry. You don't promise my kid something and take it away. You don't screw with my kid's dreams. You don't mess with my kid.

The parents are taking it in turn to call and email the club looking for answers. One parent is looking into litigation, one has approached the media. I have contacted other clubs in our region and been in touch with the regional soccer association and the provincial regulating body. And the club should have expected this. It's one thing for a business to have poor organization and questionable business practices. It's quite another if those practices affect children. Because all of these children have parents - and you don't mess with someone's kids. Unless you're prepared to face an army of Mama Bears.

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Monday, 17 June 2013

Father's Day

Fathers sometimes don't get the credit they deserve. Moms tend to get all of the parenting credit, both the kudos and the flak - the right to bitch, to brag, to seek support, to offer advice, to make their kids the centre of their existence and identity. Dads don't always get the same opportunities.

But dads are important too, and dads deserve recognition.

My kids are lucky - they have two dads. My older two boys see their biological dad once a week for a little whirlwind of a visit. He's their father and they love him dearly - but he's a different kind of "parent". They've never lived with him - or not since they were infants and far too young to remember - and he's always been just that fun guy they visit and play with once a week. He has none of the responsibility of actually raising, teaching, disciplining, caring for or providing for them. "Uncle Dad" is how I refer to him when I'm talking to my husband or girlfriends. But the boys don't know that or see that and they probably never will - which is fine. They love him, he loves them, and they have lots of fun together when they visit.

My husband - their stepdad - is their dad in every way that counts. Since he became a part of our family five years ago he has become a parent to our boys in every sense of the word, diving in to help me with every aspect of parenting and raising all three of our boys - the son we share together and his two stepsons. He's an amazing dad and the kids adore him.

It melts my heart when the kids leap into his arms when he walks in the door at the end of the day and crawl up into his lap for a snuggle before bed. He's so patient when they explore the garden together, answering all of their questions and teaching them about growing green things. He coaches our middle child's soccer team - not because of his experience or expertise in soccer, but because Middle Child asked him to. He sits through endless games of Monopoly, gets down on the floor to do puzzles, reads the same story over and over again and asks intelligent questions about their meandering nonsensical stories about their school day / movie they just watched / game they made up with their friend. He gives them a good-bye hug every morning (whether they're awake yet or not) and a good-night kiss every night. He changes diapers and leaps in to help out whenever my two arms don't quite extend to whatever all three children need at a particular moment. He works extra hard so that I can stay home to raise the kids and he races home from the office every night so we all have time to eat together before going out soccer or skating or swimming or baseball. He also disciplines when he has to, says no when he has to, and participates in every aspect of parenting - even the unfun ones.  My husband is an incredible father to our three children and we are all very lucky to have him.

This Father's Day was spent at the soccer field with lots of coffee. An out-of-town tournament meant a five-thirty wake-up and a long drive, an early morning game in the pouring rain, three games and three practices over seven hours at three different fields. Twelve hours after leaving the house we were on our way home with a car full of dirty, sweaty, tired children and and trunk full of filthy soccer gear, sunburnt and exhausted and realizing it was back to work and school the next morning without having had five minutes of relaxation on our weekend - so after dropping everything off at home and a quick change we headed back out for a Father's Day celebration at one of our favourite restaurants.

Despite the long day the kids were so excited to give my husband the gifts they'd spent weeks making at school. After a lovely family dinner we were all wiped from the long, busy weekend and it was early to bed for everyone. As we lay in bed I thought about how my husband had spent his Father's Day - waking up early, racing around town, setting up chairs and umbrellas and carting them from field to field, changing from home to away uniforms and back again, cheering on one child, chasing around another, up and down every five minutes for coffee runs, water runs, diaper changes, forgotten equipment. Not the most relaxing day of pampering and appreciation - but I can't think of a truer picture of life as a Dad.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads!

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Friday, 14 June 2013

First Grade Diorama

Middle Child and I have been very busy this last two weeks working on his Grade One animal diorama about the Canadian Lynx.

I'm so proud of my boy.

He worked so hard on this project, researching everything about the lynx and its characteristics, habitat, diet, predators, and offspring. He spent days planning out the diorama and gathering craft supplies and odds and ends of things from all over the house. He dragged the whole family out for a walk through the ravine to gather twigs and branches and pinecones for his forest and rocks for his cave. He spent hours cutting out construction paper for the grass and sky and trees and an entire evening molding the lynx mommy and lynx babies and snowshoe hare (for dinner) from clay. He was so creative, using craft "crystals" from the bottom of the craft drawer to show that the water was icy and torn cotton balls with siler glitter glue to represent snow. He even pulled out some homemade pom-poms leftover from his pom-pom creature craft and glued them to popsicle sticks for different-looking trees.

The next big step is the presentation for his class. He's soooo nervous. My little boy is very shy. I've been studying and practicing with him for a week, and he's done a couple of awesome presentations for the family. He knows his stuff cold - he's a Canadian Lynx expert. (And so am I.) But he's still so nervous. I'm on-the-edge-of-my-seat anxious today as I wait to pick him up this afternoon and hear how it went!

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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Classroom volunteering

I remember when my mom would come in to volunteer in my class when I was a kid. There was something so special about those days. My mom was the one helping us with our practice reading or journal entries; my mom was lacing up my friends' skates and handing out hot chocolates at the skaing rink; my mom was chaperoning this or that field trip, my mom was helping with this or that concert or assembly.

So when my boys started school I wanted to make sure I could volunteer to help out in their classrooms as much as I possibly could.

It's not that easy to find the time to do. For working parents, sick days and vacation days tend to get used up for actual sick days. (The kids' sicknesses - not yours. Any parent knows that unless you're actually on your deathbed you aren't going to get a day off just because you happen to be throwing up every five minutes or running a fever of 108 degrees. Your sick days are for when the kids are sick, or have a dentist appointment, or a PA day, or a snow day or strike day or random other school or daycare cancellation.) It's hard to find a day in your working week to volunteer on a field trip or help out in the classroom or the lunchroom or the schoolyard. And what about non-salaried workers who have to sacrifice a day's pay in order to volunteer for a few hours?

It's just as hard for at-home parents to find a free day to volunteer, since most at-home parents happen to be at home because they have younger children there to take care of. Who'll watch the toddler while you're walking a straggly line of second-graders to the community pool and what what will you do with the baby while you're helping with Math Minutes? A day's pay lost, a day's daycare costs added - this is becoming a very expensive couple of hours of classroom helping.

I've tried to volunteer as much as I can over the years. When my eldest was in kindergarten I did a few half-days helping out with a read-a-thon and an author visit and a field trip to see a play. Middle Child, a toddler at the time, spent those mornings at my girlfriend's home daycare and I made up the lost hours of work by taking home extra paperwork to do in the wee hours in the middle of the night when the boys were asleep. Once he was in kindergarten it was much easier and that year I volunteered for dozens of classroom days, school events and field trips for the boys' kindergarten and Grade One classes, coordinating volunteer hours around my fairly flexible work schedule and taking entire days off for big things like field trips. By the next year, though, Baby was born and it has been much harder to find those hours and days. I don't want to put Baby in daycare unless it's absolutely necessary - but I also don't want to miss out on those experiences with my older two boys. This year I managed a field trip to the tree farm with my eldest's class and helped with the "Scientists in the School" day with Middle Child's class. My husband took vacation days to be home with Baby for the few hours I was gone. I'm hoping to do a bit more next year - perhaps once a month in each boy's class and a field trip or two for each of them. I'm still not comfortable leaving Baby in someone else's care. But in a few short years the older boys simply won't want me coming in to help out (Your mom's here? How embarrassing.) and I don't want to miss out on this part of parenting.

I love seeing them interact with their friends. I love that their friends get to know me and feel comfortable with me. I love getting to watch them in their own worlds doing their own things separate from the world of our home and our family where what I say goes. I love the memories we make on these field trips or classroom projects. And I love the idea that when they grow up they'll look back fondly and remember when Mom used to come in to help in their classes, too.

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Monday, 10 June 2013

End-of-school fun fair

bouncy castle, climbling structure, kids, festival, fair
One of our favourite summer kick-offs is our public school's annual year-end family fun fair.

We are unbelievably lucky. Our parent council is very active, our community is affluent and our fundraisers are amazing - and as such our little public school fun fair is bigger and better than most town fairs and festivals across the country.

Our fun fair is unlike anything you've ever seen.
Bouncy castles, mazes, climbing structures, laser tag, motorized ride-on racetrack, arcade-style sports games, face painting, food vendors, contests and competitions and music pumping all evening.

It's a blast and we look forward to it every year - and of course the best part of all is that we're celebrating the end of another successful school year and the beginning of summer vacation!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Pirate Party!

pirate swag
For Middle Child's 7th birthday he wanted to have a party at home with a pirate theme - so I went over-the top theming it out.

Black and red balloons in every corner I could cram balloons.

Bowls and vases full of sand and seashells and pirate "treasure" on every surface.

Chocolate coins and gold beads everywhere.

Lunch was "pirate ship" hot dogs, "treasure chest" pizza, and a watermelon "shark." 
And of course a tricked-out pirate ship cake.

pirate ship hot doge, watermelon shark

pirate party decorationsEvery kid got a pirate hat and strings of gold beads to wear when they walked in the door. 

For activities we played musical islands in the backyard (like musical chairs, but with "islands" cut out of brown paper) with a pirate sword prize for the winner and everyone decorated their own "pirate chest" to take home. 

The pirate pinata to finish the afternoon was filled with chocolate coin "treasure."

pirate party

At the end of the day the kids left with lots of pirate swag: the hats and beads, the treasure chests they made themselves, pirate stickers and pirate tattoos and a king's ransom in chocolate coin "treasure" in their piratey loot bags.

Pirate party loot bags, pirate decorations, kids party

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Old traditions

kids, traditions, water

Family traditions are very important in our family. Almost everything we do is about Making Memories

kids, traditions, farm, horseWe love family field trips to our favourite splash pad, the local farm and petting zoo, Edward's Gardens botanical gardens and hiking trails, and of course the Toronto Zoo, our whole family's favourite.

kids, traditions, water, hiking
kids, vacation, family vacation, traditions, water, Walt Disney World

Our annual Disney vacation is epic and feeds our memories for the full year every year until the next spring break. A cozy family road trip and a whole week together enjoying the sun, sand, beach and pools, rides and adventures of the happiest place on earth.

kids, pirates, pirate makeup, Pirates Leauge, Walt Disney World, family vacation
Disney's Pirates League &
Caribbean Beach Resort

We never miss the local Spring Festival or Fall Fair, the CNE in the summer, or the long holiday weekend festivities at the Town park.

Holidaysbirthdays and special events are always a very big deal and we have our own special traditions for each occasion. Traditions are important.

Traditions become a part of a family's shared identity, history, and memory - and for us, family is everything.

But there's something special beyond words about those traditions that span the generations, those traditions we have with our kids that are the same ones we had growing up.

Because we live close to our hometown, we're able to spend a lot of time there.

Heading down to spend the day on Main Street is one of our happiest ways to spend a summer's afternoon - grabbing an ice cream and strolling up and down Main Street, playing by the fountain, exploring the trails in the woods around the pond, climbing the spider tree, and sometimes sitting on our favourite patio with a plate of nibblies watching the world go by. It's the same Main Street I spent my childhood rollerblading up and down every day, the same fountain behind the library I studied in, the same trails I went bike riding through as a kid, the same patio I used to hang out on as a teenager.

My childhood memories are all tied up in these places,
and I think it's so special that my kids' memories will be, too.

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Monday, 3 June 2013


The real start of the summer season for our family is the local Festival on Main Street (also known as Festivus, for most of us.) It's held the first weekend of June every year in the town where my husband and I grew up and I've never missed a year since I was a kid. I've made it a point, no matter where we were living at the time, to bring the boys every year since they were born.

Festival is a blast. It starts with a morning parade with all the expected small-town kitsch (the Town Crier in full costume, police on horseback, firetrucks, homemade floats, Brownie and gymnastics troops, bagpipe bands, clowns handing out candy to kids along the route.)

Then it's bouncy castles by the library at one end of Main Street, kids' games by the church at the other end, and a leisurely wander the length of the closed street filled with vendors and performers and food, stopping every few minutes to watch a juggler, listen to a band, grab an ice cream, and chat with someone we bump into from way back in the day.

Everyone heads back to the hometown for Festival.

Face painting, cotton candy, arts and crafts outside the art gallery, a petting zoo by the arena, and finally the Crazy Craft race at the pond where the entertainment is in the splash wars and who will fall in first rather than anyone actually rounding the buoys and finishing the race.

The rest of the afternoon is then spent on our favourite patio with a few pints while we people watch.

Festival has always been one of my favourite family field trips, and I'm so glad my kids are growing up with the same family traditions and memories I've always cherished.

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