Married With Children

Freshly married, no kids.

Scene: My kitchen. Time: Early morning.

Infraction #1: There are spatterings of coffee grounds strewn over the sink and counter.

Infraction #2: Some sort of eggy man-breakfast detritus is clogging the drain. (Does he really think that disgusting SOG just evaporates? The sog fairy is ME! I do it! I’m the one who scoops up the vile mush and throws it away.)

Infraction #3: There is a dirty spoon sitting on the counter

Infraction #4 (really the most grievous): I open up the dishwasher and am APOPLECTIC that Hubs’ coffee cup is on the RIGHT side. (It goes – as should be totally obvious, thirteen-plus years later – on the LEFT side. Where I move it to every morning after Hubs incorrectly loads it.)

I am irrationally furious after seeing this kitchen still-life of perceived and imaginary offenses.

It should be noted that my morning brain is totally ignoring the fact that he:

– makes my coffee every morning

– unloads the dishwasher every morning

– is often waking at 5 am just to get a few more hours of work in.

Instead, I am ANNOYED to the point of almost physical pain. Because my husband is not doing EXACTLY as I would do.

I once heard a funny slash tragic quote: Marriage is having someone police your behaviour for the rest of your life. That’s just so sad. Even more so because I can see how it can be true so easily especially if you have kids and all the work and fatigue they entail; how if you’re not careful, you end up policing or being policed and forgetting to, you know, actually enjoy this human being who presumably you love and are amused by.

And in this case I know I should just leave it. That Hubs’ general greatness far outweighs some coffee grounds and eggy bits, but I am so very tired and my back hurts and I don’t know what to do about my career (or total lack thereof) and maybe it’s actually all Hubs’ fault because he CAN’T CORRECTLY LOAD A DISHWASHER.

So of course he walks into the kitchen and I say something caustic and then he gets defensive (ahem, perhaps understandably) and says something dick-y and then I legitimately don’t like him and he, me.

I don’t recommend this as a way to start a day.

So many of my friends with young kids are struggling in their marriages right now. For a few it may be serious, but for others it’s probably just a shallow patina of ire and annoyance that will burn off as the kids grow older. Still, ire and annoyance suck. And they are corrosive to general familial happiness.

To simplify and generalize (my favourite tactics when writing about something meaty like marriage), the moms – at home, working part-time, working full-time – complain bitterly that the dads don’t do enough, don’t know enough, are hapless. The dads, if I was privy to more dad complaints, I’m sure would bleat out a list something like this: the moms are bitchy, they don’t have as much fun as they used to, their standards are too high.

I keep banging on about this here, but a lot of this is because parenthood is just so goddamned hard these days. The expectations of ourselves are through the roof. The media brays at us a near-constant litany of childhood perils and parenting fails. Money seems to evaporate. Careers need tending. Or not. Who know what the right mix of work and home is right for parents and for kids? I don’t. I know it’s changeable and different for everyone. But that great big question of early childhood also looms over marriages. Who will stay with the kids, if either parent? How much? The stresses on young families are giant and the weakest link in the family – mom to dad, not dad to kids or mom to kids which nature ensures is ironclad or we’d eat our young – bears this weight.

The triplet demons of fatigue, busyness and high expectations, also create a dynamic in the parents of young children where we are constantly on the look out for who is shirking their duty.

Hubs and I call it the “martyr-off”… the extended competition over who had the toughest day, who slept the least, who needs an hour to themselves OR THEY WILL RUN SCREAMING INTO THE STREET the most (the last one is pretty much always me). And this constant watching to see who’s getting away with some light shirking is tiring and tiresome.

So I’m trying to change a habit.

Tomorrow when I walk into the kitchen, I’m going to ignore the coffee grinds and the eggy bits in the sink and the, um, creatively loaded dishwasher.

I’m going to take the coffee Hubs has made for me and I’m going to just say…

“Thank you.”

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It’s Not Us, It’s Them

8:37 am in an average Toronto house on an average Toronto street:

Rosie, age two, red-faced, apoplectic at maternal injustices, shriek-sobbing: GIVE ME MY BUNNY! GIIIIIIIIIIVE IT TO ME NOW!”

Me, 39, slimly holding onto sanity: “I’m sorry but you can’t have it because you screamed at mama when I didn’t put the blanket properly on your bunny and then threw your banana on the floor.”

Rosie: Howls upon more howls. Which then turn into her throwing herself onto the kitchen floor and screaming at the very top of her lungs. A decibel level that perfectly works its way into the centre of my nervous system and precludes any rational thought whatsoever. I stalk out of the room. Rosie throws herself at my legs and holds on, flailing.

Two minutes now until we have to leave the house

Fern swans into the din and starts telling me a story about ponies, over my (still remarkably calm) requests for her to finish getting ready.

I have asked her, at a conservative estimate, at least 37 times already to get dressed-brush-teeth-wash-face-put-on-shoes. It’s like the world’s crappiest, most unrelaxing mantra: getdressedbrushteethwashfaceputonshoes.

So I really, really do not currently want to hear a story about ponies. I want her to quietly put on her shoes and wait at the front door. But she persists. And as Rosie’s howls escalate, Fern just raises her voice until all I hear is a wall of little girl NOISE coming at me.

And then I break. I hiss at Rosie to GET UP and I bark at Fern to PUT YOUR SHOES ON.

And I wrangle them, squally and resentful, out the front door to face this average Toronto day.

It is not my finest morning as a mother.

But here’s the thing: It’s not their finest moment either.

As my wise mom friend who saw me right after this episode, cranky and wild-eyed, pointed out: Sometimes, it’s not us. It’s THEM.

There is so very much maternal guilt going around these days. Not coincidentally, this crisis of unearned guilt coincides with a sort of mass cultural fetishization of childhood. We are awash in Pinterest boards of perfect crafts and syrupy sentimental lists of things to do with your kids; parenting blog after parenting blog (mea culpa); article after article talking about the most recent study/theory/dogma on how we should be raising our kids.

We, as parents, can never live up the idealized notion of modern childhood. So we feel guilty – or at least I do on some subconscious level – that my kids don’t do what I say simply because they love me (they, in fact, often do what I say because I have offered them tv or a popsicle) or because they throw tantrums or whine.

But let’s just take a minute to be brutally honest here in the face of all this kid culture propaganda: Kids can be a big fat pain in the ass. All kids. Mine, yours, that perfect neighbour’s, the person who wrote the sickly sweet Pinterest list. They can be wily and manipulative and revel in schadenfreude and they complain and whine and throw tantrums and disagree and refuse to cooperate.

Kids are also, of course, awesome little beings. It should go without saying that there are many hours with my girls where there is magic and closeness and I delight in their company. And of course it’s my job to teach them how to be responsible and listen and to cooperate and to not throw tantrums. And I take that job very seriously. But we need to stop internalizing their difficult, nay feral, behaviour as our maternal failings.

So the next time you are going crazy from the fighting, the tantrums, the lack of cooperation and you have a moment where you think what am I doing wrong? Remember this…

Sometimes it’s not us, it’s them.

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What do Rob Ford and My Girls Have in Common?

Rob Ford juxtaposed with some incredibly good-looking children

Rob Ford juxtaposed with some incredibly good-looking children

Answer: This blog. I promised that I would, from time to time, write about something completely different here. And Rob Ford is about as different as you can get from my two darling spawn. For those of you who are not living in Toronto or following the scandal surrounding our mayor, let me edify you: a video has surfaced, seen by a Gawker editor and two Toronto Star reporters, allegedly showing our bumbling mayor smoking crack. It is all the city talks of – and has received national and international coverage.

Here are my random and miscellaneous thoughts on the Rob Ford Crack Video saga. For what they’re worth – which is probably not very much at this point, given the ink that has been spilled on this story. But you can take the girl out of the newsroom and put her in the playroom and she’ll still find a way to cover a big story, even if it means coopting her parenting blog to write about it.

In no particular order:

1) I’m sick of hearing Ford being defended as an everyman by the Right. I know a bunch of  “everymen”. Good men. Neighbours, relatives, friends… men who are struggle with their weight, who speak their mind, who are affable, slightly slobby, who prefer cars to bikes – all Ford characteristics. But you know what these everymen don’t do? SMOKE CRACK. Or slam minorities. Or make homophobic slurs.

2) And to the Left: Stop acting so sanctimonious. If this all actually went down, Ford is a sick, possibly addicted man at the mercy of his giant hubris. I genuinely pity him. I loathe sentiments that he’s uttered – homophobic, racist – and I don’t share his politics. But do I think he’s evil incarnate? No. I think he is a man in over his head who has looked to substances to ease that reality. He needs to go but not with people dancing on his grave..

3) Also, a lot of people seem to have taken it as accepted wisdom that videos can be altered. REALLY? It may be the case that they can be altered but I don’t know how and neither do most of the good citizens of Toronto. So the media has dropped the ball on this one (with the notable exception of Jon Stewart who pointed out that James Cameron-level expertise could have altered the video). So media, either a) get an expert on who can cogently explain if and how such a video could be altered; or b) stop propagating it as accepted wisdom that the video could easily have been faked.

4) And finally: A lot of people are wringing their hands that Ford has ruined Toronto’s reputation. I didn’t realize that Ford and Toronto were synonymous. Our pitiful mayor does not equal Toronto. He wasn’t even elected by a majority of Torontonians. Is our reputation, our sense-of-self-worth, our identity as a city, so fragile that a crackhead mayor is all it takes to send it all crumbling? Hell, no. Toronto is NOT Rob Ford or Ford Nation. Neither is it the so-called Downtown Left. Nor the suburban Right. Nor is it Rexdale crack dealers or crack Toronto Star reporters. It’s all of those things co-existing basically peacefully. We are Toronto the good even if our mayor has been very, very bad.

Phew, glad I got that off my chest.

Now, I can go back to scraping ketchup off the wall.

Too Two

I am two! I choose my own outfits! Red and pink forever!

I am two! I choose my own outfits! Red and pink forever!

Six. Pairs. Of. Socks.

That’s how many Rosie went through one morning last week in an increasingly hysterical manner.

Pairs one through five failed her for the following reasons: small piece of thread hanging off toe, microscopic wet spot on the bottom of one, too short, “not blue” (did not realize blue was a prerequisite), she was handed the last pair instead of collecting it herself from the drawer.

After a twenty minute process – tears, yowls of rage (hers and mine), chases, general hysteria – she was be-socked and I needed a drink and a nap at 8:30 am.

Two year olds are absolutely bat$#&* crazy.

If an adult behaved like a two year old – “Give me that sippy cup RIGHT NOW”, “Mine, mine, mine!”, “Screw you and your-sock-wearing autocracy!” – we’d label them a pathological narcissist and give them a wide berth.

I forgot. I forgot just how INSANELY IRRATIONAL two year olds can be.

I know other people say three was more challenging for them than two, but Fern had a textbook case of the terrible twos – and now it looks like Rosie is following in the hysteria-filled footsteps of her older sister. It was like we had Fern’s second birthday party, she spent two or three days still being lovely and cooperative and then a light switch went on and she turned into a raving lunatic. All tantrums and tears and non-cooperation.

Fern didn’t have a particularly independent streak. Her tantrums were all about HOW something was done. She didn’t need to DO something – say sock donning – by herself but it had to be conducted to her exacting and often unknowable, nay, capricious, standards.

Rosie, on the other hand, has to do absolutely everything by herself. Things that are so patently beyond her physical abilities that it is comical. Like slicing fruit. Or loading the dishwasher. Or adequately brushing her teeth. Or dressing herself appropriately… the arena of most of our tantrum-y discord.

Fern still couldn’t care less what she wears. Literally all of her friends choose their own outfits. But Fern still views clothes not as self-expression but as something necessary and boring. She wants to waste no thought on her exterior trappings, thus freeing up cranial space for, oh I don’t know, capybaras and spinosauruses. I lay out whatever I want and she puts it in. Bonus points for me if it has an animal motif but it’s not necessary.

Rosie, on the other hand, wants total control of her wardrobe with no parental involvement whatsoever. And lo, the wrath, if I dare suggest two skirts worn at the same time and NOTHING ELSE, is inappropriate March attire.

So every time a new outfit is needed – two, three times a day for this mud and food-bespattered girl – I gird my loins and follow her apprehensively up the stairs to her room where we conduct our dance – hers toward independence, mine toward ensuring my girl doesn’t head out into a slushy day wearing nothing but a tutu and a swimsuit.

F*&%ing February

Snowy February beach, Ward's Island

Snowy February beach, Ward’s Island

F&*%ing February.

The nadir of the maternal year, at least for those with young kids.

(And I am NOT talking about you Vancouver-ites. My empathy stops around Kamloops. When I lived in Vancouver, I remember leaving work one February day, picking up Fern and heading to the beach to enjoy the 15+ degree weather. Fern did not even wear mittens ONCE the last winter we lived there.)

When November arrived this past fall, I was so innocent, such an amnesiac. I was – hard to believe – excited for winter. Oh, the things we would do! The fun we would have! The skating, the tobogganing, the hot chocolate, the rosy cheeks. It would be Rockwellian!

The only rosy cheeks to be seen now are Rosie’s because she has a fever. Fern and I are pale and sickly looking from lack of sun.

We’ve done lots of skating, we’ve sledded, we’ve gone for winter hikes, we’ve DONE winter.

Now I’m just done with winter.

Taking care of little children all day has many rewards but let’s be straight: it can be a weary grind sometimes. The routine is relentless – the lifting, the feeding, the cleaning, the lack of sleep.

And the thing about winter is that amplifies all of those things. There’s more lifting and toting what with the snowsuit-wrangling and hauling the stroller over snowbanks. There’s less sleep if the kids are sick. And there’s less time outdoors, more time inside with fractious kidlets, hungry for open space, warm air, and freedom.

To wit, this month by the numbers:

2 – Number of sick children. Fern with some sort of barfing slash fatigue bug; Rosie with the winter’s worst cold, fever on and off, chest rattling cough, copious snot. This has been a sick winter for us, and for most people we know. Gross.

23 – Number of times an hour Rosie screams “SNOT SNOT” demanding a Kleenex. (This number may not be 100% accurate but feels like it.)

19 – Number of days I have argued with Fern about putting on snowpants.

5 – Number of days she has actually worn snowpants.

7 – Number of times I have been reduced to swearing/tears/some sort of rage-induced fit over getting two kids dressed in winter gear and out the door.

Impossible to count – Number of times I have fantasized about going somewhere warm (tragically not in the cards due to husband’s new and busy job).

5 – Number of pairs of mittens I have bought for Rosie because every single pair sucks. What the f*&k retailers and designers of the world? We can put a pig’s aorta into a human but we CAN’T DESIGN MITTENS FOR TODDLERS THAT BOTH STAY ON AND YET CAN BE TAKEN OFF FOR, SAY, A SNACK AND THEN PUT SECURELY BACK ON.

20 – Number of times I have calculated how many days left of winter. Every day of February so far.

One final number…

2 – That’s the number of times I’ve moved to Vancouver. Once for my work, once for Hubs’, BOTH times because spring there starts in February.

As it should.

Rose in Bloom

Rose in Bloom

Miss Isla, on her second birthday

Miss Rosie, on her second birthday 

Rosie turned two on Saturday.

This little light of mine shines so brightly and my life is unquantifiably richer and just sparklier with her in it.

She lives much as she arrived… Fast and furious, joyful. (My entire labour was less than an hour. It involved three firemen and five paramedics in my bedroom, an extremely fraught ambulance ride, and Rosie’s appearance minutes after I was wheeled in to the hospital on a stretcher furiously braying “NOW!? CAN I PUSH NOW?!)

She has taught me much, this rosy-cheeked, lustrously-lashed, blue-eyed imp. Mostly, that kids are born essentially who they are and that I need to just RELAX. When Fern was little, I – to put it mildly – fretted. I worried that every decision I made would determine who she was and how she would turn out.

Rosie showed me the wrong-headedness of this by coming out as, well, Rosie. (Fern has also, of course, helped in this education of her mama by being Fern, essentially the same beautiful, serious, smart, lovely creature she was at birth.)

Sure, nurture certainly counts for something – otherwise, why bother with modern day motherhood and all the care and research and introspection and attention it entails. Of course it still matters how we raise our children.

But basically Rosie has shown me that kids are born who they are, and while you can certainly damage them just as you can certainly cultivate and nurture their best selves, you can not alter their basic natures. By being who she is and by being so very different from Fern, she’s made me realize that.

From the moment she was born, this has been Rosie:

She does not like sleep. And there is very little I can do that changes that. On the flip side, she generally maintains her equilibrium no matter how tired.

She does not like food. Oh, sure she likes to eat certain things at certain times, just not what I want and need her to eat when I want and need her to eat it.

She talks. Man, does she talk. I was told second children spoke later so I prepared myself for a delayed conversation with Miss Rosie. Not. So. Much. She started early and kept on going. And going. And going.

She is physical and daring. Fern loved to be swaddled. Days-old Rosie was already writhing and red-faced in her swaddle, somehow freeing her spindly newborn arms. She also climbed out of her crib at 12 months. In her sleep sack so I still have no idea how she got her legs over. Vaulting?

And she is oh so loving and funny and bright. Our tiny sunshine. Our lovely light. Our Rosie.

Happy birthday!

Days old with her adoring mama

Blue-eyed ginger

14 months-ish

Fly girl – 17 months

18 months

18 months

21 months

21 months

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Saturday, in all her birthday finery

“Girls” and “Boys”

Dino pajamas under a dino duvet

Fern’s dino-clad legs under her dino duvet

My mouse hovers over “girls” and then moves back to “boys”.

I’m searching for toys for my five-year-old girl and one of the ways ToysRUs.com organizes their toys is by gender. Click “girls” and you get “Dolls and Playsets”, “Kitchens and Household Gadgets”. Click “boys” and you get “Action Figures”, “Vehicles and Radio Control”.

Fern’s interests fall pretty squarely under the “boys” heading.

Mostly, Fern loves dinosaurs. Last night she requested I read her an encyclopedia on the Triassic era. She listened, rapt. (Incidentally, she also totally schooled me by correcting my pronunciation of Shansisuchus, which is some sort of reptilian beast. I – arts-educated dolt that I am – called it a shan-see-suck-us. It is apparently – and much more elegantly – pronounced shan-see-sook-us.) Anyway, she can’t get enough of all things prehistoric. For Christmas, she wanted a dinosaur duvet cover. Which, of course, I found under the “boys” section at the awesome British store Cath Kidston. She has a garland of paper dinosaurs hanging on her wall. She has a ferocious collection of plastic dinos. Dinos are her thing.

She also loves: dragons, mythic creatures, any and all stuffed and plastic animals, sea creatures, Star Wars (although this is waning and the Hobbit seems to be ascendant), science project kits, and those cheap, probably-toxic, definitely-disgusting squishy toys you get at the dollar store.

So this classification of most of my girls’ interests and material desires under the heading “boys” bothers me.

At this point, you might be thinking you know what’s coming; indeed that you could pen my predictable feminist screed against this.

That I might be about to say this kind of genderization of toys reinforces traditional notions of female and male roles and prescribes antiquated ideas of appropriate play/behaviour/future work for little girls and boys.

Or this: That I don’t want my girls interests stigmatized for her by marketers and her horizons thusly limited.

Or, even this: Gender is fluid and a spectrum and organizing anything into a binary system of “boys” and “girls” dangerously simplifies gender and kids’ ideas about their own identities.

Ha! Well, I’m not going there (even if it’s all totally true).

Instead I’m offering a friendly critique to the toy retailers of the world which is this: even with my admittedly rudimentary math skills I’m pretty sure you cut your potential sales fairly drastically – say, by fifty per cent – when you cut out half the population from your marketing.

For example… We got a catalogue from Land’s End yesterday. There were just so many more cool options for the boys. T-shirts with sea creatures on them, awesome swim tops with fish on them. The girls stuff had the same ocean motifs but they were just so, I don’t know, mimsy in comparison. Any self-respecting five-year-old -girl or boy wants a top with a cool, well-drawn, large animal on it rather than its stylized, smaller counterpart. Some will want it in pink, some purple, some navy, but they’ll all want the cooler, bigger, better articulated animals.

At first I was looking at the girls stuff and I was about to throw the catalogue away when I thought to look at the boys stuff. It was awesome. Fern loved it and I’m going to buy some stuff, including a “boys” swim rash guard featuring a large fish skeleton which she chose.

This was our exchange:

“I want this one.” Pause. “Everyone will think I’m a boy!”

It wasn’t clear from her tone if this was bad or good or, indeed, precisely her motivation for choosing the shirt in the first place.

“Is that a problem for you? We could order the girls one.”

“No, I don’t care. I want that one.” Pause. “With the pink swim skirt.”

(Aside: Fern – to complicate any easy categorization of her interests – also really loves the colour pink. But maybe that’s because I’ve imposed it on her? My head hurts thinking about all this sometimes. Whatever. She likes pink. A lot. Me too.)

So I’ve got some advice for retailers to young kids. Ditch “girls” and “boys”. All you need are a few key headings: fairies and princesses, animals, dinosaurs, lego, playmobil, weapons, dragons, dolls, art supplies, tablets and electronics, things that locomote.

Those should be the only headings on a toy retailers website for this age group because that pretty much covers it – whether a kid has two x chromosomes or one.

There. Done. You’re welcome.