Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Past Deadline: She's Three and Has the Pink To Show It

Happy birthday, Girlchild! My babies' birthdays are always such a sweet, nostalgic time for me. I go back through my journals so that I can savour what I believe to have been the most powerful and beautiful experiences of my life - their births. I was hoping to write more this week about my big three-year-old, but time ran away on me. So for now, here's "Past Deadline" from the Wednesday, Oct. 22 issue of The Perth Courier.

She’s three and has the pink to show it

Girlchild celebrated her third-going-on-13th birthday over the weekend. There were two events: a small party with good friends on Friday and a big family dinner on Sunday. Each event was pink.

On Friday we prepared pink cupcakes – cherry chip cake mix with extra pink, vanilla frosting with extra pink, a variety of sprinkles (mostly pink) and cherries on top. The cupcakes were inspired by the book Pinkalicious by Elizabeth Kann and Victoria Kann, wherein a little girl eats so many pink cupcakes that she wakes up the next morning and has turned (egad!) pink! It all works out in the end. By eating green vegetables she is restored to her beautiful self.

Girlchild assured me she would not eat that many pink cupcakes. She’s no dummy. Everything in moderation. Not only that, but one wouldn’t want to have to eat so many green vegetables. Certainly not.

Boychild and our friends’ two boys hardly scowled at all about the pink cupcakes and the pink loot bags. I suspect the distinct lack of dolls in their loot bags was a relief.

For the family affair Girlchild wore a (surprise!) pink dress. She requested pink, purple and red balloons. She was so into her birthday this year that we’ve been able to use it as a threat or a bribe for weeks.

“Girlchild! Get back into bed or there will be no birthday party.”

“Yes, birthday party!” she says as she runs back into her room and climbs into bed.

Now that the party’s over our next bribe/threat is Halloween. Yes, Halloween! You’ll be shocked to learn she will be dressed up as a pink princess for Halloween.

Speaking of princesses, her majesty had a princess cake at the family birthday. I probably would have gone looking for the (darned!) Disney Princesses on Cake or a reasonable facsimile, but my mom was at Hendriks one day and the sweet bakery lady tracked her down and said, “Tell your daughter we have princess cakes.”

I ordered ours with extra pink. Get rid of that pesky blue and yellow trim – only pink will do! Girlchild loved it and has squirreled away the four Disney princess decorations – after licking all the icing off, of course.

Ah, girls. It was pretty exciting for us when baby number two turned out to be a girl. It’s fun to have one of each, and Girlchild injects a good dose of girlishness into a sphere of friends who have boys. This birthday in particular had “GIRL” written all over it – in pink 254-point font. Stand back Tonka and Spider-Man; Polly Pocket, Barbie and Baby Alive are here! Boychild takes it in stride by occasionally attacking Polly Pocket and her cats with an action figure. If he’s in a more domestic mood, Polly might hang out with Uncle Spider-Man.

Just when I thought I was done with changing diapers, along comes Baby Alive with her freaky space alien purr and her propensity for wetting her pants. I suspect the idea is to teach little girls to be good mamas. That said, I’ve gotta say the “off” button is a nice feature.

Speaking of off buttons, does anyone know if three-year-old girls scream less than two-year-old ones? The only other three-year-old I’ve ever had hardly screamed at all, at least not in a tantrummy kind of way, so this is basically uncharted territory for me.

If hitting age three means we can kiss the terrible twos goodbye, I will definitely throw a party with pink, purple and red balloons and invite all the princesses I know. I’m sceptical, though. A few weeks ago a neighbour mentioned she thinks Girlchild is outgrowing the tantrum phase (read: screaming less). I tend to think we’ve all just had our windows closed against the cooler fall air.

I do take a little chill when I remember what many folks have told me: that the way a child behaves as a toddler is directly proportional to how he or she will behave as a teenager. Do you suppose the Baby Alive people make dolls that shriek like banshees but are quieted with a stern look? Maybe I’d better start thinking about my future bribes/threats instead.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Past Deadline: It's Not Nice To Fool the Tooth Fairy

Here it is, the Wednesday, Oct. 15/08 edition of "Past Deadline," published in The Perth Courier. I had that old Chiffon margarine commercial from the 1970s in mind with the title: "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

It’s not nice to fool the Tooth Fairy

Grade 1 is probably the only time one is truly applauded for having one’s teeth fall out. A possible exception may be when one is a professional hockey player.

It’s a badge of honour, really. One day Groom-boy jokingly asked Boychild’s teacher if she could teach him to grow some teeth. “Oh, no,” she laughed. “That’s how we know they’re in Grade 1!”

Indeed, most of Boychild’s chums have big holes in their faces. This can make eating apples and corn on the cob very difficult. That said, all the hardship comes with a cash bonus. The Tooth Fairy is certainly paying much better these days than when I was kid. Inflation helps. In addition to his earnings from the Tooth Fairy, a good chunk of the coin in Boychild’s wallet is courtesy of all the grandparents slipping him loonies for his gummy smile.

I betcha Groom-boy wishes someone would pay him when he loses a tooth.

We almost had an International Incident here a few weeks ago when Boychild lost another one.
As is becoming customary, when ye olde tooth comes out Mama prepares the body by rinsing off any gore as necessary (moms get all the glamorous jobs) and wrapping the bedraggled thing in a tiny makeshift envelope fashioned from a folded square of paper and sealed with tape. I then label the paper with the child’s name, the date of the loss and the particulars of the tooth (e.g. top left front) in case the Tooth Fairy has a penchant for filing the teeth in some sort of, ahem, tooth repository or jewellery box for later review and nostalgia. Yeah. I’ve heard the Tooth Fairy is cute that way.

Anyway, whilst Boychild was in the bathtub, I was in my spacious office (read: tiny dormer window) in the upstairs hallway preparing the latest specimen for deposit under his pillow. In a random fit of idiocy, I tipped my teeny envelope too far to one side before I had sealed the end and the tooth fell out onto the carpet.

Plop. A tiny white thing was lost in a speckled beigy-white, medium-pile carpet. Fantastic.

So there I was, down on my hands and knees, running my fingers through the carpet. The tooth had, of course, fallen near a bag filled with files and loose papers, and I couldn’t be sure whether it had fallen into the bag or not. For several minutes I kneaded every inch of carpet in the vicinity, but the only tooth-like objects I turned up were (and this is the part that’ll make you wish you lived here) bits of kitty litter. The litter pan is located several feet away but, clearly, the fur children manage to track bits of grit from one end of the carpeted hall to the other. Sigh. Note to self: Either replace the carpet with hardwood (yes!) or vacuum more carefully.

After fruitlessly searching the carpet and the contents of the bag, and with Boychild’s departure from the bathtub imminent, I did what any other Mother of the Year would do. My fingers had been fooled several times by the kitty litter, so I snagged a tooth-sized piece, put it in my homemade envelope, sealed it with tape and labelled it.

When it was presented to Boychild to place beneath his pillow, he felt the package and said, “Is this my tooth?” I averted my eyes, broke out into a tiny sweat and fidgeted slightly, but the fraud was successful and the item was appropriately placed.

We didn’t have to find out what would happen when the Tooth Fairy discovered our deception because not long after Boychild went to bed Groom-boy stepped on the tooth on the stairs. We figure it must have flown out of some of the papers I pulled from the bag while I was frantically searching. We made a switcheroo before the Tooth Fairy arrived.

I shudder to think of what might have occurred – there’s nothing worse than an angry pixie, I hear. Would she have smashed up Boychild’s room? Awakened him and called him names? Deposited something unpleasant under his pillow? Spread kitty litter throughout the house as some sort of revenge?

Disaster averted. Phew!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thanksgiving - Or Something Like That

We Canadians are celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend. Thanksgiving here comes earlier than in the United States because the day after our holiday it starts to snow, so we have to get the crops in before then. Or something like that.

At our crazy house we will be delaying the traditional turkey feast until next weekend, when it will be combined with a family gathering to celebrate Girlchild's third birthday. What this means is it will be a turkey supper with all the fixin's, except that instead of having yummy pumpkin pie, we will probably have a chocolate princess cake with pink icing. Or something like that.

There will also be balloons to go with our Thanksgiving Turkey Birthday Bonanza. Pink and purple, if you please. Shocking, I know, but it was requested by her majesty. Boychild thinks we should be inviting some of the few girls we have encountered over the years, such as the one we see when we drop him off at school, but I'm thinking I'm happy to keep this a family gathering with balloons and a birthday turkey. She's three. She'll be thrilled about the balloons and presents alone. She can bring home throngs of princesses for a birthday turkey when she goes to school next year. Or something like that.

The meal plan, by the way, hinges on whether Groom-boy goes for the turkey idea. On the one hand I'm thinking, "How could we not have turkey? It's Thanksgiving!" On the other hand, I remember that in my more adventurous days (whatever the heck that means) I used to court danger and buck all the trends - making homemade Chinese food for Christmas dinner and such. Crazy, I know! This year, though, I'm already thinking of gravy and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, but he's pushing for ham. I dunno. I may have to challenge him to a game of pure strength and willpower to decide this matter. Maybe we should do a triathlon. Or climb a very tall cliff. Or speed walk around the block while doing a crossword puzzle. Or something like that.

I'll let you know who wins. No matter what, I think I'll get us some pumpkin pie to go with the princess cake, too.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Past Deadline: Armchair Express(TM) Seeks Parking Space

It's another political blog - but this'll be the last one for a while because our election is next week. Here is "Past Deadline" from the Wednesday, Oct. 8/08 issue of The Perth Courier.

Armchair Express™ seeks parking space

I can’t help myself. I have to comment on the federal leaders’ debate. It’s the last hurrah for the Armchair Express™ before the election, after all.

I watched most of the English debate last Thursday, quelling the urge to make some popcorn and wear a chicken hat. I have no idea who “won,” really. Do you? There were lots of winning moments, though, and here are a few:

Sincerest-Looking Politician: St├ęphane Dion (Liberal). There is no doubt about this. When he looked into the camera with those soulful eyes and spoke earnestly about things, I truly believed he meant every single word of whatever it was.

Politician Who Looks Most Like Batman’s Joker: Stephen Harper (Conservative). When he tries too hard to smile his lips go kinda funny – they get really long and slippery looking. That probably explains why he doesn’t smile much. Couple that feature with his iron-on hairdo and voila! The Joker. Except I think the Joker has more fun.

Award for Looking Slightly Cagey: Stephen Harper. Probably this goes hand in hand with the Joker look. Someone really should tell Harper to look into the camera more and work on that weird smile. Sweaters won’t help you if you look cagey.

Politician Bringing the Most Credibility to a Party: Elizabeth May. Hey – the Green Party isn’t a one-trick pony! May spoke intelligently on all subjects. And to think Harper and Jack Layton (NDP) almost didn’t let her play in the sandbox. The debate wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

Most Likely to Be a Caricaturist’s Dream or a Spitting Image Puppet: Elizabeth May. I think it’s the teeth. She’s got a great face for political cartoons.

Topic Most Likely to Make the Armchair Express™ Feel All Warm and Fuzzy: A green economy. The first 30 minutes or so when everyone except Harper made it clear they believe a strong economy and new green initiatives can actually go together were darned near musical. They used words like “new economy” and “modern economy” and “reality.” I’m just not convinced Harper’s don’t-worry-be-happy approach is a big seller.

Award for Best Hiding Spot for a Platform Plank: Stephen Harper. He was asked several times to produce something concrete on the economy, but didn’t seem to have much beyond “tax cuts” to offer. May wondered why he asked for extra time in the debate to talk about the economy. Layton accused him of hiding his platform “under his sweater,” which is particularly funny if you find the overuse of sweaters and sweater vests in this campaign to be a bit nauseating, and possibly disconcerting. I do. I don’t care what the prime minister wears to look casual.

Best Dressed: I have no idea, really. At least no one was actually wearing a sweater.
Grace Under Fire Award: Stephen Harper. I don’t think Harper loses his cool much. Perhaps warmth just doesn’t come naturally to him, which is why he is forced to wear so many sweaters. In any event, he was relentlessly attacked by his opponents and his head didn’t go spinning off of his shoulders or anything, even when the questions were decidedly anti-Harper. It did seem a little odd for the moderator, Steve Paikin, to ask the other candidates if Harper and the conservatives are barbarians due to their cuts to arts and culture programs. Although I like the word “barbarians,” I would have rephrased the question: “So, Mr. Harper, not a big fan of galas I hear?”

Best Lines of the Night: One of my favourites was Dion’s disgusted, dismissive wave at Harper with an emphatic, “Do not believe this man!” I also liked when Layton commented on there being many successful provincial NDP governments in history, adding (to Dion), “Well, Rae is with you guys now,” with reference to the much-maligned Ontario NDP government under now-Liberal Bob Rae. Gilles Duceppe (Bloc Quebecois) provided comic relief for the Beavis and Butthead set by repeating the word “turd” over and over again.

Most Restrained Leader: It’s a tie between Elizabeth May and Stephen Harper. Sometimes, as they sat elbow to elbow, I suspected they were kicking each other under the table. I bet they at least wanted to push each other out of the sandbox.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

It's Just. Not. Fair.

The sleep thing with kids is just just just...arrrgh!

I think my daughter is trying to kill me. Most nights are pretty good, but the nights that aren't are like torture: just as you start to doze off someone bursts in and wakes you up and makes you get out of bed and complete tasks like blowing a nose or turning on lullabies or going potty or aligning the planets or moving the Earth or doing cartwheels or whatever.

On Friday night the kids went to bed about an hour later than usual because we were out with another family. They got up only fractionally later than usual in the morning (7:30 instead 0f 7). That meant Girlchild, in particular, was quite tired Saturday night. We got her to bed in good time and, instead of her usual array of stalling tactics, she fell promptly to sleep without a peep.

Bliss? All is right in preschoolerland? You'd think. As I stumbled into bed (too late for my own good) hours later, I nervously considered the very real possibility she would wake up early because she fell asleep so quickly. "Surely not," the optomistic voice chirped. "After all, she's pretty tired from Friday night."

Can you see where this is going?

Ladies and gentlemen, she first awoke at 5:30. Five thirty! I wasn't surprised, but I was annoyed. We are not morning people. Girlchild usually sleeps until after 7. Besides, we encourage our prisoners - I mean children - to stay in bed until at least 7. This is all fine and good if they can tell time, which Girlchild cannot. She was in and out of bed like a yo-yo several times until Boychild, who can tell time, staggered into my room mere moments after 7. Then we all "merrily" went downstairs to commence our day. By "merrily" I mean mama put the capital G in "Grumpy" and the kids fought like, well, cranky, sleep-deprived people.

Naturally, late this afternoon after we all stumbled home from a birthday party for an eight-year-old friend, Girlchild fell asleep for an hour on the couch. If you were to go by the Handy Dandy Baby Rule Book whereby "sleep begets sleep," you would not be alarmed by this. She needs to catch up, right? You don't want her to be overtired, right?

You'd think. Yet as I write this little Miss Catch-Up McCatchypants has been springing out of bed for an hour and a half past her bedtime, just like I figured she would. I'm running out of viable threats now that today's birthday party is over. For now we've left it that I will be calling the Birthday Fairy (did you know girls have a birthday fairy?) and cancelling her third birthday in a couple of weeks if she doesn't stay in bed.

Sigh. It's just. not. fair.

P.S. Incidentally, the Birthday Fairy also refuses to grant third birthdays to little girls who do not poop in potties. Y'all remember Vernette? She who has regressed? There has been one successful potty moment (featuring a bribe of Smarties) from a few days ago, but now she's overdue and her mama is afraid....Sigh. It's just. not. fair.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Past Deadline: I have to do WHAT to my cat?

And now a little something about cats...published in The Perth Courier, "Past Deadline," on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008.

I have to do what to my cat?

The cats used to be the babies.

When the short people came along, though, the universe tilted a bit and our focus shifted slightly away from the fur children. We love our cats, except for the furry tumbleweed, the regular gift of hairballs and the smelly litter box. We’re just not as attuned to the subtle messages they send us as we once were.

Our big friendly tabby, MacGregor, is pretty good at telling us when his periodic urinary tract issue flares up. He doesn’t like stress. In particular, he has never appreciated (at first) when a new baby comes into the house to live. He responds with a flare-up and lets us know he’s in trouble by doing his business in inappropriate places, such as cribs and clean laundry baskets. I can’t tell you how much I love this.

Filibuster, our loud fluffy cat, has lived his first 11 years with no serious health issues. Unlike MacGregor, he has saved us from large vet bills and expensive special food. (Can you guess where this is going?) He makes up for this by occasionally biting small children that annoy him, by yelling his head off continually and by having charming litter-box-versus-long-hair issues I won’t describe. Other than that, he’s a very nice cat. Just ask Groom-boy.

When Buster recently ran into some health problems, it crept up on us. He didn’t leave unpleasant signs around the house; he was far less vocal. Far less vocal? Indeed, that became a clue. He also started to look a little thinner and scruffier.

Another sign of ill health we didn’t immediately recognize was an odd stench. “Why does the litter box smell like funky cheese?” we wondered. We blamed the manufacturer. They must have changed formulas. We tried a new brand, but still that funky cheese smell overpowered the usual stink. It was enough to make me briefly contemplate my strict cats-should-stay-indoors philosophy.

The clincher was the fact the cats’ drinking water was disappearing faster than we could fill the dish. When we had to replace the small dish with a horse trough, we started to scratch our heads a little.

Call us perceptive, bright, intuitive, and attuned to our pets’ every need….


Buster’s “subtle” messages could not compete with the din of day-to-day needs of a houseful of noisy small people. Clearly he should have tap danced on our faces. Eventually a little light bulb popped on above our heads. Buster is quiet, looking thinner and drinking like a fish. Oh oh.

The vet confirmed Buster has diabetes. He needs special expensive food and insulin twice a day.
I have to do what to my cat? Needles? Twice a day? For the cat that chews off your arm if you pet him the wrong way?


Suddenly the uncomplicated cat just became a lot more complex. As the very helpful and friendly veterinarian explained the chemistry of and care for diabetes to me, I could feel my eyes starting to pop out of my head. There is math involved with this. I did not sign up for the math.

Although I’m math-challenged, my parents did provide me with whatever genetic material and common sense is required to prevent squeamishness. With the exception of prolonged discussions about broken teeth, I can handle most “icky” things fairly well, including reptiles, amphibians and, apparently, administering needles.

I’m pleased to report it has been going okay so far. Buster’s chemistry is back within the normal range. He looks better, is back to being annoyingly loud, is drinking less and the litter smells as good as one would expect it to smell – without the funky cheese. I also know he’s feeling better because now he sometimes growls when I needle him.

The groovy thing about cats (yes, there is a groovy thing) is that, unlike in dogs and humans, we may be able to control the diabetes through diet and eventually forego the needles. Fortunately both cats absolutely love the new diabetes/weight control food, which the vet calls “mouse in a can.” It’s a good thing, too, because it’s coming out of their allowance.