Friday, September 26, 2008

The Poop on Poop

I wouldn't want to be one of those mamas who writes about her kid's potty-related activities on the Internet but, um, surely there's nothing wrong with soliciting advice on behalf of a, um, friend, right? Yeah.

So my friend has a lovely daughter, let's call her Vernette, who is almost three. She was a stellar student in the potty department once she decided the time was right. She day trained quickly and night trained immediately. The only glitch was in the #2 department, but after some struggling, cajoling and a bit of bribery, she caught on to that, too, and all was blissful. The last packs of diapers were given away to folks with younger children, there was an all-night street party to celebrate and fireworks were set off throughout the neighbourhood. Okay, everything but that last bit.


And then, after several wonderful weeks, the Regression. Yes, Vernette's parents know this sometimes happens with kids, but the mama is ready to turn her nose inside out and run screaming from the house if she has to clean up one more slimy mess in a pair of Dora panties. "Why? Why? Why?" she can be heard calling into the wind. Who has seen the wind, anyway? (You can smell the wind....)

Vernette now refuses to do her dirty business on the potty. She will do the poop dance for hours before having an accident. This, then, leads to much wailing (on her part, and sometimes her mama's) because she doesn't like the mess and, yet, she will no longer take the less-messy, pretty-potty route.

What is Vernette's poor mama to do? I'll be certain to, um, pass on any suggestions you may have.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Past Deadline: Invasion of the Disney Princesses

Here is this week's instalment of "Past Deadline," published in the Perth Courier on Wednesday, Sept. 24/08. Any of you have this "problem"? ;)

Invasion of the Disney princesses

I’m not sure how it happened, but we have been infested by Disney princesses. In a way, it’s worse than ants.

Sigh.

I only turned my head for a second (which is something you hear on the news a lot), and suddenly Cinderella, Snow White, Belle and bunch of other skinny-waisted, ample-chested pretty girls festooned in gowns and bobbles found their way into Girlchild’s life.

It can be a bit nauseating by times.


The whole thing started innocently enough. I think the first item that sneaked in the door was a bright pink pop-up storage bin/hamper that is now loaded with stuffed animals. It was a handy gift. Then one day Groom-boy innocently enabled the addiction by bringing home a little mounted (on vibrant pink, of course) poster of a triumvirate of the princesses. It now adorns Girlchild’s wall.

Then she received a pale blue flannel nightie adorned with the babes. This became her “princess dress,” and for a while I was afraid it was all she would ever wear. Serves me right, I guess, for trying to stick her with her brother’s old pajamas for too long.

Tucked amid some gorgeous hand-me-downs from a friend were a few more clothing items bearing the lovelies. You would have thought she’d been given a pony when she saw this new-to-her clothing adorned with her favourite girls.

The collection grows. She’s got a Disney princess cup, a toy phone, a magnetic sketch pad, a cutlery set, a backpack and a pencil case complete with pink pencil, eraser and pencil sharpener.
When she moved from her crib into her big-girl bed it was a tough sell at first, so we marketed it as a “princess” bed. At that point there was nary a princess on the bed, except for Girlchild, of course.

Not for long. When we let her pick out a set of sheets for her new bed she shunned beautiful flower patterns and even Dora the Explorer for, you guessed it, those Disney princesses. Lest you were worried – fear not. The sheets have a pink background.

I’d also like to point out Disney princesses are more expensive than run-of-the-mill, no-name princesses. You can’t stick a crown on just anyone, I guess.

Except for the personal nausea factor, I’m not really worried about this phenomenon yet. For now the attraction seems to be more about the colour pink and the pretty ladies and less about the fairy tales. Besides, we spend lots of time ambling around the backyard investigating toads, bumblebees, dragonflies and moths. Girlchild likes to let worms crawl in her tiny hand – she calls them “her pets.” Sometimes she’s more into “gross” stuff than her six-year-old brother.

When she does hear the stories behind the pretty princesses I wonder if it will dawn on her that these girls spend an inordinate amount of time waiting for princes to do things like investigate feet, kiss a sleeping girl or hear lovely voices before being swept away to live in enchanted castles amid all manner of riches and blah blah blah.

Yes, dear, life’s a fairy tale. For sure.

Before the vibrant pink girls traipsed into our lives, Dora the Explorer was queen. Someone said to me recently they would prefer the princesses to Dora, but I disagree. Dora’s voice can be grating after a while, but she’s all about adventure. She wears a backpack. She’s bilingual. She reads a map. She uses her brain and solves riddles. She’s a team player and she knows how to drive a bunch of different vehicles. She hangs with a talking monkey.

Sure, she may not be able to clean a castle like Cinderella, but oh well.

That said, even the Dora people seem to have bowed to the girly girl pressure and have come out with a fairytale Dora – complete with long flowing hair and a blue (not pink) gown.
We have the fairytale Dora doll. We also have a regular backpack-toting, short-haired, T-shirt-wearing Dora doll. Sometimes the two dolls get packed up in the Disney princess backpack which, I should add, is bright pink with shiny gold trim.

I’m starting to think my issue may be more about the pink than the princesses. Or maybe not. Go, Dora!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Past Deadline: Armchair Express(TM) is environmentally friendly!

Jeepers. Seems all I have time to post here these days is my column. Not for lack of ideas.... Anyway, here is this week's "Past Deadline," published in The Perth Courier on Wednesday, Sept. 17/08.

Armchair Express™ is environmentally friendly!

With the high price of gas and all, it’s a darned good thing my armchair runs on hot air.

Since there are only three newspaper issues left before the federal election, I figured I should dust off (as IF it needs dusting) ye olde Armchair Express™ and make a few mundane observations about silly season in Canada.

With election fever rising across North America there is plenty of fodder to be had for armchair pundits. Political junkies here and in the U.S. are treated to election highlights 24/7 if they so choose – including everything from pontification on policy to reflection on hairdos and motherhood.

As much fun (fun?) as it might be to contemplate the various purported character flaws of the newly crowned Republican superstar and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, this armchair is going to sail in Canadian waters for now. How’s that for a mixed metaphor? A sailing armchair. Can you imagine? Why, everyone knows the Armchair Express™ is a big election-style bus with a picture of me wearing a sweater vest plastered on the side!

Anyway, it seems a bit early to make any grand announcements about who is most likely to emerge victorious in this election that wasn’t legally supposed to happen until October 2009, but I can at least point out some of my favourite moments from the campaign so far.

First of all, I’m a little disappointed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton flip-flopped so quickly on the whole let-Elizabeth-May-join-the-televised-debate fiasco. I was looking forward to the opportunity to ask in this column, which I’m certain is read by all the leaders and their key staff, “What the heck are you guys afraid of?”

Instead of looking like prehistoric buffoons and giving May an opportunity to pounce on the sexism card, they could have welcomed her to the debate and exploited her weaknesses – just like they do with all the other candidates. Weakness is everywhere, I daresay.

Instead, Stevie and Jackie packed up their pails and shovels and said they weren’t gonna play no more ’cuz the new girl is ganging up on them with that Liberal buddy of hers, St├ęphane Dion.

Okay.

Whatever.

Chickens!

Now that everyone has decided to play together in the sandbox after all, we can look forward to some interesting television viewing.

Also filed under “interesting” is Stephen Harper comparing himself to a fruit during a campaign stop at a Winnipeg produce terminal last week. When a reporter asked him what kind of vegetable he would be, he likened himself instead to a fruit – “sweet and colourful.” Oh, yeah. When I think of our current prime minister, “sweet and colourful” is the first thing that comes to mind. (Shudder.)

This finely honed image of Mr. Harper (not necessarily the “sweet and colourful” one) is certainly not helped when his head communications guy is developing bizarre website content featuring a puffin pooping on St├ęphane Dion’s shoulder, followed later by an inappropriate e-mail remark about a dead soldier’s father. Sure makes it hard to maintain that never-do-wrong image.

It’s probably all the media’s fault, though. After all, the national news media have been at war with the PMO since Mr. Harper moved in, so we probably hear all of the bad stuff and none of the good. Or something. Darned press. So, what was the good again?

Jeepers. I just realized I’ve spent most of this column dishing snark about the Tory leader. Dear me! After all, we all know elections aren’t about perception and image, they’re about issues.
So which issue in this campaign is driving the bus? Is it environment? Health care? Or has the economy hijacked the whole thing?

Are Canadians in the mood for a Green Shift carbon tax? Are Canadians ever in the mood for more taxes? Does Jack Layton look okay in orange? Should Steve and Stephane lose the sweater vests and just stick with being smart guys in suits? Does anyone really want to invite these “ordinary-looking guys” over for dinner or would we rather they just lead the country?

These are truly cerebral questions. At least the Armchair Express™ does not burn fossil fuels, so I can ramble around the campaign relatively guilt free.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Past Deadline: A joyful season...sort of

Here is the latest column offering, published in The Perth Courier, Wednesday, Sept. 10. Oh, and to answer the question posed partway through the column, Boychild was home sick for two days. Sigh....

A joyful season…sort of

It was hard to tell when the “unofficial” end of summer arrived if you weren’t looking at a calendar because that’s when the rain finally stopped. We rubbed our eyes in the bright sunshine, went outside to play and basked in the warmth like turtles on logs. Then we went to the Perth Fair, another great traditional signpost marking the end of summer holidays and the start of school.

The Tuesday after Labour Day means different things to different people. For some it’s just another workday. For retired folks it may be another day to reflect upon the joy of not having to rush out the door in the morning.

For school-aged kids, that Tuesday is frequently greeted with reluctant enthusiasm – or something. For their parents, well, there is usually lots of skipping and singing and frolicking in dew with lambs and such.

This seems like a good time to share the top five things I like about this time of year.

1. The return to routine. Gone are those lazy days of summer when the work-at-home-mom could roll out of bed when sleepyhead Girlchild decided to awaken. I mean, who needs that? I’d much rather give up those extra few minutes of sleep and wake up earlier to the robotic sound of my alarm clock beeping in my ear. Indeed.

2. Character building. Although sending one’s eldest child to school every day this year would seemingly open up huge tracts of time in a work-from-home-mom’s day, don’t be fooled. With an I-hardly-ever-nap-anymore almost-three-year-old still at home, it’s important to remember there will be no extra time during the day to get things done. Nope, the night shift continues its wearying reign. Coping with this truth is character building in a sleep-is-for-the-weak kind of way.

3. Land of the midnight lunches. With the big kid now going to school every day, this year brings with it the exciting new prospect of daily creativity in terms of developing and packing nutritious and delicious lunches for a picky eater. Exciting times, I tell you! Since this mom is not even remotely a morning person, this means dragging myself into the kitchen every night while Lloyd Robertson drones on in the background to assemble something edible for the boy.

4. Exposing character in the community. Going back to school gives this family an opportunity to shine. We live close enough to walk, which means Boychild is escorted daily by Girlchild and me. This gives all of us a chance to mingle with lots of folks before the bell rings and the prisoners – I mean students – joyfully commence their day of studies. The first day was particularly fun. What seemed like thousands, but was probably merely hundreds, of children, teachers and parents were treated to the sight of Boychild sadly expressing his displeasure about the idea of staying at school while Girlchild threw a magnitude 9.5 screaming fit because she couldn’t stay to see her brother’s classroom. Before you assume she is sad because she’ll miss Boychild, let me assure you the frenzy had more to do with the possibility of missing out on a dollhouse with which to play. What a good morning that was.

5. Strengthening immune systems. In junior and senior Kindergarten Boychild managed to resist bringing home any seriously nasty ickies until after Christmas. Except for a couple of colds, he emerged from autumn mostly unscathed those first two years. Consequently, the thought of an early sick day wasn’t even on the radar in my world, which is just silly. The first week went too well, after the first drop off, that is. The blip came along as a fever on the weekend, as I write this. Will he go to school on Monday? Only time will tell….

Yes, there are definitely pros and cons to the back-to-school thing. With the excitement about returning to routines and hearing the phrase “Mom, I’m bored” a little less often comes, well, a string of nutty stuff.

At least so far the homework has been light. I live in fear, by the way, of the impending doom known as math homework. I practically have artsy fartsy emblazoned upon my forehead, after all.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Past Deadline: Communication 101 - Your audience is loopy

Hey y'all. Since the mid-1990s I've been writing a "humour" column called "Past Deadline" for a weekly newspaper in my town called The Perth Courier. It's a dandy paper. Many years ago I worked there as a (gasp!) reporter.

For years the newspaper has had an accompanying website and my column was also published online so it could be read by my (seven) adoring fans spanning the globe. Well, the mothership company that owns the paper has recently redesigned the website and hasn't gotten around to linking up the columnists. So I, being inclined to share (self-absorbed), decided I would post my columns in this space so my many (seven) fans could find them here - assuming they know where to look and all. Clever me, it also guarantees that I will have at least one post per week on my blog so that my legions of (seven) fans won't wander off and forget I exist, assuming I remember to post it and assuming those folks haven't already wandered away.

Anyway, here is last week's column, published in The Perth Courier, Wednesday, Sept. 3:

Communication 101: Your audience is loopy

Something I’ve learned over time is the importance of knowing one’s audience. Assuming you have one, that is.

In general, though, it’s good to think about how a person is going to react to the things you say or write.

You don’t have to dwell on it. I mean, if I’m e-mailing Groom-boy to ask him to pick up milk on the way home, it shouldn’t require a lot of strategy – unless there is peril associated with the task.

If Groom-boy has rage issues with cows or if he finds the journey to the corner store to be fraught with pianos falling from the sky, I may have to work on that e-mail a little and word my request carefully.

This is called taking an indirect strategy and using persuasive writing.

“Dearest Groom-boy: Have I told you lately how much I appreciate your home-delivery service? Your family can always count on you to bring us the things we need. On such a fine day as this, free from falling pianos of any kind, couldest thou fetchest some lovely moo juice from ye olde corner store? Pretty please?”

Most of the time, though, a direct strategy works just fine: “Hey, Groom-boy. Please bring home milk. Thanks.”

The direct strategy is probably the most frequently used and most efficient form of relaying a message in our busy world.

Sometimes, though, just when you think you’ve got your audience pegged, they up and take something the wrong way.

Here’s an example.

My mother-in-law sometimes sends us clippings of newspaper articles she thinks we might find useful. Usually she scribbles a little note at the top such as, “In case you didn’t see this” or “Read this!!!!” Even when there isn’t a note it’s usually fairly obvious why she thinks we might be interested in the topic.

Because they live close by, we often find these clippings just inside the back door in the sun porch. Last week I retrieved a clipping called “Manners A,B,C: Instilling good manners early sets up children for success as adults.” There was no note with it.

In a nutshell, the article was about a woman who teaches modern manners to kids ages four to seven. It reflected on how television and lax parental discipline over the last few decades have led to bad manners and a lack of civility in young people, and this poor etiquette is actually jeopardizing their chances at things like job interviews. It said reinforcing good manners has to start at an early age.

It was an interesting article, but my gut churned as I read it.

“What are my in-laws trying to say?” I wondered. I mean, I know Boychild and Girlchild have some issues – interrupting and occasional mouthiness among them – but I thought we were doing a decent job with please and thank you and how do you do and excuse me.

I fretted about this for a whole afternoon. Groom-boy came home and I waved the paper in front of him and raved about the meaning behind the message. He got kind of a glazed look in his eyes and decided it would be a good time to go for milk. Again.

The next day my mother-in-law was outside. She smiled and waved and we chatted and she said, “Oh, you know that article I sent over yesterday? I just thought it was interesting how you folks are reinforcing the very things that woman was talking about.”

Phew! “Oh, I’m glad to hear that!” I exclaimed. “I thought you were trying to tell us our kids are rude!”

A look of horror crossed her face. Obviously it had never occurred to her the clipping might be taken the opposite way.

Arguably, sending a clipping implying rudeness would be just, well, rude!

Just goes to show you, though, you should always consider that your audience may be sleep-deprived, overly sensitive and slightly loopy. Some might say cynical, too.

By the way, I should mention Groom-boy has no issues with cows, pianos or retrieving milk. He’s very good at it. I wouldn’t want to leave the wrong impression….

Hello? Hello? Where did I go?

Wow. It's September. What the heck happened?

In June and July in this part of the world it rained and rained and rained and rained and rained. Then, part way through August, the sun came out. And so I went outside to play with the kids.

I'm back again and life is busier than before, but I've been lurking in the blogosphere as much as I can and I plan to post more consistently now that we're getting back into the non-summer routine. So stay tuned!