Thursday, November 26, 2009

Past Deadline: It Only Bothers Me When I'm Awake

Have I talked about sleep deprivation lately? I honestly can’t remember because I’m too darned tired!

Sleep is really quite an amazing thing. It can take over your life if you get too much of it, and likewise if you don’t get enough. I don’t have a problem sleeping per se; it’s just that the short people in the house won’t let me stay asleep. What is UP with this?

I can’t help but think back to when I was pregnant. Before a baby is born and you’re lugging it around on the inside, it’s common to have trouble sleeping. It’s just darned hard to get comfortable and sleep well when a small human is resting – or jumping, as the case may be – on your innards. Then when the baby comes out, there’s that whole complication of feeding and diapering. At first these small creatures tend to demand these services every couple of hours, even through the night. As such, a lot of sleep goes missing. The sage advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” is an oft-repeated (albeit frequently ignored) mantra. Fortunately, though, your body has already been prepared for the insanity of night waking due to the discomfort of the end of pregnancy, so you roll with it. Sort of.

Okay, it’s exhausting, but you get kinda used to it.

Still, I remember the times when my babies would extend their sleep from, say, a two-hour stretch to a four-hour stretch or, miracle of miracles, the WHOLE night. The odd thing was I would always feel more tired when I’d had more sleep. I figure my body just wasn’t used to those extra sleep cycles such as, you know, REM, and so went deeper and deeper, making it harder to wake up. That is entirely unscientific. It’s just a guess based on personal observation.

We had some sort of honeymoon period for a while after babyhood when both kids pretty much always slept through the night. Sure there were occasional bad dreams or requests for water or other minor dilemmas, but it tended to be uncommon. Those were short-lived, heady days.

It has been a painfully long time since I have had consistently good sleep. I think my children might be secret agents for some nasty group out there because as soon as I’m allowed to fall asleep, someone wakes me up.

There’s neither rhyme nor reason to it. Some nights everyone does sleep through. Sometimes we get a few nights in a row of good sleeps. Then there will be a smattering of nights where Boychild will need comfort from a dream and then Girlchild is in an hour later asking for the same thing. We try not to indulge them. We escort them back to bed, snuggle for a minute or two, tuck them in, pat their wee heads and stumble back to bed. Some nights they’re each up a couple of times for their various reasons. Those nights are the best. (Insert sound of weeping.)

All this seesawing back and forth between good sleeps and bad sleeps means there really is no time for the body to adjust. So I’m weary. I crave naps. Flat surfaces – including dirty floors and concrete frost-covered benches – begin to look inviting.

When Girlchild started school this fall I was optimistic she would become a better sleeper. Indeed, her teacher is doing a grand job of wearing her out during the day and it has helped. That’s all fine and good until she catches a bug – and then we’re all up in the night. And there is some cleaning, too. Nice, restful cleaning. With a smattering of middle-of-the-night laundry. It’s a mother’s dream, truly.


I shouldn’t complain. It could be so much worse and this won’t last forever – although some other moms out there are scaring me with their “my 12-year-old still wakes up in the night” stories.

It’s a tricky thing, though. If you’re not allowed to have lima beans on a regular basis, you can probably move on with your day without thinking much about it. Not being allowed to sleep? It only bothers me when I’m awake, I suppose.

(Published in The Perth Courier on Nov. 24/09)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Past Deadline: Yes, Cats Are Fantastic

I was standing in a long, cold line recently where people were hauling out wallets to show off pictures of loved ones in wallets. Actually, mostly they were showing pet pictures. I don’t have any cat pictures in my wallet. Perhaps I should, but I figure my cats use my wallet enough.

It has been a while since I’ve penned about the mess machines – I mean adorable kitties – who reside with us.

One time, about a million years ago, I wrote a sarcastic (who, me?) column during Adopt-a-Cat Week that highlighted some of the less-desirable features of cat ownership. I got a letter from the SPCA saying something like, “Don’t do us any favours, sweetheart. Could you maybe NOT promote Adopt-a-Cat Week anymore? Oh, and we’ll be keeping an eye on you, missy.”

Ah, fan mail.

You may have noticed I have a love-hate relationship with my cats. My family never had cats when I was growing up and, in the way someone tends to believe the best about something they covet, somehow I came to believe cats are Extraordinarily Low Maintenance.

It’s true: cats are much lower maintenance than some pets, but this does not necessarily mean they can flush the toilet, operate a can opener and do their own laundry. All it really means is that cats have huge egos, think they are the boss and don’t need to be walked on a leash, although they might let you think you can try.

I’ve written before about how one’s relationship with their pets can change once they have kids. I know mine did. Certainly I still love my cats, but my adoration lies elsewhere. It has been hard to refrain from gritting my poor teeth some days as I clean up toys and crumbs and dishes and laundry, only to be confronted with (Warning! Yucky stuff!) hairballs and cat-hair tumbleweed and occasional accidental unmentionables followed by a trail of cat litter.

There are days preceded by interrupted sleep when I would like to either ship the short messy people and their furry counterparts to a far-off place for a while – or perhaps ship myself there. But I suppose I’m not really allowed to say those things.

Suffice it to say, the fur children have grown up. They are entering their senior years, and this comes with a whole host of complications. MacGregor, the large loveable tabby, requires special expensive food to counter his chronic urinary tract issues. His meals are laced by times with a laxative and he gets a daily dose of Metamucil. Yes, it’s all true. He has sluggish innards.

The aptly named Filibuster, who never stops yelling, is even more entertaining because he is diabetic. He gets a needle a day and eats special diabetic/diet food. This leaves him constantly hungry. Gone are the days when we could abandon the kitchen for a little while before doing the dishes – now plates must be scraped immediately unless we want them licked clean. There’s just one more reason why you might not want to eat at my house.

Each adult in the house has a preferred cat. Groom-boy and MacGregor are thick as thieves, possibly because they both enjoy napping so much. Buster is “my” cat. Sometimes I’m not sure why, though. Possibly it’s because he is the underdog. He has an annoying habit of waiting until after the short people are all nicely tucked away and snoozing in their beds, and as soon as I enter the room he starts “talking” to me. This cat has a lot to say and, unfortunately, it’s not usually a quiet fireside chat. No, he yowls about it nice and loud.

This strikes me, in my end-of-day weariness, as just one more creature shouting out demands, so it’s a bit grating. Sometimes Buster finds himself slightly damp from a squirt bottle because “Buster! Shut the heck up!” (and other bad words) doesn’t seem to work.

I admit life wouldn’t be the same without the cats. They are part of the pulse of the household and the kids adore them. They are endearing, albeit expensive. Besides, some of the best things in life take a little work, patience, ear plugs and paper towels, right?

(Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 17/09)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Bloggy Friendships

Recently my friend Karen at Busy Hands named me, along with other bloggers, in a Friendship award. Thank you, Karen!

Here are the rules: "This award is bestowed on to blogs that are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to six bloggers who must choose six more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

First, I would like to give this award right back to Karen. We know each other from our Carleton University days when we budding journalists. We reconnected fairly recently and my heart goes out to Karen and her family as they struggle with the loss of their stillborn baby George. Karen's writing is so beautiful and expressive and hopeful.

Other blogs of note include my far-off cyber friend Andrea at Life Happins, who has the biggest heart ever, is funny as heck and who is not afraid to speak her mind; Arwen at Spors in the Desert, who shares great ideas and reaches out in kind ways; Gen at Is It Just Me or Is Everyone Crazy, who is another J-school bud/former roommate/great friend who never ever fails to make me laugh with her great writing; Meno at Meno's Blog, who is another writer with a strong voice and great wit; and Pam at Proud Mommy, whose heartwarming stories about her adventures homeschooling four children frequently leave me amazed.

Keep writing, ladies!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Past Deadline: When Princesses Come for Tea

Recently we invited five princesses over for tea (aka chocolate milk).

Princess Girlchild was the hostess of her very first all-girls party to celebrate the momentous occasion of her fourth birthday. The theme was “A Princess Tea Party,” and guests were encouraged to wear a princess costume if they had one. Girlchild had some spare gowns just in case, but they weren’t needed. We had some Cinderellas and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, complete with purses and wand accessories. Herself was a purple princess belonging to no particular corporate entity, although her Minnie Mouse gown was on standby.

I really had no idea what to expect of this extravaganza. Our universe has been quite boy-oriented because our circle of friends has seen a preponderance of boy babies. So while Girlchild has had playdates with girls, up until now interaction with them was a fairly Rare and Exciting Occasion.

The same is true for birthday parties. Most for Girlchild have been family affairs, and if any kids were there they tended to be the Usual Suspects: her older brother and the two sons of our best friends. Boychild’s parties tend to be rigorous affairs involving a lot of food for hungry short people after a tobogganing party. There is lots of running and shouting – you know, boy stuff.
Girlchild has been a fixture at those events by virtue of living in this house and she has also been included in the parties of the two buddies, usually because I hang out to help.

So, I wanted to find out whether the three boys, ages 6, 7 and 9, would be heartbroken if they were not included in a birthday tea party featuring the four- and five-year-old princess set. they weren’t. Boychild offered to stay if he could dress up like a vampire and scare the princesses. I politely declined and shipped him off for a playdate with the buddies.

Next, as I dutifully prepared the nibblies for the party, it dawned on me that I had waaaaaay too much food. Girls, as you may have noticed, often eat like sparrows. The good news is we had enough chopped fruit and veggies and other stuff to make meals for our family for a couple of days afterwards.

I was also concerned about how the noise and energy level of a girl’s party would compare to a boy’s. Did I have enough cotton balls and Tylenol on hand to ease the pain from the shrieking? Would they be racing around in their princess gowns delivering belligerent shrieky orders? What a treat it turned out to be, though! There was neither shrieking nor yelling. The most action came when the girls wanted to go up to Girlchild’s room and had to navigate the stairs in their gowns, and that was handled with princess-like finesse, with some scooching down on their bums.

We played pin the tail on the unicorn and bingo and musical chairs, and then several of the girls decided to do some colouring. Neato! The coolest thing of all, though, was watching Girlchild with her girlfriends.

I truly stand in awe of Girlchild’s self-confidence. I’m not sure where it comes from, but I wish I could bottle some of it and take a teaspoon now and again. She loves people and trying new things; she’s adventurous and brave and charming and fun.

Yes, I am biased.

When the princesses arrived she played a DVD of her dance recital from last spring and led them all in a dance. “Okay. Now do this,” she’d say while doing a pliĆ©. “Now hold hands and let’s go around.”

“Is she usually this bossy at school?” I asked the girls, who were obediently following Girlchild’s commands. They all shook their heads no, but some were grinning so I can’t be too sure.

Watching her lead the princesses in a dance reminded me of my hopes for her, and for Boychild, too, that they will be natural leaders with good ideas and that they will inspire people to dance – or whatever positive euphemism you want to use in dance’s place.

On that day, though, it was simply about having fun as a princess for the day, and that’s just fine.

(Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 10/09)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Past Deadline: Stick a Needle in My Eye Already

I’d rather not talk about this. I’d rather change the channel on this thing that so many people are hyperventilating about – the pig bug that’s not really a pig bug. You know. Can I get through a whole column without invoking the name of the pandemic that shall not be named? (And did you realize that “pandemic” begins with “pan” and ends with “ic”? Quite telling, I daresay.)

I’ve made my decision about vaccination – despite the galaxy’s best efforts to have me waffle. Really, what I am learning from this exercise so far is that I miss the days when it felt okay to automatically trust an expert because, well, he or she was an expert and knew best. It kind of makes you wonder why anyone bothers trying to be an expert anymore. Why have experts when we have the Internet? (I am being sarcastic, in case you didn’t know.)

It reminds me of that old joke: A neurosurgeon and a novelist are at a party. The neurosurgeon says, “When I retire I am going to write a book.” The novelist says, “Oh, yeah? When I retire I am going to take up brain surgery.”

I was talking to a sensible fellow I know about vaccinations the other night and he said, “Well, at the end of this there are going to be some people saying ‘I told you so’ and others saying ‘I guess I was wrong.’” I asked, “But which will be which?” He smiled.

Which leads me to spin – a powerful operative in our society.

Most of the time I like spin. I think it is fascinating when someone can use the perfect words to persuade someone into a specific action. It’s common in politics. When you get into communications blitzes about vaccinations for pandemics, though, the spin – on both sides of the argument – can make you dizzy.

It’s a bit like statistics. When I was studying journalism I remember hearing that statistics can be manipulated to suit whatever argument is needed. That seems to be the case in communications, too. There is a counter argument for everything.

People are arguing for and against the vaccine based on ingredients, clinical trials, bad results from 30 years ago, whether or not the pharmaceutical companies can be sued if things go awry, planetary alignment and what the cat advised on Tuesday. I know lots of moms and dads who are wavering wildly from one side to the other. There is much confusion and worry.

Sometimes I think the world is too connected for our own good. It’s too easy to consult “Dr. Google” and then assume we know things. People forget to check sources and ensure information is accurate and that we are comparing apples to apples (e.g. the Canadian version versus the American one). It’s easy and natural to get caught up in the tragedy of rare cases and to scare ourselves with Dr. Google.

If you want to see hype and spin and fear all at once, check out what happens when someone on Facebook posts the question: “Should I vaccinate my kids?” Stand back.

When it comes to kids a parent can’t help but feel any risk is too much risk, but you have to weigh one type against another. Eventually you have to trust someone’s opinion. It’s definitely easier to keep one’s head in the sand and/or to blindly trust. And when I look at how content some of my friends are who have imposed news blackouts in their lives, I can totally see the merit.

Yeah, on days like these I miss that time in my life when someone else made all the big decisions. Things percolated along quite nicely, as I recall. That’s not an option anymore. Now I am the mama bird who wants to wrap big wings around my little ones and keep them safe from all the ickies out there. I put on a brave face as we fly out of the nest every day.

I’ve made my decision. I don’t have an M.D. after my name, but I can write a darned good media release about it all later.

(Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 3/09)