Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Past Deadline: My Daughter the Waif

Here's this week's column....

My daughter the waif

Girlchild is a free spirit. That is a polite way of saying she can be as stubborn and immovable as the Canadian Shield. I have learned to choose my battles.

One of the most frequent issues we encounter relates to her appearance, which sways wildly between princess and homeless waif. Girlchild, I daresay, is quite cute. She has big blue eyes and strikingly blonde hair and she practically dances wherever she goes. When she’s not being sprite-like, however, she’s a troll. This can happen when she doesn’t want to wear what you suggest.

Girlchild likes soft things and her current favourite is summer dresses. This, for the moment, is working out okay, but you would not have wanted to be a member of my household when the weather changed from warm and spring-like in April to cool and autumn-like in May and early June.

Back to tights and long-sleeved garments after a short stint with airy summer attire? I. Don’t. Think. So.

Eventually, after eleventy thousand screaming matches on the subject, my stamina faltered and I decided that, yes, she could go outside in the backyard wearing her flimsy spring dress and bare feet on the understanding that she should come in if she feels cold or it starts to snow. Of course I added the mandatory parental phrase: “Don’t come cryin’ to me if you catch your death of cold.” (I utter these things even though I know colds come from germs, not weather.)

Does this make me a bad parent? Depends on your perspective, I guess. I’m sure my mother-in-law must have been having kittens as she watched the fairy waif flitting about the backyard wearing next to nothing and getting grimy feet. Like many good grandmas, she concerns herself greatly with coldness, dampness and dirt, and since our backyards connect she had front-row seats to this unfolding drama of waif-ness in the blustery spring weather. So far she has refrained from calling the authorities.

Fortunately, the weather has (mostly) warmed up enough that summer dresses are now reasonable attire. The grime factor, though, continues to be an issue.

Girlchild knows we won’t let her wander beyond the backyard in bare feet due not only to the dirt issue, but also because of general hazards such as glass, rusty nails, dog poop and people who spit on the sidewalk. Blech. This doesn’t hold a candle to our backyard after the grass has been cut, though. You can send the girl out in shoes in an effort to prevent her feet from turning blackish green, but as soon as she’s out of sight around the corner by the hedge those shoes are off and the sprite frolics through the freshly mowed loveliness. Can’t say that I blame her.

It’s not just her feet that cause strangers to wonder whether the poor dear is neglected. I have a tough time remembering to wipe Girlchild’s face before we go out, mostly because her crazy hair is almost always in the way. Periodically Girlchild requests pig tails or braids or clips, but most of the time getting those blonde locks off her face is about as likely as wearing tights in June.

Now that spring is here, sticky treats such as Popsicles often find their way into long, blonde hair, which adds to the challenge of maintaining a neatly brushed look. The icing on the sticky old cake had to be the other day, when after a hard afternoon of frolicking, Girlchild and I made our way to the pool to watch her brother’s last swimming lesson. On the way there, Girlchild fell completely in love with a book in the van that allows you to colour using dry-erase markers. She toted said book and a marker inside and spent her bleacher time colouring.

Well, when you lean into your work and your arms press down on a laminated surface covered with washable black marker, there’s going to be a bit of a transfer issue. Picture this: crazy hair, dirty face, multiple grass stains and arms covered in black swirly tattoos.

“I like your colouring job,” one lady remarked with a grin as we passed her on our way out.

Definitely a bath night for waifs. Definitely.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Past Deadline: My Evil Bosses

And here I am, up way too late, posting the epistle from The Perth Courier published June 16/09.

My evil bosses

I work for a couple of terrible bosses who hardly ever give me enough time off to sleep.

One boss is me (Evil Me Boss). I’m self-employed. I work from home: Mom by Day, Fabulous Communications Whiz by Night or Whenever I Can Squeeze It In. The later I work, the less sleep I get. (Duh. Really?) I still have to get up at the same time in the morning.

The other boss? The kids. And they can be brutal.

When kids are babies, an amazing thing happens to parents: they grow a third eye. No, not really. What happens is their bodies seem to adapt, at least for a short time, and function reasonably well on broken sleep. When babies are up every two to four hours at night in those early weeks, you tend to manage. Just be sure to avoid operating heavy machinery or working as an air traffic controller.

Then the routine changes and babies sleep for longer stretches. Let’s say, for instance, baby has been waking up every four hours at night for six weeks. Then, suddenly, she sleeps for six hours! This is generally good news, but it can sure mess things up at first. Allowing my body to enter some new, almost-forgotten phase of sleep (like, say, REM) felt worse than staying up all night. As your brain and body sink deeper into meaningful, relaxing sleep, it takes a heckuva lot longer to emerge from those cloudy depths.

As the babies get older, they tend to sleep longer. You get to the “Holy cow! He slept through the WHOLE night!” phase. Eventually you start getting so much uninterrupted sleep – hours and hours of it – that you start to feel human again.

A friend of my mom’s once told me that once you become a parent, you never sleep well again. I’m really starting to see evidence of this. Her point was that even when they’re adults, you still lie awake worrying about your kids, but I think my kids will have me killed off long before I get to that point. We have some sort of sleep-deprivation form of torture going on at our place.

For months, even years, I was lulled into a false sense of sleep normalcy as the kids, for the most part, slept through the night. Then, however, I began to encounter the lethal combination of one evil boss colluding with the other. On those sporadic occasions when several deadlines for multiple clients merge and are due at the same time, Evil Me Boss puts me to work and the hours are atrocious. Invariably, that’s when the children try to finish me off.

Girlchild doesn’t nap anymore, which is fine. If she does happen to fall asleep during the day, it’s bad news for the household at night. It either takes her hours to fall asleep or she goes down easily but wakes up ready to party in the middle of the night. Every once in a while, for no discernible reason, she springs to life for a two-hour night-time stint anyway. If she kept it to herself that would be one thing, but she always comes into Mom and Dad’s bedroom asking for a snuggle or her music or the planets to be aligned or whatever, so we end up popping out of bed several times to try to get her settled. Boychild sometimes adds to the fun, too, if he has a bad dream or he just wakes up at a ridiculously early hour. One night Girlchild woke up Boychild at 5 a.m. because she “forgot to say goodnight to him.” Local inhabitants were not amused.

So if Mommy has stayed up too late and spends the night experiencing sleep-deprivation torture, it makes for Fun Times at Homestead the next day.

Girlchild starts school in the fall (full-day, alternate day). Although I’m sure I will have moments of nostalgia for those innocent toddler years, I also see it as a beacon of rest. For one thing, maybe it’ll tire her out enough to curtail the overnight parties. Secondly, it’ll free up more daytime work hours for me, which might soften the Evil Me Boss.

I’m not kidding myself, though. There will never be enough hours in the day, right?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Past Deadline: Call Me Anything But Patient

This column, published in The Perth Courier on Tuesday, June 9/09 effectively updates everyone on the Miracle Headache Cure mentioned in the previous post. The jinx headache lasted about a day and a half. Oh joy. BUT! On Monday I went on a field trip with Boychild. It featured about 40 Grade 1 students. I travelled on a school bus for about two hours. I spent the morning at a museum and half the afternoon at a McDonalds with a Playland. At the end of this six-hour field trip? No headache! It's a first! So I still haven't lost hope that I'm on to something....

Call me anything but patient

Depending on who you ask, people will say I’m a lot of things: charming, funny, stunningly beautiful, brilliant, humble, prone to hyperbole, etc. Ahem.

I can’t imagine anyone describing me as “patient.”

A million years ago when I worked at The Courier I did a feature interview on a high-ranking military person who had retired to the area. As per usual, I showed up five minutes early. I can’t stand being late for stuff. I’d rather be an hour early than 10 minutes late. I get this trait from my dad. Anyway, my interview subject greeted me at the door with a hearty, “Ah! You’re right on time! In the military ‘right on time’ is five minutes early.” Clearly, then, I should join the army.

This need to be early does not bode well with the more relaxed members of my family, who call me impatient. I’m the “C’mon! Hurry up! Let’s go! We’re going to be late!” mom. It does not help in reducing anxiety levels among the not-so-relaxed members of my family.

Most of the time I like to finish a job I have started. (Disclaimer: this does not apply to the 2006 spring cleaning, which is ongoing.) Some people in my house find this annoying. I think they are unreasonable. Let’s take the dishes for example. No, really, please take my dishes.

Ahem. Anyway, if I’m going to do the dishes, I stack them, fill the sink and do the darned things. Other people in my house stack them, fill the sink, wander away to “let them soak” and come back hours later to either a) wash them in tepid water or b) waste the water by refilling the sink.
Can you believe it? (Big, dramatic sigh.)

It puts me in a tough position. I complain about not getting enough help with the dishes, so when others make overtures to do them, I should be pleased. Should I be pleased about the sink being tied up for several hours while the dishes are “soaking”? If I get particularly impatient, I will just go ahead and do the darned things myself before the water gets tepid. Then, of course, I grumble sarcastically about it. (I have been described as sarcastic. Even sarcastic and short.) That’s when I get guff. “Well, I told you to leave them for me to do. If you’re weren’t so impatient….”

I would probably let the dishes soak for days if it weren’t for the fact we a) don’t have a double sink and b) would run out of dishes. This leads me to question the difference between being impatient and being practical.

Speaking of practical, I have learned I need to sometimes quell my enthusiasm. Patience would be helpful.

Here’s an example. I am prone to headaches. Not bad ones – just annoying ones that make life more tedious. Recently I came to the pleasant realization that weeks had passed since my last headache.

“Oh, joy!” I proclaimed. Then I pondered what could possibly be causing this new, happy thing. What was I doing differently? The only thing I could think of was that a couple of months ago I started taking cod liver oil capsules to boost overall health (since my diet and exercise habits have, um, relaxed to the point that even my fat pants are laughing at me).

Could that be it? I did some online searching. Not surprisingly (since you can find stuff on the Internet to support pretty much any argument) I found some articles that heartily endorse cod liver oil as a way to prevent headaches.

Naturally I announced this good news to all who would listen. “I’m cured!” I proclaimed. “It’s a miracle! Who would have guessed cod liver oil capsules are the headache remedy of champions!” Because y’all know I’m a champion. For sure.

Surely you can guess where this is going. Even though I touched wood, spun in circles three times and said “no jinxies” forwards and backwards, the inevitable happened. It’s the first one in weeks, but welcome back headache.

Clearly my personal clinical trial needed a few more months of experimentation before any grand proclamations were released.

Patience. Definitely not my middle name.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Insert Jinx Here.

Hello, Internet! I have missed blogging. I wish I had more time to post more than my weekly newspaper column. Today I am inspired, however, to reveal that I may be on to something. Why? Because I don't have a headache.

I get headaches. Lots of headaches. Not debilitating ones, not exactly migraines, just frequent, annoying headaches that make it difficult (but not impossible) for me to get stuff done. I'm tempted to say "chronic," only because in a typical month I am usually guaranteed to get between five and ten headaches. They usually pester me for the better part of 24 hours - sometimes longer. I considered it a fact of life - a charming part of being me. Often I will get a headache when something new disrupts my routine even if I don't feel particularly stressed about it. I don't get that, but I've come to expect it.

Many years ago - sometime in the 1990s - I kept a headache journal to try to figure out what my triggers were. Many of the usual suspects (cheese, chocolate) were not factors. Lack of sleep, stress and "certain times of the month" were sometimes culprits. What stood out, though, was that drinking beer, wine and cider, even just one glass, ALWAYS resulted in a headache that lasted for hours and hours. So I have avoided beer, wine and cider for more than ten years. That definitely helped, but still the headaches persisted.

The other day it dawned on me that I haven't had a headache in a several weeks [insert jinx here]. I went on a field trip with Boychild's Grade 1 class a couple of weeks ago (almost always a headache trigger) and had no headache. I participated in several days of archaeology last week, which I truly enjoy but which often adds stress as I try to schedule it in, and had no headache. Not only that, but a good friend visited in the midst of all this busyness and - you guessed it - no headache. That time of the month? No headache. To top it all off, though, I have been experimenting with wine. I've had a glass here and a glass there - even red - and no headache.


So what is up with this beautiful, beautiful thing? What have I been doing differently? Well, I certainly haven't been getting extra sleep (ha!). I haven't cut down on my workload nor stress (ha ha!). I'm not exercising more (ha ha ha!). I haven't improved my diet (note to self: take better care of body).

Then it dawned on me. About a month and a half ago I picked up a bottle of cod liver oil capsules, thinking they would be good for memory and cholesterol and such. I started taking one every day. Could that be it? I did a little hunting on the Internet and it seems some folks swear by cod liver oil for headache prevention - who knew? Of course you can find pretty much any argument supported on the Internet, so who's to say for sure.

Miracle cure or coincidence? I guess I'll find out now that I have completely jinxed myself. Stay tuned for news of my next headache....

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Past Deadline: An Inspiring Week of Archaeology

Dig it! Published in The Perth Courier on Tuesday, June 2/09.

An inspiring week of archaeology

I never cease to be amazed by the power of education, the willingness of volunteers and the generosity of community. Those three elements combined are a powerful force!

For the fifth time since 2004 I have had the good fortune to be part of an amazing experience bringing education, volunteerism and community together in an inspiring way. The Friends of Murphys Point Park’s Archaeo Apprentice program, a week-long archaeological excavation for Grade 5 students, took place last week. Conceived almost 10 years ago, archaeology seemed like a bit of a dream for a small organization like the Friends. (I’ve been involved with the group since it formed in 1995, so I’m gonna wax rhapsodic for a bit. I’m a little attached.) Nevertheless, a committee formed and a group of talented volunteers assembled to make a public education program for young people happen.

We raise money in the community. Year after year we have received support from local businesses, service clubs, municipalities, individuals and corporate sponsors. Sometimes we jump into frozen rivers on New Year’s Day, too.

Each year close to 150 students get to excavate at an historic homestead and saw mill site on Hogg Bay (off of Big Rideau Lake) and unearth the very tools and dishes the pioneers used.
For some local kids with deep roots in this area, they are touching things their own ancestors might have handled. How cool is that?

They learn from a crew of professional, licensed (real!) archaeologists how to conduct the excavation. The things the students find are cleaned and catalogued, and then the archaeologists assemble the information into an official report as required by the provincial Ministry of Culture. This is the real thing.

The students who have worked on this site should be proud because not only is this a real, licensed dig, but they have helped us to solve mysteries about the site. We have learned the existing restored homestead is not the original house – there is evidence of an earlier building. We’ve confirmed there was a blacksmith shop servicing the mill. We know there was lots of activity at a structure that may have been a bunkhouse for the mill workers.

Through all this digging and solving of mysteries led by the archaeologists stands an equally devoted team of volunteers. This past week, rain or shine, they came day after day to help children with activities in the on-site lab and at the excavation units. At the beginning of the week they set up enough shelters to keep everyone dry in the event of rain, and at the end they disassembled this tent city and let dozens of tarps dry in the sun that finally appeared.

Again and again I am amazed by how willing this group is to do the work. From patiently and quietly helping a child to assemble fragments of an artifact to hoisting shelter frames and lugging boxes around the site, this bunch is enthusiastic, energetic and fun.

By the end of the Archaeo Apprentice week I stand in awe of many other things, too.
One is the continued positive reception by the students, teachers and parents who participate in the day-long field trip. I’ve seen many rambunctious 10-year-olds settle down at a unit and meticulously excavate around tree roots and rocks for nearly two hours to uncover a “treasure”: whether it’s a fragment of a bottle, a horseshoe nail wrought by a blacksmith or even some bits of shingle or mortar.

It’s a sight to behold. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a parent say, “Wow. I wish we’d had field trips like this when I was a kid.”

I’m in awe of the crew: Most of the archaeologists return year after year to teach young people about how their profession truly helps us to understand our history – and so much more.
The park staff throw themselves into making this a successful project, from site preparation and logistical support to interpretation of features on the site.

And, of course, the community has repeatedly supported this unique approach to educating students in a meaningful, tangible and interesting way.

To all of you – from organizers and volunteers to funders to participants – I say thank you.