Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Past Deadline: Bored? Clean the toilet.

Tales from summer holidays, Perth Courier, July 28/09.

Bored? Clean the toilet.

Depending on when you are reading this, there are approximately 42 days left until school starts. But who’s counting?

I think the number of times parents check the calendar is directly proportionate to the number of rainy summer days.

There are lots of moms and dads out there asking, “What the heck do I do with a whiny child who keeps proclaiming boredom?” There are all kinds of possible solutions to this problem, such as sending them to boot camp, feeding them to lions or joining a circus (either you or them, but not both at the same time).

If you’re looking for a solution that is a little less, um, onerous, I have heard consistently that children who complain of being bored should be made to do chores. Specifically, they should clean the toilet.


If I could make that happen, we would have The Cleanest Toilet in the Land! But how?

When I make the suggestion, it goes something like this:

Boychild: “Iiiiiii’m booooooooored!”

Mom Ineeda: “Well, then clean the toilet.”

Boychild, emphatically: “NO!!” (I can’t really emphasize the emphatically enough. It’s much more emphatic in person.)

Mom Ineeda: Silence.

Boychild: Apparently not bored anymore.

I guess, in a way, the strategy works because the subject is dropped, although I still don’t have The Cleanest Toilet in the Land. I know. You were just dying to know that vital information. Girlchild is not so easily afflicted with boredom, which is the magical thing about being three-going-on-Big Girl. There are times when I know she is bored, but she articulates it with dramatic sighs and by asking for snacks. I can sympathize; I eat when I’m bored, too, which is part of the reason why I am embracing The Cult of Running and its subsidiary branch called The World of Pain. More on that another time.

Fortunately, Boychild and Girlchild usually play well together, and their creative indoor pretend games have saved us all on more than a few miserable rainy days. Eventually, though, someone gets bored.

This can happen even after we’ve had a full slate of fun and excitement, which is frustrating. I sometimes have to push down the urge to go all heavily parental on them when the boredom thing arises. What I want to say is, “Are you kidding me? You’re bored? I would give my eye teeth for the opportunity to play all day and go places and splash around in the wading pool and romp on the swing-set or go for rambling bike rides or have picnics. Sure, I can still do all that stuff as the grown-up, but someone has to assemble toys and organize trips and set up the pool and get the bikes out and prepare the picnic. Somehow, it’s just not quite the same.”

So I tell them to clean the toilet.

Fifteen years from now these short people will likely wish they could climb into the Way Back Machine and enjoy those carefree days when they could play all day and mysterious elves magically cleaned the toilet while they were sleeping. For now, though, they don’t know how good they’ve got it.

Here’s an example. Don’t tell him I told you this, but last week Boychild threw an enormous fit because we told him we were going to the beach. “But I don’t waaaaaaant to go the beach!” he wailed. “I waaaaant to go to the indoor pool!”

Sigh. What I wanted to say was, “Fine. Go and clean the toilet.” What I said was, “Are you kidding me? If my parents had suggested we were going to the beach we would have been ecstatic!” At least that’s how I remember it. Meanwhile, Girlchild was looking for her swimsuit and packing a beach bag.

After some cajoling (Can you believe it? We had to cajole him to go to the beach!) we got to the beach. We had a lovely time frolicking in the water. We made friends with a group of happy women who helped me find my lost earring in the grass. We ran into neighbours and had a nice chat. I’m pretty sure we created a happy childhood memory after all. Who woulda thunk it.

We left the toilet for the elves to clean.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Past Deadline: You're Running? Where's the Emergency?

I do run run run. I do run run. It's even in the paper - Tuesday, July 21/09.

You’re running? Where’s the emergency?

I’m probably going to regret this.

Part of me thinks putting this in print (in the NEWSpaper, no less) will guilt me/spur me/commit me to completing the task. The other part thinks I’m just glad to have a topic idea for the column, no matter how premature it is. A wise woman would give it a minute to see if there’s any hope for success, possibly. On the other hand, what better way to begin than by beginning?

What AM I talking about?

So here’s the thing. I am half expecting a group of people donning long cloaks and muttering Gregorian-type chants to come out and surround me in some sort of weird ritual as I pledge my allegiance to the Cult of Running. Yes, boys and girls, pass the Kool Aid™, I’m going to give this a try. (Shh! I don’t want to say it too loudly yet.)

A couple of years ago I was given a pretty good health incentive to smarten up and improve my diet and get more exercise. For a while, I was so totally on the wagon I could have taught a class. Then came the thing that never fails to derail me – A Change In Routine. After many successful months, all the weight I had lost and muscle tone I had gained was for naught. Bad habits again prevailed and, steadily, I have maintained this trend – developing quite a lovely muffin top around the middle and an increasing propensity for lethargy (Shh! Don’t tell my doctor!).

People who say you get lots of exercise when you have little kids are full of beans, especially when it comes to those of us who also work from home and maintain odd hours. All it means is that when I’m not jumping up to fetch something, I’m firmly planted in a chair in front of the computer trying to stay caught up. There is a distinct lack of cardio in my day.

Lately I have been feeling quite melancholy about the whole thing. My clothes pinch and bunch. Shorts that used to sag are tight. Cute summer things that fit last season now vacation in my closet. We won’t even talk about bathing suits. All I really want is to feel right in my own skin again. Enough of this flab and lethargy – bring on muscle tone!

My good friend Heather, who lives in Calgary, is a runner with some motivational issues of late. A while ago she posted a “Super Beginner Learn to Run Plan” on her blog. I printed it off and stared at it woefully on a daily basis.

See, I have long had a personal policy against running (unless in an emergency). I’m a great walker, but I run like a windmill. I’m easily winded (just like a windmill) and I’m all arms and legs.

Heather and I were lamenting our flabby, unmotivated lots by e-mail. She said, “Get ye some good shoes and we will do your first run together.” So I got me some good shoes that support my saggy old feet. They are silver and red, so I have officially dubbed them my Brand New FancyPants Rocket Shoes™.

Heather stopped in Perth last week en route to a family reunion. I showed her my Rocket Shoes™, but I wasn’t going to suggest actually running in them – after all, “Lethargic” is my middle name. But, bless her, she said, “So are we going on this run or what?”

Man, it was the best 18 minutes I’ve spent all week, all month and possibly all year! We’ve pledged to harass – I mean encourage – each other online to stick to the plan.

So far I’ve learned that when I’ve tried to run in the past I’ve pushed too hard too fast instead of building up to it in order to avoid injury, breathlessness and, worst of all, discouragement.

So. There you have it. I’ve put it in print, galldernit!

It may be too late for bathing suit season this year (not that it has been warm enough to want to wear one anyway), but maybe, just maybe, I’ll be flabless and fancy free for next season. Stay tuned – I’m guessing there will be more on this.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Past Deadline: Earth to Weather Gods, Come in Please

The sun has been so sporadic that when it comes out it hurts my eyes. Hence this week's column in The Perth Courier, published July 14/09. (Today, incidentally, was a rare lovely day.)

Earth to weather gods, come in please

As I write this, we have had two sunny days in a row.

Whoa! I know! Amazing, isn’t it?

This seems to be another summer when nice, long stretches of warm, sunny weather are few and far between. On some days even when it’s nice it’s not really nice, such as last Wednesday, when it seemed as if the clouds could not bear to let us frolic in dryness for more than a millisecond. Between sheets of rain and lengthy periods of miserable drizzle we were blessed with glorious streaming sunshine – punctuated by big, wet raindrops. The only good thing about that was it led to a few rainbows, which is quite appealing to young children, particularly princesses and especially when the purple is prominent and pink clouds can be found floating nearby.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for hot, humid, sweltering days – they’re just as bad as the extremes of winter as far as I’m concerned. But a little bit of sun would be nice – if not for me, then at least for my garden.

Okay. That is a selfish request. I really want cherry tomatoes. This year I deposited a lovely little cherry tomato plant near the back door. It’s close to the mint and the roses and the phlox. In theory I will be able to step outside, pluck a few cherry tomatoes as needed and throw them on a salad or on the side of a plate. My little plant has been growing like mad and is producing a goodly number of tomatoes, but they are as green as emeralds. If the sun doesn’t come and stay for a while, am I going to miss out on my cherry tomatoes? I don’t really want fried green cherry tomatoes – it’s just not the same.

And what about my poor raspberry patch? Sure, I haven’t had to water them so far this season, but they’re going to need a dose of sunshine soon so those small, hard, greenish-greyish-whitish berries will become soft, plump and ruby red.

I’ve stopped listening to the five-day and long-range forecasts by the so-called weather experts. Those folks who told me that last summer would be hot and dry have pretty much lost my confidence. It seems to me that was the prediction for this year, too.

Now we’re starting to hear that this is El Nino’s fault. You remember El Nino? That’s the periodic warming trend in the Pacific Ocean that can wreak havoc around the world? (Think Ice Storm of ’98.) Forecasters, apparently, think this El Nino will strengthen over the next few months and last through the winter. El Nino usually increases rainfall in parts of the Pacific and dries things out in others. In summer, it can mean wetter-than-normal conditions in parts of the U.S., with more hurricanes in the Pacific and fewer in the Atlantic.

In my limited research on this subject I did not come across much indicating El Nino has a specific effect on weather patterns in eastern Ontario, at least not in the summer.

So I’m starting to think this is personal. Mother Nature must be annoyed with us. But why?

Is it because we haven’t been appreciative enough of the lovely moderate weather we usually have? I mean, we generally don’t live in an area prone to hurricanes, flash floods, extended heat waves, mudslides, avalanches, crippling drought or monsoons.

Maybe Mother Nature just got bored with our mediocrity and has decided to cry on us for the rest of time. Or perhaps our area of the world is part of some sinister sociological experiment to see how long it will take to break our spirits with rain…rain!...RAIN! (Insert evil laughter.)

Maybe space aliens are messing with the jet stream to see how the Petri-dish Earthlings will react to sustained adverse conditions. (You’d think they would already have enough data on that, though, what with some of the political leadership we’ve had over the last decade.)

Maybe this is all a dream – or a nightmare – and I’m going to wake up on a sunny beach in 5…4…3…2…1….


Sigh. Better go check on my emerald tomatoes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Past Deadline: Tumbleweed and Wading Pools

This week's missive from The Perth Courier, published on Tuesday, July 7/09.

Tumbleweed and Wading Pools

There’s a tree across the street that grows big fluffy pompoms each summer. I don’t know what it is, but I call it “The Tumbleweed Tree” because the pompoms turn brown and brittle and then roll down the street on windy days. I love it. After all, how many people in Perth can claim their street looks like the Wild West for a while each year?

If that tree had been on the street where I grew up it would have been a perfect accompaniment to the fantasies I played out as child, wherein my bicycle was a horse and I would ride up and down the bumpy road, fuelled by the exciting adventures that ran in my head.

I think about this because Boychild has started to enjoy his own bike-riding adventures. In our neighbourhood it’s not as easy for him to run the roads as it was for me – at least not at his age – because our street is bounded at either end by busy arteries. Nevertheless, Boychild’s territory includes the sidewalks on a couple of blocks along with some parking lots that are usually empty.

I watch for him as he cruises past our window, pedalling in his serene way, and wonder what sorts of things he is imagining. Is he a dirt bike racer? An Olympic cyclist? A Harley rider? Is he pretending he’s driving a car along busy streets and highways or is he merely tooling the ’hood and taking in the scenery?

Similarly, I love to eavesdrop on him and Girlchild as they play. When Boychild is leading the game, it often involves some sort of fort. There is espionage and contests and hiding and “getting bad guys.” Occasionally they play house. Sometimes Girlchild wants to play school, but that doesn’t usually hold Boychild for long and he wanders off, so she is forced to employ the cats or her dolls as students.

I’ve had a lot of childhood envy lately as I watch them frolic outside together. Everything – from the pleasant camaraderie and joyful play to the eardrum-shattering sibling rivalry and squabbles – reminds me of how my brother and I used to play together as kids and how much fun we had, even when we were half-heartedly trying to kill or maim one another. (Incidentally, I don’t bother to complain or commiserate with my mother about the screaming and fighting parts because I know she will just point and laugh and laugh. Karma, much?)

Last week, on one of those gloriously hot sunny days, I watched as the two of them cavorted in the wading pool together. Boychild was busy showing his sister how he could zoom across the bottom of the pool underwater and hold his breath. They made a game of it – racing from one end of the pool to the other. They made obstacle courses with noodles and Frisbees. They laughed and squealed – the happy sounds, not the plate-glass-busting ones.

Increasingly I am feeling the urge to make time take precedence over anything else. Everything else. Of course it’s easier said than done, and summer is always challenging.

I admit to having some seriously mixed feelings when school ended for Boychild because that meant everyone would be in the abode – including two parents working from home. It can make for a crowded house – and I don’t mean the band. Then I looked at the calendar. Golly – we’re already a full week into July! Every day there’s something going on for at least one of us, and that doesn’t include the days when Groom-boy and I have work commitments. This summer is going to fly by – even when it rains. Okay, maybe not so much when it rains.

The point is, as the kids get older the time goes faster and it’s important to stop, look and listen. Savour these moments of joy by the wading pool. Encourage the free play on the bicycle. Feel the soil on our hands as we work together in the garden. Kick the tumbleweed around and whistle the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Not saying I’m looking for a gunfight or anything.

I’m glad I’ve got a new bike – now I can ride with my kids through the tumbleweed and into the sunset.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Money Talks

Not willing to let the I-wanna-quit-soccer thing end without some sort of consequence, I came up with a compromise. I'm a great one for compromises, I think. This can be a flaw, too, but we'll save that for another post someday.

Anyway, I'm comfortable with Boychild not playing soccer because, as Meno says, kids change their minds. I'm even happy that he's going to be taking swimming lessons. But I thought it might be an opportunity to teach him that breaking commitments can come with consequences.

I have calculated how much each night of soccer costs, subtracted the nights he already played and any nights that are rained out, and explained to Boychild he is going to help cover the difference.

Boychild has a small list of chores to do each day (make bed, feed fish, tidy up at the end of the day) and he gets an allowance each Saturday. I told him he will be expected to do one more chore each day and that he will not receive his allowance for a few weeks to make up the difference.

He was nonplussed. This is largely because
a) He usually does the chores but forgets to ask for the money and I forget to give it to him anyway. I had to calculate the amount I owe to him before I could establish the actual difference.
b) He still doesn't entirely grasp the value of money.

No problem. I am going to explain it to him in Bionicles. He lurves the Bionicles. If I explain that the amount he owes would be the same as buying three Bionicles, it will probably resonate a bit more.

It's kind of like how I used to explain the concept of time to him:
"We'll be leaving in one hour, Boychild."
"How long is one hour?"
"It's two TV shows."
"Oh, okay."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how my television and I became Mother of the Year.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Past Deadline: To Follow Through or Admit Defeat

Still more evidence that parenting is not for the weak. Perth Courier, Tuesday, June 30/09.

To follow through or admit defeat?

Here is a story about follow through. It involves a young boy we know but would never dare name because, well, he can read.

This boy is not very sporty. (Some folks would say schporty.) He runs and jumps and frolics and plays, but when it comes to stuff like hockey and other organized team sports, he doesn’t seem very much inclined. He’s more of a one-on-one kind of player. Perhaps he’ll be a chess master.

Anyway, last summer the boy’s parents signed him up for soccer. He had tried T-ball the year before and it went reasonably well, but he expressed an interest in soccer, so they gave it a try. It did not go smoothly. There was much whining and moping and dragging of heels. There was a definite lack of enthusiasm for playing, which was viral enough to infect the family. The mom and dad did not look forward to the twice-weekly participation because it involved constant prodding and cajoling. The weird thing is he’s not terrible at soccer. He’s a gangly kid – lots of arms and legs – but he does a pretty good job.

Anyway, last year the parents were big on following through. “You’ve got to finish something you’ve started,” they said. The grandparents stood around watching the whiny kid throughout the season. In the end he finished more-or-less happily and collected his medal and his hot dog. The team photo adorns his room.

This year in the spring when the topic of summer activities arose, the boy was asked whether he would prefer soccer or baseball. The mom was sure he’d pick T-ball – revert back to that sport where he could wallop the ball hard like he does in the backyard. Without hesitation, though, he said he wanted to play soccer.

“You do?”


The mom nearly fell out of her chair. Good heavens, would they be in for another summer of cajoling and whining? “Are you sure?”


“Really sure?”


Hm. So when the season began, the family unit dutifully collected the soccer regalia and adorned the shirt and trucked the water bottle and so on. They cautiously perched along the sidelines and braced for the whining. It didn’t come the first night nor the second. The boy happily participated in every drill and all the games, except on Tuesday nights for a few weeks when he was finishing up swimming lessons and could only stay for half of his soccer session.

Week three was great. Week four was great. Then came week five. Week five was not great.

The boy put on the brakes. He didn’t want to go, and when he got there, he didn’t want to stay. Abruptly, he left the field. He no longer wanted to play. He didn’t like soccer.

What!? Extensive interviews were conducted. Was it the coach? No. The kids? No. The heat? No. Well, what was it?

“I just don’t like it.”

Nearby, another spectator proclaimed loudly to an acquaintance that the kid should be made to play. “You’ve got to teach them to follow through,” she said.

The boy’s mom wilted. She had spent the entire season last year teaching follow through. No one was more surprised than she was that the boy even wanted to try soccer again, and despite the fact the joy of the sport lasted this year just long enough to miss the refund deadline, she really wasn’t overly surprised it had come to this.

“I want to keep taking swimming lessons,” the boy said. “I like swimming. I promise I’ll do it all the way through. I won’t quit.”

And he does like swimming. No cajoling or whining was involved with swimming, and it happens to be a convenient life skill. And yet, there’s this whole follow through thing. What to do, what to do.

Ultimately the defeated parents, perhaps selfishly, chose to avoid another summer of forcing the kid to play a sport he’s just not in love with. Rather than risk ruining soccer for him forever, they’ll take the hit. At least they get to keep the shirt.

And so help that boy if he tries to get out of finishing swimming lessons….