Sunday, June 20, 2010

Past Deadline: A Great Catch

Here’s a fishing tale of a different colour. Sort of a blood-red colour.

On Friday night a bunch of us trekked out to Otty Lake to our friend’s dad’s house so the kids could do some fishing. Apparently it was not a good night for the Gray women. The first calamity involved a zebra mussel cutting Girlchild’s thumb. To quell the blood and tears, Groom-boy headed up to the house to retrieve a Band-Aid.

While he was gone, friend’s eldest child, let’s call him Buddy, lands a Huge Giant Bass. It was a beautiful multi-pound fish!

I was first on the scene. He had used one of those big lures with the sets of three hooks at the front and the back. One hook was through the fish’s lip, and I figured I could free it fairly easily. (I daresay I’ve become reasonably adept at de-luring fish over the last few years as the kids and I ply various waters.)

Buddy says, “You should use the pliers.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” I say in my best Voice of Experience. “I think I can get it.”

Can you guess what happened next? Multi-pound bass flops a bit and the back end of the big lure flips up and snags me in the left thumb.


By this time Buddy’s mom had arrived on the scene. The fish struggled and tugged on the lure, which wasn’t really the best part of my day. We rearranged ourselves a bit and she was able to cut through the line with the pliers (shoulda used them pliers in the first place, you know).

The World’s Largest Bass was freed and I had the evidence in my hand. Literally.

So now both Gray women are bleeding at the thumb. Groom-boy shows up with a couple of Band-Aids and is advised the extra one probably isn’t going to cut it. He reassures the weeping Girlchild she wouldn’t have to go to “The Merge,” as she calls it. Mom, however, who is all brave and stoic and didn’t weep at all, does.

In the faint hope I could release the lure myself I ran my thumb under cold water at the house. Everyone knows most medical problems are solved by running them under cold water, right?


So we loaded everyone up and I was unceremoniously dumped off at The Merge while the other grown-ups took kiddies home for bed. It was busy at The Merge, so I twiddled my thumbs (ha!) while a few people looked surreptitiously at the paper towel that was protecting us all from being impaled by the remaining five barbed hooks.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that this sort of injury is pretty common. In fact, as I sat there, three older fellas from Pennsylvania came in. They come up every year to fish at Newboro and one of them had – surprise! – been hooked in the thumb. We compared notes. It’s hard to say which of the fish in question was more enormous, but we agreed everyone was lucky to have escaped without losing an arm to these mighty bass. I showed off Buddy’s lure. My American friend had already cut off the bulk of his lure, but apparently it was a dandy one that flashes when it goes in the water.

I was called in first. The doctor, who had worked for a while at one of Ontario’s fishing meccas – Dryden – was an experienced de-lurer. The worst part was the needle to freeze my thumb, but after that it was an interesting procedure. First an assortment of workbench tools was used to cut off the lure. I’ll spare you the details of how barbed hooks are removed, other than to say they can’t come out the same way they go in.

It’s easy to see fish don’t really have a chance.

After some antiseptic, a bandage and a tetanus shot I was good to go. First I stopped in the waiting room to report to my new American friends about what to expect.

So there is my unorthodox fishing tale. And since bass season isn’t in yet, we don’t even have a keeper to show off – unless you want to count me and my thumb.

Published in The Perth Courier, June 17/10

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Past Deadline: It Kills Me To Wake Up

Sunday night was a great night for sleeping. The temperature was perfect. I was tired. It had been a busy weekend. When I fell into bed Sunday night I was primed for some heavy-duty sleeping.

Can you guess where this is going?

First, Girlchild crashed into the room at 1:30 a.m. I tucked her back into her bed then fumed as she tried to figure out what CD might lull her to sleep. I’m not always the role model for patience in the middle of the night. An hour or so later, Boychild was at the foot of the bed. Back to bed for him, too.

Who are these people who are trying to kill me? And they ARE trying to kill me – don’t even bother suggesting they’re not. I read about it in the newspaper, so it must be true.

I laughed when I looked at the front page of the Ottawa Citizen on Monday morning and saw the headline: “Sleepless nights can prove deadly, study suggests: Risk of premature death three times higher.

“See?” I said to my children. “You’ll kill me if you won’t let me sleep!”

Whatever, Mom.

Of course the story had more to do with people who suffer from insomnia, but I wouldn’t be the first person to take a suitable quote out of context. The lead was also appealing: “Dying for a good night’s sleep? That may be truer than you think.”

The article indicated a group of people in the U.S. was surveyed over several years, and they were asked to indicate how often they had trouble falling asleep or getting back to sleep, or if they awakened repeatedly or too early.

I immediately picked up on that awakening repeatedly thing. Probably there is a technical difference between being awakened and your body waking itself, but hey! Sleep is sleep. There are particular times in the night when, if I am awakened, I have an awful time falling back to sleep. (It wasn’t a problem Sunday night – it’s just people wouldn’t leave me alone.)

According to the story, people are considered to have chronic insomnia if they report any of those symptoms more than five times per month over a period of a few years. Hm. Does that mean parents of small children are, in general, insomniacs?

The article goes on to say how more research is needed, particularly to look at the different types of insomnia symptoms and how they relate to specific causes of death, as well as whether death-by-insomnia (my term) is connected to other chronic conditions.

The point is, though, that “sleep is essential to life.”

No kidding.

Although it is not perfectly understood what is so crucial about sleep, it is known short sleep affects stress hormones. (Those would be my short-fuse days.) Stress, of course, affects metabolism and this can lead to a whole bunch of other problems with the immune system or make it difficult to function well on a daily basis because, well, you’re just too tired!

This is nothing new. We all know things don’t necessarily go very well when we’re tired. I know my kids waking me up in the night from time to time does not make me an insomniac – it just makes me cranky.

So, what can I do about this little problem? I have some ideas:

1. If I sleep in a tent in the backyard, it would be harder for the children to find me in the night and they’d have to wake up Groom-boy every time.

2. Maybe I could install one of those invisible fences for dogs at the bedroom door so people who cross the line would get a little jolt.

3. Ear plugs. Big ones.

4. Work all night and sleep while the kids are at school.

5. Put it into perspective by having another baby so we can look back fondly on all the sleep we were getting. (NOT going to happen.)

6. Duct tape. I’m not sure what I would use it for, but it generally solves all problems, right?

7. Suck it up. This too shall pass. After all, it’s not as if the kids are up every night. It only seems like it is.

Sweet dreams, let’s hope!

Published in The Perth Courier, June 10/10

Past Deadline: Speaking of Bossy McBossyPants

The mouth is a powerful weapon. Sometimes it emits very loud things, such as shrieking. Sometimes it’s mid-range, such as whining. Other times it’s only a whisper of complaint. No matter what the decibel level, sometimes it’s hard to take back the words that come out.

One day recently Girlchild was stalling about going to school. She occasionally comes up with a litany of reasons why she shouldn’t go. Usually it’s related to some feigned illness – a tactic she has undoubtedly learned from her older brother. On this day, however, she pouted and told me it was my fault.

See, she had a birthday party back in the fall and we invited several little girls from her class. It was her first big event with a large number of her peers – girls – and she was very excited. She had a blast. At one point, though, she was ordering everyone around, telling them how they should dance to the music, and they were meekly following her. I piped up and asked the girls, “Is she always this bossy at school?” They shook their heads no, ever loyal to their queen.

At some point during the party, however, I apparently called her “Bossy McBossyPants.” I don’t remember saying this – at least not at the party. I know I’ve used the term before when she tries to order people around at home.

She remembers, though, and it embarrassed her. It hurt her feelings enough that she dredged up the memory as an excuse to avoid school one day more than six months later. (It didn’t work.)

It makes you think, however, about the things we say to our kids and how they are remembered or interpreted.

I used to have occasional sleepovers at my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. I remember asking for an apple as a bedtime snack one time, but they said an apple was too heavy before bed and it would give me bad dreams. I believed that for years – even when an apple would have been a better choice than, say, a slice of pizza. The words stuck.

Sometimes as parents we grasp at reasons for things and blurt stuff without thinking. One time a few years ago we were packing up to leave a lakeside place we were visiting with friends and the kids were frolicking with abandon – reluctant to go home. “C’mon, you guys,” Groom-boy hollered. “When it gets dark at this place the monsters come out.”

“Are you nuts!?” I hissed, imagining the ensuing nightmares and late-night awakenings that would follow. Fortunately that particular blurt didn’t seem to stick.

I think we forget how powerful our words can be with our kids, although it’s understandable since so many of our words are ignored, especially anything that includes “stop,” “come” or “no.” Kids feel things just as deeply as we do. As I learn more about what my kids retain and how they respond to and remember some of the dumb things I say, it helps put a lot of broader communication issues into perspective.

It’s hard, sometimes, to be understanding when someone says something nasty or mean. I bet we’ve all been givers and receivers on this front. I was harsh with a poor fellow on the telephone when ordering food one day not long ago. How was he to know I was on my very last nerve due to a long, tiring day when he had the gall to ask the probing question: “Can you tell me what the coupon says?” (Sorry about that.)

And it’s not always easy to bite one’s tongue and put oneself in the other person’s shoes (or whatever other tired cliché you want to throw in there), when you are at the receiving end of a sharp tone, but it definitely helps to depersonalize it. There’s always a reason for something – even if it’s not a very good one.

Kids, though, even bossy ones, aren’t usually equipped to depersonalize thing. That’s why, with kids especially, one has to make sure the brain has caught up with the mouth before one utters something stupid.

As much as we would like them to, spoken words don’t always just float away into the clouds. Ask any politician.

Published in The Perth Courier, June 3/10

Past Deadline: No Chair Jumping Necessary

I have a confession to make. I have trouble with bugs.

No no no…I don’t mean I’m infested. I mean they make me a bit twitchy. Give me snakes, frogs, toads, worms any day. I like it when fish nibble my toes. I live with a turtle. Even though reptiles and amphibians can sometimes show up in surprising locations, my momentary startle quickly transforms into: “Oh, cool!”

Bugs? Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong. I know insects are important. Many of them are beautiful. I have no quarrel with bees or butterflies. I absolutely love dragonflies because they are gorgeous and fly in squadrons to eat pesky horseflies and deerflies.

Insects and I start to have trouble when they invade my space. Arguably it’s their space, too. Possibly they were there first, even. Likely we have destroyed their habitat and forced them to infiltrate our space, just as we have with so many other creatures (such as deer, bears and coyotes). Somehow, though, I find it harder to come to the defence of bugs.

I’ve written about ants before and how much I did not appreciate their unwelcome visit in our house one summer. Although I understood the temptation of the kids’ sticky table in the den, it was still, in my humble opinion, an entirely inappropriate invasion of my space.

I do not scream and jump on chairs when I see a snake, but my reaction is not far from that when one of those creepy centipede dudes that love old houses shows up. I am especially not fond of the ones that are almost as big as a cat. I was working in the garden on the weekend and a couple of those centipedes scrambled away when I moved some woody stalks. I said, “Ew,” but I did not scream or jump on a lawn chair. Why? Because they were outside. That works for me.

The cockroach factor contributes to this unease. When I was away at school I worked part time for a home-care agency and cleaned for elderly clients. (I know. Hard to believe I know how to clean.) Anyway, one of the clients, who was a feisty petite lady and a real sweetheart, lived in a cockroach-infested high-rise near downtown Ottawa.

It was awful.

I would brace myself and take a deep breath whenever I moved a dish or a canister on her kitchen counter because I knew a cockroach would come scuttling out. Despite the fact I was expecting it and was trying to be brave, I would always emit some sort of involuntary peep. That’s when she’d fly into the kitchen, usually armed with a shoe, and bash the critter to bits.


One of my last jobs for her before I graduated was to help her move things out of her cupboards as they prepared to fumigate the building. Not fun.

My current buggy drama: ticks.


Perhaps you’ve heard the blacklegged tick (deer tick) has started to show up in this area and because they can carry Lyme disease, we need to be aware. Gulp. I’m trying to tell myself millions of North Americans deal with ticks all the time and we just need to train ourselves to check for them when we spend any time in forests and fields. We’ll get used to doing this.

I helped with a children’s outdoor program this winter and we’re in the midst of another one right now, and I find it ironic that with all this work to encourage kids to spend more time outside, along come the ticks to add an ick factor to the outdoors.

It would be easy to overreact and jump on a chair, yelling, “I’m never going outside again!” but there’s something to be said for knowledge.

On the weekend I saw a tick. A friend found it on her leg. A bunch of us got a good look at it and it became a “teachable moment.” I suppose it’s like everything else – snakes and bats and even ants and centipedes. Once you understand a thing and what motivates it, you realize there’s no need to go screaming onto chairs. Just deal with it.

So far so good. (Learn more at or

Published in The Perth Courier, May 27/10