Saturday, October 2, 2010

Past Deadline: Utah Calling

Regular readers know how much I dwell on sleep and the fact I’m not getting enough. Between working the night shift long after I should be in bed and kids and cats sporadically rousing me from slumber, I get a bit twitchy.

It would seem someone in the state of Utah has joined the conspiracy to make sure something or someone wakes me up every night.

It all started last week. I returned home one afternoon to find two messages on my answering machine – both of which consisted of three beeps. I checked the call display and saw that I had received two unknown calls that morning from two slightly different phone numbers.

“Telemarketer,” I thought. Whatever. In our house we tend to just ignore the telemarketers and eventually they go away.

That night, however, the game changed.

The phone rang at 2:15 a.m. In our world, a phone ringing in the middle of the night is rarely good news – it’s either an emergency or a drunk guy calling the wrong number. I shot up in bed and grabbed the phone, staring sleepily at the display. It looked like a 1-800 number. I was annoyed, but set the phone down without answering it. I was sleepy.

The message left was those three tones again.

Groom-boy and I fell back to sleep, only to be awakened by the ringing phone 45 minutes later at 3 a.m. This time I grabbed it and answered it right away – and was greeted by the squeal of a fax machine.

The home office has a fax machine, but it’s a different phone number. I quickly pressed a code to transfer the call to the fax (not bad for 3 a.m.) and received – a blank page.

The next morning (which felt like moments later) I looked closer at the number. It was not a 1-800 – the area code was 801. Utah. Some telemarketer in Utah is trying to fax blank pages to us in the middle of the night.


There were no calls the next day. Oh, no...they waited until that night – again at 2:15 and 3 a.m.
We don’t like to turn our phone off at night in case someone needs us urgently, but we turned off the ringer.

Since then, every night at almost exactly the same times, a Utah fax machine calls us twice and leaves beeps on our answering machine. And you can be sure that if we don’t hear the call, one of our children will wake us up instead.

I am so tired.

Needless to say, I made contact with the national do-not-call registry. I also lodged a formal complaint, providing all the dates and times of these calls, along with the six or seven different numbers emanating from the autodialler in Utah.

I tried calling the numbers myself and got a recording stating something like: “Two, one, five – test successful.” That is freaky. What test? Did I just activate some kind of telephone virus? At the very least they now know we officially exist. I tried faxing the numbers, but only got a rapid busy signal.

I got in touch with Bell Telephone and will be blocking the numbers. The nice Bell guy and I spent some time trying to figure out who was actually calling. We narrowed it down to the city of Ogden, Utah, but this is apparently a nameless, faceless entity.


I turned to Google University but had no luck, other than to learn we are not the only ones getting calls in the middle of the night from these numbers, too. Although misery loves company, I’m not feeling overly cheered by this fact.

My complaints about this issue have registered a lot of sympathy and many similar stories. One friend reported the same thing happened to her and continued for a year! I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear that news.

I’ll tell you this – if I ever find out what Utah is trying to sell to me, I won’t be buying it. Not only that, but I’m very close to taking a road trip down there with a baseball bat to smash up some fax machines. Wanna come along?

Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 30/10
Edited to add: Our call screening service did not immediately work as the number was rejected. After a couple more calls to Bell, we not only lodged an annoyance complaint with them, but we were able to successfully block one of the numbers through call screening (thanks to some advice from a helpful Bell technician). We haven't had any calls for almost a week. Fingers crossed!

Past Deadline: The End of Plan A

Do I need to just suck it up and get over the fact that parenting is generally a perpetual state of uncertainty and self-doubt? Would I sleep better if I were to just get this truth out of the way once and for all and get over it?


There is a lot of pressure as a parent to Do The Right Thing So Your Family Does Not End Up On The News. So far so good, but I think I watch too much news.

The start of school has been a mixture of unbridled joy and random chaos. The lunches, the homework, the morning ritual of prodding and/or harassing people to get up and get ready, the feeble attempts to remember who is going where when and what they need when they get there – it has all been an adjustment.

On top of this, something unexpected happened this year and, because I am who I am, I worry that I’m not more worried about it.

This year, ladies and gentlemen, when I dropped my youngest off at school I didn’t shed any tears.

My daughter is now going to school all day every day. She’s in alternate-day Senior Kindergarten and attends one of the new Ready2Learn programs on the other day.

At first I resisted the idea of her going every day because it was always in our family’s long-term plan that I would work from home so I could be here for the kids. That meant I would get one more year at home with Girlchild every other day.

In principle, the work-from-home idea is a great concept and, in fact, I think it has benefitted the kids. No, I didn’t have them reading Tolstoy by age two, but we had lots of time together to play games and make muffins and go for walks and stuff. That said there was also a good chunk of time spent watching television while Mommy was distracted with work-related tasks. In addition, Mommy often had to work at night in order to stay on top of things – which sometimes grew a little thin and made her tired and cranky and no fun to be around.

Overall, though, I think it worked out fairly well.

When the opportunity arose to send Girlchild to school every day at no cost we signed her up right away, thinking we’d take the summer to decide for sure.

Circumstances over the last year or so led me to take on a lot more work, and I have to admit the idea of having both kids in school full time brought with it a degree of relief.

There were pangs of regret, though, because I thought of those days spent walking with my littlest one or making muffins or working in the garden and I realized that this was it. This was the end of something. What would you call it? The end of the Alternate Days? The end of Pre-Full-Time School?

I suppose it was an early end to our Plan A, whereupon I would have been home with both kids part time until they hit Grade 1.

So August came and it was time to confirm that Girlchild would attend Ready2Learn. Groom-boy and I discussed it. We considered that Girlchild is one of the most social creatures we have ever known – friendly, bubbly, chatty, willing to make friends, eager to explore, happy to feed frogs to snakes – whatever. So what would keeping her home with me to make muffins accomplish?

Arguably lots of things but (if one is feeling testy and argumentative) it could also be seen as a selfish and nostalgic move on my part. True, Girlchild wouldn’t realize that she was missing an additional chance to learn and socialize, but I would know.

Is she mature enough to handle all-day every day? I think so. Would she like it? I think so. Is she fond of school? Yes.

And so, when I dropped her off for the first day of the rest of her full-time school career, I didn’t weep. I might have even danced a little. I thought about singing a song.

Maybe it just hasn’t hit me yet.

Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 23/10

Past Deadline: Summer, We Need to Talk

Dear Summer. We need to talk.

I can’t do this anymore. I think we need to break up. It’s not you, really. It’s me. I feel differently about you now, and I’m sorry.

I know you’re thinking this is about the weather – those alternating hot stinky smoggy days versus cool drizzly times. It’s not that, although the last-gasp heat waves of 40-plus degrees followed by a dramatic drop to 14 are a bit harsh.

Actually, I’ve been concerned about our relationship for a number of years now. I remember those carefree days when we first met, back in the 1970s, when I could strip down to a bathing suit and frolic day in and day out without a care in the world.

Oh, how I loved you, Summer!

You were warm and loving. We were about playing outside and eating Jell-O popsicles and running through sprinklers and splashing in pools and catching frogs and building forts and looking for fireflies and camping and everything fun.

As our relationship matured, we still had a great time. Even though I had part-time jobs in high school and university, you still meant a break from school. The jobs were fun and I worked with friends and we could still gallivant and play.

In fact, even when I became a grown-up you weren’t so bad – at least at first. I still had holidays during which I could enjoy your offerings. There was still travelling and patios and swimming and hiking and camping and gardening. There still seemed to be ample free time to do these things.

But something has changed, Summer, and I’m not sure if there’s any going back. Maybe it’s because I have kids now and that makes life busier in general, but you just aren’t what you used to be. You’re hot and humid and I’m – well – less willing to gallivant in a bathing suit these days. The longer I run my air conditioner the more expensive you become.

Really, though, it’s less about the weather and more about how I set myself up for failure with my own expectations of you. Every year as you approach I say, “This time I’m going to” and out flows a litany of things to do. The list encompasses everything from changes in routine to make sure we get outside to enjoy you more to travel plans to things we hope to get done around the house and so much more.

It’s too much. The list never ends.

Soon we’re busy shoehorning all these wonderful plans around work because, unlike our kids, we don’t have eight or more weeks off the way we used to. A myriad of unexpected things pop up because everyone has weird schedules during these holidays – which can be good, but not always.

As the halfway mark passes in a flash I have to resign myself to the fact I’ll probably never accomplish everything I wanted to do. This annoys me and I start to kick dirt. And then, in a blink, the end of August appears and school is around the corner and lo and behold I’m one of those moms heaving a huge sigh of relief because everyone is getting back into a routine.

I guess I’m just not that fun-loving, spontaneous, bathing-suit-wearing girl I used to be.

Even though I have felt this way for years, I think the time has come to publicly acknowledge the end of our love affair. Summer, I have fallen for someone else: Autumn.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to end this way, but Autumn offers so much more for me: routine, nicer temperatures, no pressure to wear a bathing suit, the ability to use my oven more to make the comfort foods I love and, most importantly, lowered expectations.

Sure, there are things I want to do in Autumn, but even though it’s busy as stink it’s expected to be that way. I have no illusions about languishing around on deck chairs sipping margueritas or spending countless hours gardening or swimming or hiking. Autumn doesn’t fool me like you do every year.

So, goodbye, Summer. I’m sorry, but it’s over. Here’s your sunhat. I hope we can still be friends.
Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 16/10

Past Deadline: Shiny Happy Pathetic Fallacy

One of my favourite literary devices – and come on, I know you all have one – is pathetic fallacy. This is when inanimate objects, such as weather, are endowed with human emotions. It’s often used as a tool to foreshadow a foreboding event or to punctuate a murder with a thunderclap, for example.

Pathetic fallacy played a role in the first night of our recent vacation at a cottage. (I know I keep dwelling on this, but can you blame me? It was a vacation!)

We arrived after a long day of packing and lugging. We set up the beds, stowed the provisions and checked out the scenery. It took a long time for the kids to get to sleep, partly because of the newness of it all, but also because they were sleeping together in a double bed which, as you can imagine, led to much giggling and whispering and the occasional poke and kick.

It took the grown-ups a long while to get to sleep, too, being the first night in a new place. I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case because I was reeeallly tired. Eventually, though, everyone slumbered – until about 4 a.m. – when the first of about a half million thunderstorms started to roll through. (I also like hyperbole, you might have noticed.)

I awoke to pounding rain.

Then Boychild came to.

Then lightning flashed.

Thunder rolled.

Then Girlchild joined in and the kids started chit chatting again. The walls are thin.

There was scolding and shushing.

Then Boychild said, “I see a bat in the cottage.”

We paused. I was too tired to move. Oh, please let this be a dream.

Lightning flashed...thunder rumbled...pathetic fallacy....

“Oh,” I mumbled sleepily, “it’s probably just a big moth, Boychild. Don’t worry about it.”

More lightning. More thunder.

“No, it’s a bat,” he insisted. He knows from bats.

So Groom-boy and I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the main room, where the roof peaks and the ceiling is about 20-feet high and, sure enough, a waaaaay up there a little bat happily circled around.

Lightning flash! Boom!

Groom-boy and I stood there, gazing to the heavens (lightning...thunder...pounding rain) arms folded across our chests. I’m pleased to report there were no hysterics.

“What the heck do we do about this?” I mumbled.

Lightning! Thunder!

I was so tired I felt a momentary panic – but not so much about the bat. It was more like: “Is this how the vacation is going to go? Is this some sort of karmic thing? Will I ever sleep again?”

In the end we decided there wasn’t really anything we could do at 4:30 in the morning during a thunderstorm, so we went back to bed, secured the curtains over the doors to the bedrooms and told the kids we’d deal with it in the morning. You know, in a few minutes.

Boychild called out, “Do bats bite?”

“No!” I said immediately. I was groggy and wanted it all to go away.

Flash! Boom!

Then I hear Boychild whisper to Girlchild, “Well, if the bat comes in here, we’ll pick it up and take it out....”

Inner groan. Flash! Boom!

“Actually,” I call out, “you shouldn’t pick up a bat because then it would be scared that you are going to hurt it, since you are much bigger, and then it might bite you to defend itself.”

With my son there is absolutely no way I am going to get into a discussion about rabies at 4:30 in the morning. He would be a basket case and keep us up all night. Which would be…like…so totally different from the way the night was already going.

As it turns out, we could have held a workshop about bats and rabies because we were up for the rest of the night. The thunderstorms were relentless, the kids were chatty and I lay there with one eye open on bat alert. The bat was the quietest one in the building, though.

The next day the sun came out. Groom-boy eventually trapped the bat and released it to the wilds. The rest of the holiday was lovely and featured good sleeps at night with both eyes closed.

I much prefer the happy-sunny sort of pathetic fallacy.

Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 9/10