Friday, February 26, 2010

Past Deadline: On Smugness

If there is one thing I’ve learned about parenting, it’s to never be smug.

The moment you are smug about your well-behaved child, for example, is the moment he throws himself down on the floor of the grocery store and has an all-out poltergeist-style tantrum. The moment you say, “Oh, my child eats lots of vegetables” is the last day anything green that’s not candy will pass her lips.

So don’t you even dare utter aloud, let alone think quietly to yourself (as I did) that you have passed a treacherous phase in child rearing.

Thursday was a busy day. It was a how-can-so-many-people-have-a-deadline-for-me-on-the-same-day kind of day. So when four-year-old Girlchild came into the room just as I was about to throw together some sort of suppertime sustenance for the family and said, “Mom, I stuck a cupcake up my nose,” it was not really something I wanted to hear.

“You what?”

“It won’t come out.”

Immediately my heart leapt a way up towards my mouth and pounded around for a while as I scurried to get a flashlight and take a look. See, this wasn’t any old cupcake – this was a teeny tiny toy cupcake from one of her ridiculously small doll sets.

Sure enough, after some peeking I could see a round pink something stuck in her nose. We tried blowing and squeezing. Nada. I briefly (as in a microsecond’s consideration) contemplated grabbing some tweezers and trying to get it out myself, but my hand’s not that steady and I certainly didn’t want to be the one responsible if for shoving it further down into her lung. I can hear it now. “Yeah, if she’d just taken her to emerge we could have avoided breaking open Girlchild’s chest and cutting the cupcake out of her lung.”

So I gathered up books and snacks and crayons and health cards whilst Boychild and Groom-boy “helped” Girlchild get ready. Girlchild, by this point, had come to the realization that, perhaps, shoving a toy cupcake up her nose was not fabulous.

Girlchild (sobbing): “I don’t want to go the hospital!”

Groom-boy: “Well, maybe you shouldn’t shove cupcakes up your nose! That’s kind of a crazy thing to do!”

Girlchild (wailing): “I don’t want to go to the hospital!”

Boychild: “Don’t worry, Girlchild, you probably won’t have to have a needle. They’ll probably just stick something in there to get it out.”

Sigh. I’m not kidding when I say it had been mere days earlier when the quietest thought had passed through my tiny little head: “My kids have never stuck anything up their noses. I guess we’re past that point now.”


So I managed to extract my hysterical daughter from the clutches of Mr. Obvious and his son, Master Optimism, and we popped over to emerge.

After a blissfully short wait we were greeted by a cheery nurse who said, “So! You have something up your nose? Let me guess…is it the wheel off a toy car?”

Girlchild shook her head.

“Is it a pea?”

I laughed. That would have been my first guess. Girlchild shook her head and buried her face into my leg.

“I’m told it’s a teeny tiny toy cupcake from a teeny tiny toy doll set,” I said.

I can’t say the doctor was delighted to hear that it was a hard plastic thingy instead of a nice, soft rubbery one. We were all impressed, though, by how still Girlchild lay on the stretcher. I held her arms, the nurse shone a light up into Girlchild’s wee nose and the wonderful doctor wielded a set of long tweezers with the steadiest hand I have ever seen and, within a minute or two, out popped a small pink cupcake-shaped object that was not, actually, a toy cupcake.

“Huh!” I exclaimed. “That’s a knob off of Dad’s backscratcher.”

Of course. You can never be sure what little treasures my magpie is going to tuck into her various toy boxes.

So, we had a happy ending. Girlchild is fine and she learned not to shove things up her nose. I learned to never think thoughts again.

And someday I’ll tell you about the silly smug thought I had about my fish tank last week. Sigh.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Past Deadline: The Online Water Cooler

A lot of folks out there have nasty things to say about Facebook, and probably some of those things are merited. I’m telling you, though, if you were one of my Facebook friends, you would have been privy to gripping updates about the Fish Tank of Doom during the height of the catastrophe two weeks ago – and who would want to miss that?


What to think about Facebook. There was a day when I probably wouldn’t have been too keen on this social networking thing. Okay, actually, there probably was never a day like that. After all, I’m a communicator. I like to tell stories. I like to write. I like to make people laugh. Facebook definitely caters to my need to chat. Because I am self-employed and work from home, it has been my water cooler. When I’m feeling deprived of adult conversation, I can log on and see what people are up to and read the latest chit chat about current events and throw in a comment or two of my own.

Through Facebook I have reconnected with elementary, high school and university friends along with current and former work colleagues. I even found the girl who lived beside me until we were six. After she moved far away we were pen pals for many years, but eventually we lost touch – reuniting this summer through Facebook.

It’s kind of like glorified e-mail with pictures and a real-time feel. And if you don’t want to let creepy people see your profile, you don’t have to.

One of my favourite things is posting “status updates.” You can tell all your friends what you are doing at This Very Moment. Yes, it can be completely nauseating. Sometimes I don’t want to know about that weird pimple you have or about the disgusting thing you found under the refrigerator. Some people take it pretty literally, too, posting that they are “awake” or “at work” or “about to go to the bathroom.” I like to post fun or ridiculous status updates to see if they’ll generate conversation. How creative can I be in one line? (Sometimes not very….)

I like to think it is honing my writing skills. We all know it’s more likely killing time and preventing me from finishing the Great Canadian Novel or developing inspiring column ideas.
Nevertheless, I suppose it’s a better diversion than, say, drinking and carousing or killing small fish.

Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t argue that Facebook isn’t becoming an Internet tool du jour. We’re witnessing a revolution in the way we communicate. Corporations, celebrities, politicians, non-profits – all sorts of folks and their people are setting up profiles on Facebook and Twitter and on blogs in order to get their message out. They’re updating followers about activities, events and causes.

Sometimes Facebook is my first source for news. There have been many instances when I have logged on and have seen chit chat about something that’s happening – only to see it confirmed on the news later.

Water cooler, I tell ya.

Sure there are reasons to be careful with Facebook. I don’t think, for example, it’s a good idea to post your social insurance number, bank account numbers, all your contact info (including address) and your daily itinerary. Probably not wise to say you’re out of town for two weeks and that no one is looking after the house. It is also, in my opinion, unwise to say nasty things about your job, your boss, your co-workers, your spouse, your kids, etc. Sure, there is at least one very famous Internet person out there who launched her blogging career by writing nasty things about her workplace (Google it: Dooce), but I’d wager that strategy doesn’t work for everyone.

Be sensible about it. If you feel compelled to say something nasty online, remember that someone else might feel compelled to pass it along. It’s the Internet, people. Nothing is sacred. And if you are prone to oversharing, perhaps you should stick to writing in a diary and sticking it in a drawer. Or at least post it anonymously using your cat’s name.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to talk myself out of signing up for Twitter.

Published in The Perth Courier, Feb. 16/10.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Past Deadline: The Fish Tank of Doom

You know when you think you know something about something, but then it is suddenly revealed that, actually, you are an idiot? I hate when that happens.

Last week I wrote about the demise of our long-lived crop of goldfish and our decision, thanks to Nanny’s contribution, to get more fish. Boychild took a shine to neon tetras, and so we set out to repopulate the aquarium.

Nanny and I cleaned the tank and I reassembled everything. We set out last Saturday and purchased 14 little silvery fishies with red and blue racing stripes.

Meanwhile, back at the tank, something was going terribly wrong. Long, sad story short, we introduced the fish and, despite an urgent early morning call to Nanny, within 30 hours we lost them all.

Near as we can figure, something mustn’t have been rinsed enough, and by the time I figured out we had some seriously bad water chemistry going on, it was too late.

It was the Fish Tank of Doom. Boychild took it better than I did. Tears were shed.

I tackled the tank again and this time everything was rinsed within an inch of its inanimate life. I poured in new water, set up a different filter and let it run for a few days. Groom-boy, who knows even less about fish than I do, declared it “pristine” and said he would be pleased to live in it.

One weekday morning while Boychild was at school, Nanny, Girlchild and I set off to another pet store. (I couldn’t go back to the first – what if they asked about the original bunch? Besides, we had pretty much depleted their stock.) This time we purchased a dozen neons and two algae eaters and cheerfully carted them home to enjoy their lovely, clean, non-toxic tank.

I had neon tetras when I was in university, and that tank was not nearly as elaborate as this one. Still, I found them to be fairly hardy. Apparently, I was lucky.

I poured the new neons into the lovely tank. They screamed, “AAAAAAAAAAH!”

Doing that, I now know, is akin to plucking up an Earthling and tossing him onto some other planet. The air and temperature might be kind of the same – or not. The fish went into shock. Their bellies puffed up (swim bladder issues) and they started doing this weird vertical dippy-swimmy thing. Some of them would float to the top, rest a moment and then take off to do loop-de-loops or swim upside-down.

Fish Tank of Doom, I tell you.

I phoned Nanny. She came over, peered into the tank and said, “Hm. It doesn’t look good, Steph.”

I phoned the pet store. They had told me twice to keep the receipt for 14 days and reminded me again on the phone, which was hardly reassuring. “Did you float the bag?” the girl asked. You could tell she’d heard this before.


Float the bag, people. Oh, and there are handy instructions printed on the side of the fish bag. Read those.

Floating the bag for a while stabilizes the water temperature. Then you can gently lift your helpless little friends into their new home. They will love it.

Anyway, Boychild came home from school. Surprise! Here are your new, um, fish. “I have good news and bad news,” I said, and explained his mother is an idiot and some of his fish weren’t adjusting too well to the new tank.

“Well, at least it’s not poisonous,” he said.

True, but it’s still a Fish Tank of Doom.

I compulsively watched those fish for hours. I read up on fish shock and e-mailed a friend who used to work at a pet store. My dad, who knows a thing or two about wild fish, reassured me the swim bladders could go down and they might be okay. Other sources said, “Ha! You’re an idiot and your fish are going to die.” Again.

The next morning, though, things looked better. By the end of that day, the fish looked really good. And by the third day, we had a happy tank full of neon tetras and algae eaters – with no casualties.

So now we have the Fish Tank of Zoom, which is a much nicer place for fish to live.

Published in The Perth Courier on Feb. 9/10.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Past Deadline: Mom, Can We Get a Pet Hippo?

I have had the distinct honour over the past several months of being a palliative care nurse for goldfish. Our school of fish has, apparently, reached life end.

I am not nearly as good a fish nurse as my mom. Perhaps this is due to her having been an actual nurse (for humans) years ago combined with the fact she used to keep lots of tropical fish. In fact, she was even a fish maternity nurse sometimes, too – there were lots o’ guppies in my childhood.Did you know guppies eat their young if you don’t scoop the babies out of the tank right away? Interesting….

Anyway, for several years Boychild has had goldfish courtesy of his aforementioned
Nan. At the height of this venture he had seven of them. Over time, as critters are wont to do, the fish grew and got older and, well, started to die off. First we lost two of the fish. Then, months later, three. For a time we were left with a pair.

Boychild has coped admirably with the loss of these pets. He has asked lots of questions, but seems to understand that things are born, grow old and die. Perhaps because it is a bit tricky to cuddle with a fish he hasn’t seemed to have felt the loss keenly, although he misses watching them swim around as he falls asleep at night.

Through all of this my mother has been my source of info for fish care, although I haven’t always been able to follow her advice to the letter. Whether this can be interpreted as euthanasia or murder I don’t know, and it’s hard to ask a dying fish how it feels. “Are you in pain? Can I get you something? Perhaps a gill transplant?”

Nevertheless Mom has recommended everything from isolation tanks with salt water, meds for specific ailments (they turn the tank water a lovely blue hue) and everything short of mouth to mouth. Sometimes, though, she just says, “Hmm. I don’t know, Steph. It doesn’t sound good.”

I mean, really, sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. I have spent an inordinate amount of time staring wistfully into the tank and wondering about the wee gold fellas as they either gulp too much or not enough. Eventually I would resign myself (and my son) to the thought that the end was nigh.

One day last week, as I peered frequently from my desk through the doorway of Boychild’s room, I could see Fish: The Last slowing down. The Penultimate One had died the day before and Boychild had drawn a picture of a fish on orange paper and taped it to the side of the tank so FTL would have some company.

For a while I thought the meds might work for FTL, but as he/she lurched about and twitched and finally keeled, I sighed and pulled the plug on the air pump. Rest in peace, FTL.

At our house there hasn’t been a great push, thankfully, for large, expensive funerals for these fish. Most of the time I do the honour solo in the bathroom whilst Boychild is at school. One time he wanted to see the deed performed, but I think he found it to be somewhat anticlimactic – and who could blame him, really.

So now, with an empty tank and a head full of imagination, we’re getting the requests for replacement pets. Apparently already having two cats and a turtle is not enough. A rabbit is leading the list. Anyone who knows me knows rabbits are my favourite, but they are a heck of a lot more work than fish.

Fortunately, our fish nurse has intervened and made an offer Boychild could not refuse. Not only is
Nan going to fix up the tank and make it all sparkly, she is going to donate a few dollars towards new fish. (She loves fish, you know – not to mention Boychild.)

So far neon tetras are leading in the polls for replacement fish. After all, they’re small, sleek, silvery and have fancy red and blue racing stripes. The latest fishy chapter is set to begin.
Published in The Perth Courier, Feb. 2/10.