Sunday, October 31, 2010

Growing up... BOO.

Halloween ain’t what it used to be. (Neither is Christmas. Or Easter. Or even Fridays.) But it’s not the tradition that has changed; it’s me.

When I was a child, Halloween was full of a spooky kind of magic. The night sky was always black, with streetlights beaming certainty in scattered parts of our quaint seaside town. I grazed from house to house, pillowcase in hand, brimming with excitement. Mom would hide around the corner while Raggedy Ann, or Strawberry Shortcake, or Snow White, knocked on each door and delivered the trio of magic words – Trick or Treat? Once my load became heavy with sugar, it was time to head home to dump my cargo into a heap on the living room floor. Now to blissfully sort. Candy here. Chocolate there. Chips and cheezies over there. And a handful of rare treasures – a small pack of crayons, a pencil, a teeny tiny notebook. What a haul.

Somewhere between childhood and womanhood, between mullet and marvellous mane, Halloween (among other things) lost its luster. Maybe ghouls and goblins suddenly seemed ridiculous, now that I knew the jolly old elf was a hoax and a half. (“Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.) Maybe I discovered what OD-ing on junk food does to the teeth and the badonkadonk. I don’t remember exactly when things changed or why, but they did. I guess with age comes wisdom, and wisdom comes at the price of fascination.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had my adult fun with Halloween. Around age 20, I realized Halloween afforded me the rare, judgment-free opportunity to dress like a total slut. So I seized the day. But hey, at least I was creative! There are far too many slutty cops, slutty nurses, and slutty school girls running around out there. How unoriginal are 20-year-old girls anyway? If you’re going to dress like a bimbo, at least be clever about it. Be a slutty nun, or a slutty sous chef, or a slutty beekeeper, or a slutty Nazi. A few years ago, Andrew and I dressed up as Little Miss Muffet (the semi-slutty version) and the spider – you know, the one who sat down beside her. My arachnid hubby sported an extra “leg”, and his shirt said “What’s in the bowl, b*tch?” On the back of my dress was written, “Sit on my tuffet.” Good times. Good times, indeed.

Maybe motherhood has softened me. Or maybe I’ve just evolved into a different, more self-preserving kind of party girl. No mistake, I live for the absurd. And I can finish off a bottle of red wine before the cork stops rolling. But the parameters of my merrymaking are different now. Last night, for example. In bygone years, I would have attended Mardi Gras on George Street – my old stomping grounds of singlehood. But nope. Not interested. I took my tiny terror to a kids Halloween party instead. I went as primetimes’s fave fangbanger, Sookie Stackhouse. Andrew was Vampire Bill. (If you don’t know these characters, it’s because you don’t watch True Blood and that is unfortunate.) Max? He was decked out as.... wait for it... Satan! Ha. I like to say Satan instead of devil; it gets a rise out of people. But it’s way cuter than it sounds... see?

The chance of getting a sensible photo of lil’ Lucifer in his costume? About a snowball’s in hell. The front of his costume read “HELLUVA KID” and the back was a tribute to the urban insight of Snoop Dogg – “Drop it like it’s HOT.”

Instead of rocking the streets of downtown, I rocked Beelzebub Boy to sleep. I chose to make a dessert (edibility TBD), cuddle with the fur kid, watch Poltergeist (not bad for 1982), reflect on Halloweens of yore, and just breathe. If that makes me a crusty old lady, so be it.

I miss Halloweens of childhood. But the spirit of it all is not entirely lost on me; it is rekindled through my Max. This evening, I look forward to his mystified look as neighbours plop treats into his pumpkin. He’s only 18 months old, but every twinkle of the eye counts for something; molds him into a person-shaped chunk of happiness. This Christmas, I look forward to seeing that twinkle when he feasts his eyes on the multi-coloured lights on every home, when he sees his new wooden train track under the tree, and when he comes face to face with Mr. Kringle himself. The most wonderful lie of all time.

I also hope Max, one day, mourns his childhood, as I do. Because that will mean he had a good one.

The greatest poem ever known
Is one all poets have outgrown:

The poetry, innate, untold,

Of being only four years old.
- Christopher Morley, To a Child

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Are we there yet?

Thinking about flying with a toddler? Three words: DON'T DO IT.

I don’t mean that. I mean, in the grand scheme of a two-week vacation, the four-hour flight there and back is just a fart in the pants. You can do it! But be forewarned. And pack at least six kinds of crackers.

Children under the age of two can fly for free. In Canada, at least. So, as new parents, we think Yippee! We’ll take a trip somewhere before the half-pint is two. Give him a ride on a big ol’ jet airliner – for free! Not so fast, opportunistic little mama; think this through. If it’s relaxation you seek, leave the lil’ squirt home. There won’t be much time for kicking your feet up. The kicking (and screaming) will be done by someone else.

The drama begins at the airport. For the love of lemon gin, take your umbrella stroller. A toddler on the loose at the airport? You may as well post an ad on Kijiji: One toddler for the taking. Likes cheese puffs, pooping in pants, and long walks on the beach. You can push the stroller right up to the door of the airplane. Leave it there and board the plane; the stroller is magically waiting for you on the other side. But don’t get too excited; the nightmare occurs in between.

Our August flight to Ontario would have gone much differently had Max been a 9-month-old crawler instead of a 16-month-old Olympic sprinter. With a perfectly immobile baby on my lap, my biggest worry would have been keeping his ears clear and his belly full. I could have flicked on the cartoons, stuck a bottle in his gob, and giddy-up – Toronto, here we come. But Max had learned to motor and had been honing his legwork for the past five months. And now he was bringing those mad skills onboard. No amount of Thomas the Tank Engine was going to stop him from busting a move on that Boeing 737. In fact, Thomas probably just reminded him to go full steam ahead.

For Max, boarding the plane was like walking into a new world of possibilities. His eyes lit up when he saw the endless rows of seats, each containing a different face. I could almost hear his thoughts, spoken in a British Stewie Griffin accent, of course. What is this? A life-size Fisher Price Shake-n-Go Flyer? Must... explore... now. Check out the giant porn stash on that dude. Feast your eyes on that chick’s big dangly earrings! Can I grab them, mommy? Can I? Can I? Oooooh, this little window shade is fun! It’s open, it’s closed, it’s open, it’s closed...

When we took our seat, we were pleasantly surprised to have been assigned the row with extra legroom. Bless your heart, travel agent lady. At least you tried.

I’m no dummy; I came prepared. I packed several NEW dinkies and toys. They worked – for a while. Eventually, Max started tossing everything to the floor. Half the time the toy would wind up under someone else’s seat, so I’d have to retrieve it with my head in a stranger’s crotch. Excuse me, sir, could you move your undercarriage so I can find my son’s train?

I also packed snacks galore. My purse was a vending machine. Raisins, fruit, Cheerios, Goldfish crackers, and a few sugary sweet treats for emergencies. But there were not enough snacks in the world to keep our boisterous boy down. By the time the seatbelt sign was switched off, Max had turned on the Turbo Ginger.

We made the mistake of traveling at night. The flight left at 7pm, so I thought – Perfect. He’ll get on board in his pjs, have a bottle, then go to sleep... and we’ll watch a movie! Dream on, Self. Max was tired, but he fought it with every fiber of his 25-pound being. And how could I blame him? This was an exciting new place. There was no crib, no darkness, no familiar surroundings. It couldn’t possibly be bedtime! Damn, that kid is observant.

He tried to escape our two-seat row, but Andrew’s leg served as a barricade. It’s not safe out there in the aisle!  Some parents walk their kids up and down the aisle to let them blow off steam. But this could easily go awry. People have hot beverages, and there’s always a flight attendant coming or going. Besides, if I gave Max an inch, or 10 feet of aisle, he’d take a mile. One glimpse of the buffet of faces beyond our row and things would get real ugly real fast. Try returning to our seat once he had a gander of that sweet action. Max Murphy Meltdown imminent.

Thankfully, he was content to stay in the one-foot by two-foot playroom in the clouds – i.e. the space between the window and the aisle, minus the space taken up by mine and Andrew’s legs. He flashed greasy grins at the gentleman across the aisle from us. He danced up a storm. He was deliriously tired, lying on the floor for a few seconds as if he was going to go to sleep, then suddenly springing to life and cackling like something possessed. Aha! You thought I was asleep, didn’t you? Suckas! Sometimes he’d lie there for a few extra moments and we’d get our hopes up – could this be the beginning of peace? – when suddenly I’d feel little teeth chomping into my foot. What a case. Andrew and I cracked up. Until we cracked. Three hours into the journey, we were desperately begging the sandman to arrive.

Max slept for the last hour of the journey. Just enough time for Andrew and I to fall asleep and – ding ding – buckle your seatbelts, we’re coming in for a landing.

The return flight was even worse. It was the red-eye; need I say more? This time, we even had a spare seat between us. A blessing? You would think so, wouldn’t you? Mastermind Max only utilized this luxury for his lunacy. He stood up on the seat and threw things over the top at the poor people dozing behind us. A die-cast locomotive to the face leaves a mark.

My recommendation? Fly with your under-two-year-old before he or she is walking. If it’s too late for that, travel with a partner. Don’t fly at night unless you have the patience of job and caffeine injected directly into your veins. If you have money to burn, buy the kid his own seat and attach your carseat to it. (Apparently stapling his sleepers to the seat is a no-no.) If your mini has miraculously developed the faculty of reason – If you sit down and be a good boy, mom will give you a marshmallow – lucky you. Or, if you were blessed with a naturally chill child, congratulations; I was not. Turbo Ginger makes for a frustrating plane ride...

...but a fun life.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pobody's nerfect.

What’s the first thing you say when you see a newborn baby? “She’s so cute.” “He’s so beautiful.” “She’s got her mommy’s nose.” “Who does he look like, I wonder?” Looks. Beauty. Is it all we ever think about? Do we even hear how ridiculous we sound? 

I confess – when I was preggers, I was afraid my kid was going to be ugly. Of course, my greatest fear was that he would be born with a debilitating disease; I’m not a monster. But my second greatest fear was that he would have the map of Australia on his face, or a head shaped like Stewie’s on The Family Guy, or satellite dish ears. (Free cable would not be consolation.) Everybody wants a beautiful child. It’s only natural, especially given the skin-deep world in which we live.

We want our kids to be lovely – not just because we want to look at them and go awwwwww. We want them to be attractive to spare them the ridicule that comes with not being attractive. Freckle face. Fatso. Dork. Four-eyes. Beanpole. Short stuff. OUCH. We’ll do whatever we can to protect our kids from that pain. Trouble is, helping them conform to the ideals of beauty to dodge the rejection only perpetuates the problem.

Today’s society is obsessed with beauty. I pick up a magazine and flip through the pages of women looking impossibly perfect, and I come to two conclusions. 1 – Wow, those women are flawless. 2 – I’m so glad I have a boy. For some reason, guys can be pudgy, hairy, and imperfect. If they’re charming, funny or smart, they can nonetheless hook the cutest girl in the room. Throw in some musical ability and a trust fund and he’s a hot commodity. Seriously, count the mediocre if not motley rock stars who have married supermodels. Yeah, exactly. The chubby, hairy girl? Yikes. She can play the piano and the harp while doing stand-up comedy and juggling fire; hope she likes black and white because she may as well sign up for the convent now.

Seriously, these supreme beings represent an ideal that 99.9% of us can’t possibly achieve. They are genetically predisposed to thinness. The vast majority of us – no matter how much we exercise and diet and groom – will simply never look like this; it’s just not in our DNA. And yet this unattainable imagery is presented to us – including our impressionable little girls – every single day, on TV, in magazines, on larger than life billboards. We are so immersed in it, we don’t even realize the damage it’s doing. Seriously, even these models can’t achieve the perfection before our eyes! Virtually all of them are airbrushed into oblivion. I work in an artroom; I’ve witnessed the wonders of PhotoShop. Even Cindy Crawford once said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.” As if her supermodel self were not a lofty enough standard to strive for, they shave a little off her thighs and magically erase the blemishes from her skin. “There, that’s better. Now, little girls, here’s what beautiful looks like. Good luck with that.” And the little girl looks in the mirror and sees a dozen things she wants to change but can’t. Or can she?

I was an ugly child. Buck teeth, freckles, pasty white, rail thin, and red hair sculpted into a mullet. My personal slogan: business in the front, party in the back. It’s not a pretty picture, let me tell you. But thankfully, for most of my childhood, I didn’t know I was ugly; I was just... me. Playing with my Barbie, blissfully oblivious to her universal status as the classic blonde bombshell; the epitome of the perfect female. The women around me were not weight-obsessed. Grandmother chewed on the salt meat bone. Mom never wore a speck of makeup. I had no prissy older sister to idolize, just a brother who kicked my ass at Jeopardy and taught me how to catch. My dad wore mismatched clothes, sometimes on backwards (true story); he was as far away from vanity as humanly possible. Nobody ever told me I was beautiful, and nobody ever told me I was ugly. Maybe the mullet rendered people speechless. Or maybe I was valued for humor, intelligence, and honesty; that’s the long and the short of it.

But inevitably, adolescence happened and opened my eyes to the female ideal that I clearly did not represent. I suddenly became aware of my particular weight issue – I was too skinny! The actresses on television were thin, but they were shapely, womanly, sexy thin. Unlike Blair on The Facts of Life, I was a piece of two by four with fly-bites for boobs, wearing long-johns inside my jeans in a pathetic attempt to look more like an hourglass and less like a human erection. Mom and her friend poked fun at me, cautioning me not to run up the stairs too fast – “You might get two black eyes!” Laugh it up, ladies of large fun bags. To a 10-year-old girl, that stings. And clearly, it sticks to the memory, forever deeming me, at least a little, that insecure little girl.

I turned out okay, stronger and wiser for the experience. But I can see how some girls end up down a bad, bad path. Girls who idolize Britney Spears and her bare midriff, who look up to calorie-counting parental figures who remind them to lay off the cookies – not because cookies are unhealthy, but because they make you fat, and nobody wants a fat girl. What does that do to a young mind? – The mind of a girl who’s just trying to find herself in the first place. She finds herself not good enough, forever pursuing a goal she will never achieve. I hear about girls with anorexia, turned into something they never intended to be, trapped in a house of mirrors – in none of which they see their true selves. How do they escape that skewed perception? How do they reprogram their brains? There is no prescription for perfection. There is no perfection.

I thank God my child is a boy. But I know he’s not entirely exempt from it all, so, just as I would a girl, I shall try my best to teach him what’s truly important – kindness, compassion, courage, integrity – and hope to God it takes, and stays with him when he’s no longer safely tucked under my wing. I can’t put him in a bubble, away from this materialistic world. But I can show him. That true beauty is in the trees, red and brown and gold in autumn’s cool breath. It’s in a perfectly still lake on a windless day. It’s in the symmetry of wooden slabs sloping to the sea, dotted with multi-coloured boats awaiting the next fine day. It’s in the silky smooth coat of a puppy with four paws in the air, relishing a morning belly rub. And it’s inside the people around him – of all shapes and colours and sizes, who are kind and funny and honest and unique, if only we take the time to look beneath the surface.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The lucky ones.

My sperm donor and I spent my 31st birthday in a prenatal class at the Health Sciences Centre. (The class was twice as long as my labour, ironically.) We were practicing breathing techniques, and one of the exercises required Andrew and I to turn and face one another. I had to breeeeeathehee hee hoooooo – and he had to lean toward me and rub my shoulders and such. Without thinking, he said something that permanently etched itself into my memory – the part of my memory where I store reasons to dropkick people in the face, and call them “sperm donor” instead of “loving husband”. His exact words: “This is going to kill my back.”

I think even Max cringed in utero. Oh. My. God. Did he really just say that? My back had been aching for eight months. Peaceful sleep was a distant dream (and you have to sleep to dream so I was royally screwed). And the epic pain I was about to endure any day now was going to make his backache seem like a hangnail. I was petrified about what was about to happen to me, and he was casually complaining about his back. Grrrrrrrrr.

But despite this slip of the tongue, and my earlier posts that might suggest otherwise, I am not bitter – not toward him, (and yes, he is a loving husband, by the way), not toward anyone who is exempt from this ungodly pain. I just like to whine about it; it makes me feel better somehow. It’s kinda like swearing. I don’t really need to curse. Frankly, I’m never really that pissed off. But I just like to throw in a good, solid “DAMN” now and then, to send a little surge of lightning through the ol’ bloodstream. I joke about the nightmarish labour, comparing it to that big, goofy Kool-Aid jug bursting through the brick wall. I tell tales of case room horror, occasionally employing the use of hyperbole to heighten the entertainment value. It did hurt. A LOT. But truth is, I’m over it. Well, almost. And I don’t really blame anyone for the pain (anymore). Apple-eatin’ Eve is my homegirl. The nurse in the case room who told me to hold off on the drugs; she was doing the best an overconfident meathead can do. And men – how can I resent them? I mean, they’re not exactly getting off scot-free. In fact, because they’re largely omitted from this unique life experience, I actually feel kinda bad for them.

Think about it. In every other avenue of life, men and women are equals. (In the Western world, anyways.) We have equal opportunities – at work, at school, at play. We may not be able to pee standing up, but we broads can be the best, the boss, the bomb. Men and women alike, there are no limits to what we can do. The world is our oyster and we both get to shuck it.

But this one thing – carrying a child and giving birth – men simply cannot do. It’s just not possible! They will never know what it feels like to bake a person inside of them like a Butterball turkey. (Nine months... now that’s what you call slow-roasted.) They’ll never know the exhilaration of having that child, just moments after entering the world, latch onto their breast with sheer animal instinct; born to suck. Men have nipples, but why? They’re as useless as tits on a bull. In fact, they are tits on a bull. Men can only sit back and observe the miracle of keeping this spectacular creature alive with nothing more than the nectar of our own bodies. It sounds too impossible to be true. But God, or evolution, or Aphrodite, or Yoda, or someone, made it very possible. For women and women alone. We may be the subspecies to endure the pain, but we are the lucky ones to have the privilege of this first-hand miraculous life experience.

So we must have compassion for men, not resentment. And we must do what we can to include them in this experience. In fact, we must enable them to share in our pain. We must let them rub our feet, our backs, our legs. We must permit them to run warm baths for us, paint our toenails, shave our legs, and run out at 2am to buy ketchup chips, muffins ("I said BLUEBERRY, damn it!"), and mangoes. During labour, we must squeeze their hand so tight, it’s at risk of losing a finger. We must have them fetch the hungry baby from the crib, then put the happy baby back. We must encourage them to spend time with the lil' munchkin, while we go shopping for 200-dollar leather boots. It’s the least we can do to include them in this heaven-sent journey from which they have been so unfairly excluded. In the name of equality, it’s simply the right thing to do.


Thursday, October 21, 2010


Nine months, what a curious amount of time.
In nine months, a boy I did grow.
Nine months ago today, a dear poppy died.
The boy was just nine months old.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

From apple to appetite.

I’m not a religious person, but I’m open to the possibility that anything is possible. I guess you could say I practice WhoFuckinKnowsism. I choose to believe in the Creation story just so I have someone to blame for the heinous experience they call giving birth.

Let’s do a little Biblical recap. 6,000 years ago, Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, even though God specifically told her not to. If it had been a big hunk of Belgian chocolate dangling from that tree, perhaps I could see the error of her ways. But an apple? That’s just weak. Her punishment? God took away the Wii and, to top it off, added this: "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing... Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." (Genesis 3:16) Thanks a lot there, Female Numero Uno. And thanks a lot to you too, Almighty One. It wasn’t enough to send her to her room or her treehouse or whatever?

So mamas and gal pals, we must suffer. It’s the legacy we’ve inherited, whether from Eve or from Evolution. (Eve-olution?) For starters, we must menstruate. (The average woman spends about $10,000 on pads and tampons. Bloody hell.) We must carry our offspring for nine months – that’s a good chunk of our lives! – during which time we must endure nausea, swollen ankles, and any number of physical and emotional complications. Then the fun part – we must squeeze a human being into the world through a poorly designed pelvis. This is simply inhumane. Terrorists would list this as “torture technique #7”, meaning six other methods of lesser torture would be utilized first. Inmates at Guantanamo Bay would not be subject to such cruel and unusual punishment. No, this torture is reserved for the true dregs of society – women.

Then comes the breastfeeding. A task that’s draining enough, let alone the nipple pain, the plugged milk ducts, the mastitis and thrush and countless other toe-curling boo-boos of the boobies. “Feed through it,” the lactation nurses tell us. Okay sure, no problem. Got a mukluk I can chew on? A piece of metal? An apple???

I won’t even get into the incontinence, the scar tissue, the hemorrhoids, and the lifelong struggle with body image. And lest we forget the menopause to come and its slew of sucky symptoms that serve to remind us we’re drying up like a desert camel’s scrotum. Yay.

Long story short, womanhood comes with a lot of ouch. AND DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED on the common perception that men get sexier with age while women just get old. How did men get off so easily (so to speak)? All they have to do in this life is shovel snow, lift heavy boxes, put the windshield wash in the car, and mow the lawn. Is this fair? Hell no. Especially when Adam ate the freakin’ fruit too! How was he punished for his defiance? The Bible says God made him toil for his food from a ground full of thorns and thistles. Whoopdy-freakin-doo. Adam probably just turned around and made his loyal minion do all the work anyway. He definitely made her harvest his twig and berries.

Eve, and us, got a bum rap. (And our bums are not the half of it.) Adam got but a slap on the wrist. He should have gotten a smack on the wiener; a bag tag at the very least. Where’s the justice?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Classic toys... for poor people.

Are we still in a recession? Not sure what the official word is from the money people. But let’s face it, we all po. How in God’s name does anyone afford to buy a home these days? I see these ginormous houses being built and I’m like – what do those people DO? It’s got to be drug money. They definitely don’t have kids.

Kids are expensive. But my lack of a social life cushions the cost, so it kinda works itself out. But I do have to be cautious of overspending in the face of soooooooo many cute outfits and baby gadgets and... dare I say it again... toys!

How many of you have given your kid a gift, only to watch him or her toss the pricey present aside and play with the damn wrapping paper? And when your poor, deprived offspring have opened their skyward heap of gifts, don’t they often pick the cheapest ol’ thing to play with first? Why waste your hard-earned money? Max is getting one gift for Christmas this year – a telescope. And by telescope I mean an empty paper towel roll.

Here are a few classic – and I mean really classic – toys for your wee ones. Each one fosters imagination and creativity, and guess what? They’re all... wait for it... wait for it... free!

The Cardboard Box. A classic among children everywhere. It comes with a built-in, saloon-style door, and windows can be installed custom. (Well, more like cut-out than put-in... even easier.) The cardboard box is incredibly multi-functional; it can be a house, a cave, a hospital, or a totally pimped out go-cart. For entrepreneurial kids, it makes a kickass lemonade stand. People spend a fortune on these child-size kitchens, but why? Just toss a few pots and pans in the box and your pint-size chef is good to go, money saved. For easy storage, the cardboard box can be folded flat and stored under the couch or bed. Sizes may vary. A refrigerator box = a swagadelic luxury hotel.

The Blunt Stick. Please note: this is different from the Sharp Stick, which is a toy for nimbler kids over seven. The ancestor of the Swiss Army Knife, the Blunt Stick is mega multi-functional. Is it a hockey stick, a golf club, a baseball bat, a fishing rod, or a javelin? All of the above, sports star. It’s also a light-saber for a young Jedi knight. It’s a sword, if your youngster wants to get medieval on another kid’s ass. (Please note: I endorse chivalry and theatre, not bullying.) It’s a baton for your future gymnast, and, for the big-boned child, it’s a trusty roaster of marshmallows. (Oh wait, that’s the Sharp Stick, nevermind.) Best of all, the Blunt Stick is eco-friendly, as long as you don’t snap it from the endangered St. Helena Gumwood.

The Empty Pill Bottle with Macaroni Inside. Note I said macaroni, not pills. Take an empty, plastic pill bottle – preferably one of those chunky, bulk-size vitamin jars – and toss in a few rotini. Whatcha got? Instant maracas! Shake that baby booty! I recommend making a new label for the bottle so others don’t think your kid’s toybox doubles as a medicine cabinet.

The Wooden Spoon.  A mere spoon? To the unimaginative, perhaps. This common kitchen utensil is actually a magic wand. Seriously – bang anything with it and that thing magically transforms into a drum. Throw in a stainless steel mixing bowl and it’s a percussionist’s starter set. At Long and McQuade, something like this would cost major coin. But lucky for you, the elves that live in your cupboard dish out this playtime fun for free.

The Pet Rock. A knockoff of the 70s fad. (Yes, this really was a huge novelty in that era.) Create your own 21st-century model by going no further than your own backyard, preferably un-landscaped. Fat ones or skinny ones, bumpy ones or smooth ones, sedimentary or igneous, your child can choose the pet that he or she wants, not necessarily the one that doesn’t shed. Disclaimer: If you live in a glass house, get a cat.

The Imaginary Friend. The success of this “toy” depends on your level of commitment. Start talking to the space next to your child. For example, when I ask Max, “Would you like to read a book?”, I then move my head 20 degrees to the right or left and ask the same question again. At first, Max looked confused. But within days he started to realize – there is someone there. A friend! In two to three weeks, your child will be enjoying the constant companionship of a kid you never actually have to feed. Or give birth to.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Toy Story...

The toy people are pretty smart, aren’t they? Bringing back all the toys from the 80s, to play on the sentiment of the 30-ish crowd who are now parents with Christmas lists longer than Barbie's dream home. Every toy section is a labyrinth of dolls and trucks and games and gadgets. A multi billion-dollar industry indeed. What’s going to catch my attention? The familiar face of a Cabbage Patch Doll smiling back at me, of course. (RIP, Casey Gwendolyn.)

Or a Smurf. La la la la la la... la la la la la. Best lyrics ever.

My Little Pony. I brushed that horse’s hair ‘til the cows came home.

The Etch-a-Sketch. A love child of the 60s, it's the great-great-grand-daddy of PhotoShop. And it's so simple to use. I mean, why draw with crayons on paper when you can twist knobs to move a stylus to displace alumimun powder on the back of a screen in a plastic frame?

Strawberry Shortcake. I had the complete bedding set – bedspread, curtains, pillow shams, booyah.

These and more are all back with a GI Joe-caliber vengeance. I’m holding out for a Popple – the "soft fuzzy ball that turns into a friend." Who needs a friend with soft, fuzzy balls when you can have a friend who IS a soft, fuzzy ball? Simple logic, really. The other day, I saw a Monchhichi and for a moment I was six again, minus the buck teeth and mullet.

Every jar of Play-Doh slingshots me back to a time and a place when life was as simple as a Rubiks Cube. Er, scratch that. A Slinky. That’s better. It was a time when fun was all that mattered. When my problems extended no further than my Flintstones toybox.

Max is just a toddler, so most of these retro toys are too advanced for him yet. He’d bake himself in the EasyBake Oven. But he does have a couple truly classic toys in his stash, in all their uncomplicated, no-instruction-booklet-no-assembly-or-batteries-required glory...

The Jack in the Box. This toy dates back to the Middle Ages, invented by some dude named Jack who got in a box and popped out and everybody laughed. Max has a Sock Monkey jack-in-the-box. Crank the lever to churn out the classic yet creepy “Pop Goes the Weasel” and – BOING! – a Sock Monkey, doing a poor job at pretending to be a weasel, springs out from inside. I’m glad it’s not a clown popping out of there; I watched Stephen King’s “It” way too early in life. Sock monkey – way friendlier. He’s made from a SOCK, for cryin’ out loud! But Max was frightened shitless of the thing nonetheless. As soon as I started to turn the handle, he’d start to back up in sheer terror. And when the song came to an end and the monkey popped up, his lips would start to wriggle – a prelude to tears. And yet, seconds later, he’d set the little metal box on my lap once again. “Do it again, mommy,” his big brown eyes beseeched me.

You can buy a Sock Monkey jack-in-the-box at Chapters online for about $25. Or scope out a local boutique store. I bought this one at Target in Florida for about $18 US.

Wooden blocks. These date back a trillion years. I bet young Jesus had such blocks; his father was a carpenter for Christ sake. (SFX: short drum roll with cymbal crash.) Max’s blocks are extra classy, each one sporting the Montreal Canadiens logo. A gift from daddy, straight from the Bell Centre. They’re chunkier than most blocks you’ll find in stores – a better fit for a curious but clumsy hand. Though they feature letters, numbers, and pictures to boot, Max has learned nothing from them except how to incorporate them into his arsenal of weapons.

Blocks are pretty easy to find. Winners has a decent set by Melissa and Doug™ for about $15. Or take one for the team and order a set of Habs blocks on ebay for about $25, or get the real deal at the Bell Centre for about $30.

The Spin Top. This toy is older than dirt. In fact, clay tops were uncovered in the ancient city of Ur, near modern-day Baghdad, dating back to 3500 BC. Even Shakespeare wrote about the “whipped top” in his plays. To us, it’s a classic toy from the 1960s, revived in the 1990s, and still adding a touch of old school charm to playrooms everywhere.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a metal “push top” at Winners for about $15. For just a little more dough, get a metal Thomas the Tank Engine spin top at the Railway Coastal Museum on Water Street.

Up next: MY version of classic toys for toddlers, for fun-seeking but frugal folk. :)

Friday, October 15, 2010


Our house is about 900 square feet. Not a lot of space for a man, a woman, a dog, a new baby, and a zillion big and little things that either entertain, clean, clothe, feed or soothe said baby.

It wasn’t so bad when Max was a cooing infant. I could organize the chaos around us, create a manger of inanimate onlookers with my swaddled miracle in his bouncy chair smack dab in the middle. (Our black and white pooch also bears a striking resemblance to a cow. Bonus.) There were breast pump attachments curled up on tabletops, receiving blankets and teeny tiny facecloths stacked to the sky. It wasn’t necessarily clean, but it was neat. Even the dirt was categorized into perfect little piles: cooties here, scuz there, crud up there, gook and gunk over there. Everything had its own spot or shelf or basket. I even have a basket for orphaned socks; as we all know, the dryer eats them.

“Another fuckin’ basket?” the husband would scold when I’d bring home yet another wonder of wicker weavery. He just didn’t understand. “It’s not a lowly basket, honey. It’s a cozy home for a bunch of CRAP!” As my dad used to say, even Moses was a basketcase.

Then, my perfectly immobile baby turned into a wrecking ball. I remember when I first declared on facebook that he was walking. A co-worker and father of three boys commented, “Take it from me, push him down, push him down!” I quickly understood what he meant. I have scratched “trip wire” off my shopping list at least twice.

He skipped the walking stage and graduated right to running, his tootsies chauffeuring his hands to the next item on his list of “Things I Must Destroy”. He climbs the couch, King Kong style, and throws the remote behind it, where adult hands fear to forage. He hurls toys into the bathtub, then stands there, watching them lie facedown and helpless at the bottom of the porcelain ravine. He jabs his mini hockey stick at the flatscreen TV, a frequent cause of Daddy Angina. As soon as I put his wooden blocks into their designated basket, he dumps them out. And God forbid I try to build a tower with them. It’s crashing down before I get to two, which means it’s never actually a tower but a pathetic block on a sticky floor.

Around his first birthday, sitting amidst the clutter, compounded by the dread of going back to work, I snapped! I needed to simplify this house and this life – pronto. A clutter-free home is a clutter-free mind. Amen, Oprah, amen.

I realized the key to this endeavour was having less. Getting rid of the excess. Not necessarily spending less, but buying fewer - but higher quality - things. Things that last. Overall, I needed to have less “stuff”, and, in turn, lessen my carbon footprint. (Eco-Mother of the Year award imminent.)

So I started giving things to charity. The guy driving the truck with the clothesline on the side - my hero. And I started saying no to charity. Do I want your hand-me-downs? Nope. Stuff with stains on it? Dude, we’re in Torbay, not Bangladesh.

I was getting things under control, embracing my newfound simplicity. Then, a couple of months ago, I met someone, and my Sort-of-Utopia began to unravel. His name is Thomas. The cheeky one. And he wasn’t alone. He brought his whole red and green and brown and blue posse with him. There are trains and tracks everywhere. On the floor, in the couch, in my butt crack. Max goes to bed with a smiling locomotive in each hand, and wakes up with them, still in his death grip, often with a chassis impressed into his face. By Christmas, our living room will have morphed into the Island of Sodor. If Sir Topham Hat walked into my front door right now, I would not be surprised. But he would get a startle, because he’d be getting a swift kick in those high-waisted pants.

And apparently this is just the beginning. Next up? Dinkies, then Transformers, then Legos, then what? Little parts and doodads and gadgets up the yin yang. Clutter-free simplicity up in smoke. But hey, while my matchbox home is chock full of stuff and toys and trains, my beautiful boy is brimming with joy. So what are ya gonna do? Buy more baskets, that’s what.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Expect the unexpected.

You’ve probably read at least one of the “What to Expect” books. What to Expect When You’re Expecting, What to Expect the First Year, What to Expect During Labour, etc. Do these books prepare us for the joys and challenges of motherhood? Or do they just give us a false sense of preparedness for a journey one can’t possibly be prepared for?

Take my wonderful (sarcasm) birthing experience, for starters. Did I have a birth plan? Not really. I knew I was going to have to play this sucker by ear. I just had one request – drugs, and lots of ‘em. Seriously. I was THIS close to making a t-shirt that read “Stick that epi in my dural,” for my arrival at the hospital. Just so they were 100% clear on where I stood.

Things couldn’t have gone more tits up. I got induced, and when the Sauce of Satan (oxytocin) kicked in, things went from 0 to 60 faster than you can say episiotomy. Just a couple hours into it and I’m begging for narcotics. In comes the anesthesiologist – my handsome knight in shining scrubs. Thank you, baby Jesus. But my world is suddenly shattered with the sound of Nurse Ratched’s voice. “Sorry, hun, you’re fully dilated. No drugs for you.” Like a horror scene in slow motion, I watched the anesthesiologist wheel away his wares. That ugly, stingy bastard.

Long story short, I gave birth without so much as an aspirin. I felt everything. EV-REE-THING. As the doctor stitched me up, I kept kicking him out of sheer reflex. Yeah, my birth plan was really working out. Give birth like it’s 1865 – check! Roundhouse kick the doctor in the throat – check! So far, so good.

I thought I was prepared to bring baby Max home. To my husband’s horror, I had all the gear. All of it. Max hated the swing, the sling, and his 800-dollar crib. I’m selling the works of it, and the next kid is going in the sock drawer, Benjamin Button style.

I was prepared for the sleepness nights, but I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to sleep train a ginger. In the dark of night, I could see his orange wig glowing like the fires of Hades as he howled for hours on end. As soon as he started sleeping through the night, or so I thought, he’d cut a tooth or discover a third lung and resume his vociferous battle with slumber once again. At first, when people asked me if he was sleeping through the night, I’d say yes and knock on wood. Now I (yawn) just pretend (yawn) I don’t hear them.

Nobody prepared me for the Great Boob Catastrophe either. Sure, I knew breastfeeding was going to be draining. But I thought the extra boobage would last, like an eternal token of gratitude from Mother Nature for suckling her latest creation. She is an Indian giver, clearly. Why didn’t anyone tell me my boobs would wind up looking like golf balls in tube socks? WHY??? I went from a D cup while breastfeeding, to an A. I haven’t worn an A cup since grade 8. Not cool. I need at least a B to achieve equilibrium with my ass.

So, does reading everything under the sun tell us what to expect? Sure. It gives us some insight into this scary, unknown world called motherhood. But alas, we must remember – nothing in life works out exactly the way we plan. We are in control – to a point. We have to just go with it. Roll with the punches. Tuck our boobs into our socks and embrace the unexpected.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Time waits for no mom.

So this is my first official blog entry. It’s for working mothers, which includes all mothers, really. (Stay-at-home mothers have one of the hardest jobs on earth, next to lion tamers and North Atlantic crab fishermen.) But I won’t bore you with things you already know. I’m here to say something different. Of course, I’m not sure what that is yet. I’ll just wing it and see what comes out, kinda like giving birth. Is it going to be ugly? Is it going to have goo all over it? Am I going to poop? Probably. But hey, it’ll be entertaining.

So, my first topic – time. There is never enough of it! I remember when I was on maternity leave, I’d go days on end without showering and eating nothing but muffins. I used to wonder what mothers did on mat leave, with all that TIME! Bah! Max sure showed me. He consumed me – my time, my social life, my nipples. Every three days, I’d look in the mirror, pick the blueberries out of my teeth and scrape the puke off my shirt. MILF? Yeah, if the F stood for Flog.

Now that I’m back to work, there’s a different kind of timelessness. I get up, wrestle with Max (and my hair) to get us both ready for the day, drop him off at the sitter, and get to work right on time, and by “right on time” I mean 10 minutes late, thanks to the Torbay Road shit snake. I work all morning, buy diapers and food at lunchtime, go back to work for the afternoon, and get home in time to feed, bathe and tuck the boy into bed, with some love jammed in there somewhere. Then I look at the husband. Nope, no time for that. I have bills to pay, work to finish, and sheep to count.

Then again, when you’re home with the kids with no escape except death, there is a little too much time, isn’t there? It’s barely noon and you’re already asking for sweet release, aka bedtime. We know we shouldn’t wish our time away -- life is short! We’re fully aware that in 10 or 20 years, our hearts will ache for these days of choo-choo trains and apple sauce. And yet we urge time onward. Because, in spite of our superhuman, multi-tasking maternal skills, we are human.

I don’t have time for anything. Especially not this blog.