No, Really, What’s That Smell?

I live in a house with four sons. It is loud and fun and chaotic. At any time you might find a pair of socks on the counter, paper airplanes in the light fixtures, or Lego pieces on the steps. Mostly I embrace these reminders of the high level of testosterone in our home. I don’t really know any different from my life with five males and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

EXCEPT.

Except the smell. We have tried to teach them manners and overall I think we have done okay. Then we have a run of “toilet humor days” and I feel like I’m failing. The gas is overwhelming and no amount of gentle and not-so-gentle reminders shuts down the flatulence.

This weekend was one of those weekends. We were in line for a live Nativity show and I thought a lamb was loudly bleating only to discover it was a massive belch from one of my offspring. While I was impressed with his sheer volume and pitch, I doubt Mary and Joseph were in awe (or the other patrons).

I was cozied up on the couch trying to recharge when I heard odd noises from the walls. Two brothers were farting to each other through the furnace grates. This time I pretended not to notice and kept on reading.

So when I went upstairs Sunday evening to put laundry away and there was an odour so thick you could see it, I had had enough. “THIS ENTIRE HOUSE STINKS AND I AM NOT IMPRESSED WITH ANY OF YOU” I shouted as I headed to the master bathroom. It was there I discovered the real source of the smell. Our sink drain was being cleared and there was a container of standing water under the pipe. I took decisive action and flushed the contents down the toilet. Done and done. The smell would dissipate. Yup, look at me being proactive and taking charge. Solving all the problems.

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So clean. So empty of stinky standing water.

Yes, gentle reader, I was pretty proud of myself. Pretty proud, indeed. That is until I released the handle and watched the murky water swirling far, far away with all the miscellaneous sink contents with it. That’s when I panicked.

You see, a few days ago my sweet husband dropped my earring down the sink. I own one pair of not-costume earrings. They aren’t fancy, but they don’t turn my skin green after a few uses. wp-15444065419257388005211613944868.jpg

Not to point fingers, but I often place my earrings in the soap dish. And by often I mean every night. It wouldn’t be a surprise that my earrings are in the soap dish then, right? But on this day one of the not-cheap earrings was stuck on the bar of soap and dropped down the drain. Again, not blaming anyone but that soap did not pick itself up, JUST SAYING.

So for the next few days the sink was closed to prevent further travels of my beloved jewellery into the sewage system until proper attention could be paid to the drain. It was fine. I got used to brushing my teeth over the tub and changing all my other normal routines in order to preserve half of a gift from my mother. My beloved mother. It’s cool. I’m a very patient person. Plus I mostly forgot until I went to brush my teeth.

Plumbing day arrived and that’s where the stories collide.

My precious, one-of-a-kind earrings gifted to me by my mother. I remember that day so well. She leaned over and whispered in my ear, “these are for you, my most favourite child. Your life with all those males will be one of occasional hardship. May these earrings remind you of happy times and help you not to lose your temper.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

Now those treasured earrings are gone – with one well-intentioned flush. Swishing and sloshing their way to the big water treatment plant in the sky.

At least the sink drains properly now.

RIP semi-precious earrings. We had a good run.

The moral of this story? Don’t use bar soap.


Update: After digging around in the pipe catcher thingey, my earring was discovered! It’s a stinky miracle!

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A Sweet Addition

We have some big news around here an I am so excited to share it with you, dear reader.

As you may recall, I enjoy having a bigger-than-typical family. Our crew of four boys brings me joy and I am grateful for them all and the (mostly) delightful chaos they bring into our home. Some well-meaning friends have suggested we get a dog to add to the mix. Hilarious.

We are not getting a pet (beyond the beta fish that has miraculously survived longer than its three departed predecessors). There is no cat, hamster, or guinea pig on the horizon. We went in a different direction. Five of us were on board with this decision right from the start. It took some convincing, but eventually my husband saw the wisdom of procuring our new family member.

Please help me welcome, Big Bag of Chocolate.

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So glad we captured this precious moment. The whole family helped with the selection.

 

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Christmas – such a magical season.
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Cozy winter nights are perfect for reading with loved ones.
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I would have shared the blanket, but melting is a real concern.
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Hobbies are more fun when you share them with family.
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Almost forgot how to do a sling. Almost.
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Always ready to ruin things with healthy options, my husband.

Happy holidays! May your season be chocolate-filled.

Crayon Time Travel

I have been inside schools my entire life. First as a student and then for the past two decades as a teacher. That is a lot of hallways, classrooms, and offices. And smells. Oh, the smells. Wet shoes, basketballs, the glue we are no longer allowed to use due to “health concerns”, paint, and crayons.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The crayons.

Any time I smell that sweet tang of a fresh box of crayons I flashback to my elementary school. Not my high school or the first school I taught in. Always and forever that smell reminds me of a very specific time and place. I went there for eight years, but the memory is always of grade three and me wearing a green t-shirt. An oddly specific yet at the same time unimportant memory.

Memories are funny that way.

Just like an 80s sitcom that decided to phone it in and do a flashback episode, I can be instantly transported to the past by just a smell. Maybe it’s my superpower, who’s to say? I have yet to unleash its full potential, that’s for sure, and it is definitely competing with my other power of disposing of secret snack wrappers. But it is real and I feel like it is getting stronger with time, much like the cracking sound my knees make BUT WE AREN’T TALKING ABOUT THAT TODAY.

Every spring when the peonies and lilacs come out I find myself riding my old blue ten-speed bike with a bouquet of freshly-cut flowers for my teacher. They are wrapped in a wet paper towel and I clutch them tightly with one hand while navigating the short ride to school with my other. I can still see them atop Miss Zondervan’s desk in a green vase.

Walking into a home that has coffee brewing is a direct pipeline to my Aunt Steffie’s kitchen on a Sunday morning. Our families alternated homes for post-church “coffee” (it’s a Dutch thing) and one whiff of that sweet elixir being made and I can see the machine in the corner of her kitchen while she places sweets on a plate as if I am standing there today.

Winter brings early evenings, Christmas lights, and cozy fires. I might be in the van or taking a walk when the distinct scent of crackling fire from a nearby home is in the air, and bam! I am in our maroon Oldsmobile 88  on a winter night heading to my Uncle Jake’s house for a Christmas party. The kids all hung out in his basement with the massive console TV and ate chips in freedom from the adults laughing it up in the living room. Those were the nights that if you stayed out of sight long enough your parents forgot you were there and you could stay up extra late with the big kids.

Did you ever have a pair of mittens that fit great when you first got them, but soon the thumb hole on one didn’t line up and you were forced to wear them with your one thumb cramping from being held at a weird angle? That’s not just me, be honest. If I smell a wet wool mitten, I can feel my left thumb tingle with the memory of a pair of mauve mitts from 1980-something. Stacey in my class had the same pair and we often mixed them up when they were drying on the heather in the hallway. But we could always figure out which pair was mine because FAULTY THUMB HOLE.

I could write a whole series of posts on memories conjured up by simple smells:

Jiffy Pop = Mrs. St. Pierre’s house on a Friday night.

Black licorice = the jellybeans my grandpa kept in his shirt pocket.

A freshly-lit candle = my childhood kitchen.

Newly-applied nail polish – getting my nails painted gold by my big sister.

Freshly-scooped pumpkin guts = roasting seeds in kindergarten with Mrs. Laurence.

Just-opened bag of chips = playing games with my cousins at Auntie Ina’s house.

Tim Hortons chocolate dip doughnut = getting ready for a family road trip by picking up a party pack.

These memories seem to all be chunked into my early years. I’m not sure about its significance or if there is any rhyme or reason. But it happens more and more and I’m not complaining.

These are simple memories, not the trips we took or the long-coveted gifts I received. They are every day events. The common factor is that they are all connected to family and friends. Sharing those day-to-day moments with people who mattered are what I keep conjuring.

Sometimes I worry that time is going by too quickly and we haven’t done enough or been enough for our kids. But we eat dinner together, play card games (even though they cheat at Old Maid), brew tea and pop popcorn. Maybe we’re depositing into their olfactory memories and one day the smell of freshly-baked brownies will cause them to pause and call their mom. Or text. I’ll take it.

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May the smell of clean laundry bring back the time you had no dry underwear and since we didn’t have a dryer we were forced to improvise.

Cross Cana-don’t

A beautiful summer evening at the community park is the perfect setting for playground games with neighbours. Or so you’d think.

It started out as a casual and active game of Mulch Man (a combination of the classic Tag and Sandman, but on mulch). There was laughter and joking and connections between friends. The squealing when a player just missed being caught could be heard across the field. Glorious. Just glorious.

Until it wasn’t.

Some of the children suggested we move on to a different game, namely Cross Canada. Essentially, all participants line up on one end of the playing area while the Tagger calls out a characteristic. If you have the characteristic, you may cross safely to the other side of “Canada”. After that, everyone just books it. If tagged, you join the Tagger until one player remains.

Just another classic game, right? Some harmless fun.

Nope.

The first round or two were innocuous: “Cross Canada if you are wearing blue” and “Cross Canada if you are older than seven” and “Cross Canada if you have kids.” Innocent enough. Then there was an almost imperceptible shift. The sky darkened (nevermind that it was sunset, that is just a coincidence) and a breeze travelled across the playing area.

“Cross Canada if you’re wearing shoes”. That eliminated myself and three family members because we are clearly lax in our footwear safety.

“Cross Canada if you took a bath this week.” We have a pool, we’re on a hygiene holiday. It’s fine.

“Cross Canada if cheese is your favourite food.” This feels like it’s getting pretty personal now.

That’s when I heard one of my children whisper to the neighbour kid, “You don’t have to be the fastest, you just have to be faster than my mom.” First of all: hurtful. Second: accurate, but please refer to previous point. I do have feelings.

“Cross Canada if you are wearing underwear.” Only two out of the five of us could rightly travel to safety on the other side of the field. This was beyond personal and was going to require answers none of us were ready to provide.

“Alright, everyone! Looks like it’s getting close to bedtime so I think we’ll just wrap this up before any more family secrets are spilled. Thanks for the play!”

Despite me being the one to shut down this session of Cross Canada, make no mistake, reader. I intend to use this new knowledge to my advantage. I volunteer to be Tagger all the time.

“Cross Canada if you loaded your dishes into the dishwasher.”

“Cross Canada if you are the one who broke my earbuds.”

“Cross Canada if you recently spilled pop on the basement carpet.”

“Cross Canada if you just put your clothes back in the dirty laundry because you didn’t want to refold them.”

Cross Canada. Cross Canada, indeed.

 

 

 

It’s All About Consistency

Raising kids is not easy, as any parent will exhaustedly tell you. There are universal challenges like temper tantrums and picky eaters, and more unique issues such as my sons’ habit of putting trash just behind the kitchen garbage pail where it gets shoved to back of the cupboard. All the time. Which means I strain my shoulder reaching back there to retrieve the wrappers and that has nothing to do with my less-than-ideal exercise regime. No, YOU need to stretch more often.

ANYWAYS. If I have learned anything over the past thirteen years or so of this motherhood gig, it is the importance of consistency. Children thrive on knowing limits and it’s our job as the adults to care enough to put those boundaries in place. So consistency is super important. Consistency and the ability to hide the good snacks to eat when the kids aren’t around. There is no point in wasting the fancy chips on the same kids who like door handles. But consistency, yes, that is very important.

It’s also a good idea to have a cover story for when your kids happen upon you while you are shoving peanut butter cups into your mouth.  I find something like “it’s spicy, you won’t like it” or “it’s just a sugar-free protein bar – tastes like sadness” usually does the trick. Being prepared is also important.

Consistency, hiding snacks, and lying being prepared – all key to successful parenting.

Claiming the essential role of consistency is easy, but executing it is a whole different scenario. For instance, you declare that screen time is over, but then fall asleep for thirty sweet, sweet minutes. Tough to nail your kids for playing longer than allowed when you benefited from their disobedience. And so you enter into a silent agreement not to tell Daddy that Mommy is lax in the enforcement of the screen rules. Or (hypothetically) you allow your offspring “just two cookies because we need to be healthy” but then find yourself jonesing for a third so you proclaim it “Three Cookie Day” and again agree to keep it amongst yourselves*.

Consistency, hiding snacks, preparedness, and discretion. The four tenets of solid parenting.

Once you get into the habit of saying what you mean and meaning what you say, it becomes easier. For instance, years ago I high-fived one of the boys for a stellar belch and now they consistently look to me for an atta-boy whenever they rip one off.  See? They know what to expect. Consistency.

There are critics out there (i.e. spouses) who might call your consistency into question. Why just the other day my husband pointed out an infraction of our agreement to avoid potty talk or the inappropriate use of the names of body parts. And I must admit that he had a point. We have routinely told our boys that discussing private parts or bodily functions is not the criteria for intelligent or polite conversation. However, the four brothers were sitting together giggling as they reassigned the nickname on the iPad to “Penis”. Hearing Siri say that in casual conversation is hilarious and if you can avoid laughing about it then you are a robot. It will never not be hilarious and I will laugh every time. Consistently.

See? It’s easy.

You’re welcome.

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Whoopie Cushions will never not be funny. Fact.

Change is the Worst

It’s that time of year again…

Tough Bananas

The other day I was listening to a podcast. There I said it. I am a podcast listener. It was the latest episode of Revisionist History and they were discussing The Paradox of Theseus Ship. The gist of it is that if a ship is changed gradually over time wherein planks are replaced one by one, is it still the same ship as when it was first built?

As always, I enjoyed the episode (it’s a good podcast, and it’s hosted by a Canadian, give it a listen) and it helped pass the time as I cleaned the toilets, put clothes away and packed lunches. It made me think, but only for a few moments and then I moved on to bedtime routines and planning for the week ahead.

A day or two passed in a blur and then we had a staff meeting. As a rule, teaching is all…

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Jenga Community

You take a block from the bottom and you put it on top. You take a block from the middle and you put it on top.

It teeters and it totters.

It weebles and it wobbles, but you don’t give up.

In September my teaching partner and I opened up a new pack of Jenga. Not literally, of course, but humour me. We opened up the box and there were twenty-eight fresh new blocks. Each one had a name and a story. They looked similar, but once you looked closer you could see the lines and grains that made each piece unique.

Gradually, over the days, weeks, and months, we created a tower together. Other pieces played pivotal roles: our fairy godmothers who brought us apples to feed hungry learners, guest teachers who taught us problem-solving and teamwork, community officers who cared enough to teach us about safety concerns. Steadily and quietly a Music teacher, a French teacher, the Special Education team and school administration came alongside and with care and intentionality created a strong foundation. Cheering and encouraging us in the background were yard duty teachers, support staff, and parents.

A few times our tower teetered. It tottered. It even toppled. But each time we picked up the pieces and rebuilt our tower. We created something special: a classroom community.

Some students joined and some left. We kept their pieces because they are part of who we are. They were part of the creating process and therefore part of us.

Over time the pieces shifted and repositioned as friendships faded and new ones developed. We faced loss and heartache more than once. We learned to be resilient and that it is okay to cry.  Happy and sad feelings can co-exist.

Our Jenga class learned that failure is part of growing. When we attempt to do hard things we sometimes fall down, but the joy is in the rebuilding. It’s wise to be patient and reassess before jumping back in. Efficacy is a result of taking a breath, pausing, and then moving forward.

Gradually, the blocks became the builders. The students set goals and held each other accountable for their actions. They cheered each other on and checked in when a classmate struggled.img_20180619_1300209125618980449881978.jpg

During the final days of this school year we reflected on our classroom community. We took our actual blocks from the middle and put them on top. The pieces eventually toppled, because that is the purpose of the game after all, isn’t it? But it was not a failure, it was a symbol of our strength. Everyone took their block home that day knowing they could be a pivotal piece in another community.img_20180619_1304237735077294405287287.jpg

No matter where they go, they will remember that they were part of something special: our classroom family.