Category Archives: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Everything Has a Home

“Cleanliness is next to godliness” – ancient proverb

“Out of clutter, find simplicity” – Albert Einstein

“Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions” – Barbara Hemphill


Oh, yes. I agree – clutter is the worst. Once upon a time I was organized. Everything had a place. What a sweet, sweet time that was. Counters were clear, laundry was folded and put away, recycling was taken out, and if something wasn’t needed then off to donation box it went. The floors were clear and end tables held only lamps and maybe a coffee cup (okay, definitely a coffee cup).

Glorious days, my friends. Glorious, tidy, streamlined days.

Then we had kids and our house became inhabited by these little people and all their little people things. But I was determined to keep our home clutter-free. We bought storage containers and decorative baskets. There was a Car Basket and a Book Basket and a shelf for puzzles. For a little while this worked, but eventually the grown-ups were outnumbered and the children were expected to take on some of the cleaning responsibility, and things changed.

“Clean” became “clean-ish”. Tidy meant that stuff wasn’t laying around on the main floor, but only a brave soul would venture into other regions of the house. And closing the basement door was all that was necessary for it to be deemed “put-away”.

Standards were lowered. But not forever and not completely. The anti-clutter side of me comes out every now and then. The family knows it’s coming when I start saying things like, “this is not preschool!” and “EVERYTHING HAS A HOME PUT THINGS IN THEIR HOME”. This generally results in me being offered some “quiet time” and Bearded Husband quietly ushers the children from the home amidst whispers of “she’ll be fine, everything will be okay, just get in the van boys.”

That’s when the magic happens.

Jackets are hung up on their hooks. Bedding is folded and placed on the correct shelves. Receipts are thrown out and library books are gathered for return. The craft area gets purged and all the art supplies fit in their decorative bins. When the house is tidied, I feel calm and smiley. It’s a great feeling.

And then the family returns and this happens.

(These photograph have in no way been altered or staged)

IMG_0954

EVERYTHING HAS A HOME

IMG_2683

PUT THE THINGS IN THEIR HOME

IMG_2682

IMG_3594

One day I will miss the clutter and chaos that a house full of kids brings, it’s true. But I wouldn’t mind being able to close a closet door all the way. Just once.

 


The Talk

“Well, that’s called a scrotum and the marble-y things are actually called testicles,” I explained to one of our four sons as my husband walked by the room, gave me a thumbs up and whispered, “You’re doing a great job.”

Wait, wait, wait. How did this happen? When our fourth son was born and I officially became a “Mom of Boys”, I anticipated some things that would come with that title: wet toilet seats, potty talk, unending food preparation, burps, farts, potty talk, so much potty talk.

Years ago I knew there would some potentially uncomfortable conversations to be had, and I was mentally prepared for some chats or questions. At some point I’d fill them in on the pertinent information regarding females, but I did not anticipate that I would be the sole one giving “the talk”. And I especially did not anticipate giving it to all four sons.

I’m not saying my husband bribed them to wait to ask the really big questions until his baseball tournament last summer, but I’m not not saying it either. Or perhaps he really undersold himself and has been dropping hints for years that Mom should be the one to address all things bodily function-related? Come to think of it, I also took the lead on toilet training all four boys, including the various peeing options. I even taught the youngest how to pee against a tree. How did this happen?

Lots of moms take this role all the time and I know I am fully capable of addressing questions and explaining how babies are made. But I did not expect to do this when my husband was in the next room. Listening in. And deciding not to chime in. Oh, and here’s another interesting tidbit, as a grade five teacher he covers this in the health curriculum every year. So. Not what I expected, indeed.

How does one go about teaching the facts of life to four offspring varying in ages from four to ten? Divide and conquer. And it helps to have a book at the ready.

A prepared and organized parent would have already purchased a book for that fateful day. Alas, we took a spur-the-moment field trip to the library. The sex-ed gods showed favour on this frazzled mom and an ideal book was found. IMG_2163

That evening I told the older boys that they could read through it and then I would check in to clarify or answer any questions. This went surprisingly smooth and I fielded their inquiries like a seasoned pro. “Well, he’s not actually making a tent, sometimes, when a boy wakes up in the morning…”

The challenge came when chatting with a younger son. I was very clear that the  information he learned was for him and not his friends or classmates. “Their parents get to decide when they learn about this. You don’t decide for them.” He nodded sagely. “And this is a topic we discuss within our family, not when friends come over, got it?” Again, he nodded in agreement.

By that point I felt comfortable covering the basics. Third time was the charm – I only had to answer a few questions with “we can talk about that later” and an occasional shrug.

“Why would you even want to do that? And with your clothes off?” 

“What kind of jock strap do girls wear?”

“Wait, we came out of where?”

Educating children about puberty and sex doesn’t end in one conversation. I knew the topic would be discussed many times. The next day I heard some whispers of “ball sack” and “so hairy” and “freckles” (pretty sure they meant nipples, but I wasn’t wading back into that so soon).

I was congratulating myself on my ability to think quickly and handle that milestone effectively (and on my own). I was so preoccupied with my success that at first I thought nothing of it when I found my two youngest boys sitting together on the couch when I returned from outside. Upon closer examination I discovered the older one had taken the lead in explaining changing bodies to his younger brother, with our new book as his guide.

“Girls don’t actually have a penis, they have an angina” he was describing with barely-suppressed glee as his baby brother looked at him with a mixture of fascination and disbelief.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I said in shock, “We went over this. That message was just for you, remember?

He replied, “I know. What’s the problem? He is family.”

 

 


That’s Okay

Mission Impossible theme plays. You sense the tension mounting. It’s only a matter of time. This thing is going to blow. Take cover!

Okay.200-1

Okay? That’s it? This house is about to self-destruct in an epic way and you come back with “OKAY”?

Okay.

What does that even mean? Aren’t you going to intervene? DO SOMETHING!

Okay.

There you go again, just calmly sitting there. We want to see some action. Panic. Even a raised heart rate. GIVE US SOME REACTION, WOMAN.

Okay.

________________

It has taken me years to get to this point, and I sometimes still fall into the snare that those little tyrants set, trying to pull me into the dark abyss that is “Their Problem”. I am mostly certain that this technique evolved out of inertia, nay laziness, but it works. Trust me.

He took more chips than me.200-2

Okay.

He won’t pass the grapes.

Okay.

He called me a dummy.

Okay.

She’s breathing on me.

Okay.

It’s my turn to choose a show/use the iPad/sit in the front/

Okay.200

He didn’t take the one he touched.

Okay.

This mustard is too spicy.

Okay.

He pointed at me.

Okay.

He picked his nose.

Okay (but wash your hands, that’s gross).

He peed on the floor.

Okay. Wait, what? (there are some exceptions).

For added effect, just shrug without making eye contact. You’ll foster more resiliency, problem-solving skills in your children, and your wine budget line will decrease significantly. It’s science.

Okay?

Okay.

_________

200-3

*This technique also works with adults, but with varying results. More testing is needed.


Outdoor Education

Spring has finally arrived which means tugging on our rubber boots and heading out for walks in the local “forest” after the morning drop-off at school.

“I’m just going to get that big stick.”

“Actually, it’s still in the ground, so it’s a tree, not a stick, we’ll find another one.”

“Ok. Hey! Look at the bird’s nest – another one! Another one! ANOTHER ONE!”

And so it went. We tromped around in the newly thawed earth, enjoying the sound of our boots sticking in the mud.

“There’s that green stuff! And there, and THERE!” Today we learned that “green stuff” is moss and likes damp, dark places. Followed by a timely reminder of why we empty our lunch bags every day.

“I can see that tree used to have three parts. Why is it on the ground now?”

As we discussed the possible reasons a tree might fall, I basked in the glow of the intermittent sunshine, the smell of the world finally waking up to spring, and the sounds of birds chirping. I might have even been feeling some pride at my laissez-faire approach to the day. I have no agenda, I’m just going to relax and savour this time with my little guy, look at me being so “in the moment I’m not even taking any pictures.”

My reverie came to a screeching halt.

“AHHH! AHHHH!”

On the path, less than one metre away was…

a

dead

duck

And it was HORRIFYING.

We both gawked in silence for a moment and then ran away. I mean RAN.

I don’t know why I was running, I’m an adult, but Little told me “I thought he was going to eat me.”

At this point, I tried to get back to our previously fun adventure mode. I suggested we take the long way home, maybe check out the creek. Little wanted nothing to do with that. Offers to go to the park were declined. “Let’s just go home,” he told me.

I could not get the dead duck image out of my mind and wondered how much it scarred my youngest until he chirped up, “I HAVE to tell the boys what we saw.” And moments later we spied a worm on the sidewalk that he concluded was “napping.”

Childhood innocence remains intact.

As for the duck? I took care of it. I left a long, detailed voicemail for the people who take care of those things. I’m sure they’ll have no trouble finding the duck corpse “in the forest behind the school right near the fence that lines the soccer field, not the field by the road, the one at the back of the school yard. On the mud path, by a tree.”

Now I know what to do if I come across a dead dolphin.

Now I know what to do if I come across a dead dolphin.


House Rules for a House Full of Boys

Nothing prepares you for being a parent of a house full of boys. You can read a multitude of online posts or buy all the parenting books you like, but reality is the best teacher (and she’s merciless). Since I’m in the midst of raising four boys aged ten and under, I will try to help you out a bit and share a few of our house rules. Shake your head and dismiss them if you like, but one day you’ll discover your son cleaning his penis with a toothbrush and you’ll whisper, “She was right, about all the things.”

House Rules for a House Full of Boys

1. Pants are not optional. Ok, they are, but there are conditions. For instance, when we have company. If the doorbell rings, you find those pants and put them on as quickly as possible. Also, you are not permitted to suggest pants removal to any of your friends. Mommy doesn’t want to get arrested. And no matter how much you enjoy the “comfort” and “freedom” of wearing just your skivvies, pants must be worn for any and all meals. Especially in the dining room. Yes, even if it’s just pizza.

2. Change your underwear. Every day. Clean ones. They might look clean, they might smell clean, but no. It’s non-negotiable.

Clever, but seriously, stop it.

Clever, but seriously, stop it.

3. Potty Talk: There’s a Time and a Place. I get it, farts are funny. I can appreciate a well-executed burp, I’ll even join in. But you have to know when and where this is okay. Hanging out in our basement? Sure. But the grocery store line is not the place to announce that your “penis is sticky.” If you do let a silent and deadly one rip, don’t feel the need to announce it, especially in the middle of a restaurant…with your grandparents. Randomly tossing out phrases like “butt crack” and “poop” are only hilarious to you and your brothers, move on.

4. We only lick food. Preferably your own. Doorknobs, seat backs, and other people are not recommended. And please refrain from telling your brother he will get super powers if he licks the bottom of his shoe.

5. If the bathroom door is shut, walk away. I get it, you know I’m trapped and you’ll get my undivided attention, but your request for “more Netflix” or the need to tell me your pants “feel weird” will be better received once I’m done. Same goes for tattles about your siblings. I’m not willing to play Judge, Jury, and Executioner from behind a closed door. Go away. And while you’re at it, ignore any sounds that resemble candy wrappers being opened, that’s strictly your imagination.

6. Mommy’s appearance is off limits. Unless of course, it’s a compliment. Please refrain from observing that my arms are “floppy” or my bum is “fluffy”. I don’t need confirmation that I look tired or that my legs are “scratchy”. I have a mirror, I’m self-aware. Please resist pointing out my gray hairs or a new wrinkle. Those are your fault anyways. I’d like to blame you for stray chin whiskers, but let’s at least pretend they aren’t visible. And my tummy is squishy because of you and your brothers (possibly from apathy and chocolate consumption, but mostly from you.)

7. Outside Stays Outside. Water guns do not get used indoors. I don’t care how much you love and cherish the cricket you found in the garden, it’s not a pet you’re keeping in your room. Baseball equipment was specially designed for outdoor use, act accordingly. Snowball fights in the front hall would be amazing. No.

8. Listen to Your Mother. I might not have pinched my penis in a dresser drawer, but I have life experience on my side. If you drop a bouncy ball in the toilet, I recommend you just throw it out, but at the very least do not put it in your mouth. If you breakdance naked, you will get carpet burns. Just because you “tried it with Daddy and no one got hurt” does not mean it’s a good idea.

Parting words of advice: It helps, but saying “voila!” after you do something naughty will not get you off the hook.


DIY Cheese Strings

Parents, are you like me and feel that cheese strings are an overly-processed waste of money? Then have I got a solution for you. Read on to learn my incredibly easy way to make wholesome, 100% Real Canadian Cheese strings that fit any budget. Yes, ANY budget (as long as you don’t overspend on the band-aids).

Step 1.  Choose your big brick of cheese.

I went with the Old Cheddar, but marble, mozzarella, medium all work equally well. Feeling adventurous? Why not Havarti?

I went with the Old Cheddar, but marble, mozzarella, medium all work equally well. Feeling adventurous? Why not havarti?

Step 2. Slice a large chunk of cheese. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, it’s the slant that makes it interesting.

Not too big, keep their expectations manageable.

Not too big, keep their expectations manageable.

Step 3. Slice in half, lengthwise.

Again, symmetry is overrated.

Again, symmetry is overrated.

Step 4. Serve. Any complaints that these don’t actually pull apart into “strings” are covered by stating, “You can have cheese in strings or you can have Netflix. Choose wisely.”

Step 5. Wipe up any blood and elevate your hand. Ok, maybe this should have been Step 4.

I do my own stunts.

I do my own stunts.

You’re welcome.


Tell Us Where the Clicker is and No One Gets Hurt

No one is in trouble, we’re not angry, Mommy and Daddy just really need to know where the remote is. Think hard, boys. It’s the tiny, lightweight, easily lost clicker.

Ok, close your eyes and concentrate. You were all sitting on the couch, remember? Then I came in and said it was time to pause the movie. Who got off the couch first and where was the clicker? You think you had it in your hand? Left or right? How certain are you? And then you walked where? And what were the rest of you boys doing exactly? 

So no one can remember for certain that the clicker left the coffee table yet it isn’t there now. Let’s play a fun game I like to call “Everyone Empty Your Pockets.”

Alright, alright, *deep, calming breath* if it’s not anywhere we can see it, it must be in or under something. Everybody up, I’ll check the couch, you boys check the toy bins.

Thus began The Great Clicker Hunt of 2014.

Toy baskets were overturned and the contents sorted. Repeatedly, you know, in case we overlooked something. We found an incredible selection of old elastics, Happy Meal Toy components, and random bits of Lego, but no clicker.

Next we launched Operation Couch Query. After reaching into the cracks and crevices and discovering enough cereal and pretzels to make lunches for the next day for the entire family, no clicker turned up. We decided to be more thorough. Bearded Husband stepped on the springs while I bravely reached even farther into the depths of the chesterfield. This time I came upon eight Hot Wheels cars, more snack food, two allen keys (what?), and a small piece of my sanity. Since we were being thorough and still clicker-less, I took a few moments to vacuum up the shame-filled couch.

Our hopes would rise and fall in rapid succession as our offspring discovered treasure they’d long forgotten resulted in me saying through gritted teeth, “No more saying ‘look what I found!’ unless it’s that clicker. I don’t care how excited you are that you found Gary from the Guess Who game, my heart can’t take it.”

It was there one minute and gone the next. Everyone was perplexed. We reviewed our search grid looking for oversights. The only thing to do was double check. And bribe the children. We offered a $5 reward to the son who had any information leading the safe return of the clicker and ice cream for the whole family to celebrate its return. This infused the search with a new energy and children scattered throughout the house and hunted with gusto.

We had narrowed down the possible locations based on the testimony of our eldest son. He was “pretty sure” he had the clicker in his hand when he stood up to move his army men. But his memory is fuzzy after that. Where else could it be except the couch.

Despite our thorough ferreting around we concluded it must be there, we just needed to look deeper. Brace yourselves, dear reader, this is where things get real.

We turned the couch on its side and shook it. Yes! I hear that rattle, too. Out came the crowbar, screwdriver and flashlight. We took the cover off the bottom and delved into the underbelly of the sofa. Nothing.

I wouldn't lie to you, here's proof.

I wouldn’t lie to you, here’s proof.

I reconsidered the nine-year-old’s testimony and expanded the search grid. No possibility was dismissed. I pawed through the kitchen garbage and touched raw chicken with MY BARE HANDS, but I would not give up! Sure, now we had the tools to assemble a desk from IKEA, but I had shows to watch – THIS WAS TOP PRIORITY. 

“Let’s go over this one more time and remember, no one is in trouble here, we just want to find it. Full immunity to any party involved in this devastating disappearance.”

As I descended the stairs after a fruitless search of the bedrooms, our oldest son gleefully announced “I FOUND IT”. Then that little darling turned his spiteful little face and announced, “it was on the counter under the lunch bag that MOM put there.”

Allegedly.

Full immunity, remember?

We repaired the faulty back rest, you know, since we'd opened it up anyways.

We repaired the faulty springs, you know, since we’d opened it up anyways.