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.
Happy holidays! May your season be chocolate-filled.
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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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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…
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.
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.
No matter where they go, they will remember that they were part of something special: our classroom family.
“Come here. You will not believe the deal I just got. You can even tweet it if you want.”
This was music to my ears. I was intrigued.
My husband loves a good deal. I don’t mean enjoys saving money, I mean he loves a good deal. Go-to-the-farmers-market-right-before-closing kind of deals. He’s the “sure I’ll take a case of really ripe bananas simply because it’s only $2” kind of guy.
My dad once bought so many frozen french fries that our family filled every freezer space available and finally resorted to handing them out to guests as they left. All because, “they were only $.17 a bag. SEVENTEEN CENTS.” This similarity between my dad and husband is not lost on me, but that’s another post for another day.
Aaaaanyways…back to the current amazing deal.
“I saw the price and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I told myself there was no way it was correct. TWO CENTS PER 100 GRAMS*? They were giving it away!”
Gentle reader, at this point I was really hoping it was doughnuts. It was not, but he did not disappoint.
“I emptied the bin,” he proudly told me. I felt like that didn’t need to be stated. Of course he did.
“I have a confession,” he solemnly told me, “For the first time in my life I tried something in the bulk section before I bought it.” Understandable, we wouldn’t want to see that $.34 go to waste.
My money-saving spouse cuddled in beside me on the couch and carefully smoothed out the bill. “I kept the receipt. I might frame it.”
The man I married was giddy. He was riding that money-saving high. But then I noticed he been quiet for a few moments. I looked up and saw him gazing at the bundles of confectionary on our kitchen counter. “This ranks right up with that case of broccoli I got for free that time.” Yes, or as I like to call it “the time our whole house smelled like farts.”
Eventually, our 8YO sauntered into the living area and asked why Daddy had bought so much candy. “Because it was on sale. It cost $0.34.” To which our son replied, “Well, can’t pass that up.” He is now the favourite child.
Later I thought he was putting away dishes, but I found him weighing one of the bags in his hand and whispering, “so beautiful.” I think he was more excited about this deal than the births of our four sons.
He then announced to me, “This bag could get us all the way to Florida.” Note: we are not going to Florida any time soon.
I thought we had moved past discussing these chocolate buttons, but an hour into the evening he told me that “the best part was I saw our friend, Dana there, and I got to these before she did.” Competition and money-saving. This deal wrapped all his love languages into a tidy little package.
If you’re in our area, please stop by. We have what your sweet tooth needs, plus the coffee is always on. But be warned: from now on, anyone who wants to enter the house must first answer the question, “How much do you think these cost?” Be a dear, would you? And estimate high.
For twelve years the house has been the battle ground for a war no one saw coming and no one wanted.
Good versus evil, dark versus light, brother pitted against brother. Wait, no, mother versus all the boys.
The invasion was slow and insideous at first. A few dinky cars here, a rogue block there. Then another son was born, and the arsenol grew. Legos entered the fray, more dinky cars. Soon action figures could be found strewn across the steps. It was no longer safe to traverse the basement, a talking toy could be triggered at the slightest movement.
This home was no longer the mother’s domain, the children had taken over.
As the offsprings’ numbers and independence grew, so did the snacks. The crumbs, sweet Moses, the crumbs! Entire muffins were decimated and left as a warning to future carbs. Beware, no bread product is safe from these kids. RUN WHILE YOU CAN.
Silly Putty in the furnace ducts, abandoned socks on coffee tables, Nerf bullets in the toilets, Star Wars figures in the nativity sets. The horror.
The mother’s cries of “THIS IS NOT A PRESCHOOL” and “WHY ARE THERE MARBLES IN THE FRYING PAN?” were met with silence or half-hearted attempts to tidy. She raised the stakes and threatened “if it’s on the floor it’s out the door” but everyone knew she wouldn’t follow through.
“I just want one clear space for my coffee cup,” the mother whisper-cried as she tossed “art” into the recycling bin. “Everything has a home! Let’s keep our things in their home and please stop using my scarves to build forts” she sing-songed manically while gathering up granola bar wrappers from the underneath the couch.
And then it happened.
Was it just a happy little accident, that years of stepping over Lego minefields seemed to solve itself? Perhaps.
Her weapon? Bobby pins.
Did she leave them in her pockets on purpose? Was it her plan all along that the pins would end up going through the wash? Did she know that this oversight would result in bobby pins ending up in bedsheets, hoodie pockets, and bath towels for the family to disover with great annoyance? Was her subconcious exacting retribution? And now that the family has discovered how frustrating it was to have a house overrun with tiny and pokey objects left haphazardly in her wake, would she be more careful?
She wasn’t a warm or doting person, I don’t think it was anything personal, it just wasn’t her nature. Gruff, no-nonsense, and strict are apt descriptors. When I recall my time as a grade three student, complete with my terrible mullet and gangly arms and legs, my memories include learning the Canadian provinces and capitals, cursive writing, long division, and her. Miss Van Gurp.
She had a reputation for being mean. Haven’t we all had that teacher? The one the kids whisper about on the playground and warn you to avoid? The teacher you hope you don’t have. The teacher you inevitably get.
Miss Van Gurp didn’t put up with antics. She indeed was strict, to the point of smacking hands with a metal ruler if you really stepped out of line (the rumours were true!). She wasn’t a smiler and she demanded compliance. She was not an adult who doled out hugs or high fives. You were expected to do your work and you simply received a quiet nod for a job well done.
Students often forget that teachers have multiple sides and aspects to their lives and characters. We all tend to forget that about each other, don’t we? We put people into boxes and categories, unaware of the subtext of people’s actions and words.
Recently a post popped up in my social media feed of a citrus fruit fundraiser for an elementary school and it reminded me of a story from years ago.
Once there was a young girl in grade three who had a sick sister. Her parents were frequently out of the country to provide their daughter with the medical care she needed. The girl and her other siblings spent days and sometimes weeks staying with various caring family friends.
Soon it was time for the annual school fundraiser – citrus sales. Every student who sold a box of fruit would receive an ice cream sundae, the kind in the plastic cup with the little wooden spoon.
The girl’s parents were out of town during this time and even if they were home, she wouldn’t have pursued citrus sales. Even at the age of eight, she knew she wouldn’t put that on to their overcrowded plate. That’s just the way it was then, it wouldn’t be forever. Next year.
A few days into the sale, her teacher called her up to her desk at the front of the room. She had a sales slip half filled out with a grapefruit order.
“I’d like to get a box of grapefruit, could I buy it from you?” she asked, barely lifting her eyes up from the ink blotter.
The girl hardly knew what to say, but she knew what this meant. She would get to partake in the sundae celebration, just like all the other kids. In the midst of family upheaval and crisis, she would have this little bit of normalcy.
“Okay,” was all that squeaked out. The teacher completed the form, then carefully separated the carbon copies: white for the school, yellow for the salesperson, and pink for the customer.
“Thank you, I appreciate it,” she said gruffly as she handed the girl the pink page, “you may go to your seat now.”
In a giddy daze the girl went back to her desk.
A fews later when the sales were completed, she proudly collected her ice cream treat with the rest of the school. It was chocolate, of course. She carefully peeled back the cardboard cover and she licked that plastic dish clean.
Sometimes “I see you. You matter. I care,” sounds a lot like “I’d like to buy some grapefruit.” You just have to listen.
(joking, there is only one pencil worth mentioning and it’s the Staedtler HB #2, everyone knows that)
As a kid, I loved perusing Life: The Year in Pictures. I didn’t know who most of the people and events were, but there was something satisfying about seeing a full year neatly wrapped up in a glossy-page package. Lists are fun and few can resist them. As I bid farewell to this past year, it caused me to reminisce about the highs and lows of the last 365 days.
I contemplated a twitter thread because isn’t that what all the youth are doing these days? Then I thought, no, be yourself. Be authentic. Stay true to your brand. And so, I give to you, dear reader…
2017 in Review: Snacks I Ate After the Kids Went to Bed
1. Sour cream and onion chips
3. Discounted Easter candy
5. Sweet Chili Heat Doritos
6. Leftover icing
7. Cookie dough I told the kids would make them sick
8. Mini M&Ms
9. Goldfish and olives (I was feeling fancy)
10. Girl guide cookies I was saving for Christmas
11. Brownie batter
12. The remaining Sweet Chili Heat Doritos (hid them so well I forgot for a few days that they were still in the house)
13. Ketchup Pringles (I left a few in the can for plausible deniability)
14. Reese’s peanut butter cups that mysteriously appeared in my coat pocket
15. Chunk of cheddar (store brand – barely worth it)
16. American Oreo I received in the mail
17. Caramilk Easter egg I found in my nightstand drawer
19. Sour jujubes
20. Fruit juice jujubes
21. Peanut butter off the spoon (did NOT double dip)
22. Crackers and blue cheese (the good kind, did not share)
23. Chocolate covered acai berries I did not know we were saving for the holidays but I would have eaten even you’d told me
24. Saturday cereal (it’s fine because I’m the grown up)
25. King-size Three Muskateers
26. Frozen butter tart – totally worth the sore tooth
27. Cinnamon hearts
28. More cinnamon hearts even though my tongue hurt from the first round
29. Lime sherbet directly from the container (definitely double-dipped)
30. Post-workout chocolate chip cookies, but I pretended they were power bars so it was totally fine
31. Ketchup Doritos (limited edition, but not limited taste)
32. Mini Kit Kats we bought for the trick-or-treaters
33. Sweet Tarts (purely medicinal)
34. Goldfish and grape tomatoes
35. Hunk of baguette dipped in hummus because I’m classy like that.
**Yes, all of the above are 100% accurate and true. Your turn – what’s your favourite evening snack?