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.”

 

 

Hello? Can You Hear Me?

“Screens are done. Devices off. Dinner is ready,” I call into the abyss that is our living room. “Hello? HELLO? GUESS I WILL JUST EAT THIS DELICIOUS MEAL ALL BY MYSELF.”

Nothing. Not even a flinch.

“Please make sure you put your shoes in the laundry room,” I remind an audience of zero. Because there the shoes sit – in the front foyer, ready to greet any guests who drop by.

Every parent feels like their messages often fall on deaf ears, right? I’m not alone in feeling unheard and invisible, am I?

Occasionally I like to make sure that I am not a ghostly phantom that cannot be heard rather than the mom my children choose to ignore. So I test their hearing. There are several methods I like to employ:

1. Turn on any Youtube video.

2. Call my mother.

3. Open a candy wrapper.

4. Begin a conversation with my husband.

5. Use even slightly salty language.

“We’re having a movie night? Can I have a snack? What are you watching? Why are you spelling out your words?” What a relief, their hearing is just fine.

I get it kids, parents are boring. We are always giving you advice, life lessons, and reminders to clean up your junk. Why bother turning off Netflix if you can ignore your mom and get a few extra minutes? Makes sense. I did it, too. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t drive me crazy, though.

Acknowledge that you heard me, kids. Respond. Throw an “okay” or “be right there” my way. I’d even settle for a grunt or a head nod. Or better yet, how about you just do what I ask the first time? Wouldn’t it be fun to just put your school things away instead of waiting for angry mom to arrive on the scene? It would be, trust me.

Alas, human children are not really wired that way. They have other ways of letting parents know that despite their blank stares and frozen positions on the couch, they do hear what we say. Sometimes we just have to wait for it. It’s hard to be patient and easy to give up or get frustrated. I feel that way a lot. And then that magical moment arrives. It can take on a variety of forms and often happens when we least expect it.

Recently I took three of our four boys to the movies. They were particularly chatty during the drive and I have learned to be still and let van conversations flow. They are some of the most profound conversations we’ve had. I think the topic came up after a chat about some light up shoes they had seen, I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but the discussion went something like this:

Son #1: Some kids think there are Boy colours and Girl colours, but that’s just not true.

Son #2: Right? It’s so dumb to say that flowers and stuff are for girls, anybody can like what they like.

Son #1: Yeah, I like to colour with pink lots.

Son #3: It’s true, but sometimes commercials actually say, “and these ones for girls.”

Son #1: But you can buy whatever colour you want. Remember when I liked Hello Kitty so much? Some people say it’s for girls, but I liked it. I don’t anymore, but I really, really did when I was three.

Son #2: Sometimes kids at school say that pink is for girls. I don’t agree. I mean, I don’t really like pink, but that’s not because I’m a boy, I just like other colours more.

For the past ten years of raising four boys, we have tried very hard to dispel boy/girl stereotypes, particularly when it comes to toy selection and colour choices. We haven’t forced an agenda on the boys, but rather we hope we’ve coached them that they can like what they like. There is no such thing as a gender-specific colour. If they want to wear nail polish, I’ll gladly grab my vast collection and paint them any colour or pattern they wish. You’re into Hello Kitty and Transformers? Fine with me.

I quietly cheered the boys on as they discussed the ridiculous notion that we need to separate colours into categories. Yes, they have been listening.

Kids listen. They do. They might roll their eyes or seem to tune us out (they probably do tune us out). But they listen. They watch how we behave, they see how we treat others, and they do listen. We might not see immediate responses or evidence, but if we are willing to be patient, to be still, we will see it. Our messages do reach them.

But seriously now, screen time is over. 

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Please pick up your socks. Pick them up. PICK THEM UP.

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Work. Marriage. Kids. Housekeeping. Friends.

So many things demand our time and attention. Struggling to maintain a balance is not new or unique, but it is a challenge. I used to think that this particular challenge would get easier when we were out of the baby stage. Then when we were out of the toilet-training stage. Maybe when they are all in school. But no. Struggling for balance doesn’t go away, it just changes as life moves along.

If I focus more on housekeeping, I enjoy the feeling of being organized. It gives me a sense of calm and peace when the kitchen counter is cleared and I can walk across the floor without collecting crumbs on the bottoms of my feet. But when I let that task take over my time I can slide into the nagging zone and transform into the “THIS-IS-NOT-A-DAYCARE-JUST-PICK-UP-YOUR-STUFF-WHY-ARE-THERE-COCOA-PUFFS-IN-MY-UKULELE” ranting mom.

That is not balance.

The weekend rolls around and this time I decide to say “yes” to the invitations to have breakfast with a friend followed by a walk with a neighbour and then an at-home date night with my husband. But giving the social side of me the priority leaves me feeling guilty for neglecting the kids and the housework. And out comes the scary cleaning-machine-mom.

Still not balance.

When the week has been long and filled with work, stomach flu, and extra errands to run, I just want to curl up in my pajamas and forget all responsibilities. So when Friday night finally arrives, I decide to give myself a break. We shove aside the Legos and Hot Wheels and eat take-out pizza in the living room. It’s a fun and relaxed family night.

And it’s exactly what we need. What I need.

I’m not going to find the perfect balance. I think it’s an unattainable goal. It’s a worthy goal, and for our own mental health and peace of mind, we need to strive for some balance. But a truly balanced life? I don’t think so. And I’m learning that’s okay.

We will always be pulled in multiple directions. Crises will arise, friends will need support, people get sick. Sometimes plain old daily life is too much. So instead of feeling guilty for not finding the right balance, I’m learning to pause.

When the state of the kitchen makes me want to scream, I can pause and pull out something easy for dinner, giving me time to get ahead on something else. When a child is sick, I can pause my work goal for the week and just accept that sleep isn’t really going to happen, but cuddles will. When I have to back out of a commitment because now I’m sick, I can put aside feelings of culpability, pause, and take friends up on their offers to help.

Pause and breathe and let go. It’s working.

The payoff is less guilt, less stress, and more joy, more laughter. And insight. Pausing let me spend time with one of my favourite little people who shared this gem as we enjoyed a hot chocolate together.

“Jesus and Yoda are alike because they’re both very wise and humble and sometimes confusing.”

The house might not be as tidy as I’d like. I might not have a homemade dinner on the table every night. I still feel overwhelmed sometimes and lean into the cranky-zone, but it’s worth it to give up on finding the perfect balance and allowing myself to pause.

 

Family Mascot

Every family has a mascot, right? RIGHT?

If you do not already have one, I highly recommend it. And pets do not count, neither do children. Maybe an uncle, but I don’t recommend it.

Nothing says, “togetherness” quite like a mascot. It fosters a sense of belonging, trust me. It’s like a modern coat of arms. And it’s portable.

The selection process is important. You don’t want just any old thing to represent your family. Take your time, make sure you find the right fit. You could put it to a vote, but democracy is highly overrated in family situations. After thoughtful deliberation, just announce your selection to your loved ones.

Sometimes fate steps in and the mascot chooses you. That’s what happened to us.

One day I was angry-cleaning and muttering about not being the maid tidying up after my appreciative family I realized we had a new resident. He’d been moved around from hallway to bedroom, back to hallway and then finally the laundry room. This guy wasn’t going anywhere. On some level I knew that this was the mascot I’d been searching for. That’s when I decided to make it official.

Our mascot has adapted well to residing in our home. The transition has gone very smoothly and now it’s hard to imagine life without him.

Meal prep isn’t so lonely or tedious. Plus, Keith never complains about what I am serving.

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In the past, if I was too tired to read at bedtime I just had to power through. No longer necessary when you have a handy mascot. Thanks, Keith.

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Keith is a great listener and he doesn’t sass back. His demands are few: change of scenery every now and then, an occasional dusting. He’s the lowest-maintenance member of our family by far.

Welcome, Keith. I didn’t know our family was missing someone until you came along. 

 

 

 

 

Nutcracker Bandit Strikes Fear in Family

Local mom was shaken to discover her family home had apparently been the victim of vandalism.

“I love a good mystery. Scooby-Doo, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, Sherlock, I’m a big fan of the sleuths. So I thought I would be able to solve this easily,” the mother of four said. Unfortunately, she was mistaken.

The family recently put out their Christmas decorations, including a family favourite, the nutcracker, Bob. Days later, the family was horrified to find that Nutcracker Bob’s trumpet had been broken off.

“This was certainly not an inside job. I specifically told my boys not to play with the Nutcracker and they all promised they wouldn’t,” said the devastated mom. “I don’t feel safe in my own home.”

When asked about the vandalism, the oldest son declined to comment. The youngest son, however, speculated that the family home might be haunted.

Similar incidents have happened to the family in the past. Toilet paper strewn across the floors, lights mysteriously left on, and chewed gum hidden behind furniture.

Authorities have not been called in, but the parents are documenting the recurring vandalism. For the time being, the family remains hopeful that the mystery will be solved.

 

 

 

Christmas Chipmunk

It was Christmas 1983 and I was ready. No doubt my wishlist was long and detailed, but I’ve long forgotten what I requested. Except for one particular item.

I’d probably given up any hope of getting a Cabbage Patch Doll, or it might have been that E.T. and Star Wars didn’t hold my interest, perhaps I already had enough Smurf paraphernalia, but for some reason what I really wanted that year was Alvin. Of the chipmunk fame.

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Many details of that time are fuzzy, but I remember giving my list to my dad and outlining specifically what I meant by “Chipmunk”.

“A stuffed one. You know, the singing ones. There’s Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. I’ll take any, but I’d really like Alvin. The one with the red shirt.”

He nodded and reassured me that we were on the same page, “Alvin. From the show. Got it,” and left to do some shopping (no illusions of Santa in my childhood).

Christmas arrived and I excitedly squeezed a very soft package with my name on it. Janice was written in his familiar printing. No need to sign it, I knew who it was from.

My turn finally arrived and I tore into that package, confident Alvin was waiting for me. Yes! Got my chipmunk!

Oh, I got my chipmunk alright. Meet my Alvin.

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I had asked for a chipmunk and a chipmunk is what I got. I have to give eight-year-old me credit, I grinned and hugged it and gave my dad a big hug. He was so happy. He had no idea that this was not the chipmunk I had had in mind.

He was so happy.

Maybe on some level 1983-me knew the lengths he would have gone to to find a stuffed chipmunk. A stuffed chipmunk. Think about it: a realistic-looking chipmunk plushy toy. Alvin the Chipmunk could be found in any major chain store, but a chipmunk stuffy? That took a lot of effort.

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Chipmunk stuffy complete with plush nut and bushy tail.
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Chipmunk plushy complete with hat, t-shirt, and shoes.

It was not what I had asked for, but I got what I needed. Despite running a business, having a sick child, and raising four kids, my dad made time to get my Christmas present. It was perfect.

Despite all the stress and worry and anxiety he had, I mattered.

This is one of my favourite Christmas stories: that time I asked for Alvin, but instead got the gift of sacrifice, love, and the importance of being gracious and grateful.

He’d gotten me exactly what I had asked for. And I was so happy.

The Future is NOW

My children, it is true that we live in an amazing time. But sometimes I ponder what the future might hold for us. What wonders could be just a few years away?

For instance, sometimes I like to imagine that in my lifetime we will have the ability to create some sort of mechanism that allows you to suspend a towel off of a bedroom floor. Maybe it will be on the back of a door, who is to say? I’ll leave that to the engineers.

Occasionally I like to dream of a time when we won’t have to eat food with our bare hands. I admit it is hard to wait, but I’m sure scientists are on the cusp of discovering the right formula to forge a device that allows us to deliver food directly from our plate to our mouth. Call me fanciful, but I think that could happen any day now.

If you’re like me, you might be wishing for an appliance of some sort that washes dishes for you. Wouldn’t it be amazing if all we have to do is load the dirty dishes into it and *poof* all the hard work is done? The dishes would come out clean with minimal effort from us. Sounds a bit far-fetched, but so did space travel, didn’t it?

So close.
So close.

When a drink spills on the floor it is such a hassle. You have to walk around it until it eventually dries up. But I have faith that one day there will be an absorbent material that can swipe up that mess in one go. I believe we have the technology, it just hasn’t been maximized yet.

If they can make a phone that allows you to hold the world’s knowledge in the palm of your hand, surely we aren’t far away from an apparatus that will pick up carpet debris with a suction action? And why stop at carpet? Perhaps this miracle-of-tomorrow will also be able to suck popcorn and dried gum from between couch cushions? Heady times ahead. Heady times, indeed.

I envy you kids, what a time to be alive.

No Candy? No Thanks.

I love Hallowe’en. The candy, the costumes, connecting with neighbours, the candy.

But there is a darkness around this holiday and we can’t just pretend anymore. I know, I know, we can choose to focus on the fun and light-hearted side of All Hallows’ Eve, but some things cannot be ignored. PURE EVIL CANNOT GO UNCHECKED.

Let’s shine a light on this sinister interloper who tries to spoil this holiday every year. For the sake of the children, we need to work together to take back Hallowe’en. For the children.

It might seem harmless at first, perhaps even a nice substitute for some other elements of trick-or-treating, but I assure you, it is not. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing is what it is.

Halloween-themed plastic rings.

Oh, here, let me wear pure evil on my finger.
Oh, here, let me wear pure evil on my finger.

Rest assured, I hear your points in favour of these trinkets:

They are a great alternative to all that candy.

No one is allergic to plastic jewellery.

Parents appreciate candy-free options.

And here is my well-thought-out response:

Why?

True, but not a selling feature.

Parents appreciate having candy to steal after bedtime.

Bear with me as I deep dive for a moment. This is holiday that’s main purpose is to promote binge-eating chocolate, chips, and candy. Why would anyone want to interfere with that? Besides, you have to walk door-to-door, burning so many calories that it all evens out (don’t worry, if you believe hard enough, that’s mostly true). You know what else is nut-free? Money, McDonald’s gift cards, all those candies that say “nut-free” on the package. It’s covered.

A stash of candy will eventually disappear, but you know what never goes away? TINY PLASTIC RINGS. Children do not forget and they are miniature hoarders. They might forget the number of fun-size Twix bars they had, but they always remember how many spider, witch, and jack-o-lantern rings they own. Can’t eat those, Mom and Dad. You can’t eat those.

Some parents might appreciate candy-free options, but they also appreciate not stepping on small plastic rings in a darkened hallway. And here’s a fun fact: you cannot vacuum up a plastic ring, even if you run over it a several times. Even if you pick it up, turn it over, push the little spider legs down, then drop it back on the floor and try to vacuum it up again (I would imagine).

So let’s leave Halloween as nature intended – high-fructose, fun-sized, and delicious.

_____________

P.S. Fruit is also not a treat.

Let Me See Your Hands

“Let me see your hands,” she said as she held out her own to me. As she cradled my twelve-year-old hands in hers, my cousin went on to tell me how they looked like my grandmother’s. She gently stroked my fingers and described how kind and gentle my grandma was, how she spoke with her hands flying, the quiet presence she maintained in a loud and rowdy clan.

Grandma was the matriarch of a family of eleven. She had her share of losses and heartbreak, but anytime someone shares a memory of her, it is always one of admiration and fondness.

Hands.

I’ve been thinking about hands a lot lately. As I clip our boys’ fingernails, I see how much they’re changing. When I type out a new post my own hands catch my eye and I notice the freckle on my left ring finger and how it is slowly fading as I age.

Holding my mom’s hands during church and examining her rings, her fingernails, all the spots and imperfections. She hated her the age spots, but I carefully traced them and memorized the uniqueness that was hers. I can close my eyes now and picture how her hands looked and felt to five-year-old me.

Hands.

Adolescent me spent Tuesday nights watching “Growing Pains” and “Who’s The Boss” while carefully painting my fingernails. I took meticulous care of each one. Filing, buffing, and pushing back cuticles. These were my glory years – before the endless handwashing, dishwashing, laundry, and scrubbing that came with adulthood. I believe my last manicure was just before our wedding. My nail maintenance is mostly done at stoplights these days. My hands reflect who I am.

You have your grandma’s hands.

Tell me I have tiny fingers. Say that they look like little sausages. Tease me for being a hand-talker. That’s okay. I have my grandma’s hands and I will always be proud of that.

Hands are for helping.

Lend a hand, please.

Did you wash your hands? With soap? Let me see.

Hold my hand, it’s a busy street.

Recently I held my hands up to my oldest’s and noted that mine are not much bigger. Those tiny fingers that curled around my pinkie as I cuddled my newborn are now becoming little man hands. Soon he will have outgrown me.photo-2

So I will quietly slip my hand into his and hope he holds it, just a little longer. Because I’m not quite ready to let go. I want him to memorize my hands, trace my emerging age spots, know who I am.

Let me see your hands.