Yearning for learning

April 16, 2014 | Posted in Education, Family, Parenting, School, University, Writing | By

College lecture hall

I miss school. The learning part mostly, but the thermos of lemonade and Wagon Wheels were pretty cool too.

I’ve missed it for a while, but I knew things were serious when I started reading my daughter’s high school Geography textbook and bribed her into a “chat” about igneous rock formations and soil erosion. I was halfway through making a set of flash cards for conjugating my son’s grade four level French verbs when the kids staged an intervention and told me enough was enough. They’re smart kids and for the most part they get things on their own. As it is they rarely need my help with homework and my absconding with their textbooks is one of the only ways I can get my hands on “real” school materials.

More university  courses would be lovely, and I could go back to take a course for kicks, but it’s too expensive a hobby for now. I’ve tried book clubs for literary discussion, but almost no one wants to make flow charts about overlapping Gothic themes in contemporary literature and my “Come dressed like your favourite ‘Satanic Verses’ character” idea was shot down in flames, almost literally.

I just want to know more stuff! Knowing stuff is all I have! I love knowing stuff because stuff is super interesting and you never know when you’re going to need stuff. I am an information hoarder, where instead of cat fur and empty tuna cans, I want to know what comprised the basis of an ancient Roman’s diet and why does every episode of Frasier resemble a Shakespearean comedy and how the feudal system literally changed the landscape and what the hell does HTML stand for? These are some of the questions that run on loop in my head almost constantly, and as soon as one question is answered another takes its place. Reading is great and I do a lot of that, but there’s something very appealing – intimate even – that comes from listening to someone lecture on a topic they’re passionate about. One of my favourite classes in University was  “Rural Sociology” seminar. I took it because it fulfilled a requirement and honestly I had no idea what the syllabus would include. It turned out to be far and away one of the more fascinating courses I took because although at first glance the learning material looked dry – forestry, fishing, and farming practices in Canada – the Professor was so passionate about the material that when I scanned the room at the bored teenage faces listening, I wanted to tie all of their shoelaces together.

Apparently there are some intriguing and informative University lectures available on iTunes and through mail-order catalogs and I’ve also been thinking of doing a “Documentary a Day” self-challenge. This morning I caught the tail end of one on motorcycle gang culture in Winnipeg and it was giddy-with-the-learnin’-bug-goosebumps awesome. If you’ve seen a good documentary or read an interesting non-fiction book lately – no matter how obscure – I’d love to hear about it.

(Fires up the popcorn machine.)

*image courtesy of WikiCommons

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Unpaid Internships and Work for “Exposure” are the New Barrel Suit

April 8, 2014 | Posted in Education, Family, Irritation Level: High, Parenting, School, University, Writing | By

girl in a barrel

I am looking for work. When I am looking for work, looking for work is my work. I send the kids to school, fire up the computer, and then I go online in search of employment suitable for my experience and educational background. I don’t have high expectations. I would like a short commute or a work-from-home position; I expect a reasonable amount of courtesy in communication; and I would like to be challenged and given room to expand my skill-set. Oh, and I would like to be paid.

It is this last point – the “paid” part – where I generally run into trouble. I am a recent University graduate from a well-respected school and I have a decent portfolio and references who will tell you you’re a fool not to hire me. I am professional, I work hard, and frankly, I am a fucking joy to be around. I usually find several jobs per day for which I could apply. So why don’t I? Because they are unpaid. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Yep; they are “Thanks for everything; here’s your nothing” jobs. Great! I’ll use my non-existent pay cheque  to buy invisible kids shoes and some ghost groceries.

I can’t count all the ways these types of job postings state they are “sadly, unpaid at this time.” It’s actually funny in a lot of cases, because the responsibilities and qualifications are laid out and described exactly like a paying job – sometimes even resembling pretty intense, high-level responsibility jobs. The slam comes below the fold, after you’re hooked because this one sounds like the one, you guys! I’m not against internships of all stripes. I think internships can be a great way to learn about an industry, and time spent interning can be a great addition to a resume which also includes paid experience, and appropriate educational background. Networking and showcasing your talent is a good thing, but hey, why not pay people something for it? Even a pittance. Something.

If unpaid internships are offered as part of an educational program – say, a University degree, or college diploma program they are useful and often act as a springboard for a career in that field. Auto mechanics, welders, and other tradespeople often work between bouts of schooling, and they are almost always paid for their labour. Their wages may not be commensurate with their responsibilities at that particular point in their career evolution, but they can look forward to fair wages (hopefully) once they receive a trade ticket. If a company is willing to pay an intern “at some point in the future” for the same work they are doing now “provided they meet our (subjective?) standard” then PAY THEM NOW, JERK.

Summer internships and those specifically for students are sometimes unpaid. Okay; if they’re not full time then a student can generally work also, or perhaps they are also receiving student loans, etc. Because I am a writer, I have been searching the editorial/creative field for work and I am shocked – SHOCKED I TELL YOU – at the amount of work  I’ve seen which is to be compensated solely in “experience” and “exposure.” This no-pay structure comes through internships or because those seeking the material or content do not wish to pay anything. I was married to a business owner. I know how difficult and costly it can be to get a business up and running. I know that business owners often do not take a salary themselves until a profit has been turned. But I also know that not one single utility company, fuel provider, tax accountant, restaurant, cleaning person, maintenance company, delivery service, dog walker or liquor store will provide you with services and/or products free of charge for promise of “giving them a platform upon which their work will be exposed to hundreds of people.” If that were the case, I’d be chugging Chilean Merlot in a strip mall parking lot and yelling into car windows how this stuff is the best goddamn wine I’ve ever tasted so Shop at Bob’s Liq-R-Mart!

By comparison, I am “old” in a vast sea of debt-riddled new graduates. But the young ones can’t afford to work for free either. In fact, it may be worse for them because life hasn’t yet sanded smooth the edges of their hopefulness and they are still sickeningly full of optimism.  I have some equity and it is likely I won’t starve to death if I cannot find full-time work soon. Job-searching is soul-crushing at the best of times and I honestly don’t know how young graduates – kids! – pay their rent. I understand why so many have to move back in with parents and I really hope the climate changes by the time my kids graduate, although my daughter is headed for a science/math degree and no one wants an unpaid engineer building their bridges so she’ll likely find work. I don’t want to regret my English/History degree because it shaped my thinking and I call upon the analytical skills it enforced every single day. But when I am being brutally honest with myself I admit I’m tempted to visit every University Fair within a 50 mile radius and tell all prospective Liberal Arts students to “RUN FOR YOUR FUCKING LIVES!”

I am a decent writer. I have even been told that I am sometimes a pretty good one, and I believe it. That’s not hubris. There are a lot of things I don’t do well and that list is much longer than the one of things I can do. I would never apply to nursing school. I would never try to get a job as a school bus driver, or a server in a bar, because I wouldn’t do those things well and my exit would likely be marked by lots of flames and probably a lawsuit. I write, I edit, I social media-lize. I don’t posture myself as a Nora Ephron, or an Anne Lamott. I am Jeni Marinucci, and I would like to be paid.

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*Disclaimer: I do have some recurrent writing jobs, so please, no panicked email from family members. I would also like to say that any work I post links to (or otherwise promote, be it through buttons on my blog, etc.)  I have been paid for or otherwise compensated fairly. I continue to be grateful to all those who give me a platform, and a pay cheque. I have – in the past, on occasion – provided second-run and re-print article free to various websites.

**Photo courtesy of WikiCommons

 

 

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How Not To Be A Terrible Parent

January 21, 2014 | Posted in Childhood, cooking, Education, Family, Health, humor, MamaPop, Parenting, School, Writing | By

Raising Happy Kids

Parenting is hard, and as I am finding out fifteen years in, it only gets harder the longer you do it. If you’re the parent of a newborn baby, may I first say “Congratulations!” But then this:  I am sorry to tell you that the days of being up all night for feedings and rocking will soon seem like a day at Super-Duper Supremeo Fun World Extravaganza Good Time Park compared to teenager problems. I’ll give it to you straight – you will love that baby always, but you won’t always like them. But that’s parenting – and why these tips may be useful – because doing the right thing for someone you may not even like is good form when you have kids. So hahaha, sucker;  it’s not about you anymore, and it will almost never be 100% about you ever again.

I make no claims to be an expert in the parenting field, and although my children are good, responsible people, I cannot take all the credit for this. There is something to be said for nature/nurture, and sometimes nature wins. I’ve spent 98.3% of my time thinking about my kids in one way or another since I found out they were coming, because they permeate every decision I make in some way. I’ve made mistakes; some big ones. I’ve even made “Walmart-underwear-aisle-blow-out-screaming-match-hope-the-video-camera-didn’t-catch-that” ones, but I’m also bold enough to say I’ve done what I think is a fairly good job ensuring my kids won’t be communicating with loved ones through a phone attached to safety glass any time soon. There are other”rules” too – like allowing time for active play, showing an interest in their schooling, and others, but the suggestions here are my basic, beginner-level ones, because if there’s anything I do exceptionally well, it’s meeting bare minimum standards.

Throw Them A Goddamn Birthday Party, You Lazy Ass

Kids deserve to be honored for one day a year. I don’t care if you hate all kids besides your own, chances are your child doesn’t. So haul your ass down to the bakery or mix some sugar and eggs together and make sure there’s a cake. WITH ICING. Hang some streamers, get yourself some ear plugs and go forth to Chuck E. Cheese or a bowling alley for two hours. Two hours. You can’t do that? You make me sick. If nothing else, it’ll be good blog fodder.

Teach Them To Cook So They’re Not Doomed To Life In A Take-Out Jungle

Knowing all the fast-food window staff by name isn’t cute at age 3, and it’s not any cuter at 40. You don’t need to enroll at Cordon Bleu or take a class at the local rec center, either. Open a cookbook. Watch the Food Network. Just make sure that by the time your bird leaves the nest they know a lime reamer isn’t for “adult play” and that a garlic press does more than make awesome Play-Doh hair. A couple of basic dishes will do it: a roast chicken, a pasta dish, eggs any way, and something on the grill. Bonus points for a traditional  native dish. Keep your culture alive, ya jerk.

Put Them To Bed Early. Like “Yesterday” Early

Children today are chronically sleep-deprived. Tired kids are cranky and irritable and not much fun to be around, so fix it. Take whatever time you think your child should be going to bed, and then knock it back a half hour or more. Sure, we all have good intentions of 8:30 bedtimes, but once you factor in teeth brushing, the seventh glass of water and all the existential questions sleepy kids ask, you’re looking at 10pm, minimum. Because kids aren’t stupid. They’re trying to wear you down so they can stay up later. They think all sorts of fun shit is going on after they’re in bed. It’s balloon animals and cotton candy spinning clowns as far as they’re concerned. They have no idea we’re just watching Big Rich Texas and dodging sexual promises we made earlier in ill-conceived “If you do the dishes, I’ll…” schemes. Pro-tip: Change the clocks. Knock ‘em back a half hour, and then make it a “no media” night. Then you can say, “Would you just LOOK  at the time!” and not be the bad guy. I do this all the time. My kids think today is October 17, 1976 – I’m that good at it.

Make Sure They’re Disappointed (This Won’t Be Hard)

Don’t fix everything for your kids. They need to handle some bad stuff if they’re going to develop coping skills. Let them feel disappointment and responsibility occasionally. You’re going to have to try very hard to not crumble yourself when this happens, because they’re going to cry and it will be tough. It’s hard to watch guilt tears because they are the very worst kind of all the tears your child will shed. My only tip to you here is make sure your bedroom has a box of tissues. Also, vodka.

Let Them Believe In Stupid Stuff Even If Hipster Friends Taunt You

Let them have fantasies and magic in their life, even if you think the things are stupid or pointless, like the Tooth Fairy or a poster of fluffy kittens in a basket. “Real life” is waiting on the other side of your front door, and it’s going to chew your kids up and spit them out. Then Life will use its own dental bridge to pick its last remaining rotten tooth – because Real Life is a fucking asshole. 

Keep Your House Clean aka Don’t Be Disgusting

I’m not saying you can’t raise lovely, well-rounded, confident children in a disgusting dirty house. Wait; I am. It’s pretty simple actually. Your house need not be pristine, or “Go ahead and lick the doorknobs” sterile, just pick up your shit and maybe don’t make them pee into plastic bags because they can’t get into the bathroom what for the dog hair collection you’re saving in there for “sentimental” reasons. No one wants a slovenly partner in life and if you’re setting the bar somewhere between “Hobo shanty town” and “Tonight on a very special episode of Hoarders,” you’re not doing your kids any favors. Respect.

Make Them Spend Time Alone, But Maybe Not In A Locked Closet

I don’t suggest locking them in a closet under the stairs, but make sure your kids spend some downtime by themselves. If you never let your kids be alone or with their friends without you, you are in for a huge nightmare when you’re just trying to get some work don…Get, out! I’m writing an essay, can’t yo…Sorry, where was I? Oh, right. Time alone. Yes, you need to mak…I SAID ASK YOUR SISTER! Sorry. If you don’t let your kid get use…Oh, for Christ’s sake! I’ll be back in a minute.

Show Them Someone Cares About Their Health Before It’s Too Late

I don’t care if you’re into natural remedies, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, or witch doctors. Maybe you prefer every modern interventionist technique available, whatever. Just take your kids to a health professional regularly. Get their teeth cleaned. Have a garage sale for a braces fund if they need the tracks. Go to the eye doctor, so they can see properly. Make your kid’s health a priority because no one else will ever care as much about them as you do, and if you don’t care, they’re fucked right out of the gate. Feed them the best food you can reasonably afford, prepare it the best way time will allow, and sit down to eat together as often as possible. Look, I’m realistic. My son once ate directly out of the crock pot while we we’re in the car. Life is busy, and health care is expensive, and taking kids to get dental fillings is horrible, but you do it anyway because you’re not an asshole, right?

 

So there you have it. Follow these suggestions as closely as you are able and at the very least you will raise caring, functional members of society who both seek and offer moments of joy to others. Maybe. Sometimes. Or not. Because that’s the thing about parenting – just when you think you’re doing everything right, -everything the way you’ve been told to and maybe even read a book or two with a friendly looking lady in a doctor’s coat on the cover – even then your kid will come to you and ask for money for a Creed concert.

 

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Ask a silly question…

October 30, 2013 | Posted in Childhood, Education, Family, humor, Parenting, Writing | By

It’s not uncommon for parents to sometimes look at their children and wonder “Who the hell are you and when does your spaceship return?” I have those moments often and it’s usually when my kids bring home reports cards or receive glowing verbal reports of their “attentive and respectful” behaviour. While I think it’s great that my kids are well-behaved, I can’t take full credit for it because I know parents far better than me who work hard at parenting and have still have kids who have the ability to kill sperm with a single shriek at 100 paces. It’s a crapshoot folks; sometimes you win at the lottery and sometimes you don’t. But there’s balance in the universe because while my kids get excellent grades without stress, they also do things like take all of the garbage bags for flags to decorate a makeshift backyard jousting arena and also eat ALL the Oreo pudding cups even though I emphatically expressed how these cold creamy treasures are the only things which bring me joy three days every month. So yes; parenting is a “win some, lose some, lose some more, call-it-a-draw, lose again” proposition.

The biggest and most obvious difference between my children and myself comes in the math department. I can’t count past 12 without a pen and paper and in grade three I risked schoolyard taunting by faking diarrhea in order to spend half an hour in the bathroom rather than submit to “Speed Round” multiplication drills. I may not know my times-tables, but I did perfect “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” thanks to the awesome acoustics of the first floor primary bathroom.

Math is not something I “get” because I don’t think logically. I think emotionally. Why is eight plus eight sixteen? What does it mean? How does it make you FEEL? I don’t like things that are concrete and have definitive value; I’d rather analyse an entire novel than figure out the tip on a bill ending in .57. My kids think I’m nuts, and they have many supporters. They are logical thinkers, these two, and both excel at math and science, and even when they don’t know the answer, they turn it around so that that’s your problem, not theirs, because it was probably a dumb question anyway.

Case in point – a grade four math test returned home with a mark of 22 out of a possible 23. Only one mark was missed, but I would have given it to him for sheer balls:

Math TestI’ve posted in a few other places this month as well. I’m at MamaPop.com talking about some nice guys and some jerks and all sorts of other terrible people. and today I have a post up at iVillage.ca about how Halloween was kinda sorta better when we ran feral in packs of masked children.

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I almost stepped on your Gramma

August 29, 2013 | Posted in Childhood, Education, Family, Health, humor, I'm a horrible person, Procrastination tactic, Weekly Round-up, Writing | By

This is the post where I should be telling you that the kid’s school uniforms have been pressed and hemmed, the lunch bags purchased and the pencils sharpened, and that all we’re doing now is waiting for the school bus to arrive. All of those things will be missing from this post. Instead, I have a two month’s worth pile of laundry to wash and dry and the kid’s uniforms are in a series of plastic bags scattered throughout the house, purchased as each piece became available. It’s the first year with uniforms at my son’s school, and to say it’s been a bit of a challenge is like saying something something hyperbole something something punchline.

I’m tired. Working from home with two kids underfoot did not go as planned, and the fact that I thought it would work out fine is proof that I am not a complete pessimist. I am now left with a backlog of writing to complete and uniforms to alter and there are several cucumber-sized centipedes occupying my laundry room which make going in there impossible. Yesterday my daughter found a centipede in a box where she keeps extra shoes. It was so large its heartbeat was audible. She pointed to the creature and we knew what had to be done. We burned the house down.

The summer has flown by and I’m realizing just how few summers I have left to spend time with my kids while they’re young. WAIT! I know my blog has been a bit somber lately with all the talk of “kids keep getting older and so do we haha we’re all gonna die one day and everything will be pointless,” but I can’t help it. Ever since I turned 40 mortality is something I’ve thought about almost constantly. When my daughter was young she wouldn’t leave my side and I used to long for time apart, even just an hour to catch my breath. Now she is 14 and her brain has convinced her that she knows everything and I am a withered husk of a woman who’s only purpose of providing her earthly body with a vessel has long expired. See? I can do funny still!

This long weekend coming up will be my time to get some things done around here; things like making lists, pondering said lists, sitting on the couch frozen with fear from the overwhelming amount of work on a now towering stack of lists, and maybe some naps due to “list-fatigue.”

Here’s something that happened recently that had a happy ending: The other day I took the garbage and recycling bins out for curbside pick-up. On the way back up the driveway I almost stepped on a tiny bird. He didn’t move when my foot came down and really it was just blind luck I didn’t step on him. I lay down on the driveway to get a better look. His wings didn’t seem broken and he turned his head to look at me when I moved. I was worried about him, this tiny bird I could have put on the palm of my hand twice over, because we have cats in the neighbourhood and they’re real assholes. I tweeted the Audubon Society because I was especially worried this bird was my Gramma. She hadn’t been feeling well the day before, and she told me she’ll visit me as a bird when she goes. I specifically asked her to do that, saying that if she came to visit it me after death and stood at my bedside tapping my shoulder I would be scared and probably punch her spirit in right the stomach. So a bird it is. The nice folks at the Audubon twitter account assured me that no, this tiny bird was a black and white warbler, but seeing as they had no knowledge of my Gramma’s appearance in the supposed afterlife, I may want to call her to be certain. I got the bird a small dish of water to drink while I confirmed my Gramma was still alive, and when I returned, it had gone. So, while it may have flown away or been eaten by a feral alley-cat, my Gramma was still alive and I now know what a black and white warbler looks like. Although I guess this bird could just have well been your Gramma or your Uncle or your old neighbour, or anyone really. If it was, please know I tried to give it water, and you can blame the cats. So hey; happy endings all around! Except the possibly mangled bird part, but blahblahblah nature’s course and all that.

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My Gramma, still not a bird.

20130830-112806.jpg

The bird; probably dead now.

So, with that crisis averted (at least for now), I was able to return inside to survey my growing list of to-do-tasks, a list which grows proportionally with my end of summer ennui.

Here are some other things I wrote in other places this month:

I Like “Em Dirty: In Praise of Blue Collar Men

Miley Cyrus Is Many Things, But Whore Isn’t One Of Them (And So What If She Was)

There’s A New “One Direction” Documentary, But Hold Your Tongue Thirty-Somethings

I will be back in a few days with requisite “Back to School” pictures of the kids, along with “Where does the time go?” cliches and many sad-face emoticons.*

*No I won’t; no one wants to see that shit.

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Living on the surface of the sun

July 18, 2013 | Posted in Childhood, Education, Family, Holidays, humor, Irritation Level: High, Parenting, Writing | By

Surface of the sun It’s hot here this week. It’s so hot that today I said “Hot enough for ya?” to our mailman and when he opened his mouth to say “F*#& off,” he vaporized from the effort. So yeah; it’s hot. It’s not even the heat really, it’s the…say it with me… humidity. I am such a asshole in this heat. 

Here’s a current screenshot from my Weather Network app:

WeatherChannelFor you visual folks, here’s a more accurate representation of the heat:

Humidity Hair

You’d think the photo is badly overexposed, but I really am this white. In deep summer I turn a lovely shade of “bologna log.”

Because of the heat we’ve been spending most of our time indoors. We have a few friends with pools, but they’re on to me come May 1st when I start trying to repair all the damage I’ve done to our relationships over the winter. I really should be nicer to people year-round. Ugh; being nice is hard, especially when it’s so damn hot outside.

Being inside has given me a chance to catch up on some paperwork (Income tax returns 1994 through 2000 – FILED!) and I’ve started going through my son’s writing journals from last year. I always look at them before they go into the recycling bin since they’re usually good for a page or two in the memory box. I think I hit the jackpot this year with one of his entries, and in the future he can use this piece as his online dating profile:

Writing JournalHe’s a catch, this fella.

How do people who live in tropical climes do it? Dry heat I can handle. Too hot? Go into the shade and drink a pitcher of mojitos. Desert nights are cool, almost chilly even. I can handle that. But this oppressive humidity covers everything like a pudding skin.

The heat has everyone on edge, especially my teenager. It’s one thing for one of us not to tolerate it well, but when it affects us both, all of a sudden we’re two squirrels with our tails tied together fighting over the last nut inside a burlap sack/ 900 sq. foot post-war bungalow.

Lately she’s been sleeping until 2pm because she’s up at night escaping the heat (and her mother). But we’re all waking up at the smell of burning cheese when she makes her “lunch” at 1:30am and this makes being pleasant difficult. The nocturnal activities were driving me nuts until I remembered that was exactly how I spent my 14th summer, and it was glorious. You had the house to yourself, you could cook or eat whatever you wanted, and the remote control was yours alone. It all ends too soon, doesn’t it? Because the next summer was spent handing out resumes for minimum wage soul-killing jobs and babysitting children who’s parents insisted they be fed and cared for. I’m finding dealing with 14 a bit of a challenge and the longer she sleeps, the less she’s getting on my nerves  and vice versa. I tried being patient and not taking the bait when she’s seeking an argument. When dealing with teens I’ve heard you should not try to be their friend. I can assure you; THERE IS NO FEAR OF THAT HAPPENING.

For now I’ll blame it on the heat – it’s not hormones, it’s the humidity. Maybe if I let her stay up really, really late tonight, she’ll sleep until October.

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Summer by the numbers

July 5, 2013 | Posted in Childhood, Education, Family, Holidays, humor, Irritation Level: High, Parenting, Writing | By

Ice Cream ConeSchool ended a week ago. Yay for freedom! Hurray for no bagged lunches! Whoopee for sleeping in everyday! No. I’m done with this summer vacation bullshit, because this is no vacation.

Here’s how I’ve spent summer so far, by the numbers:

  • 7 days off school
  • 7 days of rain. Format: torrential
  • 17 hours sleep/day by 14 year-old
  • 2 clothing changes (son)
  • 56 clothing changes (daughter)
  • 14 cries of “I’m booooored…”
  • 14 internal primal screams
  • 14 grapefruit and vodka “medicinal tonics”
  • 3 requests to go to the water park
  • 3 discussions about the very real health risk of hepatitis, floating band-aids and standing in lines wearing wet bathing suits
  • 4 shouts of “Screw-it-all-everyone-get-your-ass-in-the-car-we’re-going-to-the-ice-cream-store
  • 88 towels laundered
  • 5644 Freezies consumed
  • 1 cheese-curd-factory-smelling car
  • 122 introspective conversations with self re-evaluating attempt to work from home

But it hasn’t all been bad; not at all. There was a quarter of an hour last Wednesday when the rain stopped for a few minutes and both kids read quietly. Then a fruit fly farted and the world’s axis shifted and everything went back to normal. To break up the boooooredom yesterday, my son had a few friends over. They were busy building something lethal from Hot Wheels track in the living room and I was getting some work done until I heard my son say, “Okay! And then you defend yourself with the axe.”

At that point I went upstairs, where I locked myself in the bedroom and took a nap. I’ve found that these things are best sorted out among the participants themselves.

Then on Monday I was happy to learn that I had been chosen by a panel of judges as a Blogher 2013 Voices of the Year in the Heart category for my post Spilled. What an honour! I have a ticket to Blogher and was hoping to attend this year’s conference in Chicago but it isn’t going to happen. My daughter needs braces and I’d like to get them on her before she starts high school in September, so every nickel is currently being squeezed until the beaver poops. As much as I would love to meet all the women whose blogs have made me want to become a better writer – whether for spite or more honourable reasons -  I just can’t justify it this year. But it’s all good; that’s the thing about annual conferences; they hold them every few years or so.

I also received a lovely email last week from TorontoMomsNow.com to tell me that highly irritable was nominated as one of the Toronto Area’s favourite blogs. That’s very flattering because I am not normally put in a sentence with the word “favourite.”

As I write this, there is a flurry of activity going on behind me. This is my office area:

Writing OfficeI now work with this directly behind me:

Office_FortThis kid would be very popular in a shanty town.

Blanket Fort in office

Behold! The elusive blanket fort troll!

How many of you are lucky enough to crawl through a fort to get to work? Didn’t think so.

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Summer Mother

June 30, 2013 | Posted in Childhood, Education, Family, Holidays, humor, kids art work, Parenting, School, Weekly Round-up, Writing | By

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It’s Sunday and I’m laying in bed next to my nine year-old son. We’ve just finished a serious discussion about him picking up some additional responsibilities around the house now that summer is here. First up, mastering the Keurig and bringing me coffee in bed.

One of my favourite things about the end of school is sorting through the pile of school work these kids bring home for our annual “Lunchbox/Knapsack/School Work Bonfire Extravaganza.” I sort through it because there are always some pieces I like to keep for our memory boxes. Except the math sheets my 14 year-old daughter brings home. Those look like schematics for the International Space Station, and I can’t look at them long; they make my head spin and they burn first.

I especially love reading their writing journals. My son hasn’t fully developed his “filter” so I often need to assure his teachers that I am not the world most negligent mother. And believe me, he didn’t make it easy this year. When asked by his teacher what his plans were for his birthday, he told her that his mother was “just gonna make me watch her baseball game and then she’ll probably take me to the bar.”

I assured her that our beer-league baseball games are most delightful to watch and the chicken wings at the bar are one of my son’s favourites.

But I’m hoping this note I found in his journal reassured her that I’m not entirely horrible at motherin’:

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Here are some other things I wrote this month at MamaPop

How Not To Be A Sucky Parent

Why 40 Being The New 30 Is Bad For Women

And this post by Kira about “single” parenting really resonated with me:

Am I a Single Mom?

I hope you have a lovely long weekend, with all the “brought to you in bed coffee” you can drink.

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Serious Boy

June 27, 2013 | Posted in Childhood, Education, Family, Parenting, Writing | By

Jiu_Jitsu_Yellow_BeltI signed both my kids up for Jiu Jitsu back in January because they needed more physical exercise and martial arts appealed to me for it’s additional benefits like the ability to defend themselves, mostly against each other. My daughter lasted only a few weeks, instead choosing to focus on soccer and sweet-smelling hair products, but my son took to it immediately because they teach you to hit things with sticks and that’s always been in his top five favourite activities.

A few weeks ago he earned his second and final stripe on his white belt, along with an invitation to test for his yellow belt. This is serious business and he was excited but quiet. Any time I tried to talk about it he shut me down immediately. He doesn’t like to talk about his successes this boy, and it’s very frustrating. But it’s who he is, and while I can make him change his underwear, I can’t change his personality. Too many words from me spoil his joy like big drops of vinegar in the pudding.

We were very early for the test, which was because I can’t tell time properly since I change the clocks so often to manipulate my kid’s bedtime. We sat and waited for almost an hour until the dojo opened. It was quiet and cool while we waited, and we whispered to each other even though we were alone. When he’s thinking about something he is like a fawn spotted in the forest, and you need to measure your words as to not scare him back into the trees. “I’m sorry we’re so early,” I said. “Although, I guess it’s better to be early than late.”

“It’s okay. I’m used to it,” he said. I wasn’t sure what he meant, because we are almost never early for anything. The ten minute grace-period before soccer games start were made for my family, and we grace-period the crap outta those. “You know,” he went on. “I’m used to it; how we’re weird.”

“We’re weird? ”

“Yeah. We’re never on time, and then suddenly we’re an hour early. And how we laugh at everything and you’re always singing. We’re weird,” he says. “But it’s okay.”

Sensei arrives and we enter after her. We sit and wait while she gets ready for test. My son looks a bit nervous, but I know he will be fine. I wouldn’t mess with this kid; he’s got a mean roundhouse kick, and his family is fucking weird.

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A Primer For Minecraft Parents

June 19, 2013 | Posted in Childhood, Education, Family, Holidays, humor, I'm a horrible person, Irritation Level: High, Parenting, Writing | By

Minecraft SkinDo you have a child between the ages of seven and “I-stopped-counting-after-the-third”? Did you also make the huge mistake of giving them access to electricity? Do you provide opportunities for that child to have social contact with other human life forms? Do they shout random terms like “Butter!” and “Creeper Lava Diamond Pig!” even before you give him a dose of Benadryl on the drive to Gramma’s house? If you answered “yes,” to any of these questions then it is likely you know my pain. My gigantic, cubic, vertigo-inducing pain known as Minecraft Mania, or “MM” for short.

Note: If your child has not yet asked you to download this game, you should close this window, find your family’s passports, and make immediate plans to relocate to North Korea where internet access is sketchy at best. WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?

MM has been going on at our house for some time. I first became alarmed when several friends inquired as to the prognosis of my child’s “medical issue.” I was confused until I realized that every time they saw him, he appeared to be attached to the wall by an electrical device charging plug, thus giving them the idea that he was on dialysis of some sort. The truth is that he lives with constant fear of a dead iPod, because something – something – Zombie – Pigman – Diamond – Sword – BUTTER!

My son awaits Minecraft updates with more anticipation than he does Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Because those guys? Meh. Board games and chocolate eggs have nothing on TNT and crafting tables. My nine year-old cannot be trusted to flush a toilet, but he can build a city better than a Mayan aristocrat, and that’s what will matter instead of pesky social graces when trying to secure a life partner.

We have a problem with MM you guys, and it’s sweeping the continent. It’s not even the game itself that forms the crux of the issue. I’m pretty strict with my kids about the games they can play and in researching Minecraft I’ve come to understand that it can be a great learning tool. Players get to be creative and tech-savvy, and they can build friendships with unseen online players in damp basements all over the world.  Minecraft also allows parents to have alone time to get dinner made, or a pile of laundry folded, or have sex with a partner who doesn’t require batteries. Nope; the real problem is this, and it’s approaching our house faster than my neighbours with a “cut your lawn” petition:

There are only so many synonyms for “cool” and if my calculations are correct, I’m due to run out at 7:16pm on June 28, 2013. Which, as the cruel fates would have it – is the last day of school here. I cannot spend eight weeks of summer showing continual awe over TNT and lava explosions without compromising my already fragile mental state.

Minecraft TNT

What does one say to comment on apparent carnage at a ski lodge? Is it “well done”? or perhaps “Super”?  Should I call a child psychologist?

Let’s help each other. Here’s a list I’ve compiled in case you’ve exhausted adjectives feigning interest in Minecraft:

  • awesome
  • neat
  • wow
  • nice
  • impressive (non-beginner parents only, please)
  • rad
  • interesting
  • hmmmm
  • mmmmmm
  • mmmmmm-hmmmm
  • FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST I SWEAR TO YOUR HOLY ENTITY OF CHOICE YOU BETTER GET THAT IPOD OUTTA MY FACE OR I WILL RUN IT OVER WITH THE CAR WHILE YOU WATCH AND I WILL LAUGH DOING IT

Sometimes you can get away with using a term more than once if you alter the inflection. (But be careful; I went too far turning “cool” into the three syllable “kewwwwll” and lost street cred with my son’s Minecraft gang. Related: Guess who found pee all over her new bathroom mat?) I will also warn you against pulling any smart-ass moves like using words that would appear in a freshman college paper. Words like “fascinating,” “riveting” and “enthralling” are best left to the pros, lest any sarcasm seep through. You can try “nifty” and “cats-pajamas, ole chap!” but only if you take blood pressure medication and could pick Slim Whitman out of a line-up.

I don’t ask for help often, but I am calling in all favours now. Hit me up with your terms and coping strategies parents, because if you’ve got a Minecraft kid, I know you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve (and also probably some tear-soaked tissues.)

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