Kids by hand

Good morning

There is a particular kind of blessing that comes with waking up early. When I was a child, it used to amaze me that every time I visited my Grandmother D, she would announce that it was time for bed sometime around 9 p.m. and then… then she would proceed to tuck herself into her big, lush bed right alongside me with every intention of going to sleep.

It boggled the mind.

Grownups were supposed to stay up late, after all. That was the pattern I had grown up with and that was the pattern I knew best.

The littlest kids went to bed first. Then me, after homework was done and often after having helped my parents for a bit with the printing business they ran from our basement. But inevitably, having banished me to my gabled bedroom where the lilacs brushed against the window and perfumed the air the entire month of June, they would vanish into the depths of the house and start up the presses whose clickity-clack would echo up through the vents and lull me gradually to sleep.

It wasn’t unusual for them to work until quite late at night. It wasn’t all that unusual for them to work until 1 o’clock in the morning, either. And then, in the morning, there would be stacks of boxes full of inky-fresh paper or staple-bound books or, my favourite, little custom-made pads held together on one side by the stinkiest of all stinky glues, rubber cement.

So when Grandmother D would crawl into her big bed piled high with pillows and comforters mere moments after the sun had drifted out of sight… it was unusual, to say the least.

But Grandmother D knew a secret. She knew that if you went to bed before 10 o’clock, you could more easily wake up at 5. And that at 5 o’clock in the morning, you can sip a cup of tea from a delicately handpainted teacup while watching the last few tomcats slink their way home. You can rub the sleep out of your eyes while listening to the birds say hello. And you can find 4-leaf clovers from the patch outside your door while they are still covered with the morning dew, soaking the toes of your slippers and the hem of your housecoat.

It was, to her way of thinking, a most civilized way to start the day.

When K was first born, he was by nature an early riser. He would wake around 5 o’clock, nurse for a bit, and by 5:30, he was ready for the day to begin in earnest. As new parents, we were not all that impressed with such an early-rising child. In fact, we rather resented the fact that after going to bed at 11, K would wake us at 1 o’clock, and at 3 o’clock, and then be up for the day shortly after 5.

To say it took some getting used to would be an understatement.

And yet, I find myself gravitating towards that very same schedule lately.  Now that my children tend to sleep at least until 6:30 or 7:00, you might think I would enjoy a little sleeping in, but like my grandmother always did, I often find myself waking some time around 5 a.m. of late and just enjoying a few minutes of listening to the quiet all around me.

Sometimes, like this morning, I get up and work out and shower and eat long before anyone else is awake. Other mornings, I listen quietly for a bit, think about the day ahead, then burrow back under the covers, snug up against The Man We Call Dad, and sleep some more until 6:30 or 7:00.

But no matter which way I choose to start my day, I have discovered that the little bit of silence at 5 o’clock in the morning brings with it a blessing of peacefulness that rests solidly in my heart for the rest of the day.

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On the limitations of height

I am not a tall person.  If you know me in person, especially if you are one of my siblings, you are probably now laughing hysterically. I am one of four kids. Two of us are tall. Two of us are not. It is a profound injustice, to my way of thinking, that my baby sister has a full 12 inches on me, as does my baby brother.

She can reach the top shelf in the kitchen.  She can see what’s on top of the refrigerator.

Needless to say, I can’t do either of those things without a stool.

But I can walk under the laundry line without ducking and I have never, ever had to worry about whether or not a ceiling fan was going to whack me on the head.

My son is, at the moment, rather obsessed with a person’s physical size.  He is, for now, the kind of kid that most other people describe as “tiny” and it bothers him a lot, for this year, many of his friends have outgrown their childhood and fully embraced that lanky, leggy, tall state of being known as teenagerhood.

I try, as I am sure all mothers do, to reassure him that he is growing daily (as is evidenced by his constant need for new pants and new shoes), but only time will tell if he will take after me and my lack of stature, or if he will be more like his uncle M, my little brother, who was a rather tiny boy until suddenly he wasn’t.

I have, in my 43 years of existing, gotten used to not being able to see anything over 5 feet high without the help of a ladder.  I once lost our trivets.  You know, those things you put on the table before putting a hot dish on them? Who on earth loses their trivets? Three of them? All on the same day?

Me, apparently.

And they were gone for long enough that I finally gave up hope of ever finding them and replaced them with new ones.  It wasn’t until some time later when I climbed up on a stool to clean the top of the fridge, that I discovered The Man We Call Dad had merely put them away in a place that seemed logical to him at the time, but that is entirely out of sight for me.

So now I have 6 trivets and a note-to-self to look in the tall places before giving up hope.

Apparently, K now has the same mental note, for this week, he tidied up his locker at school and it finally dawned on him to look on the top shelf (his locker has 2 upper shelves, you see, but only one in easy reach). On that top shelf, he found quite a few treasures, including 2 pairs of mittens, a hat, a sweater, 2 art projects, and his cache-cou.

Just in time for the weather to be warm enough that the cache-cou is no longer needed, he has found it and is now a very happy boy indeed.

Ironically, this has happened in the very same week that he has announced yet again that none of his pants fit and, oh yeah, he needs yet another pair of new sneakers, too. With any luck, he’ll soon be tall enough to see on top of the fridge for me, too.


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Spring cookies

While on the subject of cookies, I am firmly convinced that B and her cookies has finally, at long last, brought about spring. Every spring, the Girl Guides sell cookies. Boxes and boxes of them nestled together in a cute little box, 12 boxes packed tightly into a distinctive cardboard case, three of which now grace my dining room buffet.

These cookies are, I think, a most delicious sign of spring.

In fall, they sell the chocolate-covered mint cookies, but I don’t like those nearly as much. There’s just something about the neat rows of chocolate and vanilla that makes my mouth water and entire cases of cookies vanish in a heartbeat. The first case, as a matter of fact, didn’t even last 24 hours before we were staring at an empty box with a tidy envelope of money. One box for K, and one for B, of course, for she absolutely must sample the wares herself if she is to sell them effectively (or so the logic goes). Another for a teacher or two, and a school bus driver, and that guy who works with The Man We Call Dad and makes us laugh every time he comes over. Scratch that, he bought two, as did B’s best friend, C (after initially saying she only wanted one).

In such a way do cases and cases of boxes of cookies get sold, year after year. Last spring, we sold 7 cases. At 12 boxes per case and 20 cookies per box, that’s 1,680 cookies.

(We won’t mention exactly how many of those 1,680 cookies were consumed by me.)

This spring, she chose to bring home only 3 cases. So far, I’ve managed to limit myself to a single, solitary box.

Which is now empty.

And is sitting on the little, round, antique table in my office, mocking me.


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A mouthful of cookies

This weekend was a cookie weekend.  The Man We Call Dad bought two whole bags of Oreo cookies. Two bags, not one. Two, because he knows from long experience that Oreos are a particular weakness of mine and I tend to eat them four at a time.  And because he knows the kids have learned from my fine example and see nothing wrong with devouring pairs of Oreos multiple times a day.

Usually, he buys a single bag and stashes it away in the pantry, trusting that when he comes back a few hours later, there will be cookies in there. A reasonable assumption, no?

And then he assumes, having had a single cookie, or maybe two, that when he puts the bag back in the pantry, there will be cookies in there tomorrow, too.

Which there totally would be, if the pantry had a lock on it.

Which it doesn’t.

And if I didn’t adore Oreos as much as I do.

And if I didn’t say “Sure, and get me some too!” every time a child said “May I please have an Oreo?”

But they do, and I do, and no, the pantry does not have a lock on it, and yet The Man We Call Dad still finds himself puzzled by the empty bag of Oreos on day two.

So this weekend, he bought not one but two bags of Oreos in the hopes of getting more than just a few for himself. To help with this plan, I baked a few cookies, too.  Two dozen chocolate chip, two dozen peanut butter (from the best recipe ever), and a dozen mint chocolate chip for good measure.

Yes, you read that right. We now have five dozen homemade cookies and 2 bags of Oreos in the house.

Or rather, on Sunday we did. But right at this moment… Well, there are rather fewer, shall we say, and let’s leave it at that.


Lost and lost-er…

For Christmas, I crocheted a “cache-cou” for K.  A cache-cou is, quite literally, something that hides your neck from the bitter cold of winter. You might call it a cowl, except his wasn’t very drapy at all. Really, it was more like the neck of a turtleneck sweater without the sweater.

He was quite thrilled with it. The darkest gray, almost black, and thick as anything, and very soft, with 2 large buttons he chose from the stash himself. He wore it to school every day for a week or two…

…and then he lost it.

“It’s probably not lost,” I told him in that confident way mamas everywhere can announce things like “it’s just a little bobo” or “the nine thousand, four hundred and twenty-two pages of math homework you have to do tonight won’t take all that long if you just buckle down and do them.”

I told him to look in his locker really carefully.  To check the shelf up top where it might have gotten shoved to the back, and to look under the pile of stuff that inevitably winds up swimming at the bottom like a bizarre ocean of papers and mittens with an old sock for a whale and a shoe for a boat.

The next day, I told him to look in the lost and found, and to ask his classmates if anyone had seen it.

He says he did both.

About once a week for the next couple of weeks (otherwise known as every time it got cold out), I told him to do it all again. He did, every time I reminded him, and would inevitably come home insisting it was really, really lost.

“It’s not lost-lost,” I told him. “We just don’t know where it is at the moment. But it has to be somewhere.” (My logic is astounding, isn’t it?).

Yesterday was the last day of school before March Break.  I reminded him as he left to have a good look through the lost and found for anything that might be his, kissed the top of his head, and shooed him out the door before he missed his bus.

About an hour later, my emailed dinged. The school’s monthly newsletter was out. In it, there was a reminder to have your kids look through the lost and found as everything would be donated to charity March 7th.

No problem, I thought. I reminded him to look for stuff.

And then I remembered the cache-cou and suddenly this idea of March 7th felt a whole lot more final. When K came home from school without the cache-cou last night, I had to face facts. The cache-cou wasn’t just lost… it was lost-er.

I imagine somewhere in the city, someone is even at this very minute walking around with a lovely charcoal grey turtleneck sweater without the sweater thinking how lovely it was to find such a thing just lying on the ground. They probably don’t know it was handmade.  They probably don’t know it was well anticipated and well loved. But they know it’s warm and cozy and keeps their neck hidden from the bitter wind.

I hope, whoever you are, that you are warm and toasty. As for K, well, it looks like this mama is going to be making him another one just in time for spring.

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Fun with math

This morning, my daughter challenged me with the Dichotomy Paradox at an ungodly hour of the morning.

She had snuck into our bed for a morning cuddle, you see, and thought that it was immensely unfair of me to want to kick her out so I could get out of the aforementioned bed and go and have a shower. (I was trapped between the child and The Man We Call Dad, who was likewise trapped between the other child and me.)

“Up,” I told her. “I need to have my shower.”

She responded with a drawn out moan of a word followed by a mad clutching of my arm and burrowing under blankets that I interpreted to mean “Oh, hell no!”

Or maybe “Can’t we cuddle for just a little longer, Mama?”

Either way, I now had a child glued to my side like a baby monkey grasping its mother and The Man We Call Dad as a solid, warm presence at my back, and absolutely no hope of being able to extricate myself without great effort, great complaining, and possibly some heavy machinery.

“I’ll give you ten more seconds, then I’m having my shower,” I informed her (as if I had any real possibility of finding my way to freedom in the next 10 seconds).

“I’ll keep count,” she told me oh-so-helpfully.

Right before she closed her eyes again and pretended to be sleeping.

After a while, I pointed out that I was pretty sure that 10 seconds had passed. In fact, I was almost positive that it had been more like 10 minutes.

“It’s been 8 seconds. There are 2 more seconds left.” I was told. A few minutes later, we were at 9 seconds. And then 9-1/2 seconds. And that’s where the trouble began.

“Well, before we get to 10 seconds, we have to get halfway between 9-1/2 and 10, which would be 9-3/4. And then we have to get to half of the quarter second that’s left, which is 1/8 of a second, which still leaves us 1/8 of a second to go. And then we split that in half and still have 1/16th, and then 1/32nd…” and on and on she went, ending with “…so we’ll never, ever get to 10 seconds and you’ll just have to cuddle with me forever.”

She was entirely too gleeful about this idea.

Zeno’s dichotomy paradox,” I may have moaned. There may have been some eye rolling too.

She had no idea who Zeno was, or what dichotomy meant, but she was absolutely certain that my poking her in the middle until she vacated the premises and freed me from my warm haven prison was mathematically impossible and I just couldn’t leave.

She looked so adorable in purple flannel with her hair all wild from sleep and her hands on her hips and her eyes sparkling with mischief that I almost agreed with her.

But then I pointed out that the Dichotomy paradox also meant that a child who wanted a cupcake for dessert after breakfast (don’t you have dessert after breakfast? You totally should.) would have to cross half the distance from the bed to the cupcake, and then half of that distance, and so on and so on and in the end, would never ever ever be able to actually reach the cupcake, which would mean that cupcake eating was, in fact, a mathematical impossibility.

Like Aristotle did so many years before, she instantly scoffed at the possibility of the distance between her mouth and the chocolate cupcakes on the kitchen counter being infinitely divisible and announced that you could stop at eighths, after all, and therefore eat as many cupcakes as you like for after-breakfast dessert.

I don’t know about you, but I like the way she thinks, even if she does think about math far too early in the morning.

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It’s still winter

This morning as I got up and prepared to take the kids off to their appointments instead of sending them off to school, I realized that it is, indeed, still winter.

I am ever so grateful that Mother Nature heard my plea and sent us buckets of fluffy white snow the other day. We were blessed with a few days of nicer weather — still below freezing, of course, but above -10 C, with a lovely thick snowfall, all of which qualifies as nice. The kids certainly enjoyed spending hours racing down the ski hill with The Man We Call Dad.

Well, except for the falling-into-an-unseen-pit-hidden-by-fluffy-snow-and-having-your-skis-pop-off part.

Oh, and the falling-off-the-chairlift part. (Don’t worry – it was right at the start before anyone was airborne.)

And the fact that our great big thermos jug apparently has decided to retire young and therefore is refusing to keep the hot chocolate hot. Or even warm. Or even lukewarm-ish.

But despite all that, they had a great time and came home thoroughly worn out. So much so that all three of them went straight to sleep on whatever cozy surface they could find.

As for me, having chosen to not throw my somewhat precariously held together self down the side of a mountain at breakneck speeds, I enjoyed a day of reading and crocheting and chatting with friends without any interruptions, and then I enjoyed tiptoeing around my still silent house with a secret little smile tugging at my lips as I watched all three of my most loved ones sleep away the latter part of the day.

Despite the cold and despite the need for shoveling and despite the torturously, endlessly, long nature of the season, I do like winter. If nothing else, it provides a great excuse to spend great quantities of time curled up under a blanket with a book and maybe a child or two.

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“Take your kid to the library” has a day?

Tomorrow, I have learned from Twitter, has been dubbed the official “Take Your Kid To The Library Day.”  I was only a little befuddled when I read this.

The first thing that crossed my mind was “what, only one day?”  That was quickly followed by outrage as I remembered that there are, in fact, many families who never ever use the library. There are kids who only ever go to the library at their school. That there are people who not only didn’t get a library card when they were two, they still don’t have a library card at the age of 22 or 32 and probably never will. Ahem. Sorry, I get a little passionate about books and reading sometimes.

I like libraries.

When I was a girl, the library was a place I visited almost every week. Rain or shine, whether I had a drive from my parents or had to walk there myself, it was somewhere that I went.

All. The. Time.

I knew the sections of the library the way other people know their way around the grocery store. I knew which books were always on the shelves and which ones I had to request in advance if I wanted to get my hands on them anytime soon. I even knew the Bookmobile‘s schedule and would visit it often even though the library had a branch within easy walking distance, just because it was fun to climb inside an RV filled top to bottom with bookshelves and chat with the librarian for a while as I picked out books.

When I started taking care of my brother and sister after school and on weekends, I would often throw N in her stroller and take them to the library with me, even if the little old ladies who went to the library for a coffee and a gossip thought that it was absolutely shameful that a girl my age had a baby and a little boy and no wedding ring. I gave up trying to explain that the kids were my siblings and not my children after only a hundred times or so.

To this day, I simply cannot go in to the library and come out with only one book. Even if I only have one book that has come in as a request and I have a dozen at home in the library book bin (yes, we have a bin. It helps us not lose books.)… it is physically impossible for me to exit a library with a single, solitary book. Three is a bare minimum, I’ve found, though 6 to 8 is better. And if I have the kids with me? Well, let’s just say we really like books around here and leave it at that.

Nowadays, the library offers so much more than just books. Homework help, book clubs, free lecture series, computer classes, e-books, language lessons, access to newspapers and journals, museum passes, pedometers, energy meters, genealogy services, help for small businesses, career help, computer and internet access, audiobooks, animated “talking” books for kids, board game clubs, storytime for kids, and workshops of all kinds. We’ve had all sorts of fun, thanks to the library, and only some of it has been centered around books.

Someone told me recently that they get the same feeling walking in to a library as they do walking into a church. That sense of hush, the need to be quiet and reverent, the need to tiptoe down the aisles and let the presence of so many books just sort of wash over you before you can start to make a few choices.

I get it. I do, really. I love that library smell. I love the stacks of books. I love the peacefulness of spending a quiet hour or two at the library.

But I disagree.

To me, walking into a library is less like walking into a church and more like coming home and finding all your old friends sitting there chatting while drinking a cup of cocoa, and a whole bunch of new friends, freshly scrubbed and faces shining, eager to hang out with you for a while, combined with a candy store where every single shelf is marked “Free! Help yourself!” and they really, really mean it.

I don’t feel a reverent hush when I go to the library. I feel like I’ve just been handed the keys to the universe and told to go ahead and take it for a test drive.

So what are you going to do with your kids tomorrow?


A little bit of a smile

I have a new toy. It is a just-for-Mama toy, not a kid toy or a Dad toy, which I am firmly convinced is a rare and unusual occurrence around this house, until I remember all my crafting supplies and the Young Scientists kits and my fishtanks (yes, more than one) and my felt stash and my yarn stash and my embroidery embellishments stash and my books, oh yes! I can’t forget my books…

I may possibly have too many toys.


Do craft supplies count as toys? I do think so… They bring me joy. They keep my hands and my mind busy. And they clutter up a room faster than you can blink, which is, after all, the essential nature of a toy, don’t you think?

But this toy… this toy is putting a little bit of a smile on my face every time I look at it. And I look at it a lot — it’s useful, you see. It’s a Fitbit.

It’s sleek, almost like some kind of crazy post-modernist jewelery that just happens to count my steps and my workout minutes and the number of flights of stairs or hills I’ve climbed, plus it tracks my sleep and vibrates against my wrist when it’s time to wake up or walk a child to school or any other thing I need reminding of.

The kids both want one desperately. B wants the vibrating alarm feature as beeping alarms are rather annoying. K can’t quite explain why he wants one, he just knows he wants one, and really, it isn’t an unreasonable thing to get a young man, is it?

I promptly informed them if they wanted one, they could buy it themselves.

The Man We Call Dad got involved in the conversation at this point. He oh-so-very-helpfully pointed out that they had almost bought me one for Christmas. Almost. But they weren’t sure if I would like it, or if I wanted one, or if I would use it.

He then pointed out that since I have large wrists and got the larger-sized wristband, it would probably fit his wrist nicely.

Before I knew what had happened, the Fitbit was wrapped firmly around The Man We Call Dad’s wrist and he was busily playing with all the functions and waving it around to see just how far you had to move for it to count a step.

Today, I’ve got my Fitbit firmly wrapped around my own wrist once more and I am determined that it is going to stay there. This is my new toy, after all, and I am finding myself curiously not inclined to share this one, not even a little bit. In fact, I am feeling downright selfish with my new Fitbit. It’s mine, you see. Allllll mine. And every time I look at it, I catch myself smiling a little bit of a smile.


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Dear Mother Nature…

It has been a cold winter this year. All over North America, people are complaining of it. And yet, when you look at what winter in Ottawa is supposed to be like… well, it’s not so bad, actually. Yes, we’ve had quite a few days where the thermometer is getting depressingly close to (or past) -30 C. But that’s normal. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

We’ve been spoiled a bit by a few milder winters with so much snow I suspect. I can distinctly recall conversations with American friends wherein I explain that really, below freezing isn’t that bad. Provided you dress properly for the weather, you really don’t mind the cold much until it gets down past -15 C. And at the tail end of January, a sunny day of -10 feels positively balmy.

Don’t get me wrong — when the thermometer reads -25 C, it’s damn cold and I’m not afraid to admit it. When overnight temperatures are listed as -38 (and that’s before the wind chill), you throw an extra blanket or three on the bed, make sure the kids have their hot water bottles to snuggle up to, and maybe edge the thermostat up a notch or two for good measure. And if it’s a weekend, a family bed just might be in order, with The Man We Call Dad providing the warmth and only complaining a little bit about other people’s cold toes.

This afternoon, the sun is shining brightly, almost blindingly so as it reflects off the powdery white snow that coats everything within sight. You might, if you weren’t any wiser, think that it could just possibly be one of those balmy warm days of winter that’s freezing, yes, but not freezing (am I the only one who makes the distinction between freezing and freezing? Surely not.)

If you look at the sky, such a gorgeous rich blue this afternoon, you just might notice that there aren’t any clouds. Not a single one. Just blue as far as the eye can see, with bright sunshine from above, and reflected from below, too. It is the sort of day that, looking out at it from the warm side of the window, makes your heart sing with joy and that particular lightness of being that comes from a sunny day.

But Mother Nature is a trickster.

There aren’t any clouds. Not a single one. Not because Mother Nature wanted the sun to shine through and make our hearts sing.

Oh no!

No, there aren’t any clouds because even the clouds know it’s too damn cold to go outside. (And anyone who tells me it’s a myth that it can ever get too cold for clouds to form can go read this article.) So Mother Nature? Listen up…

Please send us snow. I like snow. I like the warm-ish temperatures that go along with snowy days. I like the way the kids play outside for hours building forts and sledding and having snowball fights. This cold and bright thing? I’m not liking it so much.

Glad we cleared that up.

Though the blue sky and sunshine does make my heart sing… as long as I’m on the warm side of the window.



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