Thursday, November 29, 2012

Monsters: My morning at kindergarten

Every Thursday morning I spend an hour or two in Alyce's kindergarten class. It is a split junior and senior mix, so the age range of this zoo classroom is three to almost six. Alyce falls into the almost-five category, as she reminds me constantly in the week leading up to her birthday next week. I volunteer in class for a few reasons: I'm nosy, I'm curious, and I'm a sucker for kindergarteners. There is one little boy who is so completely delicious that I want to wrap him up, put in my pocket, and take him home with me. (I didn't in case you were concerned.) There is also a sweet-as-pie little girl who almost knocks me over each Thursday morning to ask if she can read to me. Every week it is the same boring book about a train, but I'll take the boredom for the grin she gives me in return. Alyce is in a large class, twenty-nine monsters in total, but the teacher and assistant do what they can. They rely on parents for an extra hand, which is where I come in. It gives the kids another adult to pester with stories. No word of lie, one little one interrupted the teacher this morning with a story that went on for five minutes. He got lost in the twists and turns of his own plot and everyone in the room was glancing at their watch. We'll all cut him some slack, though, because the poor guy is only three.

Most of the kids don't like bananas. I know this because their first job of the morning, after hanging up coats and stuffing lunch bags into cubbies, is to write their name on the daily survey. Last week the question was "Do you have a sister? Yes or no." They all take turns with the marker and painstakingly print their names in the appropriate column. Today the question was "Do you like bananas? Yes or no." Like I said, most kids fell on the "no" side of this debate. I do like bananas, so this morning I sneaked my name on the "Yes" side, right next to Max's. Next the kids are instructed to find the appropriately aged book and sit down for some reading. This totally happens. Well, some of them try. One little one wanders around the whole time begging Alyce to sit next to her and rarely actually sits down with her book. I don't know what happens most days when I'm not there, but on Thursdays Alyce wants to sit with me, resulting in the other one threatening to un-invite Alyce from her sleepover (which I'm pretty sure is an imaginary sleepover, since all of these kids are too young and loony for a sleepover). A few other children spend reading time telling each other very loud stories about what happened on the way to school. About ten kids each week bring me very long books about dinosaurs to read to them. (Another dinosaur book! Again! Ok, fine.) And then that sweet-as-pie little girl asks me again if she can read that story about that bloody train. But how can I turn down that pile of sweetness in pink corduroy pants? I just can't. Can you?

The rest of the morning follows the same lines, with the teacher giving instructions on a variety of projects. Today it was drawing pictures about the last time they went to the doctor. I thought Alyce would illustrate a scene from a few days ago when she went completely over the edge screaming about a flu shot, but she went for a generic (though, lovely) smiling Alyce next to a figure in a white coat. There wasn't a scream, tear, or terror on her page. The teacher gives instructions, the kids set off running, and the rest of the time is spent on damage control. I like to keep close to the sweet little boys in the corner who try so very hard to sound out the sentence "I went to the doctor because I was sick" with their thinking tongues poking out the side of their mouths. In the end it looks more like this: "IWntTDrirCSk."I was so proud.

At snack time it's my time to escape. Alyce has usually enjoyed my time there, showing off that her mama is in the classroom, snoodling in my lap when the teacher reads them a story. Today I threw her off by bringing my own snack, pulling up a chair, and eating with a table of four year olds. I like to shake things up in kindergarten, I'm telling you. Until next week.

P.S. I forgot to tell you one thing: watching and listening to twenty-nine three to six year olds yell the Canadian national anthem is up with my ten favourite sounds. If you can only give up a few minutes of your week, I suggest you show up in Room Two around ten o'clock in the morning, just before the birthday announcements. They won't let you down.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A few favourites

It's cold now. Last Friday fall fought the good fight, and fought right alongside it in my ballet flats with no tights, but winter has bested the both of us. It is here now, the snow clouds are beginning to appear, and I've reluctantly pulled out my boots. I'm reluctant not because I dislike winter (because I love winter), but I hate wearing boots because I hate wearing socks. It's complicated. Maybe I just haven't found the right pair of socks.

The rest of these photos were taken yesterday on the way home from school. Our usual walk home was interrupted by hunting down a mailbox to send a card to Nana (why can't I ever find a mailbox?) and a stop for a victory hot chocolate once we finally tracked one down. This week I hope you, too, can find a moment for a victory hot chocolate. You could even put whipped cream on it, as Alyce and Shira did. I would not put whipped cream on my hot chocolate because not only do I not like socks, I also do not like whipped cream.

Here are some things that I do like:

If you celebrate Christmas with children and you're looking for an advent calendar, check out this homemade one from The Knitty Gritty Homestead. I adore the idea of spreading out all the fun over 25 days.

I sometimes (only sometimes) complain about waking up at 5:00 am with Shira. Helen Jane starts her day at 4:00 am on purpose. What I like the most is how she makes use of her day, even if her rhythm is a little different than most 9-5ers.

I don't know how to crochet, but I am going to make this for my girls. Just you watch me. P.S. Please send help. I really don't know how to crochet.

Vegetarians may want to avert their eyes!  Whole Larder Love had me reading for hours. I have no interest in living this particular off-the-land life, but I'm encouraged that there are such people in the world. I also wouldn't mind an invitation to dinner.

I love learning how other people find the time to make food in their kitchen. I also love it when they snack on a potato chip or two after baking their homemade bread. We can't all be perfect. Life is far more interesting when things are a little complicated. (I sound like a broken record.)

And speaking of eating, heaven is brussel sprouts and pecorino cheese.

I would like to make dinner in these.

Grilled cheese with pesto and applesauce.

And this grilled cheese, too. Brie and cranberries, you had me at grilled cheese.

It's not always about cheese, you know. This roasted squash salad also includes creme fraiche.

I must have squash on the brain, because I also need to share with you this squash and apple salad. Read for the recipe or just read to enjoy one my favourite blogs. I could read Molly's words all day long, and when her latest blog post pops up in my reader I save it for last, so I can savour it just that little bit longer.

I'm going to try this new pumpkin bread recipe tomorrow. I have fresh pumpkin in the fridge just waiting to become bread.

 P.S. Matt took Alyce to the her first ballet this weekend, the National Ballet of Canada's performance of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I'm not posting any photos from their date because he promises a guest post all about it. Let's hope he's not just all talk. But this last photo was taken last night as Alyce tried to recreate the ballet in drawings. She's been taking the photos torn out of the ballet program with her everywhere she goes, so I think they had a good time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The secret cure to your common cold: Nostalgia

I cut Shira's hair the other day. It was daring, I know, but it was getting out of hand and something had to be done. Since she screams murder at the hair dresser I figured I'd take my chances here at home. (All you hair dressers out there in the world are shaking your collective heads right this very moment, aren't you?) I'm sure I'll get a lecture the next time we visit the children's salon with airplanes and horses for chairs (because I always get a lecture), but I think I did a great job. It doesn't hurt that she looks this delicious to start with. I'm posting these before and after shots for my mum who never checks facebook. She ditched facebook when I started this blog.

Our house has been overwhelmed by sickness these past couple of weeks. Chest colds, sinus infections, non-specific fevers, you name it. I even took Shira to the doctor hoping they would give her something to lighten her misery, but nothing. It's just a bad cold. The upside is that she sounds like Kathleen Turner. The downside is that she looks like this:

Poor sweaty Shira. I've also been miserable, but I managed to dull the pain last week with a little nostalgia. Head cold and all (because you can't quarantine yourself forever), I packed my bags and headed to Waterloo to see a Sloan concert. This wasn't just any concert, but a homage to their Twice Removed Tour, which I saw the first time when I was sixteen. That's right, I relived my teen years last week by singing and dancing (more like bouncing, but with great feeling) my heart out to the band that more than anything defined my years at high school. I used to have Twice Removed on tape, and I would listen to it in my mum's old car with my best friend Angie over and over and over again, taking my hands off the wheel to clap in all the right places. I loved Sloan then and they didn't disappoint last week, almost twenty years (good lord) later. The difference was that I now have less patience for drunk twenty-two year olds and eventually watched most of the show from the back of the room. Where it was less loud. With less people. And now I am officially the oldest person I know.

The best part was seeing the concert with Angie, still one of my closet friends after all this time. The photo below was taken the same year we first saw Sloan together, the one below that was snapped in the dark last week. Growing older is a strange business, but no matter the complaints it's kind of magical to do so alongside your good friends. Nineteen years ago we were watching Sloan together for the first time, probably having misled my mum into thinking that it was legal for newly licensed Angie to be my supervisor while driving to the concert with my beginner's license. I think I can trace my love of live music back to that concert, especially after I slammed my head on the stage and was pulled up by lead Chris Murphy to enjoy the rest of the concert from a seat next to Jay Ferguson playing guitar (that's right, I pulled my very own Monica, but with less dancing). Last week Angie and I were a bit more subdued, her standing next to her husband, both of them happy to be out for a night without their three little kids. I'm sure I'm the first person to say this, but isn't growing older just the craziest?


How do you cure a cold? What concert would you attend to relive your own youth?

Friday, November 16, 2012

A birthday wish for my mum

Happy birthday to my beautiful mother! If you celebrate your birthday with half the intensity of your granddaughter it will be a great day. I hope your day is filled with only good things, and tomorrow we'll arrive bearing two little girls who are eager to bake you a chocolate cake.

Love you,

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When complicated is better than simple

There was a mum sitting next to me at Starbucks this morning and I couldn't help but listen in as she spoke with her three year old daughter. I was initially drawn to the harsh tones of her voice, scolding her daughter for running in the through the coffee shop, for running back and forth between tables, for doing everything, well, like a three year old. She told her daughter some version of "no" about a hundred times in the span of ten minutes, and I wanted so badly to run over to her and tell her yes. Yes, you can twirl around. Yes, you can climb on all the chairs. Yes, colour anywhere on the page.

I'm not sharing this with you not because I want to shame this mother or judge her or put her impatient parenting on display. She was impatient with her daughter, but so was I not ten minutes before when Alyce starting pouting before going to school. We're human, all of us. In addition to her impatience, this mum was also kind, made her daughter laugh, and the two of them were clearly in love. I think I'm going to get the following parenting advice tattooed somewhere on my body: It's complicated. Relax.

Since I'm kind of afraid of tattoos, I'll just write it here one more time: Parenting: It's complicated. Relax.

I've written a lot over the past couple of years about how much I struggle with with hard parts of parenting. I love, I mean really love, being a parent. I am blessed beyond measure with my two daughters and if we're lucky we'll have more one day. I am also blessed beyond measure to have my own mother, who more than anything has taught me to love my own children with utter abandon. (That's the two us above, circa 1980. Isn't she gorgeous?)  As parents we are gifted with pieces of advice that aim to remind us to take a breath and to be gentle on ourselves, and while I mostly embrace these reminders, there is one piece of advice that has always irked me.

I hate it when people try to tell me to keep things simple. Keep it simple, they often say, it doesn't have to be complicated. I get it, I really do. At the end of the day we just love our kids and that is enough. But here's the thing: parenting is complicated! There are so many feelings that come and go during a single day of parenting that simple is simply out of the question. Alyce alone has roughly 6,389 emotions in a single day, which competes neck and neck with my own variations. Simple? Rarely. Complicated? Always. If I don't acknowledge that parenting means feeling both impatient and elated in the presence of my children, then my only other option is guilt, over not keeping my cool enough or rising above their crazy moods. Sure I'll accept that as the adult I should have fewer tantrums, but I can't rule them out completely. Life just isn't like that.

At the end of my life I will be grateful for the simple things.  I will remember the way it felt to hug Alyce every single morning after she crawls out of bed all warm and bed-headed. I will remember how much I loved breastfeeding Shira well into her third year (we all know this is going to happen). And I will never forget the way my whole body smiles when my family is together. But if we erase the complicated in favour of the simple, even if our intentions are good, we will lose something.

As a parent on any given day I will lose a little patience, dance in my kitchen, read twenty books, wish I had more time to myself, and be smothered in kisses. There is nothing simple about it, but I welcome it nonetheless.

Friday, November 9, 2012

In case you ever took me seriously, I now present you with a letter to my cats

 Dear Cats,

I really wish you would at least contribute to the rent. Toronto is an expensive city to live in and we could use the help. Remember when all of you had dental surgery a few years ago? It cost about a billion dollars and you've never even given us a dime. Nothing, you give us nothing.

We took you all in when had nothing but the cold streets of Toronto to stand on. Pomegranate, you were the first one to arrive. Content to live as the only cat, you are now forced to suffer Hille's total, stalker-like obsession. I know its annoying but it's not like you have any other concerns (see above, re: rent). Hille, my dear sweet beast of a cat, Pomegranate is not your mother. Now quit trying to nurse from him and come sit on my feet. They're cold, and since you don't pay rent you could at the very least make us of your girth to warm them up.

Lucy, I don't even know where to start. If you're not locked in a closet, or sleeping in the mittens box, or drinking from my @!#*ing water glass again, you're probably sneaking out of the house to organize a union or bet on horses. I'd probably care less about your goings on except for the fact that you love Matt more than you love me and declare your preferences loudly on the couch while we are trying to watch Sons of Anarchy. For Pete's sake I know he's awesome. Now quiet down, Gemma is about to hit rock bottom and I don't want to miss it.

Can I tell you all something? When I was pregnant I really kind of hated you all. I know that sounds harsh, but I was growing a human being and you just smelled bad. Right up until my morning sickness began I thought you were all awesome, but then I had a change of heart. After Alyce was born and you stopped trying to sit on her head as she nursed (because at least two of us found that particularly irritating), my affections returned all the way up until I was pregnant with Shira. Tricked you! Back we were again, dancing that old dance of you smelling bad and demanding too much of my already-spread thin attention and me just not caring very much.

I'm not pregnant again so you're in luck for the time being. I am mostly fond of you. When we moved to Toronto this summer and you were freed from the lonely basement of my mother's house, I was happy for you. Against my better judgement I let you and your cat hair sleep on bed all day long, that is, if you and your cat hair are not sleeping on the living room chair. And I'm even a bit grateful, especially to you Pomegranate, for having the patience to let Alyce fall in love with you. She loves hard, that one, but conditionally: if you don't let her pet you for at least twenty minutes every day she'll turn on you before you can say best friend forever. But if you sit there, as you do, you warm her heart so much that her entire face glows. Thank you.

I'd like the four of us to reach an agreement. I promise to continue paying your rent and showering you with luxury and you promise to keep doing exactly what you're doing. Because if I actually thought you might change in an attempt to make my life easier, well then I would be as ridiculous as you are.

Yours sincerely,
The Management

P.S. Also, thanks Hille for being awesome at catching mice. And for resembling a walrus. You're my favourite.

P.P.S. You, too, Pomegranante.

P.P.P.S. Did you hear that Lucy? We all make our own choices.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

And it was a great birthday

I had a birthday last week and wanted to share a few photos with you. On the morning of my birthday I was showered with not one, not two, but at least six birthday cards from Alyce and Shira, not to mention the presents, both new and old. What do I mean by old presents? If you're a parent you probably know what I'm taking about: young children find unbelievable joy in the giving of presents, so much so that they will find old things around the house and lovingly wrap them up just for you on your birthday. In addition to the new baking spatula and ovenproof baking dishes I received (thanks Mum), I also opened a half-used sheet of stickers, a points card from our local frozen yogurt store, and sponge, all wrapped carefully in Tinkerbell wrapping paper. What else could I possibly need?

I celebrated my birthday weekend (why celebrate only for one day?) in style: lunch dates with friends, quiet dinners with husbands (mine), and an all-afternoon dinner with my family. The girls were dressed in their best birthday clothes, fairy princess costumes optional. Sadly I did not take a single photo of Matt that weekend, but I can assure you he was there celebrating with us.  I did, however, snap a photo of myself, for posterity. Mostly it's just a photo of my iPhone. Danielle, age 35, and her iPhone. You're welcome.

Thank you to everyone for giving me the loveliest of birthdays.

P.S. That baby I was waiting for? Well, she arrived a few days later. And she is perfect, in case you were wondering. As is her mother.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Once again, bring it on, Monday

How do the weeks just do this, again and again and again? One day it's Monday, the next you realize it's already Friday because Shira is excitedly preparing for Shabbat. And then it's Monday all over again. This week felt as though it came crashing down on me. This was not a gentle nudge but a two-handed push toward all that's on my plate. (Speaking of plates, I hope this is on it this week. And this. This, too.) You know when you have that silent conversation with yourself that goes something like this: Seriously, have you not finished that yet? Still no? I'm very disappointed in you. Or is that just me?

I've taken a lot of time away for just me lately, not the kind of time that sort of just happens when you avoid your work (or again, is that just me?) but those delicious stolen moments of deliberate decision to say yes to something good. I took a few great days off around my birthday and another couple this weekend to spend some time with good friends. There is little division in our house between work and rest (with the exception of Shabbat, an excellent reminder to slow down). Some of this comes from the nature of our work (writing, reading, typing, mostly on our own), but a lot of it arises from the decision to keep Shira at home instead of in daycare. We're always juggling our time, splitting the days into workable bits, hoping that we can cram in all the necessary details. I'm always interested how other families divide their days. How do you do it?

If you were a fly on the wall on a given evening in our house you would a) watch a lot of sports, and b) listen to Matt and I natter on about how to divide the next day. We usually need to decide on the following: who gets up with Shira, who sleeps in (or hides in the bedroom working while the other feeds the children breakfast), who works from home that day while the other escapes to a quiet library or office, and how long each of us needs to work in the evening. Exhausted? Me, too. But in the middle of all this work-talk there are so many moments, both exhausting and exhilarating, that squeeze themselves in no matter the negotiations. This is where it really gets good. You can't pre-schedule time to watch Alyce and Pomegranate become fast friends early one morning last week, the first time Pomegranate willingly endured her pets and rubs. No, those moments just happen, schedule or not.

This is what I think about sometimes while I'm listening to Matt (wisely) asking me to plan the next day's schedule. Yes, there is a lot of work to be done, a lot of schedules to accommodate. But mostly I'm just waiting for all those moments that happen anyway. Mondays will keep turning into Fridays. Bring it on.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I drag my husband out and he all he got was a lousy dog bite

Never a Halloween enthusiast, I had to drag Matt out trick-or-treating last night. He tells me that even as a kid he thought Halloween was too much work since he could just eat candy from his kitchen. And yes, when he shared that little observation with me I did collapse on the floor in the biggest eye-roll in history. But I invited him nonetheless because I was worried that I wouldn't have enough arms and patience to keep two kids under five from running into oncoming traffic and gangs of goblins if I went out on my own.

There was one tiny complication though: some jerk dog in a pumpkin costume bit Matt. Yes, I dragged my husband out to trick-or-treat in the pouring rain and all he got was a dog bite on his back. He's ok, though it did really hurt. The dog managed to clamp his teeth down enough through Matt's jacket to leave teeth marks and a big bruise, though thankfully he did not break the skin. The owner of the dog, someone I see in the neighbourhood every week, behaved terribly. We had to yell at her to stop walking as I pulled up Matt's jacket and shirt to see the severity of the damage. She asked if he was alright, but did so trying to hide behind a tree down the block. We should have gotten her name and information but everything happened so fast. I'm going to speak to her next time I see her. This dog came inches from biting Shira, who was catching a ride home in Matt's arms. If the dog had bitten an inch to the left we probably would have spent last night at the hospital.

Our Princess Sleeping Beauty and Fairy Princess had a delightful Halloween nonetheless. We've been drawing ghosts for weeks and we even managed to carve out a pumpkin last night, who joined us for dinner on the dining room table. And then there was the bake sale at school on Tuesday and, of course, the candy. The girls asked to sleep with it last night and I expect that we'll hear a lot about it over the next day or two as we ration out a few pieces at a time. I also expect that by the weekend we'll offer to trade in their candy for a Barbie. We all pick our battles, no?

P.S. Sorry, Matty.