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Aug 26, 2014

Things My Children Will Have To Do Without This School Year

Ah yes, late August. Those weeks when you start to really notice that the days are getting shorter. The mornings are cooler. Christmas and Halloween are sharing space at Costco. You are faced with the realization that your summer bucket list will go largely unfulfilled - again - and vow to lower your expectations next year. There was really never enough time to do all that stuff anyway, or so you tell yourself.

I think that for a lot of parents the last week before school starts is mostly bittersweet. I mean, on one hand someone else will have to entertain your kids all day, but on the other the start of a new school year means that winter is really just around the corner. It's back into routine and rushing around from work to school to activities and back again. You've been enjoying the sunshine and now it's back into the tunnel. Someday you hope to see light.

I remember absolutely LOVING back to school when I was younger. I liked summer enough, but I spent most of my days reading anyway (I know - lame). I am still enamored with clean notebooks. Back-to-school shopping always meant a trip to the city to get supplies and new clothes. We came home for lunch so there were no pretty lunch boxes to buy. If my Mom was stressed about it at all, it was more because she was a teacher and had her own stuff to get ready. On the first day of school we got ready, someone took a picture and we were on our way.  

Now, though. I struggle with expectations, both my own and others'. I don't think anyone really knows what's going on anymore. All of a sudden getting ready for school to start has become this huge event. Is it a milestone, sure. But the level of intensity to which some people are taking their preparations for back-to-school is ridiculous, and the degree to which the media feeds into it is getting out of hand. So despite whatever disapproving, pitiful looks I might get from other Moms or how hard-done-by my kid might feel when "everybody else" has something that he doesn't, here are a few things that my kids will have to do without this school year:

1. Bento Box Lunches

Now I am sure that 85% of the Moms who use Bento boxes do so because it's an easy way to ensure that their kids bring the "litterless lunch" that we are implored to pack for our children. If your child's lunch box contains one of those pre-packaged Goldfish snack packs instead of a perfect portion in a reusable pouch then not only are you giving the finger to the environment, you are also disobedient. You rebel you!

So while I have bought the reusable sandwich bags (I go through too many Ziplocs), there is no way on God's green earth that I will ever do something like this:

 Or this:
I took a bit of a risk and showed these pictures to my kids. Thankfully, not all children are eager to eat Bambi or blue bread. I sincerely admire this woman's talent, but learning how to make Disney characters out of food is not on my immediate To Do list. And if my kids don't like to eat olives, making them look like Bambi's eyes isn't going to help.

2. A Personalized Pencil Case 

Or personalized anything really. Personalizing something just prevents it from being passed down or passed along. It can be expensive and you're better off buying a sheet of labels that you can use for all the things. 

Even if I wanted this pencil case, it does not meet the requirements on the school supply list, so....

3. All of their school supplies

This one kind of punches me in the gut because I tried. I really tried. Okay, that's not exactly true. Sometime in April or May we got a notice from the school that said that we could place an order with a company they've contracted with to have all the school supplies our kids need ready and waiting in their classroom on the first day of school. I knew the deadline to order was sometime in mid-June but then I mostly forgot about it. Until, of course, two days after the deadline to order arrived. I didn't think too much of it though, because really - how difficult could it be to find school supplies for a Grade 1 and Kindergarten student on my own? 

The answer is: somewhat hard and very time consuming. 

Thankfully, after hours of searching I am mostly done. This is good, because I only have one day left to find the last two things on my list. If anyone knows where I could find a "Winnable 5 poly slant binder pocket (insertable tabs)" or what I believe is probably the last package of Crayola 8 pack of crayons (Large) in the city, please let me know.

4. A new backpack. 

Half of my kids got a new backpack because their old one was literally falling apart. The other half will have to make do with last year's. I will admit to sitting down at the computer and perusing all the many types of backpacks available for kids these days. I was all ready to blindly order new backpacks for everyone (like Oprah!) before my husband reminded me that the one our son used last year was still in really good condition. We washed it and it looks as good as new, but cheaper. 

5. Organized mornings with no yelling

I mean I'll try, but I can't do it alone. 

We'll all be okay.

Aug 7, 2014

The Gift of Doing Nothing

For the first time in a very long time, I have spent the day doing pretty much nothing. 

Or did I? 

I slept in and took my first ever bed-selfie with my daughter. ("I look so cute," she commented.) 

I took my time drinking my morning coffee and eating breakfast. Eventually I found my way back upstairs to get dressed. I sorted out the suitcases, putting the kids' dirty clothes some place they won't find them. I swear that when we look at the photos from this vacation it will look like they are all from one day because the kids have worn the same outfit again and again. Oh well. 

I did take an hour or so to try to teach my daughter to ride a bike on two wheels. She was not as ready for it as I was/am. Then lunch, reading, a bit of a nap, freezies, and this.

"This" of course, meaning writing. As my days go, it's been a bit of a lazy one. 

I love most things about vacations. I love getting away from the routine and trying new things. I cherish any opportunity to just sit and read a book (I've gone through two so far). The weather has been as close to perfect as it gets around these parts, so we've spent lots of time outdoors - at the beach, on the boat, riding bikes (or trying to ride bikes).

If there is one thing I don't like about vacations, it's the pressure to try to fit everything in, to take advantage of every waking hour to DO SOMETHING. That will not be the case this time. We've been able to do everything at least once, so I am not worried about missing out on anything because we couldn't fit it in, or because the weather wouldn't cooperate. 

So now I am giving myself a break. The gift of doing nothing. I heard - somewhere - that creativity needs at least a bit of idleness to truly grow. Maybe that's why the writing hasn't come as easily to me lately; I have been too busy to let my mind wander. I haven't given the spark time enough to grow into a fire. 

We are so used to being on the treadmill and having several unfinished 'to do' lists that to have time to just sit and think and relax is the ultimate luxury. We usually pay good money for it too. Yet, for many of us it's hard to let go of the pressure to be productive, even when the opportunity presents itself. (I suppose what constitutes "nothing" to some people is a good day's work to others. When I say that I've done "nothing", it could mean that I have spent the entire day in a book, or playing Candy Crush, or sleeping. Things that do not require much energy.)

And it's not just that we won't let ourselves do nothing either. This morning, my husband was after the kids to go outside, to go do something. 

"It's so beautiful outside. Why aren't you out there playing?" I'm sure he's not the only parent who's said that. I convinced him that they will get outside eventually and they have, more than once. It has sparked their creativity too; right now they're singing a song they made up with a fairly simple lyric: "Damn mos-quitos" 

They pick things up easily, those kids of mine. Oh well. 

They've also put down the electronics and are colouring outside on the deck. We might try the bike riding again later, or not. We might head down to the beach again, or not. The pressure is off.

All that is certain is that I am going to enjoy this day filled with time that is mine to decide what to do with. I might decide to do something, or nothing.

Probably a little bit of both. 

I hope you get the chance to do nothing sometime too. 

Jul 29, 2014

Lessons Learned from a Summer Vacation

Here we are in the dog days of summer, and the treadmill keeps running.

Sure the weather is better, but otherwise things have stayed a lot the same. I’ve been working, Murray’s been working.  We’re still shuttling the kids to day camps and daycare.  Weekends have been spent running errands.

But we’ve also had Stampede and played “Say Yes to the Dress” with my mom and sisters.  We bought a new car – ahem – minivan. I know. I joined the dark side, and so far I love it.

Judge me. Whatever.  I’m a suburb-living, minivan-driving soccer mom.

We managed to kick off the summer by getting away for an extra-long weekend to the mountains. It’s going to be our only “just us” family vacation this summer, so I’m glad it was so much fun.

The kids are pretending to roar...obviously.

It didn’t start out that way.

I did my share of internet research before finding what I thought was a super-sweet deal at Panorama Mountain Resort, just outside of Invermere, BC, about a three and a half hour drive away. I had hoped to leave early enough in the day so that we could still enjoy the evening at the resort, but that was not to be.

By the time we got there it was close to 10:30pm. We checked into our room at The Pine Inn and it was…not nice. I don’t know if it was the hole in the wall or the stains on the carpet. No. It was the black stains on the quilt. Yes. It was those black stains on the quilt. When I saw those - that was when I knew that we couldn’t stay in that room.

See, black stains. So gross.
But then I wasn’t sure what to do. I mean, I am a lawyer and I am very good at advocating for things I believe in, but I’ve never been good at negotiating for myself (at least not in that way). I’ve never asked for an upgrade for anything.  If I get a meal at a restaurant that maybe isn’t up to par, I won’t send it back. I give pretty much everybody the benefit of the doubt, but this was a bit too much.

 So at 11:30 at night I went back to the front desk and explained – VERY NICELY – that we could not stay in the room they had given us. I told the girl who was on the night shift – Laura from Petawawa – that I understood that it wasn’t her fault but could she please find us somewhere else to go. At first, she said that she could probably find a room but that it would cost me more and then I – VERY NICELY – explained that seeing as I wasn’t getting near what I was paying for that I certainly wasn’t going to pay any more than that.

These pools were right outside of our new room.

Laura found a room but couldn’t approve the upgrade herself because it was quite a substantial step up from the room I’d booked. She called her supervisor, and then her supervisor’s boss – AT MIDNIGHT!! – and got them to approve the upgrade.

I love Laura.

I went back to the room and we packed up and settled down in our new room.  We all slept very well that night and as you can see from the pictures below, we had a fantastic weekend hiking and swimming and playing mini golf. They had a campfire with s’mores on the Saturday night for the kids. The room that first night was the only thing I could really complain about (which I did - VERY NICELY).

I learned a few lessons that weekend.

First, don’t let a bad first impression spoil the entire time. If we’d let that first night colour our entire weekend we would have missed a great time together as a family.  

Second, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.  I’ll admit there was a very strong part of me that wanted to just suck it up and stick with the room I’d booked. But I knew it wasn’t right, so I went and asked for what I’d paid for. This leads to the final lesson:

Third, you are more likely to get what you deserve if you ask VERY NICELY. I wasn’t rude. I didn’t swear. I didn’t raise my voice. And in return, Laura was very helpful. She wasn’t combative or defensive. 
You really do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

If only all vacations were this successful. 

I guess there’s time to find out…the summer is only half over. 

(This probably goes without saying, but Panorama did not pay me to write this review. Just thought I'd clear that up.)