Meet criminal Barbie

If you read my last post you know that naked Barbie dolls are littering my backyard, turning the space between the cedars and the school yard fence into the set of a slasher film. Venture back there and you’ll see a dozen naked blondes covered in dirt, painted eyes staring vacantly up at the sky.

Of course I wasn’t happy about this (Barbies aren’t cheap!) but as we also established in the last post, I am not great at attending to domestic chores in a timely manner.

Now it seems the Barbies have suffered yet another indignity. One that involves being shoved through the holes in the fence so Harmony and her friends can play with them at recess.

I know this because I was asked to stay after school and speak to the teacher about it. I also know this because a young boy was apparently “quite traumatized” by finding naked girl dolls in the school sandpit. I also know this because I happened to see Mermaid Barbie sitting on the Principal’s desk during a meeting that, thankfully, was NOT called to discuss the tiny sex offender living in my house.

Sigh.

So we had a talk with Harmony about not bringing toys to school, and about why a little boy might be surprised to find a naked female form that looks nothing like his mother buried in his playground.

Shame on me for thinking that would be the end of it. Double shame on me for not realizing what she was doing outside the next morning before school.

Can you guess?

Yup. PUSHING THE BARBIES BACK THROUGH THE FENCE. A tidy little “F you” to the powers that be including, or perhaps especially, her mother.

Then, later that day at recess, my little criminal upped the ante by lying to the teacher who came to investigate the crowd gathered around the sandpit.

Harmony, whose credibility might have been hurt by the fact that she was sporting a leopard-print vest, pink tights, blue rain boots and a tiara, could sense her reign of terror was coming to end. Refusing to go quietly, she calmly lied through her baby teeth and said “Nope, no Barbies here.”

To his credit, the teacher figured out pretty quickly that he was being sold a bill of goods. A bill of dirty, naked, anatomically incorrect goods. So he reached into his arsenal of shame and manipulation tactics and said: “Harmony, you empty my bucket when you don’t tell the truth so I’m going to give you to the count of three to tell me what’s going on here.”

Finally, Harmony caved. But not until he got to three, of course.

Now, all of this wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t been elected Chair of the Parent Council last week. Thankfully, I insisted the morality clause be removed from my contract but how long until I’m impeached is anyone’s guess.

 

 

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It’s me time, dammit!

After being ripped from sleep at 5 am to deal with Austin’s explosive diarrhea and Harmony’s explosive diarrhea covered foot, I spent the first hour of the school day on my hands and knees wiping, flushing, blotting, spraying and steaming in the girls room. Then I lit a scented candle and contemplated a wee nip of Pinot Grigio. Cleaning poop with the consistency of almond butter is not fun, but it’s REALLY not fun when it cuts into me time.

Me time …  those glorious hours between 8:30 and 3:00 when my children are in school (also known as the fastest 6 hours of life). As a temporary stay at home mom, I’m on duty in the mornings and most days after school (also known as the longest 6 hours of life). So the only time I really get to myself, when I’ve had enough caffeine to enjoy it, is during the school day.

I will save the “I am not a maid / slave / handmaiden and just because I’m not working doesn’t mean I should have to do everything” debate for another blog but suffice it to say, my Women’s Studies professors would not be happy about the gender roles my husband and I have recently taken up (or the amount of naked Barbies littering my backyard like a Patricia Cornwell novel). Nope, those are topics for another day (like when the house is in my name).

So I try to protect me time as much as I can, which means as few boring errands and chores during the day as possible. I prefer to spend my me time watching Netflix, writing, catching up on a novel (while snacking, because I’m not an invalid) or meeting a friend for lunch. Occasionally I will throw in a load of laundry or pick up a broom, but then I have to reward myself with another episode. Perhaps I’m okay with being the 2014 version of Peg Bundy because I know it’s a limited time offer.

One of the few exceptions to this “rule” is grocery shopping, because grocery shopping with two kids sucks even harder than 5 am dog diarrhea. Ditto hair appointments. But vet appointments, trips to the LCBO (of which there are many), library book returns, prescription renewals … these are all done with kids in tow because I have better things to do with my time, like find out what Mary Crawley is going to do about all those blasted suitors!!

Having said all this, there are a few things around the house I can’t ignore for much longer.

Like this, the outdoor painting session gone awry (two weeks ago).

Let's hope those are water-based paints.

Let’s hope those are water-based paints.

Or tossing the flowers that Daren gave me for our anniversary (on September 10).

RIP

RIP

Or Daren’s bedside table which makes our room look like it’s been burgled.

image-3

This is bad.

So much to do, so little time.

 

Meet Your New Microwave. You’re Welcome.

Last night, while lying in bed listening to my seven-year old cough up a lung, I designed the perfect microwave. The one I have is pretty awesome. It looks good, is conveniently located, and it even convects (whatever that is). But what I really want is something that performs the desired function with the push of ONE button, not two or three.

If you’re like me (lazy and impatient with a brutal backlog of Netflix shows to watch), you pride yourself on cutting as many corners as possible in your domestic life. Standing in front of an appliance when I could be watching Downton Abbey? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So I present to you … drum roll please … a newly designed microwave featuring helpful buttons for everyday life.

1. DON’T BOTHER – for when you know they won’t eat it, no matter what the temperature.

2. COFFEE – specially programmed to reheat that last inch in the mug, for the third time. Especially useful on those mornings when you want to drop the kids off at school and keep walking.

3. JUST THROW IT OUT ALREADY – for meals you spent an hour preparing despite a sneaky suspicion that no one would eat it. Bonus feature: “Let it Go” plays as the food reheats.

4. FROZEN. FROM A BOX  – when it doesn’t matter what it is or how to cook it. Because it’s frozen from a box and you just can’t.

5. NUGGETS OF INDETERMINATE ORIGIN – the equivalent of speed dial on your phone.

6. SURPRISE! – when you’re not sure what it is or how long it’s been in the fridge. State of the art sensor determines if reheating, cooking, or total detonation is required.

7. DATE NIGHT – for that holy grail of leftovers: restaurant meals. Reheats perfectly every time then dries your tears.

8. SCORCHING – for those times when you find yourself saying “Your noodles were cold, darling? Here, try this instead.” Automatically dials 911 for you.

9. FUCK IT – for everything else.

 

 

 

Nesting. It’s a Thing.

Like many people, I think September is truly the start of a new year. For years, Labour Day has been my January 1. Whether it was going back to school myself, starting a new hockey season or sending my kids off to school, the first few weeks of September have always by synonymous with change and opportunity, making it my favourite time of year. After all, who’s motivated to embrace fresh starts in the middle of winter? Not this cat.

To me, September represents a gentle transition from the frantic pace of summer, when we’re determined to keep the kids busy and make the most of every sunny day, to the slower rhythm of autumn with its wood-burning fires, crisp air and gorgeous sweaters.

Every year, as I reluctantly move indoors, there are two things I do consistently, without fail. First, I look around and think “how can I possibly celebrate this season of renewal when I’m surrounded by all my old stuff?” And so I march off to Homesense or Urban Barn looking for the “seasonal accents” that will take the sting out of spending the next nine months indoors.

The second thing that happens is that I start paying more attention to food. I spend hours (okay minutes… but lots of them) pouring over cook books and magazines in search of new recipes, healthy tips and creative lunch box ideas.

This bizarre phenomenon is called “nesting”, and it’s a thing. Oddly, it’s most common among pregnant women who are driven by a biological need to feather their nest, so to speak, during the latter months of pregnancy. I assure you there is no bun in my oven yet every September I start caring about things I normally ignore (namely keeping a nice house and meal preparation). If I didn’t have a kid in the bath and a kid …ummm…. somewhere else… I would do a little research and hit you with some impressive psychological jargon. I’d talk about nesting as a product of our primal instincts, bears hibernating, changing seasons, etc etc. But in the absence of any real effort on my part you’ll just have to trust me: nesting is the real deal.

But sadly, it isn’t all scented candles and pumpkin patches. Nesting can be a cruel and sneaky mistress. She can also be a bit of a bitch, if you want my honest opinion.

One of the biggest traps I fall into when nesting? Believing that ads like this represent real life. Believing that with the right throw pillows, blankets, furniture and “seasonal accents” we too can have a picture perfect family. Take this Ikea ad:

newly-IKEA-kitchen-catalogue-2011

I mean, WHO LIVES LIKE THIS?? No one I know I can tell you that.

In my house the chairs would be mismatched and crusted with dog barf. And they most certainly would not be white. The “accents” would be leftover from my student days, not stylish and colour co-ordinated. And don’t even get me started on the idyllic family scene. At chez Millard the kids would be fighting, crying and looking homeless.

Lately I’ve also spent a lot of time at Michael’s carefully selecting craft supplies I think we both know I’ll never use. I’ve never even HAD a wreath let alone made my own. A recent craft cupboard inventory found hot glue, spray paint, dollar store feather boas, decorative bird cages, push pins, fake pussy willows and a 24-pack of Martha Stewart Crafts Essential Colours glitter. So if Cher ever offers to babysit, we are in business.

Another nesting trap? Convincing yourself school lunches aren’t the anti-Christ. The nesting instinct makes you believe you can make them fun and healthy, that with a little extra effort you’ll be rewarded with smiling, well-fed, academically advanced children envied by their peers because their mom sends “Where The Wilds Things Are” themed lunches.

Are you f-ing kidding me?

Are you f-ing kidding me?

During the first week of school I went slightly berserk with the heart-shaped cookie cutter, using it for everything from sandwiches to cheese. Then I pre-wrote a week’s worth of lunch box love notes, baked up a storm and spent a small fortune on bento box accessories because for some reason having all the food in one container is no longer socially acceptable.

Being on parental leave (ie. surfing Pinterest and Googling “DIY body scrubs” all day) means the nesting sickness has been able to escalate beyond a minor affliction (think bee sting) to something more acute (think smallpox). And like most diseases that result in physical scarring, nesting has left its mark. What have I got to show for all this shopping, crafting, pinning, cooking and creating? Pretty much nothing, unless you count the bento boxes that have been lost, melted in the dishwasher or eaten by a dog. And aside from my daughters’ teachers thinking I am bat-shit crazy, I’ve also managed to set a ridiculously high standard for lunch box cuisine that, upon my return to work, cannot possibly be maintained. Now I have to start reintroducing poor overall presentation, processed snacks and general ambivalence much earlier than I anticipated. Fiddlesticks!

But it’s not all bad. Truthfully, I’ve enjoyed putting more effort into all things domestic, and I’ve really enjoyed having the time to make cookies instead of buying them, and to search for the perfect kid-sized gloves that will make my little Cinderella and Elsa absolutely giddy with happiness on October 31st. Turns out I don’t hate being domestic, I just hate being too busy to enjoy it.

I also joined a swim team and two weeks ago I had my first legit practice in 25 years. Naturally I haven’t been back since, but whatever. Baby steps. And I’ve found a great organization to volunteer with. If you’re interested in child welfare and want to see an aggressive, optimistic and visionary plan for finding homes for 30,000 foster kids by the year 2020, please check out http://www.untilthelastchild.com. If you’re mean and heartless, don’t bother. And if you want more tips on nesting, just let me know. I’ll get them for you as soon as I find my other kid.

 

 

So About That Homework…

Dear Teacher,

I have a confession.

Actually I have several but I’m sure you’re not interested in hearing about the cupcakes I ate last night or the recurring dream about my dentist. The confession you’ll be most interested in relates to the promise I made to you in June. You know, the one where I said I would practice reading and writing with my oldest daughter, your student, every day this summer? Well that didn’t exactly happen, and here’s why.

First, you might remember that we adopted another little girl right at the end of the school year. Needless to say the adjustment was a bit overwhelming and what passed for routine at chez Millard quickly descended into chaos and anarchy. Structure and good intentions went out the window faster than you could say “stop throwing grapes at your sister.” Despite my best intentions to carve out daily reading and writing time, we were sidetracked by that pesky little thing called “life” (an umbrella term for stuff like cat vomit on the carpet and dog poop in the living room. Also Netflix). As we adjusted to being a family of four instead of three, practicing capital letters and figuring out what five fish plus two fish equals kind of fell by the wayside. Sorting out ownership of toys and clothes and planning for a summer getaway to promote family bonding (and day-drinking) took precedence over graduating to chapter books and two syllable words.

Even though you suggested many ways to “make learning fun”, I still failed you. To be fair, my daughter is now reading the back of the cereal box every morning and combing through the cupboards looking for words that are easy to sound out, such as “Jam” and “Tam-pon”. But the reading of the street signs? Bad idea. I’m certain I’ve caused at least three accidents by slamming on the brakes when screams of “I CAN’T SEE” assaulted me from the back seat. And helping with the grocery list? No offence, but if I had the patience to spell “carrots”, “wine” and “boxed brownies” out loud, not to mention a spare two hours to complete this exercise, I might-MIGHT-be less of an abject failure in both motherhood and culinary arts.

I didn’t stress too much about these first few weeks of summer because I was certain that once we got to the cottage we’d get the learning happening. Long lazy days with no plans and no urban distractions would be PERFECT for playing school, I thought. It will be a good opportunity for one-on-one time, I thought.

Except it seems that I miscalculated my willingness to sit inside spelling and adding while the sun shone outside. Also overestimated? My daughter’s desire to sit at the kitchen table instead of on the beach. I can’t sugar-coat this for you, Teacher. During the five weeks we’ve been here we didn’t open a single workbook or pick up a single pencil. Simply put, my daughter didn’t learn squat about reading and writing this summer.

Wave Watching: B

Wave Watching: B

Crab class: B

Crab class: B

Bubble Studies: A

Bubble Studies: A

However, if you’re willing to let us substitute “beach studies” and “welcoming a new sister” for reading and writing, I can proudly say that we’ve been racking up straight As in sand castle building, shellfish carcass identification, surfing, sea glass collecting and discreet ocean peeing. I’d also give us a solid B- in sharing a room, forcefully rehoming hermit crabs and personal hygiene (see ocean peeing). So while our book learning has suffered, our life learning has not, and I figure as long as I keep buying cereal, everything will be fine.

 

Patience is a Virtue. Until you get electrocuted.

Everything was going fine until I got electrocuted.

Yup, that’s how we started a 36-hour east coast solo parenting mission. With electrocution.

Actually, it began with me making a promise to myself that I would be more patient with my children so this story isn’t ALL bad.

We’ve had visitors for two of the last three weeks and while they’ve all been wonderful (no, really) the lack of privacy, mostly cloudy weather and living in an 800-square foot cottage have taken their toll on my mental health rendering me a tad snappy with the little people who call themselves my children.

Full disclosure: patience is not one of my strong suits, even at the best of times. I’m the kind of person who thinks instant coffee takes too long, who wonders why the first car in the advance green lane is so slow off the mark, who has broken more than one appliance by forcing it to stop before its cycle is complete. So when it comes to small children, I tend to get a bit murdery over things like baby talk, rapid-fire “why is that plate blue”-type questions, and hysterics over spiders so small they are invisible to the naked eye.

Maybe it’s because I have zero experience with kids under four and have never learned to love and appreciate the baby stages. Or maybe I’m just an asshole. Either way, I think God knew what she was doing when she gave me two four-year olds instead of infants because I’m a much better mom when my children are not acting like children.

Don’t get me wrong, I think babies and toddlers are amazing. Every time I see a bassinet or a snowsuit with ears my good ovary practically explodes. And I can appreciate how nice it is to have a little tiny being that depends on you for everything and actually gives a rat’s ass about your opinion. But as much as I tell myself I have to appreciate these years where they’re small and impressionable and gentle, I sometimes find it really difficult to step back, summon my zen and live in the “poop” / “vagina” / mind-numbing cartoon / selective-hearing / milk-spilling moment.

But enough about me.

With Daren on his way back to Toronto for a night, I woke up to a picture-perfect day of bright sunshine and calm water – one of those days the maritimes gives you once or twice a month, if you’re lucky. So it felt like the right time to give myself the “today is a new day / cherish the little things / don’t be such an ogre” speech.

This lasted through breakfast and even into the late morning, as we headed to the barn for Harmony’s riding lesson. As Harmony was tacking up, Leila asked if she could go and see the horses out in the field. At this point, two things happened. First, I thanked heaven for blessing me with ONE child who bothers to ask my opinion. Second, I made the curious decision to touch the fence myself deciding, apparently, that this would be better than simply staying away from it.

Needless to say there was a rather strong electrical current running through said fence and upon touching it I received a nice little morning pick me up, along with a mild heart attack. The entire incident resulted in a minor setback in my Kumbaya attitude but the presence of my eyebrows helped get things back on track.

And tomorrow is another day.

 

 

The Black Dog

 

BlackDog

There’s nothing I can say about Robin Williams’ suicide that hasn’t already been said. I can’t mourn his loss,  celebrate his talent or rage against the demon that is depression any more eloquently than has already been done. But one of the crazy things about depression is this: even though people who suffer with it generally experience the same symptoms, it is a very individual and very personal disease. There are few experiences  that are so universal yet so isolating. Depression, thought it might manifest in the same or similar ways, grabs us and keeps us and affects us very differently, which is why I believe that sharing our experiences (without comparison or judgement) is so important.

Mental health is a tightrope many people walk every day, and depression is often triggered by a major life event. For me, it was an ovarian cancer scare followed by pulmonary emboli, surgery and recovery. (Sorry to make light, but anyone who’s given themselves needles in the stomach and been forced to wear a horse-sized maxi pad for weeks knows these aren’t things you easily recover from. I can’t even see a white surfboard without breaking out in hives.)

After hearing those amazing words – “there’s no cancer” – and being sent on my way sans left ovary, everyone around me celebrated (except for the right ovary, who was very lonely). But returning to normal life and trying to put my body and mind back together quickly became an insurmountable task. Some people describe depression as “the black dog” (sorry Austin) or a dark cloud. For me it felt like being trapped in quicksand (now that I have kids I would describe it as silly-putty on steroids.) It was a persistent pressure that smothered me from all sides every minute of the day. It made getting out of bed or off the couch feel impossible. I cried over everything and couldn’t feel happy, let alone ecstatic, that I was going to be okay. I had terrible nightmares about being told they’d made a mistake in surgery and that there actually was cancer but now it was too far advanced to treat.

Predictably, the people around me didn’t understand this. How come I wasn’t happy? How could I be sad when I’d just received the best news ever? So what if I hadn’t pooped for 17 days and my bedtime ritual was a needle in the stomach … there was NO CANCER.

I was emotionally drained, exhausted, sore, mad and VERY hormonal. All before noon. I was like an angry hornet: pissed off because I wasn’t invited to the party and determined to ruin it for everyone else. I didn’t want company but I didn’t want to be alone either. The things that always gave me pleasure, books, my dogs, my favourite TV shows, FOOD…. I didn’t enjoy any of it. Intellectually I saw my emotional state as ridiculous, but I couldn’t do anything about it which only made me feel worse.

The missing ovary and resulting hormonal instability (“hormonal instability”, THERE’S an understatement) probably deserve some of the blame, but whatever the cause I was a MESS. I tried counselling but that got off to a rocky start when my therapist left the office early the day of my first appointment. Apparently she forgot I was coming.

Even before the surgery I’d been taking a low dose anti-depressant. Depression and mental illness lurk among the branches of my family tree so I’ve always been a bit obsessive about my mental health. I told myself taking anti-depressants was just being proactive but in truth they made me feel like a different person. I was less irritable and emotional and better able to manage setbacks. Minor disappointments were no longer the end of the world, and I was now able to enjoy myself and my relationships with more of an even keel.

In her amazing book “Twenty Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed”, Sherrie Eldridge wisely counsels parents to “Evaluate Your Emotional Health” during the adoption process. Often, the stress of infertility, the waiting for a child, the setbacks, the multiple disappointments can all lead to depression. And then when you actually get your child, there can be challenges you were completely unprepared for and ill-equipped to manage. It’s a cruel fact that the thing you’ve yearned for and waited years for, can be the thing that sends you down that rabbit hole. When you realize that the serene fantasy you’ve spent years envisioning is never going to happen, it can be a real shock to the system.

But we soldier on. We all do. Each of us finding ways to manage our demons and our stresses. Some work and sadly some don’t, but as long as we’re trying and hoping, I think there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Even at my worst, I never even contemplated suicide and for that I am incredibly thankful because I know that place exists, and I can scarcely imagine a hell any more real than that.