It Looked So Easy on TV

After falling down an internet rabbit hole, I convinced myself to start a new hobby. I already had a clean house, well behaved kids, and tons of free time, right? (Haha! Not even close). Upcycling tired, dated furniture into modern, colorful pieces sounded appealing. How hard could it be? The videos on YouTube showed bubbly women with teeth as white as toilet bowls painting tables in designer clothes. That could be me!

An old desk of mine would be my first project. Dark, brown, and neglected, I had visions of distressed pine and dove grey legs. Once again, my enthusiasm was bigger than my skillset. My first pass with the orbital sander sent it rocketing across the garage with remarkable speed. Whoops. Thankfully, it wasn’t broken, and I learned to keep BOTH hands on the machine whilst operating. Secondly, I learned to wear a mask, since a powder-fine fog of wood particles settled comfortably in my lungs. Third, don’t wear nice clothes. Seriously. That same fog dusted my entire body, turning me into a human-sized sugar cookie. Why didn’t they show THAT on YouTube??

I spent four nights sanding; four nights of dust, mess, and noise. By the time I was done, my passion had waned. Maybe I could just stuff the desk into the storage room? Chop it up for firewood? Sigh. No, I had to finish. I had to set a good example for the kids; when you start a project, you finish it, right? Right. The next step was wiping the dust off (no problem) and cleaning the piece (doable). FINALLY, I was ready to start painting! Except I had no supplies! By the time I left the dollar store with a bag full of rollers, paint trays, and drop cloths, the hardware store was closed. I swallowed my rage and drove home in defeat. Five days of swim class, play dates, and groceries flew by until I could claw out some more free time. Nothing would stop me now! I brushed on a light gray color, and the piece began to take shape. I was excited again! Until I realized that, unlike those deceitful internet videos, one coat of paint wasn’t enough. The desk needed more. I waited overnight, painted again, then repeated the process. It took three days and three coats until the paint was juuuuuuust right. Good thing I’m such a calm and patient person (I’m not).

The desk turned out wonderfully! Crystal knobs with silver details compliment the cloudy grey paint. The desktop is driftwood colored, giving the whole piece a beachy vibe. I’m proud of myself for following through, since I’m prone to giving up in defeat/frustration/impatience. The project took 18 days from start to finish, much longer than those clickbaity internet videos. Would I ever take on another project like this? Possibly – now that I know how much work is involved. Those smiling women in the videos are all liars – their clothes are too clean for them to have done all the work!

That Old, Familiar Tune

My three-year-old son, Andy, was playing happily in the backyard. The air was warm, the sun was shining, and he was quietly examining a ladybug. He was studying it with his eyes, instead of his mouth, so I was very happy. His tiny brow wrinkled in concentration as he squatted in the dirt, the wind ruffling his hair. Suddenly, his ears twitched, his pupils constricted, and his head snapped up like a meerkat. “Mama, I hear somefing!” he whispered, and ever so faintly, like a fairy’s melody, I heard it too: the siren song of the ice-cream truck.

Andy sprang into action, sprinting towards the front yard, shrieking “ICE-CWEAM! ICE-CWEAM!” while Molly, who’d been watching TV inside, zoomed outdoors like her feet were on fire. I barely caught the two of them before they met the road. Arms and legs were flailing as I carried them inside. “Wait!” I blurted, dodging kicks and gnashing teeth, “I have to (GRUNT) get some (OW!) money!” Grabbing my wallet while holding two kid-tornadoes, we made it back outside, where I convinced them the sidewalk was safer than the middle of the road. The ragtime jazz music became louder and louder, until that bastion of summer cruised into view: the square-framed, sticker bedazzled ice-cream truck.

“I WANNA POPSTICKLE! NO, I WANNA FREEZIE! NO, WAIT, I WANNA SNO-CONE!” the kids screeched. The driver smiled, bemused, as I settled on two freezies and an ice-cream sandwich for myself. The kids snacked happily as I paid for the outrageously overpriced treats. FOUR DOLLARS FOR A TUBE OF FROZEN WATER AND FOOD DYE?? WHAT’S THIS WORLD COMING TO? And my run of the mill treat, which is two dollars at the grocery store, cost FIVE DOLLARS. I’m breaking the bank on these sugary delights! I remember when a toonie (a two dollar Canadian coin) got you four freezies and some change! (Oh great, now I sound like a crotchety old woman. Won’t be long before I’m yelling at kids to “get off my lawn!”)

Still, I’m not going to deny my kids the sheer pleasure of road-side frozen desserts, because, quite frankly, I enjoy them too. I remember the sharp pain of sprinting down my driveway as a kid only to see the back of the ice-cream truck as it disappeared from view. I vow that my offspring will never know such agony! So, I’ll keep buying ice-cream whenever the truck shows up, which isn’t often, thankfully. My one sticking point, that I’m sure is shared by many parents, however, is why does it always show up twenty minutes before dinner?

Up the Lake

With a sunny day upon us and a brilliant blue sky, my husband Jeremy and I decided to go “up the lake”. His grandparents had a lovely cabin on the beach, and they invited us for a visit. We thought we’d pop over for a day of sun and sand, but as any parent of young children knows, you never “pop” anywhere.

First, the kids needed sunscreen. Molly was stoic as I smoothed on the thick cream, but my son squirmed like a break-dancer. “It’s important, Andy,” I said as he wriggled around, “you need to be sun safe!” He slithered out of the bathroom, a trail of greasy handprints in his wake. Next came the packing: towels, diapers, wipes, every single snack in the cupboards and extra clothes for when the kids fell in the water. Our clown car of a van was stuffed like a turkey, and the dog let out a muffled “BURF!” from the back seat. I didn’t bring a book, since there was zero chance of relaxation. There’d still be whining and worry, but at least we’d be at the beach!

We trundled down to the boat launch and swiped a parking spot, unloading two hot, sweaty kids, eight duffel bags, one cooler and the dog. As we struggled our way to the dock, Jeremy’s grandpa puttered up in his boat. The ride up was serene; emerald pine trees stood watch over blue water as smooth as glass. Just as Andy was getting the “cranky wiggles”, we arrived at the rustic little cabin; there’s no electricity, cars, or cell service, and best of all, there are no other people! The little beach was ours to explore, and the five of us laughed our way down to the water.

The sun was hot and bright, and the lake was cool and refreshing. The soft drinks were ice cold, the chips were salty; there has never been a more enjoyable day. The kids played happily together in the sand. Are they becoming more mature? Will my days be filled with quiet kids who are nice to each other? HA! Of course not! Why do I insist on optimism? Andy squashed Molly’s castle, and she dumped a bucket of sand on his head. Cue both kids screaming and Mom and Dad playing referee.

With the sun sinking, it was time to head home. The dog was dragged out of the water, the kids were dressed in dry clothes, and the supplies were lugged onto the boat. I was proud of us; no one was sunburned, the whining had stopped – we’d had a fun time! This smugness, of course, was my downfall. As I was boarding the boat, I slipped on the wet dock and went butt-over-teakettle into the lake! Naturally, I was holding the bag with the towels, so I was drenched with no way of drying myself. Jeremy was struggling not to laugh as I scrambled back onto the dock, and my warning of “don’t say a word” sent him into a fit of laughter.

“Mama, you ALL WET!” Andy cried.

“I sure am, buddy,” I replied, collapsing into the boat. As we motored away from the cabin, with lake water in my pockets, I made a mental note: next time, I’ll pack spare clothes for ME, too! Once my pride healed, I’m sure this would be funny, right?

Art in the Park

A rainstorm yesterday reminded me of when Molly’s school had “Art in the Park”, a fun event showcasing students’ artwork. Molly was excited, as her class would be singing a song and she’d been practicing for weeks. Unfortunately, the school held the event outdoors in May, an unreliable month. The weather changes on a dime, and you can never be prepared enough. Molly would go to school in shorts and sandals, only for the sky to darken and temperatures to plummet. Would it snow? Would it be sunny? Why not both? I told Molly to bring some warm clothes in her backpack, just in case. Her teacher called to tell me that Molly’s outfit changes were disrupting class. “Warm clothes” to my daughter meant pink tutus, fairy wings, and plastic jewelry! What can I say? She’s got my sense of style!

The weather on the appointed day was deceptively clear. The sky was blue, and the sun was shining. The event started at two; at noon, rain clouds galloped across the sky. Thirty minutes later, the heavens opened and unleashed fury. At one o’clock, the streets were flooded. I called the school and asked if the event had been postponed.

“Well, the weather report says it should clear up around two,” the secretary replied. “It’s still on, at this point.”

“Hopefully the artwork is inside?” I queried.

“The art is covered in plastic,” she replied, “I mean…… most of it is.”

With nothing left to do but wait, I wondered if I had a scuba suit to wear. Amazingly, as the minutes passed, the rainfall lessened and slowed until…… it stopped. I couldn’t believe it; the rain didn’t even stop on my wedding day! Hustling out the door with Andy, we swam out to the van and made it to Molly’s school.

Puddles speckled the soccer field as we headed to the outdoor classroom. Wobbly clay vases and misshapen dreamcatchers were crammed under a canopy (the secretary was right: most of the artwork survived!) Andy and I found a dry patch of dirt, and Molly’s class meandered to the stage. My heart swelled as they sang a song about friendship, complete with hand gestures! They were wildly out of tune and some kids wandered offstage, but it was a great performance. They howled the final chorus at full volume after the teacher motioned for them to be louder. Hey, at least they follow directions!

Mud puddles and all, the event was a success. I was so proud of Molly and her classmates. Seeing the kids’ hard work come to fruition was great, and they deserved the praise they received. However, unless the art was supposed to imitate Rorschach tests, next year’s event should be in June – it might be drier then!

All Booked Up

With the hectic school season over, it’s time to relax and enjoy the good weather. Nothing beats hot days, picnics at the beach, and sun-warmed skin. The stove and oven gather dust since most meals are cooked on the barbecue. Dinners are spent on the patio, catching up with friends while the kids spray each other with the garden hose. At least, that’s what I imagine it’s like….. everyone’s so busy, no one has time to visit each other!

“Sorry,” my friend Allison said on the phone, “we’re camping this weekend. And next weekend we’re visiting my parents, and the week after that we’re scaling Mount Kilimanjaro.” I doubted that — who wants to visit their parents? Thinking ahead, I asked if she was busy on August 20th, which was weeks away. “I’ve got TWO things that day. I’m getting Botox, then I’m teaching yoga to stressed out kindergartners. Playgrounds are ruthless these days.” If she was brushing me off, at least she was being creative!

Summers are for long, languid days and spur-of-the-moment activities. Remember that last minute bonfire and the extra crispy marshmallows? Or the impromptu road-trip where we saw a moose chasing a bear? None of those would’ve happened if we’d had strict schedules. Molly still mentions the day we ran through the spray park in our clothes! (I was dressed in black and felt like I was on fire).

One of my favorite childhood memories involves an unplanned trip. I was four and my sister was six, and our parents bundled us into the station wagon at the end of a sultry day. We went to a sunny playground, and something about that day was magical. I can still feel my mother’s hand in mine, and the warm wooden seats of the picnic table. There was a little snack stand, and we ate spicy potato wedges covered in ketchup. Nothing about that trip was planned, but it shines like a jewel in my mind.

Let’s give up fully booked days and embrace spontaneity. Embrace late nights, bare feet, and ice-cream for dinner. Stroll into fun times with an open mind, and, if you have kids, an open wallet. I hope the next time I see Allison she’s happy with her hobbies and her schedule. But knowing her, it won’t be anytime soon: she’s booked solid for the next two years!

The Great Abyss of Adulthood

Nothing’s better than the thrill of your first ever paycheque. You’re on your way to becoming an adult! Which is good and bad, but mostly bad (speaking from experience). My first job was as a janitor for my parents, and I hated every minute of it. Emma (my sister) and I had to clean their dental fabricating office (they made dental implants, bridges, crowns, etc). It was the WORST; we’d spend hours sweeping, scrubbing sinks, and washing dishes. EVERY SUNDAY was spent toiling away until we finished, exhausted and stinking of Pine Sol. For all our sweat and tears, we were paid fifty dollars…….. PER MONTH. We were breaking our backs for less than minimum wage! On top of that, Emma would often slack off and stay home, so I had to do EVERYTHING! (To their credit, our parents paid me her share when this occurred).

One day, my sister stayed home, so I took the dog for company. I was mopping when the power went out in the entire building! It was pitch black and eerily quiet, and I was terrified. There was a flashlight in my mother’s desk drawer, so I grabbed the dog and headed down the hallway, but Buddy, a ninety-pound freight train, was more scared than I was! He refused to move, so I dragged him forward with his legs sticking straight out, looney-tunes style. I found the flashlight, grabbed the phone and called home. “Mom? The power’s out! What do I do? The dog is scared!” there was a pause at the end of the line, then she said “………… can you still clean?”

Despite such a great support system, I eventually moved on. My next job was equally glamorous: I washed dishes in a restaurant — an upgrade, right? The floor in the dish pit was always wet, and I kept stabbing myself on steak knives. But…. The pay was pretty good! Minimum wage was $8.50/hr, and I was making a cool NINE. Talk about rolling in cash! I spent my first cheque on butterfly hair clips and a mini disco ball (money well spent). I received one meal per shift, and usually had a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. I remember one of the owners eyeing me closely while I made my meal. My next shift, she coldly informed me that SHE would make my sandwich, and gave me two of the thinnest, blackest bacon strips ever. I guess bacon was expensive!

My hat’s off to anyone in the service industry because I know how back-breaking it can be. I’m glad I had those jobs when I was younger, because I wouldn’t last a day there now! My body can’t take it; I woke up this morning with a sore shoulder from sleeping the wrong way. If I had to spend my days mopping floors, scrubbing dishes, and cleaning toilets, I….wait. WAIT!! As a stay-at-home mom, I’m doing that stuff for FREE!!

Tis the Season, And I Love It!

Summer’s here! After seven months of rain, two months of grey skies, and one month of fart jokes (courtesy of my offspring), my favorite season has arrived. The air is a warm embrace, the days are long and bright, and lemonade stands are raking in the cash. Backyards are full of plastic swimming pools, barbecues, and the ever-present screams of playing children. Just picture me relaxing on a lawn chair, sun-warmed skin glistening, almost ready to unwind until I bolt up and scream: “DON’T RUB ICE-CREAM ON YOUR HEAD!” Yes, summer would be relaxing if it weren’t for the kids!

Michael says to Elly that it would be neat if he never had to go back to school. All the neighborhood kids are on Elly's lawn and she's helping to run a lemonade stand.

As a child, two months of freedom and sunshine are amazing. As a parent, it’s a little more daunting: two kids. No school. No relief. And no air-conditioning. What have I done to deserve this? How am I going to keep a two-year-old and a five-year-old entertained for 90 days? It’s hard controlling them long enough to brush their teeth!

I’m determined not to let this summer pass me by. This year, I’ll be prepared: sunscreen, diapers, and swimsuits will always be on hand. The van will be full of beach toys, towels, and dry clothes. I will NOT lose my son’s shoes in the ocean. I will NOT leave the fridge door open to “make the house cooler”. I WILL include popsicles as a food group! This season is meant for sandcastles on the beach, stargazing in the backyard, and chasing the ice-cream truck down the street. Shoes are a distant memory; bare and dirty feet are here to stay, but they must be washed before bed!

This year, we’ll take more trips and see more sights. We’ll explore nature trails, climb trees, have friends over and play in the sprinkler. Maybe I’ll even have time to lie in the sun and read a book! (Yeah, right – my kids instinctively start scream-fighting when I try to relax).

So, bring it on! Bring on the hot sidewalks and furnace-like temperatures. Bring on bike rides and suntanned shoulders, ice-cold drinks, and freckled faces. I’ll keep the kids entertained somehow – it can’t be that hard, right? I’ll let you know if I survive!

Time Flies, and Andy Sprawls

The march of time had finally caught up with my son, Andy. At almost three years old, he was a tumbling, bumbling, rowdy little boy with the grace of a newborn giraffe. Not a day goes by where he isn’t starfished on the ground after tripping over his own feet. Despite my many, many warnings, his standard operating speed is “pedal to the floor, full speed ahead”. He can’t even go to sleep peacefully! After figuring out how to balance on the top rail of his crib and cannonball into it, my husband Jeremy and I knew it was time for some changes. Firstly, Andy was to wear a full body bubble wrap suit every day, and secondly, it was time for a big boy bed. I was surprisingly sad to see his crib go; it was the last bastion of his babyhood! Look, it even has bite marks from when he was teething! Where has my baby gone? Oh wait, there he is, somersaulting off the coffee table. Sigh.

The twin mattress we’d ordered online came in a phonebook-sized box, and it ka-sproinged outward with lethal speed when opened. After airing it out for two days, we were ready to assemble the bed.

“Guess what, Andy? You get to sleep in a racecar tonight!” I informed him.

“A wacecar?” Andy shrieked, confusion on his face. “I don’t wannna sweep in a wacecar.”

“It’ll be fun, I promise,” I replied. Jeremy and I (okay, mostly Jeremy) spent the afternoon building the bed and rearranging our son’s room. After lots of sweat and tears (mostly mine), Andy’s big boy bed was ready. “Look, buddy!” I said, as I brought him in, “what do you think?”

“Where’s my cwib?” he demanded.

“The crib’s gone,” I replied. “You’re a big boy now.”

“I not big boy. I ANDY,” came the retort, his lower lip trembling. Oh boy. We spent the next half hour coaxing, bribing, and cajoling Andy into accepting his new sleeping arrangements, and he finally came around. Or so I thought.

That night, we went through his usual bedtime routine and tucked him under his blankets. I closed the door and sighed with relief; the hard part was over, right? Of course not. It’s never over. I’m always wrong about parenting. I watched the monitor with mounting horror as Andy swung his legs over the side of the bed and strolled out of his room. What had we done to deserve this? “It’s bedtime, Andy,” I told him sternly, as I led him back to his room. “Stay in here and go to sleep.” Eleven times. ELEVEN TIMES over the next two hours, this kid hopped in and out of bed like a flea. I finally snapped and said “GET. IN. BED. NOW.” The menacing edge in my voice did the trick, as Andy slunk back under the covers and stayed there.

Just when you think you’ve solved one problem, ten more pop up in its place. Parenting is like swimming from a sinking ship towards a snake-infested island, and the waves get higher the closer you get. We’d solved Andy’s crib-diving problem, only to be faced with his “wandering around the house at night” problem. Is anything simple when you’re a parent? For now, we’ll keep a close eye on our offspring to avoid any shenanigans. If that fails, we’ll install a high tech laser beam security system to keep our kid in bed. Although, I don’t know why he’s so desperate to leave– I’d LOVE to sleep in a racecar!

A Special Day

Is anything more exciting for kids than a birthday party? Think of it: candy, games, prizes, and free cake. For one afternoon, you get to eat junk food, burp at will, and forget you know what manners are. Molly and Andy, my two young progeny, were recently invited to the birthday party of our friend’s one-year-old son. Andy had his hair carefully brushed, and Molly was wearing her favorite party dress as we trundled along in our minivan. “Now remember, you two, we’re gonna be on our best behavior, right?” Two angelic faces nodded their agreement, and my husband Jeremy and I were optimistic. I was just excited to get out of the house! Jeremy had convinced me to put a dress on, despite my insistence that my “fancy” sweatpants were suitable (fancy because they were clean).

Elly and John clean up after young April's birthday party. She's excited, but Elly and John are exhausted.

We arrived at the party, and the kids tumbled out of the van and disappeared like they were in the witness protection program. I found Andy knee deep in a flower bed, with suspicious dirt stains around his mouth. After dusting him off, I planted him in front of the food table, and his pupils dilated with delight. Cookies, chips, and juice were all beautifully arranged, and he vibrated with glee as I gathered him some snacks. He ate like a hyena: mouth wide open, crumbs spraying everywhere, both fists cramming goodies into his mouth. I desperately wiped his face, lest the other parents think this was his first time seeing food!

Jeremy and I met up in the garden, where Molly was carefully shoveling sand into her shoes. We’d only been at the party for thirty minutes, and both kids needed to be dry-cleaned! Was there a rain barrel we could rinse them off in? Groan. The birthday boy was soon given a small homemade cake, which he happily smashed and smeared on his chubby face. The kids ate their slices with the ferocity of tiger sharks. I spent the next hour coaxing Andy out of the drink cooler, while Molly cannonballed into the sandpit.

Mercifully, it was soon time to leave. Despite their protests, we loaded the kids into the van and made a quick exit. “Was that fun?” I asked, looking at their cake-smeared, joyful faces. “Yeahh!!!!” they yelled back, babbling about the balloons and toys and snacks. After arriving home and hosing them off in the tub, Molly and Andy were tucked into bed with tummies full of sugar. I wondered if all the sweets would keep them awake, but I shouldn’t have — they passed out cold within minutes and slept all night. Jeremy and I were able to relax in peace, and eat the cake slices I’d smuggled home in my purse. Hey, maybe we should go to parties every week: that way, I might get 12 hours of silence!

It’ll be Fun!

“No! NO! Put it in REVERSE!” Jeremy yelled at me from the shore, as the boat drifted into the middle of the lake.

The Pattersons are in a boat together, and Edgar's drool is flying in the wind, hitting Elly, who thinks it's raining from a cloudless sky.

“Boats go in REVERSE?” I screamed, as I yanked on the trolling motor. The kids were surprisingly calm as we floated away from Jeremy. Bundled up in lifejackets, two-year-old Andy played with his toy fishing rod, while five-year-old Molly held onto Teddy, the dog.

“Let’s go fishing,” I’d said an hour ago, “it’ll be fun,” I’d said. Famous last words. We’d loaded the boat onto the trailer, hooked it up to the car and headed over to a local lake. The trouble started when launching the craft; the lake was shallow, and our Jeep was in danger of sinking if Jeremy backed the trailer in too far. The kids and I perched in the boat while he pushed us out; tragically, he pushed too hard and couldn’t climb in quick enough! Like a 19th century sailor, I watched the shore slide further and further away. The propeller on the motor kept scraping the lake bottom, so I tilted it into the boat and cursed at it. Luckily, the water was only 18 inches deep, so I hopped over the side and pulled the vessel back to shore. “Wanna ride?” I asked Jeremy. If looks could kill, I would’ve died right then!

With the four of us reunited, Jeremy carefully piloted the boat into deeper water and set up the fishing gear; soon all of us had lines in the water and we settled in. I can’t remember the last time I felt so peaceful; nothing but the gentle rocking of the boat, the warm caress of the breeze, the azure blue of a cloudless sky. No traffic, no airplanes, just the sound of the wind in the trees and……. “uh oh,” came Andy’s little voice. He’d dropped his cookie overboard and was gazing sadly into the water as it floated away. The dog, wasting no time, leapt into the water in hot pursuit. Jeremy revved up the motor and now the boat was chasing the dog, who was chasing the cookie! Can I have just ONE calamity-free afternoon? I leaned over and scooped Teddy into the bow, who thanked me by violently shaking himself. Andy was sad about his lost cookie, Molly was whining, and I was covered in dog water. Seems like a good time to leave, no?

Jeremy and I struggled the boat onto the trailer, buckled up the kids, and dried off the dog with an old sock. We drove away from the lake as a pink and orange sunset blazed behind us. Reconnecting with nature gave me a sense of peace. I need more tranquility in my life; those brief moments floating in the lake made me forget about the world. Despite the whining and the foolhardy dog, I was already planning our next fishing trip; crazily, I’d enjoyed myself!