Saturday, October 16, 2010

Curiosity Killed...

Life is not easy when you are the third boy in the family. Everything you wear and play with has usuallly been worn or played with by someone else; no matter what you do you are very rarely the first in the family to do it and everytime you ask a question, one of your older brothers calls you dumb for asking.

P-lal asks some really interesting questions. We have been spending some time alone together recently, sans older brothers, and I have come to appreciate P-lal's curious nature, while also being somewhat concerned by the nature of many of his many queries. Here are some of the questions that he has asked me in the last week or so...

Is there such thing as a bug that can kill a human?
How does snake venom kill you?
How did Hitler die?
Why did he commit suicide?
Who started World War Two?
Who started World War One?
Who would win if a bear and a lion fought?
Is it possible to hold your breath for a whole hour without dying?
Would I die if I jumped off the fourth diving tower and did a belly flop?
What would happen if there was a World War Three?

Are all 8 year old boys this violently morbid? He looks normal enough...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Proud Parenting Moment

Today as I was reading a blog post by another of my favourite bloggers I felt a bit sheepish. Then sheepishness turned to chagrin, which in turn led to good old guilt. You see, I was reading about how much Melissa would like to be able to give her daughter, who happens to be A-lal's age, more freedom. She mentioned free-range parenting, a concept that I have embraced whole-heartedly in the last year or so.

In fact, I think I might be embracing free-range parenting a little bit too tightly recently. On Saturday night Y-lal and I went out for dinner with our good friends to celebrate Y-lal's birthday which was on Sunday. I decided that it would be a good opportunity to see how A-lal would do looking after his brothers at night. Really though, I was being lazy and cheap, not bothering to find a sitter for them or wanting to add the cost of a sitter to what was likely to be an expensive evening. First though, I did a thorough google search to ensure that there was no law regarding the age of babysitters. I'm feeling a bit sheepish about this now.

A-lal is a very physically mature kid and he is probably more psychologically mature than most boys his age as well. He has also been left in charge of getting his brothers on the bus in the morning for almost a year now. I sometimes forget that he is still just 11, and there are days when I'm not sure that I can handle being left home alone with P-lal and M-lal, who have an "on-again, off-again relationship at best. Apparently on Saturday night they were not "on again". Chagrin.

It also didn't help that the bear that has visited our deck in the middle of the night recently, decided to make a late evening visit on this particular night. When we returned home from dinner that evening, Y-lal found A-lal lying in our bed with an upset stomach. When Y-lal took him to his own bed he headed for the bathroom where he spent some time sitting in front of the toilet. Guilt.

A-lal was fine the next day, but I'm not so sure that I will be repeating this experiment anytime soon. Maybe I'll enroll A-lal in a "wildlife" management course first.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More Evidence

I thought it would happen differently. I thought we would talk about first, that we would discuss the pros and cons, talk about how to do it safely, about the kinds of people who should be allowed that kind of access.

Last night, though, I was confronted with the evidence that it has already happened. No debate, no discussion, he just went ahead and did it. I guess this is one of the drawbacks of having an independent child.

A-lal has a Facebook account and I was unaware of it until Facebook suggested him as a possible friend for me. According to his profile, he's interested in women and so far all of his friends appear to be girls. The last time A-lal's friends were girls he looked like this...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rewind and Repeat

Yesterday morning when I staggered down to the kitchen in search of my morning coffee, this is what I found...

P-lal was sitting on the kitchen counter, with my sunglasses on, listening to my i-pod. You see, my youngest son is currently obsessed with Harry Potter. On our summer adventure we downloaded and listened to the Harry Potter series, from book 2 to book 7 (we had already read book 1). I am one of those mean (and apparently rare, according to my kids) mothers who tried to encourage her kids to read, by not allowing them to see any of the Harry Potter films until they had read the books.

Admittedly, I lost the reading battle this time, but at least they heard the books before they saw the movies. When we returned from our trip the boys watched all of the movies several (dozen) times.

The problem for a Harry Potter fanatic like P-lal (and the explanation for the morning seating arrangement), is that the book 7 film has not been yet been released. So, in order to enjoy book 7 over and over again as he likes to do, P-lal has to listen to it on my i-pod. P-lal has listened to book 7 about 5 times since we returned from our trip 2 months ago, this might even be his sixth time through the book. Yesterday morning, my i-pod needed to be charged, and the docking station is located on the kitchen counter.

The sunglasses, who knows? It wasn't even a particularly bright morning.

What struck me when I walked into the kitchen this morning, was not the odd fact of my youngest child perched on the kitchen counter wearing a pair of oversized sunglasses. Let's face facts, strange things happen in my house all the time, I'm not even sure what a normal day would look like anymore. No, what struck me is the fact that six years ago, this same child was perched in that same spot, wearing a pair of my sunglasses.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Totally not cool dude.

Most days Mlal is 9 going on 18. He is very independent, with a wry sense of humour and is usually very aware of what is cool (or as he would say- sick) and what is not. I can't remember how many times over the past year or so I have heard my students using some new slang term, only to come home and hear Mlal using it correctly and completely naturally. Because of this, I sometimes forget that Mlal is indeed only 9 years old.

Recently, though, I have been reminded of this fact. On this particular day, Alal had a few of his hockey buddies over to hang out ( when did we stop having play dates?). Mlal, who is usually very cool, admires this bunch of boys, and clearly wanted them to be impressed by him, so he brought out his briefcase. That's right, Mlal has a briefcase. And he thought that this fact would impress his older brother's friends.

At this point, I really didn't know what to do. I wanted to protect Mlal from the ridicule of the older boys, but at the same time, I didn't want to be the one to have to point out that the briefcase was really not cool. I feared that the second Mlal realized the truth about the briefcase, it would be abandoned, like all the Jonas Brothers paraphernalia that is currently mouldering in the depths of his closet. I really enjoy 9 year old Mlal, while the teenage Mlal can sometimes be a bit trying. (Last year, when I stayed home from school with him while he was sick one day, he demanded that I take him to the local bar so he could shoot some gets a bit much sometimes)

What I ended up doing, was physically shielding Mlal from the faces of the older boys as he presented his briefcase and hurried Mlal and the others in opposite directions as quickly as possible. The older boys didn't say anything (to their credit), though the looks on their faces spoke pretty clearly. I'm happy to report though, that the briefcase is still one of Mlal most prized possessions.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Beginning of the Story

Every weekday morning, after I have fed and dressed myself and my three kids, made sure teeth are brushed, clothes look moderately presentable, and school bags are packed, I leave the house at 8 am and begin the 12 minute drive to work. Most days this is the calmest 12 minutes of my day. Some days, I sit in the parking lot at work and stretch my 12 minutes to 15, or even 18 minutes, of tranquility. Meanwhile, at home, Alal is earning 2 dollars per day to supervise his brothers for 25 minutes and ensure that they get out the door and onto the school bus.

Tonight at dinner, Alal announced that he needed to report an incident from this morning. Our conversation went something like this.

Alal: I need to tell you about my brothers' behaviour this morning.

Me: Okay, what happened?

Alal: Well, Mlal took Plal's scooter and threw it in the bush, then Plal jumped on Mlal's back and started pulling chunks of his hair out.

Me (to Mlal and Plal): If you two can't behave yourselves in the morning, then one of you is going to have to go to the before school program at school, and it will be you Mlal, because you seem to be the one who starts these incidents.

Mlal (indignant): That's not fair, Alal didn't start at the beginning of the story.

Honestly, I couldn't even be bothered getting to the bottom of the incident because in my opinion, this story begins sometime back in late 2002 when, ten days late and after hours of back labour, Plal arrived.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

La Rentree

I love the French phrase for back to school. Like just about everything in French "la rentree" just sounds so much less pedestrian than "back to school". I used it as much as possible this past week.

So far our back to school has been reasonably painless for everyone. While no one was exactly thrilled to be going on the first day (see Exhibit A below), the boys seem much happier now that routine and structure have been restored in their lives. Of course, due to the fact that it is also back to school for Ylal and I, and the fact Mlal and Alal insist on playing hockey (and that is another post altogether) which also starts up at this time of year, our lives have gone from almost completely unscheduled to insanely over scheduled in the course of one week. Its enough to make my head spin.

I recently read this post by a blogger that I just started reading. It made me realize that I no longer get "homesick" for Montreal every fall. For many years after I graduated from McGill and moved back to my hometown, I used to long for autumn in Montreal.

For me university represented a chance to completely reinvent myself after some lonely and unhappy high school years. I purposely chose a school that no one I knew was attending, that was located in a city far different from the one where I had grown up. I suppose that each September of my university years I experienced that feeling of escape again and again. Looking back, I realize that is why, back living in my hometown after university, I used to miss Montreal every fall.

I guess it is a good thing that I no longer feel "homesick" for Montreal. Maybe I've finally created a life for myself in my hometown that makes me happy. Or maybe life is just too busy at this time of year to think of anything else.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lord of the Flies

I read Lord of the Flies in Grade 11 as a required text for English class. I didn't hate it, as many teenaged girls do, but I didn't relate to it on a personal level, nor I think that could be in any way reflective of the real world. Who knew that 20 (okay 25) years later, Lord of the Flies would be so...instructive.

With one week before school is officially on, I feel like my boys have lost all sense of civilized behaviour, much like the boys in the novel. At the beginning of the summer, during our trip west, our living conditions were slightly more primitive than usual, but under the 24 hour a day guidance of Ylal and I, proper decorum was maintained. Our trip west was spent exploring and appreciating nature, we listened to Harry Potter audiobooks in the car, at the campfire and before bed. Calm was maintained.

August has been what I would characterize as a slow descent into chaos. The shackles of civilized society have been worn down as Ylal and I grew weary of settling the same arguments over and over again, and the beast of boredom stalked the house. This past month I have come to appreciate the role that boredom must have played in wars past, as I have observed the destructive nature of the imagination of my three boys. All outdoor play now involves phyisical battles (sometimes with improvised weapons) and all disagreements are negotiated with fists and feet first. My boys are more inclined to destroy than create when left to their own devices.

Am I doing something wrong? Is this the true nature of boys, as William Golding suggests in Lord of the Flies? Will we survive this last week of summer?

If Plal's glasses get broken, I'll let you know...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Mlal: Mom, when can I have a b-b gun?

Me: When you get your own house.

Mlal: When can I get an Air Soft gun?

Me: When you get your own house.

Mlal: Can I have a paintball gun?

Me: When you get your own house.

Mlal: What if the only thing on my Christmas list is a gun?

Me: Then you will get a lot of stuff for Christmas that you didn't ask for.

Mlal: Ah-ha! You are Santa.

Monday, August 16, 2010


One of the items on my life list is to give at least 500 dollars a year to charity. Earlier this year I made a donation to the Red Cross for Haiti, and this morning I made a donation to UNICEF fund for flood relief in Pakistan. I'm still a ways away from reaching my goal, but the year is far from over.

The flooding in Pakistan is the worst in the country's history. According the the BBC, up to 3.5 million children are at risk of developing deadly water-borne diseases because the flooding has badly contaminated the water. Sadly, donations to the relief efforts have been very low.

Here is a link to read more about the situation in Pakistan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Life List Update

This summer I have managed to cross a few things off my life list.

I went to the rodeo at the Calgary Stampede and it was an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. I have never really been enthralled by the cowboy mystique nor did I go through a horse phase as a young girl, so I wasn't sure about the whole rodeo thing. I turns out I was entertained from start to finish. I was impressed by the physicality of the animals, who it turns out, are bred for rodeos, the bucking horses and bulls as well as the horses ridden by the "cowgirls" in the barrel racing event. The men and women who took part in the events displayed remarkable skills in accomplishing their tasks. I haven't done any reading into the ethics of rodeos, and I'm sure that there are a large number of people who would argue that the rodeo constitutes cruelty to animals (on the day we were there, 2 bucking horses were euthanized, and Alal was quite concerned for the welfare of the animals throughout). In addition, traditional gender roles were clearly promoted throughout. Competitors who chose to wear pink shirts to compete were gently chided by the announcers and there was much emphasis on the cowboys winning enough money to "feed their families", though I don't recall this being mentioned during the women's barrel racing event. All in all though, for the $15 price of the ticket though, it was a great afternoon of entertainment (some of those cowboys were hotttt).

I also managed to get to the hot springs in Banff. It was a gorgeous day and the setting was spectacular. The kids however, were less than thrilled with the experience as they found the water to be too warm, expecting more of a recreational pool. Coming in the middle of 5 days of camping when the temperature during the nights dipped to close to 0, , on the other hand thoroughly enjoyed the hour of warmth and relaxation.

Finally, I visited one new province, Saskatchewan and five new states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana). The states that we drove through on our way to Alberta were all quite lovely, though we only saw a very small portion of them. We were quite impressed by the fact that the two state parks we stayed at (in Minnesota and North Dakota) had free wi-fi. Unfortunately, by the time we reached Saskatchewan we were all exhausted, so I'm afraid that we did not really appreciate the Prairie province as we might have. We did end of having to visit a medical clinic in Saskatchewan, so after 15 years of teaching about the birth of Canadian Medicare in Saskatchewan, I got to experience it first hand.

Monday, August 9, 2010

No clue.

I sat down this afternoon to play my favourite board game with the kids. I have fond memories of afternoons spent in the company of my elementary school friends playing Clue. I was always Mrs. Peacock.

Turns out that Clue is not at all as I remember it. Halfway though the game, Colonel Mustard picked up the lead pipe in the library and attacked Professor Plum. A melee ensued and when it was all over, Miss Scarlett had been stabbed 18 times with the knife by Mrs White.

Boys are different.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

#85- Part II- Favourites

When I was planning our trip, I tried to include as many different things on our itinerary as possible, mostly because it is a long way to Alberta from Northern Ontario, and I'm not sure when we are going to make it back there, especially with so many other places in Canada and the rest of the world to see. I think that looking back, the kids will have great memories of the whole trip, but each of them had a different favourite part.

Alal, my quintessential (and recently, very frustrating) pre-teen son liked the day that we spent at the West Edmonton Mall best. I have a hard time not rolling my eyes when he says this to anyone who asks, because we saw and did so many things that were much more unique. I guess at 11, I would have said the same thing though. At the Mall (the biggest in the world, according to their website) we spent most of the day in the indoor water park and later in the day, the boys went to the arcade while I went shopping. Here is Alal on the scariest water slide which he had no problem with, in spite of the fact that he has always been the kind of kid who likes to play it safe (more changes to look forward to!).

For his part, Mlal really got into the cowboy spirit during the time we spent in Calgary during the Stampede. It seems that everyone in Calgary is a cowboy or cowgirl for these 10 days and my 9 year old was no exception. He loved the rodeo, especially the bulls.

He couldn't wait to get his hands on his very own cowboy hat, which we had a hard time getting him to take off for the rest of the trip. Mlal wanted a great big cowboy belt buckle but it wasn't so important when he learned that he would have to use his own money if he wanted one.

Plal can't seem to choose a favourite. He enjoyed the badlands/dinosaur leg the most of the three boys. When people ask him about our trip he invariably mentions the water park at the mall, the rides and the rodeo at the Stampede and this....

We saw a lot of wildlife, elk, deer, mountain goats, big horned sheep, squirrels of all sorts, and many different varieties of birds, but for Plal, the bison that we encountered driving east from Edmonton were the coolest. All he needs to do now is remember what they are, so he can stop describing them to people as "really hairy bulls".

For Ylal and I, the highlight of the trip was definitely the time we spent in the mountains. I'm not sure if the people who live in Banff and Jasper permanently get used to the spectacular scenery, but I was constantly amazed by the breathtaking beauty and variety of the mountains and glacial lakes. I can foresee us returning to this part of the country.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

# 85- Take a Family Vacation Every Year Part I

When I included this on my life list, it wasn't because we haven't been going on vacation, because we have. We had gotten into a bit of a rut in our vacations. For many years our summer vacations have consisted of going to visit the in-laws in Quebec City and a couple of days of camping with friends.

Last summer during our rainy visit to Quebec I realized that we had been visiting the same places with the kids every summer for what seemed like forever. Time for a new plan, time to see new places, have new experiences, make new memories for the kids. I began planning our 2010 summer vacation to Alberta immediately. Our plans were ambitious, involving long driving days in the car, taking us through 5 states and 4 provinces in all. We planned on camping for the majority of the trip, with a few nights in hotels to break things up. I anticipated that it would not be a relaxing vacation, in fact, in the weeks leading up to our departure, I expected the worst. In some ways I was right, but in others I was happily proved wrong.

Packing the car proved to be our first challenge. Our rooftop carrier, which had always proved to be perfectly adequate to our normal travelling needs, holds a lot less stuff than either I or Ylal anticipated. This meant that there was way more stuff in the car itself than we had planned, which placed the kid in the back row in the precarious position of having plastic boxes full of food or camping gear, beach towels or sleeping bags fall on them as we rounded tight corners.

notice the precariously balanced pile in the back right corner of the van

The next set of problems presented itself on our very first day of camping. Although I had made list upon list of necessary items we were missing a couple of essentials for camping, namely a jug for water and a tub for doing the dishes. Not a big problem, since there seemed to be a Wal-Mart in every town and village we travelled though in our first few days. Later, water jug and dish washing tub acquired, as we prepared to spend our first night in the tent in Bemidji Minnesota, the thunder began. It continued, accompanied by heavy rain, wind and lightning all night. I awoke the next morning, thankfully dry, but very uncomfortable...the Aerobed that I had borrowed from my parents had sprung a leak. This necessitated another trip into town, where we found an outfitter and I came to be the proud owner of a camp cot, or the princess bed, as it came to be known for the rest of the trip.

Surprisingly, not a problem, were the long days of driving required to get to our western destination. For this I have to thank J.K. Rowling, as the Harry Potter audio books provided us with hours (we listened to 182 chapters, all of books 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) of bicker-free and whine-free driving time as well as providing bedtime relaxation every night of the trip.

Next post...our favourite places...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Looming Puberty

Since the day I brought my first child home from the hospital I have dreaded the idea of parenting teenagers. Some people find this odd, after all I work with teenagers, I know how they work, I can handle them. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. The friends I have who work in the health care field are usually far more careful in the way they live their lives. They know first hand all of the ways in which simple things like driving a car, or jumping on a trampoline can lead to disaster.

That's the way I feel about parenting teenagers. Everyday I am confronted with the numerous ways in which a smart, loving and obedient pre-teen can turn into a surly, rebellious teenager who appears to have lost all common sense. This terrifies me. I have spent many a parent-teacher interview asking the parents of my best students "what did you do? How do I get a teenager like that?" Whatever the secret, I'm afraid my time is running out.

The signs that puberty is already haunting my household are unmistakable. In the fall there was the unmistakable stench of body odor and greasy hair. This was easily taken care of with a stick of deodarant and ensuring that the child in question showered more often. I forgot about it after that. This spring though,
puberty is back with a vengence.

The other day I came downstairs for breakfast. He was sitting at the table eating his cereal and clearly visible, because of his milk mustache, was the peach fuzz beginning to accumulate on his upper lip. That same day, my son, who has always been very eager to please all of the adults in his life, accused me of being a hypocrite. Not in so many words of course, but the message was clear, he is beginning to understand that I am not perfect! He immediately burst into tears after the accusation, whether out of frustration or because he feared I would be hurt I'm not sure. I hugged him, told him it would be okay and sent him on his way.

What is so unsettling about these signs of early puberty is the inconsistency. You never know if the person sitting at the dinner table is 11 wishing to be 8 again, or 11 going on 18. Is he going to sit on the floor and play cars with his younger brothers, or is he going to yell at them and tell them he hates them? In my house these days, you never know.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Life Lessons

Maggie at Mighty Girl has publisher her list of "20 Things I Wish I'd Known at 20". As I read her post this morning I was struck by the fact that there many things on this list that I still have not learned as I approach 40.

Take the first thing on the list "Consider the source." Throughout my teen and adult years I have spent far too much time worrrying about whether or not people like me. Time to accept that fact that just as I don't like everyone that I encounter in my daily life, not everyone will like me.

"When in Doubt, Shut Up" I think that I have this one mastered. I'm not afraid to listen without offering an opinion. I think that I need to work on expressing my opinions more and not worrying about who is judging me. (see previous paragraph)

"Don't complain" Again, I don't think that I complain overly, on the other hand, I could be more positive in my intereactions with my colleagues. Sometimes it can be difficult to avoid joining in the "venting" that seems to occur fairly frequently in my profession. Maybe I should work on this.

"Don't obsess" This is me. I worry about things that I cannot control, I worry about the future, I worry about my kids, I worry about the environment...I worry. I need to take Maggie's advice and use the energy to change the situation or stop wasting energy worrying.

"You look good" I wish I had known this when I was twenty. I did look good when I was twenty but I spent so many years of my adolescence and young adulthood worrying that I was not as pretty as other people that I don't ever remember thinking that I looked good.

"Keep it to yourself" or in the words of mothers everywhere, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Too often my conversations with my friends and colleagues revolve around discussing the faults and foibles of others.

"Choose good company" This is something that I have been working on a lot lately. So many of my daily interactions with people are pre-determined- colleagues at work, students, other parents at my children's various activities. Not all of these interactions are positive, so I have determined to share my very valuable (to me) free time with the people who "make me better".

There are lots of other great pieces of advice in Maggie's article . Go ahead, take a look. What do you wish you had known at 20?

Monday, May 31, 2010

#18 Start a Blog

One month from today is my fortieth birthday. I have never really thought much about my age. Turning thirty wasn't particularly significant or traumatic for me. But there is something about turning forty that has me taking stock of my life thus far and thinking about the future.

I have led a charmed life. I live in a country that is (generally) peaceful and prosperous. I have access to clean water, food in abundance and free, quality health care As a female, I have been free to pursue an education and a job in any field; free to marry or not to marry; free to enjoy the same rights as my father, brother, husband and sons. By the simple fate of my birth I am better off than many hundreds of millions of women around the globe. I think about this fact often.

I am fortunate in many other ways. I have never been hungry nor been without a roof over my head or a bed of my own to sleep in. I received an excellent, free elementary and secondary school education, thanks to the government of Ontario. I have a degree from a prestigious university, thanks to the hard work and generosity of my parents. They are approaching 70 and are in good health. I have a husband and three children who, although they are not perfect, are also healthy and happy. I have good friends and a job that is interesting and challenging. In short, life has been good to me.

In my first forty years of life I accomplished many things. I fell in love, I married, I gave birth, I travelled to various places near and far, I learned new skills, both useful and not so useful, I enjoyed many new experiences. In the second forty years of my life I would like to continue to learn new things and have new experiences. I have been inspired, reading Maggie Mason's blog about her Mighty Life List, to create a list of my own.

My list has no timeline and is in no particular order. I expect that it will be added to and changed things as time goes on. Some of the items on it are fun and some will require considerable resources, financial or personal, to accomplish. The purpose of this blog is to record my successes and failures and in doing so continue to lead a vital and interesting life.

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