Christmas trees are not designer statements. They are not intended to accessorize your living room. They need not — should not! — be an artfully constructed and carefully coordinated piece of seasonal sculpture.
Christmas trees should be a riotous and meaningful mish-mash of bits and pieces lovingly accumulated over the years, including, but not limited to:
coloured lights, not white. (I am in complete agreement with Kimberly on the supreriority of coloured lights.);
wooden cranberry garlands with teeth marks in them from when your oldest was two and thought they were real berries;
miscellanious salt-dough stars, covered gloppily in red and gold acrylic paint;
multitudes of candycanes made by twisting lengths of red and white pipe-cleaners together;
fragments of felt hand-stitched into a six-inch garland;
and a few cut-up credit cards for the anti-consumer message.
Because Christmas trees, you see, are not created overnight, or even in one season, with a trip or two to the correct stores for this year’s hot items. No, Christmas trees are the slowly-accumulated repository of family history, your family’s seasonal history, down through the years. Each ornament should have a story behind it, should provoke a “remember-when” conversation. Each chip, each rip, each slight smudge and blemish brings a smile, not a frown, for they are evidences of the passage of much life, living, and love.
Some of those best-beloved items are no longer on my tree, but have been taken by my eldest (who made them) to grace her tree in her home. And while I miss them, and notice the empty spots on my own tree, I am glad, for thus the gloriousness of the chaotic Christmas tree is passed on, generation unto generation.
The leak is fixed! The basement drips no more!!
And I was completely wrong. The water from the mains had absolutely NOTHING to do with it. I thought — I was sure — I saw a marked decrease in drippage once the water had been turned off. Oh, not immediately afterwards, but soon enough. It seems, however, that either I was utterly deluded or there was an entirely coincidental ebb of the flow.
Isn’t it funny that we lived for two days without water before we discovered this? Oh, how I chortle at the irony.
What caused the leak, then? An ice dam. On the roof, three floors up. An ice dam of epic proportions.
Enter the large man equipped with a ladder and and an axe, give him an hour or two to shake the home to its foundations as he whaled away at the ice (with an axe, atop an extension ladder three floors off the ground), first at the side of the house, then again at the front, write said large man a mid-sized cheque (more than $250, less than $500), and voila! No more drip.
Instantly stopped. And just in the nick of time, because this weekend the temperature is forecast to hit ten degrees. TEN. With rain, lots and lots of rain. A lake of rain behind an immense ice dam would have meant a lake in the basement. Phew. So bring on the large man with the axe, say I!
“Why is someone hammering on the wall by my window?” Emma calls down the stairs. It is explained. Ice dam, large man with axe, the floor above her window, close your curtains.
“You know, we could probably have gotten a pissed-off teenager to do this,” my husband observed as the house jarred with repeated thuds.
Which seems true enough on the surface. They have near-adult strength, they have far-more-than-adult energy, and that would be just the kind of task that would appeal to a certain type of boy. (NOT my son, and not just because I value his life too much to put him atop an extension ladder three floors up. In the dark. Did I mention this was after dark? Not my son because he is afraid of heights. It’s his destiny, really: both his parents suffer the affliction.) But a certain type of boy would LOVE to be handed an axe and told to go wild on the ice.
Not the type of boy I’d want striking out with an axe against my roof, however. Never mind the far-greater-than-average odds that in his “I’m-an-immortal-teen” arrogance he’d slip and plunge to his death. (Because, hello? Extension ladder, three floor up? In the DARK??) Never mind that. Just imagine what he’d do to my ROOF. With an AXE.
No, we will happily pay the professional to come and do it properly. Better him than me.
And my new fridge arrives tomorrow!!
Water in the right places, no water in the wrong places, and cold food once more. Oh, oh, oh!
Merry Christmas to me!
Remember your Greek myths?
(What? You didn’t spend long hours as a child curled into a comfy chair with philandering Zeus, pissed-off Hera, horny Aphrodite and the drunken Bacchus? What were your parents thinking?)
Tantalus, for those of you who may not remember was the poor unfortunate soul sentenced to spend the afterlife submerged in water up to his neck, that dipped away when he tried to quench his thirst, and surrounded by bunches of grapes that retreated out of reach when he tried to satiate his hunger. Can’t remember why. Possibly he tried to diddle one of Zeus’s floozies.
I did something similar to the daycare tots this week. NOT the diddling! Honest to pete. Eeew. No, the Tantalus thing — from which we get, obviously, the word “tantalize”.
First, I set onto the dining room table five of these:
Graham crackers welded together with royal icing, made a few days prior. Food, in other words. Food which they were NOT to eat.
They were not entirely successful.
“Emily! Emily, lovie, don’t eat that!” Of course, this is (almost) entirely my fault. I had moved the houses to the dining room table when I needed a little more space in the kitchen and forgotten to move them back. “No, lovie. Not now. We’re going to decorate them later.”
Nigel looks at me with his huge blue soulful eyes. “But we’re hungry, Mary!”
It is 10:03. Snacktime is 10:00. Ah, those 100% accurate tummy clocks. It’s a good thought, though: fill them up with something nutritious, and maybe they won’t eat the gingerbread fixings before they get on the houses.
Though those are some very appealing fixings …
In fact, they do remarkably well. Once we get started, they are engrossed in the process of gluing the candies to the icing.
It takes Nigel a little longer than the others to get started.
“Nigel, don’t eat the candy. Put it on the house.”
“Nigel. The candy goes on the house.”
“Nigel. If you eat one more piece of candy, you will have to leave the table until I can watch just you.”
It’s really bizarre. It’s as if his hand and mouth are working independently of his brain. He knows it’s forbidden, yet even as he and I maintain eye contact, the jellybean goes in the mouth. Weird.
“Okay, Nigel. Away you go. You can make yours later, when I can help you more.”
Nigel’s eyes widen in shocked horror. (Whic is also bizarre. He knows by now I follow through. Always. Usually his reaction to the follow-through is resignation. Oh, well.)
He leaves the table in a soggy pool of self-sorry tears.
I let him languish on the couch for three minutes or so, then call him back. And now he gets it. Without a second’s hesitation, the candies make it from tray to house with nary a pitstop at mouth. Well done, Nigel!
It’s engrossing. It’s tricky. It’s just the right balance of fine motor control and fun.
They work in focussed silence for a good 10 or 15 minutes. Timmy goes a full half hour, long after the others have left the table. And the results? Bright and sticky architectural sweetness! A little primitive, but no less appealing for all that.
And the mommies and daddies? They LOVED it!
I was going to tell you about making gingerbread houses with the tots, which we are in process of making, and we are having SUCH FUN!!!
But something even funner happened this morning, and I just had to share. We will start at the beginning …
I get up early. Really early. Five, give or take fifteen minutes, generally. I do this because I like the quiet, the peace, the solitude. I could, as so many people do, get that at the other end of the day, but that doesn’t work for me because a) I have teenagers and b) I fall asleep.
The younger teen is in school, so she has lights-out at ten, but I’m well gone by then. Staying up later would be work, a monumental effort probably involving toothpicks in the eyelids, not to mention copious amounts of caffeine — which sort of takes away from the “peace and tranquility” aspect of it all.
So, morning it is. It’s dark, it’s quiet. I get some reading done, I might catch up on a couple of emails, but mostly, I think. About my work, about my goals, about challenges to overcome, about things that give me pleasure and satisfaction. I think and take notes, and write to further the thinking. An interactive process between me and the paper, because yes, this form of writing is always done with pen and paper. Much as I love my keyboard the rest of the day, the glaring white glow of the monitor is an affront to this very quiet time; the blanket of stillness around me is best suited to — no! requires — the soft scritch of pen over paper.
The feeling that the whole world sleeps while I have this hour or two of solitude is immeasurably precious to me. Which is why the sudden loud hum from the kitchen came as such a jolt. Why, when it escalated into a choppy screech, I found myself standing staring at my wailing fridge. A sharp vending-machine smack to the front didn’t help. Nor did the swift kick to the side.
Clearly fridge abuse was not going to help. The noise was the fan. Of that much I’m quite sure. Not from the rear, but from the freezer compartment at the bottom. The compressor?
The noise is growing louder. Were I upstairs in bed, I’m sure I’d be hearing it, and I briefly wonder if the whole house is about to be woken by a screaming appliance. But no. No because while it increases in volume, it decreases in tempo. It’s getting slower. And slooower … and now the noise is lower, more grind than squeal … and s.s.s.l.l.o.o.o.w.w.e.r.r.r.r…
The fridge gives one final, convulsive shudder, and is no more. Silence thuds against my eardrums. It has given up the ghost. Let us have a short moment of silence for the faithful, if leaky, refrigerator.
Everyone else in the house is still sleeping. It’s just me and the corpse. I can’t leave it like that. It’ll soon start to stink.
It takes five minutes to unload the freezer compartment into the basement chest freezer. Another five to put two plastic grocery bins full of produce and condiments at the chill end of the unfinished basement. They should last a few days down there. Certain dairy products are on shelves in the back porch, where I hope they won’t freeze solid.
It is only as I turn to head back upstairs for the seventh and final time that I notice, in the velvet early-morning silence that I so treasure, a semi-regular drip … drip … dripdrip … drip. There’s water dripping into the laundry tub! And it’s coming from … the ceiling. The unfinished basement ceiling.
Look at it! A steady rivulet, about a foot wide, a glistening swath along the underside of the kitchen floorboards along which pulsate half-formed droplets, sparkling domes of water gliding along the stream, which, when they reach the joist about the laundry tub, accumulate sufficient weight to form into a drip… drip … dripdrip …. drop.
It appears to be coming in from the outside wall, but that’s crazy. It’s well below freezing out there. There’s no ice dam, just a huge mound of snow. I know, because I was out there, at ten to six in the half-lit morning, digging. Just to make sure.
At a more decent hour, I call the contractor. The very wonderful contractor who fixed our porch last summer, the man who earned my undying gratitude for a) doing it quickly b) doing it mostly on budget, (even my pathetically small budget, which had caused other handy types to stagger away in fits of derisive laughter) and c) dealing with the eight-seven gazillion carpenter ants that emerged when a rotten board was removed. (Said carpenter ants being the little surprise that caused the “mostly” in the “on budget” sentence.) AND, I particularly love him for doing this all while I was OUT OF TOWN. I didn’t have to actually see one single carpenter ant. And that, my friends, is a GREAT way to spend your honeymoon: NOT seeing a seething, pulsating swarm of carpenter ants dripping from the ceiling and onto the porch deck.
So when I hear his voice on the phone, later that day, AFTER dawn has broken, I am instantly reassured.
“Turn off the water to the house,” he tells me. “Open the lowest faucet and the highest ones in the house. Wait an hour. If the drip stops, we know it’s a pipe that’s probably frozen and burst.”
As indeed turns out to be the case. Mr Wonderful Contractor Guy will be around tomorrow morning, with his friend Mr (we hope) Equally Wonderful Plumber Guy to find and repair the leak. I am hugely relieved. Faced with the choice of a few hundred dollars for plumbing versus ten thousand dollars a foot for foundation work? I’ll take the plumber. Well, yes, really what I’d like is for the leak to magically fix itself, free of charge. But I don’t think that’s one of my options.
So, you can see it’s been an eventful day here at casa Mary. With no water (which means no water and also NO FLUSHING) and no fridge, I think I’ll be cancelling the party I had scheduled for tonight.
So if you’ll excuse me, I have some phone calls to make. Because tonight? Tonight I won’t be hosting a party — I’ll be buying a fridge!!
One might even say, what weekend? We broke records for single-day snowfall here in Ottawa: 37 centimetres.
But it shore is purdy. Check out my sweetie’s pictures: one of the view from in front of our house, looking down the sidewalk, and the second of my (beautiful) youngest child, fresh in from an invigorating 30-minute flounder through the non-existant sidewalks. (WE, being former Torontonians*, may shovel our walks promptly after a snowfall, but most of our wussy neighbours wait for the sidewalk ploughs.)
The sidewalks are impassible, the roads are snarled, the bus stops require pitons to get over the enormous windrows, the traffic is moving at a snail’s pace … but I work from home, and get to savour the beauty of it all without any inconvenience to me at all. And today? Today I have only one tot, so that’s good, too.
It’s not so bad.
*In Toronto, at least when I lived there, homeowners were expected to shovel their walks within x hours of a snowfall. I forget how long, exactly. Of course, we also get a whole lot MORE snow here in Ottawa, so there’s that.
“…and a cock-a-doodle doo! Everybody promenade two by two.”
“Two by two!” Emily loves to parrot the lines in the book.
We sit snuggled on the couch. To make room for the tree, the couch has been shifted so that it blocks the arch between living and dining rooms. Nigel and Anna play on the dining room floor behind us.
“It’s a bannaid!”
“Yes, I got a bannaid, and you gots a bannaid!”
There are no bandaids on this floor of the house. Isn’t it cute when they play pretend?
“I got a bo-bo, and I putta bannaid on my bo-bo.”
“I got a bo-bo on my tummy!”
“I got a bo-bo on my bum!”
A wooden rattle of the small, primary-coloured blocks in the bin. “Here’s a bleee-oo bannaid for you, Nigel. You wanna bleee-oo bannaid?”
“No, I wanna red one.”
And you thought Mary was mistaken and they were going to be plastering the dining room with real bandaids, didn’t you? No, they’re using blocks. Isn’t that just so cute?
“Here, Emmy, love. You can look at the book some more while I go make lunch, okay?” Anna and Nigel squat amongst a brilliant sea of shiny blocks, still chattering about bo-bo’s and bannaids. Anna taps a “bannaid” on Nigels shoulder. “There! Does that feel all better?”
When the children are called for lunch, they commence to scrambling up onto the benches. Anna and Nigel kneel in front of their plates.
“Sitting on the benches, you two. You’ll fall off if you don’t sit on your bum”
They wiggle, but they do not sit.
“Anna? Nigel? Sit down, please. On your bums.”
Anna sits, then kneels up again. Nigel doesn’t sit at all. Overt defiance calls for immediate response. My tone is level and no-nonsense.
“Anna. Nigel. You sit on the bench.”
I approach Nigel, lift him and sit his bottom on the bench, and then nearly drop him on his head. His howl of pain is instant and sincere. What? I didn’t drop him onto the bench. I just sat him down. And he’s kneeling again!
“My bum! My bum hurted me! My bannaid hurted my bum!”
He squirms in near agony. His bum hurts too much to even sit on it?
I peel the diaper off, to reveal … three small, brightly-coloured blocks. A yellow semi-circle, a green rectangular prism, and a blue cube. Anna’s contains a red cylinder and a blue cube.
“Why are their blocks in your diapers, you two?”
“Because it’s a bannaid. A bannaids for the bo-bo on my bum!”
And there are seventy-eleven MORE “bannaids” in a bin on the dining room floor, and heaven knows how many of those saw active butt bo-bo duty.
Guess I know what I’ll be doing during nap-time today…
I have become one of “those” caregivers.
Maybe you think I’ve been one all along. What with my mid-to-upper range fees, my tough late fees, my paid holidays, my “discretionary” days off and all. There are two former clients out there who, I’m quite sure, view me as an uppity bitch. Which is fine by me. As Pierre Trudeau once said, having been insulted by Richard Nixon, “I have been called worse things by better people.”
If that makes me “one of them”, you’ll probably not be interested in reading further.
I also have the parents provide diapers and diaper wipes, and sunscreen in the summer. Does this make me a prima donna? It’s pretty standard here, so I’m saying not. I provide vaseline and zinc creams, food, and sun hats in summer. (Because baseball caps do NOT cut it, people!) So maybe I’m a diva about sun hats, but I forked out the hundred plus dollars for two matching sets of good ones in two different sizes. Doesn’t affect the parents. In fact, they get a charge out of seeing them all in their matching hats.
So I think I’m pretty low-to-mid-range in the daycare diva sweeps. Really. I have caregiving friends who have Parent Handbooks, filled with do’s and don’t's, lists of rules and regulations. Caregivers who ask that parents not only provide slippers to stay at the caregiver’s house, but specify the brand of slippers that are acceptable. Caregivers who demand a certain type of mitten, who refuse to deal with this brand of diaper or that style of onesie.
I have never done that. Parents can dress their child how they see fit. Now, I don’t necessarily have to do it their way in my home. A child whose diaper can only be accessed by undoing three sets of snaps (jeans, shirt, and onesie) will have two of those three sets flapping in the wind after I’ve been in there once. A child who comes with a sweater on over top of the overalls (which have no crotch snaps!) will have the sweater put on under the overall straps just as quickly. When a child is ready (generally long before it happens at home), soothers are removed at entry. A child can bring a 10-reads-a-day book to Mary’s, but if I consider it substandard, preachy, or patronizing, if it has a poor message, or simply bores me witless, I make no promises that I will read the damned thing.
None of all that affects the parents.
But yesterday, I actually crossed a line, even in my own head, when I sent out this email:
Everyone needs baby wipes. Up to now, you’ve all been bringing whatever you use at home, which means that they come in various counts, sizes and absorbencies. Thus, I go through some at three times the rate of others, which is not equitable for you, and inconsistent for me.
And of course, after all these years, I have my favourite. I was hoping you would all indulge me by purchasing Huggies, in the 160-count size (in the bag not the box) for my use here. So, yes, Mary has become a butt-wipe prima donna. Can’t deny it. I hope it’s not too much of an annoyance: if it is, feel free to bring whatever suits. (But Huggies are better!)
“Huggies, in the 160-count size (in the bag not the box).”
Feel free to roll your eyes…
“I take this to bed?”
It’s naptime, and Anna is offering a toy for my approval. They often do this. Play has been fun and it’s hard to let go. I will let them take a toy to bed, assuming it’s the right kind of toy. Books are fine. Soft toys are fine. Certain large, smooth plastic toys are fine. Anything that can make noise, anything that might poke, jab, stab, or choke is not allowed.
Timmy joins in. “I take a bed?” His toy is a bright red plastic block … what are they called? Sort of like huge lego, even bigger than duplo, but with only one or two bumps per square, and the bumps are large domes. Anyway, this toy makes the criteria: large, no sharp corners, little noise-making potential, unless it falls off the bed. Check.
“Can I take this to bed, Mary?” Nigel has a hobby horse. Soft head on long stick. Potential battery, poke and bruise risk of stick, never mind what he could knock off dressers within a two-foot radius of the bed, cancels out cuddle potential of head. Horse is nixed. Nigel opts for a book.
“I take this to bed?” Anna is insistent. I look down. She is carrying, as she has done for the last half-hour, a largish wooden lacing bead on a small plastic paint brush. Think about that for a sec. The child is carrying a choking hazard on a stick. Fine in a room with an attentive adult, for a child who rarely puts things in her mouth; not fine alone in a room for a couple of hours, no matter how non-oral she may be. “Here, Anna. Have this bunny instead.” Choking hazard on a stick is removed.
And Emily? Emily has her thumb. She doesn’t need toys.
They are all quietly sleeping now. Emily with her thumb, Nigel asleep atop his book, Timmy with his red block laying on the floor by the bed, and Anna with her fluffy bunny tucked under her shirt. (No, mommy is not pregnant.)
Play will resume in two hours.