It’s Not All Mary Poppins

We have the plague

“Emily won’t be in again today. She just can’t shake this th–” A cough rattles down the phone line.

“And you have it, too!”

“Oh, I do, and I’m so afraid the baby’s going to get it, next.”

Nigel arrives. I kneel in front of him to unzip the suit, noting the liberally-lubricated upper lip. We’ll just get this suit off him, and — he opens his mouth and coughs. I grab his arm and whip it across his face.

“Nigel, COVER!”

With my other hand, I wipe at the saliva, snot and sputum speckled across my face. Nigel pouts. I suppose I was a little abrupt, but he’s not the one with someone else’s snot all over his face. If anyone has a right to pout, it’s me. I wash my face and hands.

The phone rings again. It’s Timmy’s mother. He had a terrible night and won’t be in. Her voice is thick. She thinks she’s coming down with it, too.

Malli, the only child who had not succumbed, arrives with her face spackled and sparkly with dried snot. “Her face is a mess,” her mother notes, “but she won’t let anyone wipe her nose.”

Mom leaves. I wipe Malli’s nose. Wash her face for good measure. Then wash my hands.

Anna and Nigel sit beside each other on the couch, each with a Franklin book. Nigel opens his mouth — why will that boy not COVER, dammit? — and sneezes into the pages.

Anna glances over. “Eeew.”

You know it’s bad when a two-year-old is grossed out. I take the book off for decontamination or, if that proves impossible, cremation. And wash my hands.

Anna’s normally husky voice is even huskier. She was home the last two days last week, and is still pretty snuffly. This is the most contagious bug I’ve seen in years.

My day is peppered with coughs, sneezes, sniffles and hacks. The tissue boxes litter the house. I carry several in my pocket at all times. Each child has a spare tucked into their sleeve or, if one’s available, their hood. And yet still the sputum sprays. Delicate mists ejected into the air at regular intervals.

Nigel kneels on the bench, leaning onto the table — and sneezes directly into the box of tissue on the table. Huh. Guess that’s Nigel’s personal, private tissue box now. His snot, his kleenex. Simple.

My hands are dry from multiple washings, despite copious latherings with lotion. And yet, so far, touch wood, I have not contracted this thing. Unless, thanks to Nigel, it’s already percolating within.

Tick … tick … tick … tick…

Adam staggers into the kitchen in jeans and housecoat. “Mom? Mom, I feel kinda weird, and I’m not sure what’s wrong, I jus–” His eyes widen, he lunges across the room,

and pukes into the garbage can.

The Plague, v.2 has begun.

God help us all.

January 16, 2008 Posted by | eeewww, health and safety | 13 Comments

From Florinda who found it on It’s called “Choose Ye,” and the one rule: You have to pick one of the two alternatives given for each question. No ifs, ands, buts, or maybes. My choices are shown in bold.

Resolutions or keep on keepin’ on?
– resolutions are nice in theory, but the only way to make ’em stick is to keep on keepin’ on.

Ketchup or mustard?
-ketchup’s too sweet

Firm mattress or soft?
– bad back

Tan or pale (however one gets tan)?
-light tan, really. But I had to choose…

Oreo or chocolate chip?
– no question

Goldfish or tiny turtle?
– turtles are cuter, but they stink (or mine always did when I was a child; I was probably maltreating them…)

Road rage or easy rider?
– road ragers are morons. They make me so mad.

East coast or west?
– because Canada’s east coast? It is beautiful, but the winters… urgh

Romantic comedy or action flick?
– of the ilk of Sense and Sensibility, not Something About Mary

Windy or rainy?
– love the wind. Even if my hair in my face does make me crazy.

Gossip or sealed lips?
– gossip is fun, but potentially toxic

Sing or dance?
– I sing every day. (Not with/for the kids; just because that’s what I do.)

Nest” or go out at any opportunity?
– no question

Shatner or Norris? (shudder)
– Shatner at least I remember, though not with strong feeling one way or the other. Who’s Norris, again? (See above, re: “romantic comedy or action films”.)

Gold or silver?
– Gold’s pretty, but I love silver.

Swing or push (on a swing, people… on a swing)?
– I do get seasick on swings, but I have spent years of my life – YEARS, people – pushing those damned things. It is MY TURN to swing.

Breath mints or gum?
– chewing gum gives me a headache

Pine tree or palm tree?
– pine trees are icky sticky sappy things

Self-deprecation or quiet confidence?
– I can do both, but really? Confident.

January 15, 2008 Posted by | memes and quizzes | 3 Comments

Hang on while I adjust my halo

I’m not quite sure what I said to earn this distinction, but there you have it:

How evil are you?

I’m an angel.

Oh, and whoever wrote this puzzle? Canada is not a European country. Duh.

My daughter, however, (Emma) is …

How evil are you?

Should I be worried?

January 15, 2008 Posted by | memes and quizzes | 4 Comments

OOooh, the Drama!

“Agh!” The wail from the bathroom is as heart-rending as it is loud. “Look at this! I can’t go to school today, I just can’t!

Welcome to the world of body drama, where pimples and body odour are traumatic, where lop-sided breasts and mid-cycle spotting bring fears of cancer and early demise, where every personal quirk is viewed as an abnormality that will bring unending public scorn on the sufferer.

At any given time, there are anywhere from one to five females in my home, ranging from 14 to 22 years old. (Not including me, obviously. My hormonal challenges are of a different, more, ah, mature nature.) Let me tell you, I know from body drama …

It’s tough, being a teen. Everything is changing, and changing quickly. Your body is out of control, your emotions are all over the place — some days it seems your entire life is out of control.

Where do you go for information, instruction, and assurance? You might consider Nancy Redd‘s recently released “Body Drama“. Nice to look at, nice to touch, and so well-designed — visually and conceptually.

The book is perfectly structured to deliver the maximum information with each visit, no matter how long or short.

It is divided into five categories: Shape; Skin; Down There; Boobs; Hair and Nails. (A brief tangent: You know, I can accept the usefulness of the generic and innocuous “down there”, but I cringe every time I hear or read the word “boobs”. Can we not just call them breasts? “Boobs” is just so … ugly and clunky and disrespectful of such lovely objects. Ugh.)

Within each section are several “Body Dramas“, concerns shared by huge numbers of teens. Dramas like “My face is a zit factory”, “My breasts are too heavy/too small/too far apart”, “My vagina secretes stuff”, “I have a mustache”, “I’ll never be thin enough.” (Sound familiar?)

Each drama has the same three subheadings:
What’s going on?” — facts, proper terms, explanation;”
“How do I deal?” — sound advice, including when to see a doctor; and,
What if they notice?

This brings me to the thing I appreciated most about Body Drama: it gets teens. “What if they notice?” Remember that? The all-powerful, omniscient “they” which is presumed by teens to be morbidly fascinated by every burp and hiccup of their lives, minds, and bodies. “What if they notice?” includes practical information on how to prevent the “drama” from being public, and why it probably doesn’t really matter as much as you think if it does get out there.

Where Body Drama suggests that something is a bad idea — tongue piercing, for example — it doesn’t stop at the reasons why it’s a bad idea. Recognizing its adolescent audience, the great risk-takers, the tremendous don’t-bother-me-with-facts, I-know-what-I-want’s of the world, it then says, “But if you’re going to ignore this good information, here’s how to do it the safest way possible.”

This is not a cop-out, this is reality. The thing about teens is, you can’t make their decisions for them. Like it or not, they will make their own decisions, and some of them will be stupid ones. All you can do is provide them with good information — all the good information — and hope for the best. Consider it proactive damage control. Your parental Plan B.

And above all, there are pictures. Pictures, pictures, and more pictures. And it is with the pictures that the possibility of offense arises. Because the pictures, they are plain, they are un-airbrushed, they are real. The squeamish out there will use terms like “explicit” and “graphic” — and they’d be right, except for the tinge of negative moral judgment that accompanies such words.

Teens are curious about their bodies, and this curiosity is not just natural, it’s appropriate. If they don’t have the information, they are at huge risk, because not knowing stuff has never, in the history of humankind, prevented a teen from experimenting anyway.

There are pictures of girls in there. Naked ones. There are pictures of breasts, because how else will you know the huge range of “normal”? And, the big one: there is a dual-page spread of 24 vulvas.

Some will be horrified, and refuse to buy the book on that basis. Some will say, “Okay for my daughter, but I can’t have it in the house, because what if my son sees it?”

What then? Well, then he will get to satisfy HIS curiosity, too, in a way that does not take him to porn sites. Because he will, you know. It is simple curiosity, not deviant urges, that takes most young teen males to those places, and once they’re there, they can get hooked. That is NOT where I want any son of mine either spending his time, or getting his information about female sexuality. With Body Drama, he will get high-quality information that is respectful of women, information that teaches him about his future partner’s health, needs, anxieties, information that will help him be a better husband and friend. So, yes, if my son were to pick up the book, I would not be ripping it from his hands.

I love this book. Optimally, it will be used by mothers and daughters together, to promote discussion, to answer questions, to just “talk girl-stuff”. If you know your daughter needs the information, but you’re too squeamish to start these conversations, you can leave it lying around where she’ll find it.

I hope you don’t decide to ban it from your home. Like it or not, your child will one day be a sexually active adult, and, no matter how you might like it to be otherwise, THEY decide when that happens, not you. What you do is provide a moral/ethical framework, and solid, quality information for the decisions your child will inevitably, eventually, make.

And Body Drama is a wealth of quality information. Well done, Nancy!

January 14, 2008 Posted by | books, health and safety, sex | 11 Comments

Glub, glub …

Christmas was a busy time. With eight children in our joint family, our wee house gets a bit crowded. Even though the kids are now old enough that a few have apartments of their own, they mostly all show up over Christmas.

That makes for a busy, crowded house. It makes for lots of comings and goings, lots of laughter, lots of food. And lots of laundry.

and lots
and lots
and LOTS
of laundry.

On their final day here, my husband, their father, sent his brood to their respective rooms to clean up before they left. What hadn’t occurred to me, though it should, was that “cleaning up” included “removing from the floor the carpet of discarded clothing we’ve been accumulating for the past eight days.”

It should have occured to me because I do laundry every day. With that many bodies in the house, it’s essential. You’d think I’d have noticed the dearth of items from those particular children. (My own children do their own laundry.)

(Why do my stepkids not? Because they are not usually here for periods extended enough to accumulate a full load each. It’s a more efficient use of energy — mine, and the planet’s — to do their clothes as one load. And in that case, I am the designated laundry-person in this household. Which is fine. I rather enjoy doing laundry, all except for the folding part.)

So, at the end of their days with us, I am confronted with a mound of laundry in which you could bury several small children. (Not that we tried. Ew.) There were only three of them involved, but these three have not yet figured out that one may wear a pair of jeans or a sweater more than once before laundering. Besides, now that said jeans and sweatshirts have spent the past week mixing it up with dirty socks and underwear, being trampled underfoot as grapes into wine, clean into soiled, a comfy warm (and probably warming, as things ferment) bedroom carpet, they do need to be laundered. As I said, a substantial mound.

It has been five days, and I have just.about. caught up.

I would be entirely caught up had Anna not puked in Emma’s bed yesterday. Oh, the excitment of my job, I tells ya. Anna has her own pillow and blankie, but she sleeps atop Emma’s bed, and managed to give duvet, pillowcase and Emma’s blankie a delicate yet thorough sprinkling. Grossed out, Emma tossed in her perfectly clean comforter and sheets as well. And, because my job caused the mess, it’s my job to clean it up. Besides, I am the household laundry-person, and “household” includes linens.

The duvet is done; the comforter is in the dryer; the rest is chugging away in the wash. And then? Then it’s DONE!! I have CAUGHT UP!!!

And this evening? This evening the stepkids return.

I think I’m drowning…

January 11, 2008 Posted by | Anna, eeewww, health and safety, my kids, the dark side | 8 Comments

Well, isn’t that nice?

You Had a Fantastic Year!

Compared to most years, last year was definitely great.
Overall, you’re living a much better life than you were twelve months ago.
And nothing is a better mark of a good year.
Here’s to hoping next year is even better!
How Did Your Year Rate?

January 10, 2008 Posted by | holidays, memes and quizzes | Leave a comment

Time for a little catharsis

A friend (hello, Wendy!) sent me this email. I think, in light of yesterday’s post, you will forgive me if I found it hysterically funny. The email follows:

Most of America’s populace think it improper to spank children. The other day I was talking to one of my younger buddies about methods used to discipline children.

We talked about ‘time outs’, grounding, holding back ‘rewards’ until the child displayed desired behavior, etc. One of the things we discussed was the act of spanking, and my friend explained that no, he does not spank any of his children.

He explained that what he does is to take the misbehaving child out for a ride in the car and talk. He said that usually this works and that the child calms down fairly quickly and it really doesn’t take too much time.

By removing the child, in this case his son, from the immediate situation and providing a change of scenery, the child is allowed to focus on something different. Once the child has the opportunity to change perspective, things get better quickly and the child has better understanding of his place within the family and begins to understand the family’s concept of acceptable behavior.

He kindly shared a picture of the process which I share with you now.


January 9, 2008 Posted by | Mischief, parenting, the dark side | 2 Comments

Back with a vengeance

One of the tots, who will remain nameless, has returned from a lengthy family trip of some six weeks, all energized and ready to mix it up again with her friends have fun at Mary’s settle back into her usual routine give Mary the professional challenges she needs to keep her on her game.

In the past 48 hours, this little one has:

– begun screaming from the moment she exits her house, to the moment she enters mine (and then some), “I DON’T WANNA GO AT MARY’S HOUSE! MAMAMAAAAAA! I DON’T WANNNNAAAAAA! MAMAAAAAAAA!!!”

– when that doesn’t work, she just screams. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA …

– when presented with a stack of 8 puzzles, placed on the floor between three children, she lay her torso atop the stack so that nobody could touch them. She couldn’t play with them either, but that’s NOT THE POINT.

– when another child approaches to give her a hug, she shoves them.

– when presented with food of any description, she glowers at the plate.

– when asked a question, she turns her back and refuses to hear

– when complimented, she turns her back and refuses to hear

– when praised (and lord only knows it’s not easy to find something to praise this week) she (are you with me yet?) turns her back and refuses to hear

– when she must speak, she whispers so softly it is impossible to hear. If you place your ear very close to her face, she merely hisses. “Ssssssss….”

– when sat on a lap to hear a story, she leans forward and covers the page with her body

– when sat beside me to hear a story, she puts her hands over her ears

– she has bitten (unsuccessfully; I removed the other child before the teeth closed), hit (successfully), kicked (successfully) and scratched (unsuccessfully) every other child in the house, at least once.

– she has hidden toys, not because she wishes to play with them, but only because she can

– she has tormented the cats

– she has (bless her heart) sat herself down on the quiet stair for extended periods of time.

In short, she has reverted to all the pre-daycare behaviour patterns, and then some. We saw the screaming and physical aggression last year; we did not see the hiding of toys or pet tormentation. See how much more mature and sophisticated a year can make them?

She’s just had six weeks with her family, and THAT is where she wants to be, NOT HERE, and she is SERIOUSLY PISSED OFF and we are all to take that VERY SERIOUSLY INDEED, and if we do not, there will be SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES. The world is not cooperating with her script, and the knee-high despot is NOT PLEASED.

Oh, well. We trained her out them before, we can train her out of them now. Moreover, it should be quicker this time, because she’s not learning it all from scratch.

But, sheesh. The holidays are over. Welcome back to reality, Mary.

January 8, 2008 Posted by | aggression, tantrums, the dark side | 11 Comments

Mary’s crankiness, Timmy’s transcendence, and it’s all Zen

I love chamber music. Well, really, I’m a musical polyglot. There are very few types of music I don’t like — blues are big around here, and jazz, a little country, baroque, quite a bit of pop of all descriptions, a little emo, classic rock, the occasional head-banger stuff … But I do like chamber music. Which is why we had Hayden playing on my MP-3 player this morning.

It’s a new MP-3 player to me. Not an iPod, a “Zen”. Don’t you just love the name? Zen. So calm, so tranquil. So un-flappable. Just like me.

(I will attempt to stop sniggering…)

“Zen” is a mind-state, the mental balance I attempt to reach when tots and pets and clutter and noise have me reaching levels of exasperation some associate (wrongly) with “bad” parents, not the amazing and un-flappable MaryP.

You’d be wrong in that assumption, you know. “Good” parents do get exasperated, and MaryP is un-flappable about sex, and … uh … No, that’s about it. Just sex.

Children, in fact, do sometimes get under my skin. Out-of-control parents do, too, unless they have a sense of (self-deprecating, not self-justifying) humour about it all. Earnest Parents do, for sure, for they are are completely lacking in humour of any sort. Homophobes. Evangelicals as a movement, though there are any number of them I quite like personally. (This includes evangelical atheists.) The self-righteous. Mindless trend-followers. People who care about celebrities. The ecologically cavalier. People who pretend SUVs are not a blight on the planet.

So, you see, I’m quite the crank in my private life. I don’t know how my husband stands me. Which is why it tickles me that he suprised me with an MP-3 player called “Zen”. Zen, my ideal.

When the children are expasperating me beyond measure, NOT because “I can’t believe what they’re doing NOW and what am I going to do about it???”, because I rarely ever suffer that paralyzing helplessness any more, but because “I can’t believe I’m going through this AGAIN, and how long does it take them to get over this obnoxious stage, again????” Or, more accurately, “and how quickly can I manoeuvre/manhandle the little cretin through it??”

Um, where was I? “When the children are exasperating me beyond measure”… yes. When that happens, I “go Zen”. I take a deep breath, I step outside the situation and observe it from without, much like an out-of-body experience, without the brink-of-death part. I breathe deep, step back, and let it all roollll right over me. I’m pretty good at it by now, and it’s remarkably effective. It’s always an effort, though, a conscious mental discipline.

So the Zen comes on (the MP-3, not the state of mind, because this morning I am feeling pretty mellow, all in all) and it’s playing Haydn (which will only make me even mellower), and Timmy, who had been playing in the kitchen, BURSTS into the dining room as the music begins, and with each of the three decisive introductory chords, he hits the floor: (E+) BOUND! (E+) BOUND! (D+) BOUND!! , and with the tonic he falls, dramatically, spread-eagled on the hardwood. A+!!!!!!!

And lays down there, beaming at the dining room ceiling as the music rolls around him.

Because chamber music, it’s just that compelling.


January 7, 2008 Posted by | daycare, the cuteness!, the dark side, Timmy | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Because I know how to multi-task

“I wanna blue one. I wanna blue one! I wanna blue one, I wanna blue one, I WANNA BLUE ONE!!!!”

Busy helping Emily align her shapes on her card, I speak without looking up. “Nigel, lovie, if Anna wants a blue square, please give her one. There are lots of blue squares.”

We’re playing with the bright and shiny flat coloured tiles, the wooden ones in various shapes which come with equally bright wooden cards on which are painted shapes and pictures. You can put the tiles onto the pictures, see, and create mosaics.

“There isn’t lots of squares. There is only one.”

Well, that’s just silly. There are lots of blue squares, just as there are lots of white diamonds, green triangles, red hexagons and purple trapezoids. Lots of them, lots of blue squares.

Lots of blue squares, all, I now realized, piled up on one of the cards — Anna’s card, over which she hovers like an avenging fury. There was indeed one sole blue tile in the container, now held in Nigel’s small pink fist.


She has a pile of blue squares on one card, and beside that, a pile of red hexagons. Look at that! She’s sorting by color! (That they all happen to be the same shape is, I’m sure simply happenstance: all the tiles of the same colour are also the same shape.) But sorting? Very cool — a pre-math skill.

“I WANNA BLUE ONE!!” She makes a lunge for the last blue tile. Nigel yoinks his hand back. The pre-math brilliance is going to have to take back seat to the social not-so-brillance.

“Anna. You have a gazillion blue squares (MY math skills are excellent, no?). Nigel can have one. If Nigel has one and you have some, then you can BOTH be happy!” At least until someone else decides they can’t live without a blue square, but, praise be, that does not happen this morning.

All is calm. We continue making our pictures. Well, I’ll be honest here. I’m sitting on the floor with them, but I’m also reading while they play. It’s allowed. My presence is calming, I am within arm’s reach for assistance, I can chat with them as required, AND I can find out whether Q (short for Quinn) and Tom’s marriage will survive the multiple stressors of her problematic pregnancy, his ambition and highly demanding career, her visiting mother and sister, and her interest in a community legal issue which may well be putting her on the opposing side of her husband’s firm’s interests.

(Bed Rest, by Sarah Bilston; it’s a light, entertaining read, but I’m really caring about this marriage. Frankly, if she took off with the handsome and sensitive nephew of a neighbour, it would only serve her jackass of a husband right. But she seems to genuinely love the jackass, and I suspect they’re going to– miraculously, unrealistically — patch it up in the end. Too bad for the nephew, though: he’s a nice guy.)

“I can’t reach the pieces!”

“Nigel. Do not sit in the container. No one can reach the pieces.”

“My BUM is in there!” He is very proud.

“Yes, it is, and it’s in the way. Put your bum over here.” He obediently plonks down on the patch of floor indicated, but the others recognize a good game when they see it. The tots giggle delightedly as one bum after another plonks atop the tiles while Q receives some hard-hitting but fair sisterly comments. Will her pride and wilful denial allow Q to accept these words as the wisdom they are? Will she respond with knee-jerk defensive rejection, as she is so wont to do with her sisters?

“I am making cookies!”

The tiles have made a lateral move. No more are they being placed with (minimal) precision in the proscribed spots on the cards; now they are laid out in lines along the floor.

“This is oatmeal and this is chocolate chips, and those are for Emily.”

The children make smacking noises as they fake-eat their cookies. All this air-eating makes them hungry, though. Q, whose most recent ultrasound has given her some worrying news, must wait. I have some real, live babies to feed. And, by the time they’re safely settled round the table, Q’s mother will have arrived from England, and maybe I’ll find out if the woman is really as bad as Q thinks she is …

January 4, 2008 Posted by | aggression, Anna, books, Nigel, socializing | 2 Comments