Losing It

29 10 2008

This weekend, I was one shriek away from making a real scene. I took Neener and Roo to a birthday party. A costume birthday party, attended by a mini-throng of more than a dozen kids. Trying to keep an eye on my two kids in a stranger’s house and backyard is a little tricky. Trying to keep an eye on a sugared-up zebra charging through a mini-throng of Batmans and witches in a stranger’s house and backyard, with a cold-footed autistic bride in sensory overload curled up in your lap and begging to go home? More than a little tricky. Let’s just leave it at that.

But it was a birthday party, and the whole point of a birthday party is to have fun, so I was determined to keep a big stupid grin pinned to my face. And nothing says fun and big stupid grins like party games, right? Ohhhhh sooooo wrong. Stick the Wart on the Witch’s nose went over ok, except that Roo the bride almost went arse over tea kettle from the combination of being blindfolded, spun around, and instructed to do something. And Neener the zebra was a little perturbed that she didn’t win, but everyone moved on to the next game quickly, so, no big deal. Then came Pass the Pumpkin, in which an inflatable jack-o-lantern stood in for a hot potato, and a tape of scary Halloween sounds stood in for music. Imagine Roo’s pleasure, and by pleasure I mean grimace of terror, when the hostess went to the stereo, announced it was time to start the music, pressed a button, and out came a cacaphony of thumping, creaking, howls, screams and moans. Needless to say, Roo was not into playing Pass the Pumpkin. But I was surprised when she turned down my offer to take her out of the room ,and she happily opted to watch from the sidelines of my lap, with her hands clamped tightly over her ears. Everything was fine. Until Neener the zebra was left holding the pumpkin, about halfway through the game. When she realized that that meant she lost, well, she lost it. She started crying. Wailing. Bellowing and sobbing that she was a loser and that everyone would laugh and point at her. No one was laughing and pointing of course, but I was thinking mighty hard about just bailing on the whole birthday party thing right then and there. Through my gritted teeth, still locked in the big stupid grin, I warned Neener that if she didn’t stop crying about the fact that she lost right now, we were going home. No cake. No loot bags. No sticking around to see the birthday boy open the big wooden googly eyed Batman-styled letter C we made for him. Just dragged home by one pissed off and embarrassed mother. Then directly to her room. She did stop screaming. Tears and boogers kept streaming down her face, and her body was heaving with stifled sobs, but she did stop screaming.

The whole winning and losing thing is a tough pill for Neener to swallow. Any hint of competition immediately evokes anxiety in her, and she becomes very concerned with who will win and who will lose, regardless of the game. Sometimes there is no game. Sometimes she cries and says she lost if she’s the last one to finish her supper. Or Roo goes to the bathroom before she does. We try to explain that none of these things are competitions, but it doesn’t matter. When she is involved in an actual game, we try the whole “it’s not if you win or lose, it’s all about having fun” stuff, but she knows that that is bullshit.  She’s been in plenty of situations where the winner gets a prize and the loser get squat. And that sucks. Sometimes it does matter if you win or lose, especially when you are five and you really really really want a stupid prize. And for people to congratulate and cheer for you. How can we teach her that it’s nice to win, and it feels good to be the winner, but that losing is something you have to handle graciously and calmly. At least in front of others. Neener sees things in black and white. No shades of grey in her world. If winning is good, then losing is bad, plain and simple. And I have no idea how to change this.

And as much as it is in my dragon-mother nature to breathe fire and toast my kid for acting like a spoiled brat, I’m hesitant to come down on her too hard for being a bad loser because I’ve seen first hand what that does. Neener hates to be scolded. Hates getting in trouble, and will do anything in her power to avoid it. And she knows that right now, she can’t stop herself from getting upset over losing. So instead, she will just refuse to play. That keeps her from losing. Keeps her from getting upset. Keeps her out of trouble. But it also keeps her from getting the practice she needs to become a good sport. Keeps her from experiencing the fun of playing. Keeps her from interactions with her peers, which she desperately needs. Which is what happened at the party. When round two of Pass the Pumpkin began, Neener did not want to play. But much to my surprise, Roo did. So, Neener curled up on my lap and clapped her hands over her still-teary eyes, while Roo joined the other kids on the floor. I watched with bated breath as she both took and passed the inflatable jack-o-lantern. Even while the scary sounds howled in the background, and the kid beside her had long curly hair and jewels glued to her face, Roo stayed focused on the game. No hands over her ears. No hands on the kid sitting beside her. Just playing the game. And playing. And playing. Until she was the last kid sitting. You couldn’t have pried the big stupid grin off my face. Or Neener’s face, for that matter. Roo had won her first ever birthday party game, and the three of us were visibly proud. Roo got to go into the treasure chest and pick her own prize. She emerged with a make-and-paint-your-own-sea-creature kit, complete with paint, brush, mold and enough plaster of paris to make two things. Mind you, the prize later plunged us into much chaos when Roo ate a big handful of the plaster of paris, but in that moment, it was fantastic.

So the lesson here is clearly that winning is awesome, and losing sucks. And it’s better to not play the game and hope the winner will share her prize with you than it is to play, lose, cry, and get dragged home by your fire-breathing dragon mother. But I can not tell Neener that. I have to pin a stupid grin on my face and encourage her to play. Then, help her pick up the pieces of her shattered existence when some other kid manages to throw an inflatable pumpkin at her just as the scary Halloween non-music stops. And all of this must be done without losing it myself. Tricky. Let’s just leave it at that.


The First (Play) Date

25 10 2008

I’ve Neener has been anxiously waiting for an opportunity like this. A real playdate. A chance to go to another kid’s house to check out their toys and see what they have in their fridge play. But I’ve we’ve had a hard time breaking the ice with any prospective partners. There is no easy way without smelling like mango vodka to ask a strange parent for their phone number, or just blurt out, “Hey, can my kid and I come over to your house tomorrow?” Of course there is the tried and true strategy of getting the kids to drop hints, and go around asking their classmates if they can come over and play, knowing that eventually someone will say yes. Only problem there is that you can’t control who says yes the parents might not be on the same page with the playdate plans and the next thing you know, you’re losing your playdate virginity in the backyard of some kid with a chainsmoking mother, a giant bottle of Pepsi and a bad case of headbugs. So, we’ve taken the wait and see approach, calmly biding our time until we we saw the right opportunity for our big break. And finally, that big break came. Literally. Neener’s seatmate Jonathan broke parts of his arms. Both of ’em. On back-to-back days. So with a broken wrist and a fractured hand, the poor guy has been stuck at home driving his mother berzerk for the past week and a half. Which gave Mr. the brilliant idea of digging out the invitation to Jonathan’s birthday party, and calling his parents to see if Jonathan was ok. He even cleverly suggested that Neener would love to come by and drop off the card she would make when we told her to made, and maybe even nose around in their fridge keep him company for a while. And they said yes!

So yesterday morning, Neener and I got all gussied up in our cleanest finest casual outfits and went to Jonathan’s house. For over an hour! Jonathan was thrilled to have someone other than his three year old sister to play with, and his mom was thrilled to have someone to gossip with get her caught up on all the stuff going on at school. And while Neener  jumped on furniture, talked with her mouth full of cinnamon bun, and drifted off into her own little land of hyperlexia was not always the most attentive playmate, Jonathan and his mother did not seem to mind. Turns out Jonathan is a little weird quirky too. When it was time to go, everyone agreed that we should do this again sometime. I suggested maybe at our house next time where I can try to convince Jonathan’s mom to dip into the mango vodka with me.

There’s only one problem with this budding buddydom between Neener and Jonathan. Apparently, at the ripe old age of 5, he is quite the ladies’ man. A hugger, a kisser, a flirt. I think he may have intentionally cried everyday for the first three weeks of school just to make the girls think he was Mr. Sensitive, too. Neener fell for this little boy’s charms long before this first playdate, and now I think she adores him even more. If for no other reason than because she went to his house and played Leaf Monster and saw that there were cinnamon buns in his refrigerator. Before they’d even had that all-important first playdate, Neener came home from school one day and posed this question:

” Mommy, if me and Jonathan live in a house together and get married, and I get a baby in my tummy, what will we call it?”

Which is why I really hope Jonathan and his mom can come over to our place for a second playdate. A very, very closely supervised second playdate. If I’m going to end up co-grandparenting with this woman some day, I need to find out if she likes mango vodka get to know her a lot better.

Nit Picky

22 10 2008

We got the much dreaded letter today. Two copies, of course. The letter from the school informing us Dear Parents that ” A student in your child’s classroom has headlice.” However, the letter failed to mention exactly which student. And even though I’m reasonably sure that neither of my children’s heads are hosting Lousestock ’08, I don’t know for certain that Neener hasn’t been at school playing Baby Goat Headbutt-o-rama with the boys. Or that Roo isn’t attempting to befriend the little girl sitting next to her by putting that kid’s long blond pony tail on top of her own head and calling herself Hannah. So now, I’m on nit patrol. As if I didn’t already have enough to do.

It quickly became clear that I was not getting anywhere near Neener or Roo’s heads with my menacingly pokey looking yellow and silver Lice Meister 2000 comb until I gave them a thorough explanation of what was going on.

“Head bugs,” I said. “I need to look for head bugs.”

“I don’t have head bugs, ” protested Neener. Then, “What are head bugs?”

“Bugs that live on your head. And we don’t know if you have head bugs or not until I pick through your hair with this head bug comb, like a mommy monkey picking through a baby monkey’s hair.”

This is the part where I mime being a mommy monkey picking bugs off her baby.

“Are you gonna eat the head bugs, mommy?”

“No,” The silver prongs of the lice Meister glinting beneath the harsh light of my desk lamp. “Now come here.”

The verdict? No head bugs on Neener. Next up is Roo.

Roo required a little less conversation and a lot more action. More begging that she hold still. More pushing and pulling and pinning and positioning her head. More begging her to come back and sit down for just a few more minutes. The whole mission was complicated by the fact that she had a little bit of dry scalp going on. And by the fact that she apparently shook a jar of green sparkles over her head.

The verdict? No head bugs on Roo either. Just some dandruff and sparkles.

I know this is not the end. I know I’ll be stuck in this lousy state of heightened alert for at least a few weeks. And I know there’s a good chance that someday, Lousestock might come to the Blisterdome. And here’s where I get a little selfish. I could deal if it was as simple as my kids getting headlice. They have short, fine, thin hair. I have my nifty little Lice Meister 2000 comb, and all the patience in the world for picking through their hair in search of head bugs. What I can not handle is the reality of lice. The fact that if one person gets them, it becomes a family affair. The mere thought of having those little white bloodsucking vermin on me makes me panicky. And itchy. And paranoid. I was blessed with long, thick, wavy hair, a dry scalp and a vivid imagination. And there’s no way I’m letting my sweet Mr. wield the Lice Meister through my hair. I wouldn’t dare destroy the illusion of glamour he has about my long flowing tresses by making him hunt for head bugs in there. My only recourse would be multiple soaks in harsh chemicals. Or hacking my hair off all together. Neither option is very appealing, to say the least.

So, I’m just gonna cross my fingers, start adding Tea Tree Oil to every shampoo in the house, keep the Lice Meister handy, and ignore the insane itching brought on just by writing this piece. I’ve also found a new appreciation for the fact that my kids aren’t little social butterflies who spend their days huddled head to head with their classmates. Exchanging hats and headbands. Hugging, and wrestling, and being in close contact with their lousy little friends. Maybe headlice is stritcly an affliction of the well-socialized set. In which case, the Blister Family has nothing to worry about. I hope.

No Rest for the Sick-ed

19 10 2008

Ahhhh, Fall. The patchwork quilt of amber and crimson and orange covering the hardwood hillsides. The faintest hint of frost in the air. The raspy voices, the phlegm-tastic coughs, and the rivers of neon yellow snot oozing down my children’s faces. Ahhhh, Fall. Ahhhh ahhhh ahhhh choooo.

As ever, the Blister family suffers from impeccable timing. I have about 100 hours worth of writing work to get done. I have twelve days to finish it. And at the rate of 75 cents per word, each one better be pretty bloody dazzling. Or at least coherent. That’s all for the slightly soul-sucking, but gigantic- bill-paying gigs, which take priority over everything. Eve-ry-thing. That means no time for running or yoga or reading or stalking people on facebook. Luxuries like shopping and leg shaving and sleeping past 6 a.m. and every-second-day showers are on hold. But in order to maintain sanity, I have to squeeze in some real writing. The writing that does not turn a dime, but fills the soul vacuum created by doing writing in which I am not allowed to bitch or swear or say what I think. This blog, and a few of my other side projects that might some day propel me to fame and fortune – or at least result in a lump sum of money we can use for a down payment on a house – can’t be neglected. Oh and then there are the kids. Apparently they can’t be neglected either. Not even when they are whiny and boogery and demanding. Neener still needs explanations about the world. Roo still needs bear hugs when she’s echoing and gnashing and melting. Squiggles still needs boobs and bottles and bum changes and stories and songs and help learning how to roll over and clap again. Throw in a night of Neener’s nightmares, Roo with the barfies, and Squiggles refusing to sleep anywhere but on my chest, and you have one exhausted Mrs. Blister who still has to get shit done. No matter how badly she wants to curl up alone under a blanket, with a cup of tea, a package of Halls, and a box of kleenex and hibernate until Christmas morning.

Of course, I’m not on my own in all this. Mr. unquestionably does his share, but we’re still struggling to really find our groove, manage our time, and define our roles. He’s having a hard time prying the domestic reins from my strong, steady, stubborn hands, and sometimes he’s not sure he really wants to. And I’m having a hard time cracking the various whips that need to be cracked in order for me to get my writing career moving as fast as I want and need it to be. I’m too busy frigging around with the domestic reins that I’ve held for so long, and grown so adept at handling. There are a million little challenges to this arrangement that I could not have anticipated, and they all seem to be surfacing at once. Right now, at the worst possible time.

But the timing of this miserable Fall cold that has gripped us? Yeah, I coulda called that. Naturally we’d all wind up feeling and acting under the weather just as I am heading into an intensely busy and stressful work period. Nothing new there. I know that deep in my sub-conscious mind, the part of me that relishes and thrives on struggle and adversity is positively giddy these days. It’s the same part that winked at me and said I told you so when I got my first A on a university term paper. A paper written the night before it was due, 15 minutes at a time, in between bolts to the dorm bathroom with the worst case of the barfies I’ve ever had. It’s the same part that hysterically insisted that Mr. and I were meant to be together when all other evidence and opinion pointed to the contrary. It’s the same part of me that smirks and says bring it on at the thought of all three of my children being somewhere on the autism spectrum. I don’t want to make a habit of quoting Bruce Cockburn, but sometimes he nails it. “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.” And I don’t want to make a habit out of quoting my mother, but sometimes the ol’ doll nails it too. “No guts, no glory.” So pile on the work and pile up the laundry. Bring on the barfies and the boogers. If need be, I’ll sneeze and cough my way through the next two weeks, and come out on the other side with my best work done, my family still functional, and maybe even a shred of sanity leftover. And as for those nasty little phlegm balls that have been getting a free ride in the back of my sore throat for far too long now, I say this: if you’re big enough to choke me, you’re big enough to get out and walk. Haaacaaaaapaaaathoooey!

Big Love and Little Wonders

14 10 2008

I have much to be thankful for. This weekend, my best friend, aka Second Wife, is visiting from Toronto. The extra pair of maternally inclined hands and eyes around the Blisterdome makes it much easier to do stuff. Fun stuff. Like having a gigantic turkey, apple pie, and mango vodka feast, and playing Rock Band. Or going restauranting. Or piling into our minivan, the inappropriately named Patricia Dishwasher, and going to the Fall Fair. With a 1:1 adult to child ratio, such an adventure is no longer an exercise in death-grip hand squeezing and disciplinary hissing. It’s fun. And fun is something that, in the day-to-day stress of school and schedules, laundry and meals, money-making and money-spending, diapers and dishes, and crisis and meltdowns both global and domestic…well, fun gets put on the back burner with the crusty rice cereal pot and the leftover peas.

But this weekend, our little adventure to the Fall Fair was all fun. We ate cotton candy and homemade fudge and popcorn and sno-cones. We saw dogs doing tricks, pigs running a race, and bunnies just sitting there wiggling their noses and being cute. Roo sat on a tractor and waved at people. Squiggles discovered that animals are more than just pictures on a page or a screen, and that cows really do say Moooo. Neener got head butted by a goat. Three times. Had there been a fourth time, there might have been some trouble because I’m pretty sure drop kicking a goat will get you escorted out of the petting zoo, but I was prepared to take my chances. We went on a Merry-Go-Round. I bought new earrings, and scored some puuuurrrrfect Christmas presents. Nobody cried or hollered or got hurt or got lost or had anything other than a good time. Nothing but fun. Then we headed home for that turkey feast, and the tastiest apple pie I’ve ever made, whole wheat crust and all. This is the wonder of having good family and good friends on hand to celebrate, and I am eternally thankful for that.

So, we keep pitching a mildly polygamist arrangement to Second Wife. I think if I had a husband and a wife, things could really run a lot smoother around here. And this blog would certainly be a little more interesting! Second wife could come and go as she pleases. We’d feed her all the apple pie and turkey and tea and pancakes she could handle. We’d pay her admission to all seasons of fair. Every adventure – and there would be plenty – would be covered. She could have the entire basement to herself, with or without the kiddie tent in the middle of the floor and the heap of stuffies on the bed. Heat, lights, cable, internet and food included. For $300 a month. And we’d pay her even more as soon as we could. She’d be worth it.

May the Fork Be With You

9 10 2008

When Roo was a baby, her occupational therapist gave us some good advice: let her play with her food. Let her finger paint with pudding. Let her feed herself with her hands. Let her touch and squish and poke and prod and practice getting food in her mouth with her own two hands.  So we did just that, with her and Neener too. And it worked beautifully. It helped them develop better fine and gross motor control, encouraged a sense of independence, and may have spurred their creativity. By the age of two, these kids could turn a pile of mashed potatoes, green beans and tomatoes into a three dimensional crab scuttling through sandy sea grass. I kid you not. And while it was great for all these important skills, our little Fun With Food therapeutic approach to mealtimes did diddly squat for their table etiquette. I’ll never forget the look on my poor mother-in-law’s face the first time she saw them dig into a meal with their fat little, tremendously dexterous toddler fingers. She was appalled. I could tell she was appalled by her gigantic ear to ear grin. And by the way she asked in a high-pitched, sing songy, sugar-laden voice, ” So…when will they start using utensils?” The answer, three years later, is “Soon. I hope.”

Yes, my five and a half year olds can write and illustrate their own comics, but they still struggle with using utensils. For Neener, it’s a matter of reminding her to do it. And now that we’ve shown her how to hold and handle a fork or spoon so that food actually gets into her mouth, she’s really getting the hang on it. But for Roo, it’s tougher. While her fine motor control is great with a marker or pencil, she still struggles with one-handed manipulation of objects. Especially long, thin utensil shaped objects. Especially long, thin utensil shaped objects that must be held a certain way, and maneuvered a certain way, and kept steady enough to pick up other uncooperative objects of various sizes and consistencies. Especially when all she wants to do is fling that long, thin utensil shaped object across the room, so she can pick up those uncooperative but delicious looking other objects of various sizes and consistencies with her hands, and shove them in her mouth because she’s starving, dammit! And did I mention that Roo is not the most patient child in the world? And that sometimes you have to ask and remind her several dozen times to get her to do something? And that she really hates to be nagged? And that she loves to use her hands to get things – delicious or not -into her mouth? Clearly, this is going to require some strategic parenting, lest someone ends up with a long, thin utensil shaped object in their eye. And by someone, I mean me.

So, I’m thinking I’ll start simple, by introducing something called “Fancy Manners.” “Fancy Manners” consists, for the time being, of not touching your food with your hands. When I see an opportunity, we will practice “Fancy Manners” at home, which may or may not entail wearing fancy hats and speaking with fancy British accents. “Fancy Manners” will be in effect when we go out to a restaurant, or when we have company over for dinner. The rest of the time, we’ll encourage utensil use for Neener and Roo, but we won’t harp on it. We’ll harp on before-and-after-eating hand washing instead. Chances are, by the time they are adults, their “Fancy Manners” will be well honed enough to save them from any public embarrassment. I’m a firm believer that the ambiance of family meals affects how you eat, and how you relate to your family. If a child’s meal times are full of constant corrections and directions on how to consume their food, you can bet that the kid will eat as fast as possible to escape the stress and unpleasantness of having a parent nag the shit out of them about table manners. Meals are a time to enjoy food, and enjoy each others company. It’s great if they can work on their manners at the family table, and I’ll make sure they understand the importance of using those manners in the company of others, but I’m not going to get all Darth Vader-ish about it. No menacing threats or demands or heavy breathing. In fact, I’m going to take the opposite approach. The Obi-Wan Kenobi approach. The gentle Jedi coaching. The loving guidance of a whispered reminder when it really counts.“Use the fork, Roo. Use the fork.”

Posterity Post #2

7 10 2008

Neener came to me yesterday afternoon and said:

” Mommy, how did the dinosaur get the cock stuck in his mouth?”

After averting a spraying-coffee-out-my-nostrils crisis, and regaining some composure, I managed to not laugh too hard when I said,


She repeated

“How did the dinosaur get the cock stuck in his mouth? The cock they had to try and get out?”

Oh my God, child, what are you talking about? Is this some kind of joke? I’m not sure I want to hear the punchline! Who am I kidding, of course I do. Have you been eavesdropping on the grade fours again?

“Ummmm, cock as in rooster?” I stammered.

Please, please please let her be talking about a rooster eating dinosaur.

“No. On Animal Mechanicals. The dinosaur that ate the cocks and one got stuck and the Animal Mechanicals had to get it out.”

Animal Mechanicals, for those of you who are not watching CBC Kids at 7:30 a.m., is a cartoon about a bunch of robotic animals that go around on missions to save other robotic animals in trouble. To the best of my knowledge, there is no dino-porn in it. Then it dawns on me…

” Oh, the COGS. The dinosaur ate some machine bits and got cogs stuck in his mouth. C-O-G-S.”

Neener smiled.

“Yeah. Cogs.”

And I took a chance on another sip of coffee.