Smooth Criminal

27 11 2008

Just when I thought any trace of bad-ass street cred I ever pretended I had was gone, swept away like a million little Goldfish cracker fragments, or so thoroughly diluted by breast milk and apple juice and instant decaf coffee that it was virtually undetectable, along comes a day like today. A day that proves that I still know how to handle myself under pressure, and that my inner criminal is alive and well and just waiting for a chance to exercise her evil genius.

It all began innocently enough. Mr. set off early to go talk to a grade six class about the world of business, as part of his stay-at-home-dad sanity-saving volunteer work. That left Squiggles and I in charge of getting Neener and Roo to school on time and fully clothed. Squiggles, surprisingly enough, was not much help, unless you consider hollering ‘hat!’ and ‘dog!’ and ‘balloooooooon!’ every twelve seconds helpful. I do not. Still, we managed the school drop-off without incident and headed home to have us some coffee and mushed bananas. With a hungry, wiggling, snow-suit clad Squiggles on my hip, I gave the back patio door a yank. But the bastard didn’t budge because the loose little lock mechanism had slipped and locked the door behind us when we left. And it just so happened that I’d locked the front door. And that my key was on my brother’s key ring. And that my brother was at work almost an hour away. And that Mr.’s cell phone was off and he’d be at a school that I did not know the name of for the next three hours. And that even if I could pop off the screens and pry open any of the old, heavy, crummy windows, there was no guarantee that my big arse would fit through. Squiggles, surprisingly enough, was not much help. Unless you consider writhing and twisting and crying helpful, which, at that moment, I did not. november2008-044So, I did what any locked-out-of-the-house-mother-with-a-cranky-baby would do in order to avoid a whole lotta crying from both of us: I whipped out a boob for the baby, and whipped out my phone to call my best friend. So she could laugh hysterically at me from the comfort and safe distance of her home in Toronto. After a good laugh and a quick brainstorm of my very limited options, I did the second thing that any locked-out-of-the-house-mother-with-a-baby-on-boob would do in order to avoid plunging into panic: I called my mother so that she could panic for me from the helpless distance  of her little house in the big woods. By the time I hung up the phone, my mother was on the hunt for the phone number of Mr.’s school and Squiggles was sound asleep. So, I tucked the baby in to the stroller and decided to put my break and enter skills to the test. Skills I have not exercised since my friend Dodie and I were 17, and found ourselves locked out of her house and in desperate need of a bathroom. I won’t tell you exactly how I managed to jimmy open our patio door, for obvious security reasons, and because no proper smooth criminal goes around blabbing her secrets all over the internet. But I will say this: I rock. If you ever need someone to break into your house, I’m your woman. Dodie and Squiggles can vouch for that.

In retrospect, Squiggles and I were very lucky. It was fairly sunny and warm out, and we were well dressed. And if we’d been faced with being locked out for three whole hours, I had a few ideas of where we could go to keep warm and kill some time. But the experience taught me some valuable lessons. Like that I should never leave home without my wallet, so I can at least go buy a coffee if I have to bum around the mall with my kid for a few hours. And that we should have an emergency key hidden outside somewhere. And, I learned something very important about that trace of bad-ass street cred I always pretended I had: apparently I’ve still got it.


Domestic Blister’s Holiday Harangue

24 11 2008

T’was the month before Christmas in the ol’ Blisterdome

and the rabid consumerism was making me foam.

Each TV commercial, each Holiday flyer

Pushed me up on my soapbox a little bit higher.

The toy pile in the basement was so out of control

that I found myself wishing it would all turn to coal.

With heat so expensive, that coal’d be fantastic.

It would burn so much cleaner than cheap Chinese plastic.

With a plethora of presents from occasions before

Destroyed and discarded all over the floor,

I thought of the Christmas well-meaning gift-givers,

Making that pile grow. And it gave me the shivers!

I thought of the meaningless mass of such stuff,

And I said to myself “Enough is enough!”

Instead of just buying and fostering greed

Why not throw the money at stuff we do need?

Dance classes for Roo! Tae Kwon Do class for Neener!

Some ice packs for Mr.’s vasectomied wiener! **

Warm socks for Squiggles! New undies for me!

Sure beats mouthfuls of melamine under the tree.

We don’t need more Dora or Barbie or Tink.

How ’bout health insurance, for our trips to the shrink!

With gifts about quality, not just sheer amount

Maybe each would be precious, maybe each gift would count.

Instead of just ripping through wrapping galore,

Perhaps we’d find something not sold in a store.

The meaning of Christmas, of true appreciation,

With money left over for a sunny vacation!

And my hope of all hopes, if I had my druthers

Would be for my children to think about others.

To think of the people they love oh-so dearly,

Not the mountain of merch that stunts our growth, yearly.

And knowing they’re part of the luckiest few,

Think not “What’d I get?”, but “What can I do

To make the world brighter? Make a sad person happy?”

But I better shut up now. I’m getting all sappy.

Maybe this little Buy Less scheme will work,

Or maybe I’m being a self-righteous jerk.

But I don’t give a damn, not a fiddler’s fart.

I refuse to believe Love’s on sale at Wal-Mart.

It’s not on for a buck at the ol’ Dollarama.

It’s snuggled around us, like a cozy pajama.

Our big basement toy pile now seems out of place,

So we’ll donate that junk to someone with more space.

And focus instead on the things that have meaning,

Things that require a whole lot less cleaning.

Less stuff means more time to enjoy all our blessings

And hopefully fewer gargantuan messings.

With a few thoughtful gifts, and our spirits restored,

The Blisters can laugh at the Holiday horde

For whom Boxing Day Sales are reason to brawl.

Happy Christmas, poor suckers. Good luck at the mall!

** The vasectomied wiener depicted in this poem is fictional… for now.

Another year wiser

20 11 2008

Yesterday, I celebrated my birthday. I won’t say which birthday, since I’ve been craftily running a misinformation campaign on that for, oh, about 20 years now. The first ten years consisted of adding a few years to the real number, but in recent years, I’ve adopted a slightly different strategy. You may hear the number “32”  bandied about by such unreliable sources as my mother, whose memory is clearly failing, my husband ,who is in obvious denial about his cradle-robberdom, and my children, who are foul mouthed little liars. Anyway, my age is irrelevant. What really matters is that I’ve had some memorable birthdays, and when I reflect back on them, many have taught me a valuable lesson that I carry with me to this day. Here is a brief retrospective of birthdays-gone-by, and some of the wisdom I’ve extracted from my 18-35 odd years on this planet:

The Beginning: The day I was born, I was already 3 weeks late. My mother’s due date was Halloween. When labour induction failed and my mother and I started showing signs of distress, somebody finally realized that something was wrong. Damn placenta was blocking my exit. I was yanked out via an emergency c-section just in the nick of time. From my mother’s regular re-telling of the harrowing story of my birth and her grueling recovery, I learned two very important things: First, that I am a very, very lucky individual. And second, that a great deal of guilt can be leveraged once your child realizes that you almost died giving birth to them.

My 4th Birthday: A massive snow storm. A storm so bad that no one could make it to my party. I proclaimed that to be “The Worst Birthday Ever.” The lesson? You can’t control the weather, not even on your birthday. But you can control your definition of worst.

My 6th Birthday: My first party with my new school friends. Dozens of them. My new best friend gave me a Strawberry Shortcake doll but after all the gifts were opened, decided that she wanted to keep the cute little scented Custard the cat figurine that came with it. When her mom came to pick her up, I watched tearfully as she walked out the door with a party loot bag and the best part of a present that was supposed to be for me. That taught me that sometimes your friends do things that piss you off, but they are still your friends. She gave my Custard the cat back. Eventually.

My 16th Birthday: My then-boyfriend, a 6 foot 3, 115 pound 18 year old with a black studded leather jacket and a mega-mullet, whom I had proclaimed “The Best Boyfriend Ever”, got caught cheating on me with his ex. The lesson I gleaned was that I could not control what other people did. Not even on my birthday. But I could control my definition of the word best.

My 17th Birthday: A misunderstanding morphed into an argument with a girl I thought was my friend. She chased me out of the mall and threatened to beat me with a baseball bat. Which showed me that sometimes your friends do things that frighten the hell out of you, and those people are not really your friends at all.

My 19th Birthday: I did not set foot in a bar or a liquor store until the day I turned 19 because I was terrified of getting ID’d. On my 19th birthday, identification in hand, I did both. And no one asked me to prove how old I was. On one hand, I kicked myself. On the other hand, I was glad I never had to do the ol’ “Oh I forgot my I.D, I’ll be right back” underage booze-buyer dash. The lesson? Sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry. And I am younger than I look.

My 21st Birthday: Well, not technically on the day of my birth, but that year, my birthday provided the excuse my friends and I needed to party recklessly for an entire week. On day three of my birthday bender, I met a guy. Six feet tall, on the skinny side, twinkling green eyes, and a black Motorolla pager. I consumed an ample amount of liquid courage, introduced myself to him, and told my friends that very night that I was going to marry that guy some day. And I did. From that I learned that sometimes it pays to take a chance. And I am smarter than I look.

My 30th Birthday: My sweet Mr. threw me a fantastic party. I was surrounded by amazing people, and surprised by the poetic abilities of my friends, who all wrote poems to commemorate the occasion. We stuffed ourselves with every flavour martini under the sun, and stuffed the kids with a heinous amount of Little Mermaid birthday cake. I woke up at 3 am with a bad case of martini-induced barfies. Roo woke up at 3:15 am with a bad case of blue-icing induced barfies, and I spent the rest of the night ignoring my own rolling stomach and pounding head to tend to my sick child. That birthday taught me to expect the unexpected. And to always keep a barfie bowl or two handy.

My 31st Birthday: Enormously pregnant with baby Squiggles, I was lucky I could walk, let alone celebrate. Eating gave me heartburn. Laughing made me pee in my pants. Sleep was a figment of my hormone-addled imagination. Desperate to get that baby on the move, I drank some castor oil. The only thing that moved was the take-out chinese food I had for my birthday dinner. I learned, yet again, how little control I have over the world. How there are some things that just can not be rushed. And how to engrave  guilt-inducing details into my mind. Details that will later be used to make my kids realize how wonderful I am because of what I went through to bring them into the world.

Now, I hold all of these little lessons in my heart and mind. Looking around at my family, my friends, my life, I know I am extraordinarily lucky, and I try to appreciate each day for what it is because tomorrow is promised to no one. The snow swirling to the ground, and the atrocities swirling through the news don’t rattle me because I know I can’t control anything beyond my own perspective. I have no time for the bullshit of people who are decitful or mean, and I have all the time in the world for the people I love. I take chances only when I know what I’m risking and what I stand to gain. Otherwise I play it safe, take my time, and make the best of what I’ve got.  And last night, as I celebrated with family and friends and food and drink, I listened to the smart little voice inside that said “Go easy on the appletinis, and take the barfie bowl upstairs and leave it on Neener’s bed.” If my age-related misinformation campaign is successful, I may not be getting any older. But I am getting wiser. At least, that’s how I felt at 3 a.m. when I awoke to the words “Mommy, I need to barf.”

Bad English

16 11 2008

This is not what I had in mind when I imagined Neener and Roo saying ‘bad words.’ Sure, I expected the hysterical giggling. The marker covered hands flitting over their yogurt-caked lips in the most feeble attempt to keep the forbidden words from tumbling off their tongues. I expected them to flout my authority and flaunt their rebellion by shouting those obscenities out at the breakfast table. For them to watch my reaction, and to delight in my mock shock. To be egged on by my inadequately hidden amusement. But I did not expect the first bad words out of their mouths to be quite so appalling. I never imagined I’d hear my children say the word ain’t.

Yeah, that’s what they’re picking up from the kids in school these days. I was all ready for them to come home with real ‘bad words’, which, as you may have guessed, I personally adore and can not wait to appropriately incorporate into the lexicon of my offspring. But Ain’t, I don’t got no, no I nevered? That shit makes my obsessively editorial, English-major self writhe and shudder far more than any mere expletive ever could. And, it has forced me to explain to my kids that poor grammar makes you sound like you don’t know no better. Like maybe you ain’t no more smarter than the empty milk cartons you brang home from school. All the while trying to be careful not to imply that the kids who speak that way – and the adults who allow it – don’t got no brains neither.

As a writer, I’m a firm believer in breaking rules and pushing boundaries. There is certainly a place in good creative writing and speaking for double negatives, made-up words, and even the odd ain’t. But I also believe that you must know the rules before you can go around breaking them. And that the appropriate place for such words is not in the mouths and minds of my five and a half year olds. So, when one of them drops the ain’t-bomb, or butchers a verb, or lets fly a double negative in the heat of the moment, I do the only thing I can to avoid coming off like an anal retentive, lecturing language snob: I turn it into a joke. I flip into a theatrical Queen of England pontification, espousing the extreme importance of proper grammar, and then break into a face-contorting, foot-stomping, elbow-flapping  singing of “There ain’t no flies on me/There ain’t no flies on me/ There might be flies on some of your guys/But there ain’t no flies on me” , channelling my very best Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. This lets me simultaneously teach them a bit about good grammar, but it also lets me do something even more important: threaten to boot their little arses if I ever hear them say “No I nevered” again.

What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting Normal

13 11 2008

What we’ve got here is a case of uneven development. And I’m not talking about that whole one-boob-is-bigger-than-the-other thing, which, as we all learned in junior high health class, is completely normal. This, I’m quite sure, is not normal. The Blister Family does not do normal. Not even Baby Squiggles.

When I last spoke directly about dear baby Squiggles, it was because suspicions had been raised about her having her very own place on the Autism Spectrum. Nothing much has changed there, but I can report that her language development has taken some wacky detours in the last few months. After getting and then losing the word Cat, then getting it and losing it again, Squiggles moved on. To another weird first word, or more appropriately, words. Red Dog. Her first official words were Red Dog. Clear as a bell, and often directed at actual red dogs. But then she became more indiscriminate and started calling everything Red Dog. Then she lost the Red part. Then she started calling our cat a dog, and laughing manically every time she did it. As if she knew that that was a surefire way to piss off the cat. Now she calls all cats dogs. But she calls a cow a cow and mooos. She cock-a-doodle-doos too. And she calls a frog a frog. Yep, that’s right. My 11 month old can say the word frog. With the eff. What the eff? Frog is totally not a normal early word! Then again neither is yellow, but she can say that too, with a marvelously rolling elle sound. It is also not normal for an 11 month old to be able to sit in front of a group of toys, be asked to hand a specific one to her mother, and to do it. Several times in a row, with several different toys and no help. But Squiggles does this. I have witnesses. I have video evidence. She also sits in front of the mirror looking at herself, stroking her tiny sprout of hair, repeating Head. Head. Head. Like she knows that there’s some crazy shit going on up in there, and it sure as hell ain’t hair growth.

Here’s what she does not do: she does not babble. Never did. At all. No goo goo gaaa gaaa bababa. She either says what something is, tries to say what something is, or says nothing at all. Or calls it a dog to see if it gets pissed off, then laughs like a lunatic. She does not crawl. She scoots along on her bum, essentially paddling herself across the floor with her legs. Maybe not as fast as crawling, but as Squiggles is keenly aware, it leaves her hands free for more important things. Like picking little dut-duts off the floor and jamming them into her mouth when she thinks no one is looking. Or carrying her Frog across the room without resorting to holding it in her teeth like a common cur. Or flinging blocks at her sisters to get their attention as she yogic-flies toward them, plotting to eat their library books and My Little Ponies before launching herself up to the clouds with one mighty push of the bum.  The scoot also lets her kick stuff. Squiggles loves to kick anything that gets in her way, and she’s got great aim and a surprising amount of power. ( As an aside, I’m considering sicking Squiggles on Brandee Connely the next time I see that kid laying on the playground field, cackling at her own original wit in calling another kid Broccoli. See how she likes a baby calling her dog, then kicking her in the ear while snatching her library book.) As a former bum-scooter myself, I like to think that forgoing the whole silly crawling business is a sign of serious intelligence. An evolutionary leap – or scoot – if you will. Even though I know it is kinda sorta a sign of atypical development. And that because of crawling’s associations with the development of spacial awareness and body co-ordination, I might as well just hire Squiggles a math tutor, and cancel our registration in the mother/daughter Hip Hop Ballet Salsa Synchronized Ice Dance Talent Show right now.

Squiggles also does not stand. Not interested in that right now, thank you very much. In fact, it’s hard to get her to bear weight on her legs at all. And she still can’t roll over by herself, although we’re making some progress on regaining that. These are flat-out developmental delays. I know this because I’ve seen them before. I just keep reminding myself that developmental delays are just that: delays. It does not mean she’ll never walk, or that she’ll have to sleep upright when she moves out on her own because lying on her back still leaves her flailing around helplessly like a turned-over turtle, and will for the rest of her natural life. It just means that it will take more time, and some extra effort on all of our parts. And it means that I should prepare a stockpile of responses to repeat to people when they otherwise expect Normal where Normal does not exist. Junior high health class taught me that normal is a fine way to describe uneven boobs. Life has taught me that normal would be an entirely too dull, and incredibly inaccurate way to describe the Blister Family. Even Baby Squiggles.

Lest We Forget

11 11 2008

Today is the day when I can’t help but remember how totally fucking stupid we human beings really are. How we refuse to believe that there are things more important than our own possessions and obsessions. How we pay lip service to ideas like equality and justice and peace when it’s easy. How reluctant we are to believe that losing and hurting and dying feel the same for us as they do for the stranger whose eyes we’ll never meet.

I don’t know how to explain today to my children. School has done a good job teaching them the rote ideas like ‘wear a poppy’ and ‘ remember the brave men who died’ and ‘say Happy Remembrance Day’. On one hand I want them to know more. I want them to know about the complexities of politics and the impossibilities of peace. I want them to know the stories of terrified men and women the world over who died fighting for life. I want them to comprehend the notion of sacrifice, beyond just shutting up for one minute, one day a year. I want them to know that ‘Never Again’ was wishful thinking, and Remembrance Day should never be preceded by the word Happy, and that it’s not all about being able to recite In Flanders Fields with a big dumb grin glued on your face. It’s about real violence and real death and real grief and real destruction and real degradation of all of humanity. I want them to know how totally fucking stupid we humans really are because we can’t get our collective act together enough to stop massacring each other. No matter how hard we try. And it has been, and probably will be forever thus.

On the other hand, I don’t want them to know a damn thing about the why and the how of this day. I don’t want them to have a clue about violence, or death, or grief, or destruction, or degradation, real or otherwise. I want them to believe that compassion and intelligence can prevail. That all is fair in love, and that nothing is fair in war. That equality and justice and peace can be present in every word, every thought, every moment, every person. That the warmth of the sun, the joy of a belly laugh, and the security of love feel the same for them as they do for the stranger whose eyes they’ll never meet. I want to tell them that we humans might not be so fucking stupid after all.

“Let us resolve afresh at the dawn of this new century… that this might be a truly pacific peaceful century.” – Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Just because you’re a six year old girl doesn’t mean you’re not a jerk

7 11 2008

Kids are jerks. Even six year olds. Somehow, I had myself convinced that kids, especially little girls, didn’t turn into nasty little snots until they hit at least seven. Apparently not. There’s already a Lil’ Miss Meany Pants in Neener and Roo’s class. I know that I am a grown-up, and I should just shrug and mutter something about kids being kids, but I can not help but be filled with neck-wringing rage at the sight of this little girl.  This little girl, so sweet and innocent looking, with her long sandy braids, her dusting of freckles, her pink Disney Princess backpack, and her ever present gap-tooth grin, makes my right eye twitch and my jaw lock up. If I was two feet shorter and twenty-six years younger, I’d flick boogers at Brandee Connely.*

Brandee is not your typical bully. She is the kind of sneaky manipulative little girl bully that never gets caught or called out because the things she says and does seem so innocuous. And she’s little . And cute. And bright. And always smiling. Yet, I’ve watched this little girl send Neener into hysterics with four little words : “You forgot your glasses.” On the surface, this seems like a harmless observation. A helpful comment, even. And it may have been, the first few times. Even if she did start following up the “Neener you forgot you’re glasses” comment with the equally upsetting addition of “accidentally” calling her Roo. But one day, it sure as hell wasn’t helpful. Or an accident. Because Neener’s glasses were right there on her face when Brandee Connely grinned and chirped, ” Hey, you forgot your glasses!”. Poor naive, hysteria-prone Neener, believed her and freaked out. And Brandee Connely found it just a little too funny that Neener fell for it. As Neener reacted as Neener does to forgotten glasses, running back to us crying and screaming and pleading that we go get them, Brandee Connely put her hand over her six-year-old smirk to stifle her giggles, and turned to the kid next to her and started whispering. It took a while for Mr. and I to get Neener calmed down enough to realize that she did have her glasses, and we told her quite simply that Brandee Connely had made a mistake because it was not appropriate at the time to tell Neener that Brandee Connely is in fact, a rotten little jerk. Mistake, my ass.

If that had been the only incident with this kid, I might have been able to forgive and forget. But then I overheard this little exchange at the costume birthday party we went to:

Little ADHD boy dressed as Batman: Hey Brandee, like my costume?

Brandee, appropriately dressed as a witch: Umm. No. Don’t talk to me. You’re bad.

ADHD boy: No I’m not. I’m Batman. He’s one of the good guys.

Brandee (rolling her eyes like a know-it-all 13 year old): No, I mean in school. You’re the bad kid in our class. So, don’t talk to me.

Again, on the surface, this could have been just another call ’em like you see ’em statement from a little kid who just has not learned how to sugar coat things yet. And it’s kinda the truth. He is the ‘bad kid’ in class because he doesn’t listen to the teacher, and he can’t spell his name, and he can’t sit still for long, and he charges around the playground like a great dane that ate a bag of Ritalin spiked coffee beans. But he doesn’t lean in close to other kids and plant hurtful little words in their ears. He doesn’t cover his mouth and giggle at the sight of other kids crying because of something he said. He doesn’t whisper, or taunt, or assume he can get away with saying anything to anyone as long as it’s done with a smile, and out of adult earshot. Little ADHD boy can’t hide behind a pleasant little girl smile, and some long sandy hair, and a dusting of freckles and a pink backpack. But Brandee Connely can. And she does.

Today, she called another kid – the shyest, quietest boy in the class – “Broccoli” because he had a green umbrella. And she leaned into Neener’s friend Jonathan and whispered something to him that made him hang his head glumly and stare down at his shoes until the morning bell rang. My eye is twitching just thinking about it, not only because of what this girl is saying and doing to other kids, but because I don’t know what to do about it. Do I tell my kids flat-out that she is a mean and devious little shit the next time she takes a backhanded shot at their security? Do I run to the teacher with my evidence that this girl is an undercover bully? Or do I “accidentally” find myself eye to eye with her on the playground, close enough so that I can smile sweetly and whisper, “Mess with my kids again, and I’ve got a big yellow booger with your name on it, Brandee Connely.”

*Some names have been changed to protect the guilty.