Keep your enemies close… so you can chop off their arms during show and tell

17 01 2009

In her infinite wisdom, Neener and Roo’s teacher, Ms. D, rearranged the classroom seating after Christmas break. Let’s forget about the fact that Neener and Roo had both taken the exciting leap of making “best friends” at their respective tables. And forget about the fact that unexpected change is not always a cake walk for kids on the autism spectrum. Or for kids with high anxiety. Or both, as the case may be. But let’s, for a moment, remember a mean little imp by the name of Brandee C. And let’s remember her obvious fondness for tormenting Neener. And let’s think about the worst possible mean little imp to seat beside my sensitive little angst-meister. Thaaaat’s right. In an even grander display of her infinite wisdom, Mrs. D put Neener and Brandee side by side.

In an effort to not look like a hyper-protective hover-mother, I resisted my impulse to swoop down to the school and bite the teacher’s face off for springing this kind of thoughtless change on my children, and demand that Brandee be moved to a more appropriate location. Like a reform school for mean little imp girls. Instead, I decided to play it cool. Give it a chance. Who knows, maybe Neener and Brandee could resolve their differences and become BFFs over milk and cookies and long conversations about the Tooth Fairy, and Junie B. Jones books. Maybe they’d learn to get along, and develop a friendship of convenience if nothing else. Maybe Neener could teach Brandee to read, and Brandee could teach Neener how to…make fun of other kids and cackle like a nasty little witch. Or maybe Brandee would target Neener with a smarmy little game of  ‘Wanna play Echo?’ And go out of her way to bond with the other two girls at the table, because it’s way more fun to exclude someone than it is to just hassle them. Or maybe she would snatch things from Neener, and refuse to give them back until Neener erupts in a volcano of angry, frustrated tears, and Ms. D, in her infinite wisdom, has to go figure out what Neener is crying about. And all of a sudden, I’m sharpening my teeth and going into hover-mother swooping mode, and forging the signatures of whoever spawned that mean little imp on applications for reform schools in Mongolia. Or Texas.

When Neener finally opened up about what Brandee was saying and doing, I had no choice. I told her under no uncertain terms that Brandee was a mean little snot, and that she did not have to put up with that kind of crap. I urged her to be brave, to stick up for herself, and to tell me, and Ms. D whenever Brandee started giving her a hard time. Then, last night, in the moments before bed when Neener and I like to cuddle up and talk about what’s on her mind, this conversation happened:

Neener: Mommy, what’s Brandee’s phone number?

Me: I dunno. Why?

Neener: I want to call her and ask her what she’s afraid of. I think she’s afraid of bats.

Me: Baseball or the animal?

Neener: Hmmm. I don’t know. Maybe I can bring them both to school and see which one scares her more.

Me: Pfffffffffffttttt. (Which is the sound of me stuffing a pillow in my mouth in a shoddy effort to hide the evidence of my hysterical laughter.)

Neener (slowly and thoughtfully): I need a sword too. A real sword.

Me: Why?

Neener: To bring to school for show and tell.  Maybe I could show it to Brandee.

Me: Brandee big on swords or something?

Neener (grinning like a Cheshire cat): No. But I’d show it to her. And the next time she teased me, maybe I could chop her arm off, and she’d be all, like “Hey! Where’d my arm go?”

Me: Pppppffffffffffffffffttttttttt.

Part of me was alarmed. These were by far the most aggressive words and thoughts I’ve ever heard Neener express. For all my threats of biting off body parts, and my kickin’-ass-and-takin’- names bravado, I’ve gone out of my way to shield my kids from ideas and images of any sort of violence as much as possible. And another part of me was sad. Sad that she feels so helpless. That she’s trying to figure out how to be brave, how to defend herself, and how to push Brandee’s buttons the way Brandee pushes hers, and that the best she can come up with is flying mammals and/or sports equipment, and bringing medieval weaponry for show and tell. And still another part of me was overjoyed that at least she was not content to wallow in a mire of victimhood, that she was at least thinking of ways to fight fire with…bats. And that she was discussing it with me first.

Maybe Neener’s new found blood-lust is all my fault. Maybe I should not have expressed to her my opinion that Brandee is just not a very nice person. Or maybe I should not be encouraging Neener to talk so honestly and openly about about how she feels. Or encouraging her to stand up for herself. Or maybe, if there is any blame to be laid, it belongs squarely on whoever spawned the evil little imp who started picking on my daughter in the first place. In which case, maybe I should find out Brandee’s phone number. And ask her parents what they’re more afraid of, Mongolia or Texas? I’d hate to forge their signatures on the wrong reform school application.


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.

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.

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.

Bonfire of the Vanities

5 11 2008

Today is Bonfire Day. And I’m not even making that up. It’s also called Guy Fawkes Day, a UK tradition I learned about as a kid, when our neighbours returned from a year living in England. That November, we had a big bonfire and a party in their yard.  We even had us a good ol’ fashioned effigy burnin’. Not of Guy Fawkes though. Brian Mulroney, if I recall correctly. Oh, those crazy left wing hippie fire-starter parents of ours! But clearly some of it rubbed off on me, and clung to my psyche like the scent of burning newspaper stuffed in an old sweater vest. I’m contemplating a little fire of my own tonight…

But who or what would I possibly want to burn in effigy? Who would I symbolically set ablaze, as an expression of my ideals and a statement about all that is wrong with the world today? Stephen Harper? Sarah Palin? Dora “Say! It! Louder!” the Explorer? No. I’m not interested in making a political statement. I’m more interested in channeling my pyromania for practical purposes ,and in taking a can of gas and a match to something that symbolizes the epitome of inefficient engineering and false promises to poor unsuspecting parents. I plan on setting fire to inconvenience incarnate. You see, we finally got a new stroller.

If need be, you can get the background on our little stroller saga here. Don’t worry, I’ll wait patiently until you get caught up. All done? Good. Well, I waited and waited and waited for some knight in shining titanium tube framing to come rescue my baby and me from the clutches of that Eddie Bauer Travel System monstrosity. But apparently, no fancy stroller makers heard my desperate pleas, so with the knowledge that any more than a centimetre of snow would render that stroller useless, and with an East Coast winter looming, we took matters into our own hands. We got a single Baby Jogger, and it is everything I dreamed it would be. Big honkin’ tires. One-handed steering. It turns when I want it to turn. It moves when I want it to move. It has a tray for Squiggles. And a cup holder for me. A too-small canvas cup holder, but that does not matter. I’ll just start drinking smaller coffees. I’ll have to. That beautiful sucker set us back five hundred bucks. We’ll also be cutting Squiggle’s shoes from our clothing budget for the next eight years because she will be securely strapped into this stroller until she reaches the 75 pound weight restriction. This is our last stroller. I am determined to get my money’s worth by driving it into the effing ground.

As for the other despicable contraption, I’m seriously considering sneaking out under the cover of darkness and torching that mofo. I’m pretty sure this city has bylaws about bonfires, or, more accurately, burning garbage on your lawn. And I’m pretty sure it’s too late to get a permit. But maybe if I dress it up like Steven Harper, or Sarah Palin, or Dora the Explorer, and maybe if I throw on a British accent, and explain the whole Guy Fawkes Day-effigy-burning tradition thing whilst pleading bloody ignorance to this city’s rules and regulations…I just might get away with it.