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.


An eye for an eye, and a small fortune for a incisor.

2 12 2008

Apparently, December is dental health month in the Blisterdome. Squiggles is cutting her top front teeth. Neener lost one bottom front tooth, and the other one is wiggling around like an itchy-backed puppy in a pile of stink. Roo’s will certainly follow suit. And I will be having my very first root canal on Thursday. My top front tooth. The one I chipped in my second year of university when I “slipped on the ice outside Tim Horton’s one Sunday morning,” or so the story goes. Not to be confused with the one I chipped in my second year of university, when I fell on my face and bit an icy curb while staggering home drunk as a skunk from an open-bar cast party on a Saturday night. But enough about me and my tangled web of half-tooths and fictional falls. Inquiring minds want to know: exactly how much is the Tooth Fairy shelling out these days?

When my mother asked if Neener would be getting a dollar for her very first lost tooth, we had a good laugh. When Mr.’s mother guessed a quarter, we had an even better laugh. It’s 2008, people. Times have changed. The economy may be tanking, but human teeth are at a premium on the black market, and the Tooth Fairy wound up in a nasty bidding war with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Microsoft. In the end, she won, but she paid through the nose to get her hands on that little piece of mouth memorabilia. One can only imagine that pulling a five dollar bill from one’s nose is very, very painful. Even for a fairy.

A dangerous precedent has been set here. Now, Neener, Roo, and all the kids at school who heard Neener shouting ” The Tooth Fairy left me five dollars!” will be expecting far more than a measly piece of change for their tiny teeth, and certainly big money for molars. Well, maybe the Tooth Fairy was drunk. Or maybe she knows that Neener and Roo are depositing any and all money they get directly into their piggy banks, saving up for a couple of uber-expensive American Girl dolls. Or maybe, facing the dentist’s needle and drill herself later this week, the Tooth Fairy has come to realize how valuable teeth actually are. Maybe her payout came with strings attached: you’d better take good care of your teeth, kids. Nothing sends tooth prices spiralling down faster than plaque, tartar, and cavities. And the Tooth Fairy can’t afford any more root canals.

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.”

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.

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!

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.”