How “We” Plan a Vacation

My husband and I have a very clear division of responsibilities when it comes to trip planning.

WHAT I DO: research destinations, compare packages, investigate flights, read hotel reviews, arrange car rentals, book tours, renew passports, check weather forecasts, purchase appropriate clothing, pack suitcases, and close down the house

WHAT HE DOES: sets the “out of office” notification on his email

So while I can happily spend a year or more planning a vacation, he prefers to wait until the next-to-last minute before familiarizing himself with all the details, such as where we’re actually going.

Four days before we left for a Scandinavian cruise, for example, he was still unclear about whether we were flying to Sweden or Switzerland. Once we cleared that up, and he read a bit about our itinerary, he said to me in surprise, “Hey, did you know the Kiel Canal is a real canal?” (With water and everything? You’re kidding!)

A few years later, we were on our way to the airport for a trip to Hawaii when he asked me the name of our hotel so he could look it up on his phone. Then he said to me, in all seriousness, “Hey, did you know our hotel is really close to the beach?” (Really? You’d think I would have noticed that.)

It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy travelling. He just doesn’t care to be involved in the planning. I used to seek his opinion on travel issues, but he was happy to let me handle all that stuff, and I was happy to have carte blanche to do whatever I wanted.

But when he does take an interest, he can be dangerous. If he’s around when I’m packing, for instance, he will insist on throwing in virtually every piece of clothing he owns. Never mind that he will wear a maximum of two different outfits no matter how long we’re away. Never mind that including all that stuff means taking a bigger and more unwieldy suitcase. Never mind that I will have to wash his entire wardrobe when we get home. Sigh.

So to summarize: I do all the work, and he goes along for the ride.

And that way, we both have a bon voyage.

Christmas Holidays: Week 2

Twas the second week of Christmas, and all through the house
All the creatures were fighting over the computer mouse
The backpacks were hung by the front door with care
In hopes that their owners soon would be there

The children were nestled in front of the Wii
While visions of Mario danced on the screen
And Papa in his sweater, and I in my cap
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap

When out in the den there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter
Away to the game room I flew like a flash
And strangled the children to stop their #@$! bickering.

The end

Rockin’ Around the !@# Tree

I never learn. Every year I look forward to decorating the Christmas tree as a Norman Rockwell-esque moment filled with holiday magic, heartwarming memories and family togetherness. I picture the four of us hanging ornaments and smiling tenderly at each other while a light snow falls outside. We might even break into song.

Except it never works out like that. Dad curses and swears because the !@# tree has no assembly instructions and the incompetent fools who manufactured it didn’t bother to explain how the built-in light strings are supposed to go together. Brayden gets impatient with the delay and keeps himself busy pretending the tree box is a coffin, causing Dad to curse even more. Justin watches all of this from the couch while he plays with bubble wrap and insists the one branch he fluffed out was all he should be required to do.

And when the boys finally do get around to decorating (in between all the jokes about hanging their balls on the tree), I have to bite my tongue to keep from pointing out that they’ve clustered all the red ornaments in one place and all the gold ones in another and it’s a crime against tree design and my head is going to explode.

Ho ho ho.

I swear it was easier when they were younger. You’d certainly think so based on the photos I took: smiling brothers with their arms around each other in front of a beautifully designed tree. But maybe I’m a victim of my own Fakebooking. Somehow I never recall the fights over who got to hang more gold balls or whose homemade snowman got the place of honor. I just remember the end result: a family that was excited for Christmas.

Which of course is the whole point.

Life After Summer Camp

You never really know how Justin is going to react when it’s time to go home after being away at camp for a week. It can’t be easy going from camp (where he can stay up late, eat buffet meals and do whatever he wants) back to home (where he has to follow a curfew, make his own breakfast and listen to his mother.) The first year he went, when he was seven, he burst into tears and ran off to hide in the dorm when I arrived to pick him up. Feel the love.

But this year, pickup went exceptionally well: his bag was all packed, he smiled when he saw me, and he managed to wait almost a full 10 minutes before bickering with his brother.  He even broke with tradition and brought his towel home for the first time in five years. Miracles do happen.

One of the reasons he loves that particular camp so much is because they hand out awards for just about everything. Seriously, everything. They’re all about making the kids feel like superstars.

Justin, for instance, was totally stoked about a pile of Styrofoam balls he’d colored and brought home. This seemed odd for a kid who rates doing arts and crafts somewhere below going to the dentist, so I asked him about them. He told me they were Pokeballs. I should’ve known.

“And guess what? I broke the camp record by making 27 of them,” he said proudly.

Then he paused. “Actually, I think the previous camp record was zero, so…” he shrugged.

Hey, everyone likes to be the best at something.

After the Final Bell

There are generally two types of parents that come through the drive-thru drop-off service at the school. The first type pulls up, kisses their child, hands them their backpack and lovingly assures them that Mommy/Daddy will see them after school. They wave to their child and hold up traffic because they can’t bear to leave until their little one is out of sight.

The second type barely slows down long enough to open the door, boot their child out and toss a water bottle out the window as they speed away. Sometimes they are in such a rush to flee that their child ends up running after the vehicle trying to get Mommy to stop and give them their backpack. Seriously.

I am the second type. I get it. It’s not that I don’t love my children. It’s just that I spend plenty of time with them as it is, and I cherish the hours when they’re in class so I can write my articles, cut the grass, buy the groceries and finish the laundry in peace.

I am especially militant about “my” time as the school year draws to a close, because I know what 10 weeks of summer with two boys can be like. Not my first rodeo.

On the eve of my fifth grader’s field trip to the waterslides this week, another mom asked if I was going along as a chaperone. She asked it perfectly innocently, but I had to stifle an urge to laugh. Not on your life. Not with a mere two days left of school. There will be plenty of time this summer to deal with hordes of screaming children.

So on this, the final day of classes, I will treat my children by giving them a ride home from school. I will offer them ice cream and help them celebrate the end of math tests, book reports and science experiments.

And we’ll see how long we all stay friends.

Spring Break: Day 13 and Counting

In a moment of wild optimism, I chose to make no advance plans for the 17 days of spring break: no trips, no sports camps, no special outings. I was frankly curious to see if the kids and I could spend two-plus weeks together without getting on each other’s nerves (SPOILER ALERT: No.) I told anyone who asked that our only plan was to enjoy each other’s company…and may the Force be with us.

I quickly discovered, however, that we enjoyed each other’s company much more when there were other people around. We needed a buffer. Left on our own, the sniping and arguing and complaining would escalate until somebody screamed, something got slammed and we all wished we could be somewhere (anywhere!) else.

But having other people around made us all behave better, so I actively set out to arrange play dates and get us out in public. By a stroke of luck, the boys started spending untold hours playing football/soccer/random games in the yard with the kids from next door, during which nobody argued, cried or complained about anything. It was like magic.

I realize it’s kind of sad that we have to be saved from ourselves, but I’m fairly sure we’re not the only ones.

(Are we?)

Limping to the Finish

70 down, three to go. Sounds easy, right? 95% of the summer break is over, so what’s three more days? OMG THREE MORE DAYS. We had a good holiday, but that’s hard to remember now that we’re having day-long arguments over who let the spider in the house and coming to blows over who looked at who. We are done. Out of gas. Kaput. Finito.

But like I said, we had a good summer. It helped that this was the first year I could leave the boys at home alone for short periods, so no dragging them through the grocery store and fighting over who has to push the cart. They found plenty of other things to fight about, however, as evidenced by the following exchange during a 10-minute car ride:

CHILD 1: Look! Squirrel!
CHILD 2: (turns his head) What?
CHILD 1: Made you look!
CHILD 2: No you didn’t.
CHILD 1: Yes I did!
CHILD 2: I didn’t look there.
CHILD 1: You totally did!
CHILD 2: My head was pointing that way, but my eyes were looking over there.
CHILD 1: Liar! You can’t point your head and your eyes in different directions.
CHILD 2: Sure you can!
CHILD 1: But that’s cheating! MOM! Is that cheating?
CHILD 2: Look! A buffalo!
CHILD 1: I’m not falling for that.
CHILD 2: OK, fine. Look! A deer!
CHILD 1: I’m not playing with you, Cheater.
CHILD 2: MOM! He’s calling me names!

(Meanwhile, Mom is seriously considering crashing the car into a tree.)

To those moms who cherish these last few days as time at home with their offspring relaxing and enjoying each other’s company: I salute you.

To the rest of you: I’ll meet you at the bar on Tuesday.

Spring Break Survivors

The constant family togetherness of spring break is finally behind us (at least until Friday, when the kids begin a four-day Easter weekend…sigh). It wasn’t all bad: we visited with friends, hiked through the park, went to the library, saw a movie, etc. I even told my mother how impressed I was that the kids could do their own thing for long periods or play some grown-up board games with me. I didn’t have to pack lunches, check homework or drag anyone out of bed. Ahh.

Things got ugly by the middle of the second week, though. It rained for a few days, Justin was getting up at unholy hours and Brayden seemed to be on a mission to annoy his brother as much as possible. They bugged me when they fought (they were loud) and they bugged me when they were happy (they were still loud). Nerves were frayed. Nasty things were said.

But we survived. And in the ultimate irony, I almost had to wake Justin up for tutoring this morning. Yes. The kid who happily got up at 3:30 am during spring break slept until almost 6:30 the day he needed to be somewhere at 7:15.

Back to routine…

Expect Less, Be Happier

I saw this inspirational quote in a CBC story related to Valentine’s Day:

“When it comes to concrete, specific things that your partner does for you, the fewer things you expect on a day-to-day basis, the happier you are,” says Samantha Joel. She’s a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto whose psychology research delves deeply into romantic relationships.

In other words: set the bar low.

I get it. Expectations can be tricky.

For our first Christmas, by which point we’d been living together for three months, my husband bought me a beautiful hand-crafted jewellery box with my name engraved on a gold plate on top. He followed it up the next year with a gorgeous set of diamond earrings. These are traditional, expensive gifts. Exactly what the media says all women want.

Except I don’t wear jewellery. Ever. I used to force myself to wear earrings for formal occasions, but eventually I stopped that too. I wear my wedding ring and my MedicAlert bracelet, and that’s about it. You’d think he might have noticed.

Sadly, he’s not the only one to get suckered into media-induced stereotypes. One year I bought him a snazzy pull cart for his golf clubs. It was lightweight and compact and could easily fold into the trunk of his car. Perfect.

Except he never goes golfing. He took lessons with me shortly after we were married, and he played a few rounds, but then he just stopped. Somehow I never noticed. After all, I like to golf.

So we’ve given up on grand gestures. Especially when it comes to Valentine’s Day. In that sense, I think Samantha Joel is right. If you’re expecting to be wowed, you’re just going to be disappointed.

This year, I hid a Hershey’s kiss in his car with a note wishing him a happy Valentine’s Day. He loves chocolate and I never let him have any. He loved it.

It really is the little things that count.

Formula for a Perfect Christmas

Two weeks of holidays + three different gift openings + a ton of family fun…yup, it was a good one.