A Balance of Good and Evil

Our second born is a “typical” child, which is to say he can be a huge pain in the ass. I would conservatively estimate that 95% of his waking hours are devoted to annoying the people around him. He hasn’t actually ended up in the principal’s office or been beaten up on the playground, but it’s only a matter of time. Yes. He’s that kid.

At least at home he is. I get a completely different vibe from his teachers, who have been singing his praises for years. His report cards consistently describe him as a bright, well-mannered and well-adjusted young man. The fact that the teacher he started out with in September has been on stress leave for the past four months is probably just a coincidence.

But once in a while, his redeeming qualities shine through. Yesterday I took Brayden shopping for his brother’s upcoming birthday. For years now I’ve been trying to get my kids to independently come up with thoughtful gift ideas for each other, but what usually ends up happening is:

a) they avoid the whole issue by mutually agreeing not to buy each other anything, or
b) they find something they themselves want and make a I’ll-buy-you-this-if-you’ll-buy-me-that deal.

So I was pleasantly surprised when Brayden came up with a gift idea for Justin that was appropriate, well thought out and within his budget. It was also what I’d already purchased, but I applauded his effort.

It took us a while, but we did manage to find something else. And in a fitting twist, he ended up spending almost as much on candy as he did on his brother.

I guess it all balances out.

Bathroom Battles: The Hygiene War

Personal hygiene has never been my boys’ strong suit. For one thing, they have yet to accept the premise that “wet” does not mean “clean.” If I want them to wash their faces, I have to specifically mention a cloth, warm water and soap, and even then they might wipe only the parts they think are dirty. Many times, my kids claim to have washed despite never having turned the tap on.

Kids with Asperger’s really struggle in this area, as it’s just not something they care about. If you can get Justin into a routine, he’s generally good. But it has to be repeated enough that he does it by rote, cause he certainly doesn’t stop to think about why he needs to brush his teeth or wash his hair. It’s not about getting things clean; it’s about getting me off his case.

In that way, he’s not much different from his father. In our pre-kid days, Chris and I would eat our meals in the dining room, and he would wipe the table as part of the clean-up process. Once we had babies, we started eating in the kitchen — ┬ábut Chris continued to wipe the table in the dining room, cause that was his routine. He wasn’t focused on cleaning anything; he was just wiping cause he’d been told to wipe. Argh.

When Justin first went to summer camp at age seven, the camp gave us a list with all the items he’d need. I diligently packed it all. I even threw in a facecloth, despite the fact that Justin had never used a facecloth and would be hard pressed to identify what it was for. I figured the counselors, who were used to dealing with kids with disabilities, would have some magical way of getting him to stay clean.

I’ve been sending the exact same bottles of soap and shampoo every year since. He’s now 11 and those bottles have never been refilled. I’m thinking of having them bronzed.

I sent those same bottles on his school camping trip a few weeks ago, except this time we forgot to pack his toothbrush. He never noticed, because he never took his toiletries out of his bag. He did manage to lose his towel, though.



Why I Spend My Life in the Lost and Found

Sometimes I wish I could staple items directly to my children’s foreheads so I could have some hope of seeing the stuff again. How is it that a compulsively organized planner like myself managed to spawn two of the most scatterbrained human beings ever conceived?

Here’s a brief rundown of the fun we’ve had just in the past couple months:

Justin came home from a trip to the pool holding a) a towel and b) a plastic bag with nothing in it. No goggles, no swim shorts. Both were eventually located in the pool’s lost and found (which is so abundant that they actually divide the stuff into different boxes for each day of the week.)

Brayden’s student planner hasn’t been seen for two weeks. He’s been writing me important notes on scraps of crumpled notebook paper, not all of which remain intact enough to read.

Justin lost his towel on a school winter camping trip. (This is his signature move: he left his towel at summer camp four years in a row.) Before I even knew it was missing, one of the parent chaperones said she’d found a towel and asked if it was ours. I was not at all surprised that she came to me first.

Brayden lost his swim shorts on a class trip despite his own father being along as chaperone. The shorts were eventually discovered on the floor of his classroom, right under the shoes that were supposed to be up on a shelf. Sigh.

One of Justin’s snack bowls is permanently AWOL. I’m fairly sure it disappeared into the abyss that is his school desk, but by this point I no longer want to see it. Or smell it.

So when Brayden came out of the pool change room today, I asked if he had everything. I specifically asked about his swim shorts (see above), socks (cause he refuses to put them on again after swimming), and underwear (don’t ask). He got all offended and swore everything was in his bag.

At that exact moment, Justin opened the door of the change room and tossed out Brayden’s goggles.

Tell me we’re not alone.

Murder at the Grand Gatsby

We had ourselves a Roaring 20’s evening of mobsters and murder at my house last night. When two rival crime bosses meet at a speakeasy to talk about bootlegging practices, and bring their heavily armed henchmen, and mingle with an assortment of molls, film stars, singers and reporters…what could go wrong?

After clearing almost all the furniture out of our living room, we set about creating our speakeasy. We turned a couple walls into brick, added some bullet holes, and hung autographed pictures of famous gangsters. We even rented round tables and lit them with table lamps for ambience. I was worried that the lighting would make it hard to take photos, but it all seemed to work out pretty well.

Since I’m a history nerd, I printed out a bunch of newspapers from the 1920s and made a collage over the buffet table. I just did it for fun, but some of them actually came into play when part of the mystery involved figuring out what year certain events occurred.

We had a bit of everything: waitresses who wanted to be singers, singers who wanted to be molls, a pilot who couldn’t find north and a murder victim who drunk-texted his wife from the bathroom (long story). We even ended up with three murders instead of one, which was a pretty cool twist.

A great way to celebrate turning 40!

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

My Life as a Winter Wimp

I’m not like other people. I lack the basic mammalian ability to regulate body temperature. The technical term for this is Raynaud’s Phenomenon, but in essence it means my body is trying to conserve heat by not letting my extremities have any. My hands, feet, ears, and nose have to beg for blood flow. I’m freakishly cold pretty well all the time.

This came to light when I was in high school. I’d always been mocked for my inability to tolerate cold weather (which, since I grew up in Saskatoon, comprised a significant chunk of the year) but when I had to start wearing mini gloves in class just to be able to hold a pen, my mother realized this was something beyond wussiness. I went for some tests and confirmed that yes, my body hates me. I was instructed to avoid caffeine, nicotine and stress…and try to stay warm. (In Saskatoon. Right.)

So I was ecstatic when, years later after I finished university, I landed a job in the Okanagan. I was hired in January, which was the perfect time to get out of Saskatchewan. My parents drove me out, and I remember watching the temperature indicator in the van go from -28 at the start of the trip to +7 when we pulled into Kelowna. The Promised Land!

But despite the mild BC winters, my circulation and my winter wimpiness have both gotten much worse as I’ve aged (I’m turning 40 next month — ack!) These days I have to wear sweatpants, two shirts and a couple pairs of socks, and that’s just when I go to bed. I have to layer up even more if I actually want to venture outside.

Getting older sucks.

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.

Newport: Gateway to the Gilded Age

Now I get why the Vanderbilts called their Bar Harbor dwellings “cottages.” Compared to the summer homes they built here in Newport, those shacks in Maine could barely be considered broom closets.

Today we toured both the Breakers and Marble House, two of the many homes owned by the Vanderbilt family. Both were built around the turn of the century and represent the height of the Gilded Age, when the ultra rich spared no expense in their quest to flaunt their wealth and imitate European royalty. These homes were nothing short of palatial. It's crazy to think that they were only used in July and August.

That marriage match game last night was something else. The host wanted one newlywed couple, one that had been together for at least 25 years, and one that had been together for at least 50 years. The latter two were easy, but for the newlywed category they had to settle for a couple that had been married for 16 years — tells you something about the crowd on this ship.

Anyway, the newlywed couple was Joe and Sandy from New Jersey. He apparently volunteered them for the game while she was in the restroom, and she was not at all happy to be up on stage. I mean not AT ALL happy. So naturally they provided most of the comedy. When the women left the room and the men were asked to describe what their wives were wearing, Joe thought for a minute and finally said, “She might be wearing a bra, but I'm not sure” (no). When the women were asked about their husband's worst habit, Sandy instantly blurted out, “Scratching his junk.” Classy.

We sail for New York tonight and fly home from LaGuardia tomorrow. Back to reality…

Presidents and Patriots: Our Day in Boston

This was a day about dead presidents. Having done most of the high-profile tourist stuff the last time we were in Boston, today we opted to see Peacefield (former home to President John Adams and his son President John Quincy Adams) as well as the JFK Presidential Library. After watching endless analysis of last night's Trump-Clinton debate while waiting for the tour to begin, I was more than ready to hear about a time when presidents actually inspired people.

We began at Peacefield, where four generations of Adamses lived from 1788 to 1927. This is actually the nation's oldest presidential birthplace. I was vaguely aware that John Adams had been the second president, and that his son went on to also become president, but I didn't realize John Quincy Adams served as a member of Congress for 18 years after leaving the presidency. He insisted to contemporaries that he didn't see it as a step down. Can't see that happening today.

We also explored the JFK museum. Much of the building has been done up to resemble the interior of the White House, complete with a replica of the Oval Office. The place is filled with Kennedy photos, artifacts and memorabilia; I really enjoyed seeing video footage both of JFK's speeches and off-the-cuff conversations with reporters. Good stuff.

The fun continues on the ship. After that country and western party the other night we decided to lay off the booze for a day, but then last night our team finally won a round of trivia (!) which came with a bottle of free champagne. Who are we to turn down free drinks? Tonight is some sort of marriage match game show, which should be interesting.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Now to Newport, Rhode Island…

Merry Times in Maine

They say Maine is the lobster capital of the world, but I distinctly remember New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland all making similar claims, so it's hard to take that seriously. This town sure takes it seriously, though — virtually every pub, restaurant and shop in the downtown area has a lobster on its sign or in its decor. If I never see another crustacean, that would be OK by me.

But Bar Harbor is about more than just lobsters. From the mid-19th century to the 1940s, this area was the summer playground for America's elite: the Astors, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies built beautiful mansions (they called them “cottages”) so they could spend their summers in luxury. Sometimes they even bought the neighboring cottages just to use as guesthouses. Many of those mansions have been converted to hotels or B&Bs. I don't know what they charge, but there were “no vacancy” signs on most of them, so I imagine they're doing pretty well.

The ship hosted a country and western party in one of the lounges last night. They were offering line dancing lessons again, and this time I convinced Chris to come with me on the condition that he could just sit and take pictures. Just as the lessons ended (so much fun!) we happened to meet up with three other couples we knew, and I don't know if it was the beer or the peer pressure, but Chris actually agreed to dance with me for one slow song. The man has not danced since our wedding, so this was a very big deal. If only we had photographic proof.

Our streak of beautiful weather ended today, but we're hoping for better things tomorrow. On to Boston…