Hypothermia and Pumping Small Children Full Of Sugar- All Of My Best Parenting Decisions

Why are you reading this? Haven’t you heard of the Huffington Post? I swear that is more interesting than my family stories. Even Gwenyth’s Paltrow’s site that suggests women shove jade eggs up their hoo-has is a better read than this. Oh well, your funeral. For the record the coroner will state “Cause of death- boredom”. Here are some stories of our Christmas adventures.

Also for all those who are appalled by me writing about Christmas, first off, I already instructed you to STOP READING. Secondly, replace the word “Christmas” with “Easter” and you’ll be fine. Well not fine, bored to the point that you’re comatose, but breathing.

For our family, Christmas started the weekend that we left for Winnipeg. It was a big town weekend- free movies, free skating, free cookie decorating and crafts, all of this occurred the day of our town’s Santa Claus parade and the tree lighting.

Tex was of course working. Because he always is. But thankfully he wasn’t bothered about missing all the fun whereas I would have been devastated. So Mini-Tex and I headed out to the free movie. The theatre was showing “Smallfoot”.

Mini-Tex LOVES television. He also never gets to watch television. Weekday mornings he gets half an episode of Paw Patrol while my husband showers. It’s to the point that if he hears the shower turn on, no matter what time of the day, he rushes the bathroom like it’s the stage of a One Direction concert and he’s a teenage girl. Then he bangs on the cupboards with his mighty toddler fists and shouts “Paw Patrol PLEASE!” at the top of his lungs. So for Mini-Tex, watching an entire movie was a big deal.

“Smallfoot” was super cute. As always when we go to the theatre, I got him a kid’s combo which includes popcorn, candy and pop. Because I take pride in providing experiences that lack both nutrition and educational content. My favourite part of the movie was glancing over and watching my almost three year old dancing in his seat. He spent the next couple of weeks acting out various parts of the movie. Super adorable.

The Santa Claus parade was very, very cold. But not as cold as last year when icebergs formed in the culverts around town and people transformed into ice sculptures. Like an idiot, I ignored my husband’s suggestion that we drive to the parade because who drives a kilometers and a half? Even when I was five and thought my feet would fall off from being forced marched such a distance; my mother would still insist that we walk.

Consequently Mini-Tex was crying about his feet being chilly by the time we got home from the Santa Claus parade. To make up for it, I let him eat all the candy he got from the parade as dinner because I’m a stellar parent like that. Once he was finished, I then packed him in the car to see the “ig-aa-loooo”. (The igloo house is four kilometers across town and my son’s feet were already chilly, hence the bike was out.)

There is a house with twenty inflatable decorations and an equal number of other lit up, non-inflatable decorations. It’s incredible. They also constructed an ig-aa-looooo out of PVC piping and a white tarp. Gorgeous. And so fun. It’s my and Mini-Tex’s favourite house. For serious, I may take him there every single night that we are in town before Christmas.

A week before the parade, at the end of November, Tex and I realized that we were in a bit of a pickle. When the Halloween decorations went up around town, all our little boy wanted to do was hug them. Every time that he’d ask to make friends with the blow up decorations, we’d say “Not today buddy, you can hug them on Halloween.” Then the Halloween decorations were taken down and the Christmas ones went up. So we’re in the car, and Mini-Tex asks if we can stop to hug the Christmas decorations. I say “No” of course. Then from the back I hear him reassure himself “Not today buddy, you can hug them on Christmas.”

Well fudge.

Barring us going around the city caroling, an activity which our almost three year old would not have the patience for, we would not have a reason to go house to house on Christmas. What was I going to do?

There was only one answer- the cookie lady. When you drive into town there’s a giant billboard with a picture her smiling face on it and three hundred individually decorated cookies form a border.

Not actually, but there should be a billboard with the cookie lady’s face on it. For serious, this woman is a national treasure. I’d write to the Prime Minister about her but based on how our leader’s tenure is going, he’d just ask the cookie lady to put the Mary-Jane in her baking.

For a paltry, tiny sum, Lorna* the cookie lady will make stunning, delicious works of art. People have repeatedly told me that they feel guilty eating something so beautiful when I give the cookie lady’s wares as gifts. Their guilt is of course nothing compared to what I feel when I pay her. And I always include a tip.

So I’ve decided I am going to order some cookies from our resident cookie lady and one night, Mini-Tex and I will head out in the bike and distribute baked goods as a way of thanking people for decorating their homes, then while their doors are open and they’re marveling over the beautiful cookies, we will ask whether our toddler can hug their lawn ornaments. Judge me. Tex and I frequently talk about how I’m the good cop and have a backbone made of fluffed wool. Goodness help me when our son is a teenager.

Wish me luck with our winter blow up decoration adventure. Also send warm socks. We will need them to tromp all over town in the snow and assault our neighbours’ lawn ornaments with hugs and love.

*Obviously I didn’t use the cookie lady’s real name. First off, I don’t want the leader of our country calling her up, and secondly, then I’d have to place my orders months in advance because her phone would be ringing off the hook.

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The Last Good Day

In his novel “The Fault in our Stars” John Greene writes about the concept of the final day of your life that you enjoy before you start to die in earnest- the last good day. Or at least that’s what I think he was talking about. I read the book in French and even though I’m fluent, there’s always a part of me that questions whether I fully comprehend the meaning of a text in my second language. But for the purposes of this post we’ll pretend that what Mr. Greene was talking about.

Something my friend Sula said to me while my grandmother was dying, that brought me a lot of comfort was; “You knew your grandmother as a person, not just from social functions, a lot of people don’t get that.” And it’s true. My grandmother cared for me often when I was a child, and I visited her house on occasion as a young adult. In university, she would vacation with my family. While I could write exclusively about all of the lasts that came with dying, those wouldn’t express the depth of our relationship, or who my Grandma was as a person.

My Grandma was close friends with everyone, but especially her neighbor across the street, whose pool we used to swim in, any time we liked because Grandma was always welcome there. I remember shivering on the Antarctic iceberg that was my grandparents’ foyer while my grandfather was still alive because he insisted the house be kept at 12 degrees Celsius or some equally chilly temperature. Then I would burst out the door onto the sunlit porch with flipflops on my feet. Grandma always called them thongs which caused Diana and I to giggle silently because thongs were underwear not beach apparel. Then the dash across the street, only stopping to squish my toes into the tar that covered the cracks on the road, before pausing at the mulberry bush to grab a sweet snack.

My grandmother loved plants; she gardened right up until she moved out of her house. It used to alarm me the way she’d eat the fruits off of random trees; I was always worried she’s accidentally poison herself. There’s some poetic justice in the fact that I married a man who does the very same thing.

Then I would throw ourselves into the pool; splashing, swimming and jumping to our hearts’ content. Invariably the friendly neighbour would come out at some point to talk to Grandma. We did this from the time I was very small. All of my cousins did in fact. I still remember Grandma carefully catching my second youngest cousin Sophie as she leapt from the side of the pool. The last time was around when I was twelve, the friendly neighbour still welcomed our visits but was too ill to come out to say “hello”.

When I was nineteen, my grandmother paid for me to accompany her on a cruise with herself and three thousand other old people. It was every teenager’s dream; Metamucil with every meal and being in bed before eight pm. I kid. What I remember from that trip was how healthy my grandmother was. During the voyage, old people were falling everywhere, breaking hips and arms but my grandmother was as steady as a rock, scaling the endless staircases at castles and monuments. This is how I remember her- triumphant, standing at the top of three thousand steps while all the other old people were moaning and watching from the bottom.

That wasn’t the last time that I saw my Grandma accomplish a great physical feat. Three years later, my family visited Maui. One afternoon, my Dad dragged his eighty-three year old mother up Mount Haleakala. At the top, the air became thin and even my father had to sit down. I wish I could say that was the last instance of elder abuse in our family, but it continued. A couple years later, we took Grandma along with us to Disney World. She spent a lot of time sitting on benches but only because we insisted on charging at top speed from show to show.

My grandmother kept that can-do attitude into her late eighties. My Dad and I took her out to lunch one day. She had just begun reluctantly using her cane. However she still preferred to move unaided or take the arm of the nearest person instead. It was winter and the walkway of the restaurant was slick. I went to grab her arm but she jerked it away from me saying defiantly “Let me go when I can go!” My grandmother was always independent and her own person.

When she was ninety-two, my Grandma moved out of her house and into an assisted care facility. The woman who moved there was quieter than the Grandma I remembered from my childhood. But she still loved to rejoice in her family’s achievements. And she loved her great grandson so much. Mini-Tex would climb all over her. He was a chubby little baby and at that time, my grandmother was a frail nonagenarian. I winced and would grab for my son, terrified that he would break my Grandma’s arm by accident as he gave her sloppy kisses and hugs. But she loved it.

The summer before she died was the last time that I saw my Grandma being independently mobile. When she first arrived at the care home, she would store her walker outside of her room. The next time I visited, the walker had moved inside her room, but my grandmother would move independently without it.

The last summer, the walker remained at her side. Mini-Tex thought the mobility aid was a fabulous toy and would push it around. Then he’d tire of merely making off with his relative’s walker and go steal a stranger’s. As I was chasing my toddling son across the atrium of the care home, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my Grandma sitting on the couch, trying to use her foot to catch the edge of her walker that Mini-Tex had rolled away from her. Even at ninety-three, she still wouldn’t complain or ask for help. This was the visit when my grandmother took delight in pushing her great grandson around on the seat of her walker.

The last time I saw my grandmother, she was barely able to push her walker. My Grandma spent a large portion of my visit lying down on her bed. Workers came to move her from her chair in the dining room back to her walker. I had spent my whole life taking cues from a stern, opinionated woman. I thought the whole reason that we sat so long at the table after dinner was because Grandma wanted to enjoy the ambiance.

Once in her walker, it became obvious that my grandmother lacked the strength to push herself back to her room. So I enlisted the help of my two year old to push her. I took one handle and Mini-Tex took the other. It worked pretty well until Mini-Tex got over excited and ran too fast, tripping on his winter boots.

That was the last time. For everything. She was really quiet that visit. But she watched my two year old, and she listened to my stories, as she had my entire life. It’s been a year since she died. Even though it was heartbreaking to witness so many lasts, I’d still love one more day with her.

My In-Laws Aren’t Actually As Awful As My Husband Would Have You Believe: This Is Me, Throwing My Husband Under The Bus

Unwashed- I just wanted you to know my feelings on it. It’s a bad idea.

Tex- I understand your feelings, but isn’t this the stuff that your best stories are made of? Something awful happens to you and then you write about it. Like your shingles post, that was amazing. It’s exactly like that.

Unwashed – I’m sorry, did you just compare attending your family’s Christmas with a form of herpes?

World, I needed you to know that this happened. It was actually better than during our last date night when I was complaining that I was fatter than my last pregnancy and Tex quipped “But yet the baby is only measuring in the 33rd percentile”.

As a rule, with the exception of observations about the size of our fetus, my husband is nice. Like really nice. The kind of nice that when people see us together, they’re like, “Ohhhh, she must be keeping him captive.” What this means, is that no matter how kind I am, I am always the mean one in the relationship, who says terrible things. But this once, I wasn’t.

I was however the one arguing that driving eight hours round trip in one day to attend a Christmas lunch at his uncle’s house, with a three year old perpetual motion machine and a pregnant lady who does vomit fountain impressions in moving vehicles, was not the best idea. I will totally cop to that one. But I was not the person who compared the experience of visiting his family to excruciating nerve pain and a rash so unsightly and bumpy that it would make a person contemplate living in a darkened cave until the spots resolve.

Those tire tracks on my husband’s back? They’re my handiwork. If this doesn’t channel the spirit of the holidays, I don’t know what does.  Merry Christmas everyone, I hope your families are also like a debilitating flare up of Herpes zoster.

 

Also for all of you worrying about the well-being of my smaller than average baby; first off, thank you, but secondly, keep in mind that I’m approximately the size of a twelve year old. And not even a tall sixth grader. Tex and I would have been far more concerned if the baby was measuring in the 90th percentile. Then we would have been questioning whether it was actually our baby.

This post is proof that I am actually the mean one. Tex would never rat me out for comparing my family to an outbreak of blistering sores.

Also, in the end, Tex went to the Christmas get together with our son alone because a day before the shindig, I managed to badly strain a muscle which made sitting, standing or doing anything for long periods of time super painful.

Part Two: The Night Of The Living Helicopter Parents

This post continues where my previous one left off. If you do not share a minimum of 25% of either my DNA or aren’t a close family friend, you’re probably going to find this as boring as watching competitive cross stitch competitions. I suggest you bail now. Unless you have insomnia in which case- you’re welcome. Now you can save that Xanax for a night when you truly need it.

After the mall, we quickly hopped back into the bike to go see all of our three year old’s favourite decorations. In addition to hugging the blow up cats, monkeys and Halloween dogs, Mini-Tex of course had to tell each inflatable a story, and ask them questions. Thus started the routine of the evening, where the homeowner would come to the door after hearing voices, then stand and watch as our son mauled their decorations with hugs. The candy bearers were quite patient- they’d stand there for five minutes.

Mini-Tex, having finished his job of hugging the inflatable decorations, would head back to the bike to be ferried onto the next set of blow up decorations to be hugged, leaving the puzzled homeowner to wave their candy at him from the door. One woman even chucked a bag of chips at our bike when she realized that we weren’t going to come to her door. Mini-Tex’s entire raison d’etre was the decorations. The candy was a nice but completely unnecessary addition.

There were at least a dozen houses that we visited where we didn’t even bother ringing the doorbell. We just left. So this totally solidified our son’s assumption that Halloween was all about kissing and making friends with inflatable lawn ornaments.

Something you’ve undoubtedly realized is- I love Halloween. I don’t love getting dressed up. I don’t love decorating my house but I adore watching a parade of little people live out their dreams for one night. I’ve spent many years living in accommodations that children would never visit; above a doctor’s office, in apartment buildings, the list goes on. In the past, I’ve found friends who were willing to host me for the night. “I’ll bring the candy and dinner, you just have to let me squat in your front entrance for the evening” was always my agreement.

In the absence of trick or treaters, I’ve even been the creepy lady sticking her head out the front door when a group appears down the street, yelling at the children “I have candy! Lots of candy!” And it’s true, I heap the sugar upon the little people, like I’m at a costumed strip club and making it rain Hersheys. Wow. I just took an already awkward interaction and made it worse.

I ask every little person, “And what are you?” with all of the earnestness of Mr. Rogers. I fawn, I high five, I tell the trick or treaters how pretty/spooky/imaginative they are. Heck, I even like the sullen teenagers in plain clothes who show up at ten o’clock at night. The point is: I truly love Halloween.

Having now taken an adorable little person around for all Hallows Eve, it turns out- I’m not the only one.

Tex and I came up with a game plan while our son was napping. Start at the mall, bike to the opposite side of the city and make our way back to our house stopping at only the high yield houses. Meaning the houses with either three blow up decorations or more, or the ones with super neat decorations. For example the house with what looked like an ordinary inflatable giant pumpkin but actually played Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and had lights on the inside so the face of the Jack-o-lantern changed making it appear that the pumpkin was singing the music. That was cool. We spent ten minutes camped out on that person’s lawn dancing and whooping it up. We wanted to see every one of those places in town.

This meant that there was a little old lady who watched our trio go from well decorated house to well decorated house on her street. She had gotten into the spirit, but her decorations were small and dated. Also it was getting late. Abruptly, as we were about to walk up her driveway, I insisted we return to our bike and head to a warm place to give Mini-Tex dinner. My husband agreed and we turned around. The lady watched forlornly from her window as we walked away. Once it became clear that we were about to leave, she ran out onto her porch waving a giant bag of candy. “Don’t I get to see the little one?” she cried.

I felt awful. Not just because I had now seen myself in thirty years’ time, but because I was disappointing a woman who was the spitting image of a grandmother stereotype; the kind of lumpy figure that gives out amazing hugs, short cut hair curled perfectly with rollers that she sleeps in and wire frame spectacles. She was even wearing a grandma style sweatshirt.

The problem with driving a bike is that you can’t roll up your windows or make a fast getaway. “Get pedaling” I hissed at Tex as the septuagenarian contemplated whether she was going to run down the street after us. We waved jauntily as we cycled away, watching the poor old lady deflate like a balloon after a birthday party in the bike’s rearview mirror. Apparently there are people who love this holiday as much as I do.

Luckily the hospital where Tex works is halfway in between our house and the opposite side of the city. I was on the verge of hypothermia while Tex was on the verge of a meltdown from too many layers. He quickly shucked a shirt and long johns so I could put them on. In the meantime, Mini-Tex was having the dinner of his life, sausage pieces with a side of Smarties and juice to wash it down.

Juice is not a beverage that makes an appearance in our household. Ever. It is also heavy, relative to chips. It was decided, in the interest of storage space and weight, that we would open every juice box that Mini-Tex had been given up to that point. So for dinner he had a smorgasbord of juice. Between that and the dual parent dressing moment earlier, Tex and I should get an award. I’m not sure which one- whatever the parenting version of a Razzie is likely.

By the time we finished our dinner, it was seven. Reasonable, good parents would have recognized that the evening had been sufficiently fun and called it a night. But as established by our actions, we are not those people. So back into the bike we went, to hug the mummy blow up and shake the hand of the baby monster. Tex wins an additional award for not tripping over the thousands of guide wires securing the nine blow up decorations at the mummy house as he lifted our son from one decoration to another in the pitch black garden.

It was shortly after that when I realize that although we had put out a giant bowl of candy next to our three pumpkins for trick-or-treaters, I had neglected to turn on the porch light because it was four o’clock in the afternoon when we left. Meaning that, at the end of the night, we would return to a giant bowl of candy.

After a quick stop to hug the moving, fake fire breathing dragon, we headed home. Oh sorry, dragon-food eating dragon. Weeks ago, while I was strapping my three year old into the bike after visiting the library across the street from the dragon, Mini-Tex asked me “What is the dragon eating?” not realizing that there was something in the dragon’s mouth, I gave him what seemed like an obvious answer- dragon-food. Then of course we rode by the house and I realized that the dragon was breathing fire. But by then the damage had be done and the fire was henceforth known as “dragon-food”. No amount of correcting could convince our son otherwise.

Tex pedaled us quickly across town and I ran into our house to refill the candy bowl a bit and turn on the light.

OK, rant. What happened to all the greedy little miscreants who empty candy bowls? I was depending on them! Otherwise I wouldn’t have purchased three boxes of treats. I swear every single kid must have respectfully taken one lone piece and left the rest. Who raised these excessively polite children with endless reserves of willpower?  What is our world coming to when we can’t rely on the candy grubbing nature of the youth?

Also, I forgot the part when we stopped at the local nursing home. When my grandmother was alive, despite how desperately painful and embarrassing the experience was due to my toddler’s behaviour, I would always bring Mini-Tex to visit her. Little kids bring old people joy. Small children dressed up for any reason bring lots of joy. So we stopped at the local nursing home. As it turned out, we entered through the dementia wing just as they were sitting down to dinner. Mini-Tex wandered around and said “Hello” to all of the residents. They were delighted. One of them was blind so the nurse described all of our costumes to him.

Then we went and knocked on the individual doors of people still living independently in the home. Tragically most of the residents were verging on deaf and didn’t hear us. (Or didn’t want a visit.) But the couple elderly people we saw were happy. Though they felt guilty about not having candy which we reassured them wasn’t the purpose of our visit.

By this point in the evening, Mini-Tex was still excited but wilting. All the other little people and their responsible parents had returned home. But we continued to cycle around the city because gosh darn it, I was going to get my money’s worth out of that fifteen dollar Olaf costume from Kjiji. Also we had yet to visit the street with the ghost that jumps out of the pumpkin or the house with the spider on the roof.

It was around this time that Tex and I decided to forgo the candy part entirely. People had once again filled our son’s decorative pumpkin basket to the brim and we were running short on toddler energy. After terrifying our offspring by holding him up to touch the peekaboo ghost, we headed for the house with the giant tarantula.

Mini-Tex was beginning to look like Olaf in summer; he became a puddle of costume and snowsuit. “Do you want to see the spider on the roof?” I asked. “No” came his terse, small reply. That was it; we had maxed out our toddler’s love of inflatable decorations. Tex and I concluded that it was time to go home. The problem was that we had agreed to visit friends of ours.

As quickly as he could, Tex cycled past the spider house. In spite of his exhaustion, our son did get out and hug both Jack Skellington and Darth Vader along the way. We quickly popped by our friends’ homes and headed home.

Then on our way home it happened. The event we had been dreading. We live in a small town. Meaning there is a small police force so we NEVER see the police. While we wear our helmets religiously, much to our son’s chagrin, on this night none of us wore one. Wearing a helmet would have mussed my do, prevented Tex from wearing his Kristoff hat and wouldn’t have fit under Mini-Tex’s Olaf costume. Even still, during the afternoon, Tex had placed our son’s helmet in the bike because it is the law for children to wear head protection while cycling.

As we were pulling away from our friend’s house, coming in the opposite direction was an RCMP vehicle. All the colour drained from my face. There was no way with all our lights that he wouldn’t notice our bike. We were going to cap off our perfect night with a ticket. A ticket that was well deserved, but a ticket nonetheless.

The Mountie rolled down his passenger window and I broke into a flop sweat. “Did you get a lot of candy?” the officer asked Mini-Tex. Our toddler had transformed into a catatonic mess so Tex answered for him because I was suffering from the worst case of dry mouth I’d ever had in my life. “Lots.” The officer gave us a wave, “You folks have a good night then” before he continued on his way. It was only when the vehicle’s lights became pinpricks in the bike’s rearview mirror that I could exhale.

Happily, when we arrived home, the candy bowl was empty. I had instructed a group of teenagers that we passed to visit our house and take everything they found there. Old people who complain that kids these days don’t listen have clearly never offered two kilograms of sugar in exchange for walking four streets over.

Unfortunately there was still a full box of treats in the house. Furthermore it was open, so I couldn’t return it even if I did do responsible adult things like save receipts, which I don’t. But, as I went to unplug our inflatable Paw Patrol decoration, I heard voices down the street. “Oi!” I yelled in the direction of the youths. “Trick-or-treaters! Come clear out our candy bowl!”

Then I went back inside, without much hope because you know, kids these days. Likely they were angel children who only took one piece from the bowl. Then, as I was stripping off layer after chilly layer, I heard voices approaching. “Take everything!” I said.

“Everything?” the kids asked incredulously.

“Well divide it fairly amongst yourselves obviously but yes, everything.”

And that was the end of our Halloween. Well sort of. Turns out eating five packages of Swedish Fish will give a toddler a second wind. So Mini-Tex was up for another hour. I am an amazing parent, for serious, where is my Razzie?

Also, I welcome all hate mail about my bike safety decisions or lack thereof on all Hallows Eve. If you’re feeling lazy, you can just put them in the comments.

Don’t Read This. Seriously, Stop Right Here. Just Keep Scrolling.

I bet you don’t respect authority either. Oh well, your funeral. That’s if you die of boredom. Or banal cuteness. You might actually enjoy this post if you have a subscription to Reader’s Digest. So this blog belongs to me. Most of the time I make funny with the haha. On occasion, I write endearing things about my beloveds on it. But that’s rare. Most often I use it to gently insult my mother. Because she’s the one who taught me how to laugh at myself.

Anyway, the primary readers of this blog are – my parents, my grandparents, and my son’s Godparents. All of them asked about our Halloween. So as a show of how much I love them, here is our Halloween in full. (Oh also Sula and her Mom read this blog. They would also want to know about our Halloween.)

Last year we had a German au pair who had never trick or treated before. Hence why for the first time ever, I went all out with family costumes. Tex paid a Kijiji seller fifteen dollars and in exchange we got our son an Olaf costume. Janey went as Elsa and I made myself an Anna costume. It was fabulous. It was the most elaborate costume I had ever created. Which is to say not elaborate at all but I put in effort so that was a change. I offered to make Tex a Kristoff costume at the same time, because we were in a city so I could buy items like costume materials. He declined.

This year, with only two and a half weeks until Halloween, Tex comes up to me and says “I want to be Kristoff”. People, we have lived three months without a bathmat because you can’t buy them here. The likelihood of me being able to procure the materials for a Kristoff costume without making a four hour round trip to the next large city over, (Well largeish. Ok small, it’s a small city.) was next to zero. However Tex never asks for things and he really wanted to participate in Halloween. So I sent him to the mall with a list. He returned without fake fur. Not surprising.

Two days and two dollars later, after a visit to the local second hand store, I found a teddy bear. (The secondhand store is only open certain days of the week hence the wait.) I gutted that stuffed animal like a fish. I chopped it into pieces and sewed the bits as fur trim to a jacket Tex had bought when we were first dating. Then I added piping, and made him boot covers so he’d have the requisite pointy ice seller toes. Also, I made a lantern that actually lit up for our “sleigh” which was our bike.

Tex looked awesome. Mini-Tex looked adorable. I looked well, Ok. And we borrowed a stuffed reindeer toy from my in-laws to act as Sven.

The day of, Tex had the afternoon off, so we spent our son’s nap rushing around, filling water bottles, preparing dinner for the road, affixing reindeer to the front of our bike, changing bike lights over so that we would be more visible and so forth. It took two and a half hours, but eventually we were all dressed and ready. I had four layers of long underwear up top and three layers on the bottom. I was plump. But warm.

We had everything together; we were all set for the best Halloween ever. All we needed was our Olaf. But he was sleeping. So Tex and I busied ourselves with filling the candy bowl, tidying up the house and looking at the clock going “How is he still sleeping?”

Readers, until that day, I didn’t know someone could sleep belligerently; it was like Mini-Tex was trying to miss out on Halloween. Finally, it got to the point where we were going to be late for trick or treating at the mall, so Tex and I did the unthinkable- we woke a sleeping child.

Because we’re obsessive parents who both need to bear witness to our offspring’s joy, we woke him up together. “It’s Halloween! It’s time to go trick or treating! It’s time to hug the blow ups!” Mini-Tex had been waiting A MONTH AND A HALF to hug all the inflatable decorations around town. Over the past month, we had put 200 kilometers on our bike and spent countless hours pedaling out of our way so he could see the blow up monkey, the blow up dragon, the blow up Jack Skellington. And every single time we saw them, our almost three year old asked “Can I hug them?” at which point we’d answer “On Halloween.”

To say Mini-Tex was excited was an understatement. But he was also very very sleepy. He stood straight up and then promptly did a face plant back into the bed. Tex grabbed him and popped him on the potty. We started both dressing him and undressing him together. It was like an instructional video on tandem helicopter parenting.

Within three minutes our Olaf was dressed and in the sled. Despite still waking up, he would yell “Jump Sven!” at random intervals. He would only call me “Anna” and his dad was “Kristoff”. It was quite possibly the best day of his life.

While riding to the mall to trick or treat with the other little people who go to bed before seven pm, we became aware that there were houses that had waited until the last possible moment to put up their decorations. Meaning that we hadn’t seen their magnificent inflatable decoration arrangements.

“Do we want to stop?” asked Tex. And so the blow up decoration love fest began. Mini-Tex was elated, he finally got to hug every pumpkin bearing Minion, every giant cat, every spooky ghost. The first house we stopped at had four blow up decorations. We stopped at two more houses before the mall until I got panicky that we would miss seeing all of our friends whom I had made arrangements with to meet.

Of course when we got to the mall, I didn’t recognize any of Mini-Tex’s friends and we just wandered around hugging the decorations. Tex took Mini-Tex to exactly one store to trick or treat and there was an over eager salesperson who jumped in our path so she could place candy into our son’s decorative pumpkin basket.

Then, on our way out, one of the best moments of the night happened; Mini-Tex’s best friend’s family appeared. His best friend was dressed as a ninja turtle. However the friend’s little brother who Mini-Tex also plays with, was also dressed as Olaf. The kids were delighted. Mini-Tex was over the moon. The eighteen month old who was also dressed as Olaf was vaguely confused and overwhelmed. It was fantastic.

Because all of you are gluttons for punishment, I’m going to continue writing about our Halloween. But in another post, because even my family and dearest friends can only take so much banal storytelling.

What Matters

You changed

out of your new outfit

that you proudly

modeled for me

because it showed

your upper arms

 

Even my mother

whose biceps are

large stones

beneath her fit skin

HATES  her upper arms

 

But I found it funny

given that it was here

in this sunny kitchen

over the endless

buffet of soul food

that you served

of stories

 

About building character

about seeing the person

through the disability

about what it took

to offer true dignity

that I learned

what truly matters

 

Upper arms don’t

but I understood

the costume change

 

If I’m honest

your arms

have never been

my favourite parts of you

your compassion

your bold laugh

your inherent ability

to show respect

to everyone

always seem

to come first

The Original Storyteller and The Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

My grandfather is the reason this blog exists. He told wild, interesting, funny stories to me before I could speak. My Granddad spent my childhood captivating audiences and his family. Those experiences are the reason why I myself became a storyteller and why my two year old son, who carries my grandfather’s name, now starts sentences with “Remember the…?”

For the past little while, I’ve been struggling with the nature of my blog. I debated whether I should keep it in its original form- a place for wickedly amusing happenings in my life, or transform it into something entirely different. My husband remarked that three years ago I lost my funny entirely and have since been penning a subdued form of Reader’s Digest humour, so maybe the change has already occurred.

I began this blog, with the same hope that many other writers have- to strike it big, be recognized and be published for the larger masses. It never happened but still, I kept going. Over time, as with anything, my writing became better, more descriptive, more fluid. Even the process of writing itself became easier. When I started The Great Unwashed, it would take me an entire evening to come up with a couple hundred words. Slowly, the work of writing, editing and publishing became much faster.

As the years passed, I built up a portfolio of work. To date, I’ve published nearly 400 posts. When my son was born, something that I felt proud of was that my baby would always know my voice- no matter what. Not the sound of it, but the cadence of my words, my stories, what I found funny, what hurt me, what buoyed me up. Should anything ever happen to me, my son will have this. And obviously his baby book, where I write ridiculous long paragraphs of how much I love him. Undoubtedly he’ll throw the thing on a fire in his teens. But I digress.

There are unforeseen benefits that have come as a result of writing regularly for five and a half years. Ultimately, what I love about my blog is that it chronicles my life, and my stories. This year has been a tough one for me family wise. Hef died to start with. (Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time understands the depths of my obsession with the bunnies and recognizes what a blow this was to me.) So I knew the next twelve months were going to suck on some level if this was a warning of what was to come. Then my grandmother became very ill and passed away as well. Her death wasn’t unexpected- she was older than Hef. But this made the dark winter months significantly darker. Most recently, my grandfather was given an upsetting diagnosis.

The moment I received that troubling news, a decision was made. Nearly two months ago, The Great Unwashed ceased to be the only place where I write- currently I have two other writing projects on the go, so this blog can be whatever I choose. I pick family stories, whatever is clattering about my head on that particular day. The following are my heart’s musings for the day.

When I was fifteen and my sister was thirteen, our cat attempted suicide. Ringo concluded that he’d had enough of the excessive attention my sister lavished on him, that a life spent chasing a laser was not worth living and that perhaps my mother was buying the cheap cat food when truly Ringo deserved the expensive stuff with chunks of chicken rather than the machine pressed junk. So in a fit of angsty feline rage, he threw himself off the upstairs banister.

This is my version of the story. Despite cleaning our cats’ litter boxes for over a decade, I am not, nor have I ever been, a cat person. My mother has a different version.

Ringo was an acrobatic cat. Around the neighbourhood, he was known as the cat on the roof, because he would jump from the deck railing to the lower roof, finally making his way to the top of our forty foot house. Ringo was a thin, determined cat who knew what he wanted out of life- generally it was your chicken dinner. He walked around our house like he owned the place. Seeing as I spent my entire adolescence shoveling Ringo and his brother’s waste, I felt he had good reason for this.

Ringo used to taunt death by jumping onto our upstairs railing and walking along the thin curved piece of wood, twenty some feet in the air. He never once fell. At least until that day.

My mother recognized Ringo’s miscalculated landing immediately, had she not been in a hip to toe cast at the time, from a ruptured Achilles tendon, she herself would have rushed to Ringo’s aid. As it was, my mother’s cast cost Ringo the precious seconds it took for her to yell, “Dad! The cat!” Ever the knight in shining armor, my grandfather rushed to catch the now falling cat.

Granddad didn’t get there in time. But the point is he tried. Granddad tried even though he would constantly claim that we only had one black and white cat because he couldn’t tell the difference between the feline brother duo – Ringo and Splat. He tried, even though he hated cleaning up cat vomit especially when it was from a cat that didn’t belong to him. I have suspicion that Granddad does not actually like cats.

For all those concerned about the cat- Ringo used one of his nine lives that day and walked off without a scratch or even so much as a limp, whereas Granddad had to feel sorry that he didn’t catch our cat. Twice; once when he failed to actually catch the cat, and the other time when my mother relayed the tale to my sister and me over the phone while we were on vacation with our Dad.

This was the Granddad story I wanted to share this evening. He would tell you it’s less a story about him and more about our daredevil of a cat. True, but like so many of the stories of my life, Granddad was there, and I wanted to remember that he played a role. My grandfather of course loves having top billing but for this story he was there.

Also, the roof cat might not have been Ringo. My parents have had so many pets in their life that the cats blend together into one furry, Sarah-hating animal, that I spent years cleaning up after and chauffeuring to the vet.  All except for Splat who was almost as dirty and uncoordinated as me, God rest that filthy feline’s soul. If there is a lap to topple from in heaven, Splat is laying legs akimbo and irritated on the floor.

Who Needs Hottie Boyfriends and Furniture That Isn’t Stolen From Dumpsters When You Have Love and Approval?

Growing up, I was never one of those girls who dreaded Valentine’s Day because I always knew that I’d get a valentine. Every morning on February 14th, I’d walk down the stairs to find a card, and when I was older a box of chocolates, sitting at my place on the kitchen table. My Dad continued this tradition long after my sister and I left the house- sending us Valentine’s Day care packages in university. Then cards stuffed with thoughtful notes and something special when we became adults. Love was a given, it was unconditional. A hunky escort to the movies with a hot car on that day? Well, that was a bonus.

I played sports only once, but long before then, my Dad was always on my team, sitting in my corner, rooting for me. After university, when my peers were applying to prestigious graduate programs and medical schools, I chose to be an underpaid performer at Walt Disney World. My Dad was the first one to stand up and applaud my decision. My father laughed heartily when I told him that the Disney recruiter had asked whether I didn’t want to do something bigger and better with my life. From the time I was small, I have received my father’s support. It’s a key element of my freight train like momentum whenever I get an idea in my head.

While the love my father shows me and the confidence that his constant approval has built are some of the best parts of my Dad, undoubtedly my favourite quality of my his is the way he reserves judgment. In university, I dated a pot smoking, PHISH loving, wisp of a man. My parents hated him. Incidentally, the PHISH lover’s parents hated me too and were quite vocal about it. But I never had any idea of my father’s feelings. It was only through my Mom that I discovered my Dad’s words about the break up – “Good, now that nice young man who’s been hanging around will have a shot.” I loved that my Dad respected all of my choices, even the ones he didn’t agree with.

So on this day, when everyone is buying the men in their life lawn mowers and power saws, I hope each of you are lucky enough to have a person like my Dad. I’m a stronger, more confident person for having him as a parent. After the men in your lives open their cement mixer or running shoes, make sure to tell them why they’re special because there’s nothing in this world quite like a Dad.

 

Dad, in case you missed the hint in the last paragraph, I didn’t buy you a gift. I got my thriftiness from your mother. This post is your gift. It won’t keep you quite as warm as a portable space heater but last I checked; your furnace is working fine. What can I say? You’re lucky to have me. But not quite as lucky as I am to have you.

Knockdown Brawling Walker Rugby and Grandma’s Spanx

While cleaning out my grandmother’s room, I found the most bizarre garment I’d ever seen in my life. It was like a cross between bike shorts, underpants and football padding. “What is this?” I asked my aunt, holding up the object in question for her to see.

0001471_standard-hip-protector-male-medium_415

This image doesn’t capture how GIANT and thick the pads were. Also obviously my Grandma’s were for a lady. Photo Credit activemedicalsupplies.com.au

“Oh those” she laughed. “They’re hip protectors. I bought them for Mom when she got unsteady. Mom refused to wear them though.” I placed the hip protectors in the charity pile and continued sorting.

A little while later, my Dad was stuffing the charity pile into garbage bags and he came across the hip protectors. “What in the heck are these?” he asked, justifiably alarmed. Before I could answer, my aunt jumped in with her boring explanation. I was so disappointed; my father is trusting to a fault, making him the best person to prank.

He was the only person who believed me when I said that I sent out naked pictures of Tex in my Christmas card a couple of years ago. However, my favourite joke was when my mother came home with a fake belly button ring. My Dad blew up like a puffer fish, opening and closing his mouth in angry indignation “How could you? What kind of example does this set for the girls?” At that moment his face was the reddest I’d ever seen it. That is until my Mom took the ring out and Dad realized that he’d been had.

All the Outlandish Stories I Would Have Told My Dad Instead of the Truth

  1. They’re Grandma’s Spanx

On occasion she’d put them on to impress the church ladies. Paired with her support hose, she’d have all the male church elders hollering. But obviously Grandma only wore them once in a while out of deference to Jesus.

  1. Thursdays the old folk’s home hosts walker rugby

It’s exactly like normal rugby only the players have fewer teeth to lose. Also the nursing home mandates that the elderly players protect all their fragile parts hence the hip padding. Grandma’s rugby nickname was ironically “Ruthless”; she had the most knockouts of anyone on the floor.

  1. The Turkish baths downstairs are nude but require a flotation device

Grandma could have worn a lifejacket but she liked the feeling of letting the girls loose in the water. Also it was a better spot to receive all those cat calls. The pads on the sides are buoyant.

  1. New technology incontinence pants

Standard incontinence pants bulk up in an obvious way. These skintight ones have special wicking technology that moves the liquid to the removable pads at the sides. NASA invented them for the Mars mission.

  1. Hockey top for my cousin

This was why Grandma didn’t sew much- she remembered the shoulder pads but forgot a hole for the neck.

 

I’m fairly certain I could have sold every story but the Turkish baths, and that one only because the nursing home didn’t have a pool.

This post is dedicated to my Aunt Camelia who follows in her mother’s kind and loving footsteps, whereas I tread in my mother’s impish and occasionally devious ones. You remind me to be nice Aunty Camelia- thank you.

Walking Through One of My Childhood Homes

I’ve been breaking into her house at night, wandering through the rooms, running my fingertips over the surfaces of the furniture. Just to remember. Just to be there. I walk in, and my route is always the same; tossing my jacket or sweater carelessly on the green leather chairs she recovered, stepping lightly onto the plastic walkway that protects the carpet from so many dirty footprints. I glance at the mail on the table in the entranceway, now the table that my TV sits on. Invariably there would be a letter from a charity. She loved supporting those organizations- if she wasn’t able to help someone directly, she’d offer money instead.

From there I walk straight into the kitchen. A couple years ago she painted the cupboards. It brightened up the space so much. The radio plays classical music because the radio always played classical music, that is until after dinner, at which point she’d retire to the den and watch the news before bed. When I was younger, before boyfriends and then husbands entered the picture, the kitchen table was the kid’s table. Our family was too large to sit altogether in one room, so us rowdy, cookie-loving cousins were relegated to the meal prep area. This was the table that I told the story of the gravy boat over. All the cousins went along with it, but only the youngest fell for the yarn- hook, line and sinker.

According to legend, gravy boats got their name because of the unmanned ships that pulled into each port every holiday, empty but for gallons upon gallons of gravy. Aunts, mothers and grandmothers would all arrives at the harbor with pails, buckets or even small bathtubs to be filled with that liquid goodness, the walk back to their houses becoming a waddle from the weight of the gravy. Sitting there as I told the story, each of the cousins pictured her, slowly but determinedly, hauling home the gravy for our holiday meals.

Throughout my teens, there were her classic cowboy chocolate chip oatmeal cookies in the cupboard next to the fridge. Later, when she stopped baking, there were still cookies in the cupboard but they were made by Dare. I remember the familiarity of the yellow cutlery tray; it contrasted the metal cutlery so forcefully, as though THIS cutlery tray would be recognized for its lifetime of service. From there, the view of the yard would be partially obscured by the plants sitting on the windowsill. She loved plants and gardening. Long after the winter, she would nourish her poinsettias; hers would be the last live one on the block.

To the left of the window was one of the kitchen chairs, which sat next to a table, upon which sat her telephone and address book. Past this table was the dining room. The center of so many gatherings. I never picture her here though- she was always a bundle of activity, bustling from one room to the next, one task to the next whenever the lot of us descended upon the house en mass. She is everywhere and nowhere; she’s in the kitchen checking on a dish in the oven, she’s clearing the table in the dining room. She’s sneaking up behind me to unsuspectingly to yank my left hand out from under my body and set me off balance, just to get a glimpse of the ring. She’s standing in the hallway, looking for bags to bundle together leftovers for guests, or in the den cross stitching. Or she might be downstairs, on her treadmill if footing is treacherous outside. God forbid she went outside, there’s no locating her- she’ll start in the backyard, weeding and watering, go to fetch something from the garage only to offer to help a neighbor. Could be someone next door or the woman two streets over who just had twins.

I pad quietly up the back hallway, looking at the pictures of my family; graduation photos, extended family, the picture of the whole family when half the cousins were still wishes for the future. Her bedroom is across from the den. As a little girl, I played here; lounging on the fur rug that I to this day don’t know whether was real or not. My last stop is always the bathroom. During family functions this was a haven of quiet. I’d hang out staring at the small blue tiles on the floor, the dated coloured bathtub that I remember being bathed in.

A year and a half ago, when the house was sold, I wasn’t upset. She declared that she no longer wanted to cook or care for a home. Quickly, her things were packed up and sent to the senior’s residence of her choice. At the time, it seemed to me like her logical next step. I wasn’t concerned or sad- she had told me that she would live to be 104 and I believed her. But now that she’s gone, I find myself returning to her gardens, her kitchen, all the rooms that contained, if only ever for brief minutes in her bustling life, her. Those walks through memory bring me comfort.