Friday, September 25, 2009

Curdling the Milk of Human Kindness

Every year, on the first day of school, the big sheaf of memos comes home. Standard information gathering, standard field trip permission slips, standard careful requests about whether your kid has a mom and dad, one or two of each, or a freaky trio of open-minded interpretive millinerists. Somewhere in there is the standard no-nuts form (this refers to snacks and lunches, not parents, otherwise enrollment would be drastically reduced): several students have life-threatening peanut allergies, don't send peanut butter, read labels, blah blah blah, don't be a nasty killer lunch person. I have absolutely no issue with sending nut-free lunches. It's occasionally a bit of a pain in the butt, but really, compared to having a kid that can die from licking a peanut butter cookie? Not such a trial. Whenever I see letters in the paper belittling the seriousness of peanut allergies or complaining that it's an imposition having to work around them, I feel angry at the letter-writers' selfishness and insensitivity and, it must be said, a tiny bit smug at how evolved I clearly am in comparison.
This year Angus's collection of papers only had the nut allergy alert form. Eve's had one for nuts. One for eggs. One for dairy. Dairy. DAIRY. I quote: "This means no milk, cheese, yogurt, pudding, or anything including milk ingredients." Sure. No problem. For my kid whose weekly menu goes: Cheese sandwich, macaroni and cheese, cottage cheese, scrambled eggs with melted cheese, and whenever we go to McDonald's she has a GRILLED FUCKING CHEESE?
I have trouble with transition periods. I feel shaky and anxious when the kids go back to school no matter what. New teachers. New routines. New math that I'm too dumb to help with. And now they're telling me that, what? I'm supposed to nourish my kid on fruit and air for six hours every day? The whole class won't be able to have pizza day? (Dude, don't you EVEN go messing with pizza day). In addition, I feel like a real tool being pissed about this poor kid's allergies, because clearly -- not her fault. So I spent the evening composing a reasonable, carefully-worded, please-don't-label-me-as-a-difficult-parent letter expressing my concerns. Then I took a few Ativan and went to bed.
The next day I picked up the kids from school and walked over to the park so they could play for a bit before we walked home. I pulled out Eve's agenda and found a memo in the front pocket. The subtext of the memo was "Dear Parents: Due to the volume of angry, hysterical mail, we have decided the milk allergy is no longer life-threatening. We don't believe for a minute that all your kids are vegetarians, but we don't have the energy to fight with you about it. You all suck, Sincerely, The Management".
I'm not sure what I've taken away from this. The uneasy sense that I'm only willing to protect someone else's kids when it's not too big a hassle? A new appreciation for how difficult and scary it must be to have a food-allergic child, along with dismay at the fact that I lost the chance to take the high road? (If only I had just waited a couple of days and let everyone else write the angry letters, while handing out recipes for soy muffins and tuna tartare sandwiches). I don't know -- I emailed a really good friend whose son is allergic to milk, eggs and nuts and asked for her thoughts. She said her son had never been in a dairy-free classroom and that she thought it was her responsibility to teach him to be safe, not everyone else's responsibility to ensure that no dangerous food ever came within ten miles of him. She also said some people are real assholes about it, though (well, she put it more politely). I hope I wasn't. It definitely wasn't a stellar episode in my ongoing effort to stop over-reacting and blowing things out of proportion.
At any rate, I'm grateful to be in a world that still includes cheddar, swiss and Parmesan. And I'm still not sure having to write a letter saying "For the love of God, don't take cheese away from us!" tops having to go to Rogers Video and admit that I returned a Garden State case with a Dora's Pirate Adventure DVD inside on the parental humiliation metre. So, you know, there's that.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oh yeah, advertising has NO effect on MY kids

Poor Eve. She has just been informed, to her horror and disgust, that the computer that she uses to play Webkinz, and look at pictures, and email Daddy when he's away............
is a PC.
("How uncool is this family anyway?")

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nana's Excellent Adventure

I love my husband's grandmother. My own grandparents lived far away and there were impediments to close relationships: my father's mother was older when he was born and she was confined to a wheelchair and quite frail by the time I met her; my father's father was mostly deaf, although I do have fond memories of him reading to me in a thick Scottish accent; my mother's parents were Polish, and despite years of living in Canada neither of them spoke much English -- they just beamed at us and plied us with chocolate and gum.

Nana is the perfect old person. She's smart and witty and has a great appetite -- for food and learning and new experiences. She became an artist at the age of sixty. She reads everything I give her. She told me to hurry up and have a baby because they're very nice but also a huge pain in the ass and it was better to just get it over with. We once bought her a Twisted Sister cd for Christmas because she loves the song We're Not Gonna Take It.

My favourite Nana stories: 1) A few years ago some Jehovah's Witnesses started coming to her door. She began by sending them away, not troubling to be overly polite about it. Then someone told her that they view this as persecution that would improve their status with God. So she said "well, they're not getting any more points off of me!" and she started inviting them in for tea. 2) For a while they had neighbours who had a dog who was constantly coming over and digging in their garden. One time the neighbour looked over and saw Grandpa waving the shovel at the dog to scare it off (not hitting it). The next day they found a note and twenty dollars in the mailbox. The note said, "We hope this pays for the fucking flowers". At this point, Nana smiles wickedly and says, "So we took the money, and we spent it!"

There was a big party our at their house for Grandpa's eightieth birthday party. We were all out in the back yard, and another woman who was about eighty said (rather sanctimoniously), "My father always said to everyone when we were all together, 'This is my fortune -- my family'". Nana said "yes, our family's great. I think now it would be fabulous if somebody in it would make a lot of money!"

Grandpa hasn't been well for the past couple of years, so they haven't gotten out much. But Nana came to the wedding in New Hampshire, and was clearly determined to have a good time. We were at the rehearsal clambake on Friday night, and she was sitting beside my husband (her first grandchild, with all the insufferable yet rightful idol-worship that entails). Later on in the evening, my husband asked me if I would show her where the ladies' room was. She got up and said "oh, I've been sitting in one place for way too long", so I offered my arm, more out of a desire to be the dutiful granddaughter-in-law than because I thought she really needed it. But we got a few steps across the floor (the big, sprawling, acres-wide floor) and realized that she really was quite unsteady. We got a few more steps and it hit me...

Holy crap! Nana's hammered!

So we meandered across the cavernous space of Foster's Clambake, and Nana dispensed random words of wisdom...

"There's a lot of noise in here. I'm not sure what it's all about."

"I don't really like stringy hair."

"Matthew's such a sweetheart. I don't know what I'd do without him." (I could have said 'well, what I usually do without him is eat a lot of takeout and let the kids watch too much tv'. But I thought better of it.)

"Where is this bathroom anyway?" (my thoughts exactly). As we approached the washroom, Kate (my aunt-in-law, her daughter) came out and started talking to us. After a couple of sentences, her eyes widened and she said, "Mom? How much have you had to drink?". Nana said carelessly, "Oh, whatever anybody gave me, I drank it." With dread and awe, Kate said "Oh, Mama...". And then she totally ditched me -- ostensibly to go check that the trolley was waiting. We navigated the washroom without any major disasters, and then I was thinking it would be a shorter and easier walk to the front door to get to the trolley. However, Nana eluded my grasp to lean over the lobster tank and dabble her fingers delightedly in the water.

"Are those lobsters?"


"Seems kind of dreadful that we eat them." (No comment. I freakin' love lobster). I tugged her away, but every time she wanted to say something, she would put one hand on the counter and stop walking. Finally I thought, what the hell. Let the trolley wait. She's eighty-six, she barely gets to leave the house, if she wants to get plastered and scandalize her daughters and show up at the wedding with a black eye (never mind), what's it to us?

My mother-in-law took her up to her room and put her to bed. Apparently she was going on and on about how wonderful Matthew and I are (Matt for his general first-born-grandson wonderfulness and me because I took everyone's picture with a stuffed lobster, to which my MIL replied "I bought the fucking lobster, Mom). My mother-in-law, normally among our biggest fans, was less than enchanted with us by the time she got back down to the bar.

Hee. You go, Nana.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Big Plans

Eve started grade one last week, which means both of my kids are hereby in school for the full day.
(Pause to start soundtrack -- slow, mournful dirge or the Hallelujah Chorus, it goes back and forth).
I have big plans for the future. Eventually I'm planning to get my library technician diploma, put the pesky graduate school nonsense behind me and do what I've really wanted to do since I was four, which is work in a library, given that it seems I can't actually live in one. Yet. However, my husband has informed me that his travel schedule for the next six months or so is going to be miserable, so I'm holding off on starting courses. Instead, my 'job' is supposed to be a radical de-cluttering and re-organizing initiative as regards the house, and a radical whipping-into-shape regimen as regards my big fat ass.
So far I've thrown a party for twenty-five of my closest friends, applied a liberal coating of sticky lime juice, refried bean and popcorn to the entire house, and eaten my weight in corn chips. Auspicious beginning, no?
I did walk over to the drugstore for my hangover assuagement supplies, at least. Mostly because I was afraid driving might make me hurl, but still...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Is Sarcasm a Heritable Trait?

So today, after a spirited Mexican party in honour of friends who are moving to Australia (not to be confused with an Australian party in honour of friends who are moving to Mexico, except I did keep confusing it, and wondering if I should buy them sombreros as farewell gifts or look up recipes for kangaroo meat, but that's a different post) I was wandering around sweeping up corn chips and popcorn and nerf darts (and the kids were really messy too) and throwing out empty margarita-mix containers. I went into the laundry room to put something in the freezer and there was a clean load of clothes in the dryer but no basket. So I gathered the clothes in my arms and went upstairs. I looked into the family room, where Eve was on the floor in her mermaid nightgown, playing with her barbies and her little barbie swimming pool. She looked around and saw me and got up, making little "I'm stiff from sitting for so long" noises. I didn't know what she was doing, but I was afraid I was going to start dropping socks and dish cloths, so I turned to go up to the next floor...
"Give me a hug I said!" she bellowed.
"No you didn't" I said (quite reasonably, I thought). And she said...
"Well what did you think?! I was running after you to shake your hand?"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Blood is thicker, but who cares when there's alcohol?

We went to a wedding in New Hampshire this past week-end. Whenever anyone said "oh, whose wedding?", I'd have to take a breath and think for a moment, then say "my husband's aunt's second husband's daughter". Which might make you think it was one of those weddings where we hardly know anyone and we were really just going for a week-end in New Hampshire. But you'd be wrong (not that the New Hampshire part wasn't a big draw. I had lobster rolls for breakfast, lunch and dinner.)

My husband has an aunt who is about ten years younger than his Mom, and he was born when his Mom was only twenty-one (I think) so Kate was more like a big sister than an aunt. She let him hang around with her and her boyfriends, she fed him junk food and took him to see Poltergeist when he was way too young and it scarred him for years. I met her quite early in our relationship and loved her -- she's a banker, so she's analytical and organized and A-type, which I admire because I'm so not, but she's also sweet and funny and very generous with her time and friendship. She was divorced (she worked with the Royal Bank out west and had a brief cowboy episode), but the same year we got married she married Fraser, who, although it's almost beyond belief, totally matches her awesomeness. You know how some people seem to try to make you feel like, when they're talking to you you're the most important, fascinating, engaging person ever? But the whole time you're with them, you can tell that they're trying? Fraser does that for real (or hides the trying part so well that, frankly, who cares?)

Fraser has two grown children from his first marriage, who are very close to him, and Kate since they got married. We always have a big Canada Day party out at my husband's grandparents' place in July, and Fraser's kids would often join us. I have pictures of his daughter Hayley holding my daughter at pretty much every age. Gregory, his son, has a son who is three, so he comes too. Matt also has an uncle who married and had a kid at forty-seven, so his little boy is in there -- a bunch of kids who look like grandchildren of the same generation, but are either related very unconventionally or not at all. I love this. I've heard the term 'blended family'. I prefer to call our family 'smushed together'.

When we were halfway to New Hampshire, our kids safely tucked away back home (although we had, unbeknownst to us, not unloaded Angus's suitcase, so we'd basically left him with only the clothes on his back, but that's another story), I sighed and said "this is nice. It was nice of them to invite us. Oh crap, do you think they really wanted us to come? What if we were one of those courtesy invitations just to be polite? What if they got our reply and thought 'ah Christ, two more for dinner'. Agh, turn around, we have to go home!". Everyone assures me this wasn't the case (I guess I'll never know for sure). I often tend to stay on the prickly, cynical side of things (mostly to protect my fragile, mushy interior), but Kate called me her niece all week-end instead of her nephew's husband, and, the incestuous implications aside, this made me feel extremely warm and fuzzy (admittedly travelling everywhere on a trolley with a big cooler of beer at the front added to the general glowiness).

I'm a big believer that you start with the family you're stuck with, and stick on anyone who comes along who shares your sense of humour. I could not have been luckier to be given the parents and the sister I already have. All the other smushed-together people just add to the fun.
photo credit
creative commons license

(When we got to the border crossing, the guy took our passports, asked us where we were going and why, and then said "who's getting married?". We exchanged glances, Matt took a deep breath and said "my cousin". I don't think the U.S. border guards are ready for the intricacies of smushed-togetherness yet.)