Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jamie Oliver and Fat Acceptance

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has been getting some bad press lately and I honestly don't know why.

First of all, the fact that he's terribly adorable should earn him some points: A foul-mouthed British boy with awesome culinary skills and a love of good food, Jamie has that special something that makes you want to get busy in the kitchen.

You know, cooking. Get your mind out of the gutter!

(Well, I won't lie. I'd play "stuff the turkey" with the guy any day.)

Recently, Jamie used all his charm, influence, and serious wok skills to try and do some good in Huntington, West Virginia, which, according to the CDC, is home to the most unhealthy people in the USA. He attempted to revamp the school lunch menus, increase the use of fresh foods, and teach the town how to cook from scratch.

And what does he get for his efforts? A lot of bitching.

The internet is awash with folk who have something bad to say about the celebrity chef's efforts. There are those who think he sensationalized the town and its health concerns, those who defend the country's lunch programs, those who resent a foreigner coming into their country telling them how to eat, and those who think he's shaming fat people for their fatness.

I gotta tell you, I'm just not seeing it that way.

I've been following the Food Revolution for the last few weeks and am beyond impressed with Mr. Oliver's attempts at creating a healthier generation of people.

First of all, there is no sensationalism needed when it comes to the stats on Huntington, or most of the western world for that matter. We, in the richer countries, have access to the best food, the best medicine, and more money than people in the majority of the world could ever imagine, and yet far less healthy than we should be. Worse still, a good deal of our major killers are directly linked to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

What, exactly, was sensational about Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution? All the talk about how our kids are the first generation in recorded history to likely live shorter lives than their parents? That said lives are being cut short due, in large part, to our bad choices at the grocery store? He may have shown an oversize coffin at a funeral home, but it wasn't a prop to attract ratings. He was simply making a very serious point: It's time to step out of this sea of denial we've all been living in and make some positive changes.

According to reports, some of Jamie's lunches on the new menu don't meet US federal requirements. That's because, as far as I can tell, the federal requirements are laughable. When a government considers french fries to be a vegetable, their program becomes a rather unfunny joke. That's like saying gummies that say 'contain fruit juice' on the box count as a fruit serving. (Sadly, I know that somewhere out there, someone is reading this and thinking 'well, don't they?' and I want to swat that person with something - maybe a cookbook)

Look, processed foods are bad for us. I'm not saying we should never eat them, although that would probably be ideal. I'm no biologist, but from what I understand, the more additives, preservatives and artificial everythings we put into our stomachs in the name of convenience, the more work our liver has to do to process it, the more confusion our body has over how to handle the "food" we just gave it, and the more health problems we can potentially create.

And what is one of the major symptoms of being nutritionally unhealthy? Being overweight. Sorry, but that's the truth.

I roll my eyes at all the declarations of "fat shaming" Jamie and the producers supposedly did during the six part series. I say this as a beautiful, intelligent, proud woman who just happens to be fat. I'm not ashamed of my body, I don't hate myself, I don't cry in front of the mirror. Do I want to lose weight? Only if it comes naturally by making good choices in my life. I no longer diet, I no longer exercise to the point of exhaustion in the name of the almighty calorie burn. I don't feel less than people who are thinner than I am, nor do I chastise myself for eating chocolate or chips or even french fries - now my new favourite vegetable.

But I'd be lying if I said I didn't worry about what this extra weight is doing to my heart, my pancreas, my blood vessels. But instead of hating myself and worrying myself sick, I've spent several years learning to love and accept myself for who I am at this moment, in this, my only body. Funny thing is, the more I love myself, the better I want to take care of myself. And maybe that's why I'm so open to the concept of this series.

I have seen fat shaming. I cringe when I hear a fat joke - and that's quite often, as they're so prominent in today's society. I shudder when I see a fat person who obviously loathes their body. I think it's wrong and hurtful to put someone down for how they look.

However, I do not think it's wrong to point out that obesity often precedes a higher incidence of preventable health problems. We need to cut through the political correctness bullshit and look at the facts. Jamie Oliver isn't against fat people, he's simply against ignorance.

And believe me: thinking it's okay to serve pizza and sugary milk as a school breakfast is ignorant.

From what I've seen, the show aims to educate a population that has lost its way. Because, let's face it, America, when it comes to food, you have definitely lost your way. But you're not alone. Many a wealthy nation has forgotten how to care for itself in the name of time-saving and cost-reduction. We get lazy; we get complacent; we forget how to do basic things for ourselves, like cooking.

When I saw the show, I didn't look down at my fat rolls and cry. I didn't feel like anyone was judging me or the town of Huntington. I didn't want to chain myself to the local Weight Watchers building so someone could teach me how to eat myself skinny.

What I did feel was relieved that someone would have the guts to go into the most powerful country in the world and speak the truth: Your children are getting sick. You need to change the way you eat. You need to cook with wholesome foods so that you can live longer, healthier lives and keep your spot as the nation to watch. Because right now, you're heading down a very dark path. Your people are dying too soon.

Now is the time to step up your game, America.

(And he did the same thing in his own country the year before, so there's no need to feel singled out, Americans. Like I said, you're not the only ones lost down that dark path.)

What I also felt was inspired. An urge rose in me to clear the counter and start whipping up meals made from whole foods again. Like many other families, we've become the victims of an overwhelmed life: packed schedules, fighting children, bills piling up. Sometimes, the last thing on my mind is mustering up enough time and energy to cook a decent meal.

The last few weeks, I've been making cooking more of a priority. Is it pricier to buy whole foods? Yes, it is. Is it more expensive to pay the price for not doing it? Absolutely. Time off work or school, medical and dental bills, the cost of losing out on life due to illness -- all those things are expensive in their own way, too.

Do I think poverty is an issue holding back a full scale food revolution? Definitely. But then again, there are kids in some of the poorest countries eating far more nutrient-rich food than many kids in western societies. They might eat less of it, but then again, we could probably stand to eat less, too. And since the typical household discards about 30% of the food they buy, maybe we could stretch the budget by choosing quality over quantity more often.

Jamie Oliver doesn't have all the answers and neither do I. But at least he's doing something to break people out of an unhealthy reality. There is a different way to eat, to cook, to live. And this fat chick wholeheartedly supports it.

But hey, what do I know? I'm just a Canadian.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A list of things I've learned in the last 24 hours

1. Gutsy responds very well to lists. We took the two most stressful, meltdown-inducing times in his day - before school and bedtime - and had him write out a numbered to-do he could follow of all the steps needed to accomplish those tasks. It's been about three days and we've had no tantrums during those times. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Ergo, in honour of the almighty Greek goddess of lists (her name is Listerine, if I remember correctly) I have decided to write this post out as a list. Okay, so it's not in any particular order, but I promise not to throw myself on the floor screaming because of it. Scout's honour.

2. I was a never a Scout. Not even a Girl Guide. Not that I just realized this in the last 24 hours, but I figured it needed its own number since it's in a new paragraph. Shouldn't every paragraph be numbered? How do these things work? Maybe I should ask Gutsy. This list stuff is stressing me out a little.

3. When it started playing in my iTunes playlist a few minutes ago, I initially thought Peter Gabriel's Games Without Frontiers would be a good song to blog to. You know, nice quiet background music. I was wrong. I just had to take four minutes out of my life to figure out what kid is playing with who. Who knew socializing was so complicated? How can I possibly blog when all this drama is happening? And when he sings 'She's so popular' who is he referring to? Brit? Suki? Rita? I'm feeling overwhelmed. This might call for something greater than a list. Perhaps a flow chart.

4. Speaking of Gutsy, he has a few days off to make lists for me. I had a meeting at the school on Tuesday afternoon with the teacher and principal to talk about immediately pulling Gutsy out of grade 1 immersion and into the English stream. It was unsure whether there would be enough room in the class but the principal was going to look into it. If that wasn't an option, we would homeschool until the end of the year and put him in English in September. I walked away from the meeting feeling like everyone had his best interests at heart and we would get this sorted out one way or another.

5. Yesterday, we got a call saying he could start in English on Monday. I have to admit that, given the amount of fighting I've seen between Gutsy and Spawnling this morning, I'm a bit relieved not to be homeschooling. Sheesh.

6. Gutsy is a good planner. Like, for example, he caught his little brother's cold this week and now he has pneumonia again. And hey, if you're going to get pneumonia, why not get it when you're already home for another reason? Brilliant, I tell you.

7. We caught the pneumonia early. However, considering he's had it enough times that I've lost count (7? 8?) we're now able to recognize the very early symptoms. Six hours in the ER and a chest x-ray later, he's on antibiotics. It's moments like this that I hate being right all the time.

8. And speaking of Gutsy being brilliant, I feel the need to brag about him since I've given him so much bad press with all the recent tantrum posts. On Tuesday he also had an EVT - or Expressive Vocabulary Test - courtesy of our liason from the Montreal Oral School for the Deaf. They do a few different language tests on our two older gremlins due to their hearing loss. At 7 years old, Gutsy scored in the 95th percentile, age equivalent: 10 years, grade equivalent: 4.4. Why does this matter? Because it reminds me that just because he can't be fully immersed in a second language it doesn't mean he's not a smart little guy.

9. And with all that genius in his little brain I'm expecting a huge pay off for all the work we've put into parenting him. He'll obviously develop an amazing biofuel that will save the planet and fund our retirement home in whatever place is considered tropical after all this climate change.

10. Speaking of which, happy Earth Day. Go save the planet and quit reading my blog. It's not like I ever have anything interesting to say and I'm usually too frazzled to even try replying to all the comments (as much as I appreciate them, just so you know).

11. Wait, that wasn't something I just realized, either. I've always known April 22nd is Earth Day and that I'm a lazy blogger. I'm really sucking at this list business. Maybe I'll go stomp my feet and throw some stuff.

12. But before I go, I just need to mention that not an hour ago, Spawnling was holding a football to his crotch and singing a song about his 'giant penis.' I think there might have been a mix-up at the hospital and I got somebody else's very strange, genital-obsessed child.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Further Musings from an Overwhelmed Mother

When I wrote Saturday's post, I honestly thought nobody would read it, let alone comment on it. Then, you came in droves to support, understand, and send a lot of love our way.

Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. For, while I really do write these posts for me and my own stress relief/inner exhibitionist satisfaction, knowing people are thinking about me and my family means a great deal to this heart of mine; particularly when it's broken and hurting as much as it has been lately.

I usually try to be funny - okay, let's be honest: downright fucking hysterical - and this type of depressing, helpless post is not my sort of thing. I only let Sad Maven out to play when things get really bad. Well, it really has been that bad. Perhaps I didn't quite realize just how bad until I let it all out in the open for the world to see.

There are some things I don't talk about on my blog because they're too private, or discussing them might open up a big can o' drama I really don't feel like eating. When we realized a couple of weeks ago that Gutsy didn't remember the epic tantrum he had just had, my first thought was that this was really serious. The second was that we shouldn't tell anyone right now. I didn't want anyone judging or labeling him because of it. I wanted to roll the entire ordeal up in bubble wrap and tuck it into a corner, maybe stick a few flowers on it for decoration. "What, that? Oh, that's just a little thing we're getting checked out. Nothing important. But doesn't it smell nice? So lovely... Scone?"

Then, after a couple of very overwhelming weeks, I decided I really did need to say something. To speak the truth - our truth - for me, for my family, for Gutsy. We had already told a handful of key people and yet it still felt so bottled up inside me. I couldn't write, couldn't even contemplate working a contract or doing much of anything other than the absolute life-essential basics. I made or ordered lousy meals, the house was filthy, contact with friends and family limited. There was little on my mind besides what was going on with Gutsy, therefore I didn't feel like talking to much of anyone - what would I talk about? Only The Thing That Shall Not Be Named. More importantly, I was seriously sucking in my roll as Mom, CEO of the household. With my energy stores tapped, the gremlins were suffering the most.

Living a lie, even through omittance, is very, very toxic.

I half-jokingly said to a friend today that writing this weekend's post kind of felt like 'coming out' to the world. But instead of saying 'boys are icky' I'm saying 'my family is in crisis.'

(Dear Johnny Depp,

For the record, I do not think boys are icky. Especially not you. I was simply drawing a comparison. I just wanted to make sure that no potential miscommunication ever comes between our love -- you know, the love that will undoubtedly smack you across the face when you eventually meet me/run away with me to your chateau d'amour in France.

Sincerely, The Maven)
When I threw open the closet door, I felt an immense release. The world got a little lighter, a little friendlier, a little less scary. People were sympathetic and kind. There have been offers of help and support in many different forms. Most importantly, people still think the world of Gutsy and maybe even understand him a little more.

Imagine that: the truth really does set you free.

We have a child who cannot control his anger, frustration or disappointment. His mood swings are extreme and sometimes violent. Some days bring us to the point of tears and leave us wondering if this is the end of the road for any remaining shred of sanity. He screams, throws things, throws himself around, hits himself, slams doors, and is absolutely unable to see any reason until he calms down -- whenever that is; sometimes minutes, sometimes hours. Our home life is far more unpredictable than it should be, even with three little gremlins in it.

And yet, we have a child who is one of the most amazing, thoughtful, beautiful, intelligent people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. When he takes my hand, he lovingly holds it in both of his. When he wishes me goodnight, he often reaches out and gently caresses my cheek. In the summer, he picks me flowers almost every day because he knows how much I love them (even if they do come from the garden). He loves his family intensely, idolizes his dad and big brother and will spend an enormous amount of time teaching his little brother new things. When he's not upset, he is the embodiment of pure love.

We have a child who needs our help, who needs us to swallow any pride and reach out for whatever resources we can find. He needs our help to learn to cope with his emotions. He needs a family that is not struggling to keep its collective head above water, who lives in joy instead of apprehension.

There have been some improvements in the last couple of days. For one, Friday was the worst day of the weekend. Saturday was pretty close and Sunday kind of sucked, too, but I did not sob either of those days. Horray for small victories!

I did cry this morning, however, but not out of frustration. I cried because we're starting to clear through the thorns of Gutsy's emotions and get to some of his biggest triggers. Today, we found one.

Gutsy refused to go to school. He's done this before, but we can generally coax him somehow. He does have a cold, but it's mild and certainly not something absentee-worthy. I decided to try a dialogue we've attempted countless times before. However, all the effort we've put into helping him express his emotions is starting to pay off.

'I don't want to go to school. I'm too tired and too sick. I don't have any energy,' said a solemn Gutsy.

I pulled up a chair. 'Is there something going on at school, honey?'

Gutsy sighed. 'Mom, you've asked me that, like, a million times, and I always say no.'

'I know you do, but something tells me otherwise. We're not going to make you go to school today, but I would very much like it if you told me what's wrong. I'm here to listen and help.'

So he did tell me. He said that he doesn't understand a lot of what is said in his French immersion class these days. He said he gets frustrated and sad because they're learning a lot of new things right now and he can't figure them out. He said he wishes he were in an English class because it would be easier and he would be happier.

On the surface it almost seems laughable. Gutsy has good grades and is reading above his grade level in French. His reading and comprehension in English is even higher. The reason we put him in French immersion was to add a challenge. But I see now that it was too much of one. We put a hearing impaired child in a grade 1 immersion class with kids who had an entire previous year of French. He not only had to catch up to his more experienced peers, but do it with hearing loss to boot. He may have succeeded academically, but at what cost to him?

It made perfect sense. He's depleted at the end of every school day and simply doesn't have it in him to keep his emotions in check. An already explosive child has become even more so because we're asking too much of him.

So that's that. His teacher and I spoke today and both agree he needs to return to the English stream. I think he'll feel more comfortable and be able to express his wonderful self a lot better. His dad and I are sad he won't get fully immersed in a second language, but we know his self-esteem, love of learning, and our family harmony have to come first. I head to the school tomorrow afternoon for a meeting and we'll go from there. I hope the switch happens soon, as I think it will greatly improve things for all of us.

We're still going to follow up with the social worker at our local health unit as well and get us all some coping skills and understanding of how we can best help our Gutsy. We could use some peace in this household, to say the least.

On Saturday, Geekster and I went out for coffee and cake at our favourite little getaway. We're both so emotionally drained with everything going on, but talking about it helps. Some days are worse than others, but we're seeing a light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in a while.

May it not be a bunch of flying monkeys.

Seriously, I could not handle flying monkeys right now. Like we don't have enough problems.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Burn Out

When Intrepid was little, he used to throw some epic fits. It was so bad that we would need to sequester him to his room, or hold his arms and legs until he stopped flailing. They happened daily, and I often wondered if we'd survive it.

We almost didn't make it, to be honest, but a hearing loss diagnosis and the joy of a new baby brother helped immensely. Within months, Intrepid was a new boy - full of the wonder of his new found hearing and a sense of responsibility over having a little person modeling him. The tantrums stopped, a type of peace we hadn't known before came to our house, and we figured we were over the worst of it.

And then there's Gutsy.

By two, we knew Gutsy was hearing impaired. By three, he had his hearing aids and was getting intensive speech therapy. If he could hear and express himself properly, we thought, there would be less frustration in his world and therefore fewer outbursts. Unlike Intrepid, he wouldn't have extreme sensory issues, meaning he wouldn't be experiencing the world with his four "good" senses on full-throttle to compensate for his lack of hearing, and therefore not be on overload all the time with things being too bright, too flashy, too scratchy, too spongy, too abrasive. He would grow up with a little more normality, we thought.

We thought.

We really thought we had done everything we could to make his life easier. We were wrong, and I wish we had figured that out sooner.

I would describe our home life as chaotic, but not in the typical 'we have three kids' way. There are good pockets; times when Gutsy is relaxed and content and where Spawnling isn't doing typical Spawnling things like throwing a boot at someone's head or yelling 'GET ME SOME CANTALOUPE RIGHT NOW!' at the top of his lungs like this will somehow work even though it never has before. I cherish the quiet moments more and more these days, because there seem to be fewer and fewer of them.

When Spawnling was younger and not throwing typical three-year-old tantrums of his own, Gutsy's were more manageable. And when Spawnling didn't egg his brother on to get a reaction out of him, the frequency of outbursts was far less frequent. But right now, a typical day has not only typical brotherly fights, but puts Gutsy in such a mood that every little thing becomes a big thing.

Yesterday, a PD day at school and therefore a day off for all three gremlins, we asked Gutsy to get out from behind the flat screen TV. You know, so that it doesn't tip over and crack and take most of mommy and daddy's at-home 'date nights' with it. He didn't mean anything by it - he was simply trying to find a new hiding spot and that corner looked perfect to a seven-year-old boy.

But what would normally be a simple request of 'please get out from behind there before the TV tips over and breaks' in most households, turned into a 10 minute exchange and subsequent fit in ours. Furthermore, it unleashed a monster that took over the house for an entire day, resulting in multiple tantrums, frustrated siblings and overwhelmed parents. By the end of the day, I went into the bedroom and sobbed. By the end of the day, Geekster locked himself in the office (upon my request, for the record) and played guitar until his fingers hurt, as his entire work-from-home day having been bombarded by loud screaming, things being thrown, and crying, and he really needed some personal time before he exploded.

And this overwhelmed, exhausted feeling happens nearly every day, definitely every weekend, during every holiday, and a heartbreaking number of times throughout the summer. We dread the days when Gutsy is not in school. For whatever reason, home is not a place where he is calm and happy. And therefore, none of us are calm or happy, either. He loves school and does well there, but once he gets home all hell breaks loose.

If this doesn't change soon, our family will not survive this. And I'm not saying that lightly. Geekster and I have been together almost 17 years, but I don't think we'll see 18 if things don't change. Not because we don't love each other, but because we are too emotionally exhausted to put a lot of effort into "us.". We try and we usually succeed - good communication helps - but it's an uphill battle. When Intrepid was throwing huge, scary tantrums, we only had him to contend with. It was still stressful, but more manageable. With Gutsy, we have an older child and a younger who are as overwhelmed as we are. This isn't a normal situation. It needs to change so that we can stay an intact family of five and enjoy what should be a special time in our lives with three beautiful children.

We have tried being soft, firm, removing privileges, making award charts, having lots of heart to hearts, reading books, asking friends, attending seminars, scouring the internet... Nothing has worked yet.

And then, the mother of all fearful tantrums that happened two weekends ago: After about an hour of escalating, solid rage over his Dad not doing a specific project with him (there were many offers to do other projects, mind you) I put him in his room with the door closed, holding the handle because he kept trying to open it, all the while he raging and throwing things at the door, at the walls. I told him I wasn't leaving and that I just needed him to calm down in a safe place so we could talk. He raged more, cried more, begged me to open the door in between outbursts. It was terrifying.

And even more terrifying, he doesn't remember any of it. Not a stitch. He recalls being outside asking his dad to do a project, then coming out of his room after I had gone in and talked to him; nothing in between. We've suspected a couple of other times that he hasn't remembered a tantrum, but weren't sure. He definitely recalls most of them and doesn't seem to disconnect at any other time, but we're confused and very worried.

That moment two weeks ago is when Geekster and I knew this was way beyond what we can do alone. We needed to call in the reinforcements and find out what is going on with our otherwise sweet boy. Because, underneath those Mr. Hyde moments, Gutsy is a wonderful kid. He does well in school with no fits, has many friends, loves his parents and brothers tremendously, cracks jokes, invents the coolest forts and gadgets I've ever seen, is by far one of the smartest people I've ever met, and is overall one of those well-rounded children a mother is proud to call her son. We want to fully appreciate that side of him.

More importantly, he needs to feel more comfortable in his own skin. He's told us many times that he hates how he behaves and doesn't know how to stop when he gets that angry - this is beyond his control, too. And the casualties extend to his brothers, who don't get as much attention as a result and have to deal with their family home - what should be a sanctuary from the world - being up in arms every day.

So far, Geekster and I have been on the phone with his teacher and the school's behavior tech. I had a meeting with the principal as well. All are taking this seriously and willing to work with us to see if we can figure out what's going on. I have an appointment lined up with our family doctor in which I will ask for a brain scan and blood work and anything else we need to rule out a physiological issue (like food sensitivities, which have been brought up many times by my wonderful readers and friends). We spoke with our liason at the Montreal Oral School for the Deaf, who has put us in contact with specialized teachers and psychologists who work closely with hearing impaired children (kids who are, incidentally, far more likely to have behaviour issues due to sensory overload and academic/social frustrations). And finally, I put a call into our local public health department and left a message with the intake social worker. When she called back, she spoke with Geekster. She initially scheduled an appointment for the middle of May, but once she got more details, she said she could see him Tuesday on an urgent basis. The help is there and response has been excellent.

We're getting closer to an answer and hopefully closer to figuring out how we can help our son. Yesterday, I spoke with a good friend who's twin sons have autism, and a lot of the behavioral issues are similar to Gutsy's. That makes sense, considering, like many on the autism spectrum, he likely has some heavy sensory issues due to his hearing loss. She gave me some amazing coping strategies and ways to deal with him, which we're going to implement into our arsenal of new tactics. Things like:

- giving him written steps to do a chore so that he doesn't get overwhelmed (like he usually does) with the immensity of it. Getting Gutsy to clean up is like pulling teeth, so I'm looking forward to trying this out

- counting down from 5 instead of up from 1 when we're giving him a warning, so that he can better anticipate the end of the counting (this worked well yesterday when we tried it)

- using different words to say the same thing - words that trigger his outbursts less but still get the point across. Time for this writer to pull out the thesaurus

And I realized something even more important when I spoke to her: I've been forgetting that he does, indeed, have special needs. The effects of his hearing loss may not be apparent in his school work or his speech (anymore), but his behavior - whether it be due to sensory overload, anxiety, or something else - is likely a direct result from being a deaf child in a hearing world. Even with his hearing aids, he doesn't hear like we do; his brain doesn't process sounds like ours. Some are louder, some are quieter, and some don't come in at all. He just does so well in every other way that we're quick to forget, and I treat his outbursts like a discipline issue instead of like a special needs issue. That means I use less compassion and get more frustrated with him. I blame him and I blame me for not being able to help him. It's not a good scene.

When I was pregnant with Intrepid, someone once told me how powerful motherhood is, and how I would find myself willing to do anything to save my child. Right now I feel like he's drowning, and my other two children are slipping under the water with him. And their dad and I keep diving into the waves-- but as much as we try, we can't pull them up. We're treading water and we're so very tired, but we keep trying.

No, this is not something we can do alone anymore. Help is on the way and we're going to receive it with open arms. There's a boat on the horizon, and it has five life preservers on board.

We're ready.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Every Sunday should end with Big Dick

Yesterday, I took some "me" time. I'm not talking a couple of hours, here. I'm talking a full day.

To myself.

With no children.

I love children - especially mine, although I'll tell you I prefer other people's because they don't whine "Mom! Mom! Mommy! Mommeeeeee!" at me. But a Maven needs a break every now and then, lest she twitch herself into a coma from the stress of daily child rearing.

Thus, last day's morning, I put down all the tools of gremlin taming: camouflage clothing, spray bottle, army net, chain gloves, and my trusty bottle of chloroform, and went off in search of a place that contains little to no people under the age of majority.

Just as I was about to get a lap dance, Fantasia was kind enough to inform me that there is a happy medium when it comes to the kid-free environment. So I thanked her, stuffed a $5 bill in her g-string, and went out for brunch instead.

The Bitches - what the four lovely ladies and I who brunch every couple of months have jokingly called ourselves - met at The Buzz, a downtown restaurant that serves the most amazing morning food. I'm sure they serve amazing other time foods as well, but I wouldn't know. I was too busy scarfing down eggs florentine to ask to see the evening menu. There was great conversation, lots of laughs and far too much coffee. I also learned that some people say 'eggs over lightly' instead of 'over easy,' and that serving staff in Ottawa have no clue what they're talking about.

After brunching with the Bitches, I headed to the maul to brave Sunday shopping crowds for no other reason than I didn't have my boys with me. Frankly, I can handle just about any crowd when I don't have to play 'recover the missing three-year-old.' I didn't buy a thing, as I don't need anything. Well, unless you count a larger television as a 'need.'

Ask me again once my copy of Avatar comes in next week.

Next, I sat across the table from a beautiful friend and drank the best damn americano I've had in a while. Why was it the best? Because I wasn't drinking it in between breaking up fights, picking up pastries that have fallen on the dirty restaurant floor, dealing with crying about said dropped pastries as I usher a sad gremlin to the counter to buy another one I can't really afford because they're incredibly overpriced, passing my iPhone to the child in question so he can play a game while eating his new pastry, and wiping off the sugar and gunk and crap off the screen after all is said and done, wondering if it will work properly again and cursing myself for ever thinking that was a good idea.

It's not like I don't enjoy my children's company most of the time, although I'm sure it sounds that way from the aforementioned scenario. It's just that there's a lot of stressful kid-related stuff going on in our house right now, and I've been feeling worn right down to the bone. Synonyms for this feeling: completely exhausted, emotionally spent, absolutely drained, and about this close to losing my everlovin' shit.

So it's no surprise to me that Relaxa, the goddess of mothers' time off, would have me lock my keys in the van in the Starbucks parking lot when I never, ever do that normally. And with my husband having just arrived with the gremlins at a museum halfway across the city with the only spare set of keys in his pocket, I would be "forced" to spend more time with my coffee friend, and even meet her dad.

This is where the big dick comes in.

Oh, get your mind out of the gutter, already. Big Dick is her dad. Little Dick - or Richard - is her brother. And here you thought I was being a pervert.

Heck, if anyone might be a bit of a pervert, it's Big Dick. He was by far the most hilarious octogenarian I've ever met. From the moment I stepped into his house unannounced while awaiting my spouse, he made me feel welcome. He said he had a great story to tell - sexual in nature, of course, like all the best stories are - and talked about how he wanted to decorate the upcoming 'couples alone time' room in his wife's nursing home with a decor acquired partially from a sex store and partially from a funeral home.

And now I know where my friend gets all her crazy from: Big Dick. Enough said.

Eventually, my gremlins had enough of the museum, I was rescued by Geekster and his spare set of keys, and I came home. But not without a solid seven hours where I was reminded what it was like to be The Maven, and not Mom - just for a little while. A couple of hours off is nice, but the stress of doing this mom thing full-time only starts to melt away before I need to go home and immerse myself into the sea of chaos once again. Having a good chunk of time - something I haven't had in a while - was a sorely needed.

The batteries are recharged (emotional batteries, not sex toy batteries. Your mind and the gutter need to stop meeting like this) and I'm feeling significantly better about my world today. Less anxious, more patient, and ready to pick up that spray bottle again and get back to parenting.

...Excuse me? We're not supposed to use a spray bottle? When did that happen? Next someone is going to say nets are a bad idea, too. What is this world coming to?! I'm off to get my chloroform.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Another Spawnling video (because you know you love them)

I was feeling pretty burned out today. Too burned out to talk about it and certainly too burned out to write about it, as much as I'm sure that would help to some extent. This mom stuff is hard. Sometimes, I think being a stay-at-home-mom for over thirteen years is a lot like crossing a desert - a loud, messy, smelly, overwhelming desert - with no oasis in sight.

And then, one of the gremlins scuttles into the kitchen and starts weaving a marvelous story involving Star Wars, bank robberies and things he did seven years from now, and it reminds a girl how lucky she is to be in this loud, messy, smelly, overwhelming place.

When you realize one of your kids has figured out time travel, it makes this full-time mom stuff so worthwhile. I mean, once he patents whatever he uses to visit the future, my retirement fund will be plentiful and I will build my own oasis in the desert - shirtless pool boys and all.

He's so awesome, isn't he? I mean, when he's not calling people stupid boys. (Everyone is a stupid boy when he gets pissed off, even if they are female and/or reached the age of maturity years ago.)

Anyway, now that I have your attention, anyone want three kids overnight? First come, first serve! Hurry up, because we're likely to get swamped with offers! We've only had three nights off in thirteen years and you don't want me to go so crazy I can't write at all, do you? As an added incentive, I'll bring you a coffee when we get back... unless I drink it first.

I'll probably drink it first.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

An Open Letter to my Teenage Boy

Dear Intrepid,

Forgive my recent stumbling as your parent, but your sudden leap into the teen years has left me scrambling to catch up and figure out the rules of this new game.

See, when I became illegitimately pregnant with you at the age of 19, perhaps I wasn't thinking things through as clearly as I should have. Looking into the future for your dad and I, all I could see was a snuggly-wuggly little sand bag of joy in my arms, literally sucking the pregnancy weight out of me along with all that breastmilk. You would be perfect in every way, always, and we would be the bestest parents every despite our complete lack of experience and copious immaturity.

After 48 hours of agony beyond words which resulted in me finally being able to push out all ten pounds of your watermelon self you came gently into the world, I remember rocking you softly, peacefully, thinking every so often about what kind of person you would be in a few years. But right then - at that moment - you were my little angel, and the idea of you becoming anything but was so distant it was almost laughable.

And then, suddenly, you're thirteen, you talk back, your hair gets stinky when you don't shower, and I'm still as fat as ever.

And worse still, you seem to think you're some kind of individual. Like you can make up your own mind about things, or something. You have your own likes and dislikes, you have opinions that don't always reflect my own, and not all your choices are made after seeking my approval.

Well, shit. What happened?

Last week, when I got the call from your vice principal about you skipping a class, I nearly dropped the phone in shock. How on earth could my perfect, studious, responsible son not attend advisory? It was obviously a mistake. Surely you got lost, or you hit your head and fell unceremoniously into your locker and was buried in old apple cores and crumpled paper until you regained consciousness an hour later.

Except that wasn't the case, and the next thing I knew you were in detention. Meanwhile, I was scrambling to figure out how to deal with this in the best way possible with no prior experience whatsoever.

Oh, wait a minute. As it turns out, I do have experience! Not in raising a teenager, perhaps, but most certainly in cutting class. And suddenly, a little grin appeared on my face. I had a shower, put my clothes on, and I went to collect you from after-school detention knowing exactly what to do.

See, I was a bit of a high school bad ass. By thirteen I was skipping classes regularly. By fourteen I was expelled.

Some would say I was the cutting class queen.

A cut above your average school delinquent.

That 80's band, Cutting Crew? That's right: Named after your mom. And any chance of getting out of your truancy easily just died in your arms tonight.

Um, I mean last Wednesday.

If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that I won't let you go down the same path I did. No way, no how. You're too good for that. You made a mistake, but it's one that, if not dealt with properly, could lead to more and bigger mistakes. I won't see you mess up your life under my watch, no matter how ill-equipped I may feel about raising a teenager at thirty-three years of age.

So, when you got into the van after detention and I didn't say a word to you, I hope you saw the seriousness of what you did.

When I grounded you for a week, I hope you saw concern beneath the anger.

When I made you tell your dad what you did, I hope you saw worry under his disappointment.

When I said you have to earn our trust back, I hope you believe in yourself enough to know you can, because we believe a lot in you.

When I told you that if you ever do that again I'll go to school with you for an entire day and walk you to every class and cut your sandwiches into little stars in the middle of the cafeteria at lunch time, I hope you know me well enough to take me seriously.

And when we tell you how much we love you, I hope you believe it. Because we really do.

We really do.

I know you feel badly about what you did, but you're a good kid. Everyone makes mistakes, my sweet boy. Thankfully, I believe to the core that this is one you're not likely to contemplate again for a very long time. I know some of the people you cut class with didn't even go to detention because they aren't afraid of the school consequences, and at least one of them has a parent who doesn't seem to care enough to discipline him whatsoever. But I hope you can see that the reason we jumped on this so hard is because we do care, and we take our role as your parents seriously.

Love you, big guy. Don't forget it.

The Truancy Officer Mom

PS: Your brothers have promised never to grow up. I'm so relieved I only have to go through this teenager stuff once. Phew!