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Archive for November, 2006

Zoom zoom

Yesterday I picked Boo up from school, popped her in the back of the van and then jumped quickly in the front, because it is raining here again. Then I said, “Okay, belt yourself in.” Boo is still in an toddler car seat (but faced forward, at least) because at age 4, she’s only 34 lbs, but is capable of doing it up herself. Instead, she appeared at my shoulder and this was the ensuing conversation:

Boo: Can I drive?

Me: No.

Boo: Why not?

Me: You don’t know how.

Boo: You can teach me.

Me: It isn’t really that easy.

Boo (getting a bit annoyed at my unreasonableness): Okay, I’ll just sit on your lap and steer.

Me: No.

Boo: Aaaaw, why not?

Me: Because it is against the law and if the police caught us they’d throw me in jail and I wouldn’t be able to sing lullabies tonight.”

Boo: If we see a police car, I’ll hop in the back.

Me: No.

Boo (stomping back to her seat): You never let me do anything!

So for any relatives still wondering what to get her for Hanukkah, apparently driving lessons would be appreciated.

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Performance anxiety

On Monday, Asher came barrelling out of school to tell me that the vice-principal had asked him if he’d play his fiddle in this Friday’s assembly. Maya was right on his heels saying she’d then asked Maya if she also played something, and as her brother will be in the assembly, would she also like to be?

So Maya will be playing a duet with a friend of her’s. After 4.5 years of piano, she picked the one piece that she learned 0n her own, from another friend. Figures. But the two of them play it all the time, so I don’t need to worry about her messing it up.

Asher is the funny one, because just recently, when he was going throug his I-want-to-quit-fiddle drama, he was complaining of the recital he will have to perform at in June. He’s never played for more than 3 people. And now he’s perfectly calm about playing in front of the entire school on Friday. Go figure. And he announced he was going to play a piece he hasn’t yet learned. I put the breaks on that one and talked him into one he already knows, but getting him to practice hasn’t been easy. He’s very blase about the whole thing, insisting he knows it ‘well enough’. It makes me wonder if he doesn’t quite grasp what he is about to do.

But the mellowness is better than his previous freak-out perfectionism, so I’m just doing all the worrying for him. I’m the one with the performance anxiety.

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This is my House rant that I mentioned last week. I do love the show, but the message it sends about chronic pain and use of painkillers just makes me completely nuts.

When I first considered using narcotics for pain relief, I was very, very nervous about the possibility of addiction. My rhumatologist was not similarly concerned, telling me that a very small percentage of chronic pain patients actually become addicted to painkillers. They do become dependent on them, which means that their bodies get used to the narcotics and they cannot just go cold turkey if they decide to stop, but must be weaned off slowly. This is the case not just with painkillers but a good number of other medications as well.

Because I’m cautious, I did some research and also asked J’s cousin, who is an oncologist (cancer specialist) what she thought. She told me that she had given some pretty serious painkillers to her patients – cancer hurts – but had never had anyone become addicted. Once their pain was gone, they weaned off it and went on with their lives.

So far, my experience is this: when I am in pain, I want to take the painkillers to stop the pain. When they make the pain go away, I feel better. They have some side effects, like sometimes making me a bit queasy or more tired, and beyond removing pain, they have no good feeling, so I cannot imagine taking them for any reason other than the pain. But when the pain gets bad, I really want those pills.

The main character in House, for those who might not know, is a doctor in chronic pain from an injured leg. He pops pills like crazy and everyone around him is bothered by his ‘addiction’. Now, it is possible to have a guy with chronic pain who is also actually addicted – unusual, but it does happen. But here’s the clincher that makes me crazy: at the beginning of this season, House was briefly cured of the pain by some bizzare treatment that didn’t last. If he’d been proper addict, this would not have had any effect on his pill-popping. If he was taking the drugs for pain, he’d stop. The writers had him stop. He followed the typical actions of someone in chronic pain and stopped taking the pills when he had no pain. This is not the actions of an addict, but of someone who needs pain relief. When the pain returned, he returned to the painkillers, and it was portrayed as some great failure on his part. Frankly, even feeling the pain was portrayed this way, as he tried to hide the return of his symptoms from the constant suspicions of his co-workers.

If the guy had diabetes, would they demonstrate taking insulin as a great moral failure on his part? If he needed nitroglycerin for a heart problem, would his co-worked be glaring at him in disapproval every time he popped one of those under his tongue? Even taking anti-depressents has less stigma than painkillers.

I know, I know – it’s only a TV show. But people watch and believe TV shows. Lawyers have even started complaining about something I think they call CSI syndome, where their juries disbelieve that they do not have the same forensic resources on hand as their fictional counterparts. And House, as cool as it is, is giving people the idea that sufferers of chronic pain are all messed in the head and, if they take painkillers regularly, addicts. Makes for great TV, but really, really pisses me off.

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knitting happiness

Last year I discovered a wonderful thing: thrummed knitting, where you knit lovely, soft, warm bits of wool into whatever you are making, traditionally mitts and slippers. I actually bought a pair of of mittens and slippers at a craft show I wanted them so badly. Buying knitted stuff when you knit is a bit taboo, as the ladies at the knitting store I frequent made clear when I went in with the mitts. I told them I wanted a pattern and the fuzzy stuff for inside. The very-helpful saleswoman said, after a bit of confusion, “You mean, you bought these ones?” So I had to explain about my very cold hands and lack of patience, whereupon she stocked me up with what I needed.

I finally got around to making the slippers, mostly because the ones I bought haven’t held up too well. Knitting your own is just better. For one, I put way more wool fluff on the inside and it is much warmer. Fits just right too. Currently, I am wearing one new slipper and one old, because I haven’t sewed up the second slipper yet. The new slipper is on over a simple cotton sock. The old slipper has both a cotton and wool sock under, and the new one is warmer. I am in toastie feet heaven. Well, toastie foot heaven, anyway.

This is what it looks like inside out:

slipper-before.JPG

This is what it looks inside in:

slipper-after.JPG

Ugly, but functional.

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the virtues of boredom

I have a moment or two of peace, as J has taken the kids to swimming lessons. Then it is off to my brother and sister-in-law to visit our kittens. Well, they aren’t ours any more, since we gave them to my brother, but we still feel sort of like they are. In the summer, we took in a pregnant stray cat and fostered her and her kittens. We found homes for all five kittens and the mom, and the best part is that since my brother took two and a good friend took another, we still get to be in regular contact with them.  

We are also going to conduct our annual ritual of child torture, also known as taking the Christmas photos for the grandparents. All my parents want for Christmas is a photograph with all five grandchildren. Thank goodness for digital cameras. I take about 100 shots and can usually manage to find one with all the kids at least looking in the right direction.  

Maya, in particular, is delighted because it drives her nuts when we just hang around the house on weekends. That kid wants her whole life scheduled with fun fun FUN. Hey – this would be a good place to put the column I wrote about kids and boredom. It is a bit of a lie, though, because although Maya is better about amusing herself at times, she isn’t nearly as good as the end of the column suggests she is. It made for a better ending though. As J likes to say – why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

 Do you remember when you were a kid and it was summer vacation and your best friend was at the beach with her family and you said to your mother, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do,” and your mom said, “Your room needs cleaning, you could vacuum the living room or you can walk the dog,” so you left her alone and found something fun to do, like peel a golf ball? 

I don’t think that happens much anymore. Between summer camp, soccer practice and our constant desire to enrich our children’s lives, there is little room for boredom.

That is a mistake.  I am a big believer in boredom. I am not saying I like to be bored. I find it maddening to be trapped in a doctor’s office without a book, forced to flip through three-year-old Cosmos. But some boredom is good, especially for children. It presents the opportunity to find original ways to alleviate it. Boredom builds character and imagination.   

My eldest daughter is a big believer in being amused constantly. Until recently, the most common sentences out of her mouth were, “Is it fun for kids?” and “Can’t we do something?” I would reply that the whole point of life is not just having fun, but really, it is a reasonable assumption on her part. Instead of just kicking them outside, modern parents are encouraged to schedule every moment of their kids’ lives.  

Quite frequently, one of my kids will return home from a play date with a friend and tell me what fun it was, that the mom played board games and made muffins with them. Camp Counsellor Mom: unleashing a torrent of amusements for the children so they will not be forced to think for themselves and possibly whine at her.  

I do not want to be a camp counsellor. I do not have the other child there so I can play with two of them. My idea of a play date is that some kid comes over to play with mine and they leave me alone to read my book. My eldest, in particular, has been strongly resistant to my insistence that she figure out how amuse herself. The younger ones are better at it, particularly my son. He once spent hours in his room building an elaborate web across his bunk bed with scotch tape.  

I am not saying that his ability to scotch tape his bed will make him a successful adult, but it might make him a more interesting one. And probably a happier one.  But it just might make him more successful too. Look at Albert Einstein, who had an unremarkable school career and ended up as a technical assistant in the Swiss patent office. Instead of being bored by doing work that was intellectually beneath him, he spent his time thinking, and in his spare time wrote and published most of his significant work. Of his life at that time, Einstein said, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” Tell that to the Baby Einstein video creators, who do not even want infants to be bored. 

When portable video players for cars became available, my husband begged me to agree to one for long trips, driven crazy by out daughter’s demands to be amused. I resisted valiantly. When I was a kid, my family took long camping trips, and I have nothing but good memories of sitting and looking out the window as I daydreamed, of playing games with my brothers or reading. I wanted my children to have that experience. “It’s good for them to be bored! Stimulates the imagination,” I argued. “It’s killing me,” replied my husband. 

I finally caved last summer, when we drove out to the Maritimes. Our eldest was eight years old and appeared to have learned nothing from all my enforced boredom. But, to our surprise, we hardly used the DVD player. The kids were great in the car. We played music and sang along, played Twenty Questions and spent a lot of time watching the beautiful view.  

After eight years of being told to figure it out herself when she asked me what to do, my daughter finally developed an imagination. She now likes to pass the time by writing and illustrating books for her little sister. As I write this, all three kids are building a house from a cardboard box for their turtles, which happen to be rocks decorated to look like turtles. They have learned how to rely on themselves and to amuse themselves, all thanks to boredom. And best of all, they are now rarely bored. Dorothy Parker summed it up beautifully: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

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The cat came back …

The title says it all – yay! He didn’t actually come back, though, but he was found. I’ve had a somewhat harrowing time the past couple of days. Filing a ‘lost animal’ report with the Humane Society was depressing, and more so when they sent me tips, like to call the city number for the road crew that picks up dead animals from the streets.

This morning I went and looked through two rooms of found cats, many of them kittens. T is microchipped, so I didn’t expect to find him there. I also had to look through the “DOA” file. As I was doing that, one of the employees walked by me and said casually, “Are you the lady with the lost cat who was adopted here?” (They had his kitten picture on file and were ooing over him.) When I said yes, she said, “I think I found your cat.” A woman in the next burb over had called to report that she had found a cat that sounded like mine. They gave her my number, and I had to go home and wait for her call.

Turns out she was this elderly lady whose eyesight was so bad that she mistook T for her ugly, bright orange, short-haired cat and let him in when he showed up at her door (she didn’t say he was ugly – I just saw that myself). When she realized his tail is bushy, she figured out her error and kept him for the night.

We are all very relieved to have him back. Our other cat was delighted kept following him around trying to groom him. To my surprise, he wanted nothing to do with her and kept growling and hissing. Poor girl, after she missed him so.

So it is a happy Shabbat. Every Friday night at dinner, we ask our children what the best part of their week was, and I think this week, the answer will be easy.

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Today isn’t as great as yesterday, despite the sun. The biggest problem is that one of our cats has been gone for two days and we are starting to get stressed out (by ‘we’ I mean everyone but J). They used to be outside cats, mostly because they were desperate to get out, one is capable of opening the sliding door, and we have three kids. That adds up to outdoor cats. But some anonymous neighbour complained to bylaw about them. Cats here are allowed to go out and allowed to roam, but not be a nuisance. Turns out ‘nuisance’ includes walking across someone else’s lawn. If only we could teach our cats that they can only roam on roads. So we’ve been doing our best to keep them in, going in and out primarly through the mudroom and garage, so we can use all the doors as a sort of airlock system and avoid the cats’ mad dashes for freedom. But it failed the other evening and the big, outrageously-friendly, stupid orange cat managed to get out. Ironic that when they were proper outdoor cats they always came home, but now that they aren’t allowed out, he gets his big self lost.

He’s a very, very friendly cat and very beautiful, so I am also afraid that someone has just decided to keep him. There’s a family around the block who brings their 5-year-old by now and then just to say hi because the kid loves him so much (I’m not saying they took him; only demonstrating how attractive he is). The vet even told me that if we ever decided we didn’t want him any more, she’d take him. The woman sees hundreds of cats a week and she wanted mine – that’s how great he is. And now he’s gone and we are not happy people. In a few minutes, I’m going to put up ‘lost cat’ posters around the neighbourhood. I always feel badly for people when I see those up. I wish we hadn’t joined that club.

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For those who read about my kids using their remaining allowance buy their sister a tamagotchi and think I have sweet kids, I should post an update. We got the tamagotchi yesterday and Boo was delighted. By this morning, both Maya and Asher had demanded their money back. Maya was outrageously rude to me last night, so I revoked her allowance for this week and she responded by demanding I return the money she gave me for Boo. I didn’t. Asher was angry this morning when Boo wouldn’t allow him to do something with her tamagotchi and responded the same way. I told both of them that they had bought Boo the tamagotchi as a gift and one does not demand gifts be returned the moment you are upset. So just in case anyone got the impression that my children are freakishly generous, that should fix that delusion right up.

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The sun is out! The sun is out! It is sunny! The sun is shining right now! Blue sky! Oh happy, happy day!

It has been cloudy and rainy here for about 2 months, and I don’t live in Vancouver. I didn’t sign up for that. It was awful. This is better.

It actually came out yesterday too, but I had to edit my pieces for the little TV show I host so I was actually stuck in a small dark editing booth for much of the day yesterday. But it wasn’t even that bad, because I knew it was out there. Today is the one making the big difference, because not only am I sitting in the sun – home after running some errands during which I had to resist singing out loud as I bounced happily across the parking lot – but I feel much better, physically. I had some energy back. Having FM is like being a lizard – we slow down when it is cloudy and damp.

So, I was going to write about the TV show House today. I love that show, but it has really been pissing me off lately. But in honour of the sunshine, I’ve decided to only write about happy things. Today is a happy day.

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There’s a big, old-fashioned Santa Claus doll watching me as I type. Funny for someone who complains that Christmas decorations go up too early. And who’s Jewish.

When I went shopping with all the kids, we stumbled into the Christmas section at Loblaws. It is huge and impressive. They had nice Santas there. They also had some quite lovely hand-blown decorations, which the kids loved. I let them pick out a few for their grandparents’ tree, plus a Santa, as my mother has several nice old-fashioned dolls and this one will fit right in.

The kids had so much fun and it made me realize that what I said earlier about my kids not being on the outside of Christmas looking in is true in more than one respect. They don’t miss Christmas not only because they have strong Jewish identities, but because Christmas isn’t forbidden fruit for them. There’s no mystery. They get to go to my parents to decorate their tree every year. They put presents under the tree for them, eat roast turkey and pop open Christmas crackers. I have overheard them gloat to friends about getting to go to their grandparents for Christmas, and hear the surprise (and sometimes envy) in their friends’ voices, “What is Christmas like there?”

It is true that they really in no way consider it their holiday – they tell everyone that their Oma and Grampa celebrate it, so they get to go celebrate it with them. We don’t even spend Christmas day there any more, since my brother and I kept producing children and my parents decided having us all around at once was too much of a good thing. We go snow tubing at a great empty ski hill that blasts ultra-religious Christmas music out of the loudspeakers on Christmas day, totally mis-reading their clientelle of the day – us and all the other Jews up there.

So my kids are doubly lucky, having the best of both worlds and the nicest part is, they know it.

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My kids have recently become re-obsessed with their tamagotchis. Asher, of course, has lost his, but thanks to a just-lost baby tooth, had just enough money to buy himself a new one. Maya and Asher were playing with them last night and Boo made some vague comment about wishing she had one, but didn’t seem that hung up on them. Asher said he wished she had one too and I shushed him, saying that since she wasn’t too upset I didn’t want to dwell on it, as I don’t want pay to get her something she’s not quite old enough to figure out on her own. He kept trying to bring it back up, only to be silenced by my glares.

Then Maya and Asher appeared in front of me holding a couple of handfuls of change. They explained that they knew they didn’t have enough money to buy Boo a tamagotchi, but this was all they had, and if they gave it to me, would I kick in the rest? I was amazed. Boo wasn’t crying or begging or trying to get them to lend her one of theirs. They weren’t doing this to keep her away from their toys or get her to stop bugging them. They were doing it because they love playing with the tamagotchis and they wanted to include their little sister in the fun. So I took their money – about $6 after it was all counted – and when I pick Boo up from school after lunch, we are going out to let her pick a tamagotchi, because how can I say no to generosity like that?

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I was listening to Sounds Like Canada on the CBC this morning as I puttered around (for the Americans, CBC is our version of NPR). The host, Shelagh Rogers, was interviewing several women about a book they contributed, called Nobody’s Mother. It is about women who have chosen not to be mothers. It sounds like a fascinating book. The conversation certainly was.

I found the topic so compelling I wrote a letter. (It isn’t the first time, but I don’t do that often, either.) The gist of it was that I wish more women would make the same choice.

I really wanted kids. I always wanted kids. I wanted them so much that I was convinced something would go wrong when we started trying to have kids because somehow the fates would punish me for wanting it that much. I was very lucky. And yet, I find this job exhausting. Having kids is tough work, mentally and physically. Little kids are boring much of the time. Big kids can be remarkably cruel. None of them come with a manual and most parents I know live in fear of messing up, because messing up means ruining a life. Erk! The pressure.

One of my brothers, A and his wife K decided against kids long before they got married. Many people (but not those of us in his direct family who knew him well enough not to be remotely surprised) thought he’d outgrow it. Their decision was dismissed by most people as immaturity for as long as they could get away with that, but now that A and K are heading solidly into their 30s with no sign of wavering, the ‘immaturity’ label is getting old. The ‘selfish’ label just keeps on working, though.

These are two very productive members of society. They have good jobs, they volunteer. As vegans, wearers of organic clothing and careful recyclers, they step more lightly on the earth than most Canadians (because really, once you have kids, who has the time?) They are great with kids and their nieces and nephews, who despite not getting to see them for months at a time because they live across the country, adore them.

I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the people who attack my brother and sister-in-law for their choice and try so hard to drag them into the fold are just jealous that A and K figured out not to have kids before it was too late. Their attackers just wish they’d had enough brains to come to the same conclusion before they threw their lives away and got trapped in parenting hell.

I’m not saying all parenting is hell. (Although all parenting is hell some of the time.) It is utter heaven at others time, as long as you are happy being a parent. But for those who just bumbled along, conforming to society’s expectation, and had a child they didn’t really, really want because they didn’t think about they really really wanted beforehand, parenting is hell. And I bet they wished they had the wisdom and self-awareness to realize that this is not the life for them, before they actually had a kid and found out the hard way.

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Shabbat

I pretty much hate making dinner. I hate trying to figure out what to feed everyone, I hate the chopping and I hate the fact that no matter what I make, someone will make an awful face and demand to know why I would try to kill him/her with this crap. I hate cleaning up worst of all.

I like baking, probably because no one ever looks at brownies and says, “What is this? Ick!” And they never say, “Brownies, again?” either.

But I love making Shabbat dinner, which is a special Friday night dinner many Jewish families make to welcome in the sabbath, which in Jewish tradition starts the evening before. I love it for two petty reasons: it is easy and no one says “Yuck.”

When the kids were little, I’d make whatever and we’d light the candles, maybe say a blessing over the wine, and that was it. But somewhere around when Boo was born, I decided I wanted to go whole hog (so to speak) on Friday night dinner. Matzah ball soup, roast chicken, challah, the works.

It turned out to be much easier than I expected. Frequently, we buy the challah, but sometimes the kids and I make it, particularly on holidays or when they are off school early, because making bread – especially bread you can braid – is just plain fun.

Soup is random, since I have to start it a couple days before. That’s my big goal – soup every week. I only make it from scratch, which means much boiling, deboning and fat-skimming.

I make great roast chicken. I get many compliments. Here’s my secret: buy a kosher bird. That’s it. Buy, put it in a pan, roast it. If I’m feeling energetic, I smush garlic cloves into its armpits, but that is as much as I ever do.

The other big compliment-getter, the potatoes. I roast them too. Those take a little work, because I have to scrub the potatoes. But then I just cut them up, place them in a pan and pour a little olive oil, lemon juice and salt in. Since I just pour random amounts in, sometimes they are too salty or lemony, but really, they hard to screw up.

Lastly, a vegetable and I go easy here too. I use the excuse that the kids like basic better, but it is also just laziness. Last Friday, I steamed green beans, but got inventive and tossed them with sesame oil and sesame seeds. Big hit.

My big deviation from the traditional Shabbat dinner is that I make gravy – this is my WASPy addition to dinner. I swear, no Jews I know make gravy. Since J can’t eat wheat, it took me years to perfect gravy, but I was determined. The trick turned to be to just use straight chicken stock and thicken it was cornstarch.

We do other good stuff around Shabbat too, now. We have this cool contraption for pouring the kiddish wine (grape juice), and another cool thing for letting the kids light the candles safely. A couple of years ago, I spent hours sneaking off for a bit of time here and there to a paint-it-yourself pottery place to make the kids their own Shabbat candleholders. (Only Maya and Asher have one, as the store had only two left of these shaped-candleholders. I’m still in search of a third to make one for Boo.)

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When I was a kid, my grandmother came over every Saturday for dinner, and for many years, a bachelor uncle did too. He brought us treasured yellow apples as a treat. He also gave me the crispy skin off his piece of chicken. My mom made roast chicken or beef (and always gravy!), and I have many warm, fuzzy memories of those dinners. When I was a kid, we had no religious rituals, which didn’t mean we had no rituals, and the familiarity and family made me feel warm and safe. I’m sure my kids love Friday dinners for the same reason, and so do I. I love to sing the prayers with my kids and see their delight when they light their candles.

But I also love it because it is the one night I don’t have to think about what to make for dinner and everyone loves what I make. Let’s hear it for ritual!

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