Monthly Archives: February 2009

25 things I am grateful for today.

When I find myself overwhelmed, exhausted, and at my wit’s end, I make a gratitude list (or I lock myself in the bathroom).  It is the only way I am able to put everything into perspective and focus on what’s important and let go of needless anxieties.

Today I am grateful for…

1.  A house that is vomit-free.

2.  Thursday night conversations with friends on politics (school choices), religion (the best carbs in the city), world peace (managing households), and the complex differences between the sexes (husband-critiquing).

3.  The lessons of self-confidence, teamwork, and determination that #1 has learned today in her volleyball conference finals…which resulted in victory.

4.  Not bursting into tears of pride and joy, and not hobbling to embrace her as she celebrates on the court with her teammates.  (I think she was mortified enough during the game as I cheered like a true volleyball/soccer/softball mom.)

5.  The kids trying their best not to wake me up this morning as they try to play “quietly” with their homemade instruments while loudly whispering, “Tiptoe!  You might wake up Mom!”

6.  My kids and their love of reading.  (This year they had asked Santa for books.)  They may have inherited this love from their parents (who also asked Santa for books this year).  Or maybe they love reading because every time they say, “I’m bored,”  I give them a choice to either grab a book or clean the.. (insert undesirable item here).

I love this.

I love this.

7.  The Saviour…for both picking up the kids today for a few hours and picking up dinner (for more info on “The Saviour, read here).  This gave me enough time to sit down for 10 minutes, answer emails, fold laundry, work on a scrapbooking project, take a shower, clear the dining room table, tidy the living room, go to the bathroom, and of course, take a deep breath.

8.   Ever-patient.  Enough said.

9.  This picture of my house when it is clean.  It gives me hope that it can look like that again someday.  (sigh)

i miss you.

i miss you.

10.  A dishwasher.

11.  An unexpected yet much-appreciated visit from family for no other reason than to spend time with my kids.. (Thank you, “Strong Silent Sr.”  They love you and the 6-foot caterpillar which #3 has lovingly named “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”)

12.  Sunshine in February.

13.  #3’s explanation for everything….  Me: Why aren’t you changed yet?  #3: Because I love you.  Me: Why did you push your sister? #3: Because I love you.  Me: Why are you dancing?  There’s no music.  #3: Because I love you.

14.  A Shower.  Correction: An uninterrupted shower.

15.  A house full of laughter and silliness.

16.  Paper + Crayons = 30 minutes Mom has to put away 5 loads of laundry plus unpack the suitcase that has been sitting in the corner for 7 weeks.

17.  Bananas.  The only thing that will keep #4 in her high chair for at least 10 minutes.

Go ahead..eat the peel...it's roughage.

Go ahead..eat the peel...it's roughage.

18.  Being a stay-at-home mom.  I do realize how lucky I am.

19.  The library…because it’s entertaining, educational, and it’s FREE.

20.  Pretend voodoo dolls.

21.  Random acts of kindness.  (#4 trips and falls.  Normally, #2 and #3 just walk right over her, ignoring her cries.  Today, they bent down and said, “You ok?”  At which point, #4 screams at them and hits them in the face  because she just wants mommy.)

22.  Having girls who LOVE hand-me-downs.  The younger sister waits patiently for the day that the older sister offers a piece of clothing to her.  When the idolized older sister finally chooses to part with an item, she tosses it to the younger one who then, like a rockstar’s groupie, smells it lovingly, jumps for joy, and embraces the older sister for her unparalleled generosity.

23.  The ankle episode.  Because of the ankle, we’ve saved money (I haven’t been able to go out to spend any), the kids have learned to be more self-sufficient, I am more appreciated, and I get priority seating wherever we go.  Bonus.

24.  #2’s love notes.  They appear just when you need them most.

intuitive AND stylish.

intuitive AND stylish.

25.  This campaign. It has made me more conscious of how I am raising my daughters.

Most of my list is comprised of simple things.  They may not mean much to your life, but they make such a difference in mine.  Remember: most times, it’s the little things, those tiny silver linings we tend to take for granted, that slowly help us climb down from that ledge overlooking the deep chasm of insanity…

Although, locking yourself in the bathroom to weep and play with #20 helps too.

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i need these.

File Folders for Everyday Crap.

File Folders for Everyday Crap.

Love this set of file folders from Knock Knock.

Won’t this make filing enjoyable?

what doesn’t kill you…

I am in the kitchen preparing lunch and the 3 little ones are on the Orient Express traveling through the Far East, and are now on their way to the Himalayas to scale Mount Everest.  In order to gain my permission to embark on this gargantuan trek, they promise to get me a postcard at the gift shop since all natural wonders have gift shops, right? (Their only point of reference here is Niagara Falls so its understandable that they figure that they can hitch a ride on a mechanical trolley if they get tired on their way down from the mountain and stop at the gift shop for a souvenir shot glass with the mountain on it and take photos with a fully-costumed abominable snowman.)  As you have probably guessed, this is one of their pretend journeys.  They line up 3 dining room chairs, equip them with pillows, snacks, and blankets, and voila! you have an instant choo-choo train.  Some days it’s off to Italy for gelato and pasta (Frankie’s favourite) or Punta Cana for pina coladas and much-needed sun (Joey’s favourite).  With my bum foot, I can narrate adventures from the couch, the kitchen, and even the bathroom if need be.  So today, Mount Everest is actually our stairs with skipping ropes tied to the railing to mimic belaying so that one climber pretends to hold the ropes as the other climbs.  Each climber has their winter gear on and a tool belt with plastic sand castle tools to be used as crampons and ice axes.  And of course, #4 is their sherpa.

All is well, they’ve planted their flag at the top and everyone makes it back down the mountain in one piece and they board the train for the next destination.  Just as they begin to sing their train song, I hear a cough.  My head perks up over our breakfast bar and the kids are already at maximum volume, singing together as they are on their way now to Hong Kong for dim sum.  I now to try to convince myself that this “cough” I heard could have just been imagined or was really an off-sounding burp?  I’ve experienced enough winters with the kids to know that no cough is just A cough.  I hear it again a while later.  This time I identify the culprit -#4.  Reminiscent to timing the span between my contractions, I track her coughs methodically.  They are still too far apart to confirm illness but there are enough coughs that I can’t rule it out either.  Cue the anxiety and the clementines.  It’s dinnertime and it’s her favourite – pasta, but she takes one bite and then she pushes her plate away.  No appetite.  Crap.  Here we go.

The dry cough is persistent through the night and like an unscratch-able itch, it keeps her up and irritated for most of the night.  This means that Ever-Patient and I are up for most of the night.  Of course, the moment that the alarm goes off in the morning coincides with the moment #4 finally enters a deep sleep.  Time for Ever-Patient to get up and wake up #1 for a.m. volleyball practice.  With #4 finally sleeping soundly sans cough, and resting on my arm, I dare not move even though the whole left side of my body is numb, my ankle is throbbing, and my back is on fire.  As if driven by instinct or compassion or a monetary reward secretly promised by Ever-Patient, #2 and #3 are on their best behaviour while I tend to their baby sister.  The sneezing and runny nose have now joined their compatriots: the cough, the irritability, and the mild fever.  All I can do now is pray that this is a teething episode and watch like a hawk that no one shares cups and stays at least 10 feet away from the baby.

As I cradle my new hip attachment, #4, I hear a cough from the other side of the room.  For a split second, most likely due to sleep deprivation, I marvel at #4’s new ventriloquist-like skill at throwing her cough.  #3 is now coughing.  Let the games begin.  Within a week, all 3 little ones are sick.  They are all at different stages in the life-cycle of this cold.  The onslaught of symptoms are on a one-day time delay.  (You may be wondering about #1.  She knows the drill.  As if there was a SARS-outbreak, she wears a surgical mask and rubber gloves and avoids contact with her mucus-spewing sisters).  We stay at my aunt’s, the Godmother, for the weekend, along with my grandfather,  and the kids’ spirits are lifted.  New surroundings, a High School Musical 3 marathon, and doting aunts and uncles definitely make them less cranky which makes mom less cranky.  I am optimistic.  Maybe tonight is the night we all get a good night’s sleep.  Or not.  It is another night of listening to whimpers from #3’s subconscious, and what almost seems like, in my delirious state, a symphony of congested coughs synchronized to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

By the end of the weekend, it seems that the 3 have all turned a corner.  After a bucketful of meds, magical tea (made by aunt), and old movies (of which only my grandfather and I enjoyed), I was finally able to breathe easy.  I thanked my aunt and her family for their gracious (and lifesaving) hospitality, and felt rested as we journeyed back home.  We survived.

Or so we thought.

After chastising myself for staying up to finish the Oscars, I went up to bed and listened for the now-familiar symphonic coughing.  Silence.  This is it.  It’s finally within my reach.  A good night’s sleep.  I lay my head down beside #4, who apparently still needs comforting in her recovery process, and actually fall asleep.  I dream that I hear paint splatter.  Was I dreaming? I turn to Ever-Patient and tell him incoherently about something that might have been spilled and he turns over.  Is this still a dream?  Then I hear a pitter patter that enters our room.  I don’t see anyone, yet I call out, “What happened?”  I hear, “I threw up.”  Half-awake still, I push Ever-Patient out of bed for the reconaissance mission.  He shuts our door, turns on the hall lights and a half hour later, two newly-bathed children crawl into bed with me and the alarm goes off.  For a more detailed account of that half hour, read Ever-Patient’s upcoming blog post here.  To sum it up, the “paint splatter” I heard in my dream, was actually the sound of #2’s vomit hitting a surface – which wasn’t the floor or the wall, but #3’s face.  You’d think that this would be the end of their cozy sleeping arrangement, but #3 forgives #2 by the time she gets up and has completely forgotten that a few hours earlier she was screaming hysterically whilst covered in last night’s dinner thanks to her sister.  As I warm up my ankle, testing its range of motion before getting out of bed, I prepare myself for what could possibly be a round of the stomach flu while still hobbling on one foot.  This is my own personal Everest.

Oh God, please let this be food poisoning.

25 unwritten rules in our house.

In every household, there are rules that are repeated like “Don’t leave your shoes in the doorway,” “Keep your room tidy,” and “No snacks before dinner.”  However, there are always those unwritten rules that, as a family, are never verbalized, but to ensure your survival and maintain some degree of sanity in the house, you must ALL learn quickly.  Here is that list for our household:

  1. When #1 is taking a shower, keep an ear out because 90% of the time you will hear her scream, “I FORGOT  MY TOWEL!”  (6 people and 1 tiny upstairs bathroom does not allow for 6 towels to be hanging on the towel rack, therefore, everyone is responsible for remembering to bring their own towel to the bathroom).
  2. The only 3 things that push Ever-Patient over the edge:  used tissue lying around, empty plastic bags, and open umbrellas indoors.
  3. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER touch anything that belongs to #2.
  4. Do NOT let Mom brush your hair if she was just in a fight with Daddy.
  5. If Mom or Dad are working out in the living room, don’t speak to them, just walk along the perimeter of the walls to get to a different room and watch out for flying kettlebells.  (For more info on this, visit Ever-Patient’s Blog.)
  6. Never wake up Mom…ESPECIALLY if Dad is home, even if he’s asleep.
  7. #3 NEEDS at least 17 hugs, 5 movie kisses, and 23 “I love you’s” daily.
  8. Always remind #2 to go to the bathroom before you ask her and her sisters to clear the dishwasher.  (Lately, once we utter, “Clear the dishwasher please, girls!” #2 claims she has to go to the bathroom badly and proceeds to stay there until the dishwasher is almost halfway cleared.  You gotta give her credit for her creative dodginess.)
  9. If Dad is making torta (always with extra-large chunks  of veggies) for dinner, you know he is not pleased with your behaviour.  (Torta results in dinner resembling a ‘Fear Factor’ episode of noses being plugged and gagging, and of course, a lecture on children in third-world countries who are starving).
  10. Summer clothes STAY in the summer clothes bin and are not to be worn off-season UNLESS you can convince Mom of the fashion relevance of the item and combine it tastefully with an existing winter ensemble.  (At the present time, only #2 has succeeded at this…)
  11. NEVER, NEVER, ask Dad for permission if Mom has already given an emphatic “NO.”  However, if Mom answers, “Go ask you Dad,” she wants to say “Yes” but doesn’t want to appear weak.  In this scenario, run straight to Dad, give him the ol’ puppy-dog eyes, hug him tight, and say “pretty please” in your sweetest voice.  Now watch him melt into the floor and say “Yes.”  And don’t forget to try to ask for a dog at this point.
  12. For straight-forward homework help, ask Dad.  If you want to be given mock tests, be assigned supplemental essays on the subject you need help with, and are jonesing to do an artistic interpretation of the math problem, ask Mom.
  13. To make Mom weep with joy, get along with your sisters.  To make Dad weep with joy, show him you can hold a plank for one minute and then immediately do 10 perfect squats.
  14. When Dad offers you a snack, be prepared to be given one or all of the above: a banana, blueberries, an apple, cow or sheep yogurt, a protein shake, or some type of raw vegetable (and hear the benefits these snacks have on your body).  When Mom offers you a snack, be prepared to be given one or all of the above:  freshly baked cookies, homemade donuts, popcorn with brown sugar, or store-bought cupcakes…

    There are also a bowl of carrots on the table...just in case...

    There are also a bowl of carrots on the table...just in case...

  15. If you want to stay up late, ask Dad to show you how to do a proper chin-up and what you need to do to be able to do one.
  16. For bedtime stories, Mom has a larger repertoire of character voices.  (The favourites are Mom’s “Sebastian” from Little Mermaid – complete with Jamaican accent and Mom’s dead-on imitation of Elmo.)
  17. To cut through any tension in the house, say the word “boobies.”
  18. NEVER watch Lord of the Rings without all 6 members present.
  19. If #3 is in a funk, angry, or frustrated, play some Beyonce, Lady Gaga or Alicia Keys and watch her live up to her stage-name, “Sparkles.”
  20. Ball-playing is ALLOWED in the house.
  21. NEVER play the card game, “Speed,” against Mom. (She is an unsportsmanlike winner and her victory dance is tasteless.)
  22. Chain of command:  Mom – Dad – #1 – #2 – #3 – #4.  Never pull rank or go above your ranking officer.
  23. If one child gets into trouble and the other 3 are present, EVERYONE is in trouble.  (E.g. Mom: “So nobody saw the baby take all 300 tissues out of the tissue box?… So… which is it? You weren’t looking after your sister OR you saw her and did nothing about it?”  #1 (hissing at the other 2): “Don’t answer, it’s a trick question.”)
  24. On weekdays, you may not leave the upstairs unless you are changed out of pajamas, have brushed your teeth, peed, and have washed your face. (Dad!)
  25. Our family motto:  #1. “We don’t know ‘CAN’T’ in this family.”  AND…# 2.  ” I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan

What are some of your unwritten household rules?  Leave a comment.  Change the names of loved ones if you’re afraid of retribution…

Happy Friday.

search for the holy grail.

It’s a journey that is arduous, exhausting, and often confusing.  A quest full of dead ends, tight timelines, and hard-fought battles to find this most-coveted treasure.  It can be a labyrinth of cryptic instructions, convoluted processes, and perceived impossibilities.

As a parent, you have faced this daunting task at least once, and for some, sadly, it can become an annual event.  But should you survive the competition, miraculously complete your mission, defeating the odds, you will enjoy the ultimate spoils of the victorious, the “holy grail” of parenthood: you will find the right school for your child.

For all those non-parents, parents-to-be, or brand new parents, you may ask yourself the following questions:

  • “Oh, please.  I went to a perfectly good public school/Catholic school down the street.  Just enrol your kid in the neighbourhood school.  What’s the big deal?”
  • “I just had a baby.  Do I really need to start worrying about that kind of stuff?”
  • “You’re being a tad elitist.  For some people, private schools are not even an option so what decision is there to be made except the local school down the street?”
  • “Isn’t the only debate between private and public schooling?”

I WISH it were that simple and for a lot of people it is.  But sometimes it is a simple decision only because most people aren’t fully aware of ALL the options that are available (now’s a good time to pop an Advil).  The “public or private” debate seems like the most common conundrum when in fact, for the purposes of this post and in relation to my own circumstances, we are not going to even add elementary/secondary private schooling into this discussion.  Bottom line: 4 children = public schooling.

Now most people would assume that the local public school is the only option and there really aren’t many choices anyway.  Here are some things to consider:

  • If you have no children but are planning to have some in the near future, you may want to research schools and relocate accordingly because public schools are not all created equal and you may have to pay a premium to get into an area with an exceptional school…but at least you know you will get a great re-sale value on your home.
  • If you are pregnant or have a newborn, chances are you will be going back to work on the anniversary of your child’s birth.  During the first year, you will not only have to cope with meeting the physical needs of this new member of the household, adapting to life with a baby, deal with the transition of your relationship with your husband from spouse to roommate, ward off over-bearing, newly-annointed “grandparents,” manage hormones that seem to eliminate all emotional restraint and rational thought, you will also have to make a decision about childcare for when you return to your job.   As the date approaches, you will be having sleepless nights over the pending separation anxiety (that most probably YOU will feel more than your child), suffocating guilt, and you will second-guess your decision to go the daycare/montessori/nanny route every day.
  • If you are among the lucky and fortunate who are able to stay at home with their children, you may be lulled into a false sense of comfort in thinking that you are spared from the schooling decision for a few years.  However, 3 to 4 years can fly by and if your child has not been prepped for school through countless playdates, lessons in social interaction, and drop-off preschool programs or part-time/full-time Montessori attendance where they can learn independence and conquer separation anxiety, you will find a difficult journey ahead of you – remember #2 who went into hysterical convulsions during her first year of school?  Well, she attended Montessori for a year and a half before kindergarten and STILL had a meltdown…
  • Every year around this time, mid-Jan to late Feb, parents are scrambling (present company included) to attend information nights, acquire application packages, attend interviews (the child too in some cases), and dissect their research on potential schools for their children to attend next September.  To give you an idea of how this can lead to certain madness, possible divorce proceedings, and future family therapy sessions, the following outlines our own painstaking process this year…

I have 3 children who will all be in the Toronto public school system in September 2009.  My oldest currently attends a large public school (our home school) with great athletic teams, my second is in SK who attends the same school as the oldest but is in the French Immersion program, and my third is home with me but her schedule during the week is so full of activity that I am seriously considering a daytimer just for her weekly commitments.  (The fourth is just along for the ride at this point, but soon will be enrolled in some toddler-mommy programs just to get her feet wet.)  We have been thoroughly satisfied with the school (although the oldest laments that she should be in the French program too and tries to hide her sibling-envy as best as she can especially when #2 answers my English questions in French while she, the older one, is dying of boredom learning her colours in French).  In our public school system, the traditional entry points are only in SK and Grade 4…

3 down...1 to go.

3 down...1 to go.

(Just to backtrack quickly, prior to the school they attend now, #1 and #2 attended an alternative school, but because we moved homes, we also changed their school – although I did try the 45-minute commute to the alternative school for one year, which actually totaled 90 minutes in the car when you factored in the journey home.  Having a DVD player in our van for the commute helped but I just couldn’t do it anymore.  My breaking point wasn’t the wintertime when we had to leave an extra half an hour earlier (7:20am) to account for the weather, or getting 4 kids to bed at 7pm so they could wake up at 6:45am, or construction detours, or enduring the onslaught of road rage, it was listening to the movie High School Musical 1 or 2 for 10 months because according to one child, “headphones makes my ears sweaty.” To clarify, alternative schools are public schools that teach the same province-wide curriculum but deliver it in a different way.  Normally, there are entry requirements and an application process to see if your child is a good fit for the school which is well within the alternative school mandate.  For example, both my daughters had an “observation” appointment in kindergarten in which the teachers observed their behaviour in the classroom environment and I had to fill out an application with some short-answer questions.  One of the benefits of this particular alternative school was few classes, small class sizes, multi-age learning, high parental involvment, and teaching through facilitators and field trips.  The biggest realized benefit was the fact that my eldest daughter had the same teacher for 4 years straight.  The teacher knew my daughter so well that she could sense when something was off with her and would check in with me which went something like this: “Are you pregnant again?” “Yup.” “That explains why she seems distracted in class.”  (By the way, this conversation was repeated 3 times.)  Leaving the alternative school was difficult because leaving this small-sized community atmosphere led to many unwilling but necessary goodbyes….don’t even get me started on how tough it was to say goodbye to the Montessori where #3 was attending..)

Back to our current dilemma.  The problem I face is that their current school ends at Grade 5.  This means my oldest will be attending an even larger middle school (with lockers…eeek!).  I had just mentally resigned myself to the fact that she would be entering her highly volatile pubescent years at this school where she was at risk of getting lost in the crowds, cliques, and cafeteria food.  (I know that middle school is the norm for a large portion of the general population, but I still cling to this utopian image of all my daughters attending the same school, playing at recess together, experiencing the same teachers, and most importantly, having one drop-off and pick-up destination.)  But then, as if the heavens opened up, I received their monthly school newsletter and discovered in tiny print that a new alternative school was opening 10 minutes away.  I immediately logged in to the accompanying website and became increasingly giddy (almost hearing choirs of angels sing) as I read all the details:  the school, in mission and spirit, resembled their old alternative school (yes!), the application deadline was still a month away (yes!), we didn’t miss the info night (yes!).  I hadn’t realized that I was squealing with delight until I noticed that the household activity screeched to a halt.  No one could understand the reason for the squeal since there was no chocolate or a clean house in sight.  I babbled something along the lines of: new school…close by…all the kids …close by …alternative …new …September …close by…hooray.  Needless to say, we attended the info night which was held in the school’s gymnasium which would be shared with the public school that the building already housed.  Let me give you an idea of the turnout.  They were expecting 100 people but 350 people showed up fighting for chairs, elbowing their way up to the front to get a better view of the powerpoint presentation, and all the while, excited as if the cure for cancer was finally found.  (I, of course, hobbled in and scored some sympathy seating for the both myself and Ever-Patient).  Having attended multiple info nights, open houses, and school tours over the last 11 years, we know what to expect.  The key to any good presentation is the messenger…just think of how many people have bought those “Sham-Wows,” the glorified J-Cloths.  Also, all the relevant info – the deadlines, the application process,the acceptance procedure – are left to the end.  So…10 minutes into this, I turn and mouth, “I am so sorry” to Ever-Patient only to see that he is furiously taking notes in his Moleskine.  Impressed yet pleasantly surprised at his eagerness to take such interest in the presentation, I grab the notebook to see if I missed something pertinent since I had just fallen into a daydream about clean laundry, only to find a lengthy grocery list and topics for future blog posts.  2 hours later, the presentation behind schedule, and a throbbing headache, we give up and head for the nearest exit, grabbing an application on the way out.  This set off some type of domino effect because as we stepped out the gym doors, we caught a glimpse of parents who were on the same wavelength (but lacked the cajones) to leave early, start to slowly get up, grab applications, and walk briskly out the door.  Then the frenzy to grab applications, as if this was the only oasis in a desert, began.  When I say “Holy Grail,” I am NOT exaggerating.

Leaving the info night, I have mixed feelings.  At first, I am hopeful for my eldest who has thrived in an alternative environment before and loves independent learning and has always felt comfortable in smaller school settings.  I am also excited at the prospect of all 3 children attending the same school in this “whole child” environment which promises to encompass Waldorf, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and inquiry-based philosophies.  Think back to your own schooling – sitting at a desk, filling out educational workbooks, memorizing facts, and listening to a teacher lecture.  Fun?  More like a lesson in how to suppress every natural childhood inclination.  What if, instead, during the primary years and not just kindergarten, you were allowed to enjoy a learning centre of your choice and once gaining confidence, were softly encouraged to try new centres?  What if all subjects were intertwined as you learned about nature and sustainable growth through a hands-on class, taught outside in the school garden? Learning is not a chore with you questioning the relevance of what you are learning, but can be seen now as a lifelong endeavour since what you are learning is being directly applied to reality and how you are learning is based on connections between all the disciplines.  #3 would absolutely bloom in this atmosphere since it will also be heavily arts-based.  Ever-Patient brings me back down from my lofty perch and says, “Joey is thriving in French Immersion.  She LOVES it…and she has not been anxious or has had a hyperventilating hysterical incident all year.”  Oh crap.  Here comes the Pro/Con List.  Ever-Patient runs for the nearest emergency exit.  Then I read the new alternative school’s website and it says that K to Grade 4 is guaranteed but offering the older grades will depend upon the demand.  Double crap.  AND…. in the event of receiving more applications than spots available, for this year only, a lottery will be held (which looks likely if the large mob crowd on info night was any indication).  Triple crap.

We hand in the applications and leave it up to destiny, fate, and lady luck.  As the pros and cons are still discussed, a new prong in our proverbial “fork in the road” appears.  The oldest comes home, so electrified she could light a small city with the amount of energy she is emanating, and shoves a paper in my face and says something to effect of: French…me…Can I?…Please…Fill this out…where’s my report card??…20%…French…   I look at the paper and it says “Late French Immersion Program” in big, bold letters.  Unbeknownst to me, the school board, in eliminating the Grade 7 insertion point into the French Immersion Program, is inserting at Grade 6 and this program will be housed in the middle school where all her friends will be attending in September, but in a separate wing of the school.  We did not miss the application deadline and we will be attending the info night soon.  A completed application form and her latest report card is required.  Academic excellence will be the number one criteria and as for any remaining spaces, you can have one guess as to how they will be filled…yep, a lottery.  Curve ball.  The pool of students is smaller in the immersion side and she will still have access to fabulous facilities and winning sports teams in the middle school which also happens to be in walking distance.

My head spins as we consider all the factors.  What is best for each child? Can I handle the logistics of 3 different schools? If the kids go to the smaller school without the capacity for a good sports team, can we supplement this with competitive play at the club level?  Will we be able to keep up with the extracurricular schedules if either arts or sports need to be supplemented since participation in both sports and the arts are mandatory in our family?  Does being bilingual, in the end, open the most doors?  Socially, where will they be most comfortable?  Will it benefit their sibling relationship for all 4 of them to potentially be in the same school at the same time?  Does it matter in the end where they go to school if they are given a solid foundation with respect to their personal character at home?  How does each child adapt to change?  Do I really want to fill out ANOTHER application form (at this point, I have unwillingly memorized their health card numbers, confused names and birthdays, and have toyed with filling in the “Relationship to Child” field with creative responses like “Average” or “She had me at ‘hello'”)?

Of course, having 4 kids adds a definite multiple to these factors but the options can be just as immense for a family with an only child.  As parents, we are still getting to know our children because they are not just extensions of ourselves but individuals who are finding their own rhythm in life.   As a parent, you instinctively know when a school just isn’t a right fit and if you leave them in this environment, the child slowly becomes disinterested and regrettably, becomes satisfied with mediocrity and half-ass effort (like fitting a square peg into a hole).  At the end of the day, we want our children to thrive, feel safe, enjoy childhood, and have healthy self-esteem especially as they get older and will need to be prepared for unexpected situations, encounter failure and disappointment, and face difficult choices. So maybe, the holy grail is NOT finding the right school, but the never-ending, tumultuous yet rewarding journey we commit to in finding our child.

As we await acceptance or “better-luck-next-time” letters, as I like to call them, we continue the Pro/Con discussions even though a lottery may take the decision out of our hands in the end.  I take comfort in the fact that we have done all that we can with respect to this leg of our parenting journey, have faith that whatever happens is supposed to happen, and remind myself to savour each moment with my children because it won’t be long until I lose another one to a full-day grade one class, one to half-day JK, and the other to the abyss of adolescence.   I take a deep breath… and promise myself not to start the preschool (for #4) or high school (for #1) conversations until the end of summer.

family day.

This post is dedicated to all families – especially ones with baggage, dysfunction, and a whole lot of laughter…just like mine.

For those of you who live in Ontario, Canada, it was a stat holiday yesterday – Family Day.  Everything in town had family-themed promotions and encouraged families to go out and spend time together whilst spending some money.  I was convinced that crowds, patches of snow, and hobbling on crutches would just lead to some sort of catastrophe, resulting in one or more meltdowns (I could guarantee mine).  I can just picture a leisurely trip to the Ontario Science Centre gone wrong as the children sprint in different directions and then being promptly faced with the decision of either navigating my way through the exhibits at a full gallop (which is how my children have described my three-legged walk at full speed, “Wow, mom, you’re like a magic horse with 3 legs!”) OR choose to avoid re-injury and avoid trampling a small child and just pray they inherited their father’s street-smarts and wait for them to return at our designated meeting spot….

Final Decision: Stay home.

We decide to just stay in, lay a few mattresses down in the basement, and watch some movies together.  Let me remind you that the kids are between the ages of 1 and 10.  So when I say, “watch movies,” I also mean build forts, have UFC tournaments, engage in doll play, endure tickle fights, play the Don’t-Let-Daddy-Take-A-Nap Game, and of course,  have a movie playing in the background, just in case.  The kids adore family time together, especially when the 6 of us can all sleep together in one room on the floor (I did play the cripple card and took the “comfy couch.”)  The afternoon is winding down and the kids are getting restless so we send them outside to play.  #3 and #4 enjoy a wagon ride thanks to #1 who happily tows them up and down our street.  After several outfit changes, #2 eventually joins her sisters outside and amuses herself with the sidewalk chalk.  Ever-Patient and I sit by the window and just enjoy watching our kids.  Aaaahhh, Family Day.

Then the phone rings.  It is around 4:00pm and Ever-Patient and I are debating whether or not we should answer the phone.  Who can it possibly be? The Saviour (my father) just got off a grueling weekend shift, my mother is on a cruise, and my in-laws are on a mission in the Philippines.  We answer the phone and it is “The Godmother.”  My aunt is my mother’s sister and she also happens to be my godmother who has been extremely supportive of us and loves to get our family together.  My cousins, her son and daughter, and my godmother have a rather strange addiction loving fascination to my children so I know why she is calling.  Here is the phone conversation in its entirety:

Me: Hello?

GM: What are you doing?

Me (in a suspicious tone):  Watching the kids playing outside…why?

GM (in a non-chalant way with an undertone of urgency):  We’re going for a late lunch/early dinner at Sam Woo (chinese restaurant in Scarborough, Ontario).  Wanna come?

Me (pausing because I really don’t want to change out of my pajamas… but I know the kids would love to hang out with my cousins…but it’s so far to go…but I don’t want to eat leftovers for dinner…)

GM (interrupting my thoughts and in an almost triumphant way):  Lolo will be there.

Me (thinking): Damn it! She’s good.

Me (waving the white flag of surrender):  What time?

GM (now gloating): 4:30pm.

Me: Ok. (Hang up phone)

I turn to Ever-Patient and ask if we can go meet my extended family at a restaurant 35 minutes away…and that we need to be there in 25 minutes….and we still need to “freshen up.”  He is not amused and just as he is about to utter a word in disagreement, I say, “Lolo will be there.” He says nothing, takes a deep breath, and proceeds to go upstairs to change.   The kids are ecstatic and we get to Sam Woo in record time.  Ever-Patient drops us off at the entrance and before I can get my busted foot out the passenger door, my cousins are already helping the kids out of the van and into the restaurant.  When I find myself standing alone, trying to get the door open and slip myself inside without getting my cast caught in the doorway, and look up to see the kids already at the table with everyone’s face lit up (including my Lolo’s), I realize that my children are the main attraction in this 3-ring circus, and I am the sideshow freak with one leg that no one pays to see.  Ah well, at least my kids are so loved.  Then I sit, and Ever-Patient walks in and circles the table at least twice trying to find a seat and as he takes matters into his own hands and grabs a chair from a neighbouring table and squeezes in beside me, I feel bad because even though I may be the sideshow, at least I’m in the show.  What a trooper.

All in all, at the table, we have managed to fit my family of 6, 3 of my cousins, 3 aunts, 2 uncles, and my one happy grandfather.  As we all settle in with food starting to arrive, my aunt’s phone rings and she has managed to convince more family members to join us.  I am pretty sure that our current table of 15 (which really holds only 10) is at maximum capacity.  It is decided that all the “kids” be moved to the adjacent table.  I start to move and Ever-Patient looks at me and says, “We HAVE kids.  Therefore, we ARE NOT the kids.”  Right.  I push aside my aging complex and start eating.

I am sitting beside my Lolo.  For a refresher on my Lolo, read this post.  I notice he is wearing his fedora with the brim lower than usual.  I look closer at his face and discern a cut that has been freshly scabbed over between his eyes.  I approach even closer, turning my head up, straining every muscle in my neck, to peer under the brim, and I notice another fresh cut on the forehead.  At this point, I am contorting my entire neck and am basically looking up my grandfather’s nose, when he looks down at me like a kid caught stealing from a piggy bank and says, “The roulette ball jumped right off the table and hit me in the face…and I’m sticking to that story.”  I flash an inquisitive and accusing look at my aunts and uncles who instantly act like conspirators in a cover-up.  No one is talking.  I would totally buy the “roulette ball” explanation considering they had taken Lolo to CasinoRama over the weekend, but my grandfather is a horse-guy and I have seen these type of cuts on his face before on more than one occasion.  They normally appear when he is alone and instead of asking for help or waiting for help to arrive, he attempts the task on his own, loses his balance, and does a face-plant.   His current cuts have “face-plant” all over it.  Normally, my aunts and uncles would be reprimanding him as they tell the story but the fact that this ridiculous “roulette ball” was fabricated leads me to believe that my grandfather is not just embarassed by the fall but there is some circumstance surrounding the fall that also embarasses my aunts and uncles.  After a soft interrogation, a kind where even my 3 year old could resist snitching, one of my aunts, we’ll call her “Yellow Loves Dogs” broke.  She admitted that my grandfather fell on the steps of the church near the casino.  Here is the conversation that followed:

Me (totally playing the bad cop): So you let him go to church alone, while you were off, hmmm, at the casino??

Yellow (shifty and anxious): No!  We all went to church together and…

(My uncles, we’ll call them “Pogi” and “Sleeps While Driving” start jumping into the conversation).

Sleeps: I was parking the car!

Pogi: I was holding the door!

Yellow: I was behind Lolo as he was going up the stairs to catch him just in case he fell back!

Then, the casebreaker:

My other aunt, we’ll call her “Spaghetti Gambler:” No, I was behind him.  You (pointing a betraying finger at Yellow) were already inside the church.

Yellow (under her breath): Judas.

Mystery solved.  In a rush to pray and give thanks to God, Yellow Loves Dogs was unavailable to break her 90 year old father’s fall as he tripped over the easily missed half-step and took a nose-dive.  (Afterword: Still bleeding profusely, my Lolo, God bless him, still insisted to go to Tim Hortons for a coffee and snack after the hour-long mass.  Knowing my aunt, she probably stayed after mass and went to confession.  Her own crippling guilt, brought about by her strict Catholic upbringing, I think, is punishment enough.  Love you Yellow!)

There was still something off with my Lolo.  Although the fedora was on, the side of his head looked strange.  My Lolo still takes pride in the little hair he has left and part of my job description as “granddaughter” involves taking him to the barber down the street from his apartment (of which I live only 5 minutes away) who he has been a patron of for at least 2o years.  Due to my injury, I have been unable to drive him because I still cannot carry the toddler to her car seat.  Pogi, my uncle, tells us that he took my grandfather to his own barber who is Chinese and cannot speak a word of English.  My grandfather and I wince at the same time.  He slowly removes the fedora to reveal a completely shaved head – Hare Krishna meets Kojak – and I cannot help but feel my latent yet strong Catholic guilt emerge.  Although I don’t call myself Catholic anymore, the guilt is like a tiny re-occuring rash that no cream can heal.  Here is the conversation that followed:

Me (horror strewn on my face):  What happened???

Lolo: I don’t know.  I tried to describe to him what I wanted but he couldn’t understand me.  He asked me if I wanted the ‘#1’ so I said, “Yes, I’ll take the ‘#1.'”

My grandfather looks up as if he can see the top of his bare head, shrugs his shoulders, and laughs.  I look at him: his new scars, his unwanted hair-do, him smiling as he looks across the two tables at all these people who adore him.  I look at my family: their quirks, their sarcasm, their love for my kids, and their sympathizing expressions for Ever-Patient.

This is what “family day” means – sharing a meal (and our Catholic guilt) together.

25 things i love right now.

  1. For all IKEA fans, you must visit this site.   Yes, IKEA is not known for its avant-garde design breakthroughs but it does make modern design accessible to the bourgeoisie.
  2. Watching #1 play volleyball. (FYI: Her team has qualified for her conference semi-finals next week…)

    I love it when she gives dirty looks when someone says, "Bump the ball."

    I love it when she gives dirty looks when someone says, "Bump the ball."

  3. This book, this book, this book, and an old childhood favourite.
  4. Chris’ organic adobo.
  5. Writing on a blog.
  6. The way #3 has to hop, skip, twirl, gallop, or sprint to get from point A to point B.

    Dancing to Flo Rida's "Low."

    Dancing to Flo Rida's "Low."

  7. Getting this in the mail.  #2 and I then engage our routine of immediately perusing it and ear-marking pages for future reference.
  8. Modge Podge.
  9. Lists.  Here is my current home page.  Update list when necessary.
  10. I will ALWAYS love this:
  11. Coffee from Dark Horse.  I use the term “coffee” loosely”…I actually mean, decaf soy lattes.
  12. Clean laundry.
  13. Unexpected emails, facebook inquiries, or phone calls  from out-of-touch friends.
  14. Homemade donuts.
  15. These valentine e-cards.  Here’s my favourite.
  16. This.
  17. #4 reading along with me when we read this at least 17 times a day.
  18. #2’s sense of style:

    Yes, those are capri pants in February...but she has clarified that there are rainbow leg warmers underneath.

    Yes, those are capri pants in February...but she has clarified that there are rainbow leg warmers underneath.

  19. Catching up with family on the weekend.
  20. All things carb-related: brioche, croissants, tarts all from here.
  21. These.
  22. Looking at this photo:

    #4 on a sugar rush from her cupcake fiasco.

    #4 on a sugar rush from her cupcake fiasco.

  23. Shopping at the market on Saturday mornings.
  24. Family movie nights: Popcorn, epic movie, and 5 on a couch (1 guess who is on the floor).
  25. My one true love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Tell someone you love them.

Force it if you have to.