Monday, 31 December 2012

Good-bye 2012


It's New Year's Eve - once a night for dressing up in sequins and stilettos, of partying and clubbing in a glitter-filled haze and getting ridiculously silly and drunkenly sentimental over good times had and days gone by and goals not met and what could have been - now a day spent lounging in jammies, playing with Christmas Lego sets and board games, building snowforts and going sledding and a night spent at home with noisemakers and nibblies and an attempted slick clock-time-change to convince the kids they've stayed up until midnight so my gorgeous husband and I can ring in the new year alone together.

It's also a time for reflection, and though in years past I often found myself mildly (sometimes more than mildly) dissatisfied with how my year had gone, the last few years have found me kind of annoyingly smugly satisfied as I reflect on my life and my year in review. I'm happier than I've ever been, and my life is pretty much perfect. I'm married to the most wonderful man in the world. I have three amazing, adorable little boys who bring me joy every moment of every day. We live in the warmest, coziest, homiest little home that we've worked so hard on and are so proud of. Our neighbourhood is the happiest place on earth and our lives are about as close to perfect as they can get. I have wonderful friends and family and 2012 has been pretty good to all of us.

2012 is also the first year in over a decade that I have not moved, gotten married, or had a baby. That's kind of ridiculous. What a lovely change it's been to have such an uneventful year!

As the clock counts down and the year draws to a close I want to share how grateful I am for all the wonderful people in my life and say thank-you for everything I've been blessed with. I can't wait to see what 2013 has in store for us, our family and our friends - and I wish all of you the very happiest of new years!

Stuff I swore I'd never do

I was very smug and sure about what to do and what not to do as a parent when my first son was born and during his infancy - you know, before I'd ever had to do any actual parenting. There were things I swore I'd never do, things I judged other parents for doing and looked down on them for, smugly self-assured and superior in my knowledge.

I would never let the fact that I'd had a baby change the way I presented myself to the world. I would still be fashionable and fit, I would still get together with girlfriends for coffee or drinks, my sweet, cooing, freshly-bathed wee one curled up in an adorable outfit in a carrier at my feet. I would be put-together and up on my current events and appear to the world as a confident, well-dressed woman-who-has-it-all - including a child. No lengthy stories about the minutia of my baby's day to bore my childless friends to tears. No track suits or bags under the eyes or unwashed hair tied in a knot on the top of the head for this new mom, thank-you very much.

I would never use a pacifier for my baby. My child would be soothed by snuggles and songs and soft shh-shh-shhs. Babies only cry because they want or need something - right? Using a pacifier is simply a lazy parent's way of settling a fussy child with minimal effort - right?

I would never use the television to entertain my children. I would never plop them in front of cartoons just so I could get a few things done. I would never pop in a DVD and let them zone out on the couch just to get a few moments' peace and quiet. My children would be stimulated without electronics using educational toys and interaction with Mom all day, every day.

I would never bribe my children, but would rely on the trust we'd built up and the lessons I'd patiently taught them over the years to ensure that they'd always do as I asked - and if there were any conflicts then a clear, rational explanation would persuade them. Never would I make empty threats or use a chocolate or toy or treat to bribe them into stopping a tantrum or being patient for five more minutes while I finish the shopping.

I would never raise my voice or yell at my children, because my children would never misbehave - and if they did, it would be for a reason and I would speak to them with kindness and understanding until we got to the root of the problem. My children would never throw temper tantrums in the middle of the grocery store. My children would never hit one another or say mean things. My children would never say no to me. Children are a product of how you raise them, and I would raise them to be polite and respectful and kind little human beings.

Are you bloody well kidding me?

I live in yoga pants and tank tops. I rarely manage a shower until late in the day. I do my hair and put on make-up perhaps six times a year - about as often as I put on real people clothes. I see my girlfriends once every several months, and am quite sure I bore them beyond words with my endless, detailed discourses about my boys.

I don't have a single photograph of my second son as a baby without a pacifier in his mouth - we called it his plug. And I actually don't know how I would make dinner for this family of five every evening if it weren't for the TV. We have a one show limit and no video game rule on weeknights - and I swear to God it's a much harder sacrifice for me than for them.

I constantly bribe my kids. Constantly. My purse is filled with cars, crayons, word puzzles, sippy cups, granola bars and fruit snacks to be used as methods of distraction in an emergency. Not having yet developed the ability to complete a grocery shop or teach a fitness class in under fifteen minutes or to be in more than one place at any given time, I bribe and distract the boys to buy myself extra minutes to get things done.

My boys have thrown temper tantrums in the middle of the mall, the middle of the street, the middle of the schoolyard. They say no if they don't want to do something, they throw things if they're angry, they antagonize each other on purpose. I scream at them at the top of my lungs.

I was so sure I'd never do all those things I saw other parents doing.

But somehow, eight years later, here I am on four hours' sleep in my track pants and tank top and mismatched socks, screaming at my six-year-old for body slamming his brother and pointing out that Santa's watching in the hopes that the threat of fewer gifts will terrorize him into behaving, yelling at my eight-year old for intentionally provoking him and trying to get him in trouble, TV blaring in the background and dinner burning on the stove and Baby's entire bowl of Corn Flakes overturned underfoot while he happily removes the ornaments one by one from the Christmas tree in the corner.

And I'm blogging about it, so that not only my friends, but my thousands of readers worldwide have to hear about it.

Sigh. Live and learn.


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Friday, 28 December 2012

Bad words: how do we deal with them?

The idea that our sweet, precious little angels are actually growing older and growing up is really hard to wrap our heads around. The idea that once they're school-age we no longer have control over what they do and see and hear and are exposed to every hour of every day is absolutely terrifying, particularly if you're a stay-at-home mom who has spent every moment of their lives with them.

There's so much they could potentially be exposed to out there in the world, even the very sheltered world of an elementary school in a good neighbourhood. There's teasing, bullying, bad language, kids with older siblings who'll shatter their innocent little worlds. How do we protect them when we can't be there with them every hour of the day anymore?

The first of these issues that we're having to tackle in our family is swearing - and, surprisingly, it's not something that has come up at school or from their friends; it's at home. My boys are getting old enough that the movies they're interested in are not always only cartoons. And movies that aren't cartoons sometimes have bad words.

Transformers was the first "grown-up-kids" movie that they wanted to - and were allowed to - see. The Transformers movies have some bad language. At first, I wasn't sure how to handle it - should I screen the swear words, the way I do with unedited versions of songs we hear in the car with a quick turn of the volume dial? I decided that wouldn't work. I know they really didn't notice the bad words anyway - they barely paid attention to the dialogue, but were more interested in the giant robots and the action. So I was very casual about it, and just pointed out as they came up that there were some bad words, I knew they knew that, and it was just part of the silliness of grown-up movies and I expected them not to repeat those sorts of words.

I have used bad words in front of them a couple of times over the last few years as they've grown older, when I was angry or frustrated or in a fight with one or both of them and yelling. I have never felt so guilty about anything. I spoke to them about it immediately afterward, apologized for using a bad word, and told them that sometimes grown-ups say things that they shouldn't and I still expected them not to use bad language. I still feel guilty. But you know what? Part of growing up and learning about right and wrong and how to behave is learning that people make mistakes and that it's important to admit to your mistakes and learn from them. In showing them that Mommy makes mistakes too, as much as I'd prefer them to still think of me as perfect, they start to learn that lesson.

Until now, this was their only exposure to bad words. Their friends at school don't swear. My husband and I don't use adult language in front of them. We only watch cartoons on TV. The Transformers movies were a one-off, and the perhaps two or three times I've used a word I shouldn't have in the last couple of years have been explained, apologized for, and forgotten.
National Lampoon's
Christmas Vacation


But it's the Christmas season now, and for me one of the biggest parts of the Christmas season has always been watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, my favourite movie of all time. I knew my boys would absolutely love that movie, and I thought they were old enough to get it - but it has a fair bit of bad language, and bad language used for humour, which I do not want to encourage. It's just the bad language, though - there's nothing else inappropriate. I struggled with the decision for a couple of weeks - were they old enough? How would I make them understand that something can be ok on TV or in the movies but not ok in real life? Should I wait a few years until they were older?


I finally decided to let them watch the movie. I would much rather they watch a movie with some bad words with me and have a conversation about it and understand my views on it than learn these words secretly from their friends at school and think of them as something to say with their friends and hide from us. This is the open, honest, sharing sort of relationship I hope to still have with them when we have to talk about drinking, smoking, drugs and sex in a few years, so why not start as I mean to go on?

I sat the boys down and told them we were going to watch Mommy's favourite Christmas movie and I thought they'd think it was really funny. I explained that the movie had some bad words in it, and as they know sometimes grown-ups use words they shouldn't but that didn't mean it was ok for them to use those words. I told them I was letting them watch a grown-up movie because I trusted them to be grown-up enough to understand that just because something is ok in a movie doesn't mean it's ok in real life. We settled in for a family movie night with our pillows and blankets all piled up in the family room and watched the movie by the light of the Christmas tree - and they absolutely loved it. They thought it was hilarious, they laughed in all the right spots, and they basically ignored the swear words as if they were not relevant to the movie itself - exactly as I would have hoped.

I'd still like to shelter my babies from everything in the world, but I'm realizing that as they grow up they need to learn how to deal with all the new and different things they will be exposed to - and I think the safest, most controlled way for them to be exposed to anything is in our own home.


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Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Sleep training...?

There are some who swear by it. There are some who say you're a terrible parent by doing it. There are some who say you're ruining your children by not doing it. Sleep training is another one of those child-rearing issues that every parent has an opinion on - and every parent is sure they're right.

Although I am by no means a parenting expert (my only formal training being the three children I'm raising...) I have my own opinions about this particular issue, as with most controversial parenting issues.

In our family, we do not sleep train. We never have, with any of our children.

None of my kids have ever been great sleepers as little ones. They rarely napped as babies, they nursed to fall asleep, they often preferred to sleep in our bed to their own, and they all woke up to nurse a zillion times during the night. I don't know how many times friends and family told us we had to sleep train our kids if they were ever going to learn to sleep through the night or sleep on their own or if we ever wanted a good night's sleep again.

I disagreed.

There are countless different methods of sleep training - every expert seems to have an opinion, a recommendation, a book with a method to follow. Pediatrician Dr. Richard Ferber's "cry it out" sleep training approach, the popular and contoversial "Ferberizing" method, assumes that babies will learn to fall asleep on their own if given the chance, but won't if they get used to being rocked, held or nursed to sleep. The method involves putting your child to bed, leaving the room and ignoring his cries for a predetermined amount of time, returning to soothe without picking up and repeating over and over again for gradually increasing intervals until he learns to soothe himself and fall asleep on his own - but to me, that just seems cruel.

It is completely counterintuitive to everything we feel and know and are taught as parents. Babies and toddlers are completely dependent on their parents and trust them completely to care for their wants and needs. What are we teaching them when we teach them that they can't, in fact, trust or rely on their parents for comfort at such a young age? Aren't we in fact confirming all those deep-seated fears of abandonment? How will leaving them to scream and cry while we ignore them teach anything other than that if they are frightened or sad or uncomfortable, they have to learn to suck it up and deal with it on their own? I don't believe that these are lessons a child should have to learn until they are older and have already formed a strong attachment to their parents and have learned trust and affection and self-expression. Scientific studies of sleep training methods have made it clear that there is insufficient information on the long-term effects of these methods on emotional and personality development, the ability to express affection, and the parent-child relationship. To me, it's just too big a risk to take simply to gain a few more hours of sleep myself.

The exact opposite method is advocated by pediatrician Dr. William Sears, best known for his "attachment parenting" approach. Dr. Sears encourages a child-centered approach to sleep training that includes rocking and nursing your baby to sleep and co-sleeping to help develop closeness, comfort, trust, a healthy parent-child bond and positive mental and emotional associations with sleep and bedtime. To me, this seems a great deal more natural and nurturing and more in line with our roles as parents in our babies' lives than to leave them alone and crying to figure it out for themselves.

There are some who take the notion of attachment parenting a little further - we've all read about those celebrities who are still co-sleeping with their seven-year-old children in a family bed. To me this also seems a little extreme.

Every parent and every family needs to do what is best for them, what feels most natural and most comfortable and what they believe will be healthiest for their children and their family. In our family, we've always had a bedtime for our boys; but as infants we rocked or nursed them to sleep, so bedtime was variable and controlled by their needs. They were all restless sleepers as babies and toddlers, waking a half-dozen times during the night for feeding, snuggles, diaper changes, bathroom breaks, drinks of water. I got up with them every time, and stayed with them until they were back asleep. Every time. They often liked - and still like - to crawl into our bed at night for a snuggle after a bad dream or if they're not feeling well. We've taught them about privacy and knocking if the door is closed - but we let them come snuggle whenever they want.

I have never let any of my children "cry it out" for any reason. I have nursed, rocked, and snuggled them to sleep for years. I have let them sleep in my bed. And guess what? They're turning out just fine. My older two boys sleep for ten solid, uninterrupted hours every single night. If they need to go to the washroom or get a drink of water, they do so on their own. If they wake up early they usually pull out a book and read until the rest of the family wakes up - but occasionally they'll still crawl into our bed and curl up for a morning snuggle with Mommy. At six and eight years old they are bright, creative, confident, independent little boys who are perfectly at ease showing love and physical affection to each other and my husband and I. My youngest still nurses or snuggles to fall asleep and wakes up a few times during the night. When he wakes up, he grabs his pillow and carries it down the hall to our room.  He lies in our bed to nurse or snuggle back to sleep. Sometimes I bring him back into his own bed, sometimes he stays in our bed for the rest of the night. I have no concerns that as he grows older he will gradually become more independent with his sleeping just as his brothers did.

Every family does what they think is right and there are so many factors involved in the decisions we make as parents. Some people believe that sleep training is a necessity, and there are valid arguments for that point. For myself, I never believed that sleep training was the only way my children would learn to sleep through the night, and I happen to be the type of person who can function on little sleep myself. I certainly have had a lot less sleep over the last eight years than if I had sleep trained my boys. But for me, the guilt of leaving my baby crying for no good reason is not something I could have lived with. Our parenting philosophy, while very child-centered, does involve disciplining and teaching them certainly and shaping them to be good adults certainly - but we choose our battles carefully. "Teaching" them to sleep, at the risk of possibly undermining a part of our bond or trust, does not seem a battle worth winning.


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Monday, 24 December 2012

Santa's big surprise

Santa had a BIG surprise for our family for Christmas this year.

We've never had a fireplace, so we usually hang our stockings on the shelves next to the Christmas tree.

This year, Santa took pity on us and brought us a fireplace of our own with a proper mantel to hang our stockings from.

When the kids went to bed earlier this evening they hung their stockings as usual and put out a plate of cookies and mug of cocoa for Santa on the shelf. But here's how it will look when they wake up in the morning!

new fireplace, Christmas stockings

Best. Christmas. Surprise. EVER!


I think this is the coolest thing we've ever done for Christmas. I can't wait to see the boys' faces when they wake up and realize that Santa brought them a proper place to hang their stockings while they were asleep. Christmas magic!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good-night!




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Friday, 21 December 2012

Thumbprint Christmas ornaments

Christmas tree decorations, Christmas crafts, kids crafts
This weekend the kids made their Christmas ornaments for 2012 - a thumbprint Santa, a thumbprint elf, and a thumbprint reindeer.

To make these:
Dip the thumb in finger paint and press carefully onto the ornament.
Once the paint dries, draw in the eyes and mouth (and antlers, for the reindeer) with a permanent marker.
Cut out felt for the  hats and cotton batting for the beards and glue on. 

These are being wrapped up as the boys' Christmas gifts for Daddy (slash stepdaddy) this year, so shhh...don't tell!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Handprint Christmas tree craft

This is a fun Christmas craft for kids.

kids' craftsConstruct the base of the tree by making a simple pyramid out of green cardboard.

Cut out handprints on green construction paper and glue them on the cardboard base.

Make the "star" by tracing two handprints on yellow construction paper, then cut out and glue together.

And decorate! Sequins and sparkles, jingle bells and gems, pom-poms and strings of beads, ornaments made from crayons and construction paper.

Merry Christmas!


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Monday, 17 December 2012

Bringing art to life again: another special stuffy



I've finally finished Little T's special homemade stuffy, just in time to go under the tree for Christmas.


I started this project a few months ago with a couple of my boys' favourite drawings.



I created this five-eyed monster stuffy out of a drawing my older son made when he was six - it took absolutely forever and I was ridiculously pleased with myself when it was finished. But I couldn't show  it to him until I had one to give to his brother, so it's been hiding on the top shelf of my closet since I finished it over a month ago. See "Bringing art to life (a special stuffy for my special boy)"





















Little T's purple-haired creature, now finally finished, was created from a drawing he did when he was five. I can't wait for my boys to see their artwork brought to life in a special stuffy made by Mommy when they open their gifts Christmas morning!











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Friday, 14 December 2012

Are you moving in?

A lot of people seem to think that babies need a lot more than they actually do - there seems to be an epidemic of overbuying for baby. But it's not just that we have too much stuff for baby - it's that we bring it everywhere with us. Everywhere. All of it.

I used to laugh at my brother and sister-in-law when they'd arrive for a family dinner with my nephew. They'd walk in, each with a diaper bag over a shoulder, one of them carrying the baby, one carrying his carseat and an extra blanket. My sister-in-law would start unpacking bottles into the fridge while my brother ran out to the car to grab the swing and toys. Ummm...are you here for dinner or are you moving in?

This is another one of those things that parents kind of figure out over time. With the first baby, leaving the house is like preparing for battle. There are checklists and plans and back-up plans, overstuffed diaper bags with bottles and sippy cups and diapers and wipes and receiving blankets and pacifiers and teething toys and a couple of changes of clothes, a bag of extra toys, a seat or swing or something to keep them contained and entertained, the monitor in case they take a nap and you want to put them down in another room. It takes twenty minutes to load up the car...and this is all just for a three-hour visit to Grandma and Grandpa's.

By the second baby, you figure out that they don't really need all that equipment and can usually pare it down to a pre-packed diaper bag and the booster seat you keep in your trunk for dinners out.

We're on kid number three, and it takes us about seven seconds to leave the house, whether we're going shopping at the mall or for dinner at my parents' or out to the zoo for the entire day.

My diaper bag consists of my purse - that's right, just my purse. No, not an extra purse packed with all the baby essentials. Just my regular purse. It's a big-ish purse, but not even all that big. My purse contains - aside from the necessities of wallet, phone and keys - a slim pack of wipes, three diapers, a cotton sleeper (slimmest-folding emergency change of clothes for Baby), a water bottle, crackers, a small stuffy, two dinky cars, a pack of crayons, and a notebook. All children covered, entertainment-wise and emergency-wise, for a day. No bulky padded diaper bags, no extra things to carry, no equipment or crazy toys. That's it.

Try to be realistic about what you actually need for a few hours out of the house. If you get into the habit of overpacking and turning every outing into a production, you won't be inclined to go out as much; and if you do bring too much every time you leave the house you'll be far less likely to enjoy those outings. Unpack that bulging diaper bag and refill it with only the essentials. Leave the equipment at home. You'll be amazed at how much more you enjoy your outing and how much you don't miss all that extra stuff you didn't bring along for baby.


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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Money well wasted: what not to buy for baby

There is SO MUCH cute stuff to buy for baby. And if you're going to be any kind of a decent parent, you should buy all of it, right? And obviously only the most expensive, brand-name stuff - right? You've planned for this baby, you've waited for this baby, you've saved for this baby and this baby deserves only the very best - so you'd be a piss-poor excuse for a parent if you didn't buy him the best of the best of absolutely everything - right?

Wrong.

Babies don't actually need the fanciest of equipment. Nor do they need everything the baby shows, baby magazines, baby store catalogues and baby store registries tell you they need. In fact, they don't need most of that stuff.

In the nursery you need a matching crib, change table, dresser and nursing chair. You need a coordinated bedding set, draperies, area rug and maybe a throw. In a cute little theme - Tigger & Pooh? Zoo animals? Bumblebees? Right?

Wrong.

As tempting as it is to outfit the nursery in the fanciest baby bling you can find, in reality Baby will only be a baby for mere moments. In the blink of an eye Baby will be a little person with his own tastes. Baby may not like bumblebees - Baby may be into Mickey Mouse or Handy Manny or pirates. The linens you've coordinated to the drapes and accessories will be useless once he's outgrown his crib - and Baby will only be in that seven-hundred-dollar crib for a year before it's time to move to a big-boy bed (don't even get me started on what an absurd waste toddler beds are - they take six hours to put together and they outgrow them in six months at the most). Why not put him in a two-hundred-dollar crib and use that extra money toward the bed he'll be sleeping in for the next twenty years or so? Of course, the change table, dresser and nursing chair you shelled out all that money for won't match the new bed. The change table will just be taking up room in the garage after a couple of years. The dresser will drive you nuts because it will never look quite right with the bed. And the nursing chair will never get used again - and will look idiotic if you try to put it anywhere else in the house masquerading as real furniture. Why not buy Baby a low dresser that can double as a change table and will eventually match the big-boy bed? Realistically, ninety percent of the diaper changes will take place on the couch or the bed or the floor anyway. And how about picking out a comfy armchair you'd like in the living room and using it for nursing in the bedroom for that first year?

As far as seating goes, as hard as it may be to believe, you don't actually need a high chair, swing, exersaucer, jumparoo, rocker, bouncer, Bumbo and booster seat in addition to your infant carrier. A high chair for feeding, certainly - although it doesn't need to be a four-hundred-dollar, adjustable, padded one with cupholders that raises and lowers and reclines and is covered in a pink bunnies. We use the Ikea Antilop high chair - I believe it was thirty dollars for the chair and tray, which is removable and fits in the dishwasher. It's white and stainless steel, so it looks nice and unobtrusive in our kitchen. It's slim and low-profile and easy to assemble and disassemble. I have a fleece cover that pops over the back so it's nice and comfy, which slips off and goes in the washing machine. We love it. You need something in the living room - either a swing or a rocker or a bouncer will do. A backup item to keep things new and exciting for Baby - exersaucer or jumparoo will do. A dozen different seats scattered all over the house not only take up way more room than you would think a teeny-tiny little baby might need, but end up in a heap in the garage (with the crib, change table, and nursing chair) before you know it.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to buy every adorable baby product the industry can dream up and make us believe we have to have. Especially if you're a first-time parent. During those long nine months you're waiting for your precious, life-changing bundle of joy to arrive there's very little else you can do to prepare to be a parent other than reading every parenting article you can get your hands on and buying up every baby item you've been told you might need. Money is no object - you're going to be a wonderful parent, and the best way to ensure that before Baby actually arrives is to make sure Baby will have the best of everything. Right? And it only makes sense to buy all that stuff before Baby arrives, before you go on maternity leave and your income is reduced for a year - may as well get all the big expenses out of the way, right?

Wrong.

What new parents and first-time parents don't realize is that it's not babies that cost a lot of money - it's children. The average cost of raising a child in Canada is around two hundred and fifty thousand dollars - that's over thirteen thousand dollars per year, per kid. And these figures do not include saving or paying for their post-secondary education. It's not babies who are expensive - it's kids.

Baby clothes are not that expensive, and they don't need that much. Most of what you buy is for you - it's because you think it's cute. Children's clothes, however, cost quite a bit more - and you are buying them constantly. Jeans get torn in the knees within weeks. Shirts are washed and worn only a few times before their gangly arms and wrists are poking out the sleeves and your little angel looks like a homeless child. Shoes - how they hell do they go through shoes so fast? Shoes need to be replaced once a month, either because they've outgrown them or because they've worn the toes right through and their socks are poking out - two new pairs at a time, because they're required to have separate indoor shoes for school.

Baby toys are more for you, too - a couple of soft toys, a couple of books, some colour-and-texture-and-mirror-type toys and baby's all set. Just like the adorable clothes you're spending half your disposable income on, the baby toys are more about you than your baby - you want it for him because you think it's cute. Children's toys, however, can get very expensive - and children are a lot more specific about what they like. Birthday and Christmas wish lists for older kids include two hundred dollar Star Wars Lego sets and three hundred dollar video game systems.

And food? Don't even get me started about food. My six- and eight-year-old boys eat at least twice as much as I do at each meal, and have several meal-sized snacks in between. Our weekly grocery bill is between $250 and $300 each week - and this is not fancy eating we're doing. Chicken, rice and veggies. Roast beef, potatoes and salad. Spaghetti and meatballs. We're not talking steak and shrimp every night here.

Aside from the obvious costs of feeding, clothing, sheltering and caring for these children, there are all those little costs you don't even think of, the nickel-and-dime stuff that slips away before you even notice. The twenty or thirty dollars a week the school asks for - pizza lunches, agenda books, field trips, arts and science experts coming into the school. Twenty-five dollars a week for the birthday parties one or another of your kids are invited to every weekend. Extra-curricular activities. Sports fees you've probably planned and budgeted for, but then there's all that extra stuff - uniforms that aren't included in registration fees, tournament fees, extra cleats and shinguards and batting helmets and hockey helmets and gloves and skates and pads. It all adds up.

But splurging on a baby is different, right? You'll be back to work after only a year - once you're back to being a two-income family it won't be a problem, right?

Wrong.

Daycare is going to cost you a minimum of two hundred dollars a week, per kid. Every week. If you have more than one child pre-school aged, it hardly even makes sense to return to work at all.

The reality is that it costs an absolute fortune to raise a child. And we're happy and eager to spend it as parents. But it simply isn't necessary to spend such a big chunk of money on a newborn and all the adorable little gadgets and accessories available when in a few short months they will all be safely stowed away in storage or sitting at the curb. Plan it out, talk to an "experienced" parent, figure out what you actually need and sock that extra money away in an RESP for your precious little angel's education - you're going to need it.


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Monday, 10 December 2012

Giving back: teaching kids about charity

It's that time of year when the spirit of the season reminds us to give some of what we have to those who don't have as much. It should probably be a year-round thing, but for most of us it's not. At Christmas, though, it's much harder to think of families living in shelters, of mothers unable to feed their children, of teenagers sleeping on the streets and kids who will be lucky to have a hot meal on Christmas Day, let alone a gift to open.

It always puts things in perspective for me when late at night on Christmas Eve my husband and I are sitting on the floor in our warm, cozy house, full from a big Christmas Eve dinner but nibbling at a plate of homemade shortbread and sipping coffee with Baileys (more Baileys than coffee, if I'm being perfectly honest), lit by the warm glow of the twinkly lights on the Christmas tree, surrounded by piles and piles of gifts and colourful paper and foil and ribbon and gift tags, wrapping dozens and dozens of presents to put under the tree for our kids after a frenzy of last-minute shopping when we cheerfully drop a sum of money that could keep a less fortunate family living for a month.

So, though by that point I've always purchased and dropped off a few toys for various toy drives around town, sorted, laundered, and folded bags and bags of the kids' outgrown clothes to drop off at the local women's shelter, and boxed endless cans of non-perishables for the school donation tree, guilt usually sets in right around Christmas when I realize just how much we have compared to some people. I feel like we should be doing more - but even more, I feel like we should be teaching the children more about giving.

I don't mean to imply that they are selfish little people. They get just as excited about the gift-giving part of Christmas as the gift-getting. But they are a little spoiled. And though I want to give them everything in the world and I want them to grow up with everything they could possibly want or need, I don't want them to grow up feeling entitled or without an understanding of how fortunate they are and how many people in the world are so much less fortunate.

It's hard to know where to begin, to decide what the appropriate amount of reality is to expose the kids to and at what age it's appropriate to begin. My husband and I have discussed the possibility of volunteering as a family at a soup kitchen. I love the idea of that, but I feel like at six and eight years old they might still be too young for that - a little too much reality for my sheltered little boys.

For the last few years we've had the kids go through their toys at the beginning of Christmas vacation and pick out the ones they are willing to give away to those less fortunate. It's like pulling teeth getting them to part with anything, but it's not the idea of giving their toys to kids who don't have any that they have a problem with - it's the idea of having to actually get rid of any of their own, despite the fact that they may not have played with them in a year or more. Though we have dozens and dozens of new toys coming in the house Christmas Day, we're lucky if four or five "gently used" ones make it to the local women and children's shelter.

They do help me pick out the new toys and cans of non-perishables to drop off for the toy and food drives at their school and our community centre. We take advantage of the Boxing Day sales to buy a few blankets and drop them off at the shelter. I think they're beginning to understand that part of life is not just working to have what you want, but helping those who have not.

This year, we are donating baskets of basics to an organization that gifts them to women leaving shelters and beginning a new life with their children. The children have been very involved in the process of assembling the baskets, and I think they understand that for some people, even the very basic necessities of home life - blankets, soap, shampoo, frying pans, dishes and glasses - are out of reach without some help. It has put into perspective for them that they are very lucky to be able to put Lego sets and Wii games on their wish lists rather than warm coats for winter and a pillow to sleep on.

I love to spoil our kids at Christmas as much as we possibly can - but I don't want them to grow up spoiled. I hope that exposing them to the reality that not everyone has as much as they do and teaching them about giving some of what they have to those less fortunate will help them to grow up to be good little people, and I think that the holiday season, when everything is infused with a little extra warmth and love and big-heartedness, is the best time to emphasize that lesson.


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Friday, 7 December 2012

It's the little things that matter

Sometimes it's easy to get distracted by all the big things we feel like we should be getting or doing for our kids, thanks to the marketing geniuses who are well aware that parents will plunk down money for anything they think their kids might want or need.

I'm no exception - we go WAY overboard for birthday and Christmas gifts, every birthday party is planned to outdo the one before, we start budgeting and planning for the next year's Disney trip as soon as we get home from the previous year's and if a single weekend goes by without a fair, festival or field trip we feel like lazy parents.

But the kids don't actually need all that. They don't even necessarily want all that.

My boys love our annual trip to Walt Disney World. But they also have fun going to Great Wolf Lodge for a couple of days - an hour and a half away in Niagara Falls. The themed, coordinated birthday parties at the bowling alley or swimming pool or indoor playplace are super fun and something to remember each year. But equally so is an afternoon of street hockey with their buddies and a couple of bags of potato chips.

The going overboard, if we're completely honest with ourselves, is just as much for us as for them. We like knowing that every item on their wish list is under the tree because we look forward to seeing their faces when they tear off the wrapping paper - they wouldn't care if they got half as many gifts. We like going over-the-top with decorations and themes and coordinated cakes and pinatas at some crazy fun location for their birthday parties because we love seeing their reactions and having the photos for memories - they'd be just as happy with a bunch of friends, a soccer ball and some cake in the backyard. We like going to Disney just as much as they do - a week on the beach and at the Magic Kingdom is just as much fun for grown-ups as it is for kids. And the compulsion to always have a field trip or event on the horizon is more about building up the memory bank than the children's need for entertainment - they're equally happy playing in the backyard or at the park. Don't get me wrong, special treats are fun for the whole family - but they are a treat. They're not necessary.

The other morning when we were getting ready for school I told the boys I'd pick them up and bring them home for lunch. The excitement level was the same as the first year we announced we were going to Disney for March Break, and when the lunchtime bell rang that day they both came bursting out of their classrooms and jumped into my arms with the biggest smiles I've ever seen. When my husband came home with lobsters for a special dinner one night the kids were just as fascinated by poking and prodding and watching and asking questions about them as they've ever been on a trip to the Science Centre. A picnic at the park or popcorn and a movie in Mommy's room generates the same reaction as an afternoon at one of the local fairs or festivals. The promise of one of our special coffee dates on the upcoming weekend is all they'll talk about the rest of the week.

It really doesn't take much, and though those big things are super fun, they don't need to be the focus. For kids, it really is the little things that matter, it's the little things that are special. And it's all those little  things that will make up most of their memories when they grow up.


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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Our festive family tree

I had such big plans for coordinating our Christmas decor this year.

I was going to have a beautiful, cohesive decor theme in an elegant red and gold colour scheme with coordinated ornaments just like you see in decorating magazines. Real, grown-up, elegant, cocktail-party-ready holiday decor. I was going to be ruthless about purging any random decorations that didn't go with the theme or colour scheme. We were going to have a magazine-worthy home this Christmas.

Christmas sparkle, Christmas bling, Christmas decor

I started out well. We drenched our house in what we call our "Christmas bling" - gold balls and gold bows dripping from every mirror. Glittery retro-chic wire Christmas trees sparkling on every surface. It was beautiful. And so coordinated.


 But then the rest of the Christmas box got unpacked.




I'd forgotten about our little Christmas village. The kids love the Christmas village. So we have our little Christmas village set up on the sideboard in the dining room.


Santa's village, Christmas decorI'd forgotten about Santa's workshop: the tackiest, most ridiculous multi-coloured, blinged-out, kitschiest Christmas decoration you've ever seen - it lights up, it plays Christmas carols, it has a train full of elves and toys driving on a continuous track around the North Pole while Santa "HoHoHo's" in front of his glittery snow-covered, garland-draped workshop with a sack full of presents...it's pretty spectacular. And a family favourite. So we set it up in the living room.


And, though of course I knew the tree would never be a masterpiece of coordination like I see in my Christmas tree fantasies (at least half of our decorations are homemade treasures from the kids) I had at least envisioned a base of pretty golden ornaments reflecting the twinkly lights and providing a sleekly festive backdrop to the kids' crafts. But I'd forgotten about all the miscellaneous decorations too important to get rid of.

My grandparents pop an ornament in with our Christmas gifts every year. When I was a kid, and now that I have kids. Most were lost when I moved out of my parents' place, but a few fabulous treasures from my childhood made it. And the kids have their own collections now - our eldest always gets a nutcracker, Middle child gets snowmen, and Baby gets reindeer.

There's the hand-painted ones we bought at the little shop up by the cottage. There's the Mickey ones we get each year at Disney.

Kids' Christmas crafts, Christmas tree ornaments, Christmas decor

There's the handprint ornament my eldest made in junior kindergarten. There's the beaded candy canes the boys made last year, the paper-cone macaroni trees the year before and the craft foam gingerbread men the year before that. There's the thumbprint characters they made this year.

Christmas tree decorationsThis past weekend we went out to get our tree. We still get a real tree every year, so there's the whole ritual of picking out the best one, setting it up and then waiting a day while the branches open, oohing and aahing every time we pass and pointing out to one another that it's the best tree we've ever had. Then there's the traditional day of decorating, when we turn on the Christmas music and put out a platter of Christmas cookies and great big mugs of hot chocolate and hang all our special ornaments on the tree.


It's not a masterpiece of coordination. It's not elegant, or adult, or magazine-worthy. But it's filled with all the bits and pieces of our life, our memories, and our children's loving gifts. And we love it. I think this might be the best tree we've ever had.


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Monday, 3 December 2012

Outdoor lighting ideas

 Christmas lights, Christmas decorating
Colourful Christmas lighting display. Love this!
Photo: diynetwork.com/outdoors


As Christmas approaches, our neighbourhood is becoming brighter and more colourful every evening as every dad on the block tries to outdo his neighbour.










Our outdoor lighting is fairly simple - traditional white icicle lights wrapped around the eaves on all levels of our three-story townhome and a small topiary on the front porch wrapped in white twinkle lights.

But I have always lusted after Clark Griswold's "twenty-five thousand imported Italian twinkle lights" from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - and I would do it if I could!


Christmas lights, Christmas decorating
Over-the-top white Christmas lights
Photo: freshome.com
Christmas lights, Christmas decorating
Over-the-top coloured Christmas lights
Photo: revandy.org
Christmas lights, Christmas decorating
Absolutely insane lighting. Awesome!
Photo: blogdesabandoempensamentos.blogspot.ca
Christmas lights, outdoor lighting, Christmas decor
Front door garland & twinkle lights
Photo: christmaslightinstallationlosangeles.blogspot.ca/



This elegant front entryway (left) is a nice way to incorporate lighting in the outdoor decor for the holidays - and it would be pretty simple to wind the lights around the garland, wreaths and topiaries once, then leave them assembled when they are removed and packed away at the end of the holiday season every year.










Adding lights to a fir wreath is a great way to warm up a front porch and outdoor decor for Christmas cheer both day and night.



Christmas urn, Christmas decorations
Grapevine ball with white lights
Photo: restyledhome.blogspot.ca

I like the idea of wrapping white twinkle lights around a trellis, and it's something that could be left up year-round - festive during the holidays, but lovely all lit up for a summer evening's barbeque as well.

The same is true of simple decorative grapevine balls - wrap them in little white lights (although I would use more lights than the average person, myself - I'm of the "more is more" school of thought when it comes to Christmas decorating). Pretty covered in snow during the holiday season and an interesting way to light the garden during the spring and summer.









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