The American Calgarian

Tales of a Midwesterner transplanted in Western Canada

Archive for the month “November, 2011”

Holy Sh*t, its Christmas

I get grumpy this time of year.  So much is expected of Mothers this time of year – have you finished your shopping? Are you having the family over for the holidays? Did you bake your gazillion cookies yet? Have you sent out cards yet?  Did you write a Christmas letter?  How many parties will you be attending?  – bah humbug.  Whatever happened to the humble beginnings of the baby wrapped in swaddled in the manger?  Did He get gifts?  Wait.  Crap. 

Our tree is up.  I have begun the task of putting up our decorations for the holiday.  Let me be clear, I love Christmas.  It is one of the greatest stories ever told of love for humankind, (John 3:16 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.)  It’s all this non-biblical stuff that gets on my nerves.  The shopping, the crowds, do I say Merry Christmas? Happy Holidays? nothing at all?

One small victory for me this year – the tree. For years past, JB has insisted that we go out and find a real tree and bring it home.  This sounds harmless enough, until you hear the process.  He will take almost a week researching tree farms.  The types of trees available, hours, cost, how they sang to each tree as it grew, all that.  Then, one day, he will proclaim that he has chosen the tree farm and it is time to get the tree.  We will bundle up, all 5 of us, and yes, we went through all of this when we had babies in tow or I happened to be pregnant, put our saw in the car and head out.  Due to it being in Wisconsin, it would usually be cold, cloudy and snowy, which makes children complain.  We would spend 15+ hours searching the tree lot, (Okay, perhaps I exaggerated), debate which one we like best, (for me, always the first one), cut it down, drag it to the place where they “shake” the tree, wrap the tree and then we load it on top of the car.

This year I talked him into allowing – gasp! – a fake tree.  I am simply giddy with excitement as I put it up, not a single needle or drop of sap on the floor.  And the best part?  I can put it back in the box on December 27.

Yes, the decorations are up and I am little cranky.  Don’t worry, someone will find me under the mistletoe and I will forget why I got cranky to begin with.  Now, I have the get to the mall.

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Happy Thanksgiving, eh!

I am thinking of all my friends and family in the United States as we give thanks for our blessings and gifts.  Its our second time this fall where we will take a moment to give thanks. 

We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving  the tenth of October.  The Friday before the big day the kids had a Thanksgiving celebration at school and parents were invited.  Apprentice had a speaking part, so of course I was armed with a camera when attending.  Exciting!  Their first assembly/holiday party in their new school!

The kids have been in countless little productions such as this through church and school over the years.  Usually, this is how it goes.  A chaotic entrance into a packed gymnasium with faculty, parents, grandparents, random family members, followed by the obligatory waving to all those the child knows in the audience.  The production goes off successfully and there are cupcakes, juice and congratulations following.

Not this day.

I entered the school gym to two rows of chairs for those in attendance.  Seeing there were only the two rows, I quickly picked a seat, as this place is sure to overflow any second.  There was a hymn playing and some grades were already in the gym getting seated.  Then, I heard an overhead page for each grade to come into the gym.  Individually.  Quietly.  In a single row.  As each class entered the gym, they joined in the Thanksgiving hymn being played on the piano by the music teacher.  It was peaceful, almost therapeutic.  I started to question whether I was in the right place. After all class were seated, the principal explained why we were gathered and his expectations for behavior.  The gym, he explained, had been transformed into a church and we were all to act as we would on Sunday Mass.  Really?  And he was not even speaking with a microphone!  The rows filled up, but no overflow.  It seems only parents of those children that are directly participating came, and I didn’t perceive many extended family members in the gym either.  The Thanksgiving service was really nice.  It WAS a mass, where the kids did all the readings and the principal did a brief homily.  I sat in amazement as the children all sat silently and listened to the words being said.  The words were of prayer and poems explaining how we are to be thankful for family, food and shelter.  It was noted that we should also be cognizant of, and helpful to, those less fortunate in our own neighborhood and across the world.   And, I thought, this is all good.

The service ended and the kids headed back to class to complete their day.  That’s right.  There was still 1 ½ hours left in the school day and they had things to do.  I gave my kids a quick wave and headed out.

When I picked the kids up from school a bit later, I asked for their impressions of the Thanksgiving service.  Mid spoke first, dramatically, “Some party!  There weren’t even cupcakes!” The other two asked why there were no refreshments, why I could not stay, why they had to go back to class, etc.  I explained that this is a Catholic School and they do things a little different.  And I stressed that I was proud of the Apprentice for doing a good job when reading his lines and that I was pleased to see the other two sit so attentively during the service.  Even so, they were puzzled about the lack of cupcakes.  Perhaps for American Thanksgiving.

Running White Girl Speaks Swahili!

My midday run has become a time when I release some stress, get a nice workout and recharge to face whatever comes my way.  It’s a time of reflection, relaxation and quiet (minus my heavy breathing, of course).

This day my run was a little later than the previous runs and the neighborhood had a different vibe.  There were school buses coming and going, transporting children to and from half-day Kindergarten.  Smaller children and their mothers lined the streets in anticipation of another’s arrival.  Adults chatted, kids giggled and played around in the midday sun.

Every couple of blocks I would get in a web of 4-5 year olds and would need to slow down.  I came upon a particular group just as they were exiting the bus.

When preparing to move to Calgary, I had read about the international diversity of the city.  It’s no joke.  As I noted in a previous post, I have met very few people who are actually born and raised here.  On any given day, in fact, you may hear four different languages being spoken.  The crowd of children I was approaching was no different. They were chatting wildly, obviously excited about their morning.  As I got closer, I thought I picked up a bit of something I had not heard in a long time… Swahili. 

I passed the group and one of the boys dropped his backpack and started jogging alongside me.  He had many cheers from his little groupies, (at least I think they were cheers, I did not understand much of what they were saying).  After a few steps, our eyes met.  He smiled at me with adorable, laughing eyes.   You know, the kind of bright eyes that can only come from an innocent, energetic child.  I could not resist.  I returned his smile and said, “Jambo, habari gani?”

He stopped.  His clear, big, brown eyes popped out of his head, similar to a cartoon and his chin dropped to the ground.

It was priceless.  He ran back to his group, laughing and screaming something the running girl.  What did I say to him, you ask?  “Hello, how are you?”  (That is about all the Swahili I remember from my college trip to Kenya.)  I continued on and completed the run, giggling to myself every now and then.  I may need to pull out the Swahili and brush up in the event I encounter that boy again.  Hopefully he’ll be courageous enough to run with me.

Mario, can I come over?

The year was 2009.  The Apprentice was five years old.  Barack Obama was inaugurated President of the United States.  The world economy was in the crapper, (that’s a technical financial term, btw).  H1N1 Flu was named a global pandemic.  Michael Jackson died in his home.  The Pittsburgh Penguins competed for (and won) the Stanley Cup.

We are a sports-minded family.  We lived for a few years in Pittsburgh and cheering for the Penguins just kind of rubbed off on us.  This particular evening, JB and Apprentice were watching one of the championship games between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings.  Out of nowhere, Apprentice turns to JB, “Daddy, I want to do that.”

“What?  Do what?”

“That,” he says, pointing to the television, “what sport is this again?”

“Hockey.  You want to play hockey?”

“Yes, I want to play hockey (saying it ever so slowly, to be sure he has the pronunciation correct).  I want to do that.”

Keep in mind, that despite his dearly departed Grandmother’s pleading, (she LOVED her Buffalo Sabres), JB never learned how to skate.  We had never attended a NHL game or AHL game.  In fact, we had never taken the kids to an ice rink, inside or outside.  Where was this coming from?

The Apprentice certainly could play hockey.  He is built like my father, which is to say he is built like a German Mack Truck and accidentally breaks things on a regular basis because he forgets how strong he is.  Football coaches have sized up the Apprentice, (yes, at 5 years old), and (with a sparkle in their eye) have informed us that we have a linebacker on our hands.  The Apprentice would have none of it.  He wanted to play hockey.  I talked with some friends that play and/or love hockey about what to do.  I researched a couple of programs and signed up the Apprentice for skating lessons.

When we told the Apprentice that we were moving to Canada, he had two questions. “Will we be by the mountains?” and “Do they play hockey?”  Luckily the answer to both questions was “yes” and he was totally, 100% on board.  Upon arrival in Calgary, he asked when he started skating lessons.  So, as luck would have it, I found a program and signed him up.  (Please note sarcasm here. We are in Canada, for crying out loud, its like finding a #12 football jersey in Green Bay.)

The most recent book he has taken an interest in is The Magnificent Mario, by Mike Leonetti.  After reading it, he looked at me with his big brown eyes and stated, “I am going to be a fan of him.”

  “Who?” 

“Mario.  He seems GREAT.  I want to learn about him.”  With this, Mid’s eyes perked up, because anything to do with Mario video games is of interest to him.  He was disappointed to hear that his brother was referring to (arguably one of the greatest) hockey players, Mario Lemieux.  Undeterred, Apprentice goes on.  “Mommy, can we go to his next game? When we are in Pittsburgh?”

Oy. I give an explanation that Mario is retired from playing, but owns the Penguins and yes, he can still wear his Flames jersey and be a Mario/Penguins fan.  Then, the most adorable, innocent question.  “Can I go to Mario’s house?  I want to meet him.”

And double Oy. I explain that we cannot simply invite ourselves over to someone’s house and that I highly doubt we could finagle an invitation from Mario Lemieux to come to his house for dinner.  He would not be denied.  “Okay.  Then let’s invite him to our house.”

So, Mario, if you read this..  wanna come over?

A Bedtime Story

It’s Sunday evening.  I have checked through the kid’s school agendas, signed off on their homework (or lack thereof) and sent them off to read for a bit.  This goes off with the usual fussing.  “I’ve already read the book my teacher game me.  Why can’t I pick my owwwnnn books?”  “How long? But that’s FOREVER!” “Oh, whatever, I get dessert later, right?”

The kids are highly compliant (not).  After they run out of excuses, I start the timer.  Well, I really just make a note of the time and then estimate the time they need to read, plus ten minutes.  A little parenting tip – don’t put clocks in rooms where your kids read or practice piano.

Their reading time is complete and I have cleaned up from dinner.  I tell the kids that they may watch some  television or play their video games for a little bit before they are off to bed.  We are in agreement with the terms for the evening.  I don’t know about other households, because I can only speak with authority about the house I was raised in, (no negotiation), and the house I am currently in charge of, (court seems to always be in session).  Are other parents constantly negotiating with their children? Or, have they beat them into submission?  Let me rephrase that…  are other kids compliant?

Back to the story.  I give the fifteen minute warning.  “Fifteen minutes to bed!”  All show their understanding with the usual grunt or nod.  Ten minutes later I give the five-minute warning.  This is where everything goes to hell in a hand basket.  Suddenly, the boys want another course of dinner and dessert.  The Girl wants to talk about things going on at school, guides, whatever.  And apparently this is a conversation with life or death implications.

I remind the boys that they have already gone through two – four course meals today, both with dessert, and there will be no additional snacks this evening.  I have a talk with the Girl about the upcoming week, ending with a little pep talk.  The day is won and it is time for children in my house to go to bed.  Or one would think.

I hear the kids going upstairs.  “Stop it!”

“You stop it!”

“BOYS!” scolds the Girl.  I see the shadow of a Webkin flying across the hall, but I am on my way to the garage to remind my husband that he should come in from whatever he is doing to tuck in his lovely children.  They proceed upstairs without further incident, though I hear grumbling from all parties involved.

I come upstairs a couple of minutes later to find their bathroom counter flooded with water.  “What happened here?” I ask the Apprentice, the only person in the bathroom.  The other two swoop in, telling wild stories of aliens and animals and finally, how their brother spilled water everywhere.  “Okay, fine.  I will clean it up,” I inform them, “Has everyone brushed their teeth?  Ready for bed?”  Silence.  Harrumph.

All the cubs are tucked into bed and I head downstairs to the kitchen.  JB is eating some dinner and I pour myself a bottle glass of wine.  As I take my first gulp sip, I hear one boy yell at another.  I go upstairs to see what is amiss, and find that the yeller is pretending to be asleep as the other starts to tell me about this grave injustice that he must share a bedroom with his brother.  There are stuffy’s everywhere, (I hate stuffys), suggesting something of trench warfare. I sigh, tuck them both in again and remind them that I love them, though I would love them more if they would get a decent night’s sleep.  Starting exactly now.

All crises resolved, I return to the family room to check on football scores and The Amazing Race.  A whole two minutes goes by before we hear footsteps.  The Girl appears, telling us that she is having trouble sleeping.  She states that she has a lot on her mind. I instruct her to sit with her father.  After a few minutes of cuddling, she is back up the stairs to bed.  I check again in about five.

All is quiet.  The End.  Anyone want to come over next Sunday?

Veterans Day Thank You

This week at school each if the kids were given a poppy to wear to honor those Veterans that fought for freedom in Canada and the United States.  We have talked quite a bit over the last few days about the people in our family that have served in various branches of the military at different times.

Today, at 11:00am, we will take pause, as requested by their school, to say a small prayer of thanks for those that have served and for those that continue to serve today.  It is because of these brave men and women that we live in a free country and are citizens of a free country. 

What does freedom mean?  To me, it means in part that I can say four simple words in public, “I do not agree.”  In the United States and Canada, we can say these words to each other about our ideas and about the policies of the government without fear of persecution.  We can show our disagreement by occupying public areas peacefully, speaking about new or different ideas about how things should be done, and we essentially overthrow the government every four years through voting in elections.  Imagine if those in Libya, China or Iraq or other places in the world where demonstrations have erupted recently could do these things which we take for granted. 

Today we will thank those that have fought so that we voice our agreement or dissention freely and openly.  For me, I would like to thank Carrie, a college friend, who comes from a family of those that serve in the Army.  I would like to thank Mike, a former coworker, that awaited orders while supporting his family and working in the office during the second conflict in the Gulf.  I would like to thank Mr. Johnson, my high school civics teacher who taught us that the Coast Guard is also an important part of the national defense.  (By the way, the Coast Guard is based in New London, CT, 06320, and no, I did not have to look that up.)  For all those that have served in our military during peace time and war time, my children and I are thankful. 

Our political ideas aside, today is a day to honor those that have made it their mission to protect all of us.  Whether you agree or not, the fact that we can debate issues in public, on facebook and twitter, blog about our own point of view, write a letter to the editor, or simply complain about foreign policy with the neighbor, is due to their service.

Thank you.

An Eventful Week

The first week of November is always a noteworthy one in our household.  It starts with Halloween and my brother-in-law’s birthday.  And, as usual, this year we got caught up in the all the Halloween hullabaloo and it was almost midnight before we had a chance to call him, (sorry, buddy, we were talking about you all day, if that helps). 

November 1 would have been JB’s Grandmother’s 98th birthday.  She “met her maker”, as she would have said, in May this past spring.  I think about Grandma often.  She had such a way about her.  Like Snow White, animals just seemed to come to her, sensing her kindness.  She was a regular churchgoer and everyone knew her.  Going to church, or a church function, with Grandma was like walking into Boston’s Cheers with Norm.  She was open-minded, yet had strong opinions and was not afraid to voice them.  I enjoyed talking politics with her, as her historical context and rich life experiences added weight to her opinions.  She could name a bird by its song.  In fact, when JB and I returned from her memorial service we heard a bird singing in our yard.  Its song was beautiful and bright and caught the attention of our boys.  They asked what kind of bird it was and I replied that I did not know.  The Girl got a faraway look in her eye and said, “Grandma would know”.  It’s those kind of moments when you know the impact one person can make on another.  I am grateful to have known JB’s Grandmother, as she was an amazing woman.

And then, the week is complete with the Girls’ birthday.  I could go on and on about her birth story, but we’ll save that for another day.  Today I would like to celebrate all that she has accomplished in her eleven years.  The Girl was born at 29 weeks gestation (normal pregnancies are 40 weeks).  She weighed in at 1 pound, 10 ounces and was 13 inches long.  She was screaming and translucent when she was born.  The screaming was a great sign due to her prematurity and the translucency was expected, also due to her prematurity.  She was off a ventilator in about 3 days.  She had double hernia surgery when she was a few months old.  She hit milestones a bit behind her “corrected’ age, but hit them nonetheless.  We marveled at how this little, fragile being grew into a school-age kid. 

What is a baby born prematurely able to do?  The Girl started school on time and continues to work hard at her studies.  She rides her bike all over.  She has skied black diamond runs in the Rockies and has run a 5K at a pace many adults can only dream of.  She has competed in two community swim meets and had a blast doing so.  She plays soccer and piano.  But most of all, she never quits.  Just like that little fighter in the NICU eleven years ago, she continues to overcome obstacles in her path.  As she has grown she has developed an optimism which serves her well.  Watching her grow is bittersweet.  I love the baby she once was, adore the girl she has become, and would like to slow down time as she grows into a young woman.

Happy Birthday to all in our family this week!  Especially my daughter, for whom I am immensely grateful to have my life.

Life Lessons for Trick-or-Treat

Life Lessons are tough.  They are unpredictable and often present themselves at inopportune times.  This was one of those times.

Monday, 24 October – Mid walked into my bedroom at approximately 4:30am, scaring the living hell out of me.  He was standing over me, breathing heavily and smelled terrible.  “I threw up”, he muttered, “Can I sleep with you?”  I jumped out of bed, woke JB (on accident, I swear), and got Mid cleaned up.  I proceeded into his bedroom and assess the damage to the bed, carpet and bathroom.  It was minimal, so I cleaned everything and returned to my bedroom to find him fast asleep in my bed.  I woke him to be sure that he knows where I have placed the puke bucket.  Mid stayed home from school that day, obviously, and by mid-afternoon he was smarting off to me, letting me know that he was on the mend.

Wednesday, 26 October – I received a call from school that Apprentice was complaining of a tummy ache.  Due to Monday morning’s sickness in the house, I naturally went to school to pick him up.  He came home, said he wanted to try to eat something, pooped, took a nap and was right back to normal.  Whew! 

Monday, 31 October – I received a call from school that Apprentice was complaining of a really bad tummy ache.  I talked with him and asked if he had pooped yet that day.  “No”, he replied, “can you come and get me?  I don’t feel good.”  I went to school to pick him up.  On the way home I explained to him that if he is too sick to be in school he is definitely too sick to go out begging for food trick-or-treating that evening.  He begged, pleading with me to let him rest and then he would be fine to go out.  I refused, giving him a “Fred” speech.  (A “Fred” speech is one that I received from my father during my youth that I like to regurgitate every now and again.  And he thought I wasn’t listening.)  I explained that everyone has a job.  His dad goes to an office every day, I work at our house every day and he, along with his sister and brother, go to school every day.  As a child, school is your job, I told him.  And when you are too sick to do your job, you are also too sick to play.  We compromised that he could put on his Halloween costume for the evening, but I was not relenting on the trick-or –treat.   Upon our arrival home he asked for a snack as I was checking out his lunch bag. I noticed that he had not eaten his raisins, so I gave him the raisins with some warm water.  The warm water makes my kids poop; I don’t know why, my mom told me to do it once.  Anyway, 15 minutes later he returned from the bathroom a new man.  His tummy ache was gone and he was ready to roam the neighborhood.  I reminded him that he was too sick for school and therefore too sick for trick-or-treat.  He pouted.

As the witching hour approached, JB arrived home to much fanfare and applause.  The kids knew that he would be taking them out trick-or-treating and were pleased to see him arrive home early.  Except the Apprentice.  He let his siblings and dad know about my talk with him and let them know that he would not be going out.  He was going to hand out candy at our house with me.  Clearly, I had made my point.  I was pleased with myself and knew that my dad would be proud.  You would think this is where it ends, but it is not.

The Girl and Mid starting strategizing how they would take turns carrying their brother’s bag and explain the situation to the neighbors.  Surely they would understand and fill his bag as well.  They were not about to let their brother go without candy and other assorted junk treats on our first Halloween in a new country.  They informed Apprentice of their plans and with his approval, shared the plan with JB and me.  We shared a look.  All had eaten a good dinner and clearly Apprentice was not sick.  Truth was that he just cramped up and had trouble with the #2 that morning. When he told his teacher why he had been in the bathroom so much she took him to the office and advised him to call home.  As the kids worked out their little plan, JB called me aside to speak outside the kids’ earshot.  He reasoned that we should allow Apprentice to go out.  It was, after all, their first Halloween in a new country and a few years from now, how did I want them remember it?  He was going to meet up with some neighborhood buddies.  He clearly understood my stump speech from earlier.

I caved.  I told Apprentice that I could tell he was not really sick and had changed my mind.  He could go out trick-or-treating with his dad, brother and sister.  I was going to stay home and hand out the candy alone.  He thought for a moment, asked if I would be Okay and assured me that he would not eat any candy that evening.  I responded that I would be just fine; he should go have fun, but not too much.

This post was to be about the life lesson that I taught my son and the emotional scarring personal growth that followed (too sick for school = too sick for trick-or-treat).  In the end, I learned a life lesson that I need to listen to my own speech about being flexible and taking things as they come.   A few years from now I want them to remember their first time trick-or-treating in Canada as a common sibling experience, not one where one of them was left behind.  I am glad I caved was smart enough to realize that I could change my mind.  And the extra candy is nice as well..

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