Saturday, August 27, 2011

Four Days Without the Internet - How I Survived It!

This week, by the numbers:

1. Successful shopping for "back to school" clothes. Me + my mum + her charge card = One VERY happy and nattily-dressed Bellymonster.

2. Times Luke peed through the bedsheets at my parents' house.

3. Needles I received in order to start school in September. Ouch!

4. Days I've been without a working computer, courtesy of a busted video card. Or so my husband claims. I think he's been surfing by questionable sites, but he claims not....either way, four days with NOT 'net was harder than I imagined, until suddenly, it wasn't.

5. Loads of laundry I washed, sorted and put away at the beginning of the week. Go, me!

6. Loads of laundry I REwashed, REsorted and added to because Mark discovered that I'd been "washing" everything in fabric softener, not detergent. Yes, I AM a domestic goddess. I'm just not a smart one!

7. Times I have decided upon and then cancelled plans for the Reds' birthday party. How the HECK did time get away from me like this and how do I claw some back?

8. Times Luke used the phrase, "Mummy, stop it. You're freakin' me out!" when I leaned into kiss him goodnight.

9. Times I have said, "I am grieving the loss of these halcyon days," when asked how I feel about the Reds both being in school next week.

10. Days until Luke starts school (note to self: step up the potty-training efforts, slacker!) and I do, too.

And you? How has your week been, by the numbers?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On Old Friends and The Gifts of Small-Town Life

Saw an old friend today. Several old friends, actually.

I have not seen Kristian for close to 20 years. Until today, that is. Back in Ontario for a month-long visit, he recently sent a group email to as many old friends as he could find and presto, a reunion was born.

Today, a handful of us gathered at Cobourg's Victoria Beach, our towels and children and memories in tow.

Kristian was one of my best friends throughout high school, living as we were in a tiny village - a hamlet, really - in Middle Of Nowhere, Ontario. Though we attended different high schools, we rode the same yellow bus and despaired of life in the boonies. We shared teenaged angst, confidences, pilfered beer, stolen cigarettes, romances-gone-bust, gas money and most importantly, friends.

His shock of red hair on a lanky frame made Kristian easy to spot in a crowd, on a soccer field or hiding behind the tallest tree in my parents' yard, as he, Jen and Rob waited for me to sneak out, long after dark. Throughout long, hot summers we would scramble into the night, tripping over ourselves and each other as we made our way to the park, just because. There we would play, like the children we were, swinging, sliding, laughing and chatting until the sky lightened or we grew weary of our games.

Memories like this assailed me as I drove to the beach this afternoon. I had forgotten those nights and all the days in between that made up our teenaged years. Today, remembering, I smiled, pleased that I'd had such a good friend in Kristian.

When high school ended, we drifted amicably apart - I went off to university and Kristian headed west, seeking his future. He landed in Alberta, where he has been ever since, building a life. He is a husband now. And a father of two. A contented, settled and confident man.

Today, I watched as Kristian dealt gently with his tired little boy - patiently coaxing him to sleep under the shade of a beach umbrella. Was touched, though not surprised, to find that he is an engaged and attentive father. The oldest of three boys, he was the same way with his brothers way back when, though he doesn't remember it the way I do.

"Did you always want to be a dad?" I asked, because suddenly, I couldn't recall. Kristian considered for a moment and then smiled at his wife, Ann.

"I don't know.Yeah, I suppose. I just didn't know for sure, until Ann."

 We spoke for a long while about where our lives have taken us, how differently things have turned out, compared to our dreams of  long ago.

 "What the heck did we know, anyway?" Kristian laughed, remembering. "We knew nothing!"

Indeed, we knew very little but that was part of the magic. We were children then, simply pretending.
20 years later, we watched each other's children frolic on the sand and splash through the cool lake water - their own kind of magic. Dreams we didn't know we had, come true.

Around us, chatted other friends  from our separate and shared lives. All of us asking each other, "Are you still in touch with So-and-So?" and "Whatever happened to Whatshername?" Slowly but surely, with lots of laughter, we filled in the bigger gaps left by time and distance.

Sarah and Becky, Kristian's prom date and once-upon-a-time-crush, respectively, have been in my life since grade school. Our stories are woven together in strange and beautiful ways and even though we  communicate mostly through Facebook these days, I believe that we will always be connected. At least, I hope so.

Nikki and Katie went to high school with Kristian and while neither was part of my circle, I was on the fringe of both of theirs. Katie, as warm and friendly as her younger self, is in touch with practically everybody, it seems. And what she didn't know, still vibrant and funny Nikki did. T'was a delightful way to catch-up on the goings-on around town.

Sitting with them all, I realized that this is the real gift of small-town life: that there will always be people who knew you before you knew you.  That old friends are the best keepers of childhood dreams and that it feels good to spend time in the past, especially if  you spent it with good people.

And I did. Then....and now.

Thanks to Kristian, Sarah, Becky, Nikki and Katie for the gifts of time - past and present - and of friendship - then, now and in the future.

 Let's not let another 20 years go by between visits, OK?

And you? Who do you miss?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Unexpected Joys and Blessings (A Guest Post)

Annie blogs over at Six Ring Circus - where she spends her days raising four - count 'em, FOUR! -children. Frankly, I think she deserves some sort of medal for that, and not just because she's funny and wise and blogs it all so beautifully, either.

I am delighted to feature her mad writing and raising-of-little-people skills here at Life With Bellymonster. Annie is a gifted writer and an awesome mum. Best of all, she is also my friend.

Here's Annie:

The Day My Baby Became a Preschooler

The phrase “Monday my school?” has been my 3-year-old’s obsession this summer.

Taz can hardly wait for his first day of preschool and is convinced every tomorrow is a Monday.

Early one morning, before the sun peeked through the curtains, he came to my side of the bed and whispered, “Monday my school?”

I didn’t even try to explain how it’s not. He doesn’t understand what Monday is, or how long a summer lasts. Instead of arguing with him I simply agreed.

“Yes, sweetie. Monday is your school.”

“I need to color my paper,” he whispered and I saw a gleam in his eye. He padded back
to bed. I think he must have been dreaming about it. All his anticipation and dreaming can finally end.

Preschool started this month. On a Tuesday.

I gave him the traditional back-to-school haircut. I watched the soft white fuzz fall on his shoulders and remembered how it stuck up all over on his head when he was born.

On Tuesday morning I cheered, “Finally! Monday My School is today!”

Taz grinned and quickly got to work preparing for his morning away from mommy.

He eagerly packed the mandatory change of clothes in his Lightening McQueen backpack. As I helped him, I wondered if I should feel a little heartbroken. This is the fourth time I have sent a child off to preschool and this will be my last.

I’m giddy. I’m ready. I’m dreaming of all the things I will accomplish in 3 hours of alone time. The deep cleaning and organizing that has taken a back seat to the baby and his three siblings can finally be tackled. The storage room might just get organized and I might make a dent in the scrapbooks I’m behind on. I’m hopeful, at least.

My baby is ready to spread his wings, too. He is happy and anxious, thrilled to become a Big Kid and have his own school just like his siblings. He knows his teacher and he loves her. She’s taught all of Taz’s older siblings. She’s practically part of the family, an extension of us.

As we drove into town I thought back to the baby Taz was, all chub and drool. His cowlicks created a spike of wild hair on his head. I blinked and he became a little boy,with bruises on his shins and a mouth full of tiny white teeth.

I’m happy in this moment. Every stage of life is full of blessings and challenges.

Embracing Taz’s enthusiasm, I joyfully walked him to the door and snapped a few pictures. We find his cubby and hang up his backpack. I turn, anticipating a final hug but he is gone. He is off to play and explore, secure in his role as preschooler.

I wave goodbye and slip out the door. The door shuts quietly but firmly. I feel one chapter ending and anticipate all the unexpected joys the next chapter will hold. A pool of happy tears well in my eyes and threaten to spill over.

 I feel blessed.

* * *

And you? Which blessings have you counted, lately?

Friday, August 12, 2011

On Protests and Freedoms (And A Bit of a Rant)

Tonight's Facebook Status:

 Pro-lifers, I understand you feel strongly about abortion, but thanks to you, my five-year old son is upset and weepy, having seen your HUGE, horrifyingly graphic signs. 

Having spent a happy day at the beach, we were cruising home happily chatting. Traffic slowed at the lights and then suddenly we became a reluctantly captive audience to your silent protest, stuck as we were with nowhere to go.
I am. absolutely. furious.
 Ensuing Wall Discussion:
AR: I am a Pro Lifer, but my child seeing one of those signs would make me LIVID! Poor sweet Matthew :( :hugs:
PMA:  ‎:(
NS:  Poor sweet boy.
AF: Poor Matthew. People don't think do they??

LM: Oh gosh, so sorry for Matthew and you, mama. Big hugs.

JMK: We pass a weekly protest by my house and they only hold up an ultrasound pic. I am thankful that its only that. Im sorry Liz and Im sorry for Matthew, they stole a bit of his innoncence and Im sorry for that.

RP: :( Gaaaaaah!

RTG: amen sister.

Belly: I don't mind a peaceful protest every now and again. People have strong beliefs and I admire those who stand up for them. What I DON"T admire - nor appreciate - is having those beliefs shoved at me and my children, who are blameless, clueless and should NOT have to be subjected to images like the ones we saw.

Luke still cries at certain Loony Tunes. The images EVERYWHERE at a four-way intersection were 8 feet tall and completely unavoidable. Thank GOD Luke was asleep. Now only his brother can close his FIVE YEAR OLD eyes to those images as he goes to sleep tonight.

LR: These folks claim to care about children and families and yet are perfectly fine traumatizing children and families. They have no sense of irony, decency or common sense. Fundamentalists make me so ashamed to be a Christian, sometimes.

Belly: Sigh. And therein lies the rub, LR. To identify yourself as a Christian man - and in my humble opinion you personally embody some of the best qualities of a true and sincere Christian - you risk aligning yourself w/ groups such as these, whose focus is so scarily intense, they've blocked out any thought to WHO might see those signs. No sense of irony or decency is absolutely right.

Too bad my SON was on the receiving end of their lack of both.

LR: Very kind of you to say, Belly, but i'm not so devout that i'm above calling these people a bunch of really choice names right to their faces.

Heh ... "choice" ...

‎Belly: *Snickers* 
 If Mark weren't sleeping for night shift, I'd haul ass back up there to give them a piece of my mind. Yep. Seems I *can* be *that* woman, if the situation warrants. Just call me Mama Bear...

AC: Such poor taste. Sorry you guys had to see that filth.

LMc: I drove past that too Liz - there were kids holding those signs! They were massive and I did everything I could to avoid looking at them. As a mother, and one who would never abort her baby, I do not need to look at a graphic image like that of a dead was unbelievable and made me want to cry. I guess that is the reaction they are looking for, but I was upset seeing it, I can't imagine if my kids were with me...poor Matthew!! I am pro choice for many reasons, but still very pro life in my own mind...the thought of abortion sickens me. I don't mind a protest like you said, but not something like that, that was like nothing I've ever seen before!
Belly: Is this a NORMAL thing for Belleville?!?? I've never seen anything like it and those images dropped my stomach to the floor. Pro-choice does NOT mean ANTI-LIFE and it infuriates me that people would use such tactics to make their point.

Matthew is fine now - nothing a little grilled cheese and Treehouse can't cure, really, but I am still agitated. I saw the kids holding signs and am incredulous that their parents would expect/encourage it.

Protecting the innocent, indeed.

LAL: I've seen them before - lining Dundas Street right around the Bay Bridge. I wonder if there is something law wise that covers the graphic nature of the pictures. I certainly don't want to get into the debate of their right to protest but there must be something to speak to content of the images.Displaying a picture of a Sunshine girl in a workplace can be considered sexual harassment. That's tame in comparison to this so surely there must be some recourse?
Belly: Am, naturally, drafting a letter right now. Their location was well-chosen, traffic-wise. Also, w/Ribfest this weekend, lots of people are travelling down 62 to Zwicks. IS there not a rule about this sort of thing? The protest was peaceful - I saw no law enforcement or the like. Saw a lot of stunned looks on the faces of the drivers around me, but no confrontation or anything, so I suppose that speaks well of the Friendly City's tolerance and support of freedom to speak/protest etc.

LMc: I have never seen anything like this in Belleville before...or anywhere for that matter. I hear stories of crazy the horrible one at Heath Ledger's funeral, but I never thought I'd see hat kind of thing here!

That's what upset me Liz...protest if you must, but don't force somebody to look at something in that manner. I could tried hard not to look, but I didn't have much choice!

LAL: Yep, I think that's the issue. We all understand the value and importance of freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest. But the images are akin to an assault and we DO have laws that support that concept. Let me know the outcome of your letter writing.

Belly: Totally blogging this thread, if that's OK w/ everyone. Will not use your full names, just initials.

LAL: Blog away your Royal Blogness.

LMc: No problem:)

LP: They shoot doctors who perform abortions, right? Maybe it's time to even the score. 

Belly: Well, I don't think that's the answer, either. No, it's NOT the answer. To do so would be hypocritical and wrong. But I see your point.

WB: I totally agree! I found those posters so upsetting and unnecessary!

SL: I've seen them doing the same thing in Toronto. Corner of Bayview and Eglinton if I remember correctly. It's completely inappropriate. I think most people don't react because they're too stunned at the fact that these morons are doing what they're doing. It does nothing for their cause - just angers people and if anything it deepens the resolve of pro-choicers. I don't understand fanatical fundamentalists of any kind. They are just plain dangerous...just ask Norway.

So there you have it - how to get a Belly Mama completely riled up on sunny summer's day. 

Was this a rant, a conversation, a sermon or a complaint? What do you think? 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

When "No-Plan" Plans Go Awry

Most of the time, I am a pretty good mum, if I do say so myself.

Every day, I have a plan (ish) for the hours between sunup and sundown and manage to feed the Reds at least three meals during that time. Three meals plus snack.

Most days, I limit their TV-watching, although that I'll admit to letting them watch more when I need them to shush up and sit still for 5 blessed minutes. (Or an entire showing of "How to Train Your Dragon." Whichever.)

Every day, we head outdoors, even if it's just for a run through the backyard sprinkler or to play in a big pile of street construction sand.

I make them brush their teeth and wipe off the toilet seat.

We read a book, sometimes two.

Occasionally, we play cards in between rounds of laundry and most of the time, the boys are eager to "help."

But today was not like every other day and it was absolutely marvelous.

Here's how it went down:

Looked outside, saw rain. Looked in fridge, no fruit, except some blackened bananas. Looked at kids, curled up on couch together, watching "Canada's Worst Driver" and giggling. Made decision.

Announced decision thusly:

"Boys! Boys, eyes on me, please. Today is officially a "Do-Nothing" Day. The only thing we MUST do is go to the dentist, but after that, we can just hang around and do nothing. What do you think?"

Wild cheering. Shouts of joy. Couch-jumping.

I was freaking Super Mum!

Breakfast: Mini-Wheats and toaster waffles, two items normally reserved for weekends. Apple juice in juice boxes, normally reserved for car rides, park visits and school lunch boxes.

The only reason anyone dressed and brushed their teeth was because Luke had a dentist appointment, otherwise, I reckon I'd still be wearing last night's yoga pants-cum-pj-bottoms.

Video games with Daddy, newly returned from the night shift. He brought me a to-go coffee, which is a really special treat, especially  if I'm lazing around the house just thinking about laundry and not doing a thing about it.

Sword-play inside because of the rain and because I'd called a "TV Timeout!" The only rules = no fighting on the stairs and no waking Daddy, which is virtually impossible, so really, it was just the one rule. Only one kid fell down the stairs and really, it was his own fault because he was also wearing a viking helmet, "Iron-man" slippers and playing the recorder.

Lunch: A picnic, complete with real basket, blanket and umbrella.

(This is actually something  I started when Matthew was a restless toddler and Luke was still a baby. I hope that  both children continue to be delighted by this quirky "tradition." Indoor picnics truly are a special kind of magic.)

This afternoon, both boys helped me make banana bread, making sure I was extra generous when pouring chocolate chips into the giant, perfect-for-licking-bowl. Watching a small boy stick his entire head into a large silver mixing bowl, tongue at-the-ready? Priceless.

Banana bread snack in bed with Daddy, who did not bark and holler upon awakening, as is his way. Instead, he grimaced silently and held out his hand for coffee, which the Reds and I had carefully carried upstairs.  A rare and peaceful family moment.

Next, the boys kicked my ass at Nintendo, which both shames and frightens me. I am admittedly hopeless, but they are AMAZING. I shudder to think about how things will be around here in few short years and imagine future blog posts including words like, "Gaming Leprechauns" and "What's a Wii?"

Dinner: Spaghetti, ice cream and more juice boxes, not necessarily in that order.

Bookstore, park, more banana bread and bed, where finally, the boys expressed their pleasure at the  aimless hours we'd spent together:

"It was fun hanging out with you today, Mummy!" said Matthew, smiling with unbrushed teeth and wrapping sticky, unbathed arms around my neck. "Let's have a "Do-Nothing" day again!"

"Yeah, it was fun. But l don't want to do it again yet, Mummy. Not yet, OK? "

This from the bottom bunk, where an equally unkempt Luke yawned and tugged on my pants, insistent.

"Tomorrow, we should have Weetabix for breakfast and maybe we should go to the grocery store because we used up all the bananas today."

I smiled. "Sure, Lukey. Sounds like a good plan to me!"

And you? How do you spend "plan-free" days?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On Being Mum to The Reds (Or: Just Call Me, "Mrs. Weasley")

Hanging out with the Reds is kind of like hanging with little celebrities: like moths to the flame, folks seem drawn to my fire-haired children and will often stop us where we are: in the grocery store aisle, at church, walking to a park...everywhere.

The Reds, God bless them, have learned to take it all in stride. They sit patiently, smiling politely while people coo and ruffle their hair while remarking on the freckles that dot the boys' faces. Even Luke now barely flinches when people reach out to touch his head.


Old men, especially, seem drawn to my fire-haired imps. But everyone, young, old, male or female, has something to say about their hair. The boys - and I, by proxy - get tons of compliments, "Lovely colour!", "Isn't he gorgeous?", "TWO red heads, aren't you lucky?"

 I nod happily because, well, yes, it IS a lovely colour, he IS gorgeous and I AM lucky.

The boys also smile politely and offer a cheerful, "Nope!" when asked if they're twins, and giggle when I answer, "Yep!" to the question, "Well, are they Irish Twins, then?"

 ("Irish Twins", by the way, are siblings born within 12 months of each other and while I can see why folks might suspect I had the boys that close together, I sometimes want to ask them, "What do you think I am, crazy?)

Folks also seem compelled to pass along random information pertaining to redheads, the most-spouted being that the red-headed gene is dying out and soon there will be no gingers left on the entire planet.

If we're anywhere but Belleville, I simply nod, as though it's news to me. I  have already heard this dramatic tidbit, but I never let on because this might be some stranger's first and only opportunity to share it. Instead,  I raise my eyebrows and say things like, "Well, isn't that something!" and move my shopping cart a little faster. Once we've entered the "stat-spouting" portion of a stranger exchange, it's best to move on.

If we ARE in Belleville, and someone shares the "last of the species" stat, I chuckle and say this:

"I'd have believed that before we moved, but there are tons and tons of ginger-haired kids here. When we first moved to town and went to the grocery store, I turned to my husband and said, "Good Lord! There are red heads everywhere! Finally, finally we have FOUND OUR PEOPLE!"

Some other pithy observations made by strangers and my most-used replies:

"I bet they've got tempers on 'em, eh?" 

"I blame their father for the broken windows."

"Who's got the red hair, then?"

"The mailman."

(Which was actually funnier when we lived in Newcastle, because the mailman DID have red hair. So did the garbage man.)

"My aunt's sister's half-cousin's brother was a red head."

"Well, they say every family's got one hidden somewhere."

"I guess they're allergic a lot, eh?"

"Nope. Fit as fiddles. Must be their Irish blood." (What I want to say is, "What? What the heck does that mean?")

"Love the hair. They're so adorable. Do they look like their dad, then?"

"Well, thank you. I WAS feeling adorable, right up 'til now, but now you've gone and wrecked it."

"They're really not twins?"

"Nope...there are two years between them." (What I want to say is, "I'm their mother. Is that a real question?")

And today's question, from the lady waiting beside us at the deli counter:

"Did you know that, statistically, people with red hair die sooner than people with brown or blond hair?"

Me, wide-eyed and huffy:  "Uh, not sure I really want my red headed children to think that something like that is true..." (Which was, you understand, a polite way of saying, "Shut-the-EFF-up!")

To which she replied:  "No, really. I read it on Twitter."

And you?
Any random redhead tidbit to add?  
What crazy sh*t have YOU read on Twitter lately?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Gone Fishin'!

My friend Erin rang just now, inviting us to camp at their brand-new trailer. So, while waiting for the laundry to dry, I am feeling blessed and lucky to have such generous friends.

And not just because it's so  freakin' HOT outside and the lake will be a welcome respite.

Erin, as you might remember, is mum to William, Sweet William and Pinky, both of whom I've written about here at Life With Bellymonster.

The trailer we'll be calling home for the next few days is the one given to Pinky by the Make-A-Wish Foundation: Pinky, as of June, is now cancer-free after two years of treatment.

It will be wonderful to watch them all frolick about in the sunshine: happy, healthy miracles.

Enjoy your week, my friends. See you at the end of it!