Sunday, January 27, 2013

I thought I would shave my head

Today I'm doing a fun blog hop (hosted by Stephen TrempElise FallsonMark Koopmans and C.M. Brown) where we're supposed to tell our readers something interesting about ourselves as a re-introduction. This happens to tie in nicely with my usual Monday Listicles topic for this week, so I'm doing them together in one post. Click the buttons to join in!



If the following list doesn't give you insight into my strange mind, nothing will. Here are 10 things I thought as a child I would do or be (prompt courtesy of Wendy at Twisted Domestic Goddess):

1) I thought I would shave my head.
Among nature's dubious gifts to me is a head of what is universally regarded as bad hair, as TV and countless schoolyard taunts have taught me. It's brown. It's frizzy. It's curly. Except in the places where it's randomly straight, lending the whole mess a thoroughly deranged, uneven appearance. Before I learned of the existence of flat irons, I was so ashamed of my wretched hair I could hardly hold my head up straight.

Then one day I read about a miracle that could transform me into a beautiful swan. Apparently if you shaved your head, the hair often grew in differently than before. It was too much to hope for it to grow in blonde, but it could certainly grow in straight! I was so excited. The thing was, there was that whole bald phase. Maybe the summer before junior high wasn't the right time for my transformation. I decided to wait until I was done high school and would no longer care what I looked like. Strangely when the time came, I put it off until I was done university. Then until I was 30. Barring any scary health crises, I think I'm stuck with this hair for life.

2) I thought I would become a professional editor.
The reason why I became a chartered accountant instead is here.

3) I thought I would eat unlimited amounts of candy.

photo credit: Swamibu via photopin cc

My mother was a health nut while I was growing up, obsessing about natural ingredients and the evils of sugar to the point that I became confused about where Christianity ended and buying rice cakes on sale began. At recess I would look mournfully at the other children, eating their Wagon Wheels while listening to Salt'n'Pepa on their Walkmans and dream of the day when I would have enough money to buy as much candy as I wanted.

It was a cruel, cruel day when I discovered that my concave stomach and lack of sugar were related, and that being able to afford unlimited amounts of candy did not lead to the blissful state of existence I had expected.

4) I thought I would be child-free.
I have never liked kids. In sixth grade, we were forced to partner with kindergarten students and read with them for an hour every Wednesday afternoon. It was the lowlight of my week. The books were painfully simple and my charge, Christine, was a sullen gnome who hated me on sight. Every interaction I had with younger kids was boring and/or irritating beyond belief, and by the time I was an adult, I knew having children was a life experience I would prefer to avoid.

However, my husband loved kids as much as I disliked them and I prayed with increasing desperation throughout my 20's for my missing maternal genes to kick in. My biological clock finally woke up around 30 and I love my two children fiercely. I still choose not to spend my free time at Chuck E. Cheese, and if I had met a man who didn't want kids, that wouldn't have been a deal-breaker. But I treasure the two little people I have been given to nurture and guide through life; getting to know and love them is one of my greatest joys.

5) I thought I would become a cat hoarder.

photo credit: GirlieMac via photopin cc

My parents held fast in their refusal to allow us to have any pets larger than a caged rabbit, and I had grand plans for the cat sanctuary I would build in my house when I was grown up. I did welcome a fur baby or two, but the feline fun was over once our actual babies came along. Sometimes parents do know what they're doing.

6) I thought I would find the magic.
I was a very imaginative child and had such vivid, lucid dreams that I actually believed they must be happening on some level. Fairies and supernatural beings always seemed to be at the edge of my vision, and I thought if I could just look quickly enough in the right place, I would catch a glimpse of them. I was sure the day would come when I would find the edge of the film of mundane reality, and peel it back to reveal the lush beauty of a magical land underneath. Losing my sense of mystery and magic in the world is the saddest thing that has happened to me.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

7) I thought I would wait until I was married to have sex.
Oops.

8) I thought I would always be busy on Sunday mornings.
Growing up as a devout Christian, I never thought I would become an atheist who uses Sunday morning to sleep in (thank you, dear husband) or go to the gym rather than to church.

9) I thought I would move somewhere warm.
Trudging through the gritty grey snow as the -20 degree wind slashed at my cheeks, I daydreamed about living in a place where the temperature never dropped below 25 and the sky was always blue. As soon as I was old enough, I had every intention of blowing this icy popsicle stand. But then I met a guy (aka my husband), so I stayed in town for university and by the time I graduated I wasn't sure about moving anymore. The warmest place in Canada was on the other side of the country, where the real estate prices were so out of control we would have to live under a bridge or with roommates for the rest of our lives.

I briefly considered other countries, but I'm a true-blooded Canadian and the thought of living anywhere else made me feel disoriented and panicky. I don't know or care anything about football and believe basic health care is a human right, along with a maternity leave longer than a few weeks. I think guns belong to police officers and registered hunters with a thorough background check and waiting period longer than two hours. Nobody else. Clearly I wouldn't fit in in many areas of the U.S.

So I stayed rooted where I grew up in southern Ontario, Canada and have grown to love the variety of our four distinct seasons. Coincidentally this love developed after I got a car and no longer had to walk outside for 3+ hours every day.

photo credit: Lone Primate via photopin cc

10) I thought I would be everything at once.
Sometimes adulthood feels like a series of closing doors. I wouldn't change the path I've chosen, but I feel wistful thinking of the open horizons of youth, when mutually exclusive dreams shimmered in front of me with equal possibility.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Advice for the guys

Dear Men,

We notice when you pull on your balls and are not impressed. Even if, especially if you pull on them while wearing a suit and sitting across from us in a business meeting.

It freaks us out when you're skinnier than we are. It just does.

We want a hug, not a ten-point action plan.

Admitting another man is attractive does not mean you're gay. Although it will probably alarm your girlfriend or wife if you start wolf whistling hot guys on the street.

When we fall into the toilet in the middle of the night, we lose all interest in sex for a minimum of one week.

You get better with age.

Our conversations with our girlfriends are far more detailed and X-rated than your conversations with your buddies. Until we're married and zip that lip out of respect for you...on the topic of sex at least.

We love how you make us laugh, which is usually not when you're telling a joke.

No, you don't like women who are completely au natural. You like women who are good at blending in their make-up.

Your hair loss bothers you more than it bothers us.

Hiding dishes in the oven or clean laundry under the bed doesn't qualify as putting them away.

We need you badly. Just not for your money.

Asking us what we're thinking about and then starting to watch TV as soon as we open our mouths ensures a nasty answer.

There's nothing cooler than a man who doesn't care how cool he is.

We masturbate more than you think.

When we're at a party together and we have food stuck in our teeth, it is your duty to discreetly tell us. Immediately, not in the car on the way home.

It doesn't matter how long we've been together. Number two should never, ever happen with the door open.

It's OK if you think a celebrity is hot and she bears some resemblance to your girlfriend or wife. Expressing great admiration for a flat-chested bleached blonde when your partner is a busty brunette will shut things down in a hurry.

We're strong and we work hard. We expect the same from you. We want a partner, not another child.

Penises are awesome. That is all.

Love,
Women

Mama’s Losin’ It
 Thanks Mama Kat for the great prompt: "Dear Men, (an open letter…offer a word of advice, an issue you’d like to address, or a solution to a problem for the opposite sex)."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Blank walls

A few weeks ago I decided to clean up my Facebook friend list. The cousin-in-law who excluded us from her wedding guest list but invited everyone else in the family, then posted daily recaps of every minute detail of her wedding and reception for a month? Gone. The self-righteous mother who posts stuff like this every day?


Gone. Motherhood is hard enough without having to put up with someone who has mistaken it for a competition. The drama queen whose status flips between "engaged" to "single" to "my new boyfriend has the biggest cock ever!"? She stayed for her entertainment value.

I also went through and checked my privacy settings for everyone. Limited profile is a wonderful thing: you don't have the awkwardness of ignoring an inappropriate friend request from someone you don't want to offend, because you can just add them to your list of people who see nothing but your name and a blank wall should they actually look at your Facebook page.

Some people were on this list from the beginning, like my former boss turned back-stabbing co-worker. Others were casual work friends who now report directly to me, and I no longer feel comfortable with them seeing all the details of my personal life. It made me laugh when I went to a few people's pages to set them to "limited profile" and saw they had done the same. I happily deleted those people with no hard feelings; obviously our acquaintance had run its course.

With all this maintenance work and exposure to frenemies, why do I bother with Facebook at all? Despite the negatives, I like having the opportunity to keep up with friends I might otherwise lose touch with due to distance or just our busy lives. I work full-time (on maternity leave right now) and have two kids under the age of three, so there isn't much time for in-person socializing.

Facebook also helps me keep up with my family, who isn't very close. My sister is three years younger than me and my brother six years. I've often felt sad as I've gotten older to realize most families have a closer bond than ours. Growing up I didn't know that other kids heard "I love you" more often than once a year or that some mothers hugged their children every day. I just thought that all families were cold and distant.

When I first started blogging, I secretly hoped that my blog might open conversations with my family and help us get to know each other as adults. What I didn't realize is that they didn't want to know me. One day when I mentioned a post, my mother turned to me and said, "I'm never going to read your blog. That's not how I communicate. If you want to tell me something, you'll have to call me and tell me." I switched to an anonymous blog and moved on. At least there was still Facebook.

Having finished my Facebook clean-up that day, I decided to catch up with some family members, leaving a "happy birthday" on a cousin's wall, admiring my sister's new shoes and smiling at another cousin's new baby pictures. I wondered what my brother was up to and clicked over to his page.

His wall was blank.

I stared at the screen, hitting "refresh" a few times in case Internet Explorer had forgotten to load part of the page again. The wall remained blank, a silent slap across the face.

It's OK, I guess. We're not close anyway.

So why does it hurt so much?

 
Update: After a few people asked whether I was sure my brother didn't just post infrequently, I decided to go look at his page again. The blank wall came up as I remembered and I felt a twinge of sadness again. As I went to close the tab, my hand brushed the touchpad and the auto scroll came on, rolling the window down to show 2008-2012, all 28 posts. The stupid Facebook timeline makes it look like the wall is blank if there are no recent posts - it used to show the most current post at the top no matter how old it was.
 
I have been laughing at my dumbass self ever since. I'm so glad I didn't say anything to him and have him show me this. I would never live it down.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

10 things in my closet

I generally avoid going into my closet. No, I don't walk around naked...outside of the house anyway. But since I'm on maternity leave, I don't have to get dressed in real clothes most days, so I try to stay out of my closet. There is a tiny section of clothes that fit me, surrounded by pretty little tops and sexy jeans, glaring at me like accusing ghosts of my formerly attractive self.

In fact, I almost sat out this Monday Listicle because the prospect of going through my closet was so depressing. But in the end I decided to link up after all, because I never let an opportunity to emotionally abuse myself go by. Also, the resulting trauma stopped me from eating a second piece of cake. Hurray!

So here are 10 things in my closet. Click on the badge below if you want to join us.

1) Thongs
At one time I thought thongs were the best thing ever. That was 40 pounds ago and their appeal has lessened significantly since then. Plus there was that whole cat incident. Still, I kept a few to scare my daughter with in the future: "Look what Mommy used to wear!"

2)  Pin-up dress
I love this dress so much I refuse to accept that I may never fit into it again.
 


3) Shoes I can wear 
These are my favourite shoes that I can still wear. I've mentioned before that I would dress like a drag queen if it were socially acceptable, but unfortunately it is not, especially for an accountant. Boo. At least I can have a little fun with my shoes:


4) Shoes I can't wear
I've always liked shoes with a serious heel. When they became painful to wear in my third trimester with Sass, I put them away, thinking it was temporary. But my feet never really recovered and I can't walk in many of my favourite shoes now. I'm not sure why, because I've always had duck feet. Seriously, do you see anything resembling an arch here?


To my great disgust, these cuties were one of the casualties. I keep them around in memoriam, like the thongs.

At least I can live vicariously through Sass, who decided to survey her domain while I was in the washroom. You can see her brother in the background, clearly thinking even at five months, "WTF? How many shoes does she need??" These aren't even all of them (*red face*).


5) House clothes
Pretty clothes are very nice outside of the house, but when we're home alone, we laze about in what we kindly call "house clothes." Other people might call them stained, ripped, too-small, too-big shopping mistakes that should be turned into rags, but that's just mean. House clothes are the reason we don't answer the door when people drop by unannounced. That and because in the summer house clothes often turn into no clothes. You surprise us with a visit, we surprise you with more of us than you ever wanted to see. High-five!

6)  Matching dresses
Before I had kids, I came across a beautiful little dress that looked just like one I had, so I bought it just in case. When I found out I was having a girl, I could hardly wait until she was old enough to wear the dress and we could take pictures together. It never crossed my mind that my dress might not fit anymore when the time came.


7) Oktoberfest hat
Every year Jay and I go to a retro video dance party held in our city for Oktoberfest. It's the one time I get to go out and dance and I love it. You can't celebrate Oktoberfest without a proper hat!


8) Hoochie clothes
I've always believed in the motto "If you've got it, flaunt it." Within reason, of course. Let's not be mistaken for prostitutes here, ladies. However, a 19-year-old's version of "within reason" is quite a bit different from a 34-year-old's and my clubbing clothes at that age (Canada's legal drinking age is 19...poor Americans) were very airy. Most of them are gone, having been thrown out or simply disintegrating in a pool of PVC.

However, I've kept a few items for Sass to laugh at when she's older. I wanted to take a picture of them, but I couldn't find them right away. Not a surprise: the skirts are about the size of my knee cap and the shirts maybe half a nursing bra cup. They're probably hiding behind a thong somewhere.

9) Domestic fantasies
Ooh, what a pretty box! I could use it to store my buttons and sewing supplies!



For some reason I still have a bunch of clothes missing buttons. I don't understand why.


10) Always loved, never forgotten
This is the most important item in my closet. It may seem morbid or weird and may make you uncomfortable in an otherwise light-hearted post, but I can't talk about my closet without mentioning the memory box that sits on the top shelf.

After searching through the blood for my baby and holding the tiny pieces of his or her body in my hand, I just couldn't bear to put him or her outside in the cold. The first twin passed too early for any remains, but what's left of our second angel baby is in this box, including pictures that I don't want to share and you don't want to see. But I'm glad I have them. They're proof that this life existed, if only for a few months, hidden away from the world.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Make it fast and make it expensive

"Welcome to Grand Cayman," said the airline representative. "You made it in on the last flight before the hurricane." My husband gasped. "There's a hurricane coming? We had no idea!" I kicked Jay's leg and smiled at the shocked rep apologetically. "Yes, we know about Hurricane Paloma," I said. "We're staying with locals."

It was my 30th birthday and Jay and I had taken up my friend Sunny's offer to stay with her for a week on Grand Cayman. We had already booked our flights and time off work when Hurricane Paloma materialized and began making her way toward the Cayman Islands. In an uncharacteristic moment of recklessness, we hopped on the plane anyway, beating Paloma to the island by one day.

When we arrived at Sunny's tiny one-room apartment, she told us we would be moving inland to her boyfriend's house for the next two days while the hurricane blew through. Eyeing the very open concept apartment complex, we tried to hide our relief at the thought of experiencing our first tropical hurricane from behind heavy-duty shutters, rather than dorm-room-style windows.

The next afternoon as the wind picked up, we helped Sunny pack up for the move inland. "We need to pick up supplies though," Sunny said. Speeding out of the parking lot, she shook her head. "I hope the stores are still open."

The view on the way to the store

As we drove past closed stores, we spotted an owner turning to lock the door to his small convenience store. Sunny careened into the parking lot and bounced out of the car with a huge smile. She had once gotten us into a club by smacking a bouncer's ass, doing a shimmy and yelling, "Five dolla make ya holla!" I had faith. As expected, the owner held the door open and as we ran in, he growled, "Make it fast and make it expensive!" We did:

You can't see the alcohol, which was the expensive part
 
As we drove inland, we saw large groups of cars parked seemingly at random on plots of grass. Sunny explained that whenever a hurricane came in, everyone drove their cars to the centre of the island to keep them as safe as possible. We were lucky and Paloma only grazed Grand Cayman. Where we live in Canada, there is very little extreme weather, so I was still surprised at the extent of destruction from such a glancing blow. This tree fortunately fell away from the house, which shook to an unnerving degree all night despite the thick metal shutters covering it:


I was also surprised at how quickly the weather shifted. Two days later we were snorkeling and swimming with stingrays in serene blue waters. The boat staff assured us that the stingrays were placid and comfortable with people, so we didn't need to worry about a Steve Irwin-style mishap. "Just shuffle your feet along the bottom so you don't surprise the stingrays," they said. "You don't want to step directly on one from above. I shuffled dutifully through the chest-high water and was just starting to relax when a small wave lifted me off the ocean floor, and then slammed me back down, my feet stomping into the sand. "ARGH!!" I shrieked, frantically curling my feet back underneath me and treading water as I tried to avoid touching the bottom again. Turns out the shuffling was a little harder than it sounded, but somehow I survived.
 
This is not what my shuffling looked like
 
We had a great time in Grand Cayman. A free-range parrot landed on Jay's shirt, ripped off one of his buttons and then hopped over to a nearby cage to eat it:


I dressed up in a gorilla suit - don't ask:


Sunny and her friends took us out for my birthday dinner at a very nice steakhouse, and I got to dress up for real:


And the best part of the trip - lazing on a beach in November, Canada's cold, dreary days forgotten:


I feel a little sad when I see these pictures. The four years since they were taken have brought thirty extra pounds, a lot of grey hair and the beginnings of those angry lines between the eyes, along with two precious children. Next year is our 10-year wedding anniversary and 20 years since we first started dating. I would have liked to celebrate with a trip somewhere warm, but I'm not sure it's going to happen given our heavy daycare costs. I'm glad that at least I have memories of a more carefree time, and I can only hope someday we'll be able to go on a trip like this again. Minus the hurricane.

Thanks Kate and Janine for another great prompt at Finish the Sentence Fridays: "The last time I went on vacation, I..." 

Finish the Sentence Friday

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Conversations with a call centre

I got a call from PC Financial last week saying that one of their merchants had had a security breach, and they were sending me a new credit card. I'd signed up only a month earlier, so I was slightly annoyed, but identity theft would have been more annoying. I said thank you and checked the mail every day looking for the new card.

In a furious attempt to show my body who's boss, I haven't been eating the last few days until after I go to the gym in the evening. Dysfunctional but effective: I've lost 3.5 pounds already. As a result, I was starving yesterday on the way back from a marathon gym session, when I finally found the card waiting in our mailbox. I decided to do the card activation while microwaving my supper, since it should be quick. This is what happened (the caps are me yelling...):

Automated system: "Welcome to PC Financial. Stay on the line for service in English." (Pause). "Enter the 16-digit number on your card."

I type in the number.

Automated system: "Enter the month of your birth, followed by the last two digits of your birth year."

Me: "What?" (Pause while my food-deprived brain slowly figures this out). I type in the number.

Automated system: "Enter the security code on the back of your card."

The card is still glued to the paper it came on, so I quickly pull it off and flip it over. As I type the first number...

Automated system: "You have not entered the correct security code."

Me: "For fuck's sakes, give me a second!" I finish typing in the number.

Automated system: "Enter your access code and then select a PIN."

I type in the number.

Automated system: "Type in your PIN again to verify."

I type in the number.

Automated system: "Invalid PIN entry." Me: "What the hell?" Phone begins ringing and is answered by a call centre rep, who blitzes through his name and several identity verification questions.

Rep: "While your card is activating, let me tell you about the insurance products we have available with this card."

Me: "I'm not interested." Rep ignores me and continues talking.

Me: "This is a replacement card and I just heard this information. I'm not interested."

Rep: "I know this is a replacement card, but why wouldn't you want this product?" Starts rhyming off sales pitch again.

Me: "I.am.not.interested. Is my card activated or not?"

Rep: "Why don't you want this insurance? You need it to protect yourself and have peace of mind. Here are the benefits..."

Me: "I am an accountant who works at an insurance company. I have adequate insurance already. Is my card activated?"

Rep: "Disability and job loss happen to everyone, ma'am. I don't understand why you don't want this product. The features are outstanding!"

Me: "All I want to know is whether my card is activated or not, and whether my PIN went through properly. Can..." Rep interrupts me to start telling me about the insurance again.

I hold the phone out to my husband and ask if the rep is still talking. When he finally stops five minutes later and there is blessed silence, I say hello again.

Rep: "So I'm going to send you the contract and you can sign it and send it back."

Me: "I haven't heard anything you said, because I wasn't listening. I told you I wasn't interested, and you kept talking, so I put the phone down. I just need to know whether my card is activated and..." Rep interrupts me to start telling me about the insurance again.

Me: "STOP TALKING!  Do NOT interrupt me..." Rep starts talking. Me: "I said, STOP TALKING! Is my card activated?"

Rep (sulkily): "Well, you wouldn't let me talk, so I couldn't tell you. And I don't know anything about your PIN."

Me: "I'm done talking to you. Transfer me to your supervisor." Rep starts talking about the insurance again.

Me: "I SAID, TRANSFER ME TO YOUR SUPERVISOR! THIS INSTANT!" Rep continues babbling.

Me: "TRANSFER! TRANSFER! TRANSFER! TRANSFER! TRANSFER!"

Supervisor: "Hello?"

I'll spare you the play-by-play of the next 20 minutes. The supervisor told me my card was activated, but she didn't know about my PIN and she would transfer me to customer service. After going through the log in process above for the second time, the automated system told me in great detail all about my credit limit, current balance and date of last payment, down to the pennies and seconds. At the end of the message, the system told me, "Thank you for calling PC Financial. Unfortunately the offer you were calling about has expired. Goodbye!" and disconnected.

My reheated food was now cold, so I re-started the microwave, before searching for the customer service phone number. After going through the log in process for the third time, the system began telling me about the latest PC Financial products until I freaked out and began pressing "0" and "*" over and over, while beating the cordless phone against the counter in helpless rage.

Automated system: "Transferring you to a customer service representative. Please hold."

Approximately 40 minutes after I called the activation line, I was finally told that 1) the card was successfully activated, and 2) the PIN I picked was successfully activated as well. I have not yet used the card to find out whether or not this is true.

If it was painful for you to read this, think how much worse it was for me to actually experience it. Gah.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Wanna dance?

My daughter is the type of child described as "high-spirited" by kind people. I thought all toddlers were as energetic as she is until her daycare providers began commenting on her busy nature. One day when my husband went to pick her up, he heard one of her teachers say, "Oh, Sass' dad is here," with a distinct sigh of relief. From grandparents to teachers, everyone loves her joie de vivre, as long as they can have a nap after watching her for any length of time.

When I gave birth to her little brother last year, I was entertained by casual friends warning me about the rambunctiousness of boys. "Brace yourself," said one well-meaning acquaintance. "Girls are more dramatic, but boys just go, go, go." I thanked her and kept my eye-rolling to myself. I couldn't imagine any boy being wilder than my warrior princess of a daughter. I was right: her brother is a mellow little guy who laughs at her antics but shows no signs of wanting to participate.

With Sass' passion for life comes an unholy temper, which she inherited from me. Every time my mother witnesses one of Sass' meltdowns, I can sense her restrained glee at how the circle has turned. You may think I'm exaggerating. Sass has a mild expressive speech delay, and recently I had to take her and her brother to a follow-up assessment at a centre that also treats autistic children. The assessment went well, but when it was time to leave, Sass had the worst temper tantrum yet in her 30 months of life.

Ten minutes into her fit, Sass kicked the double stroller so hard it fell over with her brother in it. He was strapped in and cried for a few minutes before going to sleep; Sass continued her rampage through the first floor of the building. I finally had to hold her in a straitjacket position in the lobby as people came out of their offices to see if I needed help. After carrying Sass to the car under one arm while pushing the double stroller with the other, and sitting on her to get her strapped into her car seat, I sat in the driver's seat and cried along with her before starting the 30-minute drive home. I wasn't surprised when Sass' speech therapist called this week to gently probe whether I wanted to book an assessment for the other types of services the centre provides. "She just has a bad temper," I said quietly, choking the words past the lump of shame in my throat. I was afraid I was wrong.

Depression and anxiety have stalked me for as long as I can remember, and one of my deepest fears is that my children have inherited these unwelcome companions along with my weak eyes and crooked teeth. Braces and LASIK eye surgery cleared those right up; my personality problems have proved more difficult to correct. My social awkwardness and inability to focus at school resulted in me being home-schooled for the third grade. I returned in the fourth grade to severe physical and emotional bullying, which pushed me at ten years old to ask my mother if it would be a sin to kill myself. I'm terrified that Sass is taking the first steps toward a path that will lead to me hiding the knives and talking to her about suicide along with the birds and bees.

It's too early to put labels on Sass' behaviour and I can still hope she's only an especially lively toddler. If time shows an ugly side to her moods, I'll take a moment to mourn the difficult journey ahead of her; then I'll settle in to teach her ways to find the light in her darkness. For now, I'll stop worrying and simply enjoy my baby's bright smile as she puts her small hand in mine. "Come on, mama," she says, bouncing in circles around me. "Wanna dance?"



Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Stop saying that!" 10 great movie quotes

It's another great Monday Listicles topic! This week Ally from Just a Normal Mom suggested we choose our 10 favourite movie quotes or moments.

Here are my picks:

1) "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!"
Inigo Montoya fulfills his life's mission in this classic scene from The Princess Bride.



2) "Run, Forrest, run!"
Jenny Curran encourages Forrest Gump to break free from his tormentors in an inspiring scene from Forrest Gump.


3) "I don't like my job. I don't think I'm going to go anymore."
Peter Gibbons becomes the hero of downtrodden cubicle slaves everywhere in Office Space.


4) "I am FILLED with Christ's love!"
"Christian Jewel" leader Hilary Faye completely misses the point of the gospel in this gem from Saved!. Having grown up in the church, I can assure you that this movie is only slightly exaggerated.


5) "Dong! Dong! Grandpa is talking to you!"
Grandma tries to reason with a drunken Long Duk Dong in a memorable scene from Sixteen Candles.



6) "Don't you forget this."
English teacher John Keating awakens the passion in a reserved student in one of the best movies ever, Dead Poets Society.

7) "This one time, at band camp..."
Michelle depresses Jim with the reality of his reduced dating options after he accidentally streams a humiliating sex video of himself on the Internet. 



Turns out Michelle is a little wilder than he thought. American Pie anyone?


8) "My name is Lester Burnham...I am 42 years old; in less than a year, I'll be dead. Of course, I don't know that yet. And, in a way, I'm dead already."

I am rapidly heading toward a Lester Burnham-sized breakdown, and blogging is one of my attempts to prevent it. I hope I have a better ending to my early midlife crisis than Lester Burnham does in American Beauty.


9) "I'll have what she's having." 
Older woman in delicatessen to waitress after Sally explains the math to Harry in When Harry Met Sally. Can you blame her?


10) "I volunteer as tribute!"
Katniss Everdeen steps up in a tear-jerking scene from The Hunger Games, a pointed film whose irony seems to have gone over the head of much of its teenage audience. Although they do have a sense of humour, as evidenced by the October 2012 detention slip of student Katie which is currently making the Internet rounds:

"Reason for detention: When I asked who could solve my math problem, Katie stood up and screamed, 'I volunteer as tribute!' at the top of her lungs, disturbing the rest of my class."

Here's the actual scene:



It took me forever to do this post because I kept thinking of new quotes and movie moments I wanted to include. I might need to do a part two sometime. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The cashier's recurring nightmare

Kate at Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine has started a fun new linky where she gives us the beginning of a sentence and we have to finish it. This week's sentence was "One of the most embarrassing things I ever did was...". There were so many contenders for the end of this sentence that my brain temporarily crashed trying to process them all at once. If you don't believe me, just check out some of my posts under the "Seinfeld experiences" label. You'll notice there are a lot of them.

Since I'm an incredibly clumsy and weird person, I rarely get embarrassed anymore. However, in 2011 I had a mortifying experience that broke through my thick skin. I posted about it at the time, so if you've already seen this...well, just read it again. I bet you'll still laugh. And cringe.

Finish the Sentence Friday

Here's "The Cashier's Nightmare," originally posted June 28, 2011:

I'm not easily embarrassed, but this morning was a bit much even for me.  Tomorrow is Sass's first birthday and in a strange lapse from my normal extreme planner ways, I do not have every detail finalized.  Specifically, I've invited the guests and that's it.  In a fit of excitement (panic) this morning, I suddenly realized that 1) lots of people are coming over tomorrow and 2) lots of stuff needs to get done.  Fortunately I'm on vacation this week, so I have time to get this party back on track.

After my Body Attack class this morning (woo hoo!!  Exercising during the day - what a luxury!), I sauntered over to the party planning superstore next door to the gym.  Yeah, I was soaked with sweat, but I didn't plan to be in there for more than 15 minutes, tops.  HA!!  After wandering in a daze through the first two aisles, I should have realized I was in over my head, but instead I went up to the front and got a shopping cart since my basket was already full.

An hour later, I wrestled my overflowing cart up to the cash register.  As I watched the plates, cups, banners, party favours, candles, icing tips, bubble-blowing machine, hats, streamers, tablecloths, serving trays, napkins, etc. beep across the counter, I began to suspect the party might be a teensy bit more expensive than I'd originally planned.  It might be closer to $150-$200 than I'd like.  But then again, it is her first birthday, I told myself.  "Whew!"  the cashier sighed as she loaded the last item into a bag.  "That'll be $378.21."

As my mind gibbered in speechless horror, my hands followed their well-known route and inserted my credit card chip into the machine, punched in my PIN and tucked my card back into my wallet.  As the cashier began to hand me my bags, my fiscal self-preservation instinct finally kicked in.  "Um.  I'm really sorry, but I need to return some of this," I mumbled.  "I was expecting it to be $150, not $400."

The next hour (!) was rather mortifying.  The store was unable to just void the transaction and the poor cashier had to individually re-scan every.single.item.  And when she got to the end, it didn't balance (being an accountant, I could feel her pain).  Several other people got involved, and when the refund total was finally balanced to the original total, the cashier hit "Enter" with a sigh of relief.  The store had been empty when I got there, but there were now 10 people in line behind me and I could feel their furious beady little eyes poking into the back of my sweaty neck.  Thank God this was almost over.

Except it wasn't.  The cash register informed the cashier it was unable to process the refund.  More people joined the team trying to get me out of the store with credit rating intact.  Eventually a refund expert at another store was called, and we discovered that the cash register would only process refunds up to $200 at a time.  The entire refund transaction had to be voided, and the cashier had to re-scan the items for the THIRD time!!  At one point I was tempted to just tell them to forget about refunding everything, but I kept imagining my husband's face when I explained I'd somehow spent $400 on paper plates and other random items for Sass's party.  I manage our money (being an accountant and all) and Jay is really cool with my occasional fits of shopping, but this might permanently shake his faith in my fiscal responsibility.  My faith would be shaken in myself.

Two and a half hours after I skipped into the party superstore, I slunk out with a small bag of items that were final sale and couldn't be refunded, a chastened and solemn shopper.  With dried sweat and shame clogging my pores, it was definitely time for a bubble bath.  I'll deal with the party tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Priceless

Recently I read a post called "My Life in Numbers" that I really liked. The concept of exploring life in terms of numbers has been going around the web and I decided to join in. Here's my take:

Five 12-year-old Christian girls sitting in a row at Bible camp, giggling and poking each other while the camera flashes. Our parents are pastors and worship leaders, our lives like carbon copies of each other in a steady rhythm of sermons, youth group meetings and ministry outreach.

Twenty-two years pass.

We are two blondes, a former blonde, a brunette and one who can't remember what her real hair colour is anymore.

Our jeans range from size 4 to 20.

We have three tattoos, two navel rings, a nose stud, a grown-in tongue stud and too many ear piercings to count.

Three of us married our high school sweethearts, two of us married our college sweethearts and one of us divorced her husband last year after a decade of his drug abuse and serious mental illness, including two suicide attempts.

We have nine living children ranging from an eight-week-old boy to a fifteen-year-old girl, and six babies who never made it to our arms.

Two of us are stay at home moms, one is an urban planner, one is an accountant and one is a community centre co-ordinator in a low-income neighbourhood.

Our household annual incomes have ranged from $30,000 to $140,000, and when one of us suffered through a year of her husband's unemployment while she was on maternity leave, we left a bundle of cash in her front door. No names on the card: we didn't want her to feel awkward.

We are a pastor's wife, a worship leader, two agnostics and an atheist.

Five 34-year-old women sitting in a circle, sharing stories and unyielding support.

We are best friends forever.
* * * * *

I've written in the past about my less-than-favourable views on female friendship. These women are the exception to the rule and I treasure them.

Update: Today I'm doing a fun blogfest at L.G. Keltner's Writing on the Edge (see badge on right sidebar). It's her first blogoversary and the theme is "beginnings". I actually linked up a different post there, but it occurred to me just now that this post is about beginnings too, so I thought I'd mention the blogfest here as well.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

10 things I won't change in 2013

This week's Monday Listicle topic was chosen by our hostess, Stasha, and I found it very soothing. Lately I've been feeling really down about how I suck at well, everything, and it cheered me up to go through this list of things I have no intention of changing in 2013.

For 2013, I resolve not to stop...

1) Putting my family before my career
With our daycare costs at $2,400/month, I sometimes wonder if I should have taken that fast-track position in a mid-size public accounting firm. I'd be making at least $20-$30K more than now, with a possibility of partnership and the big bucks. We could afford to have a date night occasionally and our house wouldn't be filthy, because we could pay for a cleaning service. We could set up university savings accounts for the kids and finish the basement so they could have a big playroom space all their own. Other than me never actually seeing my husband or children, it would be great.

2) Working out at least three times a week
Yes, my fitness classes take time away from my family. Without them I'm so unpleasant that my husband practically drives me to the gym and pushes me out of the car. They're not just enjoyable; they're necessary.

3) Watching TV
As someone who grew up without a TV (my parents didn't believe in them), I'm perfectly capable of entertaining myself without staring at a screen. But at the end of a long, stressful day, a bubble bath followed by an episode of Dexter or Modern Family brings my blood pressure down like nothing else. I have plenty of high-falutin' tastes and I know I'm intelligent. I don't need to stop watching My Strange Addiction to prove it.

4) Refusing to be a tiger mother...for now
I expect my children to be thoughtful global citizens, appreciate what they've been given and work hard to earn their way in the world. I don't expect them as toddlers to work hard at anything other than learning to respect authority and not hitting other kids over the head with Tonka trucks. There will be plenty of time for heavy academic study and organized leisure activities in high school and later. You only get one childhood.

If your ten-year-old is on the verge of a nervous breakdown from the pressure of her soccer team championships, Mandarin lessons, church youth choir solo and science fair exhibition for the robot she built all coming together on the same weekend, you're not building character. You're crushing her soul. Just stop, or when she's 18 she may drop out of Harvard halfway through her first year, go live on a beach in Hawaii for the rest of her life and never speak to you again.

5) Swearing
Keeping it G-rated around the kids, absolutely. Not swearing at all - why the fuck would I do that?


6) Eating ice cream and steak
Any diet that involves eliminating my two favourite foods inevitably fails in a spectacular feeding frenzy. I am working on eating less overall, and that's good enough.

7) Taking mental health days
I find it interesting that calling in sick is supposed to cover only physical ailments. One of my bosses once had his vacations cancelled over and over until he finally managed to take three days off at the end of October. We all would have been happier if he'd taken a sick day or two before that. I take a mental health day every three months or so, and I don't feel guilty. Considering the amount of unpaid overtime I've worked over the years and the expectation I respond to any question instantly 24/7 (including during my "vacations"), they owe it to me. Not to mention most of my staff have more vacation time than I do.

8) Paying for convenience
I've been buying more and more things online and despite a few glitches, overall it's the best thing ever. I try to get free shipping, but even when I can't, being able to buy new clothes for the kids in my pajamas while they play beside me is SO worth the shipping charge.

Pre-peeled carrots, frozen stir-fries and crockpot meals all get a huge checkmark too. This is not popular in the many areas of the blogosphere, but as long as our family isn't eating Twinkies off the floor, I'm happy. My husband does the cooking and when we all get home from work/daycare at 6:30 p.m., we are freakin' hungry and just want something reasonably healthy to eat. It doesn't need to be a gourmet meal prepared out of ingredients grown in our backyard.

Please don't tell me about all the toxins and pesticides, and how we don't care about our kids for not quitting our jobs to make food from scratch all day every day. Everything under the sun causes cancer or heart disease (including the sun itself), and we know plenty of health nuts who have died in their 50's despite their locally-grown, organic eating habits. We've given up.

9) Giving myself jet lag every weekend by staying up really late and then sleeping in
This is the complete opposite of what sleep experts would tell you to do. For optimum health, you're supposed to keep the same schedule all week, which would mean getting up at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and going to sleep by 1:00 a.m. (yep, that's not eight hours. I don't approve of it either). HA! My amazing husband gets up with the kids on the weekends and lets me sleep, which is such an act of love he should win an award. It means I can stay up late and get some quiet time to myself without having to be a total zombie the next day. I try to give Jay as many awards as possible to show my appreciation for his kindness.

10) Blogging
Here's where I'm cheating a little on the anti-resolutions. I'm going to keep blogging, but going back to work full-time in March is going to force me to spend less time on it. This is a good thing. It's supposed to be fun and a lot of times it isn't. That needs to change.

What's that puddle?

In my 15 years of participating in group fitness classes, I've been a member of four gyms, a kickboxing dojo, a bellydance school, a salsa/swing dance company and a zumba studio. Note I said a member, not an expert. There's only one field in which I have my black belt, earned through blood, sweat and tears as well as careful observation of areas where others have struggled.

I am a fitness etiquette ninja.

In honour of New Year's resolutions everywhere, I'm providing the following tips for all gym-goers, both newbies and those needing a refresher. Ignore them at your peril. You don't want your car to be keyed in the health club parking lot, do you?

Let's start with the big one. In all types of fitness classes, the regular attendees have spots where they like to stand. "Like" in this case means a fanatical obsession whereby normally rational women transform into snarling dogs when someone infringes on their territory. A favourite instructor once suggested we should just whip down our yoga pants and pee on the floor to mark our spots. I saw a few people fumbling with their waistbands before we realized she was joking.

Standing in someone's spot is the most likely faux pas for a newbie and the consequences can be painful. If you're lucky, the mean girl and her friends will glare at you the entire class and whisper loudly about how you don't know the moves while the instructor is setting up the next song. If you're unlucky, the mean girl will stomp on the back of your heels, elbow you in the ribs or actually knock you on your ass to make the point that you're in her spot.

How can you avoid this fate? Shuffling around in a noncommittal way before the class starts and promptly moving out of the path of anyone storming up to a specific spot are good strategies to defuse any potential brawls. If something goes wrong and you end up in the crosshairs of a spot bully, pretend you're dealing with a rabid dog and speak slowly and clearly while steadily backing away: "I am sorry. I did not realize this was your spot. Please put down the water bottle." Or just give her an elbow right back and yell, "It's my spot now, bitches!"

When you arrive late to a class, quietly take a place at the back of the room. Sauntering straight up to the front row is a highly advanced move that should be attempted only by a visiting instructor, or by someone who so regularly attends the class that her spot is left open out of respect even when she isn't there. Flouting this rule can result in the extremely awkward situation where a person returns from refilling her water bottle or going pee mid-class to find you've stolen her spot. Not good.

Also in poor taste is eating garlic, Italian sausage or Pizza Hut shortly before a group fitness class. You may think no one will notice those little bursts of fragrance from your mouth or anus. You would be wrong. Dousing yourself in anything other than unscented deodorant is not appreciated either.

Again, personal space matters. We're all standing as far away from each other as possible for a reason, and it's not because of hygiene violations (okay, sometimes it is). It's because most cardio classes involve limbs flailing around wildly in all directions. If you crowd your classmates, you'll probably catch a fist or foot in the face. The offender may or may not apologize, depending on how many other fitness etiquette rules you've broken.

Sometimes bad things happen through no fault of your own. If static cling has its way with you and a purple thong flies out of your pant leg into the middle of a class, pretend it's not yours. Don't push it with your foot to the front of the class, before picking it up and squirrelling it away in your lululemon jacket pocket. That's weird. Are you really going to wear it again once it's travelled all over a dance studio floor?

While we're on the subject of attire, light-coloured workout pants are a bad idea if your perspiration glands are remotely functional. No one wants to see your vagina sweat. Pale blue and grey are especially prone to making you look like you're not toilet-trained. And if you must stroll around naked for an extended period of time in the women's locker room, for god's sake bend your knees if you need to pick something up off the floor. Particularly if this is before your shower and you're over the age of 60 with no familiarity with bikini waxes. This is the gym, not Grannies Gone Wild.

The most important fitness etiquette rule is an easy one. Have fun! Really. In every class, you'll find someone the instructor calls by name and everyone seems to know. He or she may do each move perfectly or be struggling to keep up, but what these people all have in common is a big smile and a warm hello for their classmates. Tell people you're new and ask for help if you need it. Most regulars are kind-hearted and love to help out a newbie, and it can be a real motivation to keep up your new routine when you know you're going to see a friendly face in a difficult class. Just make sure you stay out of her spot.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

She works hard for the money

Huddling under the covers with a flashlight, I would escape for hours, exploring other worlds until the words blurred under my sleepy eyes, forcing me back to reality. I emptied my veins into diary entries and shakily coaxed my own new worlds onto the page. In my last semester of high school, I reveled in the daily play time of Law, History, Sociology and English (Core), English (Creative Writing) and English (Fantasy in Fiction). School had become pure fun.

Until it wasn't. One day I sat in creative writing class and stared at a blank page for the whole hour, sick of chasing words that were playing hard to get. It's okay, I thought. I'd always been more of a reader than a writer. Maybe I'll be an editor rather than a journalist. My welcome packages into several university English programs had already arrived, and I sent back my acceptance to the school offering the largest scholarship, ignoring the queasy feeling in my stomach.

I made it halfway through my first year of university before I acknowledged I had made a serious mistake. All pleasure in reading and writing was steadily being stripped away, the gorgeous stories breaking into motifs and foils and pathetic fallacies. I didn't want to look behind the curtain anymore. I just wanted to read and let the words carry me away.

So I became a chartered accountant instead, eliciting astounded laughter from my mother, the English teacher. "You can hardly add!" she exclaimed in her usual supportive way. "That's why we have calculators," I said haughtily, confident in my new career choice. Analyzing a business case and a novel had more in common than one might think, and accounting soothed the practical side of me that had always rolled my eyes when the incense at coffeehouse poetry readings got too thick.

After all, work would only take up, what, eight hours a day? That should leave at least eight hours free for reading and writing, which I'd be able to enjoy without critiquing every turn of phrase. Not to mention I wouldn't have to live in a cardboard shack with accounting as my day job.

What I didn't realize in my student days was that a full-time job doesn't take only your time (which is almost certainly more than eight hours a day in a professional career). It takes your focus, your energy, your self-esteem. And if the job itself doesn't wear you out, your commute to and from that job certainly will. When I envisioned reading and writing as hobbies, I didn't know I would feel like I'd just pulled an all-nighter by the time I got around to them at 11 o'clock each evening. In an effort not to destroy my passions, I've squeezed them out of my life completely.

In two months, my maternity leave is over and it's back to suits and briefcases. For the first time since I proudly hung my degrees on my office wall, I wonder if I've made a mistake.